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Audio by Jonathan Fader with additional commentary

Foreword:  This piece was originally written and posted on January 12th, 2017, it has been updated and re-edited for 2020. Last week our editor posted about his experience with injury in the martial arts, as well as injury anxiety in the post “Once Bitten, Twice Shy: Overcoming Injury Anxiety“. As a Martial Artist and Instructor I can say, without a doubt, that fear of injury and injury anxiety are a common, if not the most common, the reason why people abandon their martial arts journey. For some students, it is a situation they experience, witness, or hear about in class that pushes them past their comfort zone, which in turn triggers this fear (or self-doubt) and they stop coming. For others, they suffer an actual injury and never come back due to this fear. Then there are those who finish our first test (which is VERY HARD) and they no longer want to continue because the fear of further challenges sets in. To me, however, getting injured and coming back stronger is the sign that you may in fact be a true martial artist or warrior. No one ever said it was going to be an easy, joyous journey, but the skills and personal development you gain from self-defence/combative practice is more than worth it. This post discusses the most disastrous injury I have ever had and my road to recovery. I believe that if you truly understand your body and become your own doctor, learning how to properly recover and become stronger (with proper research), then it will reduce the fear of injury (which may be inevitable in martial arts training for most) allowing you to continue to grow, develop, and challenge yourself. Something that is increasingly important in a world were people no longer like to be challenged. With that in mind, read on for my story of injury, pain, and recovery.

Pound for pound, the knee is the strongest offensive strike that the human body can generate. But many folks out there, whether athletic or not, find out that, with one wrong movement, or one wrong hit in the wrong way, this strong offensive weapon becomes as limp as a wet noodle.

In my case, it was the dreaded anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. I am not even 30 and my knees are already going! This can easily make a person feel old. It reminds me a line in the spoken word piece, Wear Sunscreen, by Australian producer Baz Luhrmann in which the advice is given:

“Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.”

Here I am, supposedly in my prime, and my ACL is torn on one side, making me I feel like an old man as my other knee is going too. Ironically, I’m surprised they lasted this long. As a Rifleman, Light Machine Gunner, and Sniper in the IDF, I often carried far too much weight for my little legs and knees to handle. Add to that all the road running I used to do… I guess my knees had a good run (pun intended).

People are consistently shocked by how quickly I recover, post-injury and post-surgery, and get back into regular activities. I’m usually met by skepticism and rolling eyes when I tell people, “don’t worry I heal fast!” As the doctor said, “It’s people like you I worry about the most.

Don’t worry, I heal fast!

wolverine_healing
I wish I could heal like Wolverine

I’m not Wolverine, and I don’t have a “mutant healing factor” or other superhuman resiliences. In fact, I don’t really even consider myself very athletic; one of the reasons I was drawn to Krav Maga. So why should I heal any faster than anyone else?

The truth is I don’t heal any faster than the average person. But I have a theory as to why people think and say such a thing.

Let’s begin by breaking down the injury and recovery:

First, I would like to be critical about the medical system. Even in Canada, we have a broken medical system, in my opinion. Generally, doctors are experts in acute injury diagnosis and treatment, but when it comes to post-injury recover they are almost clueless. They do not employ a holistic approach and they rarely understand, to the level that they should, aspects of medicine and healing. In Canada, though our medical care is largely covered (I say largely, since there are still costs…), there is a serious shortage of qualified professionals and equipment. In my case, when I was injured I knew it was something more serious than the “just a sprain” that the doctor assessed it as.

The day after my injury, my doctor was overbooked (it happened late at night). So I went to the ER instead, which had a long wait time, as usual, due to overcrowding. Finally, after several hours, I see a doctor, only to be told they think it’s just a sprain. They sold me crutches and prescribed me light painkillers. A week later, I finally managed to see my regular doctor and was told something similar. The idea of an MRI scan wasn’t even mentioned until I went to a physiotherapist, which was covered by WorkSafeBC. This is appalling to me because, as far as I know, the sooner a proper, accurate diagnosis can be made the faster a surgery or rehab can happen, and the faster I can heal and recover. All these things would lead to a better experience for both the patient and medical professionals, with lower cost for the medical system overall.

The idea of an MRI scan wasn’t even mentioned until I went to a physiotherapist.

So why didn’t I get sent for an MRI right away? Well, if you are unaware, the whole nation of Canada has fewer MRI machines than some individual cities in America. This results in a long wait list, and even when you can get bumped to the front of the line through WorksafeBC, there is still a resistance to sending you.

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ACL Injury

If I had been sent for an  MRI within 2 weeks of my injury, as should have happened, they would have discovered that I had a seriously torn ACL and meniscus. But since it took about 2 months to get the MRI, albeit it was faster than the normal 6-9 month wait, they would have discovered it sooner and not wasted time thinking it was something less serious.

This means that, even in a country like Canada with a so-called advanced medical system, there are serious problems and you really cannot rely on the advice of just one so-called medical professional. A lot of times, these people are tired, overworked, and too accustomed to patients who exaggerate their symptoms. Although in my case, I was under-exaggerating my injury since I have a high pain tolerance; so they assumed it was nothing despite the details I was verbally indicating.

When I finally had the MRI, I was referred to a specialist. Once I saw the specialist, things moved forward rather quickly. Her question was basically, “so when do you want the surgery?” Great, right?

Back to the main topic about my not-Wolverine healing abilities:

Here is my theory as to why people have the perception that I heal faster than average; One of the biggest problems in the medical system is the over-prescription of pain killers. In my opinion, this is one of the main hindrances to how fast a person can get back to their normal activities.

When I am teaching my kids’ Krav Maga classes, often every little bump and every little scrape becomes a big deal. I always teach these children the same simple lesson:

There is a difference between pain and injury.

Pain is your body’s natural way of giving you feedback to assess whether something is a possible threat. However, it is a very simplistic system and doesn’t always know the difference between something that is actually harmful and something that is not. As a reasonably developed species, we should be able to use our conscious mind, based on our experience and the mechanism of the pain, to know if it just hurts or is an actually injury. I always tell my students that “pain is good and injury is not.” You should fight through pain when it is just pain, but stop when pain is related to an injury and take the care of injuries seriously.

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Pain is your body’s natural way of telling you there is possible danger. (Image source)

Thus, I am not a fan of pain killers prescribed by doctors. Generally, medication should only be used when necessary; such as taking acetaminophen for a fever, or NyQuil and DayQuil for a serious cold. It should also only be used a long as needed, which is usually a day or two. Yet, doctors often prescribe 2 weeks to a month, or more, of serious, heavy-duty painkillers, which can be highly addictive to a lot of people. They tell you the maximum you should take and for how long, which means that you should not take all the pills you are given, but people still do. Which leads us to…

The issue with painkillers and other meds

By taking painkillers for longer than you need just because you were prescribed them, it dulls your body’s natural pain responses and you can no longer “hear” your body’s feedback. Eventually, if you take them too long, your body’s pain threshold will have shifted and your overall tolerance to pain without painkillers will have been reduced. By the way, this is the start of addiction when it comes to painkillers, as you will constantly be trying to maintain your new pain baseline, which is now only achievable through the pills themselves. This is why heroin, when medically supervised by doctors in hospitals, is a better pain alternative than morphine and is less addictive. Yes, you read that right, but I won’t get too science-y. The fact remains that the layperson’s understanding of painkillers and other meds is dramatically limited.

Addiction issues aside, there are two main problems: Either, you diminish you ability to feel when pain becomes injury, then you push yourself too hard, or, you become docile and don’t know when your injury is ready to begin rehab because you no longer know the difference.

This is why post-injury and post-surgery, I rarely take painkillers for more than 2-3 days. I typically only use them to help me sleep and overcome the initial acute pain, which is often a bit more than I would like to deal with. However, even if I have to walk with a limp, I would rather get rid of the medication as soon as reasonably possible, than to rely on it like crutches and lose my body’s natural senses and abilities.

Generally, in both studies and anecdotes, evidence shows that the faster you get back to regular movement (within reason) the faster you can heal yourself. The body is both an inefficient piece of junk and an amazing machine. If you take painkillers longer than you need to and cannot receive the appropriate pain feedback, then you cannot properly heal yourself. Many also go wrong by using painkillers to “push through” pain, which is not advisable because then you cannot know when the body moves from pain to injury, and this is a crippling mistake for many athletes.

Listen to your body

If that means you don’t do anything that day, then you don’t. If you can push another day, then you do. But the sooner you get back into simple things, like moving, walking, and doing regular day-to-day activities, the better.

Have you heard of those people who work their entire lives, and then in their late-70s or 80s, they just stop or are forced to retire and then die? I think this is a great analogy for muscle atrophy.

If you don’t use it, you lose it.

Have you heard of that? Surprisingly, muscle atrophy can kick in very quickly, usually at around 72 hours of non-use. Which means if you take most doctors advice and rest up to six weeks, you will see major muscle loss and the recovery will be much harder. Often, doctors and physiotherapists hesitate to push people, and thus continue prescribing fairly basic exercises, which may be great for office workers, but not for the athlete.

As an athlete, sometimes safe, yet serious, strength training is required. For me, the results of my post-injury recovery were not happening as fast as I would have liked. It was my first experience going to physio, and I did everything they said. However, my impatience comes from being told to do very boring exercises with minimal results. What’s more, I would have to stop what I was doing 4 times a day, for 20-30 minutes, to do the exercises. It became a hindrance to my work with no benefit to my recovery.

So I started doing my own exercises, which limiting myself to light squats and deadlifts. Two months after my initial injury, I was doing 200lb deadlifts, no problem. Of course, I was wearing my knee brace and would end a set if there was any discomfort. However, with this approach I saw far quicker recovery than when I had just listened to the so-called experts.

I am not trying to discredit medical professionals, this is not at all what I am trying to say. The problem is that, due to the system, or lack of experience, or scarce resources, there is often a disconnect between injury and recovery. The sooner rehab starts, the faster people can get back to normal activities, the faster and better the overall recovery.

How do I know when my doctor is right or wrong?

Sometimes, of course, you should listen to professional advice when it is legitimate. In my case, I listened when the doctor specifically asked me not to bend my knee more than 90 degrees for 6 weeks, regardless of pain. This is to allow the fixed areas, specifically the meniscus, time to properly heal and become as strong as required. However, all that it means is simply that I should be careful and modify my exercise to adhere to that specific limitation. I can still attempt light squats with limited range of motion, despite what the doc might think.

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How I’ll feel when I finally get to do BJJ after all these months…

Healing and returning to normal happens faster when I listen to both my body and the advice of the doctor and physiotherapist. Your body knows itself best. As long as you are fairly self-aware and attuned to your body’s messages, you should let your body guide you. And, seriously, don’t rush. As an athlete, I know that pushing too much too quickly because you want to get back in the game and prove yourself, is not a good idea. For me, this has meant no Krav Maga or BJJ for at least 2 months, and no rolling or sparring for 3-4 months.

There is still a dispute as to whether it makes more of a difference to get surgery ASAP and then do physio, or vice versa. It is my opinion, as an athlete, that surgery should happen as soon as possible, and you should do physio before and after surgery. It is fairly conclusive that doing physio and rehab to get back to regular activities ASAP means a better recovery. In my case, the longer I had to wait for my surgery, the worse my other (uninjured) knee got. Having a surgery done ASAP means your body will not have to go through multiple healing processes and can get back to what you love to do with less risk of degradation of your other areas of the body due to compensation.

So stay off the painkillers when you don’t actually need them. Get moving and get healing. When it comes to injury recovery, push when there is no pain, and rest or stop when you feel pain. Through time, you will know if the pain is related to the injury or whether it just hurts. Remember…

Pain is fine. Injury is not.

This is my secret. Simple, really!

Written: by Jonathan Fader

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Most attackers are known to you, in domestic abuse they are likely repeat offences. (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

Last week I wrote the article, “If you were attacked, was it your fault?” Though it shouldn’t be, it is quite a controversial concept, as who wants to take responsibility, even partially, for being attacked? Usually no one. We tend to prefer our understanding of things from to be binary, we apply a black and white perspective to some categories, yet often, and simultaneously, we adhere to a belief in “grey areas” and “a spectrum” for others. The thing is, you have to pick; in reality most occurrences fit the bell curve model and are not so black and white. Ideally, all events in our lives should be analyzed case by case, but this is an energy intensive way of looking at the world (mentally and emotionally), so, as we are human and prefer easy answers, we apply blanket logic, even when it is the most inappropriate.

That being said, when you are mugged, robbed, or otherwise attacked by a stranger, it is considerably more black and white than when you are attacked by someone you know. As martial artists we often focus only on the former, even though most of the time it is actually the latter that is a problem. One Glasgow University study found that, of the 991 sexual assault victims they interviewed, almost 90% knew their attacker (with only 9% being victimized by strangers).

One of the reasons we don’t talk about it openly, on average, is because it’s difficult, messy, emotionally charged, and so grey (full of various shades) that it is like being colour blind and then trying to tell the difference between red and green.

Yet, as a self-defence instructor, both in my personal and professional life I have encountered many, many, many individuals who have experienced any combination of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Yes, it is mostly women who have lived through these scenarios, but I have also met men who have had such experiences.

As a society, while some people are willing discuss “violence within social circles,” family violence, or partner abuse (often politicized), the general attitude is to pretend like everything is alright, when, if you know where to find it, you can witness the worst of humanity.

To emphasize this point I would like to relate an experience I had dealing with “hoarder houses.” No, not some TV show, but rather what I have actually seen while working for company that handled large scale junk removal. Much to my surprise, extreme examples exist in an area like Metro Vancouver. In fact, they were far more numerous than one would think, and often these houses looked no different then the ones next to them, from the outside. One of the most unfortunately memorable and disturbing cases was a home in which a man, who was clearly a heroin junkie and single father with several kids. Our best guess, based on the conditions we encountered and the items we removed, was that this individual routinely locked his children under the stairs, in cages, leaving them to defecate in yogurt bottles while he got high.

Yes, you read that right.

Abuses by family or friends are very much like these hoarder houses; individuals, both victims and abusers, often go to great lengths to hide the fact that it is happening. This could be due to fear, shame, misguided loyalty, or any of various other reasons why silence occurs. One thing I know for sure is that in most cases society fails to reasonably deal with these horrible situations.

For adults, getting out could mean losing financial stability, shelter, and social support from friends and family. For children, it is far more complicated.

Of the abuse victims I have met, several have admitted privately that they “didn’t say anything” because they did not want it to break the family apart. For others it’s simply shame and fear of judgement. The responsibility to protect yourself, however complex the situation may be, is more on the victims themselves (and, yes, I understand the psychology involved is also quite grey).

When it comes to children the fault is primarily on the “responsible adults” in their lives, the ones who are often choosing to ignore the obvious signs of abuse.

Regarding adults, an example I encountered in my own life was a friend I had long ago. They regularly made bad decisions, even though they knew it was bad (they had a pathological case of cognitive dissonance). One time, late at night, they called me asking me to pick them up because their partner was being abusive. I showed up, and as they were walking to the car their partner started sprinting toward the vehicle. I pulled a move that I wish I had filmed. As I opened the passenger door, grabbed their hand, pulled them into the vehicle. I sped forward and did a 180, while their partner was punching the driver’s side window so hard they left bloody knuckle marks. My friend called the police and they asked if we wanted to press charges. My friend did not. (I could have, and I honestly don’t recall why I did’t.)

Later that night my friend asked me to take them back…

They were out and could have easily chosen to leave permanently.

One month later, their partner was stabbed and killed in a fight (after pulling their own knife in a struggle). The newspapers reported “what a saint this guy was” on account of him being a volunteer firefighter, and his mother couldn’t understand why her “lovely son” died. Except, I, like others, knew the truth. They ignored the fact that he was violent, had a criminal record, and was, quite frankly, a piece of shit.

When it comes to children it’s even more complicated, largely on account of what happens when it is deemed that they should be removed from their parents or guardians due to abuse. Well, they often end up in “the system”, a Child Welfare system in which in many cases is worse for the child than their own home. Yes, the home in which they were being abused.

Horrible, I know. The reality is, with kids or adults, one of the best things you can do is try to offer them sanctuary and, if possible with kids, try to gain some form of guardianship. Of course, “the system” doesn’t make this easy either.

If at this point you are having difficulty reading this, it is okay. It’s a dark subject (and I am barely even scratching the surface). Yet, while the world is currently the best place it has ever been to live (ignore the fear-mongering), there is still evil and darkness out there, even close to home.

We as a society have a tendency to only focus on that which can be politicized rather than that which is obviously wrong with what we have built. The simplest thing we can do is help those in our lives who may be at risk; by doing whatever you can. Whether that means paying for their self-defence lessons, providing them with shelter, or giving them financial support, you can do more than you think. Whatever you decide, know that you are probably better help than the system.

The government and the justice system have completely failed on this matter, at least in the West. In other countries there isn’t even a system to help those who are or would be abused.

For many the world is better than ever, for others it is still a nightmare.

When we talk about these topics we must be honest and not jump on one-liners, slogans, or broad statements. It must be case by case, requiring sincere consideration.

If you know someone, female, male, or other, adult or child, who you think is being abused, ask yourself, “What can you do to help?”

Written: by Jonathan Fader

Have you assessed this situation critically? Is the short cut worth the risk? (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader with additions

Being assaulted, attacked, robbed etc… will always be a horrible, unwanted experience. Yet, at any given time, all over the world, it is happening to someone. For the purposes of keeping it simple I am only going to be discussing basic assaults (eg. muggings). This subject will, of course, become more complex with regard to domestic disputes, or when the assault involves close friends, relatives, or mentors; such situations are impossibly complicated, as they are interwoven with emotion, personal connection, betrayal, and often shame. Perhaps “domestic and close relationship violence” could be a topic for another time (likely requiring another series)

For our discussion, imagine you were attacked while walking home, or you were mugged at an ATM. These are terrible experiences, and yet they are often somewhat avoidable. If you still watch the news or follow trends, you may often hear the term “victim blaming.” Discussing fault is typically frowned upon as it is considered cruel to say the person who got attacked was (even partially) to blame. Particularly in cases where it may have seemed unavoidable, taking responsibility for what happened, for most people is a daunting and heart wrenching task.

Before you jump down my throat, know that no one has the “right” to attack you and that these attacks are inexcusable. In most countries there are laws against such things, some of which have been in place for thousands of years. Yet this has not stopped assault, robbery, rape, and other garbage behavior. The idea that laws will protect you outright is, in many cases, delusional. If someone is trying to rob you, will you be able to call the police? Probably not. Even if you are somehow able to call 911, the response times can range from 5 minutes to no response at all (especially in today’s anti-police climate); which means that, when it comes to your own personal safety, you are the only one who can prevent immediate physical harm or death.

Of course, size matters. And if you are underage, with less life experience, it matters even more. If your attacker is bigger than you and decides to target you, fighting may be considerably more difficult and risky.

So what do you do, and why may it be your fault that you got attacked?

Simple, the best self-defence is avoidance. Though Krav Maga teaches to fight with all you have, this is really meant for when running is not an option. The goal, however, should always be to take a step back, think critically, and try to make good decisions and assessments so that you do not even have to make a fight or flight decision.

Hearing or even thinking that being attacked was, in one way or another, your fault, is a difficult idea to swallow and yet, if you don’t want such things to happen in the future you will have to make some changes. (Again, we are not talking about assaults involving partners, friends, or relatives)

The concept of personal responsibility or “ownership,” (made more popular these days by Jocko Willink in his books “Extreme Ownership” and ‘The Dichotomy of Leadership,” and by others in various publications) is a difficult concept for many, even in the best of times. You see, we have this thing called an Ego, and it wants to protect us and shift blame elsewhere. So if someone did a bad thing to us, we rationalize that it must be completely their fault. Yet, when it comes to self-defence and protecting yourself, that may not be entirely true.

Were you walking in a way that made you seem like an victim? With your head low, shoulders rolled forward, for example, are physical indicators that will lead an attacker to believe you are an easy target. Or did you, as Jordon Peterson would say, “stand up straight, with your shoulders high.” It may seem silly, but this simple change will take you from “easy target” to “potential problem” in the eyes of the attacker.

I, myself, am not the largest person, being 1.6m tall and (in the past) around 65-68kg. Yet I managed, despite my big mouth and tendency to offend people, even when I was younger and did not know how to fight, to not get jumped, or attacked, or worse (much to my surprise). In my case, it’s an explainable confidence that probably kept people guessing whether it was a good idea to attack me or not. I managed because I talked big and looked the part. Of course, occasionally I would recognize that I said the wrong thing to the wrong person, and I was immediately aware of that instinctual feeling: “It’s time to leave.”

Knowing when you are about to get in over your head, in any situations, is difficult. But knowing when you must leave (early “flight” indicators) will save you great pain and hardship. Failing to recognize that you, A) just pissed off a bunch of people, B) are probably in over your head, and C) failed to avoid further conflict, means that you are largely responsible for the resulting hospital trip. You failed to manage a bad situation, you stayed in that bad situation, and you allowed it to get worse.

Another example is the classic “taking a short cut through a dark alley.” Didn’t your mother tell you not too?! You can say all you want that “the person who robbed you shouldn’t have!” And you are right, they shouldn’t have, but your attacker doesn’t care; they are operating on a different moral scale then you are. Even if they are just trying to survive, they don’t have the right to take from you. But it really doesn’t matter in the moment, because now you are in the situation, and they are doing it. Failing to recognize that you were making a bad decision, a decision that put you in the position of being an easy target, makes it your fault. Failing to maintain situational awareness, to know when to run when you must, might be your fault to.

You might say, “Wait a second, for some people their body will cause them to have paralytic fear, causing them to freeze up and prevent any decision making that will be beneficial. So how can it possibly be their fault?”

Well, why did you go into the dark alley in the first place? Even if you knew it was a bad idea? Failure to recognize that decision as your fault may cause you to make it again and further compound any psychological trauma you may have experienced from the results of the first bad decision.

Furthermore, what did you do to prepare for violent situations? For most the answer is “Nothing.” Which would then be your fault. You assumed it would never happen to you and when it did you may have found yourself asking yourself, “why didn’t I do more?”

Prevention is the number one way to stay happy and healthy, which includes the ability to defend yourself. If you never learned even the basics of defending yourself, and you didn’t keep your body in good health so that you can run, it is again your fault.

We can say all we want that “people shouldn’t attack people” (which they shouldn’t) and “it’s their fault,” but we cannot control other people, we can only control ourselves, which means our personal safety is on us and us alone.

This, of course, doesn’t apply to small children, but as a parent you can teach and inform your children, in age appropriate ways, to give them the best possible chance of survival in any situation.

So, do you want to be the victim? Or do you want to take a proactive approach to self-defence, taking full personal responsibility. Learn to make good decisions, avoid people who might be problematic in your life, and learn to defend yourself.

Remember, it’s your life and your responsibility. While others contribute to who you are and why you are the way you are, when it comes to assault, in that single moment of time, all the blame on society, your parents, your significant other, are completely irrelevant. In that moment it is only you and them.

Did you do everything you could to avoid that horrible situation, or did you do nothing and wait to be the victim?

Written: by Jonathan Fader

Police selection should be at least as rigorous as the demands in the line of duty. (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

This is the fifth in a series that started with “It’s Not So Black and White“, which was expanded upon in “Understanding Use of Force”. Specifics regarding techniques were discussed in “Understanding Use of Force: Knee-on-Neck”, and then we looked at overall police training standards in last week’s post, “Police Training Should be Better.” Over the course of this series I have frequently mentioned the need for better training and standards for policing.

This will be the last entry in this series on policing and use of force. It is my hope these posts have given you time and information to consider another perspective about police and the job, as well as use of force misconceptions. If your only source of information about the world is the mainstream media, it is likely you are getting heavily biased misrepresentation (often with the goal of gaining viewer attention rather than informing us). Or if you are only getting information from social media, a place where you may only follow people with similar beliefs and experiences to yours, then you could be living in a bubble, leading you to jump on poorly thought out causes (even if your intentions were good). No matter where you are in the world and what bubble you live in, seeking out other opinions and sources of information is key to forming well thought out ideas and policies. So, I hope this series has opened your mind to a perspective you might not have considered.

Which brings us to the next important topic: How do we select for policing? If you have followed this series you will have guessed that there is no single standard method of selection. Some require post-secondary, some do not. Some have age and fitness restrictions, be they high or low. It is likely we will never get it exactly right, but, as stated, it can be better. Some ideas in this article will be speculative, others are simply thoughts to further the conversation.

Let’s start with age. Personally, I think that the minimum age for policing should be 25, with no specific high-end limit so long as individuals can pass all required tests. Why? Simple, the idea that people are adults at 18/21 is an arbitrary number. A long time ago at puberty or around 16, you were generally considered an adult, because you could move to the next stage of life. The modern conception of 18 or 21 as the “age of majority,” other than it being after high-school or university, was based on our social/economic system’s needs. However, recent studies have suggested that the human brain does not finish developing until around age 25, at which point our brain chemistry and function is stable enough (scientifically) to be considered in the “adult” phase of human development. But I don’t think I need science to tell me that people over 25 are usually more stable and better at rational decision making. Which is why it makes sense that 25 should be the minimum age for a career in which decisions and reactions could have lethal consequences. Why do I think no maximum age? Well, as long as candidates are physically and mentally capable, why limit the selection? You will also be able to draw upon the expertise and experience from individuals who have lived and done more.

Why is it then that police organizations prefer younger candidates? The forces that do are likely seeking younger minds that can be molded to fit the existing police culture they want them to adhere to. Even Google does this, by hiring people right out of high school. Except, when it comes to policing I really don’t want someone who is young and has been conditioned to uphold the “old boys club,” or favouring your fellow officers over the law. Hiring older candidates will allow the institution to ensure that integrity is more likely to be enshrined in the force, both legally and morally.

Next, let’s talk about the obvious; physical requirements. Sometimes physical requirements are expected, with tests like the Peace Officers Physical Abilities Test (POPAT), while others have few or no requirements. First off, under no circumstances do I think it is acceptable to allow out-of-shape police officers to serve on the force, let alone as active street officers. Like shooting and tactics, fitness requirements should be maintained and assessed annually. While I cannot speak for other places, I can say that, from what I have heard in Canada, physical standards are often slowly being lowered. This is something I am very much against; the job doesn’t change but the standards do? That makes no sense, and is potentially dangerous. You may need to chase someone for a 100m sprint or a 2km run, with your gear on. Or you may need to grapple with an opponent to control them during an arrest; which is exhausting enough when you are in shape, let alone out of shape. Additionally, testing should be more realistic than it currently is, as the tests, like the POPAT, don’t really prepare you or assess you for fieldwork, rather it’s just generic fitness. There should be tiered levels of fitness tests required, each aimed at ensuring officers can operate for all aspects of their job. This can be done before, during, and regularly after initial training. The job doesn’t change, so the standards shouldn’t change, even if lower standards would allow more people in.

I personally don’t have an issue with shorter officers or smaller officers, but I do believe anyone with a “non-average build” MUST score higher on the physical combatives areas, as they are going to have to make up for their size with skill. It’s just physics. So, again, lowering physical standards for smaller officers is actually more likely to put their lives, or the lives of civilians, at risk.

Regarding combative skills; either through police prep schools or generic martial arts schools, candidates should probably start to have BJJ, wrestling, or Judo experience prior to hitting the academy. If, of course, out of high-school you want to be a police officer you could do 4 years of education related to the job, which is also plenty of time to get considerable martial arts experience. It also shows that candidates are serious about the job and are ready to get their egos smashed on the mats, rather than pursuing the job so they can impose their egos on others. This will further help screen people, as there is no better stress test than having a higher ranked, larger individual sit on you (even in a fun match).

Next is the question of education.

I like the German model that has POLICE SPECIFIC degrees. Such degrees, in my opinion, should have hand-to-hand combat and physical training aspects to it as well as theory. This would pre-screen candidates as well as provide them with all the training they need, well in advance of the actual job (which would also save tax payer money). Even if individuals do not end up becoming police they would walk away with practical, lifelong skills (martial arts, awareness, etc.). While Criminology degrees are good, like many degrees they are not specific to the job itself and will depend on who is teaching what, with regards to how practical the education is. Having a degree is also a screening method to ensure than individuals grow and develop, and show that they can work hard, prior to acting in the line of duty.

These are just a few items that should be in place, but there are other selection practices currently used that I strongly dislike.

First, is the fact that forces often want puritan candidates, with no “bad behavior” in their history at all. This I am very much against. How can you possibly understand how a drunk person thinks or feels if you have never been drunk? How are you going to understand the people you need to help if your life has never exposed you to anything negative. The no drugs ever, policies that many agencies enforce for pre-selection is insane and probably limit good candidates dramatically. Of course, you don’t want individuals with a severe history of addiction, but with the amount of alcohol police often drink, I see no difference between that and many categories of drugs. And, clearly, they MUST be sober on the job, if that wasn’t already obvious.

Another notion of selection is the common bias (even if subconsciously) to only select individuals who not only “fit in,” but also those who “won’t rock the boat.” This kind of selection bias is the reason why we have so many shitty cops out there (like many jobs), because you select for people who will not be honest about the problems they see in the behaviour of other officers, or the system, even though this is what the public demands (and is a self-scrutiny that will improve the force overall). I understand the concept of “brotherhood,” as I was in the military, however, while it may feel like, as an officer, you are going to war every day. It is not. Therefore, this idea of “protective brotherhood” I feel is less important in policing than in the military during wartime. While, yes, you want someone who you can trust with your life as a partner, for the sake of the job and your overall safety you cannot keep protecting bad behavior in the name of brotherhood. It is wrong, Full Stop!

What do you think?

These are just a few ideas about how to better select for policing. Many of these changes would require you communicating regularly with your politicians, mayor’s offices, and others, as the budget and changes are usually green lit by them and not the people who should actually be making the decisions. Everyone knows we need change and yet it often gets stopped somewhere in the blurry, inefficient mess that is bureaucracy.

So, if you had your way how would you select for police?

Written by: Jonathan Fader

For training online visit at www.utkmu.com, or if you are in the metro Vancouver area come learn from me in person www.urbantacticskm.com

RCMP cadets training at the academy’s Depot Division in Regina, Saskatchewan. (source)
Added contend in Audio. Audio by Jonathan Fader

This is the fourth in a series that started with “It’s Not So Black and White“, which was expanded in “Understanding Use of Force” and “Understanding Use of Force: Knee-on-Neck.” Over the course of this series I have frequently mentioned the need for better training and standards for policing.

Often, when this is discussed with officers, a few responses are common (I’m paraphrasing):

  • “I totally agree, but I don’t have the time or money to pay for my own training in my limited free time.”
  • “I totally agree, but the higher ups don’t seem to care and are not willing to make the change.”
  • “I don’t know what you are talking about; training and the academy was hard, so you don’t know what you are talking about.”
  • “I know enough, you are just trying to sell me something.”

No matter what the reason, whether the agree or disagree, the fact is simple; Police are not trained well enough!

Why do I say that?

Have you heard of the “10,000 hour rule” (popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success)? It is estimated than for any ONE skill you will need 10,000 hours to gain mastery. Even a Black Belt who has been training 5, 10, or 15 years often doesn’t even have that kind of level. This is the reason why black belts often say when achieving that prestigious rank: “Now I am ready to learn.” Given how long it takes to achieve mastery it is unreasonable to expect this level of expertise from police, given the number of skills that they actually need to perform effectively. However, we can reasonably expect them to at least reach a novice or advance level in both use of force and firearms usage under duress.

Additionally, we need to select better candidates. Some places, like Canada, maintain physical requirements, and some do not. Some put in place an age requirements (not too old, not too young), some do not. Some uphold minimum education requirements and some do not. I will discuss selection in more depth in another article, but we must take into account the fact that the standards vary wildly.

Since I live in Canada, let’s start with discussing training standards within the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Usually you do need a degree and some life experience, once you have been selected you will undergo 6 months of training at the RCMP Academy’s “Depot Division” (the details of which are broken down here.)

This is a general breakdown of RCMP training in “Depot”:

UnitNumber of Hours
Applied Police Sciences373
Police Defensive Tactics75
Fitness and Lifestyle45
Firearms Training65
Police Driving65
Drill, Deportment, and Tactical43
Detachment scenarios, exams, research, etc.120
As listed on RCMP Website

Before I move forward I will say that the standards of the RCMP in some ways are considerably better than those of many other police forces, especially in the US. However, the RCMP selection requirements have declined over the years.

Anyway, back to the point.

You can see how many scenarios, skills, and concepts they need to cover, and attain reasonable proficiency with, in only 6 months time. (Some agencies have less). What they consider “applied police sciences” could itself encapsulate numerous complicated topics.

Let’s take a look at “police defensive tactics,” which is allotted 75 hours of class/field time. I will assume this is the training of physical self-defence and control techniques, perhaps there is crossover with the material covered in Drill, Deportment, and Tactical (without more detail it’s hard to say), but let’s say these 75 hours encompasses the fundamentals. That length of instruction, 75 hours, is about the minimum time it takes to become a UTKM Yellow belt; the RCMP standard is therefore no more intensive than our CIVILIAN self-defence curriculum! (and this comparison assumes that the RCMP’s curriculum is up-to-date and comprehensive.) Objectively, most of my Yellow belts do not have enough skill to begin to safely deal with violent situations that are inevitable in policing.

In most cases my Green belts and up are the point at which students develop true proficiency in hand-to-hand combat and control techniques. That’s at a minimum 280 hours specifically in hand-to-hand combat; and they continue to train after the fact.

After completing Depot, RCMP officers usually do not engage in extensive training supplied by their own force. While America is different than Canada, the common lack of training is discussed by Jocko Willink during his recent appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience #1492 (around 17min in). Willink notes the range of training required for the duties of police officers, and how, on average, America police officers are no longer held to a physical fitness standard and receive only 2-4 hours of extra training a year. Which is nowhere even close to enough to maintain the skill to execute their duties with discretion and control.

While training Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ), which I highly encourage for anyone, I have met RCMP officers who were practicing BJJ out of a desire to expand upon their past training, which had not included a focus on grappling. They became interested in the ground-fighting skill set through private training sessions run by a fellow officer who happened to be a BJJ brown belt. This training, however, was done on their own time and on their own dime, AND only a handful of their fellow officers took part. The fact that grappling and ground-fighting isn’t standard training at this point is beyond me. The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) at least have a Judo club for officers and recruits, so why don’t more agencies have wrestling, BJJ, or Judo training available to their officers? A while ago, former US Democratic Presidential nominee Andrew Yang suggested a reasonable requirement for police vetting could be a BJJ purple belt, and as we move forward this is something I increasingly agree with.

If Depot is the start of RCMP training, then it should be treated as exactly that, just a start. Officers should, at a minimum, be getting AT LEAST one hour a week of hand-to-hand training, EVERY WEEK! It should also be PAID and delivered within their REGULAR working hours. Jocko suggested a fifth of an officer’s time should be spent training, and I completely agree.

Now let’s look at the RCMP’s 65 hours of Firearms training. 65 HOURS?! There is no way that is enough time to become proficient with the range of firearms officers may encounter, especially working mainly with a pistol and especially under duress. In my 7-8 month army (IDF) training I would say most of the instruction and practice was related to firearms and weapon use, in combination, over hundreds of hours. I probably fired tens of thousands of rounds, in a variety of scenarios, across all platforms I was expected to be proficient in. Additionally, (while I am speculating) I suspect that much of the RCMP firearms training does not place candidates under (reasonably) realistic simulations that would allow them to develop the confidence to use their firearms effectively while under duress.

I have heard some agencies in Canada do pay for 10,000 rounds worth of training a year, but with the caveat that officers need to seek out and undertake this training on their own time. So I expect most officers do not bother (Many thanks to those who do!)

Basically, we are asking Police to do a good job, be experts in the use of force, maintain an even temperament, develop interpersonal skills, and gain an understanding of the law, but we barely give them any training or time to do so.

So far I have used the RCMP as an example, as, fortunately, they have a fairly detailed website on the matter.

Let’s now take a look at the Vancouver Police Department (VPD). Their training program isn’t listed in detail but the basic process is.

They undergo almost 3 months (11 weeks) of academy training at the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC), then they do approximate 6 months on the job (shadowing, etc), then a further 3 months of JIBC training. I actually like this model, as it mimics the apprenticeship model and is something that should be considered for continued development over the course of an officer’s career. However, without knowing the details of their curriculum it’s hard to say how much use of force training or firearms training is included. However, the total process is about a year of learning AFTER selection; which is good but, again, how much time is spent on what?

By the way, usually a degree or later age is required for the RCMP, whereas VPD may take applicants fresh out of high-school (which is more common than not.) Though someone recently suggested there is a min credit requirement prior to application (anyone care to confirm this?)

The famous LAPD, require applicants to be 21 years of age and to possess a high-school diploma (or GED), and once selected they will go through a 6 month course (the details of which I could not find). The NYPD, also internationally known, requires age 21, some post-secondary or military service, residency within the five boroughs of New York, and the completion of a written exam. The NYPD does have an academy which offers training for new recruits, civilian roles, and in-service officers, though I cannot track down a specific number for how long the in-class training is for prospective police. (The fact it is so hard to find details on their training program indicates a concerning lack of transparency.) The Minneapolis Police Department (MNPD), by the way, requires a 2-4 year degree and then some psychological assessments and aptitude testing; but, again, no specific mention of what happens at the academy.

Now let’s compare these North American programs to German police training (It’s difficult to find information in English but I have talked to several people about German programs). Training is generally the same for all Bundespolizei (Federal Police), but may vary to some degree across the sixteen Landespolizei (State Police) forces. After a degree their RECRUIT TRAINING is 2-3 years straight, before they can be certified as a police officer. By the way, in Germany they have degree programs SPECIFICALLY for those wanting to become police officers, so it is likely that these would be sought in candidates, if not required. Again, in Europe or much of the world such degrees in policing and security are normal. Here in Canada at least, individuals usually take a general Criminology degree which, while it deals with crime and the law, is not actually a degree program specific to policing. This is the best approach! Get an education, be a little older, and then we will train you EXTENSIVELY in the job, before you start doing it. German officers’ actual training time is 4 to 6 times longer than the average in North America.

It bears mentioning that the firearms training provided to German police forces centres first around safe handling and marksmanship, then on training to only use your service weapon as a last resort. This includes numerous hours of training under duress to avoid “tunnel vision” in order to learn how to manage your reactions and decisions when in real world encounters.

If you dig deep you will find that, in much of Europe and other areas of the world, police generally receive considerably better training.

Yes, your 3 or 6 months in Depot may be the hardest time you have ever had, but I am here to tell you that it is simply not enough. It does not even allow you enough time, in any one topic, to even be considered a skilled novice. Is this really the standard we want?

I don’t think so.

So, instead of jumping on the social media bandwagons, demand that the politicians force police to offer better training. If the job is harder to get into, and pays better, you WILL attract a better class of officer.

But if the job is overworked, underpaid, and poorly trained, why would the average person want to do that job?

The solutions are simple: Better training, more training, and consistent training during your entire career as an officer.

So, what do you think? Is 6 months of training enough for the people putting their lives on the line to keep us and our communities safe?

Written by Jonathan Fader

This is the third part in a series, starting with “Its Not So Black and White,” on the topic of police brutality, training, and various misconceptions thereof.

Audio by: Jonathan Fader – There is some additional commentary in the Audio
Regular training allows forceful restraint to be applied with caution and control. (source)

In last weeks post, “Understanding Use of Force,” I discussed the difficult nature of applying “use of force” concepts and making the correct decision, in the smallest amount of time, while under duress. While, yes, there are malicious police, I would say 10-20% (these are the ones that need to go), the rest are simply good people with an extremely difficult job. A job where everything you do and say is scrutinized to a level that would drive even the most stable person a little nuts. This is why even good officers will often side with their fellow members, even the bad ones, because of the “Us vs Them” principle.

In the media we once again see calls for removing more justifications for the use of force from police, rather than demanding better training and member selection. Slogans like “defund the police,” though popular on social media, are very misguided and misleading to the point that many top politicians who support the general movement are distancing themselves from them. What people need to understand is that the very LOUD minority on social media tends to disproportionately drive the conversation, causing “groupthink” to lead the masses into piling-on with out any real idea of what to do or how to make a meaningful change. “Defund the police” is no different than saying take away their tools.

Once upon a time the police were armed with batons and guns, and many times the smallest altercations meant extreme violence. Then they added non-lethal tools like bean bag guns, rubber bullets, mace, and tasers. Now we even see a trend toward a desire to take these tools away; this is akin to taking away a cat’s teeth. Then telling them they can’t even employ use of force concepts, because it isn’t nice, is like declawing that same cat. This idea that “no force is needed in many altercations” is, quite frankly, delusional. As, while there are certainly cases of police overstepping their bounds, most of the altercations resulting in violence are occurring due to extreme resistance. But before I move on, watch this video about why, with proper training (something I will discuss in another post), appropriate, controlled force (including Knee on the neck) is a necessary tool.

UTKM Lead Instructor Jonathan Fader – Shows appropriate use of Force with the Knee on the Neck

Please understand that, even if you don’t like this technique, if you read our previous post you may start to understand how difficult it is to control another person. As mentioned in this video, he is not resisting too much, mainly because he doesn’t want to; this is why controlled pain compliance is super important. Unless someone is on drugs or has a massive adrenaline spike most people will cease resisting and comply when you apply the appropriate pressure and give the appropriate verbal commands.

NO, two or three officers should NOT all be dog-piling or putting their knee on the neck. One trained individual should apply the technique, with others supporting by controlling the arms or legs.

I sincerely believe that most people who say police should not have any use of force options have no idea how dangerous the job is. Just because you will not be violent towards police doesn’t mean others won’t.

While there are definitely racial issues at play (on a global scale, stop pretending it’s just the US), when it comes to policing we should not assume every altercation is about race. If you believe it’s systemic then attempt to understand the issues within the system that make it appear that way to you. Remember, in a world with conflicting voices the middle ground is often where you need to be.

This means, better training and standards for policing BUT still allowing them to do the job while staying safe, which includes techniques like the knee-on-neck.

I have recently seen suggestions that there be unarmed, trained individuals available to deal with calls that require a lighter touch, such as social workers for calls related to non-violent mental illness. But, if you think for a second that their training should not include the use of force, then you are not being realistic about possible escalations. Talk to any ER Psych nurse or social worker and ask if they have ever been in a near violent or violent situation. These are hard jobs where getting attacked is a reality. Some people, for whatever reason, do not care about consequences and will be unpredictably violent; this includes towards the police and towards civilian role which require direct interaction. By removing use of force training and tools you are actually putting more people in unnecessary danger.

And to those of you who have multiple, negative police encounters (outside of racial contexts), you need to ask yourself “why are having so many bad encounters?” If you don’t take personal responsibility for your actions you are not being honest. Because, lets be reasonable, most encounters with the police are, by their very nature, negative experiences, as you only usually deal with the police in situations that are not ideal; from paying fines, to violent incidents. I have had both positive and negative encounters with the police, but for me the most frustrating issue, for both me and the police, is that often the responding officers cannot get involved because it’s “not an imminent threat.” Even if they agree that something should be done about a person, they don’t, because the system doesn’t always allow it. Which means they slowly become jaded and any time there is any “action” even the best of police can get caught up in the moment.

This is exactly why we must insist on better training for the police, and an understanding that the solution isn’t always going to be a move to “defang the police.”

Now that you have watched the above video and you have read these articles, it is my hope that you understand why techniques like knee-on-neck are important tools; they are, on average, less dangerous than other tools such as rubber bullets and tasers. So, before you jump on the Internet bandwagon, ask yourself, “Do I really understand use of force concepts?” and “Where does my hate for the police actually come from?”

Written by: Jonathan Fader

For training online visit at www.utkmu.com, or if you are in the metro Vancouver area come learn from me in person www.urbantacticskm.com

Ancient bas-relief of Khmer martial arts training (at their school?) in Cambodia.

We are nearing the point in our collective COVID-19 journey where, legally or otherwise, businesses are starting to re-open. You can believe whatever you want, but I feel that, while the virus was terrible globally, the general populous and governments overreacted by shutting everything down.

However, no matter what I think, the damage has already been done. Now it’s about how can we grow and re-build from the metaphorical rubble.

Some martial arts schools are re-opening even though they are legally not allowed to; because if they don’t they will not be able to re-open, ever. Many businesses operate month-to-month financially, and I can say from experience that this is more often than not the case with regard to the martial arts community. This is why re-opening soon is essential for our type of business to succeed.

In other industries getting back to business within the context of rules requiring social distancing, group size limitations, and personal protective equipment (PPE), is a manageable constraint. Martial arts schools, by the very nature of physical, combative training, are going to have an issue. A temporary solution was/is to offer virtual classes, which is better than nothing and also serves to keep students in shape and in the learning mindset. However, in many cases (except, perhaps, for global brands) students may choose not to participate, for a plethora of reasons given our current circumstances, which makes it very difficult for the schools to stay afloat in an already challenging market.

With all this said, let’s assume that the school you train at is going to re-open in the near future, either legally or not. When it does, how should you proceed?

  1. Show Up – Now, more than ever, your school needs support. So show up! Even if you have to work out a modified payment plan for your school, due to job loss or other. SHOW UP! What this does is motivates your school’s instructors to build the school up with out worrying that the clientele won’t be there. It also motivates other students to come and train. There may be a group of people who might not want to start training when it comes time to open, but if other people are training and see that it is relatively safe (it is martial arts after all) they will feel more comfortable coming in. Additionally, if there is a great deal of community support, then it may be more difficult for local authorities to be to harsh on struggling schools; if there is one thing politicians hate, it’s public backlash. So, if you like your school, support your school. Make it a priority to show up even if schedules have changed or things are different at your school. Show up and support your school.
  2. Advertise For Your School – If you were not already, make social media posts. Talk to your friends and followers about your training. Make lots of posts and be public about it. The more your school is known the more people will want to come train. Even if you don’t feel comfortable training yet, you may have friends who have always wanted to try it and who do want(need!) to train. Now’s the chance for these people; it’s a win-win.

That’s it, it’s really just that easy. Show up and be loud about it! Remember, talk is cheap. Saying you want to train or saying you support your school is not the same as actually doing it. Talk all you want but if you don’t show up, and do so regularly, and help market your school, even schools that are able to re-open may not be able to continue if no one is there to pay the bills.

So, what are you going to do about your school re-opening? Will you support it or will you stay at home forever, while that thing you once loved fades to dust.

Yes, it’s another Pokémon related post. (It’s not likely to be the last.)

Pikachu’s electrifying personality (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

I have always had an unusually rational and explainable confidence (though it’s origin remains unknown): Just DO things. Now, I am not saying it came from Pokémon, but, I am not saying it did’t come from Pokémon. One thing is for sure; I have always stood out as someone a little different. Maybe it’s a bad case of cognitive dissonance or maybe it was my love for Pokémon. Who knows?!

One thing for sure though, having confidence in oneself, who you are and your abilities, can go a long way in life. It’s not for the benefit of other people, it’s for ourselves, and how we view ourselves internally.

In Pokémon, protaginist “Ash Ketchum” has an unusual characteristic; he never forces, or even encourages, his pokémon to evolve into their higher forms. In the most famous example, his pikachu was offered the chance to evolve into a Raichu early on, using an item called a “Thunder Stone.” Most trainers would jump at the chance, because isn’t the more evolved form stronger and, therefore, better? Well, Ash and, more importantly, Pikachu did not think so. (It should be considered, though, that this may have been a marketing-based plot decision, as Raichu isn’t as “cute” as Pikachu and might have hurt the series’ brand, considering Pikachu was, and still is, the face of the series.)

For whatever reason, Pikachu decided he did not want to change for the sake of others; he was comfortable with who he was. Later in the series it was the same case for Ash’s Bulbasaur. It was captured by other Bulbasaurs and taken to the secretive “evolution ceremony.” Ash’s Bulbasaur decided, despite all his peers evolving, not to evolve again; he, like Pikachu, was comfortable with who he was. As it turns out, they both developed into stronger versions of themselves internally, becoming strong leaders in their own rights, despite not evolving into more powerful creatures.

While at the time I did not think much of it, hindsight often allows us to see where we might have learned lessons that were not directly taught to us. In today’s world there is increased pressure to conform to the narrative of society or our peers. Similarly, society told Ash to evolve Pikachu and peers told Bulbasaur to evolve. In both cases they were confident and comfortable with who they were, which afforded them the self-assured mindset to become the best versions of themselves whether or not they later choose to evolve.

While you should always be the best version of yourself, that does not always mean the version other people want you to be. This DOES NOT mean you don’t ever have to change! It just means that how you view yourself is one of the most important aspects of personal happiness (or personal destruction): it will inform your confidence (or contribute to a lack thereof) and inspire (or deter) your ability to be comfortable with yourself, and therefore your ability to experience strong growth.

So long as who you choose to be, and how you see yourself, is not destructive, dangerous, or extremely disruptive to the health, safety, and well-being of others, then you should be who you want to be and you should let yourself be happy with it.

Of course, if you are not happy with what you see in the mirror, or in your thoughts and actions, then you always have the power to change into what you want. In other words, you can choose to “evolve,” as is common when most pokémon are ready to change; either because they want to for personal reasons, because they have decided it would be in the best interest of their team’s success. Regardless of the motivation, the change is a choice to take action.

So, whether you want to be something else, or you want to be what you are, if you view yourself in a positive light you will have a much fuller, happier life.

What are you waiting for? Channel the confidence of Pikachu today, and be the best version of yourself that you can; so that you too can electrify the world around you.

Written by: Jonathan Fader

Audio By Jonathan Fader

During the Covid-19 lockdowns many people have found a lot of time to do a variety of things they might not normally had the time to focus on. For me, as many of the things I would like to do are not available or are sold out, I decided to reacquaint myself with one of my childhood passions.

POKÉMON!

Don’t lie, if you are under the age of, let’s say 40, there is a good chance that you too, at one time, wanted to be a “pokémon trainer” when you grew up.

Unfortunately, like many childhood dreams, this is one of those aspirations that is impossible in real life. Sigh, I can still dream.

Aside from the many cute pokémon, like Pikachu and Togepi, and the addictive nature of trying to achieve that lofty goal of “catching them all,” coupled with a brilliant cross platform global strategy, there are numerous reasons that Pokémon was, and is still, great.

While I did not think much of this as a kid, as I re-watch the original seasons, as well as the many, many, many seasons I missed (and they are still making new ones!), one of the great lessons the show teaches is that it is, in fact, OK to loose.

Even as a child I often thought the lead protagonist, Ash Ketchum, was a terrible pokémon trainer. This is mainly due to the fact that, in the original few seasons, he didn’t actually earn many of the gym badges by winning battles, but rather by foiling the plans of the “evil” Team Rocket. This means he probably didn’t actually deserve much of his respect as a trainer. So what did make him such a good trainer?

I think it’s the fact that win, loose, or draw, he would always keep going; he stayed consistent and kept a reasonably good attitude. Compare this to so many other cookie cutter kids shows or superhero series, where the protagonists always win in the end. I think Pokemon was a refreshing change, as it was far more based in reality than most other shows in regard to “winning.”

In most cases, these kids’ shows always result with the protagonist winning, which shelters young kids from one of the most important life skills; learning to fail. Pokémon, in contrast, showed you could win, loose, or draw, and still come out stronger.

For it is only in your losses that you can learn to improve. Only through adversity do you realize you need to change. If you only ever win, and only ever achieve the best, then you may not know how to truly assess and improve yourself.

A good, real life example of someone who clearly can’t handle loss would be Jon Jones. An amazing fighter who is one of the very best, yet is chronically having issues with the drugs and the law. Perhaps, had he faced a loss, or true adversity, he might have learned to be a better person as well as a better fighter. Maybe, had he been a pokémon trainer, this is a lesson he might have been forced to learn.

Whether you love Pokémon or hate Pokémon, the fact remains that it was and still is a worldwide phenomenon, one that experiences a resurgence in mass popularity every few years with some new version of the game. If you pay attention, you may realize that it’s a much better TV show for your child to watch than so many of the other cookie cutter junk out there; as it portrays the challenges of life (though in a fictional setting) in a much more realistic way.

So, whether it’s for your child, or yourself revisiting your childhood love, perhaps it’s time to look at Pokémon for some of it’s deeper lessons. Then learn to internalize the truth that it’s okay to lose, so long as you learn from it, and use that lesson to move forward and grow.

No matter what your endeavors are, keep going, stay consistent, and perhaps you too will metaphorically “catch them all,” as you will have built yourself up to the very best that you could be, a little bit at a time.

By: Jonathan Fader

This is the third part in a series titled Self-Defence is Not Just Physical.

Many interconnected factors contribute to a mental health breakdown. Defend yourself by taking action!
Audio by Jonathan Fader with additions

Out of all the topics covered in this series, this is the one I have the most formal education in. While my experience isn’t enough for me to claim to be an “expert,” it does provide me with insight on the topic of mental health. What I can say for certain is that in the area of mental health there is often a lot of “noise;” there are good studies and there are bad studies, and then there is everything in between.

One thing I learned early in the Psychology field is that, what is considered acceptable in a study isn’t necessarily appropriate to apply directly to the general population or to inform understandings across multiple cultures. I also learned that there are massive divides running through the world of psychology, as various schools of thought and areas of focus often do not get a long.

“…[T]here are also deep uncertainties in the field itself. Psychiatrists have no blood tests or brain scans to diagnose mental disorders. They have to make judgments, based on interviews and checklists of symptoms.” (Benedict Carey, “What’s Wrong With a Child? Psychiatrists Often Disagree,” The Washington Post, Nov. 11, 2006)

Ultimately, Psychology, while it is considered the science of the mind and behaviour, is not an exact science. The often referenced checklists of symptoms are typically based on the information provided in the much debated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)

More often than not, these complications make finding good advice for mental health difficult, especially if you are in the “thick brown soup” (so called by Safi Bahcall on the Tim Ferris Show) that can be a mental health episode.

So let’s forget any formal training or education I’ve have had, but rather focus on the fact that I have personally dealt with mental health issues; in the form of Clinical Depression, from both nature (family genetics) and nurture (learned behaviors and crappy adolescence) components. Of which I feel I have mostly cured myself, with little help or support from the few close people I had in my life (which makes it even harder). So trust me when I say I understand, even if you get the impression that I am insensitive to your mental health plight.

Throughout my life I have also had friends and acquaintances who have experienced various states of a variety of mental health issues, such as Severe Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Manic and Clinical Depression, PTSD, and much more. I have been exposed to such individuals simply by virtue of not living a sheltered life, and by recognizing that, perhaps, the saying “birds of a feather flock together” has some truth to it. For those who had both decent genetics and stable upbringings with good role models, in my experience, these people often struggle to deal with those who have mental health issues; often due to prevalent social stigma causing those with mental health issues to perhaps be naturally drawn (pushed?) to each other. This, of course, results in a history of rather interesting, albeit difficult, personal relations.

Merely two paragraphs ago I mentioned that I often come off as insensitive to those who have mental health issues, but, really it’s about my understanding of a simple fact:

If you, with all of the mental burdens you are feeling, want to get better, there is only one person who can truly help you get better…

You!

It’s a harsh reality to accept, especially if you are struggling. Medication (which I took for a few years and it did help me) or counselling (which I also dabbled with) will do nothing for you if you don’t do the work to change how you think and how you live your life. (Outside intervention may even be re-enforcing the way you think and feel.)

Much like addicts, the story we like to tell ourselves is that no one understands. Even when we meet other people with similar problems, if not identical, we still like to say things like; “But you don’t really understand,” “My situation is worse,” “You can change, I can’t.” A topic by the way recently discussed by Doctor Drew on the Podcast The Fighter and the Kid, so don’t just take it from me, take it from an addictions expert.

While, yes, there are extreme cases, most of the time you are no different than that other person experiencing the same thing. The cause or specifics may be different, but the feeling is the same. There is a reason after all, those people experiencing the same mental health problems often have very similar brain scans. Because, fundamentally, in your brain it’s the same problem.

This means that once you can get over yourself, and realize you want to get better, you are likely already halfway down the path to a happier life. The next step is getting off the couch and doing something about it.

Medication

I figured starting here is a good place since its probably one of the more controversial topics. Generally I operate on the “bell curve” model for most things. Some people who have mental health issues serious enough to need help may need to be on medication indefinitely, lets say 5-10%, some people may never need medication, lets also say 5-10% and then everyone else falls into some kind of spectrum (dependent on many factors).

Let’s start with something very important first. For most people, the first thing you do in a mental health episode/crisis is to contact a doctor, whether they be a General Practitioner (GP) or a walk-in clinic. Therefore, it is likely that the first person you will interact with only understands mental health in a general sense. Furthermore, they may not be able to consider the larger context of your life or specifics of your particular situation.

In general most GP’s and the like only have one tool: Medication. In my opinion, pills are often over-prescribed and should rarely be the first course of action. It is, however, the easy route, even though it is really not the best place to start. A reminder though; some people do require medication, even if its only for a short time. But, in general, long term use is not advised in most cases (again, in my opinion).

The reason I say this is a simple one: Sometimes the factors causing a mental illness or episode are very much environmental factors, such as a horrible job, terrible home life, a death in the family, or lack of social skills. Doctors rarely have the time to truly dive into your life to figure out if it’s a non-biological factor that is causing your distress. You may not even know! People like to lie to themselves about the situation they are in, and it can take weeks or months for people to open up and be honest.

Questions you should ask yourself are; “Can a find a different job,” “am I able to change my living conditions,” or “is there a family history of this issue” (even an undiagnosed one). This should always be the place to start.

Often this means deep and difficult discussions with yourself, which may result in requiring serious, and also difficult, life changes. This is why medication is often the route people take. Because it’s easier.

For the record, I was on Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) for about two years, and for me it was a great help because I finally started to understand what people were talking about when they said “just be happy.” My mind literally had no frame of reference, internally, for this notion, and I simply couldn’t understand. This is why, in my case, where there is clearly a family history, it was hard for me. Being on medication really helped me gain the basic framework from which to start building the internal/external skills to cope and change how my mind worked. But I knew being on SSRIs long term wasn’t great, as they do have drawbacks; I was lucky they only made me feel fatigued and robotic. Weirdly enough, the latter helped me socially, as I was “more likable” because I was less emotional or reactive. People liked the toned down version, but for me it really wasn’t a long term option, so I slowly weened myself off SSRIs after about 2 years (which was it’s own struggle).

Anyway, it can’t be overstated that a doctor whose first response is to give medication, without proper follow ups and a significant look into your life and context, in my opinion, should not be a doctor anymore; they are just being lazy and dishonest. For me, the decision to go on medication was only after I had done everything else (from therapy to moving to another country). Even then, it was only after a serious manic depressive episode that it occur to me that there was actually something seriously wrong.

So, should you go on medication? Which type should you go on if you do? For how long? Should you go on something meant for short term relief or a long term regime?

These are all good questions that really need to be deeply considered, with yourself, your doctor, and any consulting mental health professionals you have access to.

I generally believe that if you have not done anything to improve your situation, then you should try other strategies first. If after several life adjustments things still haven’t changed, then medication, even for a short time to get you moving, may simply be what your brain needed to rest and heal.

A word of warning: To my knowledge they don’t really have a good way of knowing which medication and at what dose to give to start people on. It’s often guesswork based on feedback from the patient. The thing is most people give very dishonest feed back, for whatever reason. I remember going on one type of SSRI at 5mg, nothing changed. Then 10. Nothing changed. My doctor said “let’s do 20mg and if it doesn’t work we will try a different type.” I casually asked the pharmacist how to know if it works. They said “If it’s working you will know.” The pharmacist was correct! For me, that particular brand, at 20mg, was like a ray of sunshine in the darkness. It immediately kicked in. Later, when I was going off the meds, I was only on 10mg, and eventually none. If you are honest, you will know if it is working or not. Do not just say it is if there is no real change.

Therapy

This may be a better place to start once you have identified that there is an issue. Here’s the thing, therapy, if not covered by medical insurance, can be very expensive indeed. One thing that drives me nuts is when mental health professionals try to tell a person who is broke and already struggling that they can find a way to afford counselling sessions, at $100 dollars an hour, at least once a week, because “it’s worth it.” While it may very well be, it might also be more of a financial burden than the individual can handle.

The other thing is, just like doctors or any other professional, there is a reason there is always a “best in the field.” Many therapists, whether they are a psychiatrist, private therapist, or public therapist, will be better at their job than others. This means that the chances of finding someone who is effective, who you connect with, and who you can afford, is very difficult.

However, especially if you don’t have a support network, someone is better than no one. What I will say is, don’t just stick with the first person who could see you. If you don’t click, you don’t click.

I would also caution that, in most cases, if you have to see them for more than 6 months or a year, other than maintenance checkups, they may just be taking your money. A decent therapist can often give you want you need in far less sessions than you think. That is, of course, if they are decent and they are not trying to take advantage of you.

For some, several sessions may be required at regular intervals at the beginning to assess and build a framework, others may only need one. It really depends.

I would like to stand up for therapists, though, and say that, often the reason things haven’t gotten better for a person regularly seeing a therapist is that the person is using the therapist as a crutch and hasn’t actually done anything to improve their life outside of therapy.

Remember, the responsibility for getting better is on you, not the therapist. They can only guide and advise, they are not supposed to tell you what to do. Which means that if they keep saying the same thing to you for years, the fault is on you. I know, people don’t like to take responsibility, even in normal times let alone mental health situations, but, sorry, it’s the truth

There is a reason, after all, that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), still tends to be the most effective type of therapy for treating a variety of mental health issues. As the onus is on you to do the work, on a consistent, daily basis, and re-shape how you think about the world and yourself.

So, pick your therapist wisely, and remember that you need to want to get better, no matter who you talk to.

Support Network

They say having a strong support network helps. That is, if you have one. Some people are lucky enough to have a strong group of supportive friends they built from high-school, or have strong family support on all levels. Though to be honest, if you have severe mental health problems there’s a good chance you did not have a very strong support network from the start. If you do, than that’s awesome, you have a leg up and I am very happy for you.

In my case though, I had few, very consistent, people in my life who did offer support. The reality is for me, they did not have the skills, knowledge, or time to really help me in a more meaningful way. I suspect that for many this is a familiar experience. This is why, no matter how hard it seems, it may be on you, and you alone, to get help and get better. (Notice a theme?)

The reason it can be difficult to have a strong support network is because those in your life who have their shit together more than you often are too busy with their own lives. Or they don’t have the energy to deal with what, to them, seems like a difficult friend.

I can say that for me, someone who has always struggled to have strong connections with other people (partially due to mental illness, but also the fact I am a strong-willed person at the best of times), the majority of the people I thought were my friends essentially bailed on me because I was too difficult to deal with. You can look at this a few ways:

  1. You are just too much – This may not be a popular thing to say, but dealing with people suffering from mental illness is tough. Unless those around you really have their shit together and have the right temperament, you may actually be just too much for them to deal with at that time. It’s very unfortunate, but it’s an all too common scenario. It’s not that they don’t care, they just can’t make you a priority in their life. It’s okay, everyone has their own lives. These are the people you should forgive, as it is more an indication of their life than yours.
  2. They were not very good friends in the first place – To be honest, though I admit I am a difficult person, I would say that this is the category into which the majority of the “friends” I had before my major episode fall. I say this because the vast majority of people didn’t even try. They just saw I was being difficult and bailed on me outright. If this is the case, then be happy that they are out of your life. They clearly didn’t care enough to ask if everything was alright when the signs are clear as day that it is not. Don’t feel bad, just know that when things get better you will find new friends and you will be happier for it.
  3. It really is your fault because you aren’t even trying to get better – This applies to those people who have an active support network who are always trying to help, yet years later nothing is better. There is a point, whether you realize it or not, that eventually people will give up on you. I am sorry, but you may be just too much, in general, and you aren’t taking responsibility. Either you may need to seek different professional help, or realize that, if you don’t change, everyone in your life who matters will be gone. If you don’t want to change so that you can be happier, then there is nothing anyone else can do for you. It is ultimately on you. They tried, you didn’t. After a long enough timeline, don’t be surprised when people walk away.

The trick is to know which category you fall into. If you have an amazing support network from the past, or a new one you have discovered, whether it be a new friend, a support group for your mental illness, or a therapist, then that is awesome. But, if not, do you fall into one of the three scenarios mentioned above, or is there another one? The truth is you probably won’t actually know until later, when your mind has calmed down and you can think clearly. It may even be years later that you finally it out. But know, though, it is easier with a support network. So make building or finding one a priority in your first steps. You can get better without one if you really want to, yes, it is a lot harder, but it can be done.

In a country like Canada there is little reason why you should not be able to find something, as there are many government funded resources and groups you can access. Even if they are not for you, they can often start you on a path to healing, one way or another.

Conclusion

Mental health it can be a difficult topic to talk about objectively, as there is so much emotion and ego involved. One thing to remember is that you are not alone. In this world there is someone else who is feeling the same as you are. This is actually, in a weird way, good news, because when enough people have the same issue it means there are resources and solutions available. You just have to start looking.

The first step is identifying that there is a problem, and which problem there is. Once you do that, you will be able to find the path that allows you to get better, so you can live a happier, more productive life.

I have met people who have had all sorts of mental health issues, some, at times, were quite serious, but they managed to get it sorted out so they too could be happier and healthier. Others struggle with the same problem for years and years because, despite being given the same advice from everyone around them, choose to stay in the shitty mental state they claim to want to move on from.

The latter probably do want to get better, but they have found all sorts of reasons not to.

The choice is always yours. I know that if you are reading this you want it to get better. You want the pain to go away or at least lessen. And, yes, it is pain, just like breaking a leg or bumping your head, but this one is not so simple to fix; it will require hard work and change.

This post is not meant as a comprehensive mental health guide, it obviously can’t be. Rather, it is meant to offer a perspective in thinking about mental health.

This series has been about the fact that self-defence is not just physical, which means I wanted you to consider other areas of your life that could take a little bit of self-defence. Our lives have become ever more complicated; more so that our nervous systems are adapted for.

If you are able to take care of yourself physically but not mentally, and your whole world seems chaotic and painful, then what good is physical self-defence if you still are struggling to see the light?

The answers are all interconnected. Whether the concern is physical, mental, digital, or financial, they are all aspects of your life. You need to live a balanced life, and seek to better yourself a little bit every day. Build one and it can build the others.

So what are you waiting for? Make your life happier, healthier, and better today, even if only a little bit.

By: Jonathan Fader