Developing And Using Intuition For Self Protection

“The brain processes 400 billion bits of information a second but we’re only aware of 2,000 of those.  That means that reality is happening in the brain all the time”.
Joseph Dispenza from the DVD: What The Bleep Do We Know?!

If you were to look at a tree, you could probably see every leaf on that tree (depending on angle etc).  But would you know how many leaves were on that tree?

No!

If you tried to recall in great detail let’s say your 5th birthday, could you do it?

No!

Yet under hypnosis people have been taken back to events in their early life (such as early birthdays) and they can recall the events of the day in great detail.  The brain is a phenomenal computer with massive retention of detail, be it the number of leaves on a tree or what present your Aunt Gertrude gave you on your 5th birthday, how it was wrapped and that fact that you already had one of them from the previous Christmas!  But do you need that much recall?  If you went through your whole life with all these facts, figures and memories bouncing around, it would be hard to function due to the overload of information.  That is why our brains have filters, which cuts out some of the information that we perceive we simply don’t need.  They serve to keep our conscious mind only fed with the amount of information it can cope with and primarily focused on the most important things.  For example, you become aware of the car coming down the road as you cross over, rather than how many petals there are on the tulips in the garden on the other side.  One piece of information could save your life, so it prioritised over the other which will generally be filtered out.

Sometimes these filters malfunction a bit.  Have you ever had the experience where you’ve lost something, looked all over for it and been unable to find it, then some clever bugger comes in as says “here it is”, in a place that you looked closely at several times.  You wonder how on Earth you could possibly have missed it!

Basically, your own brain sometimes gets a block and filters out information that you need, but fortunately this is not that common.

These filters are of course largely based on our upbringing and life experiences telling us what is and isn’t important.  However, we can often get things wrong and we can easily be filtering out important pieces of information!

Our social conditioning too can affect us.  Is that guy offering to help carry a ladies groceries just being an old fashioned gentleman or is he trying to find an excuse to get closer to her and perhaps attack her later?  Sometimes social conditioning and education causes our logic to over-ride a gut feeling.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that any guy who offers to help is a potential rapist, but you can see how if somebody is raised to expect good manners, they may overlook some other warning sign!

“Your mind has a spam filter on it, just like your email.  There are literally billions of calculations going on every second just in your body alone”.
“Your spam filter is blocking out everything that is not important to you.  Until you tell your brain that something is important, then it will keep it filtered out”.
Andy Shaw, author of Creating A Bug Free Mind.

Bearing in mind that we are capable of taking in vastly more information than we are consciously aware of; sometimes our unconscious mind will notice something that our conscious mind has missed.

Maybe that friendly looking guy who is being so helpful was in the newspaper last year as a rape suspect or mugger.  Your conscious mind doesn’t have a chance of remembering, but your unconscious mind does.  The unconscious mind cannot communicate this directly to the conscious mind, but it can communicate by emotions.  It can give you that gut-feeling we call intuition!

I know this is a simplistic example, but it can take many forms.  Let’s say for example that you’re walking home late at night and you have 2 options of which route to take.  For no apparent reason, one of them just doesn’t feel comfortable.  Your logical mind tells that this route is shorter, reasonably well lit and you can’t find a good reason why you don’t feel safe.  Perhaps your conscious mind has forgotten that you saw some shady looking character walking down that way earlier and your unconscious is concerned that they might still be lurking around.  It sends you an uncomfortable “feeling” to warn you.

I’ve always believed that women tend to be more intuitive than men, as men rely on logic more.  Sometimes logic is good, but sometimes it can be our undoing as there is a time and place for both.  Women for example, often know when they are being lied to, yet if you ask them how they know; very often they don’t have a clue.  They just know, their intuition tells them.  The giveaway signs of a tiny shift in a person’s body language, maybe lack of eye contact, some almost undetectable change in tonality; the unconscious mind receives it all and process it even if the conscious mind can’t.

So intuition can be a useful life skill in relationships, work, whilst driving, just about any facet of life including of course your self-protection.  As with the examples above, it can save us getting into a dangerous situation in the first place by listening to the gut feeling which defies our logic and social conditioning.

Assuming that you gone somewhere and everything is fine, no warning signals and everybody is happy; then suddenly out of the blue without any warning, somebody starts to pick a fight.  When somebody is picking a fight there are certain clues as to when they are actually going to stop talking and threatening and actually physically attack.  That is not the subject of this post as to cover it properly would take too long.  However, if you want to pursue this subject in depth then I recommend Geoff Thompson’s book, Dead Or Alive.

If you asked most people to list the signs that a physical attack is imminent, most people wouldn’t really be able to give an in depth answer.  However, your unconscious mind will pick up every sign and feed it back to you, if only you are able to be aware able to notice these signals.

Even in a more friendly setting like a competition or just club sparring, some people seem to have the uncanny ability to automatically know just when their opponent is about to move no matter how much the opponent tries not to telegraph their technique.  It is almost as if some people can “read” their opponents.  This is basically intuition.  Their years of training have taught them to read every sign, even the slightest of change of breath, the slightest change in facial expression or bodily tension before an before the opponent attacks, which gives away their intention.  Again, the defender may not actually consciously realise that they know these signs or what these signs actually are, but their unconscious has long since learnt to recognise them.  And if their conscious mind is calm and quiet, it is able to receive this warning information from the unconscious mind.

Developing your intuition is almost a side effect of Mushin (calming the mind and silencing the inner voice).  The silenced conscious mind can receive ideas from the unconscious mind.  It can receive, acknowledge and respond to the emotions sent by the unconscious mind in the form of a gut feeling or intuition.  You could call it an instinctive knowing.  I say “almost” a side effect of Mushin, because when we start to feel these intuitions, even if we have become good at Mushin, we still have to take the leap of faith and actually trust these messages that we have started to receive.  Even if we can think very clearly in a crisis, we still have to learn to trust that sometimes we don’t need to think, we just need to allow ourselves to respond automatically without any thought at all.

Review Of Kevin O’Hagan’s Anatomy Of A Street Assault Seminar

Kevin O’Hagan, 7th Dan Combat Ju Jutsu and author of numerous books is undoubtedly one of the very best Reality Based Martial Arts instructors in the UK.  On Sunday 2nd Sept, I attended one of his seminars on the Anatomy Of A Street Assault.  As per usual, Kevin’s seminar was very informative, practical and thought provoking!

Kevin O’Hagan demonstrating with son Jake

The first section looked into the different types of assault, perpetrators motivation behind each type of assault, how to identify them and how to avoid being selected or how to defuse a situation once you have been selected.  This is the part that this review will cover.  There was a very pragmatic physical side to the seminar as well, but that is not covered here.

Firstly, it was made clear that we were not talking about fighting.  Kevin defined fighting as either combat sport, or when 2 people decide to step outside and “sort it out”.  A fight is basically where 2 people, for whatever reason, both consent to having a fight.  A street assault (subject of seminar) is where one person initiates violence and the other is unwillingly drawn into it.

There are only 2 real types of street assault, which are:-
*      Confrontational
*      Ambush

Confrontational

Otherwise known as “social” violence, where the perpetrator is generally showing of to an audience; trying to intimidate the victim and make himself look tough.  It is easy for the victim to be drawn into this if not careful and then it could degenerate into a fight (where the victim is provoked to the point of consenting to fight).

Generally this consists of staring and excessive eye contact.  When the eye contact is met and matched (which the perpetrator is looking for), then threats are made (usually accompanied by a lot of profanities).  This can escalate into pushing and shoving, more profanities and louder shouting, then eventually (if one of them does not back down) a big hay-maker is usually thrown, followed by a full on fight.

Going back to the first stage (staring), Kevin explained that the you simply do not meet the stare.  You glance around at the perpetrator, you can even nod at him in acknowledgement, but you do not hold and return his stare.  But you don’t turn your back on him either.  This way you let him know that you aware of him (he can’t launch a surprise attack), but you are not returning the unspoken (at this stage) challenge.  This may be enough to avoid escalation by not giving the perpetrator an excuse to escalate.  However, if he does escalate and aggressively ask who you are looking at, you simply apologise and say that you were looking at somebody near or behind him who you thought you recognised.  Either way, it is better to simply apologise than to end up in a pointless fight.

Perpetrators tend to de-humanise their victims, so try to make yourself very human to him.  You could say something like “sorry mate, I’ve just lost my job and wife’s left me and I’m having a really hard time right now, I really don’t want any more trouble”.  It might be enough!

Each situation will be different, so you have to make your decision at the time.  Another possibility is to try to put doubt into the perpetrators mind that he might be picking on the wrong guy by saying something like, “sorry mate I really don’t want any trouble.  I’m still on probation from the last fight I had and I really don’t want to go back to jail”!

If this still does not work then it could progress to the pushing and shoving stage.  At this point, if you don’t think you can talk him out of it then you have 2 main options; pre-emptive strike, or face him down with your own show of highly aggressive behaviour.

Whichever strategy you choose, you should already be in The Fence position.  You may say something like “is there nothing that I can do to persuade you not to fight me”?  Possibly you might get a positive answer that there is something you can do to avoid further conflict.  If you get a negative answer, then you will hopefully have witnesses to testify (if required) that you tried everything to talk him out of it.  At this point as you ask the question, you should be lining him up for a pre-emptive strike to a vital spot which will hopefully finish it all then and there.

Alternatively you may decide to push him away really hard and step back slightly as you do so.  The step back gives the impression that he has been pushed further back then he actually has been and giving an exaggerated impression of how strong you are.  At this point you launch your own tirade of threats, abuse and profanities to try to intimidate him into thinking that he has picked an even bigger nutter then himself.

Other factors to consider include that male victims will often not want to back down if they with their girlfriend/wife and the perpetrator will use this to provoke further.  This can include directly insulting the lady.  But Kevin pointed that most ladies would much rather walk away then have their guy involved in a fight, so a guy is just making a bad situation for his lady even worse if falls for the bait.  If however you have a lady who would want you to get into a fight, then Kevin’s advise was “get rid of her, she’s trouble”.

But each situation will be different so a judgement call will have to be made at the time.  Kevin also emphasised that as well as practicing the physical techniques, you should practice the verbal lines above in role play with a training partner, or you will forget them under pressure.

Ambush

Ambushes are asocial and the perpetrator does not want an audience.  These people are more “professional” then those who seek confrontation and they give no warning or build up.  It just happens and you have very little time to react or prepare in any way.

Kevin explained that the best way to avoid this type of assault is through awareness.  The ambusher is looking for an easy victim who they can assault (mug, rape) quickly and efficiently without any witnesses.  An analogy was drawn with lions hunting.  Lions always try to single out the young, old, frail or injured; who has strayed from the main herd.  In the same way, the human predator looks for somebody on their own and somebody who is not really aware of their surroundings.  This could be somebody who is engrossed in texting on their mobile phone, lost in their IPod, or simply putting groceries into the back of their car and not looking around.

Simply looking around so that the street predators know that you are aware of their presence (so they won’t be able to take you by surprise) can often be enough to deter them and have them look for somebody else.

It was also emphasised that if anybody tries to force you into a car or to go to a secondary location, do not co-operate in any circumstances.  At the secondary location the perpetrator can do whatever they like without fear of being caught.  Although at the original location they may be threatening to kill or maim you, THEY are still afraid themselves of being caught.  You are better off facing injury at the original site, then possible death at a secondary site.

General

This review only covers part of the seminar and there was much more to it that what is covered here.  Most martial art courses deal only with the physical skills of fighting.  Very few deal with avoiding or de-escalating a situation so that you don’t have to fight in the first place.  Kevin O’Hagan’s courses are applicable to people of any style and I would highly recommend them to any and all martial artists.

To contact Kevin  or to keep an eye open for future courses, go to his website, at www.KevinOHagan.com or befriend him on Facebook.

Blogging Carnival: Womens Self Defence

Following on from the recent Anti-Bullying Blogging Carnival, hosted by Colin Wee’s Blog: Joong Do Kwan; I have agreed with Colin that I will host the next blogging carnival.  The theme this time will be “Women’s Self Defence”.

If you are interested in participating, please register yourself and your blog with Colin Wee on his registration page.

The basic format of the blogging carnival is that all registered martial arts bloggers will all write about Women’s Self Defence.  Postings should be prepared in advance, but all published on the SAME DAY.  This day will be Saturday 14th July 2012.

I will be providing the HOSTING for the blogging carnival, so a few days before the launch date, all the links to your posts should be forwarded to me.  I will list all entries on the Carnival Hosting Page with link backs to your posts.

I will send you a link for the Carnival Hosting Page too, which you should include at the end of your post.  For the readers it will provide a lot of interesting links and reading matter on the subject of Women’s Self Defence.   For the bloggers it will provide link-backs to your site (which helps your Google rating) and a lot of traffic from other high ranking martial arts sites.

On the day of publication, all bloggers should promote the Carnival Hosting Page through their own networks (blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc).

So if you’re interested in taking part, don’t forget to register with Colin Wee.

Women’s Self Protection & Raw Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gift Of “Peacocking”

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

What is Peacocking?

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

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

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

Why is this important

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

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

Defensive tactics

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

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

Aggressive/Assertive

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

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

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

Note:  Contains bad language.

(FAST = Fear Adrenalin Stress Training).

passive

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

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

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

Here’s an video example below.

Note:   Contains bad language

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

What’s that got to do with martial arts?

I’m glad you asked me that.

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

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

So what’s the answer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women’s Self Protection: Primal Instincts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the words of Albert Einstein:

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

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

United Kingdom

http://britishcombat.co.uk

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

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

http://www.fastdefence.com

United States of America

http://www.fastdefense.com

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

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

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

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

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

Other possible effects of adrenalin include:

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

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

First of all, why do we freeze?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Turning To The Dark Side And Mama Bear!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is the balance.