Friday, March 22, 2019


It's interesting how concepts pop up at similar times in a lot of places... and the benefit of failure is one that I've seen come up again and again over the last several months.

Failure is a good thing!  Sounds kind of oxymoronic, huh?  How can failure be a good thing?

We learn from failure -- not success.  Successes can reinforce, they can build confidence... but we don't learn from success.  After all, to succeed, we have to already be capable of the skill or concept.  To learn it -- we have to fail.  Failure occurs when we move beyond our comfort, beyond the easy...  when we do something that we can't do -- YET.

If you're trying to get stronger -- you have to move weights (body or iron, doesn't matter) that you can't move easily, and that means you must sometimes fail.  Maybe it's doing another push-up than you did yesterday, another rep on the bench press, or 5 more pounds in your squat.  Maybe it's running that mile a little faster, doing another 10 punches...  You have to move out of that comfort zone, or there's no growth. 

One of our more regular exercises in class is punching x-ray paper; it's an exercise to assess the correctness of the punch, and probably a worthy topic on it's own.  We allow students several practice attempts, then the "final round" is sort of pass/fail: do a bad punch, and you do some push-ups.  That fear of failure is a pressure, and we have to put artificial pressures on people so that they can handle real pressures.  Lots of students find a punch they can do well... and they coast.  That's their "go to" for the exercise.  But, every once in a while, a student decides to develop a different punch. That means that they're going to drop for some push-ups as they practice and develop it... because they will fail some.  In time, though, they'll perfect that punch... if they accept the failures.

So... go out, try new things... and be willing to fail.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Training Standards

I’ve been a fan of Marc MacYoung for a while.  He’s someone who’s been there, got the t-shirt, and actually bothers to think about violence and self defense.  He’s a former bouncer, a court recognized expert on self defense and violence, and instructor in both communications and martial arts/self defense.  I’m currently reading one of his newer books, What You Don’t Know Can Kill You: How most self defense training will put you into prison or the ground, written with Jenna Meeks.
In it, they quote Martin Cooper, a retired UK police officer and security consultant.  I really like the definition of “winning” in a self defense situation presented:
  • You must be be able to act,
  • You must stop the attacker,
  • You must be cleared of all charges,
  • You must “win” in civil court,
  • You must be able to emotionally handle the aftermath.

This is what these criteria mean to me -- in brief.

Able to act:  All the techniques in the world are useless to you if you can’t use them in the real world.  As my teacher Joe Manley would say “It’s not what you can think of -- it’s what you can think of IN TIME.”  You have to practice and train in a way that will let you apply those skills under pressure, in the real world.

Stop the attacker:  If the techniques aren’t effective in ending the attack, they’re no good.  This is why so many people say martial arts don’t work in the street…  They don’t do the job.  They’ve practiced missing, they’ve listened to “lies to children” that say that a shot to the nose or groin will stop an attacker, that they skills are ‘too deadly to compete with…”  

Cleared of all charges: If you defend yourself successfully, especially if you’ve hurt someone badly, there’s a good chance that the police may file charges on you.  You need to understand the laws and rules of the use of force where you live and travel and spend time so that your use of force is reasonable and appropriate, and so that you can articulate that to the police (at an appropriate time and place) and in the courtroom. Soundbites aren’t enough; saying “I was in fear for my life” is useless if that fear isn’t reasonable…  Another of Grandmaster Manley’s teachings comes to mind…  “By the time a fool learns the rules, the players have left the field.”  You just might want someone (an attorney) on your side who knows the rules…  well. In fact, a conversation or training on the legal issues BEFORE you need to protect yourself is even smarter...

Win in civil court:  Guess what?  It doesn’t end if the criminal charges are dismissed (or even better, never filed…) -- you can still face a civil trial.  And the rules are different… so what you do when you defend yourself needs to meet those standards, too…

Handle the emotional aftermath:  Being the victim of a violent attack leaves marks -- physically and emotionally.  The ER can stitch up the cuts and bandage the scrapes… but the emotional impact of defending yourself -- especially if you’ve done serious harm to your assailant -- can be a lot harder to cope with.  The stress of dealing with police and courts doesn’t help, either.  But you can learn things that you can be ready to use to help you cope more successfully… and you can get help.

There are other ways to measure success in self defense -- but what I like about this approach is that it deals with both the moment of self defense, and what follows.

Saturday, November 17, 2018


There are a number of different responses to a threatening situation...  I personally like the model of 4 reactions: fight, flight, freeze, or posture.  In brief -- fight and flight are well known.  Freeze -- I'll talk more in a minute.  Posture is a display response; getting big, showing off, sending a "don't mess with me!" signal. 

So... freezes...  This blog was prompted by this article:

The article describes how a sheriff's department captain on the scene of the Parkland shooting was ineffective, and seemed to be out of touch, in a dream like state.  That's a form of a freeze...

The most basic form of freezing is absolute motionlessness...  Think of the classic deer-in-the-headlights.  It's an instinctive level response, probably a result of the way predators tend to key on movement.  Your body and nervous system is essentially saying "maybe if I don't move, it won't see me and eat me."  Learning to break this sort of freeze is one of the great challenges in martial arts and self defense training.

But that's not the only form of a freeze.  Locking in and repeating ineffective motions or responses is another.  "It worked before -- let's just try again!"  I watched and experienced officer once try the same leg sweep takedown about 6 times without effect...  Or, in the Kyle Dinkheller video, you hear him repeating the same sequence of commands...  Another form of freezing is inappropriate detachment and indecisiveness...  like that captain seems to have experienced.

So... how do you know if you're in a freeze?  The deer-in-a-headlights freeze is easy; you start taking damage because you're not moving!  But what about some of the others? That's what the article reminded me of...  because one of the best indicators that you're in a freeze -- even if you're doing something and not frozen like a statue -- is that warm, floaty, detached feeling.  I remember one of the first real use of force situations I was involved in...  I got on scene, and if I had been asked at the moment, I was doing great.  But I was in slow motion, and what I was doing wasn't really effective.  I was in that nice floaty place...

OK -- now we know we're in a freeze...  what do we do?  Well... if you're taking damage -- ANYTHING to stop it.  Scream, yell, cover up, Rory Miller's Dracula's Cape technique...  Ideally, you've prepped this through appropriate training and conditioning.  In those less obvious freezes...  You have to recognize that you're in a form of freeze -- and then you need to get yourself in the game.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Robert Humphries' Warrior Creed

The Warrior's Creed

Wherever I walk, 
everyone is a little safer because I am there.

Wherever I am,
anyone in need has a friend. 

Whenever I return home,
everyone is happy I am there.

Sometimes, I feel the need to remind myself of this.  Jack Hoban's account about how this creed came about is worth reading -- and I identify with it all too much and all too often.

For those of us who choose professions or lifestyles where we deal with violence honestly and realistically -- we have a responsibility not to inflict that on those around us.  If we're not careful, it's very easy for us to justify being complete assholes -- to become a cancer to those around us.  That may mean staying away long to decompress.  It may mean simply manning up, and handling our business -- and keeping it to ourselves.  

Along a related line, I'm due to reread Kevin Gilmartin's book, Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement.  While a lot if it is aimed at cops -- there's definitely value in it for a lot of people in stressful professions and places in their lives. Dr. Gilmartin is a psychologist and a (retired) cop.  He knows what he's talking about.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Blocking is useless...

This is going to be a bit of a rant. 

People will tell say that blocking is useless, that blocks don't work...

OK.  Then why the hell have all of these combative systems continued to include them, for anything ranging from hundreds of years to thousands of years?  Bando's roots trace back thousands of years, but the modern version was gathered by U Ba Than and many others in the 1940s.  They were all combat veterans, and ruthlessly insisted on techniques that worked.  Dr. Gyi has shared the story of how someone brought a beautiful stick system, and claimed it could defeat 10 men at once.  They put it to the test, and it failed.  Now, we don't know what it looked like.  But blocks stayed in the system. 

Joe Manley has consistently taught, for at least 25 years, with a huge emphasis on defense.  On using blocks and parries.  So has Lloyd Davis.  Both were feared fighters, whose skill today is often (I think) underestimated and misunderstood.  They trained champions who trained champions. 

Look at other systems, and you'll find they all have blocks.  Blocks, therefore, must have the potential to work.  So why can't people make them work properly?

Here are a few of my thoughts on it.  Take 'em for what they're worth.

First, let's look at the term: block.  In Japanese, I know, the actual term is really closer to "receiving."  Lots of people try to make a block work by staying there, and flinging their arm at the incoming attack.  Well, you've already got one problem, there; you're behind the curve.  Action beats reaction.  So now your arm has to be faster than their punch.  It might work, if you're fast enough.  But are blocks really meant to be a stationary technique, simply accepting the hammering of the block?

Not the way I was taught.  The start of the block is EVASION!  Moving the target to assure that you're safe, then insuring your safety with the block.  Letting the block punish the attacker for intruding on your space, because you're already safe. 

That lets me segue into the next thing:  timing.  Too many people try to block the attack by waiting for the it to come, then deciding what to do.  Let me bring a new term in: OODA Loop.  In short, Colonel Boyd realized that for us to respond to something, we must first Observe it, Orient on what it is, Decide what to do about it, and finally put into Action.  In practice, in fighting, if we spend too much time trying to figure out what's coming, by the time we can recognize it and decide what to do, we've been hit.  The fix is easy to say -- Movement is movement, and when you see movement, MOVE!.  After that, from a safe place, you can take your time to catch up.  (Yeah, easy to say.  Hard to do!  And it takes a lot of painful practice to achieve for most people.)  Blocking takes place, ideally, when you're already safe.

Finally...  I think there's an issue about committing to actually developing the skill.  It's easy to try something once or twice, then jump on the "It doesn't work" bandwagon.  Developing skillful blocking is hard, and you will get hit sometimes as you work on it.  Lots of people don't want to get hit, they don't want to submit their ego to the learning process.  It's not fun!  But the results are worth the pain. 

So... to summarize... Why the hell did all of these combative systems maintain blocking and defensive techniques if they don't work?  Or, maybe, are they not working because we aren't doing them right?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Special Seminar Announcement

It's been a while since either Jim or I have posted on this blog, but I wanted to make sure you were aware of a special seminar that we'll be hosting with Grandmaster Dr. Maung Gyi, the chief instructor of the American Bando Association (ABA).

This is a one-day seminar on the Wizard system, focusing on empty-hand techniques.    The Wizard system of Bando focuses on a high level of flexibility, mobility, and dexterity, building on the principles of deception to defend against multiple attackers.

On March 23rd, Dr. Gyi will be teaching an open seminar on this topic; the cost is $75 (or only $50 if you are an ABA member).

Where:   The New Baltimore Firehouse Hall
               5303 Lee Hwy
               Warrenton, VA  20187

When:  Saturday, March 23rd, 10:00am - 4:00pm

You can register on-line  by clicking on the following URL -  

Debby Kirkman

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Timing of Responses

Something we've been practicing lately...

Defensive responses are required at different times during a fight, whether it's sparring or "for real".

If you've got lots of time, and are at long ranges, you can do all sorts of things.  Some of them are pretty fancy, some are fairly simple.  But the common trend at that point is that you have all sorts of time.  Maybe you just plain leave; maybe you do some sort of evasion and counter attack.  Maybe you just punch the other guy in the face while he's trying to cover the ground to hit you...

More typically, we fight at middle ranges.  Not quite able to hit the other guy unless you take a step or otherwise close the gap.  At that range, we've still got a lot of options.  It's the heart of where our club trains.  As soon as they move, we move and counter.  There's time here to block & counter, using patterns we practice.

Sometimes, we miss the signs.  Maybe we've let the other guy steal a bit of distance.  Maybe we've just missed it.  But we suddenly see the attack, and we still have a moment to respond before we get hit.  That's where our emergency techniques come in.  We pull back and kick, or cover and strike.  But we've still got that beat of time before we take damage.

And sometimes -- we're taking damage before we know something has happened.  We've practiced a drop-step technique.  The idea there is simple: damage is happening, we don't have time or maybe even faculties to do an evasion and counter-attack.  So, we cover as best we can, simultaneously strike-blocking, aiming to disrupt that attack and buy some space and time to recollect and shape a better response.