How to Win a War

I heard a story, years ago that said that William Randolph Hearst, the man who Citizen Kane was based on, was instrumental in having cannabis made illegal. Hearst was a newspaper magnate who owned millions of acres of forests which supplied the paper for his newspapers. He discovered that the cannabis weed makes better paper than wood, that it grows more quickly and more cheaply. He didn’t want to jeopardise his large investment in forests and knew that they would be worthless anyway once it got out that the cannabis plant was more efficient so he began a campaign against cannabis, demonising the drug as a legal and moral issue and consequently cannabis was made illegal. The war on drugs had begun.

Tonight if you are mugged or burgled or shot or stabbed, the chances are it will be drug related. Addicts need money to buy drugs. Drugs are expensive, they are bought from dealers illegally who make them to their own recipes and sometimes with materials that are more poisonous that the drug itself. Most of the gun crime in Britain and the USA is drug related; gang wars, reprisals, turf wars and the like.

In January 1920 in the USA, the Volstead Act was passed. This was the beginning of prohibition in America. Alcohol was made illegal and this lasted until 1933. What happened? It was the rise of the gangsters and organised crime went through the roof. More people were shot, tortured, imprisoned and beaten than at any other time in American history. The act was eventually repealed because it wasn’t working? Why? Because a law can only work when the people support it, and people didn’t support it. It’s the same with the war on drugs; on the whole people do not support the law and so they ignore it. The result is that billions of pounds and millions of lives have been lost in this lost cause.

I’m not in favour of drug use; I think it’s dangerous and pointless, but for many people it’s a simple release from everyday stresses and strains, just like a cigarette or a beer at the end of the day. Of course some people cannot control their urge to have more, but that happens in every sphere of life from sport/fitness addiction, to business addiction, to drug and alcohol addiction, but they are a minority. Most people can manage their use.

My idea is that, if drug use was legalised we would save massive amounts of money that is wasted in trying to prevent it. Companies could sell them packaged like cigarettes or alcohol. Quantified, systemised, checked and produced under legal control just like tobacco and alcohol.

The country would spend less on crime prevention, create jobs and earn money in tax payments from the company’s manufacturing the drugs. Gun crime would reduce because the criminality of drugs had been removed and the drug lords and dealers would either become legitimate businesses or move onto something new just as the gangsters of the roaring twenties did and ordinary people would be removed from the line of fire.

One of the key facets of the AEGIS martial arts system is avoidance. In self -defence terms, avoidance means avoiding places where trouble is likely to occur and doing things that are unlikely to incite trouble. This is ‘the art of fighting without fighting’. Another type of avoidance is not to fight a battle that you cannot win. That’s not to say you shouldn’t still fight in some way. But there are lots of ways to fight without fighting head on. ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ doesn’t mean join the enemies ranks, it means use the enemies force by insinuating yourself into their ranks and using their weapons against them. This is what needs to be done with the drug problem. The war is lost. We have hit them head on for the last 40 years or more and the cost has been great and the gains have been nil. But by aligning with the populations desire to take drugs we can make it work for society. We can make it pay society in the saving on law enforcement and the countries gain in revenue payments. We can begin an education campaign as we have with other legalised drugs such as cigarettes and alcohol and reduce their consumption gradually by people understanding their dangers and removing them from their lives.

This is my view on drugs, on defending ourselves from the dangers that arise from drugs being illegal and though many will disagree with me and say my way is too radical, at least it will create questions about how to defend against this growing problem.

What are the Martial Arts?

Part 4 – Self Defence

This week I’d like to discuss self-defence in the martial arts. Many people take up the martial arts as a form of self-defence and one would presume that this is a wise decision, but is it? How applicable are the martial arts when it comes to defending oneself from an attacker in the street? The answer of course varies a lot depending on which art one chooses. But surely they’re all good for self-defence?! No they’re not. Some types of martial art will help you a lot and some very little. It all depends of course on context; what kind of attack are you protecting against? The school bully, the office bully, a knife wielding assailant, a mugger, a sex attack, an attack by a gang, road rage, an aggressive burglar, etc. etc.,

Much of what I’ve seen over the years wouldn’t help you much in the street and this article is designed to give you some tips on how to handle a self-defence situation without necessarily having much skill in combat but first let me tell you about the scenarios you’ll often see taught in self-defence classes:

1. The Wrist Grab

I’ve seen this taught 100’s of times and I’ve even taught it myself. It’s standard fair in martial arts circles and you’ll see lots of aikido video on showing their exponents throwing people across the room starting from a wrist grab. The problem is people are almost never attacked by having their wrist grabbed. You see, if someone is going to attack you, you can bet they are not cool calm or collected, instead, they are nervous, angry enough to attack and possibly afraid of being caught. They don’t know if you can fight back. If they are angry and upset they may not care whether you can, they may want to hurt or destroy you and have not thought any further forward than that. So, extremely aggressive and emotional people think in extreme ways. If you are in this uncontrollable state, how likely are you to grab someone’s wrist instead of their throat? Not very. The wrist? What damage is that going to do? Not much, so how likely is it that in a street fight you will have your wrist grabbed? You decide, but I know my answer.

2. The Front Choke

The front choke is a popular one in self-defence too but the same applies as in the wrist grab. A person who will grabbed your throat is angry, upset and trying to throttle the life out of you. They don’t just calmly grip you by the throat; they do it angrily, ferociously, pushing, pulling and squeezing for all they are worth. They scream, shout and even cry as they express their fury and this is where most ‘reality’ scenarios fall down; they forget the emotion that accompanies attack.

3. The Gun Point

I don’t know anyone who has had a gun pointed at them ( who wasn’t in the army and in a combat zone) and I would guess that I am like the other 99.999% of martial arts instructors who are the same, yet this defence is routinely taught as part of self-defence. Now, I feel qualified to teach what I have experienced and generally, and whilst I can apply my knowledge of strategy to the gun, I and any other instructors who have not faced a gun can only make suggestions on what to do when faced with one. Whilst systems like Krav Maga teach gun defence which supposedly is based on real situations (and I have no reason to doubt that they are) the instructor himself is highly unlikely to have ever faced a gun, so how real can his teaching on the subject be? The other part of gun defence is; how likely is it that you will be faced with a gun? Now in the USA where everyone seems to be packing these days it may be more likely, but in the UK or Europe? I’m not so sure. My advice in a situation like this if it was to happen and based purely on what I feel and not what I have experienced, is to do as you are told by the person holding the gun; like give them your money or valuables, but if they try to do anything else which will worsen your position; like say, to get on the ground, allow you to be tied up or put you in a car where there are confederates waiting for you, then I would say no and start to resist. You risk getting shot but most people survive gunshots, they don’t drop down immediately like in the films and at least you’ll go down fighting rather than risk being at the mercy of some sicko who wants to do film style torture to you when they get you alone.

4. Robbery at knife point

Pretty much the same as the gun; most instructors have never faced a knife. If you are being robbed, do as they say, but like with the gun, if they want to worsen your position then I advise resistance. Statistics prove that people who resist live longer in these situations. Robbers don’t need attention pointing at them, like their victim screaming like a maniac and trying to scratch their eyes out so active resistance is my advice. The other thing with knives which is generally not explored but is the most common type of attack, is where there is a fight and an accomplice of the attacker slips behind and stabs the victim. Often the victim does not realise they have been stabbed until sometime after. A sharp knife between the ribs is quite different to a punch in the ribs as there is no impact with a knife. So often with a knife attack, you never see the knife. You can’t do much to protect yourself in this situation except try to avoid places where people might carry knives.

I’ve outlined a few scenarios here because they are common in self-defence teaching and what I am trying to say is that self-defence is not so much about technique but about tactics. Tactics, such as avoiding places where trouble occurs, staying with a group as opposed to being alone. Not getting too drunk on a night out, sharing taxi’s instead of riding by yourself. Wearing clothes that are less tempting to an attacker or which are more for comfort than for fashion. Sure, you should be able to wear what you want and go where you want but that’s not really a choice if you want to stay safe.

The other thing is to consider how realistic is the scenario? How likely is it that someone will grab your wrist or try to choke you? isn’t it more likely that they will just punch you in the face? It’s much simpler and is often the best counter attack for you to use. I see all these silly defence scenarios on and social media, combining all sorts of clever, yet highly unlikely scenarios, and I just think to myself ‘punch him in the face’. As Mike Tyson said ‘everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.’ It’s simple and effective and is the standard response taught to special forces personnel, which is interesting isn’t it?

When it comes to self-defence, keep it simple: avoid places where trouble is more likely and always fight back, clawing, punching, kicking, spitting, biting, grabbing and poking. Honestly, it’s the best way and if you don’t know what to do or are not strong enough, come and join one of my academies and we’ll show you simple ways to protect yourself both physically, mentally and strategically. We’ll teach you the kind of skill that will help you in much bigger ways than just self-protection, with special emphasis on not having to fight in the first place.

I hope you found this valuable and that you never have to use it.

What are the Martial Arts?

Part 3: What’s wrong with the martial arts? – Competition

I have many pet hates in the martial arts and sport is of them. When I hear people say martial arts is a great sport, I cringe, and want to scream ‘it’s not a sport!’ I’ve never been short of strong opinions as you may see in my blogs, but to me to see the world of martial arts relegated to a silly spectator sport drives me mad. Especially, when it comes from another so called teacher of martial arts.

The thing is that the martial arts are a life skill; possibly the oldest of all life skills because they are in the first instance about survival, which is the most basic life skill. After that they are concerned with thriving, which is to create a good life for oneself and an even better one for ones’ children. The martial arts teach us about personal development, how to live with others, the keys to successful living, how to succeed through strategy and how to achieve a sense of lasting spiritual joy.

Well can’t we achieve this through sport? I hear you ask. No. Sport is the antichrist of spirituality because it measures ourselves against others and to measure ourselves like this is not true enlightenment which is the source of spirituality. You might not be interested in spirituality, yet, but you will be eventually. However, I’m not going to harp on about it here because people often mistake religion for spirituality and many people are turned off by religion.

However, there are other reasons why sport martial arts miss the point. Sport, all too often encourages and promotes bad behaviour and the ‘bad boy’ ethic where some fool is too outspoken and disrespectful of his opponent in an attempt to be outrageous and sell tickets, only to look an even bigger fool when another fighter beats him. I’ve been on the mat supporting my fighters or in the corner acting as coach and borne witness to bad behaviour, the kind of snarling, angry contempt for another competitor; to win at any cost whether through cheat or fair is a horrible side to see of human nature.

To disrespect one’s opponent it to take him too lightly, be over confident when one should be cautious. As a strategy, this works in war, but sport is not war and shouldn’t be used like one. Sport is the matching or ones’ skills against another to see who wins. A pretty pointless endeavour at the best of times and certainly against every tenet of true martial arts. The martial arts are intended to teach us about ourselves and our lives which means we are our own opponent, because no one else can offer a consistent challenge. If you measure yourself against another person one has to match oneself against that person at a certain time on a certain day because at any other time he is different. For instance, if you are better than another person in a competition and then you lose your leg in a car accident so he can now beat you, are you still better or is he? You might say that’s unfair as a comparison but that is what sport is all about; comparison, and as the saying goes: ‘the source of all unhappiness is comparison’.

To denigrate the martial arts into a spectator sport diverts peoples’ minds from its true worth, as do all sports, divert us from what is really important in our lives. Sports are trivial and spectating is even more so. They create barriers and separations between teams, towns and nations. Now, you might think this is a bit harsh and that’s ok, but what does sport actually do to improve us? Many sporting enthusiasts say it gets kids off the street, teaches courage, gets people healthy and the like. But the downside of sport teaches bad behaviour, cheating, and winning at any cost. In short, I feel sport brings out the worst in us, not the best and the martial arts, properly studied and examined has no place for it.

My martial arts are for personal development, not to compare me against another person, but to compare me to who I once was. I am the only true measure to compare myself to. So, forget sport because it is appealing to your weak egotistical side and you will not develop anything useful through it. Sure, you might get fit but you don’t need sport to do that. Focus your martial arts on your own development and then on helping others to do the same. Avoid comparing yourself, except against yourself because that is the only way you can truly progress.

Have a great day

Chief Master Tony Higo

What are the Martial Arts?

Part 2: What’s wrong with the martial arts? – Traditionalism

Last time I discussed ‘what are the martial arts?’ and this time I’d like to discuss what’s wrong with them? Wow! Where do I start? After 50 years of martial arts study I have seen many changes but almost none that were needed. For instance, back in the 1970’s people like Bruce Lee, Joe Lewis and Bill Wallace were experimenting with ‘full contact karate’ or what is known today as kickboxing and what has developed into K1 and MMA. The reason they were doing this was because they knew that their traditional arts didn’t work. I was of the same frame of mind when at 14 years old I watched my karate instructor sparring and was surprised that he didn’t use any recognisable karate techniques? Others had the same idea.

I recently watched what is probably the first full contact karate match between Joe Lewis and another contemporary (insert name). they were both high ranked black belts and ‘points’ competitors. They were both very strong and fit looking but they had no idea how to fight in a continuous boxing like way. They didn’t know how to combine techniques, technique priority, tactics, footwork etc. the question is: ‘why did two fit, strong, young and highly trained ‘traditional’ martial artists not know how to fight?

Traditional martial arts are based on sets of techniques combined together by ‘masters’ of the past who supposedly knew much better than we do today about combat. They have left us sets of techniques in the form of kata or forms and traditionalists practice these over and over with a view to becoming a master as judged by their peers.

This is not so different from effective martial arts or any kind of study method whether it be physics or sprinting but it has some important differences:

  1. Do you understand what he intended in the kata they left behind?
  2. Is what is left of the teaching he left; fit for purpose today?

If we teach what we have been taught without questioning and testing what we have learned, then we can never move forwards. Everything develops and evolves if it is alive or acted upon by some outside force. A rock changes its form if you run water and wind over for many years. Children grow into adults; technology improves as we understand it better. Newton was the greatest scientist of his day but Einstein took that knowledge further than Newton ever could have. Everything evolves and adapts if it is to survive.

This is life so why is it that we think that traditional martial arts should be fixed in time and simply seek to copy what we think the ‘Master’ meant.

I hope it seems obvious that if the martial arts don’t develop and evolve like everything else in the universe then it ceases to be relevant and fit for its purpose. If it is not relevant it is not useful and if it is not useful it is not necessary.

I teach what I feel is the best and most useful techniques and strategies that I know based upon my experience and the situations that are most likely to occur in self-defence. However, what I teach may not always remain as relevant as I feel it is now just as swords were once relevant in warfare and were replaced by knives and automatic weapons. I teach my instructors to improve on what I have given them; to ask questions and to test what they find to see if it works. If we find a better way to do what we do, then it must be incorporated into our system. If the system ceases to be relevant, then it is no longer fit for purpose and will consequently let people down in serious situations where they could be hurt or worse.

This is one of the things I think are wrong with the martial arts. The martial arts are only about efficiency and nothing about tradition. The martial arts must strive to be efficient and this can be painful because we become sentimental and attached to the parts that are comfortable or that we like. But we must never become attached to what we know, just like a pig farmer must not become attached to his pigs. Pigs, like techniques are the tools of our trade and they must adapt and improve or they must be disposed of.

Seek to adapt what you know to the real world; to what might happen based on your personal knowledge not what your instructor or someone else says. Find out for yourself, ask questions and test. Throw away what doesn’t work and only keep what does. This is the only way to become a master, because a true master knows that he never knows enough, he is always seeking to know more and understand better.

Have a great day

Tony Higo

What are the Martial Arts?

Part 1: What’s in it for me?

For many years I thought the martial arts were about fighting and combat and on the face of it they are. Martial means warlike, its name comes from Mars the roman god of war. But just as war is not the first goal of a general, nor should combat be the first consideration of a martial artist. So what are the martial arts if they are not primarily about fighting?

Well, let’s look at why we fight. Most people fight when they encounter a problem that will not go away and cannot be avoided. A problem which offers us violence if we do not deal with it. When all other avenues have been exhausted we finally resort to fighting. This is where a knowledge of combat becomes necessary and throughout history there have been those who have recognized that combat is at times unavoidable. These individuals have often discovered other benefits of training for combat which are obviously healthy through the physical demands of combat training which strengthens the heart and muscles and also the calming effect that physical exertion has on the emotions. This calming effect also opens the door to our spiritual side which happens when our emotions are quietened. It’s for this reason that some martial artists exude an air of calm serenity whilst at the same time having a physical presence and energy which is neither threatening nor inviting of physical threat.

This being the case, many people have taken up the martial arts to develop these attributes specifically through its training. The martial arts are therefore about personal achievement and progress, getting the result one wants, protecting oneself and what one has, AND… sometimes one has to fight to achieve that.

A good martial art has many benefits, for instance;

  1. Physical fitness – it builds heart strength
  2. Physical strength – it builds muscle strength
  3. It helps maintain a healthy weight through calorie burning
  4. It calms and relaxes us – it brings us a sense of peace
  5. It’s a great hobby – it’s a great escape from the daily grind
  6. It builds confidence in us – we face challenges better
  7. It’s a great way to meet people and make friends
  8. It can become a lifelong passion – it’s a lifelong study if you want it
  9. It brings purpose and meaning to our lives and
  10. We can protect ourselves from harm through its teachings

The problem is though that too many martial artists think of fighting first or about winning trophies in competition and not enough about using the strategies of the martial arts in a way that will improve their lives and the lives of others around them. In my mind too many people trivialize what the martial arts can bring through only seeing its fascia and not its heart.

The martial arts are not about violence and hurting people they are about learning about oneself and improving oneself, having a sense of progression in one’s life which brings purpose and meaning. It is a lifelong study because no matter how much one learns, there are always more discoveries to be made. It’s not for nothing that the ancient oriental martial artists called the study of the martial arts ‘the way’ short for the way of life as in the endings of a number of well-known martial arts with ‘do’ which means way, such as:

Karate-do – the empty hand way

Judo – the gentle way

Aikido – harmonious spirit way

Tae kwon do – hand foot way

The martial arts are much more than what we see in demonstrations or films and like anything that can take a lifetime to study, they are not easily defined.

Proper study of the martial arts brings life-long benefits, not for everyone because not everyone continues their journey. Some take up the martial arts for a specific reason but quit once they have achieved their short term goal. Others stay forever because of the continuing challenge that the martial arts will bring. When we are young these challenges are mainly physical but as we age they become more cerebral. The martial arts, done properly teach us how to control our emotions, how to approach life more strategically, how to deal with problems, maintain our calm under stress and to connect with our spiritual nature. A good instructor will teach you this but he can only point the way, he cannot tell you how to experience these things, that is for the individual who pursues the martial arts for long enough and deeply enough. As a stylist who has over 50 years in the martial arts I can tell you that the journey gets better. As my body is able to do less, my mind is able to do more. But still the physical practice keeps me young and healthy, gives me understanding of myself and others and brings a purpose and meaning to everything I do.

The martial arts are truly a way of life and if you study them well you will always be improving the quality of your life.

Tony Higo

Next time – what’s wrong with the martial arts?