Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Teenaged White Belt Looks at Fifty Part One

  So yes, I have been fortunate enough to have been on this planet for fifty years! That's five decades, two score and ten years, or half a century, depending on how you look at it. For about forty of those years I have been training in some form of martial art, combat sport, or self protection method.

Today I wanted to do a sort of remembrance / collection of random thoughts of observations I have made through the years.  As the saying goes, maybe its because I'm older, maybe its my hormones, or maybe its my need to express my will, but here is my chain of "I used to walk two miles uphill in the Puerto Rican snow two school both ways " and my collective "Get. Off. My. Lawn!" In my best "Clint"voice, of my martial arts life.

CLASS TIME

Martial arts classes when I was young were ninety minutes to two hours in duration. They included a thorough warm up and calisthenics routine, martial arts practice, more calisthenics at the end and some form of cool down or meditation before closing out. This standard was followed in Judo, Tae Kwon Do, and the Chinese Martial Art of Pa Kua Chang. I learned all these arts from different instructors at different locations during different times in my youth, but it is uncanny how their class time formats were nearly identical.

CLASS CONTENT

Basics, basics, basics! The meat of every class was the fundamentals. In Judo it was Uchikomi (set up to throw without completing) for dozens of repetitions daily, then the fundamental throws were practiced fully. In Tae Kwon Do it was walking drills up and down the training room floor while performing, all the blocks, all the hand strikes, and finally all the kicks.  Practice like this is very likely to bore the average student today, but we seemed to thrive on it. My mind had too much work to do to be bored. I had to move more precisely, more accurately, faster etc.

CLASS COMPOSITION

All ranks trained together. This is still not typical nowadays. In every single class you had the opportunity to interact and train with someone better than you, someone equally skilled, and someone with less experience. This means you learned three different perspective on your behavior during sparring, and general practice. You learned respect for your seniors, how to bring the best out in your peers, and how to take care of your juniors.


CLASS ACT

What I most remember out of those experiences is that although each one of the traditional martial arts I practiced in my youth were narrow in scope (as traditional martial arts always are) all the teachers tended to be superb examples of their particular arts, highly skilled knowledgeable and dedicated to their chosen path. I studied more than the arts I mentioned above but always found the commonalities in format and quality to be the same.

LONG DISTANCE BRUSH WITH FAME PART 1

My first experience with a school that is run more like today's modern storefront schools was in the early '80s. The place was called...wait for it... Chuck Norris Karate Institute. It was one of the last (perhaps THE last) surviving schools of a franchise developed by the martial arts icon.  Being that, along with Bruce Lee, he was one of my idols, I just had to sign up!
The classes were shorter, but I still found them challenging. The instructors now seemed more like my friends rather than my demanding teachers. I did notice something, the mats were packed. So much that the classes were separated by rank, and they had two training rooms going!
This is also where I first met the hobbyist or recreational martial artists.  These were people that, although not very talented or focused on their development, they simply seemed to enjoy their time in class and kept coming back every night. I also noticed that although it may have taken them longer to reach I high level of skill, a lot of them did just because they showed up consistently.

DON'T JUDE A BOOK BY ITS COVER OR A MAN UNTIL YOU HAVE WALKED A MILE IN HIS GI

Shortly after my time at the Chuck Norris school I was drafted to the US Navy Tae Kwon Do team.
It was there that I met William "Doug" Baldwin probably the most unusual and atypical Martial Arts instructor I ever had, and he certainly was very influential.
He was tall, I would say about 6'1" or 2", and he was round!  I mean really round, a big round Santa face, a big round barrel chest and a big round Santa belly. He had one of the thickest southern country accents I ever encountered. To use today's vernacular, you would describe him as a big fat redneck.
But he was fast and graceful!  And I don't mean fast and graceful from the point of view of a young impressionable kid, or students being kind to their instructor. He would spar anyone and everyone (often because most people would look at him and think he was old and fat and had no skill so they would challenge him directly, or with disdainful looks) and he would give them a thorough bashing within the agreed rules selected by the challengers.
Not only was his skill impressive despite his outward appearance, so were his teaching and coaching skills. Not only did I learn from him how to improve my TKD but also I learned from him a series of exercises in the early 80s that I would only see performed about 16 years later in Russian martial arts. Whatever the origin of the exercise doesn't matter. The fact that I learned the from chubby yet extremely fast and graceful "Doug" is unforgettable to me.

PART 1 RECAP

So what to learn from all of this?
1. More practice time makes you better and sometimes tougher
2. Spending more time on basics is probably better than chasing magic in advanced techniques
3. Being bored in training is not necessarily a bad thing but its mostly a choice
4. Train with everyone, people that are better, the same, and not as good as you, you will learn from them all.
5. Famous people can bring about interesting changes in the paradigm of martial arts training
6. Not everyone that trains in martial arts wants to be the next Chuck Norris, or Bruce Lee, or Anderson Sliva. Some people just want to have fun and become better versions of themselves and that's is perfectly fine.

In part two I will talk about boxing and kickboxing gyms and clubs, the Non classical Mess that Jeet Kune Do Became, training with "famous" people in the Martial Art, Combat Sport, and Reality Based Self Defense World, and the state of MMA today.

Tony Torres
Copyright Tony Torres


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Teacher, Teacher

If you have chosen the very important task, whether as career, part time employment, or hobby, of teaching Martial Art, Combat Sport, or Self Protection.  Here are some guidelines you should ponder and reflect on to see if you are being the best possible teacher you can be.

The 6 W's

In police work report writing and investigative techniques, we used the old Five W's method. We had to make sure we knew or found out the Who, What, When, Where, and hoW of a case. Contrary to popular culture, tv shows and movies the Why is not as relevant as they would have you believe. The complexity of the human mind is such that if we needed to prove WHY a person committed a crime it would be a circus. That's why every time I watch a cop show or movie and they start babbling on about motive I chuckle. It's a useful investigative tool but not necessary to prove a crime. 
But why then, have I included  Why in the 6 W's of teaching? Because the motive behind what you teach, as we will discuss later, is the most important facet of your teaching arsenal. It dictates the other 5 W's.

WHO?

Who are your students? Most importantly Who do you want as students?
If you are teaching Combat Sport; are you teaching hobbyists, amateur level, or pro athletes?
If so, do you train them separately? Are you able to recognize the talented hobbyist and perhaps motivate them into amateur or pro competition? Are you able to recognize the wannabe pro or amateur athlete who may need to step away and turn to recreation level training? Do you know how to do this without losing a student or completely crushing a dream?

In Martial Art, Are you training the devout followers of a specific tradition? Are they interested in the direct preservation of the art? Or are the future revampers and innovators of the style under your tutelage?

In Self Protection; are you teaching the average person how to defend themselves? Is it a group of elderly people? Are you training young girls concerned with sexual assault? Or is it a group of cops or soldiers?

Is the group you are teaching comprised of more than one of the categories? Understanding Who you are teaching is crucial. Don't just regurgitate material, always think "Who is my Audince?" especially when you are teaching.

WHAT?

This applies to all three fields equally. Is your material relevant? Is it organized? Is it transferable given your audience and time constraints? Are you teaching a private lesson? A small workshop? A large group?

WHEN?

The when has many facets. What time of day are you teaching? Do you know how to approach training early in the mornings? Do you incorporate a warm up? Do you use the same methods when training a group after lunch? Do you also use the same methods with your students that are there after a long day at a stressful job?
Do you know When "in their life they are training? Their age? Are they recovering from injury?
Teaching methods may need to be modified. The cookie cutter "I'm the teacher and this is how it goes" model is ineffective.

WHERE?

Location is also broad in terms. Are you at your school or someone else's? Are you in a cross discipline environment? For example a Self Protection specialist teaching a group of Combat Sports athletes. Is the training area safe?
Gone are the days of simply strutting out in front of a group and doing your shtick!

HOW?

Are you delivering a workshop?A multi-day seminar? Are you holding regular practice sessions/Classes? Are you theory heavy and practice light? Vice Versa? How does this question fit in with the other W's?

WHY?

Here is the big one. Why do you teach what you teach? Is it because you can?Are you teaching because you want to? Are you teaching because you don't know anything else to do? Is it for profit? For ego? Really ponder this and maybe you will discover the best teacher you can possibly be.

What does it all mean?

After reading all the above you may realize there was a ton of questions but not many answers.
Here is my point, if you introspect and answer the WHY honestly and clearly, the answer to all the other questions comes more easily.
Just as when answering the why above, all who read this, may come up with different reasons for teaching, we must remember that our students MOTIVES, also vary. Ultimately teaching coaching and training is not about you, it's about the student. We have a responsibility to them to deliver the best us we can. This can be achieved by asking the above very pertinent questions a decide either the type of student we want or the kind of teacher we should be.

Tony Torres
Copyright Tony Torres

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Traumatic Thoughts

I wanted to share my opinion on a subject that affects both the Combat Sport and the Self Protection arena. The issue of brain trauma. I have read plenty of articles, watched documentaries, and medical studies and I invite you to do the same. Do your research. The opinions here are based on personal observations and the information I have found. I will approach this from a couple of different angles in the hopes to present a smart picture of what head contact, and brain trauma can entail in training, competition, and self protection.

HEAD IMPACT STUDY VIDEOS (CAUTION GRAPHIC)

Watch the following clips focusing on head contact and their effect. On the recipients. Important: try not to analyze the circumstances or scenario, just focus on the number of collisions, frequency and severity of impact as well as end result. We will come back to this after you have read the rest of the blog.
1.  http://m.youtube.com/?reload=3&rdm=mp0zeetr#/watch?v=qU0EJS3cJIc
2.  http://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=related&v=iqhb3Q0T2bs   (The last fake demo doesn't count)
3.  http://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=related&v=fLURIBf8lvQ (mostly social hierarchical violence but some asocial criminal assaults as well)
4.   http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BPQVGTFV8Q4  ( a few from combat sport)


ITS NOT ABOUT BEING TOUGH OR REAL

First off, if you are either from a sports camp or self protection method and you say or think something like this. "We train full contact all out no holding back with head shots all the time ,every time because that makes us tougher competitors / its how it goes on the street!"; you are a moron! With the information available out there with reference to brain trauma. Anybody engaging in daily full contact sparring with full contact to head is just plain irresponsible.

Ill start with an example from the world of MMA.  Remember the Lion's Den? Remember Camp Miletich?  Both of those camps were ruling the roost in the early days of MMA. Both of those camps bragged and boasted about the "beastings" they would put potential new talent through to prove their toughness.  Both camps also bragged about their daily super hard sparring sessions often invoking the cool sounding but erroneous phrase "iron sharpens iron". The real truth is that iron dulls and ruins iron specially when swords collide. 
Have you heard Mikey Burnett speak lately? Jens Pulver? Shortly after the two camps reigned supreme the number of their fighters at the top dwindled and so did the performance level of those that remained. Now neither camp has any fighters doing well. 
Continuous all out sparring with heavy head contact not only has brain to motor function consequences, as stated in Antonio Damsio's work "Descartes Error", injury to the brain can also result in personality and behavioral problems. Both fighters mentioned above suffer such problems.
Granted really hard sparring may develop toughness, but A. Is that toughness necessary for the goals you want to accomplish? B. If it is necessary, is it really worth it at the cost of relationships, function and future skill? And C. Are you actually tougher if you are already broken but don't even know it?

The attribute we really want to develop is resilience, the ability to bounce back from mistakes, and bad situations. Continuous hard head contact sparring is not necessary to develop resilience.

Instead use a variable contact schedule when you plan your training. Our torso and legs can take a bit more punishment without ill effects so we can schedule harder contact there more frequently. Using light head contact on almost all your sparring sessions ( remembering its hard to keep track of changing contact levels in the same session). Once every other week maybe include moderate contact and  maybe once every 4 to 6 weeks have a short duration session that includes hard head contact with appropriate protection on a padded, protected floor to prevent incidental trauma if somebody does get knocked out.

Remember you can develop speed and power on equipment, sparring is designed to develop reflexes and timing. Thai Boxers (from Thailand) are some of the toughest and most resilient fighters out there.  They also have some of the busiest fight schedules of any combat athlete in the planet.  Their sparring is almost always light and timing focused. 

On your Light or Moderate sparring days you want to alternate how you are controlling the contact using fast but light penetration on some days and fuller penetration at slow speed on others.

All of the above applies if you are engaging in full contact scenario training as well. Training "realistically" is counter productive if in the process you are causing brain damage to your student. Don't make the mistake of thinking if your not going hard all the time you are not being real. 
 In a previous blog I explained how even in pro football, they keep there scrimmage to a lower level of intensity than the real game. Because they want to save the players for the actual event.
Our event is thriving in a fruitful and happy life, let the bad guy bring what he brings on that day if it ever comes, we should save our IQ and physical health when training with other good guys.

WHEN IT DOES GET REAL

So if you haven't watched the clips, go watch them now, if you did, watch them again. Focus on watching the real ( both social violence and the asocial criminal assaults) fights.
What I have found after watching thousands of hours of these videos and others like them is a weird pattern of non patterns on the results end of the scale. I have seen this pattern in knife assaults and in gun fights. The "non" pattern is this; you observe some victims and / or combatants taking multiple hard, savage blows to the head, face and neck and come out with very little injury, maybe a case of slight dizziness or even a very mild concussion; and you see people die or go into a coma or receive severe brain damage from the impact of a single blow. Usually because they get knocked out and the additional impact of their head on the concrete floor or other surface.

The reason I bring this up is because the unpredictability of the damage we may receive, when somebody threatens me with an assault on the street I personally treat this as a "near deadly force scenario".  I am prepared if necessary and tactically sound to pre-emptively engage my attacker in order to escape the situation.  I use the term "near deadly force" because I would not escalate to, lets say, a firearm in a one on one confrontation unless I was sure that deadly force was coming. However I would definitely use my personal weapons on some very delicate targets very quickly in order to shut down the attack rapidly. 

I would do this regardless of which type of violence I am facing.  I would do it against some guy that wants to punch me to show his buddies how tough he is ( social hierarchical dick measuring violence)  or if I was cornered by a criminal in a dark alley (asocial resource seeking violence)

UP TO YOU
It is the unpredictability of the results that make this a critical issue for you to resolve BEFORE it happens. 
This is a decision you must make in advance and it is very personal. Whatever the decision you make, whether to engage as if deadly force is imminent, or as something else, you must make sure that the choice empowers and mobilizes  you and does not create hesitation.

Remember the bad guy does not care and, in some cases, does not know he's using potentially deadly force. Neither do you so prepare and. Respond accordingly.

Tony Torres
Copyright Tony Torres


Friday, May 17, 2013

Alternate Reality

It Just Got Unreal

This month I want to talk about choices and about being careful about what we present to our students as "reality based" or how real things are "on the street". You see, our best intentions at "keeping it real" may ultimately have a negative impact on our student's outcomes during real confrontations and all our hours of training and practice will be for naught!

Grappling With The Issues

I remember in the early '90s when BJJ and other grappling sports began to be the "measuring stick" for reality; some participants attending seminars in those arts, would raise the very reasonable question " well what if there are multiple opponents?"
In response to this question the seminar instructor would challenge the inquirer by asking if their art had an answer for the same problem. Of course, not to feel stupid, the person would incorrectly claim that their system had the answers ( this ego response was expected). 

What was not expected was the counter from the seminar instructor. He and an assistant would then accost the person inevitably taking him to the ground to prove their point.
What they missed was that in the impressionable minds of those attending they inadvertently proved a false point. If you are attacked by more than one person you will lose.
They failed to see that due to the conventions of social interaction in our martial arts culture they put the person asking the question in an un- winnable situation which was then accepted as truth by the less informed.
The truth is that multiple assailant scenarios are survivable, even by untrained people. Trained properly, our chances of survival improve. Mind you, they are never guaranteed, but odds do get better.

 The gist of the above and the following sections is to show where our attitudes, our words, our demos and our beliefs may negatively impact our students' mindset.

Getting Grounded
Here's an oldie but goodie. "95% of street fights end up on the ground." When was the last time you asked yourself; who came up with that number? A clever marketing tool  from the  grappling community to get more people to train that became accepted dogma in many circles. Before you ever repeat this again think deeply about how many fights you saw ended up on the ground in a grappling style format. Perhaps a few , maybe a lot, but was it really 95%?

Then think, when somebody was on the ground was it one,or many people, where they on the ground because of ballistic impact from punches or did they fall unconscious? Once you start computing the variables you realize that, although many fights do go to the ground, what's really is important is not so much grappling skill, but avoiding ending up on the ground, being able to protect yourself from the ground and getting up quickly from the ground while under pressure.  This is not to exclude grappling skill but mainly prioritize intelligently.

Living On The Edge

Another group guilty of offering "alternate reality" to their students is the knife culture.  In our chase to try to be honest with students we again fall in the trap of showing movements or saying things that impede their progress.
There is the old "if you get in a knife fight you will get cut" myth on one end. Other teachers advocate there is nothing that can be done etc.
There are the folks using magic markers  on white t shirts, to show their students the " reality" of how much you will get cut.  Then there is the infamous electric knife. I don't know about you but I have never seen a real knife make that noise :-)
Training in the above methodologies literally teaches our students to mentally prepare to lose  and this is the biggest failure I see in our industry today.

Raising Hope

These fallacies are not limited to the areas of multiple opponents, ground fighting or edge weapons.
The "reality based" self defense world is replete with examples of Hyper Reality and Alternate reality instructors and messages that bombard the public. 
Their "you must know this magic ultra macho sounding move that I invented" attitude is creating a culture of hopelessness and learned helplessness.
We must introspect and monitor what we say, how we say it, what we demonstrate and teach in order to make sure we have a balanced approach. Our students need to believe that no matter what they are faced with they improve their chances of survival with proper training.

Ill be cartoonish for a second to drive the point. Imagine if somebody told you that a flying purple people eater was the most dangerous animal in the world and nobody has survived an attack from it. They kinda look like a cross between a badger and a platypus except they are purple and they fly.
There is a world wide infestation of the critters. Would you just simply resign yourself to die as a snack or would you try your best to train to beat them. And , most importantly, if you didn't get a chance to practice and you are suddenly faced with one, would you simply surrender?
Exactly. Our warrior mindset would kick in and we would try our hardest to fight and survive right?

So why is it that through language, attitude, Hyper reality, and teaching, instructors constantly remind their students of the opposite.

Our students have a choice, give up or engage the problem.  If we don't train them intelligently we take away the choice and make them hopeless. 

Regardless of how "impossible" the scenario our students questions are about. " I am surrounded by multiple armed assailants on drugs and they all are 6'4" and 300 lbs, what do I do?"  Our answer should never be... Oh don't try anything, just give up and die.

Tony Torres
Copyright Tony TOrres

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Three Training Methods "Nuts" and Bolts Part 3

In the first two parts of this series we discussed the Pros and Cons of two of what I consider the three pillars of Martial Training. We looked at Self Protection Systems, and Combat Sports. In this last segment of the series we will look at what I call Conventional Martial Arts.

What are Conventional Martial Arts you ask? To explore the subject better, I have divided them into two categories: Traditional (TCMA) and Modern (MCMA). It is also crucial to note here that what is today and MCMA may end up as a TCMA in the future.

Tradition Tradition

TCMA are martial arts that are typically at least about a century old, they tend to come from Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, and also have a formalized social structure within the group. For example, they will have a founder, who has most likely passed away, an elder or most senior representative which in the rare case that they are still alive will be the founder, and they will also have a ranking and organizational structure. In some cases they will even have articles of incorporation and are run like a company.

Thoroughly Modern

MCMA are martial arts that have been developed more recently, perhaps maybe a few decades old, usually by a charismatic person previously trained in TCMA or even Combat Sport or Self Defense system, that combines or re-organizes, or updates their previously learned information into a methodology that suits them and their students.

What's the Same?

TCMA and DCMA both tend to have a ranking structure of belts and grades. Some have certifications and teaching licenses as well. The curriculum of study is organized in such a way that in order to achieve a certain rank, the student must show a certain level of proficiency in part of said curriculum. The syllabus is usually organized so that the easiest parts of the art, sometimes referred to ad the "basics" are taught first and then more sophisticated movements are learned later.

What's Different?

TCMA may place a little more emphasis on "forms" or pre arranged sets, whether they are solo or with partners. Special attention tends to be given to performing and repeating a technique or set of movements precisely as the founder executed it.
The sparring is usually very symmetrical, that is to say the participants are using solely their art's skill against each other., and depending on the art, may be light to moderate contact in nature.

Although MCMA may have solo forms, they may place more emphasis on two ore more participants engaging in drills or the application of their art against a human body. They also tend to embrace safety equipment allowing for more contact even if their sparring tends to be symmetrical.

The "Nuts"

The structure of TCMA and MCMA, with its emphasis on following the originator or the founder, compounded with a rank structure makes it a fertile ground for the growth of a cult or cultish behavior. The wearing of uniforms and the implementation of ceremonies where the leader is shown subservience takes away from the individual and enhances the presence of a "hive" mindset.

Another potential problem is stagnation of movement. Let's be honest people today do not fight the way Japanese samurai fought centuries ago. This applies to allow the noble warrior cultures through history, be they Russian, Chinese , Indonesian or whatever. Culturally in America we are not involved in the Sam kinds of fights that the founders of TCMA were. In MCMA the same problem shows up because the body composition, physiology, background and personality of the founder is not the same as that of the students therefore the art may not be best suited for everyone

The Good Stuff

TCMA and MCMA in general have mastered the art of transfer of knowledge . Because of their organization and structure, they are very effective at transmitting their message and having it replicated accurately by their proponents.
They also make an effort in promoting good qualities and values such as respect, honor, courage, perseverance and other human traits that promote a positive development of a human being. Something that is usually missing from training in Combat Sport and Self Protection Systems.

The Sum Of It All

These three most recent blogs have addressed the main three divisions of what I see as martial training methods. There are some of what I call , Hybrid Systems out there. For example Defence Lab Street Dynamics ( formerly KFM) is a MCMA that started as , and still emphasizes, Self Protection as its core tenet. The have developed a structured way of passing information and exploring different areas of street confrontations in a logical and methodical way.
Gracie Jiu Jitsu is a MCMA that came from the traditional martial art of Jiu Jitsu and was updated to emphasize self protection , but then developed into a Combat Sport now known as BJJ.

With enough research you may find other examples. I believe in embracing the positive aspects of all three training methodologies while keeping the potentially negative issues in check. I offer all three to my students and allow them to decide on their own which track to follow.
I truly believe we can all learn much by investigating all three areas.

Tony Torres
Copyright Tony Torres




Friday, March 29, 2013

The Three Training Methods "Nuts" and Bolts Part II

This month's blog is going to address the second training methodology that I alluded to in last months blog which is combat sport. One of the most interesting things about combat sport is that It has been increasing in popularity or at least appears to be increasing in popularity since 1993 with the introduction of the UFC. Although that popularity may be indeed increasing it's not really as big as most people would be led to believe.
I do enjoy and teach combat sport but combat sport only represents a small part of our popular culture and certainly is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to fighting skill.

The Bad Side

Let's address some of the nutty things about combat sports and then we will address some things are truly beneficial and the reasons I encourage people to participate in some form of combat sport or another.

1. If you train in combat sports you'll be able to efficiently and effectively defend yourself during a street assault. As we all know this is the furthest thing from the truth. Although combat sports offer some direct benefits to someone who may be assaulted, most of the benefits from combat sport are indirect.
We have all heard the story the person that was a champion kickboxer or a MMA fighter etc. they got into some sort of barroom fight and ended up getting their clocks cleaned in short order by some experienced street fighter. Now this has nothing to do with the particular MMA fighter or kickboxer's ability at their sport, it is simply a matter of asymmetry.
Basically our Kickboxer or MMA fighter in this case is used to training partners that move efficiently, and almost always emotionless during sparring sessions. street attackers move very differently than the sparring partners they are used to. Even if you spar all out,100% full contact all the time (which I don't recommend and more on that later) with your partners, you're simply preparing your brain and your central nervous system to respond to another trained fighter that is attacking you under certain rules and restrictions. You're looking at a different kind of punch than one from somebody that is just experienced but not necessarily skilled. Once you get used to these technical strikes, there as slowed reaction time when faced with unorthodox punches.

There are no Rules or maybe yes some...

The current unified rules of MMA allow for a full spectrum of fighting skill to be shown in the competitive sport; however the list of things you are NOT allowed to do is much longer. Even in the early days of the UFC when it was considered No Holds Barred or NHB they did have certain rules, for example there were some very explicit rules, you couldn't fishhook or eye gouge, no biting was allowed, you also couldn't break individual fingers etc. that was all against the rules.
And then there's also the implicit rules. Two people would agree to meet at a specified location inside a designated confined to space and they're not allowed to bring weapons,their friends can't help and so on. Even in the most savage of all competition there are still some rules and in fact you control the amount of potential damage that fighters can suffer.

Lions and Tigers and MMA Fighters oh my!

Lastly on the nutty side I want to address is what I believe is in an unwarranted fear that with the exposure or the growth of combat sports and or specifically the UFC and MMA in the United States that all of a sudden we might be subjected to all kinds of attackers that may be skilled in MMA.
There's two fundamental ideas that dispute the above notion. The first one is the fact that in the United States we have gone through several decades of increasing popularity of all kinds of martial arts. In the 40s and 50s judo was popular and has increased In popularity since then , albeit, at a slower rate. In the 60s we had karate increase in popularity and again the amount of practitioners of karate and tae kwon do and those types of art have increased since then as our general population has increased. I can go on. In the 70s it was kung fu, in the 80s it was the ninja craze, and of course, in the 90s Brazilian jujitsu and MMA .
The fact is that in the 40s and 50s we didn't all of a sudden see an increase in judo attacks on civilians or police for that matter. We also didn't experience a slew of Karate rapists or murderers all around us in the 60s. Nor did this happen in the 70s and the 80s with the respective fads during those decades.
Despite the fact that MMA is immensely popular and the amount of people that participate in all of these martial arts has continued to increase since the 90s we have not seen a verifiable, significant increase in assaults by MMA trained experts. Sure the occasional case will pop up in the media but they really are an oddity and not the norm.

The second point of contention against the "mma trained assaults" argument is this; in the United States football has been around for God knows how long and it's a very popular game. As an example, I myself know how to play football. I even played a few times with some buddies. However my skill level does not even come close to the average High School JV player.
Now playing High School football, and this is somebody that is infinitely more skillet at football than I, doesn't mean that they will end up playing at college level and just because you play at college level does not guarantee you a spot in the NFL
And even being in the NFL does not guarantee being a starter or one of the elite level players. My point is that just because somebody admires a sport, watches or understands and can kind of play the sport, doesn't mean that they can perform well in that sport.

There are millions of people that are fans of football, then there is a lesser number of people that can play at the grade school level or peewee football and there are less still that can perform at the level of high school football players, the number dwindles more when considering college football players and there's hundreds and thousands more of college football players than there are NFL players. Knowing or understanding or admiring the sport does not equal skill in that particular endeavor.

Given those two points of contention I'll close this section with this (and I written at length about this before so I won't belabor the point annoy further) the chances that your attacker will be somebody that's trained in MMA and to the point that he has very usable skill is very, very small, In fact they're so small as not to warrant any excess of time dedicated to training in specialty tactics against that specific type of attacker unless you are training in that particular combat sport.

The Good Bits
Great now that we got all that out-of-the-way let's talk about the benefits of combat sport. There are a lot of them in but I'm going to focus on the ones I think are the most significant

Number one, sport allows their participants To engage in symmetrical training. That is to say that both athletes in the contest or in the sparring match are physically, aggressively trying to apply their learned skills in order to affect the opponents breathing, alignment and structure while the opponent is trying to effectively execute the same tactics against them.

Two things happen because of this. First skills and timing get more refined because it's harder to pull off certain tactics when the person that you're fighting is expecting them.
Second, participants develop a certain amount of mental and physical toughness because, usually, when opponents of close to equals skill are facing each other, they tend to take shots we get hit. This is important because trainees must develop their ability to continue fighting in spite of having been hit. Combat sport is ideal for this and this ability in and of itself is useful in self protection scenarios.
A another benefit gained, although sometimes a little bit less understood is the fact that through the wearing protective equipment and the use of restrictive rules that limit the tactics that we have to use against our opponent, we are technically fighting using less efficient methods of being able to "put our opponent away".
If we can defeat our opponent using less efficient techniques because of protective equipment limited targets and limited tactics allowed, we should be able to fare even better when the protective equipment is not present in our targets and tools are unlimited.

Positive outlet for aggression in general, and male aggression specifically, is a direct benefit of combat sports like wrestling, boxing, kickboxing, MMA etc.
These endeavors allow us to have an outlet for the aggressive energy that is present in a society in which we constantly compete for resources and status.
As human animals we have aggressive energy that will find an outlet regardless of our attempts to suppress it.
If a positive outlet is not found that energy will manifest destructively and could go as far as criminal assaults or status seeking displays of violence.
Combat sports certainly offer an alternative in which young men can engage in violent behavior that has been appropriately modified to ensure fairness and the safety of all all parties involved.
Practicing a combat sport also requires and therefore develops a certain amount of physical fitness, stamina, endurance, power and other attributes that contribute to the overall well being of the practitioner.
For all the positive benefits I highly recommend participation in a combat sport but be careful to avoid the pitfalls mentioned before. Try to be a good sport.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Three Training Methods "Nuts" and Bolts Part I

Often in my blogs I speak of three different areas of training. I call these Martial Art, Combat Sport and Self Protection. I will be discussing the individual traits of the three different areas in a three part series. I will address some of the pitfalls in each area as well as what I believe makes each of the three unique and important. lets start with...

Self Protection

Self Protection training is the area of training that concerns itself with dealing with modern day real violence.

The "Nuts"

Mucho Macho Much?

The world of self protection training is filled with hyper masculine and ultra violent images and marketing by "authorities" that perpetuate a myth of training for "the real thing" and "real situations" in a way that is just a bit over the top. They emphasize behavior that is detrimental for the psychological and emotional health of the student.

So often I see courses or systems of training being promoted by these so called authorities using fear or hyper macho, semi militaristic language and tone in their written articles, promotional materials and even spoken word. This is typically followed by either direct or underhanded comments and "put downs" of the other two areas of training, Martial Art and Combat Sport.

Lets briefly revisit a premise I mention throughout my previous blogs which is; human beings don't really need Self Protection training in order to protect themselves. Our species has been doing it for hundreds of thousands of years quite effectively, against all kinds of different scenarios, and survived.

If we know that humans all over the world have, in general, protected themselves effectively with NO training then it is also true that people can effectively defend themselves after having received ANY TYPE of training; regardless of how unrealistic it may seem to the "Reality Based" system community. Once we accept this reality ( pun intended) then it only becomes a matter of efficiency. Efficiency both in learning the material and its application in true events.

How We Fall

Here are three basic pitfalls that I see in the reality-based self protection community we will start with fear-based marketing and instruction.

The Only Thing To Fear

Sometimes fear-based instruction and marketing is a product of direct abuse by the instructor that is trying to "sell his wares". Their instruction and marketing is just like TV news. "Are you prepared for...?" The newsman will ask in somber tones in order to get you to watch at a particular time.
It's an old trick. If you feel that you need that information to survive (fear response) you will definitely tune in. The same is done by unscrupulous instructors all the time. They are quick to tell you "If you learn my super tactical anti wolf, super sheepdog techniques you will be safe from all murderers and rapists and bikers! These are the only techniques that are tried and tested in a prison full of giant Sasquatch, gang member terminators! Only I have the real answer to that bogeyman that may come at you at any given time!" You get my point. Also beware if you find yourself talking like this :-)
The other side to this coin are instructors that, although well intended, really don't know any better than to constantly think about potential attacks and violence.
These instructors mentally live in an imaginary world where violence is almost always the answer to any possible situation.

Hyper Drive

Behavior indicated above leads to the second pitfall which is hyper vigilance. The same instructors that use fear as marketing or fear during their instruction tend to create paranoid students.
Although there is a stark difference between awareness and paranoia, the line that divides the two is quite thin and can be easily crossed without self-awareness. Without noticing, somebody that believes that they're just being very aware of their environment, or just being very cautious and implementing reasonable measures to keep themselves safe, can very easily, and unknowingly cross the border into paranoia
The simple test is this; if you live in the United States and you fundamentally believe that we live in a dangerous society more than likely you're paranoid. If you believe that in fact we do live in a very safe society, you are likely to have a healthy sense of awareness.
Something even more important is that somebody that's more relaxed in the exterior environment, and ahas a more broad and external focus, is more likely to be able to detect real danger than somebody that thinks the bogeyman's around every corner.

Warrior Come Out to Plaaaay

The last pitfall of Self Protection Instruction that I will address is the hyper macho, ultra militaristic language I see in some classes, seminars and systems. I see it in their ads and in the actual delivery of their material and seminars.
I find it kind of funny when they use their Conan-like lines "obliterate your enemies until you hear the lamentation of their women..."
Another, somewhat more subtle, line I hear is "the best defense is a good offense" and other such movie-like quotes.
Offense is offense, not a defense at all; it might be a preemptive offense that will keep somebody from implementing their own offense but it's still offense :-)
The notion that knowing how to attack and attacking only is what is going to enable you to survive every encounter is simply inane.
Another notion that is a bit silly is the notion that we must destroy all of those that cross us in some way, even in a physical encounter.
Most likely the real answer for the average citizen that needs to learn self protection is to escape, and escaping doesn't always involve being able to crush our attacker. My recommendation is to stay away from any instructor that sounds like a character from a movie especially if that movie is Conan, the Terminator, the Punisher or the Expendables.

The Bolts

It's Not Your Body

A self protection system should not only address physical self protection it should also address psychological and emotional self protection.
That doesn't mean that every self protection instructor should be some sort of psychiatrist or psychologist or provide some sort of cure-all counseling for any psychological or emotional issues a student may have. But a good self protection instructor should have at least have a fundamental grasp of some clear principles of healthy emotional lifestyles and psychological well-being.
Some simple examples are; teaching students the difference between awareness and paranoia, how to deal with workplace bullying for adults and how to deal with school bullying for the younger students. Another skill set that should be a staple is how to develop a sense of self worth and understanding how having certain feelings like excessive anger or depression or even just having had a stressful, shitty day, can influence their behavior and decision making when a potentially violent situation arises.

Before Shit Happens

Another characteristic of well-rounded self protection training is the teaching of awareness, avoidance, conflict management, and all of the areas that deal with either potential or actual conflict BEFORE it becomes physical. It's just this simple; we should be able to get out of more fights that we get into.

Don't be Offended

It's very important for a self protection system to have sound survival or protective strategies and tactics. In other words if all our preventive strategies and tactics as discussed in the previous section have failed or simply are not applicable because our attacker is In such a position that the he achieves physical contact before we can implement our avoidance strategies, then our self protection system must contain tactics that will enable us to stay conscious, stay on our feet, maintain or regain our sense of balance, regain our equilibrium and recover from a dizzy or shocked state and eventually be able to retaliate and escape the situation.

Unless You Can Be First

Some events clearly put us in a position in which, in order to survive, we need to start the fight. Any sound training regimen will include training in how to strike preemptively when appropriate in order to seize and maintain the advantage over our adversaries.

How To Get Outta Dodge

Escaping is not limited to just knowing where the exits are and things as simple as that. You must also train to understand WHEN is the right time to escape, specially after contact or physical altercation has been initiated between you and a bad guy or group of bad guys. There is a good time and a bad time for us to try to run away and those should be addressed by a well-rounded Self Protection system.

Armed Encounters

Surviving armed assaults and using both conventional and improvised weapons is something that should be covered in self protection training. The system should at least familiarize the student with edged weapons, blunt instruments, firearms fundamental defense and offense in a rational and safe manner.

It's a Party

Understanding what to do when faced with more than one attacker is another area of training that must be addressed in any intelligent methodology of self protection training.

I Fought The Law

Lastly In order for a self protection methodology to be well-rounded it must also address the legal ramifications of self protection, and using appropriate levels of force for the problem that you encounter. As I am fond of saying, not every Self Protection problem is a nail, so the answer can't always be a hammer. What to do and what not to do if the police arrive at the scene and start asking questions must also be part of the curriculum.

In conclusion if you're truly teaching Self protection then your curriculum should be made up of more than just physical drills and tactics otherwise you're not teaching self protection at all. You are just teaching a slightly more efficient method of violence.

Tony Torres
Copyright Tony Torres