This article is not about whether or not anyone deserves to criticized online. It is about the threats that you as an individual and those you are responsible for can face by having actions misinterpreted or misrepresented on social media.
Pictures and videos have power. A picture or video that makes you look like you are involved in an “offensive” activity can put you at risk. The recent video of the high school students in Washington, DC is a good example. In an interview later, the student in the foreground of the video said that he wished he just walked away.
With the number of news and opinion outlets in both traditional and social media, there is a demand for content that can never be satisfied. The pressure to produce content is as much a supply and demand issue as a political issue. People (us included) demand up to the second news, opinion, and social drama. I am not being judgmental. I watch the videos of people falling down, and I get news notifications too. This is about how you can avoid being the target of social media.
You need to have a certain mindset when you are protesting or are present when others are protesting around you.
- Assume that cameras are recording you
- Think about how actions can be misinterpreted
- There is the possibility of physical violence
You can be shown in the worst light. There are faith gatherings where people offer blessings by extending their right arm open-handed, and people have misrepresented that as a Nazi salute. A picture of someone in that stance can be easily misinterpreted or misrepresented. There are people out there who will use anything to further their view including hurting other people either physically or reputationally.
I am not saying that you should allow yourself to be bullied. Just be aware of the potential consequences and don’t take protests lightly. We need to be especially protective of our youth. We bring kids and teens to historic places, and it is important for them to participate in our political processes including protests. As counselors or chaperones, we need to be cognizant of what is going on around us, have a good understanding of the threats and move the kids away from the threats. If I, as an adult, want to stand my ground in a protest, that is my prerogative. Kids and teens whom we are responsible for may not know the consequences.
You may be saying that we should be able to stand for what we believe in without these consequences, we live in a free country. That’s true, you should be able to do it. Just as you should be able to walk safely in any neighborhood in the country or travel safely to any country in the world. You can’t. That’s life. You need to be cautious especially if you are chaperoning teens and kids. People are not above targeting them for their own gains. Continue standing up for what you believe but do not give people ammunition to destroy your reputation.
We live in civilized times. We have laws and people who enforce the laws. These laws and their enforcement give us a sense of comfort and safety. This sense of security is based on a system of deterrence rather than that of protection. The laws threaten consequences for their violation and the enforcement officers are there to arrest lawbreakers so they can be judged and declared innocent or guilty. Since this system does not protect the person at the time of the attack, and if the threat of punishment is not frightening enough to the criminals, our sense of security might be overestimated.
This is not to say that we are not generally safe. Even though we have seen violence at levels that are shocking, we still live in a very peaceful society. Most of us don’t need to worry about getting killed when we leave our homes. Because of this security, we consider the potential for a violent attack on us, personally, to be a foreign concept. People tend to see the risk for a violent attack in other places; places they do not go. They do not concern themselves with the potential of a violent altercation.
We see people’s surprise at a violent incident on the news all the time. After a neighborhood has had a violent occurrence, the media interviews people from the area and they usually say things like, “this is a quiet area,” “this has never happened here before” or “I would never have thought that Mr. Neighbor would do such a thing.” People believe these things don’t happen to them and only happen in other places. Since people don’t have a safety concern, they don’t feel the need to learn to defend themselves.
We tend to put up a façade of civilization that hides the fact that there is a chance we can be the victim of violence. We project our good nature onto this façade, so it conceals that there are bad people out there. We keep looking at the façade, and we are surprised when we or people we know are the victims. We shouldn’t overreact because we do live in a safe society, but we also shouldn’t convince ourselves that we live in some violence-free utopia either. We need to understand that it is better to have skills and not need them than not to have them and need them.
We may not be living in feudal Europe fearing bandits, but we are also not in Shangri-La. The chances of a violent or a severe bullying encounter are relatively low, but the results can be devastating. No matter your age, it is prudent to learn and practice a martial art. It is better to have the confidence to knock down the façade and live life knowing that even though you may never have a violent encounter, you have the skills to avoid, escape, deescalate or defend from one. When our protection is based on deterrence, it is essential for us to take responsibility for our own defense.
from the archive
I was in class this past Friday and I did not perform at my best. I was the oldest in the class by twenty years. Typically, people my age are not necessarily expected to perform like the twenty somethings. I did not disappoint in that class.
I pride myself at keeping up with anyone in class and to perform all of the techniques. My conditioning was on point so I was able to keep up with the tempo of the class but… I was as stiff as a board so I was not able to perform at the level I wanted.
The day before I had a killer commute. I was stuck in the car for two hours on the way to work and three hours home. Nothing stiffens me up like being stuck in the car. I did not have time to work out the kinks before class on…
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From the archives.
The last couple of weeks we have looked at things that can help or hinder our performance.
- Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Doesn’t Work Hard – Rule to live by
- Diet, Training, Time Management
There is one other thing that can make or break us in our effort to be the best we can be, our minds.
It has become cliché (mind over matter; conceive, believe, achieve) but that does not mean it is untrue. One of my favorite speakers puts it best. “Positive thinking won’t let you do anything but it will let you do everything better than negative thinking will.”
There is a conditioning class that I like to take on Thursday nights. At the end of class, the instructor will have the class compete to see who has to complete the final exercises. For example, the person who holds a plank the longest does not have…
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Sometimes the best lessons are learned in unexpected places. In this case I received a great defense lesson in a tradecraft course. I took a blacksmithing class and forged my own knife. I ended up gaining a greater understanding of knives than I received in many of the martial arts class I have taken.
When taking a knife fighting or knife defense class, you are typically handed a plastic knife and you are taught techniques on how to use the knife. You are taught proper blade orientation, slashes, thrusts and defensive moves. These classes have been essential to my learning how to use the knife. The blacksmithing class gave me something else. It helped me get a better understanding of the knife itself.
In the design and construction of the knife I learned basic blade geometry, knife balance and blade to handle orientation. This gave me a new perspective on the knife and how to use it. The blacksmithing class did not show me how to effectively use the knife. It gave me a new perspective on the blade itself. It really enhanced my understanding of using the knife. Having forged the knife made the knife a part of me. I got a whole new appreciation for the knife when I forged one.
Whether you defend yourself with your hands, a knife or a firearm, you need to be comfortable with your weapon of choice. You need to be able to defend yourself at a surprise moment. You need to know your techniques and if you are using a defense tool, you need to understand it like it is part of your body. Forging a knife gave me that comfort. I found that forging the blade gave me that understanding and a better appreciation for my knives.
When I am holding any knife now, I have a deeper appreciation. When I was younger, I would have a “survival knife” or some other poorly constructed knife that looked cool but was basically a stylized letter opener. Taking defense classes that used plastic knives for practice taught me technique but did not give me a deeper appreciation for the blade. Once I took the blacksmithing class I understood the weakness of the blade I was carrying and I saw that I would have had trouble if I ever needed to use it. I switched my carry piece and worked with the new piece until I was comfortable with it.
The exciting part is that I am still consider myself to be a novice. I have so much more to learn. I am ready for more technique and forging classes. If you can stay enthusiastic about an art and always have a curiosity you will be a successful practitioner.
I have seen a lot of sniping on social media about the fitness of martial arts instructors. There are some instructors that tout their fitness and insult heavier martial artists. On the other-side I hear instructors tout their technique and dismiss the relevance of fitness. It can get nasty. One online altercation led to one martial artist accusing another of body shaming. Making people feel bad about themselves is not fitness motivation. Inspiring people to be something greater than they are today is fitness motivation.
As I have discussed many times, we must remember the tenet of respect. You can’t expect students to be respectful, if the teachers are online disrespecting each other. There are positive ways to demonstrate value of martial arts. We do not need to denigrate another instructor to show our value. I know some heavier martial artists that would crush some of the fitter ones I know. I also know some very effective fit instructors. Fitness is not necessarily indicative of effectiveness in the teaching of martial arts. However, being fit is healthier.
Being heavy does take a toll on the body. As I have mentioned before, I am overweight and am on a mission to get fit. I am getting fit for my own health, not to impress people online. I try to stay out of the online chatter (not always successfully). I am not going to tell a heavier instructor they are ineffective because they are less fit than another instructor. I might advise them that they should consider their health and ask them if they think they will be able to continue the same level of activity at their weight when they are 50. In my experience as I find myself a couple of years away from 50, the answer is no. If I want to continue at an aggressive level of activity, I need to lose weight.
There are people who can continue at higher levels and stay heavy. I was in a 5K race last year and an older gentleman ran by me and the back of his shirt said: I’m old, fat, diabetic and you’re behind me. How you manage your health is a personal decision. How you act online is also a personal decision. I ask you to consider being positive in both cases. Live your life in a healthy way in the physical world and online. Live in a way that would make your students proud.
Remember that as an instructor you have an impact on your students and their parents. If you are negative and disrespectful, you will find that your students and their parents will act the same way. You have a responsibility as a martial arts instructor to be an ambassador to the martial arts. You are an example to your students and their parents. If you are negative, your students and their parents will only have a negative narrative to share with others. Wouldn’t it be better to have them communicate a positive narrative?
Body shaming is very common today. It can make people, especially kids, feel bad about themselves. As a heavy martial artist, if you can lose weight and use your online presence to communicate a positive message of fitness and respect for others, you can have a positive impact on students who feel that they are too heavy to start martial arts and who avoid fitness programs. I have been communicating my struggles and have heard from students and readers that they believe they can succeed because they have seen me succeed. They have also seen that it is hard as I have slipped but that being persistent can get them to their goals.
You won’t see me running around with my shirt off this summer (maybe next summer) but you will see me teaching the importance of respect and fitness in martial arts. Martial arts can have a positive impact on everyone. Don’t let our words scare away the people who can benefit the most.
We all need to make choices in life. We all have 24 hours in a day. We have priorities and responsibilities. We also have excuses. I made choices and excuses over the last year when it came to my martial arts. I was very busy and I was a bit overwhelmed. I was not sure what I wanted to do with my career. I had a lot going on outside of work and I was feeling a lot of stress.
As I have mentioned in earlier articles, the martial arts are a great way to relieve stress, focus and get back on track. I did not take that path. I began stress eating and other unhealthy habits. I found my energy declining, my weight increased and I was less motivated.
I was only training two or three times a month and there were a couple of months that I did not train at all. I was getting farther from my martial arts. I was losing my inspiration. I was distracted and I slid backwards. I stepped off the martial arts path but the path was there waiting for me when I came back. I got back on the path and am training regularly again. I am not happy about the poor quality of my technique, but that is the result of not training regularly.
It was hard to go back. I was nervous. I knew my technique would not be great and as a black belt my technique should be excellent. I needed the classes to help me improve but I had to show my rusty techniques when taking a class. I decided that it was my pride keeping me out of class. I needed to be humble and take the criticism. Now that I am back, I do see fast progress in my improvement. I feel more flexible and am on my way back to my previous skill level.
I am glad I bit the bullet and started training regularly again. I feel more at home in the dojo each time I go. I am more comfortable with my techniques and I am practicing correctly at home.
If you have stopped training and are hanging around the edges, get back to it. It is not easy at first but it is worth it.