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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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.


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 “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:


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?

New Terrorist Method and Response

With the use of cars to run over people, followed by knives to kill more, and questions from readers coming in, I decided to take a look at this new modus operandi of the terrorists.

And wouldn’t you know, it isn’t new at all. My mind was preoccupied with the horrible news coming out of London, without making even the most casual mental correlation to what happened in Nice, France and Ohio State University and so many other places.

From 2007 until this writing March of 2017, there have been 21 instances that I can find of terrorists using cars to kill by crashing into people (I had to, necessarily, exclude car-bombings). The attack in 2011 at a Tel Aviv nightclub is the first incident of a terrorist using a car to try to kill people, followed by jumping out and attacking with a knife. There have been many more of these attacks since then, and they seem to be happening more frequently.

There have also been other incidents of people using a car as a weapon, but their motives in these cases were not terroristic in nature and so do not factor into what I am looking at here.

The questions that were sent to me were what do we do when this happens?

From a standpoint of personal safety, the old advice of being aware will still be the first and most important key in your plans for personal safety. If you have your head in your electronic distraction devices, you might be hit before you even know anything is happening. Awareness will allow you to notice something going wrong at the earliest possible moment. You need to know what is happening as soon as possible, it will give you time to react. You should be more maneuverable than a car or truck. But you will need to see what is happening and have a chance to determine which way to go.

Crowd size comes into play here as well. I have hated crowded places for most of my life due to some bad experiences. Mostly, this has left me with a lack of trust when it comes to humans in groups, but in this instance, the issue would also be in the ability to get out of the path of the vehicle.

This does bring us back to a point I bring up in the seminars I teach, and that is simply having a plan when you go anywhere. Always be aware of where you plan to go if things go bad. When indoors, you need to know the nearest exits. Outside, be aware of where you would need to go to find an escape and now also to be aware of where to go in the event of an attack by car.

I do not mean for this to seem dismissive, but that is the extent of the advice to give regarding the vehicular portion of these attacks. Y0u will not be able to kung fu the car. Being aware and having a plan is going to provide the biggest portion of your safety during that part of the attack.

The knife part is where we there will be a collective groan as I say the obvious – you need training for that. But even with training, you can get injured or killed. Train anyway. Nothing is guaranteed but get every possible advantage.

To this, I would only add one point. You will miss out on a lot of good things in life if you are in constant fear of being caught up in a terrorist attack. Having a plan and the training to execute that plan will go a long way in easing the preoccupation with this issue.

I hope this helps!

Anger Management

Have you ever said words in a moment of anger that you wish you had not? Do you have a long list of moments where you wish you had a do-over? What about your circle of friends and loved ones, do they wish you could control your temper?

Anger is one of those pesky parts of life that, when we are feeling noble, we speak of it is if it belongs in the category of always wrong, in the same way, we proudly proclaim that violence is always wrong – but always give ourselves an out by adding the cute little “unless…”.

But the anger I want to look at here is the everyday kind of thing and the people who lose their cool over anything, without regard for how such loss of composure affects those around them.

The biggest lie that comes out from this is the excuse of I can’t control it.

Yes, you can. You might not want to, but you certainly can control it should you choose to do so.

A couple of examples come to my mind. Let’s say you are pulled over for speeding by a Police Officer. And for the sake of argument, let’s say that you honestly believe that you were not speeding. You might be angry, very angry. But you will be likely to control it and use a lot of Yes sir/ma’am phrases. Or, in the opposite extreme, think of yourself being robbed at gunpoint. Are you going to lecture the robber on how they did not work to earn your money and therefore don’t deserve it? Nah, you are going to keep your mouth shut and hand over whatever they are demanding. You will run your mouth later, but you will control yourself in the moment.

When we look at it this way, we see that there is no lack of control. It is more a matter of having given ourselves permission to lash out. When we lash out, we seldom restrict our mouths to the issue at hand. We will bring up the failings of the person we are lashing out at with no regard for how long ago these failings were made manifest. We will use terms to categorize the other person as having a deep flaw, such as always and never. In essence, we will exaggerate and lie to them about how bad they are.

When you are able to control your temper in your day to day situations, a couple of things will happen. First,, your life will improve because your outlook will be better, and the people around you will respond to you differently than before. Also, you will learn to stay focused on issues at hand, and this is a benefit on many levels.

And as a final point, I want to add that being a nice person does not have to equal being a vulnerable person. You can be nice from a position of strength. Life is a lot more pleasant when you don’t fly off the handle over everything.

I hope this is helpful. Likes and shares are greatly appreciated!

The ‘Butthurt’ Excuse

Yes, I’m aware that the word butthurt has some unpleasant connotations. But I chose it after careful consideration. I hope I can be forgiven.

People are very quick to excuse their own bad behavior. People are blisteringly quick to condemn the poorly thought-out actions of others, but the excuse-without-thought for their own action is of comparable speed.

And it seems that most people don’t even know they do this.

Here is the fly in the honey; if a behavior or action is wrong, that means it is wrong even when you do it.

But wait! You have a reason for acting that way! When other people do it, it is because they are uncouth cretins, but not you! Other people are uncaring, hateful and selfish. But not you, you are making a stand for (insert whatever group/cause/ideology for which you are making a stand).

There is a really big problem with this line of thinking. And if I am being honest – it is a problem that scares the hell out of me when I watch the news. It is a really small step from standing up for the oppressed, to they deserve whatever they get excuses for violence.

While it seems like you are being noble when you use bully tactics against people that you have deemed as bullies, the truth is you are also being a bully.

Bullying is a behavior, not a worldview. It does not matter whether or not you think your victim deserves this treatment. It is the behavior that is the problem. If you take any action of any kind, you can rest assured that your mind will find some kind of reason excuse for why it is okay for you to behave in this manner. The excuse will probably need to go entirely unexamined for you to believe it, but humans are good at excusing their own behavior.

And while I am here, I need to add that the old they do it too excuse is really weak. Again, if it is wrong when they do it, it is still wrong if you do it. Remember; it is the action that is the problem, not the motivation. Lots of horrible things are done in the world by people who believe they are doing something good and noble.

If you ever take a moment to ask yourself how you would respond to the other side if they were to do or say what you are about to do or say, you can stop yourself before you do something inexcusable by your own standards. I wonder often if people even understand how confrontational and threatening their behavior is, or if their self-justification mechanism prevents them from ever seeing that they are doing exactly what they condemn.

And in closing, I would like to note that not everyone who disagrees with you is your enemy. I know it is quite fashionable right now to view any contradiction as an attack, but the truth is that, at least for the mature people, different points of view provide opportunities for everyone to get better. Other people, even those from the opposing side of whatever debate you have turned into your cause, provide a chance for you to gain insight into what the other side is thinking and then solutions can come about through positive discussion. Stop shouting at each other and start talking to each other. I have people that I care about on both sides of every issue out there, and I think if you stopped screaming, you might find that you do too.