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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

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That Place Between

As you might or might not know, my darling wonderful and faithful Hyundai has needed some work for awhile now. I garaged it about two months ago, knowing I’d have fix-it funds by the end of July, and began driving the Jeep. No biggie.

Last weekend, my sis and I traded cars so she could take her boys camping. No biggie. I picked up the Jeep at the weekend’s end and, as is my driving habit unless it’s damned cold or pouring rain, rolled down the windows. Thus I heard a not-really-great grinding noise when applying the brakes. Not much of a biggie, really. My father and I can change out break pads fairly easily.

So Monday we popped off the wheel, and discovered a nice handful of broken-up metal rattling around in there.

That’s a biggie beyond my and my father’s ability.

And thus the crisis of yesterday: Do I cancel 4th Street attendance and put those funds toward fixing the secondary car, or do I attend 4th Street and just… deal without a car the best I can for a few weeks?

Y’see, even though the work out here has been better, I’ve been playing catch-up, and am still working to regain the financial buffer that was eaten by moving from Indiana to Colorado. I have the money for 4th Street OR the vehicle repair. Not both. And that’s crummy right now.

I don’t want anyone to think I’m unable to make ends meet on the important stuff. This isn’t that sort of crisis. It just… sucks. It means no camping, no dashing out to meet someone, extensive coordination to continue helping watch my sister’s kids (made more complicated by the fact she lives on the Air Force Base), and much pre-planning to confirm client meetings.

And it shuts down almost completely the ability to find quiet and solitude. Truly, that’s the part making the choice tough. Until the end of July, I won’t have adequate funds. Until the end of July, I won’t have an independent living space. (We’re remodeling, so…). Until the end of July, please forgive me if I whine and gnash my teeth. Taking a short evening drive has been keeping me quite sane. We’ll find out this week if my hips can hold up long enough to replace the drive with an adequate walk.

And in the midst of all that, some people made me all weepy-eyed with offers to help. Honestly, my first impulse is to shoo that away out of… pride? Habit? Ego? All of those things? But I’m also coming to understand for myself what I’ve so often told others, and choosing to not push away.

So. *deep breath*

—  I do have a Patreon! One dollar gets you in the door, and more dollars gets you more. 🙂 We’re aaaaaalmost halfway to the goal of adding a monthly video. Check out the reward levels, and do check out the milestones. If you’re in the mood to support, I’d be grateful to have you aboard. And if you’re looking to be helpful, that’s a speedy and direct way.

—  If you’re already a patron, or cannot/don’t wish to be one, your help spreading the word is extremely helpful.

—  As always, buying the available books–for yourself or someone else–is a gift that gives twice: once when you purchase, and once when your purchase bumps the novel’s visibility for other potential buyers. Leaving a review on the book-buying site, or even a rating at Goodreads, also helps!

—  Breath of Stone’s release is looming near, and on its heels is the silly little cookbook, so you’ll have a chance to pick up something new as well!

—  And if you’re attending 4th Street, please say hello to me. 🙂

 

#SFWApro

 

 

Putting “Run Away!” In Its Proper Context

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 like it, thank the patrons, or consider becoming one yourself!

 *  *  *  *

Run away when you can!  First rule of self-defense!100_2182

Hang around martial arts and self-defense instructors long enough, you’re bound to hear this advice given over and over.  Some would tout it as the most important advice, but it’s most akin to, “Major in engineering (or whatever is financially lucrative),” or perhaps “Always eat organic foods.”

The temptation to make “run away” the foundational principle of self-defense lies in its simplicity.  But since the advice is usually given rather than taught, its limitations are rarely considered, and how to use it as a successful and integrated portion of an overall strategy isn’t much discussed.

The most important piece of self-defense advice is actually, “Avoid the fight, or make it as short as possible.”  That’s the defining strategy to avoid harm to self and others.  “Run away” is but one of many possible tactics in support of that strategy.   But the conditions under which it’s the best  option are limited, and teaching it as one’s primary technique is as responsible as teaching everyone in the world to take the stairs instead of the elevator in order to improve their health.

Since most self-defense instructors were taught by—and teach, and are themselves—people of a certain baseline fitness and physical mobility, the assumptions behind “run away” aren’t always examined.  So let’s take a look at them, and narrow down the circumstances under which running is indeed the best option.

First, understand running away is not a passive act.  It is resistance.  It is an escalation.

Continue reading Putting “Run Away!” In Its Proper Context

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

Little News Bits

 

Just a few days ago, I had the pleasure of spending an evening with Cat Rambo, marvelous writer and president of SFWA (who also has a Patreon you can find here).

She is an absolute delight!  The kind of writer who knows her craft and her business, and is excited about sharing her knowledge and connections with others.  The sort of person who is genuinely interested in others, and damned interesting in her own right.  Our time together, chatting about everything from family dynamics to SFWA projects, was immensely enjoyable.

I drove home from our meeting buoyed both by her encouragement and her expressions of creativity.  And I’m looking forward to jumping back into SFWA matters the moment I complete Breath of Stone.

Nothing is being done before I complete Breath of Stone, darlings.  NothingI’m down to oe new chapter that needs composing and a couple that need some extensive revisions.  Then it goes out to beta readers who have been so damned patient and supportive, I feel unworthy.  Hopefully, those betas will enjoy the novel more than they feel the need to rip it apart.  Once I hear their feedback, I’ll have a good idea on the upcoming release date.

The last year has made a few things abundantly clear: I cannot write a massive novel in the same twelve months I must shepherd my homeschooled son through the last year of high school, train a replacement to take over one business, move cross-country, and set the foundation to launch a new business in a new location.  I don’t believe I’ll be willingly taking on that level of insanity again!

A fewadditional quick notes:

–A new Patreon article will go up next week!  In this one, we’ll look at the key principles that’ll strengthen any fight scene, regardless of how simple or complex you want it to be.  And the Patreon is only $35 away from adding author/fighter interviews and fight scene breakdowns as regular, monthly features, and about $115 away from adding a monthly video.  (Yes, a video.  I’m insane.)

–Remember that podcast on fight scenes I recorded for Beyond the Trope?  It’ll be available for listening in a little more than two weeks!  I’m hoping it sounds half as good as it was fun to record.  As soon as I have the link, I’ll send it out to y’all.  Okay, as soon as I have the link, and have listened to it myself, and have decided I don’t sound like an idiot…  then I’ll let you know. 🙂

–I am registered for 4th Street Fantasy!  I had a marvelous time last year, and can’t wait to not only connect with the cool folks I know through Viable Paradise and the awesome people I met last year, but to meet new people as well.

And now… back to the chapters!

#SFWApro

Set A Choke, Break A Choke — Part Two

This article originally appeared for patrons at Patreon. Due to its length, I’ve broken it into two parts.  Part One can be found here, and includes discussion of the chokes in general and defensive considerations of air chokes in particular.  This section discusses defense against blood chokes, and offense of both blood and air chokes.

100_2182Being choked from behind—when the attacker uses biceps and forearm as a vice on the sides of the neck for that blood choke—is a very different experience. It can be more of a “Hey, what are doing back there?” experience because the pain isn’t always as acute as the air choke. By the time you hit the, “Hey, I feel funny…” realization, you’re halfway to any set of techniques being useless because everything below the neck will soon stop listening to you.

Continue reading Set A Choke, Break A Choke — Part Two

Set A Choke, Break A Choke — Part One

 

This article originally appeared for patrons at Patreon. Due to its length, I’ve broken it into two parts.  Part One includes discussion of the chokes in general and defensive considerations of air chokes in particular.  Part Two discusses defense against blood chokes, and offense of both blood and air chokes.

100_2182Some time ago, I shared my frustration with a fight scene I saw on television. (Yeah, go figure, right?) The scene showed our hero valiantly fighting a bad guy with direct and aggressive blocks and strikes… until the bad buy got his hands around her throat. Then that supposedly well-trained and aggressive fighter seemed to lose all training and sense, and battled the person choking her by grabbing his wrists to attempt pulling his hands away.

Gah.

Now, a situation like that—a trained fighter demonstrating sudden incompetence and/or panic—is totally possible if the fighter never received proper training for a suddenly-changed situation. And many martial arts schools don’t teach how to set or escape a choke, and some that do teach them do so poorly. But in the instance mentioned above, when the character’s extensive training had been established through backstory and on-screen action, the abrupt shift from good fighter to startled victim on the floor happened so another character could arrive to save the day.

Gaaaahhhh…!

That’s not bad fight-scene writing. That’s bad writing: a storyline that sacrificed being true to the character for the sake of a forced plot point.

 ***

Being choked is a frightening thing. Really frightening. It’s the training experience most likely to put my adult students on edge, and I plan accordingly by including time to establish comfort and trust. But even when folks have trained together for awhile, permitting someone to apply pressure to the neck kicks off all sorts of adrenaline-fueled aversions. I’ve had students on the verge of tears, students pace the mat to calm down, break into nervous laughter, or close their eyes and take deep breaths as a trusted peer sets hands at their throat or tightens an arm around their neck. Chokes set off all our THIS IS NOT RIGHT STOP I MUST FIGHT RUN MAKE IT GO AWAY triggers.

And with good reason. Some well-set chokes can incapacitate a person in seconds. Some can cause a lasting and/or fatal injury in even less time, even though death itself might take unconsciousness and death take longer to occur. There isn’t much time to escape, and the stakes are high if you don’t.

There is no tap-out in real life. Continue reading Set A Choke, Break A Choke — Part One