Friday, January 27, 2017

The Time for Krav Maga Is Now

Yesterday I spoke with a friend who just moved from Ohio to northern Virginia, where I live. I'll call him Randy. He is a successful business person who sold his tech start-up last year. Randy wears many hats: technical director at the company that bought his start-up; venture capitalist, launching new start-ups; and family man, with a supportive wife and children. He used to compete in triathlons, but the pace of his work life has squeezed exercise out of his routine.

Randy and I are about the same age (45), and he knows he needs to exercise to shed unwanted pounds and improve his quality of life. He asked about my time at First Defense Krav Maga. I told him I've been training over a year at the school, and I'd be happy to meet him for a trial class.

Randy replied that he didn't feel ready for Krav Maga, because he wanted to drop around 25 pounds before attempting a workout. He said he needed to be ready for class before showing up to train.

I understand his reasoning. Randy probably fears feeling exhausted, or at least looking exhausted in front of other students. (As far as I know, he does not have any injuries which need rehabilitation before he can safely exercise.)

I'm no stranger to these concerns. In late December 2015 I began looking for a Krav Maga program. I was also worried that I would not be "fit enough" for class. I overcame my hesitation using three tools.

First, I am obsessed by time management. I try to start new tasks at the top of the hour, not 17 minutes past the hour. I prefer to start new routines on the first of the month. As you might expect, the ultimate time to start a lifestyle change, for me, is the first of the year. When I saw FDKM's new Foundations class started the first week of 2016, my time-obsessed mind screamed "do this now!"

With the new year already here, we can turn to my second tool: age awareness, thanks to the body. When I first tried martial arts I was 19, and I practiced for 5 years in my 20s. Back then I felt like I had plenty of time ahead of me. If I didn't try a new art when I was 27, I could try again at 28, or 29, or 30.

Past 40, however, the body is less cooperative. Although I'm in the best shape of my life right now, my body tells me that there is no time like the present to engage in new physical activities. If it's becoming tougher at 45, it will be no easier at 46, or 50, or 55. The body is telling me "do this now!"

Third, my journey back to the martial arts has reminded me of the spiritual component. I'm not referring to a religious practice. I mean the ability to dig deep and find reservoirs of energy that are waiting to be tapped.

I took the pictures for this post during the KMG P and G Fall Camp last year. I was amazed to watch the G candidates test. They pushed themselves to a degree I had not witnessed in other combat systems. Certainly I had seen amazing technical feats by other practitioners, such as triple-jump board breaking kicks in Tae Kwon Do, or blinding speed and accuracy in Filipino Martial Arts. However, the fighting spirit of the G testing candidates left a lasting impression on me.

(Incidentally, I felt the same watching Combat Fighting Instructor Course participants at FDKM last year as well.) This spirit is something we need to be fully alive, and I hear it saying "do this now!"

Mind, body, spirit -- these are three keys we KMG practitioners hear Master Eyal Yanilov teach. They are the reason I encourage everyone to try Krav Maga now!

I hope to get Randy training as soon as possible. Who in your life could benefit from the life-changing experience of Krav Maga and other systems?

Stay informed of new blog posts by following me on Twitter @rejoiningthetao.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Locking Car Doors and The Left Turn Incident

Have you trained for self defense while driving a car?

In October my school First Defense Krav Maga conducted a Saturday afternoon seminar on self defense while driving. Our instructors, Sam and Chris, helps us learn how to deal with various scenarios, and we drilled outside, in and around student vehicles. We spent a decent amount of time dealing with intruders in the passenger's seat, as shown in the photo at left. I'm wearing the stylish wool hat, because it was freezing outside!

Since that class I have begun locking my car doors as soon as I enter my vehicle, but after all passengers have closed the doors. It's such a simple step, but it can thwart a decent number of problems.

For example, rather than locking your car doors immediately, you might close the door and pull out your phone. Maybe you want to check email, or phone messages, or engage Google Maps. In any of those cases, you're taking your attention away from your surroundings, and becoming immersed in the digital world. It's easy for an attacker to approach, open your car door, and threaten you. Locking your car doors right away makes sense and is very easy to do.

I have been making a subtle mistake however. I started locking my car doors to address the threat I just described. This mistake could have caused me trouble last night, during what I will call "the left turn incident."

Last night I was driving my two daughters to piano practice. My car had been parked in our garage. When we left the garage, I did not lock the car doors. Because I was leaving our garage, and not a public space, I did not have my mindset in the attack model I just outlined.

Partway to the piano studio, I needed to take a left turn onto a one-way street. It was dark outside and the traffic was fairly heavy. I had a fair number of vehicles waiting behind me as I concentrated on finding a gap in the traffic. I was looking out the right window when I sensed a presence at my left side. I turned to my left and suddenly saw a person standing right outside my window!

It was a male, wearing a knit cap and a large winter coat. All clothing that I could see was dark colored. He bending down slightly to make eye contact and was looking straight at me. His left arm was raised and his body was tilted toward the door. His left hand was empty. I could not see his right arm. Anti-Carjacking Training Module
Typing these words I can feel an adrenaline response, similar to the reaction I had last night. I had never encountered any pedestrian traffic on this street. It was a busy road and I could not imagine why someone would be standing at my car door.

I had two immediate reactions: 1) what does this guy want? and 2) if he opens the door I am feeling really confident in throwing a long roundhouse with my right arm. I'm surprised somewhat by the second response. It is absolutely a result of my Krav Maga training. I had my two daughters in the car and I was ready to clock this guy if he opened the door.

I had two subsequent reactions, milliseconds after the first two. 3) can I lock the car doors before he reaches for the door handle? and 4) do I pull into oncoming traffic to get away?

Milliseconds later I perceived that the man appeared to be gesturing with his left hand. I interpreted what he was saying as "move along." It seemed like the sort of motion you get when you stop your car to let a pedestrian cross the street, but they want you to drive ahead regardless.

I remember thinking "if he is gesturing for me to roll down my window, forget it. If I have the time to reach down, it will be to lock the car doors." I briefly wondered if he needed directions, but I was not going to engage a stranger on a busy street with my two daughters in the car.

I quickly looked right, saw an opening in the traffic, and took my left turn. My kids had no idea what had happened, but I immediately began a mental after-action report. I also locked my car doors!

At no time did I feel panic. All I remember were those four reactions, which was more of a problem-solving mentality.

My biggest take-away is recognizing that my attack model must incorporate more than a carjacker or similar approaching my vehicle in a public lot. It is possible for an attacker to approach a car stopped in heavy traffic. While I believe it is less likely to occur, if I had locked my car doors last night I would have mitigated one attack vector at insignificant cost.

Some readers might consider this a paranoid scenario, but those of us who practice self defense, and especially those protecting family members, will appreciate how common-sense prevention measures plus training equals great safety. If you'd like to know more, check out Membership at the site includes access to a 50 minute set of videos taught by Master Eyal Yanilov, specifically addressing scenarios like this one.

On January 8th Master Yanilov conducted a 40 minute Facebook Live event discussing transportation safety. He will be teaching a new course for instructors of transportation safety in Norway, with plans to deploy later to other countries.

This should be a great course, with practical applications for all students!

I'd like to finish by thanking all of my instructors, and especially Chris and Sam who taught the car seminar, for preparing me for the event last night. Thankfully it was not a problem, but I felt that it was better to be prepared, especially when my family is involved.

Have you encountered a similar situation involving a vehicle?

Stay informed of new blog posts by following me on Twitter @rejoiningthetao.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Moving Meditation, Ice Skating, and Krav Maga

Is moving meditation possible, and how can it benefit a Krav Maga practitioner?

My last post on Krav Maga and Kendo mentioned how I applied some of Master Eyal Yanilov's lessons from his Combat Mindset Class. Yesterday I had another chance to integrate his lessons on meditation and breathing while spending time with members of the First Defense Krav Maga community.

Sunday afternoon we enjoyed a public ice skating event at a nearby rink. We had a mix of experienced and first-time skaters, Krav Maga practitioners and family members.

On a physical note, our first-timer skaters performed brilliantly. In less than an hour they were taking laps around a crowded rink. Although everyone who skates will fall at some point, during this outing none of our first-timers made unexpected contact with the frozen deck! I attribute their success to great attitudes and sound body awareness due to Krav Maga training.

My sisters and I on a home-made rink.
Now, on to the mental side. I grew up in the American state of Massachusetts, a place where the ponds freeze every winter and most kids spend that time skating. Many boys and increasing numbers of girls play ice hockey, and some eventually compete at the highest levels. I was not a particularly good hockey player, but there was always something special about lacing up the skates and stepping onto the ice.

Years later I left Massachusetts and enrolled as a cadet at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado. The pace was grueling and I added to the military and physical pressures by studying for two major and two minor degrees. As a way to mitigate the stress, I tried my first traditional martial art (Shotokan karate). More importantly, I began carving time out of my schedule to ice skate at our college rink. I later started playing pick-up games, and during my senior year I joined an off-campus men's ice hockey league.

Taking a pass during hockey camp.
During the Academy's public skating sessions I first felt the intersection of ice sports and martial arts. (At this point you might ask: "What about fighting in hockey?" I never really fought anyone during a hockey game, although I gave and took contact that caused loose teeth and stitches!) On a more peaceful note, I experienced my first "moving meditation" during open skating, quietly gliding over the ice, seeking to quiet my buzzing mind.

I paid attention to the weight balancing on one skate edge at a time as I over-stepped through each turn. I didn't need to think about the movement. I knew how to skate well enough, without being an expert. Focusing on the sensation -- through steel, plastic, and cloth -- grounded and calmed me.

The sound is what stays with me always, even as I type these words. I reveled in the "click" caused by the last contact of the toe of the skate as I pushed away from the ice, followed by the "scrape" as I returned the leg for another stride. I could synchronize my breathing to that sound, and escape from the stress of my military life -- for an hour, perhaps. It was enough.

Yesterday at our Krav Maga skating event, I had a chance to recreate that moving meditation experience. This time it was augmented by my Krav Maga training. First, thanks to Master Eyal's class, I realized I was actually enjoying a form of meditation while ice skating. I tuned in to the sights, sounds, and feelings I had experienced as a cadet.

Teaching balance during public skating.
Second, I put Krav Maga situational awareness skills to the test, especially while skating backwards or when helping new skaters. Why? Public skating is a very hectic experience. The main flow of traffic proceeds counter-clockwise around the rink, but disruptions are everywhere. Figure skaters occupy two or more of the face-off circles, moving in directions of their choosing while attempting jumps and loops. Kids flop and flounder in every direction. Nervous newbies cling to the wall, or move without being able to stop. Situational awareness, a keystone of Krav Maga, helps more experienced skaters avoid running into all of these challenges,

Third, I realized that although I had not skated in a few years, Krav Maga had kept me in good hockey shape. Our system's integration of high intensity striking drills is exactly what is needed for the short bursts of energy needed by hockey players. Hockey shifts range from 35 to 55 seconds, which corresponds nicely to many Krav Maga drills. I felt good enough skating yesterday that I might dust off my hockey gear and try a pick-up game in the coming weeks.

Shy of playing hockey, I will probably return to the rink to re-engage the moving meditation of simple ice skating. There is plenty of room for me to improve my physical skating skills. I expect the most benefit at the mental level, however. The peace I find through moving meditation is something that, while typing these words, I can connect with in a profound way.

Have you enjoyed a similar moving meditation experience? Has it helped your Krav Maga practice?

Stay informed of new blog posts by following me on Twitter @rejoiningthetao.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Shocking Value of Kendo

How do you train yourself to go from zero to max speed in a conflict scenario?

This question has been on my mind since I started an eight session introduction to the Japanese art of Kendo.

I'm a sucker for "defined introductory programs." I began training at First Defense Krav Maga, one year ago last week, by enrolling in our eight week Fundamentals program. Last month I noticed Capital Area Budokai was starting an eight session introduction to Kendo for only $80, I decided to give it a try.

I already enjoy practicing Filipino Martial Arts, especially double sticks. I also use a bokken (wooden sword) for the exercise-only practice of Jungshin Fitness. I thought these Kendo sessions would be a cool way to learn a martial arts-oriented way to use a sword. (At Capital Area Budokai I practice with a bamboo shinai, not a bokken.)

Kendo training is far different from Krav Maga Global classes. Kendo is much more formal. We spend a lot of time working on a fewer number of topics. Over the course of about 5 hours of training, my intro class has mainly worked on footwork and basic strikes to the head ("men") and wrist ("kote").

The most interesting element of the training is something I've only witnessed thus far, due to my lack of experience and equipment. Sparring, shown in the video clip below, is an aspect of Kendo that triggered my Krav Maga brain.

When sparring, a Kendo practitioner faces the opponent, making minor stepping adjustments to improve fighting distance. When a party senses the time is right, he or she explodes across the floor, striking the head, throat, body, or wrists. The "thwack" of bamboo upon a helmet is unlike anything I've heard before. It seemed that if one party loses focus, for even a fraction of a second, it can give the opponent just enough time to enter and score a point through devastating contact.

This vision of watching opponents move from "zero to 60" appealed to my Krav Maga instincts. In September I was fortunate enough to participate in KMG's Combat Mindset class, taught by Master Eyal Yanilov himself. As I wrote in my blog, Mr Yanilov demonstrated using triggers to "switch on" the burst of violence needed in a violent confrontation. I believe Kendo practitioners must develop this same capability in order to deliver successful attacks.

I recognize that Kendo is not the same as Krav Maga. Kendo is a combat sport where participants score points awarded by judges. However, the focus and combat mindset appeals to me as a Krav Maga practitioner. It's more than just the tension of confrontation, though -- it's the decision to strike and the explosion of energy that resonated with me!

Have other activities had a similar effect on you? Do you cross train to achieve similar results?

See my video below for a sense of what I'm describing here!

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Peter Lorge Smashes Sun Tzu Myths

Martial artists, especially those in Asian systems, are likely to hear about Sun Tzu and his so-called "Art of War" manuscript. Beginning with the 1989 movie Wall Street, it's been fashionable for leaders of all types to quote the general and his most famous book. What do scholars of Chinese history have to say about it?

I learned several answers to this question last year at the first Sun Tzu conference, organized by Thomas Huynh. I enjoyed the event, but in this post I want to share my notes from the talk by Peter Lorge. Dr Lorge is the author of the incomparable Chinese Martial Arts history text, probably the best academic book ever written on the subject. (See Ben Judkins' review.)

Peter made many statements about Sun Tzu and his text which did not sit well with the audience, so they make for interesting reading here!

First, Peter does not believe Sun Tzu existed as a discrete individual. He doesn't believe Lao Tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching, existed either. Peter believes they are composite figures, an assembly of historical individuals and their works. Similarly, the "Art of War" is a composite text. It was never written as a single book. The Art of War is considered one of the seven military classics, but one of those "classics" is an 11th century forgery. Apparently it didn't sit well with Chinese leaders back then to have "only" six classics, so they invented a seventh.

Peter reinforced the point that I learned in Dr. Andrew Wilson's course that the title of the book is really "Master Sun's Military Method" (孙子兵法 sun-zi-bing-fa). None of the eleven commentaries were written by generals. Rather, intellectuals likely wrote them. Most pre-modern generals in China were illiterate. Therefore, they did not read the book. Today, Western generals are more likely to talk about the Art of War than their Chinese counterparts. Sun Tzu was popular is China when they were losing battles in the 1920s, but that was the height of its popularity in the Chinese military.

Although many interpret the book's message as implying the superiority of an "indirect method," the Chinese don't focus on this concept. The book's core message is that one must use force carefully, because war is costly. This is a result of the book likely being composed during the Warring States period (475-221 BC), with commentaries written during the 3rd century BC.

Today, the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) says the key message is "be cautious," and they believe that no small military force ever beat a larger military force. Although the PLA talks about so-called "Assassin's Mace" weaponry that would give smaller forces an advantage, in the end they believe in size -- hence their ongoing military build-up. Peter noted that China excels in building empires, while the West does not. Why? The Chinese are experts at using force.

Peter is currently writing a four volume history of Chinese strategic thought. Because he can read and speak Chinese, and has written several texts on Chinese history and strategy, he is uniquely qualified to do this work. He is also a martial artist, practicing BJJ in Nashville. I look forward to reading his next books and I hope to see him speak elsewhere in the future.

Stay informed of new blog posts by following me on Twitter @rejoiningthetao.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 Martial Arts Year in Review

2016 was the year I returned to the martial arts. Beginning with my third class on January 20th, I started a training journal. Thanks to these notes, Google Calendar, and a collection of certificates, I can assess how much time I spent training last year. In this post I'd like to capture some statistics on my 2016 journey.

Krav Maga

My first ever Krav Maga class at First Defense happened on January 6th.

Prior to my P-1 test in April, I participated in 32 formal Krav Maga classes.

Between my P-1 test and my P-2 test in September, I participated in 58 Krav Maga classes.

After my P-2 test and through the end of classes on December 22nd, I participated in 54 Krav Maga classes.

That is a total of roughly 144 hours of regular Krav Maga classes.

In addition to regular classes, I participated in several seminars and camps. In July I participated in two Krav Maga seminars at the Martial Arts Super Show taught by Mr Eyal Yanilov, totaling 5 hours. Later that month I participated in a 2 hour hostage rescue seminar at First Defense.

In September I participated in a 3 hour third party protection seminar taught by Mr Yanilov, a 3 hour seminar on fighting skills and tactics taught by Mr Yanilov and Jovan Manojlovic, and a 25 hour, three day specialist course titled Combat Mindset and Mental Conditioning.

In October I participated in a 3 hour seminar on Krav Maga for handling road rage, carjacking, and related automobile scenarios. In November I spent another 25 hours, over three days, at the fall P and G camp, followed by a 2 1/2 hour weapons disarm seminar later that month. My last seminar happened in early December, when I spent 4 1/2 hours learning firearm management.

These special Krav Maga events totaled 73 hours.

Combining regular classes and special events, I formally trained Krav Maga for 217 hours, one third of which was seminar time.

Other Martial Arts

In addition to Krav Maga, I trained in several other venues in 2016.

In June and July I enjoyed 6 hours of private Kali instruction with Mr Jim Conklin at Trident Martial Arts. Shortly thereafter in July I participated in a 6 hour seminar taught by Guro Dan Inosanto, also at Trident. In August I also enjoyed 15 hours of combatives training involving weapons, groundwork, and striking, taught by Mr Ben Gilbert from Trident.

In June, July, and August I spent time with my old kung fu Sifu, Michael Macaris, and his top instructor, Steve Mulloy. We trained for a total of about 24 hours.

 These non-Krav Maga martial arts totaled 51 hours.

Other Training

Beyond these classes, I tried three complements to martial arts training. In August I spent 8 hours learning a sword-based exercise program called Jungshin Fitness. In September I spent 6 hours in an introductory StrongFirst class learning how to exercise with kettlebells. In October I spent 10 hours becoming a level one Ground Force Method instructor.

These physical classes totaled 24 hours.

Finally, I took two classes to develop firearm skills, taught by Silver Eagle Group. They were each approximately 4 hours, so they totaled 8 hours.


Adding up all of the time I spent in formal training in 2016, the total was approximately 300 hours. About two thirds involved Krav Maga. Less than one sixth involved other martial arts. The remainder involved fitness and firearms.

Looking back, I am very pleased with the amount of progress I made in 2016!

Within the next few days I will post my goals for 2017.

How do you feel about your work in 2016?

Stay informed of new blog posts by following me on Twitter @rejoiningthetao.