What is Stav?

By Graham Butcher:

Charlie kindly asked me to contribute to this site after our Stav demonstration in the Martial Arts Festival which was held in Bath in May 2010. After a gap of a few months I am very pleased to do so. Members of Ice and Fire Stav were honoured to take part in the Festival and since Stav is a relatively unknown training system it gave us a valuable opportunity to showcase our practice. I am also grateful for the opportunity here to explain more about Stav and shed more light on its unusual origins.

Stav was brought to the UK by Ivar Hafskjold see in the early 1990s. Ivar grew up in postwar Norway where he learned the family tradition of body, mind and spirit training from his Grandfather and elder uncles. Stav had been passed down through the family for many generations but was being lost simply because the post war generation were
finding better things to do such as studying at university etc. There is a similar trend in the orient today where Japanese and Chinese young people would frequently rather play baseball than learn traditional Bushido or Taoist arts. Ivar however had a serious interest and learned as much as he could from his uncles and Grandfather but there was a limit to what his elderly mentors could teach him on the practical side of things. So in his early 30s he went to Japan where he remained for 14 years and during that time made an intensive study of Japanese martial arts.

Stav literally means “knowledge of the rune staves” and these 16 symbols are the basis for the system. See: http://www.iceandfire.org.uk They are used most directly as posture, breath and meditation exercises which we call the stances. When performed in their basic form the stances look very much like a simple Tai chi form. The more advanced versions use chants to enhance breath and raise energy levels and these are comparable to Chi gung forms. If you daily practice Stav then your Stav practice is to do one version or another of the Stances every day and these are a sort of Kata. The runes have all kinds of uses beyond the relevance of this article but one of their purposes is to reveal the Web of Orlog. This simply means the underlying reality of a situation. The web is made up of lines. These may be lines of a structure, or lines of effort and energy, or simply lines of intent. In a combat situation there are lines which connect you to the opponent and vice versa. There are lines that matter and
those that don’t. When attacked we need to be aware of the lines of force which can hurt us, so avoid or divert them. Also the lines which are of no importance and simply ignore them. When countering we are looking for the line or lines which will collapse the attacker’s web and neutralise them. This means more than just hitting someone on a vulnerable spot, although that can be pretty effective. We are aiming to take the line through the body and thus disrupt their balance and take them down.

In order to develop an awareness of the lines repeated cutting practice is used.
Actually cutting wood with an axe or sax (Scandinavian equivalent of a machete,
Anglosaxon; Seax) was probably the traditional way of doing it and this is a very effective way of learning to take a clean line very accurately. But we also do the kind of cutting training that comes from Ken jutsu or the striking exercises which come from Jo jutsu. These Ivar learned during his 14 years in Japan where he attained 4th dan in both these arts. We now use the axe and full length staff rather than boken and jo but the principle is still the same. This weapon practice teaches us to work with the lines outside the body while the stances teach us to use them internally.

The third element of Stav training is practising drills which teach the five principles of Stav. Ivar teaches five simple exercises with the staff defending against attacks with sword or axe which he learned from his grandfather. These are our traditional Kata and it is the application of their lessons which makes Stav effective.  I’ll briefly outline the five principles: The first one is called the Trel or slave principle and this one teaches you to back off from a situation where you have no real interest in getting involved. The second is the Karl or freeman principle which is about keeping people out of your space. The third is the Herse or warrior principle which is about enforcing your will on an opponent and taking them under control. The fourth is the Jarl or priest principle which is where you deal with the attacker by disassociation. The fifth the Konge or king principle which is where you take them down simply because you can, or take the consequences. Over the past 20 years we have developed a number of two person drills with different weapons and unarmed which teach the five principles. These are effectively short kata with very direct applications. In all
training we are looking to work with the web and this very often means using one
stance or another, or combinations of them to provide techniques and to interpret the technique according to the principles we are working on.

This has created a very satisfying martial training system to work with and it provides a very practical selfdefence training system too. This works because we learn how to act in a conflict situation before we need to worry about what we should actually do.  Supposing the classic: “Who the **** do you think you are looking at?” scenario starts to develop? If it is none of your business and there is nothing to prove then you adopt the Trel mindset which is solely concerned with avoiding getting hurt, this means being firm and confident but strongly communicating the message that you are not going to fight and simply removing yourself from the situation. If grabbed or punched your response would simply be to put sufficient distance between you and the attacker to render any further attack pointless. Once your tormentor has proved his point that
he is “the man” and you are “not worth it” then hopefully he will cease.

If the scenario is someone trying to force their way into your home or other space for which you are responsible then you need to operate on the Karl level. This basically ensures that an intruder doesn’t get past you. Again you hope that confidently communicating the message that they are not going to be allowed to come in will do the trick and most of the time it will. If they do try to force their way in then shifting your body so that you can block their head and lead foot simultaneously will prevent their entering, once momentum is checked then pushing them outside and shutting the door or calling for help should be possible.

If you do have some responsibility for keeping order, such as being a policeman or a doorman then you are in the Herse role. In this case the key is to make sure that an opponent knows that you have the authority to order them to leave or detain them. If you can communicate this effectively then you will probably manage the situation just fine. But if you do have to get physical then the person should be taken off balance and controlled as decisively as possible. You should of course also have some way of summoning back up as soon as possible.

In the case of dealing with multiple opponents or you have greater concern than the fact you are being attacked, dealing with a casualty for example, then you are probably in a Jarl role. This means you are allowing your sub conscious mind to deal with the attack while your conscious mind focuses on more significant matters. This can be very effective but does require a well trained mind set.

Back to the idiot who was bothering you in the first example. He doesn’t back off when you made it clear you didn’t want to fight him, his mates are blocking your escape , no one around is likely to help you so what have you spent 20 years studying martial arts for anyway? The Konge attitude is: “ a minute from now he is going to be very sorry he picked on me, or I will realise that I might as well have being doing embroidery rather than sweating in a dojo.”

It should also be clear that it is your responsibility to be honest with yourself as to which principle you can realistically get away with any given situation and switch principles when necessary. They are essentially options for choices, you make the choice, you live or die with the one you make.

It should also be clear that although the concepts can be explained in a few hundred words it takes years of correct training and regular practice to get to the point where “seeing” the lines and using them instinctively becomes second nature. I will look at some of the ways we train for this in subsequent articles.

Courses are held regularly at various venues, the next one is near Salisbury on the 5th of February: http://www.iceandfire.org.uk/train.html

And if you would like the opportunity to train with Ivar himself then we hold the Stav Summer Camp in July: http://www.stavcamp.org

 

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)

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.

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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.

Back To Basics With Al Peasland

Al Peasland (5th Dan with the British Combat Association, 3rd Dan Traditional Karate and internationally renowned teacher) wrote an interesting article on “Back To Basics”.  In this article he compares an experience he had learning to ski with how he teaches self protection.  He spent most of the time learning how to do “the plough” (position where the front of the skis point inwards, forming a triangular plough shape).

Al asked why they spend so much time in the plough position when it is not the way that they do “real skiing”.  The instructor explained that practicing the plough gives you control over the snow, when you have that, the rest of the fancy stuff can be mastered.  But without control over over the snow, the ability to ski fast, turn and (most importantly) to be able to stop; will be very difficult to learn.  When you see a good skier whizzing down a slop, skis parallel, twisting and turning around obstacles, you don’t see the plough.  Yet without learning the plough first, you would not see the speed and agility.

So (as Al explains) it is with martial arts and self protection.  Without learning the basic stances, basic techniques and sparring/drilling routines, you would not have a very a structure that you could use under pressure.

Although I am a further down the martial arts food chain than Al, I agree entirely.  People often talk of “muscle memory”.  However, muscles don’t have memory, only the brain does.  When you do a movement, any movement, or even a particular behaviour pattern, you fire a series of tiny electrical signals across the brain.  These are the parts of the brain that control that movement or behaviour.  When you repeat a movement over and over, those tiny electrical signals get stronger and the brain forms more links inside to carry the stronger signals.  This is called a “neural pathway” through the brain.  It is here, rather than the muscle that the memory of movement is stored.  The more we practice a movement over and over again, the stronger and bigger that neural pathway becomes, until eventually we no longer have to put in any conscious thought, we just fire the neural pathway and instinct takes over.

This is what we want when under pressure.  We want such strong, deeply rooted neural pathways, that we don’t need to think about how to punch/strike/kick etc.  We just want to be able to think this is it, action, and the rest just happens automatically.  The main difference between a master and a beginner is not necessarily their strength or physical prowess, it is the strength of these neural pathways, forged by years and years of repetition.

People often look for the quick fix (which is human nature).  Partly for that reason, pressure point fighting has become popular over recent years.  However, as I’ve said before, if you don’t know how to hit, if you can’t move with speed and accuracy, you will not be able to strike pressure point targets effectively.

Whatever your style of martial art, practice basics, basics then some more basics.  It is the only way to really be able to perform under pressure.  I promote the use of practical bunkai on this blog, but without good basics you will struggle to make them work.

I liken it to the foundations of a building.  The first thing the builders do is to dig a bloody great hole and fill it in with ugly cement and steel.  When the nice new shiny building is finished, you don’t see those foundations, you don’t see that hole and cement.  You only see the building on top.  But without that cement filled hole, the building would easily collapse.  So it is when you see a great fighter performing great athletic feats, breaking boards, fancy jumping kicks or annihilating an opponent.  You don’t see the years that the same fighter spent in a basic stance practicing a basic technique over and over again until he/she had a really deep foundation and incredibly strong neural pathways.

And let face it, if it was easy to learn in a few weeks, then all the muggers and predators would have done it to, so they would know what we know.  What sets us aside as martial artists is that we take the time to study and to evolve.  And in so doing we not only become better able to defend ourselves, but we become better human beings in the process.

Kevin O’Hagan’s Teaching Diploma

Having been to a couple of Kevin O’Hagan’s seminars, I can vouch that the guy is a great teacher and extremely practical.  Most of what he teaches is simple, effective and can be easily incorporated into your own style.  I certainly incorporated it into my Karate and into our DVD, Inside Bassai Dai.

Kevin and his son’s, Tom and Jake will be running a 6 month Teaching Diploma next year, which I would highly recommend.  Apart from Kevin’s practicality, he is a real gent who is very approachable, humorous and makes time for anybody who has questions for him (on and off the matt).  His son’s are the same.   I’ve posted about Kevin before, so you have a look at the type of things he does HERE.

Anyway, for information about the diploma itself, here it is Jake O’Hagan’s own words:-

DON’T MISS OUT ON THIS……….

I am writing to you with a unique opportunity so that you can be first to pencil it in to your training calendar for next year.

At the start of 2011 Kevin O’Hagan is planning to host his first ever 6 month Diploma course to qualify the lucky few as an official instructor in the O’Hagan Total Combat System. This diploma will train you to a standard where you are able to incorporate and integrate parts of Kevin’s system within your arts where possible and pass on to others. It will be authenticated and signed by Kevin. This will be a unique and highly sought after credential. Kevin is a respected internationally in the world of reality combat so this diploma will carry some weight.

This unique training experience will occur once a month for 6 months and will require full commitment to every training session to complete the Diploma. You will have the chance to train through intense 4 hour sessions side to side with Kevin as he works closely with you to hone your martial skills.

The course will be split in to 6 modules which will be based around topics such as anatomy of a street predator, predicting violence, understanding fear, threat assessment, Manstoppers, combat ground fighting, adrenal response, mugging rituals, multiple opponents, control and restraint, weapon defence and much more!!!

As you can see from the subject matter the Diploma is bursting with information. Theory and practical hands on training make up the subject matter. Both aspects are as important as each other in Kevin’s system. The Diploma will help you understand the street predator inside and out then focus on verbal and physical ways to systematically defuse defend or attack back successfully.

Kevin will impart over 34 years of knowledge in these intense 4 hour seminars to a small group of applicants on a very personal basis. He will be sharing the essentials and fundamentals but also be letting you in on all his martial secrets and favourites that will distinguish you from the rest.

This really is a unique and valuable opportunity for anyone who is serious about martial art. This course will not be padded out or sugar coated; it will be fast moving, jam packed and no nonsense. Due to Kevin’s martial arts up bringing in the Japanese arts of Goshin ryu and Kodai ryu combat jujutsu under instructors such as the hard and infamous Mickey Upham, ’Mad dog’ Dave Vincent, SBS veteran Mike Marshall and the renowned self-protection guru Dave Turton, Kevin has brushed shoulders and shared mats with the very best in the self-protection, Jujutsu and MMA world.

Kevin is now one of the few active instructors in the UK teaching these dying arts. He wants to preserve and promote them for the future. Will you be one of the fortunate applicants to aspire to this?

This course will change your training perspective forever! As pre-mentioned Kevin has trained with the best and is excited to offer this Diploma after years of hard training. This chance will be limited to a small numbered group and will be very personally taught at a very reasonable price; for martial artists from any background. We want to provide this opportunity to as many as possible in the future so we will guarantee you get your money’s worth.

If you are interested could send a reply to this or respond via phone; we will give more details and answer any questions you may have. Again this will be a unique chance and only available to a small group; so register your interest ASAP.

Thanks for your time and I hope to hear from you soon

All the best

Jake O’Hagan O’Hagan Total Combat System Tear Up Promotions +44 (0)7789 865 284

PS:  Please let Jake know that you heard about here!