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SOME DIRTY TRUTHS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT THE ONLINE TMA COMMUNITY

a) Instructors vehemently protect their place in the pecking order. The old boys’ club desperately clings to their own make-believe and niche-importance and narcissism as it declines over time. If failing, they join forces with other waning egomaniacs to strain the last bit of juice from the relevance fruit, trying relentlessly to keep a blind following around the globe to keep their memory/legacy/importance/power(bullshit) alive.

b) Many top instructors sell-out entirely to gain global student bases. They claim science, human physiology, medical anatomy, psychology, anthropology, sociology and a host of other sources to back their new gimmick-for-relevance avenue. Note that none of these sources directly and universally support their theories – it’s a cherry-picking endeavor to build uniqueness and stand out from their peers, which they’re clearly incapable of doing without said gimmick. Some were legitimate and authentic at one point but that’s long ceased to exist as many have become a caricature of that former credibility. Many rest on those laurels and utilize them to try and push new, unproven, wild, unbacked claims. (“Well, it’s Snapswitch Humankiller and he did that thing in the past, so this has to be legit….doesn’t it?!”)

c) To protect their diminishing castle of sand, many name instructors will subtly try and discredit others online and issue fraudulent challenges to others – of course with a number of intricate stipulations. Those stipulations are made to ensure no conflict will take place, that the other loses face in front of important peers, and reputation is protected without ever having to prove a thing. Social media safespace-challenges, as it were. No risk, all the reward, all odds tipped in the favor of the aging, relevant-fading “grandmaster”. (“If you don’t travel to central small-town Malaysia where I live by this Thursday at 4:36 am ending at 4:53, alone, while I bring witnesses, you’re a coward and fraud” et al)

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d) Many self-identify with their often made-up or questionably-given martial title on social media for status-enhancement. You’ll see them utilize soke or sensei or shihan or guro or punong guro or datu or grandmaster or master or supreme grandmaster or, or, or, or. Either way, these titles, which have zero importance in the really-real world and give zero credibility in daily life, are used to imaginatively pad ego and build cred among online peers and maintain pecking-line superiority over students.

e) Most often the real top professionals in this field fly under the radar and go about their business quietly and uncompromisingly. They’re reviled by the status quo because of their authenticity, experience, and grounded approach and have minimal opportunity to do this full-time. Inevitably, it’s an endeavor of love, passion, and a will to make change in the small number of lives they can affect. Professionals that take pride in and cultivate their craft are 1 of the 2 “professionals” we see in the industry. The other is the one who sells out entirely, often teaching material that, should their clientele ever need it (and most won’t, thankfully), it will get them killed. They’re the epitome of the industry person who just collects a paycheque….it’s not a vocation, it’s a business.

f) I have become friends with some name-value top professionals over the years and the fact that they, though rare, still stick to the same foundation that brought them to their legitimate impact, is hopeful. There ARE some top industry-pros who haven’t changed – but they’re rare and one has to sift through a lot of shit to find them or they get mixed in with the copycats and cookie-cutters, making it excessively difficult for the average person to distinguish who’s “real” and who’s not.

g) There are a lot (LOT) of unhealthy, unstable people in this industry. Daily I see talk on stabbing other human beings, shooting people for infractions that barely justify a verbal response, a will to finally get a chance to use their vaunted martial skills on some offending person that cuts them off in traffic. Sheepdog/sheep analogies, a wont to die in Valhalla, claims of knife-fighters, murder videos, ridiculous statements of “better-to-be-judged-by-12-than-carried-by-6”, etc….all propagated by those who’ve made a ton of money in the industry with these catchphrases. You need to ask yourself, do you want to be taught about personal safety by someone who either can’t avoid or can’t wait to participate in violence and doesn’t have a proper gauge or context as to how it works and why?

h) Seeing what so many instructors and industry leaders claim and state online, I, more than ever, believe the majority of people will be just fine on their own, without training. (*unless training with the above-mentioned quiet pros) People truly survive violence the world over with not one iota of training, but with innate survival skills. Many don’t. But the proof of martial arts and self-defense classes and combatives being some huge decider, outside of self-confidence-building, violence avoidance, physical fitness, and vigilance, is not far off from being moot. Stories of martial prowess fending off a committed violent attack are, even in the age of social media and perpetual video, rare…extremely rare, yet we jump on those minority like they’re a message from God legitimizing 25 years of training like an animal for a war that doesn’t exist for the majority of us. As we also see in most news stories where martial-arts training is mentioned, it’s anecdotal at best with no proof that that prior training had any impact on the final-outcome, or minutely compared to their own survival instinct and evolution.

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i) There are a lot of system/method re-creation coming up lately. La canne, esgrima criolla, HEMA, glima, bataireacht, and a host of others, which is great and fresh. One can only hope they ‘never’ get as big as modern eastern-Asian traditional martial arts and develop the superiority-complex, self-importance, and entitlement that TMA currently has. To me, the fact there’s exploration, research, ongoing study, debate, and interpretation is a breath of fresh air compared to the staid, finite, status quo in TMA, where explorers and adventurists are chastised as blasphemers and discarded from the style/system/art inner-circle.

j) Martial arts has some supremely positive benefits to the average person….movement (that exercise component has been proven by science to put-off illness and counter depression), improved cognition (as we get older, ultra-important), physical condition (which is far more important to fight survival than technique anyway), social interaction (communication is a huge tool in personal-safety), self-confidence (a great tool for avoiding conflict in the first place). Yet what I often see is most of these actual and direct benefits being replaced by exorbitant and unsubstantiated claims, relying almost totally on the physical-response benefits, which are generally and for most, such a minute possibility in the daily scheme compared to the others. Bass-ackwards.

k) The crab-bucket mentality. We hear this phrase when talking about certain cultures a lot. When someone works hard to get out the a situation of limited-hope, low-class, or low-potential, those left behind resort to dragging that person back, sabotaging them, trashing them behind their back to others….generally trying to prevent their success to put them back in “their place” instead of supporting their efforts and being proud of their success. This is huge in the TMA/SD world, often even within the same organization, same style, same system, same method. Surpassing your instructor, flying on your own, doing something ingenuous or creative, developing something fresh….is often looked at in a negative light and with disdain.

FEAR EXACERBATION AND KNOWING YOUR LANE

People, unlike the animal kingdom, have both justifiable experiential fear triggers based on something at least partially tangible, and with our human consciousness, some that are not legitimate or rational. That being said, and due to this, we have an abundant numbers of ways that we attempt to overcome or manage our fears (whether effective or not is another story):

1. Simulated-recreation. Scenario-training that replicates the experience(s) as close as is possible to the real or imagined fear to attempt to re-live the original or feared experience and manage it or react differently.

2. Exposure. Picking professions or activities that put one in direct and ongoing contact with the source of the original fear, eventually lessening or eliminating the fear over time.

3. Time. Gradually the fear naturally lowers or is mitigated over time as it is shown to have diminished or obliterated impact the further away from the stimulus it travels.

4. Professional therapy or assistance. Tools are given to lower the fear or put it into contextual accuracy by someone disassociated. Conditioning, inevitably.

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5. Breathing or meditation. Controlling the negative mind-talk that compounds and exacerbates the problem and turns it into something far grander than its origin would’ve dictated. (passive/proactive)

6. Avoidance or evasion. Not addressing the issue in any way and avoiding any situations that could trigger that fear/anxiety. (passive/defensive)

7. Hypnosis/visualization/guided imagery. Designed to lower anxiety and alter thought patterns and state-management to mitigate the physiological effects of the source of the fear.

8. Education, information, and further study. A common sense and pragmatic self-reflection as to why you feel fear at this particular element, understanding fear itself, research on the focal-point/central-concern…all to become more educated by looking through a clear lens.

9. Empowerment. Martial arts classes, self-defense classes, combatives classes. Motivational speeches or seminars. Personal-empowerment classes. “Re-wiring” those cylinders that gave us the original fear and build independent self-confidence apart from the fear as well.

Here, on this list, we have a lot of direct correlations to the counter-violence world as many professionals delve dangerously into areas they’re simply not qualified for…like many listed above. (therapy, psychology, phobia-curing, PTSD-treatment, hypnosis, etc.) Martial arts instructors have a nasty habit of transferring capability to other arenas not within their knowledge base – philosophy, psychology, therapy, mountaintop guru, spiritual guide, life coach, and pretty much everything in-between. Generally, of not knowing their lane. (We see the other side of this as well through combat-driving, defensive tactics, firearms courses, where instructors/clubs try desperately to “holistic” – your one-stop shop for allll things protective) This all, when done poorly and without actual education and study, runs the gamut from subtly doing psychological damage, creating (far greater) daily paranoia, conditioning unhelpful or even negligent fear-management methods…to the interpersonal side of unhealthy instructor hero worship, a co-reliant relationship, and a cult-like group environment…to outright re-wiring horrible mindsets that end up exacerbating fears exponentially….NONE of which are healthy replacements for the actual original fear-based problem.

Can you tell by an instructor’s (MA/SD/PP/CM/whatever) digital imprint and language if they’re intimating to help alleviate or subtly (or not-so-subtly) add to the fears of potential or current clients? Remember, innate/authentic fear and psychological trauma and past emotional damage are very intricate and finicky things, hardly the realm of most self-defense instructors with no outside or supplemental training or experience. (though that will be denied thoroughly by most, whose skills transfer over to any number of abundant logical offshoots from traditional martial arts training. I’m a very good defensive driver but it doesn’t make me a combat-driving tactics instructor….) Pay close attention to the type of communication utilized and the hyperbole (or lack thereof if pragmatic and legit…), it’s very revealing as to the method of student retention they aim for. (away from fear…out of fear….or towards self-reliance and logic)

If they’re peddling selective or isolated statistics, claiming the world is at its most dangerous point in human history, that those without their vaunted “training” are helpless sheep, that they offer something special that no other industry professional does, that they have capabilities “outside their lane”, and don’t address modern elements of personal protection that can educate and ground unheeded fear (legal, ethical, moral, psychological, physiological, fiscal, social, familial)….buyer beware. Or run. Probably better. There are other sources available with half the bluster and twice the credibility.

SOME BILATERAL ELEMENTS OF POTENTIAL HOME INVASIONS & SECURITY SYSTEMS

~I used to tell neighbors who would never “train” in SD/MA that calling the local fire department before the police was more practical as the fire department themselves on neighborhood response registered times of less than 5 minutes. LE had a 7-minute response time and our home security provider at the time, ADT, one of 33 minutes that they prided themselves on. (as mentioned, either the home invader or I will be long dead in that time, should it come to that point, and with an average neighborhood house around 900-1200 square-feet in size, there’s not a lot of time between entry and engagement.) The local fire department was 2 streets over with members predominantly living in the neighborhood, the closest police station 7-8. Translation? Don’t rely on LE bailing you out in a bind.

~We were forced to use an alternate provider as the house we bought had a multi-year contract in their usage and could not be broken by a new homeowner, something we weren’t privy to nor did we think of with all the other complexities and bureaucracy of buying a new house. We had another provider we had used previously whose response time was far superior, the response was more “impactful”, and the monitoring system was more efficient. Unfortunately, we were threatened with legal action should we break the contract, something which we were not privy to prior to purchasing the house. Something to ask. Not all providers are the same and sometimes the security contract comes with the house.

~Neighbors. We got to know our neighbors and there was a neighborhood watch group in-place. Again, layers of defense. You don’t have to have them over for a barbecue but a simple rapport and (real or feigned) establishment a unified “cause” or concern can build an “us vs. them” attitude about “those who try and infiltrate our neighborhood.”

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~Some alarm systems only monitor the one floor of a multi-story house. With our previous house in central Canada, the alarm did not trigger when someone broke in downstairs, and we had windows at ground level of a basement. So, in the house, climb the stairs, in the kitchen, 30 feet from the master bedroom, 20 & 25 from the kids’ bedrooms. Not a lot of reaction time while in deep sleep mid-night.

~Guns in Canada were not as easy as in the U.S. and Costa Rica. Gun locked away from ammunition, ammunition locked up with a padlock with code, both away from bedroom. When I used to say a samurai sword was a more viable weapon in the middle of the night than a handgun, people laughed….but it was the truth. Grab scabbard, pull sword from scabbard, swing, repeat steps a through c. Know your accessible weapons and what’s more viable in a pinch….it may not be the modern, technologically-advanced one.

~We had someone on the roof at one point and the alarm we had then did not go off. Do you practice low-light proprioception? Controlling your breathing and calming yourself emotionally pre-entry? Finding your way around your architecture, angles, geometric shapes, barricades, obstacles, cover, and concealment possibilities? Nobody should know home-base more effectively, innately, and efficiently than you.

~I hear many stating bravely “If my alarm goes off, and I hear a burglar outside, I’ll go out and take care of business/kick someone’s ass!” Why exactly, if you have prep (alarm/woken-up/burglars outside), when you have all the advantages (time, blueprint/layout, vantage points/entry knowledge, surprise, waiting response, people (hopefully) on the way) would you give it a-l-l up to go outside to their advantage and engage….

Just some things to ponder…

THE MACHISMO MYTHOS

Well, after 8 years of living in Central America/Costa Rica, I think I have a pretty good knowledge base to write on the powerful entity that is machismo at this point. Where ta’ start….

First of all, after those 8 years, I’m still as perplexed as ever as to why it has such a foothold and why both sexes reinforce it so desperately. Yet, here we are, it’s invasive, and pervasive, in every aspect of modern living. Business. Relationships. Perception. Social constructs. Religion. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. The perplexing part is that it has no legitimate relevance in any viable social construct. It’s inevitably baseless and foundation-less. It’s an outdated and archaic methodology built on sand.

The more machista the man, the more reverence he seems to have in society….yet that machista is like carrying a gun around, bragging that you have it, showcasing it at every turn so people don’t fuck with you…..but knowing innately that it has no bullets. It means getting away with treating your wife poorly, cheating on her (because you can and everybody else does, of course, it’s the benefit of being married)…..but not having a bloody clue how to treat her as an equal, interact with her, protect her, cultivate her capability, or revel in her success. It’s carrying your balls in your hand at every possible opportunity and exhibiting them to other men in as many social circumstances as you’re able…..but not having a bloody clue how to act as a strong, self-confident, comfortable masculine figure. It’s having a big truck, dangerous dog, nice clothes, and bling to showcase your material accomplishment….but not being able to articulate why it’s important, show kindness and grace to others less fortunate, or keep your ego in-check because of insecurities, paranoia, and self-revile. And what’s the bigger discovery for me here is…..women reinforce it as strongly as men do.

Women tear down strong women, decisive, confident women regularly for their comfortable sexuality, for their business acumen, for their projected self-confidence….because it’s a direct threat to the old-school patriarchy and their own ranking status within that hierarchy. That was an amazing discovery for me. Insecurity all the way around. (Keeping in mind that in Costa Rica, it’s far more subtle in its application as society, in general, is more passive-aggressive, more subtle, less-brazen, and less violence-driven than the surrounding nations)

Take even the recent bank shooting. A well-off Costa Rican businessman with a long-standing successful business cheaps-out and refuses to use the pretty well-trained armored-car services in the country to transport his funds to the bank. Instead he gets a regular female-civilian to do it for him. She (imagine) gets attacked and robbed by the husband/2 sons of a woman who works for him, who’s transferred this private info to the 3 to benefit, at the expense of the other woman’s safety.

Now, I’ll admit that, because I’m a) a foreigner, b) a self-confident, shoe-comfortable, c) loves and supports the evolution of his own wife’s accomplishments, d) isn’t a cheater, e) it fairly outspoken on equality….I have zero male friends here. Unlike in Canada, I’m actually quite comfortable and non-resentful of that fact. I’ve had my car keyed, my reputation trashed and slandered, smear campaigns, a car flying up threateningly-fast behind me while jogging, 3rd-party threats, avoided like the plague. BUT. But I’ve never had a man here come up to me and say “I don’t like how you are/what you say/how you act, and I want to talk to you about it.” Once. It’s a secret, passive-aggressive, ongoing psychological campaign to give disrepute….all in the name of reinforcing the current stereotype. Festering. Resentful. Bitter. Uncomfortable. Self-loathing. I can do little but find it intrinsically comical all along the way. Because it also comes across as helpless and desperate due to a deep-seated insufficiency. It’s an archaic vision of being a man in modern times and you know there’s little they can do anything about it as it’s so internally-ingrained through the generations, with so much to live up to the past versions….that they’re trapped with their own obligation, misplaced in time.

For those of you in North America who continually remind me that “toxic masculinity” isn’t as substantial a thing back home as the media or certain political-wings would have you believe…I can assure you hear it’s a pretty real thing. (though I dislike that term as it makes it look like if you touch it, you get infected and that New-Agers have copped a modern term for something old and historic) I openly told a friend of mine a while back that I loved going out with my wife and her friends for drinks and chats when we do….as long as no men are present. With lads present, I know it’ll be a night-long peacock show of attemped-oneupmanship. Continually a competition of areas in life I find utterly unimportant and not at all part of my rapport. One time I remember clearly a man at our table asking me if I “allowed” my wife to act a certain way in public and if I “helped-out” with house chores (dishes/meals/laundry, etc.) Upon answering that my wife can “act” however the fuck she wants when we’re out and I do, indeed, “do my equal share” at home….I received a scoff and a side-handed comment on my femininity. I let it go and moved on. However, when he interjected snidely again and asked me what I did for a living, my response “I teach people arms and counter-violence skills when I’m not instructing a security team…you?” increased my much-appreciated space bubble proportions sufficiently that I was able to enjoy the rest of my drink(s) in peace. Subliminal-messaging. Effective as well as unresponsive.

Now, to be clear (and fair), this is not solely prevalent here or in other Latino or Central-American countries. We have it back home too. My dad is from an older generation and different era so when he passes the odd (he’s gotten much better, he’s learning) sexist comment, while I don’t give a free hall-pass, I can somewhat understand where it comes from. Here, two generations on, and it permeates everything as it always has. There are signs of change and, to be more fair, some wonderful family men I’ve met that have worked very hard at not falling into the same stigmas and paradigms. They suffer and struggle here but they’ve been rewarded with good marriages, wonderful kids, and a solid, happy home life. They are still the exception to the rule, though, and made aware of it with regularity….because it makes others uncomfortable and akin to their jeans not fitting.

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So, back to our current situation. It culminated yesterday, while jogging and listening to a quick audio from a friend as I started, in a car of a noted “enemy” (in his head) of mine’s wife zooming up behind me quickly and intentionally to scare me, my 7-year old son yelling from across the street to warn me, and me jumping out of the way in time to see the woman zip by smirking. (I know, my bad, it was in an enclosed compound away from public traffic so I lulled) Did I almost get hit by a car? I dunno, I’m really not sure. (I’m not good at ambiguous messaging) Instead of the man stating there’s a problem, we have the wife of that man sending out a (not-so) subtle threat defending her territory to understate that there’s a problem. How defining of the machismo dynamic. The woman acting on behalf of the man to send out that message…..so the man can remain self-sufficient in the public eye without doing anything and without personal risk to body or reputation. A dialogue or discussion (or even confrontation) where face can be lost here is not a pride issue that simply goes away with time like in Canada or the U.S. Here it’s potentially-lasting and potentially-damaging. It exhibits the weakness but it’s reinforced as strength by other men in his comfort-sphere, also insecure should the pride-damage have been them. When not reinforced by a foreigner, or national who’s had alternate conditioning, or a strong woman who chooses not to play…they bond together to protect their societal status. It’s truly quite an amazing thing to see. But it’s clearly a conscious construct, as it sure has the restraint methods prevalent and on-display during tourism season. Opinions and viewpoints are kept to oneself. Treatment of foreign women that wouldn’t usually be afforded to one’s own wife and/or daughter(s), shown openly and graciously. Noted problems with femicide (that’s a thing, and I learned that term here, not in NA) and misogyny, downplayed with a smile and over-exaggeration claim, citing often that because we had a female president here a short time ago and the first African-Caribbean female VP, it should demonstrate how far we’ve come and that that is simply not the case. (based on that)

Now, does this have any value or benefit in modern society? Sure. If everybody buys in and backs the theory…but that’s starting to change. Women’s movements, the LGBTQ community, progressive-minded men, growing expat communities all will put a dent in this construct in the future. However, old boys’ clubs die hard and, as this is so ingrained, it will take slow progression over the course of generations to slowly lessen its impact. But it’s coming. And it couldn’t come soon enough. For those here who feel uncomfortable and upset about this article, you’re more than welcome to reach out and…..oh, right…never mind, apologies, let me re-phrase. You’re welcome to stew quietly or have your wife contact me with a complaint letter. (have your people memo mine)

MIND MOVIES

We play movies in our minds daily. We play potential scenarios unfolding or that have unfolded. Playbacks of “audio tracks” that were said to us, that we said to others. Feelings that we re-live from both past traumas and past joys. They impact our states, frames, triggers, and emotions. What we allow in our heads at any point during the day can shift our thinking and affect our behavior.

I equate this in the same way that movies, television programs, series, documentaries affect the way we think on a variety of things. If watching horror movies gives you anxiety, paranoia, and causes you to look at everyday people with a skeptical, distrusting eye…do you change permanently your entire view of humanity based on Hollywood hyperbole? Or do you stop watching horror movies that put you in an unhealthy state?

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This is actually an area I feel quite comfortable talking about as it’s been a lifelong problem for me, personally. Some of the regular favorites include: “I’m not capable”, “This won’t work”, “That can’t last”, “I can’t take this guy”, “That’d never happen”, “I’m not qualified as a father.” And so-on-and-so-forth. I then proceed to play the “video” of what that non-reality would look like in my mind. What then happens is a perceived actuality, where the untruth becomes so vivid your emotions boil over and make their way into the really-real world – affecting your interpersonal relationships, behavior, capability, and trust. Oh, right, and start becoming a burden to others around you who had mistakenly thought that everything was okay. (I think the correct term is “progressive self-sabotage.” I have a lot of experience with this. Seen professionals, I have. Taken medication, I had to. Suffered from depression, I willed myself. (And it all started upstairs, NOT on the solid ground of life itself.)

We all have “mental fortresses” that need to be protected at all times. Unwanted thoughts. Negative future outcome visualizations. Unconnected ideas that conclude in untruths that aren’t in existence and have little or no chance of being. All are extremely unhealthy to mental health, our personal relationships, and positive functioning throughout our days. Be constantly vigilant to the thoughts going on in your head. But how? There are the usual culprits: meditation, qi gong/tai chi, yoga, etc. that everybody claims to be supernatural and all-encompassing (cancer-curing, even), but let’s go down some different avenues as, for many, these methods don’t resonate particularly well with all the mysticism, magic, and exaggerated bullshit they often bring. Some like it a little more immediate, visceral, and knee-jerk.

  1. Mindfulness. Be conscious, aware. Make note (or notes) of what triggers especially explosive reactions, bad thoughts, and chain-thinking where multiple unrelated elements are made to make one big negative (and erroneous) conclusion. As you’re now conscious of them….you’re also capable of wiping them away with logic and pragmatism, reinforcing to yourself that they’re not happening (or not happening now, at least, and then is then), they’re not real, and by thinking this way you may actually will them to happen.
  2. Positive triggers. (“Triggers” is always linked with “bad” or “negative”) Link bad passing thoughts to a positive image, memory, trigger word, or physical action to gain back your thought process. Re-configuring connections with positive replacements for the negative ones can be a powerful tool to regain control of the gerbil wheel. I knew a guy who, every time he started thinking negatively, pinched the webbing between his thumb and index finger, and then automatically clearing his mind. Bad trigger-physical stimuli-overruling good trigger. Re-programming the system, as it were.
  3. Mantras. Verbal, and achievable, reinforcement of a mission statement, general or specific. Out loud. Often. To put that mission back at the forefront of current thought. If done effectively – and an important part of that is their being achievable – mantras can start to change inner-dialogue.
  4. Exercise. I find when I go out for a long run, strength exercises, stretching….immediately the daily stresses and annoyances part ways with my head. Exercise cleanses and much science is starting to back this in a profound way. Movement is life and can have immediate effects on your state-of-mind. So move. Run. Walk. Train. Play. Dance. Jump. Roll. Push. Pull. Whatever. Get moving. Now. Not soon. Or one day. Or tomorrow. Or later.
  5. Breathing. Pick your rhythm, one that’s comfortable and natural to your breathing style. There are a hundred different “top-level” breathing methods that claim catch-all effectiveness on the market. None of them know you, your physical condition, lung-size, pace, cardiovascular system. Pick a rhythm that you can sync your system too quickly and effectively when blood pressure and heartbeat rise from inner thoughts.
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Negative self-talk can be debilitating. It can create imaginary crises, counter-productive states, and growing distrust with those you love or traditionally trust…..not to mention crumble your self-confidence and groundedness. However, unlike triggers, they’re usually not immediate and explosive – they’re often slow-building and do their cumulative damage over time, which also means that preparing for them can offer some solutions that are also progressive and easier to implement – if you’re adherent to them.

Remember, only you have final say as to what’s put in your mind. As the saying goes, don’t let anyone else – or anything – rent space in your head. Especially if they’re imaginary or self-defeating.

AN ANECDOTE ON MOTOR SKILL, BREATHING, & MENTAL STRAIN CAPACITY

On Christmas Day this year, we decided to do something entirely different. We took our small family, went into the mountains and had a very low-key Christmas. We decided to connect with nature and went on a long hike up the side of a mountain in Monteverde. The oxygen was fresh and pure, the exercise was hard and pleasurable, the time a memorable one that will be ingrained in permanent memories.

That being said, I wanted to do some light informal testing on motor skill and aerobic/anaerobic capacity while there, for a number of reasons. I haven’t trained seriously in over a year, solely upkeep. I’m 46 now and haven’t “taken the car out for a spin” to see what works and what doesn’t – translation: what I’ve lost, if anything. I wanted to do some testing with some asterisks. Here’s what I uncovered along the path:

-My state was a little jittery and off. 2 cups of coffee in the morning, not eating a lot left me shaky and a little dizzy. (could also have been the elevation/altitude – 5,900 feet/1800 meters, double to what I’ve become accustomed to)

-I forgot my running/hiking shoes at home, had only loafers and casual dress-jacket, 2 long-sleeved shirts, and khakis on – I know, tactical fail but, in all fairness, we didn’t know leading-up there’d be such a wonderful nature trail to tackle.

-There were colder temps as it was in the mountains, 10-12 degrees Celsius, cold wind, inevitably it felt like a Manitoba fall day.

-I went on a particularly-difficult stretch of the 3 km trail after doing pretty well exploding on a shorter, less-steep stretch. This one was straight up the mountain with steep ascents and only one short levelling-off stretch.

-I started counting steps about a-third-to-half of the way down and got to 503, so we’ll say there were roughly 750 steps, 1500 if including both directions, up and down.

-I “walked” at maximum pace, as fast as I was capable of exerting and maintaining pace, not pulling back in any way or saving gas for the way down. I stopped briefly for 5 seconds at one point when the path became extremely steep in angle. Think speed-walking but without the uncool little hyper-steps.

-I got “rubber-leg” about a-third of the way back down and had to be a little more attentive about not tripping (long fall down with short/steep steps and minimal bracing points, no railings) or losing my balance. Near the end, I did push harder to see how my coordination and balance were holding up.

-My cardio-system and mental-determination were far superior to my muscle-fatigue/stamina. As the pain started setting in noticeably, and I had to strain somewhat to keep full motion and maintain speed, I noticed my breathing, heartrate, and mental-state were predominantly unchanged. There were the little nagging doubts about current shape, capability, injuries present but they were pushed aside pretty quickly as I remembered prior experience(s) and capability and confidence took over. (The familiar is always less daunting and more conquerable)

-The breathing system I’ve used for years was highly-functional. A solid breathing method may not replace a poor cardiovascular system or conditioned stamina…but it can sure hold it off or mask it for a while. My wife even noted it helped her immensely, to the point she was surprised at how much – how quickly she recovered, how much longer she could go before recuperating, how strong her lungs felt. So that’s some positive reinforcement from someone who doesn’t drink my Kool-Aid. Quick recovery, always in-control of breathing rhythm, measured it with steps-taken, alterations between deep-breathing, slight pauses, panic-breathing depending on exertion, climb-difficulty, and recovery period.

-After finishing the hell climb, I continued at maximum pace and thought I’d test my fine-motor skills, as they seemed to be pseudo-altered from the exertion. While not maximized, I a) practiced deployment (one of the knives I had was a small folder, perfect for fine- and complex-motor-testing) while moving, in-advance of coming up on distracted birdwatchers (and subtly closing it with one hand as well when passing), b) getting off my backpack and unzipping the front pouch to access another blade subtly, and c) getting off my backpack and deploying the folder simultaneously. All while moving and exerting. Some (minimal) fine-motor problems but, all-in-all, achievable. (and noting openly that pressured-stress from exertion from strenuous exercise is NOT the same as pressured-stress from another human being trying to take your head off)

-I found even with the loafers, I seemed to have better weight distribution, balance, and feel for quick changes as needed in foot placement when something gave way or felt collapsible. (I dunno, qi gong/tai chi, FMA, really, not sure, but I do know I’ve many of those same sensations in past TMA training so I’d hazard a guess it did help more than a little)

-In the recovery stage, I’d say it took upwards of an hour to get fully rid of the rubber-leg I felt. Normal fine-motor skill accessibility far sooner, likely 15 minutes after I stopped. My calves were moderately sore a while after the workout, more so the next day but all else was pretty good, noting I used (sometimes exaggerated full-body motions during so that all my muscles were working in-unison) My breathing was never greatly-strained – no panting, no gasping, no hyper-ventilating and I’d say bluntly that that was no small coincidence in performance confidence.

-I think the one major lesson to learn from this is confidence in capability and knowledge of your own maximum limits. As my condition was a little unknown after the last year of relative inactivity, I admit to being a little unsure and self-doubting at the beginning. As the day wore on, the old feelings returned, memory of past limits set in, and I started to test those limits actively more and more. By the end, I became completely familiar with my own maximum exertion capability and relaxed comfort and mental fortitude started taking over. I’d say there’s no small comparison to things combative and martial to be taken from this.

-Physical condition alone, coherence of limits and extent of how far one can push oneself, mental determinaton, and confidence in one’s ability to test further than those limits… are no small things in physical fight capability, formal training or not.

-As a final point, breathing may not increase or improve stamina itself, but it sure does aid in maximizing the stamina you have already built up.

ON FLOW

I’m no expert on flow, though I have experienced it on various occasions and in various arenas. To me, it has always been the seamless transition of heightened focus/rhythm/intent/performance to an activity/situation/circumstance. I don’t think I’ve ever hit a point of flow (self-defense, athletic endeavor, training, challenging activity) while exhibiting conscious thought – only ever in circumstances or scenarios where I have prior and deep knowledge and experience. I believe that those 2 being true is no small coincidence, though I do believe high-level thinking and decision-making, unconsciously, are a byproduct of the state. We do make unconscious or rapidly-processed decisions within the state itself. Ironically, some of the times I’ve “lost” the flow-state was due to over-thinking or prolonged decision-making. Once conscious thought and self-doubt creep in, the state tends to be broken shortly thereafter, at least in my experience.

There’s always a combination of high(er)-stakes, high(er)-stress, and/or high(er)-consciousness scenarios with the knowledge/experience/comfort on managing them present and accounted for. There are already clearly-established methods that contribute to gaining that knowledge/experience/comfort, of course, like activity-specific scenario-training, visualization/hypnosis/self-hypnosis/mantras, meditation, prior experience, breathing/body relaxation methods, even neuro-linguistics, not forgetting current state – and these can all definitely enhance its chances of manifesting itself. (maybe the more in-line, the higher or greater chance of flow?) Can it be called up at will? I think that’s the golden goose everyone is searching for…and some of the elements above can certainly give greater chance of it happening. They seem to have tapped into it in the sports and high-performance arenas already, (motorsports/communication/sports/gaming, for instance) but it’s not quite as prevalent in the SD/MA worlds as of yet, for whatever reason, though I believe that’s changing.

It’s also clearly an internal element driven by external stimuli …it comes from what’s innate/well-conditioned, not by chance. (Some examples above: driving, games, sports, communication….all things that are intrinsically a part of our daily lives and that we’re experienced/comfortable in, yet we still don’t have “flow” every time we do them). If your state/momentary capability doesn’t align with your ability, it ain’t happenin’ as to have “flow” insinuates that the activity is ongoing, has some continuity, and is not a single one-time act (that experience/knowledge thing) – that’s not “being in the zone”.

I’d also be wiling to say that there’s the perception of time distortion that goes along with the state when people discuss this, (“it’s as if time stood still”, “I lost total track of time”, “everything seemed to slow down”) showing that there is extreme focus that causes perceived slow(er)-motion of incoming stimuli. (As an aside, time distortion can also be played with in training through various means. Triggering pressure or tension also needs to be present for it to happen as there has to be a threat/danger/loss element but a talk for another time)

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Regarding conflict or combat, flow could be present into the areas of the force continuum as well. Flow with communication (saying the right things at-will, de-escalating efficiently, calm & controlled demeanor maintained), environmental/situational awareness (noticing all surrounding stimuli pre-conflict, highly-tuned OODA Loop processing, seamless adaptability to changing situations), flow with noticing pre-incident indicators/PINs (great peripheral vision, attention to details, on top of everything). It could also be physically-controlling your opponent smoothly and with minimal or only sufficiently-needed damage. (if trained or conditioned efficiently and in-line with human physiological capability and evolution, these things should have minimal consciousness as well…or we fight on instinct, fully unconsciously, with what evolution gave us as survival instinct) 

Developing it (or at least increasing its odds) is based on replicating the stimulus as close as is possible to the actuality of the thing…and “replicating” it only applies to the elements that can be prepared for. (It is extremely-difficult to replicate exact physiological response to high-stakes and real momentary stimuli…in training) Visualization/scenario-training/state-replication/past experience all can attempt to fit that bill, as mentioned. Whatever the case, flow states have something in-common: they are all in arenas that utilize both unconscious action (“system 1”, driving a car daily and in regular traffic), and active decision-making from prior effective conditioning (“system 2”, making a sudden decision on avoiding a potential accident) so have a far greater chance of hitting that particular state. Bringing it out at will, pertaining to real violent need? I’m not sure. Yet.

MISSION STATEMENT DEVIATIONS

I’ll share an example of a necessary deviation from mission statement. There are times where one must involve oneself in situations usually one would not choose to. There are exceptions to the rule. Getting home safely, protecting one’s loved ones, focusing on your intended vision of personal protection…all have forks in the road where decisions must be made where to momentarily deviate from mission statement based on need or necessity.

We had a guest at our business who arrived around American Independence Day. He immediately stood out – flamboyant clothing, strong southern-US accent, exacerbated body movements….I called him Elvis to my wife. He registered, snapped his fingers for his wife to come in and start bringing luggage in. They were here for 2 nights. At breakfast the couple were very animated, arguing at the table before finally leaving with plates barely touched. It was a trend we heard transitioning to the 2nd night they were here.

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As guests’ personal dynamic is usually their own and we simply don’t know it, we don’t much choose to get involved, as long as it doesn’t disturb other guests. I’m there to run a successful business, feed & protect my family, and try to make guests have as enjoyable stay as we’re able. That’s my mission statement, and I haven’t had to deviate more than a few times from that mission statement, and only for the sake of the continuity of those 3 previous points. I also wait for proper or sufficient information before making a concrete assessment on a person or their filters, but I’m (as is my wife) pretty keenly-oberservant. Even minimal perception of partner “mistreatment” can sometimes be explainable prior to involving oneself in others’ business unnecessarily. Role-playing. Professional escort. Recent events fully the fault of one of the pair out of our scope of knowledge. These are usually a stretch but worth considering before ending up in an explosive situation not your own.

Last night the arguing hit a peak. Yelling, swearing, condescending and ad hominem remarks, aggressive tone, escalating sound. We had 3 guests here and 2 more arriving shortly. Still, I waited. What finally did it was that she wasn’t an active participant in the conflict, very submissive and transparently trying to calm him down, keep the conflict within the room, and offering up feigned apologies just to cool the atmosphere.

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After the last “Mother fucker, I no longer need you in my life!” I intervened.  We run a family place where some tranquility is expected and offered. As they were inside the room, I control the time, space, and tone of the coming conflict. It’s not like the street. I positioned myself to the left of the door a few steps back. It blocks off any chance for a  right sucker-punch (angle from doorjamb, most people are right-handed and they weren’t out enough for me to see which hand he was), gives anticipatory space for attack (needs to close the gap to strike), and allows me to see if he has any weapon coming out of the door.  (Though this sounds romantic and elite, it’s not…all of it happens in an instant and unconsciously after 25 years in the industry) I knocked and heard a “god-fucking-dammit!” *There are times I’ve had a nervous energy, knowing there’s an inevitable conflict coming. Not this time, I could feel some adrenaline, but generally I was pretty calm and fully-controlled. I chalk it up to being in the right, no inhibitors leading up so full capability to manage violence effectively if needed and escalated by the other party.

He answered the door super-submissive and trying to establish the “bro” connection, which I’ve never fallen for with a guy who’s so aggressive towards his wife or partner. I’m pretty clear on my position and I’m rarely swayed when it’s conflict-driven.  I also talk with my hands, they’re constantly moving in-between myself and other people, a shield to gauge reaction and space from encroachers. I told him I got that sometimes “shit happens” but we have a business to run. My body language was strong and comfortable, immediately a put-off to him. Once I saw his hands I took a step in and said we could hear them from the house, other guests were next door shortly, and asked if they could keep it down. There were glasses of rye and the bottle on the bed table. He started nervously stuttering and mumbling. I cut him off and said “Anyways, I really don’t want to come back again, neither of us needs the bother.” I squinted my eyes so he’d see what I meant out of his wife’s line of sight. He agreed and apologized, saying he’d give a great review and thanked me for being so “understanding.”

Within 5 minutes, the lights were off, the tv off, and there was complete silence from the room. We didn’t see them until the next morning where they skipped breakfast and tried quickly leaving. I called him, caught up with him, and shook his hand ‘very’ firmly with unwavering eye contact and a sly smile, wishing him safe travels. He caught my glance for just a second and then looked down, reaffirming he’d give us a great review online for our top service. (He didn’t, zero surprise, it was a bargaining chip and misdirection attempt) They were gone. No violence. No guest disturbance. No grand display of aggression or machismo. As clearly it seemed he was an abuser, I cannot control the rest of their relationship and her choice as to whether she stays or not. Just a one-night reprieve with subtle message. Now I return to my regular mission statement. But we had other guests present and listening, a child within unavoidable earshot, no ability to leave, a business in operation, and the potential for great escalating violence right in front of our house. Or maybe, if I stretch enough of my perception, it’s not involving myself in other’s potentially dangerous (to me) scenarios as it would be on the street (how many 3rd-party good Samaritans….), but protecting my family, income-avenue, and clients…not to mention alleviating a potentially-violent act on our property before it happened. Mission-statement in-tact. Remember, sometimes the reach of your mission statement is environmentally-dependent and context-driven. It’s up to you to decide the parameters that that pre-analyzed mission statement extends to and what circumstances will dictate a shift in those parameters.

DEMONIZE, DEHUMANIZE & FAMILIARIZE – “IZING” OUR THREATS

How often do we hear one of these spouted in self-defense classes?

“There are monsters among us.” “Evil is a real thing and innately-evil people exist.” “”He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.” “How can someone do that? It’s subhuman.”  (demonizing)

“They” (the criminals, gang members, bad guys, etc.) are simply different from us. They grew up differently. On the wrong side of the tracks. A different class. Different demographic. Different color. Different nationality. Look different. (trashy, low-class) Act different. (uncouthe, uneducated, lacking manners, swearing) They were born bad. (nature, poor nurture) They had a bad childhood….abuse, violence, crime.  Since they’re different, clearly they’re the enemy. (dehumanizing)

“They” are exactly the same as we are….human. If they’re human, they can bleed, feel pain, be hurt, shut down bio-mechanically, die. (familiarizing)

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So which one is best? Or are any beneficial? Is it circumstantial? Can they be non-beneficial? Is having an “us vs. them” mentality psychologically-strengthening? Ever hear anyone actually go further in-depth than simply selecting their biased view of which one is best for them…and, therefore, you?

THE PHYSICAL – ACTUAL INCOMING OR ANTICIPATED AGGRESSION

Demonizing and dehumanizing are a form of separation, or creating emotional distance between you and another individual or group. If we’re talking purely about the physical, demonizing runs the risk of making your threat seem impenetrable, unbeatable, and something more than what a human is capable of overcoming. It can also, potentially, motivate one to resist and counter that much harder, knowing the threat is of immense challenge.

Dehumanizing runs the risk of you under-estimating your threat, seeing them as a lower form of life than you, lesser of a worthy being, not having your particular blessings…not a match. It can create a disconnect and faulty-perception on the type of threat and your method(s) of managing it. Physically, it can create emotional disconnect and distance from a survival-threat, allowing one to access faculties of aggression and damage one might not otherwise have accessibility to.

Familiarizing, in opposition of dehumanizing, can give one the impression that you and the threat are the same, when nature/nurture, experience(s), environment, religion, social-engineering, state, mental outlook, and exposure to a thing can drastically alter perception, capability, and achievability. However, as mentioned above, in a physical scenario, it allows one to see that the threat can bleed, hurt, fail, or lose.

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All have their benefits…and their drawbacks and, as always, depend greatly on context. However, as with most industry catchphrases, few people actually delve into what they actually mean, how they fit in modern society, and what their limitations are. Violence and conflict dynamics are complex, scenarios/circumstances are dramatically-different, with scaling threats needing to be handled in greatly altered manners for best result. How does low- or mid-level physicality, general conflict, or low-level scenarios alter this? What if the idea is regarding coping mechanisms towards violence, the aftermath or processing of incidents not pertaining directly to us?

CONFLICT AND COPING

Generally, an ongoing study of human behavior, case studies on like types of threat, an ongoing-assessment on context, and case-by-case assessment with as little bias as is possible…are always most prudent and beneficial and offers the best pre-conflict method of accessing situations of their own volition. Couple this study with a grounded, rational, common-sense approach on your own current realistic circumstances while trying to keep your own emotions under-control. (Paying more attention to self and how you deal with stress, tension, anxiety, and fear is more effective than perpetually concerning oneself about the power and danger of others – it goes to our own sanity, capability, and peace)

That doesn’t change the fact that the ideas above can be helpful in our own mindset development to best suit our situation. It also depends greatly on the type and seriousness of threat. Often, on low-level conflict, familiarization has a far greater chance on resolving the issue non-violently and peacefully.

a) Demonization is most often something done from safe emotional distance when something awful happens away from us and we superimpose our own circumstances on top of the misfortune of others. (brutal murders, awful violent crimes, offences sexual in nature to vulnerable victims) It helps remind us of our own humanity and morality and keep distance from our own internal demons.

b) Dehumanization is usually prevalent regarding war/grand-scale conflict/large-scale demographics, but can certainly be seen in regular society as well. To separate and divide based on race, sex, nationality, age. It often runs the risk of worsening situations through elitism, entitlement, and disconnect socially. It, whether “wrong” or “right”, gives the one using it uniqueness, superiority, and comfort in our own personal situation(s).

c) Familiarity is used  when we want to relate to a person or persons. To walk a mile in their shoes, understand their plight, and relate to their circumstances. It gives us empathy and connection, often putting us direct touch with our own humanity. Demonization and dehumanization serve little purpose on the lower-end of things…and let’s be frank, that is the majority of situations most average people will find themselves in over the course of a lifetime. They’re not soldiers or violence professionals.

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For inevitable violence or high-risk threat, however, all 3 can be very beneficial given specific circumstances. Remember, belief is the most powerful of all tools, so if utilizing one of the 3 methods helps facilitate a powerful mentality for dealing with a powerful threat….it can be a great tool to shift perceptions and build resolve. Translation? As long as the adopted perception falls in-line with the reality of the threat, works within the sphere of your arena’s law, and puts perspective to a psychologically-beneficial way towards solving the problem….it’s worth exploration. These perspectives alone, though, are far less valuable than a grounded assessment of each situation of its own volition and a self-study of triggers, inhibitors, states, and mind-frames. Remember, not nearly all situations are grave-enough to justify the emotional disconnect that 2 of these imply, and the 3rd isn’t always achievable or even desirable.  The goal, as with most industry catchphrases and metaphors, is to stop just taking any of the 3 at face-value and creating an all-encompassing persona or method around one in-particular, context-free. Evaluate exactly what they infer given your particular scenario and turn that valuable attention inward. The demons, emotional connectedness, and familiarization might be better addressed internally long-before they are externally.