How To Keep Calm In The Face Of Danger

I asked the following question on my Facebook page:

“Many martial arts include meditation of some sort. Does this help us in combat? Or is is just part of being a better person?”

As I have a lot a high grade and intelligent martial artists on that page, I got quite a bit of intelligent feedback as I expected.  However, I personally think it goes a little bit deeper than most people give it credit for; both for combat application and for making you a better person.

Starting with combat application however, most experienced people will tell you that fighting is actually more mental than physical, so there’s the first big clue.  Many say its about 90% mental.  However, this concept is not often explained in depth.

If you face somebody in a real street situation and your mind is on the point of panic, you won’t be able to think or focus.  This will manifest in your physical movement as your body becomes tense, your techniques become short and choppy and all sense of timing, rhythm and distancing disappears.  Worse still, you might just freeze altogether.

It not just important that you maintain calmness under pressure, it is essential.  Regular training in martial arts teaches us to do this mainly by subjecting us to regular pressure training.  Even if its just the pre-arranged fighting sequences, as the attacker increases the intensity of the attack so the defender has to react faster and more accurately to avoid being hit.

Of course this can be taken to a higher level with scenario training which is common in reality based martial arts training.  But some form of meditation is also often used to calm the mind before and after training.  Karate has it “moksu” at the end (and sometimes the beginning) of each class and I’m sure many other martial arts have their own equivalent.

Calmness of mind is easy when kneeling (or sitting) in a nice quiet dojo (training hall), focusing on our breathing under no pressure at all.  But how exactly does this help us when some great big muppet from hell is screaming in your face “who the F**k you looking at”, you’ve just had an adrenalin dump and your legs are turning to jelly?

I’ll come back to that in a moment.  Have you ever noticed that you often have a little voice inside your head?  Have you noticed that unless you consciously control this little voice it is usually negative, telling you that you can’t do something or you will fail.  Ironically, most people know that it is there, but 99% of the time they are completely unaware of it.  When something goes wrong and that little voice “oh no, this always happens to me”.  Did you stop and consciously think that thought, or did it just materialise automatically?  If we’re honest, it usually just materialises without us giving it a second thought.

When somebody cuts up in their car how often does that little voice shout out a string of expletives questioning the other drivers parentage?  Again, was that a conscious thought, or was it just automatic?

For most people (if we’re honest), it is just automatic with no conscious consideration.  But does that reaction help us in any way?  Does it do anything in any way shape or form to make the situation better?

No, of course it doesn’t.  If anything it makes us feel worse.  So why do we have this mechanism inside our heads that automatically responds to situations, usually making them seem even worse?

OK, back to Mr Muppetfromhell.  What will that voice be saying when confronted by him?

He looks real big”.  “Oh god, he’s going to kill me”.  “I’m a black belt, this will be so embarrassing if I get beaten up”.  “Should I run”.  “Will he chase me”?  “What if I hit him and it doesn’t stop him, he’ll be even more angry”.

And so it goes on and on.  As with the other examples, does this voice help you or hinder you?  Do you have any real control over it, or does it just happen automatically?

You really need to silence that “nutter” inside your head.  The more dangerous the attacker that confronts you, the more difficult this is to do.  Ironically, the more dangerous your attacker, the more essential it becomes to be able to do this.

This is where the meditation (moksu) comes in.  This is why you focus on your breathing in an attempt to silence your own personal little nutter.  This can also be done with kata/forms too, which is often described as a moving meditation.  However, if you’re a high grade, try to think back to when you were a beginning.  Whether it was kata or moksu, did you find it really hard to focus without that little voice coming in, saying things like:

“My knees are aching kneeling here”, “how long will this last for”, “that was a good session”, “I scored a good roundhouse kick against Charlie tonight”, “I could murder a pint of beer after that session”.

Sound familiar?

How many of you have those thoughts, (or can remember having them) when you meditate/moksu?  If you can’t silence the voice in those peaceful conditions, how on Earth do you expect to do it in the face of Mr Muppetfromhell when he’s frothing at the mouth?  But over time, often a number of years, many learn to do it.

However, most people are not aware that part of the reason for meditation/moksu is to silence the voice (your personal nutter), never mind being aware of why that is important in combat.

I’ve recently been listening to an audio book by Andy Shaw called Creating A Bug Free Mind.  Although it is not a martial arts book, it has a direct read across (as described above).  In it, he gives you an exercise to do to see how in control of your own mind you are, which I would ask you to try.  The real life combat applications (as described above) will become apparent.   Simply think of any happy memory.  It can be a promotion, first date, birth of a child, holiday, absolutely anything that makes you feel good and happy.  Now try to hold that thought and that thought only for just 15 seconds without any other thoughts coming into your mind.  Please stop reading and try that now!
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I’ll guarantee that most people will not able to hold that happy thought for just 15 seconds without another thought interrupting.  I would guess that many of the higher dan grades can do it due to their years of training.  If you are an instructor and you can do this easily, then I suggest that you ask your class to do it and you’ll probably be shocked how many can’t.

So now hopefully I’ll have changed a few minds as to what the meditative side is for and what you are actually trying to achieve through it.  Understanding what the point is, goes a long way to helping achieving it more quickly.  It might also help to understand why many senior martial artists include Tai Chi and Chi Gong as they advance.

So if actual fighting really is 90% mental, how can we control our minds in a real fight, when we can’t hold a happy a thought for 15 seconds?  How do get that control over your mind so that you can hold a thought for 15 seconds or more?

There are ways that this can be achieved quite easily (without years of meditation).  I can’t really do it justice in a few blog postings, as it took me several chapters to really get my head around it.  However, if you go over to Andy Shaw’s website, you can download the first 5 chapters of Creating A Bug Free Mind completely free.  I’ll tell you in advance, this book is heavily marketed, but it really is the most profound self development book I’ve ever come across and it will show you how to silence that voice (without costing you a penny).  This can be done in days or weeks rather than years.  As such, I believe that it will really accelerate your martial art training.   I’ve used the example of Mr Muppetfromhell screaming at you, but it applies just as well to friendly sparring in the club, or focus on your kata/forms.

It also applies to dealing with business problems, money matters, driving or relationships.  In fact it can apply to just about any situation in your life.  I seriously recommend that you go to http://www.abugfreemind.com and get those first 5 free chapters.

 

Look Them Straight In The Eye . . . . . Or Should You?

Every now and then the question comes up, where do you look when you have to square up to somebody, be it for a real fight or just for sparring.  The common answer that comes back is, “look em straight in the eye”!

But is this always the right thing to do?  Let me draw an analogy.  When you learn to drive (or cycle if you’re younger), what are told to look at.  You’re told to keep your eyes on the road.  The road is quite big and can take up practically the entire range of your vision.  You’re not told to focus on the car in front, or focus on the street signs, or focus on your mirror, or focus on the pedestrians on the side, or focus on vehicles coming from the other direction or focus on any vehicle overtaking you.  You are expected to be aware of  ALL OF THEM, all at the same time.

What’s that got to do with martial arts?

I’m glad you asked me that.

If when driving, if you focused one thing, you would miss the other things.  So it is with sparring or fighting.  Many a car accident has happened because a young lad sees a shapely young lady and focuses on her to exclusion of all else.  He then fails to notice what is right in front of him.

Many a young fighter has been punched in the head because he/she knows that their opponent is a good kicker and was watching their feet (or kicked whilst watching their opponents hands).

So what’s the answer?

Going back to the driving analogy, when we drive we learn to relax our eyes.  The pupils of our eyes dilate and become bigger, so that we can take in more information.  The price we pay for taking in the more information is a tiny loss of clarity, but anybody with reasonable eyesight will have ample clarity for the job of driving.  This allows us to be aware of the road, oncoming traffic, traffic in front of us and pedestrians at the same time.  This awareness allows us to detect and react the instance something happens, like a pedestrian stepping out or a car breaking hard in front of us.  Obviously we instantly focus on the problem, but by doing so we lose some clarity of the other potential hazards around us.  This is usually OK when driving, because we seldom have more than one real hazard at a time, and having spotted the first, we are already taking action (usually braking).

However, when we are fighting (or even sparring) we can have multiple and continuous hazards coming at us all the time in the form of multiple punches, kicks, headbutts, elbows, knees, etc; which can come at from different level and directions.  It could even multiple opponents.

So when fighting/sparring we have to try to maintain the relaxed dilated pupils so that we can keep track of these multiple hazards.  I have sometimes sparred with lower grades, where I have just sparred defensively in order to help them build up their confidence in attacking.  They are sometime frustrated and bemused that I can block/parry multiple attacks coming in at different levels and directions.  I’m not trying to say that I’m brilliant, but the point is that when you get used to relaxing and dilating your pupils you can keeps track of multiple attacks be they kicks, punches or combinations of both.  The split second you focus only on that kick coming in, is the split second that you get punched.

Going back to the driving analogy, if you have to squeeze between say a parked car and an oncoming lorry, would a driving instructor tell you focus on the lorry?  Would he tell you to focus on the parked car?
No!  He would tell you to focus on the road in the direction you want to go in.

Why?  Because when we focus on either the lorry or the parked car, we tend to drive towards them instead of where we want to go.  Notice however, even if you keep your eyes on the road and drive straight ahead, you are still very very aware of that big lorry right next to you (even though you don’t look right at it).  When fighting/sparring we don’t want to focus on blocking/evading/parrying all the time as we can never win like that.  We can only win by hitting the other guy (or throwing/locking etc, but you get the point).

By focusing on the attacking limbs you are drawn to them (like focusing on the lorry will make you tend to drive towards it).  By keeping your attention on the whole of the attacker, you will spot the openings that will allow you to counter attack, (like keeping your eye on the road will allow you to steer clear of the obstacles).

From the self protection point of view, it also allows you to be more aware of a possible second assailant.

Now with many people being into reality based martial arts and studying the psychology of fighting and the effects of adrenalin, I’m sure that some of you are already thinking, “yes Charlie, but when you have an adrenalin dump you get tunnel vision”.

This is true.  However, tunnel vision is a possible effect of an adrenalin dump and not a guaranteed effect.  Also, part of your training should deal with the effects of adrenalin so that you get used to it and the negative effects of adrenalin are minimised with constant training.  Also, if you train your eyes in this manner under pressure, then you’ll be able to do it under pressure.  Just keep it in mind when you are doing any partner work at all.

So does that mean that we never make eye contact at all?  Well in may well be necessary at some stage, particularly in the pre-fight build up stage.  Very generally speaking, there are 2 main tactics used by reality based training when dealing with the pre-fight build up:

1.   Match their aggression with equally assertive behaviour so as to get them to back down (often used by FAST Defence).
2.  Act mildly so as to lull them into a false sense of security and hit them with a pre-emptive strike.

If you are matching their behaviour with equal assertiveness, then you will want to meet their gaze and stare them in the eye.  However, as soon as it is clear that it’s about to go physical then you relax and dilate your pupils to take in all of their weapons (even if its only hand and feet).

If however, you are trying to lull them into a false sense of security so as to use a pre-emptive strike, then you don’t need to stare them in the eye as this will be seen as a challenge and alert them to be more cautious of you.

There is no point in having fantastic blocks, evasions and parries, if you are not aware of the attack coming at you.  Although this is not often taught, it is a very necessary and vital skill.  Fortunately as people learn to relax their bodies in training, so they usually learn to relax their eyes and very often over time start doing this naturally.  But it must be practiced under pressure so that you don’t lose it due to the effects of adrenalin when you need it most.

Of the subject slightly, it is also a very good metaphor for dealing with any of life’s problems, be it family, business, relationships, whatever.  One of the most terrifying things that can happen to a person is a physical assault.  If you learn to relax enough to keep sight of all the weapons that your attacker will throw at you; then with everyday life problems you should be able to do the same.  Don’t look too closely and focus on just one detail of the problem.  Stand back and take in the whole picture so that you are able to react to any circumstance which may arise from this particular problem.

Martial Arts & Psycho Cybernetics (Part 2)

This post continues from Part 1, looking at how some elements of the book, Psycho Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz applies to martial arts.

The author, Maxwell Maltz, makes the compelling case that our brains act as a goal driven mechanism that works on negative feedback to achieve our desires.  Now before people jump up in arms at the use of the phrase “negative feedback” when modern day political correctness and education tells that we should always be positive, bear with me while I explain.

If you’re driving a car down a completely straight road and you line the car up parallel with the road, sooner or later you’ll start getting nearer and nearer to the centre of the road or the curb, so you need to adjust the steering in order to keep going straight.  This heading for the curb is the “negative feedback” telling you to make an adjustment to keep you going on the correct route without having an accident.

It is like a baby learning to walk.  At first they keep falling down.  Then they manage a few step and learn from it.  The more they fall down (negative feedback) the more they learn to adjust their steps to prevent it happening again.  Negative feedback in this sense is essential to tell us when we are going off from our true path or goal.

However, once the driver adjust the steering he/she does it automatically and forgets about the slight variance of their car’s path; just as the baby forgets about the falls once it has learnt to walk.  So it is with all aspects of learning, including martial arts.  Once we become adept at a technique (walking, driving, jumping spinning kick) we forget how we did it wrong.  In fact the wrong way starts to feel un-natural to us.

Problems do set in however, (with any facet of life), when people start to focus on the negative feedback instead of the correction that it should indicate to them.  Ever heard somebody say, “Oh I’ll never be able to do that”.  They are focusing the negative feedback instead of using it to prompt them in the desired direction.  When we have a goal in life, we should pursue it aggressively.  I don’t mean knocking people out of your way to get there, but you should be very pro-active and determined in achieving your desired outcome.

This applies to every single aspect of your life, be it physical, spiritual, emotional, relationships, business, martial arts, whatever.

This is one of the strengths of traditional martial arts training, as it always teaches you to you strive for perfection of technique, gradual improving bit by bit taking you up in small bite size steps (grading syllabus).  For any able bodied person who trains hard and regular, getting the coverted black belt is achievable.  Many people who are not fully able bodied have achieved their black belt.

Now I know that many will say that the the belt does not really matter . . . and . . . well . . . they’re right.  That said, it is a very significant and tangible symbol of success and achievement.  Whether we train for combat, or sport, or just for the art; we train our minds to accept the negative feedback and to move forward.

In fairness, many endeavours can have a similar effect on the practitioner.  Martial arts however do deal with facing up to violence.  The fear of violence is one of our most hard-wired primal instincts.  To quote a wise friend of mine, Dave Hayward:

Acts of violence are the single most terrifying thing that can happen to us or those we love. The type of training we partake in gives us the confidence and ability to deal with it. I believe this is what makes the martial arts holistic as we learn to deal with and conquer fear by dealing with the worst fear of all.

Martial arts are geared up (as David says) to conquer our worst and most primal fear.  Furthermore, they are designed to overcome this most basic animal instinct within us in a methodical step by step manor (grades) which is designed to set us up for success.

Psycho Cybernetics also quotes from a published article by Prescott Lecky:

Lecky has said that the purpose of emotion is “re-inforcement”, or additional strength, rather that to serve as a sign of weakness.  He believed that there was only one basic emotion – “excitement” – and that excitement manifests itself as fear, anger, courage, etc., depending upon our own inner goals at the time – whether we are inwardly organized to conquer a problem, run away from it, or destroy it.  “The real problem is not to control emotion, but to control the choice of which tendency shall receive emotional reinforcement”.

This has an obvious relevance for us as martial artists.  Whether in a competition, or (god forbid) you are assaulted by a real street predator, you will feel that excitement.  It will usually be accompanied by adrenalin.  We must train ourselves to use that excitement to re-enforce our courage and our determination to get away safely (whether by running or fighting).  We mustn’t let this excitement overly re-enforce our feelings of fear and panic.

Maxwell Maltz relays an example of an old time boxer, Jack Dempsey, who apparently used to get so nervous before a fight that he couldn’t shave and couldn’t sit or stand still.  However, Jack Dempsey did not interpret this nervousness as fear; instead he used it to fuel his blows in the match.

This is what we as martial artists must also do.  Traditional martial arts do this by repeated exposure to somebody putting pressure on us at training, whether by free sparring or pre-arranged drills getting faster and more determined.  Reality based training does of course accelerate this process (as per part 1).

Martial Arts & Psycho Cybernetics: Train For A Crisis

On and off over the 6 months (when I actually get the time), I’ve been reading a fascinating book called Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz.  It’s a great book about how the brain works and how to use your own brain to get the best out of life.  I’ve also been struck several times on how much of it applies to martial arts.

One chapter, Crisis Into Creative Opportunity, is particularly applicable.  There are few crisis more immediate than that of being violently assaulted.

Here’s an extract from that chapter:

Although we may learn fast, we do not learn well under “crisis” conditions.  Throw a man who can’t swim into water over his head, and the crisis itself may give him the power to swim to safety.  He learns fast, and manages to swim somehow.  But he will never learn to become a championship swimmer.  The crude inept stroke that he used to rescue himself becomes “fixed” and it is difficult  for him to learn better ways of swimming.  Because of his ineptness he may perish in a real crises where he is required to swim a long distance.

This is where advocates of reality based martial arts should be sitting up and paying attention, as much of their training is more psychological than physical, to hard wire the brain to act under the most extreme circumstances.  The scenario based training where the aggressor shouts, threatens and swears at the defender are intended to induce an adrenalin rush, (to create the the feeling of a crisis).  It is known that under emotional pressure (adrenalin dump), blood goes away from the brain and it the muscles (ready for flight or fight).

However, with the lack of blood to the brain, the defender is not able to think as clearly as usual and will therefore tend to rely on remembered experience.  If the last experience of being attacked led the defender to cower and cringe, then that is what the defender will probably do again.

The scenario based training is designed to put the defender into an emotional/adrenalized state and hard wire (or “fix”) a different response, which the defender can fall back next time the blood is drained from their brain.

This type of training is akin to throwing somebody into water over their head to teach them to swim.  In light of the paragraph above from Psycho Cybernetics, what conclusions can we draw?

Well firstly, this type of training will get very fast results.  But just like the guy who is thrown into water over his head does not learn to swim well, they do not really learn very much in the way of self defence skills.  The main thing they learn is that when the crunch comes, they will fight back ferociously.  In many cases that will be enough, as many street predators are just looking for an easy target.  If they can see that their intended target is going to fight them ferociously (however badly), many street predators will move on and look for somebody else.

However, if you are picked on by an experienced street fighter and who just wants to fight no matter what, then this type of training is limited.  A street fighter is used to “training” in this emotional/adrenalized state.  So this type of scenario training just means that the defender will fight back without cowering or backing down.  It does not mean that they will in any way be a superior fighter, or have any other advantages.

This type of training therefore is ideal for somebody who just wants to do a short course and get good results and does not want spend years training at a martial art.

But what about the person who does want to become very good at martial arts; someone who does want to take self defence skills to a much higher level?

Maxwell Maltz says to be really good in a crisis, we should practice without pressure.  He also writes in Psycho Cybernetics:

Dr Tolman found that if rats were permitted to learn and practice under non-crisis conditions, they later performed well in a crisis.  For example, if rats were permitted to roam about at will and explore a maze when well fed and with plenty to drink, they did not appear to learn anything.  Later, however, if the same rats were placed in the maze while hungry, they showed they had learned a great deal, by quickly and efficiently going to the goal.  Hunger faced these trained rats with a crisis to which they reacted well.
Other rats which were forced to lean the maze under the crisis of hunger and thirst, did not do so well.  They were over-motivated and their brain maps became narrow.  The one “correct” route to the goal become fixated.  If this route were blocked the rats became frustrated and had great difficulty learning a new one.

Another example given was that of fire drills.  Those who practiced fire drills in a controlled manner were more likely to safely get out of a burning building, than those who had to find their way out under crisis conditions of that fire.

So as martial artist who want to react well under crisis conditions, we have to first learn in a non-pressure environment.  Once a technique or drill is learned, we can of course always up the pressure later.  In fact it would be foolish not to.  However, always training under high pressure hard wires and fixes responses in the brain which makes it difficult for the trainee to respond to should the circumstances suddenly change.

My Sensie, Paul Mitchell teaches over and over to practice movements slowly in order to perfect them.  As perfecting technique takes a very long time, whilst hard wiring a response under pressure gives very quick results, there is a clue to how you should train.  Most of it should be relaxed with a small (but regular) amount of pressure training.

It would seem no accident that most people who teach reality based self defence have a background in traditional martial arts, thereby covering both aspects.  Kevin O’Hagan who is a world renowned teacher of reality based self defence has said that traditional martial artists always pick it up fastest.

It also explains why Tai Chi is considered a higher level of martial art which martial artists should progress to (not start with).

Although Psycho Cybernetics is not a martial arts book, I would seriously recommend it to anybody who is interested in self development.  I’ve certainly found it eye opening.

Women’s Self Protection: Primal Instincts

I come across this video below from a Facebook friend.  It is from the woman’s self protection perspective.  One of the main things that I liked about it is that it makes the point that self defence is a primal instinct, which we all have the capacity for.

When severely threatened we can all resort to the most primitive and basic animal instincts, which is savage, brutal and barbaric.  Civilisation has taught us to control such instincts.  In many cases it even teaches us to bury them completely.  This is especially true of women, where they are encouraged to be feminine (which is considered exactly the opposite of getting down and dirty and in a fight).

Things have improved over the years.  As a kid I remember that the role of a woman in an action film was to get into trouble, scream lots and be rescued by the male hero.  Nowadays women are portrayed as far more capable and independent . . . . . . . and rightly so.

Women in martial arts used to be a tiny minority.  They still are in the minority, but they make up a bigger percentage today then when I first started back in the late 70’s.   Although perceptions have changed and many prejudices have been overcome (still more to go), many women still have this cultural conditioning which bury their primal instincts.

Some years ago, I helped a friend, Wayne Badbury (from Kamon Wing Chun) doing a self protection course for women.  I was one of the stooges to be hit.  I had a kind of crash helmet, cricket shin pads and body armour.  It was like an early primitive version of the FAST Defence.  I had to provoke the women into an emotional response and then be hit.  I have to say that I was quite amazed at how hard some of these women hit when actually emotionally aroused (with fear).  I would not have liked to be hit like that without the protection and most men would not have been able to withstand it for long.

I hope I don’t offend anybody here, but these women in the emotional state hit harder and were more scary than a lot of female martial artists that I’ve trained with.  Most times that I’ve sparred with women, I’ve felt obliged to tone it down a bit (masculine cultural programming).  I will say that this is not always the case.  I remember once trying out a new club and being partnered to fight a female 3rd Dan.  I thought “OK, take it easy”, but the second we started she jumped in and hit me reverse punch.  “OK”, I thought, “I’ll go up a gear”.

Now some people may think that I’m sexist, but that same lady 3rd Dan later admitted that she too had to tone it down with most other women.  Now don’t get me wrong, I not suggesting that the guys should be laying into the women and knocking them about, far from it.  What I am suggesting is that if women can overlook some of their social conditioning, they’ll find they are much tougher then they think they are and are much more capable of physically fighting of an attacker then they think they are.

One of the most primal functions of a woman’s body is child birth.  Most men could not take that level of pain, yet many women do it over and over again.  Women have far more depths and capacity then most men give them credit for.  For that matter, they have far more depth and capacity then most women give themselves credit for.  Having the will to fight back (if necessary) does not detract from feminism (as some social conditioning may have women believe).  In fact many men actually have more respect for and are more attracted to a strong willed & spirited woman.

Ironically, many women would without hesitation fight to the death to protect their child, but not for themselves.  Don’t let social conditioning set you up to be a victim.

Who The F*** You Looking At? (Part 2)

Following on from Part 1, many people will tell you that fighting is more mental than physical and that is especially true of the pre-fight build-up as discussed in Part 1.  The aggressor shouts, swears and threatens to intimidate you and take away your will to fight.  At the same time, he is building himself up and preparing himself for his assault.  It is at this stage that fights are very often won or lost, before any blows are exchanged.  This is why (as previously mentioned) I think it a good idea for people to do some kind of scenario/adrenalin training fairly early in their martial arts training.  At the bottom of this post are some links where you can go to find some of this type of training.  It is by no means exhaustive, so if you know of any other resources where people can get this kind of training to supplement their martial art, then please feel free to add more links in the comments section below.

Traditional martial arts do however have some built in factors to deal with the effects adrenalin, albeit a much longer route.  One method is the emphasis on perfecting techniques.  The continual repetition of technique builds up a strong neural pathway in the brain.  When under pressure, we know that our technique will not be 100% perfect, but the stronger that neural pathway is, the better that technique will be and it will fire under pressure without having to think about it.  The worst thing under pressure is for you to have to stop to think, “how” do I punch/kick/strike/strangle/whatever.  You want to be able to just think “punch”, the neural pathway fires and body just does it.  You don’t want to be thinking, “I should twist my fist at the end of the punch” or “I mustn’t pull my hand back before I punch”, or any other such detail of the technique.  By the time you’ve thought it, its too late.  Training good basics over a long period of time will ensure a reflex responses which could be vital at that split second when you most need it.

Also, as mentioned in Part 1, an effect of adrenalin is that blood goes to the major muscle groups when threatened.  Well in the main, our basic techniques primarily utilise the major muscle groups, so they are designed to work under these pressures.

The pre-arranged sparring is also useful, especially as you get onto the higher level exercises.  Now people will criticize these exercises as unrealistic, and to a certain extent they are.  Thugs do not step back into a stance, announce their attack from safely out of range, then attack you with a nice clean cut martial arts technique.  They are more likely to be up in your face, shouting and swearing, posturing (pea-cocking) rather going into a formal stance or guard, then launch a surprise attack.

However, our formal sparring exercises do serve several functions.  They help us to learn a sense of timing and distancing.  After you have bowed and taken up your position, you should have an expression of deadly seriousness.  No smiles or nods to your training partner because he’s your friend.  This is where you learn to apply psychological pressure to each other.  You learn to project it and to receive it.  This is not quite the same as the scenario based training mentioned above but it does have some similarities.  When somebody steps back into his stance, looks you straight in the eye with a deadly serious expression, even though you may know his attack in advance, you also know that it will be fast and powerful and if you don’t block or evade it, you’ll get hit with it.  This is a form of pressure training.  If you are used to doing this exercise in a “friendly” manner with your training partner, then you are missing the point!

What about Kata (forms/patterns)?  When practising, you should put your full intent into your movements.  This is a mental exercise as well as a physical one.  In an earlier posting, Kata: Training Beyond Technique, (which I recommend you read if you haven’t already) I described an old basketball experiment involving 3 groups of volunteers.  Each group shot balls at the hoop.  One group practiced, one group did nothing and the third group just visualised shooting balls through the hoop.  I’m not sure of the exact results, but it was something like this:

The group that practiced improved by about 24%.
The group that did not practice made no noticeable difference.
The group that merely visualised (but did not actually practice) made about 23% improvement.

You see, the subconscious brain does not does not recognise the difference between what is real and what is imagined.  If you watch a scary movie, you find your heartbeat increase . . . . yet your conscious mind knows that you are safe and sound snuggled up on your sofa.

The subconscious mind however, reacts to the fantasy of the film and your body responds accordingly.   When practicing your kata, you should not just practice to perfect the movements (though that is important too), but you should visualise yourself fighting real opponents.  Visualise with as much intensity as you can, actual combat as you practice your moves.

In the words of Gichin Funikoshi (who introduced Karate from Okinawa to Japan and founder of Shotokan):

“Since karate is a martial art, you must practice with uttermost seriousness from the very beginning. This means going beyond diligent or sincere training. In every step, in every movement of your hand, you must imagine yourself facing an opponent with a drawn sword. Each and every punch must be made with the power of your entire body behind it, with the feeling of destroying your opponent with a single blow. You must believe that if this punch fails, you will forfeit your own life. Thinking this, your mind and energy will be concentrated, and your spirit will express itself to the fullest.
No matter how much time you devote to practice, no matter how many months and years pass, if your practice consists of no more than moving your arms and legs, you might as well be studying a dance. You will never come to know the true meaning karate”.

The old Okinawan masters understood the power of visualisation and training the mind.  Today, we often focus too much on the form of the technique rather than the function.  This does not train our mind (and I’m guilty of this too).  If we train as Funikoshi says, we introduce on-going scenario/adrenalin training into every aspect of our martial art.

An arguement sometimes put forward is that the finer applications requiring fine motor skills and co-ordination will not work well in an adrenalized state as the blood goes to the major muscle groups and away from our brain and smaller muscles.  However, I partially disagree.  Note . . . I said, “partially”.

If you train as Funikoshi says, will utmost seriousness, imagining that you face a man with a sword (or bottle/knife), then you train these fine skills under the regular effect of a small amount of adrenalin.  If you only train for form, or if you only train with a very “friendly” training partner who does not put you under pressure, then yes, I agree that your fine motor skill will not work under the influence of an adrenalin dump.  The power of your mind and imagination is a very important tool for making your martial art much more functional as it was designed to be.

In the words of Albert Einstein:

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Here are links I mentioned at the beginning where you can go to find scenario/adrenalin based training (please feel free to add more in the comments section below) : –

United Kingdom

http://britishcombat.co.uk

http://www.kevinohagan.com (Bristol)

http://www.completeselfprotection.com (Al Peasland)

http://www.fastdefence.com

United States of America

http://www.fastdefense.com

Who The F*** You Looking At? (Part 1)

More and more these days, people are talking about the effects of adrenalin during a fight and/or fight build up and a number of training programs have been built up around it.  But should traditional martial arts alone be enough to prepare us for the effects of adrenalin and what did the masters of old do about it?

For the sake of this article, I will focus on an average thug, trying to pick a fight with you, rather than a professional mugger/rapist, whose tactics may be a bit more slick.  From the moment that somebody starts to pick a fight with you, and enquiries of you with great verbal eloquence and dexterity, “who the f*** you looking at”, what are the effects of adrenalin that you can expect to experience?  Well this will vary from person to person, especially if you compare somebody who is an experienced street fighter against somebody who is not.

Quite a lot has been written about this in recent years, but if you are new to this subject then please let me recap for you.  One of the main effects of adrenalin is that blood flows to major muscle groups in preparation for fight or flight.  Side effects of this are:

  • limbs shake (especially legs).
  • the brain does not function so well and you can’t always think straight (less blood).
  • fine motor skills deteriorate (accuracy) as gross motor skills improve (stronger, faster).

Other possible effects of adrenalin include:

  • sight becomes tunnel vision, focusing on your antagonist (making you vulnerable to surprise attacks from other directions).
  • you may feel the need to empty your bowels (this is the body trying to make itself lighter for fight or flight).
  • voice may become higher.
  • you freeze!

It is important though to note that these effects will vary from person to person.  The street predators or an experienced street fighter may not seem to show these effects quite as much as they are used to “training” in the adrenalin zone.  Probably the worst side effect of all is that you may “freeze”.  People often talk about “fight or flight”, but they forget about the “freeze”.

First of all, why do we freeze?

Well its an out of date defence mechanism that goes back to caveman times.  If Mr Ugg gets up in the morning, walks out of his cave on his own, without his spear for a quick stretch and yawn and spots a sabre tooth tiger, he has no way of out-fighting the beast and is unlikely to out-run him either.  If he freezes, the beast may possibly not notice him and move on (many wild animals do this).  Of course this is no longer an appropriate defence mechanism when we are dealing with human predators who want to mug, rape or beat us up, as opposed to a large furry or scaly predator who wants to eat us.  It is however, a mechanism that plays straight into the hand of the human predator.

The eye detects movement much more quickly than it detects shapes.  Before you can identify a shape, you often “catch something out of the corner of your eye”.  I have read that the British SAS (special forces) when working in a jungle will walk for 10 minutes, then stay still for 20 minutes; walk 10, still 20, etc.  With so many different shapes and colors in a jungle, this ensures that they see the enemy before the enemy sees them.  It can be difficult to make out a human form in all that foliage, but you will see the movement.  Hence even our special forces intentionally “freeze” for 20 minutes out of every 30.

If we train regular martial arts, should we be concerned about this.  Well, even trained martial artists have been known to freeze when confronted with the raw aggression of a street predator.  I have attended a FAST (Fear, Adrenalin, Stress Training) Defense Course, where part of the training is to subject people to this type of aggression in a controlled environment to teach them to deal with it without freezing.  One lady on the course who was an experienced Tae Kwon Do exponent started to cry when the instructor yelled at her that she was a “f***ing bitch”.

Now for many of us who train in a Dojo/Dojangs where swearing is not allowed, it may seem very strange that an instructor should use this type of language, but that is the language of the street predator or abuser.  The lady’s TKD experience had not prepared her for this kind of verbal abuse and had that happened on the street, it could all be too late at that point!  In fairness to this particular lady, she recovered her composure, stood her ground and completed the course.  She probably took a much larger step forward that day then anybody else on the course, so I have full respect for her.

But it goes to show that traditional martial arts training often does not prepare you for this type of raw aggression.  It does not always prepare you for the pre-fight build up ritual.  And it usually is a ritual, as the aggressor builds themselves up whilst psyching you down at the same time.

In his book, Dead Or Alive, pioneering author Geoff Thompson describes how the dialogue can almost show a countdown.  The sentences get shorter and shorter until they are just one syllable, then they strike.  It start with something like; “You looking at me, you want a piece of me”, to “come on then”, to simply “yeah”!  Geoff emphasises that it will not go like this every time, but if it does then you are listening to a countdown, so be ready.  Better still, strike first.

People who have experience as a street fighter (as many experienced martial artists have in younger days) sometimes have trouble relating to how this is a problem for those that have not had much real life experience.  They see dealing with aggression as common sense.  But as the old saying goes, “common sense is not very common”.

What do you actually do when you hear those dreaded words, “who you looking at”?  If you act passively, you fuel their confidence.  If you jump into your fighting stance and say “come on then, I do Karate”; sometimes you may face them down, but sometimes it will be taken as a challenge so you end up in a fight you didn’t want anyway.  Not only that, but you’ve just tipped him off on how you are likely to fight so he will be a bit more cautious.

Even if you match your aggressor with shouting, threats and abuse so that he feels fear and he actually wants to back down, he may not back down if his mates are watching.  Sometimes they will risk taking a beating rather than loosing face.  And even if you win, that’s your night ruined as most normal people do not enjoy fighting.

If you are confident that you can hit hard and you believe that if you are able to land a good clean shot that you can finish the fight (or at least knock them down long enough for you to escape) then another tactic is to act passively and scared to lull them into a false sense of security.  You let them confidently puff themselves up, so that they don’t feel the need to put up a guard, then when they get close enough and you have a good target, you hit it as hard as you can and then get out of there.

Now these tactics sound quite straight forward.  However, as mentioned above, when you have just had an adrenalin dump, blood goes to major muscles and goes away from your brain.  You are therefore not able to think as well or as quickly as you would in the dojo/dojang.  Under these circumstances, because the brain is a bit impaired it will tend to resort to it last experience in a similar scenario.  If the last experience in this kind of scenario is cower, that is what you are likely to do again (not always, but in most cases).

Traditional martial arts usually train us for when the punches start flying, but we often do not train for the pre-fight ritual.  When we’re not even allowed to swear or yell at each other in the dojo/dojang, how can it prepare us?

For people who have little or no real life experience at street fighting, some kind of adrenalin training is very important.  If nothing else, when the adrenalin hits the blood stream and the brain does not function at full capacity, then the last experience is one of action, not one of cowering, so that should be the experience that the person falls back on.  Adrenalin training is scenario based, whereas traditional martial art training is technique based.

By scenario based, I mean that the participants actually act out a scenario with one person playing the role of aggressor, shouting abuse and swearing whilst the defender learns to feel the adrenalin, operate under its influence and become de-sensitized to the abuse and threats.  Scenario based training can give you very quick results in a short space of time, the main result being that it will help to overcome the “freeze” reflex.  Technique based training will take very much longer to achieve this.

To summarize, scenario based training will give limited results, but gives results very very quickly.  It won’t make you a fighter, but it may help you to diffuse a possible fight so that you don’t have to fight at all.  Technique based training can take you to very high levels of speed, power, accuracy and co-ordination; but it takes a long time to learn.  It can also take some many many years for a timid person to overcome that timidity in the face of raw aggression.  That’s a lot years that a timid person stays vulnerable, however good his/her technique may be.

I personally believe that the two go hand in glove with each other and that every martial artist should at some point do some scenario training, preferably at the beginning of their martial art careers.  It is often said that fighting is more mental than physical and a brilliant technique in the dojo/dojang is completely useless if it freezes on the street.


Turning To The Dark Side And Mama Bear!

OK, the title may sound a bit bizarre, but bare with me and all will become clear.  I hope.

Why is it that although martial arts are supposed to make us better, calmer, more relaxed people; that some of us actually enjoy practicing violent applications that can hurt, maim or possibly kill another human being?  Is it some deep down psychopathic instinct that some of us just can’t overcome?

The fact that some of us enjoy practicing the violent applications does not mean that we are violent people.  However, to enjoy practicing them and to be able to apply them effectively, one must be able to dig down into the darker part of our human nature.  We must delve into that part of us that is prepared to hurt, cripple and destroy another human being.  This is what I (tongue in cheek) loosely refer to as “turning to the dark side”.

I must emphasise that there is an enormous difference between being prepared to harm another human being (depending on circumstances) and wanting to harm another human being.

So why, when we are striving to become better people, do we actively look to engage and develop this “dark side” of our human nature?

Firstly, whether you are religious or not, Western society is dominated by Christian values and doctrine.  As such, so much of our behaviour is considered right and wrong, good and evil.  Basically it is a culture of opposites, you must be one or the other.  However, Eastern philosophies and even our own pre-Christian Pagan philosophies would often see things more as two sides of the same coin rather than opposites.  A balance.  Yin and Yang.

By engaging the “dark side” of our nature, we are actually more able to avoid confrontations by our outer confidence, as well as being more able to help others in distress.  To quote from Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility”.  The flip side is that you cannot assume the great responsibility if you do not have the great power.  Spiderman’s ability to help and save people in danger (light side) came from his enormous strength and his ability to beat the living s**t out of the bad guys (dark side).

Now I’m not suggesting that we will become superhero’s by practicing martial arts and save people from marauding villains.  However, along with our increased ability to defend ourselves (do violence to some b******d that seriously deserves it) comes a special kind of confidence.  A confidence which ironically will sometimes allows us handle situations more assertively, so that we actually don’t have to resort to violence.

When training in the nastier applications, even in a friendly environment, many people still find it difficult to delve into that dark part of their nature and hence find it more difficult to make the applications work properly.  As a youth, I was very timid, so I’ve been there.  Now at 40 something years old and with years of Karate training, it comes much more naturally to me.

For somebody who is (for want of a better word) “timid” or uncomfortable with these applications, I would like to make some suggestions.  When you look at a thug trying to intimidate someone, there is a big display of “peacocking”, sticking their chest out like Dolly Parton, jutting their head forward, arms loose from the sides like a cowboy about to go for his gun.  That part is not too important.  What is more important is that typically they invade the other persons personal space to intimidate and emotionally control them.  The victim will typically respond by drawing back, pulling their arms into their body and making their own personal space as small as possible.  This is actually quite a key tactic that thugs use instinctively.  Why?  Because it’s effective.

When practicing self defence techniques, experienced martial artists will happily move into their training partners space; whilst the more timid people will tend to pull back.  It is because the more timid person wants to get away, whereas the more experienced person will seek to take control (just like the thug/victim scenario above).

Using a bunkai/Chi-na example, imagine an “attacker” grabs the “defenders” wrist with a cross grab (right hand to right wrist – or left to left).  The defender traps the attackers grabbing hand with their own free hand, then moves both hands in a circle to apply the lock.  The more confident “defenders” move slightly forward as they perform the technique, circling their hand near to the attackers body.  This locks both the “attackers” elbow and wrist at right angles, making the lock easy to apply.  The more timid people tend to perform the technique by circling their hands much closer to their own body.  This resulted in both the “attackers” elbow and wrist not quite reaching the 90 angles and the lock being more difficult to apply.

The “victim” way of thinking, is simply to pull back and escape.  It makes the self defence techniques more difficult to apply and less effective.  I would suggest to anybody struggling with this, is that you have to think “control” before you think “escape”.  If you escape, but have not put your opponent out of action, they will simply chase you.  Think like the street thug, go into your opponent’s personal space and control them.  Then your escape will be much easier.

Having said that, how does a small or timid person actually manage to access that “dark side”, in order to move in and control somebody?  How do you turn your fear, dread and longing to escape into the will to move in and take control of somebody who is bigger, stronger and intent on hurting you?

Well if I can focus on women here for a minute, they are often told, “imagine somebody is going to rape you”.  I would respectfully suggest that this can be a bit counter-productive as any woman faced with a would-be rapist is just going to want to get away even more, rather than to invade his personal space and get closer; which unfortunately is what is required for many self defence techniques.  I would suggest a different image.  Imagine that your child (or niece, nephew, friends child) is in danger and you are the only one there to protect that child.  Now you have to go in rather than run away.  Nothing in the world is more ferocious than a Mama bear when somebody messes with her cubs.  To learn self defence against bigger, stronger men, sometimes you have to bring out the “Mama bear” in a woman.  Even professional burglars will avoid breaking into houses with kids, because they know that mothers will fight to the death to protect a child.

As much as your instinct may tell you to draw back, escape and run away when you are threatened, you may need to disable your opponent before you can run so that they don’t run after you.  That means you have to find your dark spot inside your soul, you have to access your inner “Mama bear” and you have to be prepared to go into your opponent before you go out.  And as mentioned above, training like this leads to confidence, which leads to assertiveness, which in turn can defuses a situation before it kicks off.

Although many senior instructors are very proficient in their martial applications, you can see by the way that they teach their students that many of them have a very nurturing and caring side to their natures.  Despite years of Karate training, I consider myself to be a very gentle person.  Some people may consider this to be contradictory.  Those who have trained for many years will consider it a natural consequence of our training.  That’s the paradox.  These traits are not opposites, they are the balance.  The Yin and Yang.

All martial methods come with a code.  The knights of old had their chivalry, to protect the weak.  The ancient Samurai would sacrifice themselves without question for their master or their masters family.

Many of today’s martial arts from Japan and Korea end in “Do” (Judo, Kendo, Aikido, Tae Kwon Do, No Can Do etc).  The “Do” means “way”.  And by “way”, they mean a way to self development, self improvement and even self enlightenment.

All of these codes mean that although the individual develops fighting skills which can potentially destroy other human beings, they are better people and better members of their society.  One might argue about the brutality of the Samurai (who would not hesitate to kill women and children of an enemy clan), but in the society that they lived in, unquestioning loyalty and total obedience was expected.  They were therefore, very good members of their society.  In today’s society, the “Do” expects you to be a more altruist and caring person.

It is the balance.

Kata: Training Beyond Technique

Much is debated and demonstrated about the fighting applications within kata (patterns/forms), myself included.  But not too much is spoken about the mindset, or mental approach you should take when performing your kata.  Yes we all know that we should concentrate and focus, but beyond that . . . . what?

Whilst we are learning our kata, then obviously a certain amount of our concentration will be on making sure that we get the techniques and sequence correct.  With practice we should be able to perform our kata without having to think about them very much.  So now that we no longer have to think about the movements, what do we think about?  What’s for dinner?  Going for a drink afterwards?  Or how cool we look doing this kata without thinking about it?

Well my answer might surprise some people, especially as a large part of our training is about self development and making ourselves better people.  What I think you should do when you perform a kata that  you know well is to pour all you nastiness, malevolence, viciousness and malice into your kata.  That may sound strange from somebody who believes in self development as well as practicality, but please bear with me.

Real violence is nasty, malevolent, vicious and full of malice; and performing kata (or basics) is a mental rehearsal as well as a physical rehearsal.  Thugs may not have good technique, but they are used to “training” in the “adrenalin zone”. When you have to fight to defend yourself or your loved ones, then you are entering the thugs world of real violence and you have to be able to cope with it.  Adrenalin will effect your body, your perceptions and your ability to think. Your training should be real enough in your mind that you get a small adrenalin rush each time.  Whilst too much adrenalin can be unhealthy, a regular amount at low levels is fine, plus you become more immune to it’s negative effects after a while.  You will be able to remain calmer in a crisis.

Now some people may be concerned that training with this mindset may also train a thuggish mentality.  But as soon as you finish your kata, you step up into Yamae (finish position), you go back to calm.

We train ourselves to “switch on” quickly and “switch off” just as quickly.  If somebody attacks us, we do not want to freeze in shock (which happens even to high grade martial artists).  That said, if we successfully defend ourselves and incapacitate our attacker, we do not want to jump up and down on their prostrate body or perform River-Dance on their head.  We need to be able to stop and not be carried away in the heat of an unfamiliar moment.

As martial artists we need to know when to stop for  legal and even more importantly; for moral reasons.  We need to enter the world of vile malevolence when needed and exit it just as quickly when the job is done.  However, nasty the thug may be, we as martial artists should be able to show mercy once we overpower him/her.  It is part of the Yin & Yang of training and of our development.  Its about balance in our personality.

The only way to have little or no fear of violence is to be good at it.  I am not advocating that you act in a violent manner, but when you know that you can handle yourself in most situations, you project a confidence which most predators of the human world will recognise and they will be more likely to avoid you.  Please note that I say “most situations”, as there will always be someone more experienced or better armed then you.

Most human predators mirror the animal predators.  Think of the lion, king of the jungle.  They hunt in prides, but do they for the big muscular young bull buffalo with the great big horns.

No.

They go for the old, the young, the weak, the one with the gammy leg that can’t run properly.  Basically, for predators its about finding an easy target.  For us training is about making you a hard target, physically and emotionally.  The big fit bull with the horns does not need to threaten the lions, the lions just know.  So it is when you walk with an air of confidence, the human predators just know.

But projecting true confidence is not just about how you walk or your posture.  It’s about knowing that you are prepared physically and mentally should a conflict make it necessary.  As Bruce Lee once said in his films, “the art of fighting without fighting”.

I heard of a study years ago where they got 3 groups and tested them at throwing balls through a basketball hoop.  After recording the results, they had one of the groups practice shooting the balls at the hoop, one of the groups not practice at all; and the third group just visualise throwing balls at the hoop.  Later they tested the three groups again.  The group that practiced improved by something like 24% (if I remember right).  The group that did not practice made no improvement at all.

The amazing thing though was that the group that just visualised throwing the balls improved dramatically, with about a 23% improvement.  Visualisation achieved almost as good a result as doing the real thing.  Therefore whilst practicing kata, using visualisations of the violence and malevolence of the situation can actually help you prepare for it more than most people give it credit for (even if you don’t fully understand the bunkai).  Although good technique is important, unless you are practicing primarily for competition it should not always be your main focus.  Funikoshi said that spirit is more important than technique and he primarily taught by kata rather than kumite (sparring).

This concept may be a bit new to some people.  Whether it’s new to you or not, please leave a comment below to tell me what you think, I’d like to hear from you.

Kata: Training Beyond Technique

Much is debated and demonstrated about the fighting applications within kata (patterns/forms), myself included.  But not too much is spoken about the mindset, or mental approach you should take when performing your kata.  Yes we all know that we should concentrate and focus, but beyond that . . . . what?

Whilst we are learning our kata, then obviously a certain amount of our concentration will be on making sure that we get the techniques and sequence correct.  With practice we should be able to perform our kata without having to think about them very much.  So now that we no longer have to think about the movements, what do we think about?  What’s for dinner?  Going for a drink afterwards?  Or how cool we look doing this kata without thinking about it?

Well my answer might surprise some people, especially as a large part of our training is about self development and making ourselves better people.  What I think you should do when you perform a kata that  you know well is to pour all you nastiness, malevolence, viciousness and malice into your kata.  That may sound strange from somebody who believes in self development as well as practicality, but please bear with me.

Real violence is nasty, malevolent, vicious and full of malice; and performing kata (or basics) is a mental rehearsal as well as a physical rehearsal.  Thugs may not have good technique, but they are used to “training” in the “adrenalin zone”. When you have to fight to defend yourself or your loved ones, then you are entering the thugs world of real violence and you have to be able to cope with it.  Adrenalin will effect your body, your perceptions and your ability to think. Your training should be real enough in your mind that you get a small adrenalin rush each time.  Whilst too much adrenalin can be unhealthy, a regular amount at low levels is fine, plus you become more immune to it’s negative effects after a while.  You will be able to remain calmer in a crisis.

Now some people may be concerned that training with this mindset may also train a thuggish mentality.  But as soon as you finish your kata, you step up into Yamae (finish position), you go back to calm.

We train ourselves to “switch on” quickly and “switch off” just as quickly.  If somebody attacks us, we do not want to freeze in shock (which happens even to high grade martial artists).  That said, if we successfully defend ourselves and incapacitate our attacker, we do not want to jump up and down on their prostrate body or perform River-Dance on their head.  We need to be able to stop and not be carried away in the heat of an unfamiliar moment.

As martial artists we need to know when to stop for  legal and even more importantly; for moral reasons.  We need to enter the world of vile malevolence when needed and exit it just as quickly when the job is done.  However, nasty the thug may be, we as martial artists should be able to show mercy once we overpower him/her.  It is part of the Yin & Yang of training and of our development.  Its about balance in our personality.

The only way to have little or no fear of violence is to be good at it.  I am not advocating that you act in a violent manner, but when you know that you can handle yourself in most situations, you project a confidence which most predators of the human world will recognise and they will be more likely to avoid you.  Please note that I say “most situations”, as there will always be someone more experienced or better armed then you.

Most human predators mirror the animal predators.  Think of the lion, king of the jungle.  They hunt in prides, but do they for the big muscular young bull buffalo with the great big horns.

No.

They go for the old, the young, the weak, the one with the gammy leg that can’t run properly.  Basically, for predators its about finding an easy target.  For us training is about making you a hard target, physically and emotionally.  The big fit bull with the horns does not need to threaten the lions, the lions just know.  So it is when you walk with an air of confidence, the human predators just know.

But projecting true confidence is not just about how you walk or your posture.  It’s about knowing that you are prepared physically and mentally should a conflict make it necessary.  As Bruce Lee once said in his films, “the art of fighting without fighting”.

I heard of a study years ago where they got 3 groups and tested them at throwing balls through a basketball hoop.  After recording the results, they had one of the groups practice shooting the balls at the hoop, one of the groups not practice at all; and the third group just visualise throwing balls at the hoop.  Later they tested the three groups again.  The group that practiced improved by something like 24% (if I remember right).  The group that did not practice made no improvement at all.

The amazing thing though was that the group that just visualised throwing the balls improved dramatically, with about a 23% improvement.  Visualisation achieved almost as good a result as doing the real thing.  Therefore whilst practicing kata, using visualisations of the violence and malevolence of the situation can actually help you prepare for it more than most people give it credit for (even if you don’t fully understand the bunkai).  Although good technique is important, unless you are practicing primarily for competition it should not always be your main focus.  Funikoshi said that spirit is more important than technique and he primarily taught by kata rather than kumite (sparring).

This concept may be a bit new to some people.  Whether it’s new to you or not, please leave a comment below to tell me what you think, I’d like to hear from you.