Tag Archives: self-defense

Five Striking Truths

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1. Strength Is Overrated  

Bulked-up muscular strength, that is. Big biceps will help you choke someone out, but don’t do as much for straight-on strikes as the coordination of muscles with tendons and ligaments and overall body alignment. And if the muscles were strengthened with isolation exercises, chances are the result will be reduced mobility, shortened reach and increased risk of joint injury.

There are indeed a few athletes who can carry their bulk with unbelievable agility, but that takes an incredible amount of skill, is really hard on the joints, and is an ability more the exception than the rule.100_2182

In storytelling, the victory of the seemingly-weak over the hulking enemy is older than the Biblical tale of David and Goliath. It endures because there is truth in it. Sure, a haymaker thrown by a bulked-up fighter can indeed break a jaw and knock someone out cold, just like a sledgehammer strike. But there’s a reason bodybuilders aren’t boxers. Lots of reasons, actually. Most of those reasons have to do with agility and coordination. While the Bulky Guy is swinging that sledgehammer of a punch, you can land a few hits to his most vulnerable targets and get out of the way before the punch lands.

Speaking of vulnerable targets… Continue reading Five Striking Truths

Grounding In Real Life

This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon.

Grounding and energy generation—the basis of so many combat and meditative arts in real life, and referred to directly or indirectly in a multitude of fictional magic and fighting systems. In the latter, it’s often described as rooting, or as drawing from the earth, or in other non-specific and spiritual-sounding ways. Gripping the earth with our feet, sinking or connecting, and other aspects of energy use.

I’ve also seen some rather ridiculous demonstrations that can best be deemed Karate Magic or Sensei-Fu—the great and powerful master who uses a pinky finger and hand-wave-um to send faithful students tumbling and sprawling as a demonstration of great power drawn from the earth and channeled into superhuman chi. Here’s an example of what happens when self-delusion walks into reality.

Ahem.100_2182

I’m more of a practical gal, I suppose.

Yes, I could say grounding gives you a connection to the earth beneath your feet—and indeed modern research demonstrates an incredible energy exchange when one walks barefoot on soil—but that isn’t extensively useful in a sudden and unexpected fight.

Think about it: the notion of “grounding” as tapping into the earth’s energy means you cannot expect your powerful techniques to work if you’re on a boat, on a plane, in a high-rise, or having to defend yourself within the confines of a spaceship. Or, for that matter, on a yoga mat on the gym’s second floor. Grounding might make one feel connected with the earth or with the universe, but that’s the result of the act rather than the act itself. It’s a metaphor that has, by some instructors and fiction writers, been taken way too far.

Grounding is not a spiritual act dependent upon the Think Method.

Continue reading Grounding In Real Life

Sirens in Six

In just about six weeks, Sirens will begin in Denver. This year’s theme is Lovers… so of course I proposed a fight-related workshop.

(Hey, I wasn’t the only one! Amy Boggs is presenting “Love is a Battlefield: Weapons and Methods for When Love Goes Wrong.”)

The workshop I’ll be presenting is “The Movement You Don’t See.” We’ll be discussing and using pieces of kata to explore and understand things like power generation, grounding, and the like. It won’t be about “pretty” kata, but its practical applications. And though movement will be a part of it, intensity will be low. I want participants to understand and be cognitive of the internal experience of fighting stances, strikes, and the like. Once we add the adrenaline of intensity, those thoughts are processed differently. If there’s time, I’d love to go over some of the “hidden” pieces of kata and its grappling implications.

Here’s an added cool thing: Anyone can sponsor a Sirens workshop or panel for only $35. Alas, it’s too late for sponsors to be listed in the program, but if you sponsor “The Movement You Don’t See,” I’ll make a grand sign indicating your sponsorship–your name, or “in memory of,” or, “in the name of,” or “prefers anonymity.” Heck, I’ll make the sign no matter who you sponsor!

So if you’ve the inclination, head over to the Sirens page on sponsorships and support, and check out the listing of Accepted Programming. $35 is all it takes!

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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

Making the Nice-Guy Challenge A Safe One

In 2013, I made a mistake that still affects my physical abilities—everything from Okinawan weapons training to using a screwdriver.100_2182

Two students, father and son, began classes at my dojo. The son was an energetic eight-year-old. The father was a six-foot-six retired drill sergeant who’d trained in a similar style about twenty years prior, but who wanted to start again as a white belt in order to train with his son, and had observed enough of my classes to decide he wanted me as an instructor. He was the kind of returning student who makes a sensei’s job easier by acknowledging long-ago rank is not a measure of present ability. He was fun, supportive of his son and other students, perfectly respectful, and quick to smile. I liked him. Still do.

As I mentioned in The Snarky Partner, I teach hold escapes not only as a basic self-defense technique, but as foundational training for partner work. That’s what the man and his son were learning, alongside another dozen or so new students. As usual, one of the first escapes I taught was a shoulder-hold escape: the bad guy grabs your shoulder, and you break the hold. It’s a totally simple technique I’ve taught and performed thousands of times. I not only know how to teach it in a few minutes, I know the counters, the means to avoid injury, the importance of release, and so forth. So I worked my way around the circle of young and older students, letting them each try it a couple of times with me as their partner, before reaching the father.

I reached up to take hold of his shoulder with my right hand. Just as I grabbed, a younger student starting spinning in place. I gave the child my attention for two seconds—”John, eyes on Sensei!”—and that’s when the father whipped his arm around to perform the escape.

But he did it as if I were an actual attacker. He grabbed my hand, trapped my wrist, tugged my arm straight, whipped his arm around and brought it down on my elbow with force. Even though I dropped to my knees and fell against his leg (an attempt to put my straightened arm as parallel to his body as possible), everyone heard the crack and snap. Continue reading Making the Nice-Guy Challenge A Safe One

The No-Fun Public Challenge From Strangers

One of my business writing clients is a company headed by twin brothers. Big twin brothers who have worked hands-on construction for almost forty years. On the business side, they’re great clients. On the personal interaction side, they are a great deal of fun. After a recent business lunch that included talk of martial arts, the few-minutes-younger brother asked if I thought I’d “be able to take” the few-minutes-older brother if he tried to attack me. I looked the older brother up and down and smiled. “Sure! My thumb will still fit in his eye socket.”100_2182

There was a moment of surprised silence before the laughter and nodding. It was one of those good-natured exchanges based more on fun curiosity and comfortable friendship than the need to challenge.

But friendship and curiosity aren’t always elements in those conversations, and when they’re absent…

Continue reading The No-Fun Public Challenge From Strangers

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.

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