Archive for the ‘Martial Arts In General’ Category

Realistic attacks prevent your partner from developing a false sense of their abilities.
Audio by Jonathan Fader

As I mentioned few times in this series, and in my original “Are You a Good Training Partner” post, providing a realistic attack is very important for martial arts training. Being able to provide that for your partner is an important component in learning proper techniques and of being a good partner in general. This post will focus on how to go about providing such attacks.

Safety, as always, is extremely important, as is communication, so coming out of the gates swinging and throwing your first attack of the drill like a raging bull, is probably a bad idea. However, once you have those first couple of attacks out of the way and each person is comfortable with the movements involved in the defence, it’s time to up the intensity and speed (ie. realism) of your attacks. Always let your partner know you are going to be notching it up, and understand how to do so in a safe manner, which can mean different things for different attacks.

Let’s start with striking:

Upping the intensity doesn’t mean trying to knock your partner out, but should definitely involve increasing the speed of your attacks. It’s important to learn these adjustments while still keeping the power low; you can punch or kick quickly without throwing your whole power into the strike. Some people refer to this as “pulling your punches,” I prefer to think of it as pretending to hit a brick wall; you know you don’t want to hit it with all your might (as you will likely break your hand), but you can still hit it quickly and solidly.

Keeping on target is also important. I learned early on in my Krav career that if you do nothing, or fail at the defence, you should get hit. So the strikes need to be directed at their intended targets (chin, nose, knee, groin, etc) or the movements needed to defend against the strike will be different from how they would be in reality, and this isn’t effective training. People sometimes get into the habit of knowing how the defence is supposed to work, and as a result start throwing punches to where they end up after they have been deflected rather than where they should be landing. If I’m supposed to be parrying a punch to the head, but you punch to the side of my head, how do I know if my parry will really work?

Grabs and holds:

With grabs and holds I have found that once you have put the defender in the hold with enough force that they must struggle, I simply lock my arms or legs into place and resist movement rather than applying more pressure. This allows you to really make the person fight to get out, without risking hurting them, or choking them out in the case of headlocks and chokes. Of course, the nuance of this depends on the sizes of the two partners or size difference between them.

Speed can also be important here, as in Krav we practice both avoiding getting put into the hold, as well as how to get out if we fail at the first task. So, when attempting to put someone into a hold, like with striking, do it quickly, in order to imitate a real life situation. The jarring force this can produce is also important, as it’s a stimulus that can disrupt and off-balance someone, which is an important factor both in the training your defence technique and preparing you for the stress of real life attacks (an important aspect of effective training).

Lastly, once you have quickly, and with enough force, put your partner into the desired hold or lock, try to keep it on. Really make your partner struggle and work the problem. If you just remove all force once they start to escape you aren’t really helping them build technique and prepare for a real life encounters.

Finaly get verbal:

This is something that I find is very lacking in a lot of partners. Just think back to the last time you were in class and things were either calm and quiet or people were laughing and having fun… did you really feel like you were defending yourself? Hey, I get it, it is great to have fun at training and everyone should feel safe and comfortable there, but just as we like to imitate a real life scenario with the attacks and force used, physical attacks almost always come with a verbal component. People don’t often walk up to you silently and throw a punch at you.

This also offers you a chance to practice your stage 2 self-defence, de-escalation. Again, this can be a very uncomfortable stimulus, so it is essential that you be aware of how it feels. I have startled training partners simply by yelling HEY or ARGHHH at them; this verbal action was enough to disrupt there defence. Similarly, imitating the behavior of drunk, high, or deranged people can also be a beneficial training component.

Again, making people feel safe and comfortable is very important, so communication is very much key here, but it is a part of training that should not be ignored. I have found that people I have trained with for a while, and am very comfortable with, understand the importance and we were able to get quite aggressive with each other, really simulating some distressing street situations.

Putting all this together can make for some really great training, but, most importantly, you need to communicate with your partner so that everyone feels safe, comfortable, and knows the benefit of the added realism.

Written by Evan J (UTKM Yellow Belt)

Audio by Jonathan Fader

As I have mentioned earlier in my series on being a good training partner, it is important that people feel comfortable while training, but also that they are challenged. If you have trained with Jon (UTKM Co-founder/Lead Instructor) for any period of time, you have probably heard him say “you can’t cheat physics.” This is true, and it becomes especially important to remember for the bigger, more athletic, members of the class, though can be just as important for the new, inexperienced students, so I will tackle this topic with these two groups in mind.

If you are a bigger person, let’s say 82kg (180lb) and above, you should be aware that, even without putting in a lot of effort your, body can generate a lot of power. I mean, have you ever had someone much bigger than you bump into you by accident? Even if they really didn’t mean it, you feel it. So it is important that if you are in this size range you remain hyper-aware of your body dynamics (force of movement, speed of movement, range of motion, etc.) while striking, obviously, but also during grappling techniques, placing people in holds or control, and any time your body mass comes into contact with another person. The concerns are amplified exponentially as the size difference between training partners increases; ie. a larger than average person with a smaller than average person. So how do we work around this issue?

  1. Think Critically – Be aware that it can be a problem, and why! If you’re training with a 80lb‘er, simply saying “It’s not my fault! I barley touched them!” as they go flying across the room, doesn’t cut it. YES, IT IS YOUR FAULT!! (And, NO, the problem isn’t that they “just aren’t tough enough.”) Don’t take it personally (we’re not calling you fat), you simply failed to consider that physics matters. So, stop and consider who you’re training with and realize that this may be an issue, then adjust accordingly.
  2. Communicate – “Hey, let me know if I’m going too hard” or “how hard do you want to go?” are great ways to open the conversation. As you train with people more regularly you will get a feel for what each person can handle, as well as what they are comfortable with. Again, with communication comes the understanding that you will likely have to be the one to do the adjusting; if there is a size difference the bigger person has to accommodate the smaller. It’s not personal in either direction, it’s just physics.
    • Communicate More! – Information flows both ways; smaller people must speak up if their partner is going harder than they are comfortable with. This applies even if there isn’t a size difference, as a disparity in your skill level or the presence of an injury will also necessitate more caution and really diligent power control. If there is any concern that your partner should be aware of, TELL THEM!
    • Communicate Always! Keep that communication going throughout the session, as you will almost always, with out realizing it, slowly ramp up your power. Checking in is a good thing for both parties; it maintains safety and gives your partners the chance to tell you if they are ready for a bit more “heat.”
  3. Ease Into It – Respect the fact that, be it skill, strength, or toughness, your standards are not everyone else’s. Go extra light and then notch it up ’til every one is comfortable. What does going “light” or “extra light” mean? Well, for example, if you’re striking, limit the amount of power you put behind your strikes. This doesn’t have to mean sacrificing speed or form, just dial back the power like you would if you were shaking a small child’s hand vs shaking The Rock‘s; how you go about it doesn’t change, just the power. Similarly, when engaging in grabs and holds let your partner struggle. Start with the just the minimum amount of power to really make them work through the technique. As they improve, your pressure and “realism” should increase. You will figure out pretty quickly what your partner is capable of (and learning to feel for an opponent’s reactions is an important skill for you!) This can also apply to pad holding: We do many drills where you, as the pad holder, are required to activate or engage the your partner by bumping, tapping, or pushing them with the pad, so be gentle ’til you establish the right amount of “bump” required.

All of the above apply to grappling as well. Try not to rely on your size as a weapon! Muscling your way to victory may feel good, but always applying strength to overpower an opponent prevents you from improving your actual skill with the techniques. Some day you will encounter someone stronger than you…

Then there is the other part of the equation.

If you are new to martial arts, even if you’re small or training with a bigger, more experienced person, coming out guns blazing, before you have learnt correct technique, can pose it’s own problems. Whether this behaviour leads to injury to yourself, by putting stress on your joints in positions that they are not able to handle, or results in sacrificing learning of the proper technique because you are moving too fast or just muscling your way through a problem, your training suffers. I have said this new people more times than I can count; “Slow down.” Take it easy until you understand the movement, then slowly up the speed, power, and intensity, as your skill increases. This also reduces the (very likely) chance that you will injure your partner by throwing an uncoordinated attack that goes nowhere near where the drill intended it to.

So what can you do to mitigate inexperience? Well, same as above:

  1. Think Critically – Accept the fact that you are new, and be aware that being overly enthusiastic can be a problem. All of us started out looking like crap throwing our first few punches. No one is judging you (and if they are, find a different school, because these people aren’t into learning or teaching!) You are just new, keep that in mind and adjust your expectations for how classes are going to look for you for a little while. Self-defence, fighting, and violence in general, are a foreign concept for most people, give yourself the time to learn.
  2. Communicate – “Hey, I’m new, bear with me while I get the hang of this” or “ I’ve never done this technique, let me know if I’m doing something wrong”. People aren’t going to run away from you because your new, nor will they judge or make fun of you, so tell them. You will get a lot more out of the session if you are up front with your training partner and keep communication going, ask questions, look at what they do and ask them why they do it like that or how it works.
  3. Relax – Take into consideration everything above; adjust your expectations and allow the process to work. Breathe, slow down, and focus on the technique, there will be a time and place for adding in aggression, power, and intensity, but let that time come naturally don’t force it.

All of this is very important to keep everyone in the gym safe, comfortable, and progressing through the learning process. But don’t fall into the trap of making things too easy and not challenging your partner. I will cover the nuances of this in more detail in my next post; Providing a Realistic Attack.

Written by Evan J (UTKM Yellow Belt)

 

If you didn’t Avoid, couldn’t De-escalate, and chose not to Strike First, you are Reacting!
Audio by Jonathan Fader

Finally, we are here. The last, and least desirable, stage of self-defence. If you have reached this stage you have failed to follow the previous steps and advice, or your attacker simply had better tactics and skills than you. In which case, why did they want to attack you and why did you allow such a situation to happen in the first place?

Too often people think that they should wait for the other person to start the fight for legal reasons, but this isn’t always true (and definitely isn’t safe!). If it is justifiable, and you can explain that, you should strike first.

The worst case scenario for this stage is that you have already been punched, kicked, or grabbed, and you are now forced to react; fighting fire with fire. However, you must understand that you should only use as much force as is required to stop the threat (in most cases). When they stop, you stop. If they don’t stop, or they escalate the violence, then you must keep going using retzef and other principles, or you must either escalate the violence yourself or find your exit.

Remember, at this point there is the possibility that you have already been, or are about to be, overwhelmed. This means your reaction needs to be fighting with everything you have; digging deep inside for aggression and sheer willpower, not stopping until you are safe.

Something to consider with this stage: If you have lots and lots of personal stories involving you having to react to violence, then you have repeatedly been making bad decisions and have not improved your verbal or awareness skills. So, unfortunately, the stories here are limited because, you know, while bad decision making brought me to these stages, smart decision making limited the violence.

  1. It was high-school (again) and, to be honest, I don’t recall what had been said (probably a “he said, she said” situation), but here I was in a local community centre, minding my own business, when a group of people, whom I knew and was friendly with, surrounded me. I wasn’t at all expecting an attack because, after all, I thought we were friends. However, they were from a different ethnic group, and though some of them had told me that they respected me, if it ever came between me and someone of their own background, even someone they didn’t know, they would always support the latter. This is a lesson I learned early; while it is not popular to discuss, different groups of people can operate by different social and cultural rules. Even if you live in the same country. So you really should be culturally and socially aware, in order to understand that what you thought was “no big deal” might be interpreted completely differently by other people. Anyway, back to me being surrounded. I was legitimately confused; as far as I knew (at the time) I hadn’t said or done anything out of order. It seemed like another person, or persons, whom didn’t like me was trying to get me jumped. The largest of my aggressors, maybe 300lbs, was the defacto “ring leader” (though I knew he wasn’t really the one I should be afraid off). He made some comments and then promptly punched me hard in the solar plexus. I smiled, then asked if that was all he had. Plus one for building up my abs the previous few years, I guess it paid off. It also goes to show the difference combative training can make, though he was big, he didn’t actually know how to use his weight affectively in a punch. (Otherwise I would have been on the ground getting my head kicked in.) Here is where you probably think I immediately started swinging back and fought my way out because this is reactive self-defence. WRONG! Remember, I was literally surrounded by a circle of people who were looking for a reason to do some damage. It probably would have been a terrible idea to return the aggression at that moment. If you know anything about use of force models, you know that you must always try to go back down the scale whenever possible. So I jumped back to stage 2 and tried to de-escalate. Obviously, the fact that his “hard” punch did little, and my reaction being that of amusement, threw them off completely, as this is probably not how this scenario had played out for them in past. I used it to my advantage, saying [whatever it is I said in the moment], managing to convince them it must have been some kind of miscommunication by someone else, and it was over. Though for a hot minute I was definitely freaking out (on the inside). They left, possibly pondering the overall situation, and I went on my way to safer and hopefully greener pastures… well, not really, I probably just went back to hanging around at school or home… So remember, react last, but if you are clearly in a bad spot try to scale it back down the stages of self-defence to give yourself better odds. – Jon
  2. Another reactive situation occurred not in high-school, but rather in an allegedly more adult and serious environment, ie. the army (the IDF to be precise). For much of my time in the army, I was not really in a good place mentally. Not because of the army, per se, but due to the manner in which the difficult environment exacerbated my depression (which had not yet been diagnosed and therefore I had no tools to deal with) That difficult environment came in the form of little to no sleep, crappy Hebrew fluency, and even worse people skills. This meant I didn’t get along with most people or didn’t like most people enough to bother getting along with them. I generally kept to the small group of close friends I had made; usually those who spoke English and were, I thought, a little more intelligent than the average soldier. Others, whom I felt lacked discipline or intelligence, and was shocked they were allowed into the army at all, were the ones I often had arguments, or worse, with. Most of the time people just thought I was the “slightly older and kind of crazy Canadian,” but I was respected on account of being a volunteer, while they were drafted without a choice (service is mandatory for all Israeli citizens over the age of 18). However, some people I just couldn’t stand and made it clear they were neither my friend nor someone I could care about at all. Some people got it, some did not. One individual whom I did not like and whom often didn’t get the hint, failed to fuck off on one too many occasions. Sleep deprivation and a foreign language, combined, resulted in poor decision making and even poorer understandings of how things may translate differently. For example, in English if you say “son of a bitch,” most people (at least where I am from) don’t take it too seriously. Whereas saying “son of a bitch” in Hebrew, in particular to a Mizrachi or Sephardic Jew, usually didn’t go over so well. One time, during a heated argument with the aforementioned individual, who was annoying the shit out of me, again, I called him a “son of a bitch.” He dared me to say it one more time. So I did. He threw a hard, wide, hook punch. Luckily, I was well-versed in 360 defence and blocked it, bursting in and stopping just short of his face with my fist. I knew he wasn’t really a threat, in addition, the moment I moved in I could feel that he was pulling his punch (realizing his mistake). I told him he was a moron and walked off. But imagine if I had not had my hands ready, what would have happened? He probably could have knocked me out. Though the escalation was likely my fault, and I was tired, and pissed off, he threw the first punch. Something I should have seen coming by his body language, but I didn’t. Nevertheless I was ready and I defended it without injuring him (other than a bruised ego). Once again, I was also lucky that he wasn’t much of a fighter and didn’t immediately follow it up with something else. At this time my skills were limited, though I often convinced people they were more than they were, which, combined with my still unstable reactions to things, usually kept me out of serious trouble. Had it escalate further it is possible we would have had to stay on base when everyone else was off, or worse, army jail. These were the only reasons I stopped at the time, but looking back, it was the wise decision anyway. – Jon
  3. I was out drinking with a buddy one night, in my misspent youth, and he had overindulged by quite a bit, so we headed back to his apartment to drink some more (logically). Unbeknownst to me, at some point in the night he had got it into his head that one of the women I was talking to at our regular bar should have been talking to him instead. An unseen anger had, apparently, been welling up in him all night (because that is certainly a healthy way to deal with emotions and friendships). At his place we cracked a few beers and were chatting about the events of the evening when he suddenly hit me with a right hook. No warning, no outburst, nothing! It wasn’t a hard hit (seemingly a common theme in those who open with sucker-punches), more surprising than impactful. I looked at him, confused. He threw a second one, I blocked it with an inside tan sao and pushed him onto his couch. I had no idea what was going on, but for whatever reason my immediate instinct was to shake up the beer bottle I was holding and spray him head-to-toe with it (perhaps to discourage further action?). I turned, walked out, and never heard from him again. – Corey

It is interesting that most of us do not have many stories involving stage 4 self-defence. Those we could think of were over quickly, as, when your are “playing catch-up” in the encounter you must react swiftly, with intent. This, of course, is a good thing, as it indicates we either live wisely or we are all efficient in stages 1 and 2 (occasionally 3). Consider that, if you find yourself always on the tail-end of someone else’s first strike, you are failing, in a fairly significant way, to follow good self-defence principles, and are making seriously bad decisions on a constant basis.

With that being said, there is a common element between all the stories that were told through out this series: In almost all, if not all, we were under the age of 25…

This should say something. Science has suggested that we reach adulthood, or rather brain development stops, around the age of 25 and not 18 (as we often legally define adulthood). It is also a known fact that young males under the age of 25 are also more prone to making bad, rash, or more extreme decisions. Usually they are of the social and physical nature told in these stories. Sometimes they result in severe injury or jail, and worse they lead to a death(s). It is as though, at least according to nature, this impulsiveness is expected under the age of 25; we frown upon it but seem unsurprised by it. Beginning in the 25-30 range there is far less forgiveness for such acts because you are now adjusting to your more stable brain chemistry. After 30, however, it’s not cute anymore. If you haven’t figured your shit out and, outside of job requirements, still find yourself in stage 3 or 4 self-defence regularly, you are doing it wrong, plain and simple.

I hope that this series has provided you better insight as to how to apply each stage of self-defence. Though the stories told are limited, the reality such that, if we spent the time to compile stories from more people, it is likely we would have tonnes of examples to choose from. The theories, concepts, and principles of Krav Maga and self-defence are sound ones, which apply most of the time. But they, like most theories or ideas, mean nothing if you, as an individual, do not know how to contextualize and apply them in real life.

I hope that, at the very least, this series has helped you to better understand the reason behind the definition of the stages, and their unique challenges, and how you may better use them to stay safe and walk in peace.

Written by Jonathan Fader

Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book (1894)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

As some of you know, or are just finding out, there is a process when dealing with conflict. On the Macro (Political Science, Sociology, etc..), it can be quite complicated and nuanced, on the Micro, well, it still is. However, the process is simple enough that anyone can easily learn the basics.

Pre-Emptive is the 3rd stage of self-defence; when you have failed to Avoid or De-escalate (Diffuse), it’s Time to Act! This series incorporates personal stories from UTKM instructors and students to provide context and examples for what these concepts look like in the real world, the various ways they can be applied, and how different approaches may play out.

Pre-emptive is a tricky one, because, sometimes, it may look like you were the one who initiated the conflict. This often leads to people being hesitant to “throw the first punch” even if they sense they are in imminent danger. Particularly if you grew up in Canada where (at least when I was in school) there were emphatic about never hitting, EVER! Unfortunately, this stance is somewhat delusional, and quite silly, given that in many cases teachers, or the school, will not step in if there is conflict between students. Or if they do, they have little power to sort out complicated situations. This means they are, at least in my opinion, affectively removing empowerment and the ability for individuals to learn to solve their own problems. They tell kids, “you can never strike someone,” and if the other options don’t work they are fucked. Its wrong, plain and simple. As you will see from this collection of personal stories, from several authors, and as Krav Maga has learned, sometimes you MUST strike first.

Part of this comes from the fact that, despite what many believe, Humans are still animals, and though we are omnivores we are predatory in nature. This means that those who are powerful, or worse, feel powerful, will rarely pick fights with those they perceive as stronger than them. Just like lions on the savanna, predators will target the old, the very young, and the weak in the herd. Because the strong ones will either fight back or stick together for strength, but in the wild predators CANNOT afford to take significant damage, as it means the beginning of the end.

Unlike predators in the wild, however, human predators will rarely (at least in modern times) face life or death for picking the wrong target, which can embolden them. Striking first will, at the very least, let them know, “Hey, asshole, you picked the wrong fight today!”

Of course, if you do strike first and then immediately realize you should have run, then it’s time to run. So make sure you train hard, assess, and be smart; you will know when to strike first and when to run. It can be hard for most people to know when to make the right decision, but one thing is for sure, if you hesitate you may look weak and then you will end up in the last stage of self-defence, reactive, or worse. So, to help you learn and contextualize the idea of striking first, here are some personal stories, from several individuals, to illustrate the decision making process:

  1. I must have been out of high-school already, as parties were not really my thing back then. But, like many, once you hit adulthood and decisions are solely on you, it is time to explore. Several of my friends at the time were already living on their own, or with roommates, and several of them liked to party. Which meant, so did I. One friend had a place fairly close to where I was living at the time, which was great because it meant I could walk to her house, and therefore let loose. Like many parties at the time, they were held at peoples houses that were considered “the party houses,” so, while there were those who were invited, it usually meant random people showed up; sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad. In this particular case it was a mixed bag of nuts, so anything and everything could have happened; from salty tears to the hard crunch of teeth breaking. This story is, of course, alcohol and ego fueled, and driven largely by my big mouth. (Meaning it was completely avoidable but it happened nevertheless.) Typically, striking first is a result of the actions of someone particularly predatory, but, sometimes it comes from you getting into a situation of your own creation. In this case, I fully acknowledge it was the latter. A few (or many) drinks in, I started a conversation with an individual whom I was not familiar with. He had a tattoo on his arm in a language I wasn’t sure of, so I asked about it. He said something along the lines of, “It’s Latin, because I’m Latino and it means…” Of course I found this both hilarious and stupid: While Spanish, English, French, and other Romance languages have their routes in Latin (and others), being Latino in the modern sense is not exactly the same as being someone who knows and speaks Latin. Unsurprisingly, he was not fluent in Latin; as few people, outside of classical scholars and academics, are even remotely verbally competent in ancient languages. Me being me, couldn’t resist mocking this man. Not to his face of course, because that’s just rude! But, rather, to a friend of mine on the other side of the party. Somehow, at what point I am not sure, he heard; and he didn’t take to kindly to it. Later on he got in my face, not just by himself but with two tall and broad individuals, one on each side. He called me out for mocking him and then started to front by saying “do you know who I am?” blah. blah. blah. His claim was that he was in a gang etc… I counter that with, “No, but do you know who I am? NO, so it doesn’t matter does it?” I was trying to bluff, using aggression and intimidation. No, posturing is usually not the appropriate way to de-escalate, but it can work, especially if you make it believable. It can work simply because the other person, the predator, may think you are a bigger predator and you might be far more trouble than your worth. Just know: It doesn’t work for those who cannot at least look like they are a killer. Even back then, if not more so, I had the crazy eyes and a bit of a reputation for being an un-predictable nut, so for me this strategy often worked (don’t try this at home, follow the strategies as laid out in the de-escalation post). Despite my posturing the thoughts in my head were that of panic. Aside from the leader, who was my size, the other two could probably pick me up like I was nothing. They were all standing with their backs against a pool table. I had some space behind me and then a set of stairs with one of those half-walls to prevent people from falling down. I knew I had to do something, as these types can only be bluffed for so long. Action was needed. So I threw a HARD elbow into the leader’s chest, which caused him to stumble back and fall partially onto the pool table. After you act, you must be ready to act further. I was preparing to grab one of the big guys by the nuts and (attempt to) toss him over the wall, down the stairs. Luckily neither of them made a move, my bluff worked! I mean, what kind of crazy person strikes first when he is out numbered and out gunned? Me apparently! It’s important to note, at this time I really didn’t know how to fight, yet I instinctually knew to strike first even (though I generally avoid it at all cost on account of not being a very large person). In their shock they decided to throw more insults rather than responding physically. That’s when my friend, the host of the party, herself a short loud mouthed (and even more aggressive) individual, came like a bat at of hell screaming. “WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE PICKING FIGHTS WITH MY FRIENDS AT MY PARTY!?” talking to the three individuals (she was crazier than me in many ways). In some weird twist the three guys ended up apologizing to me, shaking my hand and it was over. I am not really sure, what would have happened if I had not have struck first, but I know that it worked. Afterward I learned how badly it could have gone; at least one of them was carrying a pistol tucked in their pants. I didn’t have the experience or training to know to how to look for this type of thing first. Imagine had they pulled it out? It would have been a bad day. This is why it’s always best to stick to the first two strategies; Avoid and De-escalate. But had I not acted, it is possible they simple would have collectively jumped me, so at the time, and given the results, it would have seemed my instincts were correct. – Jon
  2. There are many more stories I could tell that are far more exciting, but this is pertinent to the many individuals who are bullied in one way or another in school: Back in my day (I can’t believe I’ve started saying that), physical bullying was all you had to worry about. But, today it’s both physical and digital, so keep that in mind. I can’t recall exactly what I was doing, but I was standing in the hallway in high-school not paying attention, when I felt a hot, burning, sensation under my chin. One of the kids who ran with the “popular” guys had put a lighter under my chin and ignited it. This pissed me right off (justifiably so)! I had a few choice words (the specifics I’ll leave out), which caused their friend, a kid who was dumb as a brick and quite scrawny, but a known brawler and quite popular, to get up in my face. He was attempting to protect his lackey, who was smaller than me and held the lighter. One thing led to another and, once again in sheer panic, I kicked him as hard as a could in the groin. He dropped like the brick I thought he was. They were not expecting it, and is probably one of the many events that gave me the reputation of being unpredictable. No, I could not fight. No I did not have reliable “backup” who could, and would, fight, and, although many people knew who I was, I was certainly not a popular kid. This ended the conflict right there and then. Furthermore, it had some lasting effects. Cleary, though popular, these individuals were bullies. AND the kid I kicked was in fact one of those who would engage in organized scraps at least once or twice a year (you know, those high-school fights where you say “meet me at the park at this time” and everyone encircled to watch?) which made it even more interesting. In any future conflict between me and him, I would take a step forward or similar and he would often step back. One time, if I recall correctly, he even told someone else to get me instead of doing it himself. Fascinating isn’t it? This is a story that emphasizes how, when it comes to bullies, they may not stop until you let them know you are not an easy target. EVEN if they could easily beat you in a fight, you have made it clear that an altercation with you will not be without consequences. So you see, humans are animals, predators, and will usually only target those who we can feel we can engage or overpower without risk of repercussions. Thus the attitude of “never strike first,” is simply wrong. It may in fact be the best and right option. It works, simply because though the human condition is complex, we are still animals. – Jon
  3. My experience with having to, or at least making the choice to, strike first was when I was in my mid-to-late 20s, at which time I had been training Krav Maga for about 2 years. I had just finished work, closing at a restaurant in the city of Perth (Australia), so would have been somewhere after midnight. I had about a 5min walk from the restaurant to the paid lot where I always parked my car; this walk involved crossing through a large park by the river. The park was only semi-lit before you reach the open air car park, which was lit and, if you believe the signage, security patrolled (though I never saw any security the whole time I parked there). So here I am walking across the grass, on my phone but with enough of my peripheral vision working that I saw two people approaching from a comfortable distance off. They were coming from the direction of my car, and thus in-between me and my car; though being we were in a large, grassy area there were escape routes in all directions. As they got closer to me I put my phone back in my pocket as if it was a natural thing I was about to do anyway. They both looked a little younger than me, say late teens to early 20s, and they looked like, let’s be generous and just say, “juvenile delinquents.” I looked toward my car, kept an eye on them without making eye contact, and adjusted my path a little so that I would go around them to get to where I was going if neither of us changed course. When they got to be a few meters away (maybe 12-16ft for all you North Americans), they started to engage with the usual approach of “Hey, have you got the time?” or “Can I bum a smoke?” or something to that effect. I replied politely with a “Nah, sorry” or “About 12:30 (or whatever the time was),” but the changed direction, coming toward me. Now, my thinking at this time was basically; just be polite and don’t do anything sudden or to draw attention or look frightened. The particular local type I pegged these two as had a reputation of being somewhat cowards and not picking on people that stood up to them (know your local and regional context!). I simply kept walking and they kept closing the distance ’til one was in front of me and the other was just off to my right. At this point it turned into hands out towards me and “Hey, have you got any change?” Running wasn’t really an option now, given their close proximity (though it might have been a minute ago), and it seemed like they had decided I was worth there time. I replied, again simply, with a “Nah, sorry mate just my card.” Then, before they could start asking for, or demanding, more, I explosively shoved the one in front of me with both hands in the chest. He fell backward and at the same time (in my mind at least) I side-kicked the one to my right, somewhere in the mid-thigh to groin area. He also fell backward, then I ran to my car, got in, and drove off. I didn’t stop to look back and see if they were following me, I’m pretty quick so they may have tried for a second before realizing they wouldn’t catch me. Tactically, I guess you could say I made some mistakes getting into the situation in the first place, but it was resolved with little effort on my part and quickly. Could I have simply ran to my car as soon as I saw them? Sure, but that may have been unnecessary, or worse, it may have made them chase me, thinking I had something worth stealing. Could I have run at any other point as they closed in on me, or when they initiated contact? Again, sure, but same reason as above but they’d start their pursuit closer. Could I have simply chosen a different career or job that didn’t require me to walk home alone at night? Sure, but why live in fear or let others dictate my life choices? What I definitely did right was training in martial arts and self-defence, so that I had an understanding of the situations I might end up in and how to deal with them. I kept my cool and didn’t end up in mental state Black. I identified that a physical confrontation was unavoidable after after attempting to avoid, and, well, not making great attempts to defuse, but not engaging them overlong. Once that threat was identified I pre-empted it; I struck first and quickly, but with only the amount of force needed for me to escape the situation. I didn’t stick around to fight it out (or to “finish it”), and I didn’t open with something so big I might end up facing assault charges if, say, I had gotten it wrong and the threat was only imagined. And lastly, I made a quick escape without turning around. – Evan

As you have read from the above examples, sometimes, whether due to circumstance or ego, the time for stage one or two either passed, or was not appropriate. And the next stage, pre-emptive action (good old striking first), was the next logical step. Be aware, however, that it often requires a good read of the situation, the ability to strike first with maximum affect, and the understanding that it may fail so you must be ready. When it fails, you must be prepared to either run or continue to fight, applying all of the techniques and strategies you know. This is why, despite its effectiveness, you must always try to avoid the fight and de-escalate whenever possible. But when the time comes, know that it is always better to strike first than to be struck first.

Written by Jonathan Fader

Knowing how to avoid danger increases your chances of survival dramatically! (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

The “4 stages of self-defence,” as taught by UTKM, is the basic order of operation for what you are doing when presented with conflict; be it physical, social, or otherwise. The order, moving from best option to worst, is; Avoidance, De-escalation (Defusing), Preemptive Self-defence (Strike First), Reactive Self-defence (React Last). Understanding the basics is easy, but, like all concepts, understanding when and how to apply them correctly can be trickier.

The major reason for this is the simple fact that if you do not truly understand what you are doing and you lack the experience to make a quick and correct decision (and you do not have your instructor whispering the answers into your ear), the real world situation is suddenly more complicated than it was in training.

Grasping the nuanced application of a technique, how and why it works, and when to employ it, can be the result of you being fortunate enough to possess an innate ability to understand intricate contexts, or, as is more common, it can be accomplished through consistent training. Consistent training makes up for talent by internalizing the details, purpose, and application of a given technique (or reaction in a scenario), to the point that your nervous system and decision making process will, more often than not, fire correctly under duress.

To help foster a better understanding of these key concepts, I, and others at UTKM, will be sharing real world experiences relating to the four stages. Each week we will expand upon one of the concepts and give examples.

This week it is the first and arguably most important stage: Avoidance.

“You win 100% of the fights you are not in.” – Nir Maman

First you must accept the fact that you cannot always avoid. For example, applying avoidance as a self-defence tactic for interpersonal conflict will most likely result in further problems. The concept of Avoidance simply suggests that it may be better to avoid than to confront in most situations However, and this applies particularly when it comes to bullying or active violence, sometimes the best option is to directly confront the source of conflict. After all, Krav Maga was built on the idea that sometimes running is not an option. So, please, do not interpret this stage as permission to be passive-aggressive or to never deal with life’s problems, that is not the correct application of this concept (and, honestly, if avoidance is always your chosen option in life, this may be indicative of other, deeper problems you are struggling with.)

So, lets start with some examples from my youth:

  1. It was Halloween night, and, like most young teens (I was maybe 15 or 16), I wanted to go out. In our area, big house parties were not a common occurrence, but what was all too common were hoards of teens and young adults roaming the streets like a hungry packs of wolves, looking for fun and perhaps trouble. I was with the group of friends I usually ran with at the time, and we ended up crossing paths with another pack of teens. Walking together with them, in costumes, masks, and painted faces, with candy and fireworks in hand (legal then, but illegal now, likely due to these same ravenous packs of ne’er-do-wells getting up to yearly mischief) we were on the boredom-fueled prowl. Some confident and bold, others just trying to fit in. In my case, the latter seems like it was the appropriate category. I mean, is that not what one of the best features of Halloween is; You get to dress up and pretend to be something else, something grander, something more powerful? It is after all, “All Hallow’s Eve,” where dressing up as something scary was meant to fend off the roaming spirits and demons that walk the earth on this night, every year (so the legend goes). But masks and make up can only mask you for so long. One of the older boys in a mask, I did not recognize. Clearly a leader, out front, loud and obnoxious, identified himself to me. It turned out this masked individual was someone whom I had issues with in the past. He was also dangerous, in the literal sense, much like that of a hungry alpha. He regularly got in fights (and won), regularly had police interactions, the circumstances of which were anything but innocent fun, and he “may or may not” have had ties with even more violent individuals who were known to police. He was also much bigger than me, a good bit stronger, and far more athletic. Which, through a child’s eyes, was a terrifying thing, even though I considered myself tougher than perhaps I was and, like most males, overestimated my skills. I had no training and no experience, just an over inflated ego. It was, of course, dark, and I did not like the things coming out of this guy’s mouth, nor the energy in the air. The feeling of fun turned to a dread and an uneasy churning in my gut (yet to be filled with candy.) It was uncomfortable. Concerned that the hoard was full of individuals who did not in fact like me, not to mention the de facto alpha, this was not ideal for an enjoyable night. So I decided to listen to my instincts; it was time to leave. My pace slowed, I fell to the back of the crowd, then quietly, but swiftly, faded into the dark, walking to my home a few blocks away. Later, when I was asked by my cohort where I had disappeared too, I made up some plausible story. The reality is, it was probably the right decision. Those uneasy feelings we have may be wrong sometimes, but it is often better to err on the side of caution, as we never know how things will escalate. There is one thing for certain; if you are not feeling your best, or you are uncomfortable, it can be easy to do or say the wrong thing and cause a situation to quickly shift from manageable to disastrous. So, in that case, with those personalities, avoidance was the best choice. No harm, no foul, no hospital.
  2. I was an awkward teen with no sense of who I really was yet. Which meant I was not so great with the opposite sex. So, when female friends came into the mix, it was always a joy, and an uneasy excitement (the kind only a teenage boy knows.) For a time, I frequently hung out with two girls who were a year or two younger than me. Feelings were always mixed, as I liked them each at a different time; which meant I would often go out of my way to spend time with them. Lacking experience and confidence, of course, things never went the way I had imagined. Nevertheless, it was fun at the time. Like many youths lacking good mentoring and guidance, I had trouble controlling my temper. I would never hurt anyone, but it was obvious to those all around me. Like a tornado striking down in an open field, I was loud, boisterous, and, to some, terrifying, as the fear that the destruction might come your way. (This is something I still work on daily, though with calmer mind, maturity, and fewer raging hormones it is much easier to manage.) One of these girls had a cousin, equally attractive in my eyes. Someone who I had met previously, at a random community party. She was troubled. If I am informed correctly those troubles continued to impact her in adulthood. Whenever she came around to join us, it never went well. I was POSITIVE she would intentionally say or do things to illicit my temper and unleash the tornado for her amusement. I was cold, dry air, she was warm, humid air, the inciting words and actions were the required updraft. Everyone said I was either crazy or imagining it. Nonetheless, there came a point at which I could no longer stand to be around her. So the strategy I employed was avoidance. Anytime she randomly showed up, I would find a reason to leave. If she was already there with my friends, I would make other plans. Everyone thought I was being unreasonable. However, I did not like having my fun outings turned into episodes of anger, thus, to me it seemed like the better choice. It also prevented me from hitting a breaking point and actually doing something I would regret. Despite the fact it made me look even more weird and unstable, socially, in many respects I probably made the right decision by practicing avoidance. (In hindsight, and perhaps re-framing the situation, it turns out that this girl may have actually liked me. I was told by someone, later down the road, that she was very likely trying to illicit my aggression on account of a secret, let’s say, fetish for violence. Had I been more confident, then perhaps I would have handled it differently and allowed my cold dry air to meet her warm humid air, but given my lack of knowledge at the time, avoidance was still the best strategy. Lest the tornado met the hurricane and all hell broke lose. It probably wouldn’t have been good for anyone.)
  3. If you think bullies disappear after high-school you may have practiced avoidance a little too much, and may in fact be a shut-in who is living in a perpetual state of self-imposed exile. As the internet has shown us, most people are not as stable and confident as you think, and many have bully-like tenancies at the very least; trying to use force, intimidation, or aggression to get what they want. Or, they simply have not learned to manage their anger like others and emotionally lash out at people when they are challenged, or whenever things do not go their way. I learned to deal with these people early in my youth, and as an adult I tolerate it even less. I, of course, generally employ Stage 2, deescalation, as much as I can; using my words and avoidance, as Stages 3 & 4 (outside of physical violence) are not at all appropriate in day-to-day life in a Civil society. Which means, as an adult, mastering the first two stages is that much more important. Especially when you live in a strata (eg. a condo or townhouse). Personally, I despise stratas, as it is all to easy for a bully, or someone who has a bully-like attitude, to get on the council and try to tell others how to live or act, or has a personality that leads them to take issue with being challenged (due to their perceived powers.) I personally think stratas have been nothing but a disaster, and will go the way of the dinosaurs eventually, but until then, you, like me, will likely have to deal with them at some point. Without getting too detailed, there was some conflict between me and those on a strata council. Whether I was in the wrong or the right isn’t important, sometimes I was, sometimes I wasn’t. However, several members of the council seemed to think it is acceptable and appropriate to yell and scream at people when they don’t like what was said or done. This is, of course, utterly inappropriate, and in the adult world could constitute bullying and harassment. Obviously, this is something I will not tolerate. Extensively researched, well-worded letters where sent! The goal of these letters was not to demand compliance one way or another, but rather to make it clear that I am not the kind of person to pick a fight with, verbally, physically or otherwise. Initially they got the hint and basically stopped bothering me. Later, another incident occurred where a member of council, once again, decided to scream at me. After making it clear that this was an inappropriate (and futile) tactic it didn’t seem to matter, they saw me as a threat to power, and continued. As an adult, I made the decision that, clearly, these individuals are old, unstable, and have never resolved their personal issues. I understand, but I still have no patience for it. I privately told another, calmer strata council member that their fellow’s outbursts were boarding on harassment. Moving forward, I just ignored the problem individuals and do not engage. Clearly they have problems, and those problems are not mine to solve. I made it clear that I will not be pushed around, they all seem to have gotten the hint. I avoid conflict with them, they avoid conflict with me, and we now all live in a cold peace where, so long as we don’t bother each other, all is well. While it is certainly not an ideal situation, I would rather have good relations with my neighbours, it is, in modern times, often quite impossible to get along with everyone. So, practicing a peaceful yet aware avoidance strategy will, in the end, help keep things calm, and less stressful.

Whether you are a teen, an adult, or a senior learning to practice good avoidance (and when to move to the next stage) can be extremely useful, not just in literal sense of physical self-defense, but also to help you manage the hardest part of life: Other people. These skills can be innate or learned. In my case, it seems to be more of the former, though through practice I refine them as I go along. Perhaps as an Ashkenazi Jew it is in my genes to be cautious, and avoid whenever I can, as thousands of years of oppression and living in fear is likely to impact your genetics a little bit. (Think Woody Allen, the stereotypical, nervous Ashkenazi Jew, albeit a extreme case.) Regardless of how you come to learn these skills, learning it early, and learning it well, will only mean one thing; a happier, more peaceful life. One in which your visits to the hospital due to violence are low, and your conflict related stress is that of calm waters rather than a raging storm. For if you find yourself raging too much, too often, you may find yourself battered, bruised, and broken; because you failed to manage your mental state (see awareness colour code.)

Written by Jonathan Fader

Getting a workout in could be as easy as challenging the kids to a “sit-up contest” (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

When my first daughter was born, my martial arts training faded into the rear-view mirror, and my overall fitness with it. It is a big adjustment to have another human being be more important than you in your own life. At some point you have to make serious changes to compensate for the new stresses, obligations, and pitfalls, otherwise you are in danger of becoming someone who you don’t want your children to look up to.

Finding the “Time”

I am a firm believer that, as a parent, you don’t “deserve time to yourself” (“deserving” things is a marketing ploy, an appeal to emotion in order to sell you spa packages and chocolate), in fact, sacrifice is your new normal. However, as parents we are still human (mostly), and therefore still NEED to take care of our bodies, maintain social ties, express creativity, and pursue passions; otherwise what type of role model are we?

Let’s be honest, we all “found” the nearly 3 FULL DAYS it took to watch all 8 seasons of Game of Thrones, so we aren’t really talking about “time” here, we are talking about “energy.” At the end of a long day you are tired; work, life, and the kids/partner have drawn the life force from your body, and the last thing you want to do is expend more of it on exercise.

Ironically, multiple studies have indicated that as little as 20min of low-to-moderate intensity exercise, just three times a week, can reduce feelings of fatigue. Whereas more committed regimes (30-40min of moderate-to-vigorous) will improve on your mood and fitness, in addition to your energy levels.

Logically, if you improve your energy level (and mood) you will find that you have more “time” for your family and a greater willingness to attain the balance we all need between Family and being human (ie. your physical, emotional, mental health)

Beyond energy, overall fitness is important for a few reasons:

  1. Maintaining your fitness means you will be around longer for your family.
  2. Physical fitness contributes to mental and emotional fitness, allowing you to contribute positively to family interactions.
  3. Teaching your family good health habits will mean they are happier and around longer too.
Finding the Actual Time

“I don’t have time to ______, I have kids!” is a classic excuse for not doing … anything. Once we have tackled the real, underlying problem of energy, it can, depending on your family’s schedule, be difficult to find the minutes or hours to engage in non-parenting activities. (Remember that “sacrifice is your new normal” concept?)

Step 1 is to make good health a priority. Not just “make time for it”, but actually make mental, emotional, and physical fitness a family value; talk to your kids about what you are doing, and teach them why it is important (especially as you get older), and invite curiosity.

Common tips for carving out this time:

  • In the morning
    • Get up before everyone else and fit in a work out, read, or meditate. Everyone else is asleep, so they won’t miss you. (Sleeping in is bad for you anyway!)
  • At night
    • As above, but hit that 40min routine after the kids are in bed.
  • Break into small chunks
    • If you cannot find a solid 30-50min span during your day, then sneak in exercise in the smaller gaps without being totally absent. I find that opportunities for an elevated heart rate arise throughout the day with my kids; running beside them on bike rides, playing tag, swimming,etc.. HIIT routines are great for utilizing gaps in the day, as they can be done effectively in as little as 20min (though you may need a quick clothes change and wipe-down if you are doing it properly).

Remember, this isn’t just about “working out.” While exercise has knock-on effects for your emotional and cognitive well-being, you should be seeking opportunities to maintain balance in the non-physical aspects of your life as well. If you can make time for exercise, you can make time to call an old friend, draw, meditate, etc..

Make Self-care a Family Activity

A fourth tip (more of a philosophy), for finding the actual time for your health and wellness is to involve your family in the activities you are engaging in. Combine any or all of the first three tips and incorporate the rest of your clan, directly or indirectly. For some families this becomes a bonding experience, a point of pride, or even a family tradition.

Whether you are sharing time in calm silence, challenging each other’s creative skills, cooking (a great way to teach nutrition, self-reliance, and science/creativity), or starting a basic exercise routine, you need to be aware that you are working in a group with varying levels of ability. Make sure that your expectations are realistic and plan accordingly. For example, have variations of each exercise that your kids can do safely, give time to your less proficient readers and have material they can work with, allow kids to “help” you if they can’t do something themselves. (I got lucky, both of my girls are very physical and are fascinated by the martial arts)

There is plenty of advice out there for how to tweak the activities you already love so that your “new recruits” can participate: Icy Mike, over at Hard2Hurt, has a great video on pad holding when training martial arts with inexperienced family members. And horror/B-movie superstar, Bruce Campbell, espouses the benefits of “Lollygagging” as a means of mental health maintenance. He defines Lollygagging as “the act of doing exactly what you want for an indeterminate period of time (preferably outdoors) for no particular reason.”

You will likely find that there are a lot of options for getting your crew into full-body health. The earlier you instill good habits in your young people, the easier it will be for them to maintain those habits throughout their lives, seeing these as an essential art of life (as we all should!). Children often don’t know the difference between play and exercise; you can use this blissful ignorance against them!

Be Wary of the Two “Busy Parent Fallacies”

Two common imbalances that I have seen among my fellow parents come in the guise of good choices, but are, in truth, thinly veiled excuses for neglecting yourself or your family:

  • Hiding from Family via Self-care
    • This occurs when you are never around due to the over-prioritization of your own health. You are always escaping family obligation and time with your kids (which can be tedious!) by forever having a workout, training session, or other “me time” requirement. Your brood needs you. Yes, working out or engaging in self-care is harder when you have to schedule it around others, but, re-read the above tips and you will be able to figure something out. Often you will end up with a hybrid (balanced!) approach, where some activities are done together, and some are on your own. Having a supportive and informed partner helps A LOT!
  • Hiding from Self-care via Family
    • This comes in the form of justifying the lack of action on your health and mental/emotional stability (and that of your family’s), due to claims that you are over-prioritizing “quality time” with your kids, or putting their needs first. While this may be noble in intention, it is often a socially acceptable excuse to let yourself go. I’ve been there, I know! It is really easy to say “I don’t want to be tired when I have to deal with the kids tomorrow.” But, eventually I discovered that shirking my workouts resulted in it being difficult to keep up with them and lift them over my head, plus I fell out of shape I became irritable (that’s not good for me or them). Again, re-read the sections above; exercise gives you the energy and mood stability to keep up and be chill!

Ultimately, this is a balancing act (the theme!), you will find that it is probably best to transition slowly at first; do some things early, some things late, and some as a group. This is a process, don’t be afraid to re-start, re-assess, re-think, and you WILL find something that works to get you back in the gym while fulfilling your duties as a parent, or back in the family while staying fit and sane.

In Summary

The goal is balance. Doing what you need to do to maintain your family life, while at the same time ensuring that you maintain yourself (so that you are of use to said family). Let’s not forget, as a parent you are now responsible for the well-being and development of a Human. They are famously complex creatures, and, like it or not, they are looking at you as the model for how to live and act; so it is of the utmost importance that you figure out how to maintain balance between improving their mental, emotional, and physical wellness, and your own. Ask yourself, honestly, what do you want them to see when they look up to you? For those moments when you feel weak, find strength in the example you are setting.

Written by: Corey

Attaining physical balance can be daunting, but the benefits far outweigh the effort (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

Last week I wrote about the need for balance, using the metaphor of the Jedi, Sith, and Grey Jedi. On a surface level it may seem it’s just about morality in Star Wars, something I hope you enjoyed (unless you had a severely deprived childhood). Really, however, it was a mirror of real life. Today, and perhaps always, us humans have a tendency to be drawn toward extremes when really the centre is where you must be.

On the macro level the “centre” is somewhere around the average of society as a whole, or the median behaviours and beliefs of that society. On the micro or personal level the centre can very wildly, as what the centre is for one person may be considered extreme by another. Yet we must all find our own centres if we expect to enjoy the rest of our lives.

The first aspect of centre balance, and in today’s world perhaps one of the most important, is finding balance physically.

Diet/Nutrition

Often we beginning making healthy changes by, logically, introducing exercise, but, really, what we fuel ourselves with is a more important starting point. The modern consumer advertising landscape can make it difficult to know what is healthy, given all the confusion created by marketing and cost-saving measures. The first thing you need to understand is that the food industry is demonstrably corrupt (ethically and technologically), which is why we have been dealing with so much misinformation for so many years. (Listen to this episode of The Rubin Report featuring Dr.Mark Hyman to get a idea of the big picture.)

Remember how, for many years, the Healthy Eating Pyramid focused on breads and grains? (Canada preferred circles and curves) This was partially due to the (continued) corrupting influence of various food & beverage lobby groups, but also due to the fact that, at the time it was developed, the major global nutrition problem was lack of calories (or rather access to food), so governments focused on getting people easy and cheap calories, like bread. Though, as we now know, heavily processed foods, like many breads out there, may not actually be good for us.

Now that the modern goal really is health and nutrition it’s time for the marketing machine (of corruption) to try to convince us consumers that their products are the best option, one way or another. In the same ad-space there are companies and groups touting the benefits of vegan/vegetarianism while others promote a fully carnivore diet. Polar opposites! While some people may benefit from restrictive diets due to specific issues such as the various autoimmune diseases, the best advice for most is actually a balanced diet, containing fats, protein, and healthy carbohydrates. In other words, eat a variety of whole fruits and vegetables, fresh meats and fish (with out hormones or additives), and a good dose of fats.

Fats are good you say? Yes, they are very important! For years cholesterol was demonized outright, and while there is good and bad cholesterol it is still not properly understood by and large. The CDC simply says that “too much cholesterol” puts you at higher risk for heart disease and stroke. and that “cholesterol can be confusing“, but new research out of the Mao Clinic (and others) suggests it is actually your cholesterol ratios that matter. Of course, most doctors will still recommend some kind of medication for higher cholesterol instead of checking the ratio or recommended dietary changes.

How about the word Carbohydrates. Lets make this clear in most cases you will at some point need them. Even the Keto diet is not meant to be long term, but rather a reset diet for your body and metabolism. By carbohydrate, again, I mean whole vegetables and fruits. Some breads may be okay, depending on your genetic make up and whats actually in them. Fresh, homemade bread will always be better on account of your control over the ingredients. “Wonder Bread,” for example, is so processed it is hardly bread at all.

And as far as meat is concerned, I can speak for myself in that whenever I have gone off meat for too long my body breaks down. Some people may be able to get away from that for the long term, but others may not. Remember, genetics and other factors can change who needs what. Without proper testing (which costs money) it can be hard to know how your body processes certain foods and nutrients. When it comes to meat, organic, grass-fed beef, without hormones or antibiotics, fresh fish, and free range chickens, are what you want. Factory farming is disgusting, and should be banned, that does not mean that we shouldn’t eat meat, rather, that means we should change the acceptable methods for raising and harvesting our meat. (And, yes, the damage that cows do to the environment has been widely exaggerated, so get over yourself if you are still confusing bad farming practices with eating meat in general.)

So how do you decide? Well, balance is what most of us need. Therefore, find a ratio of meat/fish/chicken, whole foods for carbohydrates, and fats that works for you best. Maybe even throw in some intermittent fasting and you will find that attaining the balance you seek, for all aspects of your life, was actually made easier by simply changing how you fuel yourself and what you put in your face-hole.

Exercise

This is normally our first thought when we consider getting healthy and finding our physical balance. It is a huge market and, yes, of course, full of BS and corruption. How many trends and “magic fixes” have you seen that took your money or your sanity?

Remember, in the absence of fancy programs or equipment, all you actually need is your body, some time, and movement to get in shape. Bodyweight exercises are some of the best, as they can be done anytime, anywhere, by anyone, and don’t put excess strain on our body. Which makes them a great place to start from.

Walking, jogging, and running are also easy to get into, even if you have to start slow and work up to full runs. Although, running, if done excessively can damage your knees and other joints, so change up your cardio and try not to do it too much. Sprinting is, in many ways, more efficient, especially if you do not have a lot of time. Try doing ten, 100m sprints, as fast as you can, and you will feel like you just ran 10 marathons.

Other ways you can work out to build muscle and other hormones, is the classic method of lifting weights. Personally I think the Russian methodology of “never going to your limit” is probably a healthier way to approach this type of exercise. I know many powerlifters out there will disagree, but, much like those who run all the time, the practice can eventually (and often rather quickly) wreck your body.

Yes, some people can run and lift super heavy their whole life without problems, but, remember, if we seek balance then using the outliers to measure ourselves may not be such a great idea. Most of us are in the middle of the bell curve on any given thing, and if we try to do what the outliers do, we may just wreck ourselves.

No matter how you choose to get physical, from running, to lifting, to the martial arts, you need to find something to do.

The importance is not what you do (although this does depend on your goals) but the fact you are doing it and doing it consistently.

Conclusion

If you eat poorly and don’t exercise, which is so many people these days (for example 40% of America is obese and the idea that it’s okay to be unhealthy is being pushed by pop-culture) just remember, you are not living a balanced physical life. Additionally, you will be prone to poor health and at higher risk of premature death.

Seeking balance means getting active and staying active by finding activities you actually enjoy doing. For example, I have enjoyed running and lifting for a while, but, in the long run, I don’t actually get that much enjoyment out of them. This is why I choose to train in the martial arts. However, for the sake of balance, I use the other activities to balance out my physical fitness the best I can, as that is the goal. Do what you enjoy most of the time, but supplement that with other, supportive activities, enough so that your body can stay healthy in a balanced way; not just cardio, not just strength, not just agility.

No matter what you do, stay active and eat properly, and don’t jump onto the next trend just because it’s what the media has told you to do. Look at the research, on all aspects of health and fitness, and you will see that the vast majority of health science points towards balanced diets and balanced exercise programs which involve activities that are enjoyable but also push you (without destroying you).

So what are you waiting for? Channel your inner Grey Jedi and start your journey towards physical balance. Correct your weaknesses and improve your strengths.

Written by Jonathan Fader

*I am not what you would call an “Expert” on these things as I do not have any letters after my name saying so. However, with direct access to those at the forefront of nutrition and health through the internet in many cases I (or you) may actually know enough to make informed and updated decisions.

Choosing the wrong training partner could have disastrous consequences (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader w/additions

Recently, we have been doing a series on injury in martial arts, from the emotional aspect to recovery. In this one we are going to discuss one way to help in preventing injuries.

That is learning to pick the right partner.

The reason for this is the right partner can make your training experience even better, whereas the wrong partner can make injuries can happen. In Krav Maga and other martial arts there is phenomenon referred to as the “spastic white belt”. These are individuals who are chaotic in their movements or they are much bigger than others and try to muscle through everything (even if they do not know it the technique). This odd species of new student is common in any gym, and, while it is ultimately the instructor’s job to manage them, you have to watch out for them and know how to protect yourself. You are, after all, an adult; thus you can make adult decisions.

This means, when it comes time to pick a partner, know who you would like to be with to optimize your training.

Of course, if you are new then the Instructor should be assigning you a more experienced student to work with, in order to help guide you in the process. Although sometimes it’s simply the luck of the draw, as the instructor has no control over who shows up to any one class.

Beyond that, when an instructor says “find a partner” that’s when you need to act swiftly to pair with a person (or persons) who you know you can train effectively with. Often what happens when the students are told to get a partner everyone kind of looks around and waits, but this is how you often end up being “picked last,” and getting stuck with someone you, and everyone else, didn’t want to be with.

If you are lucky the instructor will be on point and notice your discomfort, or they don’t like the pairing, due to size or skill, and will change it for you. However, once again, you are an adult and there is only one instructor, so partner picking really becomes about ownership and taking responsibility for this very important task.

What things should you consider:

  1. Have you trained with them before? – This sounds obvious but it isn’t always. If you have trained with someone before and you are comfortable with them, then try to partner with them quickly. Or if you have trained with someone before and you didn’t enjoy it then try to avoid them (as politely as possible). Of course, if there is a big issue or a valid concern, make sure to talk to your instructor. In general, you want to partner with people you are comfortable with, so that you are relaxed and focused while learning, and therefore can train properly.
  2. Have you seen them training before? – If you have not trained with a person, then have you seen them train with others? If not, then ask yourself “were you practicing proper situational awareness?” If you were, then you should have some idea if they are a good option for you based on their actions, and the reactions of their past partners.
  3. Is their size and skill appropriate to the drill? – Unless the instructor has specifically asked you to train with someone much larger than you, then, especially as a beginner, it might be better to partner with someone who isn’t too big or too small. For some activities, like holding pads, size and skill won’t matter as much (unless they are a heavy weight, in which case it might not matter who holds the pads, it still hurts). Other techniques, like bear hugs or grabs, will be difficult at first if the person is to big and strong compared to you. When you are starting out you need to get the technical aspects down first before you can “go ham” with full aggression.
  4. Do they have a “reputation” at the school? – Have you heard people complain about this person’s power control? Have you been warned to watch out for them in certain context, eg. sparring? Are they known for going to hard or not following drills correctly? Forewarned is forearmed! Some people may be great to drill with, but in sparring they can’t control their power, some just don’t get the basics of holding pads. In any case, bring it to the attention of the instructor if the situation doesn’t improve or is dangerous.

Of course, at the end of the day, some people just need a bit of work and help to be good partners. Most people don’t want to do things wrong, and they certainly don’t want to earn the title “spastic white belt” and become pariahs in their gym. It could be that a few minutes before or after class is all it takes to clue someone in about how to hold pads, why a drill flows a certain way, or how to figure out pulling punches/kicks. Helping someone improve, or informing them of something they didn’t realize they were doing incorrectly will benefit them, you, and the rest of the students. While this is largely up to the instructor, again, if you are an adult, working on your communication skills with your training partners is important. It is, after all, a very important aspect of stage 1 and 2 self-defence.

Either way, mastering the art of picking a partner and/or building your partners up is more important than you think. After all, without good training partners you will not develop at the rate you want. Or worse, injury might be in your future if you pick the wrong partner. So, think hard, communicate effectively, learn to spot those who work for you as a partner, and get to them quickly for training.

Written by: Jonathan Fader

Editors Note: This post was originally written on November 9th, 2016, As we are currently doing a series on injuries we thought we would re-post some past articles on this topic. This one was written by Assistant Instructor Dave Young who is a professional musician as well as martial artist. Like many who train martial arts, injury is a big concern, especially if it can affect your ability to do your other hobbies or your job. Yet, many musicians train in the martial arts without issues, like David Lee Roth of Van Halen. The discipline and consistency needed for music is much like that of the martial arts, so it should be a natural draw for musicians, but fear of injury can often prevent many from learning something they always wanted to learn. See our previous post on Injury Anxiety. This, however, has never stopped Dave, who has since moved out of the city and we wish him the best. We know he will continue his martial arts journey no matter where he is, so keep an eye out for this bearded warrior.

Audio By Jonathan Fader
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In any martial art, there is always the risk of getting injured. I think most martial art and self-defence students have experienced at least one mild injury during their training. This is the trade-off; training that is meant to prevent violence requires violence, so it must be imbued with an inherent risk. Yet, being trained allows you to reduce risk in a real fight.

How can you avoid injury in training and avoid injury in a real situation?

As a musician, my hands and my brain are the two most important things that allow me to write, record, and perform. Thus, throwing punches and getting hit in the head may seem counter-intuitive towards preserving these body parts. There is a balance between avoiding injury to maintain my ability to work, and taking the risk of injury to be able to defend myself and my family.

First of all, I am NOT a fan of being punched in the face or hit in the head in any manner.  Many studies show that repeated blows to the head, even those that don’t cause concussions, can cause long-term changes in the brain and have lasting neurological effects. That being said, it is very important from a Krav Maga perspective to experience high pressure real world situations and be able to react appropriately.

In a fight, you are going to get hit, so experiencing the real thing in a simulation-type environment is invaluable as a learning tool.  At UTKM, we spar in a very controlled manner, and this is great for safety.  Even so, accidents happen. Everyone is at a different point in learning to control their strikes (and their emotions), so the best way to avoid getting hit, and protect your brain, is to train hard and improve your technique.

The best way to avoid getting hit, and protect your brain, is to train hard and improve your technique.

When it comes to protecting my hands, the same idea applies: Hone your technique.  I work hard on improving my technique so that I retain thorough muscle memory of the proper movements and positions, whether I’m punching a bag, focus mitts, or sparring with one or many opponents. This reduces my chances of injury — remembering to keep my hands up, fist at 45°, elbow slightly bent, and so on. When I ingrain this into my muscle memory, I won’t need to remember to do it in a distressing situation, my body will know it and do it.

Better hurt in the gym, than killed on the street

Perhaps, I will never be required to fight for my life or to protect my family. Nevertheless, in the end, I would rather train hard and perhaps break my hands defending myself successfully, than be overly worried about hurting myself in training and ending up seriously injured in a real confrontation.

In a fight, you are going to get hit, so experiencing the real thing in a simulation-type environment is invaluable as a learning tool.

Written by: Dave Young.

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