You Could Die Laughing – Al Overdrive

Street prank videos – What they can teach us about conditioned response, context and situational awareness.

At first glance prank videos are mindless entertainment; taking advantage of the element of surprise and have little value or interest to people interested in self-defence or street awareness and conflict-survival. Like many people, I find some of them funny, and some I find cross a line making me wonder “ How did these people not get knocked out for doing it?

Recently after Escrima class, my Instructor (Charlie Warren @ Urban Escrima) and I were discussing how physical training is only part of the self-defence puzzle; Regardless of if you have spent years perfecting a technique in the dojo or bench-pressing in the gym, you can’t rely on this alone, nor on the assumption that people will react the way you expect them too. Environmental awareness and consideration of unexpected factors are just as important.

This is where prank videos can be a useful tool in the self-defense practitioner’s repertoire by critically assessing the behaviour and reactions of both the prankster and the victim during an unexpected interference in public. Most conflicts we experience in ’the street’ begin either by ambush or by escalation from a minor unexpected interruption, which one party having intent and the other wondering what is happening. This is where the prankster and the attacker share a starting point and mindset.

In this piece we are going to look at four videos, from low risk through to high risk pranks, with the final video leading to a massive escalation in reactions which could have ended in a fatality.

In this first light-hearted video the pranksters film unsuspecting people using the public showers on a beach, constantly adding more shower gel until the victim realises something is wrong.

Each victim is targeted at their most vulnerable, when their ability to see and respond to a threat is reduced. Luckily for the pranksters only one lashed out blindly, nor did any passers by decide to intervene. It is up to use to decide if this was lack of awareness, lack of public spirit or that people saw it as a harmless prank. We see that the last victim panic and run off, believing he is bleeding. Imagine the scenario if what could have happened next if someone passing by him was mistaken for the prankster, or if the pranksters had been caught mid-act by him. Here a lack of consideration for others could have lead to this prank ending in court or the hospital.

The second and third videos show the importance of context and how it affects responses, and response time; The prankster pulls out boxing gloves and challenges random people to a fight. In one he is dressed as Santa, in the other he is dressed in boxing gear. While dressed as Santa most people instantly work out it’s a bit of a joke and there is no risk of harm. Without the Santa suit, people take longer to drop their mental guard and in the final situation, take their response to a higher level than the prankster was prepared for. Again the pranksters were lucky that no-one walking by decided to get involved or escalate. Again we see the pranksters relying on the public perceiving the gloves as an indicator that its not serious, instead of it being an attack by someone wanting to cause harm.

In this final video the pranksters deliberately target people they think will be up for a fight in the street, goad them into escalating to a physical fight and then use a disruption technique to stop the fight from happening. Each time just as the fight is ‘on’ they strip to a mankini, and the shock of this causes confusion triggering he ‘fight or flight’ response.

This video can teach us a lot ; The pranksters were relying on their previous experiences to survive the confrontations, and were totally unprepared for the final victim response.

The first 2 minutes of the video is interesting to test yourself to read the body language of the victims and see when they decide that the fight is ‘on’. Some of the victims take a while to comprehend what is happening, then give the pranksters verbal fences, physical fences and finally prepare to square off. Others go straight to squaring off.

At 2:27 the prank becomes more of an interesting study in pre-fight ; The victim first looks around and attempts to diffuse the situation with laughter, then resorted to verbal and physical fence to distance himself from the aggressor. His body tenses up and he becomes more focussed on the threat. When his boundry is crossed a second time he uses a more forceful push as a last resort readying himself to fight.

At 3:07 The pranksters reliance on previous ‘wins’ makes them take a risk too far and they challenge a gang of five guys. The guys at the back are laughing and aware that 2 vs 5 is not good odds, and don’t take it seriously. At 3:17 you see the guy in red move leave the group and his buddies at the back go from laughing to ‘ready’. The pranksters are so used to this prank ‘working’ that they haven’t considered what could go wrong, and do not pay any attention to the guy in red moving away and circling behind them.

Oblivious to the changes in behaviour around them or the red hooded guy drawing a firearm, the pranksters continue to goad the group of guys into getting physical, and they whip off their pants to reveal the mankini. Only after the video crew join them do the pranksters even realise that they had a gun pointed at the back of their heads.

So what lessons can self-defence practitioners learn from these prank videos?

Here are a few to start it off:

  • People tolerate different levels of space invasion before responding.
  • People have different ideas of ‘appropriate level of response’ to you
  • During a conflict always be aware of the possible involvement of third parties.
  • People may share different values and not get ‘the joke’

People are unpredictable when you threaten their self-image.


Book Review – ‘The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements’, by Eric Hoffer

Sometimes in the rush to keep up with the latest releases we fail to catch up with some older works, especially ones that predate our arrival on this spinning rock. Mass and social movements was one of the modules on my undergraduate course at the University of Warwick, taught by Professor Jim Beckford, the course was excellent and well put together but I cannot remember a reference to Hoffer, not surprising really as we were in the sociology department and not philosophy. I am still interested in how mass movements emerge and grow, be they scientology, radical Islam or popularist politics focused around Brexit or Trump, they do seem to share certain characteristics.

So when I started seeing increasing references to quotes from Hoffer, I had to take a look, I was particularly intrigued by the true believer aspect. I have been a true believer in several guises, I found sanctuary at times in the shelter offered by groups seeking to change the world for a better place. Many of us have been through this phase, those emotions, some are still there, others move on.

I found the book very interesting and thought provoking, it was what I expected. It was dated but still incredibly relevant. I sit writing this on Easter Monday, yesterday I was greeted by ‘He is risen, hallelujah’ messages on Facebook from true believers, I later watched clashes between Antifa thugs and pro-Trump thugs on the same platform, I read about the rhetoric emerging from North Korea as America and the Chinese tighten the noose around Kim Jong-un’s neck. All of which are understandable if we look at the how these people, groups and societies for their belief systems and how this informs their behaviour and actions.

We now live in an increasingly echo chamber world, I would have loved to read Hoffer’s thoughts on how that was accelerating the ease with which we become true believers. There were things in the book that would have benefitted from a more recent view but it was written post WWII at the beginning of the cold war, the reader needs to exercise a few gymnastics and if they do this book is very useful to analyse what we see around us today.

The Jonestown Massacre was post ‘True Believer’ but I bet Hoffer would have used it, referring to the 918 members of the Peoples Temple cult led by one James Warren ‘Jim’ Jones, who committed suicide by drinking a cyanide laced drink in November 1978. Jones was a Disciple of Christ pastor and was a voracious reader, as a child and studied Stalin, Marx, Hitler, Mao and Ghandi carefully noting the strengths and weaknesses of each.  Jones was a charismatic leader made for the true believers, and he found them.

For me there was another interesting angle. I really enjoy the diversity of the world of martial arts, it is where I train and I earn income from it. I am always happy to explain how we train in Ju Jitsu, its strengths and weaknesses, yes you got that right, weaknesses. You see I am not a true believer in the sense that I can ‘sell’ my martial art as the new way to train and live complete with warrior code of behaviour, Bushido. I see too much of what my friend and Conflict Manager contributor Jamie Clubb calls Bullshitsu, (put his forthcoming books on this subject on your must read list), out there.

The world is full of Kool-aid drinkers and there are plenty of them in the martial arts too. If you think a friend is beginning to get a taste for the Kool-aid do them a favour, buy them a subscription to Conflict Manager and Conflict Research Group International. Go read Hoffer, it is very thought provoking.

Reviewed by Garry Smith


Positive and Negative – Rory Miller

About the terms ‘positive’ and ‘negative.’

In operant conditioning, behaviors are changed by either reinforcement, which increases the target behavior, or punishment, which decreases the target behavior.

Behaviorists break down reinforcement and punishment further as either positive or negative.

Positive and negative in this context are not value judgement or ethical markers. “Positive punishment” does not mean “good punishment.” They are also not like the mathematical values of positive and negative. “Negative reinforcement” absolutely does NOT mean “punishment.”

In behavioral psychology, “positive” refers to presence and “negative” refers to absence. If I am using positive reinforcement, I am introducing something into the system to increase the behavior. If I am using negative reinforcement, I am removing something from the system to increase the behavior. Food can be positive reinforcement because it tastes good and simultaneously negative reinforcement because it removes hunger. Corporal punishment is positive punishment because it introduces pain into the system. Confinement is negative punishment because it removes stimulation from the environment.

There are some conflict and life management skills that require this understanding of positive and negative. I’ll describe a few here.

The first is a very basic positive speech pattern. You will find clearer communication if you are careful to use positive language. Again, positive does not mean happy or encouraging.

Positive speech is to give instruction on what to do. Negative speech would be to give instruction on what NOT to do.

If you tell a child, “Don’t play in the river” the child may not hear the “don’t.” The child may actively focus away from the “don’t” and honestly believe he or she was ordered to play in the river. Further, proscription is not as limiting as we would like. The child can follow your order while choosing to play on the rocks above the river or with the alligators next to the river, or decide building a dam is working on the river not playing in the river.

Positive speech is to tell the child what to do, not what is forbidden. Negative: “Don’t play in the river.” Positive: “Go play in the treehouse.”

The second. Whenever possible, use positive instruction and praise over criticism. Telling a student he is doing something wrong does not help him do it right. Even if instructions are included, e.g. “Don’t do it that way, do it this way” there are two messages to understand instead of one and all of the problems of negative speech described above are still in play. Simply saying, “Do it this way” will be far more easily understood.

Using instruction instead of criticism, has other value as well. Criticism, no matter how well delivered or well intentioned is always a punishment. It will always decrease behavior. When poor behavior need to be stopped, it has some uses, but when you are trying to increase good behavior, whether in interaction or instruction, criticism does absolutely nothing.

If the instruction is good, following the instructions makes life better in some way. Pretty much by definition, if any training or instruction makes life worse, it’s bad training. This means you do not have to reinforce behavior, the results reinforce the behavior for you. When reinforcement or punishment comes from a person (you, in this case) the lesson can always be denied by the subject if he or she decides you are being unfair or have an ulterior motive.

A third application of the positive/negative mindset is very powerful. It is easier to do nothing than something, but it is far easier to do something than to not do something. Confused?

Animals are inherently lazy. In nature, animals rarely burn calories unless they have to. It is easier to sit and watch a gazelle than to chase one down.

However, one of the hardest things for people to deal with is a void. When you are used to doing something, not following that habit becomes hard. It is always easier to substitute a new good habit than it is to quit an old bad habit.

Most people have a hard time dieting because they are giving up foods they like. It is far easier to change diet if you think of it in the positive sense: not giving up food, but looking for new foods you like better. Not buying potato chips is hard. It is a negative. Buying celery instead of potato chips is considerably easier. Quitting smoking is hard. Taking up a hobby, like knitting, so you have something to do when you want to smoke is not easy, but much easier.

Cutting bad things out of your life is the negative (absence) approach and can be quite difficult. The positive approach, substituting good things for the bad is far easier and more effective.


The Elephants in the Dojo – John Titchen

What’s in a name?

I’ve used the term self defence because most people understand what is meant by it, even if it is not the most accurate term. We can play semantic games with terms such as Conflict Management, Personal Safety, Physical Intervention, Self Protection and Self Defence – but what most people ‘think’ they are looking for, and therefore search for is self defence. Martial arts training can comprise aspects of self defence, but unless the art has been specifically devised for that purpose recently, it isn’t the same thing.

The elephants in the room

Elephant number one. Let’s call her Nellie. Nellie is the fact that while most classes you attend are physical, and most people want or expect a physical session, the majority of self defence is comprised of knowledge/experience that does not really come with physical training. Nellie isn’t in class, she’s packed her trunk and said goodbye to the (martial arts) circus. Nellie isn’t necessarily an effective use of your instructor’s time in regular training, given how little time your instructor spends with you. Most of what Nellie has to offer can be covered in a seminar or taught via books and videos.

What is Nellie? She’s the non-physical element of self defence.

Avoidance – knowing what does and can happen and strategies to reduce your risks of being a recipient of social or asocial violence, aggression or sexual abuse.

Deterrence – knowing how to move and behave in a way that does not make you a target or a challenge.

Negation – knowing ways to behave in situations of social aggression that can ease tension and reduce the risks of a physical altercation.

Legal – knowing not only where you stand with regard to using force, but also how that underpins your trained responses, and how to describe your actions so as to minimise the risk of prosecution should your actions face investigation.

Physiological – knowing what is likely to happen to your body during and after an aggressive (and possibly a physical) altercation, how it will make you feel, and strategies for dealing with it during and after.

Psychological – admittedly this does carry over into the physical class, having the resolve and having made the decision to act when necessary to protect others or yourself and to handle the consequences of that.

Aftermath – knowing strategies to cope with the impact of an event after it has occurred (physiological, psychological and legal).

These things can be difficult to cover in an average class. Obviously good instructors allude to them where possible, but people generally come to classes for physical training. One strategy that can work well is to cover this material in either a written syllabus that students are given, or in youtube videos for students – in addition perhaps to suggested reading of texts by authors whose work you recommend to broaden their thinking. To help ensure exposure to this external material, introduce short (one or two line answers) multiple question open book theory exams with each grade.

Elephant number two. The king of elephants. Let’s call him Babar. Babar is the fact that actually most people do not need self defence training, they only think they do.

The actual prevalence of aggression and violence for the majority of the population (particularly in first world countries) is so small that most people with a little common sense (see Nellie if they have grown up in a nice enough environment not to develop ‘street smarts’) will only see ‘unavoidable’ violence on screen. The majority of violence that does occur doesn’t happen to the people coming to your classes, or if it has, is not likely to happen to them again. Attendance at a martial arts class is a bit like car insurance, it’s something you hope you never need, and something that is rarely used, but we feel better for having it. While the training aim for the attendees may be self defence, what they actually need is a good product (a martial arts class weighted towards self defence) that will give them confidence and reassurance, and what they need more than self defence is a form of physical fitness training that will provide good health (which is not necessarily exclusive to good self defence). The strength of martial arts is that it can provide excellent mobility, balance and coordination training as well as aerobic and anaerobic development in a mentally stimulating fashion that suits a broad range of ages, personality types and body sizes.

Integrating martial arts and self defence in regular classes

This is where a lot of well-meaning instructors fail. They know that their potential students want self defence, so they use it in their advertising, but because they have no clue about the reality of aggression and violence (due to lack of experience/information or plentiful but limited experience distorted by the prism focus of a particular environment (military/security/LEO)), they don’t offer an appropriate self defence focused class. The problem can be compounded when they are part of a larger organisation with a set martial arts syllabus comprising externally set forms, set basics and pre-arranged sparring.

So how can such an instructor orientate their classes more to self defence?

  1. Impact.

The big difference between real violence and pretence is that people actually hit things. I’m not suggesting that students hit each other (though that is beneficial for psychological conditioning), but that they hit pads. Hitting pads is how you develop and test (the two are not exclusive) your ability to reliably deliver force.

Pad work is the most common nod to self defence I see in martial arts classes, and it is also one where I tend to see a classic error in understanding the issues of real violence.

Guard – Don’t assume that an altercation will be one on one. If you aren’t using a free hand to hold then it should be used to protect the head, the most common target. It’s great to see people do aerobic pad work routines that stretch their stamina and mental resilience, but if they are so tired that they are dropping their guard then they are engraining bad habits. Most violent incidents barely last a few seconds; from a self defence perspective, drilling good habits is more important than drilling stamina.

Head shots and hands – Most people, given pads, immediately focus on head shots. In doing so they are overly focused on the head as the target and the fists as a delivery system. This is a perception skewed by a few factors: firstly the knowledge that head shots can be very effective; secondly the use of the head as a target in both contact and non-contact combative sports. Hitting the head with an unprotected fist is very different from hitting a pad with an unprotected or gloved and wrapped hand, particularly if you aren’t engaged in any other form of hand conditioning. The fist is a useful weapon, but choose targets with care. In pad drills use the fist, but focus more on developing power with forearm and elbow strikes, knee strikes and open-handed strikes and don’t under-estimate the ability of body shots to safely negate most threats.

Pre-emption – pad drills can be an excellent way to incorporate real bread and butter items of good self defence training such as smooth pre-emptive striking skills, combining verbal distraction and striking, experiencing verbal aggression, and utilising appropriate fences. In addition to this they can also isolate and train classical martial arts techniques so there is a real win-win for instructors balancing the needs of self defence and a martial arts syllabus.

  1. Making greater use of the their forms

The technique weighting in classical martial arts forms is interesting. It is quite different to what you will see in competitive martial arts drills where certain types of techniques score higher points, or certain types of protective equipment make certain strikes more viable.

While we do see punching in martial arts forms, it is not the most common movement, particularly in karate forms. You’ll see other techniques that can act as strikes with the forearm or elbow, grappling movements, shielding or parrying, trapping, throwing, kicking or kneeing occur far more regularly.

Learning and training good quality self defence focused applications for your kata not only ticks the self defence box, but also helps students develop as martial artists within the confines of an organisation (and helps expand the organisation’s future instructor knowledge pool).

  1. Hitting through a training partner and simulating impact.

Try to hit people.

This does mean adjusting your drills. Pulling contact is a bad habit that can develop incorrect distancing and a lack of understanding of how people move when hit. It’s useful when you are only training to touch a target, but if you want to train to make contact effectively you need to hit people.

I’m not suggesting that the class be full contact. What I am suggesting is that attacks are made at a distance where an on-target hit would go through the target, and where (a slowed) response will push through its target, thus creating body movement and a more realistic picture of follow up responses. Is hitting people slowly a compromise? Yes it is, but not perhaps so great a compromise as practising missing people, particularly if you are also practicing hitting the pads full power and by actually pushing through the human target you are getting a mental map of tactile response, potential follow up tactics, and gaining stability feedback.


  1. Incorporate HAOV.

Admittedly this is harder to do if you are working within a tightly regulated syllabus, but if you aren’t actively practicing defending against HAOV in the physical classes, including not only the most common initial attacks but also the likely follow through and compromised positions in which students may find themselves, then you aren’t teaching self defence.

How can you do this in a tightly regulated martial arts syllabus? We’re back once again to training applications for the forms. Pushing, grabbing, pulling, haymakers, headlocks, clinching, barging, tackling even ground escapes – the counter tactics and escapes are there waiting to be trained. Doing so brings focus to the rationale behind ‘obscure’ movements and stances, stays true to the martial arts, and hits the physical self defence brief.

If you can address Nellie in your syllabus and gradings, target Barbar with appropriate incorporation of aerobic exercise, and bring good pad work, form use, appropriate contact and HAOV into your physical classes, then you’re offering something beyond a simple martial arts class, you’re also offering self defence.


Clarification, Scepticism and Individuality Part IV – Jamie Clubb


Martial arts were created as tools to serve people. They are not tangible entities. They are ever changing concepts, shaped by individuals. They evolve and mutate all the time whether the teachers want them to or not. No one person trains, practises or teaches exactly the same way as his teacher. Indeed, we have countless examples of teachers changing the mind regarding the emphasis or even core concepts of their system over time.

Does that mean each and every student should be taught in their own unique fashion? Unfortunately, and this goes against the innate human desire to be seen as an individual, despite countless studies and a huge amount of popularity, there is no empirical evidence that argues tailoring a teaching style to a student’s supposed learning style is effective. Furthermore, it has been argued, that purely by playing up to a person’s apparent strengths and preferences means that they never get a good opportunity to address their weaknesses. Nevertheless, combat reveals that different people fight differently. We all have different combat personalities and this can be seen throughout the history of interpersonal violence. Humans have thrived as a species due to the many ways they can adapt. So how do we correlate this information?

When it comes to cross-training the individual is running their own show. They are building new data based on previous experiences. Putting an individual at the centre of their education needs to be done with care and with caution. Individualising training shouldn’t be about pandering to their wants, preferences and prejudices of one person – be that person yourself or your student. Rather it should be an exploration of an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. A combatant will develop their own style. The way that style is learnt and developed should not be through a straightforward agreement between teacher and student. The teacher seeks to prompt the student to take responsibility for his own education. He acts as an honest advisor, an unbiased critique critic and a supportive coach. He doesn’t seek to adapt his teaching style to the perceived niceties of a student’s learning style or to feverishly consult a catalogue of categories that some supposed education expert has conclude, but he provides an environment that prompts the student to find his own way.

The student cross-trainer uses his individuality to better understand what works best for him. This is where cross-training defines itself as being more than a sum of its parts. This is where the hours of solo training comes in. This is the time spent recruiting various different partners to test and train outside of formal lessons. Individuality in learning is most successful when it is underpinned by clarification and scepticism. An individual often discovers what he needs through clinically testing what he thinks he wants.

[1] See my chapters “The By-Product Myth” and “The Calypso Effect” in my e-book “Mordred’s Victory” for in depth discussions on how martial artists often get side-tracked in their training objectives.

[1] Ibid.

[1] See my chapter on “Attribute Training” in my aforementioned e-book to understand how to get the most out of these lessons.

[1] My chapter on “Specific Training” in “Mordred’s Victory and Other Martial Mutterings” details the importance of specialised pressure tests.

[1] I have a chapter on “Solo Training” in “Mordred’s Victory and Other Martial Mutterings” that can help provide more insight into this often abused side of learning.


The Instructor – Toby Cowern

Meet Toby Cowern of Tread Lightly Survival School and CRGI founder member. The man who devoted most of his life to the art of survival. Living and surviving under the extreme conditions of the Far North became an art for him. Here he shares some of his thoughts on survival and being an instructor.

Visit Toby’s website to learn more.



Clarification, Scepticism and Individuality Part III – Jamie Clubb



Critical thinking is woefully absent from the martial arts world. Martial arts subculture is largely based on a simple principle of following a teacher without question. Likewise, the system or style is considered to be sacred. Nevertheless, critical thinking has played a huge role in the development of virtually all martial arts. Every system or style has its root in one teacher’s critique. All the great founders were sceptics to some degree. However, they were also human and prone to seeing everything from their perspective. As time moved on they became surrounded by sycophants and further entrenched in believing their way was the only true way. Martial artists have done a great job of bringing scientific concepts into the refinement and progression of their systems, but few have fully embraced the scientific method as a whole.

The martial arts cross-trainer needs to apply critical thinking on his journey. This can make the quest quite lonely as our natural instinct is to try to find a tribe. Martial artists who switch styles will typically regard their new style like a new relationship and convince themselves that everything about the new class is better than the last one. On the other side of the coin a good number of martial artists will spend their time cross-training telling everyone about the greatness of their base art. Rather doing their best to completely absorb new material they will preach to their unfortunate training partner about what they do and why they do something in the main system they train. The critical thinker needs to be wary of both these temptations. He engages with the material and then later properly questions it with a rational and logical mind. Through this process the individual cross-trainer should understand that there is no certainty that anything will work, but he will also start accumulating a list of the most probable options.

Due to the tribal nature of martial arts and the lack of overall transparent regulation, irrational thinking has touched virtually every system of combat in some way or other. Pre-scientific ideas have persisted to be a part of many martial arts systems. Sometimes they remain as part of an appeal to tradition argument within the various schools wishing to continue a lineage. However, many modern systems don’t need such an excuse to buy into all sorts of quackery and unproven pseudoscientific concepts. Likewise, philosophical and religious concepts have been forcefully melded with the practice of martial arts and absorbed as absolutes. This dogma takes many different forms and appeals to novelty are just as responsible as appeals to tradition for their continued propagation. Cults of personality have also arisen where followers support the belief that their leader can never be wrong. The martial arts cross-trainer needs to be able to recognise these factors both in others and in themselves.

However, there is at least one caveat the eager sceptic or critical thinker must take on board before he questions everything: be wary of pseudoscepticism. The pseudosceptic denies rather than doubts. He is more of a cynic than a sceptic or is keen to cast scorn over anything outside of his own narrow view. They mask their confirmation bias with scientific sounding language, but fail to adopt the scientific method. They might apply a double standard by applying keen scepticism to one concept and yet not to his preferred choice. However, on the other hand, he might attempt to bolster his argument by attempting to drag down a view accepted by mainstream science as an equal opinion. Reasoned and informed questioning should be a regular part of healthy learning.

Scepticism allows the martial arts cross-trainer to truly free their mind and to resist certainty whilst allowing logical methods – such as Occam’s Razor and the Scientific Method – to lead them to the most effective solutions.


Clarification, Scepticism and Individuality Part II – Jamie Clubb


There are several reasons why we find clarification missing from a typical martial arts class. Suppression by governments, suppression by occupying powers and prevailing tastes have led many martial arts teachers to become creative in the way they have justified teaching violence. Desires to blend in personal views of religion and philosophy became so strong within the Asian martial arts subculture in the past century that many have come to accept a pseudo-history whereby martial arts were not skill-sets simply designed to subdue and/or neutralise the enemy. In the west, middle and upper class intellectuals felt a need to justify their training in violent activities such as boxing, wrestling and fencing, and welded on their own philosophical validations. Such validations were then made to retrospectively stretch back into a respective country’s history with the comparable 19th century romanticisation of medieval chivalry in the west, bushido in Japan and xia in China. Another motive to obscure the objectives of martial arts classes is the often commercial need to appeal to a wider audience and to offer more to retain students.

Because of my emphasis on clarification I make my teaching service-driven. I begin any course – be it a one-to-one or a seminar for a group – by asking my client what they specifically want and offer an honest answer as to how I can best fulfil that demand. If I agree to take on the client I can then stick firmly to our agreed objective without risk of either of us deviating. I deviate and tangent enough within a subject, so I am grateful for those parameters to keep me in check.

I recall once being asked by a small group to teach a martial arts course. The attendees really weren’t sure what they wanted, but it appeared that their primary interest was to undertake a fitness activity. After we worked out a rough definition of what sort of fitness they were after we agreed upon a combat conditioning course with a leaning towards Muay Thai. All went well until just after the first class one member of the group made a passing comment about what they could now do if someone tried to attack them. The comment was made half-jokingly, but nonetheless the group immediately began a serious hypothesis on how they would apply the skills they were learning and followed this with an honest evaluation on whether they would a) remember them and b) have the courage to use them. The entire conversation must have lasted less than two minutes before I felt I had to interrupt. I quickly explained that, as per my brief and our agreement, the course they were embarking upon was not for self-defence. It wasn’t really a Thai Boxing course, but used aspects from this art as an engaging way to improve cardiovascular fitness, strength and flexibility. I explained that if they wanted to learn practical self-protection I had a course that focused on this discipline.

What put them off then, as it had done when I first offered it, was the two most important ends of the self-protection training scale. Good self-protection training consists of mainly personal security non-physical “soft” skills. At the other end good self-protection training should include some form of pressure testing. Both are quite simple and straightforward, but aren’t necessarily comfortable. The former can be boring and difficult to absorb for someone who doesn’t have much interest in psychology, behaviour science, criminology, criminal law or the adaptation of warfare/law enforcement strategies. Besides, they can be difficult to apply and can override certain behaviours outside of the class. It is one thing to practice your combination work on the heavy bag or to go through katas, but it is another to properly assimilate a self-protection mind-set into everyday life. Pressure testing is usually not popular with many who don’t have a predisposition for this type of combat. Self-defence pressure testing should be a form of very intensive asymmetrical fighting and that isn’t usually a very pleasant experience.

Physical fitness is important in self-defence, but is largely a by-product of punitive mental conditioning through various ordeals and the development of good physical “hard” skills. Many civilians don’t really want actual self-protection or self-defence training they just want to produce a physical expression against their fears of interpersonal violence. This is easily catered for by hitting pads and performing techniques on compliant partners. One can see why so many martial arts teachers are tempted to leave it at this stage and exploit the demand for delusion in the market. There is almost an unwritten and unspoken contract between the student who asks the teacher “Tell me a lie that will make me feel better” and the teacher who justifies his willingness to do this by obeying the economic law of supply and demand.

Be clear about the purpose and context of your training. It’s a simple rule that is easily forgotten.[i] Whether you are approaching a new class, training with a new teacher, beginning a certain exercise or training a particular technique, the cross-trainer needs to be clear about his objective. He needs to be clear about why he is dedicating his time and energy into this particular area of study. It is naïve to rely on even the best of teachers to take you exactly where you want to go. Unless the teacher is helping to manage your personalised cross-training programme, he is going to have a different agenda. His job is to teach you the discipline you have chosen in his own way. If you are undertaking one-to-one training he will tailor it more to your demands, but it is still a lot to expect him to understand how this experience will fit in with your overall martial arts education.

Besides you don’t really want him to do that. You want him to teach you what he knows best. For example, imagine asking a Western Boxing coach to improve your Muay Thai punching techniques. In principle, this is a great idea. However, you are not really getting the most of his experience and knowledge if you insist on having you both stand more square on, change footwork and to limit upper body movements in line with Muay Thai. Your purpose here is to train in Western Boxing as if you are a western boxer. Outside of the lesson it is time for you to put the work in and see how it applies to your Muay Thai game.[ii]

Being clear about the purpose of any exercise is crucial for a cross-trainer. Being actively involved in different disciplines calls for strict and mindful time management. Objective defines an exercise – be it to test a single technique or test one’s abilities in a certain area. If the agreed objective of a technique exercise is test the efficiency of a rear naked choke then it is pointless to continue with another technique when the choke has been thwarted. A better use of time, energy and resources would be stop and restart. Unfortunately the cognitive reasoning of the brain often takes a back seat once matters get heated in a physical situation. It is quite common to see a pressure test centering on take-down defence deteriorating into a ground game.[iii]

The same attitude should be carried over into your solo training. This is where a lot of the good work is done and also wasted. It can be mentally tough enough for most people to take the initiative to train properly outside a class in the first place, be it alone or with a fellow student. It is even harder to then apply cognitive thought processes to encourage greater skill development and continued learning outside of a classroom environment. The cross-trainer has to go beyond what has been prescribed in lessons. He needs to do more than rehearse routines to fulfil grading criteria and needs to do more than improve his physical fitness. However, this takes a special extra kind of effort and a lack of commitment to this type of effort is what leads to the cross-trainer becoming confused with the various tools he has at hand. It is much less taxing on the mind to just lose one’s self in the superficial demands of an undetailed workout.

So the heavy bag ends up being used as a one dimensional repository for any random move the student chooses to throw. Shadow boxing becomes a freestyle dance of favourite movements. Focus mitt holding becomes a more energised version of the punching bag situation but little more. This comes from the person training not having a clear plan in their head and therefore not getting the most out of their training equipment, their training partners or themselves. If you are going to use the bag as a stand-in for a training partner then you are going to need to imagine the fight and stick to certain target zones so that you hit accurately. You also going to have to move with the bag or around the bag, depending on the context of you are training. You are going to have to plan your rounds or sets. Is this going to be about technique, improving speed or developing raw power? Are you going to theme your workout as lessons are often structured? What other equipment are you bringing into your training session?[iv]

Clarification defines the purpose of what you want to do in all that you do. Begin with a clear idea and make sure you return to that idea as often as possible.

[i] Ibid.

[ii] See my chapter on “Attribute Training” in my aforementioned e-book to understand how to get the most out of these lessons.

[iii] My chapter on “Specific Training” in “Mordred’s Victory and Other Martial Mutterings” details the importance of specialised pressure tests.

[iv] I have a chapter on “Solo Training” in “Mordred’s Victory and Other Martial Mutterings” that can help provide more insight into this often abused side of learning.


Idiots, Assholes and Pros – Rory Miller

This is aimed mostly at professionals.

There are three general kinds of people that will require force.  The three types don’t fight for the same reason or use the same tactics, and your skills may not work the same.

Honestly, most of the time, if you are in enforcement or corrections or especially bouncing, you are going to run into idiots.  The drunk college kid who squares off and lets you know he’s coming a mile away.  The entitled whiner who thinks he’s too special to go to jail just for driving drunk.  The martial artist who’s never been in a real fight but doesn’t believe there’s a difference.

It may just be the old man in me coming out, but it seems like idiots are on the rise.  Fewer people have been exposed to violence; more people have never had their behavior controlled.  That combination creates people who are both hot-house flowers incapable of taking care of themselves, but certain that anything they want is a right and anyone who disagrees is an oppressor.  It seems I see more and more of this pathetically weak but shrill and bullying dynamic. For whatever my opinion is worth.

Idiots are easy.  You see them coming and almost anything done decisively works.  The drunk steroid freak squares off and let’s you know he has a blackbelt in…

And you smile and toe kick him in the shin with your boot before he finishes the sentence and then drop him. Or beat past his arms and twist his spine.  Or, probably the classic:

Again, almost anything done decisively works.

Assholes are the second most common.  They like to fight and they have varying levels of, for want of a better word, professionalism.  The experienced know when they are outnumbered and tend to surrender.  The experienced assholes know when they are losing and give up.  Generally, even the experienced assholes don’t like going hands on on a cop or other professional– unless they sense any weakness.

They have varying levels of ‘professionalism’ in how far they are willing to go and incredibly varied skill levels.  An asshole who gets the drop on you is still dangerous even if he barely knows how to hit. To a large degree, fighting assholes is somewhat like fighting martial athletes.  A wide range of skill and commitment but generally, they like to fight and it will be a fight.  The fatal mistake is treating an asshole like an idiot.  When it comes time to bat his guard aside, the guard won’t be weak and it will likely trigger a counter-attack.  An idiot’s lack of confidence and/or lack of understanding of how the world really works are the reasons it is so easy to bat aside even their trained fists.  You won’t get this with assholes.

And saying they like to fight isn’t quite right either.  They don’t like the give and take of fighting, only the give.  They enjoy causing pain and beating people down but tend not to be so big on receiving pain. So most won’t engage if you act like a wary professional.  They won’t see the safe opening.

The pros are a different kettle of fish.  For the most part, you won’t get a lot of these.  Highest concentration is in prison, jails, or on elite teams.  Rarity makes them somewhat low risk.  Their own professionalism also makes them low risk.  It is very, very rare for this category to fight for ego.  If you have the drop on them and maintain control they will, generally, not resist.  If your handcuffing technique has a hole built into it or your approach is sloppy, they will use the Golden Rule of Combat: “Your most powerful weapon applied to your opponent’s most valuable point at his time of maximum imbalance.”  They will hit you hard, decisively, where and how it will do the most damage, and they will strike when you are least ready.

Assume most pros are skilled.  It’s not always true and it’s not a necessary factor, but growing into a pro mindset usually takes time and that kind of time doing those kinds of things develops skills.  That said, it doesn’t take a lot of skilled technique when you follow the Golden Rule.  No one has to be trained to hit a man in the head with a brick from behind.

And the skill may be something unusual.  In the debrief on Minnesota I mentioned that there were some high-percentage techniques that simply didn’t work on Kasey, Dillon or me.  Our grappling backgrounds made us instinctively structure in ways that idiots don’t think to and assholes are too arrogant for, even if they had trained the skills.

Taxonomy alert: Taxonomies are naming classifications.  This is a separate taxonomy from the social/asocial that I usually use.  An asocial threat can fight as either an asshole or a pro (as an idiot, too, but Darwin usually takes care of that combination early).  The asocial/social/maslow/triune is a better introduction for most everybody, but people who use force professionally might get something from this classification.


Clarification, Scepticism and Individuality Part I – Jamie Clubb

The Three Missing Fundamentals to Clear, Purposeful and Bespoke Combative Training

Part 1 – The Cross Trainer and the Information Age

The Information Age aptly describes the era of the modern mainstream martial arts cross-trainer. Unfortunately The Confusion Age is an equally fitting title. The meteoric rise of the internet has provided most in the developed world with more instant access to knowledge and data than ever before in the history of civilization. Similarly, training in multiple combative disciplines is no longer the practice of the hard-core martial arts enthusiast or the heretical renegade who is forced to travel huge distances across the country and even the world to seek out knowledge. Today not only is there an unprecedented variety of fighting arts readily available within a geographical region but we have seen the proliferation of full-time martial arts training centres, where cross-training is actively encouraged by gym owners and embraced by certain clubs that offer training in different systems by guest teachers.

There is a flawed assumption that this age of information and cross-training should lead to the enlightenment of more people. Unfortunately such wishful thinking is without reckoning on human nature. Our cognitive reasoning is beset by a range of biases that shape how we filter and view information. Our tribal instincts push us towards the comfort of others with similar biases to reinforce our views. More access to information also means more access to misinformation and disinformation. The pursuit of knowledge can easily be derailed by the propagation of falsehoods and myths, especially if there is cognitive comfort in these stories. Furthermore, the sheer volume of information – even good information – at an unprepared researcher’s fingertips can often result in learning little more on his desired subject than if he hadn’t switched onto the internet in the first place.

To muse over metaphors once again, it is unsurprising that the phrase “surfing the net” became popular during the internet’s formative commercial days. If progress in any aspect of civilisation can be seen as a steady narrow current of knowledge that often has to gradually trickle its way around and often through hard rocks of prejudice, tradition, irrational protectiveness and fear in order to become established into the main stream (forgive the pun) then using the internet can be compared to handling a tidal wave. Rather than having to handle and carefully manage the gradual, steady flow of information used to fill a gulf of ignorance, the unprepared researcher is overwhelmed by a forceful mass of data that washes over him. Struggling for breath in his effort not to be drowned in the overload of facts he becomes numb to everything. He becomes confused. He becomes prey to his own bewilderment and also to the sharks of disinformation, which thrive and swim in the sea of knowledge. In the blinding chaos that is information overload the flailing researcher may even mistake such sharks for a valid float. Here is where conspiracists, pseudoscientists, pseudohistorians, archaists and purveyors of Bullshitsu strike progressive learning down. Yet we still have the skilful surfer or rider of the waves who has a far better chance at negotiating all the information available. Such individuals are no less vulnerable than the drowning non-swimmer – surfers still drown and are eaten by sharks – but they have developed skills and therefore have more available tools at their disposal.

The directed cross-trainer is comparable to the scientifically minded researcher. He can entertain ideas without being threatened by them or absorbed by them. He does well to ride the waves of information in the direction that will not overturn and engulf him; he won’t get drawn off-course to attractive islands and forget his way and he is experienced at spotting the sharks of disinformation.[i]

Below are three fundamental areas that are often not taught to students wishing to pursue cross-training. Whilst it is commendable that instructors encourage students to seek out different disciplines and research for themselves, many get discouraged when they start becoming confused. Confusion is entirely unnecessary if we think about what constitutes cross-training. As children we study multiple subjects in our most formative years often with different teachers who have different approaches. When we play sports, we learn many different games. Most occupations can easily be broken down into several different disciplines and skillsets. We know that historical martial arts practice comprised of cross-training and comparisons might be fittingly made with today’s military. The tribal nature of martial arts has led to the creation of a structure that makes students and teachers often feel unsure and vulnerable again when they train outside their usual art. Others ride through this anxiety and even embrace other arts, sometimes completely abandoning old systems for new, but struggle to blend different skillsets.

[i] See my chapters “The By-Product Myth” and “The Calypso Effect” in my e-book “Mordred’s Victory” for in depth discussions on how martial artists often get side-tracked in their training objectives.

Part II on clarification follows next week.