All posts tagged aikido

There is much debate about the use of protective gear in martial arts. Many styles only allow light or no contact, no strikes to the face, etc. and therefore do not require protections. What happens when a practitioner encounters violence in real life however comes at a surprise. You have a lot to learn in a second while getting pounded in the face by an experienced attacker.. Not the best time to learn taking hits. Aikido would be a very fierce style if it incorporated strikes, giving and taking. I attended a Kung-Fu (Wushu) class as a teenager. We were not allowed to strike the face. Actually, we barely touched each-others. After six months, I realized that I wasn’t learning anything useful and quit. My Karate experience (Shotokan) was a bit better. We had protections, but there wasn’t much control. The same was true for my full-contact and Taekwon-Do short practices.

My friend Phil recently stopped-by with a couple padded helmets he got at Goodwill for a few dollars. While Systema discourages the use of protections, it was too tempting to give it a try and see if it would affect the way we worked. It wasn’t really sparring, because Phil wore the helmets (he put on two!) and attacked, while I wore gloves and defended.

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Wearing protections seems to have two negative side-effects:

  1. You are not so affraid of getting hit.
  2. You tend to hit harder, with less control.

Taking hits to the body really isn’t much of a problem. Most people can not hit hard enough to cause internal damage. Proper breathing, relaxation and a bit of practice goes a long way to prevent injury. Getting hit in the face is a bit unnerving, but you get used to it and start to care a bit less.. In five years of Systema, I have been hit in the face countless times, hard enough to be really uncomfortable, but I never got a black eye or lost a tooth. I give credit here to our slow practice and control. Top Systema instructors are masters at precision and control. They know exactly how hard to hit someone and where without hurting them while inflicting a good amount of pain.

Add protective gear to he mix, and the psychology of sparring changes. People start to hit harder. The positioning of one’s fist becomes less of a problem. You can hit bone with a glove, it doesn’t matter. A slightly misaligned wrist is no longer a painful reminder to strike at the right angle. Precision goes out the window. Wearing a helmet might have you step into a position you would otherwise not occupy without it. The more protection you add, the more removed you become from reality.

I am not advocating giving up protective gear, mind you. Once in a while, going “all out” with protections is good, if only to get used to the speed. You can however go almost “all out” with good control, without any gear. This way, you actually do get hit and learn to deal with it properly. The key is to start really slow, and I mean extreme slow motion. It looks goofy, but you gain much in precision and timing.

If your martial art style does not allow much contact, you need to ask yourself why you train. If you have a good time and consider it more or less an exercise, great. If you want the extra benefit of acquiring self-defense skills, you need to be able to get hit hard by bare fists as well as deliver heavy strikes the same way. No-contact effective self-defense is a fantasy.

I just came upon an interesting article from the BBC about how men and women respond differently to danger. Nothing new here, women are more emotional than men, and that’s fine. Like we say in France, “vive la différence.” Our physical differences are obvious, and most martial arts consider them in training, more as precautions to be taken for either gender than anything else. Styles too rigid in their form unfortunately most likely cater to men. As a rule, women are not as physically strong as men. Training that relies on force only serves a small group of people, excluding women, children and elders. I can only think of Aikido and Systema as not relying on force but momentum and body mechanics. Force helps, but you can’t count on it. The strongest fighter can be injured or sick, thus losing most of his abilities if trained to win by force only.

The emotional response difference is what in my opinion constitutes a good argument in favor of a slightly different training approach, which actually can also benefit men. The Polish study I mention above found that a different area of the brain is triggered for men and women when they encounter danger; the left thalamus for women, the left insula for men.

Researcher Dr Andrzej Urbanik said: “This might signal that when confronted with dangerous situations, men are more likely than women to take action.”

The Biography channel has a great show called “I survived,” where people tell their stories of survival. The accounts are incredible. The men and women who make it through those horrendous life-and-death situations have a strong will to survive. You can however see a different pattern between sexes. A woman’s first response is more emotional while a men’s is immediate action. A man will not wonder why something is happening to him or if he is somewhat to blame. After a few seconds or minutes, it all comes down to survival and fighting. This emotional delay however can cost women precious seconds that might make a difference. Note that this can happen to men too, and that women do not ponder and waste time when it comes to defending their children. Training should take this difference into account. I have been a “bad guy” in a couple of women’s self-defense seminars, and we had to charge them yelling obscenities, which was hard enough for me to do! None of them could at first handle the pressure. They could take a man down if he just attacked them, but start yelling and be aggressive, and they could not. The motion was the same, but the emotional assault was too much. Eventually, they all got over it and performed well. This is where I believe training for the physical part of the assault is as important as getting used to the emotional one. This can be important for men too, as the “fight or flight” symptoms can be quite overwhelming. Rapid heart rate, shaking knees, tension, tunnel vision, the effects of adrenalin might be good in general for the survival of a specie, but not for the individual in our modern settings.

Another thing to consider is women’s reticence to hurt people. In training, I always have a hard time getting women to hit me hard enough. It takes a good amount of coaching to convince them that, no, it doesn’t hurt that bad, if at all. Most men without training can not strike hard enough to cause any significant injury, practically no women can do so. No offense intended here, it is simply a fact. It takes a lot to injure someone if you don’t know how. I heard so many times things like “Oh, I would just hit him in the nuts.” Sorry to disappoint, but first, what makes you think you will be able to strike that area? Assaults are not agreed-upon events. Most often than not, they will happen from the back. Kicking a man in the groin is certainly extremely painful, but it will not cause injury that can physically stop someone, like a broken knee. And boy, will that guy be pissed-off. Moreover, alcohol and drugs can dull the pain quite a bit. Real self-defense training should get women used to the idea of causing injury to their attackers, not only “hurt them.”

Men, while they have no problem hitting each-other, have a hard time hitting women. That is, the men I know anyway. Domestic abuse statistics prove that there are too many exceptions. I have a very hard time doing so myself in training. It is kind of going against a hard-wired directive. I have heard a few women complain about not getting a good enough training because the men in their classes barely hit them. I am not suggesting men to hit the women in their class as hard as their 200Lbs male buddies.. However, one has to be realistic to make training effective. The Yale University School of Medicine and Veterans Affairs Connecticut Health Care System have a study reported in the New York Times suggesting that women can take pain better than men. I am not surprised, as I can’t imagine going through the pain of giving birth, and wanting to do it a second time!

I will conclude by saying that the specific areas that women should assess in training would probably benefit men as well. I believe that it is important to consider the emotional part of violence when preparing for it, not only the mechanical aspects. Any real-life combat system should.

Violence against women and girls is widespread; one woman in three will experience violence during her lifetime, most often at the hands of someone she knows. Don’t crucify me about the title, I just wanted to get your attention, because if you are a woman, what you will read here, and what you do about it might help you. Of course women don’t want to be victims! A few years back, my Systema instructor organized a free self-defense seminar for women. I participated as a “bad guy.” Around twenty five women showed-up. The seminar was great, but you really can’t learn enough life saving skills in four hours.. Not one ever came back to class for training!

Amazing, considering the statistics: Every day four women die in this country as a result of domestic violence. Conservative estimates indicate two to four million women of all races and classes are battered each year. Every year approximately 132,000 women report that they have been victims of rape or attempted rape.

I know a woman who lives with her young child but would never lock her door, even at night. With a double murder two blocks away, I know that door is still left unlocked (she no longer lives alone). Yet, she shops for organic food and is a health-conscious mother. How can you conciliate the two?

The idea of violence is not a pleasant one. Women do not want to think about being assaulted, even if preparing themselves could potentially save their lives and the life of their children. The “It won’t happen to me,” “won’t happen here,” or “I’d just [insert kick-ass TV-kung-fu move here]” mentality prevails over reason. It is a great example of self-deception.

Being ready doesn’t mean becoming a Cynthia Rothrock or emulate Jennifer Lopez in “Enough”… Prevention and awareness is your best tool. By awareness, I don’t mean marching in the streets with a sign to end violence on women; that does as much as pissing in a violin. I mean awareness of your surroundings and listening to your intuition. I read an excellent book on the subject, see below:

Every woman should read this book. I remember one story from it that really drives the point home: A young girl was hitchhiking when a couple stopped. They had a baby with them. For some reason, the girl had the urge not to go with them. She reasoned that a couple with a baby couldn’t be of any danger to her and climbed in the car. Later, at a rest stop, she again had the urge to run away, but could not explain it, and decided that it was silly, and again, went along for the ride. It turned out to be a seven year ride as a sex slave to the couple.. You have to listen to that little voice. We humans are the only animal capable of self-deception. A wild animal would never stop at a suspicious noise and think “it’s probably nothing.”

Prevention is not enough. After all, it is a sad truth that women are most often attacked by people they know. If a boyfriend hits you, leave now, don’t hope it will never happen again, because it will, guaranteed. That first time though could be much more than a slap in the face. There is always the possibility of an unforeseen random act of violence, like a mugging, or rape attempt. Criminals attack women because they either do not resist or do not know how to resist. Even if they do, they lack the physical strength to do so. Strength can be replaced by skills. Unfortunately, there are a lot of martial arts out there that are not worth a dime for self defense. There are also good styles but bad teachers. I would suggest trying to find a school or style that emphasizes principles over form and techniques. Avoid styles that are too stiff in their movements or teachings, and promote violence or aggressiveness. Going nuts in a fight won’t help you. Emotions won’t help you. Also avoid styles that use excessive protections, have too many rules (like not hitting the face, etc.), or simply avoid contact. The style you choose must also consider multiple attackers, armed or not, and fighting on the ground as well as on your feet. If you see twelve-year-olds with a black belt, run! If they promise you a black belt next year, run! Actually, be suspicious of belts altogether. My favorites are, almost in order: Systema, Bujinkan, Penjak Silat, Kuntao, Kali, Wing Tsun, Aikido, Krav Maga, Boxing, and I am sure I am forgetting some. I would not suggest TaeKwonDo, traditional Karate, and other styles based on outdated forms of combat, geared towards competition or dancing, like Capoeira. Some combinations are good, like boxing and JiuJitsu for example. Shop around before you sign-up, and don’t bother spending time on martial arts forums on the web, there is nothing to learn from them. If you don’t have a good school nearby, get the DVD below and start a study group in your town (also available at

Your group should not be comprised of women only. You need to face a screaming angry large man (acting for training) to have a glimpse of what you might face. Getting comfortable with the idea is am important step in your self-defense system. I suggest that you visit Marc MacYoung’s site: He has great articles on the subject. If you live in Sarasota, visit:, tell Marc I sent you, and I’ll see you in class.

Guns are the great equalizer. They instill fear in many women, but it does come from ignorance. I once accompanied a girlfriend to a gun store. Shee looked a different models and finally said: “I want something I’m not afraid of.” To which I replied “If you?e not afraid of it, a robber certainly won’t either.” The salesman laughed.. A gun is only a tool, an assembly of metal parts that alone, couldn’t hurt a fly. Contrary to the common misconception, guns don’t just “go off” they only time we hear of guns going off by themselves is in courtrooms. Sure, some dingy Saturday-night-special could have a defective safety, but modern guns are impervious to accidental discharge. Gun manufacturers have too much to lose in lawsuits to be casual about safety. If you decide to buy a gun, and I can only encourage you to do so, you have to consider a few things before you spend your hard earned money:

You will need training. Not just a few sessions at the range, but consistent training, at least two or three times a month, and start with a knowledgeable instructor. Learning gun safety will be your first objective. If you have kids, buy a safe! They make small ones that can be opened very quickly by a combination of finger-pressing. Then you should move on to shooting immobile targets at about fifteen feet. Gunfights rarely happen any further. Actually, most gunfights take place with the opponents only ten feet apart. You will then practice on moving targets, which is another ball game altogether. Finally, you should practice on moving targets while moving. Believe it or not, it is easy to miss ten feet away in those conditions, with the added stress of a real situation.
The most important aspect of your gun training however won’t be shooting, but gun handling. Bringing the gun into action, drawing, moving around with it, rolling, taking cover, reloading, gun retention, etc. Finding an good instructor for this is not easy. Even Law Enforcement Officers are often not trained properly with their weapon. Do not copy anything you see on television, most of the time, it’s awfully wrong.
The last, but very important aspect of owning a gun is to know the law. Study concealed carry laws in your state and self-defense laws, castle laws. If you shoot an attacker, DO NOT talk to police, even if you think it will clear you of any wrongdoing. Ask for an attorney right away. If you don’t know what gun to buy, get a Glock model 19. Don’t listen to anyone telling you not to get one…
There is great book by Massa Ayoob you should read:

Are you willing to set aside a couple hours a week for your self-protection studies? Honestly, it is a small price to pay, even if you get a few bruises occasionally. It can even be fun, and training will keep you in shape. Actually, don’t forget about running, it should be your first option! I am thinking about mothers in particular. It is one thing to disregard your own safety, but if you have a family, or plan on having one, you have no excuse. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below (you must register for free). If I can’t give you a good answer, I know people who can. Be safe!