Martial Arts

All posts tagged Martial Arts

I keep seeing those TV commercials for house alarms.. A young women with a child is in her house, she turn on the alarm. You see a prowler outside. He kicks the door in, the alarm goes off, frustrated, he turns around and runs away. Sure, it could happen just like that, but the thug is already in, ten feet from the potential victims, and he just got pissed-off.. Why would he leave right then? Criminals do not think about the consequences of their actions, otherwise they would be in another line of work. Even if a squad car is a couple blocks away, he still has plenty of time to kill the mother and child, just because that alarm ruined his day, or he just feels like it.

Your first line of defense should not be a house alarm. By all means, get one, but you should think about your doors first. A good solid door with a steel frame and quality locks can save your life. Windows can be armored too, and you get the benefit of hurricane protection as well.

Martial arts training is a must, but what you really need in your house is a gun. That requires training too, but it is an excellent life insurance. Some will say “but I don’t like guns.” It’s just an object, it won’t shoot you all by itself. If you are not comfortable with one, you just need an instructor to show you how to handle it safely. You also need a safe, the kind you can open quickly by pressing a finger combination:

Gun vaults at Cabellas

Get at least a 9mm semi-auto, or a .38+P revolver. I highly recommend all Glock models of semi-auto pistols. Anything smaller won’t stop an angry robber. I personally have an affinity for the .45, but I would be very happy with a Glock model 19, with the right ammo.

A robber has to go through a series of evaluations and actions to get into your house. Why would he pick your house? Get outside, stand across the street and look at your place.. Imagine how you might break-in. Imagine watching yourself get in and out. Are you an easy target? You need to evaluate your value as a target to make yourself look less inviting to unwanted guests.

Next comes you physical protection. How strong are the entry points to your house? Not only doors and windows, but roof, garage door, and any possible weaknesses? Robbers will find ways to get into your house you would never think of. You need to plug those holes.

Last, your response to a home invasion. It shouldn’t be just calling 911 and hoping for the best. You do need a weapon. The choice is yours, but is limited. I see baseball bats near front doors fairly often; wrong place. If someone kicks in the door, they got your weapon! It takes a lot of strength to damage the human body, and if you can’t swing that bat hard enough, forget it. A gun, sure, but you must practice with it. A sword would be better than any kind of club. Non-lethal options like the Taser or mace are in my opinion not good options. The Taser is a one shot deal, and mace might just piss-off your attacker.

One last consideration is the legalities of self-defense. If someone breaks into your house, you have a petty clean-cut case. If however you shoot a robber on your front lawn while he’s getting away with you TV, you’re going to jail..

I am not an expert, but I hope these suggestions will help keep you safer. Comments and suggestions are welcome…

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.

The Best of All Worlds” is where we live today. Unfortunately humanity has bipolar disorder. Find an asteroid on a collision course with earth, and all the industrial nations of the world would chip-in to build a spacecraft and go blow it up. After that, we’d just go back to killing each-other. History is full of lows we would rather forget. I was inspired today by my friend Victoria’s blog entry on the Holocaust. We must remember such events, and most importantly how they started. But knowing the signs doesn’t help much. Knowing that you can drown doesn’t teach you how to swim.

When I was twelve-years-old, my grandfather hung a couple old pots on a tree branch, handed me his sixteen-gauge shotgun and said “go ahead, aim carefully.” He used to tell me stories about the war, when I bugged him enough to get him to talk. That’s probably when I first realized that it wasn’t always the best of all worlds. He never warned me about watching for signs of impending doom, he just taught me skills that had helped him survive the darkest years of the century. I did not think much of it at the time, it was all fun and games for a boy my age. I did however feel compelled to keep studying and spent a decade handling and shooting small arms, hundreds of rounds a week, with rifle, sub-machine-gun and pistols. I practiced martial arts for years. I went camping, traveling, learned basic survival skills and street-smartness. I could as well have picked-up golf or tennis. Something in me told me I had to learn those things. That compulsion is part of me. It is not a fad, not an ego trip, not a hobby. I do not wonder why.

We humans have a tool no other animal possesses, self deception. It is a curse. If you ever wonder how some people can be very intelligent but have no common-sense, there you go, self-deception. No animal in the wild is going to think “what what that noise? Oh, probably nothing..” We do it all the time: “The government would never do that,” “that guy would never hurt me,” “that could never happen here.” Why think about unpleasantness..

I spend enough time in coffee shops to hear it all, mostly rants about politics and how civilization as we know it is about to end. There is a lot of talking going on. Not much else. I am not a proponent of revolution mind you, the best answer to political problems is informed vote. Emphasis on “informed.” What I am a proponent of is preparedness. Things occasionally do go to hell in a hand-basket, on a macro, or micro scale, doesn’t matter, you can end-up just as dead. Being killed by a horde of thugs after an economic breakdown or a mugger at the ATM machine makes no difference. I will tell you exactly what most people do when something like that happens: Nothing. It’s too late for learning how to swim after you fall off the boat. Even worse: It’s too late to learn how to swim after your family falls off the boat. Take a few minutes to think that one over…

If you’re a loner and plan on crawling into a fetal position and keel-over when the going gets though, be my guest. It’s your choice. But of course, it won’t happen to you, right? I am addressing most of us here however, husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, friends, and most importantly, parents. It is parent’s responsibility to learn how to defend their children, and teach them to defend themselves. And here is what baffles me the most, almost nobody does. Parents tell their kids not to talk with strangers, but they have no idea about what to do if the stranger has a big knife and is not interested in talking to them at all. Any decent parent would fly to the rescue, but unfortunately, whatever they do next would probably not be the best action, as far as outcome is concerned. Sorry about giving you a guilt trip here, but if I don’t, who else will? You’re not a bad parent, you just deceived yourself. Now you have no excuse, you have been informed. Yet, I will tell you exactly what most of you will do: Nothing.

I am also advocating building strong communities. Look at Switzerland. Every house in Switzerland has an assault rifle provided by the government. Kids in Siberia learn to shoot Kalashnikovs around ten-years-old. Young men and women in Israel serve in the IDF for three or two years respectively. Anybody thinking about invading Switzerland, Siberia or Israel is going to think twice about it.. Anyone attempting to invade Western Europe would have no problem at all. It has been done more than once before. The United States would be a different story, with the number of guns in circulation. The question is, do you have one? Do you know how to use it safely and efficiently? Oh, you are anti-gun.. That’s like being anti-life-vest on a boat. But we are in the same boat. You don’t live in a separate world where everybody is nice and respectful. You live in the same world as the people who were killed by home invaders or raped and killed by sexual predators. Sure, it might not happen to you. What if it does? What if the mighty Dollar takes a plunge and the gangs from that other part of town want your food after they ramsack the supermarket that just closed down? Anyway, enough scare tactics. I don’t spend all my time thinking about such scenarios, actually, I almost never do but for times like today. You know all this anyway. Yet, I will tell you exactly what most of you will do to be more prepared: Nothing.

Now, if you are still reading and haven’t crossed me off your list of friends for being a psycho survivalist type (I’m not, far from it) who makes you feel guilty about spending too much time watching television and getting fat on junk food, you might be onto something. I am not telling you to go to the Gym every day or run 10K twice a week. I get pretty lazy myself at times. There is however a minimal physical condition you should aspire to reach. Now is the time to make new-year resolutions. Read my blog on combat conditioning. If you want to exercise and learn useful skills at the same time, don’t go hit balls with a racket, learn a martial art. Go camping with your kids, learn and teach them what it takes to survive outside your cozy house, how to catch a rabbit, a fish, gut it, cook it. Learn about firearms, safety first.. If not to defend yourself in your house, you might need one someday to shoot your food! You’re vegetarian? Doesn’t matter. When you’ll be hungry enough, your brain will make you seek proteins, and you will eat meat, I promise you. There are whole books about self-sufficiency, I am not going to tell you what to do. If you need advise on firearms or martial arts, you can ask me. I am no expert, but I’ve been around, and if I can’t answer, I know people who can, or where to look. Just ask yourself “Can I take care of myself without society? Defend myself without the cops?” The police can’t be at your door in one minute, can they? But sometimes, that’s all the time you’ll have. Be glad you are now wondering about your personal well-being and you family’s, because I’ll tell you exactly what most people will do to be more prepared: Nothing.

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 diffĂ©rence.” 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.

Not only applicable to martial arts, visualization can help your training and improve your skills, as long as you avoid some pitfalls. By visualization, I mean creating a mental image of a particular situation to which you have to react. You imagine an attacker lunging at you, then imagine yourself changing the situation to your advantage. It might sound a bit silly, and though I am no expert, I have come to believe from experience, and talking to my Systema training partners, that it can be beneficial. The same thing can be said of training videos. Watching a DVD is a type of visualization. You can imagine yourself doing the same moves as the instructor. Your brain doesn’t quite differentiate between reality and an imaginary situation, thus it can learn from both, albeit much better from reality, which provides feedback.

The danger lies in the fact that without real training experience, you may visualize an action which violates the laws of physics, body mechanics, or exceeds your physical capabilities as well as pain tolerance. Even so slightly maybe, but that would be counter-productive to your training. One must ensure that the movements and timing involved are realistic. Someone else, preferably more experience, should keep you in check. That means regular “real” training sessions. You wouldn’t imagine yourself learning how to swim, then dive in the deep section of the pool… Again, the same applies to watching training videos. Soon or later, you need to apply what you saw. Otherwise, you are just deceiving yourself.

A good time to visualize, I found, is in bed, before sleep comes. Everything is quiet. In ten or fifteen minutes, you can explore hundreds of variations of a theme. Don’t do that then however if you are prone to waking up in the middle of the night fighting your significant-other sleeping next to you! You can also review a class in your mind from that evening to pinpoint your errors and successes before what you learned gets committed to long-term memory while you sleep. It is sort of a reinforcement of what needs to stay with you beyond that day.

I am curious to hear from instructors if they have ever suggested visualization to students, or practice it themselves? We probably all do it to some extent. Whether making it an integral part of training is worth it remains to be evaluated. Any information on the subject would be welcome. Feel free to post your comments below. Have fun training!