Teaching Martial Arts: A Positive Classroom

We all have to be mindful of our interactions with our students. As I have said in the past, it is easy to catch people, kids especially, doing things wrong. There is no special skill or training needed to do this. The real challenge lies in catching them doing things right, and finding ways to give them feedback on this, and use what they are doing right as a framework for giving critical feedback to help them perform even better. Training in the martial arts needs to be taught as a process of growth, not natural skill. Some people will be more talented than others, or achieve skills more quickly than others, but that is just life.

So, how can we do this?

For a start, we must understand that properly responding to our students is a combination of what we say (critical feedback), how we say it (tone of voice), and our presentation (body language). These three things must be parts of a whole and must convey a single message. If you tell a student they are doing something right, but you roll your eyes when you say it or your body language shows disgust or frustration, or gives a signal that you do not mean it, the student will become confused, as will the rest of the class.

What we do as martial arts instructors is in large part about building relationships, we have to stay mindful of what we are communicating to our students at all times. We must be mindful of both our verbal and non-verbal communication.

We have to correct what is being done incorrectly. As the instructor, if we are letting sloppy techniques slide on the thought of oh, I’ll clean that up later we are doing a disservice to the student making the error, and we are reinforcing an incorrect standard for the rest of the students in the class. It is not always fun to tell a good student they are doing it wrong, but depending on how we frame it, it may be more unpleasant for us than for them, at least we should hope it is.

I have mentioned the Compliment Sandwich before; the simple method of: compliment – correct – praise. It is an easy tool to use, but can seem gimmicky or forced to students, especially older students so it is best used with the tiny kids. There is the higher method of creating a positive class setting.

In a positive class, feedback is delivered in dynamic, uplifting way.

Think of the following situation:

Jimmy has motivation issues in karate. He is, oddly enough, actually trying to perform a round kick correctly today, but his lack of practice is really showing. Seeing this his instructor said,

A.)  You idiot. You will never get any better at this unless you try. Right now you suck.

B.)   Great round kick Jimmy!

C.)   Let’s just try a different kick Jimmy.

D.)  Hey Jimmy, you are making some progress but let’s keep at it. Everything in martial arts takes effort and consistent practice, and practice is why we are here. Let’s do a few more!

Obviously, if you are trying to create a positive classroom you are going to choose D. The problem with A is quite clear; the instructor is being a jerk. There is simply no excuse for a teacher in any discipline to speak to a student that way. The problem with response B is that the instructor is reinforcing a false standard. Some people have no issue with response C, but I have to take issue with it as well. The mindset that tells us well, some people just don’t get a round kick is a cop out. It also allows the student to think that their learning ability is fixed, incapable of growth.

Anyone can learn anything if they put in the time and effort, but they do need a teacher who believes that they can learn. When the teacher says, “I can’t teach that person.” I have to ask; then who can? A teacher in any subject you care to name is only going to be effective with the students that they personally believe can learn what they are teaching. It is essential that the teacher believe all of the students can learn.

In addition to what is said is the issue of how it is said. In the context of an article it is difficult to convey tone of voice, but your tone of voice carries a message that can change the meaning of the words. Be mindful of the tone of voice.

Finally there is body language. Martial arts instructors need to learn to smile a genuine smile and share it more often. Most of us work with kids and kids get enough stress from adults without us adding to it. Smiles, high fives, fist bumps, a pat on the back of the shoulder; all of these can let a person know that you are there to help and are willing to work with them.

While I am on the subject, I want to touch on what is probably the worst bit of advice given to new teachers. Anyone who has ever worked in a public school has been told at some point to not smile until Christmas. The whole don’t smile until Christmas bit is terrible! It creates a distance (and it is a phony distance) between us and our students. This advice causes many new teachers to ignore the hard work and progress of students in that critical early stage when the initial bonds are being formed.

Creating and maintaining a positive setting in your martial arts school is a lot of work, but well worth it. The rewards in student achievement, word of mouth advertising, and your own peace of mind make it worth the effort. Be nice to people.

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On  September 29th of 2013 we crossed the 15,000 views mark and I was astonished. Today we crossed 20,000, and I feel humbled. For a tiny weblog written by a guy like me, to me this is amazing in such a short period of time.

I thank all of you for reading what I write, and I especially thank those who find enough value in it to share it on social media. It really means a lot to me.

What is coming up? Well, we have more interviews with phenomenal, interesting people. I am working on a free online self-defense/self-protection course that will be made available through this site, and articles that I hope people continue to find useful.

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An Interview with Pavel Macek, Sifu

summer camp

In the continuing series, I present to you today an interview with Pavel Macek Sifu. He currently lives and teaches in the Czech Republic, in addition to teaching seminars in many different countries. I really appreciate the mindset that traditional training IS practical. Very knowledgeable and personable as well, he brings a lot to the table and I hope you enjoy!

Wallace: As we begin I want to thank you for taking the time to do this. I have followed your websites for some time and you bring a lot of great stuff to the table and I am interested to see where this one leads!

Pavel: Hello Wallace, thank you for your kind words, it’s an honor to be featured on your blog.

Wallace: As we start, could you please share with our readers a bit about your background and training experience?

Pavel: I started as a young kid with Judo, at age of 9, and later with Chinese martial arts at age 14.

I always wanted to learn directly from the source, so in 1997 I saved some money, bought a ticket and came to San Franciso with one and only purpose – to learn real Gung Fu, real Hung Ga. I have started to learn first from Y.C. Wong Sifu and have been later introduced to famous Lam Family of Hong Kong.

Since 2002 I have been studying with Lam Chung Sifu, youngest son of Late Grand Master Lam Jou. I also owe a lot to my Si Gung, brothers of my my Sifu – Grand Master Lam Chun Fai and Lam Chun Chung, all my Si Hing Dai at Lam Gwun – Mr. Wong, Mr. Chan, Mr. Ho, Mr. Sang… as well as my Daai Si Hings, Michael Goodwin Sifu in San Francisco and Leon Dogan Sifu in London. Thank you all.

learning in Hong KongWell, that is my Chinese martial arts lineage. Apart from teaching Hung Kyun, I also work as a functional movement specialist and strength and conditioning coach (bodyweight strength, kettlebells and barbells), so I would like to give credit to my strength Master, Pavel Tsatsouline and all brothers and sisters of StrongFirst – many of them being world class athletes and martial arts experts. I can’t thank Pavel enough for all his teaching, help and support.

I wish I was so smart as my teachers, but I am not, so I try to be a good student. Standing on the shoulders of the giants indeed…

Wallace: Indeed! I would like to jump straight in to a subject that is near and dear to my heart – practical martial arts. What is your take on the practical use of the traditional techniques in Hung Kyun?

Pavel: Well… Foundational skills, Gei Bun Gung, are the basis of the pyramid – move better, get stronger, sharpen your weapons; be a better athlete so to speak. Without that nothing is going to work.

Wallace: Truer words were never spoken.

Pavel: Technique is second – in my opinion, people put too much faith in technique, especially accumulation of new techniques, or they are looking for some “secret”, fancy, complicated moves. Simple is good – Chyun Kiu, Ping Cheui, block and big right hand! Usage, tactics and strategy are the third aspect.

That said, I will talk more about the technical arsenal of Hung Kyun. We have all that we need – kicks, strikes, throws, locks… Nothing fancy, all ready to use no-nonsense techniques, BUT it depends how you train them and use them. The problem I see in the commonly taught methods – unrealistic attacks… unrealistic responses that will not work in a real fight… Movie-like choreography…. Reliance on self-defence instead of pro-active self protection and so on. The thing is –  even the most stupid application will work in a gym – but will it work outside the gym?

Wallace: And this is where a lot of people miss the mark.

Pavel: Speaking of self-defence, people need to train just a few simple, reliable techniques that work for you under stress, so when the sh*t hits the fan, you just go! When testing my students, I do not require that they show all the applications – I let them pick them 3-5 offensive combos, 3-5 counter-offensive combos, and of course test them in various forms of full-contact sparring as well. Less is definitely better.martial arts performance

Wallace: And again, I agree 100%. In looking at your website it is obvious you make extensive use of training equipment.

Pavel: Yes, that’s right. People need to hit stuff – hit pads, sandbags, kick poles, and not only the way combat sports do that. If somebody can’t hit the bag, with speed and power, how can he expect it work in a fight?

Wallace: Obviously he can’t.

Pavel: Same goes for conditioning – your neurosystem will not let you go full speed, full power, if it knows that you are going to break your knuckles.

People also need to practice various self-defence scenarios, how to deal with the potential conflict – control the distance, position yourself properly, keep the hands up… 95% of so called self-defence is awareness, and it has to be taught and practiced… Street-smarts I would say.P1000733

Wallace: And the most crucial element of all, you just mentioned; awareness, is so ignored. There is also the added challenge of testing the skills under an adrenal response. How do you address this aspect?

Pavel: We use various forms of contact training and pressure testing – full speed, full power, full aggression – not only standard 1 on 1 sparring, but 1 vs. 2, 1 vs. multiple opponents, gang fight simulation, and so on. 2 minutes of such fun is something, trust me – much more physically and mentally demanding than the usual 1 on 1 sparring.

Wallace: I have long felt that practical application is built in to any legitimate martial art. Now, the Chinese martial arts have a reputation for flashy moves and although Hung Kyun does not have what I would classify as flash, it does have some elaborate or exotic hand gestures, the kiu sao, the one finger bridge as an example. How do you address the duality of some of the gestures in training of a form as opposed to the way it will be used in confrontation?

Pavel: The “Single Finger Bridge Hand”, Daan Ji Kiu Sau has both fighting usage and cultural meaning.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Of course there is deep cultural meaning behind the sign, we all in Hung Kyun know – long story, encompassing the death of the last Ming Emperor, “One Finger Zen” koan, Siu Lam temple, anti-Ching rebels of Hung Mun society and their secret signs, ultimate art of “One Finger Zen” and so on – I am not going to elaborate on this, as we are talking about practical skill.

Do you remember Bruce Lee’s “don’t concentrate on the finger or… “?

Wallace: “…you will miss all of that Heavenly glory.” Yes sir.

Pavel: Well, that is one way how we use it: “Well, buddy, look… BOOM!” Reality-based self-defence is art of deception. So called Ying Sau, “Shadow Hand” or feint, is extensively used in Hung Kyun. Lam Sai Wing’s disciple writes about it in his “Tiger and Crane Double Form” book, I am not making it up.

“Single Finger Bridge Hand”, when used as defense, example to the proverbial big right hand, or wild tackle, as we often do? “Don’t concentrate on the finger”, ha ha! Get your bridge out sink the elbow, block and and hit the guy.

Wallace: Love it!

Pavel: See, even the pullling of the free hand back to the waist has its use – why not to grab the other guys sleeve, pull him into the strike. I can close my eyes and I know where he is, and hit him again, moreover, when I knock him out, he will not fall to the floor, hit the pavement with his head and die, something that we have to think of today, right.

Wallace: An excellent point. He swings, you hit him, his head hits the ground, he dies, you go to prison. So obviously you believe there is a reason behind everything we do.

Pavel: I not only believe, but I know that there is a reason behind anything we do and how we do – and if I don’t know, I do my homework, ask, research… Or change it. No room for wasted movement. There is always a practical usage behind of any of the techniques – not necessarily fighting, like first sections of our sets like Gung Ji Fuk Fu or Fu Hok Seung Ying, which are more about developing certain structure, mechanics, power, DNA of the style so to speak, but always, there is a reason why.

Following sections of our sets, so called Ha Lou, second part? All fighting, and usually very simple and useful stuff,  just with few special hands. People try to use the technique just as defense – counter-attack, and against single right hand middle punch. No wonder that it does not work for them in fighting. Let’s not  blame the fork for being poor knife.

Wallace: And this is where one must look beyond mere technique and start to look at the underlying strategy of the system. Let our readers in on a little bit of the fighting strategy of Hung Kyun.

practicing in the park - flexible steel

Pavel: Yes… Strength and conditioning is the foundation of the pyramid. Technique development is the next layer, usage, tactics, and strategy, as well as mental preparation next layers. Our fighting strategy is summarized in Kyun Kyut, “Boxing Maxims”, transmitted to us by the past generations of Grand Masters – they are 100% applicable for today’s world and reality-based self-protection.

Our Practical Hung Kyun self-defense game plan goes like this: Learn to recognize the threat and whenever possible, avoid, escape or verbaly de-escalate. That is 99% of all self-defence and yes, it has to be learned and trained. Awareness is the key to succeful self-protection – “the eyes watch on the Four Sides, ears listen to the Eight Directions.“

If avoiding or verbal de-escalation is not an option, we don’t wait for the other guy to attack first; we strike pre-emptively – fast, accurately, with power, hard and without holding back, as the Chinese masters say, Faai, Jeun, Ging, Ngaang, Han! Less variables to juggle with – the decision is fast, and so is the action. Of course we also drill anti-ambush drills, but as for fighting, this is that last option – or better to say, no-option.

Following poem, inherited from Grand Master Wong Fei Hung,  basically summarizes all fighting strategies in few verses:

Lift and chop, guard the center,

Frontally break in and destroy,

Cleverly enter from the side gate,

Penetrate, dodge, seal and intercept,

Continually advance and attack,

Every step close in and press,

Attack and defense change one into another.

As I said before, our Practical Hung Kyun defnitely emphasises pro-active self-protection – action beats reaction, defending is loosing. Hung Kyun favours straight entry, “Press and Strike” Bik Da; as the saying goes, Hung Ga enters straight ahead”. Side entry, or “Evade and Strike” – Sim Da –  complements Bik Da strategy – in  my opinion it is an influence of “Long Bridges” of Hap Ga.

Wallace: Excellent answer! I want to make a shift here. A few years ago I wrote an article on the “Ten Killing Hands” because I felt it to be a misunderstood topic that was getting brushed aside with the label of “secret”. More recently you published a better article on the same topic. Using the Ten Killing Hands as a point of departure, could you give us your take on so-called secret knowledge in relation to poorly understood concepts in the traditional martial arts?

Pavel: Well, I can’t really really talk about secret techniques, that’s secret…. Just kididing, ha ha.

Wallace: Ha! There is the old joke of “I would tell you but then I would have to kill you”. I met a guy once who told me that if he told me, the masters in Hong Kong would kill him!

Pavel: Ha ha ha, yes! Well… Secret methods and special techniques, are the real deal, although they mean something different than most people think.

Let’s see… I can make student in 5 minutes 20% stronger using a certain technique, breathing method and visualisation I learned from Pavel, my strength Master. Or I can make certain combat technique work like magic, just showing the simple, real and practical application with correct setup and context, as well as the way it shoud be drilled to “come alive”. Wow, awesome, right? Must be magic!

Well, secret methods are simply refined and smart teaching methodology, knowledge and skill. I am not that smart, I owe everything to my Masters. However, we at Practical Hung Kyun always ask ourselves – what is important, what is not? What technique and training method will give us the best results, both in the short and long run? The Pareto principle applied to martial arts training: Which 20% of the skills and techniques will get me 80% outcome? To tell you one of “secret” is – pssst, do not tell anybody – less is more. The key is to identify “less of what”, as well as “more of what”. A teaspoon of honey is better than bucket of sh*t,pardon my language.

Wallace: Again, love the thought!

Pavel: The Chinese have a saying – “hidding the secret in plain sight”. You have mentioned “Ten Killing Hands”, or better to say, “Ten Special Techniques”. The very first of them is simple rear high palm strike followed by low groin shot, Baat Fan Duk Jin Cheui. All Hung Kyun practitioners know the technique – the question is, do they practice it enough? Do they practice it correctly?

Wallace: Two absolutely essential questions.

Pavel: My students learn the technique, correct structure and mechanics. Having good strength foundation, they work on developing the “Heavy Hand”, ie. powerful KO strike, hitting sandbag. They work on precise timing of the combo and accuracy of the low groin strike. They work on various setups, both from non-aggresive and combat “guard”, “Continuous Attack”, Lin Waan, “Press and Hit”, Heui Sat, “Fake and Real” and other principles. They practice the technique in various self-defence scenarios, including “what if… “. They use the combo in various forms of sparring. Check out our Practical Hung Kyun Intensive Courses’ syllabi – very different from what you usually see in Chinese martial arts, right?

Wallace: Yes sir.

Pavel: And the results are excellent. Is it because of “secret” techniques and tricks? No, of course not. The secret is consistent and smart practice following logical, progressive methodology. Instead of “trial-error”, we at Practical Hung Kyun prefer “system-result” – I do not know why, but somehow works better, ha ha!

Wallace: I fully understand and appreciate having an actual methodology to the teaching;  clear sight of what you want to accomplish with the students and a map detailing how you will accomplish this. Great stuff!

Pavel: Exactly. The goals have to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-related. S.M.A.R.T. This applies to all other skills, not just martial arts training.

Wallace: Do you find a lot of resistance to your approach, or do you see a broad acceptance and perhaps even a growing interest in the approach you are taking to teaching traditional martial arts in the modern “everyone-and-their-uncle-is-the-MMA-champion-of-the- world” world that we live in?

Pavel: People interested in studying Hung Ga who already have previous experience with Hung Ga or Chinese martial arts as such often say that the practice method of Practical Hung Kyun is very different from other schools. I tell them that I sincerely hope so! Check out our Mission Statement at our webpage, you’ve got it all there.

We are not interested in fancy silk uniforms, sets performances and empty socializing at the restaurants where everybody praises each other how good they are, and once somebody leaves, they start badmouth him – so common in traditional Chinese martial world, sorry to say so.

Wallace: The people I know don’t even wait for you to leave the room!

Pavel: My motto is: “Be who you are and do what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”. People have found out that they have been climbing the ladder hard, for many years, only to find out that the ladder is leaning on wrong building. Most of them learned only lots of sets, bunch of useless applications, and that is it. So they come to us and basicaly start from scratch, if they have the balls to empty their cup. In couple of weeks or months they get better than in the last few years…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Haters will hate, I do not care at all. We at Practical Hung Kyun are pioneers. Many Hung Ga Kyun “Sifu” are watching what we do, and quietly imitate us. We hit pads – so they hit pads as well. We spar – everybody starts to wear gloves and shin pads. We practice with kettlebells, everybody starts to use them. Everybody is suddenly “functional” and “reality-based” and “fullcontact”, whatever. The “results” are sometimes very funny, but as i said, I do not care, well, in the end, “imitation is the most sincere form of flattery”.

Other people say: “But hey, that is not traditional! On the contrary – Practical Hung Kyun goes back to the roots, it is  a revolution in the original sense of the world, “return”. Old Masters spent a lot of time on strength and conditioning – so do we. They were strong, healthy and able to fight – so are we. If they had a chance to use modern protective gear, they would use it, because it is a chance to go full speed, full power, and  it means less injuries. Back to the roots – practical self-defence, strength and health, personal development.

Well, we neither the first, the only ones, nor the best. Dave and Vince Lacey Sifus of Buk Sing Choy Lai Fut, David Ross Sifu, David Rogers Sifu and Chris Heintzman Sifu of Hop Gar/Lama Pai, my Si Hing Michael Goodwin Sifu, my good friend Ivan Rzounek of Wing Chun… All these gentlemen are huge inspiration for me and the future of Chinese martial arts.

Speaking of strength and conditioning? You can’t find anything better than Pavel Tsatsouline’s StrongFirst, period. Meeting Pavel and learning from him was definitely one of the most important turning points in my practice. Hats off, respect to the Masters!with Pavel Tsatsouline, my strength master

Wallace: And finally, I would like to hear a bit about your goals. Best case scenario, what will you be doing, say five or ten years down the road?

Pavel: First of all, learn more, practice smarter. Continuous education and sharpening the blade is a must.

Second, teach more and help all martial arts enthusiasts to reach their goals better and faster. Raise qualified Practical Hung Kyun instructors, both nationaly and internationaly.teaching at summer camp (2)

Third, write and publish more; together with my Daai Si Hing Michael Goodwin we are working on translation of various old and rare manuals and articles for my archives, I am preparing a series of Practical Hung Kyun Ecourses, many other publication projects on the way… People will love it, guaranteed.

For further “inside” information I invite the readers to join our Practical Hung Kyun Newsletter, as well as our Official Practical Hung Kyun Facebook fanpage. Our website is online for about a year, and it this short period it has become number one Hung Ga Kyun resources on the web. Fan community is growing every day, I am really happy for that.

Last but not least, as for the plans, I intent drink Pu Erh Tea on a porch after “Iron Thread Set” morning recharge, listen to the birds, enjoy the life… Sounds like a good plan, right?

Wallace: Absolutely.

Pavel: Life is good.

Wallace: This has been awesome and I appreciate you taking the time to do this and give us a lot to think about!

Pavel: Thank you very much Wallace, it has been a pleasure, I really enjoyed the interview. You are doing an excellent job promoting martial arts, as a regular reader of your blog I am looking forward to read more articles and interesting interviews.

Wallace: I appreciate the kind words.


Filed under Interviews, Martial Arts, Self Defense, Self Protection, Uncategorized

The Useful Fiction

In looking at the many and varied approaches to self-protection out there, I did what is becoming ever more uncommon. I started thinking.

There are a widely separated set of world views to choose from. But at the base, we see the world in the way that best suits our needs at the moment. Our world view can change more than once in the course of a single newscast, if we allow it to do so.

A Person growing up in South-Central LA or Third Ward Houston might see the world as a dangerous place where humans are killers waiting for your moment of weakness because that is the mindset that it takes to survive in such an environment. Any other mindset may result in death. Should they ever make it out of these areas, they may find it extremely difficult to get past their standard thought pattern.

We First World people (I loathe the term, but use it here for ease of communication) don’t think of being killed at every turn. The thought that we could be shot and killed on the way to work is as foreign as the thought of eating bugs. However, in many parts of the U.S. we forget that there are places where your life is in danger just from stepping outside of your front door, just as we forget that the U.S. is one of the only Countries where bugs are not traditionally eaten.

 The way we think about violence is based on the environment in which we were brought up. A person brought up in a gang environment might focus on the ways in which violence can be used to achieve a desired end, and all the while be oblivious to the ways that logical, reasonable arguments can influence others, whereas a person raised in a higher income family, or a Family where education is prized may reverse this equation.

 Here is a simple fact: Reality for us is whatever our brain needs it to be. Because different people live in what can in essence be called different worlds, there will be a discomforting number of realities when we speak of violence and self-protection. What we see around us is not the real world, but an image of the real world constructed by our senses and the aggregate is influenced by our experiences and understanding of what is useful. Period.

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
―     Anaïs Nin

In essence what we have is not the real world, but rather a model of the real world. The nature of the model depends on the nature of our environment, as well as our interpretation of that environment. A gangster needs a different model than the one used by the head of an international company. A bricklayer needs a different model than a cab driver. The gangster needs to think of who is in the car pulling up beside him, whereas the head of the company needs to be worried about profit and loss numbers, investors, etc. The bricklayer is concerned with meeting the quota and the cab driver needs to be concerned about who is in the back seat. The nature of the model is governed by how it is going to be used and in what environment.

 Normal reality is what we judge to be useful in our interpretation of information against the background of our experience. Your normal may be very similar to mine but it may also be extremely different.

 Can we truly reach a point in personal understanding where we in any meaningful way are able to bridge the gap in our understanding of violence and the understanding of those who live it daily? I don’t honestly know the answer.

 When we hear of a person attacking the elderly, say a WWII vet for example, if we were consistent, we would probably say, there is something wrong with this guy, he needs to be fixed. But instead most people, myself included, jump straight into thoughts of having the guy hung, drawn and quartered. When we are thinking in a scholarly way, we see human behavior as predictable and mechanistic. But when we go back to being human we resort to tribal thinking, emotion based decision making and gut reactions where the other guy is not human, and people can and do often surprise us with their actions.

 We live in a social world and it is in our nature to second guess the motives and actions of others, this is how we survive. It is all well and good to treat human behavior as predictable and mechanistic in the world of theory and discussion, but when dealing with actual people in the actual world it is a waste of time, especially if you are trying to figure out what the other person is going to do next. If you want to increase your accuracy in predicting human behavior, then look at other people as being creatures who act with intent, seeking a specific end result, and who seek pleasure and shun pain and effort.

The uncomfortable fact is that if your worldview is wrong it might cost you your life. There are people who will kill you for your shoes. There are people who will kill you because you cut them off in traffic. These people couldn’t care less if they are meeting your view of right and wrong. The thought that you might think there is something wrong with them for their action doesn’t mean anything to them. There are a lot of people who would never hurt you, but they are the same people who would not stop someone from hurting you. 33-year-old Deletha Word was savagely beaten, and had her clothing torn off of her by Martell Welch Jr, a 19-year-old who had his car side-swiped by Deletha. A 6’4″ man beating a 4’11″ woman. At least 40 people stood in a semicircle around the event as Welch pulled her from her car, repeatedly smashed her face into the hood of the car, tore off her clothes and continued to beat her for ten minutes. Accounts differ on whether or not she jumped from the bridge or was thrown into the river where she drowned. No one helped her, they just stood and watched. Don’t count on others to help you. Social Psychologists tend to the belief that the more dramatic the incident, the less likely anyone will help.

And in closing I will add one bit of advice; you have to deal with the world that is, and not the one you think should be.

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            I made a comment to my wife recently that when I reach a point, defined by just a few goals I have left to achieve, I am going to quit all martial arts except Taijiquan and just go full-bore on that. My reason is simple; I am tired of injuries.

              Over the years I have been pretty rough on my body. In addition to regular beatings in various training halls and tournaments, I also spent some time working as a professional wrestler, a bouncer, and hanging around some shady people who let me experience some fairly violent situations.

            When I wake up in the morning, most of the time, my entire skeleton hurts. Bones and joints snap crackle and pop as I shift from lying to sitting and eventually standing. Making my way downstairs is always tricky, and more than once I have stepped down with my knee improperly set, and had it fold wrong and send me down the stairs in a crumpled heap.

            With enough coffee and aspirin in my system I am able to negotiate my way to work and teach my classes. Kids being kids, it is not enough to tell them how and what to do; they need to be shown, repeatedly. On the plus side, I get to burn a lot of calories during the day by performing martial arts techniques and sets over and over.

            With the work day over, I make the hour + drive home. By the time I get home, my left knee is always swollen out of proportion, and sometimes my right knee joins in on the fun. My lower back gives me fits most days and every evening.

            All of this is in addition to minor issues with my ankles, hips, elbows, and shoulders.

            I attribute much of this to a mindset that I held in my youth. I remember well performing shoulder rolls and falls on concrete garage floors with only a sheet of cardboard for padding´(it really padded nothing, just prevented most of the chances to bleed). We just had this Samurai attitude of never admitting to fatigue, pain, or even injury.

            Madness and stupidity

            Sometimes I see instructors who were trained as I was, pushing young people through the same nonsense. It doesn’t make sense to me at all. And justifications fly when I dare question the necessity of the practices.

            “You have to respect tradition!”

            “Are you going to be a part of the group watering down the martial arts?”

            “Kids today aren’t tough enough; we need to make them tougher.”

            Here is a fact; you can train in a real martial art, become brutally effective in it, and not destroy your body in the process.

            Modern training methods and sports science have come a long way since the days of ballistic stretches and salt pills. When I hear a 24-year-old Black Belt talking about how severe their hip pain is, I feel bad for them; they have a lot of years ahead of them and things don’t get better. Traditional or not, we have better training methods today, and we should rely on them.

            As far as the kids being too soft, kids today are babied way too much. And there are parents out there who are intent on bulldozing a smooth path for their kid, effectively setting up their child to be traumatized when the real world shows up, but pushing kids into physical injury is wrong and stupid.

            But the question comes up; “How can I certify them as a Black Belt if I don’t know if they can defend themselves?”

            Unless you are actually teaching self-defense, this is a BS excuse. And if you are teaching self-defense, then the biggest challenge is testing the student’s ability to stay aware, avoid situations where violence is likely, set their hormone fueled ego aside and de-escalate tense situations. Are these being taught and tested?

            And one last comment; it really irks me when people justify hurting students under the name of tradition. Traditional martial artists for centuries used the best training methods they knew. They were not hitting wooden dummies out of tradition, but because it was the best their style knew to do. They did not seek out fighters from other systems because of tradition but because it was the best way they knew at the time to test their skill.

            We have access to great training methods as well as a wealth of knowledge on injury prevention. We should be using it.


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Protecting our Kids

I posted and removed an article on keeping your children safe. I posted it because I had a few moments of inspiration that day, and removed the article the next day because it was so incomplete. This new offering is hardly complete, but the subject is complex. I feel this one is a much better starting point for the topic. 

Every parent has, usually hidden somewhere in the back of their mind, something absolutely ghastly which must not happen to their child. Sometimes they get so caught up in the thoughts that they overlook some of the real dangers that kids face. I am going to make an overview of what most parents fear, and then take a look at some things that our attention might be better spent on, and hopefully this helps some people.

Manufactured Threats and Media Distortion

The number one concern that parents have is kidnapping. Classes on “Stranger Danger” can be found in most cities across the U.S. But the statistics paint a different picture.

About 200,000 kids are abducted each year. The overwhelming majority of these are taken by a family member, another big percentage by a person the child knows, and a tiny number (in the study I am looking at the number is 115) are taken by a stranger.

115 is too many, but it does make me wonder if we are doing as much for our kids as we think we are by promoting the stranger dangers. Our kids are in more danger from relatives and people known to them than from strangers. We should be making our kids aware of this as well.

The news media pounce on stories of strangers kidnapping children, because it makes for compelling stories and that equals ratings, which equals money. There are an overwhelming number of stories every single day that are ignored because they are deemed not newsworthy which is really a matter of them deciding what you will watch. They spin, and misrepresent facts, and this is when the facts even come into play!

Where this matters to the subject at hand is this; people think that strangers are the biggest threat to their kids because that is what we hear from the news media. And anytime thereafter when we hear anything about strangers taking kids, we solidify the idea in our mind. Eventually we may reach a point where we don’t realize that this threat to our children, while quite real, is less likely than a lot of other threats.

Definitely tell them about being aware of strangers, how to handle the different approaches a stranger might use and teach them to never go anywhere with a stranger. This is a no-brainer. But don’t obsess. There are bigger threats.

The Best Protection

Our kids face other threats. There is a greater risk of kidnapping and/or sexual assault from people our kids know and often trust than has ever been posed by a stranger. There is physical violence at school, and possibly at home. There is bullying, and cyber bullying. A well informed child will be a lot safer than a poorly or misinformed child.

Kids who live with this stuff going on are much more likely to commit suicide than other kids.

There are no simple solutions, but there is one simple thing you can do to help your kid be safe, or in the cases of bullying, at least minimize the negative impact on your child. And it is simple enough that any caring parent can do it.

Communicate with your kid.

In the cases of child abuse, your kid needs to know at their core that they can come to you with anything. If some subjects are taboo, they will very likely keep to themselves. And bad things happen when a person, child or adult, does not feel that they have anyone to turn to. In the cases of physical violence, bullying and cyber bullying the same holds true. It is easy to brush off cyber-bullying, but don’t do it. Remember that it is easy for a forty-something to ignore what people write about them on the internet or in emails. You have a lot more life experience than your kid. They are drawing on the few years that they have a memory of, and often nothing they experienced before prepared them for this type of behavior. When your kid is talking to you about these things, listen. On the subject of bullying, they do need to work a lot of it out themselves. This is how people learn conflict resolution skills. All you need to do is look around at some of the whiny adults out there who think the entire world needs to stop because someone hurt their widdle feelings to see what happens when a kid never has to face anything they don’t like and has their battles fought for them. Remember you are the parent, be there for them, but be a parent, not a friend. It is their friend’s job to threaten to kick the other kid’s butt. Your job is to teach your kid to make it in this world.

It is just my two cents, but I believe that energy spent on protecting our children should be spent wisely and that means spending it where it will do the most good.


Filed under Critical Thinking, Self Defense, Self Protection

Five Things to Remember About Self-Defense

There are some factors in the subject of self-defense that must be remembered for any training or study to do you any good at all. Some of these factors are either ignored or given only the most basic mention in a self-defense class. In this article I am going to take a look at some of these factors. This list is not complete or thorough, it is intended to give a broad view of some factors related to self-defense that people may need to know but might not be told or taught.

1. You are safer than the ads make it look.

Marketing is a fact of life. Businesses need to make money to keep the doors open. In martial arts, the schools can use some great business plans, and others use some really shady ideas. This is especially so when we look at self-defense courses. Obviously, they need to make you feel that you need their class, so step one to a lot of these guys is to make sure you feel that you are not safe.

The facts are simple; there are people out there who would kill you for a pizza, or for your shoes, or car or whatever. They really do exist, and are not fictional at all. But they are rare. The people who would kill you are vastly outnumbered by the people who would never hurt you for any reason. The killers are out there, and they are not easily spotted in some cases, but they are not nearly as numerous as what some of the scare-mongers would have you believe.

Should you still learn to protect yourself? Absolutely! That great herd of people who would never hurt you are also the same people who would never get involved when you are being hurt. You do need to learn how to protect yourself, but you do need to see through the false marketing done by some of the people in the industry.

A bit of humor:

2. Awareness and Avoidance will keep you safer in more situations than any secret technique ever will.

It is often ignored or damned with faint praise as an important factor in self-defense. In many cases instructors do not teach it because they do not know what to teach you to be aware of, and what and how to avoid.

Here is a fact; if you sharpen your awareness, and learn what to watch for, and if you are willing to take steps to avoid certain situations, areas, and people/environments, you will be safer than if you master any martial art and fail to take these to skills into account.

Being aware involves putting away the distractions. Wouldn’t you feel stupid if you were carjacked while sitting at a red light reading a text or a Facebook update? Remember this:

And as unpopular as it is to say it, drink at home. Your skills, both physical and social, are seriously degraded by alcohol. Judgment is impaired as well. Avoid the bar scene if you can bring yourself to do so. To really be safe you should avoid situations that make you unsafe. Sounds really basic and almost a no-brainer, but look around and some of what people end up suffering through and take it to heart. You are in control of a large part of your own personal safety.

3. If you get in shape you will be safer on many levels.

I have made fat man jokes about myself for years. I talked about how I would fall on muggers, and have on several occasions claimed that Kung Fu Panda was my unauthorized biography. I had a lifetime of poor eating habits that made me fat and caused some health problems. As a result of these habits, I ended up with a blessing in disguise, a health problem that caused  me to suffer indescribable pain whenever I ate fried, greasy or unhealthy foods. As a result of reaching a point where the pain was no longer worth eating the foods I loved, my weight has dropped from 312 lbs. down to 265 lbs., and is still dropping. I learned the hard way but preach the easier path to any who will listen. Eating right and exercising are self-defense. But if feeling better is not good enough for you, let us add something more; you will walk with more confidence. Health and confidence deter many aggressors, because like any predator, they are looking for the weak and the sickly. If you are not the weak or the sick you may just be passed over in their search for what they want.

4. There is a fine line separating self-defense and assault.

So much of what is taught, marketed and labeled as self-defense is really assault. If the instructor is teaching you to take the knife away from the bad guy and then use it to fillet him, he is teaching you what you need to do to go to prison. Laws differ from State to State and Country to Country, but the general rule of thumb is simple; once you disarm him, he is no longer a threat and anything you do after that can be prosecuted as assault. This is not legal advice, and you should always check the laws for wherever you live before making hard and fast plans for your self-defense, but understand that the line is fine and self-defense is usually very narrowly defined in the law.

5. There is still a tomorrow to face after you “win” the fight.

Let’s say you tried everything listed and the fight still happened. You still have to remember that there is tomorrow if you survive. How badly wer you injured? How badly was he injured? Are either of you going to jail? Are you going to jail? What will you be charged with? Did he survive? If he did, will he file charges against you (for the record, this has happened)? If he died, will his family file a lawsuit? And on and on.

You will have consequences to face in any event. If you fight and the other guy dies, even if you do not go to prison, there is a psychological toll to be paid. This is almost never discussed in a standard self-defense class, but it must be faced if you are to be prepared at all for what happens after.

Bottom line, study every aspect of a subject. When it comes to something as important as self-defense, there is a lot to learn and consider before thinking you are Johnny-on-the-spot.

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