Monday, May 12, 2014


As martial artists, we all know the history of what we do. ALL combative studies come out of a need for survival on the battlefield. Since confrontation began, man has always looked for an edge to be the last one standing. With or without weapons, these were soldierly pursuits and as such were taught in a soldierly environment. Struggle, challenge, pain, and the strength of character to overcome all obstacles were normally found only in a disciplined lifestyle. As civilization progressed and wars waned, there were still those that sought the discipline of the martial life as fighting methods were systematized within their various cultures. With longer periods of peace and the rule of law, the drift from the martial to the art began. Even with the emphasis on development of the character though, the body was still challenged and forged in the “school of hard knocks”.
I began my training in the 70’s when those that wore a Black Belt were still a rarity and carried a mystique. My instructor was a Marine veteran who fought in Vietnam, a Golden Gloves Boxer who fought on the USMC boxing team, and as a kid, grew up on the islander side of Oceanside, CA. during the 60’s.  He was a fighter and that was the way he ran his Kenpo classes in the mid and late 70’s. Fight Night was a big part of our organization where students from another Chinese Kenpo school and two Kajukenbo schools would get together at one of the schools, put on the gloves, and go full-contact. Broken bones and knockouts were a regular occurrence but that is what was expected. Training back then demanded a price that you were expected to pay. Dropout rates were high, women were few, and full time karate instructors were almost non-existent.
Sometime in the early 80’s, along came the Karate Kid and the martial arts changed forever. We all know what happened, schools catered to kids, martial arts took on flavor of the week, i.e..  kung fu, ninjiutsu, kick-boxing, Tae-Bo, etc… there was money to be made teaching and suing. Mac-Dojos popped up everywhere and people forgot the “martial”. I have a school down the road from me right now whose selling point is they have produced over 2000 black belts in 15 years. A Black Belt no longer has the meaning it once did and that is a shame. I believe it is indicative of our culture with its highly developed sense of entitlement and the need for instant gratification.
All is not lost though. Some never left the school of pain, especially many of the Hawaiian lineages and some of the traditional Japanese systems. Recently, a new breed is beginning to make its presence felt. These are men and women who actively seek the hard road and are recreating the mystique of the warrior. Many come from the military and law enforcement using military based combatives such as Systema, Krav Maga, CQD, SPEAR, and others that incorporate hard, physical training and contact into their programs while doing away with the art. The popularity of MMA has also shown that fitness, stamina, and the ability to take as well as give punishment are key components to winning the fight. Even McDojos are incorporating elements of combative training into their programs, albeit more for the ‘feel good” aspect rather than any practical value. The martial art community is slowly coming full circle back to the days of discipline and hard work. When combined with the science of violence, we are beginning to except that maybe those old guys actually new something.

Good training for self-defense should be hard and sometimes painful. You need to hit and get hit, you need to experience fear and uncertainty, and you need to learn how to overcome limits while striving for greater challenges.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Some Thoughts on Principles of Combat

Principles of Combat

How many people have:

       jumped out of an airplane

       bungee jumped

       gone night diving in the ocean

       climbed a vertical mountain

Knowing that we are very likely not going to die allows us the rush, thrill, fear, and excitement of voluntarily engaging in all of these “activities’.

Now, how many people have:

       had a gun or a knife put in their face

       been shot at or had said knife attempt to perforate you

       been shot and/or perforated by said knife

       realized you were being gang attacked AFTER you felt the first punch

The hormonal cocktail is the same but when the choice of whether or not we engage in a dangerous activity is taken from us, our perception of the physiological responses changes. This understanding allows us to better approach the realities of dealing with violence. Most modern combative systems acknowledge three basic Principles of Combat:

            1. Understand the Survival Stress Response (SSR) and its affect on performance

            2. Attitude (or Mindset)

            3. Managing Fear

In fact these same principles can be used for any stressful situation one might encounter. Understanding SSR comes from a book and from experience. There are several excellent reads on the subject including “Sharpening the Warriors Edge” by Siddle and “On Combat” by Grossman. If you are serious about this stuff, invest. Experience is a little harder to come by. Replication of an adrenal dump in a training environment is almost impossible but we can get close using the correct methods and motivators.

In American Kenpo, your attitude constitutes half of your response. Logic, skill, and physical ability constitute the rest. I have seen women fight like tigers and men cower in a corner. The Unbeatable Mind is a term heard often these days among military and civilian motivators. Once you accept the fact that bad things happen, you have to make up your mind that surviving (winning) is just as important as oxygen. In other words “Refuse to Lose”. Managing fear is a by-product of the first two principles and is a combination of both physical and psychological responses. Autogenic breathing, forced visual diffusion or surveying your environment, and forcing yourself to action are physical responses. Visualization and stress inoculation are “brain training” and allow the body to “break the freeze” during an SSR. Some reality-based instructors incorporate Damage Control as a principle. If the body is taking damage and experiencing pain during the event, a whole new beast as added to the equation but based on personal experience, pain is usually not an issue during an SSR.

Future blogs will dig deeper into each principle as well as provide videos of drills and scenarios students can use to improve their skills under stress.

Thursday, January 2, 2014



Erick Kondo’s Victim Factoring is the idea that for non-random crimes and yes, bullying is now a crime; we can look at the Individual Factors that increase or decrease our chances of becoming a victim. If these factors are under our control, we have the ability to decide whether we want to alter them. Option one, we can Reduce Societal Risk or change the world we live in. Simply put, make it tough to be a bully. Florida Statute 1006.147, also known as The Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act is the Florida Legislature’s response to the problem of bullying in all Florida public schools and is a very comprehensive law. An existing system, School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting (SESIR) is the method used to track the number of bullying incidences into a state database. Most legislative action focuses on the bully. Consequences include separating victim and bully, counseling, suspension, and expulsion. That requires a victim to tell on and/or testify against the accused bully. Even children know that nobody likes a tattle-tail. So we find a way to convince kids that telling on bullies is the right thing to do. Osceola High Schools have instituted a reporting program called “Speak Out” where defined bullying incidents can be reported anonymously through drop boxes and on-line. Bullies seek a positive return for their action whether it is social or personal. Our top-down legislative plan hopes that if faced with ostracization, conflict, or some other significant repercussion, the net-gain for their action is now gone. Now we have to assume that all bullies are afraid of consequences but that is just not the case. This type of legislation will only work if the bully cares about consequences. Whether a nation or an individual, some will construe weakness as opportunity and worry about consequences only if they get caught. Also, there are a percentage of kids out there that just don’t care about repercussions or don’t consider them at the time of the event. This brings us to option two of Kondo’s Victim Factoring. We can Reduce Personal Risk or change ourselves. Unfortunately, personal factors are a non-player in American Society. Everyone should be accepted for who they are even if they are different. Being different though, only presents the potential to be bullied but does not guarantee a child will suffer. The victim must be suitable or else the bully’s goals will not be realized. Personal and social skills now become the defining factors. The victim either allows the bullying to happen or will not have the social support network to fall back on once it does happen. So what can we do to reduce the Risk Factor of children falling into this category of low self-esteem and/or poor social skills? If we take different off the table simply because it is wrong to force kids to fit a pre-conceived concept of conformity, we are left with the child’s perception of self worth and more importantly, their innate nature.

As a martial art instructor, I have had the privilege of teaching children as young as four years of age for the last twenty years. One advantage I have over schoolteachers is that I can work with these children several times a week up until I send them off to college or into “the world”.  What I have found is that children have a fairly developed personality type long before they start the formal education process. They can be shy, out-going, adventurous, timid, have a need for friends or a preference for solitude, industrious, lazy, physical or cerebral, concerned or indifferent, and all combinations thereof.  While certain personality types are more prone to being bullied, no one is immune. Renowned Martial Art Instructor Keith Hafner wrote a wonderful book called “How to Build Rock Solid Kids”. I have used its ideas for years as a teaching tool to improve the lives of the children and teenagers I work with. Its first and most significant precept is to Create a Positive Outlook within your child or the children under your care. Young people commit suicide when they feel there is no hope or no reason to go on living. Children must become involved in something that gives them a positive return. Whether it is social or athletic, the activity should make them feel good about themselves. While the martial arts are for everybody, not everyone is for the martial arts. The same could be said about football, baseball, soccer, dance, or fill in the blank no matter how much the parent wants their child to enjoy it. Children must be taught social etiquette. They must learn how to shake hands, look someone in the eye while talking to them, how to walk and talk with confidence, and they must feel strong. I’m not talking push-up strong but the kind that comes from “ I like myself and my future and no one can take that from me” strong.

Regardless of how much legislation we implement though, schools and organized activities cannot do this alone. It will be the parent, not a teacher or a legislator who will determine if his or her six year old is welcome by everyone at IHOP. Parents must find programs specifically designed to develop the character and personal strength that their children must have in order to succeed in this world. It will be an up-hill battle on so many levels but our culture is changing. As a nation, we are becoming more tolerant of difference and less tolerant of what is now considered aberrant behavior. I do not believe we will ever stamp out bullying completely but can make it socially un-acceptable, un-rewarding, and most importantly, teach our kids to stand strong against it.



 Part I


With all of the “Anti-Bully” and “Stop Bullying Now” programs prevalent in our society, we are still loosing our kids to this aberrant behavior. There isn’t a week that goes by that I hear of one of my students mention bullying they saw, heard of, or in a few cases, were on the receiving end of. These events are no longer isolated incidences but have now become the norm. With all the focus on stopping bullying, why is the problem getting worse instead of better.

As a Martial Art Instructor, child mentor, and someone who was bullied in a long past and distant time, bullying has been a study near and dear to my heart. After years of seminars, workshops, lectures, and various “anti-bully” programs, I’m beginning to wonder if in our zeal to stop bad things from happening, we have exacerbated the problem. We have created this vision of eradicating bullying therefore ending bully-driven suicide and violence. Unfortunately, legislative solutions are more idealistic than practical and tend to distract from the reality of the issue.

The dominance game, i.e. bullying, is a natural part of human social interaction. Regardless of how unacceptable our civilized and educated culture might find it, a certain profile of human given a certain set of circumstances, will seek to increase their social status at the expense of lowering someone else’s. As much as we love our kids and think they are the most wonderful beings on the planet, they are basically amoral. Appealing to a child’s morals is not reliable since they are still forming them. Good, bad, right, wrong, fear, courage, are not innate and are taught via the culture they live in.  Morals, values, and customs are relative but several themes are consistent. Throughout our history, physical strength, power, and the will to fight for the group have been revered. The natural inclination for humans is to seek status within “their” group. With this in mind, how can you expect a socially cognizant twelve year old to be morally mature given the decisions adults make on Reality Shows?  While a moral campaign is still an ideal goal, it may not work and does nothing to end the torment affecting our children here and now.

Forty-nine states have passed anti-bullying legislation that on the surface feels good for everyone involved. Unfortunately, unless an actual crime is committed, i.e. battery or assault, there are no criminal or civil repercussions. More importantly to the schools, there is no funding for these laws. School systems are left to implement various mandated programs, educate teachers and staff, and by the way, find the funding themselves to make sure it’s done right. As a business partner and OASIS Volunteer with the Osceola Schools system, I am very familiar with our over-burdened and over-worked educators so it has been no surprise that responses to accusations of bullying tend to favor the bully. Osceola Country does have one of the better programs in place with its Designees These are selected and trained senior administrators designated to address bullying complaints. Unless seen by staff, witnesses, or physical evidence is present though, more often than not, it is the bully’s word against the victim’s and little gets done.
This brings us to the point of the relationship between the bully and the victim. Why do some kids pick on other kids? Bottom line is because they can and they want to. Social scientists will pontificate on the reasons why one child chooses to bully another but at the end of the day, they are all excuses. Kids and adults will always find a reason to pick on someone else. Understanding this, we may rationalize that bullying is a relationship between two parties based upon an imbalance of power.  If we can accept this precept, those in authority can begin to formulate an appropriate plan of action.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"Life" Insurance

“Life” Insurance

What would you be willing to pay to ensure a long, healthy, and safe life? I’m sure most will say just about anything. Then you ask “what are you doing to ensure the above?” Then the answers slow down and thoughtful looks appear. I could now go on about exercise, eating healthy, regular doctor’s checkups, staying away from “hey watch this!” moments, and obeying traffic laws. I’d like to think that most of that “stuff” is just common sense but in reality, it’s not. All I can do is try to influence people in my small circle of friends, acquaintances, and people that care to listen to me. What I would like to propose though is the study of a martial art also being “life” insurance.
Human nature is imperfect, always has and always will be. While not specifically stated, Cain’s murder of Abel is generally accepted as being born of jealousy, and so it began. Fast forward several thousand years and guess what! It’s still happening today but on a slightly larger scale. Humans will always want and while most will actualize those wants in a socially accepted manner, enough won’t and in turn, will impose their will on others. I’ve talked about the origins of structured fighting systems in another blog so I’m going to jump ahead to now. Why learn a martial art when we have cops, guns, the rule of law, and statistically speaking, very low crime rates. At this point, I’d like to interject a personal story. My wife Tina, has been a martial artist for over seventeen years. She has learned a modern system that is very self-defense oriented to include heavy physical contact, assault drills, ambush prevention, “street” weapons, awareness skills, and the legal ramifications of violence. During that whole period, she hasn’t gotten into one fight! This has put her in the predicament of asking her-self, was it all worth it?  She voluntarily chose to make a huge investment of money, pain, time, effort, and challenge but as of yet, has not had one opportunity to smoke a bad-guy. Now, she is afraid to use her knowledge for fear of getting into trouble with the law and/or being sued. I on the other hand feel that she has accomplished every goal of her studies and continues to maintain that skill set. She is extremely fit, knowledgeable, continues to live the life-style of awareness, and when asked what she would do if confronted by REAL violence, is confident in her ability to survive and overcome. I like to think I’m a realist and plan accordingly. I do all the above mentioned “stuff” along with a bunch of “other stuff”. I keep an emergency bag with trauma kit in my vehicle, a trauma kit on my modular belt, I stay up on first aid knowledge, I keep enough money in savings to get by for several months of un-employment. I ensure my vehicle is properly maintained. I own firearms and maintain proficiency in their use with regular NRA and privately sponsored training courses. I READ THE NEWS, all of it. Local, national, world, right, left, and internet all have information that one can use in making informed decisions. In other words, I’m trying really hard not to be caught by surprise, and that in a nutshell is why I train in a martial art. The idea of learning self-defense is to use it when you need it but as the saying goes “It sucks to need and not have”. Do you really need to fight over a parking spot, a Cabbage Patch doll, or some real or imagined slight? I don’t think so and if awareness, avoidance, and verbal/physical diffusion skills are not part of your curriculum, then you are not learning self-defense/protection. Most won’t get this for the simple reason that it takes effort above and beyond what they HAVE to do. Tina wants to be around to have fun with her grandkids. Her martial arts training has been one investment to ensure she reaches that goal.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Back-Fist to the Head

A student asked a question concerning a particular technique. I couldn't come up with a short answer so I came up with this. "Wanna' hear it? Here it goes."

Are there multiple targets to the head with the back fist?

Let’s talk about back-fists, also known as back-knuckle. Today, back-fists to the head are VERY common and taught in most systems. Unfortunately, a lot of the weapons taught today, came from men that actually fought with their hands, sometimes for their life. When your life is on the line, you are very motivated to train in the hardest schools in order to turn your body into a weapon. This includes the lengthy and painful conditioning exercises we see old school Karateka and Hard-Stylists use. I have come to the conclusion that very few of today’s martial artists have thrown a back-fist to someone's head with intention. Traditionally, the back-fist was trained on the makiwara or other conditioning aid. The training itself was almost meta-physical.Very few train to that degree anymore but the weapon is still being taught as though you can pop someone in the temple or skull and get a knock-out without damaging your hand. Aiming for the jaw or cheek in a fight with a whipping attack AND COUNTING on it is risky. I tried a short chopping punch to a guy’s jaw in a parking lot a long time ago in a far away galaxy. His flinch was faster than my punch. I caught him in the temple and knocked him out BUT broke my hand in the process. I still had to save my friend from the two on him, but now I’m damaged and I know it. With that said, I’m a big believer in soft on hard, hard on soft. I still teach the system as taught because it’s not for me to water it down and my experiences are just that, mine. When I teach a student a traditional weapon and its use, I do have a tendency to teach options in relation to the person being taught. I consider size, relative physical and mental strength, aptitude, and yes, I consider gender. Face it, a 98lb, trained; diligent female using a back-fist to the temple is NOT going to have the same result as a 220lb untrained male using the same weapon/target. This brings us back to mechanics. Proper structure and mechanics are universal but mass is not. For some targets, you just need a big bullet and big bullets with proper mechanics work on ALL targets. Visualize a .22 to the arm then picture a .50 to the same spot on said arm. If you are unfamiliar with imparted kinetic energy, YouTube it to get a better idea. One of my first introductions to AKKI women demonstrating their brand of weapons, targets, and kinetic energy was at the 1st AKKI Las Vegas International Camp in 1998. The technique taught was Thundering Hammer modified for women. Instead of the forearm to the mid-section, it was a palm-heel to the groin. Instead of a hammer-fist to the cervical, it was a palm to the OP. My over-eager training partner for that seminar was my wife who promptly smoked my testicles and knocked me out. I’ve been teaching options ever since.
I am not poo-pooing traditional empty-hand weapons. In 1977, I watched Tak Kubota casually back-fist a makiwara bolted to the floor at a San Diego karate studio. He broke two of those supporting bolts and bent the other two. At the time I thought it was pretty cool; now when I think about it, I’m amazed. How many practitioners train the way he does though? Again, look him up. He is the epitomy of tradtional hard style training. I for one do not nor do I have the inclination. Bottom line; know your weapons, their capabilities, and your ability to use them. More importantly, learn the correct mechanics that drive ALL of your weapons because when the fat lady sings, it will come down to attitude, target, weapon, moment, and the mechanics that bring it all together.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dirty Fighting for Martial Artists

The argument has been around since UFC 1; most street fights go to the ground, BJJ rules on the ground, therefore BJJ is the best for street fighting. The “Street” exponents (RBMA, Combatives) argue that BJJ is learned under a codified rule system and that there are no rules on the street and a good eye gouge/throat shot will nullify any advantage that the BJJ guys have. Having spent most of my life studying a street oriented self-defense system as well as having a Purple Belt in BJJ and grappling for well over ten years now, my views on this subject have changed as my knowledge has increased.
Fifteen years ago, I was one of the “street-exponent” guys that decided that well placed strikes, presses, pulls, and breaks would take a BJJ player out of his environment and turn him into a reactive mass like anyone else that had a finger stuck in their eye or their trachea pinched. After several years in BJJ, I discovered that BJJ guys can do all that illegal stuff too and can do it better because they are well versed in using the ground to stabilize their targets. They are also very adept at hiding their own targets from probing hands. I have found the key to effective “dirty” fighting is to train regularly in all three areas, striking, groundwork, and illegal stuff. More and more striking schools are incorporating groundwork into their curriculum. Most BJJ schools offer MMA striking skills (boxing, Muay Thai, G&P) but again, these are taught in a sports environment. If you do not train to use the naughty stuff then odds are you will not use it when the balloon goes up. If you have never tried to gouge someone’s eye, how do you know you can do it let alone know how someone will react when his eye is being attacked? If you have never pulled a clavicle, how do you know how deep you have to dig for a grip or how hard you have to pull to separate it? I’ve gone after both; with the eye, he fought through the damage (and there was a lot of damage) and he still picked me up and carried me across the room to slammed me into some furniture. I’ve gone for clavicles twice (pre-BJJ) and have yet to get a solid grip and without that, forget about a separation. Breaking someone’s finger? Never slowed me down and there were no drugs or alcohol involved on my part.
In the early 90’s, I attended a seminar with Paul Vunak one of the early proponents of RBSD and still a respected name in the field. One of the areas he covered was Kino Mutay, biting and pinching. It was a delightfully painful experience that also included hair pulling and was almost a system in itself, not unlike Chin Na for the Chinese Systems. Whereas most of the pinching, pulling, and biting were distractants, several specific attacks inflicted a significant amount of damage. Prior to that seminar, I thought a bite was just a bite and a hair pull was just a hair pull. Afterwards, I realized they were special tools that helped you reach a specific goal and when used properly, were very effective to that end. The most important thing I learned was that you needed time to facilitate maximum effect. This meant the target had to be stabilized and controlled in order for the attack to garner the desired result. If a human being can cut off their own arm in order to survive, do you really think a poke in the eye, fishhook to the mouth, or a bite to the cheek is going to make someone just give up and quit? These attacks are just tools and as tools, they need to be used properly to maximize their function. Hair pulls are used to create disturbances in balance and cancel zones. Bites and pinches are used to create openings and/or space. In extreme situations, they tear, crush, and gouge. Rarely will the infliction of pain alone be the primary motivator in making a really bad person give up their desire to make you a resource. While these are considered horrific attacks that can cause incredible damage as well as kill, they are still very viable options when it comes to preserving your life. Are you prepared to use them?