Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Learning How to Take a Punch


By Scott Shaw

            At the heart of any form of physical hand-to-hand combat training is the developed ability to emerge victorious from a physical altercation. The various schools of self-defense each have the own set of developed techniques. Some are street-worthy and very effective; some not so much. The fact is, most schools of traditional martial arts teach a method of self-defense that is far less street-worthy than the teachers of the systems would ever admit. In class, all practice sessions are very orchestrated and expected. If there is sparring at the school, it is generally light or no-contact. Though the practitioners of these systems certainly come to master a heightened sense of physical movement, in many cases, when paired against a savvy street fighter they are quickly defeated as they do not know how to react to rapid and very directed physical assaults.
            Boxing is an ideal self-defense system where the practitioner quickly learns how to react to a specific type of assault. They get punched and they punch back. Simple but very effective. But, more than just that, a boxer learns how to take a punch and this is one of the most essential elements in the training of any fighter. You have to be able to take a punch and immediately continue on afterwards with your necessary self-defense or any defensive technique you may have learned at the dojo becomes useless.
            When the Asian martial arts hit the Western shores after World War II: karate, judo, and jujitsu became the idealized forms of self-defense. In the movies, the practitioner of a traditional form of martial arts always defeated their opponent. When taekwondo hit the West in the 1960s, its beautiful kicks again came to redefine what was possible with self-defense. But, again, if a stylized practitioner of these systems was put up against a competent boxer or seasoned street fighter they would, more than likely, be defeated.
            The reason for this is very simply, within any street fight the rules go out the window. All that matters is what works. People who have actually gone hand-to-hand with other fighters, on a frequent basis, are the ones who most clearly understand this and it is they who immediately, without thought, adapt to whatever is being thrown at them by their opponent. If they get hit, they know how to take that punch and not let it debilitate them. They simply move forward with the fight. This, while the stylized practitioner thinks about what they should be doing and why. It is this mindset that ultimately leads to the street fighter emerging victorious in a competition against a trained traditional martial artist.
            Throughout the 1960s and onward, more-and-more traditional martial arts practitioners began to open their minds and their styles to allowing other influences to come into play.  They would study what other systems had to offer and then integrate that ideology into their own system of self-defense.  Though schools of traditional martial arts are still in abundance, more and more training facilities emphasis leaving behind formalized tradition and learning what works and how best to use it.
            Here lies they ideal training platform that should be integrated into every school of self-defense. Teach your students the basics and then allow them to go hand-to-hand in a non-defined, unexpected manner, (within a controlled environment, of course). Let them learn what it feels like to actually fight. From this, they will emerge as true martial artists and ideal combat technicians.
            For anyone who has followed by writings on the fighting arts over the past three decades they understand that my focus has always been on developing and using what works best for you. Learn your techniques, study your environment, study your opponent, and then do what you must do to defeat them. I have long detailed the necessity of landing the first strike as that may be all it takes to emerge victorious from any confrontation. But, as time has moved on, I have come to enjoy studying the more refined elements of my opponent’s combat skills and then deciding how best to overcome their attack. To understand this, let me explain…
            Every person you enter into a physical altercation with has their own set of predisposed skills and fighting techniques.  With most people, they have virtually none. They will either come at you throwing wild punches or if they have no developed skills at all, they will try to tackle you. But, once on the ground, they have no idea what to do next. In each case, they immediately show their hand. They implicitly tell you what they are capable of doing. And, more importantly, of what they are not capable of doing. 
            Of course, there is the other side of the issue; this is where you come face-to-face with a highly trained fighter. Whether they come from the traditional martial arts, MMA, boxing, or something else, again, what they are going to initially unleash at you is their best technique. Meaning, if they have a really powerful side kick or a highlight developed right hook, they are not going to walk up and slap you. They are going to attempt to hit you as hard as they can with that technique for that is the best they have to offer.
            From my person perspective, what I have truly learned from is to let the opponent unleash their best technique. Once they do, then you know what they have – you understand what they can do. From this understanding, the moment they unleash their secondary attack, they have already illustrated how they can most easily be defeated.
            Certainly, this method of self-defense can be precarious if you go face-to-face with a highly trained fighter. But, most people who would step up to you aren’t highly trained fighters. They are simply an adrenaline filled individual, lost in their own anger. And, this is why they can easily be defeated. By keeping your focus, studying their technique and movement, you can quickly and consciously defeat them by understanding what they will most likely next unleash and then countermanding it with the most appropriate technique in your arsenal.
            At the heart of all self-defense training is learning to anticipate and then defeating your attacker. Yes, if you are a trained practitioner you can go up and probably easily knock a person out with one punch or kick. But, what is the fun in that? Moreover, as I always warn my students, that style of self-defense leaves you highly vulnerable to legal repercussions. On the other hand, if you allow your assailant to be the attacker, then you are simply defending yourself and personal self-defense is always legal.  
            Most people train in the fighting arts in order to learn how to defeat an opponent in the most expedient manner possible. This is fine. You should learn all the basics from kicks, to punches, to take-downs, to joint locks, and most importantly deflections. Plus, you need to know how to take a punch! But, once all that has been understood, then you must come to understand the individual body mechanics of each style of attack.  From this, you gain the ability to consciously observe your opponent while not being overpowered by them and then defeat them in the most appropriate manner, dictated by their own defined style of attack which you have previously witnessed.
            Practice with this in your training environment. You will find that it will make you a much more competent martial artist.

Copyright © 2015 – All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Adapt and Readapt

By Scott Shaw

            I was doing a workout over at my studio today with, dare I say, some of my aging contemporaries. These people forever impress me for they, like I, have been practicing the martial arts longer than most practitioners have been alive. These people really know their stuff and though some of them have gained some weight, lost some of their flexibility and endurance, they each understand that the key to the martial arts is to Adapt and Readapt. They work with what they have and they make it work.
            You know, there is something really beautiful about a martial artists or a boxer in their prime. The things they can do and the moves they can make are really exquisite. For example, when you watch a boxing match when a great fighter is in his prime, it is pure poetry. This is the same with a highly trained martial arts practitioner who can propel his body into the air and perform a perfectly executed flying kick or opponent throw. But, it is the wise practitioner who understands that the agility of youth does not translate into the person of age. This is not to say that by adapting as age comes upon a person that they cannot produce beautiful movements and techniques. For example, as we reached the portion of the workout today where we met face-to-face on the mat, again, I was so impressed with these people. Through their years of training they each know what to do and they know how to do it in their own unique manner. Though their bodies have become older, they have each individually devised ways to make what they do effectively work for them. They do not try to fight as if they were twenty-five, they fight as if they were thirty or forty years past that point. But, from their knowledge, they could easy defeat someone twenty years their junior.
            This is the great thing about the true martial artists and here is where the difference between the individual who trains in the traditional martial arts and the individual who is more focused upon, "The fight," comes into play. Whereas the traditional martial artist learns all he can and works with what he has, they never desire to hurt anyone or focus upon defeating anyone, as does the fight-orientated practitioner. The true martial artists never desires to go in for the kill, when there is the opportunity to move the fight in a different direction. They choose to deflect rather than attack.
            I have been writing about the martial arts for a long-long time now and this is something I have always discussed; the street is not the same as the training hall. On the streets it is kill or be kill. But, the true martial artist never wants to follow that path. They want to be more. They desire to raise their consciousness rather than to raise their fists. And, this is an important distinction to make. As long-term martial artists I believe that most of us walk away from fights rather than to engage in them. For what is the purpose of fighting when we have spent our whole lives training to do just that? We don’t need to follow that path for we understand that the martial arts is much more than simply a means to learn how to defeat an opponent.
            And, that is what I witnessed again today. As ever-advancing martial artists, the people I worked with have learned and accepted what their body can and cannot do. Then, they have adapted with the times to keep their bodies in shape and their minds focused. And, they have done this knowing that a fight is never the answer when a fight does not need to take place. From this, I witness true beauty based upon interactive fighting techniques that were taken to the ultimately level of understanding and used as a means of mental training and not simply that of winning a fight.

Copyright © 2015 – All Rights Reserved. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Ego, Dominance, and Defending Against the Sucker Punch


By Scott Shaw

            Recently, here in the Los Angeles area, there was an incident where an Uber driver was attacked from behind by the passenger in his car. Luckily, the driver had a dash-cam recording the entire attack.  The passenger sat there smacking the driver from behind over and over and over again. It was very troubling to watch for just like the coward who accosts a person from behind with a sucker punch, being seat-belted into your car seat and attacked from behind leaves you in an extremely vulnerable position. The attacker was wearing a short sleeved shirt and you could see that he worked out, so the attack had to be very painful. Due to the fact that the attack was recorded, the passenger was arrested, was fired from his senior position at a fast food company, and, in addition to facing several charges, is being sued by the driver.
            If we look at this situation more clearly we easily come to see that no matter what instigated the attack on the driver, the attacker was using his positioning to his advantage – knowing that he would easily emerge victorious as how can a person effectively defend themselves from the position that the driver found himself in?  This is simply a coward’s way to fight.
            As martial artists I believe that we must truly study our own inner nature and come to clearly define the person we are when we find ourselves in any physical confrontation. Certainly, one of the primary reasons for studying the martial arts is to gain a mastery of self-defense. But, many practitioners go far beyond this understanding and simply use their skills to beat up other people. This is simply the wrong mindset to possess as you move your way towards martial arts mastery. 
            If you are a trained fighting practitioner and you use your skills to defeat an opponent simply to stroke your own ego or to falsely attempt to prove to yourself that you are better than someone else, then you are missing the entire point of martial arts training. You are simply walking down the path of ego in an attempt to fill a void that exist somewhere inside of you where you desire to be dominant over other people.
            The truth be told, this ego driven mindset it very common in the martial arts. Everywhere you go you will hear a certain caliber of martial artist disusing how their style, their school, their teacher, or they personally are the very best. You will hear people saying that some other practitioner is not as a good as them. In fact, you will witness many lies or altered truths being spoken about other martial artists simply to make themselves, their teacher, or their school appear to be better. Though this is a common practice, it is sheer foolishness and this style of behavior is, in fact, against the entire inner teachings of the martial arts.
            What I always suggest to an individual who wishes to gage a person’s true inner knowledge about the martial arts is to simply listen to them. What do they have to say about other people, other students, and other instructors? Is their dialog based upon who is better and who is worse? Is it based upon criticism? Or, is it based upon mutual understanding and respect? Listen to a person and you will know who they truly are.
            An individual’s developed mindset defines how a person will react to the physical elements of this world. Yes, there is conflict. For this reason, a martial artist trains their body to effectively encounter any style of physical attack. But, once the attack has been nullified, it is what the martial arts does next that defines who they truly are.
            As I often discuss, as a martial artist you train your body to effectively defeat an attacker. But, what is the limit of effective self-defense? Is it letting them know that they cannot over power you? Or, is it you beating the crap out of them?
            In a physical altercation it is quite easily understood how some people, when they are being attacked, block and then hit and hit again until their attacker lies knocked out and motionless on the ground. As a martial artist you certainly possess the ability to do just that. But, is that the best strategy? I do not believe it is. Yes, you defend yourself. But, you only need to do that until your opponent has come to understand that you can and will defeat him. Then, you halt your counterattack for you have made your point. You do not have to hurt them further simply to hurt them. This is the true essence of the martial arts.
            At the heart of your martial arts training must be your inner development. Yes, learn how to block, deflect, joint lock, kick, punch, and throw but consciously allow yourself to move beyond that level of physicality. Become more. Never become like the person who beat on an Uber driver from behind. Never be the person who unleashes a sucker punch. Defend yourself if you need to but do not allow your ego, via your martial art training, to cause you to hurt a person unnecessarily, no matter who or what that person may be, just because you can.

Copyright © 2015 – All Rights Reserved

Sunday, July 12, 2015

This is Very Dangerous


By Scott Shaw

Author’s note: I've been asked to write another book on the self-defense aspects of the martial arts so I was going through some of my previous writings to get some ideas and inspiration. I came upon this editorial that I wrote for Inside Karate magazine that was published in the December 1997 issue. I realized that it still provides some important thoughts about self-defense training. So, here it is...

            I was invited to watch the graduation exercise at a school that taught a widely publicized two-day self-defense seminar. It was basically geared towards women, but there were two men in attendance, as well. The ages of the participants ranged from a fifteen-year-old girl to approximately mid-thirties.
            At the beginning of the ceremony everybody got up and gave their testimonials about how confident they felt after the course. Some of the students claimed that they had studied traditional martial arts for years upon years and it proved fruitless, but after this two-day seminar they felt they could truly handle themselves in any confrontational situation.
            I was expecting to watch some very interesting and effective techniques but when they started demonstrating what they had learned I was in disbelief. They begin by fighting imaginary opponents and unleashing misdirected techniques that would never work in a real street combat situation. Then, the students went up against the seminar trainers, who wore massively padded suits, and pretended to be affected by their misdirected self-defense techniques. A friend who was with me said it best. He stated, “This is very dangerous, letting these people believe that they could actually defend themselves.”
            As a martial artist who has focused his entire career upon the study and development of scientific self-defense, I am one hundred percent behind the empowerment of people -- especially women, learning how to successfully defend themselves. But, what I am one hundred percent against is individuals claiming to teach street worthy self-defense and instead leading people down a road to injury while charging them excessive amounts of money to do it -- whether it be a two-day or a two-year program.
            As a first line of self-defense, the instructors at this seminar, taught the students to initially make a strange comment or ask the attacker some bizarre question if they were accosted. This, it was claimed, would distract the attacker.
            This subtle psychological technique is, in fact, a good preliminary method of self-defense. By distracting your opponent, even if only for a moment, you give yourself the opportunity to unleash a powerful counter attack. The problem with this method of initial self-defense is, however, most people, particularly women, who have never been involved in a street altercation are not going to have the mental presence to be able to remember to ask a foolish question of an attacker. Instead, they are just going to freeze. The better, more effective, method of verbal self-defense the seminar instructors taught was screaming the word, “No,” in the opponents face. This verbal assault was, however, the end of effective self-defense training that took place at this training program.
            The students were taught to unleash knee kicks to the groin and knife hand strikes to the throat. Both good self-defense techniques if they are delivered correctly. But, they must be delivered with exacting precision or they are useless. A knee to the groin must hit its mark exactly or it will have little, if any, effect on the attacker. So too the knife hand strike to the throat.
            This is where the long-term training that takes place in traditional martial arts schools becomes invaluable. Through continued training drills you learn how to effectively deliver a knee strike and how to correctly snap the elbow out when you unleash a knife hand.
            None of the students at this seminar delivered correct striking techniques; even the one’s who had claimed years of traditional training. Unleashing any strike without the proper technique is fruitless and would only help to further enrage an attacker.
            The scariest thing, of the supposed self-defense techniques that these seminar students were taught was, how to get a two-hundred-pound man, who had grabbed them from behind, off of them when he had a knife to their throat or a gun to their head. I don’t care how good of a martial art technician you are, if you have a two-hundred-pound guy on top of you, holding a gun at your head, and ready to use it, prayer is your best option.
            The students went through poorly executed self-defense techniques for the aforementioned situations. They uselessly grabbed at the knife of the attacker and effortless flipped the men off of their backs.
            If you grab a knife in a street confrontation, you cut yourself. If you try to get a two-hundred-pound man off of your back, without exacting techniques, he remains on your back and tightens his grasp.
            The most notable flaw of this seminar was that the students were never taught how deflect an oncoming attack or how to properly disengage an opponent’s grasp upon them. Without these basic skills, street self-defense degenerates to useless grappling on the ground.
            The truth of the matter is; you cannot teach anyone how to successful defend themselves in a two-day seminar. What’s worse is that you can, however, make a person believes that they can defend themselves in a two-day seminar.
            Learning how to successfully defense yourself is a life-long process; with each new life event and understanding you come to define your own methods of self-defense more accurately.  From this, we as martial artists, can expound this understanding onto other people.
            This was perhaps the main problem with this self-defense seminar. The people who were training these unsuspecting students were not true martial artists. They had only studied enough rudimentary self-defense to have something to teach and then went out and claimed the techniques to be their own. They never had to truly put what they taught to the test and, thus, may even themselves have believed that what they taught was valid.
            The moral of this story is: Number One: Be careful whom you study from. Make sure that your instructors are well trained enough to truly impart viable, useful knowledge. Number Two: Take the time to truly learn what your instructors have to teach you and then put it to the test, in a training environment, so that you will personally come to understand what does and what does not work if you ever find yourself in an actual street combat situation.

Copyright 1997 – All Rights Reserved