training

All posts tagged training

When a flight attendant tells you that you can’t have a pillow on your lap, or must remain seated an hour before landing (Yahoo News), it is time to question the competence of security agencies. Those new rules imply that an explosive device could well be already in the plane, and obviously, it has just happened. Instead of acknowledging their failure by adding new measures that consider all passengers as threats, wouldn’t it be better to ensure that no explosive gets aboard? As Bruce Schneier notes in his security blog, “Only two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.” They are certainly more willing to do so after September 11. I believe that flight-crew training is the best thing TSA could invest in.

We all want to fly safely, but at what price? It is bad enough that we must all go through patting, puffing-sniffing machines, x-rays, shoe removal and dubious looks and questions, it should ensure that once on the plane, we are treated as paying customers again. TSA could lean a few things from El-Al security measures, including racial profiling. Instead, they ask grandmothers to remove their shoes, and ban children from flights because their name match a suspected terrorist. If I had to choose between a fountain pen and a nail file for a weapon, I’ll take the pen any day. Not that bringing explosives on-board or weapons is difficult.. Political correctness should go overboard before safety and privacy.

Airlines should feel the economic pressure of ineffective security policies. They would then lobby for better measures and training, not more of the same nonsense. The only way we can do this is simply take the car, or train when possible for short trips. I wish the United States had not lost it’s railroad industry. You can zip all around Europe at 200mph in total comfort, are we so far behind technologically? It is the responsibility of taxpayers to see that their money is used in a reasonably responsible and effective manner. Keeping me from going to the bathroom at the end of a flight or not giving me a pillow is not going to make a flight safer. If that device on the Northwest/Delta flight had been well made, the plane would have gone down, pillow or not. It only takes a fraction of a second to press a button.

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.

I have been carrying one for years, but only today am I thinking of reviewing it. An every-day-carry knife should not be an impulse-buy. You will use it for countless tasks, from opening letters and boxes to saving your life in an emergency. How many times have I heard “Hey, someone got a knife?” How come you don’t have one? Is my answer, as I pull my Emerson Commander out of my jeans pocket. The day you need to cut yourself free of a sinking car, or stop someone from choking you to death, I probably won’t be there to hand you mine. A knife is a tool, the simplest one of all, and we have been carrying them since we earned the name “humans.” They are as vital today as they were back then. What type of knife to carry? You already know what my favorite is, let’s see why.

Folding or fixed blade. Any fixed-blade knife that isn’t junk is stronger than a folding one. Your choice might be a legal one. Most states or countries do not allow carrying fixed-blade knives. Open-carry raises eyebrows. My friend Kolyma, who works at a farm was once shopping at Whole Foods with his knife on his belt. He was promptly surrounded by police officers who politely asked him not to carry it in the store, even though it was perfectly legal. Next time you go out, pay attention to the little metal clip of a folding knife on people’s pants. Nobody pays attention to that, but many do carry them. The legal limit is usually four inches for the blade, single-edge. If you can carry a strong fixed-blade knife, do it. Otherwise, keep in mind that the most important part of a folder is the lock. Since this article is about folders, let’s see what makes a good one.

The lock prevents the knife from folding on your fingers while you use it. These days, because one of America’s favorite sports is litigation, folders made in the United States have decent locks for normal use. The same can’t be said of cheap imitations from China. Stay away from unknown brands, Ebay deals and dubious cheap folders. Your life or your fingers may never depend on it, but why take the risk. I usually shop from three reputable brands, Emerson, Cold Steel and Spyderco. You can read all about locks and watch a great video on Bob’s Knife Town locks page.

The grip: I was once looking for a folder at a Manatee Civic Center gun-show. I came upon a large table full of knives and started handling them one by one to find the best fitting one for my hand. This is where hands-on shopping beats the Internet. The salesman was getting impatient, as I took my sweet time to find the best model. I grabbed an Emerson Mini Commander. Love at first grab! The handle was perfect, both in standard and reverse grip. I had never handled a folder that fit my hand so well. It wasn’t only my hand actually, since many friends trying my knife made the same comment. Next came the bad surprise, the $175 price tag. I looked at it more closely. The quality was obvious. The knife is very strongly built and looks like it would survive pretty much anything. Five years ago I had a bad motorcycle accident, and while I lay on the asphalt with a broken femur and dislocated shoulder, someone stole my Mini Commander. As soon as I recovered, I immediately ordered the full-size model. I hear they have a super-size one now, guess what I’m going to buy next.. I also own the Commander Trainer for Systema practice. This knife is worth every penny they charge for it.

The blade will most likely be stainless steel. There is no need for a strong carbon steel blade of less than four inches. I prefer straight edges, as they are easier to sharpen without special tools. Spyderco has nice short, serrated blades like the Co-Pilot (not sure if they still make that one), which I used to carry on flights before 9/11. I unfortunately lost it in the snow near the Lille (France) train station more than a decade ago. The blade should be thick enough to be strong, but thin enough to cut efficiently all the way through. Buying from a reputable brand will assure you that it won’t be brittle and keep a decent edge. My Emerson Commander had a chisel grind, meaning that it was ground on one side only. I gave it to a friend once for resharpening, and he suggested to turn it into a regular “V” grind, I agreed. The problem was, 154CM steel is pretty hard, and it took forever to get it to cut again. I finally took it to a grinder and at last, it shaves hair again. Fortunately, Emerson listened to it’s customers, and the new Commanders do have a conventional V Grind.

Opening your knife is a very important function. You must be able to open your folder with one hand, left or right. Read my story about having to cut a banner towline during a tricky go-around with an ultralight. I can’t emphasize enough that you need to practice pulling your knife out of your pocket and opening it. Practice without looking at it, with your knife in any position in your hand. You must get a feel for it, and get proficient at opening it quickly in any circumstances. The Emerson Commander has the advantage here, with it’s wave feature:

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You can make your own “poor man’s wave feature” on knives which have a hole for blade opening, like Spydercos. Simply put a tie-wrap around the hole (those ties used for electric wires), et voila! Instant wave feature. Some people cut one into their knives, but you must be careful not to overheat the blade with power tools, which destroys the hardening process. Unless you know how to re-harden a blade and have the tools, your knife is junk.

Self-defense with a knife is a touchy subject. Never pull your knife out of your pocket unless not doing so will result in your death. That might not always be true, so use your best judgment. I once saw a man pull a knife on another in a bar, when the other guy also pulled his. They then looked at each-other with an expression that said “What the hell are we getting into here..” and they simultaneously pocketed their folders, exchanged a few more insults, and the incident was over. That took but three seconds. The outcome could have been much different, but the fear of injury cooled them down. Whether to draw or not is a difficult decision, most of the time, in my opinion, don’t. Training is most important here. Pulling a knife without knowing how to use it is not a wise option. Get some Systema or Filipino martial art instruction, it will be time well spent. Keep in mind that no matter who’s right, if you use a knife against an unarmed attacker, you will go to jail. Avoid buying a knife that looks too “tactical” or has a name like “Combat Skinner” or anything aggressive. Avoid black-coating blades. Judges and jury do not like tactical looking weapons. If the Commander came in pink, I might be tempted, just for that reason. A Karambit might be a great weapon, but it isn’t anything else. Make sure your knife looks somewhat like a regular pocket knife, not a weapon someone looking for trouble would carry.

My best advise to you is, carry a knife. Buy a good one. Ask one for Christmas, it’s coming.. I feel naked if I don’t have my knife with me, and never leave the house without it. Many times I was happy to have one for simple tasks that would have been a hassle without it. It sucks not to have one when you need it most. Hopefully you’d never need to defend or save your life with it, but if need be, it should be there for you.


Having a good opinion of yourself is great. An inflated ego in martial arts however will hamper your training. Sport-based martial arts (I just called them sports), do use ego as a driving force, pushing competitors to train harder and perform better. In that sense, it works, as long as nobody’s life is in the balance. I am not an instructor, but I have taught a few Systema classes while my instructor was away, and of course, we get the occasional new student. I can classify students in two groups: Those who want to learn and are willing to let you show them, and those who, although they also want to learn, are very reticent to let you take them down or strike them, even just as a drill or to show them a move. They usually are very tense, which in itself slows their progress. It is the job of the instructor to make them realize that it isn’t about who can kick who’s ass.

Let’s look at this latest statement. We are dealing here with survival, not a competition or simple bar-fight where one opponent has to achieve control of the other, thus increasing his social position, to the detriment of the other. A simple premise like “I can beat that guy” makes no sense. You can beat him when? When you had a good night of sleep and he didn’t? When he had a nice breakfast and your stomach is bothering you? Or simply when it’s your lucky day and not his? There is no point in wondering about anything like that, because you can’t know the answer all the time, and really, it doesn’t matter. When a beginner slugs me in the face nicely because I failed to move, I laugh and congratulate him/her. I can hit my instructor too, he finds it funny as well. We do have a lot of fun in class, because we don’t care. We have no belts or ranks, and that makes training much more relaxed. Being worried about your group social standing puts too much pressure on you. In many martial arts, high-ranking students do not even practice with beginners. Would a white-belt take-down a black belt, oh my God, how could he dare do such a thing! Ranks give a false sense of superiority and breed contempt for lower-ranking students. It is often all about testing fees, selling ego-boosts for money. That’s how you get ten-year-old black belts anyone can beat-up.

What matters most is increasing your odds of survival.

Ego or should I say insecurities, can get you in trouble faster than a chameleon gobbles a fly, and you can end-up just as dead. You must recognize what’s important to you, physical integrity or perceived social standing. You can insult me as much as you want, I don’t care. As long as you are not threatening me physically, there is no need for me to “teach you a lesson.” My social standing might go down in the minds of whomever witnesses the incident, but the victory is mine, having shown self-control and avoiding possible injury, or worse. It might be more difficult when someone insults your wife, girlfriend or other family members, but the problem is the same. You need to be ready to defend their lives, not their ego or yours. I am not talking about a simple argument here, but an escalating situation when violence becomes likely. After all, that is why we train, so that we can go back home with our families after a violent encounter. Get used to defend your ego in training, and you might be inclined to do as well in real life, at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons!

Insecure, competitive, or ego-centered students usually realize early that their weaknesses will be exposed in training (nothing wrong with that, that’s the goal of training), and will soon leave. I can spot them immediately. I had new students try to teach me on their first class, when I have been training for years. I always welcome feedback and suggestions, but the intention here is misplaced. Those who stay will be a challenge for the instructor. They will try to teach other students their “own things,” or simply do what they want and miss the fine points of learning that the instructor might pass down to them. They’ll say things like “Yeah, yeah, I know,” or always try to have the last word. They’ll try to fight you when you show them something, resist take-downs, put a lot of tension in their work. I am not saying that they are bad people. I have seem very motivated students, great individuals, missing the point, so to speak. It is often the result of many years of competitive mindset beset upon them, or insecurities that have not been dealt with. A good martial arts training is probably the best thing for them, but they will have to check and change their premises to get the most out of training.

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!