Protecting Friends & Family Members etc.

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 27th Oct)

Most people start learning a martial art in order to be able to protect and defend themselves, some also want to learn how to defend partners, family members, children and possibly friends. When we imagine violent scenarios, we often do so from the perspective of being on our own; with no one to either help us, or be responsible for. However if we take a look at our lifestyles, it may be that the times we are alone are actually less than those when we are with somebody else e.g. if you are a parent, or caregiver, you might spend the majority of your time with children etc. if you also consider the situations where you may be at a greater risk of violence, such as drinking and socializing late at night, it may be that you are rarely alone, and will have your friends and/or your partner present.

If you want to be able to protect another individual, the first thing you have to do is to get them to buy into this idea. My son now recognizes that it is a good idea for me to hold his hand, when in parking lots and crossing the road; this wasn’t always the case, and in the early days I had to wrestle with his squirming hand as he tried to break free of my hand. If somebody is unable to see the potential dangers and threats that they may be exposed to, they will not see the need to be protected. This is often where we go wrong, as we highlight the most extreme and worst case scenarios we can imagine, literally trying to scare the other person into feeling the need to be protected. My son at the time had never seen, or known of a child who had been hit by a car, and would have been unable to imagine or conceive of what such an incident would look like, he had however fallen over and hurt himself – it was that which convinced him to buy into the idea of holding my hand when we crossed the road; in case a car came and we had to speed up and he stumbled and fell. Explaining and describing extreme situations to people who have never experienced violence, will either lead to them being paralyzed with fear and/or not truly believing that you have the ability to protect them. Everyone can imagine a mugging scenario, or one where they accidentally spill somebody’s drink over them etc. and using these examples will probably be more productive, in getting the person you wish to protect to buy in, than using one involving gangs and abductions etc.

In personal safety planning is everything; acknowledging, assessing risk and planning how to both avoid and handle it should occur is key. When another person is involved planning becomes even more important, along with the ability to condense a plan down into its simplest and most base form, so that they are able to follow and employ it when under stress and duress. You may feel you have the faculties to make difficult decisions when under duress, however the person you are instructing should not have to make any decisions, they should just know how to act, and what to do; their job is to simply follow instruction, whether that is to stay back, call the police, find and inform someone who may be responsible for security etc. It may also be informing them how to act and behave in a situation, such as handing over money, wallet, possessions to an armed mugger etc. It does you little good in adverting a physical confrontation if you hand over your wallet, and the person with you doesn’t. Your instruction, should also be realistic, that is you want people to be able to act upon it. Telling a small child to run and leave you in the event of a violent confrontation is probably unrealistic, as they will feel safer being with you, rather than away – even if this is not the case. In my experience people work best with a defined goal e.g. telling a person just to run is not going to be as effective as telling them to run to a particular place, or find a particular person etc.

Just as we have to battle with accepting that we are in danger, and getting out of a state of denial, so will the person you are with. Keep your plans simple and realistic, and communicate them in a non-sensational, matter of fact way. If this involves children, be aware of the language you use, as you don’t want to alarm or scare them – at the same time you want to let them know that danger, however unlikely, does exist, and with a good plan you will be able to keep them safe. 

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Punching Problems - Fixing Common Errors (Part 2)

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 20th Oct)

In last week’s blog, I looked at two common issues that occur when people are learning how to punch correctly when striking with the rear hand e.g. flaring the elbow out and lifting the back foot of the ground. These are issues we may be aware of, that we have but to fix them we need to understand why we make these errors. In this week’s blog, I want to address issues surrounding general “lack of power” when striking with the rear hand, and some of the issues that people have in forming a correct fist.

One of the problems people often have when learning to punch for the first time, is trying too hard. At first it would seem that putting maximum effort into a punch, would yield the maximum return however I believe there is a big difference between intent and effort. When you strike it should be with maximum intent but the actual effort, should be that which is efficient. My background is in Judo. When you first learn to try and throw somebody, you usually do it in the most inefficient manner, pulling or pushing the person you are attempting to throw with all your might, and trying to lift them upwards, rather than simply taking their balance through added/extended movements, to their own larger movements; as you get better, your throwing starts to take advantage of your opponent’s movement(s) and your throws become effortless. Striking is no different. Power comes through speed, and speed is made possible when the body is relaxed. The problem is that when we tense our muscles, we “feel” them, when we relax them we don’t. If we can feel our muscles working it seems obvious to us that we must be employing them, and that must mean we are punching as “hard” as we can. A good power punch, like a good throw, should feel effortless – and that requires us to be relaxed.

This is one of the reasons that the hands shouldn’t be clenched into fists, when in a “Guard Position” and/or at the start of the punch; as this ends up tightening the muscles of the forearm, and bicep - muscles which are used to contract rather than extend the arm. The Bicep, and forearm muscles are used to grip, and pull things towards us, the opposite of what we are actually trying to do when punching i.e. extending the arm – and fist – towards the target. If these muscles are tensed, then they are effectively fighting against the punch. The Tricep muscles (the ones at the back of the arm), are used to extend and straighten the arm during the punch, and these large muscles should only be felt working if you are pushing against something that offers resistance. This is not the case when striking, when the arm is extending without resistance. If you feel your arms working i.e. the muscles tightening, then you need to relax, as you are inhibiting the motion of the arm.

You should be aiming to land your punch behind the target, driving through it. Because you are/should be delivering power into the target, your relatively weak fist has to be tightened, to make sure it is both a solid striking tool, and that the fragile bones of the hand are protected and don’t get broken. When you strike you should aim to hit the target, with your largest knuckle, and rotate the Fist anti-clockwise, around this point, to bring the second knuckle into line with it. The thumb should be positioned under these two knuckles to add support. When viewed from the side, the knuckles of the hand/fist should be in line with the top of the wrist, neither pointing up (which would mean the “knuckles” of the fingers would connect) or down which would mean the wrist/hand could be bent inwards.

The Fist should strike straight into the target, drive through it, and be pulled straight back. It should not “scuff” the target, either upwards, sideways or downward but hit the target square on. The longer your fist drives, and pushes through the target, the more the force of the punch is spread out; your punch should hit the target, deliver the force, and be removed in the shortest possible time – you don’t want to waste power pushing the target, rather you want it to absorb your power in a single moment. If when you are working the focus mitts or other pads, and you find they are not being knocked back at speed, in a snappy fashion, but instead are being pushed back, your punch is lacking recoil. As fast as you throw the punch, once it has reached the end of its journey it should be pulled back with equal speed. Try to not get into the habit of just pulling the arm back, but rather look to pull the hip back, which in turn pulls the arm back. This makes the recoil faster, and also sets the hips back into a neutral position, allowing for other strikes to be thrown. Just as the body drove the punch forward, so it should pull the arm back.

In conclusion relax, and aim to throw your punches with speed (if you can feel the muscles of your arms as you throw the punch, you are more than likely tensing them). Your fist should strike with the top two largest knuckles, with the top knuckle being the one, which you want to visualize hitting first, with the second one coming to “join” it. Strike through the target, and then pull the body back, which will in turn pull the arm. In all your movements use efficiency rather than effort.  

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Punching Problems - Fixing Common Errors (Part 1)

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 12th Oct)

Punching with power is really your “bread and butter” when it comes to fighting/self-defense. Being able to hit hard, deliver concussive force, and cause your aggressor extreme pain is probably the quickest way to force them out of the fight either emotionally and/or physically. This is one of the reasons that we practice striking, movement and relative body positioning in class so much i.e. we want to strike not only from an advantageous position, but also one where our aggressor/opponent is in a disadvantageous one – this is where we have maximal effect. This article is the first in two, where I want to look at common errors when striking, why they occur and how to fix them. The two issues I want to address in this piece are: elbows flaring/lifting out/up when striking, and the back foot lifting up when striking with the rear hand.

Elbows flaring outside of the body is one of the most common issues I see with people learning to punch for the first time, and something that even experienced martial artists do, when tired and exhausted – sometimes adding a “swinging” motion to their strike, at the expense of the linear, forward motion that should power the punch.

To utilize the full power of the forward momentum of the body, and the turning of the back/hips, the arm needs to travel in a direct, straight line, with the arm extending at the elbow, keeping the fist, elbow and shoulder aligned. For most of the journey of the punch, the elbow should be pointed towards the ground, and only turns outwards when the fist rotates from a vertical to horizontal position, towards the end of the strike. If the elbow flares out not only is power lost, but the punch becomes easier for an aggressor to detect because the silhouette of the torso changes i.e. your shape breaks.

One common reason for the elbow lifting is that the fist turns over to early in the strike. If you hold your arms vertical in a “guard” position, and make a fist, with the knuckles pointing up, and then try and turn/rotate them to point forward, you will feel that your elbow will start to lift. For the wrist to rotate in the strike, and take advantage of the shoulder muscles, the elbow needs to turn outwards. If you do this before the arm is about 80% extended, the elbow will flare, and power will be lost.

Another reason the elbows can flare, is down to a person’s fighting stance having the arms not held vertically but at an angle, where the elbows are positioned outside of the body, rather that tucked/positioned by the sides of the ribcage. If your elbows are already flared before the strike starts, they will stay flared throughout the strike.

Another common issue I see, is the back foot leaving the ground, or having no weight placed on it, when a rear strike/punch is thrown. Both legs should be active at all times, for a variety of reasons, and this means keeping them not only in contact with the floor, but with an element of weight on them, so that they can be used if necessary – if you literally end up with all your weight on your forward foot, you are punching on one leg, and the other has little use other than as a counterbalance to keep you upright. If there is no weight on the back leg, it is impossible for the hip to turn/push forward, and extremely difficult to employ the back muscles in the strike. All the strike really comprises of is the body’s forward momentum.

One of the reasons why the back foot may lift, is a desire to put “all” of the body’s weight into the strike, literally throwing everything into the strike. When I talk about being “committed” to the strike, I refer to committing all the different components of a strike, as one; not about one part overriding all the others. With a rear strike, an absolute maximum of 70% bodyweight should be on the front foot, and the head, should sit over the shoulders, and the shoulders over the hips, so that the torso is upright for the back muscles to turn it, which in turn allows for the arm to travel further, and for the hip of the rear arm to drive it forward. If you are leaning forward, and standing on one leg this is almost impossible to do.

A quick remedy for this, and one that will add more power to your strike is to sink the hips, as this will force weight to be pushed into the legs and feet – despite having weight on both feet, they should also feel active, and light: heavy hips, light feet. Staying upright will also put weight back into the rear foot, if you find you have a tendency to lean forward when you punch (leaning forward often comes from the punch leading the body, rather than the body driving the arm forward).

Whilst you want to put everything you can into the punch, you want to do so whilst staying balanced, and able to move. A good check for this is to see how quickly you are able to move after you have thrown a combination. If you find that you have to do a lot of re-setting of weight, before you can move, you are probably over-committing your bodyweight to the strike.

Next week’s article will look at punches which push rather than drive, and how to get “snap” into your striking. 

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Adult Bullying/Workplace Bullying

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 5th Oct)

October is National Bullying Prevention month, and so I thought it appropriate to write a blog piece on bullying. Rather than look at school bullying, I want to take a look at adult bullying, with a focus on the workplace, as this is an area, which often gets overlooked, yet the bullying actions and behaviors of adults can be as equally vicious, aggressive and damaging as that perpetrated by children. 

Who Bullies? A popular misconception about bullies, is that they are individuals who suffer from low self-esteem. This is often said to victims, to make them feel better about themselves; that it is the bully who has the problems and issues not them (this of course doesn't help the victim but it makes the person dealing with the problem, feel that they have in some way helped, and made things better). Bullies don't suffer from low self-esteem, they actually have very high levels of self-esteem, however they lack confidence in it, and question themselves over it constantly, needing to prove to others that they are in fact the top dog, and all round amazing individual that they see themselves as. In a workplace setting, an individual may believe that they are the most talented and gifted person in the building, and yet are baffled that nobody else seems to think this or recognize them as such. This causes them to question the way they see themselves, and so they engage in bullying activities to demonstrate their dominance and superiority in that particular environment. Bullies are basically insecure people who suffer from a larger than average ego, along with high self-esteem.  

In the workplace, bullying sometimes though rarely manifests itself in a direct physical way, though there may be threats of violence and acts of intimidation that would lead the victim to believe they are at risk. But bullying doesn't have to be physical, and this is where many of the damaging social and emotional acts the bully (and their group) engage in get overlooked. Gossiping, rumor mongering and the spreading of lies and falsehoods are also acts of bullying, if the intention is to cause the larger workplace group to try and shun and exclude the victim, from conversation, social events and the like etc. In many cases the bully is able to surround himself/herself with a group of individuals who are looking for a way to enjoy a higher level of status within the environment and they will help an assist them in the spreading of these rumors. This starts to create a them and us atmosphere in the workplace, with the bully and their group attempting to set the workplace rules, defining who are acceptable individuals and who are unacceptable. 

In any environment where bullies operate, the most important players (including school bullying situations) are the bystanders, those that watch the individual being bullied don't take part and feel uncomfortable at what they have witnessed. It is this group (which are usually in the majority number wise), if they are vocal and active that can often change the culture of the workplace, and demonstrate that the larger group doesn't accept or tolerate the bully (and their groups) behavior e.g. gossip and rumor mongering can be cut dead if nobody repeats the lie, social exclusion is impossible if the larger group includes the victim etc. Bullies, and those they attract around them rarely change, but the larger group can help create and define an environment in which they, their behaviors and actions aren't accepted and tolerated. 

One advantage an adult victim of bullying in the workplace often (but not always) has, is the opportunity to leave. If a workplace is toxic, because of the activities of one or a few individuals, the most obvious thing to do is leave. Is it fair? No, but is it practical and effective? Yes. Whilst we might hope that the larger group or a supervisor or manager might sort the situation out, this will not always be the case. Confronting the bully may have a short term effect, however in the long term, the challenge will be seen as a questioning of the bully's status, and is likely to lead to further, and more extreme forms of bullying in the future. If there is an opportunity to leave an environment where such activities and behaviors are tolerated and accepted then that is usually the best course of action to take. 

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