A Blending of Styles

I received a comment to a post made a few days ago. Naturally, as comments on the posts are so rare, this was a bit of a thrill for me. When I read the comment, I started a reply, that got longer and longer, until, I thought (and quite possibly said out loud…to myself), “This is turning into a blog post.” I am including the comment here, and my reply will follow:

“Hi. I’ve been training Krav Maga for a several months now. I’m looking for another MA to add to it. I’ve several ideas but I’m not looking to train like for the UFC. I’m trying to get solid self defence and also add something with some style and other skills that will also complement Krav. What are your thoughts on mixing martial arts. What are the good and bad to look out for? Again, I’m not trying to get into the Thai Boxing/Jujitsu thing. I’ve considered Judo, but I also like Chinese Martial arts.”

First off, I would like to thank you for reading, enjoying as well as commenting on my blog. It does feel good when my friends drop in, but I also enjoy the feeling that people I have never met are reading my writing and getting something out of it. Before I start, I want to say that there are several topics that I am going to address in this reply to your comment, and in no way do I intend any of it to e taken as any form of attack or insult. I feel a need to say it here, as in a medium such as the written word, there is a total lack of speech inflection to allow for understanding of something that may not be spoken in too much detail. In short, don’t read between the lines, and if anything seems cross, just let me know and I will be happy to clarify.

You asked about my thoughts on mixing martial arts.

As a Traditional Martial Arts practitioner, I have a near instant reaction to say, “No! It is a baaaaaaaaaaaad idea!”

But in the back of my mind, I can hear many of my close friends pointing out to me that

A. I have studied in several different styles.

B. I am a huge fan of MMA

Yes, guilty as charged on both counts. But I do not mix them. I have never blended martial arts, just as I wouldn’t take a fine single malt and mix it with cola. It simply is not done.

Regarding the MMA mention, I have to say that in my eyes, MMA, in spite of its protestations, is a style, and well on its way to becoming a traditional martial art, as it is following the exact same path that the traditional martial arts have all followed. One need only watch a UFC anthology to see quite clearly the development of MMA into a style, a style born out of a competition between various traditional martial arts.From this beginning, as martial artists of various backgrounds began to see that they were lacking something, they began to work toward repairing these newfound deficiencies, and thus was born MMA, and it is in a state of evolution to this day.  But it is important to note that the pioneers were not blending styles, they were engaged in the acquisition of new skills, and the two are very different.

If you are studying Krav Maga with the end goal in mind of being able to protect yourself in a physical assault, you could do much worse in your choice of styles, and I suggest that there is very little that you are going to be lacking, aside from possibly some training in the skills of situational awareness avoidance, and de-escalation. I strongly recommend visiting the sites listed in the links section of this site. I cannot speak with any authority on Krav Maga, as I only have the most superficial knowledge of the style.I would, however, also recommend that you pick up a copy of Rory Miller’s “Facing Violence”. Rory has some very deep insights into the subject, and a much better presentation that I can give, as all of his material comes from real life experience. I also recommend Marc MacYoung’s “Taking It To The Street”. This one isn’t about changing a martial style, it is about field stripping your system to make it effective in a violent confrontation. Lastly, I want to strongly recommend that you download and listen to the Iain Abernethy podcast titled “The Martial Map”. It is here. Just right click and select “Save Target As”. Iain does a superb job in detailing how we, as martial artists often fail to see where what we know just doesn’t cross over into other fields of expertise.

In short, this is my response. I would love to go deeper into the subject, but to do so would require me to make many assumptions about who I am talking to, and I am not prepared to do so.

I hope this all came out clear, but if not let me know via comment or email!

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Too Many Excuses

I was speaking to a friend of mine a few hours ago.

I asked him if he would be interested in joining me for some workouts over the summer. I have looked at a number of workout programs, and the one that is the most interesting to me is Iain Abernethy’s Extreme Impact Martial Arts. I know that P90X and Insanity are the most popular right now (at least in the martial arts circles that I run in). But, as I spoke with him, I heard myself saying something rather odd.

“I am not into cardio for the sake of cardio, or cardio for the sake of mere weight loss. I want everything I do to be productive. I want to lose weight while continuing to further develop the ability to deliver blunt force trauma.”

I am a martial arts student. Never mind the instructor part, I am still a student as well. To be honest, I think that is what makes me effective as an instructor – I am still learning.  I want to continue to learn until I die.

Not for the sake of seeking sympathy, as I could not care less if anyone actually feels sorry for me, but more to make a point, I am going to run down a list for you.

The first injury to my back happened when I was 10 years old. I was unloading scaffold boards for my Father. The boards were 16 feet long 2X12’s. I was very proud that I could lift them, as not all that long before I was unable to do so. I kept moving them that day until (of all of the things that could give me my first real lifelong injury), a puff of wind caught the board I was carrying. It wrenched me sideways, and something in my back popped. My back was never quite right after that day. More often than not, throughout my teens and early twenties, my back was in some level of pain. Then, in the period between 1998 and 2000, I managed to pop three disks in my lower back. From that time, the pain has never stopped. My back is giving me pain at every moment.

I mentioned more than once that I was bullied when I was in school. The worst of it took place in high school. I was dragged into the bathroom by several boys, and beaten half to death. The first strike is the only one that really matters. They stomped my left knee from the side, and it folded like a taco. ligament and cartilage damage from hell. When I had an MRI a few years ago, my doctor told me, “You were doing something, and your knee is telling me that you got hurt. But for some reason you kept on doing whatever it was that you were doing when you got hurt. “ See, I was never in a position to take a rest. I did things the old school American way – I got hurt and didn’t complain, I just kept working.

I have broken both ankles too. I actually broke them both at the same time, but that is a really long story that is best saved for another day.

In my recent MRI and X-Ray sessions on my back, the Doctor told me, “Your spine is really f***ed up.” I am supposed to get spinal decompression this summer.

I cracked a vertebrae in my neck in a pro wrestling match (yeah, that’s right…almost broke my neck in a “fake” wrestling match). I don’t know how many times my nose has been broken. I know that I have broken or dislocated every finger and toe.

And yet here I am.

42 years old. With everything that I have put my body through, I hurt all the time. There is no moment where I am not in some kind of pain – even in my dreams I am aware that my knees and back are hurting.

And yet, here I was, telling a friend of mine that I need to find a training partner that likes to hit hard, because I like to work with people who hit hard and don’t mind if I hit hard back. If I can do this, on top of being fat and lazy, you have no real excuses.

Get out there and train.

Next Post

From The Self Defence Expert, I pass along the following, a Guest Blog post he had from Michelle Fighitng Back:

The Self Defence Expert

Hi

Wow what a great response from my last blog. I have had so many positive comments from so many people and thank you it is very much appreciated.

Trust me the next post will push the boundaries even further for people. It will make people feel very uncomfortable and force them to ask themselves a lot of questions about their training, however that will be coming soon. The idea of this blog is to cause discussion, motivate and become a platform for my views and opinions. I started it because I got so fed up with the total rubbish that was generally being written and sold as self defence products. Self defence is an unregulated industry, this means that anyone can sell anything without any comeback at all. Without any testing and without any basis in reality.

I keep saying that a self defence revolution is on its way. We need to look at violence for the answers…

View original post 1,007 more words

Is Hung Gar a ‘Practical Martial Art’?

I receive a lot of email related to what is published on this blog. I think it is funny that people express themselves so freely in the format of an email, but few people comment on the actual articles themselves in the space provided. But that aside, I did get a few emails covering the same question, and I felt that, as I am completely unashamed and willing to put whatever I think out there for public praise or ridicule, I would answer here on the blog. (It isn’t that don’t care what people think, although that is a part of it, the fact is that I always consider the source. Not all opinions need to be considered…)

The question is this, “Why does the top of the page say, “Practical Martial Arts” when there is a photo of you, surrounded by fire, performing some very impractical techniques from Hung Gar?” For a start, practical is in the eye of the practitioner, but we can save that for a bit, and take this one step at a time.

cropped-firebackgroundfinal.png
My old banner image

Well, in order to answer this properly, we must first define what the word practical means.

When we speak of “practical martial arts” what should come to mind immediately would be a martial art that can be applied against the types of attacks that a person is likely to face in our modern time.

Most martial arts are very capable of dealing with the types of attacks found within the system itself. This is, of course, how it should be. After all, in any training hall around the world, the people you train with the most are going to be students of the same style or system, and therefore should be most used to using and defending against attacks of the type used most by that particular style or system. If the style is not suited to defending against the very techniques it presents to the practitioners, then one must question the system and its validity. (Please don’t try the line that the techniques are so awesome that the style cannot even defend against itself).

There are many reasons that people take up martial arts. If your reason for training includes gaining the ability to protect yourself in a fight, then you need to understand practical application.

The reason I throw in the term practical application, instead of simply saying application is this: if the techniques are not applicable against the techniques that are likely to be used against you, then your style is not practical, and if it is not practical, then it will not serve your purposes of self-defense/self-protection. It may work wonderfully against ninjas falling from the sky, or warrior monks riding on the backs of dragons while eating poppy-seed muffins, but is that really practical?

So I will now come back to Hung Gar, and the question, Is Hung Gar a ‘Practical Martial Art’?

The honest answer to this question is going to be the same as if the question were asked about nearly any other martial art.

Hung Gar is practical if it is taught to be used in a practical manner.

When the techniques of Hung Gar are either only drilled in the forms, or are taught as being response to other techniques typical only to Hung Gar or other Southern Chinese martial arts, then no, it is not going to be a practical martial art.

When one trains only the forms, regardless of martial style or system, there is going to be a lack of depth. Even when the student (or in some cases, the instructor) is convinced that they understand the applications of the form, there remains the fact that these applications will remain nothing more than theory, until practiced and drilled repeatedly. And as long as they remain theory, the student will be completely unable to use them in the real world.

Equally misleading is the situation where the trainee is taught applications to the individual techniques that are going to only be used against techniques unique to the style, system, or region and time of origin.

The types of attacks one would be likely to face in 1800 south China are almost certainly different from the types of attacks one is likely to face in an alley in 2012 Chicago. And the odds of being attacked by a Hung Gar practitioner are probably pretty low. I don’t have case studies and hard statistics to back this up, but I am still pretty confident in the statement. Some of the attacks could be similar, or possibly even exact, but the majority probably would not be related at all.

There are several lists out, but the most common list out states 36 habitual attacks. I believe that list is copyrighted, and so do not wish to go too much into that list.

clip_image002[5]As I stated in an earlier article, the common attacks faced are going to be circular kicks or strikes, linear kicks or strikes, tackles and ground-work.

Let us start with the photo from my banner at the left. This is an example I have used before. There are a variety of situations where this technique could be applied.

The lower hand is being used to redirect an incoming technique, and the upper hand is striking/grabbing (it can be practiced in a variety of ways).  The redirect can be trained for use against either linear or circular attacks, given enough practice.

But the real key is just that, practice.

Too often, martial arts instructors and students allow theory to take the place of practice, and this cannot but end poorly. If we allow theory to take the place of actual practice, we end up as those very caricatures of martial artists that we all despise. Every single martial artist on the planet wants to be taken seriously. Those that are the butt of the jokes don’t realize that it is them that are made fun of, and sharply deny it if they are told.

The drills that I use to teach the above technique are pretty standard in the world of practical martial arts. I follow a process where the student will first learn what to do with the hand doing the redirection. This is started from the most elementary levels of a static arm held out in place of a punch. Later, motion is introduced to the set. Next we practice the counter-strike that is executed here with the hand on top. This can be done as a grab of the throat, or as a strike to the throat, or face. In either case, it is important to remember that the key is going to be in practice. You need to practice repeatedly, at each level, and from different angles against an increasingly resistant opponent. Grabs to the throat and strikes to the head are dangerous. Care must be taken to prevent unneeded injury to your training partners. Standard rule of thumb applies. With a partner, work on the speed and precision, and when you work for power, use a heavy bag or a mannequin bag. Eventually, different angles are introduced to make the application three-dimensional. There is always an evolution and a process.  image

Next we find (pictured to the right here) a bridging technique called “Subduing Bridge”. The term “subdue” refers to gaining a physical control over the opponent. The best reference I was given on this technique was when Onassis told me to “do it like you are drowning someone”. Since that time, I have never been able to perform this move without having that image pop up into my mind’s eye.

What is probably obvious to most should be the probable application of grabbing an opponent and pressing them downward. The footwork would have to be changed from a standard horse stance to make that work very well, but all of this is discovered in practice. Again, as with everything we train, we start from rudimentary levels and work toward a more free and live” simulation of the technique being used in a self-defense/self-protection situation. When seen as preventing a takedown, and practiced as such, one finds only slight modifications needed to make it workable.

Last I will address the Kiu Sao, or one-finger briclip_image006[4]dge hand, common and seen throughout the Hung Gar systems worldwide. The hand position is quite unusual when you are considering that this is supposed to have a martial or fighting application. To form the one-finger bridge hand position, you start with a tiger claw hand position, and raise the index finger. There are differing ideas on the precise thumb position. There are schools that teach that the thumb should be held close to the palm, others teach that it should be outstretched as far as possible from the hand. As the base for the arguments tends to break down into Qi flow and not actual application, I will say that which way is correct is going to depend entirely on what you are teaching as the application. In either case, in application, I strongly recommend that you do not opt to raise the index finger when practicing practical applications. The technique is intended to be used as a strike or a grab (train it both ways). The first time someone grabs your upraised finger, or strikes it, you will understand why.

In the series of techniques from Gung Ji Fuk Fu Kuen form, from which the above photo is taken, there are some great applications to be found. There are a elbows and redirects, and strikes that flow directly off of the redirecting techniques. Fantastic, wonderful, GREAT stuff. But the bottom line that must be understood – for any martial arts application to be useful, it must be practical. And no matter how practical it may be, if it is not trained, it will be useless.

In closing, I will say that I find Hung Gar to be a practical martial art. It does contain things that are for show and street performance, but there is a lot of value to be had for the practical minded martial artist. My advice for any martial artist of any style or background is the same. Find the practical application, and train it extensively. There is no way you will end up regretting the time it takes to learn how to use your style or system the way it is meant to be used.

Overlooked Self-Defense Elements 6: Physical Skills

This is part six of a series of articles where I look at the elements needed for a self-defense or self-protection course to be of real use. In a previous article I listed the required elements as follows:

Physical Skills

The least important element is the most taught (and poorly taught at that).

The physical skills are what you need after everything else has gone wrong. This is where many people who sign up for self-defense classes make their first mistake. All that has been discussed on the previous articles, especially the first four, are the most important information. The information found there is going to be given only the most cursory treatment in a standard self-defense class. They may mention, for example, how important awareness is to personal safety. Then they just might discuss avoiding certain places (and classify that as avoidance), but there will not be much more than a scratching-the-surface type of treatment for either topic. De-escalation is so rarely considered that it is not even touched upon in most standard self-defense courses.

I feel so strongly about this that I am severely tempted to leave this article at that. A strong recommendation to go back and re-read the previous material and visit the recommended websites and books.

But I must give something. I do have people reading this who are not instructors, but are beginners in the martial arts, and they need a full treatment of the subject.

When we take all of the previous information into full consideration, we see that something other than the standard “what to do if someone grabs your wrist” is needed. That falls back on the “one response for one attack” list of techniques, and that will never do. We need to train in something a lot more practical.

You need to train for the common ways that a person will probably attack you. As stated quite clearly by Marc MacYoung, “If you train for what happens most, you’ll be able to handle most of what happens.”

In our current era, everyone and their brother thinks that they are the UFC champ. If you watch a lot of MMA, then you will see most of what they think they can do to you. Speaking in simple terms, they will try to kick you or punch you (or both), they will get close and grab or tackle you. From there they will strike, choke or attempt to joint lock you.  

Put simply, the physical techniques you need to train for are as follows (from Marc MacYoung)

  1. Straight line attacks
  2. Circular Attacks
  3. Take-downs
  4. Chokes and locks

When approached honestly, the list doesn’t need to be any more complicated than this.

In truth, there is no need to separate kicks from hand strikes when they both so easily fit into the categories of straight and circular striking attacks. So if you train to handle straight and circular attacks, you are training against kicks and hand strikes. Take-downs come in many varieties, but most of what you will see is a double-leg takedown (a “spear” for you pro wrestling fans), and a run of the mill football tackle. It would not be necessary in a self-protection class to learn the takedowns, as that turns you into the aggressor, and so you are not at that point acting in self-defense. You do need to train to identify the takedown as early in its initiation as possible, and how to stop it from happening (you don’t want to roll on the ground with the attacker). And we cannot leave chokes off of the list. You need to know how to use them, as they are a relatively safe way to end a fight, and you need to be familiar with the ways to get out of the chokes as well. Locks are not as easy to use as a lot of people seem to think. They take a ton of practice and a lot of time before you can use them the way you imagine.

But to stay on topic, when we are speaking in terms of self-defense and self-protection, you need to remember that choking and locking the other person may not be classified as “self-defense” where you live. You should be looking to

  1. Not get hurt or killed
  2. Extricate yourself from the conflict
  3. Don’t go to jail

Whatever you train needs to address these three needs. Obviously, it isn’t self-protection if you get hurt or killed. But you do need to consider that when the guy attacks you, and through “superior skill and training” you overwhelm his offense and destroy him, in most areas of the U.S. you will be going to jail. In our overly litigious society, you will also probably get sued by the guy you hurt.

This is almost never discussed in the standard self-defense class, but it is terribly important. One self-defense instructor was asked in an interview how he would feel if he found out that someone had used what he taught and actually killed a person, and he matter-of-factly replied, “I’d be okay with it.” This is a blatant disregard for his students. He is okay with them killing a person, when we all know that if you kill someone you will be going to jail. This is far outside of the definition of self-protection.

In closing, I just want to beat an old dead horse a little more. When we speak of self-defense and self-protection, the most important lessons are going to be found in Awareness, Avoidance and De-Escalation. The entire set of “what to do if someone grabs your wrist thusly” is asinine and a complete waste of time.

Overlooked Self-Defense Elements 5: Adrenaline Effects

This is part five of a series of articles where I look at the elements needed for a self-defense or self-protection course to be of real use. In a previous article I listed the required elements as follows:

  • Awareness
  • Avoidance
  • Pre fight indicators (pre-fight rituals)
  • De-escalation
  • Adrenaline effects
  • And last, actual physical skills

Adrenaline Effects

Most people don’t have a clue as to how much the effects of adrenalin will change everything in a given situation. Changes to vision, hearing, memory, visual perception, and motor skills all occur once adrenalin is in the blood. Adrenaline causes many reaction within the body, and the first and most noticeable is the change in heart rate.

In their work The Psychological Effects of Combat (Grossman and Siddle, 1999), they list the following information:

60-80 BPM (Beats Per Minute) – Normal resting heart rate.

115 BPM – Fine motor skill begins to deteriorate.

115 -145 BPM – Optimal Complex motor skills, Visual reaction time, cognitive reaction time.

145 BPM – Complex motor skills deteriorate.

175 BPM – Cognitive processing deteriorates, loss of peripheral vision, loss of depth perception, loss of near vision, auditory exclusion

175 + BPM – Irrational fighting or fleeing, freezing, submissive behavior, vasoconstriction (reduced bleeding), voiding of bladder and bowels, gross motor skills at highest performance levels (Running, charging, etc.)

What does this entire list have to do with what is missing from a standard “Self-Defense “class?

Everything!

Take a look at a standard class teaching something they classify as self-defense. You will see unrealistic attacks (which I will discuss in-depth in a later article), and absurd responses to these attacks. I do not intend to bust any bubbles, but even if the tired old line about “you need to drill these defenses until they are second nature” came into play, the information put forward by Grossman and Siddle will give lie to all of the defenses and the excuse for why it “doesn’t work most of the time”

First off, you need to understand that you are going to cruise right past the 115 BPM rate before you know it. This is important because once fine motor skill begins to deteriorate; your fancy four and five step “self-defense” wrist locks and such are no longer available to you. Then you are in danger of tactical fixation, where you see that your trained response to a crisis is not working, so your monkey brain tries the same response, only harder.

The more scared or surprised you are, the faster the heart rate goes, and just look at what is lost in the range at 175 BPM. Things are falling apart rapidly at this point, and you are in more and more trouble with each passing moment.

Why is this not mentioned in a self-defense class?

The only time adrenaline effects are even mentioned at all are when the class is told in passing that adrenaline is tied to the fight or flight response, neglecting that the fight or flight response is a very complicated field of study!

Dr. Alexis Artwohl, the author of Deadly Force Encounters listed the following statistics for Police Officers who were involved in situations where deadly force was used:

84% experienced diminished sound (auditory exclusion)

 79% experienced tunnel vision (peripheral narrowing)

 74% experienced “automatic pilot” with little or no conscious thought

 71% experienced visual clarity

 62% experienced slow motion time

 52% experienced memory loss for part of the event

 46% experienced memory loss for some of their own behavior

 39% experienced dissociation; sense of detachment or unreality

 26% experienced intrusive distracting thoughts

 21% experienced saw, heard, or experienced memory distortion

 17% experienced fast motion time

 07% experienced temporary paralysis

 Do you think this sort of information has a place in a civilian self-defense class? If you answer “no”, I am sorry, but I must disagree with you.

 Granted, these are trained police officers, and as such, they are going to react differently from most people. After all, they run toward the sound of gunfire, where most rational humans would run away.

 Where I must disagree is in the fact that this information affects the ability of the trainee to actually use what their instructor is selling them as “self-defense”. When violence happens, most people are going to freeze. They don’t want to freeze, so they seek out training in self-protection. Some guy offers a self-defense class and they sign up, pay the fee and get taught how to kill a guy if he grabs their wrist, kill a guy if he puts a hand on their shoulder, how to take a knife away from a person in nineteen simple steps, and then filet him with his own knife,  and how to disarm a gunman when he has a gun pressed against their spine (somehow managing to turn around and execute the disarm before he can move his finger back ½ and inch.

 None of this is practical. And once adrenaline hits the fan, none of it will work. AND even if it did work, you will need a good lawyer to have any hope whatsoever of not going to prison.

To be able to factor in adrenaline and how it affects the body, the self-defense techniques are going to need to use gross body movement. This will overcome one issue, but what can be done about the impairment in the cognitive area? There are some who train and engage the class in a very high stress setting, and this does seem to have some merit. Obviously, there is only so much that can be done to closely simulate an actual assault or rape, and bring the stress levels to a fairly high range. There is always that last step and that last range in stress that cannot be crossed. We cannot teach a student to defend from an assault by assaulting them. There will always be that grey area that the student will wonder about, and remain less than 100% sure that they are fully trained. We have to wonder as well.

 As an instructor, I have to understand that when I teach a self-defense class, the students are placing their hope for safety in my hands, and it is my job to be as sure as possible that I am giving them every possible advantage. When adrenaline hits, it hits hard.

 The biggest point behind this is simple; you need to do all you can to stop a situation from getting to this point. By the time the adrenaline is flowing, you are on rotten ice, and sliding fast.