False Choices – Leigh Simms

Why you need to know the law to teach Self-Defence.

What is Self-Defence? Interesting question and I guess there are many answers. If you pick up a self-defence book from the 1980s you are likely to find a number of martial art techniques performed in street clothes.  

It is now 2015 and I like to think that we are finally past the above concept. Self-Defence is much more about the non-physical aspects of a confronation and one of the categories included in the non-physical aspect is the law.  

Although sometimes coined as the “second enemy”, as it comes after the confrontation, I like to view the law as an entirely neutral entity. For those who know how to use the law, it becomes a useful tool in ones repertoire.  Sadly, for those who don’t know how to use it, the law can become a weapon against you.

If you are teaching self-defence but not covering the law, then I would strongly question how you base the effectiveness of your fighting techniques. Surely, if you are teaching fighting techniques that go against the legal principles in your jurisdiction, you cannot be teaching effective self-defence!

For example, if you teach a technique that uses excessive force as a legitimate self-defence technique, then you are potentially setting your student up to be arrested and charged with a criminal offence.

Sadly, there are martial art classes that teach these kind of techniques as legitimate self-defence techniques. Let me provide an example using UK Law.

Under UK Law we have law with regard to the amount of force that can be used. In our fictisious martial art class here in England, the teacher is showing a technique where an aggressors push is deflected and the defender elbows the aggressor in the jaw, followed by a snap kick to the knee, another elbow to the jaw, and neck crank to take the aggressor down to the ground, once on the ground the defender proceeds to stomp on the aggressors head until he is unconscious. At that point the defender then proceeds to stomp on the chest of the aggressor until his ribs are broken. The defender then mounts the aggressor and snaps his neck.

Now, I know I am being over-the-top but I want to make the point that the technique in the above paragraph clearly amounts to excessive force! Therefore the defender is not acting in self-defence for most of the technique.

How can that be taught as a legitimate self-defence technique if the legal defence of self-defence would not be available to the defender?

It is my view that it cannot. Whilst my example was rather obvious, there are many martial art clubs that train there students in techniques that do not comply with the legal system of that jurisdiction.

When I question this, I often hear it said that it is better to be tried by twelve than carried by six. I should note that is usually those who are a capable martial artists but have no knowledge of the legal system that make this claim. The proponents of this view are offering a false choice as well as incorrect choices.  

Firstly they are equating your two choices in a self-protection conflict as being: on trial for serious assault or failing to defend yourself therefore you’re dead!

When I have brought this up to the proponents, some of them tell me the phrase is more metaphorical and it represents how it is best to win the fight and worry about the law rather than worry about the law and thus loose the fight and suffer severe injury. Here is where I feel the false choice is given. Proponents of this view do not give the third, and in my view best, option: – it is entirely plausible and possible to defend yourself both physically and legally without worry of being carried by six or tried by twelve.

Also, whilst the physical consequences of a violent confrontation are not to be downplayed, the consequences of loosing the legal battle can sometimes be a whole lot worse.

Think about it for a moment, imagine you defending yourself but your lack of knowledge of the legal concept means you did not act in self-defence or were unable to articulate that you acted in self-defence and this ends up with you being convicted of an assault against a person.

This could result in prison time, loss of your job (including the difficulty of finding a new job once released), not to mention the financial, family and relationship issues that are likely to occur.

In todays information age, I see no excuse for martial art instructors who claim to teach “self-defence” not to actually teach the legal aspect. There is so much information at our fingertips and just as we wish to provide the right physical training to our students; we also need to be provide the right legal knowledge to our students so that they have the ability to avoid the consequences of the law.

Once a clear understanding of the law is combined with effective fighting techniques, we can produce students who have the ability to defend themselves physically and legally.



In business, we find our niche first and then create the product around that niche. In architecture, we build the building for what it has to do and the people who have to live or work in the structure. We don’t build a hospital the same way we build an apartment building or a library. The very specific issues women face mean that, to increase our leverage, strength and skill in protecting ourselves, to reach the heights we need to reach to be safe in the world as it is now and to excel, women don’t just need a taller ladder than men do, we need wings.

Here are some things that are wrong with women’s self defense in general:


  • Martial arts – the origin of self-defense – has been created by men out of ancient war arts often involving often antiquated weapons and/or horseback, and handed down mostly unchanged over generations. Many so called self-defense styles have failed to evolve with the times. Self defense has been retrofitted in an effort to suit the needs of modern women, but really it was built for something entirely different.
  • Modern self-defense classes tend to spend a majority of time training for fair fights.
  • When a man attacks a woman, it is rarely a fair fight. Fighting fair can put you at a fatal disadvantage. When Instructors do discuss or attempt to recreate unfair attacks, a number of things go wrong. They either spend a very small percentage of overall time on the complex issues, oversimplify the dangers, or extrapolate from their own situation and training and come up with answers based on the false premise of man-on-man violence or matched size violence.
  • Instructors also tend to focus on altercations between people who are facing one another, rather than one blind-siding the other or using charm or the element of surprise to get into position for a crime.
  • Today’s self-defense is often disconnected from everyday realities, like kids, strollers, overwork, physical handicaps, lack-of-sleep, age, illness, arthritis, depression, distraction, travel, traffic, pregnancy. Life! For reasons such as insurance premiums and convenience, self-defense is almost always practiced by people in comfortable clothing on smooth floors. No obstacles, no furniture, no cars, wind, rain or darkness. All of these things must be part of your consciousness or it will be like learning to drive by playing a video game.
  • Due to the popularity of stunt-heavy Hollywood movies and sports martial arts, we often see a lot of cool, creative moves I call Finesse Techniques that are more acrobatic than practical. These techniques might work for someone somewhere under very particular circumstances, but a self defense technique you depend on to save your life should be like a good doctor – reliable as much of the time as possible.
  • Self-defense is often unhealthy for our bodies, which is in direct conflict with safety, since bad health and injury put us statistically more at risk than most other things.
  • Martial arts and self-defense classes are often more about following a leader than expanding our own minds. And what could be safer than seeing and understanding more? If you ever find yourself in a martial arts class – or a relationship of any kind – where you are discouraged from thinking and asking questions, don’t just get annoyed, get out.
  • Most people think kicking and punching is the main aspect of self defense. In general, modern self-defense is primarily concerned with the moment of the attack and neglects the Before and After. It leaves out all the things we can do that will diminish our presence on the criminal radar and neglects the aftermath, where stress can affect us adversely and cause us to make things worse. Self defense is more about good decision-making under stress than any other single idea or physical technique.
  • Self defense is about empowerment. That’s a big word these days. We all want to feel empowered to be who we want to be and to take the world by storm. But HOW we do it is important and rarely addressed. Blind or reckless empowerment can get you in trouble if you think it means being assertive out of context. Not that plenty of people aren’t better off for having learned a few moves, but I think we can do a lot better. We love to hear about the grandma who fought off an attacker who tried to take her purse, but the fact is there are hundreds of other versions of this story that went badly.


New Women’s Self Defense should…

  • …have aspects of martial arts, but also psychology, sociology, health and fitness, among other things.
  • … include the study of trickery, goal oriented and criminal behavior.
    • … cover attacks the way they are most often perpetrated against women or whomever the class is meant to address. Men, women and children are attacked in different ways, under different circumstances.
    • …be based in reality. It should take into account the kids, strollers physical handicaps and other craziness life is made up of.
    • … be simple to perform and to remember. When your mind and body are under extreme stress they respond very differently than they do in a class under controlled circumstances. Time both slows down and speeds up. You freeze, you fail to hear someone right next to you calling your name, you drop things involuntarily. You’re unlikely to be able to remember, let alone execute, a series of intricate movements, even with years of practice.
    • …involve strengthening muscles and improving coordination and range of motion so our bodies get stronger and work better. What point is self defense if you are your own worst enemy, daily grinding yourself into dust.
    • … encourage us to think for ourselves and to question everything. An instructor should be a guide and a roll model, not a disciplinarian. A roll model should NEVER discourage us from forming ideas about our own protection.
    • …cover the Before, During and After of a crime event or emergency, rather than just the During.
    • …instill a healthy form of empowerment so you can be a big dog in spite of your size. You shouldn’t feel you need to bark right away. You want the space and peace of mind to sit back, watch and evaluate before making your decision. This is the essence of true empowerment. Self-defense should be a place women can draw strength from.
    • …include knowledge, tools and games women can pass on to their children, for obvious reasons. Imagine a daughter who won’t give a good-looking but predatory guy a second look, or who won’t allow peer-pressure to cause her to drink or have sex when she doesn’t want to, or who will never accept a drink she didn’t see the bartender mix. Imagine a son who has the decision-making skills not to do a favor for a friend that might get him into trouble. Or a son who stands up for his female friends even if it might cause him to lose face with his peers – a son who sets standards rather than following dysfunctional ideals of manhood.
    • …give us the means to practice daily in our heads or in small moments since we cant always get to a regular class. In other words self defense training should be scenario-based so it isn’t dependent solely on practicing physical techniques but on mental prowess and an understanding of situations, danger and how emergencies form. We need to cultivate the ability to extrapolate and learn from the mini dangers we experience every day.
    • …be about anxiety mitigation since worry and anxiety make us more susceptible to crime. Self-defense needs to help us name our worries and fears, put them into context and then remove the unproductive ones from our daily plate. This also makes real dangers easier to identify when the worry noise isn’t so loud.
    • …put Preparation in an exulted position as part of a daily routine. Preparation for the day, contingency plans, CPR training, etc. can all be made part of basic knowledge and life training.
    • If the highest goal of self-defense is to learn to protect yourself and your family from

    violent crime and the threat of death or severe bodily harm, then clearly it should train and utilize mental skills above all else, since avoidance is always preferable to survival and healing after the fact. Staying out of trouble first, getting out of trouble only if the first fails.

    Protective Offense, The New Self Defense

    Let’s take this concept of self defense even further and give it a new name. “Self defense” is how you describe to the judge why you hit him with the baseball bat. Let’s reserve it for legal matters. The “self” in self defense leaves out others we are responsible for and the word “defense” is too reactionary. What we want is something inclusive of the people who need us that is both more proactive and more powerful.

    Protective Offense is the term I’ve been using for about ten years now-Offense with the emphasis on “Off”. When I hear Protective Offense, I think offense for the purpose of self-defense, “Offense” as in Chess or football, seeing and thinking a few moves ahead, projecting your desired outcome and being able to map a course and make changes on the fly, being aware of patterns.

    When I did TaeKwonDo, in my teens and twenties, I attracted more than one drunken doofus. As it turned out, what I really needed then wasn’t a stronger side kick, but a brain. Actually, what I needed was for the guy not to be bothering me at all, but that goes more to a discussion of effecting culture. Looking back, the guy who came at me in a club when I was 19 and wouldn’t let go, was pushy, not dangerous, and by kicking him I could have escalated the situation to something physical when I would have done better by keeping my emotions at bay, smiling, telling him I needed to go to the bathroom, and then disappearing. After I pointed him out to the bouncer.

    My good friend Karim Hajee like to say, “Trouble doesn’t happen to us, it happens because of us.

    If strength were the only important resource we would all be out of luck. The bigger, stronger person would always win. And that isn’t the case. Things like instinct, determination, will to live and resourcefulness play a huge part in survival. In the wild, smaller animals scare off and outsmart larger, stronger ones all the time. Dealing with crap is part of life and dealing with it physically is not usually the best way. Since women are rarely stronger than men it’s a good thing we have lots of other resources to draw on. We need to get back in touch with those skills and hone them. Civilization supplies us with HGTV and heated seats, but an unfortunate side effect is that we put way too much responsibility on others for our safety and decision-making. Police, lawyers and doctors can all do their jobs better if we do our part.

Being Street Smart Requires Knowing Your Limits, Part I – Erik Kondo

Imagine an athletic, powerful, high ranking martial artist. Can this person defend him or herself? Most people would say “Yes! So and so is such a badass!”

Let’s reframe the question. Is this person street smart? The answer now should be “I have no idea”.

What does it mean to be street smart? The standard definition is a version of the following:

“Having the experience, knowledge, and ability necessary to deal with the potential difficulties or dangers of life in an urban environment.”

Let’s examine some other activities for comparison.

A street smart skateboarder knows how to safely maneuver his board through all types of city terrain. He can ride on a sidewalk without crashing into people. She can ride in the roadway without getting hit by cars. He knows how to avoid the large cracks and glide over the small ones. She knows which streets have dangerous blind spots and sharp turns, and which streets are manageable. All of this knowledge is relative to his or her own particular skill set and ability. One type of environment that is dangerous for one skateboarder may be safe for another and vice-versa.

And so it is with a smart rock climber, a smart mountain biker, a smart skier and more. Smartness refers to the person’s ability to stay within his or range of ability and deal with the inherent dangers in the environment. When you are smart, you know what you can do and what you can’t do with a high degree of accuracy. You know when to “go for it” and when to “back off”. You know your environment and yourself.

On the other hand, a dumb skateboarder/climber/biker/skier doesn’t know the limits of his or her capabilities. That is a major reason why they get injured or killed. They put themselves in situations and environments that exceed their current ability.

Dumb doesn’t mean inexperienced or unskilled. A person can be relatively inexperienced and have a beginning skill and still be smart, if he knows his limits and purposely stays within them.

When it comes to self-defense defense, a street smart person knows his or her personal capabilities relative to threatening and violent situations. He knows what action(s) will work for him, on who, in which type of situation. She knows what will not work for her, when and why. She knows when to engage and when to disengage.

Street smart people are able to accurately assess their abilities relative to the situations they encounter in urban environments. Street dumb people cannot and do not.

Getting back to the imaginary martial artist. He or she could just as easily be street smart as street dumb. We have no evidence either way. And if this person is street dumb, then can he really keep himself safe? Or is she likely to “fight” the wrong person, at the wrong time, in the wrong situation. Which means that he/she really can’t defend himself regardless of his/her “badassness”.

So how does this happen? How has technical martial arts ability become disassociated from street smartness? The answer lies in manner in which physical self-defense technique is taught and evaluated in a training setting. You are effectively judged on what you can perform without regard to what happens when your actions fail. Or if the actions you performed were excessive for the situation.

Learning your technique failure rate as a systemic issue is not a consideration in training. There is no method for determining and then improving upon your failure rate. You get points for trying and success, but lose no points for failure. Therefore, you never really learn the limits of your current ability. In real life, everything has a failure rate. All ropes have a breaking point. In fact, knowing the breaking point of a rope is a major consideration for determining which rope to use in which situation.

When you skateboard, rock climb, mountain bike and ski beyond your current ability, you fall. You get instant feedback that usually hurts and may cause injury. This consequence teaches you the line that that separates “go for it” and “back off”. These activities all involve constant feedback. In fact, a major aspect of these recreations is to engage in them in different environments under varying conditions. They are not done over and over in the same place. Variety is an integral part of the learning and play experience.

But this line is rarely drawn in martial arts and physical self-defense classes. The focus of these classes is to get people to learn how to do the “move” or technique “better”. And if you “know how to do it properly”, then it is assumed to work on everyone – all the time. The focus becomes on learning how to do it “right”. And once you can do it “right”, then you move on to the next technique. But you never determine your skill level’s breaking point and failure rate.

You check it off the list. You learn more and more techniques.  You rise in rank and physical skill. On the surface, you really can perform the technique smoother and more effortlessly. But, the problem is that you don’t learn the situations in which you can’t reliably do it. The people you shouldn’t try the technique on and why not. You don’t know where the line of your ability lies. And you don’t know when what you would do is too little or too much for the situation. You don’t know when your actions will make the situation worse. You don’t know when to “go for it” or when to “back off”. Regardless of how much your skill level increases, you are still effectively street dumb because you are unable to accurately assess the urban environment and situation relative to your true ability.

Basic Teaching Methodology, Part IV – Rory Miller

In my opinion, there are four ways you can get a skill into someone else’s head: Teaching, Training, Operant Conditioning and Play.  All have uses, all have drawbacks.  

Teaching is sharing concepts from brain to brain by juggling symbols.  Lectures, writing, and diagrams are all teaching.  This article is teaching.  And almost anything taught is useless under stress.  The neocortex is far too slow to handle the action of a sudden assault.  No one can simply read a defensive driving manual and respond appropriately when a deer jumps in front of a speeding car.

Teaching is a first step to understanding.  Teaching is what allows us to make connections with new information, to come up with possibilities to test.  It is critical to laying the groundwork so that the students are prepared for the other levels of training.

Very importantly, teaching needs to be taught.  Communication skill needs to be communicated.  Learning to teach by trial and error can destroy a lot of good students.

Training is anything you do by conscious practice.  It is all the drills and rote memory practice.  The thousands of reps punching or stepping into a throw or transitioning precisely from a specific armlock to a triangle choke.(And, for the record, be careful with the language here. We are so used to using the word, “training” for all aspects of preparation that I may not distinguish training from teaching, conditioning and play consistently.)

Training is likely useless in your first real fight. According to Ken Murray in “Training at the Speed of Life” the Air Force set ‘ace’ at five dogfights because their best research showed that no one—no one—remembered their training for their first three to five dogfights.  

Grasp that.  With the best training in the world, you still got through your first 3-5 fights on instinct and luck.

After this threshold, training did kick in and you had an ace, someone with instincts, luck, and now he or she could use training.  And that is damn formidable.

This is the abyss for self-defense instructors. “You will fight the way you train” is a lie. The first force incident will be a mess of your nature and your conditioning and past experiences and half remembered training experienced in a stew of hormones, brain chemicals and adrenaline. “You will fight the way you train” becomes true with experience. This is one of the crucial differences between teaching professionals and civilians. A professional in certain fields– policing, military or club security, for instance– will hit that threshold and will be able to access their training. But the average civilian should not face that much violence in a normal life unless they are making very poor decisions.

Part of the problem with training, like teaching, is that it wires to the wrong part of the brain.  The thinking mind is slow, far too slow to be of use in an ambush.  Training physical skills to the thinking mind makes them almost useless.

A certain amount of rote training may be necessary, but I am coming to doubt it.  There is a very real possibility that, for fighting purposes, ‘reps’ do far more harm than good.

Operant Conditioning.  We are not talking about physical fitness conditioning.  That’s important too, but it isn’t learning.  We are talking about Operant Conditioning.

Operant conditioning is fast and powerful. It can take hundreds of reps (training) to learn a new skill, but most people learn about touching hot stoves with a single rep. That’s conditioning. Skills trained are notoriously perishable, and conditioning is notoriously robust. Do you have a friend who gets sick when he or she smells a certain type of alcohol because of one event getting sick years ago? That’s conditioning.

The principles of Operant Conditioning are simple and a Behavioral Psychologist will argue that this is the model for all learning:




Something happens.  That’s the stimulus.  Then you do something, that’s the response.  What you did either makes things better (Reward) or Worse (Punishment). You see a hot stove (stimulus) you touch it (response) you get burned (punishment).

Operant conditioning works at a subconscious level. There is no cognitive processing to it, which is why it is one of the few methods that can bring someone close to reflex speed.

To properly use OC as a training method, the stimulus must be clear, and the stimulus must match what you expect to encounter. A fist flying at your face is unambiguous. Punching people is a good stimulus. Also, the response must work. An effective response is it’s own reward. Punch to the nose, good stimulus. Bob or  parry fast enough (response) to not get hurt equals a reward. A block too slow equals getting punched in the face, commonly considered a punishment.

To effectively use operant conditioning, many martial arts instructors have to change their teaching style. If you are used to correcting details, that is incompatible with OC. If the student must try to anticipate what you will correct, she must be thinking, and the whole point of OC for self-defense is to move faster than thought.

Understand that conditioning trumps training. Common example: A student trains for years to become good in a sparring session and one day scores on the instructor. Instead of celebrating, the “master” with the bruised ego proceeds to make an example of the student. The student trained for years to win, and when he did, he was punished. The years of training have been wasted because the hindbrain, the old brain, has learned that winning is punished.

One act of poor conditioning can erase years of training. Never, ever, ever punish someone for being successful at what you taught her.

Reward and punishment are very specific concepts in OC training.  As are the words ‘positive’ and ‘negative.’ Reward is anything that increases behavior.  It is almost always something that makes people feel good.  Reward is different for different people because we don’t all like the same things.  But even things as simple as saying, “Good job” are rewards.  And saying, “Good job but this is wrong, do it this way” is not only a punishment (all corrections are punishments) put sends a mixed signal and makes the deeper part of the student’s brain trust you less.

Positive and Negative are not value judgments but only indicate presence or absence. Reward and Punish are the value holders.

Positive Reward (PR): Something good happens. Kid gets a new video game.

Negative Reward (NR): Something bad DOESN’T happen. Kid gets a night off from homework.

Positive Punishment (PP): Something bad happens. Kid gets a spanking.

Negative Punishment (NP): Something good is withheld. Kid gets grounded.

Timing on reward/punishment is critical. Just like you can’t punish a dog for a day-old stain on the carpet, it won’t do any good to tell your students they did a good job at the end of class.  Reward and punishment must be as immediate as possible, just like in the real world.

Training, as said, doesn’t come out in your first fights.  Conditioning will, good or bad.  The things you have conditioned will happen too fast for your decision making process. In a life or death emergency, good conditioning is a life saver.

Play is the fourth method of learning.  In my opinion, it is the most important. This is how all animals learn.  This is how you learned everything you are really good at.  You can memorize thousands of words in a foreign language and know all the rules of grammar, but until you can go to the market and haggle and argue and flirt, you don’t really speak the language.

It is an effective learning method and we are wired to absorb and integrate knowledge this way.  How long does it take a kid to learn a video game?  Most kids are proficient in hours at most.  Because they run through the tutorial and then they play.  If we tried to teach video games the way we try to train martial artists, how many years would it take to get to that level of proficiency, if at all?

Anything you teach, anything you train, will ingrain harder and be more available under stress, if you have made a good, hard physical game out of it. This was Kano’s epiphany about judo.

Play has operant conditioning built in. There is immediate feedback on what works and doesn’t and realistic stimuli.  And this operant conditioning works in a framework of chaos and irrelevant stimuli and all the other things that make real encounters so difficult.  Life is an awful lot like play, if you want to look at it backwards.

One caveat, and this goes for designing play and for conditioning:  The game is the game.  It will never have a one-to-one correlation to reality. Getting good at sparring or getting good at push hands or getting good at rolling are all pieces.  You will get a visceral understanding of principles some of these games.  But if you believe the game is the reality, you have just willfully blinded yourself, and that blindness can be passed to your students.


Anger, Belief, Moral Framework, and Conflict, Part I – Marc MacYoung

In his Anger Workbook, Dr. Les Cater identified three fundamental sources of anger:

1) Preservation of essential needs
2) Preservation of self-worth

3) Preservation of core beliefs.

Using this three-category model, you can analyze and dissect the motivation behind anger—both in others and yourself.

Let’s start with the difference between a basic and a fundamental. While in many respects they are synonymous, there comes a point where they split. That is where a basic is an introduction to a subject while a fundamental is a premise upon which a system is based and from which it rises. That’s why looking at these categories as fundamentals is important. When you look past the details of a specific incident, you can see these sources—and recognize where the anger comes from. Understanding why, you can do something about it.

Moving onto a fast explanation of the three categories:

Essential needs are those things necessary for our survival and to maintain our lifestyles. When they’re threatened, we respond with anger—after the fear. (Think of your reaction when someone almost hits your car. You need a working car, and the money it would cost to fix it.)

Self-worth isn’t just self-esteem, it’s also self-respect, pride, social status, and how others see us. Although the last is a bit of a self-eating watermelon because what we tend to give more weight to—and will become both violent and self-destructive over—is what we think others think of us. Meanwhile, we’ll blithely continue self-serving behavior that actually negatively influences others’ opinions of us.

Two points about that last. First is why. Man isn’t as much a rational animal as a rationalizing one. There’s a perceived profit in the behavior, so we rationalize doing it. Second is a warning. People who behave this way the most are the ones most tetchy about perceived slights. How dare you call them a ___ (fill in the blank) for being a ____ (fill in the blank).

Core beliefs  . . .   

Well, short version is core beliefs are how we organize the universe and our place in it. We’re seriously married to these ideas, and we will ferociously protect them—regardless of how much or little sense they make or how true they are. They are our TRUTHS™. They not only create, but maintain our individual reality. They literally create and maintain the whole of our universe.

Another way of looking at it is we need our beliefs to simplify life enough so we can get through the day. We function within boxes of our own—if not making—choosing. See, infinity is an awfully big place. Beliefs are the mental walls we build to protect ourselves from seeing how big. Such a view would leave most of us curled up and cowering in a corner. Our beliefs create a model of life and the universe that is small enough for us to grasp. So while “yay for beliefs,” they can also keep us inside our own mental and emotional prisons. But it’s a prison we want to be inside because outside is too big and scary. Anger is a fast and easy way to keep those walls intact.

We’ll come back to protecting beliefs because it’s a big part of anger and conflict—including how and why we get there.

Where things become interesting is when we realize how much overlap there is in these three categories and, at the same time how much of our self-identify is wrapped up in them. But let’s stick just with overlap for a second.

Even with these fundamentals, anger isn’t exactly a single cause issue. For example when a core belief is perceived to be challenged, it’s commonly interpreted as an attack on our self-worth, as well. It’s not about the idea anymore, it’s a personal insult. It’s not a question regarding our beliefs, it’s an attack. (If the belief is wrong—what does that say about our intelligence?) This is a big part of why people get so hostile and angry when their beliefs are questioned.

Before we go on, finish this sentence, “I’m a ______ (fill in the blank).”

First things first: Do you take pride from that identity? Your recognition of that emotional investment is important. Not because you have it, but other people do, too. Ignoring or forgetting said investment is a fast track to conflict, triggering belligerence in others and your own aggression.

Now ask yourself: How many of your beliefs are attached to that identification? What do you have to do, believe, and think to qualify as whatever that is? How does that self-identification influence how you look at the world and your expectations of how you’ll be treated? How does it influence your obligations to others (what they can expect from you)?

These simple questions show the connection between what we believe, our self-identities, and how we approach the world. They show where our reactions come from when our self-worth and beliefs are challenged. Think back to your last “you don’t treat me like that” reaction. What beliefs were violated?

In fact, let’s use that as a side track. I’m going to give you good way to remain both calm and nonemotionally reactive in a situation that could devolve into conflict. When you start to feel angry, ask yourself which of the three categories do you think is threatened? This assessment gives you a momentary pause, instead of following the—and I very specifically use this word—habit of reacting in anger. This allows another part of your mind to come up with a different response that isn’t habitual, anger driven, and likely to cause more problems.

Using anger to preserve beliefs opens the flood gates to all kinds of aggressive and hostile behavior by us that elicits the same response from the other person. This is important because although we perceive all slights as intentional and malicious—often they aren’t. When you aggressively respond, even if you weren’t in a fight before, you’re in one now.

Back to core beliefs being threatened, some belief systems require a villain. If you accept this ideology, someone else automatically becomes your enemy, oppressor, or target. It’s part of the identity of being a _____ (fill in the blank). The very existence of those hated others is a threat to your core beliefs. Hence, you’re always mad at them. To the rational mind, this seems silly. But to another part holding the benefits of identity of being a ______(fill in the blank) far outweigh the inconvenience of having an enemy.

Worse is how easy it is to slip into perceiving anyone who doesn’t believe the same as ‘us’ (the right, good, and knowledgeable) is evil, stupid, and wrong. It’s no longer just an established enemy. Anyone who doesn’t follow the exact same orthodoxy becomes your enemy. When you are surrounded by enemies, you interpret one of ‘those people’ just opening his or her mouth as an attack. And since he is already attacking our cherished beliefs, whatever we do to him is acceptable—because he deserves it. Even if he didn’t do anything, he still deserves it just because he’s a _______ (fill in the blank).

That last bit is integral to  justifying much bad behavior after the fact and giving ourselves permission to act in the first place. We know what we’re doing is wrong, but because of the anger generated by the belief, it becomes okay to act.

(By the way, I just skimmed by something important. Chronic anger can also be used as a way to keep us from examining—much less changing—the very beliefs that cause us pain and anger. This isn’t just a Catch 22, it’s a weird perpetuation and constant seeking of external targets as a distraction from having to look at ourselves. The world is constantly showing us the belief is askew yet our anger prevents us from seeing the source of the problem—our own beliefs and how they affect our behavior. Such people are constantly on the look out for people to focus their anger on. Being targeted by them is often shocking because of the dragon’s flame’s intensity over a small, trivial thing. You can call such people rage-o-holics because they use explosions of anger like an alcoholic uses going on a bender. It’s a form of venting their rage, as well as self-soothing. This behavior allows them to get rid of their pain and anger, but not change the beliefs causing them.

This brings us to an important point. There’s a difference between facts and belief.

While we can—and often do—use cherry-picked facts to support our beliefs, a belief is not a fact. But we believe it is and that directs our behavior.

A few key points useful in spotting the difference: First, facts are pretty widely recognized. For example, the effects of what we call gravity are pretty much a fact. (Point of interest, your knowledge of this fact is what keeps you from stepping off the edge of a tall building in everyday life.) Second, there is much less emotional investment with facts than there is with beliefs. How emotionally invested in your knowledge of gravity are you? Beliefs need emotions to be sustained. Third, just because a lot of people believe something doesn’t make it true; it just makes it a popular belief.

Now you might be thinking I’ve been talking about religion. Well, that’s a part. Here is where things get . . . interesting . . . about beliefs. There are many people in our modern secular world who have countless beliefs—but won’t admit it. In fact, they show downright scorn for beliefs—especially other people’s. The reason they have such contempt for beliefs? In part, it’s because they look down on the beliefs of others as superstition, ignorance, and weakness. To a degree that’s because they pride themselves on how intelligent, enlightened, and sophisticated they are. And partly, they are absolutely convinced that theirs aren’t beliefs, but rational conclusions based on logic and facts. This gives their beliefs the same absolute authority—and even morality—as religious beliefs. But theirs are better . . . because they aren’t beliefs, but facts. (Yes, it’s a self-eating watermelon.)

Such people can certainly be as adamant and fanatical about their “non-beliefs” as any religious zealot. And they can be just as hostile, aggressive, abusive, and violent to preserve these core beliefs and force them on you. Knowing this, start looking at how ferocious someone can get to preserve deeply held philosophies. And more importantly, how ferocious you can get if you feel someone has violated one (or more) of your beliefs—whether that’s your faith, how you feel you should be treated, what the world owes you, what you owe others, how people should act, challenging your ideology, or daring to hold a different one.

If you can keep from falling into this trap, you can greatly reduce the conflict in your life.

It’s important to recognize when our self-worth and core beliefs are threatened, it’s very easy for us to react with anger. Anger is perceived power. It’s a rush. We feel emboldened to right wrongs. Anger also gives us permission to do things we know are wrong. It’s the pass we use to give ourselves permission to do all the things we claim we aren’t. “I’m a peaceful, open-minded person, you judgmental son-of-a-bitch!”

Wait . . . what?

A Roman named Horace once said, “Anger is a short madness (insanity).” I find that anger is often far more self-serving than that. Many people’s use of anger allows them to give themselves permission to behave in ways they recognize as wrong and know are hurtful, but are —most of all — self-soothing. In venting that anger, we feel relief. If something causes us emotional discomfort, the siren’s song of anger tells us, “Go ahead. Do something that will make you feel better.”

While it might not lure us to our doom, the truth is that giving into this impulse usually makes things worse. The momentary satisfaction of lashing out at someone—whether to punish them, share the pain, or preserve our beliefs or our concepts of self-worth—often provokes a negative response from those who can defend themselves and injures those who can’t. Or perhaps, instead of acting immediately, the angry person waits and seeks revenge through other means.

Two people (who have given themselves permission to self-sooth by acting out) create an ugly escalation where both parties are equally guilty of misconduct. Yet, both are convinced they are the victim in the situation—which gives them the moral high ground for their bad behavior. Often their blatant aggression is justified as, “I was just defending myself.” But more often, the excuse is simply, “I was angry.” In these modern times, there has been an emphasis on expressing feelings rather than controlling them. Many people have been conditioned to and have given themselves permission to be controlled by their emotions.

And why shouldn’t they? Given technology, social safety nets, plentiful resources, and a social abhorrence of physical violence, a life of letting oneself emotionally act out is sustainable. A person can emotionally fly off the handle and have little or no fear of physical repercussions. This tendency has been further accelerated through the Internet and texting where physical proximity is not an issue. People give themselves permission to go to any emotional, verbal, and behavioral extreme in order to win the situation. While physical violence is rare, you have individuals and groups with long-standing anger using a new tactic. If you confront them about their behavior, they first lash out at you and then run to authority (or the administration or human resources) to condemn you. This isn’t defensive action, it’s aggression. One way or the other, they’re going to ‘win.’ While we’re at it, large sections of the population have no fear of losing their low-paying jobs or going to jail because of their emotional outbursts.  Another perception of winning, is simply walking out of relationships.

I tell you this not as a condemnation of society or to scare you, but to give you an idea of what you are dealing with. Many people have weaponized their emotions, concepts of self-worth, and beliefs and have no hesitation about emotionally lashing out at you. There are still other people who are the equivalent of giant exposed nerves who are like undetected mines that explode when you step. Or, knowing about them, you become so overly concerned about handling them with kid gloves your stress level goes through the roof.

Oscar Wilde once notoriously quipped, “A true gentleman is one who is never unintentionally rude.” If you consider it, there’s a double message there. Yes, you should be careful about being unintentionally rude, hurting people’s feelings, or stepping on their concepts of self-worth or beliefs. And quite frankly, if you find you accidentally have do not hesitate to apologize—within reason. If someone snaps at you, check to see if you’ve somehow inadvertently stepped on their toes. If yes, it costs you nothing to apologize in order to keep the peace. Since acknowledgement is what most people seek, the situation is quickly and painlessly resolved, and everyone can go about their business.

Unfortunately, if feeling outraged over being attacked, you choose to snap back  . . .  

Having said this, there is a time and place to call people on their bullshit and bad behavior. But make it an informed and deliberate decision. This puts you first and foremost in control of yourself. In general that puts you ahead in the game. And that strongly influences how others will see you and judge your actions. Now instead seeing two screaming assholes, there’s a better chance the witnesses will align with you (because odds are they’re tired of his noise, too).

Second, being in control of yourself, you can keep you from mirroring his behavior. This, too, keeps you from crossing lines that would lose you support or get you into trouble if called upon to answer for the conflict. (In this current climate, many people don’t lose gracefully. Plan on the loser running to an authority figure and claiming victimization.) Not allowing yourself to get angry keeps you thinking strategically and not reacting emotionally. It’s when we get angry about these perceived attacks on our self-worth and beliefs that we make mistakes and cross the line. This gives the loser’s claim of victimization credibility when you actually did say or do something in reaction.

Don’t give him that ammo to use against you.

End Part I.


What If….? – Andrea Harkins

What If….?

What if you are attacked?

What if someone sticks a knife in your back?

What if you don’t know how to defend yourself?

“What ifs” are terrible.  They are projections of situations and scenarios that may never happen. They increase fear and make you anxious and leave you feeling uneasy all the time. There are many ways to teach self-defense and many angles from which you can draw information and conclusions, but none include the elusive “what ifs.”   

I’ve been a “what if” person for a long time.  It just comes naturally.  “What if my car breaks down? What if I can’t afford to pay that bill?  What if I get sick? What if I get lost?”  

Finally, one day, I realized that I was projecting a great amount of fear and negativity into my life by thinking about events that were just in my mind.  In some cases, I think I even subconsciously jinxed myself in order to achieve my relentless, contrived negative prophesies and predictions. Negativity can work that way.  It starts to impose on your life and builds up so much momentum that before you know it, you know no other way. Your guard is down.

Another way that “what ifs” work against you are examined in the questions I posed in the beginning of this article.  These are self-projections that are not set in fact or fiction, but in fear.  When you struggle with fear, you automatically lower your defenses and expose your vulnerabilities.  People do not realize that “what ifs” create undue fearful emotions that hinder real self-defense.  These “what if’s” strategically replace awareness and self-confidence with worry and anxiety.  I can tell you right now that neither worry, nor anxiety, has ever saved a person’s life in an attack situation.

Think about how you feel when you are scared; or, even more importantly, how you look.  Your face contorts almost unknowingly.  In the eyes of a perpetrator, you become the perfect victim.  You’re “what ifs” that you thought were preparing you, were actually bathing you in fear and working against you.  A perpetrator can use this to his advantage because fear is noticeable, and he will immediately target you as a potential, easy victim.  

Those self-absorbed with fear have difficulty standing their ground when the time comes.  Emotions and thoughtless reactions work in unison to welcome defeat; the better equipped individual is the one who takes action to eliminate unnecessary fear, and strengthen his awareness. Instead of injecting fear or playing out scenarios that may never happen, it is best to take control of vulnerabilities by doing something that makes sense.  

Take action.

The actions that can take place, that will better prepare someone for defense than “what ifs,” are many.  If you are an instructor, or someone who just cares about solid safety values and a strong mindset, here’s exactly what you should share with all who have not thought through how to be prepared through “actions” and not “what if’s.”

  1. Take a Self-Defense class.  Self-defense is inherently different from martial arts, although some martial art techniques may filter through.  The difficulty with self-defense classes is that women are afraid of them! Yes, they are fearful of not knowing what to expect, so if the class can be entertaining, refreshing, and right on point about true defense, a woman is more likely to attend.  These generally attract non-martial artists, so fitness levels, interests, and reasons for attending vary.  This is number one on the list.  Fear can be decreased through the actions involved in learning a viable self-defense system.

2. Try a martial art.  Yes, they are different than self-defense courses, but they do offer some valuable tools and techniques.  I’ve been a martial artist for twenty-six years and also teach some components of martial arts that include grabs and escapes.  I can kick high, if I want, but true defense only needs a good kick to the knee or groin.  Discerning where and how to kick, if that is part of your defense strategy, has nothing to do with height or speed, but more to do with accuracy.  Wrist locks, head locks, grabs, and other offensive holds all have escapes that can be learned.  Plus, martial arts training helps with self-confidence factors and resilience, both of which mean a great deal in defense situations.

3. Utilize Resources. Direct your friends, students, and families to resources that you trust. There may be websites, books, or on-line materials that you’ve read and with which you agree. There is a plethora of social media outlets these days where questions from simple to complex can be asked and answered.  Everyone has an opinion so no need to accept everything as fact, but something might just make sense for exactly what you need.  Don’t hoard.  Give up your great tools and resources to others who can really use them.

4. Practice.  Even if you have taken a self-defense or martial art class, they can be for nothing if they are not practiced.  Self-defense courses can be short, maybe even a few hours.  A refresher each year is a must.  A martial art takes a while to really learn. Movements and gestures only make sense after a while of application.  The key to strengthening defense here, is practice.

4. Read Inspiring Tales. Nothing hits home like reading a true story about someone whose self-defense saved their life.  What happened? What did they think? How did they react? What kind of confidence erupted? Learning from others, being inspired and motivated by their situations, can quickly kick-start self-defense thoughts into action.

Final words of advice to share:

Take action and remove the crazy “what ifs” from your life.  Arm yourself with simple but strong self-defense concepts.  By increasing self-confidence and controlling fear, you become more aware of who you are and of what you are capable.

I don’t know how you plan to proceed, but my goal is to eliminate “what ifs” from my thoughts.  They are detrimental and stifling and don’t allow me to clearly see the opportunities I have to learn more about self-defense and awareness.  If you are an instructor of self-defense or a martial art, you have a responsibility to give your students a fighting chance.  Help them to know that real concepts, real actions, real defenses, can help them; but, “what ifs” will always hold them back from understanding awareness and self-protection, and maybe even prevent them from saving their lives. Instead, do the one thing that will really help.  

Take Action.


Managing Online Conflict – Kathy Jackson

“Never read the comments.” This has become such a truism that it’s almost ridiculous to say anything about it. However, there are still online spaces where it is safe, and even enjoyable, to talk freely about difficult issues with people on the other side of the screen. How does that happen?

First, let me flourish some credentials on the subject. In one form or another, I have been moderating online discussions since at least 1998. That was the year that I joined an email list for the first time. On that first list, we had around seventy members, sometimes as many as a hundred. Group members sent about a hundred long messages to the list every day, so it was quite busy for the era. The topic was Christian theology, a contentious subject if ever there was one. And yet group members managed to maintain decorum on the list for the most part – at least, they did so as long as we moderators did our jobs well.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself hanging out in IRC channels. For those who never participated or don’t remember, IRC was (and for all I know still is) a way to chat with other people in real time. As a regular participant in a handful of channels I soon found myself working in the role of moderator. Moderating real-time discussions among anonymous strangers turned out to be quite different from trying to keep long form email conversations among known group members from running off the rails. There were a few commonalities, however. We found that intelligent and thoughtful people would stick around in a well-run forum, but would quickly vanish at the first sign of trolls. Trolls, however, didn’t mind and in fact enjoyed sharing the channel with those same thoughtful and intelligent people – at least until they ran the good people off. When we failed to enforce our mutually agreed-upon rules, it would not be long until there was nobody left to talk to in the channel except jerks and idiots. This did not create a pleasant online experience for any of us. On the other hand, when we did set boundaries and enforce them ruthlessly, that generally led to good people sticking around and not-so-good people behaving better than their unregulated natures would otherwise have done. We were able to have genuine, enjoyable interactions with a wide spectrum of real people in real time. That’s a win.

Since 2000 or thereabouts, I have participated in many different firearms discussion bulletin boards, first as a member and then later as a moderator. I worked as a moderator on The High Road, a relatively busy forum, for roughly seven years before I walked away from it. I’m still a moderator on The Firing Line where I have been a member since 2000 and a moderator since 2007. As before, I found that when the technology changed, so did the techniques a moderator needed to use in order to keep the good people engaged and the less-helpful members quiescent. But as before, I found that the core principles remained the same regardless of how the technology changed.

In 2011, I started my own blog for the first time. Felt a little silly to be so late starting a blog when I’d been relatively early with most other forms of online interaction, but there we have it. Until that time, my Cornered Cat pages were relatively static and offered no user interactions. Moderating the blog comments wasn’t a big shift from moderating forum comments, though I noticed that the core principles became even more noticeable in “my” space than they were in more-public spaces such as bulletin boards that belonged to everyone and to no one.

Like almost everyone else in 2015, I have a personal Facebook account, which provides lots of opportunities to hone my skills at managing online conflict. As a small business owner, I also run several public and private pages linked with my firearms education and training business. Facebook is an odd chimera, almost a return to the days in the wilds of IRC real-time chat, but with elements similar to bulletin boards as well. The format encourages brevity to the point of thoughtlessness, and it’s difficult to return to an older conversation to add new information to it. For this reason, it’s easy to chatter in quick and simple ways, but difficult to engage in meaningful discussion – and risky to bring up tough subjects. Unlike earlier technologies there’s very little transparency to what you might be doing as the moderator. You can hide bits of the public conversation from yourself, but there’s always a question as to whether you’re successfully hiding it from the audience at large. This makes it even more important to manage the conversation proactively rather than simply using technological tools to sweep conflicts out of sight.

Still, the core techniques that help keep conversations running smoothly along, that allow good people to connect with each other while keeping less helpful voices muted, remain about the same on Facebook as they were on earlier technologies. I suppose that tomorrow or the next day, there will be some new way to interact, and we will all abandon Facebook in favor of that form of interaction. When we do, the same principles and concepts that make interaction pleasant now can help us meet those new challenges as well.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the years.

Own your space. Regardless of the form or the forum, when you’re partly or entirely responsible to keep the conversations pleasant, the first step is simply to own that space and be up front that you own it. Be courageous enough to meet your responsibility boldly, and don’t expect anyone else to sweep up the mess when there is one.

What about shared spaces? If moderating a space is a responsibility you share with others, you will usually want to talk to those others behind the scenes to be sure you’re all on the same page before you act. This isn’t always an option, however. Realize that sometimes you will need to act boldly and immediately, without taking time to consult with others. Be prepared to do that, and be prepared to publicly support them when they do likewise, even if the specific action they take isn’t one you yourself would have taken. As much as is humanly possible, work out your differences with other moderators behind the scenes and present a united face in public.

Set clear expectations. This can be done explicitly and up-front, when members first join your group, as is generally done on bulletin boards and email lists. Or it can be done implicitly and in line with the group conversation, as generally happens on Facebook. In either case, most people appreciate knowing what’s expected of them in online spaces, and appreciate knowing what they can expect from others.

Frame expectations positively. People don’t always appreciate being told what to do, but they don’t mind it nearly as much as they mind being told what not to do. Especially after they’ve already done it.

Reinforce expectations when needed. “Quick reminder: please treat others gently in this space. If you have a personal problem with someone else, contact them privately to work it out. Thanks.”

Be part of the conversation. As moderator, it sometimes feels awkward to join in the general conversation. The temptation is to stay out of it, and only step in if there’s a problem. Counterintuitively, this is a much more difficult way to manage online spaces. The easier way to do things is to happily join in the conversation so you can steer it where you believe it can most fruitfully go, and so that you can quietly redirect small conflicts before they become messy problems.

Gently intervene early. Start potentially-contentious conversations only when you have time to babysit the resulting discussion, at least for the first little while. No matter what the venue, the rule is that light interventions early on usually prevent needing to take drastic measures later. The first few responses really set the tone for everything that follows, so watch the first responses carefully and make gentle course corrections as early as possible if the conversation looks likely to take an ugly turn. This becomes easier as you become more familiar with your audience and their particular hot buttons.

Assume goodwill. When the conversation really gets going, it’s easy to begin assigning motives to the other participants. Maybe the person on the other side of the screen is actually stupid and evil. Maybe they’re drunk. Maybe they’re trolling and trying to get a rise out of you. Maybe this, maybe that. Instead of playing that game, try assuming that questions are simply questions (answer them), that arguments are genuine attempts to reach the truth (join them in looking for it), that disagreements are nothing more than evidence of separate minds approaching problems in different ways (enjoy figuring out how other people’s thought processes work). When you do spot a specific behavior that needs to be corrected, focus on the behavior itself as much as possible. After all, it’s not your job to solve their psychological problems or get them into an AA meeting; it’s simply to keep your online space a pleasant place for people to interact.  

Praise good behavior. Call people out when they say something well or when they keep the peace through a potentially-upsetting conversation. Praise the good stuff both generally and specifically: “I love it when people have such thoughtful conversations in my forum!” and “John, you did a great job with Sue’s question. Thanks for sharing your expertise on that one.”

Use private channels appropriately. Some conversations shouldn’t be for public consumption. My rule of thumb is that I prefer to contact people in private whenever the conversation becomes more about monkey-brain issues than about purely logical ones. We can proactively make human connections and build bridges in both public and private conversations, but if we need to repair a broken bridge, that’s almost always more easily done in private. Along the same lines, if someone does or says something praiseworthy, tell them so in public! But if someone needs to be corrected or reprimanded in some way, that’s best done in private.

Remember that’s a human. It’s easy to get caught up in proving some logical point, in winning an argument, in being right and making sure everyone knows it. It’s easy to forget that there’s a living, breathing, feeling human being on the other side of the impersonal computer screen. Before posting your comments, especially when you’re playing the role of moderator and know that your words will have special weight, always look them over for potential hurt feelings and other monkey-brain issues. Can you sweeten your words while still making your point?

Make human connections. Especially on Facebook and other social media, it’s surprisingly easy to forget that people we know in real life are watching our interactions. One simple way to redirect a conversation that’s getting too heated: introduce your friends to each other. (“Steve, this is Mary. I’ve known her since we were in college together. She’s the one who introduced me to my husband. Mary, this is Steve. He’s a friend I met on my last job. I’m glad you’re finally having the chance to meet online and I hope you’ll be kind to each other on my page.”) A quiet reminder that both of them are important to you and that you do expect people to play nicely in your space never hurts.

Provide an out. Sometimes, the conversation makes it apparent that one person is objectively right and the other, objectively wrong. When you’re the one in the right or the one moderating the space, actively work to provide a gracious way for the person in the wrong to back down. You’ll appreciate it when they do likewise for you when it’s your turn to be wrong.

Admit it when you’re wrong. When it’s your turn to be wrong, admit it. Your monkey brain will tell you that admitting your mistakes will make you look weak. But you know that is not true. You lose respect when you behave unreasonably, but you gain respect when you gracefully make room for someone else to be right. You gain respect when you back away from an untenable position. You gain respect by being more committed to finding the truth than you are to playing monkey games.

Apologize gracefully. When you’ve been a jerk, say so. Your monkey brain will tell you that an apology will make you look weak. But you know that is not true. You lose respect when you treat others disrespectfully, but you gain that respect back, and more, when you own up to your mistake and strive to do better in future. Cultivate the art of apologizing gracefully. (Script: “I’m sorry for <specific act>. This is wrong because <specific reason>. In the future, I will <specific, positive replacement behavior>. Will you forgive me?”) When you make a mistake, own it. Own your entire mistake, not just part of it. Own only the mistake you actually made; don’t apologize for stuff you didn’t actually do. And never ruin an apology with an excuse.

Emphasize common ground. Especially on contentious topics, it’s a good idea to consciously seek out and emphasize the things you have in common with other participants. For example, one of my personal hot button topics is gun control. I’m against it, in all its forms. When I engage in conversation with someone who wants some new law or restriction on legal firearms, we can have a fruitful and pleasant interaction if we start by agreeing on what we do have in common: we both want our families and our communities to be safe. We both want to feel at ease in our daily interactions with others, and we both want a world where violence does not spiral out of control. Whenever the conversation becomes heated, we can always return to those touchstones to cool ourselves down and remember our shared goals.

Redirect toward common goals. As moderator, I can help other people find – and later, remember – their common ground and shared goals. Stepping in to remind people what they have in common can often redirect the conversation back into fruitful territory, and avoid having to use more active measures to control later misbehavior.

Focus on the human problem. Every hot-button topic contains both a human element and a monkey element. The human element is the specific issue that needs to be analyzed and perhaps solved. The monkey element is the way people feel about that issue, and all the tribal concerns that go with that. When people get into their monkey brains, they often end up flinging poo all over each other and all over the shared space, and there’s not a lot of fruitful discussion that accompanies that. So good moderators first acknowledge monkey feelings, then redirect conversations toward the human problem.   

Manage your own emotions. We readily notice when other people have gotten heated, but it’s sometimes more difficult to keep track of our own emotional temperature. Make a habit of noticing your respiration and heart rate before you post. If they’re elevated while you’re sitting at the computer, it probably wasn’t because you were doing jumping jacks while you were reading. That’s emotional excitement at work. Take a few minutes to calm down before you type anything. Better still? Sleep on it. The conversation will probably still be there in the morning.

Follow through. The specific way that you as moderator can follow through to enforce your rules and expectations will depend upon the technology, but nearly every platform has the equivalent of a ‘ban’ button. Don’t be afraid to use it. When you use that button, you are honoring the thoughtful and pleasant people who want a good online experience. Remember that trolls will gleefully interact with thoughtful people, but respectful and thoughtful people will almost always shut up and go elsewhere when trolls invade. What kind of people do you want in your space? What type of behavior do you want to reward and what type do you want to discourage? Be willing to make the hard calls.


Confessions of a Martial Arts Instructor – Jeff Burger

I hate teaching self-defense.

I love the martial arts, all of them. I spent about thirty-five years running around the world trying to learn everything that I could from anybody willing to teach.

It all started with wanting to learn to defend myself.  Now, I have been teaching over twenty-five years and love it. I love the science, the mechanics, the physical and mental challenges, the artfulness, the cultures, and being a part of other people’s growth….

But I have to admit, I hate teaching self-defense.


It is just too vast of a topic.

Ambushes, sucker punches, verbal Judo/de-escalation, dealing with fear and pain, awareness, freezing,  punching, kicking, escape from holds, ground work, difference in weight, size, strength, multiple opponents, weapons … and so much more, and that is not even getting into the legal stuff that changes from state to state, country to country.

Think of how much we still don’t know about our own planet. Now imagine that every martial art is its own planet.  As vast as that is, the Boxing planet has a beginning and end, the Judo planet has a beginning and end, and so on, and so on.

Self-defense is a universe.

Depending on your art, you may spend decades trying to master one or more of those self-defense topics and never reach perfection.

The icing on this giant cake of endless work towards an unachievable goal, is that people will expect you to teach them how to defend themselves in any situation in a short period of training time (maybe even one seminar) by just showing them some “moves”.

However as a martial arts instructor, I feel obligated to teach self-defense.

How do I approach it? Well, I start by making people sad. I am honest and break the bad news about how much there is to learn.  Even if they did learn it all (which I haven’t in thirty-five years) their safety is still not guaranteed.

If they haven’t walked out and still want to hear what I have to offer, I start by prioritizing topics. I skim the cream and grab the most essential information from the most important categories.

From there, we go forever deeper.