Thursday, October 20, 2016

Is Deflection Ever Enough?


By Scott Shaw

            I had an interesting experience last night. I was out and this guy, who had a few drinks under his belt, knowing who I am, comes up to me. Trying to break hard in front of his friends he throws a few insults my direction and then sets up to punch me. Before I had the chance to laugh it off and walk away, he unleashes his punch. I blocked it with an open palm upward block to the bottom of his fist.  As I caught it just at the right time, it caused his own fist to be driven into the bottom of his jaw. BAM! Certainly, it was not enough to do him any real damage but what it did do was to cause him to rethink his motivation. After he exclaimed, “Ouch,” he looked at me, smiled, and said, “Much respect.”  I reached out my hand to shake his but, instead, he leaned in and gave me a big hug.
            Now, the outcome of this situation is a rarity.  First of all, this is a very precise blocking technique; you have to be fast, well-focused, and know how to unleash it. But, more than that, in street altercations, it is rare that an attacker is going to concede so easily. Normally, once you have rebuked their initial attack this is only going to make them madder and more adrenalized. This is why you must always question, “Is deflection ever enough?”
            As conscious martial artists, we each enter into any combat situation with the intention of using the most refined method of self-defense that we can employee.  For those of us trained in the deflective arts, this first-line of self-defense is most commonly the use of deflection. But, the problem with simply deflecting an attack it that, in most cases, deflection does not debilitate the attacker. Their attack is simply deflected then they come back for more.
            This is the same with bobbing and weaving. Most adrenalized fighters are so locked into the forceful course of their attack that, for example, if they unleash a punch, the power of that punch controls them as opposed to their controlling it. For this simple reason, it is very easy to move your head slightly out of the path of that punch. Thus, the punch misses you.  
            As those of us who have trained in the fighting arts for long periods of time understand, though we may have the ability to easily deflect or dodge an attack, this does not stop the onslaught of the attacker. At best, it simply gives us the upper hand to counter attack.  But, here lies the problem, this world has become so litigious and filled with dishonest people that even though they may be the one instigating the attack they are going to lie to protect their own self-interest.
            I have written many editorials about this fact. I have also long discussed that, for this reason, it is far better to walk away than to fight in these modern days; as getting arrested just because you can kick somebodies ass serves no purpose to the overall progression of your life nor does it contribute to the great good. The simply fact is, people are liars. Especially, those unconscious enough to only think about themselves and to not take others into consideration.  All they try to do is save face for themselves while inflicting as much pain to other people as possible. Though we all know this is absolutely the wrong way to behave, think how many people act in exactly that manner.
            My secondary advice has always been, if you are accosted and physical combat is brought to you, and there is no way to walk away from it, then allow your attacker to make first contact and then defeat them. By preforming your self-defense in this manner, you are far less likely to end up on the wrong side of the law. I have had students come to class with a black eye and I would inquire, “What happened?” “I let them hit me first, then I took them down,” was the answer. Not ideal but a good way to keep yourself out of legal trouble.
            It is quite commonly a foolish world we we exist within in these modern days, fueled by unconscious, uncaring people; lost in their own lie of self-worth. First of all, fighting is barbaric. There is no reason for it. Secondarily, people are self-centered lairs. Again, there is no reason for it. If you are whole onto yourself, you never need to attack any-one by any-means for any-reason.
            So, what is the moral of this editorial? If you are accosted and you want to win the confrontation at any cost, then quickly punch your opponent first, with full-force in their face. This will, most probably, knock them to the ground. But, this is not the way of the spiritual warrior. To be whole and true to yourself, you needed to understand the motivation of the other person, you need to care, and then you need to only defend yourself once you are physically attacked, and only with the minimum amount of expended energy.
            Is deflection enough? Rarely. But, in times like the aforementioned situation, it was. Thus, never fight unless you have to fight. Then, only deflect and let your attackers own negative energy lead to their demise.

Copyright © 2016 – All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Understanding the Black Belt


By Scott Shaw

            To the non-martial artist, the person who wears the black belt is viewed as the ultimate depiction of the individual who has mastered all realms of mental-control and physical combat. But, to the true martial artist, they understand the black belt to be simply a physical representation of them moving towards a more refined understand of physical and self-knowledge. They know that it certainly does not mean that the one who wears the black belt is all-knowing and the perfect combat technician. In fact, the true black belt should have learned through their years of training that a black belt is only a symbol of an accomplishment within a school’s environment and holds no true bearing in the combat realities that exist on the street. Unfortunately, many of the true definitions and deeper understandings of the black belt have been lost to this modern world.
            To begin this discussion about understanding the black belt we must first look back to the history of the black belt. The fact is, the entire concept of the black belt is just a bit over a hundred years old. Though, throughout history, there has always been a ranking system within the martial arts, the modernization of the martial arts is what brought the, “Black Belt,” into keen focus. Sadly, from this fact, much of the true essence of what the black belt actually stands for has been lost – as it has now commonly become an unrefined quest of all those who train in the martial arts and a method to make money for those who teach the martial arts.
            A few years ago I was speaking with Bill Superfoot Wallace in regard to an article I was writing about him for a magazine. In part, the article was about how he was having a problem with a person whom he had promoted to black belt. During our discussion he said something very profound. In essence he stated, “Back in the day if a person was a 1st degree black belt they were impossible to touch. If they were a 2nd degree black belt, forget about it, they would tear you apart. Now, everyone is an 8th, 9th or 10th degree black belt and they are terrible.”
            For those of you who may not know, black belt ranking progresses between 1st to 10th degree. In terms of the Asian standard, and the standards accepted among the traditional martial arts community here in the West, a person who is a 1st through 3rd degree black belt is only considered an advanced student. They are not yet believed to be a competent enough practitioner to formally teach the art. It is only at the rank of 4th degree or above that one can actually be understood to be a competent teacher. But, here is where the problem begins. People desire rank. Teachers desire money. So, they promote people through the ranks in order to fill the practitioner’s ego and the school owner’s pockets. Thus, the vast skillset that was once possessed by the black belt practitioner has now been all but lost.
            Again, for those of you who may not know, it is not free to gain the rank of black belt. It costs money. And generally, the higher up the ladder you climb, the more money it costs. Sometimes it costs a lot of money. Thus, in many schools of self-defense the pathway to black belt has now become solely a money making opportunity.
            In times gone past, particularly in Asia, there was a very formalized structure to advance from white to black belt and beyond. This included time and skill level requirements. The problem was and is, once these forms of Asian combat made their way to the States, the rules went out the window. In some cases, people made students wait much longer than was required by the timescale set forth in Asia to rise to the level of black belt. This was based upon the fact that the school owner hoped to keep them as a student for as long as possible.  The adverse was and is also true. People have been pushed through the ranks much too fast in order for the school owner to have assistant instructors to do all the teaching for them and/or to open new schools. In either case, as most people who train here in the West have never actually trained in Asia, they have no true concept of what is or is not the true essence of their art. You can call this the Westernization of the martial arts. But, by whatever name, the true essence of the pathway to black belt has been altered. And, it has not been altered for the better.
            As someone who has been training in the martial arts for the past fifty-one years (so-far), I have witnessed the changing attitudes about the rank of black belt. A couple of weeks ago I was sitting at Starbucks with one of my Hapkido brothers. He, like I, is an old-timer who has witnessed the changing landscape of the martial arts. We each exchanged stories about how the entire panorama of the martial arts and the route to black belt has deteriorated. We both agreed that from this, the true understanding of what the black belt actually means has been radically distorted.
            You see, in the early days of martial arts, here in the United States, there was a one-on-one relationship between the student and the teacher. The teacher personally guided their students towards their own level of excellence. Back then, people were not certified by large organizations. They were certified by their teacher. This was both good and it was bad. As I have discussed in the past, back then, if you earned the rank of black belt and you went to another school, they would, at least for a time, make you return to white belt. For me, this was a very enlightening and humbling experience that I went through a couple of times. It taught me about the true meaning of rank. But, for others, if they moved away from their original teacher or their teacher’s school went out of business, they never recommenced training due to their ego being involved – as they refused to be demoted. From this, many a person opened their own school of self-defense when they were not qualified to do so. Yet, they became a teacher and propagated their limited understanding of the martial arts to the masses. Again, this is a sourcepoint for where many of the problems within the path to black belt in the modern martial arts arose.
            As time moved on, several large Asian based organizations came to dominate the martial art landscape here in the West. This was especially true with taekwondo. The thing was, there was virtually no way for a Westerner to communicate with these organizations. Thus, the practitioner was dominated by their instructor’s link to the association. This was even true for me. For example, though I spent a lot of time in South Korea, my instructor, who I taught the martial arts in association with for years-upon-years, kept dodging getting me the advanced rank certificate I had earned and had paid for from a large federation. Sure, he gave me the school certificate and I was registered with the Kwan but I paid a lot of money for that international rank certification. The fact was, this man was terrible with money and he always spent our school’s income. So, he never had the money to pay the organization. And, I have heard similar stories, time-and-time again, from many practitioners of that era. The funny thing was, years later, another Korean-born instructor got me that rank certificate through the large organization. He did it, so he told me, to make things right. I appreciated that.
            The reason I tell this story is that it shows what goes on within these large martial arts organizations in relation to individualized black belt ranking. As I worked for years in association with my instructor and I went to Korea for him several times, I really saw the inside workings of this global organization and, I can tell you, there was a lot of tomfoolery going on things that no one but someone who was on the inside would have seen. The stories I could tell… Though I have absolute respect for this organization and what it did for spreading taekwondo across the globe, it was what I personally saw and experienced that caused me to move away from them.
            So, what does this tell us about the black belt?  It explains that the black belt is not a universally defined concept. It is simply a thing that is commonly observed to be an entity but it is not. Instead, it is simply something that someone has assigned their own specific definition to. There is no one-universal understanding about how a black belt is to be awarded and what should be expected of the individual who wears it. This being said, there are factors that are commonly understood that one must embrace if they hope to rise to the level of a true black belt and once they are a black belt there are certain formalities they should practice if they hope to do the black belt they wear justice. But, it is essential to note, there is no one person and no one organization making sure that they do so. Again, this is where the problems begin.
            One of the essential elements of the black belt ranking that needs to be understood is that, as detailed, the black belt is a progressive ranking system. The way the various levels of the black belt rank were formulated were done so to lay a foundation for the advancing understanding within the martial arts. For example, in Asia, the lower ranked black belts always pay homage to the higher ranked black belts. Just as with age, the older and more advanced a person is in their skill development, the more respect they should command from their subordinates. If you are going to claim to be part of a tradition you must hold fast to that tradition. But, here in the West, this essential level of understanding has been forgotten and replaced by individualized ego. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard one black belt say about another, “I don’t think he has good technique.” Or, “I am better than him.” Maybe, “My students are better than that person.” Or some other form of directed negativity or personality based criticism. The fact is, who is anyone, especially a black belt, to cast judgment upon anyone else, especially if they hold a lower rank of black belt than does the person of whom they speak? Is a person who behaves in this fashion honoring the accepted traditions of their art?
            Being a black belt is not about allowing your ego to control your actions and your conversation. If fact, it should be just the opposite. A true black belt understands that each individual masters the art to the best of their ability and presents it in a manner that is most appropriate to their body type and body functionality. In other words, each practitioner progresses to the best level that they can achieve. Judgment is no part of this equation. But, applied understanding is.
            If a person is a true black belt they honor tradition as that tradition was set forth by the people who established the style of the martial arts that they practice. If a person is a true black belt they should be secure within themselves. They have no need to cast judgment. As we all understand, casting judgment or attempting to criticize or diminish another person’s accomplishment is simply the act of insecurity. It is simply someone trying to make themselves look more by making someone else look less. This is never the action of a true black belt. Yet, it is sadly rampant within the modern martial arts as practiced in the West. And again, here is an example of a sourcepoint for where many of the problems of the modern martial arts have arisen.
            As the years have progressed the understanding of the black belt has changed and evolved. Some would say, it has diminished. But, at the heart of any true black belt is the understanding that a belt does not define the individual. A belt is only an item of clothing. What is in a person’s heart, what is in their mind, and what they give back to the world while keeping their ego in check is the true demonstration of their inner knowledge: combat orientated or otherwise. That is what makes them a true black belt.
            It is very easy to know who is or is not a true black belt.

Copyright © 2016 – All Rights Reserved

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Everybody Wants to Fight but Nobody Knows How to Fight


By Scott Shaw

            I forever find it very curious how people in this world are so confrontational. I find this particularly interesting in a place like the United States where people are so on the edge of anger for absolutely no reason at all.
            Have you ever been in the middle of war zone? Have you ever been in the middle of a riot? Have you ever been attacked by a gang of thugs? In those situations, there you have a reason to be confrontational – for in those situations it is kill or be killed. But, in the modern civilized world we live in a place where peace and prosperity abound. Yet, people are dominated by their anger, leading to confrontation(s). Why is this?  
            To provide a couple of examples. I was driving down the street today, a guy was at the stop sign in front of me, playing with his phone or something. When he didn’t drive on when the traffic was clear I gave him a little honk to wake him up to the fact that there are other people in the world. He dove on but was giving me dirty looks like he wanted to fight. He was a late middle aged man with a handicap plaque handing on his mirror. But, he wanted to fight. I laughed at him.
            Yesterday, I was driving along and was about to change lanes. I put on my turn signal. As I did the car behind me immediately raced into the lane to intentionally cut me off. My initial thought was this was one of those people who try to get into accidents so they can collect insurance money. But, I responded quickly and stayed my course. The car pulls up next to me and it was female Latin woman, yelling and screaming at me. She wanted a fight. I smiled.  
            In a world of plenty, why doesn’t everyone have enough? Everyone wants more. When they do not get all the ALL that they feel they deserve, they embrace anger; be it road rage or whatever. They look for a fight. But, is a fight what they really want?  I don’t think so.
            As I often discuss, in association with the martial arts, there are those of us who train a lifetime to refine our fighting skills, solely so that we will not need to use them. Most people are not like that, however. They are not a trained fighter, yet they feel they have ability, based in anger, to go up against someone who is. Here is where many of the problems of the world begin. People enter into confrontations over their anger, when there is no reason to do so. And, in doing so, they are easily defeated.
            As I always tell my students, the moment you enter into any physical altercation you must size up your opponent.  As a trained fighter, you can quickly tell if the opponent you are encountering is a trained fighter or not. As I also always tell my students, the moment you realize that you are a going up against an untrained fighter, turn it down a notch. For, though you can easily beat them to a pulp, the entire reason you train in the martial arts is so you will not have to do so.
            Certainly, if you are attacked you have every right to defend yourself. But, you should only fight as hard as you must fight. You should never demolish your opponent simply because you can. This is what true martial art training is all about.
            Moreover, one of the main reasons one trains in the martial arts is so that they may learn mastery over their mind. From this, they will not be dominated by uncontrolled and misguided anger. Without the need to express uncontrolled, unreasonable anger, your life become so much less confrontational and free from conflict; both external and internal.
            Anger, only dominates the unenlightened. Anger is the most animalistic emotion of all emotions. One who is dominated by anger exits at the lowest level of human consciousness. Yes, you may encounter people like this as you travel through your life but you do not need to allow their anger to instigate it in you. Be more than the aggressive individual(s) you encounter. If they attack you, defend yourself, but only to the necessary-end of keeping yourself free from injury. You do not have to annihilate them to win.
            Just because someone is angry at you, (for whatever reason), does not mean that you have to be angry at them. Use your martial arts training to cause you to forever raise above those dominated by anger.

Copyright © 2016 – All Rights Reserved.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Remove All the Extras


By Scott Shaw

            In every school of the martial arts, particularly those that teach a traditional system of self-defense, the students are taught a plethora of techniques. They are taught how to stand, how to punch, how to kick and in some cases how to joint lock and throw. They are taught these techniques and then they practice these techniques over-and-over again in order to develop exacting precision with each of them. Once they have learned these techniques they are then graded at how well they perform them. Thus, the martial art belt ranking system. As one moves their way through the martial arts, they do the same techniques over-and-over again as they are told this is the only way to gain true mastery over them. There is one very large problem in this equitation, however. The teacher who teaches them has most likely never been in an adult street fight. Thus, they have no true understanding as to whether or not they actually work. They are told that they do. They teach their students that they do. But, they have no first-hand knowledge.
            When a student of the martial arts is preforming one of the forms or katas of their system, striving for exacting precision is essential. At martial art competitions or demonstrations there are some practitioner who do what they do with exquisite beauty and perfection. Is this a part of the martial arts? Yes, it is. Is this part of the, “Martial,” “War-like,” part of the martial arts? Not really.
            There is a great divide between performing a specific technique with exacting precision and using that same technique as a tool of self-defense. In the classroom and on the demonstration floor, technique perfection is what is sought after. In physical combat, however, the belief that a specific technique must be preformed in an exacting manner is what may cause the student of the martial arts to lose a fight.
            There is an old saying among practitioners of Aikido and it can stretch across all of the various styles of the martial arts, “Thank you for letting me throw you.” If you have watched and studied the techniques used in an Aikido demonstration, (or any other style of the martial arts that focuses on elaborate throwing techniques), you will understand that though they are beautiful to watch they would not work in street combat. You are not going to cause a two-hundred-pound attacker to fly effortless through the air. And, this is just one exaggerated example. If you begin to break down any of the very-formalized techniques within your system of self-defense you will soon discover that in the rapid and undefined movements of a street fight the more you stick to structure and formality the less effective your techniques become.
            The martial arts are a great training ground to teach your body how to move and perform techniques that they average person does not understand. This being said, there is a grand illusion that simply because an individual can perform a perfect side kick in the studio that it would be effective on the street.  
            The martial arts, themselves, project this illusion. It is believed that the practitioner can defeat any opponent due to their ongoing training and the mental and physical development they gain in their school by preforming each technique over-and-over again as exactingly as possible. Again, this is where we must come to understand that there is a great difference between an idealized understanding of the martial arts and a practical one.
            As MMA has come to be embraced more-and-more over the past two decades, traditional martial art practitioners have been given the opportunity to witness, within the confines of a controlled environment, what one-on-one street combat actually looks like. It is not pretty. It is not defined. And, there are no rules. The two opponents do whatever it is they can do to win.
            From this understanding, within you own training facility, it may be time for you to begin to put aside the tradition of attempting to perform each technique a perfectly as possible. At least in association with your understanding of true self-defense.  If you want to know what truly works within your system, put it to the test. Glove up and let your opponent actually try to punch you. See which of your traditional punching defenses actually works. Do they same with kicks, body grabs and choke holds. Do not allow your opponent to know what self-defense you are going to employee nor allow him to react in the expected manner. Instead, make it like an actual street fight. Then, take it to the mat. Get in a ground fight for this is where many a street fight ends up. Do this, for this is the only way you will ever understand what truly does and does not work within your system of self-defense.  Once you have defined what does and does not work, in actual combat, you will then know what additional training you will need to prepare yourself if an actual street fight finds you.
            Every school of martial arts has a set of basic, intermediate, and advanced techniques that it teaches its students. Learn those techniques. Master those techniques and then put them to the test, leaving the extras behind. From this, you may emerge as a true martial artist.

Copyright © 2016 – All Rights Reserved

Monday, February 15, 2016

They Never Say Thank You


By Scott Shaw

            To the untrained individual, a martial artist is the person who can defeat his or her opponent or even an entire onslaught of attackers in the most powerful and expedient manner possible. With punches, kicks, and throws the opponents are quickly sent to the ground. To the trained martial artist, they understand that the fighting arts are much more than that, however, only after years-and-years of training and mental refinement does the true martial artist emerge embracing the mindset that it is far better to not fight at all than to ever go hand-to-hand unless it is absolutely necessary.
            In martial arts schools the novice and the long trained individual alike train their bodies to become the most proficient and effective self-defense machines possible. They initially learn and then master the basics of self-defense. After this point they constantly refine their fighting methodology to become not only the most competent self-defense technician that they can be but also the most thoughtful and complete human being that they can become. As their years of training progress, the true martial artist comes to understand that though they can most likely defeat any attacking opponent, they may not even need to forcefully do this as they can allow their attacker to defeat themselves.
            When I lead martial arts seminars I oftentimes base the class upon something that Bruce Lee said in his film, “Enter the Dragon.” When accosted by a boisterous and sure-of-himself martial artist onboard the boat to Han’s Island, Lee did not respond to the man's challenges to fight. Instead, when asked what was his style Lee stated, “The art of fighting without fighting.” I believe that the screenwriter of this film truly captured the essence of the true martial artist in those words, for it depicts the ideal mindset of the truly advanced fighting technician – they don’t need to fight to prove who they are. Thus, they do not fight unless it is absolutely necessary.  
            In these aforementioned seminars I commonly teach the participants to defend themselves without the need to enter into a punch-by-punch, knock-down, drag-out fight. Instead, I teach them how to defend themselves in the easiest, most direct, least confrontational manner possible. Though this style of self-defense is the best way to keep yourself free from incurring the injures of a forceful fight; such as broken hands from punching or twisted body joints from grappling, the sad fact is, the person who is defeated in this manner is never the wiser for your fighting them in this fashion. They never say, “Thank you,” for you not tearing them apart though you could.
            In my life I have encountered physical confrontations, generally, but not always, brought on by somebody trying to rob me of something.  Instead of losing my peace, I have defended myself in the most rapid manner possible and then walked away. I did not beat them to a pulp once they were sent to the ground just because I could. In fact, in a few cases, I have actually helped the attacker back up to his feet. Did they say, “Thank you?” No, they did not. They usually walked away making further threats. There has also been times when someone has attacked me and though I could have easily defeated them very quickly, I realized that this was not the best course of action. For example, a man once charged at me when I was standing at the top of a staircase. All I had to do was sidestep his attack and perhaps give him a little shove and that would have been the end of the confrontation. The problem was, as we were at the top of the stairs, had I done that, through his own momentum he would most likely have plummeted down the stairs, face first; obviously hurting himself very badly. But, I consciously did not let this happen. I knew he was no competition so I took the initial hit and defended myself from that point. Did he say, “Thank you?” No, he did not. Did he say, “Thank you for not beating the crap out of me,” after I defended myself with a simple deflection upon his secondary attack? Nope, not a word of thanks.
            The fact of life and the truth that you need to understand if you hope to rise to the level of a true martial artist is that your defeated opponent is never going to say, “Thank you,” even though you did not hurt them as badly as you could have in a confrontation that they instigated. Your attacker is never going to appreciate the fact that though you could have physically destroyed them, you did not. Instead, you took the high road. You may have defended yourself, but you did not send your opponent to the hospitable while doing so. You behaved like a true martial artist, not like some street ruffian.
            I believe that it is better not to hurt someone, even an attacking opponent, unless you must absolutely do so. It is for this reason that the true martial artist takes the time to research and understand the true essence of the body dynamics of physical confrontation and from this understanding is willing to take the first-hit if that means that their opponent will not be seriously injured in the confrontation. 
            But remember, no, they are not going to say, “Thank you,” after the fact – though they most likely should. Why? Because they are obvious not a conscious enough person to understand the true facts of physical combat, nor are they a conscious enough person to understand that if they are the one instigating the confrontation they are the one who should be defeated.
            The ultimate truth of the martial arts is to be more than your opponent. Not only a better fighter but a better person. Strive for this distinction. 

Copyright © 2016 – All Rights Reserved.