New Martial Arts Blog: PhaseShifting

My friend Andras Millward has just started up his own blog at: http://phaseshifting.wordpress.com.

For those of you who are into reality based martial arts and self protection, this blog will be well worth keeping an eye on for several reasons.

First of all, Andras has a good background in Wing Chun (which is noted for being one of the more practical martial arts) as well as being a qualified FAST (Fear Adrenalin Stress Training) Defence instructor.  FAST Defence is one the best reality based self defence systems for getting very quick and lasting results.  Furthermore, Andras regularly trains (private lessons and seminars) with Kevin O’Hagan and Jamie Clubb who both have international reputations for reality based self protection.

Secondly, Andras is published author and used to be a journalist, so he knows how to write well to put his point across.

His blog is in it’s infancy so there is not much content yet, but it will definitely be worth following, so go across and say hello to Andras at: http://phaseshifting.wordpress.com.

I would like to wish Andras every success with this new venture.

Engage Your Opponents Brain To Increase Their Vulnerability

Since the last of the Neanderthals died out about 20,000 years ago the human brain has continued to evolve from what was primarily an animal brain governed by instinct, to a much larger and more complicated brain capable of logical thought.  A very large part of our brain today deals with communication, reason, social behaviour/interaction and a whole lot of other things that other animals are not capable of.  The ideas of guilt and remorse, right and wrong, good and evil, are all absent in the animal kingdom.

However, we still have the primitive parts of our brain which controls many of our more basic instincts, including amongst other things: violence.

When we find ourselves in a confrontational situation, decades of social conditioning and logic will often restrain us.  Even most thugs will stop at beating somebody up rather than actually killing them, whereas most animals would not really give killing a second thought.  In a confrontational situation adrenalin is released into the body and extra blood goes into the limbs to prepare for the fight or flight.  A side effect of this is that blood is drained from the brain, so the higher functions of logic, social conditioning and reasoning become much less efficient.  However, the more primitive part of the brain (sometimes called “the reptilian brain”) still functions normally and this is the part that deals with violence.

This is the same for both the aggressor and the victim.  Although not everybody fully understands this process, it is used intuitively to gain advantage.  A bully may shout, swear and threaten to intimidate his/her target; but as they do so they psyche themself up by adrenalising themselves.  This reduces their own higher brain functions and taking themselves to their own lower “reptilian” brain.  By doing this they can to a certain extent anesthetize themselves to their own barbaric behaviour which their higher brain functions might question and reject.  It makes sense then to shut down those higher brain function which might restrict and limit their plan to harm somebody.  It’s a bit like a warrior giving out a battle cry before the battle begins, it serves the same purpose.

Of course there are some exceptions to this.  Sociopaths believe that the rules do not apply themselves, so violence comes easy to them without having to psyche themselves up.  Most “professional” street predators (rapists, muggers, etc) are sociopaths.  But I would guess (and it is a guess) that most average street thugs do have some small level of conscience which they prefer to silence, so that they do not have to face it.

So how can you use this knowledge to your advantage when confronted with a thug who is psyching themself up?

Well the first thing to do is to try to get them back to their higher brain functions if you can, where they are less likely to attack.  You can do this by asking questions that make them think.  In FAST (Fear Adrenalin Stress Training) Defence, they recommend asking in an assertive manner “what do you want”?

But it could really be anything.  You could say something completely random like “isn’t it a shame about the polar bears at the North Pole”?  The normal response will be something like, “What the f***”?  Either way, it gets them thinking and going back to the higher brain function and away from the reptilian brain.  At best this may be enough to avert an imminent attack.  Hopefully it will make them pause as their higher brain functions (including conscience, reasoning, social conditioning, etc) kick back in, even if only for a moment.  This momentary hesitation should be enough time for a trained martial artist to successfully launch a pre-emptive strike and hopefully finish the situation then and there (before they realise and start psyching themself back up again).

I’m not saying that this will work every time against every aggressor, but it could give you an edge when you need it most.  This type of tactic is often practiced in reality based martial art training, but is usually absent where people don’t not look beyond the boundaries of their own traditional martial art.

 

Are Traditional Martial Arts Any Use To Somebody Who Is Being Bullied?

My on-line friend Colin Wee, 6th Dan TKD, has proposed an Anti-Bullying Blogging Carnival.  As I used to be bullied a lot back in far distant school days, I thought this was a good idea, so this is my contribution to the Carnival.

The obvious answer the title question is of course, YES, traditional martial arts can help somebody who is being bullied; but there are some limitations that need to be taken into consideration.

For somebody just starting their training, traditional martial arts can take quite a while to learn up to a proficient standard.  Something like Kickboxing is simpler and can be learnt to a proficient level considerably quicker.  Confidence is quickly gained when hitting an actual target (like focus mitts or punchbag).  Traditional martial arts may have more depth and include a much greater range of techniques and capabilities (grappling, pressure points, grab releases, etc); but the emphasis on perfecting technique makes them more difficult and slower to learn.

For somebody who is being physically bullied NOW, taking up traditional martial arts alone may be a bit slow to produce results.

Another factor which is much more important however is the pre-fight build up and the emotional response to the threat of violence, which is often overlooked in traditional martial arts.  A fight can be won or lost before the first punch/kick is even thrown by one person intimidating the other and undermining their confidence.  Bullies routinely use this tactic as part of their build up; be it name calling, threatening, minor pushing around; all testing the response and intimidating their victim into a feeling of helplessness and fear.  This loss of confidence and fear leads to hesitations and even freezing at a critical moment making it even easier for the bully to dominate in a physical conflict as the victim can become too scared to even fight back.

Simplistically put, the bully psyches them-self up, whilst the victim is psyched down.

Some instructors who have been in a number of altercations in their younger days assume that the pre-fight stage is a matter of common sense once you know how to fight.  It may be common sense to somebody who has actually had experience at real fighting.  But it is not common sense to somebody who has not been in that position before and hasn’t had that experience.  It certainly is not common sense to somebody who has been routinely bullied and has developed an ingrained behaviour pattern of backing down and acting passively when threatened, they just don’t know anything else.  When under this type of pressure, blood goes to the limbs (for fight or flight) and away from the brain.  Therefore the  brain does not think very clearly and relies on instincts and experience.  If the last experience when being bullied was to act passively, then the chances are that they will act passively again.  Not always, sometimes they snap and go for it, but in most cases they will do more or less the same as before.

Many years ago, whilst rising up through the coloured belts in my Karate, I trained hard, was naturally flexible and had good technique for my grade.  However, when sparring or entering in a competition I would often not do very well, even when I was faster, sharper and had better technique than the person that I was facing.  I realised later that it was because I was not very aggressive and had a passive nature.  Yes, I was bullied a lot at school and no, I didn’t really stick up for myself.

So if I was not doing well in the relative safety of sparring and competition, what would have happened if I’d been involved in a street fight?

Many traditional martial arts give little consideration to the pre-fight stages of the conflict and how to deal with it emotionally or psychologically.  Many systems do include pre-arranged sparring routines which can be used to work this area and include emotional intensity/pressure.  When you face somebody who is going to come in at you fast and strong and if you don’t block, side step or evade, they’ll take your head off; then you do get used to dealing with the adrenaline and fear but it can take a long time.

Shortly after passing my black belt I was sparring with my Sensei.  Whilst he obviously got the better of me, I stood my ground quite well and made it work for it.  He said to me afterwards with a little smile, “what happened to that green belt that I used to be able to kick all around the dojo”?

Traditional martial arts training had made a big difference to me mentally and emotionally and by the time I had obtained my black belt I had overcome much of my limitations caused by my passive nature.  However, it had taken me nearly 4 years to get there.  For somebody who is being bullied NOW, that is a long time.

This is why I am in favour of reality based training which uses scenarios to de-sensitize people to the threats, abuse and taunts, and teaches them to function even under the effects of adrenaline and fear.  Humans always learn much more quickly when in an emotional state, which is why reality based training gets very quick results and change that freeze reaction to an active response.  As mentioned above, when under pressure the brain losses blood and relies on experience.  If you can simulate a realistic experience where the victim takes action (be it assertive verbal behaviour to dissuade an attacker, or actual physical fighting back), then that becomes the default experience the next time that person is in that situation.

One of the first times I did this kind on training there was a young lady who was a reasonably high grade in Taekwondo.  When the trainer (as part of the training scenario) venomously called her a “f***ing bitch”, she started to cry.  She had obviously been through some abusive experiences in the past, but her traditional martial arts training had not prepared her to emotionally deal with this simple abuse and she went straight into the old ingrained behaviour pattern.  However, she continued the exercise and learnt a new response to take away with her, so I applaud her courage for sticking with it.  She took a bigger step forward that day than the rest of us.

I would warn however, that although learning under heightened emotional pressure produces quick results, it also hard-wires the response.  So if you overcome the “freeze” response but swing wildly, then the wild swinging could become your hard wired (and not very effective) response.  This is why I believe that scenario based training (reality based training) is very beneficial, but it should be used sparingly and should NOT become the default training method.  Traditional martial arts are the best way to obtain the best long term results, but if you don’t have the time, then you need a little extra.

Martial Arts Perth

Women’s Self Protection & Raw Power

I have written before about women’s primeval survival instincts which featured a video by Black Belt Hall Of Fame member, Melissa Soalt, otherwise known as “Dr Ruthless”.

The video below also features Dr Ruthless teaching self protection to women, most of whom are completely untrained in martial arts.  Although this video does not really include anything dramatically new, I think it is good (especially for women) to remind ourselves how powerful women can be with the right motivation and a real will to survive no matter what the odds.

As I mentioned in my previous article, society can teach women that they are the fair sex and weaker, sometimes giving the impression that they should not even try to fight back if attacked.  Woman are often taught that they don’t stand a chance.

However, just take a look at how much raw power untrained women can generate when they keep their heads instead of panicking and when they ignore any inappropriate social conditioning that might affect their personal safety.

Most predators look for an easy target.  Even  lions look to isolate a weak, old or injured buffalo from the herd; then don’t go for the strong young bull with the great big horns.  Why?  Because they don’t want to get hurt themselves, why would they?

A street predator (mugger/rapist) looking for a victim is just the same.  They select a target who they think will not put up much of a fight.  If it does become a real fight however, often they’ll back off as that is not what they are after.  Even though women generally may not be able to win an all out fight against a man, what is often overlooked is that most street predators are not looking for an all out fight.  Making as much noise as possible (like in the video below) is also a deterrent as the attacker knows that this will attract attention, which is the last thing that they want.

Of course this may not work against a drunk who is just looking for trouble and not thinking at all; but a mugger/rapist is more often sober and calculating and can potentially be even more dangerous.  So if he calculates that this target is too difficult or that the target will attract help from others, then they might just flee the scene.

So . . . . . respect to the ladies . . . . . give yourself more credit.

Do You Train To Win A Fair Fight?

A little while ago on the BunkaiJutsu Facebook page, I put on the following quote by Gichin Funakoshi:-

“When there are no avenues of escape or one is caught even before any attempt to escape can be made, then for the first time the use of self-defence techniques should be considered. Even at times like these, do not show any intention of attacking, but first let the attacker become careless. At that time attack him, concentrating one’s whole strength in one blow to a vital point, and in the moment of surprise, escape and seek shelter or help. It is most important to be on guard without becoming excited and to act with presence of mind throughout the situation from the beginning and even once the situation is in hand.
When delivering the one blow against the attacker, the importance of using one’s whole strength and being especially accurate cannot be overemphasized”.
Gichin Funakoshi, from his book Karate-Do Kyohan,

It generated quite a bit of interest and comment, so I thought I’d explore it a bit further.  What is easy to over-look here is that it shows a very different ethos and approach to how we are taught in most traditional martial arts today.

Gichin Funakoshi demonstrating on a makawawa

Today if we do any sparring, we face each other from outside of striking range, bow, take up our fighting stance, then start inching towards each other until we start to exchange strikes/kicks.  Basically, its all about having a “fair fight”.  It’s sport.

Even when we practice bunkai (applications) against more street style attacks such as haymakers, in most clubs, the attacker usually start out of striking range first, then moves into distance with the haymaker.  Again, this partially reflects the “fair fight” mentality; as if two guys have agreed to “step outside and sort it out”.

Note, I did say “partially” as I do realise that somebody could randomly swing at you, ready or not.

Even in that step outside scenario there is the concept of an even one on one fight.  I know it’s not always adhered to as one may pull out a weapon or mates my join in, but the concept is still there, and most traditional training seems to buy into it.

What most traditional martial arts do not train for the guy being right up in your face shouting and swearing, then head-butting you.

The old Okinawan masters did not practice sport.  Several of the old Okinawan masters are recorded as saying that Karate is mainly for defending oneself against untrained thugs (rather than matches with other trained martial artists).

Funakoshi always taught that fighting (even a “fair fight”) was wrong and should be avoided if at all possible.  He taught that Karate was mainly to make you a better person rather than a better fighter and as such if you were set about, he advised that the first course of action should be to run away.  That way nobody gets hurt.

On the few occasions that Funakoshi was forced to physically defend himself, he felt that it was a personal failure to have gotten into that situation in the first place, or for not having handled it better.  I personally think he was a bit hard on himself, but that’s just my opinion.

So if you hold true to the philosophy that you should decline any fights and run away if you can, then what do you do if you are cornered and have to fight whether you like it not?  The person picking on you is usually doing so because he/she thinks you are an easy target.  Are they looking for a fair fight?

No!  They’re looking for an easy victim.

So should you be expected to fight fair against somebody like that?

No, you should have to, because you shouldn’t be put in that position against your will.  You didn’t pick the fight and you didn’t agree to have one.  Self defence is about defending yourself from harm, it is not about having a fair fight.

Should you step back into your fighting stance and warn them, “back off, I do martial arts”?

No.  That warns them to be more careful.

This is the scenario Funakoshi was talking about.  Let them bluster at you and become over confident, then hit them with a pre-emptive strike to a vital point.  Then run!

This is the way that modern Reality Based Martial Arts train.  Don’t you find it a bit strange that people talk about Reality Based Martial Arts as if it is still quite new, when Funakoshi was talking about it decades ago?

To my mind, it suggest that most of today’s so called “traditional martial arts” are not that traditional.  It isn’t what Funakoshi taught!

The Gift Of “Peacocking”

This article looks at the pre-fight stage when somebody is trying to pick a fight with you.  It will not apply to a mugger or any form of “professional” street predator who is more likely to launch a surprise attack.

What is Peacocking?

Peacocking is a phrase usually used to describe somebody dressing or behaving in a manner designed to get the attention of the opposite sex.  BullyingHowever, from a martial arts/self protection point of view it is taken to mean how somebody puts on a display of puffing themselves up to make themselves look bigger and tougher in front of a potential opponent.  The chest is pushed out, shoulders pulled back, head held high and often jutting forward and arms often held out from the sides of the body.

The purpose of this behaviour is to intimidate the other person and to build themselves up before a fight.  Or to put it another way, it is to psych themselves up and psych the other person down.  It can however take many other forms such as pointing or shaking the fist at somebody.

Very broadly speaking the type of peacocking will depend on how confident the aggressor feels.  A very confident aggressor is more likely to keep his hands out to the sides of his body, which shows his intended victim that he is completely in control of the situation and he can take is victim as his leisure.  A less confident aggressor is more likely to have his hands between himself and his intended victim, pointing his finger or shaking his fist.  This still gives him some kind of barrier, just in case it doesn’t quite go the way he wants it to.

Why is this important

It is often said that a fight is won or lost before the first punch is even thrown.  It is also said that fighting is more mental than physical.  Both these statements are true.  If an aggressor can mentally intimidate somebody enough before they even attempt to strike their victim, then their victim is likely to hesitate, or worse still, freeze, giving the aggressor the chance to land a successful blow completely unopposed.  That gives them the upper hand from the very start of the fight.

This type of intimidatory tactic comes naturally and without any training to those with a bullying mindset.  It is very intuitive.

Defensive tactics

There are basically 2 main ways to deal with this type of threatening behaviour.  One is act very aggressively or assertively in order to deter the aggressor, the other is the act passively in order to lull the aggressor into a false sense of security, then hit him as hard as you can with a pre-emptive strike.

There are of course a number of variations on each theme and cross over tactics where you act passively first to let them get confident, then flip the switch and “go mental” to completely confuse them.  But for now we’ll stick to the 2 main tactics above.

Aggressive/Assertive

If you really do not want to fight, then acting aggressively or assertively to dissuade them might be your best tactic.  You can “go psycho” on them swearing, snarling, threatening with spittle dribbling down your chin in display of frenzy.  This might work and deter them if you do it convincingly enough.  However, if you are not convincing enough, you are laying down a challenge which they might take up to save losing face; especially if their mates (or worse still – girls) are watching.

If you can act very assertively without actually threatening them, then should they decide that you might be a bit of a handful they can back out without losing face (because you have not actually threatened them).  The key here is to make him want to back out and to make it easy for him to do so.

The video below shows an example of a training session from a FAST Defence seminar using postural and verbal skills to deal with an aggressor in an assertive manner without actually threatening him back.

Note:  Contains bad language.

(FAST = Fear Adrenalin Stress Training).

passive

By acting passively, you build up the aggressors confidence letting him think that he has a soft target.  This is best for when you believe that you are going to have to fight and that there is absolutely no way out.  When you believe that no amount of aggressive or assertive behaviour will detour the aggressor.

The more that you let him feel confident and in control, the more that he is likely to go into peacocking mode.  The more that he does this, the more open he becomes to a pre-emptive strike.  As he sticks his chest out and juts his head forward, so his neck and jaw line are left exposed for a quick strike.  If his arms confidently by sides (like a Western gunfighter) to make himself look bigger, then his arms are out of the way and should be unable to block your surprise attack.

That is why I called this posting the “Gift” of peacocking, because if you get somebody into that mode, they leave themselves incredibly open to you.  If you have trained for any length of time and are confident in your abilities, then having somebody leaving themselves so open should enable you to finish the fight very quickly and efficiently.

Here’s an video example below.

Note:   Contains bad language

Summary

Of course should you ever be in that situation, then whichever tactic you use will be a judgement call at that time.  There will never be a completely right or wrong answer as there will always be so many variables and you can’t always predict accurately whether or not the aggressor will back down or not.

Either way, it is worth practicing both sets of tactic as drills.  This type of type of scenario training can yield quick results, so you don’t necessarily have to practice them over and over again so that it interferes with your normal training.  But it is certainly worth seeking out a qualified instructor and  doing some courses if your club does not normally do this kind of thing.

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: 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.