Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence by Rory Miller is an important book. It connects martial arts training to real world situations like no other book I’ve read. We all have opinions on how we would be able to handle violent situations. These opinions are oftentimes based on flawed, if not false, assumptions. This book will give you a new perspective on how you train as a martial artist and how your assumptions will affect the way you react (or fail to react) to a violent situation.
Amazon.com describes the book best:
“Finalist – 2008 Book of the Year Award by Foreword Magazine Finalist – 2008 USA Best Book Award A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real-World Violence Experienced martial artist and veteran correction officer Sgt. Rory Miller distills what he has learned from jailhouse brawls, tactical operations and ambushes to explore the differences between martial arts and the subject martial arts were designed to deal with: Violence. Sgt. Miller introduces the myths, metaphors and expectations that most martial artists have about what they will ultimately learn in their dojo. This is then compared with the complexity of the reality of violence. Complexity is one of the recurring themes throughout this work. Section Two examines how to think critically about violence, how to evaluate sources of knowledge and clearly explains the concepts of strategy and tactics. Sections Three and Four focus on the dynamics of violence itself and the predators who perpetuate it. Drawing on hundreds of encounters and thousands of hours spent with criminals Sgt. Miller explains the types of violence; how, where, when and why it develops; the effects of adrenaline; how criminals think, and even the effects of drugs and altered states of consciousness in a fight. Section Five centers on training for violence, and adapting your present training methods to that reality. It discusses the pros and cons of modern and ancient martial arts training and gives a unique insight into early Japanese kata as a military training method. Section Six is all about how to make self-defense work. Miller examines how to look at defense in a broader context, and how to overcome some of your own subconscious resistance to meeting violence with violence. The last section deals with the aftermath—the cost of surviving sudden violence or violent environments, how it can change you for good or bad. It gives advice for supervisors and even for instructors on how to help a student/survivor. You’ll even learn a bit about enlightenment.”
The probability of a violent assault on you is low, however, the loss given a violent assault can be severe (loss of life, limb, etc.). It doesn’t matter if you are a suburbanite working in a corporate environment, a high risk professional (law enforcement, security, convenience store worker) or live in a higher risk area, there is a chance you will need to use your martial arts training to defend yourself. So no matter who you are or what you do, if you are a martial artist you will get something out of reading this book. This book is easy to read and gives the information in a concise manner. You leave each chapter feeling like you have learned something.
The introduction to the book discusses how students look at the black belt in the front of the room. Whether you like it or not, if you are a martial arts instructor, your students look at you as an expert on violence. Because of this, having an understanding of the applications of violence is imperative for a martial arts instructor. If a teacher misunderstands the realities of violence, they can give the students an unrealistic view on their abilities. Attackers don’t stop when a “point is scored”, boards don’t hit back, and in bunkai the uke does not have evil intent. It is important for an instructor to convey to the reality of violence, so the student does not act as if they can handle a dangerous situation when they cannot. The teacher cannot teach a realist view on violence if that teacher does not understand it themselves. Read this book. You will be surprised how much you have to learn.
Once you have read the book, please come back and let us know your thoughts. This is not a book you should get at the library. Buy it so you can take notes in it and go back to review it. I have read it three times and am reading it again. I wish I bought it in print rather than on my kindle so I could write in the margins. I might need to buy a print copy after all.
For more information on the book click: Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence
“That’s wrong! Let me show you the ‘traditional’ back stance, front kick, foot sweep, [INSERT MOVE HERE].” People call upon tradition to disparage other martial art styles to a degree I find shocking. Unless you can trace your lineage back to the Bodhi Dharma then I am not sure what stake you can plant in the ground about one tradition being more traditional than another. Many traditional styles are relatively modern and there are controversies on their true origins. Getting wrapped up in arguments and controversies doesn’t help anyone grow in martial arts. Just because a style is modern and may or may not have ancient origins does not make it ineffective or less “traditional”. It is okay to be proud of your style and hold true to the traditional nature of it. However, that pride does not make your style more traditional than others.
It is easy to see the similarities in certain moves from different styles. Some people then take another step and observe the differences then claim that those differences are “wrong”. If one is evaluating the execution of a kata and the practitioner mixes styles in that execution, the performance of that kata is wrong. The kata was not performed correctly. That does not mean the technique is inferior (or “wrong”) when executed by a practitioner of the other style. Martial arts evolve in a crucible. The moves are tested over time. If a move proves to be ineffective, it has a tendency to be eliminated.
This is not to say that watered down versions of traditional styles are effective. A modern interpretation of a traditional style can be weaker than the original. That weakness is the fault of the teaching style not the martial art style itself. Short cutting training and testing helps no one. Modern societies get softer as they become more affluent. The softer nature of people and the litigious nature of society create an environment where softer versions of martial arts can flourish. We also have this fetish that everyone needs to win. Martial arts training is hard for a purpose. Not everyone is going to make it to black belt and that is okay.
The most common way an art gets watered down is the reduction or elimination of moves that are difficult to master. You can see this in tests that allow students to advance without a full mastery of the requirements. The degradation is manifested in sloppy chambers and stances. It can also occur in schools that only test students on the latest requirements rather than all the requirements from white belt to the belt level being tested. If you only test the student on the purple belt requirements, not white through purple, the student has a tendency to only practice the more advanced requirements and ignore the foundation requirements. If you have students that are only proficient in the latest requirements, you are not passing along your tradition adequately and your style will get watered down over time. Instead of wasting your time expressing how great your style is as compared to others, you should spend time training and understanding your style including your lineage and its history.
It is important to know the history of your style. As a martial arts practitioner, you have the responsibility to preserve your tradition and understand your system. Martial arts are passed from teacher to student. If you do not know your style inside and out, you risk passing down a watered down version of your style. Style history can be hard to find because the loudest voices, not necessarily the most accurate, are the ones recorded. If you spout off about your style without knowing the history, you risk being embarrassed by disparaging a martial art style only to learn that your style was influenced by, if not loosely based on, that style.
Fighters fight. Martial artists try to grow through their training. Arguing about whose style is better comes across as a “my dad is better than your dad” argument. It is important for us, as a martial arts community, to appreciate our similarities and differences. There are many traditions and they have all made it through the test of time. It is important for us all to preserve the traditions and not let them get watered down by people afraid to get hit in the face or think that belt tests are too hard. Let’s all appreciate each other; train and live with intention; and be a strong and united martial arts community. We can fight each other in tournaments.
Several weeks ago, we had an article on self-defense. One aspect of self-defense deserves its own article, Situational Awareness. More and more people I see on the street are walking around like zombies. They are not focused on their surroundings and they are at greater risk of being victims of violence.
If you look up the definition of situational awareness online, you’ll see definitions like: The perception of environmental elements with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning and the projection of their status after some variable has changed, such as time or some other variable such as a predetermined event. (Wikipedia)
What does this mean and why should this be important to you?
Reacting appropriately and timely to situations requires that you have awareness of that situation. Not being aware of what is going on around you is dangerous to you and the people around you. That may sound like hyperbole but there are facts that back it up. Many of our examples will deal with cellphone use and how the use of phones at inappropriate times leads to reduced situational awareness and danger. There are other distractions that can cause similar results as the cell phone but inappropriate cell phone use really demonstrates the points well.
The most blatant example of a cellphone usage reducing situational awareness to the point of posing a danger to yourself and others is texting while driving. As mentioned in previous articles, self-defense goes beyond defending yourself from a mugger. Self-defense includes defending yourself against injury while using equipment like cars and protecting yourself from liability and guilt from hurting or killing someone else. Texting while driving shrinks your situational awareness to the cell phone only. You cannot observe the road, so you are unable to make adjustments to your behavior to prevent injury (slowing down, shifting lanes, etc.) Cellphone use is a chronic destroyer of situational awareness. A search of YouTube will allow you to find videos of people walking into obstacles like glass doors and fountains because their situational awareness has been reduced to the size of a cellphone screen.
People get defensive when discussing their cellphone usage, saying that they would not walk into a door or fountain just because they are distracted. I believe that they could avoid those stationary obstacles, but they could walk into a bad situation. Even without the cellphone, many of us are completely oblivious to our surroundings and walk into bad situations because we don’t recognize them as dangerous. If you are completely consumed by a distraction like your cellphone, texting and listening to music through earbuds, how do you see the suspicious man walking behind you or the gang of teens standing under the broken streetlight, or the drunk driver weaving onto the sidewalk or any other danger that that is apparent if you only look?
The million dollar question is, how do you identify a dangerous situation before entering it? First, you need to understand that you will have a lot of false alarms. Contrary to news reports the United States is a pretty safe place to live. However, just because a place is generally safe does not mean that you are always safe. Bad things do happen to good people. Even though the frequency of attacks are generally low, the severity of the attack’s impact on you can be very high. You need to keep an eye out for danger signs and places you may be vulnerable. A light out in your office bathroom is probably not a danger sign. Lights out in a public bathroom on a subway platform, however, is different.
Before we continue, I want to state that crime is never the victim’s fault. It is always the criminal’s fault. We should be able to walk in a dark parking lot listening to music and texting, but we live in a world full of risks. Also, having situational awareness will not protect you one hundred percent of the time. We are discussing preventative measures that can help mitigate the risk of being victimized by criminals and injuring yourself or others in accidents. It is not possible to avoid every situation and on the other hand many of us will never face a dangerous situation. Being prepared is prudent because it helps reduce your risk level.
What should you focus on to help your situational awareness and reduce your risk level?
1. Physical Condition – Are you tired, intoxicated, injured? Conditions like these reduce your situational awareness, so you need to adjust your behavior. For example, if you are going out to a new bar to have a few drinks, go with friends you trust.
2. People Around You – Are you by yourself, surrounded by strangers, are you with friends? You need to be cognizant of who is near you. Are the people around you potential threats? Have the people around you cutoff your escape route? Keep an eye on who is around you and make sure they can’t prevent you from getting to safety.
3. Your Location – an office, a dark parking lot, an unfamiliar street? You need to assess your familiarity of the area, determine your comfort level with your personal security and determine how you will be able to get out of a bad situation.
4. Time of Day – Walking out of a restaurant after lunch is safer than walking out at 2:00 AM. If you close a bar, you need to be especially cautious. Many attacks happen late at night and there are more drunk drivers out at this time (hopefully not you).
5. Identify the Exits – It is important to be able to leave quickly in an emergency. If there is some panic causing event (a fire, a fight, some kind of threat), it is important to know how you will get out, so you don’t panic like the people around you.
6. Trust Your Gut – If it seems wrong, it just might be. If you feel uncomfortable, leave. You may be sensing tension around you. You don’t need to “demonstrate your courage” by staying in a bar or party that has gotten a little too rowdy or by parking in an uncomfortably dark and unfamiliar parking lot.
7. Protect Your Assets – Wads of money and lots of jewelry shouldn’t be flaunted in public. You are making yourself a target. A criminal is taking a risk when they rob someone. They may “do the work and not get paid” if their victim has no money on them. Don’t show criminals that they will hit pay dirt by robbing you.
Be aware of your surroundings.
Make adjustments as needed.
It is better to err on the side of caution.
Being aware of your surroundings is not a guaranty of safety but it materially reduces your risk. If you are watching what’s happening around you, you might see the guy on the cell phone walking into the fountain, rather than being the person walking into the fountain.
There is a path to complete understanding that most people only follow to a point and then stop. When learning a technique, people typically follow their teacher’s lead and then practice, but they remain in the position of student. Many students do not solidify their knowledge by teaching others. I found the addition of teaching others increases understanding of a technique.
There are many teaching styles that work, but the one that I found to be most effective follows this path:
1. Show the Student – An actual demonstration of a move goes a long way to helping a student understand. It shows not only the moves but the cadence and the actions between actual moves. This part of the process is the missing link in reading books about martial arts techniques. Books, although a helpful tool in martial arts studies, cannot fully describe and demonstrate the intricacies of a technique.
2. Explain the Why – It is important for a student to understand what the goal of a technique is and why the techniques are in a specific order. This step is sometimes missed. If it is missed, the student will learn the move and will be able to repeat the move in class or competition. Unfortunately, not understanding the reasons for the move will leave them at a disadvantage when they are trying to formulate a defense strategy and it robs them of a full understanding of the art you are teaching.
3. Practice with the Student – Doing the technique with the student offers them a cheat sheet (you, the teacher) to review while they execute the moves.
4. Observe the Student – This is where videos fail as teaching implements. The video can demonstrate the move and even explain it but it cannot observe and offer feedback. Martial arts techniques are very intricate in every hand/foot movement, stance and posture. These moves are not necessarily intuitive to the student. Feedback gives the details that turns a good martial artist into a great one.
This is the point where most learning situations end. Adding one more step solidifies the technique like no other teaching style I have encountered.
5. Student as Teacher – This is one step that I believe is integral in instilling a complete understanding of a technique in a student, having the student teach the technique to another person. To teach another student, the student needs to break down the move to its component parts, so they can properly show it to another student. Breaking it apart in this way is the start of true understanding of the technique. This step has to follow all of the steps above if it is going to be effective and it still requires instructor involvement. Teaching has techniques just like any martial arts move. Students need to be shown teaching techniques in the same process detailed above.
A carefully supervised teaching session is good for everyone. The class benefits because the teacher can assign a student to help another that is having trouble and remain focused on the rest of the class. It is good for the teaching student because they get a firmer understanding of the technique and build confidence. It is good for the learning student because they get one on one training.
I have found that this teaching style works in all the situations that I have experienced. I have used it in martial arts, in my corporate life and even as a “Den-Dad” when my son was in Cub Scouts.
It is important for your students to have a strong understanding of the martial art you are teaching. Whether you are a traditional or modern practitioner, it is important to teach your techniques specifically and thoroughly if you want to maintain your lineage. Personal style will always slightly change techniques. Some people are very technical; some are mechanical and precise; some have more rhythm and flow. If you want your lineage to be maintained, you need to eliminate personal license. You do this by establishing a complete understanding of each move in your students.
The specific moves, transitions between moves and stances can be lost with teaching methods that do not instill complete understanding. There are reasons for these transitions and stances. You need to know them too if you are going to teach them in a way that preserves your lineage. Accomplished martial artists are both teacher and student. Share your knowledge but always keep a white belt mentality.
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It wouldn’t be summer if you didn’t have your reading list. I read throughout the year but many of us wait for vacation time to feed our brains. I suggest you add a few martial arts books to your reading list. The following are all books that I have read and have gotten a lot out of. They are not style specific. No matter what style you study, you should get something out of any of these books. Click on the links to get full descriptions of these books.
Books cannot teach you everything about techniques but you can broaden your knowledge by adding books to your martial arts study.
Kata are at the center of most traditional martial arts styles. This book explains kata and will give you a new appreciation for them. I have read this book a couple of times and will be reading it again this summer.
I like understanding all the dynamics of martial arts techniques. This book details the inner workings of the body doing martial arts techniques. This book will help you tweak your technique, which will make you more precise in your movements.
Martina Sprague details the physics and power maximization in martial arts. She also describes strategies and teaches strength training specific for martial arts. I have read both of these books several times and have gotten a lot out of them.
Traditional martial arts strength training is as fascinating as it is effective. I have just started my journey with Hojo Undo. This book gives a great description of many traditional strength building techniques.
Sport karate point fighting is a lot of fun. The moves are a little different than traditional sparring. This book will give you a taste of how sports fighting is different and it will show you a lot of techniques and strategies.
If you end up reading any of these books, please come back and let us all know your thoughts.
There is disagreement today about the continued relevance of kata in martial arts. Some schools consider kata too old fashion or think the only place for kata is in the realm of flips and kicks in front of a panel of judges.
I am no master in kata (or martial arts in general) but I am continually striving to build more understanding. As a kid I took Tae Kwon Do for a few years and only saw kata as a requirement for testing and something that had to be done before we could spar. As an adult, I received my first black belt in an American Mixed Martial Arts system that does not include kata as part of the curriculum. The testing is based on sets of techniques that are learned at specific belt levels along with punch and kick combinations. It wasn’t until recently (about 3 years ago) that I added kata, pinyons and weapons forms to my martial arts curriculum, both traditional and competition.
When I started my exploration of kata, I was going through the motions. I had only a cursory understanding of what I was actually doing. I thought of kata as only as a demonstration of techniques. Some of the techniques I just didn’t understand. I used kata as physical exercise, a measure of my martial arts skill and something fun in which to compete. It wasn’t until one of my martial arts mentors explained to me that I was only scratching the surface of kata that I started to ask questions and explore their real meaning.
I started to ask what certain moves meant and why would techniques be used in a specific order. I started my research reading books, talking to masters and reviewing my kata to better understand what I was doing. When I get information on a technique or a set of techniques, I drill those moves until I understand the purpose and flow of the techniques. I then practice the move with an opponent, so I can really understand what I am trying to accomplish with the move.
When executing my kata, I still visualize myself against an opponent, blocking strikes and striking back. I even go as far as looking at the starting positions to understand the strikes, blocks and joint manipulation they represent. Kata offer a surprising amount of hidden knowledge. Those who just think of kata as jumping around for the entertainment of the judges at a tournament are missing a huge learning opportunity. From my reading I discovered that kata was originally the main (sometimes sole) method used to transfer knowledge of a system from master to student. Traditional kata are not dances. They are the recorded techniques and expressions of the martial arts system’s key movements and behaviors. They are a blue print to be used in building martial artists.
Martial arts is not a purely a physical art. It requires an understanding of patterns and the use of those patterns as an appropriate response to outside forces. Kata offer a guide to those patterns and help build the bond between mind and body.
I am not here to say that one style of martial arts is better than another whether or not the study of kata is included in the curriculum. I will say that as a martial artist you are missing out on an enriching experience by not exploring kata. My exploration of kata has enhanced my experience as a martial artist. It has helped me develop a stronger understanding of techniques and helped me develop better fighting strategies.
I have only scratched the surface in my study of kata. I am looking forward to continuing my journey and am excited about the things I will be learning. I encourage you to explore kata as well.
In my MMA classes before being taught how to throw someone, I was taught how to fall. It is unlikely that a mugger will try to hip toss me, but slipping on the ice or a wet floor is more likely. Self-defense includes not getting hurt falling down.
About three years ago we had an ice storm in our area. Coincidently, both my brother and I both slipped in our respective driveways. My brother broke his wrist. I bruised my pride. Actually, I did get some nasty bruises but no serious injuries. What was the difference? I broke my fall. My brother didn’t.
As I have mentioned before, this blog is not a sensei and the internet is not a dojo. If you want to learn specific techniques of breaking your fall and rolling, you should find a reputable school in your area. I will however discuss the concepts of fall protection.
1. Protect your head – concussions and other head injuries are serious and can have lasting consequences.
a. If you fall backward, tuck your chin to your chest to keep your head from striking the ground.
b. If you fall to the side, use your arm to cushion your head.
2. Spread your weight – One of the worst things you can do when falling is putting all of you weight on a fully outstretched arm. When you do that, all of your weight is focused on the weakest area, the wrist. One of my coworkers’ wives slipped on the ice, had both arms fully extended to stop herself from falling and broke both of her wrists. That meant no driving, no typing, challenging eating and other complications. A reputable sensei in your area can teach you how to fall in a roll or a break-fall to spread your weight and prevent injury.
As with all things, it takes practice to do effectively. It may seem silly to practice falling but falling safely does not come naturally. You will need to practice the falling techniques until they become second nature. Few things cause people to panic more than falling. Falling is even one of people’s most common nightmares. Until the falling techniques become second nature, your body will rebel against the fall and leave you prone to injury.
Falling effectively can help you against attackers as well. When being attacked, you may fall. You can be struck and dazed, tripped or thrown. Falling without injury and being able to get up can save you.
What goes down, better get up – If you are being attacked and fall down, you need to be able to get up. You are in more danger when you are on the ground after being attacked, so getting up quickly in a defensive posture is very important in preventing further injury.
In my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training I learned the technical stand up. This is a technique that allows someone to get up quickly in a defensive posture. I practiced it so much that I even use it when I get up from sitting on the floor.
Learn how to fall and get up safely and practice the technique until it is second nature.
– Don’t let a fall beat you.
– You don’t need Life Alert.
– Even though you have fallen, you can get up.
In the United States, the second amendment of our constitution with limits from the federal, state and local governments allows for the carrying of weapons. This article is not debating whether this is right or wrong. It is the law and there are real dangers on the street.
As we discussed last week, talking about martial arts can get different reactions from different people. The reactions I find most interesting are the reactions of weapon holders. Most of them are adamant that they do not need self-defense training and it is OK that they are out of shape because they have a weapon. Many of the weapon holders I know (I call them weapon holders because I know people that not only carry guns but knives, small bludgeons, pepper spray and Tasers), believe that a weapon is a reliable replacement for martial arts training. I disagree for several reasons.
“You can only fight the way you practice.” Miyamoto Musashi – Book of Five Rings.
1. Training – A weapon does not protect you just by being present. If you do not train with it as if you are defending yourself, the weapon will be more of a danger to you than to your assailant. Most people don’t train to realistically defend themselves. Using a gun as an example, people usually only train with the shooting portion of the defense process. At most gun ranges you are not allowed to draw the weapon as part of the shooting routine. The gun needs to be pointed down range at all times. So even if you go to the gun range often, you are not necessarily ready to defend yourself, since:
– You never practice drawing the gun. Getting a gun out of a holster effectively takes practice.
– You don’t practice releasing the safety. Unless you have a revolver, your gun probably has a safety which is easy to forget in a stressful situation.
– Aiming at a target is a lot different than aiming at a living person.
– Typically, your target at the range is stationary, not running at you.
If you want to use a gun as defense, you need to take a class on how to do so and then practice regularly. It takes a lot of training and practice to properly handle a weapon. Ask any police officer. I would say it takes as much practice as a weapons free self-defense system.
As I mentioned before, I know people who carry knives, pepper spray, Tasers and small bludgeons. These weapons also take practice to use effectively. Just having a weapon on you does not provide self-protection options. In fact, if you don’t train, it can make you less safe since you can injure yourself or have the weapon taken from you and used against you.
2. Speed – There are frequent debates about police officers shooting suspects who “just have knives”. It is amazing how fast someone with a knife can injure or kill you even if they are 10 feet away.
If you are confronted with a knife wielding assailant from 10 feet away and you have a gun, you probably don’t have time to draw, aim and fire your gun before they stab you. The speed of a knife attack is shocking. I recommend you watch this YouTube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_KJ1R2PCMM to see the speed of a knife attack. To have a better chance of survival, one needs to be able to counter the attack and attack back with adequate force to get oneself out of danger.
3. Accessibility – The number of places you can bring a weapon is shrinking. If you are reliant on a weapon for defense and you are in an airport, or at work, or in a school, what do you do?
Even if you are a fully trained weapon practitioner with the speed to address any threat, what happens if you are attacked in the shower of your gym or if a coworker starts hitting you?
You will not always have a weapon on you but you don’t go anywhere without your body. Having defensive skills that do not involve weapons is the only way to protect yourself in a “weapons free environment”. I put that in quotes because only law abiding citizens feel the need to make it weapons free. Criminals by definition disobey laws and rules so you cannot assume a weapons free environment is weapons free, but it is still inappropriate for you to bring a weapon into one. You need to consider how you will defend yourself in these areas.
4. Excessive Force/Unintended Injury – The quote “It is better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6” sounds really cool on Facebook but is not that great in real life. If your life is in danger, you have every right to defend yourself and you should. You just need to understand that there are consequences to any actions. Crying self-defense is not a get out of jail free card.
Shooting or stabbing someone, even in self-defense, can put you in jeopardy of jail time and wrongful death law suits. On the other side, pepper spray and Tasers widely available to the public, may not have the stopping power needed to disable your attacker, leaving you vulnerable to continued attack.
– With guns you can injure or kill innocent people in your quest to disable your attacker.
– With pepper spray you can disable yourself rather than your attacker.
Weapons are not always reliable and can put you and the people around you in additional danger rather than safety from your assailant. Also, even if you are in the right and were defending yourself, you can be held responsible for the death of someone. You need to understand the reliability issues and consequences before you act with a weapon.
What does all of this mean?
It means that you are better off if you have self-defense options other than just weapons. The best way to accomplish this is to:
– Stay in shape – Being healthy and limber can get you out of harm’s way.
– Train to defend yourself – Realistic training scenarios are the only things that will prepare you for self-defense.
– Don’t just rely on weapons – It may be your right to bear arms but they do not provide a shield of safety.
You have the right to and should defend yourself if you can’t avoid a dangerous situation. You just need to remember:
– There are innocent people around you.
– You are less likely to be successful if you do not practice.
Be safe out there and don’t fall into the trap that a weapon will save you from all situations. Train for your defense and be ready when you can’t get away.
Most people’s experience with martial arts is either cage fighting on television or their 7 year old taking Tae Kwon Do for a year and a half and quitting at green belt. This lack of experience with martial arts can make it hard for your coworkers to relate to your martial arts activities. Since they don’t know the roots of martial arts, they don’t have the context to start or carry a conversation. This means that your martial art is not necessarily a good base for starting conversations at work or for networking. While your coworkers are playing softball or golf (or just watching TV) you are probably the only one training in the dojo. Many times, you are better of talking about what your coworkers can relate to, like what was on TV last night.
I am proud of my martial arts and have brought it up in conversation at work with varied success. I am a pretty big guy at 6’3” 260 (I should be 220, but I am working on that) and I keep my hair cut very short. Some people might consider me intimidating. I found that the martial arts conversation can make some people nervous, so I am now careful with whom I discuss it. A coworker of mine used to be an amateur boxer, so he and I talk about my training and my competitions. One of the partners of the firm overheard how intense some of the sparring sessions could be and it caused a bit of tension. The sparring sessions I participate in can get intense and some people might consider them violent. It appeared that was the case in this situation. I do not want to be considered a violent person. I am a martial artist not a bar room brawler. I used humor to ease the tension of that situation and now I am greeted on Monday mornings with a humor filled “Did you beat anyone up this weekend?”
Injuries can also bring up uncomfortable conversations. An example of this is a meeting I was in with a very senior executive of a company I worked for. I had a BJJ class the night before and had really bad marks on my neck from a choke that I fought out of. I wore a collar to try and hide the marks but a co-worker saw the marks and very enthusiastically brought them to everyone’s attention in the meeting. As I explained how I got them, the executive was looking at me like I shot someone’s puppy. Again, I used humor and an attitude that I did nothing wrong that eased the tension and ended the distraction so I could get back to the meeting agenda.
Be proud of your martial arts. Just understand that not everyone will understand why you do martial arts and some people will be intimidated by it. Think about what people’s reaction might be, especially at work, before you talk about your activities, particularly if they might be construed as being violent and when you are injured, especially a facial injury, be prepared to discuss it and not leave the impression that you hang out in the wrong bars.
May 19, 2015
Many people use the movies and television to measure the usefulness of martial arts in a fight or defending oneself. I know many martial artists from white belts through multi-degree black belts. The degree of their ability to defend themselves in real life situations is as varied as their belt level. I also know people who have no training, who can defend themselves well.
Even rigorous training in the martial arts will not guaranty that you are able to defend yourself. It will help. Being able to block and attack are tools in self-defense. Sparring can sharpen your skills and kata will help improve your technique. However,to defend yourself you need to add some other things to your training.
1. The most important skill you need to learn is SITUATIONAL AWARENESS. You need to have a good idea of what is going on around you at all times. Watch videos of the knock-out game. Look at the victims. See how engaged they are in observing their surroundings. If you are in a parking garage with your ear buds in and completely engrossed by something on your phone, you are vulnerable and will find it hard to avoid problems. Whereas, if you are fully engaged in observing your surroundings, you will many times see trouble before it starts or at least see it at the point of impact. Situational awareness also includes being aware of: what time it is, what state of inebriation you are in, where your friends are in a bar, where your car is parked and other mundane factors. Know what is happening around you at all times.
I was at a bar several years ago. It was late in the evening and I noticed that there was some commotion in the parking lot. I was driving and I told my friends it was time to go. They were not happy with me but we left and went somewhere else. We read in the news the next day that there was a large violent altercation in that parking lot. The best defense is to NOT be there when trouble starts. Keep your eyes open and don’t be afraid to tell people it is time to go.
2. YOU NEED TO BE ABLE TO BE HIT. If anyone is hit hard enough, they will be hurt, but most times being hit or grabbed is more shocking than injury causing. It is the shock that stuns us and causes us to hesitate. This hesitation can lead to trouble. Not acting when you are hit or grabbed, leaves you open for further injury or worse. You need to be able to take the first attack (hopefully, a deflected attack since you were practicing situational awareness and saw it coming). Then you need to be able to react, either fighting back or getting away.
There is only one way to get over the shock of being hit or grabbed, practice. Sparring and grappling are the best ways to practice but if your style of martial arts does not offer those, you should practice these skills in a controlled environment somewhere else. This needs to be done with realistic attacks and defenses. As you practice, so will you fight.
A good friend of mine teaches a solid, hands-on self-defense for women class. My wife took the class and when my friend initiated a choke attack, my wife’s hand trap and groin kick defense was a little too enthusiastic. We laugh about the over exuberance still, but the training was realistic and that is the only kind that can prepare you adequately for attack.
3. YOU NEED TO BE ABLE TO ATTACK. This is where your martial arts comes into play. If an attacker gets a hold of you or is between you and safety, you need to be able to act in a way that preserves your well-being even if it comes at the cost of your attacker’s. If you are in danger of grievous injury or death, you need to be willing to inflict damage on your attacker. This does not mean that you perform an eye gouge on a drunk guy in a bar that bumps you. However, it your life is in danger you need to be willing and able to inflict damage to your attacker or there is a good chance you will be a victim.
I am not going to discuss attack techniques in this article. The internet is not a dojo or a self-defense class. If you need training, I recommend that you find a reputable school in your area to learn.
Remember, you are responsible for your well-being. The police or security cannot be everywhere and many times are only able to take the report afterward.
- Be aware of your surroundings and avoid trouble.
- If you are attacked, avoid hesitation from the shock of the attack
- When necessary, fight like your life depends on it, because it might.
None of these things are easy and they all require practice. Many of us will never be attacked but being prepared is important. Consider it in the same light you would a fire extinguisher. You will probably never have a fire, bit it is prudent to have a fire extinguisher anyway.