Category Archive: Strategy & Principles

Cool Moves

Cool Moves

Cool Moves

Recently I was working out at a gym, hitting a heavy bag. A bit into my workout another guy started hitting the heavy bag next to me. He was obviously a very skilled boxer, and his technique was awesome. Basic boxing is the first thing I teach in the MMA Base, to get practitioners accustomed to distance, position, timing, throwing punches, getting punched at, and so on. But I’m no expert boxer. So this guy next to me was moving and hitting the bag in a way that I’m not able to. He had very cool moves.

We both happened to take a break at the same time, and he complimented me on what I was doing. There was a boxing ring next to us, and I told him, “Well, I wouldn’t want to get in the ring with you!” He replied, “I wouldn’t want to get in the ring with you!” We talked a little more, and figured the best thing for both of us would be to get in the ring for a little sparring, and to share our knowledge. I wanted to get better at what he was doing, and he wanted to get better at what I was doing.

In the first round we limited our light sparring to boxing only. I felt like a 6 year old sparring with an adult competitive boxer. He was able to evade, parry, or cover every punch I threw, and to counter my attacks with awesome counterpunching skill. He gave me some pointers, and showed me the mechanics of some of his footwork and evasive movement.

Then it was time for the second round, where we could add kicks, knees, elbows, and clinch. In this round he felt like the 6 year old. His boxing skills seemed to instantly disappear. In the first round, I couldn’t touch him. In the second round, he couldn’t touch me, and I could hit him at will.

I showed him how he could easily add a few kicks to his toolbox, how he could use knees and elbows in the clinch, how he could defend against kicks and clinch entries, and so on. With his skill in footwork and movement, I figured it would be easy for him to quickly apply that material. And I’m sure he figured it would be easy for me to apply his footwork and evasive movement. Of course, it wasn’t easy for either of us.

When he tried to add kicking and kicking defense, he was too busy thinking to react in real time. And when I tried to add his evasive movements and certain covers, I was too slow to make them work. I went home thinking I had some really cool moves to train and work on.

The next time I met my training partner for practice, we started drilling these new boxing moves. After drilling them for more than an hour, it was time to try them in light sparring. A couple of the techniques worked well, but the one that I thought was the coolest, an evasive technique that combined footwork, body/head movement, and switching leads, didn’t work at all for us. We were too slow, and hadn’t trained it enough. Additionally, compared to our standard high percentage material, even the new techniques that worked didn’t work as well as what we normally used.

High Percentage Techniques

If we wanted to become boxers, then it would make sense to continue training these techniques. But if we prefer to train a mix of techniques that are as efficient and effective as possible for self defense, then it probably doesn’t. Could these new techniques work in self defense? Definitely. But are there higher percentage techniques/movements? I think so.

If you’re training toward a goal (a boxing fight, a karate kata competition, self defense proficiency, etc.), the techniques you should train most are the techniques that have the highest percent chance of achieving your goal. There is an important difference between what is possible and what is probable. Many moves from other systems might look and feel cool to do, but unless your goal is to look cool, your time would be better spent on your high percentage moves.

The difficulty here, especially for a beginner, is knowing which techniques are high percentage and which are not. If my partner and I trained this evasive movement more, I’m sure we’d be able to make it work. Looking at a positive result though, understanding how it would work and where it would put a practitioner if it did work, I think there are better options in most self defense situations. There are probably exceptions. But with limited training time I lean towards focusing most on techniques and training methods that we know are high percentage for self defense. What techniques are those? My website and books are full of them.

With all the training and teaching I’ve done in functional self defense, I still found myself seeing cool moves and temporarily switching my focus to them. There’s nothing wrong with trying something new. If we didn’t we wouldn’t learn anything. But we need to know when to continue and when to switch course, otherwise we may get stuck going down a path that isn’t ideal for us.

Don’t Miss This!

If you really want to maximize your physical self defense skills there is some great information on this site that will help you do just that.  But you’ve probably missed it.  And if you have seen it, you probably didn’t realized how valuable it is.

For those of you that did realize how valuable it is, please take this opportunity to take another look at how well you’re integrating it into your training.

Of all the emails I get from readers and subscribers, almost none of them mention the most valuable and useful material I have: the Covered Blast, the Fundamental Five, and the 4 Step Matrix.

It doesn’t matter what martial art(s) you practice.  These are strategies that anyone can apply, and if you apply them correctly you will win every time.  I’ll write that again.  These are strategies that anyone can apply, and if you apply them correctly you will win every time.  Use them!!!

The Covered Blast

The Covered Blast is a strategy that maximizes your options while minimizing your opponent’s options.  It allows you to continuously attack your opponent without taking damage yourself.  It gives you a way to combine offense and defense, distance, position, and timing so that your opponent doesn’t have a chance.  I won’t go into the strategic and technical details here since I already have a page with information, pictures, and examples, but check out my page on it: http://www.functionalselfdefense.org/covered-blast

The reason why Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners were and generally still are able to slaughter Japanese Jiu Jitsu practitioners is because they use part of what exists in the Covered Blast – “position then submission”.  The BJJ founders and practitioners realized that if you are in a superior position you can have your way with your opponent, while he can do nothing to you.

When two people fight with only techniques and no meta strategy, the fight is won by whoever happens to score first, or whoever happens to get more techniques in against their opponent.  This is a recipe for disaster, especially if you are smaller and weaker than your opponent.

But if you understand how to start from a superior position and how to maintain that position throughout the fight, your opponent will always be playing catch up, at best.  That is what the Covered Blast is about.  It is the most important concept/strategy on my website.

You’re already here, so make sure you apply it to your practice!

The Fundamental Five

The Fundamental Five is only briefly covered on this website, but there are 35 pages on it in my first book, The Ultimate Guide to Unarmed Self Defense.  And there is enough material on this site to get the gist of it if you watch the video and click through the links on this page: http://www.functionalselfdefense.org/techniques/

The Fundamental Five is the application of the Covered Blast in 5 different scenarios.  It provides practitioners with 5 default responses that are geared to real world physical self defense situations.  If you are threatened and cannot escape you can hit and run or blast the opponent until he is no longer a threat.  If your opponent attacks first with strikes, crash to get to a superior position and take him out.  If he uses a grappling/take down/tackle attack, use the grappling defense to turn the tables.  And if you find yourself overwhelmed, use the clinch entry or low strike intercept.

These default responses provide you with solid solutions to a wide range of attacks.  They don’t require you to match specific defenses to specific attacks.  They work without thought.  And you don’t have to use exactly the techniques that I use.  I recommend that you do.  But if you train another system you can probably find techniques from your system that you can use in their place.  The key is to have default responses for each of the different scenarios, and to make sure that the default responses incorporate the principle of the Covered Blast.  Having solid default responses is the difference between taking out your opponent when threatened and freezing under pressure because you weren’t sure what to do.

The 4 Step Matrix

The 4 Step Matrix is the application of the Covered Blast for self defense with weapons.  In my second book, The Ultimate Guide to Weapon Use and Defense, there are 84 pages on it.  And here on my website there is a detailed page on it with pictures and video: http://www.functionalselfdefense.org/weapons/4-step-matrix

The 4 Step Matrix works with any weapon and against any weapon, and because it is the application of the Covered Blast it ensures that you are able to continuously attack your opponent from a superior position while he is unable to do anything but attempt to block your attacks – at best.

Why Are People Missing These?

The Covered Blast, Fundamental Five, and 4 Step Matrix are concepts/strategies.  When I teach people in person and demonstrate these concepts, students instantly see how valuable they are.  But on the web and in print, where I can’t demonstrate these concepts *on* readers, it’s too easy to forget about the concepts and only pay attention to the techniques I’m using.  The techniques are easier to see, so people miss the concepts that are being applied.

Don’t do that!

These concepts will be more beneficial to you than any techniques I demonstrate, if you actually think about them and work on applying them to your practice.  Once you have a solid technical base, they’ll allow you to beat opponents who are much bigger, stronger, and faster than you.  They’ll allow you to do more with less.

Please let me know in the comments below why you think people may not be seeing the value in these concepts.  Am I not explaining them well enough?  If you have any questions or comments regarding them, please ask in the comments below and I’ll be happy to answer them.

How to Learn 10x Faster

Optimize Your Training

Optimize Your Training

I recently started taking lessons with another excellent oud/music teacher, and the exercises he has been having me do in our lessons have reminded me yet again how important teaching and learning with an optimal curriculum is.  The difference in the quality and speed at which you can learn with optimal practice is incredible.  I recently played for a friend of mine who has played the oud since he was a kid, and he remarked that in the last three months I’ve made seven years of progress.  That’s probably an exaggeration, but the point is solid.  The same goes for martial arts/self defense, or anything else you may be learning.

Unfortunately, in my experience most teaching is far from ideal, and most students really don’t know how to practice to get the best results.  Even when you do know how to practice optimally, the natural temptation is to do what seems easier or what you feel you may enjoy more, and it’s easy to get off course.  Two years ago I wrote a post titled 5 Tricks to Learn Better and Faster.  Two of the most important tips in that post were to master one small thing at a time and to practice just beyond your ability rather than attempting to go too far beyond it.  Even though I wrote that post myself, in my music practice I’ve still tended to practice playing entire compositions rather than breaking them into small/difficult parts in order to improve, and I’ve often practiced material that was far beyond my ability.  I got very little benefit from such practice, and a good bit of frustration.  And this is despite my first teacher telling me to do otherwise!

I see the same thing in martial arts practice all the time.  For example, at the last school I went to I watched as an instructor had students practice a combination of techniques that nearly everyone was failing to execute.  Why?  Because most of the people in the class weren’t able to do each of the individual techniques in the combination well enough.  They couldn’t possibly remember the combination, because they were too busy failing to do the first technique in the combination correctly.  But rather than stopping and working on each technique one at a time, the instructor just watched as the students made sloppy attempts, and then he moved on to the next combination they were unable to do!  This kind of practice is not only useless, but counterproductive.  But it’s common everywhere…

My wife and I have both taken foreign language lessons.  Recently my wife was complaining that her teacher has her read whole pages out loud, where she doesn’t know a substantial number of words.  This is how her textbook is arranged.  And I had exactly the same experience in my first foreign language classes.  Our teachers simply followed the text books without thinking about how much sense the curriculum made.  It would have made far more sense to learn the vocabulary first, then to listen to the teacher read the material, and then to read through it ourselves.  Trying to read through something where you don’t know what the words mean or how to pronounce them is pointless, frustrating, and counterproductive.  Yet, many language books are structured that way.

Attempting to learn or practice like this is like teaching someone a few boxing moves and then telling them to fight.  It just doesn’t work.  Students with such sub-optimal training will end up overwhelmed and developing bad habits.  And bad habits take much longer to correct than if the material had been learned well in the first place.

The solution is simple.  You need to use what Matt Thornton called the I Method, which I have briefly written about in the training section of my website and in detail in my first book.  There are three phases to the I Method: introduction, isolation, and integration.  It doesn’t matter what you’re learning.  The concepts are the same.

Begin with a single technique.  This is the introduction phase, and it only takes a minute or two in most cases.  Then drill the technique in an easy/cooperative environment with progressive resistance and intensity.  This is the isolation phase, where the technique is learned well and pathways in the brain are really laid down.  The isolation phase can and often should always be a part of training, where you can perfect technical mechanics and increase speed and power without being interrupted.  And the final phase is the integration phase.  At this point you integrate the technique into actual performance.  And at this point it is crucial that you do not train too far above your ability!

You can start the integration phase with a single technique and a single defense with low intensity, and slowly and gradually add techniques and intensity.  The key is to train right around the edge of your skills.  Sometimes a little below them, where you can perform solidly, sometimes at the border where it’s challenging, and sometimes JUST past your level where you fail.  Once you fail, you can stop, determine why you failed, create an isolation exercise to address the failure point, and then re-integrate.

This strategy of training right past the edge of your ability, figuring out why you fail, and creating an exercise to deal exactly with that failure, will lead to very fast and efficient increases in your skills.  On the other hand, if you either get stuck in the introduction phase, which is what happens in many martial arts that primarily use solo training, or get thrown into the integration phase with too many techniques and too much intensity too soon, as is also common, you’ll end up learning very little of anything that actually works.

You can and should apply this to everything that you do or teach!  🙂

The Importance of No Style

Breaking Walls

Breaking Down the Walls

Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do concept, which is philosophically rooted in Zen, was and still is outstanding.  The central aspect of it is to have no style, to avoid being limited by the confines of particular styles and to maintain a fully open mind with respect to everything.  It is only with an open or empty mind that one can see clearly, without being blocked by the boundaries of particular ideas and ways.

Are All Styles Bad?

It’s not that every style is all bad.  There are great techniques, training methods, and strategies in many styles.  But in order for a style to be a particular style, it must be defined.  It must be limited to particular ways.  And those limitations become your limitations.

If the style you practice only trains striking, then you won’t know what do to if someone gets you into a clinch or on the ground.  If the style you practice only trains grappling, then you won’t know how to handle someone who tries to strike you.  If the style you train only involves techniques to certain areas of your body, then you will be ill prepared if your opponent attacks you in an area that is off limits in your style.

Some styles only train stand up, and some only train ground.  Some styles only train strikes, and some only train locks.  Some styles don’t train with weapons at all, and some only train with weapons.

In order to train real “self defense”, no single style is enough.  Additionally, being limited by any single style is detrimental both mentally and physically, limiting what you are able to see and what you think about what works and what doesn’t work.  Whatever you train or think operates in two directions.  Your training and thinking influences how you see the world.

Breaking Down The Walls

This concept is also very important outside of self defense and martial arts.  Limiting yourself to particular ways of thinking or to particular ideas and ideologies blinds you to the truth outside of them.  You literally become a prisoner of your own imaginary walls.  Anything outside of your walls becomes either bad, wrong, or must be ignored in order to maintain the validity of your walls.  If you break down your walls, refusing to attach yourself to any ideology or way of thinking, then you open your mind to the truth regardless of where it originates.  Reality and the truth exist beyond any ideology or system of thought.  The only way to see as clearly as possible is to break down your walls.

This is far harder than it may seem, and very few people are able to come close to accomplishing it.  In Zen, breaking down the walls is “enlightenment”…100% freedom of thought, not limited by anything other than physics and biology.  Complete freedom requires destroying ALL of the imaginary walls.  It means destroying your conception of self, who you think you are, and therefore how you think you need to act.  It means severing all attachment to everything you have learned.

This does not mean that you should or even can forget what you have learned and experienced.  But if you want to be able to see whatever truth exists beyond what you already think you know, if you want to see where you are mistaken and what that you think is incorrect, then you must sever your attachments to any knowledge, group, or ideology.  If you want to see as clearly as possible, your mind must be free to do so.  It must be unattached to style, ideology, and doctrine.  The truth is beyond them.

The way you think determines what and how you think about everything.  Breaking down the walls will not only allow you to see beyond the limitations of various self defense and martial arts styles, but also to live your life as freely as possible in every moment.

What imaginary walls have you built for yourself?  This is worth seriously thinking about and applying to both your self defense practice and your life.  It will make you a better and more satisfied person in every way.

The Ultimate Guide to Weapon Use and Defense

The Ultimate Guide to Weapon Use and Defense

The Ultimate Guide to Weapon Use and Defense

After more than two years, my second book on weapon use and defense is finally finished:  The Ultimate Guide to Weapon Use and Defense.

My first book covered techniques, training methods, and strategies for unarmed self defense, awareness and prevention, and physically defending against an unarmed attacker with no weapon of your own.  This second book starts where the first book left off, and covers both unarmed defense against weapon threats and attacks, and how to use weapons to defend against armed opponents.

Although I find both books equally useful, particularly since the material covered is entirely different, and the first book has received very high ratings/reviews, the few people who have read the first book and draft copies of the second one have told me they like the second one even more.  If you’re interested in weapon use and defense, I’m confident you’ll find this book extremely useful.  It contains the most efficient and effective weapon techniques, training methods, and strategies you will find anywhere, for stick, knife, gun, and improvised weapons.

You can find out more about the book, and purchase either a digital version or a hard copy here.  If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below or contact me here.

How Many Reps Should You Do?

I’d like to share an idea I read about on another blog this morning that I find very useful.  How many good vs. bad repetitions do you need to practice in order for whatever you’re doing to stick correctly?

When you’re learning something new you’re not going to do it exactly right the first time around.  Let’s say it takes you 20 attempts to do it more or less correctly.  You got it “wrong” 19 times but right on 20.  According to what Noa (a sports/performance psychologist) wrote on the post Adequate Learning vs. Overlearning, the optimal number is around 20 more correct reps, or 100% more correct reps.  This makes a great deal of sense to me.

Whatever we learn is stored in pathways in our brains.  Incorrect repetitions create incorrect pathways.  So if you’ve practiced something wrong 19 times and right only once, you’ve trained your brain to do whatever it is you’re doing wrong.

Of course it’s not quite so simple.  It may be that each repetition was better and better, so instead of ingraining a bad pathway 19 times you were actually modifying/changing one from wrong to right.  Nevertheless, what you really want to ingrain in your brain is the best pathway.  So it makes sense that you’d want to do at least as many correct/perfect/ideal repetitions as incorrect or sub-optimal reps.

In my own practice and teaching I probably don’t do enough correct reps after learning a new technique or skill.  This leads to coming back the next day and doing worse than I did at the end of the previous day.  Then I wonder why I “got it” the day before, but lost it the next day.  Based on Noa’s post and the corresponding research, the reason makes sense.  I did it wrong more than I did it right, so the right path wasn’t optimally ingrained.

I’m definitely going to try to integrate this concept into my practice, and I think you should too.  I also highly recommend subscribing to Noa’s blog.  Although it’s related to music, most of his posts are about learning or performance, have excellent insights, and apply equally to any performance art.

You Need to Fail

Failure

Failure

In one of my recent posts, Is Your Training Realistic, I mentioned two important aspects of functional training. First, if your training partner isn’t really trying to stop you from succeeding with your techniques then you need to tell him “don’t let me do this”. And you need to hold him to it. Second, you need to make sure the techniques you’re using in sparring are the same as those you are using in drills and other training methods. If your training partner isn’t trying to stop you by any means, and if the techniques and applications you’re drilling are not what you’re using in sparring, then your training is not realistic.

The Value of Failure

Here’s another thing to keep in mind: You need to fail. If you’re not failing in your practice, then you are not realistically training and you are not maximizing your ability to learn. If you’re not failing, then you’re not pushing to your limit. If you’re not pushing to your limit, then you don’t know where your limit is, or where the borders of your skills are.

You need to know where your limits are in order to most effectively work on extending them, on increasing your skills. You shouldn’t be training to fail, but you should be training until failure at least some of the time. When your partner attacks, resists, or fights back more than you can handle, causing your defense to fail, it provides the best opportunity for you to learn. At which point did you fail? Why did you fail? Repeat it again. Slow it down or lighten up just a little until you no longer fail, and then gradually increase the intensity to extend your skills. If you need to, break whatever you were doing down into different components to figure out exactly where your problem areas are. Focus on the problem area until you’ve solved it, put the parts back together again, and repeat.

Continuously training above your level, where your instructor or opponent is always beating you, is not productive at all. But training well below your level, where you’re always winning, is equally unproductive. The ideal place to train is right below the edge of your skills, having your partner push just beyond them to gradually extend your limits.

Strength Training

If you’re doing strength training, and you should be for health reasons, this same principle applies. The growth of muscle and strength is a biological adaptation. Your body is not going to adapt unless it thinks it needs to. You have to send the signal to your body that it must adapt. How do you do that? With failure.

If can lift 100 pounds ten times, and you continuously go to the gym and lift 100 pounds ten times, you are never going to increase your strength. If you want to increase your strength, you need to fail in your workouts. You need to attempt to do more repetitions than you can, or more weight than you can. When you fail, it will send the signal to your body that it needs to adapt. Otherwise, your body will have no good reason to add strength or muscle.

Failure In General

Anyone who has ventured out and tried new things will fail. I’ve certainly failed a lot more than I’ve succeeded! But failure should be the best lesson you can learn. It’s a step on the path to success. Failure may teach you that something is harder than you thought. But it shows you where your skill or knowledge gaps are, which allows you to fill those gaps. You may also learn that whatever you were trying to do isn’t worth the risk or the effort. That’s ok too. But if you’re never failing, then you aren’t really trying. Look at failure as a positive sign, and use it to grow. It’s a sign that you’re pushing into uncharted territory, an opportunity to learn or move forward.

What to Do About Paris

ISIS Beheading for Blasphemy

ISIS Beheading for Blasphemy

As all of you know, there were horrific terrorist attacks in Paris this past Friday.  Having recently lost my mom I feel even worse about these attacks, having some idea how the families of victims will be suffering.  Some of you may not realize that more than 40 people were also killed by a terrorist attack in Beirut the day before.

What should we do about these attacks?  Before we can answer that question we need to be able to see and speak the truth regarding one of the most fundamental aspects of the attacks.  These attacks were carried out by Islamic extremists.  There is no doubt that these terrorists are absolute nut-cases.  But crazy and barbaric as they are, what they are doing comes straight from Islamic doctrine.  Many so-called liberals, including politicians like President Obama, refuse to call these terrorists what they are.  They refuse to acknowledge that a direct line can be drawn between Islamic doctrine and these attacks, that what the Islamic State is doing can be traced directly to the Quran and Hadith.

I am not by any means suggesting that all Muslims are bad people or terrorists.  Two of my best friends are a Muslim couple from Iraq, I have a good friend from Afghanistan who is a Muslim, and I spend an hour or two every day playing the oud, a Middle Eastern instrument.  But when President Obama says “ISIL speaks for no religion” and “ISIL is not Islamic”, he is delusional.  What the Islamic State and other Islamic terrorists are doing around the world comes directly from Islamic doctrine, from barbaric ideas in the Quran and Hadith about infidels, jihad, and martyrdom.  There is a reason the terrorists are screaming Allahu Akbar as they carry out their attacks.

Most Muslims fortunately ignore the violence in their doctrine, and Muslims are suffering far more from Islamic terrorism than non-Muslims are.  But in order to deal with the root of this problem, this Islamic extremism, we have to call it what it is and address it at its source.  There must be an Islamic reformation, a rethinking of the ideas of Islamic doctrine, in order to decrease or stop the conversion of nominal or moderate Muslims into Islamic extremists.  There needs to be a conversation on the subject that what was written in the 7th century must be taken in that context, and amended to fit secular and modern values.  Without that conversation, without honestly talking about the root of the problem, there can be no hope that it will be solved.  Without that conversation, young people hearing hateful rhetoric from crazy preachers will not have the intellectual tools to question it.

I continuously hear so-called liberals shutting down any conversation about the validity of Islamic doctrine, calling it bigotry or racism.  This is not only wrong, but counterproductive.  It is not bigoted or racist to question the validity and usefulness of ideas.  It is a necessary pursuit.  Questioning inhumane practices, sharia law, sub-human treatment of women, and so on, is essential.

I am not suggesting that US and European foreign policy hasn’t played a role in these attacks.  We may be better off staying out of Islamic countries entirely, not supporting military dictators, and not supporting Saudi Arabia, a country little better than the Islamic State.  We’d certainly be better off denouncing Israel’s illegal occupation and continued theft of Palestinian land.  And I’m also not suggesting that poverty and disenfranchisement aren’t contributing to these attacks.  But the core problem is fundamentalist Islamic ideology.  That is what motivates terrorist groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.

We’re not going to be able to completely stop terrorist attacks in the near future.  But if we want to have a chance at stopping them for our children and grandchildren, we need to find a way to change the ideas that lead to the attacks.  The only way to do that is to be honest about the ideas in the first place.  Here is an excellent podcast on this subject from Sam Harris, who says it much better than I do.  Please take the time to listen:

I realize that this conversation must take place in Muslim communities.  Coming from the west, it’s probably not going to go over well.  But the more the truth is told, the more likely it is to take hold with reasonable people everywhere in the world.  Every good person needs to denounce brutality, especially if that brutality is a fundamental part of one of the world’s major religions.  Hiding behind political correctness or trying not to offend those who hold offensive beliefs, by any humane standards, is unlikely to produce positive results.

EDIT:  Only 8 hours and I’ve gotten a load of emails about this, along with a number of people unsubscribing.  I guess that is to be expected.  But I want to clarify one thing and reiterate another:

  • I’m independent of any grouping, but in general I tend to be very liberal on most issues.  I used the term “so-called liberals”, because the people who are not standing up for everyone suffering under the weight of fundamentalist Islamic doctrine are not real liberals.
  • Again, I am not implying that all Muslims are bad.  I have nothing whatsoever against Muslims.  My problem is with fundamentalist Islamists.  I fully realize that most Muslims are not fundamentalists, not terrorists, and are good people.  What I am saying is that a conversation needs to be had about what is actually in the doctrine regarding infidels, jihad, martyrdom, etc.

Fight From the Void

Komuso Monk

Komuso Monk

If you fight from the void you’ll always win.

There are different meanings and levels of understanding of the void, all of which are valuable.

Technical Void and Physical Space

When an opponent attempts to punch you in the head there is only one small space that is immediately dangerous.  If you move anywhere else it is not dangerous.  When your opponent attacks, his effort is directed at one point.  He creates a large personal void everywhere else.  If you move into that void and attack from it your opponent will have a difficult time defending.

When you fake an attack to a particular target and your opponent reaches out or covers to defend against your attack, he creates a large personal void everywhere else.  When you redirect your attack into that void your opponent will have a difficult time defending.

When your opponent has been deceived and is entirely unaware that you will attack, his body and the area around it is a void.  When you attack from and into such a void your opponent will be unable to defend.

In the above situations there is a technical/physical void, but there is also a corresponding mental void.  Your opponent expects one thing and not another, and you attack with what he does not expect, what he is not ready for.

Mushin (No Mind)

Mushin is a state of “no mind” or “empty mind”.  It is the ideal state for high level performance not only in martial arts/self defense, but in any activity.  When you focus on one thing you are not focused on any other thing.  As a beginner, any activity requires that you focus on particular individual components of that activity.  But as you get better and better and the activity becomes natural to you, you no longer need to focus on any individual component.  You can perform from a state of mushin, with no thought to get in the way or slow you down.  When you perform from a state of mushin you are fighting from the void.

A person who fights from the void can adapt instantly to change.  A beginner will be defeated by the technical strategies listed above (interceptions, fakes, etc.), but an advanced practitioner who fights from the void can adapt to them.  This is a higher level of fighting from the void.

Here is a quote on this subject by the Japanese swordsman Yagyu Munenori translated in William Scott Wilson’s book The One Taste of Truth – Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea:

When practicing archery, if your mind is occupied by thoughts of shooting the bow, your aim will be disordered and wandering.  When using the sword, if your mind is occupied with thoughts of strikes and parries, its tip will not likely be regulated.  When practicing calligraphy, if your mind is occupied by thoughts of writing, the brush will be unsettled.  When playing the koto, if your mind is filled with thoughts of plucking the strings, the melody will be confused.

Yagyu Munenori uses examples from a variety of arts: archery, sword fighting, calligraphy, and playing the koto (a musical instrument).  Anything you do that teaches you to act from the void or get into a state of mushin, including meditation, will give you experience operating from the ideal performance state.  That experience will help you in everything else that you do, as long as you put in enough practice time to make the fundamental movements second nature.

It’s no wonder that out-of-work samurai formed the Fuke Sect of Zen and spent their days playing the shakuhachi…

Blowing From the Void

Mujitsu Shakuhachi

Mujitsu Shakuhachi

The idea for this post came from my last shakuhachi lesson with my excellent teacher, Jon Kypros.  A few of my recent posts have been related to the shakuhachi and how they were designed to be used as weapons by samurai monks.  The more I play and learn about the instrument, the more I realize how perfectly the instrument and its original music complements martial arts practice.  I would go as far as to say that anyone who wants to get deep into martial arts would benefit from playing the shakuhachi for a variety of reasons.

In shakuhachi honkyoku music, it is taught that the empty space or void between the sound is as important as the sound itself.  An ideal is for the sound of the flute to ring out of the void*, and in order to do this well it must be played from a state of mushin.

In my last lesson my teacher mentioned that he spent three years practicing before he felt good about playing a certain two notes in succession.  To sound right they need to ring out of nothingness with the right attack, and the duration of each note must be fitting.  This idea of ringing out of the void gave me a new way to think about strategy and tactics in martial arts/self defense.  As I said, it’s no surprise that out-of-work samurai formed the Fuke Sect and spent their days playing the shakuhachi.

Lauren Rubin writes:

The daily life of the Fuke monks at the temples was quite regulated and disciplined. The komusō monks engaged in suizen meditation (“blowing zen”, meditation through shakuhachi playing), zazen (seated meditation), and sutra chanting. Daily activity at the temple centered on playing the shakuhachi. The daily schedule for the monks included practicing martial arts, practicing the shakuhachi, and begging.

The shakuhachi in the picture above is one I recently purchased from Ken LaCosse (highly recommended!), which he made with a black urushi lacquer exterior coating based on vintage komuso flutes.  Ken makes two types of shakuhachi.  He calls the one I bought in the picture above a mujitsu shakuhachi, and writes that mujitsu “alludes to the contrast/connection between emptiness (mu) and form (jitsu)”.  This idea of emptiness/void and form is common in both martial arts and shakuhachi.

You can hear it in the music my teacher plays below, on one of his much longer flutes (made and for sale by him):

Sorry, this video has been removed.

Again, I highly recommend playing the shakuhachi and lessons with Jon as a compliment to your martial arts practice.  You won’t regret it.

*Two of the three most highly regarded honkyoku are named koku and kyoreiKoku translates roughly as “empty sky” or “empty space”, where empty has a meaning equivalent to the void.  The composition is written and played to express sound ringing out from the void (as the the monk Fuke’s bell rang out).  Kyorei translates roughly as “empty bell” or “empty spirit”, and again the composition reflects the sound of the monk Fuke’s bell ringing out of the void.

Deception In Self Defense

Deception is one of the most effective tactics you can use in self defense, and using it well will allow you to attack where your opponent is unprepared, all but guaranteeing your success.

Below is a quote from The Art of War, an outstanding book of strategy and tactics written in China by Sun Tzu more than 2,500 years ago:

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

In MMA or fighting sports, deception can be used on a variety of levels.  You can “hold out baits” by leaving certain targets exposed, you can “seem unable” by faking a minor injury or stumble, you can “seem inactive” while actually waiting to ambush when your opponent attacks, you can fake high and hit low, and so on.  But in fighting sports your opponent knows you are there to fight, and he likely knows a good bit about you, your skills, and your fighting style.  In self defense on the other hand, particularly against an unknown assailant, there is no limit to the types of deception you can use.

Pretending to Be Weak

In a real self defense situation your opponent will have no idea if you will fight back.  In fact, in many cases your opponent will probably assume you will not fight back, otherwise he would have chosen an easier victim.  By “pretending to be weak”, acting as if you will not fight back, you can viciously attack your opponent when he does not expect it.  Adopting a fighting posture may help to dissuade an attacker in some situations.  If he believes you are more than he wants to deal with, it may work.  But if you’re pretty certain that you’ll have to fight, doing so when your opponent does not expect it is far superior to giving him cues that tell him to prepare himself.

Most martial arts and fighting sports teach practitioners to adopt a fighting stance in preparation for fighting.  And it’s somewhat natural to attempt to show your opponent that you’re prepared, to put on a show of toughness.  But think about the difference between these two scenarios:

  1.  A guy walks up to you and for some reason he tells you he’s going to fight you.  You back up a bit, get into a fighting stance, and signal that you’re ready.
  2.  A guy walks up to you and for some reason he tells you he’s going to fight you.  From a non-threatening posture you tell him you don’t want any trouble.  Just as he begins to react to your statement you quickly and unexpectedly nail him with the most efficient and effective technique you can use.  Or, you spray him with pepper spray and move out of his way.

Which option do you think would be more likely to succeed?

(Keep in mind that this is only a hypothetical situation.  I would never advocate fighting or physical self defense if there is anything you can do to avoid it.)

Technical Deception & Surprise

Around 1632 in Japan, a swordsman named Yahyu Menenori wrote a text he called The Life-Giving Sword.  In it he wrote about deception:

The truth is hidden within, a ruse is placed without, and in the end one is drawn onto the Path of Truth.  In this way, all deception becomes truth.

Every deception includes an element of surprise, when your opponent realizes that he has been tricked.  Anything you can do to bring your opponent’s attention to one place in order to attack a place where he is unprepared is a successful use of deception.  One great option is to throw something at your opponent’s face, any everyday object (coins, keys, a book, bag, etc.), and then nail him as he reacts to your move.  Everyone will react in some way to having something thrown at their face.  They’ll turn away, close their eyes, attempt to block it, catch it, or even just move their head out of the way.  This will create the opportunity for you to attack while your opponent is unprepared, to kick him as hard as you can in the balls, for example.

In addition to faking or using techniques to bring your opponent’s attention where you want it, using unexpected techniques is a form of deception:

Groin Slap

Groin Slap

In fighting sports there are not only rules and limitations on permissible techniques, but certain conventions in terms of what techniques are used and how.  There are particular sets of techniques that are used in every system, from judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu to MMA.  But in self defense there are no rules.  There are no limitations as to what techniques or weapons you can use.  However, there are general expectations that your attacker will likely have, and violating those expectations can be an incredibly effective tactic.

When the vast majority of people think about fighting, they think about the classic techniques used in MMA, a combination of what is basically boxing/kick boxing/Thai boxing and wrestling.  I’ve trained in MMA gyms, and in my experience everything MMA fighters do is geared toward punching, kicking, and wrestling.  They don’t practice otherwise, and they don’t expect otherwise.

Although techniques like eye strikes and groin slaps aren’t magical moves that will allow you to beat anyone, as you still need to understand and be able to manipulate distance, position, timing, etc., they are extremely effective, and equally important, they are unexpected by the vast majority of average people and fighters alike.

Eye Strike

Eye Strike

The triangular footwork that you can use with eye strikes and groin slaps is unexpected by most people, and when combined with the unexpected targets and the use of deception, they are excellent for self defense.

Whenever you think about potential self defense scenarios, or even fighting/sparring scenarios, consider how you can use deception to your advantage.  As Sun Tzu said, “All warfare is based on deception.”  If you’re not using it, you are seriously handicapping yourself.