Category Archive: Weapons

Throwsticks

Throwsticks

Throwsticks

My friend Benjamin Scott recently launched his website on throwsticks. He describes throwsticks as “a primal hunting/survival/multi-tool dating back from ancient civilizations on at least five continents.” Ben makes nearly indestructible replicas of the Australian Aboriginal version called the kylie, arguably the best made hand thrown objects in the world. He has them for sale on his site: www.throwsticks.com

Ben sent me one of his throwsticks in the middle of last year. I tested it, loved it, and have been meaning to write about it ever since. I also wanted to make a video demonstrating it, but over the last 6 months I’ve been so busy traveling/moving that I haven’t had time to write a single post on this site, much less make a video. Until I do have time to make a video, this post will have to suffice.

The throwsticks or kylie that Ben is making are awesome survival tools. They’re designed to fly straight and level, and you can throw them a solid 85 meters if not farther. The Australian Aborigines used them primarily for hunting, but they also doubled as close range striking weapons, and you could use them as a close range throwing weapon too.

My favorite thing about Ben’s throwsticks is how fun they are to throw. When I first got mine, my brother and I spent a couple of days throwing it back and forth at great distances on a deserted beach. The way they fly, and the way they feel to throw, is amazing.

Throwing Objects In Self Defense

In addition to the throwsticks being a great deal of fun, I think learning to throw objects in self defense is seriously undervalued. It’s unlikely that you’re going to take someone out completely by throwing something at them, although if you nailed someone in the face or knee with one of Ben’s throwsticks that would certainly do the job! But throwing things at an opponent is an excellent idea, and the more accurate and harder you can do it, the better. In most natural environments there will be something you can throw at your opponent, and if you accurately hum something at your opponent’s face you will always get some kind of reaction, putting your opponent on defense. Either your opponent will get hit in the face, or he will be forced to move and/or block. Any of these options will create openings for you to exploit.

In my book on weapon use and defense I demonstrate at least a couple of examples of throwing objects at an opponent in self defense – using a backpack and a book. One of my favorite combinations is to throw something at an opponent’s face and follow with an immediate kick to the groin, etc.. You can do this with almost anything. As I sit here typing this post, my laptop, a vase in front of me, and a magazine next to me could all be used for such a purpose. If someone knocked down my front door my first move would be to grab whatever is next to me and throw it at them, putting them on defense and buying me a bit more time to get an advantage. In order to be as effective as possible with such a tactic, actually practicing throwing objects at targets makes sense. This is another reason I really love Ben’s throwsticks. They’re fun, useful for self defense training, and for anyone into outdoor survival they’re an excellent tool for a variety of purposes.

Whether you’re interested in buying one or not, I highly recommend you check out Ben’s website. He has numerous videos there showing how they work, along with very interesting information on their history and use.

Note: I am not profiting in any way if you buy a throwstick from Ben. I’ve written this post only because I think Ben has a great product that I think you’ll enjoy owning and practicing with. ūüôā

Gyokusui Shakuhachi

Gyokusui III 2.4 Shakuhachi

Gyokusui III 2.4 Shakuhachi

My wife and I recently returned from another terrific vacation in Japan, where thanks to our friends Jerry and Hiromi Schmick, we had the great fortune to meet Gyokusui III, the third generation shakuhachi maker of the Gyokusui family, and to buy an incredible shakuhachi from him.

I’ve written about the shakuhachi, a Japanese flute created by ex-samurai monks as a meditation device and musical instrument that could double as a weapon, at least twice previously.¬† And as I’ve also written before, the more I practice it the more I realize how great it is as a compliment to self defense/martial arts training.¬† Not only is it a great counter balance to hard and violent physical practice, a doorway into the optimal mental state for action, and a tool for both self expression and clearing the mind, but the traditional one-piece shakuhachi, as it was originally made, is also an amazing weapon that can be carried anywhere.

Although the shakuhachi was a one-piece instrument for centuries, the modern version being made by most Japanese makers today is made in two sections, with a joint in the middle of the flute.¬† This makes it much smaller for transport but nearly useless as a weapon.¬† Of course, the vast majority of shakuhachi players today don’t look at the flute as a weapon.¬† Last year I visited Kitahara, a famous shakuhachi maker in Kyoto, and bought a modern two-piece flute from him.¬† But as a self defense practitioner and teacher, the traditional one-piece version is much more appealing to me.

Fortunately, in addition to being a famous and highly respected maker, Gyokusui III makes shakuhachi both in the traditional and modern styles.¬† The most common shakuhachi size is a 1.8, which is 54.5 cm/21.5 inches, but I was looking for a longer flute with deeper tones.¬† So I went to Gyokusui’s place looking for a traditional one-piece in a 2.4 size, which is 75 cm / 29.5 inches.¬† Here is my 2.4 next to a kali stick:

Gyokusui 2.4 & Kali Stick

Gyokusui 2.4 & Kali Stick

The shakuhachi I chose is thicker and heavier than the kali sticks I typically use (which are thicker and heavier than most kali sticks).

For traveling with a flute, Jerry recommended Japanese sword and shinai bags, which I found to be perfect, and you can get them with or without a shoulder strap.¬† Here are two that I’m using for my 2.4:

Shakuhachi Bags

Shakuhachi Carry Bags

Gyokusui was a fantastic host, and Jerry and his wife Hiromi were great guides and translators.  We spent more than 2 hours trying numerous flutes, all incredibly beautiful instruments in both sound and appearance.

Myself and Gyokusui III

Myself and Gyokusui III

Gyokusui's House

At Gyokusui’s Place

Gyokusui Shakuhachi

A Few Gyokusui Shakuhachi

Our friend Jerry is a practicing Komuso monk, living with his wife Hiromi in Nara, and is sponsored by Gyokusui, who lives and works in Osaka.¬† If you’re visiting Japan and interested in an incredible shakuhachi, in either the traditional or modern style, I highly recommend Gyokusui’s instruments.

As for the sound, I’ll end this post with a recording of myself playing one of my favorite honkyoku (Zen meditation compositions), the Jin Nyodo version of Kyorei, which I played on my new shakuhachi:

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.

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.

4 Steps for Weapon Defense

4 Step Matrix

4 Step Matrix

I posted back in February about my second book, covering weapon use and defense. ¬†I had hoped to be finished it by now, but it has taken much longer than I expected. ¬†I’ve been busy with other work, but I’ve also revised the organization of some of the material and realized I need to have more pictures taken before it is finished.

One of the things I’ve recently revised is the way I name or categorize the steps of the 4 Step Matrix, which you can see in the graphic above. ¬†The 4 Step Matrix is a framework I use primarily for weapon based fighting, but it can certainly also be applied to unarmed fighting. ¬†Previously I had grouped the second and third steps under “covered follow ups”, but this new naming/categorization makes things clearer. ¬†Whether you’re training unarmed defense against weapons or weapon vs. weapon, you need to keep these 4 steps in mind.

The steps may sound like common sense, but in many martial arts one or more of them are ignored. ¬†The first step needs to ideally begin outside of “fighting range”. ¬†You need to strategically enter to a position of advantage. ¬†That can be done offensively or defensively (counter-based, not entirely defensive), but it must be done purposefully. ¬†Unfortunately most systems in my experience tend to start where the second step of the 4 Step Matrix is concerned, where the fighters are close enough for their weapons to hit their bodies. ¬†When your strategy and techniques begin inside of fighting range, you usually end up overwhelmed or simply brawling. ¬†It’s like being dropped into a blender. ¬†Instead, you need to purposefully enter so that when contact can be made you already have an advantage, a good place to “fight” from.

The second step, weapon neutralization, sounds particularly obvious. ¬†But it is so often ignored. ¬†One of the most common responses to my knife defense video on YouTube is that grabbing the opponent’s weapon bearing limb with two hands is stupid…that the opponent can strike with the other hand, etc.. ¬†What most people who make that comment don’t understand is that a proper two handed control with the proper body/head position prevents the opponent’s other hand from hitting you effectively. ¬†In addition,¬†you’re not just going to stand there holding the guy’s arm. ¬†You’re going to quickly break his arm, etc.. ¬†But more importantly, if you do not control the knife (weapon neutralization) then nothing else matters! ¬†Whether it’s empty hand vs. knife or knife vs. knife, if you fail to neutralize the opponent’s weapon he can literally kill you as attempt to disable or kill him. ¬†He can make a move that kills you even after you’ve made a move that will eventually kill him.

The third step, termination, is what nearly no one misses in theory. ¬†But again, if you forget the first step you’ll have a very hard time getting there, and if you forget the second step you may end up terminated too!

The fourth step, a covered exit, is something that very few people practice. ¬†In theory it’s easy to take an opponent out, but what if he’s still moving? ¬†What if he is still able to inflict damage as he’s going down? ¬†What if he has friends?

All four steps in the 4 Step Matrix are essential if you really want to maximize your chances of survival. ¬†I think referring to the second and third steps as weapon neutralization and termination makes that clearer than simply calling them “covered follow ups”. ¬†Regardless of whether you use the 4 Step Matrix as your own framework for weapon use and defense, I hope you’ll keep each of the steps in mind in your training and strategy.

Á≤协Į Kitahara Seika Shakuhachi

Nanzen-ji Garden

Nanzen-ji Temple Garden

I’ve been on vacation in Japan for the last month, thus the lack of recent posts and slow responses to emails (I’ll be getting to them shortly!). ¬†I spent a couple of months in Japan nearly 20 years ago, but hadn’t been back since then, aside from brief stop-overs. ¬†It was even better than I remembered…fascinating history, awesome sights, great food, and ridiculously friendly and respectful people. ¬†But most remarkable to me was the unparalleled depth and refinement of Japanese culture, likely due in part to their extreme isolation during the Tokugawa rule. ¬†There’s no place like it, and I’ll definitely be going back again in the not too distant future.

Related to my trip…

Seika Kitahara Shakuhachi

Kitahara Seika Shakuhachi

At the end of last year I wrote a post on the shakuhachi, a beautiful Japanese flute used by Zen monks of the Fuke Sect as their primarily tool for meditation, and designed by ex-samurai Komuso monks to double as a weapon.  Prior to the Komuso redesigning the flute, it was made from a weaker section of bamboo, but the Komuso monks began using the thicker, stronger, and heavier root-end of the plant.  In addition to its uses as a meditation device and easy-to-carry-anywhere potential weapon, making it a great tool for any martial artist/self defense practitioner, the shakuhachi is an amazing musical instrument.  (See my other posts on the connection between music and martial arts, and the benefits of using music as a counter-balance to martial arts practice.)

In my previous post I mentioned having purchased two of my other shakuhachi from a guy who sells Taiwanese made flutes. ¬†The Taiwanese made flutes are around $100 US. ¬†They’re relatively nicely made, they’re fine for meditation or folk songs, and because they’re made in one piece they can easily double as a weapon. ¬†But on my recent trip to Japan I discovered an entirely new level of shakuhachi. ¬†The one I purchased is pictured at left.

My wife and I were staying in a¬†fantastic hotel in Kyoto with the best customer service I have ever experienced in my life. ¬†If you are going to Kyoto, you need to stay at the Mume Hotel. ¬†I asked the hotel staff if they could put me in touch with any shakuhachi makers in Kyoto, and they set up a meeting for me with both a music store that sold them and with one of the most highly regarded shakuhachi making families there, the Kitahara family (Japanese language website here). ¬†I had searched online before I went to Japan, but I was unable to find anything in English regarding current makers in Kyoto. ¬†The Kitahara’s have been making shakuhachi for generations, and both Ikuya (father) and Hiroki (son) are still making them today under their company called Seika¬†(Á≤协Į).

Shakuhachi made in Japan are not cheap. ¬†It’s hard to find them for less than $1,000 US, and the average seems to be $2,000 – $4,000, with some going up to $10,000+. ¬†Since I primarily play the oud and am only a beginner on the shakuhachi, I wasn’t planning on buying one there. ¬†I only wanted to see and try them, and to see what the difference was between the Taiwanese made flutes I already had and a higher quality Japanese made flute. ¬†I was also curious about the Japanese made wooden shakuhachi as a beginner instrument. ¬†But when I got to Kitahara’s place, picked up one of his shakuhachi, and started to play it, I couldn’t resist buying one. ¬†The difference was extreme. ¬†I can’t speak for other Japanese makers, but the Kitahara/Seika shakuhachi I tried were amazing professional quality instruments. ¬†Here’s a close up of the bottom/root-end of the shakuhachi I bought:

Seika Á≤协Į Shakuhachi

Seika Á≤协Į Shakuhachi

Again, I’m a beginner on the shakuhachi, but I do know that the instrument has amazing expressive potential. ¬†It only has 5 finger holes, but by changing the position and shape of your mouth relative to the blowing edge or using partial hole coverings you can play an infinite variety of tones, from the Japanese pentatonic to any other scale you can imagine. ¬†It’s also possible to play over 3 octaves by varying the way you blow. ¬†The finer details and subtleties of playing are where the Kitahara’s shakuhachi make a tremendous difference. ¬†There’s just no comparison between them and my cheaper shakuhachi, or a wooden version, which I also tried. ¬†Here’s a close up of the blowing edge:

Seika Shakuhachi Blowing Edge

Seika Shakuhachi Blowing Edge

The Kitahara’s themselves were outstanding hosts. ¬†I visited Ikuya Kitahara four times in a week, and took a long time trying to decide which shakuhachi to buy. ¬†There was never any pressure to buy one, and Ikuya was very helpful, giving me playing tips and helping me to see which flute was best for me personally. ¬†If you’re going to be in Kyoto and are interested in seeing or buying a high quality shakuhachi there, I very highly recommend visiting the Kitahara’s shop. ¬†Here’s a link to their contact page. ¬†It’s in Japanese, but if you show it to your hotel staff they can help with the directions.

Ikuya Kitahara

Myself and Ikuya Kitahara

One issue with any shakuhachi made from bamboo in a humid climate (Japan or Taiwan) is the potential for the instrument to crack/split if your home country or home itself is drier. ¬†Some people store their shakuhachi in a sealed plastic bag or container with a damp cloth or other specially designed humidity releasing device. ¬†I’ve read that there are pros and cons to such methods for various reasons, although nearly everyone seems to recommend a sealed plastic bag with a source of humidity for air travel. ¬†There is very little or no lack of consensus though for another method, one that is nearly guaranteed to prevent full cracks…binding the shakuhachi. ¬†Unfortunately Kitahara didn’t have time to bind mine before I left, but¬†Perry Yung, a very respected shakuhachi maker and musician in the US, made a YouTube video on how to bind a shakuhachi yourself. ¬†I’m going to give it a try in the coming days. ¬†Perry was very helpful in answering my questions about binding, and he also makes both professional and student level shakuhachi that I’ve read great things about.

In addition to the shakuhachi as a musical instrument and tool for meditation, I’m fascinated by the history of its development and use by the ex-samurai Komuso monks of the Fuke Sect. ¬†In Kyoto I visited the former Fuke Sect headquarters, the Myoan-ji temple:

Myoan-ji Temple

Myoan-ji Temple, Kyoto – Fuke Sect Headquarters

Although the vast majority of modern day shakuhachi players may have little¬†in common with wandering ex-samurai monks, particularly viewing their instruments as potential weapons, this is a self defense website after all. ¬†So I should mention that many modern shakuhachi, including the one I bought from Kitahara, have a joint in the middle. ¬†This makes them impossible to use as a weapon while not in a carrying case/bag, as although the joint is tight, it would come apart on impact or when swung forcefully. ¬†With such an amazing instrument, obviously it would be preferable not to use it as a weapon anyway. ¬†But in a worse case scenario, if the end were pushed tightly to the end of the carrying bag and the front was gripped tightly over the bag, the bag would keep the flute from separating. ¬†ūüėČ ¬†Kitahara gave me a nice and strong leather carrying bag. ¬†For my other shakuhachi, which happen to be one-piece, I really like these bags.

My goal for the not too distant future is to begin learning some of the original Komuso honkyoku pieces. ¬†Jon Kypros, my current Skype teacher, teaches the Seien ryu honkyoku, which should be great to learn. ¬†As a sound sample, here’s a nice video of a guy paying a Tozan ryu honkyoku piece:

The Value of Weapon Use

The Ultimate Guide to Weapon Use and Defense

The Ultimate Guide to Weapon Use and Defense

I regularly get emails from people who tell me they are older and/or have health problems and injuries, asking me what I would recommend in terms of self defense practice.¬† About a year ago I wrote a post to address this.¬† My recommendation in that post was to focus on two things: prevention and weapon use.¬† Prevention will work nearly 100% of the time for the vast majority of people reading this.¬† But if it doesn’t, then weapon use is the next best thing.¬† If you’re smaller, weaker, slower or otherwise less skilled than your attacker, having a weapon that you know how to use can allow you to easily disable your attacker.¬† (Pepper spray is probably the best option for many people.)

Even if you’re not “older” or suffering from health problems or injuries, weapon use is an extremely important part of physical self defense.¬† What if you’re attacked by a bigger, stronger, faster, and more skilled opponent?¬† What if you’re attacked by multiple opponents?¬† What if you’re attacked by multiple armed opponents?¬† Weapon use has been a part of most martial arts as long as martial arts have existed, and it’s something you should not neglect if you’re serious about physical self defense.

My first book, The Ultimate Guide to Unarmed Self Defense, covers unarmed defense against unarmed attacks.¬† It does not cover defense against armed attacks or the use of weapons in self defense.¬† I do have a great deal of information on using and defending against weapons here on my website, but a website isn’t necessarily the best or easiest medium to learn from.

I haven’t posted in a while, because I’m spending most of my time working on my second book, which will probably be titled The Ultimate Guide to Weapon Use and Defense.¬† I’m hoping to have it finished in the next 3-4 months.¬† The book will cover unarmed defense against armed attacks (stick, knife, and gun), but also how to use blunt, sharp, and projectile weapons in self defense.¬† If you’re subscribed to my site, I’ll let you know when the book is finished.

Update: I’ve just added a new page to my website with part of a series of instructional pictures I had taken for the book on the use of double sticks.¬† Double stick training is not necessary for self defense.¬† It’s not something I spend time training anymore, but the training can be fun, it’s great for coordination, and many people enjoy it.

Shakuhachi: The Fighting Flute

Shakuhachi

Shakuhachi

A flute, a tool for meditation, and a formidable weapon created in Edo Period Japan by samurai monks called komuso (priests of nothingness), the shakuhachi is an awesome instrument.

About a year ago I posted about the connections between music, dance, and martial arts, and I posted a picture of a dongxiao flute I bought while on vacation in Taiwan.¬† I mentioned that the dongxiao was solid, and about the length of a kali stick.¬† My first thought when I picked it up in the music store was…wow…this is a weapon.¬† I mistakenly assumed it was a flute that had originated in China, based on the name and where I bought it.¬† However, it turns out that the type of flute I bought was brought to Taiwan by Japan during the 50 year Japanese occupation of Taiwan.

Shakuhachi Woodblock

Komuso Samurai Monk – 1775

The bamboo flute migrated from China to Japan more than a thousand years ago, but the shakuhachi is substantially different from those first flutes.¬† The bamboo flute was used by Japanese Buddhist monks of the Fuke Sect as a tool for meditation, suizen or “blowing zen”.¬† But during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868), significant numbers of samurai found themselves without masters, ronin, and decided to become monks.¬† They called themselves komuso, priests of nothingness.¬† These ronin would often sell their swords in order to pay the fee to become a komuso monk, and would wander the country playing their flutes for money.¬† Having no swords, the komuso changed the design of the bamboo flute to make it double as a weapon, cutting it from the root end of bamboo instead of from a thinner and weaker section.¬† This led to a dense, solid, and heavy flute with an end that resembles a mace.

The shakuhachi is three tools in one: a beautiful flute, a meditation device, and a weapon.¬† It’s also extremely portable and can legally be carried anywhere.¬† For a martial artist, it doesn’t get much better than that.

The traditional shakuhachi only has 5 finger holes, four on the “top” and one on the “bottom” for the thumb.¬† Although skilled players can play any tones by using a variety of methods (partial hole coverings, head movements, etc.), the standard notes are on the minor pentatonic scale.¬† One great thing about the pentatonic scale is that it doesn’t matter what order you play the notes in.¬† It sounds very nice regardless.¬† It may take a great deal of time and effort to become skilled at playing traditional Japanese repertoire on the shakuhachi, but if you can play just the basic pitches in the lower octave, you can play/improvise simple but relatively beautiful music with a little practice.¬† I highly recommend it.

If you’d like to go beyond just messing around on it, there are teachers who can teach you to play the original komuso pieces, called honkyoku.¬† I’ve recently started taking private lessons via Skype with Jon Kypros, and I would recommend lessons with him.¬† For buying a shakuhachi, Jon makes very high quality flutes that are relatively expensive, although no more expensive than other makers of professional quality flutes.¬† But you can get cheaper starter shakuhachi too.

I bought mine (pictured above and below) from this site.¬† The site isn’t completely finished, and it may not look very trustworthy, but I’ve emailed with the owner, Benjamin Yen, and have actually ordered two flutes from him.¬† He ships the same day you order, and is easy to communicate with.¬† Benjamin’s flutes are made in Taiwan, from Taiwanese bamboo, which seems to be substantially less expensive than Japanese madake bamboo.¬† I’m not qualified to comment on how high the quality of Benjamin’s shakuhachi are compared to a professional grade flute, but they seem very nice to me for an entry level shakuhachi, and they certainly do make great weapons!¬† Here’s a picture of the root end (it’s solid!):

Shakuhachi Root End

Shakuhachi Root End

How can you use the shakuhachi as a weapon?¬† The material on my stick/sword page would be a great start, but you should probably focus on the entries listed on my 4 Step Matrix page as working for swords/blades.¬† It would be better not to use it as a “stick”, to minimize the chance of it getting damaged.¬† I’m about to start on my second book, on weapon use and defense, and in that book I’ll go into far more detail, applicable to the shakuhachi.

Update: I’ve done a second post on this subject if you’re interested: Kitahara Seika Shakuhachi

As for the sound, I’ll end this with a video of a traditional honkyoku (not played by me):

How Fast Can You Learn Self Defense?

Fight

Fight

My last post, Advanced Class, was a response to a blog post by Rory Miller, where he wrote “everything that works can be taught to proficiency in 40 hours”.¬† I disagree, and I started to explain why in the last post.¬† I wrote the post too quickly.¬† I should have explained more, it could have been more comprehensive, and it was rather rambling.¬† I’m going to approach the discussion from another angle in this post:¬† How fast can you learn self defense?

There are at least two parts of that question that need to be clarified:

  • Defense against what?
  • What is your current state in terms of physical fitness and existing skills?

How fast can you learn to defend against what?¬† A cooperative training partner who isn’t really trying to injure or kill you?¬† A 40 year old man in average shape who attacks with a combination of punches?¬† A 20 year old guy who was a high school wrestler?¬† A 25 year old woman slashing at you with a knife?¬† A 35 year old gangster who has practiced boxing for years?¬† What if he has practiced MMA for years?¬† A gun threat?¬† How about multiple armed opponents?¬† What about a competitive MMA fighter?

Where I’m currently living, the MMA gyms are full of immigrants from relatively violent countries, and they’re responsible for the majority of the crime here.¬† They compete in MMA fights.¬† They often carry knives.¬† They train hard for several hours per week if not more, and they’ve been doing it for years.¬† Can you learn to physically defend against one of them in 40 hours?

Axe Attack

What if he has an axe?

MMA is not self defense.  But there are parallels in the sense that MMA involves striking and grappling, and unarmed self defense also involves striking and grappling.  Do you expect to be able to defend against someone with hundreds or even thousands of hours of MMA training with only 40 hours of training yourself?  Will you be using a weapon?  What if he has a weapon?  What if there are three guys like him?

What is your current state of fitness?  Physical self defense is often like an all out sprint.  Not always, but often.  Are you in good enough shape to handle that?  Are you a small woman with very little strength?  Are you an older person with a disability?  What are your existing skills?  Do you know how to make a fist, where to hit with your palm, or how to do an elbow strike?  Do you have experience with stand up or ground grappling?

I’ve taught a great variety of people all over the spectrum.¬† I once taught a 70 year old man with no formal training who was a building contractor.¬† He often got into fights, and he was tough as nails.¬† He would have easily beaten the majority of people who first walked in my door.¬† I’ve also taught men and women who had absolutely no idea how to make a fist.¬† They had no clue how to throw an elbow strike, and even after multiple classes/hours they continued to attempt uncoordinated strikes with the wrong parts of their bodies.¬† I’ve taught people who learned incredibly fast, much faster than I ever did.¬† And I’ve taught people who learned very slowly.

So how fast can you learn self defense?  The question is meaningless without a lot of context.

Tool Development

In  my view, self defense includes footwork, kicking, hand strikes, elbows, knees, and headbutts, and defense against them.  It includes stand up and ground grappling, which involves positional dominance and escapes, joint manipulations and chokes from the various positions (standing high tie up variations, standing low tie up variations, the mount, the guard, side mount, knee in stomach, north-south, etc.).  It involves the use of and defense against long blunt and short blunt objects, long sharp and short sharp objects, linked objects, and projectiles.

In a comment on Rory’s original blog post a guy named Jim responded to one of¬† my comments about this and said:

Well, let’s look at striking quickly. What do you have to do? Impact the weapon against the desired target. The power generation principles run the same, whether we’re looking at a palm, a clenched fist punch, an elbow, or baton. If taught in a principle based manner, all you have to do is change the striking implement. So, instead of an hour block on palms, an hour block on punches, an hour on elbows (OK, figure that’s really on 2+ block of “striking”) coupled with another couple of hours on “baton striking” — we have an hour or two on “power generation & impact weapons.”

This sounds great.¬† But there’s a serious problem with the reasoning:¬† The neurological connections that are required to use your hand effectively are different from those required to use your elbow effectively.¬† You can write using one of your hands, but probably very poorly with the other.¬† Try attaching a pen to your elbow and see how well you can write with it.¬† As I wrote previously, I’ve taught people who have had a hard time just learning how to punch or palm without hurting their hand, and who would revert back to ineffective striking repeatedly, for weeks.¬† “Hard wiring” the connections in your brain takes time.

Someone who can already strike with any part of their body understands that the principle is the same no matter what they’re striking with.¬† And to them it may seem like this is simple.¬† But for many people it isn’t a simple matter, even if they get it intellectually.¬† For some people with very little strength, even if they do strike correctly it will have very little impact unless they have the accuracy to strike someone in the eye, throat, or groin.¬† And, what happens when their opponent is a guy with 5 years of MMA experience and fighting, who counters that first defensive strike?

Striking should almost always be accompanied by footwork.¬† Let’s look at a very simple footwork example, a forward step and slide:

Forward Step and Slide

Forward Step and Slide

It looks extremely simple.¬† And it is.¬† You step forward a bit with your lead leg, and then your bring your back foot up.¬† As simple as this is, I don’t know that I’ve ever taught a beginner who could do it in the first few hours, under pressure…forward and/or backward.¬† Everyone naturally has the tendency to either leave the rear foot back and lean forward, destroying their balance and ability to continue, or to bring the rear foot too far forward, right up to the front foot, also destroying their balance.¬† The same is true in reverse and side to side, and it’s one reason why so many people fall down when they get attacked.

In our everyday life we often lean forward or backward.¬† We often bring our feet together or cross our feet.¬† It takes time to rewire our brains and learn not to do these things in a self defense situation.¬† And it takes even more time to be able to hard wire these things in, so that the mistakes don’t come out under pressure.¬† Even after many months of training a student, I still found myself correcting them on these very simple movements.

Anyone can intellectually learn the common denominators of striking and grappling, the core concepts.  But it takes many years of training to be able to effectively fight or defend against someone who also has many years of mixed martial arts experience, for example.  What if your opponent has trained?

Kimbo

What if he also has a sledge hammer?

Quality Development

Techniques are only one small part of self defense skill.  Knowing how to throw a palm strike or do an elbow break is one thing.  Being able to do it against someone who is throwing a punch at your face is another thing entirely.  Being able to do it after someone has already hit you in the face is yet another thing.  To use techniques requires an understanding of and an ability to manipulate distance, position, and timing.  These qualities are anything but natural, and they take time to develop.

Consider the difference between someone who has been boxing for 6 months and someone who has been boxing for 10 years, or a beginning boxer and an expert boxer.¬† Boxing has very few techniques.¬† The difference is primarily in their ability to manipulate distance, position, and timing.¬† For months of training, a beginning boxer will attempt to hit an advanced opponent when he is out of range.¬† And the beginning boxer will get hit because he’s too close but doesn’t realize it.¬† He’ll get hit because he poorly times an attack or a defense.¬† Because the distance, positional understanding, and timing of fighting are not natural to those without a great deal of experience with fighting, they take substantial time to build.

Qualifications

In the comments of Rory’s post he wrote:

Today I saw a young man with no previous training handle a simultaneous full speed attack from three people. That was with ten hours of training. Two more hours and he was putting things together.

How many people at that seminar saw the same thing, and believed that this young man with no previous training really learned how to defend against a full speed attack from three people?¬† I wouldn’t be surprised if all of them did.¬† But think about this for a moment.¬† If one person at the seminar learned to defend against three people, how is it that those three were “beaten” by only one?¬† The answer is obvious.¬† The three attackers were not really attacking.¬† Or at a minimum, they were not continuing their attack.¬† In the context of a seminar, where “attackers” either aren’t really attacking, or are attacking in seriously limited ways, it’s easy to believe you’re learning more than you are.¬† What you can do in a cooperative and limited martial arts class is very different from what you will be able to do in reality.

What Can You Learn In A Short Period?

Tough Guy

Tough Guy

Well, you probably won’t learn how to physically defend against a surprise attack by the guy in the picture to the right.¬† But there is a lot you can learn.¬† You can learn how to be aware of your surroundings and how to prevent an attack from occurring in the first place.

In terms of physical self defense, I do make things as simple as possible.¬† Everything you need to do can be thought of as following one simple concept: the Covered Blast.¬† It doesn’t matter if you’re up against a single unarmed opponent or multiple armed opponents.¬† The concept works just the same.

If you learn what I call the Fundamental Five and the Four Step Matrix, you’ll have a combination of extremely solid, efficient, and effective techniques that follow the Covered Blast concept.¬† I’ve taught the Fundamental Five to more than one person who has successfully used one of the techniques in self defense with less than 5 hours of training.¬† But that doesn’t mean they’ve become proficient at self defense in less than 5 hours!¬† It simply means they were lucky enough to have been attacked by someone where one of the techniques was the right solution even with minimal training.¬† If the fellow at right would have surprise attacked them with a hammer, I seriously doubt they would have done so well.

In addition to techniques you need solid training methods, a substantial investment of time, and a lot of hard work.  Learning how to use weapons, particularly something as simple as pepper spray, can go a long way.

Your size does matter.¬† Your strength does matter.¬† Your speed does matter.¬† If you’ve trained before, how athletic you are, how tough you are, how disciplined you are, how fast you learn…it all matters.¬† There is no easy answer as to how fast you can learn self defense, and the question is relatively meaningless if you consider the infinite variety of attacks you could face.¬† It’s not fair that a small unarmed woman with very little strength and no training is going to have a hell of a time defending against a strong man who has experience fighting.¬† But it’s the truth.

No absolute beginner is going to be able to train 40 hours and defend against an experienced opponent, multiple opponents, or armed opponents without a serious dose of luck.  Depending on the qualities you bring to the table, you may be able to learn a lot relatively quickly.  But learning self defense is a process that never ends.  There is always more to learn.  You cannot learn it all in 40 hours, 40 weeks, or even 40 months.

Secrets of Karate

The first martial art I ever took, as a child, was Shotokan Karate.  As a teenager, I began seriously practicing and teaching a karate based system with a heavy self defense emphasis.  The school was in a rough area of New Orleans and this was during the height of the worst crime there, in the early 90s.  Half of our practice was defense against gun, knife, and stick attacks.  Students used the techniques in self defense, and they did work, despite the fact that there were/are more efficient and effective options.

I noticed during that time that the karate I was training was different from what I saw being trained in other schools.  It was harder, rougher, more direct, and more painful.  I also bought as many karate books as I could find, including on a couple of extended trips to Japan.  This was before the internet and YouTube, so information was limited.  I discovered in the books that there was a real difference between modern karate or karate-do and the older, combat oriented karate-jutsu.  For a while I started calling the karate I practiced karate-jutsu, or the older name, to-te.

I moved on to other styles, techniques, and training methods, and for the most part I haven’t specifically practiced karate ever since.¬† But many of the principles I learned and many of the qualities I have are a result of that training.

What I trained in karate and what I learned from the older books aren’t actually “secrets” in the sense that they’re purposefully hidden.¬† But they are unfortunately either unknown by most practitioners I’ve met, or at least ignored and not practiced.¬† So I recently decided to add a section to my website on functional karate, hoping to shed light on some of these things…to demonstrate functional usage of karate techniques.

As I wrote on the karate page, karate isn’t for everyone.¬† The techniques are pretty hard core if practiced in a functional way.¬† But if you feel comfortable with that type of technique, if it suits you, then give the ones in my video a try.¬† I’m confident you’ll find them to be effective.

I’ve also added a new page to my site with images and details of the gun threat defense I demonstrated in the video, here.

If you’ve practiced karate yourself, are you aware of these “older applications”?¬† Have you practice them?¬† If not, why not?¬† And for all of you, do these techniques look like techniques you’d like to see more of?¬† Let me know in the comments.