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Monday, August 10, 2015

Thinking Something Through

I came across the following article in my FaceBook feed.

As a self-defense instructor, this is the kind of story I love to see. It's a story about someone trying to victimize someone else, and getting their comeuppance for their actions (yes, I just used the word comeuppance in a sentence. It's a good word. I like it). I think it's fantastic that these two men stood up to their attacker.

But the last sentence of the article profoundly bothers me.

"If only we all had our own West Point grads protecting us at all times."

The notion that we (where we is anyone who is at risk of being victimized) need our own personal bodyguards in order to be safe is not only false, it's (obviously) unsustainable. But that notion is also demonstrably wrong. There are plenty of stories of people with absolutely no training fighting back, successfully, against their attackers. Certainly, being a West Point grad is not a requirement for self-defense (if it was, the number of people capable of defending themselves in this country would be severely limited).

I would hope this story would inspire more people to seek out training, rather than to wish they had specially trained bodyguards to protect them.

One final thought: the article rightly notes that a lot of LGBT people don't have any kind of training in self-defense. That's unfortunate, and honestly, I suspect it's exacerbated by the culture of a lot of martial arts schools (which, let's be real, aren't always particularly friendly to people in the LGBT community). I honestly haven't the faintest idea of what to do about that fact, but it's unfortunate. If more bigots though they were going to get smashed instead of doing the smashing, I suspect we'd see less of this behavior.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Reasons, Challenges, and Excuses

I started thinking about this so long ago that I forgot how it got started. Apparently, it first came up listening to a podcast, but the origin isn't that important. It's the concept that I think matters.

There's a meme in our culture (particularly in the fitness and martial arts industries, but it seems to pervade everything), that when someone says they cannot do something, the response is something like "If you really wanted it bad enough, you'd make it happen. Stop making excuses." Or, on a smaller scale, the coach who says "You should never miss practice. No excuses."

On a certain level, I understand where this mentality comes from. If someone says they want something, but don't act on it, at some point, you have to acknowledge the disconnect. As a coach, I know all to well how frustrating it is when an client's response to "where were you last night" is a shrug and guilty smile. It's annoying as hell.


The whole "no excuses" meme (like so many things designed to sound hardcore and tough) can go to far. There are excuses, but there are also reasons and challenges, and they aren't the same thing.

Reasons sound something like this:
  • "My child was sick, and I stayed home to take care of him."
  • "That project I've been working on for the last two months? There was a major glitch, and it had to be fixed before the day was over, or the whole thing was going down the tubes."
  • "My daughter had a basketball game, and I wanted to attend."
In other words, they are moment-to-moment decisions based on a personal set of priorities. There was a conflict, and the person in question chose the option that was not training.

(I had an illuminating conversation with John Connors that illustrated some of this. When his son was playing little league, John did the math and figured out that he had about 80 opportunities in his entire life to watch his son play baseball. After that, he would literally never have a chance to do that again. So he made a point of never missing a game, because he knew the chances were so limited. Priorities.)

(Yes, of course, you can make a choice that your training is more important than your family. You can make whatever choices you want. It's your life.)

Challenges are reasons that last. In other words, you might have a reason for missing a training session. Challenges might keep you from training at all. So they might sound more like this:
  • "My finances are too tight for me to afford a gym membership."
  • "It's really hard to find time to get to the gym."
  • "I'd love to study sword fighting, but the closest instructor is an hour away, and I can't make any of his classes in time."
Challenges are things that need to be overcome. They shouldn't necessarily stop you from training, but they are real and valid concerns that can make it more difficult for people to achieve their goals. Ross has some good advice here on dealing with the busy-ness portion of things, but the point is, challenges are real.

Excuses, of course, are what everyone worries about. They tend to sound like this:

  • "I overslept."
  • "I was kinda sore, and I had a bad day at work."
  • "I really wanted to finish watching Daredevil."
In short, while they might express a reason for missing training, a little bit of thought shows that the reason probably wasn't a great one. If training matters to you, set your alarm. You can train through fatigue. And while Daredevil was pretty awesome, but it's probably not worth missing a training session over. After all, it'll still be there when you get back.

(Again, if someone wants to prioritize watching TV over training, that's their right, but I suspect those people aren't reading this blog.)

Why does this matter?

For the athlete/student/whatever, I think this is a decent filter. If you're going to miss a training session, check with yourself--do I have a reason to miss this session, or am I making excuses? If you have a reason, skip the session guilt-free. If you're making excuses, knock that shit off and go train.

For the coach/instructor/trainer/whatever, I think this is actually more important. Before you berate a student for not showing up, find out why. If they have a reason, acknowledge that. I had a student apologize for missing class because a family member died. That's ridiculous. People have to live their lives.

On the other hand, if the student overslept, or forgot their car keys, or some other ridiculousness, then, yes, that is an issue. How you handle that issue is, of course, up to you. If it's a one time event, this shit happens. If it's a recurring theme, it might be worth a conversation.

Related Post:
Stop Apologizing

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Shaw Brothers Silliness

I started this rant (and it is a rant, absolutely) a while ago, but couldn't find a clear hook to hang it on. Thankfully, some extreme goofiness from China came to my rescue.

A little bit of history. Like a lot of martial artists, I went through a period of time where I was really into (if not quite obsessed with) Hong Kong action cinema, and in particular the Shaw Brothers kung fu movies. One of the recurring themes in these movies was some kind of contest between experts in two different martial arts styles. Tiger vs. Crane. Karate vs. Kung Fu.  Shaolin vs. Ninja. I could go on, but you get the point. For most of my youth, these kinds of style vs. style discussions occupied a lot of our time. Then the UFC came along, and it turned out that these contests really didn't look anything like we thought they would. And yet, for some reason, people wouldn't let them go. And so we get stuff like this.

We have here what is ostensibly a contest between a Judo black belt and a Tai Chi Master. As a number of people have pointed out, this looks pretty staged. The Judo player doesn't move like a black belt, nor does he show the kind of tactical acumen I'd expect to see from a skilled fighter. But that's a secondary point, because honestly, I think the whole "style vs. style" thing is goofy and pointless, and that's what I'm here to make my case about.

So, for arguments sake, let us assume that this video is real. What does it prove? The Tai Chi practitioner made the Judo player stumble, and then declared victory. There are two possible formats that this kind of contest could occur in: sport, or self-defense ("street", if we must).


That stumble wouldn't qualify as a victory in any competitive format that I'm aware of. Winning by a single throw in Judo requires  "executing a skillful throwing technique which results in one contestant being thrown largely on the back with considerable force or speed. (" That stumble certainly doesn't fulfill that criteria. I'm reasonably certain it wouldn't score in any other grappling format that I'm aware of. Maybe it would count as something in push hands competition (I'm totally unfamiliar with that rules set)? 

In any kind of boxing or kickboxing match, the stumble would be irrelevant, as the whole point of those contests is to hit the other person really hard. Honestly, that clinch would have been broken up a long time ago in most of those formats. 

In an MMA fight, it wouldn't have counted for much of anything either. Maybe it would look good in the judges' eyes, but I have a hard time imagining a fight so close that a stumble like that would mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Basically, in sport, that "throw" wouldn't have meant anything significant. Declaring it a victory seems premature at best.

Self-Defense ("Street")

Even in that context, the movement still wouldn't have accomplished anything. Maybe the Tai Chi player could have used the space he created to run away, but unless that movement slammed the Judo player into a wall or some other hard object, even that might have been difficult. It certainly didn't cause any damage to the Judo player. Even with a context shift, I'm still not seeing how that movement counted as any kind of victory.

The Real Problem

Even if we accepted the claim that the Tai Chi master was victorious, this contest isn't representative of anything like a violent assault. In fact, it's really not representative of anything.

Martial artists seem to feel this incessant need to worry about how practitioners of various styles would fare in a fight against each other, but when you get down to it, that question is rarely relevant. For self-defense, it's certainly irrelevant. Judo black belts don't go around mugging Tai Chi guys for their lunch money. Or vis-versa. Violent assaults don't look like martial arts contests. 

If your concern is self-defense, the enemy you are preparing for aren't trained martial artists. That doesn't mean they aren't dangerous, it just means that they don't attack in the same fashion that trained fighters do. The question of whether or not you can beat another martial artist really isn't a big deal.

If your concern is sport, it may be worthwhile to consider how other styles train, if you are competing in a format where practitioners of multiple styles actually compete. Boxing matches, for example, are almost always contests between two boxers. Even if you get the occasional kickboxer/Nak Muay/MMA athlete who decides to enter a boxing match, those athletes are generally training in boxing, and will use the same tactics, since the rules restrict them from using anything else (Samart Payakaroon was a successful boxer and a successful Nak Muay, but he wasn't leg kicking people in the boxing ring). There are some grappling competitions that draw practitioners of multiple styles, and MMA fights theoretically allow anyone from any discipline to compete (though, as Jeff Burger pointed out during another conversation, some styles have a better track record than others). 

If you're not training for one of those sports though? This style vs. style stuff is just Shaw Brother's silliness. And the choreography isn't even that great. Let it go.