True Martial Arts Spirit . . . . And He’s Only 11!

I came across this story by chance in a local paper.  It was just so awesome that it had to be shared.  Next time you feel too tired to train, or think you’d rather watch the telly instead, think of this young lad from the Bath TKD club.  This is where the grown ups can really learn from the kids.

The following is copied from the Bath Chronicle On-Line paper:

 

A boy who had to learn to walk and talk again after a brain tumour is now heading for a black belt in tae kwon do.

Daniel Kimmins, 11, from Odd Down was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2006.

After a battle to walk and talk again, he returned to school and tae kwon do in 2009, and has won his red belt and is now working towards his black one.

Bath Tae Kwon Do Club Instructor Rob Morris said: “I truly never thought I’d see the day Daniel would return, let alone reach such a high level.

“He continues to be an inspiration to all members at the club.

“In the 20 years I have been teaching I have never seen anyone with as much fighting spirit – it is truly humbling.”

Daniel was six years old when he started suffering from constant headaches and vomiting, causing his worried mum Heidi to take him to the Royal United Hospital.

She was told he had a virus and they were sent home, but when his health started to deteriorate, the health problems returned.

Daniel was then diagnosed with a brain tumour, and was transferred to Frenchay Hospital near Bristol for two operations.

Five weeks later, he was moved to Bristol Children’s Hospital for chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Daniel faced another challenge to learn to walk and talk again, after one operation to remove the tumour left him mute and unable to move the left side of his body.

The cancer had also spread to his spine, confining him to a wheelchair for two years.

Now, five years on, Daniel still has six monthly MRI scans at the RUH, and check-ups at Bristol Children’s Hospital. Although he is not yet in remission, he is improving all the time, but still has problems with balance and walking up stairs.

Heidi said she was very proud of his courage and determination.

She said: “Everything Daniel does amazes me.

“He is so determined to have a normal life and carry on with all the things he loves, like tae kwon do.

“I am just so proud of him. He is a very brave and determined boy.”

As a mark of his courage Daniel was awarded an award from his club for his “indomitable spirit”.

He has also been given a Cancer Research UK Little Star Award in recognition of his achievements.

Respect  🙂

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 one of the best self development book I’ve ever come across and it will show you how to silence that voice.  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.

 

Martial Arts & Psycho Cybernetics (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martial Arts & Psycho Cybernetics: Train For A Crisis

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

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

Here’s an extract from that chapter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

From the UK

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Keeping a Beginner’s Mind

The article below was written by Paul Mitchell, my Karate Sensei and Tai Chi teacher.  It’s a brilliant insight into the mental approach to your training whatever your style.  Paul has always had a very practical approach to martial arts and teaches for real self defence, not just scoring points.  Having said that, he is also a great believer that martial arts are a great form of self development.  Practical streetwise martial arts (“Jutsu”) and self development (“Do”) do not need to be separated.  In fact they each works best with elements of the other blended together.

The article below was written for the Lotus Nei Gong (Tai Chi association) newsletter, so it is primarily from the Tai Chi perspective.  That said, it can just as well apply to any martial art.


Really, this article is just a few rambling thoughts of a martial artist that has trained daily for 30 years and yet still calls himself a beginner.

In Japanese martial arts there is a saying that came from someone who truly understood the martial way: Keep a beginners mind. Sounds easy enough but remember a beginner is always ready to take advice and is always enthusiastic. Day in day out, week in week out, year in year out and decade after decade to jeep training with this concept in mind may not always be so easy.

Then of course we have to look at that concept of ‘following the martial way’. To a non-follower of the way it would seem quite likely that to train daily in a martial art, studying the philosophy and practice of combat would cause a person to become aggressive and confrontational. The truth is that (if studied correctly) martial arts make a person peaceful and well-rounded. The only true fight is internal, the war is against your ‘inner demons’ and lets be honest with ourselves, we all have some of those.

My favourite martial saying is: The fist and Zen are one. Still makes me smile, still just a beginner.

I sometimes say to my students that the only reason we have wars is because the world is run by ‘white belts’. If one truly understands conflict then one avoids it at all costs.

Up until this point I have not distinguished between external and internal martial arts. To me they completely compliment each other, they are indeed two sides of the same coin. Many people studying the martial arts refer to themselves in terms of one art: I am a karate practitioner, I am a Taijiquan practitioner etc. To me there are only martial arts, not styles. Although I have my core systems of Yang Taijiquan and Shotokan Karate I simply think of myself as a martial artist. To limit oneself in any other way seems to contradict the term ‘art’. An artist by my way of thinking should be a free thinking, free flowing, freedom loving individual. To limit the art is to stunt our personal growth in free flow.

I loved the article written by my dear friend Neil Lodge (editors note, see September 2010 newsletter) where he stated that he found Taijiquan so uplifting because it emphasised principles other styles simply touched upon. Principles such as meditation, breath control and Dan Tien rotation. I agree wholeheartedly and reading it made me once again…feel like a beginner.

I have currently studied Karate for 30 years and Taijiquan for half of this time. Although I love both arts I recognise that for me, Taijiquan starts where Karate left off…From the beginning in ‘external styles’ we are taught to be substantial. This means that you study to be strong and forceful. You train to become fast and strong, both physically and mentally. This can be painful, has its moments, but if done slowly, gradually and correctly this process is surprisingly enjoyable! As one progresses through the grades to brown and eventually black belt/sash the martial artist (as this is what the student is training to become) practices more technical, more subtle techniques which aim to make him more ‘insubstantial’. Instead of meeting force with force an advanced practitioner aims to deflect and neutralise incoming force. Eventually it becomes very difficult for anybody but other experienced martial artists to lay a hand upon you. Some good advice is to always assume your opponent has a knife. Good advice I feel as it helps to reinforce the idea of being insubstantial and avoiding an incoming force. This is the point in a persons training where Taijiquan needs to enter their martial path.

Every practice in Taijiquan and its related exercises in Qi Gong and Nei Gong, pushing hands and other two man drills is designed to help the martial artist become more insubstantial. Over time one learns how to lessen the use of their external force (generated by muscular power) and begin to use their internal power which, I feel, is such a complex subject that it warrants several more articles on this subject alone!

Obviously, as practitioners of Taijiquan our study is not just related to martial arts in their narrow sense but the study of conflict on every level. Realisation of this makes approaching resolution of fighting (literal, internal and cosmic) anything but narrow.

Final words of advice from this rambling beginner…Keep practicing…

The Louis Thompson Interview

Louis Thompson is the son of martial arts pioneer, author and modern day legend, Geoff Thompson.  As such he has had the unique opportunity to grow up practicing reality based martial arts with the very best instructors in the world from a very early age.  As an adult, Louis has often assisted his father teaching at many seminars.

Now Louis is set to branch out and teach independently.  Although still quite young, he has a wealth of knowledge and experience beyond his years as he has had a start in martial arts that most of us could only dream about.

I’ve been lucky enough to secure an interview with Louis and I believe that I am among the first to do so.  Without any more ado, here is that interview below and I hope you find it as interesting as I have:
CW:     Hi Louis and thank you for agreeing to do this interview with me.  Obviously you have grown up with martial arts in your blood.  Your father would have been a big influence (as he has influenced the whole martial arts world).   However, apart from your father, who else were the main influences on your martial arts development and in which ways did they influence you?

LT:     I try to take my influences from everywhere, not just martial arts. If I see someone who is highly successful in their field then I will take the same method that they used and apply it to my training. That is how my immersion training idea came about. I noticed that if people wanted to learn a language or skill quickly, if they completely immersed themselves then the gains were massive. I just make whatever I am doing a massive part of my life and that is how I get ahead of the game.

As for people who have influenced me there are many. Obviously my dad has had a huge effect on the way I view the world especially in martial arts. I feel like he has sifted through a lot of things arts and techniques and taken the essence and passed that onto me. Now it’s for me to go and find out of those things what works for me. I have been around Peter Consterdine since I was a child and I have massive respect for him. He has such a wealth of experience in so many different areas and he is someone I really would like to be around more. Obviously all of my dads students (Lea and Matty Evans, Tony Somers, Al Peasland, Justin Grey) have all played a massive part in my MA education. My first and probably favourite art is Judo. For me it is the missing link in this new MMA culture we have and I find that it is dismissed far too quickly. Within Judo people like Neil Adams and Katsuhiko Kashiwazaki are such amazing players and it would be an honor if I could ever get on the mat with them.

CW:     Reality based training obviously involves a lot shouting and swearing at each other to de-sensitise yourself to that kind of raw aggression.  When growing up, did it seem strange acting out these aggressive scenarios with your own father?

LT:     I have been around the shouting and swearing so much that it is a very normal part of my training. I try to treat it like a drill. It is such a great tool that you have to include it in your training. In essence what you are doing is acting. You access the base energy in you and project that as pure aggression. For me doing this with my dad is no different to hitting the pads or practicing throws. It’s just a part of what we do.

CW:     Do you practice traditional martial arts alongside your reality based training?  If so, which ones?

LT:     As I said Judo was probably my first real ‘art’. I love it and think it is massively underrated. I have also trained in western boxing as well as various forms of wrestling. My main focus is reality based self defence and taking from the arts the techniques I can apply to that. I am constantly looking for new things to learn and new techniques to drill.

CW:     Having a famous father has some obvious advantages in getting started in the martial arts field, but do you sometimes feel that it is a double edged sword?  Do you feel that you have a lot to live up to and that people will always judge you as “Geoff Thompson’s son” rather than as your own person?

LT:     My dad has set the bar high but for me that is great. It gives me something to work towards. Hopefully I can prove myself in my own right and people will respect what I do as an individual. Ultimately I am teaching what my dad has taught and it means a massive amount to me what he thinks of what I am doing. I think the only person I have to prove anything to is him. As long as he is happy with how I am teaching then what the rest of the world says is irrelevant. There will be lots of people out there who have and will continue to criticize what my dad has done and I have seen small pockets of that. People who feel that way will no doubt always view me as Geoff Thompson’s son but it is a label I am grateful to have.

CW:     What do you feel are your own unique strengths and talents to offer which are specific to you as a martial artist?

LT:     I can only really offer people my experiences. I can’t claim to have been in hundreds of fights or worked the door for 10 years but I can certainly say I have had world class instruction for my whole life. When people go to train with anyone they go to get their experiences. I am the only person in the world that can offer my experience and deliver it in my style. When it comes to the Real Combat System or The fence and pre-emption I have lived and breathed that for 20 years. I know how it should be taught and I know the theory behind it and if I am ever unsure I have the creator at the end of the phone. I am in a unique position and I am very excited about teaching people everything I can and learning lots in the process.

CW:     I see that you are running special courses.  Can you tell us a bit about those courses?  Is this the only way that you teach or do you run a club as well?

LT:     My 6 week course focuses on all aspects of self defence right from becoming more aware to being able to hit very hard. My favourite way to teach is through immersion training. 4 hours of intense tuition focusing on whatever area the student wants. I have been doing a lot of this recently and the gains people get are tremendous. I don’t have a class as yet but it is something I am organising very soon.

CW:     What kind of response have you had?  Have your courses been filled up?

LT:     I have had a great response so far and people seem to be getting lots from it. I tend to keep the groups small so I can make sure that the progress is good and identify and address specific needs with people.

CW:     On your website you mention that you strive to improve your skills in all areas, both physically and spiritually.  Can you tell us what your spiritual beliefs are and how they affect both your training and you daily life?

LT:     I am a great believer in the fact that I create my own reality. I have created amazing things and also watched them crash down all because of the way I think. Meditation is something I am trying to do more and more. For me it is far more difficult than any physical training. My mind is incredibly active and I find it really difficult to keep it centred. Ultimately I am looking to be congruent which is really difficult at times.

CW:     Do you believe (as I do) that developing some kind of spirituality is important to all developing martial artists?

LT:     I think developing some kind of spirituality is important to all aspects of life although I am not sure that spirituality is the right word. It seems to scare people. The masses hear spirituality and assume religion but it’s not really the case. At a basic level they are all the same thing. I think it’s important to develop integrity and congruence because if you don’t have that then things will come crashing down at some point.

CW:     Having learnt directly from some of the Worlds very best martial arts instructors, do you feel that their message is properly understood by the wider martial arts community, or does that message get a bit diluted and confused along the way?

LT:     If you are looking at what my dad has developed then I would say it is massively distorted by the wider MA community. You only have to type the fence in to YouTube to see people doing it wrong. I think people take it away and try to make it work within the realms of their own art and that really isn’t possible. I have seen people using the fence and then teaching blocks and counters of trapping from the fence but when you start doing that you destroy the main message which is pre-emption. People misunderstand and then pass that on to their students and the wrong message starts to spread.

CW:     What advice would you give to traditional martial artists who realise that their training has become either sport orientated or stylized, to make their training more effective for the street?

LT:     I would say look at what is available to you in a real situation and when I say that I mean what is very easily available. What will guarantee you results. Look at the range you have. It’s is real difficult to let go of your art and see that all you really need is one really good punch and the ability to strike first and you will be leagues ahead of anyone. The key to effective self defence is always pre-emption. The only way to really remove a true threat is by KO. Use the fence to maintain the distance. If they try to close the distance and you feel there is a genuine threat then strike the jaw which will cause a KO.

CW:     Sometimes traditional martial artist feel that they only want to train in their own system and don’t want to “confuse” themselves training outside their style.  I personally find that training outside my style often helps me to understand elements of my main style better.  However, as most of the readers of my website are traditional martial artists (mainly Karate, Teakwondo, Kung Fu); what do you feel your courses have to offer to a die-hard traditional martial artist?

LT:     I think people who feel that training outside their art will confuse them don’t really understand their art. When you look at all the different arts they all have very similar elements that are styled in different ways. All I can offer people is the opportunity to get excited about educating themselves with new and interesting techniques and show them that by making all the techniques from all the arts interchangeable you can make something that is overall stringer and more durable.

CW:     On your website shop you recommend/sell a number of DVD’s and books.  Do you plan to produce any such products yourself in the future?

LT:     I am building up slowly but surely and although I have no plans to create my own products yet I am sure it is something that will come up at some point. When you want to get your message out to a wider audience it is a necessity.

CW:     What are your plans to for the future and how do you plan to continue developing as a martial artist?

LT:     I am taking each day as it comes. I have achieved a lot of goals in a short space of time so I think this is a great time to make sure that they can all sustain themselves. I want to keep growing Louis Thompson SD as a brand and a company and try to get my message on a global level.  I have my own SD/MA studio which is a lovely space and I am getting more and more students as time goes on. To develop as a martial artist I just look at training privately with as many great people as possible. I will continue to train and teach with my dad and just continue to push myself as an individual and hopefully that will translate in what I teach.

CW:     Louis, thank you for doing this interview for BunkaiJutsu.com.  On behalf of myself and the readers, I would like to wish you every success in your career and we hope that we’ll all be hearing more from you in the future.

 

 

Tai Chi: For Advanced Martial Artists

Many martial arts are misunderstood.  I have written a number of times about how Karate and other arts have become dumbed down and stylised to a point where a lot of what is practiced would not work under pressure.

However, I don’t think any martial art is more misunderstood than Tai Chi.  I think this is for a number of reasons, but mostly:

  • Many people practice it purely as a for health and well-being, with no martial applications at all.
  • Many people do not believe in the concept of “Chi” energy on which Tai Chi is largely based.
  • With more and more people getting into “reality based” training, “hard” styles being seen by many as stylised and ritualistic; the slow practice of Tai Chi seems even further from being a real form of combat.

So lets have a closer look at Tai Chi.  Firstly we should look at the modern emphasis on health and well-being.  I am told that the Chinese communist government wanted to exploit the the health properties of Tai Chi as a simple way to keep people healthy and keep down expenditure on their health service.  They therefore called together a number of top Tai Chi masters and told them to create a simplified version of Tai Chi for introduction to the masses.  When the masters initially refused, they were told that they and their families would be sent to labour camps.  So they agreed.  The simplified Tai Chi that they created was nicknamed “Beijing Tai Chi” and this is the version that spread most rapidly around the world.

As for the concept of chi, some people will never believe in it which is fair enough, we are all entitled to our own views.  I just ask that if you are somebody that does not believe, then please just respect the views of those that do.

As for a combat system that is performed slowly, that one takes a bit more to get your head around.  The part which is often missed is that Tai Chi as a combat art was never designed to be, or expected to be the starting point.  In China, in the Shaolin monasteries and elsewhere, they would alway start with a “hard” style first and only after they mastered that would they move on to Tai Chi and other internal styles.  It is not simply that they start young and young people relate better to harder styles (which is true in itself), but learning Tai Chi is actually easier if you have experience in a harder art.

By learning the hard art first (such as Kung Fu, Karate or similar), the practitioner learns about speed, raw power, distancing, dealing with somebody steaming in full power, aggression, adrenalin and all the primary aspects of combat.  Many people will be quick to point out that Tai Chi does not teach these things.  In the main they are right; because Tai Chi is designed for people who already know them.  Tai Chi is not a stand alone fighting art, it is the polish and finish on other fighting arts, which takes them to higher levels.

As my instructor Paul Mitchell says, most martial arts teach you to be substantial, whereas Tai Chi teaches you to be insubstantial.  What does this mean?

Well in most martial arts, we learn the things mentioned above (speed, power, aggression, etc); how to meet somebody head on, or even when evading how to hit them like a hammer when you do strike.  These make you act and feel to the opponent very substantial indeed.  But with Tai Chi, somebody attacks and you learn to almost “melt” out of their way letting them finish an attack after you are no longer there.  To be able to move like this requires a high degree of relaxation.  This is being “insubstantial” so that you can just not be their when the attack is completed.

So why is everything practiced so slowly?

Firstly, it is learn the relaxation to be able move in an “insubstantial” way.  This primarily uses the internal muscles of the body rather than the major muscle groups (as most other martial arts do).  Learning to use the internal muscles can not be done by practicing fast.

Secondly it is learn to use and move your internal energy.  As mentioned above, I know that a lot of people reading this probably won’t believe in Chi, but again, please just respect that this is the belief of most people that do practice Tai Chi.  The idea is to learn to co-ordinate your internal energy with your physical movement and this can only be done slowly.

Thirdly (and this is where some people will probably think I’ve gone mad) it is to learn to deal with the effects of adrenalin and to stay calm when confronted by a hostile person.  Now people who do the reality based scenario training that I’ve discussed in earlier postings will probably have trouble seeing how moving slowly through a form can possibly prepare you for the effects of adrenalin.  Well the short answer is it doesn’t, that should have already been accomplished by the previous martial arts training (Kung Fu/Karate etc).  By the time you take up Tai Chi you should already be familiar with the effects of adrenalin and confrontation.  What Tai Chi aims to do is to keep you calm in the face of confrontation and to actually negate the effects of adrenalin.

Scenario based training as discussed in other postings is geared to giving you an adrenalin rush (so that you get used to operating in that state), which is fantastic when you start your martial arts career.  However, Tai Chi being geared to advanced martial artists is geared to stop you having an adrenalin rush.  This will not happen overnight and will take years to achieve, but it is a long term training program and that is what is works towards.  That is why as a martial art, it is only really for already accomplished martial artists.  As a form of health and well-being, you can start it anytime without any experience in other martial arts.

The slow movements are designed to give the feeling that you “have all day” when somebody attacks you.  Of course you don’t.  Of course you have to move very fast.  But that’s why you should have done another martial art first.  You are also training to achieve a deep state of relaxation which permeates into every facet of your life.  This includes staying relaxed when in a violent confrontation and we all know that you move faster when you are relaxed.

Some people may be concerned by the idea of negating the effects of adrenalin as it boosts strength and speed (which are obviously useful) so why loose these positive effects?  Well again, we go back to already being an accomplished martial artist.  You should be strong and fast already.

But what about the negative effects of adrenalin (which will vary from person to person and situation to situation)?

  • Blood goes away from your brain and into the major muscle groups so you loose some of your fine motor skills.
  • You tend to get tunnel vision (which is not good for multiple opponents).
  • You can’t think so well and you may blank out verbal advice from friends/allies trying to help.

So if you could function with speed and power (from previous training) without losing fine motor skills, without losing mental faculties, being aware of multiple assailants and being aware of helpful/warning shouts around you, then you can take your fighting ability to a whole new level.

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.

Russell Stutely On Pressure Point Fighting

Following on from my last article on pressure point fighting, I would like to quote from Russell Stutely who is widely regarded as Europe’s number one pressure point expert.  He is also highly regarded by Geoff Thompson and Peter Consterdine of the British Combat Association, who are very much into reality martial arts.

The reason that I wanted to quote from Russell Stutely is that although he highly advocates pressure points and obviously makes a lot of money teaching them and selling DVDs etc; he still very much advocates that you must develop good basic technique first.  If he was to promote pressure points in a such a way as to suggest that it is a magic bullet so that you don’t have to bother learning anything else and beginners could use them to defeat experienced black belts, I would be very suspicious.  But he doesn’t.  He is very methodical in his methods.  As with my previous posting, I am wary of how effective pressure points can be under pressure, but I do think that if you do want to learn them you must do it in a structured and methodical manner, which is why I am open to Russell Stutely’s approach.

So here it is in Russell’s own words:-

“So many times people ask me about the best way to learn how to use Pressure Points… So, I am going to start sending out my “Tips of the week” on Pressure Points in particular and also to answer some of the most popular questions asked.

OK.. How to learn Pressure Points correctly?

This is a biggie… so will be answered in several parts over the coming weeks.

The first thing is to gain an understanding of how the body works from a Martial Arts perspective. This does not mean that you need to know the names of points or even the names of major muscle groups etc.. it would of course help if you started to learn them as you go along.

First of all… whatever art you practice… take your best / favourite technique and really get to grips with it.. really understand it.. break it down into its constituent parts.

This means that you must analyse it to death… UNDERSTAND what every part of your body is doing to ensure the correct application of that technique.

For a simple “jab” as an example.. you MUST know what your weight distribution is, how your feet are positioned, where you “push off” into the floor, how your body aligns, any “extra” movement that should not be there… where the correct power line of delivery is.. how you are balanced, how you keep your defenses,… the relationship between your shoulders, hips and ankles … and MUCH more.

Then when you can break this down and understand it.. you know how to “re-build” the technique to make it more effective.

Then and only then do you start to add in the Points… unless you have great technique to start with of course!
This sounds like a MAMMOTH journey if you are supposed to do this with EVERY technique??

Well.. it is not as long as it sounds… do this exercise with 4/5 techniques and you will begin to REALLY understand how to break down a technique… how to make it better.

Then you will be able to do this with any technique… THEN we can begin to add the points.

I ALWAYS teach people Balance Points first.. understand how the body is balanced from both your and your opponents perspective and you will automatically begin to break down technique.

Just this exercise alone will dramatically improve your Martial Arts and Self Defense skills.

Hope that helps?
More soon

Russell”
 

Is Kata (Forms/Patterns) Without Realistic Bunkai “Organized Despair”?

Bruce Lee once famously referred to the way that many traditional martial artists train as, “organized despair”.  The full quote is reproduced below for you:

“Instead of facing combat in it’s suchness, quite a few systems of martial art accumulate “fanciness” that distorts and cramps their practitioners and distracts them from the actual reality of combat, which is simple and direct and non-classical. Instead of going immediately to the heart of things, flowery forms and artificial techniques (organized despair!) are ritually practiced to simulate actual combat. Thus, instead of being in combat, these practitioners are idealistically doing something about combat”

So, are our katas/forms/patterns “flowery forms and artificial techniques“?

Whilst some undoubtedly are, I don’t believe that all of them are and I think that it helps to look at a historical perspective.  When Bruce Lee made that statement, martial arts were very new to the West and they were not as well understood then as they are now.

Traditionally masters would teach a small number of students and the students would have to gain the masters trust before being taught anything of consequence.    However, when fully accepted the student would learn a full system of self defence which would include kicks, punches, locks, throws, breaking bones/joints and much more.

So when Karate was introduced into the Okinawan school system, would you want the school kids knowing how to break each others bones?

Funikoshi took Karate to Japan at a time when Japan was building up for war and saw unarmed martial arts as obsolete, except for personal development.  Do you think Funikoshi who wanted to gain acceptance for his art challenged this stance?

When the Americans occupied Japan after the war, they banned martial arts.  To get permission to train, the Japanese had to play down the martial aspects in favour of sport and self development.  This is the version that the GI’s learnt and took back to America.

The Chinese community in Bruce Lee’s day, were very reluctant to teach Kung Fu to non-Chinese.  When they did finally open up to the Western public, do you think that they would teach mass audiences their best techniques?

Even Ip Man who taught Wing Chun Kung Fu to Bruce Lee is believed to have held back information from Bruce Lee because Bruce was not a full blooded Chinese.

The bottom line is – a lot of information was held back for one reason or another and in Bruce Lee’s day, many people did not have much clue about what the katas/forms/patterns were for.  With Bruce Lee’s very pragmatic approach and with information held back by even his own teachers, can you blame him for seeing it as “organised despair”.

Although so much has opened up today and is continuing to do so all the time, there are still very many people (and whole associations) still caught in trap of not knowing what there katas movements are really for.  So we go back to the question, is Kata without realistic bunkai, just organized despair?

Undoubtedly kata WITH realistic bunkai is a much better way to train.  It brings the katas to life.  However, there is always the old maxim, that before you can control somebody else (in a fight), you must be able to control yourself.

This is where I believe that kata will always be useful.  The turns and spins in different directions; landing with co-ordination, speed, power and crispness are excellent ways to learn that control of yourself.  You will learn more control and co-ordination with kata than you will by pounding pads or punchbags.  You also learn form, structure and principles of movement that you can apply to other things.  That is not to say that pounding pads/punchbags is not useful, because obviously it is.  However, I believe that kata training in its own right does have something to offer martial artists of all styles, even without good bunkai.

I do not suggest that kata training kata should be pursued at the detriment of other aspects of martial training and I agree with Bruce Lee, that in itself kata does not prepare you for actual combat.  However, as part of an fully rounded taining system I do believe that it plays an important part.