Book review: Fight Like a Physicist – The Incredible Science Behind Martial Arts by Jason Thalken

A while ago, I read the book “Fight Like a Physicist: The Incredible Science Behind Martial Arts” by Jason Thalken.  I read it mostly because it received such rave reviews. Several people I know also recommended it to me, so I decided to buy it and give it a try. I have a particular interest in the physics of martial arts and conditioning, so I was eager to start reading.

The book has several sections and first talks about basics like center of mass, energy, momentum and glancing blows.

The second section is slightly different and covers protecting yourself with knowledge. It dives deeper into the mechanics of a knockout and how it damages your brain both in the short and in the long term. There is also a piece about how safety equipment works and how it can be improved.

Both these sections are interesting and I don’t really have any issues with them. The main negative point is that they are all rather basic. If you have trained for several years in the martial arts, you have probably heard of these concepts before or have studied them. The odds are good that you therefore already have a good working knowledge and the book doesn’t necessarily give you much more information. So I would look at it as a basic primer as opposed to an in-depth study.

 

Book review: Fight Like a Physicist - The Incredible Science Behind Martial Arts by Jason ThalkenThe second section is slightly problematic. Once again the first few chapters are relatively basic and don’t offer knowledge that isn’t freely available elsewhere. However, I take issue with the two final chapters.

First, there’s a part about guns, knives and the “Hollywood Death Sentence.” Though the author gives some basic information, he tends to put things in extremes as opposed to add nuance to the debate. The chapter about chi and pseudoscience in the martial arts also shows a limited understanding of Chinese martial arts. For sure, there is fake mysticism involved, but the practice is not by definition useless, despite the misgivings of the author.

If it sounds like I’m harshly criticizing this book, that is not my intent. Mostly I’m just disappointed because I expected more from the book. Perhaps you will find it more useful and interesting than I did, I sincerely hope so.

 

Conclusion

This book is great for beginners and if you haven’t really given the physics part of the martial arts and self-defense systems much thought. In that case, it is a good introduction to this topic. If you already have a solid working knowledge, then I would suggest waiting for another one to come along with more in-depth and nuanced information.

 

This review was first published in my Patreon newsletter of September 2017, available at Yellow Belt and up.

Podcast episode 28: AMA Interview with Loren W. Christensen

It’s been over two years since I last interviewed Loren W. Christensen, so it was high time! In preparation, I asked my Patrons for questions and I got so many that we turned the interview into an AMA (Ask Me Anything). Loren was kind enough to answer each question in detail, sharing information from his vast experience in martial arts, self-defense, and law enforcement.

Enjoy!

Loren W Christensen and Wim Demeere

Loren and me, a few years ago

1) The role of meditation in the martial arts and self-defense:

2) Preventive maintenance for people who want to train their whole life:

3) Early experiences and later ones, differences and similarities:

Loren’s site http://www.lorenchristensen.com/

Loren on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/loren.w.christensen

All Loren’s books on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2QVBjbf

 

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Please like, share and leave a review!

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Podcast episode 27: Self-defense techniques Q&A

First, my apologies for the massive delay on releasing this episode. There were technical problems with my microphone and then some more issues cropped up. I finally managed to get it all sorted out, so the regular schedule of releasing episodes will now resume.

In this episode, I answer Cain’s questions on getting attacked by rushdowns and several more.

Enjoy!

Show notes:

1. Updates:

2. Self-defense techniques Q&A:

 

Thanks for listening!

Please like, share and leave a review!

Please support the podcast and get access to loads of unique content in return:

https://www.patreon.com/wimdemeere

Subscribe to the podcast and automatically get the latest episode:

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Patreon SPECIAL OFFER and overview

It’s been a while since my last Patreon update, so here’s another one for August through October. I also have a special offer which I think you might enjoy. I’ll explain that first:

Sinterklaas is a tradition here in Belgium, similar to Santa Claus. It’s mostly geared towards children, but that doesn’t stop many adults from adhering to it as well. In short, if you’ve been good during the year, you receive a gift from a saintly figure. If you’ve been bad, you get spanked by his companion.

All my Patrons have been pretty awesome, so I felt like giving them something and I’m extending this offer to everybody who joins us:

All my current Patrons and  all who join before December 7th 6PM CET, will receive a 60+ min. video on stretching and mobility for martial arts and self-defense.

The video covers my personal  full-body stretching routine, geared toward injury prevention and countering the side effects of  intensive martial arts training. I’ll explain some of the basic principles for increasing flexibility and mobility, as well as show a large number of exercises that you rarely learn in martial arts classes. These are the ones I, as a personal trainer, use with my clients every day, so they are all functional and effective.

It doesn’t matter at which level you join, everybody gets the video, as long as you do so before the deadline.

This is a one-time offer. On December 7th, it ends and doesn’t come back.

Another benefit you can get if you’re fast, is this:

There are 10 spots left to become one of the Founding Fifty, which offers special perks for as long as you are a Patron.  Once we hit 50 Patrons, that benefit closes forever.

Sinterklaas, ready to rumble…

My Patreon page is in essence a membership site where I post unique content. There is now over 31 hours of unique video content available and this library grows by about 75 minutes every month.  This excludes the monthly 1-hour Livestream hangout we do in our private Facebook group. Those videos are available to re-watch as soon as we end the livestream. You get full access immediately after joining, so get a cup of coffee and dive in. :-)

Here’s an overview of all the posts from August, September and also October.  Just scroll down the page to see everything.

For a quick visual representation, here are all the videos per category. Click on the text link or the image to see all the videos in each category:

 

Violence analysis

 

Instructional videos

Quick Q&A

30min. Q&A

I’m having tons of fun creating all this content and there’s lots more to come. If you want to join us there and support my blog and podcast, head on over here and sign up at whatever reward tier works for you.

Montie’s Law of Self-Defense

A while ago I posted a video on my Facebook page and gave a short explanation of the dynamics involved. One of the things I mentioned is “Montie’s Law”, which is:

It’s never the other guy’s turn.

This needs some explaining, so here goes.

Montie is a LEO friend of mine, who I interviewed for my podcast a while ago. He’s done different kinds of work in law enforcement and is now involved in counter-terrorism. He is well-trained, experienced, smart and we have a matching sense of humor. As a result, we get along famously and getting together means copious amounts of alcohol are consumed… In short, I would trust him at my back any time.

Back on track: a long time ago, he explained his strategy for fighting and spoke the words I now call Montie’s law.

“It’s never the other guy’s turn. He doesn’t get a turn. It’s always my turn.”

He swarms his opponents with constant attacks and uses overwhelming force to get the job done. If the opponent is lucky, he might get in a first shot, but after that, it’s never his turn again. I liked that a lot and expanded that idea into what I use it for now.

Montie's Law of self defense

Montie’s Law is one of the biggest disconnects between traditional martial arts or combat sports training and real-life attacks: the level of violence doesn’t necessarily get cranked up slowly and gradually. It can go from zero to 100% in a fraction of a second.

That doesn’t always happen, but the possibility for it is always there, which is the biggest issue you need to be aware of.

Look at the video again. As soon as that first punch lands, the victim is groggy and has a hard time standing up. He isn’t knocked out, but – and this is the critical point – he is no longer able to defend against the next attack. When that next attack comes, it doesn’t matter if it is less effective than that first blow because it still does enough damage to lower the capabilities of the victim. This progressively diminishes his ability to stop the aggressor and so each next blow lands as well. The result is a vicious circle the victim can’t get out of.

It’s never his turn…

The moment he starts to go down, he is incapable of doing anything other than taking more damage. A few seconds later, he is unconscious and the stomping begins. All this, from getting hit by that first punch.

 

When I explain this to people, I often get a response of “yeah, yeah, we know.” Then they proceed to train as if this isn’t an issue they need to handle. This in turn leads to unrealistic training or training that depends entirely on being able to avoid getting hit. Or worse, knowing they can get hit but pretending they can take that punishment without consequences. I call this the “Street Fighter mindset.”

Many years ago, there was a video game that became extremely popular, Street Fighter. They still make new versions of it today and there are hundreds of similar games. They have a basic set up:

Street Fighter Self-Defense

  • Two characters fight each other.
  • They both have “health bars” and you decrease the energy in it each time you land an attack on the other character. When his bar becomes empty, you win.
  • Regardless of how full or empty your health bar is, your punches and kicks always have the same speed and power. The same goes for your ability to block attacks and use footwork.

As a simulation of a real fight, it’s not a bad analogy: if you hit somebody long enough, they eventually go down. But it’s the last point that has the disconnect I mentioned above. In the game, getting hit doesn’t change how well you can fight; in real life it does. That is why Montie’s law is so effective: if your opponent never gets a turn, his “health bar” empties out with each successful attack you land. That leaves him less and less able to defend himself against the next one. This continues until he is down and out.

The key point is  that just one successful attack can put you at a disadvantage you can never recover from.

Train with this concept in mind, always.

 

But what about!

Does that mean you can never get out of a bad spot when somebody surprises you and gets the first hit in? No, not at all. Training recovery techniques should be an integral part of your curriculum, similar to failure drills in firearms and other weapons training:

  • What do you do when the gun malfunctions? You practice how to clear it.
  • What do you when you stab with a knife and the opponent evades the attack? You practice following up with recovery techniques or secondary attacks.

At no point should your training involve a mindset of “Well, my awesome technique just missed, so I have to give up and die now.” On the contrary: you always train to survive, to escape, to overcome. However, you also have to acknowledge the realities of violence: if an aggressor gets the first shot in and it’s a good one, the odds of you making it out in one piece drop dramatically. They don’t necessarily go all the way down to zero, but they sure don’t look good. Try your utmost to get out of that pickle, but accept that things are looking mighty bleak for our hero…

That is the negative side to Montie’s Law: if your attacker gets the drop on you, you might never get a turn. In the video, you can see an example of how bad things can get. Just so you know, there is far worse than what happened to that man…

 

How do you train with Montie’s Law?

The positive side of Montie’s Law is this: if you train correctly, you can stack the deck in your favor so it is never the other guy’s turn. There are different ways you can do that:

  • Preemptive attack. The most effective way to end a fight is not being there to begin with. The second most effective way is to attack first. Now most of you will already know this so let me add some nuances I think are important: attack first, making sure your technique lands with sufficient power to knock your opponent out or down, break his balance and structure, injure him, switch his mindset from offense to defense and buy you the time to land your next attack. Or any combination of the above, preferably all of them simultaneously. If you fail to do so, that first hit you land risks merely pissing him off. This forces you to face an opponent who is now hellbent on (at best) beating you up. Attacking first isn’t enough; you need to make it count too.
  • Overwhelming, continuous attack. This concept is illustrated well in the video I mentioned in the beginning. Obviously, I don’t justify this attacker’s actions. I only use them as an example of how overwhelming, continuous attack is an effective strategy and how it can be used in real life. Here’s how he applied it:

After landing that first sucker punch, he throws a barrage of wild punches that overwhelm his victim. In the space of a few seconds, he throws about twenty non-stop punches. It doesn’t look like many of them land cleanly, but that is not important at that point. His victim keeps on receiving hard percussive impacts, each one shaking up his already scrambled brain a bit more. The punches also drive him to the ground, where he is both unable to escape or defend himself effectively and stomping is the logical and instinctive next step for the attacker.

  • Tactical progression. Every martial art and combat sport uses this concept. Some do so only in a limited way, others dig extremely deep into this concept. I will stick to self-defense as this is the topic at hand but know that the subject is much broader than this.

In short: each technique sets up the next one. Like a good pool player sinks one ball and lines up the next one with the same shot, each move you make sets up your next technique. When used correctly, each subsequent move places your opponent in an even worse position, hurts him some more (or in a different way), takes away his weapons and pushes him closer to defeat (whatever “defeat” may be…).

This can be as simple as throwing a quick eye jab with the lead arm to line up a power punch with the rear arm. Or it can be as complex as the Kuntao I learned from my late teacher Bob Orlando. For an example of that, look at this video of him slapping me around. If you slow it down, you can see that each movement not only sets up the next one, but it also uses instinctive reactions his attacks trigger: the slap to the groin tends to make people’s heads come down. The following upward strike then comes in at a head-on collision and raises the head again. It also places Bob’s right arm in the perfect position to swing my arm through, which in turn whips my head forward into his incoming elbow strike. And so on, until I am down and out.

For the record, this is Bob going slow and stopping long enough at each point so the camera picks it all up. He was more than capable of going faster, hitting harder and chaining it all together into a fluid combination.

The most effective martial arts and combat systems I know combine all these elements, simply because they yield consistent results. Which brings me to another nuance I need to add.

 

In a comment to my original posting of this video, Marc wrote the following:

I think that the other guy never gets a turn problematic as it can lead to excessive force. If for instance, a smaller female was being pestered by a guy in a secluded location and was breaking the boundaries that were being set by the female then I would definitely give her the benefit of the doubt in such circumstances such as in she reported it and the guy was found unconscious or badly injured where she said she was feeling unsafe due to what I described and due to a probable size and weight difference.

However if two guys going at it near a bar and one is beaten to a pulp and no weapons are involved then the victor would in my mind be under suspicion of using excessive force.

The idea of using minimum force necessary to deal with a situation for self defence does not seem compatible with the other guy never gets a turn as for me self defence is to resolve a situation not dish out a revenge beating.

I’m going to paraphrase my response to him here:

The one does not exclude the other. Simply put: you hit until there is no longer a reason to hit him. You stop when it’s time to stop and train for that.

 

When is it time to stop?

When there is no longer a threat or when you can safely exit, which is often the same thing.

How many times you hit him before that happens is irrelevant in that regard; hit him until he is no longer a threat. If it’s only once, that would be awesome, but you already have all your ducks in a row should you need to follow-up. Montie’s law means you are always positioned in such a way that you can deal out that second, third, fourth, etc. technique if necessary. You don’t have to rearrange your weapons, reposition yourself, etc. to do so; all that was already taken care of with each previous attack.
So minimum force is the default, but you train to have plan B, C, D and so on ready to go. Montie’s Law means the other guy never gets another shot at you. That is your goal and your tactics should take this into account.

 

Conclusion

Implementing Montie’s law in your training takes some time and effort. It’s a continuous process instead of a one-time goal. Most of all, it’s a mindset: you train for it and expect attackers to use it against you as well.

 

This article was originally published in my Patreon Newsletter of July 2017. If you would like to receive it too, join me here at Orange Belt level or above.