Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Importance of Surprise in Self-Defense

Surprise is a very important fundamental to understand when it comes to self-defense, but it's difficult to incorporate into one's training. There are two sides to the coin to consider; removing an attacker's ability to surprise you and using surprise to add effectiveness to your own physical defense.

Removing An Attacker's Ability to Surprise You

This is accomplished by being aware of your surroundings and taking sensible precautions. When out and about, whether you're walking home from a transit station, walking to your car in a shopping garage, out for a run for exercise, etc, you should always be generally aware of all the people and vehicles that are in close proximity as you move about.

As part of this practice, you should avoid closing off your hearing and outward focus by listening to an MP3 player or talking on the phone while walking about. You should avoid going close to areas that could allow a person to jump out at you quickly. You should also avoid allowing people to follow you into an isolated area or to triangulate around you as a group.

Even if you're as good a martial artist as Bruce Lee, if you let yourself be caught by surprise, you may not have the opportunity to put those skills to use for self-defense.

Using Surprise to Add to Your Own Self-Defense

Catching an attacker by surprise is one important way a person can make up for lack of size or numbers in a self-defense situation. Women have been known to successfully repel much larger attackers by using the element of surprise. Most of the time, if a woman has been targeted for an attack, she has been perceived as an easy victim, which makes using surprise that much more effective a tactic.

I remember one example of a woman in Ottawa who was attacked while rollerblading. A man jumped out of the bushes and took her to the ground. He may have thought that she would be helpless while wearing a pair of those cumbersome skates. He was wrong. The woman managed to kick him in the groin using her skate. She successfully immobilized her attacker and was able to flee to safety.

Weapons of opportunity make for great elements of surprise because they're usually not accounted for by the attacker, whether it's sand thrown in the attacker's eyes, a pen used a striking implement, or a trash can thrown in their path to trip them up.

Even when you're not using a weapon of opportunity, you should do what you can to conceal your attacks. This is why we try to avoid telegraphing our strikes and kicks with exaggerated motions. You should also save any strikes you intend to use for a moment in which they can be used most effectively. For example, you shouldn't try to knee someone in the groin from far away. They're more likely to see it coming and if you miss, you can better believe your attacker will be even more ready to defend against it the second time.

These are but a few examples of how surprise can be used. Please feel free to share your own examples of how you've used surprise to keep yourself safe.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Most Embarassing Moments in the Dojo

Last weekend I was asked to teach a technique at a black belt course that was being hosted at my dojo. I confidently got up and demonstrated a particular wrist takedown to the group of 12 or so black belts who were in attendance. As I was stepping back into a stance having finished the technique, I heard a loud ripping noise coming from behind me.

"Hm. I think I just ripped a whole in my pants," I announced to the group.

As I moved, I couldn't help but noticed the increased breeze caressing my back-end. I covered it up with my hands then backed away toward the washroom in a decidedly undignified manner. The best part of it is that it was all being recorded on camera so that everyone could "review" what was taught as necessary. Needless to say, the incident elicited a lot of laughs.

Now that I've shared my most embarrassing dojo moment, I'd love to alleviate my embarrassment by hearing some of your most embarrassing stories. Please share in the comments! :)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

When Old Becomes New in the Martial Arts

While I was in Ottawa, I did a little training with Perry Kelly, a Godan in Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu who has a very diverse training background, and his friend Chris Anderson, also a black belt in Can-ryu as well as a WWII combatives expert. As always, I learned a ton, and am looking forward to bringing what I learned back to my dojo.

One thing that was of particular interest to me from this training experience is the way that old becomes new in the martial arts. Knowledge is cyclical. Things go in and out of vogue over time and what was once old, can be rediscovered and re-popularized, making it "new" again.

Take Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for example. BJJ wasn't new. It's essentially a combination of Judo/Japanese Jiu-jitsu techniques that came to be re-emphasized and re-explored. Much of what you see in the BJJ core curriculum can be found in older Judo and Jiu-jitsu texts. That is not to say that it hasn't evolved since then, but when it was first re-introduced to the world, it seemed completely different from anything else. Even though it was derived from Judo and Japanese Jiu-jitsu, those arts had moved in different directions in more recent decades.

There is much to be learned from historical martial arts texts if you can get your hands on them. Perry and Chris both have extensive libraries with texts dating back to the late 1800s. I was amazed at the information they contained. Some of it seemed silly at first, but make sense when you understand the context under which the concepts were developed. Take the stance that was used by bare-knuckle boxers. It looks goofy under a modern eye, but there is a big difference between bare knuckle boxing and modern boxing. According to Cris and Perry, the back hand was held across the chest to protect against strikes to the heart. With gloves on, this strike is largely irrelevant, but with bare knuckles, a strike to the heart area can cause a palpitation that can heavily impact the recipient's performance.

You'd be surprised what can become relevant again over time. Knowledge that gets lost in the shuffle often gets re-shuffled back into the mix when someone re-discovers it. Some people even establish their entire martial arts reputation just by doing this.