Sunday, April 12, 2015

Choosing safety over style ...

The difference between martial arts training and self-defense

I regularly get asked what system of martial art I think is best for self-defense. Go online and check there are countless forums arguing the benefits of Krav Maga, or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Muay Thai kickboxing. All are great arts I believe, none are pure self-defense - at least the way I have seen them taught.

That is why Tony Blauer’s SPEAR System is different.

Watch this short video (less than a minute). Mute it if you are at work.

In it you will see two fights. In the first fight, the two boys are battling it out on the ground. After each punch or elbow they talk a little smack and then fight. One kid explains, as he drops elbows, “that is why I am a champion.” It’s not self-defense, it’s two kids trying to figure out who the toughest kid on the block is. They are not really trying to hurt each other. If it was real danger, one of those kids would smash the other’s head on the ground until he could run away. This was consensual sparring. Their martial arts and wrestling skills work well in this arena.

The second fight, presumably between then one kid’s mother and the other kid, was a little different. If we extend self-defense to include our greater selves, those around us we care about, I’d think that it would extend to our children. So from a philosophical perspective, what she did was self-defense (Maybe not from a legal or moral perspective, as she was cheering when her son was winning. Watch the whole video here). She didn’t give him a little tap and say “I’m the champion’s mom,” she ended the fight in the quickest way she knew how. She wasn’t concerned about looking cool, or that her son would be ridiculed for mommy saving him. She wanted to protect and get to safety. See didn't care about the rules of one-on-one, she just wanted to save her boy. That is self-defense.

I had a mother call me for her son. She explained that he had been punched the day before. He was at practice and one kid threw a ball at him and said something to him. Her kid picked up the ball, threw it back hard at the other kid and said something back. The first kid punched her son in the face and her son let him walk away. She told me she wanted her son to learn self-defense so he could have fought back. I explained to her that it didn’t sound like she wanted me to teach her son self-defense, she wanted me to teach him how to fight. Self-defense would have been easy. Don’t throw the ball back.

I read it all the time online about how people say their system would beat this other system. One time I had guy who wanted to test it. I was in a martial arts gym where I train sometimes and he thought we should figure out whose system was better. He suggested we have a fight where I only could use the SPEAR System and he would only use BJJ. 

Here is the problem with his suggestion:

If this was a real scenario, what I just heard him say was we are going to have a fight. That is what we refer to as a pre-contact cue. Coach Blauer teaches it as stimulus-stimulus-stimulus-response. It is what happens, before what happens, before what happens before I get you use all my cool martial arts moves. In the SPEAR System, once I knew he was going to fight me, I would have grabbed the first thing I could get my hands on (in this case, a martial arts trophy on the wall where we were standing) and smashed it over his head until I could run away to safety.

See, in self-defense, that is a win.

A win in self-defense has nothing to do with points, or punches or honor or ego. It has to do with choosing safety over a style or a system. It has to do with surviving an ambush not winning a fight.

At it’s best self-defense, is about not about fighting.

It is about not having a fight at all.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

When statistics matter ... fear vs. danger

I have always been uncomfortable marketing my self-defense courses. Let’s face it, I am selling a skill that people, even for those who walk through life denying violence exists or oblivious to the possibility, may never need to use. Statistically, according to FBI crime numbers, odds are pretty good that as long as you are a law-abiding citizen and don’t hang out in bad places with bad people, you are reasonably unlikely to be a victim of a violent crime.
My point, and why I am not very good at this marketing stuff, is that I tell people that they could just bury their heads in the sand and chances are they may make it out OK. I don’t like using incidents in the news as a catalyst to promote a course. It seems like I am capitalizing on a tragedy or using fear mongering for promotion.
It seems, however, that each time an incident hits the news, I get a new group of emails from folks wanting a self-defense course designed for their field. I spoke with someone the other day who pointed out that she and her friends decided they needed a course in light of the recent murder of an El Dorado Hills woman. In early January a woman was shot when a bad guy tried to carjack her.
In another conversation with a real estate professional I was told, “With what just happened in Elk Grove, people feel like they want to know more to protect themselves.” In early January, an agent was kidnapped, handcuffed and held at gunpoint. She was unharmed and the bad guy was later arrested.  
Even mentioning these stories feels like I am trying to capitalize on them.
The truth is, I think the world is a pretty safe place. I think we can avoid most of the danger by accepting that it is possible and paying attention to indicators that tell us danger may be afoot.
More importantly than preparing what to do when we are attacked, is preparing and learning how not to get attacked in the first place.  Statistically, this will usually be enough. But, like my coach, Tony Blauer said, statistics are irrelevant unless you are the one percent. Then they mean everything.
I don’t know enough about the details of each scenario to say anything that could have changed the outcomes or if they were changeable at all. What little I do know, it sounds like the murder victim did what I would suggest and ran away. The coward got a lucky shot.
Rory Miller, an expert on violence and self defense, wrote in his book, “The very essence of self-defense is a very thin list of things that will get you out alive when you are already screwed.”
While I get his point and understand what he is saying, I’d like to tweak it a bit: The very essence of self-defense is a much larger list of things MAY get you out safely before you are screwed.”
That is what real self-defense is about, managing your fears and making the best choices you can for your life and safety. It is about balance.
So here is the point. You don’t need a self-defense class because the world is getting more dangerous. You don’t need one because of what you read in the paper or heard on the news. You don’t need one to learn how to win a fight.
You need one to learn how to NOT have a fight.
You need one because you recognize there is danger in the world but you don’t want to be controlled by your fear of it.

I recently watched a cool Ted Talk by an astronaut named Chris Hadfield He was talking about fear vs. danger. After awesome stories of space exploration, he came around to his point about fear. It was only after learning how to manage his fears and work within them that he was able to see the world from a beautiful and amazing place ... literally. You should too.
Stay Safe.