Why My Daughters Train in BJJ

I am a father trying to do right by my children.

As parents, we want what’s best for our children. We do everything we can to make sure they’re loved, well fed, and have a roof over their head. We’re preparing them to be successful adults. We sign them up for gymnastics, music lessons, soccer, martial arts, little league, science camp, ballet, cheer, and swimming. We try to support and nurture their individuality when it’s in their best interest, but as the adult in the room, we’re left in the driver’s seat, and have to decide when it’s not.

Trying to sort through all these options and pick the best can be challenging. In addition to simple recreation, we look for the benefits; will this help my child be more fit, develop greater self esteem, or learn the value of teamwork? Part of our decision is based on the logistics of somehow getting to and from, in between school, work, and family time. Part of it is financial. While we’d love to give our progeny everything, the bottom line is, we are inevitably limited; there are only so many hours in a week, and only so many dollars in our wallets.

I am a martial artist biased by 35 years training, studying, and teaching.

I believe that martial arts is a “package deal,” providing a one-stop shopping experience for parents. When taught effectively, it is powerfully transformative, developing strength, flexibility, and cardio-vascular fitness, while also promoting valuable life lessons like integrity, self discipline, respect, focus, tenacity, and self esteem. A good martial art program can also provide it’s students with something other activities most definitely do not: self-defense. This full-package should make martial arts especially appealing to parents struggling with the decision of where to enroll their children.

There is one caveat, however: not all martial arts are taught effectively, and thus do not live up to the promise. Self-defense is one area in particular, where many programs fall short. It is a messy affair, and has much more to do with a state of mind than fancy techniques. An individual must be able to function under duress, and have an effective arsenal that will work consistently. To develop this a student needs to train in combat conditions regularly and consistently. It is simply not feasible for the general public to engage in full-contact sparring on a regular basis. Given the current awareness of the detrimental, long-term effects of repeated head trauma, the problem with children regularly punching and kicking one another in the head should be apparent.

However, in Brazilian Jiujitsu (BJJ), we can safely “roll” (spar) in every class. We learn a multitude of techniques, and have the regular opportunity to apply them against  opponents of varied shapes, sizes, and skill. This hones the fundamentals of BJJ, as well as our own individual “game.” These fundamentals work, regardless the circumstances. A smaller, weaker individual really can learn to control a larger, stronger aggressor. The intensity of this phase of training develops the mental fortitude that enables us to remain “calm” under pressure, to be able to fight through and survive often uncomfortable, seemingly untenable conditions. In this manner, our skills and our mental tenacity are forged in the fires of combat.

I am a biased father who’s daughters will be well-prepared for all of life’s challenges.

My oldest daughters have discovered their passions. (the jury’s still out for the third) Between school and pursuing these, there is little time left for martial arts. It’s currently my job to protect them, but that responsibility is quickly becoming their own. Brazilian Jiujitsu provides them the training they need, in the limited amount of time they have, to become sufficiently well-prepared for the unlikely specter of violence.

For most of us, the odds of being the victim of violence are small. (here’s some perspective) Indeed we’re much more likely to die in an automobile accident, or of heart disease, than to die from a violent crime. Just like those examples, we can improve our odds by being smart about the risks, and developing good habits – prevention truly is the best medicine. As discussed last week, while avoiding violence altogether is our best bet, given it’s critical nature, it only makes sense to be prepared for it none-the-less. The question we must ask ourselves is one of resource allocation. That is, how much time and energy should we devote towards preparing ourselves and our children?

See you on the mat.

Why My Girls Train in Martial Arts.

One of my training partners recently published an insightful post on Facebook that does a great job reiterating my feelings as a martial artist and a father. As a Law Enforcement Officer, his perspective is further sharpened by the realities of the world in which we live.

“My son, due to his age, has been doing BJJ off and on since he turned five – so much so that when he starts again it’s basically brand new.  Last week I took him to class and needless to say it’s been a while. Toward the end of class he was rolling with another kid and got his back taken, ending up face down on the mat. Not knowing what to do and in a panic he yelled, ‘daddy help me.’

It has been a week and that yell is still fresh in my mind, and gets replayed over and over again. It’s a different type of scream when your kid is in trouble, and it hits you at your core. I can only imagine if it were a real life event with drastic implications. I’ll be the first to say BJJ or any type of martial arts is not the end-all-be-all, but I would be devastated if my son or daughter screamed those final words without giving him or her a fighting chance.

I’ve seen a lot of victims in my life – most made it, some didn’t – and I wonder if those were their last words towards the end.

I understand my career gives me a skewed view on life, but trust me it’s better to be prepared then not. Empower your kids at a young age so they have a fighting chance later on in life. I know of a few places to sign your kids up to train.”

As a former part-paid fireman, I am well aware of the risks we face in the home. We take all appropriate precautions, avoid over-loading extension cords, keep the clothes-dryer duct clean, and wash the exhaust fan filters over the stove monthly. The odds of ever having a house fire are slim. Nonetheless, we have smoke alarms throughout the house, and a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. The children have been taught and practiced various evacuation plans in the event of a fire.

In this same spirit, they are learning how to defend themselves as well. They are taught the risks, steps to take to avoid problems, as well as how to fight if they must. If they make good choices and pay attention, they will probably never need the fire extinguisher, nor will they need to fight.

The bottom line is, we live in a pretty safe time and place here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Violent crime has been declining since the early 1990’s, even with the slight upticks the last two years. (Sadly, those increases were due to specific neighborhoods in specific cities!) With a little bit of prevention – being educated on the actual risks, and staying aware of our surroundings – we can all but eliminate the chances of experiencing violence and the need to defend ourselves.

While the odds are nothing will happen, it is critical than one be prepared in the event that it does. Another friend once made this comparison –

“Our need for a car is common, but it isn’t critical. We use them all the time, but if push comes to shove, we can find another way to get around. The need to defend ourselves isn’t common, but it is critical, for when it comes to violence, it is the only difference between being the victor or the victim.”

The skills we need to defend ourselves, to give ourselves a fighting chance in the most dire of circumstances, require a bit of time and effort to acquire. Due to the low risk, most people don’t even consider this investment. Just like a fire extinguisher, we rarely see the need. Given the critical nature of violence, however, don’t you think it’s worth it?

See you on the mat.

Are You Comfortable?

I recently came across a blog written by another student of Brazilian Jiujitsu. Grips & Growls chronicles his journey. Anybody already living the BJJ lifestyle will be able to relate. For those considering trying Brazilian Jiujitsu for the first time, his is a fresh perspective from one who has just recently begun. One particular post entitled “Sweaty Floor Karate,” hit upon a key concept of our art.

When you’re comfortable being uncomfortable for a hobby, everything else gets easier.

Let’s face it. We all enjoy the good things in life. We glory in the opportunity to sleep in, look forward to the chance to just sit on the couch and “veg,” and spend our weekdays anticipating a weekend at the lake, or a night out on the town. Daily, we are tempted to just hang out at the local coffee shop. While we’re at it, we can snack on a Snickers® bar, have a soda with lunch, and a little cheesecake for dessert.

While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying any of these from time to time, too much of a good thing is, simply stated, too much.

Consider as well all of the technology we’re surrounded by, and for the most part, take for granted. It was all designed with the intent to make life easier. There are planes, trains, and automobiles that get us where we’re going. Flip a switch and we have lights. Push a button and we have air conditioning. Push another and we change the channel. Turn a dial and we’re mixing, juicing, and cooking our food. We can open and close the garage door without ever leaving our car. Indeed, with a few thumb clicks and swipes on our smartphone, we can do just about anything, without ever leaving our home!

Remember the people aboard the spaceship Axiom in the movie WALL-E?

Our modern, suburban lifestyle provides us with ready access to every luxury imaginable, and an environment nearly free from discomfort. However, all of this easy living has a downside: it makes us weak. Just like the poor folks abroad the fictional ship Axiom, such a lifestyle can leave us ill-prepared to deal with adversity.

There are moments in our lives that can be less than pleasant. Taking an exam in school, applying for a job, and speaking in front of a large audience are some common examples. Avoiding them isn’t always an option, and oftentimes it isn’t in our best interest to do so. A successful test score, job interview, or presentation could lead to a vast improvement in our lives in the form of college placement, employment, or a promotion. These are times when being able to remain confident, calm, and clear-headed can enable us to effectively deal with the circumstances. (Let’s call these the three C’s of being comfortable.)

Learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable is fundamental to the transformational power of Brazilian Jiujitsu.

There’s nothing quite like having a larger, stronger training partner who has gained a superior position to help us understand the importance of the three C’s. In this circumstance, it is guaranteed you are going to be uncomfortable. As the pressure they apply smashes you into the mat, it gradually becomes harder to breath, with each consecutive breath a bit more shallow than the last.

The beauty of Brazilian Jiujitsu is that there’s a way out. If you can stay calm and clear-headed enough to remember your technique, and then execute confidently, you can escape. Not only that, but it can become a total reversal of fortune. It is an exhilarating experience to escape, improve your position, and then submit the person who was smashing you moments before.

Brazilian Jiujitsu is physically and mentally taxing. It pushes us to our limits. This is what makes it so powerful. The confidence gained radiates into every aspect of our being. After training with our teammates, everything else appears less intimidating. Any anxiety regarding an upcoming exam, job interview, or public speaking engagement is more manageable. We can look life’s challenges in the eye and say, “is that all you’ve got?” Our training enables us be confident, calm, and clear-headed when facing adversity.

We can be comfortable being uncomfortable.

See you on the mats.

Focus

What a wonderful, crazy world in which we live. We go to work and we play. We go shopping, come home, and fix dinner. We rest. All the while, our families, friends, and neighbors are there, taking the time to make us part of their lives as well. Technology beckons, as the television, radio, computer, and smart phone also vie for our attention. There are books, blogs, and articles to be read, videos to watch, and games to play. The phone rings, pings, or vibrates to alert us to yet another call, text, or email to be answered. We become engulfed in the ebb and flow of traffic as we commute to work, and transport our children to school.

We are continually surrounded on all sides by a seemingly endless barrage. It often seems as though everything is demanding your immediate attention. In this ongoing sea of activity, it can be easy to lose sight of where you are, or where you’re headed. Our ability to focus is a powerful tool that can help us effectively traverse such a multifaceted  landscape.

Focus your eyes, focus your mind, focus your body.

One of mantras I teach younger martial artists is, “Focus your eyes, focus your mind, focus your body.” It’s a reminder of the importance of paying attention to the task at hand. When we spar at the studio, or compete at a tournament, we must have a singular focus. We need to keep our eyes focused on our training partner/opponent, our mind focused on our game plan, and our body properly prepared for the ensuing match. A break in any one of the three greatly decreases our chances of success.

While the intensity of competition demands it, this level of concentration is helpful in more common aspects of daily living as well. We really should strive to focus in such a manner on all endeavors throughout the day. Being continually distracted by extraneous factors, makes us less efficient at getting the job done. When writing this post, for example, I have to turn on the “do not disturb” on my iPhone. Otherwise, I’ll be tempted to respond to the five texts, 20+ emails, and three phone calls I’ll surely have waiting when I’m done.

“Wherever you are, be there!” – Jim Rohn

Efficiency is one reason to be focused on the here and now. Safety is another. Being aware of one’s surroundings is the primary step in self-defense. For example, given the fact that automobile accidents are the #1 cause of accidental death in the U.S. with over 35,000 deaths annually, wouldn’t you think that it might be wise to pay attention while crossing a street, or while driving, for that matter? Yet, given the inherent risk, I am amazed at the number of people I see crossing the street with their gaze locked onto their smart-phone. (that makes “smart-phone” an oxymoron, doesn’t it?)

“Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” – Dale Carnegie

Quality of life is yet another reason to practice focusing on the here and now. Often times we bemoan past events, or worry about the future. While it is good to learn from our past mistakes, dwelling on them does nothing other than to relive the negative feelings caused. It is also good to plan for the future, and thus be prepared for tomorrow. Worrying about it, however, is just adding more needless stress to our already stressful lives. Learn from past mistakes and move on. Plan for the future, and trust your plan. Learn to live today for today, and enjoy every moment.

“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow. Today is the right day to Love, Believe, Do and mostly Live.” – Dalai Lama XIV

See you on the mat.

F.E.A.R.

One of the ways we humans distinguish ourselves from the rest of the species on the planet, is our cognitive ability. Our capacity to reason, to use logical and abstract thought, is what has enabled us to go from being nomadic hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic “stone age” to  the modern era, from flint knives and tools made of bone to walking on the moon!  We reflect on the past, recognize patterns, correlate cause and effect, and calculate the odds of future events. We have dreams, imagine abstract concepts, and experience emotions like love, fear, and anger.

Our brain does more than just store data and contemplate the meaning of the universe. It contains our body’s autonomic nervous system, which controls all of our unconscious, “automatic” activities, such as heart rate, digestion, and respiratory. It is also the driver behind our so-called fight or flight response. This instinctual response is powerful and fast, and for good reasons. When suddenly faced with a life or death level threat, the immediacy and intensity of the response is paramount.

This whole system works pretty well, as witnessed by how far humanity has come over the millennia. We have our minds to thank for all of the advancements we are surrounded by in our daily lives. However, there are some kinks in the program, and these can result in a full spectrum of negative consequences.

In the presence of imminent danger, fear is the result of a healthy, natural, and powerful response. It is an autonomic response in which the amygdala, a primitive part of the brain, quickly responds and prepares us for survival. The ensuing dump of hormones increases your heart rate, shortens your breathing, and  prepares your muscles to explode into action. Your mind and vision become more focused on the task at hand. In this state, you are primed to fight, or to take flight.

“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”

-President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Fear is also an emotion elicited in response to things we perceive to be threatening. We might be afraid of heights, speaking in front of an audience, or flying in a plane. To feel a bit anxious in any of these situations would be considered normal. If the fear is debilitating to the point of negatively effecting one’s life, however, then taking the time to assess the actual risk could be helpful. This is where things get a bit tricky, because we are terrible at assessing risk.

Our modern world is much more complex than that of our ancient ancestors. We now live predominately in densely populated, urban settings surrounded by fast moving technology. Our access to information via television, radio, and the internet is exploding exponentially. All of this information provides the opportunity for us to become more well-informed, and thereby to be better at risk analysis. However, there are some barriers that hinder that ability.

Our mind constantly handles so much information, that we’ve developed various psychological mechanisms to help sort through it all and speed up the process of decision making. These heuristics provide shortcuts to help streamline our thought process. We often refer to them as “a rule of thumb,” “stereotyping,” or “intuition.” Heuristics often lead to a variety of cognitive biases, and while heuristics and biases help us come to quicker conclusions, they can also lead to grave errors in judgement. This is especially true when it comes to assessing risk.

It’s also important to note that all of that information we have access to is filtered in a number of ways, such that we are generally working with just a portion of the “facts.” If your source for information is the news, it’s important to remember this: that which is newsworthy is the outlier, the anomalous. Reporting the norm, sadly, is rather boring. “Today, just like yesterday, and the day before that, 150,000,000 Americans went to work.” “50.7 million children attended over 98,000 public schools today, and will be all week long.” That’s not what the headlines look like though, is it? Instead, it’s, “Earthquake Destroys Village, Death Toll 300 and Rising,” “Train Wreck in Countryside Leaves 120 Dead, 300 Injured!”

False Expectations Appearing Real

The availability heuristic is the tendency to judge the frequency, the probability, of something based on how easily you can bring it to mind. This worked great for our great-great-great-great (you get the idea) ancestors. When they saw their buddy get mauled by a saber-tooth tiger, that threat became paramount: “saber-tooth tiger – BAD.” In our modern society, we don’t have to worry too much about being mauled by a tiger. In fact, when one looks at the actual statistics, we find that for the past 25 years our lives have continually gotten safer. Violent crime in the U.S. has been on an overall decline since their peak in the early ’90’s (and that includes the slight uptick for the past two years).

vcrimechart

Traffic safety has also been steadily improving. This is good news, as automobiles are one of the top causes of accidental death in the U.S. (37,757 in 2015, or 11.7 per 100,000)

traffic deaths graph
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

So why is it that a majority of Americans feel less safe than ever, when the reality is the opposite? In large part, we can thank our availability heuristic. Every time we see a heinous crime on television, or on the internet, that visceral image becomes dominant in our mind. A singular event portrayed over and over again becomes larger than life. We give it undue influence on our assessment of it’s frequency, and how likely it is to happen again. In this manner, our fear grows beyond reason, as a False Expectation Appearing Real.

What can we, as martial artists, do to remain calm in the face of the proverbial storm? How can we keep our head, and make sound decisions for our future, without allowing our emotions, our fear, to cloud our judgement? The first step is in acknowledging that such biases as our availability heuristic have an impact on our perspective. Second, when it comes to risk assessment, people really should study actual statistics, which can help clear up misconceptions. Here are a few resources:

Third, in my opinion, is to stop watching the news. These organizations do a poor job of presenting material in a manner that isn’t intentionally inflammatory, over-sensationalized, and down-right misleading. They want you ticked off, and/or scared. It sells.

Turn off the television, get on the mat and train.

image credit: Alexander Sidorov

Know Your Enemy

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” – Sun Tzu

The past few weeks we’ve been discussing the ABC’s of Self Defense. We looked at some of the statistics regarding violence in the United States. There are, however, other threats to our well being, and any serious look at self defense would be remiss if it didn’t address these very real epidemics facing our country. While we are taking steps to protect ourselves from being the victims of violence, we should also consider how to prevent becoming victims of poor lifestyle choices, and the chronic diseases that follow.

Of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. (this holds true world-wide) violent crime doesn’t even make the list. There were 13,455 homicides in the U.S. in 2015, the most recent year for which we have the statistics on chronic disease. The FBI just came out with the 2016 crime statistics, which sadly show another increase, with 15,070 homicides. Compare these numbers to those in the chart below.

To be fair, it should be noted that these numbers only represent the worst outcome of violence (death). More often than not, victims of violent crime survive. A more accurate number to compare, therefore, is total violent crimes, which in 2016 came to 1,248,185. (In a country with a population of 323,127,513, that works out to about 386 incidents per 100,000 people.)

Five of the top ten killers in the U.S., namely, heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, and diabetes, killed over 1.5 million United States citizens in 2015. This number only represents those who died. It’s estimated that nearly 1 out of 2 people are suffering with at least one chronic illness! (for comparison, that works out to be about 50,000 cases per 100,000 people.)

The World Health Organization (WHO) further estimates that up to 80% of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, as well as 40% of cancer could be prevented by eliminating the risk factors. Even if we were to take a much more conservative approach, say just 10%; that still works out to 144,963 lives saved in one year. Four of the major risk factors are things we have complete control over: lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption.

Boil all these numbers down and we’re left with this realization. For every victim of a violent crime in the U.S., there are 130 people with a chronic illness, and up to 103 of those could be prevented simply by living a healthy lifestyle!

If we’re serious about protecting ourselves and our families, training in the martial arts is a big part of the picture. It can give us the physical skills, and the mental capacity to “take care of business.” Here’s a five point plan to help us build our bodies like a fortress, ready to defend against all adversaries, including the ravages of chronic disease.

  1. Train like a warrior every day.
  2. Eat a healthy diet with an emphasis on vegetables, fruits, nuts, and lean meats.
  3. Avoid highly processed, sugary foods with little nutritional value, smoking, and drinking alcohol in excess.
  4. Drink a lot of water.
  5. Get plenty of sleep.

By choosing to live an active, healthy lifestyle we are developing the most powerful self defense skills we can.

See you on the mats.

next week…

 

Because sometimes things don’t go as planned.

This week brings us to the fourth part of Self Defense 101. Previously we looked at the importance of awareness, knowing the risks, and avoiding potentially dangerous situations. We discussed how we can further reduce our risk by communicating to predators (bullies, muggers, etc.) that we’re not to be trifled with. Additionally we covered how to use our breathing to help deal with the stress of confrontation. When our efforts to avoid confrontation have failed, we’ve reached a juncture where it’s time to take action.

The action we take will vary as the circumstances of each incident are unique. The level of threat plays a large role in what that response should/must be, while on the other side of the equation, our individual circumstances dictate the tools at our disposal. For example, a child dealing with a bully on the playground has a slightly different set of rules to play by, as well as other available resources, then does a woman being accosted in a shopping mall parking lot.

If the opportunity exists, the best option is always the same: LEAVE! Run if you have to. Unless you’re trapped, or have others to defend, it is always better to leave the scene on your own terms. For children, find someone of authority; a teacher, yard duty, police officer, store clerk, etc. In all situations, remember that well-lit areas with lots of people mean plenty of unwanted witnesses for the predator.

Finally, when the aforementioned forms of physical and verbal communication have failed, and escape isn’t an option, the tone has to shift from trying to avoid and defuse the situation to stopping it. The more calming requests must change to definitive demands. A strong stance, with hands up and palms open,  communicates that a person doesn’t want trouble, but will defend themselves. A loud “NO,” or “BACK OFF,” has the added benefit of potentially drawing the attention of others who can assist. (It’s been suggested to yell “FIRE,” as this tends to be a real attention getter)

IMG_0035

In the end, it all comes down to preparation. Have you thought about your game plan? Have you rehearsed/practiced it? What about the actual physical skills of defense? If one has done everything correctly, the odds of ever experiencing a violent encounter can be greatly reduced. Just like a fire extinguisher collecting dust in the kitchen cupboard, with diligence and proper preparation, it will likely never be used.

In the off-chance there’s a grease fire, however, you’ll be glad it’s there.

See you on the mats!

Predator or Prey?

In this third installment on the “ABC’s of Self Defense,” we’re going to look at communication.  Communication plays a critical role in prevention. It can also be used strategically to de-escalate a situation, or provide an opportunity to improve one’s position.

Being the social creatures we are, we communicate constantly. While we are generally aware of what we say when we speak, we oftentimes overlook what we’re communicating non-verbally. Our posture, our gaze, how we dress, walk, and talk, all tell a story. The story can be one of awareness, strength, and confidence. It can also be a tale of distraction, weakness, or fear.

Predators pick up on these subtle nuances. In this regard, they are avid readers. They are looking for victims; people who’s story, or profile, says, “pick me, I’ll panic, and submit to your terms without much trouble.” If they suspect a person is going to resist, they are more than likely going to look elsewhere. They are looking for the easy prey.

Just as we need to practice our tactical breathing, so too should we take the time to consider how we present ourselves. What habits and/or characteristics do we need to develop, or change, in order to not fit the victim profile? Standing tall, walking with a purpose, being aware of those around you, and paying attention to one’s surroundings are the traits of a strong, confident individual. Slumped shoulders, and a downward gaze signal a lack of confidence. The distant, glazed look of someone lost in thought, or being glued to a smartphone both represent a person who could be caught off guard, and shocked into submission.

Our verbal response to confrontation must communicate the same message. The words we use, and the tone we speak with, should convey strength and assertiveness, but not aggression. This requires speaking in a deliberate, but not angry/fearful tone, and using very clear, direct words. Here are some guidelines for verbally communicating in the early stages of a confrontation.

  • Make statements in a strong, confident voice. This helps control one’s emotions as well as the tone of the engagement.
  • Don’t scream, call names, or use foul/abusive language. Not only does this increase our autonomic response (remember why breathing is so important?), but will likely escalate the situation.
  • Speak in the first person. This helps avoid blaming, judging, or attacking the other person, which can again increase tensions. For example,  “I don’t want you coming any closer.”
  • Name the specific behavior that is offensive. For example, “I don’t want you to speak to me like that, it makes me feel bad.”

Developing all of these tools through thoughtful study and practice can help us be more safe. The knowledge that we have properly prepared ourselves, in turn, leads to more confidence. This decreases the odds of ever being accosted in the first place, and gives us a greater ability to de-escalate the situation in the event we ever are.

Are you training to be a Lion, or a lamb?

Be Calm and Breathe

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

-Frank Herbert, Dune 

(It’s a work of fiction, I know, but this mantra has stuck with me since I read it in my youth, so here it is.)

Last week we started our discussion of the “ABC’s of Self Defense” in which we talked about Awareness. Awareness, of course, is the tool we use to avoid danger, minimize the risk of encountering it, or enable ourselves to see it coming when unavoidable. This week we’re going to begin looking at strategies for dealing with the complexities of confrontation.

Fear is a natural reaction to any given set of stimuli perceived as dangerous or potentially so. We’ve all experienced it to one degree or another; standing on the edge of a high precipice, being in an automobile accident, preparing to ride a roller-coaster, or the seemingly universal fear of speaking in front of a large number of our peers. Don’t feel bad. The increased heart rate, sweaty palms, shaky hands, and pit in your stomach are all results of your autonomic nervous system doing it’s job.

Fear is a healthy tool for survival. It reminds us to avoid danger, or to proceed with caution when in doubt. It can stimulate us to action in order to protect ourselves; whether to fight or to flee. The adrenaline leads to an increased heart-rate, and heavier breathing, making us stronger and faster. It focuses our vision and hearing, blocking out extraneous distractions. Fear can also render us incapable of rational thought, intelligible communication, or fine-motor skills. It can distort our vision and our erase our memory.  It can incapacitate us, leaving us frozen in our tracks, unable to decide what to do or which way to go. Therefore it is vital we learn to control our fear, and make it work for us, as it should. The key to this control lies in something as simple as our breathing.

Tactical breathing, or combat breathing, refers to a technique used in the military and law-enforcement to reign in our fear, so to speak. It is not unique to these agencies, however, as it is also taught in martial arts, yoga, and even the Lamaze technique. It is a way we can moderate our autonomic nervous system’s response, keeping it in a range that benefits us the most for the circumstances at hand. By controlling our respiratory response, we can stay “in the zone” of optimal performance.

As with all self-defense skills, this is one we should practice at every opportunity, in order to assure we have access to it under the most dire of circumstances. When you feel yourself getting “stressed out” before an exam – breathe. When you sense your anger rising during a discussion/argument – breathe. When you’re warming up before a competition – breathe. When you’re fixing your belt between rounds in a jiu-jitsu class – breathe

While breathing itself isn’t rocket science, here’s a basic method for reigning in your autonomic nervous system, and thereby your fear. As you practice and develop this skill, you’ll find a count that works best for you. In the meantime, just remember “4 X 4:

  1. Inhale for a count of four.
  2. Hold it for a count of four.
  3. Exhale for a count of four.
  4. Hold it for a count of four.

Repeat four times.

See you on the mat!

(**For a more thorough understanding of stress in combat, check out Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s On Combat. Every serious martial artist should put this book on top of their must-read list.)

 

Self Defense 101

In Brazilian Jiujitsu, we spend the vast majority of our time learning and playing the game of BJJ. Being a great player requires, among other things, a thorough understanding of both offense and defense, of move and counter-move. One needs to understand their personal strengths and weaknesses, and ideally, those of their opponent as well. Understanding the rules of engagement is also a must. In this manner, once again, sport provides a great corollary to life. As martial artists, it is incumbent upon us to prepare ourselves for battle, to be prepared to protect ourselves and our families. Part of this preparation is in knowing all we can about our opponents and the battlefield. Against whom, and for what should we be prepared?

The media would have us believe that there is violence around every corner, but for the vast majority of Americans, this simply isn’t the case. While 2015 and 2016 both witnessed slight upticks in violent crime, they are still part of an overall downward trend since the early 1990’s. Whether these slight increases are the beginning of a return upward, or just anomalies on a continued decline, only time will tell.

vcrimechart

It’s important to remember that while these numbers represent the national average, there are large geographic variations. (Here’s the FBI’s breakdown for 2015 by metropolitan area.) What is striking about this recent increase, for example, is that it is not widespread throughout the country, but is occurring predominantly in particular major metropolitan areas. Not only that, but digging a bit deeper into the stats, we find it’s focused in particular areas/neighborhoods within any given city. (Here’s an interesting look at cities, broken down further into individual neighborhoods)

One’s odds of victimization also correlate with such factors as age, married status, and income levels. For example, in 2015, people between the ages of 12-24 were victims of violent crime much more frequently than older age groups. Married people experienced a relatively low level while separated people had the highest. Economics also plays a role: the lower the household income, the higher the odds of being a victim. (here is the report) It should be noted that while there is a correlation between these factors and the victims of violent crime, the causal relationship isn’t as clear.

The take-away from all of this? We live in a relatively safe society.  Being aware of our surroundings, avoiding bad neighborhoods, and making wise decisions can greatly reduce our risk. The chances are, if we pay attention, most of us will never need to use our physical martial art skills to defend ourselves nor our loved ones from violence. Where we live, and who we associate with can further improve those odds.

Be smart, be safe, and train hard.

See you on the mats.