It ain’t what you do it’s the way you do it

Tactics over Techniques

I see lots of examples of martial arts and what I see is just a repetition of what everyone else is doing, which is acquiring more techniques. More techniques means more complication, more to memorise, more to practice and this leads to a diffusion of ones skill and you risk becoming ‘a jack of all trades and master of none’. The more different things we practice, the less good we can be at any one of those things.

Today’s martial arts masters don’t understand the difference between tactics and technique and seem only to encourage their students to acquire more techniques rather than how to apply them in more situations. There’s an old proverb in the martial arts which says ‘one technique mastered is worth a thousand sampled’ and this means we can be great if we master a few techniques providing we have good strategies to apply them.

The law of predictability says ‘if you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got’. This works fine if the result you get is a good result, but even then, we must progress, evolve and adapt if we are to be effective in what we do. Science is evolving, sport is evolving, technology is evolving yet the martial arts are acting as if nothing has changed.

The law of leverage says ‘create more with less’ and this means being efficient. Efficiency should be the goal of every martial artist, to get the best result possible in any given situation. Basically, to avoid conflict and if it can’t be avoided, to emerge safely from it. This is not easy as every situation brings its own challenges to overcome but it is predictable in that most situations bring up the same types of challenge. This is where tactics come in.

A tactic is like a hammer and a technique is like a nail. The technique is the fix for a situation which in carpentry is to fix two pieces of wood together. The nail only works in a small number of situations. It is only fit for one purpose which is to be knocked into wood and it only needs to be fit for that purpose, such as being long enough and strong enough to keep two pieces of wood together. The hammer though is more adaptable, it can be used with other types of nail and in other ways, such as heavily, lightly, quickly, angled and even to remove the nail if it goes in wrong.

The nail is useless without the hammer and once it’s used it’s pretty much useless as a nail anymore but the hammer can be used with 1000’s of other nails. It’s important therefore, to know the difference between using hammers and nails (techniques and tactics). The hammer is how we use the nail and, the tactic is how we use the technique. Tactics are more important than techniques because if you have only one technique but many tactics you can win but if you have many techniques and no tactics you will more than likely lose.

The key then, is in the balance of tactics and techniques, combining them together, to get the best result. For example, the right cross is a technique and our hammer, the tactic, is how we use that right cross. The right cross has the power to knock someone out but only if it can be landed well. It needs a good tactic to set it up. The tactic could be a left jab which is fast and hard to defend. If the jab lands well the cross is more likely to, whereas the right cross alone has more distance to travel which means more can go wrong on the way, like it being seen and defended against. Here then, the tactic is to prepare the way for the cross using a reaction strategy (the jab) to create an opening for it.

Any technique is only useful when it is backed by the right tactics and those tactics are a combination of distance, leverage, timing, speed and the balance of these 5 factors in cooperation. These tactics apply in carpentry as in combat but unlike carpentry, combat has added complications. The wood that we hammer the nail into will not try to resist our efforts except to the degree of the hardness of the wood but in combat our opponent will actively, try to defend against the right cross being hammered home. Combat tactics must be broadened to meet this extra challenge using feints, fakes, draws and duplicities because our opponent, unlike wood, has, in most cases a desire not to be hit.

This reinforces the fact that tactics are more important than techniques and this can be summed up in the phrase ‘it ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it’. However, too many martial artists forget that combat is not so much an exchange of techniques, as an exchange of tactics. It is strategy that wins, techniques are just part of the strategy.

In summary, if you want to become a better martial artist, you need techniques but more importantly, you need the tactics of how to apply those techniques in more situations. The best martial artists, sportspeople, actors and scientists don’t look for more techniques, they look for a few techniques and use superb tactics to adapt those techniques to many situations. This is the secret to martial arts greatness.

Beginners, Winners, Cruisers and Losers

I’m a keen observer of people, I’ve always been a people watcher, believing that I’ll learn more from peoples’ actions than their words. Their words are what they think they think or want to appear to think but how they act is the reality of who they really are, as Aristotle said ‘we are what we consistently do’. Today I would like to look at who we are and where we fit into society from the standpoint of ‘beginners, winners, cruisers and losers’.

The Beginners

Social media is a great example. Many people post photos of themselves in a great pose especially those promoting their image for their business and some of these photos show amazing physiques and abilities. This motivates us (if we don’t check ourselves) to buy their products or at least become a ‘liker’ of their page or posts. However, so often there is a story going on behind the person. Sure, some have professional photos taken in studios by good photographers but many (the beginners) take them at home and though they show a great image (sometimes) behind them we see a tiny apartment, untidy, poorly furnished with an unmade bed behind them or even worse, the toilet right behind them!

The question becomes, ‘if you’re doing so well, why is your success not showing in your life?’ why aren’t they in a nice place, tidy, well furnished, a place that speaks success. And why if you’re so successful are you taking your own photo? Have you ever seen the Dalai Lama posting a ‘selfie’? or a great business leader or politician? People posting in selfies are to my mind the ‘beginners’, they think they’ve found the solution but they are not yet a product of that solution. Admittedly, we all have to start somewhere, but if you are promoting yourself and charging people for your products then those products should at least look like they’re working for you before you push them on someone else.

If you are a fitness guru, then you must be more than fit in your body you should also be fit in your mind. What I mean is a great body is not enough to speak of that success. That fitness should also be led by your mind and be leading your mind too. What I mean is – all action begins in the mind and action is the only road to greatness. But the great mind also knows that where it started is not enough to keep it great, it must also be fed the right nutrients so it can grow. As Einstein said ‘the knowledge that got you to where you are today is not enough to keep you there’ If you are so good for example, why isn’t it showing in your lifestyle? You might say ‘well, I’m not interested in the money or the trappings of success’ but frankly, if you’re charging for your products then you must be interested in the money or else you’d be giving your products away wouldn’t you? The danger with the beginner is that you are just repeating what you’ve learned from someone else’s manual for success, in effect, ‘running before you can walk’ and if you want long term success then you must learn to walk first or your message can never be true and from your heart, without which you can never be a long term success because your experience is just not enough to guide your future and current success.

The Winners

Winners are what many of us want to be, whatever image that brings to your mind; business, sport, wealth, peace etc., winners have walked the walk before they talk the talk. Winners are still walking the walk, in fact winners never stop walking the walk. That is the requirement of a winner. If you see a sporting superstar after he or she retires you will still see success, just in a different arena. Take Mohammad Ali, he was a great success in the boxing ring and arguably the greatest ever but he’s made more money, wealth and impact since he retired even whilst he has suffered through his Parkinson’s disease. Winners win, that is in their nature, their genes, they can no more retire from their winning mind set than can a leopard change its spots. This brings me to another type of person which is the cruiser

The Cruiser

The cruiser is the person who wants to cruise through life, avoid risk and problems. Cruisers want to retire, to relax, to stop worrying and just sit back in their comfort zone. There are lots of cruisers out there and I think we all have a cruiser inside of us, we all want to relax and enjoy the rewards of our labours. But we can’t completely relax because things are changing all the time. Even if we don’t want to change, circumstances will force us to. We can reject technology because it’s trivial and modern and requires us to learn new skills but if we reject it and try to cruise on we find ourselves making our own lives difficult. Some of the changes we encounter are going to make our lives easier and to fail to adopt them will make our lives more difficult than they need to be. a cruiser mentality would have resisted the development of the washing machine, preferring to continue to wash by hand but the washing machine makes cleaning our clothes so much easier that we can ‘cruise’ through it.

The cruiser wants to keep going as they always have, but this is not possible. Even if you have achieved massive wealth you can’t just sit back and live on it because wealth brings its own problems, admittedly, nice ones but even the richest people in the world still have to work at some level. Wealth has to be managed, even if you have a big staff to do it, they have to be managed so they don’t lose your money or worse steal it! You still have decisions to make, actions to take and even though your financial pressures may seem to be less than people who are still working for a living, they still exist. Great wealth brings great responsibility which means risk, work and effort.

Sure we can sit back more when we achieve financial success, it is much better than going to work for a living, but you can’t switch off completely, and frankly who wants to? We are physical beings who thrive on stress. Even keeping fit means applying more stress to our body today than we could cope with yesterday so we should embrace risk and challenge because we only get one life and my view is don’t waste it resting and cruising.
This brings me to the final mind set of my talk today which is to consider the losers

The Losers

I don’t like to call anyone a loser, it’s not nice, it’s a negative judgement and no one wants to be judged like that. But, some people make a life out of being a loser, that is they fail to make anything of the life they have been given. Some people don’t work for a living and instead live off the generosity of society, some feel it their right to be cared for by others. Some do work but do the absolute minimum. I knew someone once who, when I asked him what he did at work replied ‘as little as possible’. This guy prided himself on how many books he could read at work during his ‘working’ week. What a great employee! As you can imagine he moved jobs a lot, in fact he was constantly being made redundant or being fired because of his lack of work ethic. Now this guy wasn’t unintelligent, he was a member of MENSA the high IQ society, in fact his IQ was around a 142! But he had a loser mentality that said why should I do more than the absolute minimum for anyone? I can’t understand his mind set. But at the end of his life he will have made no contribution to making the world better, have no friends and will rely on his family to take care of him, no possessions of value, or a nice home or even a satisfying relationship. He is so clever that he has nothing and in the main doesn’t give a damn. To my mind he is a true loser because he had a good start in life, well brought up, never went without financially, had a good education and was blessed with high intelligence but decided to do nothing with what he had been given through pure idleness.

To me a loser is someone like this guy. Someone who won’t try, won’t contribute and frankly when he dies won’t be missed. Now I may be out of kilter with some of you here. Life is not all about money and possessions I admit, but what I think life is about is having a purpose and a passion and using those to make the world a little better for your having been here. If you do that then I think you can count yourself as a success.

In summary, I think it’s important to identify who we are and where we are so that we can use that knowledge to make our lives better for it. We will all have moments of being a beginner, a winner a cruiser and a loser but if we want to take satisfaction in our life we must strive to spend more time being a winner; pushing ahead with purpose and striving to be more than we started out as because then when the time comes for us to move on and quit this world we can be happy in the knowledge that though we didn’t do everything we wanted or achieved everything we hoped for, at least we left a legacy for others to benefit from and that means our life had a sense of progress and purpose which is about as much as we can hope and something to aspire to.

Have a great day!

The Rules of 5 and the 5 Rings

I first read the ‘Book of 5 Rings’ (Go Rin Sho) when I was in my late teens and to be frank I really didn’t get what it was all about. At the time it was much favoured by businessmen as the ‘new thing’ using martial arts strategy in business. I couldn’t see how that worked, and being young I was like most young people, only concerned with ‘technique’. I did not see strategy as the application of laws and principles which utilised techniques to achieve an outcome; I saw strategy as techniques used in battle and business without fully equating it to one on one combat. Remember the distinction I make between strategy using techniques and techniques as strategies as there is an important difference here that you should think about.

Over the years I have read and re-read the Go Rin Sho gradually increasing my understanding of it. It is a book that requires some deciphering: it was written 400 years ago by a samurai warrior named Myamoto Musashi who was and still is one of the most famous of Japan’s samurai. He fought over 60 to the death duels starting at the age of only 13 and was victorious in all of them. However the book is not easy to understand as it was written in old Japanese which has been translated into modern Japanese and then into English and in every translation something of the original is lost. However by reading and re-reading one can begin to understand what Musashi was talking about, not that his concepts are that difficult but being translated as they have been and without the benefit of diagrams and an understanding of his mindset and background it can be difficult to discern his meaning.

However, getting back to my point, I have recently redeveloped our black belt leadership program and as part of that process I wanted to establish the absolute essential elements or laws that govern success in martial arts and life. Using our martial arts training as a metaphor for how we use our life, we at the National Martial Arts Colleges teach our students to gain success in their daily lives by applying the laws, principles, rules, strategies and techniques of combat training. Using martial arts as a mirror to reflect upon how we live our lives.

After many years of studying and applying the principles of martial arts and life success I have distilled what I consider to be the absolute essentials of success down to 5 keys which are: Attitude, Goal setting, Strategy, Action and Study. We use the name of our martial arts system AEGIS as an acrostic for students to memorise the key laws of success as: Attitude, Expectation, Game plan, Implementation and Study. As you can see some of the initials didn’t even need to be changed to fit the acrostic which I found interesting too but I won’t go into that here. After this I also included several other concepts that are essential to making the first laws to work, these are: the RADAR action process, the 4 plus 1 intelligences and the DELTA sequence of key martial arts skills that all techniques rely on to make them work.

After I had begun constructing the new Leadership program it suddenly hit me that each of these key concepts consisted each of Five keys. DELTA, AEGIS, RADAR, and the 4 +1 intelligences (4 + 1 = 5) all have 5 elements. Without realising it I had been developing concepts each of which consisted of 5 I therefore decided to put together a series of rules to support these concepts which I call the ‘Rules of 5’ The rules of 5 enable our students and instructors to quantify exactly the amount of content and context contained in our martial arts system. Knowing that there are virtually 5 of everything in the system allows students to learn the system faster and for the instructors to teach it more easily. If a student is for instance, trying to practice his stances he knows there are 5 and 5 guards, 5 steps, distances, levels etc. It is always easier to learn something when one knows the full extent of the content and the context that is the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of the subject. No one likes to find that there is, after years of study, more in the syllabus that they didn’t even know about, it would be like turning up to an exam and suddenly being faced with a question that isn’t in the syllabus.

By quantifying our AEGIS system this way we make it so much easier to learn, practice and understand which is refreshing when so many martial arts are no easier to understand than the Go Rin Sho with techniques that are not only not used any more, but no one even knows what they were for in the past. Even the most transparent subject can be further understood and mastered through regular and sustained practice but I despair of those systems that complicate their art unnecessarily which could let a novice down when he most needs his arts defence. A system that takes years of study to make it work is of little value when dealing with a confrontation that happens before you become a master. It has always been my concern to ensure that what I teach can be used immediately and without modification or deep understanding. If it can’t then I have let my student down.

I referred earlier to Musashi’s Book of 5 Rings and I was surprised when reading it again only a few months ago I did not connect his 5’s with the 5’s I have been evolving. It wasn’t until I was reading it again just a few weeks ago that I suddenly realised the connection. I was reading and making noted when it suddenly hit me that as he was detailing his 5 stances and 5 guards that it hit me! Perhaps I’m a little slow but I had put together my leadership program and written thousands of words on the laws, principles etc without making the connection. Why do I mention this? To make some connection with Musashi’s genius, perhaps? Or perhaps I have been unknowingly influenced by reading his work in the past? Who knows? But what I do know is that he was trying to achieve the same end, his work was written just before his death and he knew that he wouldn’t be around to mentor the future generations’ progress and study of his system. He was quantifying his system, creating a distinct content and context for his students to understand his teaching in his absence.

I am doing the same, (hopefully my death is not as imminent as Musashi’s was) I am aware that I can no longer teach all of the students in the AEGIS  system, there are too many schools in too many places and this problem (if it is a problem) is not getting any easier as our schools grow. With this in mind it is my goal to teach my instructors to understand exactly what I know by quantifying and labelling everything that I know so that the AEGIS system is passed to each of the coming generations with as much of my experience as possible in the teaching and who understand the syllabus and can likewise pass on the system without it ending up being almost indecipherable as I see so many other system have become. Only time will tell I suppose, and I must be prepared for the AEGIS system to change and adapt and as long as it remains workable and relevant I will be happy enough that I have done my bit.

The Law of Set Up – Part 2

When we attempt to defeat an opponent the set up is essential and equally essential is that the opponent does not discern our intention as it will bring about his downfall. The law of deception reminds us to use set ups that deliberately mislead, for instance a feint, where we would throw a punch to the head but our real intention is to hit the body. The set up punch must be entirely believable or the real intention of the punch to the body will not succeed. Therefore the set up requires the appearance of real commitment without spoiling the real intention.

The law of footwork is crucial to the set up of almost all our martial arts attacks and defences and no technique, no matter how skilful can hope to succeed other than by accident if it is not supported (set up) with good footwork. Footwork is not the only important factor obviously and we must consider carefully the laws & principles that support each of our techniques if they are to be effective.  The set up is used in every action we take both in life and martial arts but it is always more effective if the set up is achieved deliberately. Deliberate set ups utilise as many of the other natural laws as possible such as deception, footwork, proximity, priority to name but a few. To achieve life and martial arts mastery one must know of, practice and master the laws both universal and those applicable to specifically to the martial arts.

Consider carefully all your attacks and defences in combat and life and how you prepare them or prepare for them. If you are not achieving your goals in either life or combat look to your set up, your preparation. Are you using the law of hierarchy to put first things first for instance? Are you rushing in without adequate set up? Don’t just look at technique as that is the least important part because a good technique relies on a good set up for it to work and as we have seen the law of set up occurs in many if not all of the other universal laws of life and combat.

As I mentioned before a bad set up is better than none, action in this respect will get some result even if it not the one we want, or doesn’t get us quite the result we want. If it is the one we don’t want then the law of study (review) will be activated engaging our minds to reconsider the action and whether it could have been set up better.

Consider your best and worst techniques for instance, the ones that work for you and those that never seem to work; look at the set up and see how you are preparing it. I would hazard a guess that the techniques that don’t work for you are poorly set up and the converse is true in your best techniques. In life if you are not getting what you want you should not blame circumstances, instead look to your strategy, set up, your preparation and look to improve on that. Once you understand and use the strategic set up process your effectiveness will significantly improve.

Thank you for reading today and I look forward to speaking again soon on another life and martial art topic.

Another Habit of Highly Ineffective Parents – Consulting

As I’ve mentioned before I work with many parents many good ones and some bad ones. Not intentionally bad they just don’t have much experience with bringing up children and bringing up children along with being a great lover are two things in life where we are expected to excel yet we receive no training in either. I am being facetious but there is quite a bit of truth in what I say. We don’t get much training in life skills unless we go looking for it and if you don’t know it’s out there, where do you look? Bringing up children is a key life skill; it’s the life skill of communication; our ability to successfully communicate with others, in this case our own children.

Although many of us have children, how many of us really know how to communicate with them? Often I see that grandparents have a better approach to raising children, probably because they’ve seen it all before and now are not so near to the problem. Other times I see parents who treat their children as something that hangs around the house being noisy and every time they appear they’re packed off to their room to watch TV or play on their computer. These kinds of parents take a laissez faire attitude to parenting pretty much leaving them to their own devices. I also meet children of parents who are immigrants, Indian, Chinese or Jewish and see how their children are well behaved and a pleasure to be around. Their parents often have a great work ethic, believe passionately in education and structure their children’s future from day one, probably because the family unit and structure and hierarchy is firmly established through many thousands of generations.

Some parents take great care to treat their children with respect, involving them in all the decision processes of the family and these are the ones who are practicing the bad habit of – Consulting

Consulting ones children about family decisions sounds on the face of it to be a caring and sensible thing to do doesn’t it, and it can be except when your child is too young to know what is good and what is not. Kids are young, developing their minds, thoughts and ideas and the younger they are the less developed their thought processes are. They are less able to consider consequences of cause and effect – in short they don’t have enough life experience to make a decision. For instance if you asked a child if they’d like to have Xmas everyday they’d probably say yes, but an adult knows that this would simply devalue the experience to such a degree that it would become dull and lack lustre. Kids base their decisions on what is best for them and struggle when they are young to take themselves out of the equation and consider other people. This is obvious stuff isn’t it? And gradually over the years as the child grows and develops she builds up her life experience and ability to make well informed and considered decisions and opinions. 

However, I have more than once listened to a concerned parent ask their 5 year old about making a decision: ‘It’s a lot of money Johnny for Mummy to pay, are you sure you’ll stick with it for 6 months?’ The kid nods enthusiastically ‘ok then but you have to promise Mummy and Daddy that you’ll stick with it’. Then the same parent comes back to say ‘he doesn’t want to do it any more.’ Well he has to do it; he made a promise didn’t he?’ “I know, but I wouldn’t him to do anything he didn’t want to do”. This might sound stupid to most parents but you might be surprised at how often I deal with parents who consult their children about decisions that they have no concept about the consequences of. What do kids know about money? You as a parent have bottomless pockets filled with money haven’t you? No? Well your kids think you have don’t they? But then they’ve never worked a 50 hour week in a job they don’t like for a boss who bullies the have they? They don’t understand because they are too young and inexperienced. So why do parents ask them about a subject that they don’t understand? Let’s face it this kid is still counting the days to Xmas in ‘sleeps’! 6 months? They have no concept of how long that is or what is involved in keeping a promise. Parents consult their children because they assume that because their kids can speak and communicate that they have more intelligence than they have. I have three dogs and I often speak to them using sentences like ‘would you like to go for a walk?’ and they eagerly wag their tails appearing to understand but all they heard was a word, ‘walk’ which they learned usually precedes getting out of the house. Sometimes they look at me as if they know exactly what I’m talking about, but they don’t! Kids are much more intelligent than dogs but they still don’t understand much about life which is why we look after them till they’re almost 20 years old, 20 years in which they have the time to build life experience and make good decisions. As a good parent you wouldn’t let a young child cross a busy road and by the same measure neither should we consult them about decisions concerning things they have insufficient knowledge about such as time and commitment. 

I like parents who look to find things their child might enjoy and that also will benefit them in the long run, but also make sure that their child commits to and sticks with when things start getting a bit tough too. Parents who are willing to stand by their decisions that they’ve made for their children even in the face of tantrums! I hate wimpy parents who consult their children about decisions that they’re not qualified to make and then let the child off the hook when he won’t commit to seeing the decision through. 

So consider carefully when you ask your child about making a decision that affects your money, time or even where the family moves house to. What experience can your child bring to the table? If the answer is very little then don’t consult them in the first place. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t tell your child what is happening in the life of the family, by all means keep them informed of what’s going on but when it comes to deciding what is the best for the family you as a parents and adults are the only ones with the necessary life experience to make such decisions. 

Gradually as your child gets older let them be involved in decision making but also feel free to disagree with their contribution if you have to, just explain to them why you aren’t taking their offering without insulting their intelligence or letting them lose face. Like any good leader a parent has to sometimes make tough decisions that are questioned by their subordinates and like any good leader a parent will sometimes doubt you and also get things wrong. Both of which will happen fro time to time and which you will be reminded of later.

Thanks for reading today and I look forward to speaking with you again soon