Structure and Void AAR

Rory Miller's Blog - Mon, 2015-09-14 14:06
The idea-- I've been teaching the infighting seminar for a little while. In a lot of ways it is hardest for me to teach, because it is the thing I do least consciously. And when you try to take something that is not in words in your head, the words you wind up using can sound pretty weird. Two of the things that have been coming up consistently in the infighting seminars are structure and void. The mechanics of skeletons (structure) and how those interactwith empty space (void). If you grasp it, you can organize a ton of material in those two concepts.
Jake likes to experiment. When he saw me post on the blog that I was toying with the idea of teaching a class just on two fundamental principles, he wanted to run with it. The class was yesterday. Debriefed with a couple of students last night. Deconstructing it today.

What happened:
11 people attended. Three extremely experienced MA/instructors, two complete beginners, the rest with varying degrees of experience. Four had trained with me multiple times, two or maybe three had trained with me once before, just under half were strangers. Four women, seven men. One wheel-chair bound. I would say tradition jujitsu and muay thai were the most represented.
Covered: What each student though was meant by "structure & void" in the first place. Parlor tricks with structure (e.g. "unbendable arm"). Power conservation, including pocket structure and how to structure circular strikes. Bone slaving. Application of leverage. Spine extension. Working into the skeleton vs. breaking connection with the ground. Using the threat's structural weak and strong lines to increase damage or to unbalance. Structure and balance on the ground. Swimming, shrugging and posting. Angled structure, sawing and rolling bones. Dead zones (did I cover that explicitly?) Offensive and defensive use of voids. Creating, finding and filling empty space. Void zones in balance (one can only fall into space, not structure. Dropping into a created void. Chock blocks. Defensive use of the threat's structure. Constant forward pressure as a game of impact, compromise and pivot off the impact point or into the available void.

What went well:
I'm a terrible judge of my own work, and the formal AAR process deliberately avoids "what went wrong". From the debriefs and the after class ritual, the people who attended enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. As expected, the beginners and senior practitioners got very different things out of it. One of the beginners found it very intuitive. That leads to big gains fast. The seniors were using it to organize things they already knew and to make some things explicit that students often miss. All of the teacher levels expressed that they were struggling with how to integrate it into their regular classes. That goes in the "went well" section because it means they thought it was worth integrating.

What could be better:

  • Organization. Heard at least one "drinking from a firehouse comment." I think if I organized it better, the information received would be the same, but would feel less intense and retention would be better.
  • Organization II. Normal for a beta-class, but I was constantly remembering nuances or making connections that were not in the lesson plan.
  • Organization III. List the parts, drills and pieces of class and put them in the order that they play off and reinforce each other. Makes it easier for people to grasp and retain.
  • Teaching methodology. Classes at this level should be extremely interactive. I got time conscious and wanted to make sure people got all the information they paid for. Not sure anyone noticed except for me. Could be solved with more time.
  • Teaching methodology II. Having a unified game to bring all the parts back to for experimentation is central to my usual teaching module. The best game for this material is infighting randori, which is pretty intense for a seminar format. Also, requires more time and might shift Structure and Void to be a mini version of infighting.
  • Personal. Working with someone in a wheelchair I was shocked by how much I take for granted about my own physicality and how little I knew about different, less obvious effects. Like not being able to work core muscles. For class purposes, some things will simply not be possible and some require crazy work-arounds that may not be efficient enough to be worthwhile. Between the two of us, we knew enough about physiology to get most things to work, but I'm a little humbled.
  • Equipment. I should not be allowed to teach without a dry erase board.
  • Complacency. I get pretty foul-mouthed. 
  • Play more. Feedback from the beginners was that often the words were confusing until the physical parts of the exercises, and then it came together. Must remember that this is experiential, touch is the only way to learn to fight. Train with respect to that.
  • Ground part was important, but I cover it better (more time) in the 2-day Intro to Violence. Too big a chunk out of a four hour class. Maybe. there are really important aspects of structure and void that are more apparent on the ground than standing. Have to think this one through.
That should be enough to work on to keep me busy for awhile.

The Road Beckons

Rory Miller's Blog - Tue, 2015-09-08 18:04
Heading out Thursday, flying in to Boston. It's been some time at home with just a little local travel. Hacked at the invading army of blackberries, prepped for and hosted our big annual party (corned beef and horse radish wontons, scotch eggs, BBQ steak, salted-carmel rum milkshakes...)

Time to get moving, though. And this will be fun, and busy, and intense.
Details for most of it are here:

The first two workshops will be this weekend. Saturday, a one-day intro to violence. The usual: Efficient movement, fighting to the goal, a quick overview of SD law, of context, of violence motivations and dynamics. Power and counter-assault. More if we have time.
Sunday's workshop gets me excited.  There is very little new information in either martial arts and self-defense. People have been bad to other people since before there were people (judging from pre-human fossils who appear to have been hit from behind with an antelope bone). The quest now is to organize the information in ways that make the package tighter, easier to understand, easier to apply-- and do so without becoming vague or useless. So Sunday will be four hours exploring the principles of Structure and Void. Which sounds all cool and esoteric, but it is only how to offensively and defensively use your skeleton and the bad guy's skeleton (structure) and how to exploit the empty space between you, the threat and the environment (void.)

Then to Manhattan for a pair of evening workshops on the 16th and 17th. Gonna cram as much data in the first evening and principles-based physicality in the second as I can.

The following weekend in Rhode Island at "Just Train" will be an instructor class, "How to Run Scenarios". Scenarios are easy to do, but hard to do well. And if they're done poorly, they can mess students up on multiple dimensions.

The next week, three of the days will be spent filming Drills for YMAA during the day. Evenings, the plan is to run the CRGI/Chiron Instructor Development course. Specific material on teaching principles-based self-defense, limits of knowledge, trouble-shooting difficult students, developing and maintaining rapport with specialty teams-- stuff like that. It's _going_ to happen, even if we haven't hammered out exact location and price point. If everything falls through, I'll get with the interested people and do the class over dinners.

And then top it off with an infighting weekend at the Metrowest Academy in Natick. Martially, InFighting is the thing I love above all things, and a traditional JJ school will have a lot of the fundamentals down, so there will be some good people to play with.

Then home, for a few days, before hitting the skies for Europe.


Ron Goin's Blog - Fri, 2015-09-04 16:57
See this image of Chuck?  See how he punches and punches and keeps on punching?  I know exactly how he feels.  

May I introduce you to some of my pet peeves?  I have several.  They get on my nerves, or, as one lady I know used to put it, "My reserve nerve."  

1.  TRIGGER:  The pressure point fighter.  He holds seminars all over the country.  You show up, notebook and fee in hand, and he will demonstrate how to render someone unconscious with a few well-placed touches to chi meridians or pressure points.  He has a name and/or number for each one.  There are hundreds, maybe thousands.  He can knock out people left and right.  Doesn't matter how big they are, they drop like a sack of dough. Speaking of a sack of dough, that's what you're going to need to spend to learn all of his secrets.

2.  COMMANDO:  The military instructor.  He has taught members of the Special Forces, Navy Seals, and the FBI. He has not actually been in the service, but he's the go-to person for elite warriors.  He knows a million ways to kill. He is reluctant to teach this stuff to civilians, but, for the right price, will begrudgingly do so.

3.  ROLLER:  The new grappling instructor.  Just a few years or so ago, he hated, HATED, grappling and ground fighting. Thought it was all B.S.  Told anyone who'd listen that this was a bunch of junk, that it didn't work, that it was dangerous and ill advised.  Now he seems to be an expert.  His curriculum is full of stuff that wasn't there not that long ago.  Says it was ALWAYS there, but that he only taught it to "advanced" students.

4.  CHAMP:  The title holder.  Claims to have won championship titles that you've never heard of.  Says he defeated the best of the best.  Tells you that Google doesn't always list these tournaments because they were highly illegal death matches.  Is reluctant to share any specific details for fear of retribution or criminal charges. Has tons of anecdotes about the men he has injured.

5.  TIGGER:  The former bouncer.  He was a bouncer, and he likes to remind you of this...often.  He bounced people out of clubs.  Busted his knuckles on lots of hard-headed drunks.  Learned his lingo from the Roadhouse movie.  Has had more fights in one weekend than you've had in your entire life.  Thinks that what YOU do is a load of crap and is glad to tell you so.

6.  MONK:  The peaceful warrior.  He USED to do what you do.  Enjoyed fighting.  Saw the ugly side of the street and was knee-deep in violence before he saw the light.  Now speaks primarily in Zen koans.  Smiles.  A lot.  Likes the smell of incense.  Thinks that you should NOT learn to fight, and instead you should train to improve your spirit. Teaches stuff that will get you killed if you ever have to use it.

7.  REBEL:  The rule breaker.  Thinks the UFC is a joke. Tells you what would happen if HE had to fight one of those behemoth MMA fighters in a REAL fight without rules and referees (usually consists of poking the eyes, ripping the groin, and dislocating the fingers).  Says they wouldn't last a minute on the streets where he grew up.  Somehow doesn't look all that tough.

8.  HOARDER:  The collector.  Has enough certificates to wallpaper his living room.  Can take an hour to list all the people he's trained with.  Has his picture taken with them to prove it.  Acts like he and they are old chums.  Can critique your moves til the cows come home.

9.  CHATTY CATHY:  The blowhard.  Goes to a seminar and can't wait to ask questions or offer commentary.  Knows more than the instructor.  Does not mind giving advice to anyone who'll listen.  Was vaccinated with a phonograph needle.  Has a dozen what-if scenarios he'd like to ask you about.  Can talk non-stop about the history of a specific technique.  Monopolizes the conversation.  Beats the proverbial dead horse.

10. PHARAOH:  The master.  Believes that he is at the top of the pyramid.  Sees you at the grocery store and calls you Steve, wants YOU to call him "Master."  Loves hierarchy and titles.  Loves belts.  Loves striped belts.  Thinks you should bow when you see him.  Teaches you how to bow the right way.  Spends more time lecturing about respect than actually teaching how to fight.  Usually has the starchiest uniform.

De-escalation Tactics – Part Two

John Titchen's Blog - Fri, 2015-09-04 08:52

This four part series is designed to be a brief introduction to the field of non-violent resolution tactics.

Part One – Underpinning Principles

Part Two – Verbal Approaches

Part Three – Body Language

Part Four – Personal Psychology



This is such a huge topic that it seems trite to try and narrow it down to a simple set of guidelines that will help people. Some people don’t need (much) advice or training. They already have the ‘gift of the gab’ and can smoothly talk their way out of trouble under pressure or indeed talk another person out of trouble.

Unfortunately if you are not naturally talented then the best way to improve is practice. Real practice comes with risk and potential cost and in any case unless your job requires it your primary aim should be to avoid putting yourself in situations where de-escalation skills are required. Despite that, the underlying principles of good de-escalation are those of good communication, and those are skills that we can all work on all the time.

What you say will depend on the circumstances. I can’t tell you exactly what to say. What I can do is share a teaching mnemonic that I use to outline underlying approaches. This mnemonic is deliberately simple, with each headline word conveying an overall message and each heading letter summarising a number of different skill sets.



We want to read a situation accurately so that we can lead it to a successful or safe resolution by achieving a deal that both parties can accept.

RECOGNISE if a verbal strategy is viable or appropriate under the circumstances.

EXPECT a physical response at all times and maintain alertness and a safe posture.

ADAPT your tone, volume and phrasing to that of the other person and if possible use to build a connection for good communication.

DECIDE on and constantly re-evaluate what you think is the best course of action.


LISTEN to what the other person is saying.

EMPATHISE with their point of view to enable you to ask how best to help or offer a solution.

ACKNOWLEDGE the issue that is being raised and try to offer a solution.

DISTRACT (and defuse tension) by asking open-ended questions, by involving other people, or (if necessary) to create an opportunity for a pre-emptive strike.


DISTRACT (and defuse tension) by asking open-ended questions, by involving other people, or (if necessary) to create an opportunity for a pre-emptive strike.

EMPATHISE with their point of view to enable you to ask how best to help or offer a solution.

ACKNOWLEDGE the issue that is being raised and try to offer a solution.

LISTEN to what the other person is saying.

LEAD to DEAL is not simply a catchy mnemonic. The fact that the meanings are the same but the order has changed is a reminder that communication is a constantly changing fluid process.


Rory Miller's Blog - Thu, 2015-09-03 18:04
I like the word "abandon" and it has been coming up a lot, lately. There are three (at least) instincts when faced with chaos and danger. The most common is to try to control it. To minimize the chaos, to minimize the danger. To basically take chaos and  and make it "not chaos." Whatever the opposite of chaos is.

When you can do that, it's a powerful strategy. Damming flood-prone rivers has been so successful that only historians have a grasp on the immense damage that unpredictable flood cycles used to do. An aircraft carrier constructed of 60,000 tons of steel and powered with nuclear engines can ignore all but the most extreme weather conditions.

I would say that is the second most common strategy. Evidently, people prefer even an evil stability to all of the possibilities that come with freedom. But that's a long talk over coffee.

The most common strategy is to pretend to control it. You can, with enough resources, control things you understand. Without an understanding, and a fairly deep understanding, all attempts to control become a gamble. Most common example is central planning of an economy. The planners would have to deeply understand a huge number of industries, the interplay between those industries, and somehow have to correct for the fact that a large number of humans, the cleverest monkeys ever, will be actively trying to subvert the system.  This is what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls "Naive interventionism." "Something must be done! We don't understand the problem, actually, and have no idea if what we are going to do will actually work or make things worse... but something must be done!"

On the micro, we have martial arts. Which are largely a stylized, impressionistic, ritual of violence and controlling violence. "When you achieve your black belt, you will be ready." Ready for what? You can't know the answer to that simple question-- no one gets to know what bad stuff the future holds. If you can't know the question, you should be incapable of feeling confident in your answer. But people feel confident all the time.

Like economics, violence and self defense always involve other people, and people are the cleverest monkeys on the planet. It's not just mechanics, but mechanics applied against a moving target who may understand what is going on better than you and certainly wants you to fail. And each of those people will be different in some way.

The third strategy is to give yourself up to the chaos. Abandon. To immerse yourself in it. Not become part of it, but recognize that you have always been part of it. You have always been one of these adaptable, clever, frequently unpredictable monkeys. This (whatever 'this' is in a given context) can be chaotic, but not beyond what the human brain and body evolved to solve.

It's scary-- humans prefer even an evil stability to chaos. But it is also powerful. And it works. It takes confidence, but also builds confidence. And there's no way to learn it theoretically. You have to get in and mix it up. Take chances. Push the edge of the envelope until the envelope changes shape.

It also requires faith. Not in the religious sense. Dangerous stuff is dangerous precisely because you can get hurt. Chaotic means that you can't know the outcome. And jumping into that with both feet pretty much defines faith. Or stupidity. No one gets good at this stuff because of their overabundance of common sense.

To sum up:
The first strategy--Control the chaos:
To an intermediate grappler, a beginning grappler is completely under your control. You just make him do what you want him to do.

The second strategy-- Pretend to Control the chaos:
"We train not to go the ground in our dojo. If you're facing a grappler, all you have to do is..." says the man who has never grappled.

The third strategy: Abandon
The superior grappler doesn't bother to control the intermediate grappler, because everything is a gift.

De-escalation Tactics – Part One

John Titchen's Blog - Tue, 2015-09-01 15:54

This four part series is designed to be a brief introduction to the field of non-violent resolution tactics.

Part One – Underpinning Principles

Part Two – Verbal Approaches

Part Three – Body Language

Part Four – Personal Psychology


All aggressive and violent behaviours have underlying causes, which could be summarized under the headings of chemical factors and psychological factors. These are interrelated but for the sake of brevity are listed separately. Understanding and influencing these (through communication) is the best way to resolve conflict.


Motivating factors

These may be far more varied than the examples listed below, but can generally be categorized as immediate or primary causes and underlying or secondary causes.

Immediate causes affecting decision-making and behaviour:

Physical presence or (over-long) eye contact interpreted as a challenge, overly alpha or beta male body language, a push or stumble into a person, the spilling of food or drink, a vehicle accident, peer pressure, denial of a perceived need.

Secondary causes affecting decision-making and behaviour:

Family or work stress, suppressed anger (generally linked to the former but inhibited by potential consequence), racism or social/political beliefs, past experiences, peer pressure, the role and acceptability of violence and aggression in both upbringing and normal social environment, fatigue, past success in achieving aims through aggressive or violent behaviours.

Inhibiting factors

These could be categorized as physical and social factors.

Physical factors:

The relative sizes of parties involved, perceived strength and ability of the other party, the ‘known quantity’ of the other party, body language, perceived alertness, company (of either party), immediate consequences, likelihood of injury.

Social factors:

Peer reaction – acceptance or alienation, legal and family or work repercussions, the social acceptability of aggression and violence within the individual’s social group.

Through positioning, body language, listening and using appropriate tone and speech the underlying aim should be to attempt to reduce the individual’s motivation to continue to use aggression and possibly attempt violence, while strengthening their inhibition against such approaches.



Alcohol or other substances weaken inhibition and can reduce awareness and comprehension. This will affect the ability of another person to influence the individual’s motivation and inhibition.

Underlying medical conditions

Due to a pre-existing health condition the other person may not necessarily be on the same ‘operating system’ as everyone else and may not respond in the same way.


Aural and visual exclusion along with other side effects of adrenaline may hinder communication and attempts to influence the individual’s motivation and inhibition.

It is unlikely that there is much that you can do once an incident has already begun that will mitigate underlying chemical factors. If spotted early enough then the effect of drugs such as alcohol can be reduced by slowing absorption into the blood stream by providing food and withdrawing further alcohol (if safe to do so), but these are factors that are largely outside your control.

It is important to be aware of the role of chemical factors as ‘tipping points’ in an individual’s behaviour patterns. Whether they are part of the primary or secondary cause of the problem they may lower the probability of a successful non-violent de-escalation.


Rory Miller's Blog - Wed, 2015-08-26 17:17
... or phishing.
One thing every predatory criminal needs is privacy. The quality of privacy depends on the type of crime. Beating a member of your gang that you suspect of breaking the rules might go better if the other members can watch, but you'll certainly limit civilian and police witnesses. The quantity of privacy varies as well. Rape and torture murders can take days, muggers may only need privacy for a few seconds.

There are only a handful of general strategies to get some one to a private place. You can intimidate them, trick them, lure them, follow them or wait for them.

Following and intimidation rely on assessing the victim, but very little intelligence gathering is needed. You want someone smaller, weaker, less confident to intimidate, someone oblivious to follow. Those are instantly obvious. The other strategies, usually, will have an element of intelligence gathering.

Not always. Just like fishing you can try to match the lure to the specific fish you want or you can cast a wide net. In "Think like a Freak" the authors pointed out that it might seem stupid that the Nigerian scam emails you get actually say they're from Nigeria. Everyone's heard of the Nigerian scam, right? But when you cast a net that wide, sending thousands of e-mails, you want to weed out the bad prospects as early as possible. If I send 1000 emails saying I need help getting millions out of the Nigerian bank, the 995 who recognize the scheme and don't answer have allowed me to concentrate on the five that might fall for it. Efficient use of time.

One personal version. "Hey, you from America? I love America. You know, there's a shrine that's not on the tourist map. It's a little far..." Which, could be targeted to the person trying to go native and be different from the other tourists, but works just as well if you ask every tourist you see.

When the isolation strategy is targeted, there will be some element of intelligence gathering. Surveillance is a possibility, but following someone for days to figure out his or her routine should be rare. Very labor intensive, far more evidence of premeditation, and I can't speak for other people, but I always thought the Hollywood cliche of the target who has the same meal at the same restaurant at the same time every day pretty damn unlikely.

Most intel gathering comes in a simple conversation-- the phone call claiming to be from the IRS is a big one now. Ted Bundy would strike up a conversation with a woman in the library on campus. In any first conversation at a university, three things come up: "Where are you from?" "What's your major?" and "Which dorm are you in?"

It's rapport building. Knowing your hometown tells me about background we have in common. Your major is a big clue both to the possibility of common interests and how you see your future. Where you live on campus tells me your socio-economic background and how social you are. But Bundy used the routine questions for something simpler.

If you ask a target at the library where the target lives, you can scout the loneliest place between the library and the home.

It can be hard to spot someone gathering intel. Like many long-term crimes (e.g. creating a relationship so the predator gets the victims home and access to bank accounts and can groom a victim), the criminal excels at imitating the steps of a normal relationship. Ted Bundy used the normal conversation scripts to extract the information he wanted. There are a finite number of tools, good guys and bad guys use the exact same tools.

The best exercise, from my point of view, is to practice it from the other end. Strike up conversations with the intent of finding out as much as you can about the other person while giving up as little as possible about yourself. Don't lie, just focus the conversation back on the other. Not only will very few people notice you aren't answering, they'll be flattered to be the center of attention. And they'll spill their guts.
Seeing how easy this is will help you recognize when you are on the receiving end. It will also teach you how rarely it is necessary to share. And, weirdly, the focus on others can even make you more popular.

Not seeing the wood for the trees

John Titchen's Blog - Mon, 2015-08-17 18:01

The techniques of karate kata have many possible interpretations. What each individual sees in the kata will vary according to their own experience and how skilled they are at identifying potential applications.

Not every application taught need be practical.

As a case in point in my Shotokan classes I teach a wrist grab defence using kata movements that isn’t the simplest or most effective method of escape, but is a very effective drill for teaching appropriate positioning, optimum biomechanics and principles of controlling and unbalancing. While doing so I always stress that it is drill about biomechanics and usually show the faster escape. In similar vein for my Heian / Pinan Sandan drills in both the older Heian Flow System and the more recent Pinan Flow System I included a spinning back elbow and back fist. While this has been successfully used in the UFC,  it is not the most practical of techniques, but its inclusion was to a large extent to illustrate that point by making it an opening for students to unpredictably encounter a number of different positions and attacks which would lead to spontaneously training other drills.

When an application is specifically designed for practical use I notice that some people often fail to see the wood for the trees.

It is easy to over-focus on mimicking the techniques or sequences of the form but forget the overall context. If you need to strike, control or escape from another person then they will also have an agenda.

This means that they are unlikely to be holding you limply, are likely to be prepared to hit you, or may continuously be trying to hit you or get to a position where they can hit you unless you take steps to prevent that. Always protect your head and as much of your body as you can.

Unanticipated aggressive and violent confrontations tend to cause a significant adrenaline release unless you are very familiar with them and a non consensual or unpredictable event will cause different reactions to a predictable or fully consensual one. In such situations even very well trained people have difficulty utilizing fine motor skills or targeting accurately and this should be reflected in applications (for example see my kicking in self defence video). The same hormonal cascade (along with other substances) may render pain compliant / dependent techniques ineffective.

The context of the drill should be realistic if the drill is supposed to be for self defence. Appropriate habitual acts of violence (HAOV) rather than style or rule format specific attacks, and not over-skilling or under-skilling attackers / training partners. In similar vein you need to be clear whether what you are doing is legal for the envisioned circumstances  if you are training it for practical purposes rather than historical curiosity.

Hitting or striking a resisting person isn’t as easy as working with a compliant training partner. As a general rule at close quarters (where most violent incidents occur and remain) you will need to strike to control and control to strike.

When people get hit, they move, even when you are holding them. Combinations should take this into account. This quickly becomes apparent when you are making contact or receiving contact in training.

The potential of practical karate kata application is incredibly vast, but when interpreting kata for such purposes the ‘trees’ of the individual skill sets should always be seen within the context of the wood that represents the nature of actual violent confrontations.

The Process of Principles Based Teaching

Rory Miller's Blog - Fri, 2015-08-14 18:40
Partially in answer to Jim's question, largely this will be a draft of an article for Conflict Manager Online Magazine. I've been doing a four part series there, the last three are the steps towards application (deriving your principles, a touch of adult learning theory, stuff like that.)

So, background-- You have to know your principles, understand them. And you have to have a clear idea of what you are actually teaching (most common mistake, people equate fighting with self-defense.) Your ability to pass on knowledge is absolutely limited by the clarity of your understanding of that knowledge. And what follows is a process, but you must know how to teach and how to communicate separately from this process. For instance, criticism is rarely effective teaching.

The process:

On a psychological and emotional level, you have to prep people for learning. One of the most toxic things we have done in martial arts and in some of the reality-based systems is to make conflict special. People come to us convinced violence is alien to them, it is complicated, it is hard to learn. Emphasize that this is natural. The physics are the same as any other physical activity and the mentality is part of their evolutionary heritage. It's been hammered and brainwashed out of them, but they are all natural fighters, all survivors.
I like having an over-all game that skills will always tie back to. The game has to be well designed. Minimal bad habits (if people don't go to the hospital, there are safety flaws built in. If they do go to the hospital, they don't learn anything while recovering.) It must be what it is and no more (I never call the one-step a fight simulation. It is a geometry problem made out of meat, and your job is to solve the moving meat problem as efficiently as possible.) 
I like the game to have a competitive element to it, but no winner or loser-- you are going to strive to be more efficient than me, but if you excel at that, you haven't beaten me, just given me a more challenging problem to solve. The problem with full active resistance or any form of direct sparring is that the only the winner learns that "it works against a resisting opponent." The loser, who probably needs the skill more anyway, learns that it fails against resisting opponents. Failure is not a lesson you want to teach. Not at this stage. This is the play stage where you are familiarizing with principles and what you can do, and looking to increase efficiency.
I start with the one-step. That's the slow motion, taking turns, efficiency exercise described in Drills: Training for Sudden Violence, (That's Smashwords. Link to Amazon Kindle.) Next level up is to blend that into a faster flow drill. Flow helps to lock in the skills, but as you go faster the students will miss opportunities.  And that's always the balance-- you need speed to handle speed, and you need to practice speed to not be overwhelmed. But that always comes at the price of: 1) missing opportunities and slowing down learning. 2) The safety flaws become more important. A slow elbow to the head you can make contact, a fast one you have to pull. 3) The faster you go, the harder the training ingrains, good or bad. Including the safety flaws.
The third level is full blown infighting randori. Your students need supreme control and confidence to do this well and safely, and frequently, this one has a winner. It integrates skills better than anything I know, because it is too close and too fast to process cognitively.
So those are the games I tie back to. We play the game, the one-step first. Before any instruction whatsoever (they get an extensive safety brief and a demo) they play. The only criticism at that point will be for safety and staying within the rules. Like any other game, they have to learn the rules. Most important is time framing. It's a slow motion drill, so it is easy to get competitive and speed up to "win".Because they can do this successfully, it helps convince the student this is not special or alien. Gets them over that first big hurdle.
Next stage, you need to know your principles inside out. Then come up with ways to demonstrate them. Not techniques to remember, but sensations to feel.
Tie it back to personal experience "structure is just like pushing a car" but remind them it can always be more efficient. Or: when you do a squat, are you ever on your toes? Of course not. And you don't sprint from your heels. So heels down for power, heels up for speed. Basically, students may not have been consciously aware of their own bodies, but the body mechanics of physical altercations are the same body mechanics they have used every day.
Design or find a specific game that works a specific principle. Sumo is awesome for learning about the interplay between using structure and exploiting momentum.
Or demonstrate the common traits of a class of technique. I show one aspect of leverage by pointing out the different high-mechanical-advantage leverage points on the body and have the students experiment with them. The experimentation is key. And this is one of the places, where, as an instructor, you have to be careful. A lot of martial artists have been damaged by their previous instruction. These are the one who are always asking if they did it 'right' or which finger to use or how to grip. They are so used to being corrected that they are more concerned with the instructors criticism than success or failure they can feel. You have to deflect this by asking the only question that matters: "Did it work?"
Then bring bring them back to the general game, so the new stuff start to work with everything else. They shouldn't obsess on the new skill (e.g. only trying for leverage points) but the new skill will be fresh in their minds, and will come out a lot.
Repeat the cycle. Break them out of the game to work on something else, like targeting. Then put them back in the game. Theoretically, you could, after each skill, increase the speed. When they are starting to do it reflexively, pick up the speed to the flow level. Finally lock it in with a contest-level fast and hard game (infighting randori.
I don't do it that way. They can work on the principles in one-step forever. I move them to flow and randori based on their abilities and confidence level. Animals learn through play and the first exposure to randori should be fun and slightly overwhelming but shouldn't make them feel terrified and helpless.
The last, critical piece to self-defense is to occasionally run good scenario training. That allows them to use their skills in tandem with their judgment. And use more force, because of the armor. That said, scenario training is very hard to do well and safely and easy to do poorly. And poor scenario training can mess up students, physically, tactically and emotionally. It is better to stay away from the completely than to do them poorly. Last CCA for this post: I'll be running scenario training (and other things) in Rhode Island next month. Information is here:

So, Jim, not a single technique anywhere in that progression.There are some caveats, though:1) Done properly, it allows and encourages creativity. Which means your students will innovate some sneaky shit and beat you far sooner than if they train in techniques. This is not a good method for egotistical instructors.2) It can be hard to measure and test. Using this platform for jointlocks, we've gotten untrained officers improvising locks under pressure in an hour. And some of those locks would seem to be advanced. But they wouldn't have been able to name a lock or to demo a specific lock. Which makes organizations and concrete thinkers get the twitches.3) It's incompatible with most martial arts business models. The student/teacher relationship will shift to colleague/colleague very quickly. I like that, personally.

Concretes and Abstracts

Rory Miller's Blog - Thu, 2015-08-13 15:09
Technique-based training is concrete. "He throws a straight punch and you outside block, side step and throw an inside knife-hand strike. Go do a thousand reps." It's easy to teach. He does X, you do Y. Reps. But I can think of zero actual fighters who find this valuable (except as a business model). To deal with chaos you need to train with chaos. And train is the wrong word. You need to play.
Partially because play is the way animals naturally learn, partially because, in a complex system working rote drills hampers more than helps.

Principles-based training involves understanding the principles and applying them in chaos. It's much harder to teach, because knowledge isn't enough, the instructor must have understanding. It's less measurable, less "objective" but infinitely more useful under stress.

Technique repetition may lead to knowledge. Actual experience leads to understanding. Play, if the games are done well, can give you a start on understanding, maybe some insight.

As understanding deepens, you are able to "batch" more and more things. To integrate techniques that seem disparate into single thoughts. As you do so, you process things faster, you become more efficient and decisive.

A technique-based practitioner may go into a fight with a rolodex of forty hand strikes and twenty kicks in his head. He'll try to use this unwieldy mental rolodex and probably get his ass kicked. Memory is simply too slow. Taught in a principles-based way, one level of abstraction up is to understand that striking is just power generation, targeting, and conformation. If you understand it, your rolodex of sixty has become a rolodex of three, with a vast reduction in reaction, action and decision time but an increase in flexibility and adaptability. That's if you understand it. The problem is that if you only know it, you're going into the fight with three mental rolodexes that have to be cross-indexed under pressure. That's bad.

As your understanding deepens, your integrating concepts become simpler and more efficient. In Meditations on Violence I wrote about meta-strategies. Many of the extraordinary fighters I know have complete battle systems that can be expressed in a single sentence. "Destroy the base." "Defang the snake." "Take the center."

Simpler and more efficient, but also, expressed in words, they will seem more abstract. Memorizing techniques is easy. Nice and concrete. Teaching power generation, targeting and conformation is a good size to chunk the information. It gives beginners efficient tools and increases flexibility in hours instead of months. But every so often I want to go really deep, experiment with teaching a workshop on "Structure and Void". I think it would be a really powerful integrating concept, a good framework to teach. But I fear it's too abstract for most people. It would probably only be useful to people with a good depth of understanding already. There are far fewer of those.

KNX 15 – A unique experience

John Titchen's Blog - Tue, 2015-08-11 16:40

On the second weekend in August I travelled to Frankfurt along with other martial artists from around the globe to enjoy Jesse Enkamp’s second Karate Nerd ExperienceKNX 15. Attendees and instructors came together from North and South America, Europe, Africa and Okinawa to share their enthusiasm and knowledge in the beautiful facilities of the Frankfurt Sports Complex.

The momo-iro obi – more than just a belt.

Before I say anything about the instructors I’d like to make a comment on my fellow participants. I’ve seen a number of things written about the momo-iro (peach blossom) belt that is one of the signature elements of this event. From adults just out of college to a number of us with greyer hair and beards, throughout the event I had no idea of the grades or experience of my fellow participants. Grade was not relevant. What was relevant was an enthusiasm to learn, a clear respect for every other person on the mat, and the willingness to try new approaches. The belt was worn not only by the students but also by all the guest instructors. The momo-iro obi not only bound our waists, it brought us all together as a symbol of shared experience. 

So what was this experience? I’ve been fortunate enough over the years to have attended and taught at a number of national and international seminars at home in Britain and abroad, both in single disciplines such as karate or multiple martial arts. Without a doubt, forgetting for a moment the high quality of the instruction, this was the smoothest running event I have ever seen. Much of the credit for this is due to Jesse Enkamp and the team that he gathered together to run the seminar, particularly Matthias Golinski. From picking a good venue (with accommodation, training and social facilities all in the same building) and organising appropriate instructors, timetabling events and arranging video recording and cameras, communicating in advance and throughout the experience by email and social media, to welcoming us all with a goodie bag – everything slotted perfectly into place. For those of you that have read Jesse’s blog  this attention to detail should come as no surprise.

Holding for the punch.

Jesse kicked off the event by bringing us all together for a training session on four bunkai he had developed for a kata that was immediately identifiable to me (though a version from a system I had never practiced). This session and Jesse’s instruction set the tone for the entire weekend. Jesse is a superb technician and an inspiring teacher. Most people know Jesse through his Karate Nerd blog  as a successful competitor, and a good writer and researcher; as Jesse starts to teach more seminars I hope that more people will discover what a good teacher he is too.

Jesse was followed onto the mats by Swedish BJJ instructor Waldo Zapata from Viva Zapata BJJ . This was another lesson marked by good humour, training insights and high quality teaching.

Waldo Zapata

Imagine the challenge of teaching a number of ‘get-up’ drills to a class where the majority had little or no ground experience. It was a tough challenge, but the principles were explained clearly and movements broken down in such a way that the group progressed at a fast pace encouraged by Waldo’s enthusiasm.

Happy students at the end of the class.

The first evening began with a question and answer session with Okinawan Karate legend Hokama Tetsuhiro, 10th dan. Hokama Sensei was engaging and enthusiastic as he tackled the various questions the group put to him (and he was later interviewed by Jesse Enkamp for Jesse’s blog). Hokama Sensei kindly finished the evening by demonstrating his calligraphy skills, writing kanji for attendees on specially provided paper as well as signing copies of his latest book.

Hokama Sensei demonstrating.

Hokama Sensei taught three lessons on Saturday aided by two Uke and demonstrations from the attendees where he was impressed by their training. His lessons were marked by concentration, attention to detail, physical pressure and giggles. The combination of concentration, relaxation, hard conditioning (varying throughout the group depending on age and injuries) and laughter summed up what makes karate so appealing as a hobby, a form of exercise, and as a way of life.


In the middle of Sensei Hokama’s lessons the participants took a break from Okinawan karate to look at the dynamics of modern WKF competition karate under the tutelage of World Kumite Champion Jonathan Horne. Due to pain from a pre-existing back injury I sat and watched this lesson, which focused on understanding distancing, generating speed, using appropriate timing, and the economy of movement.

A composed Jonathan Horne giving a great demonstration of timing, distancing and economy of movement.

Karate is so broad that it can be easy to put ourselves into ‘camps’ or ‘factions’ and competitive karate is not my forte, but watching Jonathan teach I was able to identify principles of movement and posture that I have discussed elsewhere on my blog  as well as other commonalities with lessons taught by Jesse Enkamp, Waldo Zapata and Hokama Tetsuhiro. Although not the most physically demanding of the KNX sessions this was indubitably the most energetic and tiring, but the atmosphere created in the dojo meant that it was impossible to find a single person without a beaming smile while watching Jonathan demonstrate and teach.

On Saturday evening, as we gathered back at the dojo for the evening’s ‘secret’ activity, the group was still buzzing. Jesse had realised that we might be a combination of high spirits and tired bodies and had organised an introduction to meditation.


Suitably calmed and rested we all took advantage of the excellent social facilities to sit outside in the evening heat to informally discuss the day’s events over some nourishing cold beverages.

Before we knew it Sunday morning had come round and it was time for Jesse to deliver the final lessons. Jesse began by encouraging us to practice the combinations he had taught us on Friday before showing us how they related to the Ryuei-Ryu version of the kata Niseishi and teaching us the full solo form.

A KNX welcome.

As someone who knows two other versions of this form I found this lesson particularly fascinating. This session once again highlighted the quality of Jesse’s instruction and the precision of his techniques. It was also fascinating to see the slight variations in the performance of the same form caused by the different heritage of the various participants.

One last class remained. In a very prescient manner Jesse had scheduled a ‘recovery’ class to look at post training exercises to optimize recovery and therefore enhance our potential. This is a subject that is often ignored and it was good to see it covered as part of a more holistic approach to karate training.

While I am certain that there was more Jesse could have taught us, at that point the Dojo was stormed and taken over by another Master.


As we had failed to heed his warnings, travelling all the way from New Mexico, Ameri-Do-Te 11th Dan Master Ken strode into the Dojo to teach us the error of our ways.

Clearly outranking the ‘pink’ belts of the event organisers, Master Ken was quick to take control.  

Matthias Golinski, Master Ken, Jesse Enkamp.

This was truly a unique ending to a great weekend seminar. Master Ken was as incredible in person as his youtube channel Enter the Dojo suggests. After a quarter century of training in karate, I was humbled by the power and charisma of a one man hurticane.

Learning the Thrust of Freedom.

Watching this man shook me to my core. My sides are still aching. There were moments when along with my companions I was helpless on the floor.

Master Ken demonstrating one of the unique moves of Ameri-Do-Te.

Reflecting on the weekend I can see that it has stoked the enthusiasm of all the attendees and proved the flash point of a number of ideas that will be taken to dojos across the world. The only sad thing is that we could only meet up for a weekend. I would jump at the opportunity to train with any of the instructors who were chosen to teach, and would recommend training with any of them if you have the opportunity to go to a seminar or visit their dojos. Most of the instructors are based in Europe, America or Asia but KNX organiser Jesse is visiting the UK later this year.

Thanks to Jesse, the team and everyone else at KNX15 for a great event. I am already looking forward to seeing what the next one will be.






Upside the Head

Rory Miller's Blog - Mon, 2015-08-10 00:50
Every so often, you get your perspective shifted for you. You get one piece of data, or hear one thing, or look at the same problem from a slightly different angle and the whole world shifts. You don't just see the particular problem in a different way, you see the entire world in a new way.

On the martial journey, you'll occasionally hear a beginner say something with utmost sincerity and only later remember that you used to believe that, too.  I've written about one experience here, a minor one:

Another one, as near as I can remember it--
I was hitting the heavy bag, doing as I had been taught, throwing fast, loose karate punches and tensing them at the moment of impact when Mac said, "You realize that's unnecessary, right?"
I was flustered. It was the way I was taught. I hit hard. I started to argue and explain.
Mac continued, "All you need to do is get these bones (he indicated my metacarpals) in line with these bones (the radius and ulna)."  Then he completely shifted my understanding of martial arts "Tensing and clenching are what people do when they don't understand structure."

No one is stronger when they're tense. No one is faster. No one is more flexible or agile. We all know this. All of us. And even the instructors would pay lip service to it... but there was an awful damn lot of practicing tension while talking about relaxation. Misunderstanding of structure.

Haven't been writing for a while. Had one of those paradigm-shifting whacks upside the head. Took me some time to get equilibrium back.


Ron Goin's Blog - Tue, 2015-08-04 22:59
"Do it again, do it
(Do it)
Let's do it again
(Do it)
(Do it again, do it again)
The Staple Singers

"The more understanding you have about Karate, the less you need to change or modify it.”
Tsuguo Sakumoto 
"Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way."
Edward de Bono

I am a kata skeptic.  That doesn't mean I hate kata.  In fact I find that some kata is very interesting to watch.  It also doesn't necessarily mean that I denigrate all kata or the purpose of kata in general.  In fact I see some merits to this type of training; however, I believe that when it comes to martial arts training, there are tons of other things that are way more important than kata.  

We all know people who are great at kata, but who suck at fighting.  

But we all also probably know some great fighters who can perform beautiful kata.

Arguably kata develops precision, and precision generally means efficiency and economy of motion.  This efficiency helps to produce power by removing unnecessary, wasted energy.  

Think of a golf swing.  Without proper technique and precision, without the efficiency that comes from a good swing, the power and accuracy needed to win will not be there.  So if you compare kata training to the fundamentals of learning the proper mechanics of any sport, then perhaps there is some value to it.

But I'm still skeptical.

If you attend a martial arts tournament you are likely to see all kinds of kata:  Hard style, soft style, even some creative style.  Some kata competitions feature kata set to music or multiple person synchronized kata.  I have watched kata bunkai, where 2 or more people demonstrate the fighting applications of various movements within the kata.  There are also weapons kata, 2-person kata, and acrobatic kata featuring leaps, spins, flips and tumbling.

Several years ago I was invited to attend a martial arts camp for high-ranking instructors.  At this camp I taught some combatives to the group, stuff that these guys didn't usually train in; i.e., edged weapon defenses, close quarters combat and clinch fighting.  Most of the attendees were from a particular traditional style, so I didn't participate in their kata training or their point-based sparring.  Instead during this part of the camp I sat on the sidelines and watched.  

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that the group of about 30 senior black belts spent 15 minutes trying to determine whether the palm of the right hand was supposed to face up or down during one particular movement of a rather lengthy kata.  Some said up, while many said down.  In their discussion they talked about the history of the kata, what it represented and symbolized. Some believed that the move ought to be true to its founder's intentions, so if he said it was up then that was good enough.  Others said that the founder allowed some minor variations, so down was also acceptable.

The highest ranking member of the group, a master of the style, finally weighed in.  He indicated that both the up and the down position had merits, and he showed them how they might work in a fighting application of the kata.  He determined that either was acceptable and was up to the individual instructor.

I recently read some posts from a message board pertaining to a demonstration of a creative version of a familiar kata. Some people felt like the introduction of acrobatics ruined the kata and made it non-street-worthy.  Others felt that the addition of music made it too much like a dance routine.  A few were upset that the practitioner had dared to make up his own movements instead of adhering to a set, established pattern.  One or two people didn't like the uniform of the person performing the kata.  I actually read one response in which someone called out the fact that the practitioner forgot to kiai at a particular movement.

So why am I a kata skeptic?

1.  Kata was created by someone or a group of people. (Humans, fallible humans, most likely).
2.  Kata was passed on from that fallible person or group to others.
3.  Add to this fallibility the fact that inevitably, over time and distance, subtle changes begin to creep in, so that the final iteration may have changed substantially from the original version.
4.  Kata is often filled with symbolic, representational movement.  Many gung fu patterns seek to mimic the movements of real or imaginary animals.
5.  One man's kata is another man's series of unacceptable techniques.  Don't believe me?  Just ask a practitioner from one style to critique the kata from another style.
6.  Some say kata is not about fighting, and they believe they are right.
7.  Others say that kata is specifically about fighting, that it is an encyclopedia of that style's fighting curriculum, and they believe they are right.
8.  Both of these competing views cannot be right.
9.  Kata, no matter how many you practice, cannot, in a practical sense, contain every response/defense to every possible action/attack.
10. Humans are pattern-seeking/pattern-finding beings. We look for and detect patterns even when no discernible pattern exists.
11. Kata satisfies this need to detect patterns, and the originator(s) of a specific kata likely believed that the movements they designed accurately replicated a group or pattern of combat movements.
12. Some kata has been designed as an art form, a method of expression.  These kata can then be judged in competition because the movements have been established in an agreed upon standard.  WuShu is a good example.
13. Some kata has been designed as a means of self-development.  The practitioners of these kata seek to develop inner strength, balance, breath control, and fluid movement.  Tai Chi is a good example.
14. Some kata is a slice of the big pie.  Some Judo kata, for example, teach specific throws or specific defenses, and thus they more closely replicate techniques from the bigger picture of combat.
15. Some kata is designed to represent and train the individual for likely combat scenarios.  Ashihara karate, for example, has a number of sequences that show likely defensive actions against probable aggressive actions within the context of combat.  Shorinji Kempo has embu training, which is essentially a 2-person kata featuring prearranged offensive and defensive movements.  Wing Chun gung fu has a pattern of movements in which the practitioner will practice skills against a wooden dummy.

In most kata, and to me what defines a kata, the movements are pre-determined and pre-arranged.  The goal of the practitioner is to perform those movements correctly, in sequence, leaving out nothing, adding nothing, and demonstrating proper form throughout.  

In this I would compare it to a pianist practicing scales on the keyboard or repeating a classical piece of music as accurately as possible to the intention of its composer.

Some combat practitioners, Boxers of Kickboxers for example, will perform solo shadow boxing or will work the heavy bag.  While generally free-style, the boxer will return time and again to favorite movements or techniques which need to be developed.  In Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) the practitioner may similarly perform free style movements with a knife or a stick.

It has been argued by traditional martial artists that even these more progressive arts also contain patterned or sequential movements.  However, I would argue that this is not kata per se in that the movements are generally spontaneous, have no fixed or discernible pattern, attempt to enhance muscle memory within a combative context, and may be improvisational.  

In this I would compare it to a jazz musician who may have a sense of the melody or standard but who modifies the rhythm, the beat, and the syncopation, adds or deletes elements from the expected melody, and makes the tune uniquely his own.

Chances are if you consider yourself a traditionalist, you will defend the concept and practice of kata.  On the other hand if you believe yourself to be practical, modern and progressive, you will eschew the use of kata.

I started out as a traditionalist almost five decades ago, and I even learned and practiced kata.  However, after observing some very realistic, very violent real world encounters, some right in the neighborhood where I grew up, I began to explore training that more closely replicated real-world conditions.  This combative path is definitely not exclusively free of patterns or sequential movement.  In fact I practice and teach a number of TTS, Tactical Training Sequences (drills).  The difference between TTS and kata is that these sequences encourage improvisation and the concept of PIC, Progressively Introduced Chaos.

So I remain a kata skeptic.  I would love to hear your own views on kata and why this type of training should still be an integral part of martial arts training.


Ron Goin's Blog - Thu, 2015-07-30 13:27
"My old and very good friend, Jack Dempsey, has a saying which he has proved time and again in the ring. 'The best defense is a good offense.'" 
Elia Kazan

Let's do a word association exercise.  I'll say a word, and then you say the first word that pops into your mind. Ready?

  1. TRUE
  2. BAD
  3. UP
  4. ANGEL
  5. OVER
  7. SMART
  8. DOG
  9. COLD
  10. ATTACK

So let's see how you did.  Most people will respond with FALSE, GOOD, DOWN, DEVIL, UNDER, TOP, STUPID, CAT, HOT, and DEFEND.  

We tend to think like this, in opposites.  Dualities. Love/hate.  Eat-this-not-that.  The Beatles contributed to this way of thinking in their song Hello Goodbye:  "You say yes, I say no, You say stop, and I say go go go."

It even bleeds over into our martial arts methods.  When our opponent does a punch, we do a block.  When the attacker grabs our wrist, we try to escape from the hold.


But there have been a few geniuses who have noticed this duality and tried to change things.  Bruce Lee for example. He was one of the first proponents of directness and simplicity in combat, and he thoroughly articulated the concept of interception.  Here's one of his great quotes about his fighting philosophy:

"There is no mystery about my style. My movements are simple, direct and non-classical. The extraordinary part of it lies in its simplicity. There is nothing artificial about it. 
I always believe that the easy way is the right way."
Instead of merely teaching a rigid "you-do-this-when-he-does-that" methodology, he taught the concept of freedom, expression and fluid movement. Freed from classical, over-stylized, fancy-for-fancy's-sake techniques, Lee focused on quickness and efficient movement, with such concepts as stop-hits and a strong offense as a good defense.

But before JKD there was fencing, and long before it was a competitive sport, fencing was a martial art and an effective method of combat.  In fencing the concept of "stop-hit" has been around a long time.  "The simple stop hit," says fencing master Walter Green, "is probably the most frequently used of fencing's counteroffensive actions. At the most basic level it simply tries to beat the opponent's attack in speed or timing."

So JKD has interception.  And so does fencing.  You may not think much about it, but boxing also has interception techniques as well.  Johnny N, over at, recommends the outside hook, the right cross, and the right hand blast to the body as counters to the attacker's right hand.  Just as the other guy should be landing his shot, you land your own with superior timing.

Let's don't forget that wrestling also has interception techniques, and they've been around a lot longer than any modern fighting method.  Shooting in for a single or double leg takedown is the epitome of interception, and a good wrestler can shoot in the blink of an eye.

I'm also very impressed with the fighting concepts of Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) which primarily focus on edged weapon and impact weapon skills.  When an attacker slashes with his weapon, the FMA practitioners know that a counter slash (sometimes demonstrated as a mere block) against the attacker's wrist, arm or hand can be devastating.  Their gunting, or limb destruction, techniques, where punches and elbows land against incoming forearms, hands and biceps, are extremely painful.

Muay Thai has cut kicks which attack the attacker, Wing Chun teaches simultaneous blocking and hitting, and many if not most martial arts methods have interception techniques in their curricula.

Some instructors teach interception techniques; however, they often reserve these for so-called "advanced" classes. They believe that the call-and-response of blocking versus striking is a "basic" concept that beginners need to learn first.  The problem I have with that is that early skills often form the foundation for skills which come later.  Once those early, foundational patterns become fixed in the mind of the practitioner, it becomes difficult to dislodge or supersede them.

Why not teach interception skills early?  Why not let these superior skills form the basis of a effective fighting style?


Ron Goin's Blog - Mon, 2015-07-27 01:49

"Move like a beam of light, fly like lightning, strike like thunder, whirl in circles around a stable center."
Morihei Ueshiba

"When Takeshita Sensei was a Grand Chamberlain he was told by the Emperor to arrange for aikido to be shown to him, so he went to the Ueshiba dojo. Ueshiba Sensei answered, 'I can't show false techniques to the Emperor. Basically in aikido, the opponent is killed with a single blow. It's false if the attacker is thrown, leisurely stands up, and attacks again. On the other hand, I can't go around killing my students.' He refused the invitation in this way, but when Takeshita Sensei told this to the Emperor, he said, 'I don't care if it's a lie. Show me the lie!'"
Gozo Shioda 

I confess.  I love to watch.

And you know what I really love to watch?  Aikido!  It's just so beautiful, graceful and stylistic.  In fact it's downright ethereal.  Ethereal:  I had to look it up.  As it turns out it's a perfect description: "extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world".

That's the problem.  Aikido is just too perfect for this world.

Okay, okay...I know what you're gonna say.  "Steven Seagal made it work.  Steven Seagal could HURT people with his aikido skills!"  That's what you were gonna say, right?

Well, it's true.  Seagal's aikido looked menacing.  He was fast and ferocious.  The takedowns looked vicious, and his joint locks looked painful.

But that was the movies.  The bad guys were stunt guys. The fights were pre-arranged and highly choreographed.

I'm not saying that Seagal couldn't make some of those moves work in a real fight.  He is a big man, and in his prime he was one hell of a technician.

I am also not saying that a dedicated, committed, well-trained aikidoist couldn't defend himself or herself in a physical altercation.  If you've read the book Angry White Pyjamas, you'll remember that aikido was the basis for the rather brutal martial arts methods used by Tokyo's riot police.  So, there's gotta be SOMETHING there.

I attended aikido classes back in the late 70s, and I was thrown around quite a bit during randori (free-style practice) sessions.  In fact, I was thrown around effortlessly.  One of my training partners, the sensei's daughter, was one of those who made it look so easy.

But here's the deal.  In some of those same randori sessions I watched from the sidelines as some big, local judoka dropped by, and the beauty and the grace suddenly went out the window.  When the experienced judo guys got a good grip on the aikido guys, more often than not the movements became less about finesse and more about physical strength.  Sometimes the aikido practitioners would evade or do a cool move on the judo guys, but more often than not the judo techniques had too much force and usually defeated the ethereal aikido.

That was not a scientific observation by any means.  I didn't see enough of it to state unequivocally that judo is superior to aikido.  However, anecdotally speaking, I did come away with a firm impression that if I was a bad guy with menacing intent, I'd rather be attacking an aikido student than a judo student.

In the blog "White Belt for Life", the author writes: "Perhaps this is why most non-Aikido martial artists see Aikido demonstrations as being fake. Because they are fake! Because aikidoka are not supposed to fight like the way they demonstrate. The techniques that are shown are meant to be drills to teach the body how to move correctly without thinking about it."

So, while a part of me acknowledges that a skilled practitioner might be able to handle himself or herself in a basic self-defense situation, I nevertheless think that all that tossing about is rather absurd.  The level of cooperation that allows the defender to easily defeat 2, 3, or a half dozen attackers is not even close to reality.  The uke, or willing attacker, if he has genuine tumbling skills and impeccable timing, can make the defender look god like.  

My issue then isn't whether it works for basic self defense. My gripe is that in a multiple opponent attack these skills don't work like they're shown in demonstrations. Aikido practitioners believe they have an edge.  Many believe in the mystical power of "ki." Many of them believe that it is a force beyond normal physics and that it can give them a greater strength than muscles and tendons alone.  Some actually believe that they have a spiritual awareness, like a Spidey sense that tingles when an attacker is near. This magical thinking could actually influence a practitioner and lead to a false confidence.

As a method of learning graceful and agile movement and dynamic balance, as a means of learning active mobility and evasion, as a style that develops an ability to blend one's defensive effort with the aggressive force of an attacker, and as an art that leads to self development, I think that aikido is amazing.  The practitioners whom I've met seem to be kind, ego-free individuals.  They train with little regard for competition and the ceaseless struggle for becoming number one.  I admire their inner calm and their budo spirit.  I also am impressed with their desire for non-violence and their commitment to a peaceful art.

So while I have some pet peeves about aikido and the silliness of weaving in and out of a crowd of attackers totally focused on karate chopping a defender's head (it often appears to be the only attack they know), I nevertheless admire their art.  

I have read some of the works of George Leonard, one of the founders of the human potential movement and a notable aikido instructor.  I like this quote and its truly hopeful philosophy:  "There is a human striving for self-transcendence. It's part of what makes us human. With all of our flaws we want to go a little bit further than we've gone before and maybe even further than anyone else has gone before."

Headlines, knives and kneejerk reactions

John Titchen's Blog - Thu, 2015-07-23 12:01

Last week the Office for National Statistics in the UK published its latest Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW). This regular publication does not normally merit much public comment in the media unless a politician seizes upon it to argue that crime is continuing to fall, but the July 16 2015 release made the headlines because of an apparent increase in offences involving sharp weapons.

First Knife Crime Rise in four years proclaimed the BBC.

The Daily Mail let us know that Dramatic rise in knife crime is down to a fall in stop and search, says Met chief Hogan-Howe 

Knife crime in England and Wales up for first time in four years cried the Guardian.

The question I’ve been asked is that with this frightening increase in knife crime, should we change our training to focus more on edged weapon awareness and blade defences?

Actually that’s not true, no-one’s asked me if they should do more edged weapon awareness, they just want blade defences.


Reality check.

Have their been more recorded offences involving edged weapons? Yes. According to the CSEW

“In the year ending March 2015, the police recorded 26,370 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument, a 2% increase compared with the previous year (25,974, Table 9a). This is the first year in which these figures have increased since 2010/11 (the earliest period for which data are directly comparable).”

However, before we panic we should bear in mind two things. Firstly the low numbers involved mean that they are susceptible to high percentage changes. The CSEW itself notes that
“For some offence types, such as rape and sexual assault, the relatively low number of offences, that involve the use of a knife or sharp instrument means the volume of these offences are subject to apparent large percentage changes, and should be interpreted with caution. For example, in the year ending March 2015, the number of sexual assaults involving a knife or sharp instrument increased by 28% (an additional 28 offences compared to the 101 recorded in the previous year) and the number of rapes involving knife or sharp instrument increased by 21% (an additional 55 offences compared to the 267 recorded in the previous year).”

Secondly, although we have yet to get fully comparable data, the evidence from hospital admission data indicates that this rise in use has not been mirrored with a rise in injuries. The CSEW records that

“An additional source of information about incidents involving knives and sharp instruments is provided by provisional National Health Service (NHS) hospital admission statistics5. Admissions for assault with a sharp instrument peaked at 5,720 in 2006/07. Admissions have declined since that year; the latest data available, for the year ending March 2014, showed that there were 3,654 admissions, a 5% decrease on the previous year. Admissions for assault with a sharp instrument in 2013/14 were the lowest since 2002/03.”

Knife crime is up, slightly. Deaths from blade usage is down. So have the general populace of England and Wales suddenly become better at defending themselves against knives? No. Defending against a knife is not easy. Training to defend against a knife can have validity, but it is not a simple process as I explained in 2008 here.

If a person intends to use a knife, as opposed to using it as an effective tool for coercion and intimidation in robbery or sexual assault, the odds are you won’t even see it as these two training scenarios illustrate here.

If we need to do anything ‘new’ as a result of this year’s fresh statistics it is to improve our behaviour. Prevention is better than cure. Some events are so random that they cannot be avoided, but good awareness and good behaviour go a long way to avoiding becoming a crime statistic. As Gichin Funakoshi wrote in his 20 precepts

When you leave home, think that you have numerous opponents waiting for you. It is your behaviour that invites trouble from them.

Context should be critical

John Titchen's Blog - Mon, 2015-07-13 17:54

Self defence discussions can be minefields. Everyone has an opinion and no-one likes criticism of an art or a training methodology in which they have invested a lot of time. It is easy for both new and experienced practitioners alike to be bombarded with opinions if they venture online, and it is also very easy for the unwary to be bamboozled with ‘facts’ that may seem to support a particular stance but are actually being used without a critical eye to their original context.
The context of presented information is vital if we are to use it effectively. In my work on self defence over the years I have processed and accumulated a lot of information: government or academic led reports or studies into violent crime; books by psychologists and anthropologists; texts by security specialists, law enforcement officers, military personnel, bouncers and martial artists; amateur mobile videos and security footage of real events; anecdotes from friends who have personal experience due to professional roles; and personal experience of events when I was younger and stupid enough to frequent places where trouble was likely to occur, or I was dealing with potential events in a professional capacity. A lot of the information and knowledge that I’ve gathered is useful, but not all of it is directly applicable to personal self defence for non professional contexts, even when it is accurate and comes from reputable sources.

When data is presented as a basis for a particular approach, especially a self defence approach, the context of the data is critical for assessing its viability to the context in which the end user wishes to be effective.

It is easy to fall prey to false logic when presented with data. An example might be “A law enforcement officer / bouncer has lots of experience defending themselves or managing aggressive or potentially aggressive situations therefore what they say is definitely right/of use to me.” Actually no. The information may be very useful, but you need to employ a number of critical filters to it because there will be shared elements of past/potential experience and very different paradigms as well.

What do I mean by this?

A LEO or doorman is likely to have had to apply physical or de-escalation skills under pressure and under adrenaline. There is a point of commonality if you are trying to learn from their experience for the purpose of personal (not professional) self defence. However, how a professional behaves under adrenaline may be different to how an inexperienced person behaves under adrenaline due to familiarity both with how their body feels under its influence and familiarity with the trigger situation. In similar vein a professional may through virtue of their experience have very different thresholds for adrenaline triggers.

An LEO or doorman is likely to have had to apply verbal skills to de-escalate a situation or deter violence, or physical skills to defend themselves and/or restrain another person/or persons. There will be elements commonality between their experiences and approaches to those appropriate for personal self defence, but there are caveats:

  • The professional will be there under a different mental framework: they are there to do a job, they have generally arrived on the scene specifically to prevent an aggressive or violent incident or to manage the same – that creates a different mental field of play with different pressures and permissions to a person that is engaging verbal or physical tactics who has not planned on being involved or has not necessarily ‘consented’ to being involved.
  • The intended outcomes are likely to be different between the professional and non professional with one defending where needed but usually trying to move to control rather than escape, whereas the other is more likely to be trying to defend themselves (or others) to escape rather than control.
  • The professional is more likely to be anticipating back up compared to the non professional, a state of mind which will affect physical behaviours. Depending on the environment (and their role) they may have more or less anticipation of non professional intervention either for or against them as a result.
  • The professional is more likely to be engaged by someone because of their job which may in turn affect the nature and intensity of the attack and will definitely effect the dynamics of the crucial attempted de-escalation phase and any initial moments of physical violence..

Context is crucial. The professional and non professional may both be dealing with an aggressive person, but the mental and physical framework can be very different. There are lessons to learn, but experience in one does not fully equate to experience in the other.

One example of the need for a critical approach to data is the figure that has been banded about over the years in varying percentages that 95% of ‘street fights’ go to the ground. This figure was seen as a justification for training in groundwork and a vindication of arts that had a strong ground game. Now there is no doubt that groundwork is a useful skill for self defence in case you end up on the ground, and it is also a great form of physical exercise, but that figure (and its variations) had a context which was often omitted. The 95% actually referred to the percentage of attempted arrests made by the LAPD in 1988 which fitted one of five scenarios in each of which going to the ground while attempting restraint was often one of the final actions (between 35% and 46% depending on the scenario). The report concluded that in 62% of the attempted arrests made by the LAPD in that year where the subject resisted the officer ended up restraining or handcuffing the subject on the ground. That’s a very important context. While there are times when self defence may end up in restraint, it is not normally the primary aim of most self defence, and the aim of those officers (to restrain against resistance but harm as little as possible) was a key factor in the recorded outcomes.

Our analysis and interpretation of reports or information relating to real violent events is not the only area where we can be prone to blindness, bias or favouritism. There are physical self defence lessons to be learned from watching any type of martial arts competitive event, or engaging in any martial arts training, but we do need to employ our critical faculties and understand the different contexts of each event and tactic and assess how that in turn impacts what we see and what we can usefully extract for our own training aims.

Imperfect World

Rory Miller's Blog - Sun, 2015-06-28 17:19
Once Rob wanted to introduce a new member to our little play group. "What's he like?" I asked, "How messed up is he?"
"Oh, he's broken," Rob replied, "but he's broken our way."

My world is full of beautiful but imperfect and even broken people. Rephrase. They are perfect, but they are perfect at being themselves, not perfect compared to some imaginary, objective outside benchmark. They are perfect, not flawless

People are amazing to me. One friend is tough, brilliant, hilarious... but the toughness in a product of nurture not nature. He survived an amazingly brutal early life. And it has left some deep insecurities, including places where his wit and intelligence are unavailable to him. People who hear him on these subjects say, "How can you be friends with..." It's easy.

Since leaving the SO, a fair number of the newer friends I've made have been former criminals. They have the criminal mannerisms and speech patterns that set my teeth on edge. But who they were is not who they are, and when people are working that hard to change their lives, it works for me to marvel at the possibility of redemption. And it would be cowardly and counter-productive if you were to find a bad man you were unable to take down when he was a bad man and try to take him out after he had become better and safer.

Experienced bad-asses with self-destructive streaks annoy me, but several are fast friends. Two of the people I most trust to watch my back are full-blown sociopaths. Almost all of the best teachers I've had had some very deep insecurities. Too many of the most innovative people in this field have never become successful because of stupid pride. I like them as they are, flaws, warts and all.

And all of them have blindspots. So do I, of course, but I can't see mine.


Rory Miller's Blog - Fri, 2015-06-19 15:29
Talking about a workshop for next year and the host asked a great question: "What are you passionate about right now?"

Some background. Personal information. Feel free to skip it. Something very profound has shifted internally over the winter. Last year there was a lot of travel, a lot of teaching, and I was getting really burned out on people. Simply hating the whole world. Didn't want to talk or interact. Just wanted to find my cave in the desert and walk away from it. But I have obligations (mortgage and a wife I love dearly who really likes living in a house.)

And so, this year, even more traveling and teaching. But I'm not burning out. I'm loving it. I'm coming home rested and only slightly irritable (people in airports wandering aimlessly like zombies still make me irritable, but not nearly as much.) So something shifted, and I think the host nailed it.

Even before leaving the SO and the team and eventually Iraq, I was pretty heavily burned out. I was good enough at what I did that it took immense discipline to work to get better. I'd never realized how much fear (especially of failure or letting down the team) had motivated me. When the adrenal glands started to burn out, so did the motivation. I went to Iraq because I was looking for fear. Decided to go into business for myself, giving up financial security, because I was looking for fear. I feel like I want to define fear here, because I'm pretty sure I'm not using it in the normal sense. But I can't. It's just that I do best in conditions of danger + uncertainty. Those are the times when I feel like I am really me. The only times.

End of background for now.

Three things immediately popped to mind when asked about current passions: InFighting, Teaching Methodology and Power Dynamics. And there's an element of fear to each of them.

  • InFighting is the thing I love best about martial arts. It's not self-defense, because it's not about prevention or escape. It's about maximizing internal integration and your ability to play with complexity. It's a blast. The fear element? This knee injury could or should have been a career ender. We all have expiration dates, and those come up quicker the more you push the envelope. I want to play more with what I love-- and get the information out-- while I'm still capable of enjoying it. That's the current physical challenge. As well as rehab and reconditioning a body that I let stay too injured for too long.
  • Teaching Methodology. This is the intellectual challenge. SD is a unique skill with unique problems. The only good way (modeling with experienced people under real conditions) to translate these kind of skills from training to application is simply not available for civilians. So how well and how fast can it be taught? 
  • Power Dynamics. Started as something simple, trying to hammer out the good and bad power relationships in a martial arts or self-defense class. But it got a lot bigger, and a lot of what I'm seeing, on a societal level is pretty disturbing.
So, things are changing and it might be as simple as passion. And passion might be as simple as fear. It's all just adrenaline anyway, until you name it.
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