DIEP - Learning Martial Arts Through Reflection

Self-reflection has long been recognised as one of the critical components in self-development, critical thinking and goal setting in high achievers. From the samurai to boxing, BJJ and MMA champions, from entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 CEOs, reflecting on one’s actions is the fastest and most effective way to maximise your training. Want to know how to do this effectively


What If? Reflections on a Relevant Phrase

I have trained in martial arts for some time, and was a self-confessed fitness junkie for a very long time before I met Sensei Noah Greenstone - a true Jujutsu master and all-around martial arts expert of the highest level. Noah is a wise, kind and gentle Sensei (ok, sometimes not so gentle…) who always giggles as he twists us into pretzels and who has a Kiai that makes the walls shake. This is a blog about one of his favorite sayings, which has shaped my learning and that of all of his students.


Perception and Reality - My Two Cents

‘Reality-Based Self-Defence’ (RBSD) is a term that has gone viral in the martial arts community over the past few years. The proliferation of Krav Maga schools and a variety of other modern self defence systems (combatives, as they are often referred to) has seen many schools and instructors add Krav Maga or some variation thereof to their curriculum in order to capitalise on the current market trends – which is fair enough. Our industry is hard enough to survive in, and adaptation and innovation are crucial components in the business world as well as in martial arts. 


That being said, there is still a huge gap between reality and what most people believe will happen should they get attacked, in terms of how, where, when, who, why and what will happen. Not only in terms of student expectations, but also in terms of what instrutors teach. 


Two Pillars

I would like to share my interpretation of an approach often highlighted by the phenomenally talented master, Dr Gavriel Schneider, who is a great teacher with a scientific approach to training. 


Mind the Gap

Along with the shift towards quick results, there is an ever-widening gap between what practitioners advocate, what the media portrays and what the legal system regards as acceptable conduct in the context of self-defence. I would like to share my views on this topic. 


The paradox of Tradition and Self Defence

A topic of much discussion – often heated – among martial artists and combatives instructors, is the role and relevance of traditional martial arts (TMA), as well as competition styles such as MMA or boxing, in self-defence training.

The notion that TMA and Krav Maga (KM) are mutually exclusive is a paradox. It's like saying that a knife is not a weapon because today we have tanks. True, but dying from a knife wound won't make you any less dead than being blown to smithereens. The answer, to me, is why not have both?

Quite often I hear KM (which for the sake of this article will be a universal name for self defence methods) described as ‘a lot of martial, not a lot of art’, which is true to a great extent. But then again, its purpose was not to be an art, but to be a self-defence system. The many variations, organisations and clubs that teach KM around the world often describe ‘their’ version of KM as being the original or the superior, etc. But let’s not forget that KM comes from a traditional background of Judo, Jujutsu and Boxing. 

I would therefore define KM as a set of principles and techniques that are used for self-protection.

While the techniques vary from teacher to teacher, the principles remain mostly uniform across the different KM school and focus around eliminating threats in the shortest amount of time to allow for a quick escape.

TMA, on the other hands, are steeped in tradition and can be very clearly defined as ‘arts’, particularly the older styles of Japan, China and South-East Asia. Their technical demands and specifications are usually very specific to each system, and follow a clear path in terms of building both skill and character. The code of behaviour and character development in most TMA is also very specific, and almost uniform across systems. It generally focuses on the virtues of Bushido, or similar, and emphasises such values as respect, loyalty, honour, courage, etc. But let us not forget that they, too, originate from a combative need. Although the context may now be outdated, the need was still authentic, and as such can be learned from. 

I believe that the benefits of TMA to systems like KM or other modern combatives come from two sources, as outlined above – the code, and the technical base. Please allow me to expound:
1. Technical base – TMA emphasise a strong technical ability at the core of its progression. The same is true for competition sports. This technical base, while not always relevant in a modern combat context, is a huge benefit to the application of combative techniques in self-defence, as it teaches principles that are important to the understanding of how and why certain things work. Lowering the centre of gravity, the ability to feel and redirect energy and knowledge of human anatomy, its strengths and weaknesses are an intimate part of progressing through the ranks in TMA. Speaking from personal experience, I have found that 6 months spent focusing on doing Bojutsu and Kenjutsu, improved my Krav by the equivalent of double that time, just because it focuses on principles that are incredibly important to make techniques effective. What this creates, ultimately, are well-rounded martial artists. Nearly every outstanding combatives instructor has a background in TMA (I say nearly, not all). My favourite example for this is Brazillian Jiu Jitsu and submission grappling. BJJ is not an effective self-defence system when considering multiple attackers and weapons, but it teaches incredibly important aspects of self-defence. Most fights will go to the ground, and without intimate knowledge of positions, transitions and submissions it could be difficult to fight your way out in a street fight against someone who may possess some skill in this area, or if you have not rehearsed those things enough to be able to do them instinctively under adrenal response.
2. Values and ethics – the values emphasised in traditional martial arts form the core of a training group. They are exemplified by the behaviour of both instructors and students. These values, as previously mentioned, usually revolve around respect, camaraderie, loyalty, etc. And, perhaps most importantly, TMA emphasises leaving one’s ego outside of conflict. The resulting behaviour of an experienced practitioner should be to walk away from a physical conflict unless impossible to do so.

The logical set of questions that follows from this, in my eyes, is as follows:

1. Does this mean that one has to do both?
I believe the answer to that is ‘no’. It really depends on what it is that you hope to achieve by training.
2. Are there benefits to doing both?
Absolutely. TMA and competition sports offer a lot in ways of developing both attributes and skills such as timing, distance, endurance, power, speed, etc., all of which can play a pivotal role in self-defence.
3. Are there cons to doing both?
The answer is yes, sometimes. If you only train for competition or in a TMA environment, you will find that you will start to ignore or forget some of the basics in self defence training, such as multiple attackers, high-value targets, weapons, etc.
4. Do the benefits outweigh the cons?
Once again – yes, but that depends heavily on how the two are combined.

Personally, I do believe that having a solid foundation in some fighting system, whether it is traditional or not, will always add to your KM or self-defence, which to me comes full circle to the definition of KM – it is a way of applying techniques that is specific to the set of circumstances that are considered realistic.

This, of course, can then open a whole other can of worms about what is considered ‘realistic’, the value of ‘pressure testing’, and so on, but that is another discussion altogether. And let’s get something else straight - I know amazingly talented KM and self-defence instructors who have no experience, nor interest, in TMA.

A very wise and skilled instructor has recently made a statement I wholeheartedly agree with:
When you are on your dying bed, the last thing you will be thinking about is what style of martial arts is the best. 

As long as you achieve your goals, learn the skills you set out to learn and become a better human being for it, it doesn’t matter what you practice!

Stay safe, stay tuned.



The 'diminished fighter' conundrum

I am a big proponent of the ‘what if’ questions that come up in training. We all know them. Here are some common examples:
- What if the other guy is too strong?
- What if this doesn’t work?
- What if I need to fight an armed gang of 500-pound, 7-foot behemoths with my hands tied behind my back?

My favourite answer, and one that used to frustrate me more than anything else years ago, was my Sensei’s most common one:

'The answer to any ‘what if’ question is ‘do something else’'.

Wise words indeed!

A recent seminar with the very wise Hock Hoccheim has brought up another important ‘what if’ question, one which is often neglected. Even worse, it is one that is often unfairly shunned as a distasteful answer to 'what if' questions. The question is:

‘What if the opponent is stunned?’

In most modern self-defence systems there is an emphasis on using simple, effective and easy techniques to deal with attacks. Things like throws or complicated locks are generally frowned upon as being ‘non-realistic’ or hard to pull off on a resisting opponent. Which is often true.

However, one thing many people forget is that even in old traditional styles – Jujutsu, Aikido, Silat, etc. – the lock or throw is usually preceded with striking the opponent hard enough to produce some form of compliance or stun which will enable the next move to be executed easily (or at least more easily).
The same can be seen with regards to mechanical restraints such as handcuffs. It is often necessary to turn a non-compliant person into a compliant one before applying the cuffs in order to prevent injuries to both the officer and the person in custody. And again the same is applicable to conflict on a larger scale. War is seldom won by waging a frontal attack against a stronger enemy. Instead, some distraction or incapacitation often takes place prior, in order to enable or support that attack.

With this in mind, it is possible to separate techniques into two groups – ones that work on a non-compliant opponent, and ones that don’t.

Some may think of these categories as 'realistic' and 'non-realistic'. I think it's more of a matter of 'before' and 'after'. How does one make work a techinque that is meant for a compliant opponent? Simple! by making the non-compliant opponent compliant. And how does one achieve that? Well, that's all up to you. 

Where this gets tangled is when we look at the legal aspects of applying techniques from these groups.
Those techniques that work on non-compliant opponents - for example, punching someone really hard in the face to stun them so you can apply locks or takedowns - are considered to be a higher level of force than those that do not. As such, they should be used second rather than first in order to demonstrate that one has escalated the use of force according to the law and only when there was no other choice. The problem with that approach, however, is that unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way.

And so, we go back to a ‘chicken or the egg’-type discussion of what is effective and what can and can’t, should and shouldn't be done under ‘real’ conditions…

To me this goes back to the original answer of the ‘what if’ question – do something else! If the technique does not work, then maybe you simply haven’t put your opponent into a position or situation where it will. The next time you think about ‘what if’, at least also ask yourself ‘what if the opponent is diminished?'


Stay tuned, stay safe.




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