I recently picked up Zen In The Martial Arts, out of curiosity. Under the guidance of such celebrated masters as Ed Parker (the man who taught Elvis Presley) and the immortal Bruce Lee, Joe Hyams vividly recounts stories from more than 25 years of experience in the martial arts.
Hyams demonstrates to readers how the daily application of Zen principles not only developed his physical skills, but gave him the mental discipline to control his personal problems related to self-image, work pressure, competition, etc. I’ve read a number of martial arts philosophy books in addition to books entirely about Zen and I found that this book speaks strongly to martial arts students as an introduction to the topic. It communicates Zen concepts in an anecdotal fashion that would help students make sense of it all in the context of their training. (more…)
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
When training in the martial arts, you will at some point fail to do something. And this is a good thing. One should go so far as to hope to fail throughout their training career. It is failure that makes us stronger, smarter, more technical martial arts. But it’s not just about failing. It’s about failing better, failing in such a way that you learn from it and adapt quickly to address the problem that led to the failure.
In my 16 years in the martial arts, I’ve seen and experienced all sorts of failures, failures to learn quickly, failures to defend one’s self, failures to complete a set of physical exercises, etc. The ones who bounce back the quickest are the ones that fail better.
Here are 7 ways to fail better that came from an article recently published in Psychology Today that I’ve put in perspective for martial artists:
1. Lighten Up
Most people who bounce back from setbacks have a sense of humor. They know when they’re taking things and themselves too seriously. I’ve seen students who were so paralyzed by fear of failure that they handicap themselves, sabotaging themselves by providing reasons for why they fail and will continue to fail at something. There is a certain logic to it, because, hey, if something prevented you from doing your best, you can’t be said to have failed, right? Humour is about stepping back for fresh perspective. Many believe that it’s something you’re born with, but we can become better at seeing the lighter side by sheer exposure to that way of thinking. And it does take the edge off of failure. After all, an embarrassment today makes for an entertaining story tomorrow.
2. Join the Club
Misery loves company. There’s can be value in commiseration. Some students will speak to others who have similar training problems. The positive side to this is that it can give them the impulse and insight to do something about it. They train together to work through their difficulties and try to find the right questions to ask in order to get the best direction from instructors. That being said, any such discussion should be positively oriented, seeking to find solutions, as opposed to pure commiseration of one’s difficulties, which may only serve to build the walls surrounding the problem.
3. Feel Guilt, Not Shame
The difference between guilt and shame is the reason we assign as to why failure occurs, notes Richard Robins, a psychologist at the University of California at Davis. Guilt says it’s “something I did.” But shame means feeling failure occurred because of “something I am” — in which case, you expect failure and don’t act to avoid it.
But the cycle of learned helplessness can be broken. Instead of thinking “I’m a failure,” think “I’m a normal person who made a mistake I can learn from.” If your perpetual explanation for your failures is simply, “I suck,” you might need to practice looking outward and ask yourself, “What other things — things that aren’t about me — might have caused this failure to perform?”
On the other hand, if your story is, “It’s never about me,” you may need to seek out some aspects of the problem you can do something about. Because let’s face it, you do mess up, everyone does. In which case you need to own the failure, see what you can learn from it, and move on.
4. Cultivate Optimism
“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so,” said Hamlet. Paying attention to the positive infuses you with hope, creating a climate in which your failures lose their sting and a belief that things will get better if you work at it prevails.
5. Scale Down Your Expectations for Yourself
When we succeed, we tend to just ratchet up our expectations for ourselves and not get much of pleasure out of it. But when we fail, it’s much harder to ratchet down our expectations for ourselves. “That might be what failing well is,” says psychologist Jonathan Haidt. “A willingness to lower our sights when that’s realistically required.” If failure is about failing to meet goals you set for yourself, then one way to avoid failing is to revise those now-outdated goals. That way, instead of failing on a stage you once mastered, you’re still succeeding on a more modest stage.
6. Don’t Blame Yourself
Self-blame is corrosive. Blaming yourself for the every training problem you ever encounter makes you metabolize failure badly. This makes you get down on yourself and your training. The more you blame yourself for problems, the worse you feel about your training, the less you’ll grow past those problems. And it’s a vicious circle. By contrast, students who accept their difficulties and believe in their abilities to work through them, usually do so. The stronger that belief, the faster they’ll adapt and learn to fix them.
7. Embrace Failure
Failure is an opportunity to grow. Seize it and appreciate how much it can teach you.
Over the weekend, Chris, Jon and I headed over to Vancouver Island and did some training at Ari Bolden Sensei’s dojo 10th Planet Jiu-jitsu Victoria. This was a great opportunity to work on our ground grappling with guys who dedicated most of their training time to developing these skills, as well as a few who cross-train between Japanese Jiu-jitsu and BJJ.
Part of the package though, was that all the people who trained the two days we were there were considerably bigger than me. They ranged between 185 and 220 lbs (50 – 85 lbs heavier than me). When you grapple with someone with whom there is this big a size difference (and potentially a big difference in muscle mass if the pair is a woman and a man) your approach to training must be different for safety’s sake.
Sure, if the smaller person is significantly more skilled than the larger, it is possible to dominate or even tap their partner out. But, if the two people are of equal skill or the larger person is more skilled, the difference in weight and strength in most cases will make it even easier for the larger person to dominate.
So here is my advice on how to approach your grappling when there is a big size difference, starting with my suggestions for the larger person.
For the Larger of the Pair: This is a great opportunity for you to work on your technique. When working with a smaller person, you should strive to relax and take all your strength out of the equation, focusing on developing better positional strategy and improving the technical application of your submissions. It’s true that your weight will still give you an edge if you’re doing what you’re supposed to in terms of positional strategy. But, when you’re breaking holds, applying submissions, or doing positional transitions, you should try not to just muscle your way through. This leads to a much greater risk that you could accidentally injure your much smaller partner, plus you really don’t improve your grappling from the experience.
For the Smaller of the Pair: If the larger person you’re grappling is of equal or greater skill, you’re not as likely to tap them out (though if the opportunity presents itself, of course, attempt it). So instead, focus on developing your defensive strategies. Because you’re smaller, your technical defense must be that much better to make up the difference. Be sure to communicate with your partner as you grapple. Tap early and tap often, especially if you find they are using their strength. You will probably lose a strength battle if it comes down to it, and it isn’t worth risking injury. And if you are more skilled than the person you’re rolling with, help your partner with their technique. Stop the action when you see that they’re using strength and show them a more technical option. People often use strength simply because they don’t know any better, so it is in both your interests if you help him or her. Check out the video in this blog post in which BJJ brown belt (then a purple belt) Jennifer Weintz does this very skillfully.
Of course, you aren’t likely to end up grappling someone so much bigger than you in competition, but remember, if you face an attacker on the street you can’t count on things being equal on the size front. So as you grapple, try to recognize what other tools you have that can be added to improve your likelihood of getting off the ground should you be in this situation on the street. Here is a post a wrote about useful striking targets on the ground for self-defense.
As for me, I want to thank the guys at 10th Planet Victoria. They were all very good about not using their strength to get the better of me and I was able to safely roll with them and learn from the experience. For more detailed advice on grappling with different sized training partners, check out my book When the Fight Goes to the Ground: Jiu-jitsu Strategies & Tactics for Self-Defense.
The other day, one of my students who is a member of the RCMP (Canada’s national police) came to me and told me of how he recently had an on the job experience in which the importance of using a distraction was emphasized.
This student is not large, but still has to apprehend people all the same. In this recent incident, a very drunk man was walking in the middle of a busy city street during rush hour. He first tried to talk the man off the road, but he was resistant. My student had to arrest the man for his own safety so he asked the man to put his hands behind his back, while he took hold of his wrist. The drunk man, however, was resistant and pulled his arms into his body, saying no and refusing to cooperate.
At this point, my student kicked him in the shin. The man, distracted by the sudden pain, relaxed his arms, making it easy for my student to get control of his arm, take him to the ground, then cuff him.
This is a perfect example of how a distraction can be used in a law enforcement scenario. It also works well in a self-defense context. The reason why it works is because the conscious mind can’t focus on two things at the same time. The sharp pain caused by the shin kick caused the man to distract his focus from his resistance to the more immediate shock of the pain. It need not be a shin kick specifically though. It can be a strike to a nerve motor point, pressure to a nerve pressure point, a pinch to a sensitive area, a strike to the groin, etc.
The shin kick is one of my favourite choices as a distraction (if you’re wearing strong shoes). Because it is low, people often don’t see it coming. When you use a shin kick, your hands are free for defensive purposes. Also, in my student’s case, he was very visible in the public eye, dealing with his suspect in a busy city street. The shin kick in this case is pretty innocuous and doesn’t look overly violent, even though it performs the task effectively. It is much more subtle than using fists, knees or elbows.
Anyway, I was very pleased to hear how this student applied our martial art effectively to accomplish what he needed to do on the job, only using as much force as was necessary to nullify the situation. Does anyone else out there have any similar experiences using distraction strikes that they would like to share?
Last post I wrote about the 2 things you must know to effectively defend yourself in a multiple attacker situation. Beyond the development of the mindset and tactical skills needed to handle such an attack, it is also important to actively condition yourself to be on the look out for multiple attackers even when you’re dealing with just one.
Much of the self-defense training in the martial arts is done against a single attacker. Partner training is fine, but to be ready for potential multiple attacker situations on the street, the student should train their awareness of their surroundings, even when working with a single partner. What this means is even when doing hold escapes or whatever techniques with a single partner, you should always train thinking that there are likely other attackers.
Here are 3 practices we observe in Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu that help your awareness of multiple attacker situations:
1. When throwing or taking a person to the ground, you should always keep your head up. This is also a technical consideration as you are more likely to be taken to the ground while throwing if your head is down.
2. When doing after throw techniques or controls, be sure to keep your head up while applying them.
3. When stepping away after taking a person to the ground, always look behind you.
If you’re going to adopt these practices, try to do them consistently in training. Make it habit so that you do it without thinking. It’s one thing to keep these ideas in your mind, and another to have them ingrained in your defense structure. As they say, the way you train on the mats is the way you’ll fight in a real situation.
The other night, some of my students and I ran through a high-stress sparring drill in which the defender had to defend against multiple attackers. There are a number of different tactics a person can use in a multiple attackers situation depending on their body type and how the situation unfolds, but there are two overarching concepts that are common to everyone are as follows: awareness,positional strategy and heart/aggressiveness.
Awareness. You must stay aware of your surroundings by constantly scanning around you to make up for the effects of adrenaline that can cause you to experience tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, etc, when you’re under the stress of an attack. Read Conditioning the Mind to Look Out for Multiple Attackers for more details.
Positional Strategy. The most important tactical aspect of defending against multiple attackers is to position yourself so that only one person can effectively attack you at a time. Basically, you want to avoid being “monkey in the middle.” You want to avoid moving between your two attackers if it can be avoided.
Heart/Aggressiveness. Being on the receiving end of a multiple person attack, you are at a severe disadvantage. You have to make up for it by engaging the attackers aggressively in the hopes of keeping the fight on your terms. By being aggressive, you might also cause your attackers to hesitate, which can give you an opportunity to exploit them in a weak moment. But it’s not just about being aggressive. It’s about having an abundance of heart, a never-give-up attitude that keeps on fighting in the face of insurmountable odds. You want to have the mindset that no matter how many times you get hit, how hard you get hit, or how disadvantaged things may seem, that you WILL keep fighting and use any and every opportunity you get. Anyone out there a Star Trek fan? Captain Kirk has this idea down.
Beyond the two overarching concepts, there are lots of different types of tactics you can use to survive a multiple person attack: throwing/tripping attackers to the ground, pushing them into each other, holding one while kicking another, attacking unexpected targets, using reach advantage strategically, etc. And this list doesn’t even take weapons attacks into account. But no matter what you do have to, if you should try to be aware of your surroudnings and defend yourself with heart and sound positional strategy,
Last week I wrote a post about the usefulness of open hand strikes vs. punches for self-defense. This week, I’ll discuss 5 specific open hand strikes that I teach for self-defense and how they are useful.
Here is a video of the 5 open hand strikes I will discuss:
1. Straight Strike. A straight strike using the base of the palm is best used to the bridge of the nose. This can cause a lot of pain, as well as the tear ducts to empty. It can also break the nose. In a social situation self-defense situation in which you don’t want to injure a person seriously, you can place your palm on the tip of the nose and vigorously press it back and forth as you push your palm into the nose. The resulting pain from pushing into the many small nerve endings in the tip of the nose can be an effective way of pushing someone away.
2. Open-hand Hook. The body mechanics of this strike are similar to that of a hook punch. It looks like it’s just a big old slap, but it’s much more than that. The difference is that you get greater reach and that it causes knock-outs in a different way. This strike causes a concussive effect on the brain, which can effectively stun a person or knock them unconscious. Think of the skull as being like a pickle jar, while your brain is the pickles. When you hit the skull hard it rattles the pickles against the inside of the pickle jar” (i.e. your brain on the inside of the skull), which is what causes the stunning effect. Also, if you happen to hit the ear, you can break the ear drum and cause a lot of pain. Even if it lands only on the face and not the head, the resulting “smack” can be distracting enough to give a person pause.
3. Ridge Hand Strike. We most often use the ridge hand strike on the brachial plexus origin, a nerve motor point that results in stunning and potentially knock-outs when struck. When attacking this area, we use the inside of the wrist bone, rather than the hand itself. A ridge hand strike using the inside knuckle as the striking surface, can also be used to attack the nose when on an angle or the temple from straight on. Warning: a strike to the temple has the potential to be a fatal blow and should only be used in life-threatening situations.
4. Back Hand Strike. We use this strike also on the brachial plexus origin, using the back of the wrist bone.
5. Open hand Uppercut. This works in much the same way as a traditional uppercut. You need to close to your attacker to use it. When you strike the jaw right on target, the impact can stun or knock a person out, as is evidenced in many professional fights. It is said that this is caused by the temporal mandibular nerve, located directly behind the “hinge” of the jaw. Essentially, the jawbone slams back against the nerve, basically causing a form of sensory overload that can shut down the brain.
The martial arts are very popular these days and it seems like more and more dojos are springing up all over the place. When choosing a martial arts school, many people turn to the instructor bios to find out their background. Many will make great claims about their experience, but how do you know if it’s all legit? Here are 2 things you should do a little research on about instructors you’re considering training under:
1. Training background. Most instructors will list their training backgrounds on their websites. It is a good sign if they list their past instructors, dojos at which they trained, as well as organizations with which they’re affiliated. If so, do a Google search of all of these items, looking for references of the instructor or their dojo in relation to them. If the instructor doesn’t make any reference to any of these things in their bios, ask them specifically about them so you can look them up. Anyone can list a bunch of martial arts they’ve trained in, people they’ve trained under or claim a certain rank, but if you can find no evidence to support their claims whatsoever, you might question the instructor’s legitimacy.
2. Competitive record. If an instructor claims to have won competitions or ring fights of any kind or to have coached or represented fighters, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding evidence of the fact online. A quick search of their name and martial art (ex. “louis sargeant boxing”) should yield a number of results related to their competitive background. If you’re specifically questioning a boxer’s professional record, you can easily look it up at BoxRec.com. This site lists all the details you can imagine about professional fighters, managers, specific fights, etc. in the International boxing world.
There are a lot of hacks out there who don’t have the expertise or backgrounds they claim. Protect yourself by doing a bit of research before choosing a martial arts school.
I’ve been to lots of different dojos, some that were the same art (Jiu-jitsu) but a different styles, and some that were different martial arts altogether. One concept that I have come to appreciate in my own style is that of training strikes with light contact.
One of our training rules that we apply every time we’re on the mats, is that when we train with our ukes all strikes should be practices with light contact, about 2-5% power (to start with) depending on the person’s strength. There are several reasons why, which I would like to elaborate on in this post.
1) Targeting. A number of the targets we use are nerve motor points (i.e. brachial plexus origin, solar plexus, lateral femoral, anterior femoral, etc). These targets all have very specific locations and are by far more effective when accurately targeted. Anyone who has trained these targets knows that, in some cases, the difference between being on and off target can be as small as millimetres. The only way to develop an intuitive feel for the locations is to get feedback from your ukes all the time. Eventually, your muscle memory takes over and you don’t have to intellectualize it. And that’s when the use of those targets becomes really useful. This also applies to some targets that are not nerve motor points, like the groin. Of course, we wear cups so that we more safely practice our targeting, but even with the groin protection, it’s important not to use much more than 2-5% power for obvious reasons.
2) Time-On-Target (TOT). This concept makes strikes to nerve motor points even more effective. When we strike these types of targets, we emphasize leaving the striking surface (whether it’s your elbow, knee, fist, forearm, shin bone etc.) on the target location for 3/4 of a second. This allows the fluid shock waves to transfer from your striking surface into the target, increasing the effects. Think of it like hammering a nail. If you hammer a nail and pull the hammer back as it strikes, the nail doesn’t go in as far. Conversely, if you hammer the nail and leave on the nail head, the nail drives in much further.
3) Understanding the effects. If a student doesn’t understand the effects of their strikes from the uke’s perspective, they won’t be able to help other students with their targeting. Also, when a student knows what it feels like to receive blows to the various nerve motor points, it gives them respect for the power that comes from their use. Nerve motor points like the lateral femoral, anterior femoral, radial nerve, etc. can cause great pain. While points like the brachial plexus origin can knock a person out, and the solar plexus can leave a person winded and breathless. By training with contact, students will understand and respect how effective striking to nerve motor points can be and will not be as likely to “goof around” with them amongst their non-practicing friends and family.
I can understand many dojos’ reluctance to train with contact. They fear that it might get out of hand and that students will get hurt. And even if students don’t get hurt, they may find the process altogether intimidating and not want to train. But contact need not be injurious or intimidating. Students should start by doing very light contact at slow speeds, gradually increasing the speed and power levels as they come to understand the effects. I’ve used this method with even the meekest, mildest individuals with positive results.
Without any contact training… well, I’ve seen high level martial art practitioners doing strikes with little to no understanding of the targets that they, in theory, are trying to affect. And from watching these people strike targets, it’s easy to question whether they would be able to affect an attacker in a real situation in the way they intend.
Cross-training in more than one martial art can be a great way to improve skills or to learn new ones. But at what point does it start to interfere with training in your primary martial art (if you indeed have a single art on which you have primary focus)? Since we have a number of students who cross-train or ask to learn skills from other students that are training with us who have significant experience with other arts, this is an important question to consider.
If you’re going to cross-train, pick a martial art that either reinforces skills that are already being taught in your primary style or pick one that covers an entirely different area than your primary.
For example, in my style, Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu, our striking system is based on boxing/ kickboxing principles, but since it is not our sole focus, a student can benefit from taking extra training in them. This is why I have Louis Sargeant (the professional boxer with whom I do extra training) come in and teach a class once a month for my students. It’s a nice change of pace for my students and they get to experience a different teaching style, as well as have the opportunity to get extra focus on their sparring skills.
On the other hand, if you study an art like Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, you might be getting excellent focus on competition ground work, but might be interested in learning skills to improve your stand-up game for MMA. You might consider taking up Muay Thai to work on your striking, or perhaps Judo or wrestling to get more focus on throws and takedowns.
I generally discourage students from learning other styles that are very similar if they are just starting out in the martial arts world. For example, learning two different styles of Karate would be very difficult because they are so similar yet have many differences, some subtle, some major. It would just be confusing to someone who hasn’t already a strong foundation in one.
I myself am currently cross-training in two styles of modern traditional Japanese Jiu-jitsu. But since I’ve been training in Can-ryu for over 15 years, it’s much easier for me. I’m able to compartmentalize my learning in such a way that keeps me from getting confused. I can’t say I could have done this kind of cross-training with the same ease back when I was in the Kyu ranks (coloured belt ranks).
As for my students, I have no issue with them doing cross-training (many schools frown upon it), but try to keep the above in mind when choosing an art. And if you want to ask some of the resident ambassadors from other styles to show you things that are different from the techniques being taught on our mats, please do so during open training times and NOT DURING OUR CLASSES. Can-ryu class is for learning Can-ryu, unless I’ve given over the mats to a guest instructor.