The overlooked part of effective techniques

Last week I was reading an interesting article (if a bit dry) about deceleration of movements in sports. You can read it here, I think it’s worth it. One of the points it made is that little attention is given to studying deceleration. I agree. Compared to acceleration training, the attention deceleration receives is almost minimal. I always found that strange, as I learned many years ago that it is a hallmark of combat sports and martial arts, but it’s routinely overlooked. I’ll explain in a bit but first a quote from the article:

High levels of eccentric strength are required in tandem with appropriate training of deceleration technique specific to sporting performance, while the demands of the sport situation determine the critical distance, direction, and time that the deceleration must occur.

In other words, you need a specific kind of strength (eccentric) instead of the one you use for acceleration (concentric) while at the same time adjusting on the fly to changing conditions.

This is a bit of an oversimplification, but it’s a good rule of thumb. It is particularly true in martial arts and self-defense. Here’s why:

overlooked part of effective techniques power and control

Power is nothing without control…

One of the ways sports are classified is into specific types of movement: cyclic or acyclic (also acyclic combined but we won’t cover that now.)

Cyclic means a repetitive movement pattern like swimming, running or cycling. In those sports, you pretty much do the same movement all the time. The only main difference is if you do it with endurance as a goal (run as far as you can) or with speed (run as fast as you can.) I know this is also an oversimplification, but bear with me.

Acyclic means several different movement patterns are necessary. Examples are team sports such as basketball or volleyball, but also fencing, tennis and boxing. In all these sports, you perform a variety of techniques/movements and go from one technique to another. Acyclic sports typically require good technique, speed and power.


Whenever you fight, in the street or in competition, you perform acyclic movements. You punch, then you kick, then you move then you grapple, then you punch again, etc. It always changes. What’s more, these changes happen because your opponent does the same as you. You have to adjust whatever you’re doing to his movements. That leads to only one conclusion if you follow this reasoning: [Read more…]

The death of common sense regarding violence

Earlier today, I had a first interview with a new client who wants to learn self-defense. I explained how I view things and one of the points I made was this:

We live in an age where having knowledge about how violence actually works is frowned upon. Having experience with it is viewed even worse.

When you look around you, you can find many examples of this. Just to help you out, try this one, where you’ll see stupid behavior towards an armed professional. Or this one, where instead of letting it go, somebody chooses to escalate the conflict but gets way more than he bargained for.

One of the key issues I see is that in modern societies, a large number of people no longer have to face violence on a regular basis and haven’t had to for several generations. As a result, the knowledge and skills needed to handle it are deemed obsolete and no longer passed on.

It wasn’t always so. A bit over a century ago, to be considered a (gentle)man, you were required to learn to protect yourself as violence was seen as an inherent part of life (two interesting books about this here and, in a different vein, here.) You were supposed to know boxing, fencing and other skills that helped you face violence.

Let that sink in.

About 100 years ago, this was considered normal.

Today, it is seen as “wrong” by many Western societies.

What happened?

Many things, but mainly our societies changed and became more peaceful. The need for understanding and knowing how to handle violence diminished. Some people feel that it is gone entirely. These are the folks who say things like “Violence never solved anything” and mean it, notwithstanding millennia of human behavior proving them wrong. The end result: what used to be common sense regarding violence is now no more.

Case in point:

A cellphone case in the shape of a firearm. Take a look at these pictures: [Read more…]

Don’t mess with the Queen’s Guard

The Queen’s Guard has been in charge of protecting the reigning king or queen for hundreds of years. Tourists think they are just there for show and that these men are simply posing.

They’re not.

These are all real soldiers, often with combat duty behind them, carrying a real firearm, doing guard duty. There is some discussion as to whether they have live ammunition or not, which I can’t confirm as I don’t know the unit well. That said, firearm safety rules are pretty clear: assume every firearm you see is loaded.

Aside that, the bayonet fixed onto the rifle is plenty lethal in and of itself. So all in all, you’d be safe to assume the weapon is more than capable of killing you and the soldier holding it has the training do do just that.

You’d think it would only be common sense to leave such a person alone. As in, not annoy him. Or worse, touch him.

Common sense seems to be in short supply these days. Take a look at this clip:

In the media, this is now being described as the soldier “losing his calm” or worse.


The soldier is fulfilling his orders of standing guard and follows procedure to keep tourists at bay: the soldiers are allowed to stomp their feet hard to scare people off, shout at them to stand back, point their firearm or even detain them. So what this soldier does is perfectly acceptable within the parameters he is given.

The unacceptable part is civilians having zero respect for soldiers.

The sad part is people not understanding the common sense concept of leaving armed people alone. What good can possibly come of annoying an armed person, especially when you are unarmed?

Also, the soldier is responsible for that firearm. If he lets a tourist come too close and has his weapon taken away, it’s on him whatever happens with it afterwards. Including that “tourist” shooting or stabbing others with it, which in this day and age of Lone Wolf terror threats is not an unrealistic scenario.

So if you see a soldier on duty, just leave him alone.


Man gets sucker punched and stomped

Mark Mireles sent me a video of what looks like a police briefing. It seems to be covering this incident here. From the news report and watching this video, here’s what seems to have happened:

An 18-year old man is standing near his house and a group of men are close to him. They are looking for people involved in an earlier attack and think he’s part of that group. He says otherwise, but they attack him anyway.

As always: we weren’t there. Anything we say about this is purely an opinion (and we all know about those…)

That said, take a look at the video first:

Some thoughts about this incident:

  • Leave. When a group of people confronts you about your part in an alleged attack, leave immediately if you can. Nothing good can come of that. The young man seems completely unaware of any danger.
  • Blind spot. The big guy who was watching cross-armed suddenly moves in to the man’s blind spot. It looks like he was cued by something the aggressor said/did, perhaps they did this dance before and know the routine well.  Regardless, the way it’s done here, it’s a blatantly obvious move. If you see this happen: act immediately.
  • One-shot KO. The sucker punch lands and he’s knocked out. There is no fight, there is only one punch and he’s unconscious, at the mercy of his attackers. They show very little mercy…
  • Excessive force is always on the table. He gets robbed, punched, kicked stripped of his pants and stomped. Some of those attacks are potentially lethal blows. Once you’re out, there is no way to know just how far your attackers will take it. It might be nothing at all, it might be all the way to your grave.

This kind of incident is best seen as a warning. The most practical defense against it is not being there. Learn to spot pre-attack cues and get out of there, even if that means trying to go through that group to get to safety. Chances of winning the day when you stand and fight are pretty low, so try to avoid the fight altogether.

The effectiveness of traditional Chinese martial arts

The effectiveness of traditional Chinese martial arts has been questioned a lot, ever since it rose to prominence in the 1970’s when Bruce Lee splashed onto the big screen. We’ve come a long way since then and martial arts/self-defense today are not what they were back then. Many techniques and training methods that were the norm back then are nowadays discarded and considered ineffective. In a larger sense, this is true for many other martial arts and fighting systems as well.

Some teachers have taken it upon themselves to dig into those traditional arts and bring out their value in today’s environment. One of them is Iain Abernathy, who I met a while ago and is a great guy. He teaches a practical approach to Karate. On his website, there was a discussion about teaching traditional Chinese martial arts (in particular forms) in a practical way. You can read up about it here. Iain said some kind words about me (thanks Iain!) so I decided to write this blog post and share some thoughts.

As always, this is nothing but my personal opinion. It isn’t gospel, so feel free to discard it.


The current state of traditional Chinese martial arts

As mentioned in the forum discussion, karate gets a lot of bad press for not being effective in a “real fight” and one of the commenters claimed that this isn’t a big issue in Chinese arts. I beg to differ. There is loads and loads of crap out there (there is a lot of good too, but I’m going to focus on the bad in this article.) There are way too many people who really shouldn’t be teaching at all, because they both haven’t done the time to own their art and/or don’t understand it. That may be because their teachers didn’t understand it enough to pass it along correctly or perhaps information got lost along the way, I don’t know. Regardless, I’ve seen more practitioners doing ineffective traditional Chinese martial arts than effective ones.

This seems to be a particular problem in Western countries. You can often see schools teaching what they consider is a traditional style, but without the things that make it effective. Meaning, the things that were originally included in that style before it came to the West. An understanding of the purpose and methodology of practicing forms is a big part of that. Some of the explanations regarding forms and the practical applications they’re supposed to teach you see those teachers demonstrate are nothing more than best guesses or complete falsehoods to avoid exposing their lack of knowledge.

To be clear: maintaining the effectiveness of traditional Chinese martial arts is not just a problem in the West. It is now very hard to find good teachers of traditional styles in China. Young people don’t really feel like going through that kind of harsh training any more, so those teachers have trouble finding students. As a result, those arts are dying out.

All in all, given the number of practitioners out there, I’d say the percentage of them having the “real thing” is pretty low. This isn’t necessarily their fault, but it still leaves them coming up short.

effectiveness of traditional Chinese Martial arts - Shaolin

Me, in Shaolin in 1991

 What happened?

A lot of factors came together to create the current situation and I’ll only touch on some of them here below: [Read more…]