Tag Archives: karate

The Expectations and Fault Follow-Up

In the comments to Making the Nice-Guy Challenge a Safe One, mrissa and scallywag195 both shared questions and perspectives I wanted to answer in more detail. That “more detail” ended up being much longer than I thought… but here it is!

Questions from mrissa first:

My question is twofold:

1) In what context would his actions have been reasonable in a class/mat setting? In what context is “respond as though someone who is not in pads etc. is the actual attacker” the correct scenario? If this was a mismatch of reasonable expectations, I am having a hard time seeing where his expectation was reasonable.

The short answer is, “When Sensei says so.” Continue reading The Expectations and Fault Follow-Up

The Snarky Partner

It is easy — terribly easy —to shake a man’s faith in himself.

To take advantage of that to break a man’s spirit is the devil’s work.

–George Bernard Shaw

Train or talk about martial arts and self-defense long enough, and someone will invariably want to test you.  It’s usually annoying or amusing to varying degrees, depending on the person’s attitude, but it can sometimes be frightening.

I’ll talk about that frightening aspect next month.  This time, I want to talk about a specific sort of challenge most often laid down before the new student whose combination of budding knowledge and excited inexperience makes them vulnerable to emotional undermining.100_2182

It happens early on in training, usually in the first month or two.  A student who has been doing well walks into class with a little less confidence.    A little less enthusiasm.  Why?

“Sensei, my boyfriend wanted to see me do that wrist escape we learned last week, and it didn’t work!”

This sensei hates when this happens.  The disappointment and self-doubt in a student is painful to see, and even more painful for the student to feel.  All the student’s excitement over learning something new—the poise of gained confidence in one’s ability—broken down in a few minutes by someone who professes to care.

I hate it.  I hate with vim and passion.

It isn’t always a boyfriend.  It might be a husband, father, mother, sibling, or school classmate.  But no matter the role, the person sees themselves holding the same position: a superior whose station must be reinforced, and whose station is threatened by the student’s sense of consent-based self-determination.

Oh, sure, some of those folks will claim the most-est and best-est of intentions.

  • “I don’t want you to have a false sense of security.”
  • “You need to know you can’t always win.”
  • “I just want to be realistic.”

And sometimes the comments are more direct and honest.

  • “I told you that karate stuff wouldn’t work.”
  • “Don’t start thinking you’re all that special.”
  • “You’re pretty stupid, thinking you can beat me.”

But no matter the spoken reason, the underlying motivation is almost always the same:

  • “To prove myself stronger and smarter, I must prove you are weak, incapable, and less worthy.”

Yes, I hate it.

*****

Teaching self-defense as a years-long curriculum accessible to students of diverse ages and abilities requires deliberation and forethought on a different scale than a weekend empowerment workshop.  (Not better or lesser, mind you.  Just different.)  So one of the first things I teach students under the “self-defense” topic is a collection of basic hold escapes—what to do if someone grabs your wrist, elbow, shoulder, or shirt front.

The simple techniques teach a skill, certainly, but also the rules and expectations of working with a partner.  Students also learn the principles of leverage and torque, grounding and balance, general body awareness, and the connection between the decision to take action and the resulting consequences.

Hold escapes are a very big deal.

I and my more senior students are always the students’ first partners.  Once the basic maneuvers of a escape are taught sans contact, we start grabbing students. We start off with the tight grip and quick release meant to build competence and confidence.  The better the students’ technique, the more difficult we make it to escape, and we adjust it for each student.  The goal is to encourage, and require, progressive improvement.

We set and enforce standards, and most importantly, tell students to not only respect their boundaries, but to enforce their boundaries with calm skill.

It’s called “teaching.”

Then comes the moment the student, excited and confident, goes home to a person who isn’t all that excited, let alone passing supportive of the student’s martial arts training.  That person listens to the student talk about the cool wrist escape she learned just an hour or so ago.  And that person sees the opportunity to prove their own superior strength.

So that person offers to be a “partner,” and grabs the student’s wrist with as much force as possible (and usually with a grip or angle the particular wrist escape isn’t designed to counter).  The student struggles.  The student, who has known the technique for all of a couple hours, and practiced the technique a couple dozen times at the most, fails to break the full-power, all-strength hold of their supposedly supportive partner.

That “partner” happily reinforces the student’s sense of failure and weakness.

The student feels like a failure.

The other person feels fantastic, having confirmed their superiority.

I.  Hate. This.

Truly, the person who feels the need to subjugate a person they supposedly love and care for is, in my eyes, the weak and frightened one.  It’s the person who’d mock a teenager for learning the difference between the gas and brake pedal before speeding onto an ice-covered highway.  It’s the person who thinks it’s funny to drop someone into a warzone before they’ve learned how to load a rifle.  It’s the jerk who believes proof of strength lies in how well they can beat up someone in handcuffs.

It’s punching down.

It’s weakness.

It’s pathetic.

So… after a year or so of teaching, and seeing this drama play out over and over, I made a couple alterations to the lessons.

Yes, I still teach hold escapes.  Yes, I teach them with the same limitations.

Then I tell the students the truth:  “Someone is going to test you.  Someone will want to see if you can really, truly, escape.  And someone will want to prove you can’t do anything at all.  If you try the hold escape, and it doesn’t work, it isn’t because you failed.  It’s because the person holding you thinks they have to beat you.  And that person thinks your fear of hurting them is greater than your fear of being hurt by them.”

Really, that’s the truth of it.  I’ve seen it in the smirks and eyerolls these “supportive” partners give when the student explains to me the hold escape didn’t work.

The Snarky Partner depends on your passivity.  She wants you to hesitate.  He wants you to be afraid of trying.  She wants you to let a loud-mouthed person prove his superiority. He wants to demonstrate his strength is really oh-wow cool.  She wants to make certain you doubt your strength and courage.  He wants to demonstrate how unworthy and incapable you are of determining consent.  The Snarky Partner wants, above all else, to undermine a person’s confidence in self-direction, self-defense, self-determination.

And it doesn’t matter if the Snarky Partner doesn’t actually, deep-down wish you harm.  Because all those things the Snarky Partner wants to prove are the same the attacker wants you to believe: you’re weak, you’re unsure, you’re not worth your own fight.

*****

It isn’t unusual for the Snarky Partner to be the one who accompanies the student to the dojo.  In my experience, the Snarky Partner sometimes goes to great lengths to ensure they’re in attendance because they want to watch the class—to see what the students are taught, how the students are taught, and to find out “tricks” that can be used to encourage a student’s failure.

Whenever possible, I hold my Snarky Partner speech right in front of the watching family and friends.  (Once, I even took the empty center seat in the front row of the observation area because one parent had, week after week, demonstrated his inability to understand by yanking his small son around and laughing at him.) I’ll talk specifically and thoroughly about the Snarky Partner, how to counter that person, and—most importantly—how to either dismiss them as irrelevant or use them as a self-teaching opportunity.

That’s usually enough to end the home-based Snarkers.

But out in real life, where it’s possible you’ll encounter a person who needs to bolster their own ego at another’s expense, chit-chats from Sensei don’t much work.

If my students are children, I must tread a bit carefully for numerous reasons.   They might have abusive parents I haven’t yet sussed out (and I’ve sussed out more than a handful, my darlings), so I must keep in mind the consequences a child might face if they resist a parent.  They might face a challenge at school, where defending one’s self against physical attacks is considered horrifyingly dangerous and grounds for suspension or expulsion.  They might lack the support of a backbone-empowered adult (like the father who let his son be beaten up, day after day and year after year, because he was afraid they’d be sued if his son fought back).

So I tell them this:  “Karate is something to be proud of, but not something to brag about.  If you tell people you know karate, some bad person will try to prove you don’t.  It’s better if you keep your knowledge here, at the dojo, and don’t try to show off to others.  But if you are ever afraid, and if you ever have questions, you come talk to me, and I promise to keep what you tell me safe.  And if you have to use your karate to really, truly defend yourself, I will back you up.  Just remember that the longer you’re here, the more you’ll learn, and every person who is a sensei wants to help you because we were all white belts, too.”

If my students are all adults, I tell them something with a bit more… oomph.

I tell them about Snarky Partners and their usual motives.  As you might guess, I almost always have at least one adult student who’d like to explain why a Snarky Partner doesn’t really mean to be snarky.

“Could they see you were upset?” I ask.

“Well, yes.  But it was just a joke!”

“Were you laughing?”

“Well… no…”

“Then smack ’em upside the head to make them stop!”

There is often some awkward laughter at this point—mostly over the idea of inflicting a small amount of physical discomfort on someone.

So I add this: “The Snarky Partner is hurting you and shaming you.  There is nothing morally wrong with making them stop.  And if that person thinks it’s all right when they hurt you, and not all right when you stop them, you need to think about what that means to you and your children.”

Yes, I do indeed say that—flat out, without mumble-speak censoring.

Because it is true.   Because I hate seeing folks who ought to be supported and encouraged have to instead explain away the overbearing snickering of someone who is being mean.

Some Snarky Partners really don’t understand what they’re doing to their partner/child/spouse.  They do indeed think dragging a weaker person around is just plain funny.  And a subset of these folks take well to being told and will change their behavior.  I’ve even had a boyfriend approach me to ask the best way to help!

Those are the easy ones.  The tough cases require a bit more of a direct approach.  So I go on to explain one of the foundational concepts of successful self-defense: you don’t have to make an attacker let go.  You can instead motivate them to let go.

Ram the heel of your hand—the hand they’re not holding—right between their eyebrows or under their chin.  Or grind your knuckles into the back of the hand holding you.  Or set your foot on the side of their knee and say you’ll kick if they don’t let go.  Or just give them an open hand slap across the mouth.   Yank on an ear.  Poke them in the armpit.  Spit.

No, the Snarky Partner will not be expecting any of those things.

They might try to tell you that as a way of excusing the fact they let go, to make you feel bad for making them stop their bad behavior.  They might even fall back on, “That’s not fair!”

Which…  Oh, ye gads.

Really, my darlings, I cannot even force myself to write about that piece of ridiculousness.

Y’see, self-defense isn’t about being stronger and tougher than an attacker, or even working some clever technique against an attacker.  It’s about doing what the attacker doesn’t expect and gaining the few precious seconds you need to escape.  But most importantly, it’s knowing—deep down and without a doubt—that you are worth defending.  That you’re worth your own defending, and you don’t need someone else to defend you in order to understand your own value.

The Snarky Partner doesn’t like that much.

They can go on not liking it for as long as they wish.

You don’t have to go on with them.

This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon.  Because they’re wonderful patrons, they support making the articles on self-defense and fight scenes available to everyone within a month of the original posting.  So if you find it valuable and helpful, thank the patrons, and consider becoming one yourself!

 

#SFWApro

Five Fight-Writing Tactics

100_2182This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon.  Because they’re wonderful patrons, they support making the articles on self-defense and fight scenes available to everyone within a month of the original posting.  So if you like it, thank the patrons, or consider becoming one yourself!

Before I hit the tactics, I want to share this most marvelous video by Karate Culture on the grappling techniques within traditional Okinawan kata.  If you’ve read my articles for awhile, you’ll know I’m not a fan of teaching throws as a universal self-defense technique because their application is limited mostly to people who are quite able-bodied, well-trained, and being targeted by a single attacker.  That doesn’t mean I don’t like, train, teach, and use grappling!  Just check out the awesomeness of that video.  You won’t regret it.

And now…

1. Applying good craft to writing fight scenes is 95% of the battle.

Grammar is about writing well and properly—a necessary skill if we want readers to sink into our stories rather than decipher odd and misleading sentence constructions.

But storytelling?  That’s the craft I’m talking about.

Continue reading Five Fight-Writing Tactics

Train the Brain to Write at Night Again

RedPenWorkThe marvelous Tam MacNeil (Go check out her books! She’s awesome!) brought up on Twitter the advantages of freelancing—namely, making your own schedule to make best use of one’s most creative hours. (She brought up the downsides, too, but let’s not speak of those right now…)

(My, I’m feeling parenthetical today.)

My own most creative hours have almost always been in the evenings. Truly, I blame twenty years of theater for training my brain from childhood to work in the make-believe world of rehearsals and performances more nights than not. Heck, when I started writing in earnest, I even kept a notebook backstage so I could write between stage-time.

After theater came karate.  When I started training, then teaching, karate way back when, it cut into my writing time a few times a week, but I adapted. When my teaching went fulltime… Ouch. I mean, I adapted somewhat by using afternoon hours, but it always felt as if I was really rolling just about the time I had to stop writing to put on a gi and head out to the dojo.

Writing after teaching wasn’t very productive. Really, teaching well and with energy is a creative process in itself, and I don’t deny there’s performance art involved in keeping the attention of dozens of students over the course of the evening. Four hours on the mat, teaching the way I do, didn’t always leave much energy for writing.

So now I’ve been in Colorado about five months, not teaching at all. This is so weird and disturbing to my internal clock and creative brain. Between five and six o’clock, I start fidgeting, pacing, cleaning the kitchen, running kata while I wait for clothes to come out of the dryer, thinking I might want to paint all the walls and install a drop ceiling in the basement… You get the idea.

Just as theater trained me to be creative during certain hours (and to preferring late nights over early mornings), teaching karate taught my body to spend the evening in physical action.

These two trained behaviors are now in conflict, you see. I cannot write well while punching a heavy bag. Alas.

Of course, the brain can be retrained, and it’ll take time. I’m still holding out hope I can find a place to train in the next couple months, but that’ll be only two or three nights a week. The other nights will require work. My current workaround is to leave the house around “teaching time” a couple nights a week, giving in to my body’s need to go somewhere for work, and spend time in the local coffee shop or pub. Doing this ups my productivity immensely, but costs money. The coffee shop gift cards I received for my birthday do help. Alas, I have no pub gift card, so must keep that an occasional treat. 🙂

(No, the library is not an option. It’s a traffic-filled drive to find a branch open past 6pm.)

So that’s what I’m able to do: trick my body into believing we’re leaving for work so the brain will hit the proper writerly space. I’m rather curious what it would take to change forty years of “nights are for creativity” habits, but not so curious as to struggle to write in the early morning… unless that becomes the sole option at some future date.

(Sends out please-no-not-that vibes.)

I blame theater in general, and working with Shakespeare’s works in particular, for many things in my writing—the black box, the starting place of dialog, the focus on character, my penchant for tragic death, and my love for the wise and noble fool. Now I blame it for when my writerly brain is most willing to cooperate with me.

Still doesn’t make me want to perform or direct again.

Unless, maybe, someone needs a Volumnia.

#SFWApro

 

The Mindset That Matters

(The following article originally appeared exclusively for backers for Patreon.)

This is an odd article to write, and not at all what I expected to be writing.  After all, I’ve a fight scene break-down in the works, a post on chokeholds in the wings, and an interview set for after the first of the year.

But right now…  Well.

On the morning of November 21, I sent messages of encouragement and excitement to a past student of mine preparing to test for her Sandan rank (3rd degree black belt), and exchanged cheerful notes with my own teacher, Shihan, of more than a dozen years, who’d be overseeing the test.

Then all my karate contacts on all social media platforms went quiet for a few hours, as one would expect during a long and demanding test.  But what followed was not the  outpouring of celebratory pictures and comments tempered with tales of hardship.

Instead, I found a smattering of brief comments, then a bunch of longer ones, expressing loss and grief.

Shihan’s sensei of four decades had died unexpectedly, and Shihan had found out ten minutes before bowing onto the mat to evaluate the efforts of almost three dozen students prepared to prove themselves worthy of the black belt.  He made the announcement to students and observers, dedicated the day to Hanshi, and began the test.

Had it been Shihan who’d passed away, he would have wanted the same thing.  And you know what?  So would I.

This is not an article about my loss and grief.  Truly, I met Hanshi only a scant handful of times so my sense of loss is removed, more of an empathetic reaction for those who were close to him.  This writing is instead about continuity and legacy, understanding how those things contribute to the formation of a fighter’s mindset, and how a fully realized mindset creates an authentic fighting character.

**100_2182 Continue reading The Mindset That Matters

Five Things To Avoid When You Want To Learn Self-Defense

Martial arts is crammed with egos.

If you don’t believe me, see how many practitioners will try to disprove that statement by claiming superior humility.

100_2182

I don’t claim to be exempt from that, either. Heck, at a recent gathering, after a woman asked for my opinion on a self-defense situation, another person interrupted with advice of her own and I felt my muscles coil. It wasn’t just that the unsolicited advice was totally inappropriate for the woman speaking with me (and, my darlings, it was so terrible!). It was also the fact I’ve little more than a score of martial artists in my style to whom I defer because of rank. I’m certainly not accustomed to random people barging into my instructional conversations. My ego indeed caught me off guard.

But ego isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s the demonstrated confidence in one’s ability coupled with the social confidence to claim competence in front of others. Despite what some cultural conditioning and the oddly-lauded “Tall Poppy” philosophy tries to claim, confidence is a good thing. It’s that sort of ego that says, “I matter, my skills are strong, and I’ll meet you on equal ground.”

But sometimes those egos get in the way of seeing and admitting limitations and inexperience. And nowhere in the world of martial arts is that more apparent than when it comes to discussing self-defense.

Continue reading Five Things To Avoid When You Want To Learn Self-Defense

And Then I Stared In Shock

100_2182As most of you know, I’ve spent the last year or so dealing with the fallout of deteriorating hip dysplasia.  For the most part, daily life isn’t deeply affected–evening stiffness, a bit of a limp when I’m tired, and an occasional wince-worthy pinch if I step wrong. It’s my martial arts training that took the biggest hit. Multi-hour sessions of intense training are a thing of the past, as are sharp sparring matches, most kicks above the knee, and anything that requires lots of torque or pressure on that joint.

Considering all that, I’d pretty much given up on testing for my Sandan rank (aka third-degree black belt). Yes, I could perform the material… if I could spread my demonstration out over a few days. But an hours-long high-intensity test? Erm, no. Not only was it doubtful I could get my hip to hold up for that long, I was certain I didn’t want to create more damage than I could properly recover from.

And it totally bummed be out–even moreso because I’d been on the verge of testing way back when my elbow dislocated. The complete healing of those ligaments overlapped with the decline of my hip and… well. That was that.

Thus you can imagine my shock and my weepiness when, after I ran the belt promotion for my own students, my teacher announced my promotion to Sandan.

And, unbeknownst to me, my adult students had put together a little celebration for it, too. Cake, drinks, everything for all the students and parents. I came home with little red-icing fingerprints on the back of my gi from kids hugging me after cake. 🙂

So. There it is. Sandan.  Me.  Whoa.