(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 26th Nov)
Often when I present our Knife system, people find it hard to stomach from both a moral and legal perspective that we are prepared to use the assailants knife against them, rather than simply disarming and disengaging. Firstly we always stress disengagement, whether this is accompanied by blocking and striking, or by simply running and attempting to put distance and barriers e.g. parked cars etc. between us and our attacker. However when disengagement isn’t an option, then the only other two that really exist are to disarm your aggressor and/or use the knife against them. It is easier, simpler and more effective to do the latter. If you can’t disengage and you need to disarm your attacker, you are going to need to do something to prevent them from attacking you further, which probably means using the knife. It is simpler to start from this premise, of using the knife than working towards it.
People often try to apply a “use of force” continuum that is applicable before a fight, to the fight itself. Avoiding and preventing physical violence should be at the heart of any self-defense, martial art or fighting system. Avoidance, de-escalation and disengagement are strategies that should be taught alongside the physical components. Most fights begin with a verbal exchange or argument and this is the time to start putting up barriers e.g. the arms in a de-escalation stance etc. and putting distance between you and your aggressor(s) – if you are dealing with a predatory individual this movement away may well be seen as a demonstration of fear and weakness and you should prepare to act pre-emptively, if you’re dealing with a spontaneously violent situation you are setting up the time and space for de-escalation etc. If you’re carrying a weapon you may be creating the space and room to effectively draw and use it.
In many fights, you see individuals start to push and slap each other etc in order to try and dissuade the other person from getting any more physical. This gradual upping the ante of violence is rarely – I have never seen it – effective at convincing one of the parties involved to back down. I understand the theory and logic that is at work i.e. hit the person lightly to give them a taste of what you are actually capable of but don’t hit them hard enough to “start” a fight. Physical warnings rarely work and working up towards “full blown” violence is not an effective strategy.
If you have made the decision to use physical force against another person, either pre-emptively or in response to their use of force, it should be absolute not “measured”. You may choose to “stun and run” e.g. slap the person and run away rather than punch them, however that slap should be delivered with full force. If you decide to eye-gouge, you should eye-gouge 100%. The type of attack you make is your choice not the level of force behind it. You should not work up to a fight, you should come at it with everything you’ve got from the first moment. Your job is not to prolong the fight but end it quickly, either by disengaging or debilitating your assailant(s) to the point where they no longer want to or can continue the fight.
You are not a law enforcement official who is working to an agenda, and within constraints (and with a whole team backing or ready to back them up) when they are applying force. They may choose to use spray first, possibly followed by baton, followed by a firearm etc because their job is to apprehend people who are often non-compliant – a police officer doesn’t normally have disengagement at the top of their list. Back in the day, police officers were taught to use empty handed techniques before they drew a weapon, now the consensus is to use empty handed techniques in order to get to a weapon. A weapon, such as a baton once drawn may have a system of colored targets to direct an officer on where to strike and when, however when a strike is made it is done so full force – trainers will also often teach you the way to “interpret” an aggressor’s movement in order to be justified in using higher levels of force. Why? Because anyone who has dealt with real world violence knows that the quickest way to deal with the situation is to use maximum force as soon as possible. Something every aggressor tries to do.
When somebody pulls a knife you have to assume that they are prepared to cut you, if they are you should be prepared to do the same to them – if not you are starting from a disadvantaged position. If the situation determines that you need to control the knife, you should understand that your aggressor will be trying to use the knife to cut you (if they haven’t already – they were threatening you with the knife). Even if you disarm them they won’t stop being your aggressor and there is nothing to stop them out of fear, anger and/or simple adrenaline to continue to assault you, even though you have a knife in your hand. Your disarm may simply be akin to a warning slap or punch that is aimed at dissuading your aggressor from taking things any further but does nothing to actually prevent them from doing so.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 20th Nov)
It always amazes me when people confuse, and miss, a learning opportunity because their eyes are set on achieving something different to that which the exercise they are engaged in, has been designed for. How people interpret the point of the activities they engage in has always fascinated me from a teaching perspective e.g. the person who misinterprets a drill designed to test and develop control of range as a lesson in aggressiveness and forward movement etc. These people often come away feeling they have achieved something (and possibly scored a point) because their partner continued to work with the purpose of the drill whilst they were working to an entirely different agenda. These are the individuals that write their own rules to training and at some point wonder why they’re never improving.
A drill is not a replica of a street fight, or even a sparring contest. It is an activity which looks to develop and focus on a particular skill that is required to be proficient in a fight or physical conflict. The development of these skills, such as movement and range control is something that a certain degree of expertise is required in before it is tested under extreme stress and duress. You cannot test and master something at the same time however much of a hurry you may be in to do so. The purpose of a drill is to help you master something – if you’re unable to do this because you are following your own agenda or interpreting the drill according to your own agenda, and what you want to take away from it you are wasting both your time and your partners.
Krav Maga often gets labeled as a system that is simple and easy to learn. Many people however interpret this in a way that makes fits in with what they want/wish to hear. Being “easy to learn”, is not the same as being “easy to master” – the Krav Maga blocking system can be taught and learnt in about 5 minutes, however to be able to use it to block the strikes of an aggressive or skilled assailant is going to take a lot longer than 5 minutes. Simple is not the same as simplistic; an idea, principle or concept can be simple and uncomplicated (as can a technique) but there can be a lot behind it. The Krav Maga blocking system utilizes a hand defense coupled with a body defense, which is a simple idea however the movement/direction associated with the body defense can give the principle a lot more depth to it than may first appear e.g. the body defense should also move a person into a prime attacking position.
The drills that we use are designed to teach these principles and give practitioners room to explore and discover how these principles can be worked out in dynamic situations, whilst developing the necessary skills to put them into practice. It is easy enough to turn a drill into pursuing your own idea of what is important however you won’t really take much away from the experience, other than the knowledge that once again “you are right” J.
We drill in every class, and playing by the rules of the drill and to the point of the drill is what will develop the skills you need to apply the principles and concepts of the system. Once these have been achieved you will start to be able to get the techniques you are taught to work…
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 19th Nov)
I just wrote a blog piece on what it is to be tough and the way adaptability plays into this and I want to give a first-hand witness account as to what toughness actually is. I have a son, Noah, who is six years old. About 3 months ago I realized he was hard of hearing. He now wears hearing aids in both ears. His world has always been one where he understood sound and speech to be of a certain volume – without any training he learnt to lip read to make up for his hearing deficiency. In his world he understood communication to be something where you heard a certain amount and you took visual clues to the rest. Nobody told him that this wasn’t how it was meant to be; he just figured out how he needed to communicate and adapted to the situation. For Noah, everybody communicated this way. This was his world.
He now has hearing aids and his world is starting to reflect ours. Children often give us the best demonstration as to what being tough is actually about. The first thing is that they don’t question, they just do what is necessary. In survival situations, where children get lost in the woods etc, those under 6 have some of the best rates of survival e.g. they sleep when they’re tired, eat and drink when they’re hungry and more importantly they don’t recognize that there is an environment that exists beyond the horizon/the one they can see – children over 6 and adults often exhaust themselves trying to reach something they can’t see. Noah didn’t imagine another world he simply learnt to deal with the one he was in/could see. Acceptance of your situation is a key survival skill. When you face violence there isn’t a world beyond that which is facing you, there is just a situation to deal with.
Resilience is the positive outcome of adaptability. Learning to work with what you have and maximize it to face and effect the situation is a key survival skill. If you can’t listen, watch. Deprived of one sense, Noah learnt to use another. Some of us are athletically fast and powerful others of us aren’t, so we need to learn other survival skills: we need to lip read where/when we can’t hear. Not all of us can engage in a toe-to-toe fight etc, some of us are better at playing a “stun and run” game, where we attack/hit and run etc. Everything is about being able to naturally adapt to the situation.
In training we must keep challenging and upping the intensity etc. This Friday, Myself and Noah went to Mass Eye an Ear to try and find out the cause of his hearing loss e.g. did it develop or was it inherent. Apparently, there is a genetic condition in Ashkenazim Jews (myself and my wife are of this descent), where their child can is prone to and can develop both hearing loss and at a later date loss of eyesight. Being able to adapt and manage to this is a real mark of toughness. There are 3 types of loss, and I hope, beyond hope, that Noah will not lose eyesight as well as hearing but I will also know that in his world that what he experiences is normal. We have a lot of tough people within our school, who accept the training and adapt to it; who understand the knocks and bruises they'll take without mentioning them and who trust that the world that is created for them on the mats is a safe and normal one. This is all about being tough. Simply giving and taking a beating is not about being tough.
I grew up in a “tough” environment, where my dad – like many others – spent time in prison etc, and I learnt to adapt and manage my situation; I thought it was normal (tht was my world). This is what being tough is about, being able to adapt to what the situation(s) you face without losing who you are within it, and accepting the extremes you face as being normal e.g. no big deal. It is possible to make a big deal out of everything e.g. a trip to the shops can be spun to be the most extreme thing etc. Sometimes we just have to accept that the situations we face are what they are and it's up to us to manage and deal with them. Violence may seem extreme however it is our choice to see it for what it is, put it in its plce, and manage it.
We will meet on the mats this week, and we will all have the opportunity to be tough; that is we can train to the situations/partners we face and adapt accordingly or we can carry on doing what we do regardless.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 18th Nov)
It doesn’t take any intelligence to take a punch, nor does it take a lot of intelligence to throw one – most fights would never start if it did. Nor is it a mark of “toughness” to be able to take a beating; that is simply a matter of conditioning i.e. if you take enough shots in your life, you’ll be able to manage the physical pain – being bullied as a child taught me that one (you can hear and feel a rib crack in a very detached and disassociated manner). The endurance of physical pain is not in itself a mark of toughness, though many people, especially in the martial arts, believe it is. However the way in which you emotionally adapt to the pain is.
I went to school with a lot of “tough” kids who had never been in a physical confrontation: those whose parents went through messy and aggressive divorces, those who had fathers in prison, and those who witnessed the death of a sibling or a close friend. They were tough because they knew how to emotionally adapt and cope with the potentially traumatic situations they faced, whilst not changing the person they were as an individual.
It is common knowledge that bullies are cowards, weak and not really tough, however they are often more than capable of being able to dish out a beating (and take one) – something a lot of school bullying programs fail to acknowledge. Emotionally weak people are more than able to inflict both physical and emotional pain as well as injury. Most bullies have themselves been the victims of bullying. Where they are “weak” is in their emotional capacity to adapt to the physical and emotional punishment they endured; rather than become stronger themselves they engage and perpetuate in the activities they were subjected to e.g. spreading rumors, trying to isolate others and engaging in threatening or physically abusive behavior. This is not being tough this is putting up a façade and an image of what they believe society believes to be toughness and they’re often successful in doing so.
Many people may have seen the “physical” portion of Animal Day as being the mark of toughness e.g. putting on the head gear/body armor and standing toe to toe with someone and slugging it out. After watching the video footage of everybody I noticed a correlation between the way people performed in the physical/aggression component and the way they handled themselves in the decision making/adaptability section. Some people were great at slugging it out they put on the headgear and started swinging, others started slow and then when they realized what was required of them started to up the intensity. These were the ones who coped best in the situation we presented. These were the adaptable ones: the tough ones.
Physical pain needs to be recognized, often it isn’t recognized e.g. I’ve been hit on the head with mobile phones, full bottles of beer etc. and never realized what was happening. The foolish would argue that this was a mark of toughness. I’d disagree. I would rather be judged as being tough, for having been bullied without becoming a bully. It doesn’t take much to learn how to endure pain; a victim of domestic abuse will tell you how quickly they learnt to take a beating, and how much harder it was to come to terms with what was happening to them and adapt to their emotional situation i.e. the tough part. Understanding yourself in a difficult situation and honestly coming to terms with it is the mark of toughness.
Watching video footage of CQC training footage is fascinating stuff. My favorite parts are watching the moments of realization and understanding on people’s faces and then seeing them make a decision. In my head I still relive the first time I did a CQC circuit; I vividly recall not handing over my wallet to an aggressor and as a result engaging in a fight in an environment that was totally stacked against me – it taught me a great lesson about not engaging when I didn’t have to. I carry that lesson with me daily. I fucked up and I know it. Lesson learnt.
We think that the person who engages in every potential confrontation is the tough one. I disagree. Standing up to a situation is very different to engaging in one. Walking away from a threat, whilst your peers look on, is a difficult thing to do – that’s why we left everybody in the room who had finished the CQC circuit beforehand. Believing how you should act in front of others but following your own plan, ideas and decisions is about staying true to yourself. It’s about not following the predictable path/route but doing what is right. That’s being tough.
If you think that being tough is about enduring physical punishment etc. there are plenty of MMA gyms etc that will take your money along with your face and make you tough. There is a physical component to toughness but learning how to take and give a beating is not the way. Learning to understand, interpret and adapt is. I always hope that people take from the mats. Not just the physical self-defense but the ability to adapt and respond to situations in their day-to-day lives. That’s being tough. I hope the CQC training last Saturday helped and advanced that.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 12th Nov)
Everything is a choice. There are good decisions and bad decisions; there are seemingly good decisions that will set you up for bad ones. Much of reality based self-defense and combat is based around the decisions you make i.e. there are times when it’s sensible to disengage and times when it’s best to engage etc. Sometimes you have to “play the game”, other times you can ignore it and walk away. This is what CQC/Close Quarter Combat training is all about – presenting the possible options for avoiding violence and demonstrating the potential consequences for engaging in it. In true CQC training there is always the option to avoid conflict and from a reality based perspective this is always the one you should choose.
In Krav Maga we talk about “closed” and “open” drills. A closed drill is where there is a predetermined outcome e.g. you respond to somebody’s attack and they behave in a particular way. In an “open” drill there are no such scripts. From a purely physical perspective sparring is the ultimate “open” drill – you and your partner respond to each other as you want and don’t have to play any particular roles. CQC Training is basically the RBSD (Reality Based Self Defense) equivalent to sparring, where you have the chance to behave and act in a situation with few restrictions.
This Saturday’s training illustrated a few things…
Situations occur within environments and environments lend themselves to different types of combat etc, often you don’t know what you will be facing, or what will be required of you. As soon as you enter a situation that is potentially hostile you should be looking to assess the terrain e.g. what movements are going to be difficult – if you are on a train or a surface that is moving, your footwork is going to be restricted etc, are there objects in the environment that can be used to act as barriers and blocking obstacles and are there tools in the environment that can be used (nobody picked up the baton or noticed the knife). All of this has to be assessed in a few moments, often whilst other things are occurring. In our training this was mainly the information that the instructors were providing. It was interesting to note, looking at the video footage that nobody looked behind them when they walked in. Reality exists behind you as well as in front.
Not all information is relevant and information isn’t instruction. We have a tendency to fixate on certain details and forget to try and understand the entire situation e.g. not looking behind, or checking our “flanks” the moment we understand that we could be at risk. Walking through the door into the training environment was akin to moving from a non-conflict to a conflict aware one (People’s adrenal responses were often clearly visible). There were two buzz words that people heard “gun” and “exit” and different people evaluated them differently e.g. those with a law enforcement background realized the need to secure a hot/live weapon – different words mean different things to different people. There were also two routes to both; not everyone chose the route that was furthest from the most obvious threats – the instructors (we hadn’t booby trapped the training area!) – to get to their chosen target.
There are no right or wrong answers in these training situations, or right or wrong things to do. People were motivated by different concerns and interpretations of the environment and went through different mental processes, and reached different conclusions that made sense to them. The value of these sessions is to consider alternative solutions and understand what these could have meant from a personal safety perspective and speed up the decision making process. I would still stand by the adage that it is better to do the wrong thing than nothing and from a self-defense perspective hesitation is akin to nothing. Reducing and eliminating this is a core goal of this type of training.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Thu 8th Nov)
Many people are in a rush to both “test” a technique whilst at the same time and in the same process master it. Firstly, no technique is perfect and every technique has a supposed Achilles heel e.g. it is easy enough to argue that punching isn’t very effective against an opponent who is able to move out of the way every time someone tries to strike them – one of the things that makes a punch effective is the element of surprise and the accompanying speed with which it is delivered. If my partner knows I am going to put a particular wrist-lock on them, they are only required to move and tense in a particular way to prevent me being successful; something I can easily rectify by repeatedly slamming my thumb into their eye socket. If I mimic this action in a training environment by lightly placing my thumb on a person’s eyebrow, I would hope that in 95% of all scenarios they’d act as if the eye-strike had been made to the actual target and respond accordingly: for the most part training involves playing the game and drilling/practice requires a necessary level of compliance for an individual to discover how a technique works. The phrase “learn before you load” comes to mind.
In a real life altercation I never press home a technique, if somebody is able to resist what I’m doing, I’ll simply move on to another technique and so on etc. This is a great way of training to deal with non-compliance etc but is totally useless if you want to learn and practice a particular technique i.e. you never get to practice that technique, which means you are limiting your progression. In a training environment, where somebody who knows the technique you are practicing resists, they are loading before you learn. There are times to offer resistance etc but normal practice isn’t really one of them. This is why we have sessions like “Animal Day”
I had a student who was 210 lbs, a phenomenal athlete, and whose roundhouse kick rocked the world. The problem was that his roundhouse kick was technically terrible. If he could have applied some basic principles to his kick, it would have been phenomenal, but the instant reward of hearing the pad crack when he kicked it, would’ve been temporarily lost if he’d tried to alter and work on his kick properly – his ego wouldn’t allow him to take the necessary step back, and kick with less power, that would have seen him have to learn a “new” way to do his kick. He was much happier to continue on the way he was and in doing so “limit” his own improvement. Oftentimes we can believe we’ve reached our goal/end because we’ve surpassed the ability of those around us, rather than going on to modify/improve what we are doing. Our job should be to be the best individuals and practitioners we can; if we should be able to kick double what the person next to us is able to, then we shouldn’t be satisfied with our current effort and do everything we can to take the time to improve on what we have – we should learn before we load.
Turning every training session into a “test” of techniques, and your ability to perform them, is like continually walking into an exam room without having done any revision, having opened the books and studied. Training all the time in a state of duress is not the method for learning how to succeed. Real life violence, and an aggressor’s exact movements can be hard to replicate in the training environment (especially if you want to train safely), and non-compliance doesn’t always just come in the form of physical resistance, it can come in the form of your assailant moving away, or moving to a different attack/assault (just as you would do in a real-life situation if met with a “non-compliant aggressor” who was thwarting your attempts to finish a particular technique). Non-compliance can be broken down and trained, we do this when we look at the different ways an aggressor can retain their weapon if a disarm is attempted. We can then build these into drills, that train and practice counters to all of the different ways/methods and then we can practice under duress and test what we have learnt. This is the progression and all need to be trained.
On Saturday we will look at the different ways an assailant can counter what we do and how it is often necessary to forget “pure” technique and distill everything down to the bare bone principles and work off them – this is not the starting point for our self-defense but something we may be required to do depending on the assailants we may end up meeting. This is about thinking (or not thinking as it were) on your feet; this is the time we apply the load to what you've learnt.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Wed 7th Nov)
A central tenet of the Krav Maga Yashir system, is meeting an aggressor’s forceful/harmful intent with a greater degree of your own. This often flies in the face of many martial arts that teach a more Zen/Peaceful approach to self-defense; that the martial artist should be somehow held to a higher standard of conduct than their assailant. Krav Maga is an Israel system, and in the Hebrew Bible, there is the line, ”Im ba l'hargekha, hashkem l'hargo”, which translated means, “when someone comes to kill you rise up and kill him first.” Encapsulated in this line, is the basis of the attitude and intent you should have (and need) when dealing with aggressors.
The street and other real-life locations, where violence occurs, differ from the mats, the ring and the cage. In these sport settings, the intent of your opponent is known i.e. they are looking to win according to the rules of the competition e.g. by points, a referees decision, a knockout, a submission etc. In reality when somebody starts screaming and shouting in your face, you’re largely unaware of their intent. You may be aware of the reasons and causes for the situation arising in the first place but you are largely unaware of the end-game that your aggressor may have in mind – your assailant may lack a defined end-game or outcome simply knowing they want to punish you, dominate and humiliate you for your actions and/or behavior.
Underestimating your aggressor’s level of harmful intent is a dangerous game to play. I remember the first time I was hit as a kid. I thought the whole thing leading up to it was a joke and that everyone was on the same page; everyone else was, just not me. It took me a while to learn and realize that not everyone else shared the same view and perspective of a situation that I did – when you are bullied as a kid, you are desperate for friends and willing to believe that any signal of acceptance is real. In the adult world, you may think that spilling somebody’s drink is a minor inconvenience and something that can be easily rectified and discussed in a reasonable manner, the person whose drink you have spilled may have an entirely different view of the situation and be far from reasonable about it. If you start viewing such situations from the perspective of the way you would interact with yourself if you were the aggressor/assailant in a situation you are liable to underestimate the intent(s) and goal(s) of the people you are dealing with.
Whoever you face, whatever the situation, you must assume that your life is at risk; that the person you are dealing with – regardless of your relationship with them (stranger, friend, family member etc) – is capable of finishing your life whether deliberately or inadvertently. Violence however trivial it may seem always has some risks associated with it. You must always assume that the fight you are in could be your last and that you must act accordingly. You must always assume, and never second guess, that the person you are dealing with wants to end your life. If somebody comes to kill you, you must kill them first.
Where knife is concerned you should always assume that the person with the knife has come to kill you; unless they tell you or indicate otherwise e.g. in a threat situation you may be given options/alternatives, such as, the mugger tells you you’ll not get cut if you hand over your wallet etc, if they ask you to move to another location, they’ve definitely come to kill you. If a person with a knife indicates that they are going to use it, you must be prepared to use it against them to the same degree of lethal intent that they are demonstrating towards you. You may like to think of yourself as the righteous warrior however let me put you in a squash/racket ball court with someone armed with a knife and you’ll soon change your mind. You’ll fight to survive. If you get the chance to “disarm” someone of a knife, in situations where disengagement isn’t an option you will want to use it. Having the intent to use it is far more important than the ability.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 6th Nov)
Punching someone is a decision, stabbing someone – if you are armed with a knife, or have picked up a stabbing/slashing weapon in the course of a fight – is a decision. It is not one that you can reach only being 50% sure of your choice; hitting someone with only 50% of your power, will and emotion behind it is a dangerous and possibly irrelevant thing to do. When you decide to do something in a fight it has to be with full conviction, belief and harmful intent i.e. you have to be willing to inflict the most serious and utmost pain upon the person you are dealing with. Why? Because they have given you no choice; If you have to hit them etc, it’s because that is the only solution left available to you, the only one they have given you. You have the “Moral Authority” to act.
I still recall the student who once asked me, if they eye gouged an assailant, should they do it to an extent of “just enough”. If you have to eye gouge somebody it’s going to be an eye gouge, there are no degrees of extent. If you punch a person, you are going to punch them. There should not be at this point an internal debate around “reasonable force” etc, if you have to punch somebody “reason” left the building several hours ago and you are into the stages of animal instinct and survival. You should always assume the person you are dealing with has a knife, until proven otherwise. The only time you will know that they don’t have a knife, or are unable to use it is when they’re unconscious; till that point they have a knife. How hard are you going to hit/punch a person you believe has a knife? If it’s less than 200 % you need to have a rethink. How quickly do you want to end a fight, which could see a knife being pulled? Before it’s begun and that means hitting first, and with everything you’ve got. This is reality.
The “world” doesn’t like this message. It wants us to take our assailant by the hand, sit them down around a campfire and teach them the words to, “I’d like to teach the world to sing.” This is the Zen Bullshit and option that those who have never dealt with violence like to believe that martial arts and self-defense offers. The world doesn’t know about or deal in violence and I’m happy to say that we know better: that we do. When I put my hands up in an interview/fence/de-escalation stance I’m telling everybody (not just my assailant) that I don’t want to fight. I’m giving my aggressor every, and I mean every opportunity to walk away – not even back down – simply walk away. If that choice isn’t taken then you/I have the moral authority to act and that means acting with 100% conviction, because nothing less will cut it. Everybody should be ready to walk away however when that isn’t an option the only one that is left is full force and absolute pain.
I know this is against everything that civilized society promotes however where violence is concerned society and it’s civilized behaviors cease to be relevant. Survival becomes key. If I have told a person I don’t want any trouble, whilst I back away, and they still keep coming I have the moral authority to act (I don’t need a lawyer or my best friends opinion), I just need to act. I have two choices. If I’m not able to position myself and the other person to land a devastating power strike, I will set one up with a soft strike, such as an eye strike/gouge or a hit to the stroke, or I will put myself in a position to finish them with one strike – it may take more but each one is delivered with that intent.
I will present a made up statistic, 90% of all fights see the person making the first strike walk away with less injuries and consequences: sometimes referred to as a “win”. This is why throwing the first strike, with intent, is so important – as is following it up with equal intent. The first strike should disrupt the attack, the second should damage the attacker (combine the two and your ahead of the game), the third should be aimed at destroying the person and after that it’s about disengagement.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Sat 3rd Nov)
Everybody has a story that brings them to the mats. It may be a story that is based on real events, or one that is founded on a set of fears and insecurities, alternatively it may be one that is based on an idea of self-image that the person wants to realize and achieve achieve e.g. who doesn’t want to see themselves as the person who is able to defeat a group of attackers who are armed to the teeth, and then be applauded by passers-by? Whatever the story a person has that brings them to a martial arts school it can be something that helps to push them forward or which hinders their advancement – sometimes it is necessary to honestly re-visit the story in order to write the next chapter in a positive manner.
This is what the traditional martial arts talk about as “humility”, which in practical terms is really about being honest with yourself and acknowledging who you are as an individual; there is nothing wrong with being scared of violence – it’s a healthy and sensible attitude to have. Ego might tell you otherwise however trying to be somebody you’re not when dealing with issues of survival is an extremely dangerous route to take. The You that you might imagine you should be may believe that you should confront any person(s) that tries to step above you in the pecking order /disrespects you but the you, who you actually are, knows that the potential consequences of doing so are often greater than you’re willing or able to bear e.g. what if a knife gets pulled, what if you have legal charges brought against you, what if the way you see yourself gets destroyed? The last one is often the one that wins it for most people: what if your self-image is ripped to shreds – few people will ever risk their self-identity and put it on the line. Those who are able to do so are the genuine tough guys.
This is why I have the utmost respect for anyone who steps out on to the mats for the first time. It takes balls. For some people this is the greatest moment in their martial arts career. For some it represents the moment they conquered and overcame a crippling fear, for others it was a moment that was soon forgotten and discarded as they got caught up in training for the purpose of training, making sure that their self-image was projected across the mats; that in drills they were always one better than their training partner, that they gave better than they got, that there was always an excuse when they failed to perform etc. The person they realized they were when they first stepped out on to the mats is long forgotten.
I never forget my first Judo Class (32 years ago) – because it let me know exactly who I am i.e. a scared, nervous anxious kid who knew that I had to do something about being bullied and behaving like a victim. In the years since I’ve not changed that opinion of myself, instead I just know what I have to do about it. I know what fear is and how to manage it, and I know the necessary and appropriate solutions to violent situations and when to apply them. I still feel the same fear and anxiety as I did all those years ago but now I know how to handle and deal with it and what reality requires of me. I have always felt fear and trepidation in the situations I have had to deal with, except on a few occasions when my fear system overrode this for me and put me on autopilot, however I have always been able to function and apply what I know (as well as being extremely lucky at times).
To truly progress your ego has to be put aside, you must be honest about who you are and the story which brought you to training. Too many people expect that enough time on the mats will make the magic happen for them and they will change who they are. In fact it should be the opposite: you should acknowledge who you are in reality and then work to resolve and deal with this in training.
The day I walk in, strutting my stuff, with my hoodie pulled up and fist bumping everyone you’ll know I’ve given up on this and resorted to my internal self-image; the person who I think I should be, not the person who I am.
In ten days we have “Animal Day”, leave your image at the door and reconnect with who you are. Be honest and train hard to address that which needs to be addressed.
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