Essential Ingredients: Willingness

In the late 1980’s I was working on a construction site as a part of a masonry crew. I was a teen at the time. The scaffolding was…we will just say that it was not set in any way that would be approved by even a drunk safety inspector. There was a stack of 2X12 in. boards set to level the back end of the scaffold on the far end of the structure. These 2X12 boards were stacked up a little over two feet high. With a couple of cinder block under the stack, you know- to make it stable. The entire structure was wobbly from the start. Each section had a stack of 2X12 boards to level the frames, but the end one was what had me worried because of how high the boards were stacked, and I was sure that if it went, in my mind, the entire scaffolding would fall.

Sure enough, when we were working about twenty feet up, someone tried to climb the scaffold from the end where the tallest stack of boards was. Aaaand they used the stack as a step. The stack of boards collapsed, and the scaffold began to fall like dominoes.

Having rehearsed this in my mind, I had a plan. I had decided that if the entire structure tipped over and fell at once, I would ride it to the ground and jump clear at the last moment. But if it were to fall the way it was falling now, I would jump for the sandpile and roll. The sandpile was past the end of the scaffold structure and I would be safe there.

I jumped for the sandpile. I remember as I was falling that I had a sudden realization that the sand while cushioning my landing, would also make it impossible to control my ankles and knees upon impact. Of course, I also realized that this realization came much too late to do me any good whatsoever.

I hit the sandpile, rolled, and ended up on my feet. I was very proud of myself for having survived the landing. I was sure at that moment that I must have looked like a two-hundred and sixty-pound ninja. My pride dissolved when I turned around and saw that the scaffolding was still standing. It was almost at the same point of falling that it was when I turned and jumped off. One of the other masons was looking over the edge of the scaffold down at me and asked, “Little skittish, ain’t ya?”

While embarrassed at the time, I look back on this now and laugh. I share this story to illustrate a point.

Plans will work or they won’t when the crisis comes. You have to know that going in, or you will fail to act at all when the moment arrives. That day, I had a plan, and when the moment arrived, I acted on my plan. This was because I trusted in my plan, and had a willingness to act.

Transfer this idea to a home invasion or an active shooter or any other crisis.

Many people have never had to confront violence. As such, they do not know what they will do when the moment arrives. If you have no plan, you can be assured that you will go through a period of indecisiveness. Depending on the seriousness of the situation and your proximity to the threat, this indecisiveness may last the rest of your life.

Having a plan is essential, but having the willingness to act on that plan is vital. You can have the best plan in the world, but if you are unable to take action, it is meaningless. When the time comes to act, you need to act as if there is nothing in the entire universe except what needs to be done right now. In some situations, what needs to be done is not nice or pretty or anything even resembling what think you are really like. But hard choices happen. If you have the willingness to stop the threat, you are better off than the person who does not.

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Essential Ingredients: Toughness

Some elements of real safety are talked about so much that people get tired of hearing about it. I remember losing several subscribers after publishing an article on awareness. Nevermind that if you don’t know what’s going on around you, you have zero chance of defending yourself against it.

But there are other elements, essential ingredients to any plans for personal safety. Today I will be looking at one of these. Our topic is toughness. Without toughness, you are sunk once things turn physical. If you have never experienced a punch in the nose, the moment you first experience it will be a true test. You can train in a safe environment, and you can read and develop the ability to regurgitate cool sounding lines from leaders in the field. But if you have not ever had to keep going when your brain wanted you to stop, or your body is begging you to lay down, then you do not know where your limits are or if you have the ability to move ahead after such a shock.

I was raised hard, and I am thankful for that now. When I was still in elementary school, I had to spend evenings putting equipment on the truck, or taking it off, sometimes both. I did not get weekends off or summer vacations off from the time I was eight years old. I was put to work with my Father on construction sites. If there was no school, I was at work. We worked half-days on Thanksgiving, full days on Christmas Eve. I grew up in central Texas. The work was outside. Central Texas has about nine months out of the year with temperatures around 90° F. It also has about a month with temps over 100° F. I baked all summer, every summer. As a kid, there were times when my brain could not see the reason for being there and working as hard as we did. When I was a teen, I saw it as just normal life. My friends didn’t live that way, and I was often the subject of ridicule, but even that was not a big deal. The physical labor had toughened my body, to be sure, but going through it even when I didn’t think I could, that had toughened my mind.

Add to this mix the fact that my generation was not raised by parents who wanted everything to be easy for us. We were a lot who learned from defeat and loss. No helicopter parents, no being told that we were special like a snowflake. We were told “Are you bleeding? No? Then suck it up.” and “Walk it off” and “I’ll give you something to cry about!” and the unthinkable in modern time “If you had worked harder, maybe you would have won“.

Without toughness, you are going to fold when things get scary or physical. Toughness is developed by adversity. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you can always learn. Our younger generation would do well to experience defeat because it can show you that it is not the end of the world.

Now, toughness is divided into two categories: mental and physical.

Mental Toughness

When you are mentally tough, you have a few qualities that set you apart.

For one, motivation. People who are mentally tough do not need to be inspired by others, they do the task at hand because it needs to be done. The reward is found in completing the task, whatever it may be. It does not even have to be glorious. Block masons who need to hit the 500 unit per day quota in order to keep their job do not view the 500 as anything special, it is something that has to be done. There is no special reward for the quota, other than reporting to work tomorrow to do the same thing again.

Another factor is focus. The mentally tough are able to switch to a singular focus when there is something that needs to be done. Whether the task is outmaneuvering a rival, or fighting a bear, or completing paperwork on time, they will focus on the task without giving in to outside distractions.

The next time an assignment comes up at work that nobody wants, take it. Do things that you do not like doing and you will be gaining new skills, as well as mental toughness. Learn to focus on things that have to be done and get them done right.

Physical Toughness

Where mental toughness is about determination, physical toughness is about responding to adversity. And what better way to find adversity than to get out of your comfort-zone.

When you work out, change things up from time to time. Instead of a run on a treadmill, run in a park. Instead of a simple trip out of town to a hotel, try camping. Hiking through the woods, setting up a tent, chopping firewood, starting a fire, cooking fish you caught, these are great experiences and the physical challenges provide you with new skills and a certain toughness.

I remember when a Church group did a volunteer weekend of work with Habitat for Humanity. I went with them, even though at the time I was a construction worker, and as such, it was just like working without getting paid, but I didn’t complain because we were helping people. I marveled at my friends and the way that they were so excited and proud of such little (to me) things as hammering in a nail without bending it or getting a wall set upright and plumb. At the end of the day, we all went back to somebody’s house (I cannot remember whose house), and they ordered pizza delivered and sat and shared stories about how good it felt to build something, to work with their now blistered hands, and how much they now appreciated the people who did this every day. They were exhausted, and I was enjoying their tales of the day.

They learned about toughness that day. They stepped out of their comfort zone and did some demanding physical work, and as people, they grew.

None of this is to say that you can pick up a hammer for a day and suddenly become able to have the skills and toughness needed to fight off a home invasion. But I am saying that by taking some small steps every day you can progress toward becoming tougher. You have to stay focused on the goal, and you have to expend energy and time doing things that are not necessarily fun. Our ancestors were incredibly tough people. I think it is still locked in the DNA of everyone.

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Pigeonholes and Othering

In our time, people have begun a dangerous practice of self-segregation. Of course, this is not what it is called, as that would be too honest, and one thing our society will not tolerate is honesty.

It seems innocent enough in the way it is presented and practiced. To start things rolling, we are not simply people – rational thinking human beings. Now we have to fit into these pigeonholes; republican or democrat, conservative or liberal, is or ain’t, rich or poor, snowflake or cupcake, and on and on it goes.

This causes us, knowingly or otherwise, to view those who are not a part of our in-group as different, strange, and most dangerously, our enemy.

See, we have a basic emotional block, think of it as a default setting, where we do not kill members of our own tribe. Killing members of your own tribe is bad for the survival of the tribe and is therefore universally frowned upon.

We have no default settings to prevent the killing of those who are not of our tribe. Othering allows us to justify any action against those who are different from us.

I use the word killing, and I am not just throwing it out there for shock value. Killing is a threshold, any action short of killing is also justified in this mindset. So when you see people on the right or left of any issue beating the crap out of each other over a political difference of opinion, you get a chance to see this idea in practice. To an outsider like me, the entire thing is absurd. But to those involved, it makes perfect sense.

Personally, I don’t identify with either party. I prefer to do the very uncommon practice of researching and thinking for myself. I heed the advice of George Washington when he warned of the dangers of factions (political party). I don’t tell other people to do this, mostly because thinking for yourself leads to speaking freely against both sides, and the end result is feeling like you were in a gang war and didn’t know anybody. You want people to stop talking to you, speak out against both sides. They will act awkward when you are around them and ignore you on all social media. Fair warning though – it sounds like more fun than it is.

I do, however, advise people to stop thinking of people who hold the opposite view as being your enemy. An enemy wants you dead. An enemy is willing to kill you if the chance turned up. An enemy is not a person who has a political difference of opinion. It is good and healthy to talk to and socialize with people who think differently than you. No one was ever harmed by listening to another person’s point of view.

People in our time do not like to listen to dissenting opinions. In a time now lost, dissent was welcomed because it allowed you to elaborate on your position, and justify it. Now, dissent is hated. Because much of our contact is no longer face to face, we simply create a “social” media echo chamber where we only hear what we like.

Step out of the pigeonhole, stop being so afraid of being disagreed with (do I really have to say that) or freaking out that someone thinks you are wrong. And do your part to put an end to the self-imposed segregation. Call out and shut down the extremists on your side (whichever side that may be). There are enough problems in the world without making up things to hate each other over. Grow up, grow a pair, stop whining, remember that we are all in this together whether we like it or not, and none of us are getting out alive.

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“What’s Up With the Guns?”

During a recent conversation with one of my adult students, there was a question that came up. “I saw the change in the title of your Facebook page. ‘Martial arts, sharp things, and guns.’ What’s up with the guns?” Now, my student accepted my answer and moved on to another topic without missing a beat. I have had other conversations that did not go so well.

As is common in America, many people become concerned when a friend purchases a gun, or as in my case, a few guns. Due in no small part to the news media’s constant barrage of slander against anyone who might actually *gasp* like guns, well-meaning friends can become genuinely concerned, and sometimes even frightened by your decision to buy a gun.

For people who are considering making a firearm purchase, it should be known that some of your friends will react to it in a way far removed from how they would act if you were to purchase a fire-extinguisher. If you tell a friend, “Hey, I just bought my first fire-extinguisher!”, they might praise you on the wisdom of the decision. “Wow! That is a good move! You know, if you set the kitchen on fire, you might be able to get the fire out before the fire department is able to get there. Very good move!”

With a gun purchase, you are sure to have some friends who are against it. “Hey! I just bought my first gun!” Your response is likely to be questions about your training in gun safety, lectures on the dangers of having guns in the house, and even questions about your state of mind.

To me, the worst is when they start with their own short-comings. “I could never own a gun, I know I would end up killing someone the first time I get mad.” This is a subtle hint that you share this mental deficiency, or even that all people are deficient in this same way.

You might encounter guilt trips from people who lament the “gun culture” of America. I even had one person who told me that liking guns was “typical white person behavior”. Whatever that means.

In the end, for as long as we are able to maintain the right to do so, owning a firearm is a choice. If you are anti-gun, don’t buy one. If you are pro-gun, buy one. Just as I will not go out and demand that everyone own a fire-extinguisher, I will also not demand that everyone own guns. But if the option is there, if you want to take that option, by golly do it!

I want to have the best possible option when it comes to defending my Family. I would never willingly defend my Family with the least effective weapon I can think of. I want to, at the very least, be on a comparable footing with the bad guy. If I could have him outgunned, awesome, but if the contest has to be equal, then I will accept it and rely on training and motivation to make me victorious.

In the end, please understand this; a friend who decides to own a gun is still your friend. They made a personal decision. This does not give you the right to label them a gun nut. It does not mean they want to kill people. I can tell you truly, I hope I never have to point a gun at another human. If I have to, I will not hesitate, but this does not mean I want to or am eager to. I like peace and happiness. I study violence, and train in the application of violence, but if a problem can be settled with a conversation and a cheeseburger, then I am taking that option. Even if it takes two cheeseburgers.

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When Students Leave for Good

I am facing the truth that a couple of my long-term students are about to go off to college, and I am facing the fact that there is no telling when I will see them again. This is a post based on the random thoughts that I tried to bring into something resembling a blog post.

For anyone who has taught martial arts for any serious length of time, there is an understanding that most students are going to be here for only a little while, and then they will disappear forever. This happens so often that after a certain number of years, it becomes impossible to even recall faces and match them to names.

Even excluding my years of teaching before working for KickStart Kids, in the last fifteen years alone I have had about 2,000 student walk into my class. I have a terrible time matching names and faces, especially among those students who were in class for a short period of time a very long time ago.

But there are others, students who were around longer, or had exceptional work ethic, or both. I remember them. Many of these kids became like family to me. Some are still in touch with me, and this makes me feel blessed. Some students contact me from out of the blue, and it always makes me smile.

I am a creature of habit. I make a lot of plans, especially when it comes to teaching, that are designed for the long-term goals. Sometimes, my definition of long-term is more time than what the students can commit to giving.

As a martial arts instructor, we have to understand this. Life happens and people move on. It is our job to make the impact that we can, in the time that we have. We think we have forever, but we are wrong.

It is never easy to see the long-term student walk out for the last time. When we know that it is the last time we are likely to see them, it can feel terrible. But, if we have done our job, we must set aside our personal regrets and sadness and hope that what we taught will be carried forward by these students – even if they are not ever going to be a lifelong martial artist. We have to trust that we did everything we could to equip the students with the knowledge and skills to stay safe. We must trust that the values carried within the martial arts will be lived out. And there is nothing wrong with the hope to be remembered.

To all of my former students who read this, know that it does my heart good every single time that I find out about something that you are doing now, every contribution to society, every educational goal achieved, every job promotion or success. Everything. I find great joy in your success. And I am thankful to every one of you for allowing me to share part of your journey, and especially when you let me know about your successes as you move forward beyond anything I have to offer help with.

To my long-term students who are about to head out into the world, please know that I am very proud of your accomplishments, and will still be right here if I can be of any help at all.

Some work of noble note may yet be done,