blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
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Grounding and energy generation—the basis of so many combat and meditative arts in real life, and referred to directly or indirectly in a multitude of fictional magic and fighting systems. In the latter, it’s often described as rooting, or as drawing from the earth, or in other non-specific and spiritual-sounding ways. Gripping the earth with our feet, sinking or connecting, and other aspects of energy use.

I’ve also seen some rather ridiculous demonstrations that can best be deemed Karate Magic or Sensei-Fu—the great and powerful master who uses a pinky finger and hand-wave-um to send faithful students tumbling and sprawling as a demonstration of great power drawn from the earth and channeled into superhuman chi. Here’s an example of what happens when self-delusion walks into reality.

Ahem.

I’m more of a practical gal, I suppose.

Yes, I could say grounding gives you a connection to the earth beneath your feet—and indeed modern research demonstrates an incredible energy exchange when one walks barefoot on soil—but that isn’t extensively useful in a sudden and unexpected fight.

Think about it: the notion of “grounding” as tapping into the earth’s energy means you cannot expect your powerful techniques to work if you’re on a boat, on a plane, in a high-rise, or having to defend yourself within the confines of a spaceship. Or, for that matter, on a yoga mat on the gym’s second floor. Grounding might make one feel connected with the earth or with the universe, but that’s the result of the act rather than the act itself. It’s a metaphor that has, by some instructors and fiction writers, been taken way too far.

Grounding is not a spiritual act dependent upon the Think Method.

Now, I’m not trash-talking fictional magic systems that depend upon inherent elemental power. Frankly, I love elemental magic. (I’ve this little series called Desert Rising, after all!) What I don’t much love is the pseudo martial arts training that presents earthly grounding as a reality-based component of non-magical fight training and skill. What I really dislike is seeing those fictional depictions show up in real-life training folks have paid good money for.

Example: One of my Viable Paradise instructors has extensive Aikido training, and the depth of his skill—and therefore the quality of his instruction—is evident in every line of his body. I recall studying him during one discussion session, when he was merely standing off to one side. I remember thinking to myself, “If I tried to punch him, I’d be the one falling over from the recoil.”

(Is that an odd thing to think? Probably. Unless you tend to think about this stuff all the time. Honestly, I didn’t want to hit him!)

But why did I think that? It wasn’t because he was stiff and stoic. It wasn’t because he played at puffing out his chest and acting tough. It was because he was so obviously balanced, stable, and comfortable. He was both stone and sapling—solid and rooted and flexible.

And when I caught a glimpse of him moving through a couple techniques, that sense of solidity in motion remained.

That’s grounding. For reals.

***

The most bland description, and therefore the most useful and educational place to start, is simple: grounding is the use of biomechanics to choose how and when your body moves.

Grounding comes down to choosing one’s structure—or, perhaps even more basic, one’s posture. If you’re wavering or falling over often, posture is often to blame. If as a martial arts student, you’re stumbling when you strike an opponent or a heavy bag, your posture is again most often to blame.*

Certainly I can tell a student to “sink.” To “connect with the ground.” To “find their stability.” If I’m not a very skilled teacher, I keep repeating those things until the student either finds the right body alignment through trial and error or, as is often the case with intermediate students, quits in frustration. (There is a reason, my darlings, why so many brown belt students drop out…)

So… fix the posture, and fix the technique, right?

Well… yes and no.

Grounding involves the coordination of muscle groups we don’t usually think about. You let your knees bend a little. You take the muscles of your pelvic floor and “lift” them toward your diaphragm. You straighten the outward curve of your lower spine. Bonus points can be earned for being able to tense and relax the upper inner thighs while keeping your knees aligned over your feet. (Just the inner thighs, mind. Tensing other parts of the thigh actually reduces your ability to move quickly.)

Now drop your shoulders (I add that part because the one thing the majority of adult students do when thinking about what the rest of their body is doing is tense and lift their shoulders) and align those shoulders over your hips. Adjust your chin so your eyes are level and your ears are aligned between your shoulders—not in front of them or behind them. Take a deep breath that expands deep in your belly without lifting your shoulders or pushing out your upper chest.

Go ahead and try it. I know you want to.

Those instructions are the bare bones, nothing more, and they are not the only words and actions that will produce results. They are simply the ones I’ve learned. I could toss in koshi and gamaku, chat a bit about the stability of the muscles connecting ribcage to pelvis, talk about the expansion of vertebrae spacing and the shape of the bottom of your feet… There are as many ways to verbally describe the process as there are applications of it.

On the other hand, were you standing in front of me, I could touch your body in four places to help you identify the muscles we’re talking about,** push your shoulders and hips a couple times, and have you grounded. At least in that moment.

Then I’d tell you to shake out your limbs, walk a circle around the mat, and try it again. We’d do this until you could identify the parts of your body that were tense and the parts that were relaxed, with both touch and words. Then I’d have you run kata or spar, and randomly ask you to ground yourself and explain the process. Yes, yes, I know fighting doesn’t involve words, but our intellectual processing does, and though words can get in the way of physical learning at times, deeper understanding and lasting learning usually includes them. The ability to define something physically and verbally ensures your “thinking” brain will eventually get out of the way so your body can do what it must.

Eventually, you’d be able to settle your body into a grounded posture without running a mental checklist. And I’ll tell you now—that feels really, really good.

So… that’s it, right? Grounding in a nutshell!

Nope.

Grounding when you’re standing still is pretty simple, truly. The real learning comes into play when grounding must be done while punching, kicking, blocking, evading… When one must be in motion. When grounding isn’t about connecting with what’s beneath your feet, but about choosing your body’s structure as it moves.

It sounds like a contradiction at first, the grounding while moving thing. But consider what I said above—that grounding isn’t dependent on the physical ground—and it’ll begin to make sense.

If I bump your shoulder, you’ll shift to absorb the force. Do you shift at the waist or the shoulders? The hips? The knees or ankles? If your feet move, where do they go? What happens to your chin? What do your arms do? If your body rotates, how much and in what direction?

Those answers are all part of grounding.

***

Musicians ground themselves with posture proper to their instrument in order to play their best. Backpackers adjust their loads based upon biomechanics in order to reduce strain and injury. Artists know the alignment of their bodies affects the translation of vision into intention. Workers who lift heavy loads learn the importance of using certain muscles more than others. Increasingly, athletics is using science to coach promising athletes by deciphering micro-movements, joint rotation, and ligament/tendon coordination. And there is an entire field of workplace ergonomics dedicated to determining the proper physical alignment for everything from answering the phone to deboning chickens on an assembly line.

There is nothing magical and mystical about fighters doing the same thing.

Accepting—indeed, being excited by the prospect—that grounding is, ahem, grounded in science that can be studied and understood by any average person doesn’t in any way detract from the skill required to achieve it and the awesome results of practicing it. Understanding enhances those things.

Now consider that knowledge in light of writing about fighters and their training.

How long will it take a new fighter to understand and implement grounding if their teacher tells them to feel the earth and sink, and waits for the fighter to figure it out?

How long will it take a new fighter to understand and implement grounding if their teacher demands an exact posture because the needs of war won’t wait upon a student’s soul-searching?

The methods of training depend upon the urgency of the need. Soldiers who have the luxury of three, four, or five years of training without constant threat of deployment will be taught differently than those who have a couple weeks at most before losses on the front line require them to step into hand-to-hand combat in defense of their territory. Ye gads, I’d certainly hope they’d be trained differently!

The same goes for the teaching of grounding. When it’s a more spiritual and internal quest—a personal search for a connection with self and the greater world—we can afford to take our time with ambiguous and interpretive language. When it’s intended to support a fighter’s ability to fight—to survive—practicality rules.

And in real life, there are scant few reasons other than ego or inexperience to withhold specific information from students.

This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon. Because they’re wonderful patrons, they support making the articles on self-defense and fight scenes available to everyone within a month of the original posting. But Patrons have access to exclusive content and other benefits as well. So if you find it valuable and helpful, thank the patrons, and consider becoming one yourself!

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blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
In just about six weeks, Sirens will begin in Denver. This year's theme is Lovers... so of course I proposed a fight-related workshop.

(Hey, I wasn't the only one! Amy Boggs is presenting "Love is a Battlefield: Weapons and Methods for When Love Goes Wrong.")

The workshop I'll be presenting is "The Movement You Don't See." We'll be discussing and using pieces of kata to explore and understand things like power generation, grounding, and the like. It won't be about "pretty" kata, but its practical applications. And though movement will be a part of it, intensity will be low. I want participants to understand and be cognitive of the internal experience of fighting stances, strikes, and the like. Once we add the adrenaline of intensity, those thoughts are processed differently. If there's time, I'd love to go over some of the "hidden" pieces of kata and its grappling implications.

Here's an added cool thing: Anyone can sponsor a Sirens workshop or panel for only $35. Alas, it's too late for sponsors to be listed in the program, but if you sponsor "The Movement You Don't See," I'll make a grand sign indicating your sponsorship--your name, or "in memory of," or, "in the name of," or "prefers anonymity." Heck, I'll make the sign no matter who you sponsor!

So if you've the inclination, head over to the Sirens page on sponsorships and support, and check out the listing of Accepted Programming. $35 is all it takes!


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blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

In the comments to Making the Nice-Guy Challenge a Safe One, [livejournal.com profile] mrissa and [livejournal.com profile] scallywag195 both shared questions and perspectives I wanted to answer in more detail. That "more detail" ended up being much longer than I thought... but here it is!

Questions from [livejournal.com profile] mrissa first:

My question is twofold:

1) In what context would his actions have been reasonable in a class/mat setting? In what context is "respond as though someone who is not in pads etc. is the actual attacker" the correct scenario? If this was a mismatch of reasonable expectations, I am having a hard time seeing where his expectation was reasonable.

The short answer is, "When Sensei says so."
Read more... )

blairmacg: (belt)

In 2013, I made a mistake that still affects my physical abilities—everything from Okinawan weapons training to using a screwdriver.

Two students, father and son, began classes at my dojo. The son was an energetic eight-year-old. The father was a six-foot-six retired drill sergeant who’d trained in a similar style about twenty years prior, but who wanted to start again as a white belt in order to train with his son, and had observed enough of my classes to decide he wanted me as an instructor. He was the kind of returning student who makes a sensei’s job easier by acknowledging long-ago rank is not a measure of present ability. He was fun, supportive of his son and other students, perfectly respectful, and quick to smile. I liked him. Still do.

As I mentioned in The Snarky Partner, I teach hold escapes not only as a basic self-defense technique, but as foundational training for partner work. That’s what the man and his son were learning, alongside another dozen or so new students. As usual, one of the first escapes I taught was a shoulder-hold escape: the bad guy grabs your shoulder, and you break the hold. It’s a totally simple technique I’ve taught and performed thousands of times. I not only know how to teach it in a few minutes, I know the counters, the means to avoid injury, the importance of release, and so forth. So I worked my way around the circle of young and older students, letting them each try it a couple of times with me as their partner, before reaching the father.

I reached up to take hold of his shoulder with my right hand. Just as I grabbed, a younger student starting spinning in place. I gave the child my attention for two seconds—”John, eyes on Sensei!”—and that’s when the father whipped his arm around to perform the escape.

Read more... )

No matter how nice and skilled a stranger seems, never assume you share the same ground rules for contact. Not even shared terminology is a sign of safety. My version of “testing strikes” might not be anywhere near what you expect. You do not want to discover that difference during the flash-second face and fist share the same space.

Sharing and exploring martial arts with others is an awesome thing, and anyone you’d want to learn with won’t be affronted by establishing boundaries and setting expectations before things get physical. Students well-trained will appreciate and share your insistence on knowing parameters ahead of contact.

As always, questions and comments are most welcome!

This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon. So if you find it valuable and helpful, please consider becoming a patron  so I can continue providing the content you like!

For more self-defense and fight-writing related articles, check out this page.

blairmacg: (belt)

One of my business writing clients is a company headed by twin brothers. Big twin brothers who have worked hands-on construction for almost forty years. On the business side, they’re great clients. On the personal interaction side, they are a great deal of fun. After a recent business lunch that included talk of martial arts, the few-minutes-younger brother asked if I thought I’d “be able to take” the few-minutes-older brother if he tried to attack me. I looked the older brother up and down and smiled. “Sure! My thumb will still fit in his eye socket.”

There was a moment of surprised silence before the laughter and nodding. It was one of those good-natured exchanges based more on fun curiosity and comfortable friendship than the need to challenge.

But friendship and curiosity aren’t always elements in those conversations, and when they’re absent…

Every now and then, the mention of martial arts in a group conversation results in an edged challenge from a stranger who—apparently threatened by the very thought of martial arts—wants to cut down that threat right away, with words or with fists. Most do come from men (though I did have a fearsome experience with a woman who claimed she had top-secret CIA training she wanted to demonstrate…).

While some challenges are set out with overt hostility, most are made in a mocking tone that quickly becomes, “What’s your problem? I was just joking!” if the conversation doesn’t go their way and the need to save face arises. In that way, it’s similar to the “I’m just awkward” creepiness seeking to cover its rear when exposed.

Depending on the setting and company, these challenges range from a middling annoyance to a heart-racing adrenaline trigger. Every martial arts student will have different reactions and different methods to deal with the challenges, depending on a combination of personality, experience, and training philosophies. Every instructor will have different advice, based on the same. This is mine.

***

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blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

It is easy — terribly easy —to shake a man’s faith in himself.

To take advantage of that to break a man’s spirit is the devil’s work.

–George Bernard Shaw

Train or talk about martial arts and self-defense long enough, and someone will invariably want to test you.  It’s usually annoying or amusing to varying degrees, depending on the person’s attitude, but it can sometimes be frightening.

I’ll talk about that frightening aspect next month.  This time, I want to talk about a specific sort of challenge most often laid down before the new student whose combination of budding knowledge and excited inexperience makes them vulnerable to emotional undermining.

It happens early on in training, usually in the first month or two.  A student who has been doing well walks into class with a little less confidence.    A little less enthusiasm.  Why?

“Sensei, my boyfriend wanted to see me do that wrist escape we learned last week, and it didn’t work!”

This sensei hates when this happens.  The disappointment and self-doubt in a student is painful to see, and even more painful for the student to feel.  All the student’s excitement over learning something new—the poise of gained confidence in one’s ability—broken down in a few minutes by someone who professes to care.

I hate it.  I hate with vim and passion.

It isn’t always a boyfriend.  It might be a husband, father, mother, sibling, or school classmate.  But no matter the role, the person sees themselves holding the same position: a superior whose station must be reinforced, and whose station is threatened by the student’s sense of consent-based self-determination.

Oh, sure, some of those folks will claim the most-est and best-est of intentions.


  • “I don’t want you to have a false sense of security.”

  • “You need to know you can’t always win.”

  • “I just want to be realistic.”

And sometimes the comments are more direct and honest.


  • “I told you that karate stuff wouldn’t work.”

  • “Don’t start thinking you’re all that special.”

  • “You’re pretty stupid, thinking you can beat me.”

But no matter the spoken reason, the underlying motivation is almost always the same:


  • “To prove myself stronger and smarter, I must prove you are weak, incapable, and less worthy.”

Yes, I hate it.

*****

Teaching self-defense as a years-long curriculum accessible to students of diverse ages and abilities requires deliberation and forethought on a different scale than a weekend empowerment workshop.  (Not better or lesser, mind you.  Just different.)  So one of the first things I teach students under the “self-defense” topic is a collection of basic hold escapes—what to do if someone grabs your wrist, elbow, shoulder, or shirt front.

The simple techniques teach a skill, certainly, but also the rules and expectations of working with a partner.  Students also learn the principles of leverage and torque, grounding and balance, general body awareness, and the connection between the decision to take action and the resulting consequences.

Hold escapes are a very big deal.

I and my more senior students are always the students’ first partners.  Once the basic maneuvers of a escape are taught sans contact, we start grabbing students. We start off with the tight grip and quick release meant to build competence and confidence.  The better the students’ technique, the more difficult we make it to escape, and we adjust it for each student.  The goal is to encourage, and require, progressive improvement.

We set and enforce standards, and most importantly, tell students to not only respect their boundaries, but to enforce their boundaries with calm skill.

It’s called “teaching.”

Then comes the moment the student, excited and confident, goes home to a person who isn’t all that excited, let alone passing supportive of the student’s martial arts training.  That person listens to the student talk about the cool wrist escape she learned just an hour or so ago.  And that person sees the opportunity to prove their own superior strength.

So that person offers to be a “partner,” and grabs the student’s wrist with as much force as possible (and usually with a grip or angle the particular wrist escape isn’t designed to counter).  The student struggles.  The student, who has known the technique for all of a couple hours, and practiced the technique a couple dozen times at the most, fails to break the full-power, all-strength hold of their supposedly supportive partner.

That “partner” happily reinforces the student’s sense of failure and weakness.

The student feels like a failure.

The other person feels fantastic, having confirmed their superiority.

I.  Hate. This.

Truly, the person who feels the need to subjugate a person they supposedly love and care for is, in my eyes, the weak and frightened one.  It’s the person who’d mock a teenager for learning the difference between the gas and brake pedal before speeding onto an ice-covered highway.  It’s the person who thinks it’s funny to drop someone into a warzone before they’ve learned how to load a rifle.  It’s the jerk who believes proof of strength lies in how well they can beat up someone in handcuffs.

It’s punching down.

It’s weakness.

It’s pathetic.

So… after a year or so of teaching, and seeing this drama play out over and over, I made a couple alterations to the lessons.

Yes, I still teach hold escapes.  Yes, I teach them with the same limitations.

Then I tell the students the truth:  “Someone is going to test you.  Someone will want to see if you can really, truly, escape.  And someone will want to prove you can’t do anything at all.  If you try the hold escape, and it doesn’t work, it isn’t because you failed.  It’s because the person holding you thinks they have to beat you.  And that person thinks your fear of hurting them is greater than your fear of being hurt by them.”

Really, that’s the truth of it.  I’ve seen it in the smirks and eyerolls these “supportive” partners give when the student explains to me the hold escape didn’t work.

The Snarky Partner depends on your passivity.  She wants you to hesitate.  He wants you to be afraid of trying.  She wants you to let a loud-mouthed person prove his superiority. He wants to demonstrate his strength is really oh-wow cool.  She wants to make certain you doubt your strength and courage.  He wants to demonstrate how unworthy and incapable you are of determining consent.  The Snarky Partner wants, above all else, to undermine a person’s confidence in self-direction, self-defense, self-determination.

And it doesn’t matter if the Snarky Partner doesn’t actually, deep-down wish you harm.  Because all those things the Snarky Partner wants to prove are the same the attacker wants you to believe: you’re weak, you’re unsure, you’re not worth your own fight.

*****

It isn’t unusual for the Snarky Partner to be the one who accompanies the student to the dojo.  In my experience, the Snarky Partner sometimes goes to great lengths to ensure they’re in attendance because they want to watch the class—to see what the students are taught, how the students are taught, and to find out “tricks” that can be used to encourage a student’s failure.

Whenever possible, I hold my Snarky Partner speech right in front of the watching family and friends.  (Once, I even took the empty center seat in the front row of the observation area because one parent had, week after week, demonstrated his inability to understand by yanking his small son around and laughing at him.) I’ll talk specifically and thoroughly about the Snarky Partner, how to counter that person, and—most importantly—how to either dismiss them as irrelevant or use them as a self-teaching opportunity.

That’s usually enough to end the home-based Snarkers.

But out in real life, where it’s possible you’ll encounter a person who needs to bolster their own ego at another’s expense, chit-chats from Sensei don’t much work.

If my students are children, I must tread a bit carefully for numerous reasons.   They might have abusive parents I haven’t yet sussed out (and I’ve sussed out more than a handful, my darlings), so I must keep in mind the consequences a child might face if they resist a parent.  They might face a challenge at school, where defending one’s self against physical attacks is considered horrifyingly dangerous and grounds for suspension or expulsion.  They might lack the support of a backbone-empowered adult (like the father who let his son be beaten up, day after day and year after year, because he was afraid they’d be sued if his son fought back).

So I tell them this:  “Karate is something to be proud of, but not something to brag about.  If you tell people you know karate, some bad person will try to prove you don’t.  It’s better if you keep your knowledge here, at the dojo, and don’t try to show off to others.  But if you are ever afraid, and if you ever have questions, you come talk to me, and I promise to keep what you tell me safe.  And if you have to use your karate to really, truly defend yourself, I will back you up.  Just remember that the longer you’re here, the more you’ll learn, and every person who is a sensei wants to help you because we were all white belts, too.”

If my students are all adults, I tell them something with a bit more… oomph.

I tell them about Snarky Partners and their usual motives.  As you might guess, I almost always have at least one adult student who’d like to explain why a Snarky Partner doesn’t really mean to be snarky.

“Could they see you were upset?” I ask.

“Well, yes.  But it was just a joke!”

“Were you laughing?”

“Well… no…”

“Then smack ’em upside the head to make them stop!”

There is often some awkward laughter at this point—mostly over the idea of inflicting a small amount of physical discomfort on someone.

So I add this: “The Snarky Partner is hurting you and shaming you.  There is nothing morally wrong with making them stop.  And if that person thinks it’s all right when they hurt you, and not all right when you stop them, you need to think about what that means to you and your children.”

Yes, I do indeed say that—flat out, without mumble-speak censoring.

Because it is true.   Because I hate seeing folks who ought to be supported and encouraged have to instead explain away the overbearing snickering of someone who is being mean.

Some Snarky Partners really don’t understand what they’re doing to their partner/child/spouse.  They do indeed think dragging a weaker person around is just plain funny.  And a subset of these folks take well to being told and will change their behavior.  I’ve even had a boyfriend approach me to ask the best way to help!

Those are the easy ones.  The tough cases require a bit more of a direct approach.  So I go on to explain one of the foundational concepts of successful self-defense: you don’t have to make an attacker let go.  You can instead motivate them to let go.

Ram the heel of your hand—the hand they’re not holding—right between their eyebrows or under their chin.  Or grind your knuckles into the back of the hand holding you.  Or set your foot on the side of their knee and say you’ll kick if they don’t let go.  Or just give them an open hand slap across the mouth.   Yank on an ear.  Poke them in the armpit.  Spit.

No, the Snarky Partner will not be expecting any of those things.

They might try to tell you that as a way of excusing the fact they let go, to make you feel bad for making them stop their bad behavior.  They might even fall back on, “That’s not fair!”

Which…  Oh, ye gads.

Really, my darlings, I cannot even force myself to write about that piece of ridiculousness.

Y’see, self-defense isn’t about being stronger and tougher than an attacker, or even working some clever technique against an attacker.  It’s about doing what the attacker doesn’t expect and gaining the few precious seconds you need to escape.  But most importantly, it’s knowing—deep down and without a doubt—that you are worth defending.  That you’re worth your own defending, and you don’t need someone else to defend you in order to understand your own value.

The Snarky Partner doesn’t like that much.

They can go on not liking it for as long as they wish.

You don’t have to go on with them.



This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon.  Because they’re wonderful patrons, they support making the articles on self-defense and fight scenes available to everyone within a month of the original posting.  So if you find it valuable and helpful, thank the patrons, and consider becoming one yourself!

#SFWApro

blairmacg: (belt)

This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon.  Because they’re wonderful patrons, they support making the articles on self-defense and fight scenes available to everyone within a month of the original posting.  So if you like it, thank the patrons, or consider becoming one yourself!

*  *  *  *

Run away when you can!  First rule of self-defense!

Hang around martial arts and self-defense instructors long enough, you’re bound to hear this advice given over and over.  Some would tout it as the most important advice, but it’s most akin to, “Major in engineering (or whatever is financially lucrative),” or perhaps “Always eat organic foods.”

The temptation to make “run away” the foundational principle of self-defense lies in its simplicity.  But since the advice is usually given rather than taught, its limitations are rarely considered, and how to use it as a successful and integrated portion of an overall strategy isn’t much discussed.

The most important piece of self-defense advice is actually, “Avoid the fight, or make it as short as possible.”  That’s the defining strategy to avoid harm to self and others.  “Run away” is but one of many possible tactics in support of that strategy.   But the conditions under which it’s the best  option are limited, and teaching it as one’s primary technique is as responsible as teaching everyone in the world to take the stairs instead of the elevator in order to improve their health.

Since most self-defense instructors were taught by—and teach, and are themselves—people of a certain baseline fitness and physical mobility, the assumptions behind “run away” aren’t always examined.  So let’s take a look at them, and narrow down the circumstances under which running is indeed the best option.

First, understand running away is not a passive act.  It is resistance.  It is an escalation.

The moment a victim chooses to run, the attacker must decide if the victim is a lost opportunity—not worth additional action—or a threat to survival.  If the fleeing victim is thought to pose a threat, the attacker must then decide whether the best way to neutralize the threat is to escape it by doing their own running, or to capture and control it.  And if capture is determined to be best, the victim is no longer running from a fight.  He’s being chased down by one.

Mind you, I’m not against running.  I am for understanding and teaching its limitations.  Such as…

1.  Running-is-best assumes you have both greater speed and stamina than your attacker, and you happen to be wearing more running-appropriate clothing and footwear as well.

Certainly some folks can train well and hard to increase their ability to run.  Certainly folks can choose to always wear run-friendly shoes (or, as some advocate, learn to run like the wind in heels). Certainly many more folks would sigh over those options because…

2.  Running-is-best assumes you don’t have a limiting physical condition.  Asthma, gout, arthritis, injuries, third-trimester pregnancy, vertigo…  I can’t tell you how many self-defense teachers will brush those concerns aside with, “Adrenaline will make it possible!” or “You’ll be surprised what you can do when you have to!” or the most toxic “You can do it if you really try!”

And if we all clap our hands and really-o truly-o believe, Tinkerbell shall fly again.

Y’all know by now I deal with hip dysplasia.  That hip has collapsed unexpectedly while I’m just walking.  I and others who deal with similar and more severe issues know better than to count on The Think Method as our primary means of escaping trouble with a capital T.

3.  Running-is-best assumes you aren’t in the company of someone who needs your help in the face of a threat.  A child.   An older parent.  A partner or friend who uses mobility aids to get around.  Someone who has, say, hip dysplasia.

Most assuredly, you might still be able to run.  But it’s bad form to leave behind those who can’t run away from what you’re escaping.

4.  And running-is-best assumes you have a place to run to that is better than where you’re running from.  I understand the urge to believe anywhere is better, but that’s a false—and therefore dangerous—belief.

Consider the 11-year-old boy who, lost in the woods, hid from would-be rescuers for four days because his parents had been very clear on “stay away from strangers,” but never added, “go toward these people.”  And all it takes is one wrong turn to go from a populated area that might discourage an attacker to a deserted alley holding no deterrence at all.

To sum up: The tactic of running is most likely to succeed when you are alone, dressed to run, fit and able to run faster and farther than your attacker, and have a safe destination in mind.

So… what about all those other times?

Buy time, and buy it loudly.

As I said above, every act of resistance—every choice that is not total compliance—is an escalation of the encounter.  The attacker’s response to the escalation is not within the victim’s scope of control, but the victim can do things to deter or narrow responses.

Chase down a victim is not the same decision as chase down a victim who already jammed fingers into my eyes. Or rammed knuckles into the windpipe.  Or whipped a cane against the knee.  Or swung a loaded diaper bag across the nose.

You see, every single act of resistance before the running (or the jogging, or the limping) adds a variable to your attacker’s plans.  Increasing the number of variables tends to decrease the assumption of success.

Unpredictability increases the likelihood of failure, and failure for an attacker means physical pain, public discovery, loss of freedom, and possibly death.  Merely running gives the attacker a single calculation to perform.  Striking and screaming before running exacerbates the attacker’s doubts.

Since I know I can’t count on my hip to hold up under pressure, I will choose my strikes according to how much they’ll slow pursuit.  I will always choose a kick to the knee over a punch to the jaw, a sharp jab to the eye over a shove to the chest, and a fist to the throat over a knee to the gut.  I might be able to sprint; I might have a leg collapse in mid-stride.  Thus I want to leave my attacker struggling to breathe, or see, or limp rather than capable of chasing me down in rage because I bopped him in the mouth.

And do not for a moment buy in to the judgment of, “If your attacker is so close you can’t run away, you’ve already done something wrong.”  It’s a snooty philosophy that assumes telepathic and precognitive skills alongside a life lived either in utter solitude or perpetual paranoia.

Yes, it’s true: a well-trained person will have the skills, calm, and reflexes to attempt to talk an attacker down, or redirect the aggression, just as a well-trained person in the right circumstances can indeed run away without suffering further consequence.  And it’s really nice to think of running away as an element of non-violence without its own moral cost.

But everyone else in the world–everyone who does not at this instant have amazing, or even foundational, physical abilities, and everyone who does not at this moment have two, three, five, fifteen years of training–deserves to have options right now.  And brushing away that truth with, “Hey, just run away!” isn’t all that helpful.

So why, you ask after all that, is running touted as the bestest and most common self-defense advice?

Quite simply, because most teachers teach only the able-bodied, or the close-to-able-bodied.  Most instructors never have to answer a fearful, “But what can I do?” from a man using a cane or a woman a month from giving birth.  Most instructors don’t even mention the cascade of decisions that come into play when a person must consider what their choices will mean for the six-year-old at their side.

Telling someone to always run away first is simple.  Following such advice often isn’t.

So absolutely run if you’re able to run, and if the consequences of running are acceptable to you.  Just know your intentions, understand your assumptions, and consider your options before you do.

If you found this article valuable, and would like to see more, consider becoming a supporter through Patreon!

#SFWApro

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

It’s a day of, “Finally!” mixed with a bunch of “Already?” and an expected amount of “Gulp.”

Patreon is a new and exciting platform for me. It’s a bit like Kickstarter for on-going creative work, and gives me a chance to make the creative process into a community endeavor that invites readers to step into experience.

PatreonHeader

The individual rewards for my patrons range from first-eyes access to all self-defense articles to receiving my feedback on your own fight scenes and becoming a character in an upcoming novel. The community milestones range from creating print editions of the novels to my commitment to offer self-defense and/or fight-writing seminars at different conventions.

So if that alone is enough to convince you to investigate, go forth and check out the rest! Maybe if we hit a certain goal by a certain time, we’ll have a whiskey-fueled Twitter party.

If you’d like to know more (about the Patreon, not the whiskey) before committing to that click, read on:

***

At a recent convention in Colorado, I sat on three panels: how to write great villains, exploring violence in fantasy literature, and writing engaging fight scenes.

Do we detect a theme here, my darlings?

I’m Blair MacGregor.  The fiction and non-fiction I write goes a long way toward explaining my participation in those panels.  Reviewers describe my fantasy novels as brutal, gritty, character-driven,  and realistic military fantasy.  Even my most well-intentioned characters must choose between what is good and what is necessary… then live with the consequences of their choices.  You can find more information about the novels here.

The non-fiction my readers love most explores self-defense and martial arts—sometimes with applications to storytelling, and sometimes with applications to real life.  To give you the most dynamic information possible, I draw on over fourteen years of martial arts and self-defense training, twelve years of teaching, and more than a little bit of life experience.  The articles challenge perspectives, debunk myths, call out dangerous claims, and provide factual information.  Here’s an example of the articles I write.  Here’s an example of why I write them.

By becoming a patron, you’re supporting the fiction and the non-fiction.  The characters who must decide if their cause is worth the consequences.  The real-life people who deserve to know how best to protect themselves from the bad guys.  The storytelling that benefits from understanding when, why, and how violence is effective, and when, why, and how fighters make their decisions.

So I’ve put together appreciation levels for individual patrons and milestones for the collective community.  Individual appreciations range from “first-eyes” access to all self-defense articles to being “cast” in one of my stories to direct personal feedback on your fight scenes.  Community milestones include fight scene analysis, interviews, and more.  (Someone mentioned videos, so maybe… )

These will evolve and expand and diversify as we get to know each other better, so feel free to make your suggestions!   Above all, my darlings, thank you so much for your interest and investment.  Your feedback is always welcome.

***

Read more details here! Thank you to everyone in advance for the support and encouragement.

And just a little reminder that I’ve an infrequent newsletter as well.

#SFWApro

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
As in, I mentioned in public that I'm considering Patreon. So in between coaching my nephews through schoolwork and chores -- hours during which absolutely nothing creative can occur -- I read through all the How It Works stuff on the Patreon website, poked around different creator projects to get a feel for things, and sketched out some notes while the boys finished math.

And I have IDEAS.

Y'see, I don't want to put up a campaign solely for the purpose of supporting novel writing. I mean, in the end, that's what happens, but that alone seems so... not quite what I want to propose. But I was having trouble coming up with something I could provide patrons on an ongoing basis. I'm not a short story writer and, no matter how much anyone pays me, I cannot suddenly become one. I am not a visual artist, so cannot provide people with wonderful pretties. I'm not willing to commit to a chapter-per schedule at this time (though that might change as Life becomes more secure).

But I write about fighting and self-defense and violence--sometimes in the context of writing, but most often in a more general context that can be used by writers and others. These are the most-read articles I've written. I've the martial arts background, basic weapon familiarity, stage combat training and experience, and ongoing access to resources to learn more.

So here are some of my feeling-things-out thoughts:

On the side of patron levels:
-- Basic support level provides access to monthly content that'll be exclusive to patrons for three to six months. Topics would range from self-defense notions to information on different styles and training, to writing application. Anyone can submit questions and topics, too.
-- Maybe a slightly higher support level that'll include... I don't know yet? Mention in acknowledgements of published work and question/answer priority?
-- A much higher level for personal feedback/critique of a fight scene and/or answering specific questions on an ongoing basis (like... editorial coaching for fight scenes).

On the side of cumulative goals:
-- A set total goal for a monthly article. Were I writing these at the "pro" per-word rates, it'd come in about $120 per article, which I'm mentioning as a reference.
-- A higher total goal for a second piece of content. (Another article, or line-by-line analysis of an existing fight/action scene, its choices, and what the choices reveal?)
-- And something else I'm not thinking of?

Would this be of value and interest to folks?
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
If you talk about martial arts long enough, someone will eventually say, "What's the point of kata? You can't use it in a real fight. The only thing kata is good for is tournaments."

I mightily disagree.

Kata is, in simple terms, a series of choreographed movements -- punches and kicks, stances and turns, blocks and attacks and evasions. From the outside, it looks as if one fighter is taking on multiple attackers coming at her, one at a time, from different directions. Many martial arts use them as a training tool, with some arts and schools putting greater emphasis on them than others.

A friend recently asked me about the purpose of kata. I gave a short answer, then realized how different today's answer was from the answer I might have given ten years ago, or even five years ago. My understanding has changed -- not only because of my training, but because of my teaching experience.

At first, kata serves to instill rudimentary body awareness and muscle function. We're talking very rudimentary here. The student must learn, at the bare minimum, to be aware of and in control of what her body and all its parts are doing at any given moment. Most people can stand up and throw a punch with their left hand, but will not be able to say what the right hand was doing without looking at their right hand. Ask if the knees were bent or straight, or if the chin was lifted or tucked, and she will have no clue. Ask her to keep track of all those things while moving from one technique to the next with at least a smidgeon of intensity, and things quickly fall apart.

Taught properly, kata teaches such total body awareness. In my experience as an instructor, it takes most students six to twelve months to perform a basic kata with something approaching body awareness. Even my most athletically gifted kids will take awhile to reach awareness. Certainly they can perform the techniques sooner than other students, but unless they can connect the mind to identify and verbalize, they've essentially learned only half of the kata's first lesson. Body awareness, you see, is another way of saying "focus," and an athlete who can't think through what the body is doing is like a general who knows the best tactics but has no strategy. Deadly, perhaps, but pointless unless someone else tells them what to do.

That first level is where some instructors stop. The student memorizes a pattern, puts effort into throwing techniques that look good and works up a sweat, and the instructor calls it good. That's both the cause and result of all the "Kata is useless!" cries that come up. Let me go deeper into what kata is intended to accomplish, and you'll see why stopping there misses so much.

Kata teaches muscle memory for fighting techniques, and how the kata is taught -- from breath control to muscle tension to transitions between obvious techniques -- will influence how the student fights under pressure. A basic kata will include an overhead block. It's an extremely versatile technique, able to be used as "just" a block, a block on the way to a strike, or a block after a hidden strike. Or it can be turned into an arm lock, a forward momentum throw, a trip-and-throw, an evasion of a weapon... You get the idea. But none of those can be carried out against a determined opponent making a committed strike if the correct muscle memory isn't there. If small pieces are off -- one foot angled wrong, the hips canted, the arm disengaged from the core muscles -- chances are high the attacker will overwhelm you.

Self-defense drills are fantastic, but speed and form are more difficult to control, and drills are practiced with people who know what you're going to do next. Attackers in the classroom (usually) have no desire to be broken, so will follow the energy-lead of the student they're attacking. It can allow even the best students to get away with less-than-strong techniques. (Very strong students often get away with extremely crappy technique, but that's another post entirely!)

Correct kata doesn't let students cheat. If your stance is incorrect, I'll be able to push you over with my fingertips. If your stance is correct, you'll remain rooted even if I thump you in the shoulder.

And once the student can run kata with proper muscle memory -- as well as strong pacing and intensity -- that memory begins to show up in sparring and self-defense. Progress in self-defense is accelerated by the time invested in kata. The student, especially the student who thinks kata is boring and sparring is most awesome, is usually the last to see the connection, even though she stands to gain so much sparring and self-defense skill.

So: Kata provides body awareness, conditioning, and muscle memory, as well as the components of those skills like balance, coordination, focus, strength, and agility. But there are two other benefits I want to emphasize—things I hear too rarely discussed even among talented fighters.

First, kata conditions ligaments and tendons, which increases strength and power while decreasing incidence of injury. Ligaments and tendons are those connective tissues that create a moveable human out of meat and bones. Alas, they are often forgotten in the quest for strength as measured by muscle-isolating gym machines. The trouble is, muscle strength increases at a faster rate than tendon/ligament strength, which can lead to injuries, plateaued development, and weird situations like very muscle-strong bodybuilders being unable to throw a ball any reasonable distance.

In martial arts, muscle-over-connector emphasis leads to stiff movements (and stiffness is usually just a poor proxy for force), sloppy form (as the student tries to create false momentum through a "wind-up" or some such), and painful injuries at the joints.

The repetition of kata sidesteps the notion of building muscles in isolation of natural movement. It teaches tendons and ligaments and muscles to all work together, to contract and relax in the optimum order, and to support each other to increase strength and reflex while reducing injury. And since constant muscle tension isn't used to generate power, the student's oxygen reserves remain higher. The result is power that seems to be greater than the person's strength and stamina that outlasts the opponent. This is not spiritual magic. It's practiced internal and external coordination.

(PSA: If you're a martial arts student getting injured a great deal, find a different instructor and a different school. Seriously. Unless you're an ass who refuses to follow any and all directions, you're suffering injuries because of the way you're being taught.)

Second, kata teaches you to move with your center, and your center to move with you. Sounds simple, doesn't it? It isn't at all. Without a solid center, forward movement is most often initiated from the shoulders, and rapid changes in direction result in loss of balance, injuries, or falls. In other words, we move our upper body and forget to take our legs along. Kata teaches you how to move from and with your center.

Not only does this make everyday life more comfortable, it's essential in a fight. A fighter who knows how to hold her center won't lunge to the side and leave a leg sticking out, or raise the shoulders before a strike, or lead with the chin (which results in blocking with one's face...). Holding center makes it possible to throw someone bigger and stronger while making it difficult for someone bigger and stronger to throw you. Trust me – if you lose your balance, someone else will find it, and Finders-Keepers rules in a fight.

Sure, there are lots of ways all these lessons can be taught and learned. Fighters learn them all the time from drills, from sparring, from trial and error, from any number of methods that provide the means to feel the difference between stability and rigidity and an opportunity to repeat it endlessly. If your student has innate athletic ability, you can get spectacular results by providing some general guidance, letting the talented student find the "right" posture, then reinforcing it with small corrections and encouragements.

But if your student is clumsy, uncoordinated, and distractible, that's a setup for failure. The student gets frustrated. The instructor gets frustrated. By the time the student hits brown belt (often around two years of training), the difference between athletic and non-athletic become much clearer, and no one is so clear on the difference than the non-athletic brown belt. Many brown belts quit because they don't see any improvement, and are given little instructor guidance other than, "Keep trying!"

So what's the real answer? What's the thing that can keep those students going and growing? What's the super-secret method, developed over decades?

Kata. Not because of its strikes or kicks, or blocks or turns, or any of its component techniques. Not because the student learns choreographed movements in a controlled environment.

And why kata so valuable?

Because everything outlined above--the techniques, balance, coordination, centering, and flow of movement--teaches people with little or no natural athletic ability how to be capable fighters. Armed with those tools, the instructor doesn't have to wait around for the One True Student Of Great Talent. The student doesn't have to give up learning what comes easily to others. Kata is the perfect self-defense training tool for the student who struggles.

That's it, right there. The true and hidden purpose and application of kata.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
After a stumble-start last fall, my experiment with a women-only karate class is off to a fantastic new start. The first class was on Tuesday, with seven women in attendance.

Most uncomfortable moment: Making it clear to my own (male) teacher that he needed to leave the dojo before we started class. I'd made it clear to the women there would be no men, no husbands, no children in the dojo at all.

Most awesome moment: When everyone walked out the door saying, "See you next class!"

Once upon a time, I was uncomfortable with offering a women-only class. I'm a staunch believer in men and women training together, and see huge benefits come from that. Then I chose to listen to the women who expressed a passing interest in karate, but never actually took a class.

Body image. Fear of judgment. Fear of failing. Fear of being the worst one in class. Discomfort with a physical sport. Discomfort with being seen enjoying an aggressive sport. All those reasons and more, I heard over and over from women who murmured their interest in karate to me when no one else would hear them.

I pride myself in creating a safe and supportive environment for new students who are, more often than not, nervous stepping on the mat. I've had kids cry crocodile tears at the start of class, and beg to come back for more by the end of class. I've had adults hesitant at the beginning because of physical limitations realized at the end that I'll work with them to reach their goals. But whatever atmosphere my methods and personality create, it wasn't safe and supportive for a subset of women who wanted karate training enough to mention it, but feared it enough to never try.

So I set out to create that environment. No men. No witnesses. That was a big deal for all of the women who committed to showing up. Then we talked about the physical stuff, and I shared my Ultimate Karate Dork stories as well as the problems my hip dysplasia caused. We talked about things women don't often discuss with men: boobs that get in the way, post-pregnancy body problems, hitting other people.

On the mat, we not only worked hard on technique, but we laughed. Laughed and shared and enjoyed everyone's company. We started on the basics of dojo etiquette, chatted about the boundaries of Sensei-In-Dojo and Blair-In-Supermarket, and acknowledged that it feels very strange to say "Yes, Ma'am/Yes, Sir" at first. We worked up enough of a sweat that everyone was at least a little sore the next day. And we spent time listening to one woman sharing an issue she'd been struggling with all day, and we offered support.

Unlike six or seven years ago, when most women I spoke with wanted "self-defense" without all that "karate stuff," these women want the whole thing. They want to earn the black belt. They are working hard, asking questions, making mistakes and corrections.

Three to six months from now, I suspect they'll all be ready to transition into the standard classes at least once a week. By then, all those preliminary fears will have been encountered. Best of all, this group of women is helping me refine these ideas by giving me honest feedback.

...and I have to back up, because my hopes are running away with me. :) The true test will be how many of those seven women commit to a longer-term program. The decision point will be this coming Thursday.

In the meantime, I am thrilled with the two classes we've had so far. I come home happy, energized, and grinning. It feels like the beginning of a community.

And in the writing news, I suddenly wondered if I should end Sand of Bone 20K words deeper into the larger story. This is not all that helpful to my stress level, alas.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
So it's been a little less than four months since I swallowed my nervousness and made Seeing Is Understanding publicly accessible.

I've been blown away by its continued visibility. It's a rare day that someone doesn't view it here or over at WordPress. Between the two, it's around 4000 views. And just when I think it's finally trickling off, a sudden influx of viewers will come from a new Facebook or Tumblr link. Now I'm getting visitors from Google+. I have no idea how many people have read it at those other sources.

I'm blown away by that. (I know a great many folks wouldn't blink at those stats, but I'm an unknown small fry, so the numbers surprise me.) I'd originally written this up for a double-handful of people because I'd found the incident both interesting and unsettling. They urged me to give it a wider audience, and I'm glad I did. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

I'm also a little weirded out by the article's reach. My website stats tell me folks come from all sorts of online places to see that post, reading from six continents, so I assume there is some conversation about it somewhere -- but it's not mine to participate in, or even know about. I just hope the conversations lead to better awareness on the part of men and women, and a greater ability to see the smaller manipulations that so often escape notice and acknowledgement.

Lastly, I can report I've not been subject to any backlash. Considering what has happened to others discussing harassment, that does surprise me. (I wonder if it's because "Blair" is somewhat gender-ambiguous.)

Crossposted to BlBlair MacGregor Books.
blairmacg: (belt)


True or false: “If you have to fight, you’ve already done something wrong.”

If you’re male, or female but educated in self-defense primarily by males, you will say True. If you’re female, aware of the dynamics that most commonly lead to real self-defense situations, you will say False. If you teach self-defense, and want your students to understand those dynamics, you will say, It’s a pile of crap, and believing it could get you killed.

The whole, “If you have to fight” notion has its place. When you’re teaching and training aggressive young men who believe physical strength is the measure of their worth—and are itching for the chance to prove themselves worthy—getting them to control their impulse to fight is necessary. It’s also valuable for teaching the basic principle of self-defense: avoiding a confrontation, by reading the situation and/or removing oneself from it, is an excellent protection technique.

But in the real world, it’s of little practical use, and believing its absolute truth can indeed get you killed.

I imagine the originator of the quote assumed most fights would be between two men—likely an escalation of a disagreement, or perhaps an interruption of a criminal act, or even a war undertaken when negotiations went sour. So sure, your first step should be to deescalate the situation and avoid violence. Maybe the quote is meant to imply folks who don’t want to be attacked should avoid attack-rich environments–the clichéd dark alleys and isolated parking garages. Okay, fine.

But it ignores the fact the majority of “fights” women will face in life don’t happen in dark alleys and scary places. A woman is most likely to be attacked in her own home, without warning, by someone she knows.

And if you teach self-defense or martial arts, and you don’t know that fact, you are putting your female students in danger.

By telling a woman she should always avoid a fight, you encourage her to let dangerous situations escalate beyond what she might be able to counter. By telling a woman the fight is an indication of failure, you insult the woman who decides to fight when attacked in her own room, in her own bed, by a man who has deliberately earned her trust.

And if you believe having to fight means you’ve done something wrong, I don’t want you on my side should a fight ever come around. I want the partner who knows it takes both parties to resolve a conflict, but only one to decide violence is a better idea. I want a partner who knows from experience that life and people are unpredictable, the bad guys don’t let you choose when an attack happens, and you don’t always get a heads-up before someone takes a swing.

Fighting back is a choice, not a failure.



Coming next: We Already Knew That on the odd habit men have of discovering sparring techniques aren’t effective in a real fight, and the assumption they should tell the women-folk (as if women weren’t already acutely aware of it).


Crossposted at Blair MacGregor Books.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

I've been blown away by the spread of, and positive response to, my last post. It freaked me out a little at first, seeing the views here and at BMB keep rising. My hope is the folks who read it will find not only something interesting, but reason to look ahead with positive hope.

As much as we (using "we" in the most general sense) like to believe we are empathetic creatures at heart, even the best of us have blind spots. It's difficult to understand how one person's experience feels on a visceral level unless we have a similar experience to which we can compare it.

By coincidence, researchers at UCLA recently released the results of their studies, "Bound to Lose: Physical Incapacitation Increases the Conceptualized Size of an Antagonist in Men." Researchers found men tied to a chair or standing on an unsteady surface (a balance board) overestimated the antagonist's size and underestimated their own size.

The results are utterly unsurprising, though I'm sure it's abstractly a good thing that science has now confirmed the experiences of anyone who has been on the lower end of a power disparity.

If nothing else, it's something to point as a means to explain why a person will read "threat" into a situation that, to an outsider, doesn't look threatening. Where an observer might think, "That nice guy was just talking to her over there," the woman in question might be thinking, "I can't get out of this corner because the Huge Man is blocking me."

Considering how balance affected perception, I'd be interested to see what would result from participants wearing stilettoes.



Also posted at Blair MacGregor Books
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

This is about speaking up, creepers, and what good men don’t always see.  Names have been changed.

Some time ago, I was having lunch with a group of friends—four men, one woman, and me.  I’ve known most of the group for five or six years.  We were talking about shared past experiences when one of the men mentioned that he missed Larry.  “Gotta like a man who can make a good cup of coffee,” he said.

“No, I don’t,” I blurted out, and described how that man knew precisely where the lines of “inappropriate” behavior were drawn, and had spent the last couple of years nudging those lines whenever he came across a woman he considered “available.”  I mentioned he’d been called out for failing to heed polite turn-downs, that he got offended when the turn-down became less polite.  I mentioned how women who weren’t even the focus of his attention breathed a sigh of relief when he left the room.

None of the men discounted my experience or my descriptions.  But every one of them said they hadn’t seen or noticed anything like that.  I do want to be clear that their responses were not in the spirit, tone, or words of dismissal.  Instead, they were genuinely puzzled that their observations had missed something they assumed would be obvious.  One said he felt bad he hadn’t realized what was going on.

So I pushed the issue.

Without explaining what I was going to do, I got up and stood behind one of the men.  I put my hands on his shoulders, then stretched my fingers as far down his chest as possible while still seeming to give a plutonic shoulder rub.*  I pulled him back against my chest, digging my fingers in when he resisted.  That action alone let him know I acknowledged he didn’t want me to be pulling on and touching him, and I didn’t care.

“You look so tense,” I said in a nice, soft voice.  Not sexy, not husky, but more intimate than standard conversation.  Not intimate enough to be “inappropriate,” though.  “You just let me give you a rub and I’ll make you feel better.  I can tell you need that.”

Then, while he say immobile with surprise, I leaned past him to pick up his coffee cup, keeping my chest close to his face and my other hand firmly on his shoulder.  To the others, it likely looked as if I was just resting my hand there.  That man, though, could feel the pressure I exerted to keep him pressed close to me.  He would have had to make an obvious, rude-looking push to get away.  “I’ll get you some more coffee, too.  You just let me take care of that.”

I gave the man a sweet smile in answer to his shocked stare, then returned to my seat, put my napkin back on my lap, and said, “That’s what Larry does.”

The man I’d touched totally understood in that moment.  He’d experienced how it felt—even at the hands of a friend—to have your personal boundaries violated and your “polite” signals of resistance ignored.  The other men had that slack expression that comes when surprising facts suddenly jolt long-held assumptions.  “Creepy” was uttered, as was “awful” and “scary.

Their words held a tone of… almost fear?  As if they were suddenly running through all sorts of past interactions in search of similar behaviors, and finding some.

Now they are able to see it.

*The “long-fingered” shoulder rub is a common tactic used by creepers who want to look like they’re being so tender and nurturing while actually making the woman fear he’s going to grab a breast at any moment.

See also:

Where the Boundaries Are Drawn

Five Things I’ve Learned About Teaching Self-Defense

It’s the Same Advice



Also posted at Blair MacGregor Books
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
In comments, [livejournal.com profile] sartorias asked, "Also, talk about strategies with multiple attackers? You want them in one another's way, of course, or to funnel them if you can, but what if they encircle you?"

It's a great topic. The answers are always evolving, and no single set of techniques will work all the time. And if you're going up against three or four well-trained guys, you're going to get hurt--no question. I'm not much for the bravado that accompanies so many "expert" teachings. (There's my disclaimer. :-)) But there are techniques that work most often, and principles that increase the chance of success.

The first is to keep moving, no matter what. The second-most common error I saw this last week came from the desire to plant one's feet to deliver a solid punch. That takes too much time. In the less-than-a-second it takes to deliver a pair of good hits, the other attackers will smoosh you. Far better to move and hit at the same time (and that requires getting good hits delivered to the right targets, which is whole 'nuther topic).

So if you're hitting Bob while circling to the right, the other attackers are more likely to circle around Bob to head you off. That's when you instead cut left and retreat. If some go right and some left, you zag and zig to the side with the fewest. It gives you distance, which gives you time, and strings out your attackers again. Strings, good. Clumps, bad.

Always the movement should take you to the most open space available--away from the attackers, and away from the people you've already hit. Even attackers down on the ground should be considered dangerous (pulling out a weapon, grabbing your leg or foot, rolling into your path, etc.). Prey that never stops moving is really, really hard to surround.

But if that happens, the circle must be escaped. On my first test, Shihan put me in a circle of eight attackers. I chose to charge toward the right hand of a tall attacker, ducked beneath his haymaker, and flipped an elbow into his gut as I ran past. It wasn't enough to stop him from coming after me, but it gave me a half-second to get past him. The guy on my left was also right handed, so his power-punch took longer to swing around to me. I didn't bother blocking it. Instead, I ran away from it to get distance. From there, it was actually easier to line folks up because those at the far side of the circle had to cover a greater distance to get to me. It gave me time.

Staying inside the circle is certain failure. If you can't move, you're easy to hit.

Does that make sense? I'm trying to balance getting the idea across without bogging down the details.  So many "multiple attacker" scenarios on videos and such are really "lots of single attackers, one right after the other."  In those, you'll see the target move in a predictable pattern--usually a circle--as attackers come up one at a time.  Alas, that gives the practitioner a false security. Seeing what happens when a group really charges you is an eye-opener!
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

I was sent a link to a women's magazine article giving five tips for self-defense that were credited to a woman with an advanced rank in karate.


Look: I respect any woman who has trained so long—particularly a woman who began at a time when women weren't much wanted or expected to be in a dojo. That's a woman like one of my own primary instructors, whose courage and determination made the mat a safer and more welcoming place for me to be in more recent years. But I can't help pointing out when advice can be not all the useful, or useful only to those who have a lifetime of good physical agility and ability.


Before I say more, I'll share a couple points.

Read more... )
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

1.  People accustomed to using strength often have a hard time learning to throw, partly because strength permits them to "cheat" on technique if the majority of their training partners are not as strong. People who are smaller and weaker learn proper technique more quickly because errors in body mechanics are immediately apparent.

2.  Learning to fall is just as important as learning to throw, and being thrown properly is incredibly informational. After you've been thrown a great many times, you stop needing to think about the fall. You become more aware of when your momentum is no longer yours to control, aware of which changes in body positioning affects the speed and ease of the throw, and that improves your own throws.

3.  Just as in real life, you can never really throw anything away without concern for where it'll end up. Unless you're tossing someone off a cliff, assume the attacker knows how to fall, roll, and come back for a second (and wiser) attack. I prefer to hold on to my attacker long enough to hit or kick, too.

4.  Throws use circles rather than straight lines. Kindly throws keep the circumference above ground. The circumference of not-so-kind throws are only partially above ground. The latter involves a sudden stop as body meets ground in mid-rotation.

5.  Throwing makes a key fighting truth abundantly clear: if you lose your balance, someone else will find it. Finders, keepers!

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
People who haven't fought at speed have no idea how fast a fight moves. In the time it takes to count one-Mississippi, you can be struck a few times. There is no moment to come up with a plan. The advantage goes to the one who doesn't need to think about what should be done next. (Critical consideration, since the average 911 response time can be around seven to eight minutes.)

The instinct to duck is incredibly hard to overcome, even though it results in losing sight of one's attacker. The ancillary to ducking--closing one's eyes--has the same result. Truth is, it hurts as much to get hit with your eyes closed as it does when they're open. Alas, effective blocking is a difficult skill to acquire, and practice often involves accidentally blocking with one's face at first.

Folks learning to fight have a seemingly irresistible urge to explain at length why and how what they're being told to do will never, ever work.  We're so accustomed to processing everything through language that we assume an idea isn't valid if we can't.  It takes awhile for folks to trust the mind will follow the body's lead.

It's easier to teach hunters of fast-moving game than it is to teach non-hunters.  Stop: it has nothing to do with the psychology of hunting, or gun-carrying, or aggression.  It has everything to do with experience.  Someone who hunts is used to judging, in an instant, things like speed, distance, and trajectory. That's an incredible asset in a fight--for both offense and defense.

"I'm afraid I'll be too aggressive" usually means, "I'm afraid of what the attacker will do if I'm aggressive."  I hear this often from folks with violence in their past, where fighting back resulted in more severe abuse.  But it's easier to say one fear one's own power than one's own weakness, and keeping a clamp on one's aggression keeps a lid on the fear, too.  In those cases, I'll often be the person's partner, or partner them with a student I trust to communicate openly about intensity, force, and such. 
blairmacg: (Default)

This story troubles me greatly.  It's taken me awhile to pinpoint exactly--beyond the obvious--why.  During this morning's karate class, I think I figured it out.  Now to see if I can articulate it.  I'm using a bunch of newbie-author italics and bolds.  Oh, well.

The decision made by the Readercon board says to me that harassment happened, and that witnesses backed it up.  It says the behavior was not acceptable--but it was excusable.  A short-term banning says the boundary-crossing--which I understand included physical contact, correct me if I'm wrong--was determined to be not nice, but not a big deal.

But there's another notion I want to discuss--a related tangent, if you will--that this situation triggered for me.  I don't think it's anything new, and it incorporates what others are saying, but I decided to post it anyway.  While the situation I've read of is the jumping-off point, I am not talking about that specific situation.  I'm talking about generalities and probabilities, not specifics and certainties.


Cut for those who have read enough already... )

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