Self-Defense from a Diminished Capacity

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Regardless of style and system, we all learn to emphasize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. But what about those times when we, for whatever reason, are less than 100%. That is our topic this week.

Quick background information as we begin.

On Saturday, April 22, the KickStart Kids State Karate Championships was held in Sugarland Texas (a suburb of Houston y’all). From where I live, it was about a five-hour drive there, the tournament was about seven and a half hours, then a five-hour drive back home. On long road trips, I tend to not drink much water. I also managed to get so distracted by the tournament itself that I never drank any water during the event. I realized this as I hit the road going home. Now I wasn’t trying to be a camel or a showoff or anything like that. When I was a teen, maybe. But I’m pushing 50. No way. So, I did start drinking some water on the drive home, but again – long road trip. I looked at it as sticking to a minimum. Somewhere around the halfway point, I needed to stop for gas. When I got out to fill up the tank, my ankle wouldn’t hold me up. I checked it out, and it looked like I was smuggling a grapefruit inside the ankle joint. Bad swelling. I filled up the tank, hopped back into the vehicle, and made the rest of the drive home. There is a stretch of I-45 that has been under construction for the last 8,000 years. The lanes are narrow and the driving is treacherous. This was the point of the drive where I started cramping in my ankle, leg and both hands. Oh, what fun! Long story shorter, I got home and iced the ankle, treating it like an injury even though I knew I had suffered nothing more traumatic than a ten-hour road trip.

Well, there was no direct trauma. But, as I found out this week, I am gout-prone. I carry higher than normal levels of uric acid on a normal day. If you imagine a jar of salt water. If you leave it out, as the water evaporates, eventually you will see crystals start to form. Well, this is what the uric acid did inside my body. The crystals then settled in my ankle. Oh, just for your information, icing a gout flare-up is not a good idea. The Doctor told me that made the condition worse.

Now to close this background setting; please note that as a person who has had broken bones, concussions, torn muscles, dislocated knees, herniated disks in my spine, separated shoulders. and a chemical burn in my eye, I can tell you that gout actually feels more painful than any of those. The only pain I think might be worse is getting kicked in the groin, but at least that pain goes away more quickly.

I have spent the past week in terrible pain and barely able to walk.

Doing what I do, I took some time to consider what I would do if I needed to protect my family while in this diminished capacity.

To be honest, it isn’t pretty.

Being unable to move much, and even when moving I am in tremendous pain, any offense is going to be weak. I am offensively minded. I am geared that way, I have a Hulk smash mentality. That stuff was not available to me.

Okay fine, defense then.

Well, mobility is offline. I cannot run (okay, fine…I cannot run even without the gout problem). Hand-to-hand would be pretty stupid because I have no root (stance, base, structure), and my entire base for hand to hand begins and ends with a solid root.

It seems I would be in need of an edge.

Yes!

Whenever it is legal for me to do so, I do carry a knife. While I am no Filipino martial artist, I can use my knife well enough to protect me and mine if things came to that. And even without knife or gun, someone who has trained most of their life is never truly unarmed. A man can fight.

But, what about the real base of self-defense? Awareness is always available to anyone who chooses to use it. Not being a jerk is always an option. What about being polite? Yep, anyone can do that in any physical condition. If someone wants to fight, you may not have an option, but in normal day-to-day life (not the high-stress drama found on cable news) you can get through your day without even thinking about how to best defend yourself from the bad guys.

The basics of self-defense and personal safety do not change with our personal limitations for a given day or week. Stay aware, and mind your manners. After that, you might have to improvise, but take what you can get.

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The Fear of Making Mistakes and Failing

Most people live their life with two major fears hanging over their head, the fear of making mistakes and the fear of failing. Often these are the very people who wish for the dazzling success of the leaders in different fields.

But the leaders in any field, in many ways, are not really that different from you or anyone else. They are normal people, but they accomplish more than others. The qualities that set many of them apart are available to anyone.

See mistakes and failure as an opportunity to learn.

If you can take a negative experience and turn it into a learning opportunity, you are doing it right. A mistake or a failure doesn’t have to be the end of the road. If you take the time to understand what went wrong and see if there is a way to correct it, nothing was really lost.

Let mistakes and failure strengthen your resolve.

When you have an attitude of I will not be denied, then you can use setbacks and struggles to make you stronger and get back into things with a stronger will.

In the Taekwondo organization I was in during the mid-90s, there was a policy where your first Black Belt rank was called Probationary 1st Degree. You had two testing cycles to pass the next test or you were demoted to red belt. The first time I tested for Decided 1st Degree I injured my foot a few days before the test. I was bull-headed enough to still try to break the board with that now injured foot as I had said I would on the testing forms. I swung a round kick into the board and the board held true while pain exploded from foot to brain. I was in a lot of pain, but made the second of three allowed attempts, with the same result. On the third attempt, I used my one allowed change of technique, switching to the opposite foot for the break. By this point, my right foot was no longer in any condition to hold me up, and the third and final break attempt failed, as did I on the test.

I limped back to my car and understood very clearly that this failure was entirely my fault. When the next testing cycle rolled around, I hit the boards hard enough to break the center section out instead of breaking them in half. I passed because I refused to fail. The first test was a setback in my eyes, not a failure.

Had I let the results of the first test sink in and cloud my vision, I might have never gone back and tested again. Then I would be an old man sitting here tonight wondering what to write about…

Catch What is Right, Correct What is Wrong

Many years ago, there was a standard style of teaching martial arts. Stand at the front of the class, and bark commands.

As the number of martial arts schools expanded and schools began competing over a small number of students, different styles of teaching emerged. Some had benefits, others did not. Of course, there are still those who cling to the drill instructor method as well.

What I want to focus on here is teaching like a teacher.

In order to do this, you have to make a slight change in your focus. Many instructors are teaching with the thought that they need the student to be motivated to come back to class again. Obviously, you really do need the student to keep showing up for class – an instructor with no students is hardly an instructor. But this focus on please keep training here has brought up many questionable practices, like the feel good martial arts.

The excuse given for saying every technique looks great and everyone gets a black belt is to keep students coming back and paying.

I want to suggest a better idea.

You can still give students the pat on the back, the thumbs up, and the verbal praise, but make it authentic. If a student is doing a technique wrong, they need to be told that it is wrong. If you praise an incorrectly performed technique as being awesome then you are reinforcing poor performance. This should never be acceptable. Incorrect techniques will be ineffective and even carry the risk of injury to the student if there is long term practice of a technique with bad mechanics.

Encourage the student by letting them know what they are doing right, by acknowledging the improvements they are making, or even the effort they are showing. But it has to be real or you are doing damage to the student’s potential as well as to your own authority when other students notice you are saying everything is great.

Catch what they are doing right, and correct what they are doing wrong. This will cause them to see that they can do something right and that they need to keep training to get better.

As always, likes and shares are deeply appreciated!

Unintended Consequences: What’s the worst that can happen?

Very often, too often if you really think about it, people find themselves stirred into an emotional frenzy over things that their chosen, and therefore trusted news provider has told them is important. And people are often so worked up over the way a new law or program or ideology might fix a problem that they never stop to ask about the possible problems that might come up.

But taking a moment or two to consider the possible unintended consequences can give you a chance to get past the emotion of the moment, and really look at the problem and your intended solution, and use reason and critical thinking to examine the problem in a new light.

My closest friends know that I am an armchair historian. I am not good enough to consider myself an expert, and I do not have the time available to study as much as I would like, but I do study, and I know a bit. I am going to take a look into history and provide an example of a seemingly harmless plan to solve a near crisis that ended up costing a nation much more than they bargained for or ever would have intentionally given up.

In our day, we are taught that the Native American Indians were a peace-loving and noble people and that the depictions of them as unwashed savages are Hollywood creations.

In truth, the real answer regarding what type of people the American Indians were is going to need the clarification of which tribe you are referring to. Some of the tribes were not really interested in war, others were most assuredly warrior cultures. Some tribes killed and enslaved others as part of habit. Others killed because of grudges that went back many generations. Some were peaceful but had customs that were utterly barbaric, such as the Karankawa practice of feeding newborn daughters to the dogs so that they would not marry an enemy tribe and produce more enemies.

For our purposes here, we will look at the Comanche. In strictly technical terms, the Comanche was not a single Tribe as we think of the word. There were several groups, but they shared a language and by and large were similar in their culture. They raided and killed, and they stole as many horses as they could. Horses were status and money if we simplify things for easy understanding.

The Comanche were hell on wheels…uh…actually hell on horses would be more accurate. They could ride as well or better than anyone, and they rode so much that many people found them to be awkward when not on horseback. They had a low birthrate due to the frequency of miscarriages as the women rode as well. They could fire about twenty arrows in the time it took for a person to reload a firearm of the time (The Kentucky Long Rifle was great for hunting and limited types of warfare in its day, but dismounting to use it against a mounted Comanche was suicide). It is no exaggeration to say the Comanche were the most powerful light cavalry of their time.

Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, the Comanche would attack other Indian tribes, kill them men and enslave the young women and children. After the Europeans, when the first horses were introduced to the Americas, they did the same thing, only they had other victims.

The Comanche commanded a large area, larger than any other tribe, and they were, for a time, the largest and most powerful Indian tribe in America.

And they changed the history of America.

And Mexico.

Americans were not really going to Texas when it was a part of Mexico until the Mexican government decided that it needed a buffer between Mexico and the Comanche. This tribe was so skilled at raiding and killing that the government of a free nation decided to allow other people from a different nation to acquire land in their own territory in order to give the Comanche other people to kill, and a group to slow the raids into their power base.

On the surface, this seemed reasonable, undoubtedly so to the people in charge of Mexico at the time. These would not be fellow countrymen providing a human shield, they were foreigners. They would slow the advance of the Comanche, and maybe even stop raids into Mexico altogether due to the habit the Comanche had of hitting hard and fast and then speeding out as fast as possible to avoid pursuit.

Of course, we know what happened. Americans settled in Texas, they armed themselves heavily after finding themselves at the mercy of a merciless group, and after throwing the Comanche back, they decided they didn’t need the government of Mexico either and fought and won to become the Republic of Texas.

A bad call on the part of Mexico was to try to find an easy way to stop the raiding of the Comanche Indians. Had they not chosen this path, or had the Comanche not been such a fierce enemy, Texas might still be Mexico to this day.

Unintended consequences actually happen. Before taking action on any level, it is good to stop and think, not only of what can happen if everything goes as planned but what might happen if things go very wrong.

The next time a friend or politician or newsman is telling you how this or that is going to easily solve a problem, take the time to consider what might happen if things go terribly wrong.

Eat Bitter

You read that right, I said eat bitter. I did not mean eat better.

I cut my teeth in the traditional Chinese martial arts, and there is a common saying that translates into English as eat bitter.

This is essentially a common sense idea that you have to put in the work in order to enjoy the rewards. The idea is not uncommon outside of China. In many countries, the idea that hard work will eventually lead to success is a common theme.

When people see the amazing skills of a Bruce Lee or a Jackie Chan, they never stop to think about the tremendous amount of time and sweat that brought them to such a high level of performance. Muhammad Ali, probably the greatest boxer who will ever live, was inhuman in his training.

In our time, seemingly more than ever before, we have people who do not understand the concept of sacrifice before reward. They don’t want to pay their dues. And it is really sad.

From my perspective, I see this lesson best seen in the lives of the dedicated martial artists. Those who work as hard as it takes to make it learn that the effort spent is worth it in the end. Every long-term martial artist that I have ever known was a person who was willing to do whatever it takes to be successful at whatever task was in front of them.

Challenges can be overcome.

In the end, the work and the training, the time away from friends, the missed parties, the delayed social life, the bumps and bruises, the early mornings where you felt you never fell asleep, the tendons and ligaments that will never be quite right again, the aches and pains that never seem to go away, all of the things that would stop someone who was looking for a reason to stop – lead to a realization. They lead to a transcendental perspective. I can tell you about it, but you won’t know it like I know it, and others like me know it. To truly get it, you’ll have to live it.

There is an experience in this that lets you see that your limits as set by you, and if you choose to ignore them, they cease being limits. No one will ever be able to get to you by telling you that you don’t have what it takes because you know that you can do whatever it takes.

So when the training is not going well and the skills are slow in developing – smile! And eat bitter.

The “Teach Men Not to Rape” Line

So, I was scrolling through my Facebook so-called newsfeed. When something caught my eye. It was a comment by a former student on a post shared by another former student of mine. Before we continue, I need to stress, nothing contained herein is an attack of any sort on my former students. They are wonderful people and even if they were evil (I assure you, neither of these two are even remotely evil), I am merciless on bad ideas, but refuse to attack the person who has the ideas. It’s part of my charm.

Anyway, I saw this:

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I wanted to comment, but for some reason held my tongue. Probably because this is a line that is force-fed on university campuses in my country.

The teach men not to rape is a very popular line used widely on University campuses in the U.S. It is an easy answer, and when you call out the foolishness of the plan if it is to be implemented as a tactic against rape, you end up being called many names and are accused of being blinded by rape culture and even admonished for your victim blaming.

Here is the base issue with this line: even if you have mandatory “No no, don’t rape” classes, there will still be men stupid and selfish enough to rape. Teaching rapists not to rape is as asinine a plan as teaching burglars not to burgle. And dontcha just love the way that they sneak in the assumption that all men are rapists? Change rapists to men and you will start having college girls shouting “Teach men not to rape”, which is an incredible slight of hand for the uninitiated.

Most men would never even consider rape. Sorry to bust the narrative. Look at the number of men who rape versus the number who don’t. And speaking as a non-rapist I can assure you that men everywhere are quick to condemn a rapist with very little in the way of evidence. The accusation alone is enough to cause a person the become an outcast.

Aside from the shift of language, there is the subtle shift of responsibility.

You are responsible for your safety. Counting on other people to NOT harm you is silly. While most people would not ever harm you, some will destroy you for fun. A few might try to save you, but there are many who would actually watch your demise without even the slightest impulse to help you.

And it isn’t really teaching women to not be raped, it is teaching women how to stop the threat. I’ve never taught a class where I mentioned, “this is how to not be raped”. I have, on the other hand, taught classes where I said, “this is a way to make someone drop to their knees and beg forgiveness”.

Learn to protect yourself because your safety starts with learning what you can do to avoid unnecessary risks, how to identify predatory behavior, and how to stop the threat when they initiate violence.

Look, your safety is not always going to be able to be kept within the confines of a neat little soundbite. The real world can get freaking ugly, and some of the things that people do to each other are a reflection of this fact. Take charge. Put your first line of defense in your own hands instead of putting it in a catchphrase. In practical terms, pithy slogans will not save you from the bad guy, but properly applied violence can. As long as you understand that there are some really screwed up people in the world, you will still be able to see that sometimes force is necessary for staying safe from the predator humans.

To all of my students, past, and present, I love and respect you for the wonderful people that you are, but I seem to have little patience for the irresponsible answers that you are being taught to use to address serious issues. Can that be a part of my charm too?

Victim vs. Personal Responsibility

A long time ago, there was a concept in this Country that gave us great strength and, indeed, power. It was the concept of personal responsibility. The idea that you can work and earn. The idea of saving to buy. The notion that every dog has his day. These were all as American as apple pie. We are not yet a nation of whiny, spineless, cowards who are wishing for a broader definition of “victim” so that we too can be sheltered under that ever-expanding term.

There is, however, a growing chorus of people claiming to be victims of one -ism or another.

There are several problems with seeing yourself as a victim and we will start with power.

Power

When you see yourself as a victim of an –ism you no longer have any power over your own life. You are now a pawn in a game controlled by others. When viewed from the idea of personal responsibility, your failures are a lesson and your success is your own work.

If your success is the result of your hard work, then your failures are attributable to some oversight, or mistake, or poor judgment on your part. This sounds bad, but in truth, it isn’t – because an oversight, mistake, and even poor judgment are correctable flaws and are still under your control! When you decide that your failure to reach your goals is the result of some outside force working against you, well…you can neither control your fate nor overcome the setback. All that is left for you is to complain and offer excuses.

Motivation

When you feel that you control your fate, you have a motivation to try harder, to work more and to learn what it takes to be successful. Being in control over your life, having that power we mentioned above is a powerful motivating factor because we know that our success or failure is entirely in our hands. When your success depends on your own work, you will tend to work harder. When you are a victim, you will not try as hard, and as a result, you will necessarily experience less success. People who are motivated are always willing to give it one more try, or work those extra hours, or make necessary sacrifices in other parts of their life to achieve success. Victims…not so much.

Reward

When you achieve success after the hard work and the sacrifices, the reward is yours. And it means so much more than if it was given to you.

Example: My first vehicle was a 1967 Chevy 3/4 ton pick-up truck. It was beat-up, had paint that was starting to peel off, and it would grind horribly every time you tried to shift into 3rd gear. It had the original radio in it, which no longer worked, and no air-conditioning, which is a big deal in Texas with our nine month summers of 90 degree days and several weeks each year over 100 degrees. It took me several months and a lot of hard work to save the $1,000 that I paid for it.

But it was mine, and it was earned. Far from being embarrassed at how it looked, I was proud of it because it was mine. I remember how thrilled I was when a friend of mine who was a Teacher was changing schools and asked for my help and my truck to move her items from one school to another! No shame, but a great deal of pride.

Contrast that with a friend of mine who bought a car for her daughter. The daughter decided that she liked her mother’s car better, so they traded. Then the daughter wrecked her car and wanted to trade back. The mother traded, took the wreck and traded in on another car, for which the daughter demanded yet another trade. My friend initially refused this trade offer but relented after the daughter claimed that the mother was trying to keep her under her thumb (an asinine accusation). I don’t know where the story went after this because I stopped paying attention…ironically, I find drama to be quite boring.

Without being earned, the reward ceases to be a reward and becomes a bauble.

So the choice is yours; claim the mantle of victimhood, or get out there and work your butt off. The decision is yours, as well as the results of that decision.

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