Tuesday, February 25, 2020


I recently saw a meme about fear being something that's not real, though dangers are real.  Fear is a very real thing, and so is danger.  The two aren't synonomous, nor are they always paired.  People fear things that aren't any threat -- and they aren't afraid of many very great dangers, whether through ignorance or naivete or simple denial.  Fear is a reaction, emotional and instinctual, to a perceived danger, so that fear really is about perception.  Franklin Roosevelt had a point with 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself..."  Fear doesn't exist if we don't perceive the danger...  And it's very present even if what we fear is no threat; ask anyone who's frozen on stage because they had to speak to a group -- even a receptive group that asked them to be there!

Danger is something that is there, whether we know it, notice it, or care about it.  It's an asteroid on collision course with the Earth, that nobody's seen yet.  Danger is a predator stalking you, unseen.  It becomes a threat, ready to be feared when we come to notice it.

The big thing is how you handle either, and especially both in conjunction.  Fears have to be examined, to see if the danger is real -- or you'll be driven by them.  Dangers have to be recognized, assessed and prepared for.  Fears help us recognize the dangers around us, and our emotional reactions to fear help us prepare physically for a threat.  (Which can be a trap for a non-physical danger... but that's another thing to think about...)   

The person with no fear is a walking death trap; he doesn't recognize dangers and he doesn't prepare for them.  But if the fears go too far, people become immobilized, because they see dangers everywhere.  The challenge of life is to balance them both... to control our fears so that we don't get trapped while recognizing dangers, preparing for them.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Socially Awkward Excuse

A topic that came up elsewhere as we were discussing grooming behaviors in certain sorts of predators or domestic violence situations... the "Socially Awkward" excuse for creepy or predatory behavior. Some predators out there will certainly use the "it was just a misunderstanding" line to minimize and excuse there behavior.
I think a key distinguishing line between real awkwardness and boundary shifting/grooming is how the person reacts to confrontation. A really socially awkward person is going to be embarassed, equally uncomfortable as their unintended victim, and make a genuine attempt to adjust their behavior -- or there's going to be a real persistent pattern that supports that they just don't grok normal behavior. Think about someone on the autism spectrum who just can't figure out what's going on; their off-notes are in multiple areas, not just inappropriate touches, for example. Or if there's a cultural issue, it's again going to be persistent across different areas -- not just creepy eye contact or "compliments."
The creep? They'll be aggressively defensive as they fall back on the social awkward excuse -- and blame their victim for not understanding. And the behaviors are all going to be in things like inappropriate touches, "compliments" that aren't, etc. All in that ONE particular area -- sex.
Here's a good article on it...


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: https://defensemaven.io/bluelivesmatter/news/commission-broward-sheriff-s-captain-was-dream-like-during-parkland-shooting-zQXTqCVZOkmB5nSWJjxGlQ/

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?