Category Archive: This and That

Torturing Animals

Torturing Dogs

Torturing Dogs

There is very little if anything that pisses me off more than people torturing or abusing animals. Of course it’s terrible when people abuse other people, whether on an individual basis or on a societal level…war, genocide, etc..  But at least people have the ability or potential to flee, speak up, or fight back.  Animals can’t speak up, they can’t escape, and they can’t fight back.  In my view, people who abuse animals are the worst of the worst – people who should not be allowed to live freely and continue their horrible acts.

So today when I came across this article, Bred to Suffer: Inside the Barbaric U.S. Industry of Dog Experimentation, it pissed me off.  The U.S., and most if not all countries, engage in all sorts of horribly immoral acts.  The government employees that sanction them and the people that commit them likely justify them with some kind of mental gymnastics, something that makes them think they aren’t doing something as bad as they actually are, that there is a greater good they are serving, etc..  And I’m sure that with dog and other animal experimentation the researches justify their actions by imagining that they are serving some greater good…making sure the cosmetic products they’re pushing aren’t bad for human health for example, or testing untested medicines on animals to see what side effects they cause, if they’re deadly, etc..

But here’s the thing:  Imagine that some humans or some other creatures evolve to have larger brains and to be even more intelligent than humans.  Imagine that these greater-than-human creatures would like to do everything from putting cream on their faces to curing diseases that they have, but they aren’t sure their products are safe and won’t cause them problems.  Would it be ethical for them to cage you and your family in order to test their products on you, simply because you are less advanced than they are?  Surely the answer is no.  And if it is no for you, it also must be no for creatures that are less advanced than you are.  Without striving toward such a standard, we are hypocritically creating a world we wouldn’t want ourselves or our families to live in.

If people feel the need to test products to be used on other people, they need to be tested on other willing people.  We have no right to experiment on other conscious creatures fully capable of suffering, simply because they are “less than human”.  If this means we can’t use this cosmetic product or that cosmetic product, or that we can’t test medicines as quickly, then so be it.  Nothing gives us the right to torture other animals, just as no other animals have or will have the right to torture us.

I ask that you share this story, https://theintercept.com/2018/05/17/inside-the-barbaric-u-s-industry-of-dog-experimentation/, every place you can, and do what you can to avoid and stop such products and practices.  Do what you can to make the world a place that is best for all living beings.  If you have any ideas as to what we can do to stop these practices, feel free post them in the comments.

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.

Self Defense For The Elderly

A couple of days ago I received a message via my contact form from a 75 year old man.  Unfortunately he didn’t enter his email address correctly, so I can’t write him back.  I’ll post and respond to his message here, as other readers may have similar concerns.  Here’s the message:

I am a 75 yr old man and I am fair game for louts who always pick on seniors like me. I have been physically threatened by bigger stronger men.  Can I be trained to fight back?  At my age it seems ridiculous but it does happen.  Not just to me but to other seniors.  I am fed up being helpless.  I (and others like me) would  like to take down the bully.  Is it possible??   Can you help?  I tried taking martial arts when I was 70.  It was of no help at all. Thank you.

Prevention First

As I explain in detail on my prevention page and in my book, prevention should always be the first option.  If you’re getting picked on regularly it’s likely that you’re spending time in places that you should avoid.  If you avoid places where “bad people” hang out, it’s unlikely you’ll have any problems.  If you live in an area with such people, if it’s possible to move to a better place, then I would highly recommend it.  Life is too short to deal with such issues.  This applies to everyone, not just seniors.

If you haven’t been physically attacked, or a physical attack isn’t imminent, it’s far better not to “fight back”.  You wouldn’t be legally justified to use physical self defense.  So if you did “take down the bully”, you could be arrested and end up in jail.  It may not be fair, and it may not feel good, but walking away is a much better option.  Your goal should be to enjoy your life as long as you can, and not to unnecessarily risk your life and your freedom by attacking someone who verbally assaults you.

Beating A Bigger, Stronger, Younger Opponent

If and only if a physical attack is imminent and you’re dealing with a younger/faster/bigger/stronger opponent, then you need every advantage you can get.  Is it possible?  Yes.  I’ve taught a couple of men over 70 who were as tough as guys in their 20’s and 30’s.  They were exceptions though.  And in any case, we’re talking about self defense here, so there is no reason not to do everything you can to increase your odds.  Using a weapon is the best way to do that.  Again though, a physical attack would have to have occurred or be imminent, and escape impossible.  Otherwise, you’re just setting yourself up for much worse trouble, and misery.

Pepper spray is probably ideal for an elderly person with no prior training.  In fact, two days ago I saw a young drunk guy hassling an elderly couple at a streetcar stop.  The woman pointed a can of pepper spray at the guy, and he backed off.  He did continue to verbally harass them, but from a distance.  So I would consider carrying pepper spray, and having it in your hand or easily accessible.

Your first line of defense is to avoid people who might pick on you.  If you can’t, then I’d try to walk away or say something like “It doesn’t take much to pick on old men and little girls.  If you want to prove how tough you are, why don’t you pick on someone your own age.”.  If the guy tries to touch you, or you feel a physical attack is imminent, then I’d soak him with the pepper spray and call the police right away.

There Is No Magic

I say it all the time.  It’s unfortunate, but true.  There are no magic techniques that work better for an old man or woman than for a younger, stronger, faster man.  If you want to learn how to physically defend against an attack, especially unarmed, it requires skill.  You’re only going to get those skills through functional training, using functional techniques, and sound strategy.  You could get lucky with a simple and effective technique, like this eye strike.  But what if it fails?  What if your opponent blocks it?  What if it lands, but he then attempts to tackle you?  What if there are multiple opponents?  I’d much prefer a relatively unskilled/untrained person attempt to use a projectile weapon like pepper spray instead of a single physical technique.

If you do want to learn physical self defense, and you’re physically capable of doing so, then my website and book are a great place to start.

Launching Pagodāh

Pagodāh

Pagodāh

I’ve mentioned before on this blog, and to countless people via email, that my book has taken much longer than I anticipated due to other business commitments.  My wife and I have spent the last year working hard on starting a new business, and today we’re beginning to launch it.  The business is Pagodāh.

We’re producing a line of all-natural body care and home fragrance products inspired by our travels to Southeast Asia.  Everything is made in the US.  And 20% of the profits are going to outstanding charities that do an amazing job, getting kids off the street, out of sexual slavery, and providing them with the skills and opportunities they need to make both their own lives and their communities better.

I won’t go into great detail here, as you can read about the company on the website if you’re interested.  But, this is what has been holding my book back.  If you know anyone who may be interested in Pagodāh, I’d really appreciate you spreading the word.  Our products are outstanding, and support great causes.  🙂

UPDATE:  We were scammed by a company called RainShadow Labs, who produced 80% of our products defective.  We ended up having to dispose of thousands of products with no refund/compensation by them, so Pagodāh has ceased to exist.

Self Defense & Physical Fitness

68 Year Old Iban Man

68 Year Old Iban Man

I’m currently working on the second to last chapter (Physical and Mental Fitness) of my book, and wanted to post briefly on that topic here.  This week, like almost every week, I received an email from someone asking about self defense techniques for people who are not fit.  The fact is, physical self defense (vs. prevention, implied in the question by the use of the word techniques) is hard.  Physical self defense is like a full throttle sprint in most cases.  Not only is your heart rate and breathing likely to be raised, but you’re going to be exerting near or at 100%.  It’s far harder than boxing or grappling in the training room.  So, unfortunate as it may be for many people, physical fitness is a requirement for physical self defense, at least if you want to have greater than minimal chances of success.

I recently read an excellent and very interesting book that highlighted the main cause of so many people being out of shape today, The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease.  I’d highly recommend reading it.  The author, Daniel Lieberman, uses the term “mismatched diseases”, explaining that our modern lives are a mismatch for our bodies.  We did not evolve to be inactive, to sit at desks all day at work, to come home and sit in a chair for dinner, and then to sit on the sofa until bed time.  When you add modern food (specifically sugar, see here) to modern lifestyles, you end up with a very unhealthy combination.

The book reminded me of people my wife and I have seen on our travels, particularly tribal people who live a life closer to what our human bodies were designed for.  In 2008 my wife and I hired two brothers from an Iban tribe living deep in the jungle of Borneo, through another Iban man who had moved to the city of Kuching, but still had contact with communities in the jungle, to take us on a trip up a remote river.  We stopped at the last longhouse on the river, where no one was living beyond.  There were only two people left living in it, and elderly couple.  My wife took the picture above, of the man.  (If you’d like, you can see more pictures from the trip on my wife’s much neglected photography site, here.)  He was 68 years old, and had just returned from killing a wild boar…with a spear.  He cooked up the heart for us.

How many 68 year old men do you know who look like that!?!?  Yet, most of the tribal people we’ve met look similar.  Why?  Because their lives match what our bodies evolved for.  They’re very active.  And they eat natural food rather than processed trash loaded with sugar.  It’s a good reminder of what our bodies are capable of.  And, staying in such shape is a necessity if you want to maximize your chances in physical self defense.

Taiwanese Aboriginal Atayal / Truku Knife

Truku Aboriginal Knife

Truku / Atayal Knife

I  recently spent a few weeks on vacation in Taiwan, and with some difficulty managed to find a large knife or small sword made by the Truku aboriginal tribe, formerly classified as part of the Atayal people.  Aside from it being a unique weapon, I thought I’d post directions to the blacksmith shop for anyone who may be in Taiwan and searching for it, since it was relatively difficult to find.

If you’re like I was, you primarily associate Taiwan with the Chinese, the country where Chiang Kai-shek fled to escape the communists.  I was interested in visiting China without the Cultural Revolution, to see traditional Chinese culture that hadn’t been wiped out by both the Cultural Revolution and the extreme modernization where “to be rich is glorious”.  And in that sense, Taiwan didn’t disappoint.  The National Palace Museum in Taipei contains the largest collection of ancient Chinese artifacts in the world, for example, as when the nationalists fled mainland China, they brought many treasures with them.  Traditional Chinese culture seemed to be alive and well in Taiwan, and talking with locals, they voiced the same idea regarding having a better preserved traditional culture than what you’ll find in much of the mainland.

But anyway, Taiwan is much more than the Chinese who fled there.  There is a large population of native inhabitants, or Taiwanese aboriginal tribes.  Driving along the east coast, in the Rift Valley, or in the mountainous areas of the country, the smaller towns are more aboriginal than Chinese.  The scenery is spectacular, particularly in and around the the Taroko and Yushan National Parks.  There are countless hikes on well maintained trails, including very long and high suspension bridges:

Walami Trail

Walami Trail

In the aboriginal areas, most towns have statues like these at the entrance on the main streets:

Taiwanese Aboriginal Statue

Taiwanese Aboriginal Statue

Every one of the statues we saw included the traditional knife/sword:

Aboriginal Statue

Aboriginal Statue

Before I left for Taiwan, I did a search on Netflix for Taiwanese movies, and came across a movie called Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale.  The movie is about the Wushe Rebellion, an uprising against the Japanese by the Seediq tribe in 1930.  Here’s the trailer:

The movie may not be entirely accurate, but I highly recommend it if you like action movies.  It was filmed in Taiwan, and the scenery is exactly what you see there, particularly in the aboriginal areas and national parks.

After seeing the movie and the unique blades of the Seediq, I figured I’d have to find one for myself.  The Seediq tribe are from the Hualien area of Taiwan, and were previously grouped together with the Truku tribe as Atayal people.  The weapons of the Atayal, Seediq, and Truku are indistinguishable, at least from what I can tell.  So I searched and searched, found a few pictures of the traditional knives being sold in Taiwan, but was unable to locate them where they had been previously seen.

At our hotel in the Taroko National Park, I met an Atayal man and asked him if the knives were still being made and where I could find them.  He gave me directions to what may be the last aboriginal blacksmith in the country who is still making these weapons.

Tonglan Blacksmith Shop

Tonglan Blacksmith Shop

Here is an article I found in English about the shop.  The only way to get there is with your own transportation.  My wife and I had rented a car, but even with directions it was difficult to find.  Hopefully the following images will make it easier.  The shop is located on Huadong Rd. in a village called Tongmen.  Here it is on a map:

Tonglan Blacksmith Shop Map

Tonglan Blacksmith Shop Map

And here is a closer satellite view of the town:

Atayal, Seediq, Truku Knife Shop

Atayal, Seediq, Truku Knife Shop

If you’re coming from Hualien and taking Highway 9, you’ll see the big lake, and should be able to find the shop from there.  The problem for anyone, such as myself, who cannot read Chinese characters, is that even with a GPS you will not be able to enter in the location.

The shop was empty when I arrived.  I got out of the car and walked around a bit, saw a girl walking down the street, and gestured toward the shop.  She slid the door right open and sold me the knife pictured at the top of this post.  Here’s another image:

Atayal Truku Knife

Atayal / Truku Knife

I had actually hoped to purchase a full sized sword, as they’re made with the same design in a variety of sizes.  A Google Image search for “atayal sword” will pull up several examples, such as this one from a site displaying Atayal cultural items:

Atayal Sword

Atayal Sword

Unfortunately though, it seems like the swords are no longer made.  However, the knife I was able to purchase (for about $100), is fairly large at 22 inches.

From what I’ve read, the unique open sheath design is used to keep moisture from collecting inside the sheath.  Taiwan is extremely humid, and it rains often.  So this makes sense.

It’s sad when quality elements and arts of traditional cultures die out, so I’m posting the information above in hopes that anyone else looking for a Taiwanese aboriginal knife or sword will be able to find the shop and keep them in business…keeping the art alive!

Doxology: What You Think You Know

Papua New Guinea Battle Shield

Shield – Papua New Guinea

I’ve been disappointed with a couple of people recently.  Sometimes, for moments, I find it hard to understand how someone can seem so right in one regard but so wrong in another.  I figure it’s a common case of cognitive dissonance.

Years ago, I came up with a saying that I think is very important to keep in mind: The only thing I know is that I don’t truly know anything, and I don’t even know that.

When you think you know something, you close your mind to alternative possibilities.  When new information comes to light, you’re unable to see it.  It’s essential to realize that you don’t truly know anything.  Doing that allows you to maintain an open mind.

And a mind that is open is necessarily in a constant state of change.  There is no such thing as “changing your mind” when it’s open.

But there’s more to it than that.

Doxology

When I use the term doxology, I’m referring to the old use of the word doxa (common beliefs), and not the new use (praise or glory).

The Kunsthistorisches Museum (Ethnology Museum) in Vienna, Austria is one of my favorite museums.  In the catalog for an exhibit called Fetish Modernity, Mats Rosengrens wrote an essay titled Doxology: For a Contemporary Protagoreanism.  That essay does an outstanding job of pointing to the problem not only with common knowledge, but especially with what is so ordinary to us…so ordinary that we don’t even think to question it.

About knowledge in general, he writes:

…our knowledge is always formulated and/or preserved in some language, institution or ritual; practiced and upheld by one or many individuals; in one historical moment or other and within the admittedly diffuse framework of an ever changing but still specific social situation.  All these factors codetermine our knowledge, make it a part of a fluctuating, always changing doxic situation.  So we have no reason to believe that our alleged universal human nature would be privileged and exempt from these aporias pertaining to all knowledge.  Each claim to universal knowledge is in fact always dependent on specific historical, social, and epistemic conditions.

And regarding why this is so rarely even considered, he writes:

Doxa is that which is never questioned, simply because nobody in the group ever thinks about questioning it.  Every group or domain that is more or less delimited has it’s own doxa – scholars as well as businessmen, politicians as well as artists.

Papua New Guinea Shield

Another PNG Shield

We may know there are certain things we don’t know, but there are many other things we don’t know that we don’t know.  The only way to get around this conundrum, is to admit that we don’t truly know anything.  Otherwise, we let the social conditions around us (society at large, family, friends, groups we belong to, etc.) dictate what we believe to be true, and how we see ourselves.

Practical Knowledge vs. Real Knowledge

Of course, we have to use our current understanding of the way things work in order to get along.  For practical purposes, we do have to assume many things are practically true.  We assume that the sun will shine again tomorrow, that 2 + 2 = 4, and so on.  Based on our experience, we can make assumptions.  And these assumptions may be generally correct.  At least, correct enough for our current, practical purposes.

But that is different from real, absolute knowledge.  When you make the distinction, understanding that all knowledge is situationally limited, you maintain your open mind and your ability to learn…your flexibility to change around you.

Question Everything and Everyone

Hold no one above you.  Question everything.  Question everyone.  Continuously.

This is where my disappointment arises.

In the first system I taught, although I would have done so by nature anyway, my instructor told me to question everything.  He was ok with that, as long as I wasn’t questioning what he was doing.  When it was his doxa, it wasn’t my place to question.  It was disappointing.  He knew better, and I needed to follow along.  So I quit.

I took two other instructors along with me.  And although they both realized there were problems with believing what we had been teaching was functional, the pull of doxa was too much for one of them.  Un-knowledge wasn’t nearly as attractive as believing, or somehow pretending he did.

It’s unfortunate, but I’ve had very few long term teachers.  I’ve had a couple more that also said one should ask questions.  But once those questions came up against their doxa, things became rather sour.

Sifu, Sensei, & Master Titles and Implications

This applies not only to martial arts/self defense:  You’ve got trouble when your teacher has you call him sifu, sensei, or master.  Or, when you call him Mr. Smith and he calls you Bobby.  He likely holds himself above you, and he wants you to do the same.  He wants you to believe him, not to question him.  When you do that, you’re on the path to martial arts group-think.

But the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing can be even more insidious.  Some instructors will tell you to call them by their first name, pretending to be open to questions and questioning.  However, they’ll be sure to let you know that they know something you do not.  They’ll try to reinforce their desired position regularly.  They’ll try to assert dominance in ways you may not realize.  They’ll be your master, and you won’t even know it.

In either case, if you don’t fall for it, if you question their doxa, things will quickly sour.

The Qualifications Trap

It shouldn’t surprise me, but it still does.  When I see that a person has certain qualifications, often many of them, especially when those qualifications include “real life” applications, I have some expectation that their ability will match their qualifications.  But it very often does not.  Or, the qualifications were meaningless to begin with.  It’s surprising how often that is the case.  Qualifications are meaningless.

The Importance of Doxology

According to Mats Rosengrens, doxology is a model for understanding that all knowledge is situational.  It may be practical, but it’s also relative.  It is not absolute.  Remember that.  Question it.  And most definitely, question me, too.

STOP: Become Aware, More Skilled, and Happier by Reducing Distractions

Texting While Eating

Unaware & Distracted

Now more than ever, we are bombarded with disruptions that keep us unaware.  If continuous mental chatter isn’t enough, we’ve got tweets, text messages, emails, phone calls, and urges to check this or that on our internet-connected devices.  The pace for many people is fast and continuous.

Humans are wired to pay attention to disruptions.  For most of our existence as a species, these disruptions were extremely important.  They were usually created by something living, and very often potentially one of two things: food or danger.  It makes sense that we paid attention to them.  But today, more often than not these disruptions are addictive, trivial, and rob us of awareness, skill, and maximum enjoyment.

One At A Time

Thinking is linear, and we can’t think about more than one thing in any given moment.  Although many people think they can multi-task well, they cannot.  In study after study, attempts at completing A, B, and C are degraded by mixing them…in everyone.  Both the time it takes to complete the tasks and the quality of the work is decreased when the tasks are mixed.  The best way to complete A, B, and C, is to do them one after another, with no disruptions.

In addition to humans being unable to do two things at once, at least things that require concentration or focus, it also takes our brains time to switch to being fully involved in one task to being fully involved in another.  Even if you only stop what you’re doing to glance at a tweet, text message, or email, you’ve just degraded your concentration.

How To Cultivate Awareness

Real awareness requires effort.  Try for just a moment to focus only on your breath.  Right now:  Breath in, and feel it without thought.  Breath out, and feel it without thought.  Do that 4 or 5 times in a row.  If you’re aware of what’s going on inside your head, you’ll quickly realize how difficult it is to silence your thoughts.  Your mind will continuously bombard you with this and that, often unnecessarily.

The next time you’re eating, don’t watch TV, read the paper, work on a computer, talk on the phone, send text messages, or surf the web on your smart phone.  Just eat.  Empty your mind, and really taste the food you’re eating.  If you’re eating good food, you’ll enjoy it many times more.  If you’re eating bad food, you’ll realize it.  Without being mindful and aware of what you’re doing in any given moment, you’ll miss out on the good and be unaware of the bad.

These days, it’s common for people in the middle of a real conversation to pull out their phone to read and send text messages or answer a call.  It distracts both participants of the conversation, and degrades our ability to be fully considerate, active, and present.

Whatever you’re doing, be mindful of it.  Eliminate disruptions.  You’ll notice how much richer your experiences become, and those you live and interact with will also benefit.

In the Zone: Active Non-focused Awareness

Eliminating technological disruptions, by giving yourself time to specifically return your messages for example (but not while you’re doing anything else!), would be easy if we weren’t addicted to these disruptions.  But many of us are.  However, eliminating them is worth the effort.  You’ll find yourself able to better focus on whatever you’re doing…to be present in the moment and maximize your experiences.

Eliminating mental disruptions, your own thoughts, is a lot harder.  It takes practice.  Find a quiet place to sit comfortably, feel your breathing, and quiet your mind.  Sit in awareness of the present, with nothing else.  With practice, you’ll be able to do it.  And you’ll start to notice things.  You’ll notice sounds and smells you didn’t notice before.  You’ll see things in a new light.  Quieting your mind is the key to being fully present.

The longer you practice this active, non-focused awareness, the more it will spill out into your everyday life.  Instead of walking to your car while checking your text messages, unaware of what’s around you, you’ll notice both the good and the bad (if it’s present).  The world will open up to you.

I used the phrase “non-focused awareness”.  It takes focus to achieve it, and that’s what initially makes it hard for everyone.  First, you’ll have to focus on quieting your mind, and you’ll have to maintain that focus to keep it quiet.  With that focus in place, you’ll have achieved a non-focused awareness.  It may be more accurate to call it a “focused, non-focus”, or a focused non-attachment.

Becoming More Skilled

Highly skilled practitioners, of anything, are fully aware and hard to distract.  Cultivating an active, non-focused awareness is the key to noticing what’s going on within and around you, and acting/responding efficiently and effectively.  With awareness, you’ll be better able to notice and correct your own mistakes, and to counter your opponents actions.  It’s no surprise that many martial arts place emphasis on meditation, and most high level athletes have some form of mental training, even if that’s done through the practice of their sport.

Start Today

Stop.  Regularly take time to sit in the present.  Eliminate distractions both internal and external.  You’ll become more aware, better at everything you do, and more skilled in your art.  You’ll also be able to fully enjoy the good in your life, and see and eliminate the bad.

Martial Arts Are Not Self Defense

Functional martial arts are systems that train practitioners to injure or kill people. Functional self defense is about avoiding or surviving an attack. The two are substantially different.

Martial arts can be used when all else fails in self defense, but the goal in self defense is not injuring or killing an opponent. The goal is to survive and prosper. Even in martial sports, from boxing to MMA, the goal is to beat your opponent by fighting. In self defense, the goal is not to fight.

Martial Arts Are For Killing

Most martial arts have roots in military combat or war, and many of these original systems placed more emphasis on armed rather than unarmed fighting. In war, participants are obligated to fight, and killing your opponent isn’t legally punishable in the country you’re fighting for. But in nearly every country, there are self defense laws that limit your use of force. You can’t whip out a sword and decapitate someone who threatens to punch you…at least not without severe consequences if you’re caught. And you can’t pull a gun and shoot a guy for mouthing off without risking going to jail for the rest of your life.

Self Defense Is About Prevention

98% of self defense is about awareness and prevention, and although some martial arts emphasis this, the vast majority of training time is spent on taking out an opponent. Of course, training to avoid or prevent an attack takes far less skill and training. And that’s a good thing! Learning to successfully stop, injure, or kill a larger, stronger, potentially armed attacker, one who has chosen you and initiated the attack, is hard. Really hard. So it does take much more training to physically beat an opponent. But that’s not the main reason most martial arts spend so much time training physical techniques and so little on avoiding or preventing an attack. They do so because martial arts are not self defense.

Why Train Martial Arts

If you’re not going to war and/or don’t plan on assassinating someone anytime soon, why practice martial arts at all? Training martial arts only for self defense is likely a waste of time, since avoiding and preventing an attack is relatively easy and highly effective. If you do understand violence, why people use it, where they use it, who they use it against, and how they use it, and you put that knowledge to use, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever be attacked. And if you are, you’re likely to be out-gunned or out-numbered. Escape or compliance is probably going to be your best bet for survival.

The best reason to train martial arts for most people is enjoyment. They’re a great deal of fun. And, functional martial arts are great exercise. No other sport or training method puts you in touch with and works your body like martial arts. They’re outstanding for balance, coordination, speed, and strength, and you can train them for your entire life. Since there are no rules in functional martial arts, anything is possible.

Functional martial arts training can save your life if you do find yourself under attack. They’ll be tremendously useful for those in combat or in law enforcement. And, understanding how to manipulate distance and position will tip you off to when a potential attacker is attempting to set you up. Martial arts may be a useful part of self defense, but the best reason to train is for enjoyment.

Who Says You Can’t Hike In Five Fingers?

Hiking Path

Hiking Path

I said I’d be posting on this new blog more frequently, but for the last week and a half I’ve been on a hiking trip, continuing for a week more.  Once I return I’ll get back to regular posting.  Just a quick note on something anyone who’s looked at the pictures on my site has likely noticed…I wear Vibram Five Finger shoes for training.  I posted about Five Fingers for martial arts a while back, and mentioned I also wear them (the Treks in particular) for hiking.  I’ve been alternating between the Treks and Komodos on this trip, and after wearing Five Fingers for the last 4 years (I’ve got about 10 pairs and wear them all the time now), I find the Komodos to be excellent trekking shoes.  Many people have told me you can’t hike in Five Fingers, that only hiking boots or shoes are sufficient for rocky trails, etc.  It’s BS.

Vibram Five Finger Hiking

Hiking with Five Fingers

Over the last few days I’ve been on some extremely rocky, steep trails, and the Treks and Komodos have been fantastic.  What makes the Five Fingers so perfect for hiking (and martial arts, and everything else) is that because the soles are so thin and flexible, your feet can naturally conform to the surface you’re stepping on, making them far less likely to slip.  Even on wet, muddy, rocky surfaces, I find Five Fingers to work at least as good if not better than hiking boots and shoes.  For the most part, I think hiking boots/shoes are a marketing gimmick.  There are some exceptions, for example on steep wet slopes with snow, where you need thick, hard edges to edge into the mountain.  But for the vast majority of trails most people will encounter, I find Five Fingers to offer the best combination of stability, grip, and mobility.

Rocky Hiking Trail

Hiking Trail

If you haven’t tried Five Fingers, get yourself a pair and give them a go.  They’re the best shoes for athletics, hiking, and everyday wear you’ll ever put on.