Here the Zombies are the Victims: Get your head out of your phone

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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.


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Teach to Learn – Sensei and Student, the two sides of the accomplished martial artist

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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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ALS Board Breaking Challenge

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I fulfilled the board breaking challenge and challenged a few others.

Photobombed by my Dog!

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Summer Reading List – Exercise that brain

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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.

Reading List

The Way of Kata: A Comprehensive Guide for Deciphering Martial Applications

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.


The Anatomy of Martial Arts: An Illustrated Guide to the Muscles Used for Each Strike, Kick, and Throw

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.


Fighting Science: The Laws of Physics for Martial Artists


Strength and Power Training for Martial Arts

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.


The Art of Hojo Undo: Power Training for Traditional Karate

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 Sparring: An essential guide to the point fighting method

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.


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Just For Kicks – Finding the style you like

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Whether you are a beginner wondering where to start or an accomplished martial artist looking to expand your horizons, you need decide what you are trying to accomplish before choosing a martial art style to study. Do you want to learn self-defense; do you want to get fit; are you looking to explore the spiritual side or any number of different goals. There are many martial arts styles from many counties around the world. There are systems that teach blocks and strikes, joint manipulation, ground fighting, throws, chokes and combinations of those which can be traditional, modern defense, or sport karate schools. After you have decided what your goals are, you need to look at availability in your area. If you are looking to learn Mantis Style Kung Fu and you live off the beaten path, you may have trouble finding a school.

As a beginner you should look to build a solid foundation in martial arts and avoid the flash. As with any worthwhile pursuit, you need to build a solid foundation before you can properly learn more advanced techniques. Jump spin hook kicks are great to look at, but you can’t learn the proper technique until you have mastered the standard hook kick. You need to go to a school that teaches you to walk before you are taught how to run. Teachers that teach flash and push you through belts are not helping you build a strong foundation. An experienced martial artist may want to expand their martial arts knowledge by studying at multiple schools. If you are a beginner, I do not recommend studying at multiple schools. Building a foundation requires focus and it’s difficult to focus on two styles at once.

If you are not sure which style you would like to pursue, a good opportunity to sample different martial arts styles is a seminar. Seminars offer a snapshot of a style and an introduction to the teacher for relatively little money. You have the opportunity to meet the teacher and ask questions. There are a lot of seminars available. It can take some work to find them at first but if you join martial arts groups on social media, you will get information on seminars all over the country. Seminars can range from a couple of hours to several days. Bring a notebook and if you can, a partner. To fully benefit from a seminar you need to record what you’ve learned and drill it soon after so you don’t forget the techniques. In addition to getting a sample of different martial arts styles, seminars are good places to network with other martial artists, make friends and expand your understanding of other styles and how they relate to your style.

An annual seminar that I recommend is the Gathering of the Styles (GOS). GOS offers multiple seminars in one day that gives you a taste of each style. This seminar is perfect for the undecided or curious martial artist. You get the opportunity to see many styles. Then there are opportunities to network with the teachers and fellow students.
After you have decided on a style, you should also look at the reputation of the school. If a teacher has a really good reputation but does not offer exactly what you want, you may want to choose that school over one with a poor reputation that may appear to have what you want. You will have trouble reaching your goals if you have a teacher that focuses on belts rather than good technique, allows students to get injured often or will be out of business in a year.

For an experienced martial artist, exploring other styles can keep you fresh. As a respectful student, you need to be cognizant of your teacher’s feelings. Some instructors are very sensitive about their student’s pursuing side studies. There are teachers that believe that a student should choose one art and stick with it. The pursuit of studying and mastering one style is a solid path and can lead to great satisfaction. A friend of mine has studied one art for several decades and studies in Okinawa every couple of years. He is accomplished, satisfied and continues to learn new things about his art.

Whether you are a beginner or a master you need to put thought into what you want to achieve before choosing a style to study. Do your research, choose a school and stick with your studies until you build a solid foundation, then decide how deep or wide you want your martial arts experience to be. Now go train!

For more information on Gathering of the Styles go to the information page on While you are there, like us on Facebook. GOS is also producing a martial arts news show that will be debuting in a couple of weeks. Make sure to check it out.

Perfect Execution: Kata – where brain meets body

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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.

Get up! You are more likely to fall down than get into a fight.

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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.

fall seven