Training in the martial arts can be a serious business.
- Physical Fitness
- Personal Discipline
- Improved Concentration
- Self Defence
Listing the most common reasons why adults and children join or study a martial art, they all appear to be serious. Despite all the rewards that they bring, training in the martial arts can be difficult, demanding, frustrating and even painful. The rewards themselves are bestowed so incrementally that they are often unnoticed by the practitioner and this can have a detrimental effect on motivation.
The crux of the matter is that if we aren’t enjoying the training then it is hard to stay motivated to continue. The destination will not be reached if the route isn’t travelled, and the act of travelling itself has to be fun. It really is the journey and not the destination that is important.
Skill development requires repetition. It’s easy for that to become routine and boring and I am sure that like many other instructors I have lost students in the past because I failed to utilise enough variety to disguise that repetition in ways that maintained the sense of excitement and fun.
We expect training to stretch us, to be demanding, to be tiring. Even when it is all those things we should also normally expect to leave training with a smile on our face, but not the smile of someone who feels pleased through the self -denial of a diet or having eaten something ‘healthy’ rather than a treat they wanted. We should leave with the smile of a person that has had fun, because no matter how worthy the ‘end goals’ it is the enjoyment of a class that will draw us back to each new lesson and ensure our progress.
There are many different approaches that can help to keep each lesson fresh and fun:
- training at different speeds
- trying different combinations
- setting different challenges
- playing stimulus games to improve tactile, visual or auditory response time
- applying techniques in different ways
- pairing with different people
- mixing up the order of the class
- identifying and reinforcing strengths.
There are many reasons why I train and teach, there are SMART goals that I have set myself and my students, but the thing that draws me to each class is that I want to enjoy myself and have fun.
The destination keeps changing, but I’m here for the fun of the journey.
How many times have you heard someone remark
“That won’t work!”
about a particular tactic or training method?
Here are my top ten reasons why your tactics or training methods won’t work:
- You’re too close!
- You’re too far away!
- The angle of entry/application is wrong.
- This technique relies on a particular attack.
- You’re not unbalancing them enough.
- You’re unbalancing them too much.
- You’re training it too fast (for your skill level).
- You’re training too slow (to be effective).
- There’s no resistance.
- There’s too much resistance!
(11. Because (insert name here) said that (insert advice taken out of context here).)
When it comes to looking at training and tactics, everyone’s got an opinion. Criticism can be a great tool when applied correctly, but before we indulge in its use, we should look at whether we understand what is being done and why. Different training methods and tactics exist because different problems create different solutions. There is no single perfect solution for every problem. (with the possible exception of Chuck Norris)
So before we armchair criticise something from a different system, we should perhaps ask ourselves whether we’ve really understood what it is they’re trying to achieve. I’ll hold my hands up and admit that in the past I’ve criticised something because it didn’t fit the context of my approach, without acknowledging that it was designed for something else. It’s not something of which I’m proud. Blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make ours any brighter.
Criticising my own training is a different matter. When it comes to examining why your own training or tactics aren’t working, the list of ten above is a good check-list for why we might not be getting the results we want.
Train safely, criticise yourself regularly, and frame your solutions to the criticism positively using SMART approaches.
Written in 2004, this article was first published by Traditional Karate Magazine in the UK in August 2005 as part of my ‘Practical Techniques’ series.
There are many different elements that can combine to make a martial arts technique ‘practical’. Here ‘practical technique’ is defined as something that you would be able to use to defend yourself in a genuine time of need rather than in a sports competition. This is not to say that the techniques that serve well in martial art competitions are unsuitable for the street (since many are very effective), but rather to recognise that the two environments differ. Each short article in this series will look at a training principle that forms the roots of practical technique.
Habitual Acts of Violence
One of the most important factors that all martial arts training aimed at practical self- defence should address is its relevance to the habitual acts of violence (HAOV) common to its locale. The value of having acquired an excellent defence against all the front kicks that your training partners in the dojo attempt to connect with you is diminished by the fact that it is a form of attack you are unlikely to have to defend yourself against in a bar or on the street. Even in this martial arts film-fueled age, most people don’t use effective kicks until their victim is already lying prone on the ground.
The term HAOV is a commonly used derivative of a term introduced by Patrick McCarthy, HAPV – habitual acts of physical violence. Both terms are interchangeable but I prefer the use of HAOV since it accommodates certain actions that many would not regard as physical violence such as pre-fight physical posturing and verbal threats.
If our martial arts training is to have any validity from a self defence perspective then it must address the HAOV that we are likely to face in a conflict situation. It is important here to address the real situation and not the media and film induced perceptions. While it is possible to gain a reasonable idea of pre-fight patterns in your locale by reading the brief assault descriptions (and police appeals for witnesses) in your local newspapers, the best sources overall are probably the statistics compiled by the Home Office. These are usually available through the easy access of the Internet.
A study made by Mike Maguire and Hilary Nettleton, (Home Office Research Study 265 – March 2003), Reducing alcohol-related violence and disorder – an evaluation of the ‘TASC’ project, contains information of direct relevance to all those who would address their training to the threat of alcohol related crime.
Location of incidents leading to hospital visits:
40% of all incidents occurred inside Licensed premises, a further 20% took place just outside. Only 24% of the incidents recorded took place elsewhere in the street.
Assaults: Type of violence Used:
The majority of attacks (46%) involved punches or kicks, while pushes accounted for 12%. Despite the majority of incidents taking place inside, only 10% involved the use of a bottle or a glass. These figures are slightly misleading since they refer to the end product of the event. The statistics do not show whether attacks involving punches and kicks were preceded by pushes. It is likely that punches tended to follow pushes while kicks tended to follow attacks that had already displaced the victim to the ground. According to the British Crime Survey (see below) punching or slapping occurred in 64% of incidents between strangers, grabbing/pushing in 43% (note the overlap percentage) and kicking in 24%. Incidentally these statistics suggest that you are more likely to be kicked by acquaintances (30% versus 24%) than strangers.
Sites of injuries sustained:
The majority of injuries sustained by casualties were to the Face/Neck/Head/Teeth (73%), while only 11% of injuries were to the Arms/Legs/Hands and only 3% to the Trunk.
The Home Office Online report (2003) by Tracey Budd into Alcohol related assault and the findings of the British Crime Survey offers further insights by providing useful information into the nature of attackers.
Alcohol-related incidents are more likely to involve multiple offenders than other incidents. Almost half of alcohol-related assaults between strangers involved more than one attacker. 38% of the incidents between acquaintances involved more than one person (In the 1999 survey detailed by Tracey Budd’s report into alcohol related assault 51% involved one offender, 17% two, 12% three, 21% four or more). The majority of alcohol related assaults involve men. In the case of incidents involving strangers, 90% were men only, 5% involved women and 5% a mixed group. The majority of stranger related incidents concerned men aged 16-24 whereas incidents involving acquaintances were more likely to occur in the over 25 group. Approximately one third of alcohol related assaults involved someone the victim considered as a friend.
One element that we have to contend with from a self-defence viewpoint is a confrontation where physical assault is the by-product, rather than perhaps the sole intent, of an attack. The statistics above were taken from alcohol related assaults, but according to Budd’s report these only account for 52% of all assaults. It is possible to gain further awareness of HAOV by studying available data on robberies such as that compiled by Jonathan Smith for the Home Office Research Study 254 (January 2003) into Personal Robbery.
Robberies are more likely to occur at night, although the likelihood of being robbed varies according to the age and sex of the victim. An example of this is that the elderly and young children are more likely to be targeted during the day, since they tend to be ‘available’ more at those times. According to the statistics compiled by Smith, approximately half of all robberies occurred between 1800 and 0200 hours and half of all personal robberies took place at the weekend.
The nature of the Robbery:
In a quarter of all cases (both men and women) the victim was physically attacked prior to any demands or robbery. Men were more likely to be confronted with a demand as the first point of contact than women (41% versus 25%), while women in turn were more likely to be subject to snatch attacks (37% versus 6%). Men were more likely than women to be engaged in conversation first as a con tactic to establish their vulnerability to robbery.
The Location of the Robbery:
We all know areas we believe to be vulnerable and thus try to avoid. This tendency is not unknown to criminals. 50% of all robberies took place in the street against only 2% in subways, 4% in parks and 5% on footpaths.
In 2001, in an article published in the Journal of the Shotokan Research Society International, R. J. Nash presented data that had been gathered from a Home Office study group formed to investigate violence within modern society, based upon evidence taken from Europe and the United Kingdom. This article listed, in frequency order, the most common pattern of attacks that were made on both men and women. These lists are reproduced here by the kind permission of Jeff Nash and the editor of the Journal of the Shotokan Research Society International, Bob McMahon.
Male on Male, Close Quarters:
- One person pushes, hands to chest, which is normally followed by the pushee striking first, to the head.
- A swinging punch to the head.
- A front clothing grab, one handed, followed by punch to the head.
- A front clothing grab, two hands, followed by a head butt.
- A front clothing grab, two hands, followed by a knee to the groin.
- A bottle, glass, or ashtray to the head.
- A lashing kick to groin/lower legs.
- A broken bottle/glass jabbed to face.
- A slash with knife, most commonly a 3 to 4″ lockblade knife or kitchen utility knife. (Apart from muggings, sexual assaults and gang violence, the hunting/combat type knife is seldom used)
- A grappling style head lock.
Only one occasion of a well known boxer, caught on night club cctv, opening the conflict with a hook punch to the body.
Offences against the person, male on female:
This data was gathered from interviews with victims and offenders and from statements. Data only covers robbery/sexual methodology and changes relative to first contact with victim ie., venue/ night/day etc.
Domestic violence is not covered as this is a specific subject of its’ own.
- The victim was approached from the rear/side/front, a threat was made with a weapon, and then the weapon was hidden. Then the victim’s right upper arm was held by the attacker’s left hand and the victim was led away.
- A silent or rushing approach was made from the victim’s rear, and then a rear neck/head lock applied and the victim dragged away.
- The same approach as in #2, with a rear waist grab. The victim was carried/dragged away, normally into bushes/alley etc.
- The victim was pinned to a wall with a throat grab with the attacker’s left hand. A weapon-shown threat was made, and then the weapon hidden, and the victim led away.
- The victim was approached from rear/ front/side. The attacker grabbed the victim’s hair with his left hand, and then she was dragged away.
The Most Common Wrist Grips, Male On Female:
- The attacker’s left hand, thumb uppermost, gripping the victim’s raised right wrist. The attacker threatens/ gesticulates with his right hand.
- With the victim’s right arm down, the attacker grips the victim’s right upper arm with his left hand and her right wrist with his right hand.
- The victim raises both arms, with both of her wrists gripped. The attacker’s hands are vertical with the attacker’s thumbs uppermost.
- With the victim’s arms down, the attacker grabs both upper arms.
- With the victim’s right arm down, the attacker’s left hand grabs just below the right elbow, and his right hand grabs her wrist.
These studies are by no means exhaustive and I would recommend that anyone interested in this subject engage in further research of their own. What these studies can do is provide us with important information as to the nature of the attacks that we are likely to face. The techniques we choose to drill should be aimed at countering HAOV:
We should train predominantly to fight an attacker under the influence of alcohol. We must therefore expect a higher pain threshold and select techniques accordingly.
We should consider that attacks are as likely to occur in the confines of indoor spaces as outside and thus not rely on defences that require large leg movements.
We should train to expect 70% of the strikes to be aimed at head height.
We should expect to be grabbed or pushed prior to a physical blow.
We should expect to be attacked by a man in his physical prime.
We should expect a 50% likelihood of being engaged by more than one assailant. Training in percussive techniques should take priority over locks. If your health allows – practice running.
This August 2005 Traditional Karate Magazine article was a condensed version of a chapter in my first book: Heian Flow System: effective karate kata bunkai. The information presented related to research on violent crime conducted between 1999 and 2004. I first heard of the HAPV and HAOV terms while reading Bill Burgar’s work on Gojushiho (Five Years: One Kata) and meeting and training with Bill and Rick Clark. Before that I had focused on researching violent crime and not used an acronym. There are a number of different terms in use in the martial arts and professional confrontation management communities to describe aggressive and violent behaviour patterns. The memorable term ‘Monkey Dance’, coined by Rory Miller, is now commonly used to describe pre- fight behaviours (where humans have much in common with other primates). Some use the term PIA (Primary Initiation Attack) to describe the initial means of physical assault. I prefer the more widely used HAOV since it highlights the inclusion of certain actions that many would not regard as physical violence such as pre-fight physical posturing and verbal threats (what I might call Primate Posturing and Rory Miller calls Monkey Dancing). These are the point where avoidance training, the acknowledgement of flinch responses when caught ‘off-guard’ and your own personal protection strategies should come into play – before any physical violence begins. I continue to use HAOV as in my experience it is now the most common term for the subject matter in the international Anglophone martial arts community. The term HAV is a recognised abbreviation for a medical condition, a form of aircraft and a form of media among other things. HAPV is normally associated with Hamster Polyoma Virus. As a result HAOV is useful for disambiguation.
I’ve been continuing to collate and analyse information since the above article was written, and I may publish that at a future date as it has guided my training and teaching. In the meantime I hope this old data (still statistically on par with modern percentages) on crime in England and Wales is of interest.
It’s not what you think…
When I say ‘bend over and take it’ I’m envisaging the difference between form and function in combative posture.
In many of my application pictures there is a noticeable difference between my posture in paired work and that in the solo form of the kata.
As karateka gain experience they learn that stances naturally adjust according to need, and as a result they may become longer, higher or deeper as circumstances dictate. Different applications or variables will cause shifts between what we recognise as stances, so while a form might illustrate a movement in a front stance or a cat stance, circumstances may dictate something more akin to a rooted stance, a back stance or a straddle stance.
Eagle eyed readers of my blog or my books might have noticed that invariably, when I am in tactile contact with a training partner, or following through, I never hold my back at a right angle to the ground. This is not accidental ‘bad posture’ nor is it the result of an injury. Often this is the case when the level of tactile contact shown in the photo is minimal, because at the start of the movement a fair degree of weight was actively driving against me.
No matter how good your stance or footwork is, having a straight back while resisting physical force from another person is biomechanically unsound.
The greater the level of force you are resisting, the more necessary it is to brace appropriately to take the load properly without placing undue stress in the small of the back, or compromising your balance, and in general the greater the angle of back (and depth of stance and thus angle of shin) required.
There is a difference between lifting an object and exerting or resisting force along other planes of movement.
You may be able to push a car with a straight back once you have got it moving, but to initiate the push the optimum position is to lean forward. You would not see a rugby scrum lock together bolt upright.
So, if you are engaging in force on force close quarter karate against resisting training partners I offer this small piece of advice:
bend over and take it.
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Isaac Newton, 1676.
Isaac Newton was not the first man to recognize that while he had achieved much, he owed it to those who had gone before him. In 1159 John of Salisbury wrote that
Bernard of Chartres used to compare us to [puny] dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants. He pointed out that we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.
Today Isaac Newton is recognized as a great figure for his work in furthering our understanding of the laws of physics. His work paved the way for further research, discovery and refinement in diverse fields by other great scientists such as Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, some of which is known to (and partially understood) by laymen. The basic elements of Newton’s work are commonly taught in schools to children, and we owe a debt of gratitude not just to him but to the huge numbers of nameless teachers that have themselves gone no further for the majority of their academic careers, but stand teaching in his shadow and the shadow of his successors, creating the environment where others may climb on the shoulders of the giants, or grow to be giants themselves – whether standing on their own or on another’s shoulders.
There is nothing wrong with studying the work of Newton. It is a building block for later scientific research.
There does come a point however where studying Newton’s work becomes less a study of physics, and less about improving your knowledge of physics, than it becomes an exercise in historical research: a worthwhile and rewarding endeavour, but one of a different nature.
The world of Karate is filled with giants. It is an honour to stand in their shadow and teach what we believe they taught.
Those that do this perpetuate and further the art; they create an environment where others may grow to become giants or benefit from re-treading the steps of others. In some respects they are like the modern physics teachers in schools who give a good grounding in physics.
Both in the present and the past these karateka have created the environment where others can choose to follow the footsteps in the sand, and become great karateka teaching approximately the same material they learned, or stand on the shoulders of others.
Those karateka who choose to move on, to stand on the shoulders of others (to explore and develop other ideas gained through introspection or cross training), gain a different perspective. Through those differing perspectives and different pedagogies new karate styles have been born throughout the last century and will continue to be born in the future. This happens not because of an egotistical desire to create something new, but the very natural desire to pass on a personal perspective based on the lessons learned: it is why there is so much diversity not only in karate but in the martial arts as a whole. Those that have cross-trained know that the finer principles or ‘in depth study secrets’ of some arts are the bread and butter basics of others, taught immediately to beginners.
I am not saying that all those who have begun to teach new karate styles in the last century or more are giants, nor am I saying that those upon whom they built their study were giants: many of them are or were simply good karateka. They see differently because they stand on the shoulders of those that went before, rather than walk in the same footsteps. Like Einstein and Hawking they have the opportunity to go in a different direction because of the groundwork laid for them.
Karate is comprised of many different styles. My perspective is that different does not necessarily mean better, nor does it mean worse.
For me the descriptors of old, modern, classical, Okinawan, Japanese, western, practical or traditional do not equate to higher or lower standards, or greater or lesser worth.
Whatever our chosen karate discipline we may not all be giants, but we can all choose where we stand and what we wish to study, and we can all become better karateka.