Accept, Apply and Adapt

As a keen observer, judge and critic of the martial arts I’m often, if not mainly disappointed by what I see of hoe they are practised and taught. I almost used the word study there but I corrected myself because in the main, martial arts are not studied. They are instead copied and repeated, there is no study, no experimentation no testing or proving; just acceptance and repetition of that acceptance.

Why is this? The answer to that is ‘I’m not sure’ but I think it is because of the nature and motivation of the type of people who take up the martial arts. Many people take up the martial arts because they are afraid, lack confidence and self-esteem and most, in my opinion, never lose this. They are enrolled by an instructor who seems tough and knowledgeable and they put their trust in him, that he knows what they need to learn to overcome their deficiencies. But where did the instructor come from and what was his reasons for enrolling in the martial arts? Did he do so for the same reasons as his students? And if he did, has he overcome those deficiencies or is he simply hiding them behind a faced of ‘toughness’?

What happens next is that the student mainly believes in the instructor and what might be his ‘facade’ of toughness and because they never doubt what he teaches, they never think to adapt what he teaches or question its efficacy. There is a point where this should be the case as in Socrates’ 3 A’s of learning: accept, apply and adapt.

Initially when we learn we know nothing (presumably) and the best way of learning new knowledge is to simply put your trust in the teacher and do what he says based on the premise that he knows what he is doing and has taught many others in the same way that he is teaching you. This is the accept stage of learning.

This acceptance works for a while and enables us to build some basic skills and proficiencies but after a while we must apply what we have learned in our own practice, away from the instructor to improve our proficiency through repetition, in order to understand the skills we have been taught. This is the apply, stage of learning.

Next is the adapt stage where we begin to question and challenge what we have been taught. Most instructors hate this stage because they see the end of the relationship with their student who seems to be challenging his ‘rightness’. His attitude changes and the student’s attitude changes and the student quits believing his instructor didn’t know what he was talking about.

For most students I can agree with their reasons for quitting, though I suspect they do so without reasoning why. Instead they just ‘feel’ that they have gone as far as they can with this guy and that it’s time to move on.

This quitting might lessen if the instructor himself created the environment where it is accepted that he doesn’t know everything and that he too is still learning, but because the terms ‘master’ and ‘black belt’ are bandied about so much in the martial arts it suggests that these people have the maximum amount of learning possible and are therefore the font of all wisdom. But this dynamic allows no room for growth. Imagine if Einstein had accepted what he had been taught and never questioned it. We would not have what we have today with satellites, Iphones, laptops and all the other devices which make our lives so much easier than they were in the past.

Our teachers should embrace our questions rather than fear them. The fact that we question, test and challenge what we are taught is not to prove them wrong but to take what they have given us to the next level of understanding. We all stand on the shoulders of our previous generations and that doesn’t mean they didn’t know enough. It means that we couldn’t know what we know without they gave us what they knew.

However, as I have iterated earlier, the martial arts often preclude this deeper study, harking back to earlier ‘masters’ who knew everything and who every generation afterwards tries to understand what they taught, instead of standing on their shoulders to understand better even, than they did.

What then is the answer to this often repeated scenario? The answer is simple; accept what you are given, apply it through thousands of repetitions and gradually adapt it through questions, tests and challenges such as:

  • Would this work against a really fast opponent?
  • Would this work against a really strong opponent?
  • What strategies are at work here?
  • How can I do this better?

And many other similar questions. The key is to develop an incessant curiosity about what you do and know with a view to doing it better which means more efficiently. Don’t accept anything that you are taught without first testing and questioning it and if your instructor doesn’t like your questions and if they challenge or threaten his ego, then it is time to find a new instructor. However, if your instructor says ‘good question; let’s have a look at that in more detail’ then you may be in a place where you can truly develop.

Your instructor’s doesn’t know everything, he can’t possibly and you must accept it just as much as he does if you are to grow as a martial artist.

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 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?

5 Ways Martial Arts Will Help Your Child at School

AEGIS Martial Arts

1) Physical exercise helps mental development

Physical activity has been positively linked to mental development and has been shown to improve memory and the ability to focus which will help your child improve academically. Even if your child is already an excellent student, it has been shown to improve the ability to solve problems so they can become an even better student. In our martial arts programs we challenge our students physically every lesson, not just in strength and fitness but also coordination and motor skills. It’s also a lot of fun meaning it’s a great reward for good school work!

2) Martial Arts helps children develop good social skills

Enrolling your child and family in a martial arts program can have a great impact on their social skills. You will be put in a situation where you have to work with partners and you will be sharing time with people who share a common interest and goal. In our programs we go as far as to teach our students how to communicate with other people; proper use of eye contact, tone and volume of their voice and even what to say. All very useful skills to make good friends at school!

3) Martial Arts helps children develop respect for themselves and others

Martial arts begins and ends with respect. How we treat other people has a big impact on our success in all areas of our lives. By teaching students when and how to act around people, whether that is when to bow in class, standing still and waiting for the next instruction or how to treat a training partner; by showing our students how we expect them to act and behaviour they know better how to treat others.

4) Martial Arts improves focus & concentration

People think throwing, punching and kicks can be quite easy but it does require a lot of focus. Using techniques with the proper form or using a combination of techniques requires a student to not only focus their body but it takes a lot of mental concentration as well. This can lead to better concentration on teachers at school and the ability to focus for long period on homework as well.

5) Martial Arts boosts confidence

At school your child will be confronted by new situations and academic challenges. How they choose to response will determine how they approach challenges in the future. We help build confidence by recognising our student’s achievements both in the academy and at school, through earning belts and earning stickers from completing tasks in the workbooks that accompany their program. All which adds up to a child that is confident enough to take on any challenge!

Book a free taster session with us today to find out more

The Law of Predictable Response

The Law of Predicable Response States that ‘some actions are natural and therefore predictable and if an outcome is predictable it can be used to ones advantage’.

In combat we use this deliberately when we fake, feint, draw or create surprise. Our intention is to manipulate our opponent into taking the action that we want whilst believing that his action is the best response. In fact the response we create can be a trained response that we are activating or a natural reaction.

Surprise creates a natural reaction of shock and the result is a moment of inaction or freeze. In combat this moment of freeze provides us with a window of opportunity in which to attack and in combat it only takes a moments advantage to win the battle.

Deception also often creates a surprise for us to take advantage of in combat however surprise is not always the desired outcome of deception. Deception is also used to create openings that is, to uncover targets. For instance if you want to hit an opponent in the head you can deceive him with a fake attack to his body and when he responds to your fake attack to his head you switch the attack to his body which he has uncovered by trying to protect his head. This deceptive tactic has been used for thousands of years in single combat and in warfare. It’s also used in sports such as football, rugby and tennis, directing an opponent’s attention away from the real goal.

The draw is another deception where ones opponent is offered a target a target to draw his attack to that point. Obviously it’s not as easy a target as he is lead to believe because you have prepared a counter attack to use when he commits to the false target you have offered. The drawn attack is drawn with the knowledge that his attacker will present an opportunity or target for your attack that is worth the risk of being hit by the attack that you have drawn.

Fakes, feints and draws are deceptions or strategies that create an advantage in your own favour, they require a knowledge of strategy that presumes one has time to mentally gather ones senses together in order to plan the outcome. In street defence one rarely has time to prepare mentally except at that outset and before the combat has begun. If one has the opportunity before an attack to make a strategy then that is probably more than you’ll have when the combat begins. Once it begins things will go very fast and you’ll have to rely more on instinct, reactions and muscle memory, those actions that are either pre programmed into you or conform to the natural biological fight or flight reaction. So the best time to use deceptive or surprise stratagems is either before the fray begins or during a hiatus which might occur during it.

The trained martial artist will have modified his reactions from ones of basic instinct, stimulus response and added through repetitive drills a trained and conditioned set of responses which will act in addition to the biological ones. The training relevance behind the martial arts skills developed will also affect the outcome and it is a factor that the type of martial art studied would bring a practical response. Some styles are far from practical in this respect; often even the ones which declare their street focus are based on highly improbable attack types combined with equally unlikely responses.

In life we often predict the response of others actions based on our own experience or our experience of theirs. It’s often easy to predict the actions of others particularly the further away we are as if we have a bird’s eye view on the life of another. It’s more difficult to predict our own actions except where we have taken the time to objectively study our own actions and responses. We are as animals very predictable; birds act like birds, dogs act like cats and humans act like humans but because the behaviour of other humans is so like our own its is more difficult to recognise. When the behaviour is our own it is almost impossible for us to recognise the patterns that we keep falling into.

You often hear people say things like ‘well, that’s just how I am’ or ‘I’ll never change’ assuming that the way they are is beyond change when the opposite is the probably the truth. We can predict the behaviour of others but not 100% and the same applies to our own behaviour however we are creatures of habit and habit dictates much of our responses. We often think that we are constantly making decisions and taking actions in our lives but in reality most of our actions that we take today are the same as we took yesterday, we are as easily trainable in our responses as the average dog.

A successful life is based on recognising the habits we have and separating the ones that don’t serve us from the ones that do. The new habits we build rely on us having a model of new habits to choose from either learned from improving books or programs or by modelling the habits of those we consider more successful than ourselves. Developing these wanted habits is not easy particularly as it involves breaking old ones and that is definitely not easy.

So in combat we use the behaviours and habits of ones opponent, those that we can predict either through nature or testing his response before we put a strategy into action. In life we can predict the actions of workmates, colleagues and competitors in the same way, either: through nature or experience in fact salesmen and salesmanship is entirely based on predicting and influencing the behaviour of others creating a desired response from the potential customer.

Just as in combat, sales or goal setting the outcome doesn’t always come out the way we predict but by using the odds in our favour we can generally gets the odds in our favour more than 50% of the time which means over time we’ll come out well ahead of the curve. If we can predict our own behaviour and modify that through practice and perseverance we can use the law of predictable response to reshape our lives into one that we really want rather than believing that we cannot change. Sometimes we are too close to the problem to see it clearly but now that you know how the law of predictable response works and how it can be used in our favour we are presented with a range of new possibilities. The fighter who believes that he must be able to out punch his opponent has only one strategy and is therefore highly predictable, when pitted against a more complete fighter trained in combative deceptions and the like he will be easily controlled and bested.