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. 


Keep questioning yourself...

To choose a path is not an easy thing to do, and the path you choose may turn out to be different to what you had expected, in terms of both destination and journey.

People train in the martial arts for different reasons - fitness, hobby, competition, the social aspect, self-defence, confidence, stress release, etc. And those are all beautiful reasons. For some, however, it is more than that. It is a way of tapping into who you really are and finding your place in the world. Those people do not train in martial arts.

They live them.

Part of choosing your path is questioning the path, and continuously so. 
I think this is true for any path, but especially for people who choose art - any art – as their path in life. Art is something that people can judge based on opinion, and as such can be subject to harsh criticism, often without deep understanding of it. 
People connect with a song, an image, a movement. The description or emotion that is associated with that song, image or movement, for that person, depends on their point of view. It’s a good song or a pretty picture or a fascinating movement. It’s a bad song or an ugly picture or a boring movement.

Inevitably, if you persist on your path, you will end up teaching or mentoring others, or sharing your knowledge in some form. And when you teach art – again, any art – you will find that some people love what you teach, while others do not. Some agree with you, and some do not.

I believe a good teacher should question themselves more regularly and rigorously than any of their students. Questioning not only the knowledge that you share, but also the method of sharing that knowledge shows a deeper understanding of that knowledge and a desire to continue to perfect your art and yourself.

One of my mentors has a sign in his office, which reads:
‘To become great and rise above the average, daily practice and sharpening of skill must not only become habit but a part of life’. And one of my favourite phrases, which I have written about in great length before is:
‘The answer to any ‘what if’ question is ‘do something else’”.

Teaching becomes an integral part of the art itself, and as such daily practice and sharpening of skill are necessary if one is to become great at it.

Questioning your path and questioning the way you do things is not a sign of weakness but a natural part of walking the path and sharpening your skill. 
And searching for answers, asking for guidance where needed, learning from mistakes and finally committing to your chosen solution is a sign of strength and a willingness to walk the path when it becomes hard, rather than giving up when you face a problem.

So please allow me to part with an untraditional greeting:

Keep questioning yourself, and a happy journey.

Stay safe, stay tuned.




Fill in the blank: 'Practice makes ______'

It is often said that in order to master a skill, it has to be performed 10,000 times. Some say 5,000 and some say up to 30,000. Some say 10,000 hours, some say more and some say less. Overall, there is much disagreement amongst experts (and non-experts...) about this.

Let us examine some of the factors that may play a part in mastering a skill.

A saying everyone knows is 'practice makes perfect'. 
I am very fond of a saying by one of my great teachers, Mannie de Matos, who corrects by saying:
'Practice doesn't make perfect – practice makes permanent; perfect practice makes perfect'. 
I wholeheartedly agree.

Most dedicated martial artists will spend countless hours repeating a particular move or technique in order to perfect it; but as mentioned above, this makes permanent – not perfect. In the case where the repetitions are not perfect, the 10,000-repetition rule can go out the window.
If you spend 10,000 repetitions training an incorrect move, can you still be considered a master of that particular skill? Possibly. 
But is that outcome worth the time spent? Probably not. 

This means that in order for our repetitions to 'count' or be productive, we have to have another key ingredient – focus.

When observing martial artists who are at a higher level, there is a common thread in the process of learning a new skill:

1. They spend a lot of time getting the first few repetitions right, even if it means they do less of them in a given timeframe.
2. They perform repetitions slowly, paying attention to every minute detail and step in the sequence of actions to execute the move, be it a single punch or a complex kata.
3. They try different ways of learning to retain the skill – watching the demonstration, having the technique done on them, doing the technique in the air, doing it on equipment, doing it on a training partner (and with various degrees of resistance), asking questions about it, trying to explain it someone else, doing it with their eyes closed, etc. After the session is finished, they will often write their thoughts, or read something about the topic.
 This combination allows for a more complete, deep and multidimensional understanding of every facet of the technique and, once again, is often done at the expense of doing more repetitions in the same time frame.
4. Once the first repetitions are perfected at a low speed, then speed is increased. That being said, even when speed is increased, focus remains.

This may appear very trivial. But the key here is not the speed of the repetition; it is the focus that must be maintained throughout.

This is one of the most frustrating things for many martial artists, particularly when first starting out. It can get boring, and often turns into 'going through the motions', literally and figuratively.

To overcome this, persistence and variation will help. 
Try and focus for one more repetitions today; two more tomorrow, and so on. Try and change your routine to include different variations or applications of the technique.
And a final tip from my experience – try and do the 'boring stuff' at the start of your workout, because at the end of it you will be too tired to focus and will probably leave it until the next time...

To summarise, practice does not make perfect – practice makes permanent; perfect practice makes perfect.

If you want help in improving your learning (not just your skills), please contact me :)

Stay tunes, stay safe.



Why you should love training what you hate

Every martial artist has the thing they enjoy the most. Some enjoy striking while some enjoy grappling, some enjoy doing kata while some enjoy sparring, some enjoy learning complicated, fancy techniques while some prefer to stick to what works. And all are absolutely valid and relevant.

It is also true that most martial artists, once they have a bit of experience, try to experiment with a variety of different styles to add to their repertoire, and eventually find the things that work or don't work for them, and this is a great thing.

Many systems put emphasis on the need to have a well-rounded skill set, and this is becoming more and more evident in sports like MMA. It is common to see the same people compete in a BJJ competition, a kickboxing competition and an MMA competition. When comparing the sport to what it was 20 years ago, it's also easy to see that just being good at one thing is hardly enough to be competitive at a high level today.

This also spills over to self-defence. Some people are natural strikers, while some people are natural grappler; and with the growing popularity of MMA the chances of facing attackers who have at least some training in fighting arts increases. Furthermore, we know that adrenal response will neutralise most skills that have to be actively though about. In other words, if you have to think through a process, you are highly unlikely to pull it off under stressful conditions. This means that if you find yourself in a position you have never been before, you are unlikely to react in an effective way under adrenal stress.
An example of this that has come up in recent conversations I've had was the whether or not studying BJJ is useful for Krav Maga students, as one of the first lessons in self defence is to avoid getting to the ground, and if you do get there to get back to your feet as quickly as possible. But the reality is, that if you have no experience on the ground, and do not understand transitions, positions and submissions, then if the first time you find yourself on the ground is during a street fight, you will not be able to pull off most of the moves you think you know. Again, does it mean you want to get the attacker to tap out? No. But it does mean that you should have enough of an understanding of it so that wherever you end up, it's nothing new.

Does this mean that in order to be a complete martial artist you must be a champion boxer, BJJ black belt and an Olympic wrestler?

Not at all!

But it does mean that you should probably get some exposure to all of these, with the idea that you know enough about how each style or discipline functions so that you can adapt your own style to match it and focus on what you're good at.

So what is the area that you are weakest at?

This question is the most hated one to ask ourselves, and yet the easiest to answer.

The answer is simple - whatever it is you hate doing the most, is probably the area you need the most work on.
And why do we hate asking ourselves this question? Because often it means shifting our training to the things that we are not good at, or don't enjoy as much. Especially for those who are already experienced in one area, going back to being a complete novice in another can be frustrating.

It is also good to remember that part of one's development in martial arts is to overcome adversity, build character and address problems with an open mind.
Working on those areas that we don't feel comfortable at or know need improvement is an important element of developing and growing as a martial artist and as a person.

Using my personal experience as an example, I found that when I spent time becoming more proficient at the things I didn't like doing, I noticed two things that happened; Firstly, I have become considerably less scared or anxious about doing them. In fact, some of those things have become quite enjoyable! Secondly, once I removed the negativity from my mind I was able to improve much more quickly.
I have found this to be the same with regards to certain elements in my career as well – instead of leaving those tasks I dreaded for the end of the day, or tomorrow, they are now the first things I do when I get into the office in the morning. As a result my productivity has almost doubled, and my stress levels have reduced!

Again, it doesn't mean doing those ALL the time FOREVER. But it does mean to you should do those things that you know you don't like doing from time to time.
And when you go back to doing what it is you're good at, you'll enjoy it more and be able to apply new ideas to it.


Turning Your Attackers On. And off.

Knowing how to turn your attackers on, or off, is actually pretty important! So let's start with the back story...

The effects of adrenaline in self-defence situations are well documented.
What most of us know is this:
As soon as we detect danger, we experience the 'fight, flight or freeze' response. Adrenaline floods into our system, we become stronger, faster and feel less pain. We also tend to experience tunnel vision, loss of spacial awareness, time warps, auditory exclusion, etc., etc. A big part of self defence training focuses on getting oneself used to that experience, functioning effectively through it and managing it, to the extent that this can be safely done in a training environment. Still, we know that the adrenal response can be a huge disadvantage in many cases and severely limits the way we think and fight.

One thing is often left unsaid though. The person who is attacking you, or is about to attack you... Do they experience this? If so, how can you use it to your advantage? If he/she is not experiencing adrenal dump, how can you trigger it in them in order to tip the conflict in your favour?

Geoff Thompson, in his excellent book 'Dead or Alive' (which I believe everyone should read), offers some tips and tricks to identify and trigger adrenal response in the opposition.

Before we discuss this though, let us discuss something else. Is adrenaline always a bad thing? The answer is no. Miller (2008), in his book 'Meditations on Violence', identifies several levels of adrenaline response in the body, as follows:
1. Normal – this refers to your every-day mind and body, when one is often unprepared for an intense violent encounter. When we get hit with a sudden rush of adrenaline in this state, the response is often to freeze, while the mind tries to cope with what is happening and decide on a course of action. Unfortunately this takes precious time, especially if the attack has already begun and you are taking damage.
2. Optimal – this is when we are alert, engaged and physically ready for an altercation. A good example of this is when you prepare yourself to spar in training. You are alert, and this will usually provide the best reaction time, as well as the ability to plan and make tactical decisions as options present themselves.
3. Past optimal – in this case we have gone past the optimal state, and will often result in similar symptoms as previously mentioned, with serious impairment to physical and mental skills.
4. Pessimal – absolute loss of control, both physically and mentally, which often results in total freezing, and even loss of bladder and bowel control.

An interesting anecdote that Miller (2008) points out, is that untrained people often fight better than they normally would under adrenal response, while trained people often fight worse. This relates to trained martial artists often trying to apply fine motor-skill and complicated techniques in situations where making them work is very hard. It also relates to the fact that when you have many techniques and options to choose from, it will take more time to decide on a course of action. Ask yourself now - do I block, evade, cover, counter, kick, punch, elbow, knee, head butt, throw, lock, grapple, choke, etc.? just reading that sentence took you a few seconds, and making a decision and executing it will take a few more! Unfortunately, time in those situations, is often not on your side. This indicates that if your 'autopilot' is not properly programmed – in other words if the correct responses are not rehearsed to an instinctive level – then your chances of survival in sub-optimal adrenal response conditions are drastically reduced.

So how does one identify, or even trigger these in an attacker?
Let's look at what we already know in terms of the visual signs that someone is being affected by adrenaline. These include sweating, shaking, posturing, clenched fists, closing distance, flaying of arms, pale skin, difficulties in verbalising thoughts, etc. An indication that an attack is imminent is often that the attacker will stop using whole sentences and will revert to single words and/or syllables. Being aware of these signals will give you a handy clue that something may be about to happen. 

Now is the time to make another decision. Do you want to turn the attacker on? Or maybe you prefer to turn them off?

We have two options here in order to control the opponent's adrenaline response:
1. To lower the adrenal response (turn them off)– by being submissive, the opponent's adrenaline flow may reduce as the perceived danger is lowered. This may allow you to get them to lower their guard in order to escape or strike first. This is best done when you have no other alternative but to fight.
2. To increase the adrenal response (turn them on) – Thompson (1997) identifies two ways of doing this. One is by becoming overly loud and aggressive, the other is by acting cool and uncaring as if you have been in this situation a thousand times before. The idea in both cases is to create hesitation and fear in the other party, by making them believe that they are likely to get hurt if they attack. This will often send their adrenaline past the optimal level, and may bring about a flight or a freeze response.

So how do you train something like this?
I think this depends a lot on the environment in which you train, but the best way for me has been by simply trying this out on unsuspecting training partners! They prepare to attack me during a routine drill, but instead of doing the technique I will simply try to distract, talk them into doing something else, or yell at them at the top of my voice... But another option is by using scenario training, where you don't know what the final outcome is. In other words, the people who are the 'bag guys' in the scenario may decide to attack you, or they may not, depending on how you react. This teaches both training parties how to manage their adrenaline and gives different ways of solving the problem before actually getting to the physical stage. 

Stay tuned, stay safe.

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