Monday, November 5, 2012

KM Smackdown

I love slapping people. 
It's fairly rare that the opportunity
 to do so presents itself.

I have a strict policy of no men being present in the room during the ladies-only class, but Miss Smurf has been after me for some time to put a guy in the fight suit and bring him in to let them practice striking a live human.  So last weekend we finally did it. 

Big J (not the same guy as Big Daddy J) put on the suit and choked our females then took his beating like a champ.  However, one lady didn't feel comfortable striking him, so I offered to let her hit me instead.  The price of admission, however, was that I was gonna slap the crap out of her.  Now it might appear that I was just trying to slap somebody, which was probably not the case.  Once one lady decided she was game, several others followed. 

The truth of the matter is that after a lifetime of being told to play nice, hitting another person, even when being attacked, can be extremely difficult for female students.  Learning how to hit an actual person instead of a pad is an important part of one's self defense education.  It just so happens, however, if you slap a woman in the face & drag her around by her hair she tends to override her hesitation to strike pretty quickly.  We weren't doing hair grabs that day, so I just made them close their eyes, gave them a good hard slap in the face & grabbed them by the throat.  You should have seen them come after me!  I was so proud.  My right shin is all swollen and black and blue because they all kept kicking me there for some reason.  That got old pretty quickly but, let's face it, I was not exactly in a position to complain.

Also, I'm happy to say that on a personal level it was an accomplishment to be the padded attacker.  I ended up taking the role on so suddenly that all I had time to put on was head protection & a mouthpiece (hence the bruises) but I felt great anyway.  I remember the first time I ever saw one of the padded suits in the first self defense seminar I ever attended.  "That guy is crazy!"  I thought.  "I'd never do that!"  Later I'd occasionally see instructors don them during training and even though I never expected to be that guy, I started to envy them a little for being willing to take some battering to help their students learn.  Even through the suit you still get banged up.  This year I decided I wanted to be that guy.  The only rules I gave them were don't punch me in the throat and don't strike me in the back of the skull  at the base (i.e., please don't kill me).  And they didn't! So last weekend made me really happy both for my students and for myself.


1 - If you have an emotional meltdown in class and start crying, I don't mind.  Neither does anybody else.  I've done it.  Loads of people have done it.  Lizard brains are strong and they do what they want, when they want.  In fact, watching people work through a post traumatic stress episode, come out of it, and then have the courage to come back to class to face the same situation again in an effort to master their fear is one of the most inspiring things I've ever seen.  It makes me proud to work with them and pushes me to work to be a better instructor to be worthy of training with them.

2 - I respect people who refuse to participate in class when they feel unsafe or overwhelmed by what we're doing on the mat.  Think about it: everyone else in the room is doing the technique, rooting each other on, etc.  And one person stands there and says "Nope.  I'm not doing that."  It takes a certain amount of backbone to be the only one who won't go along, and I like people with a backbone. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Dominate! Yes!

Sometimes teaching is so much fun and the best part is often watching the students figure stuff out as they're doing it.  Remembering the times I've done that myself and looking forward to doing it again - its watching people give themselves over to learning that makes me excited to go to class.

A couple of fun things happened the other night.  First I'll say that we don't get much direct hands-on contact in level 1 against a strongly resisting opponent.  Our focus is more on teaching basic techniques, getting people up to a fitness level that will allow them to perform, and instilling a fighting spirit.  We strike pads & choke each other, but we don't get down & get funky too much. 

So sometimes just for fun I'll very quickly show people some basic ground positions (usually mount, guard, half guard, and side guard if I remember that one).  Then I'll set them up on their knees with their partner & say "GO".  I tell them not to try to finish anyone off, the goal is just to "dominate your opponent". Once you've accomplished that just reset & go again.  The real goal, of course, is to get them used to putting hands on someone who is actively trying to make them submit.  I stole this from Matt, btw. 

So on to the fun things: #1 - Girls always look pissed off when they do this exercise.  Guys can usually keep a pretty passive face or even grin like a monkey the whole time, but girls generally look like they're about to pop.  This is true of myself as well, I can't keep a neutral face & perform well.  So you'd think I'd know this but the other day these 2 girls were wrassling & it was ON.  You'd think they had a vendetta.  I almost stopped them a couple of times because I was so sure they had really become really angry with each other.  Once I finally made them stop they started laughing & hugging & giving each other feedback on how to do better in the next round.

2# - Similar situation with the guys.  I'm walking around monitoring, mostly just making sure nobody kills their partner when I come upon a couple of guys.  One has the other in a fierce headlock on the ground.  He is cranking hard.  I say, "Time!  What are you doing?!"  The  guy looks at me like it's Christmas morning & I'm Santa Claus and says, "I'M DOMINATING!"  His opponent/partner, who can now breathe again laughs and agrees.  Everyone is being such a good sport, it was just awesome.

At the end of class a female who had been unable to perform a technique in spite of several tries pointed out her failure.  The Dominator said (and this is all in caps because he bellowed the whole thing), "THAT'S OKAY!  I FAIL ALL THE TIME!  I FAIL AND I FAIL AND I FAIL AND THEN I WIN!  I FAIL AND THEN I DOMINATE!  YES!"

I guess I'm really writing all this because I'm so grateful in general for my students right now and for this class in particular.  I confess I'm a little stressed out lately.  But every class I get to see people struggle and triumph or resolve to try again.  They face their fears, they help each other, they forgive readily the random accidental smack in the face.  They work hard and with a great attitude. 

So, thanks y'all for showing me for showing me the best of yourselves and making me excited to come back and do it all again.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I take It Back

I didn't think I was full of shit when I made my last post. 

When I said didn't have much feeling one way or the other about the more extreme crimes committed by some of the inmates housed in the facility in which I work, I believed it.

Then the very next night something changed my mind.  A particular inmate was convicted of doing something violent and horrible to a person who was defenseless.  I won't say what he did, because I really don't know what I'm allowed to say outside of work.  This guy was being moved to someplace he didn't want to go and told a lie to postpone it.  First he said it to another officer, then later to me. I told him he was going anyway and he just turned around and sat down, emotionless. 

When he spoke to me I had the sensation of cockroaches crawling on my skin.

I told another, more experienced officer how I'd reacted and she told me, "That's your instinct warning you.  Listen to it."

She made me think of Gavin de Becker's "Gift of Fear".  The people I used to refer to in Krav Maga class as "types" of attackers are real people now with faces and names and voices.   

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

New Job, Random Thoughts

I've been working on the floor of a jail for almost 4 months now, and here are a few things I've noticed:

*Apparently it's a myth that all inmates claim they're innocent.  I've worked with several hundred of them by now and only one has insisted, every time anyone would listen to her, that she didn't do it.  Her story never changed, I noticed, no matter how many times she told it. 

*What I do hear frequently is "what I did wasn't that bad, my sentence is way too harsh".  I try not to roll my eyes or have any visible reaction on that one. 

*I expected to have more animosity toward the inmates, at least the ones who have done some things I find shocking or horrible.  Strangely, I don't have much emotion about it one way or the other.  Maybe because I haven't heard anyone bragging?  They drilled it into us at the academy that I'm here to be their keeper, not their judge, and maintaining that attitude seems to make the job easier and probably keeps me behaving more ethically.

*I get lied to a lot.  A LOT.  Blatantly.  Holy cow.

*The other day within less than 2 minutes I saw a heated argument beginning between two inmates over the most ridiculous nitpicky bullshit you can imagine and 30 feet away I witnessed one inmate behaving with such kindness and generosity toward another who was struggling that I was deeply moved.  Incarceration seems to hold a magnifying glass up to the best and the worst in us.

*You can't tell by looking at someone who is here for not paying their traffic tickets and who murdered someone.  Sometimes its the most pleasant people who have done the worst stuff.  Which means when you're at the grocery store you can't tell by looking at people who is going home to provide a loving, supportive and stable household and who is going to go home and beat the shit out of their 6 year old for not putting away the groceries fast enough.  While I obviously have some knowledge of the people I'm working directly with, it seems that the most useful thing I can do is pay attention and listen to my gut.  There's a line in the book Game of Thrones (my current obsession) where Arya's swordfighting teacher reminds her "See with your eyes".  What he means is for her to put aside her hopes and fears of how the swordfight might unfold, to release her assumptions about her opponents strengths, weaknesses and intentions.  To see with her eyes she must observe objectively her opponent's behavior in this moment and act according to the situation.  It's so hard!!  I'm learning to see with my eyes. It turns out that jumping to conclusions is a big time-saver.    

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Try Not To Think About It

I've started teaching again and it makes me so happy.  Working in the jail is good, the inmates are fascinating to me, but I'm a teacher at heart.  And a student, too.

We've re-started the women-only class now that my time at the academy is finished. Today we worked defenses against chokes, both standing and on the ground. Additonally we talked about the whens and why's of eye contact.

But what's really on my mind right now is some of the questions I received from a student and in particular how she asked them.  Okay, I'll be frank, I can't remember her exact questions.  But the gist of it is something we hear frequently:  "You're teaching me this, but what if he does that?  Or that? Or that?"  Occasionally this line of questioning devolves into the "27 ninjas" scenario...what if 27 ninjas come at me all at once?  What do I do then?

Now this woman was NOT giving me one of those scenarios, and her questions were completely valid.  But she was asking us in a sort of shy and uncomfortable way that tells me she doesn't yet believe she can pull this stuff off. Not that there's anything wrong with that. 

The truth is there are experienced trainees who have have beaten off an attack successfully and those who have failed.  There are people who have never trained a day in their life who have beaten off an attack successfully and those who have failed.

What we're doing in class is merely working to improve our chances.  That probably is a real bummer to hear, but it's true.  No matter how much you train, there are no guarantees you will succeed.  Anyone has the potential to lose when attacked.  But here's the awesome news.  You might be "anyone".  But your attacker might be "anyone", too.  Isn't that lovely?  I think it is. 

So here's what you do in class.  When you are new to training, don't try to master all the "what if" scenarios.  That comes bit by bit as you continue to train.  Absolutely ask "what if" questions if its something that's bugging you or if you've faced a particular situation in the past or expect to in the future.  But don't get eaten up with all the minutia of each possibility, you'll drive yourself nuts.  

Allow yourself time to work on the basics and to master what makes them effective.  Things like driving with your feet and transferring your weight to put the power of your whole body into a strike.  Engaging with aggression while maintaining control.  Staying loose instead of tightening up & moving like Frankenstein's monster (we all do it sometimes).  And one of the most important, yet most difficult: learning to keep a clear head under pressure.  These concepts apply regardless of the technique you're performing.

If you can get your body to grasp all these concepts they will serve you well no matter if an attacker does "this" or "that".   As you put the concepts into play through repetition of training, and you work them into a growing number of techniques, your confidence will grow along with your chances of success.

Thanks to everyone who came out today, we'll be working one person's choke from behind "what if" on the first Saturday of October.  Come train with us!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Running and Burning

Running:  One of my coaches recommended a new training technique to me, so I thought I'd give it a go & see if I liked it.  It was horrible.  You should totally do it.

There's a 1.5 mile track near my house, so I took my dog Raleigh, The Raleigh Lama, with me and did this:  run about 200 yards fast.  The sad reality is that I'm slow as Christmas, but I was pushing it to move fast.  Stop & do 10 squats.  Run 200 more yards.  10 pushups (burpees, lunges, whatever).  Run 200 yards, etc.  Keep it up for a mile and a half.  I was dying about a mile in, audibly sucking wind.  That far in, the exercises actually started to feel like a break.  

As we rounded the track & ended back up near the start Raleigh started dragging me back toward the car, so I went along & grabbed him a bowl of water.  After he lapped it up I said, "Ok boy, let's do another!" intending to just jog the next lap, as I was clinging to some shred of sanity.  He moped back along, and I could tell he didn't really want to do it again...oh, jeez, do I really have to drive this dog home and come back for the second lap?  The thing is, Raleigh is about 12 years old, smart enough to do your taxes and he's never steered me wrong.  So yeah, I drove him home and came back to run (jog) the next lap.  I was pooped.  POOPED!  But happy.  

I trust this dog's judgement.

The last couple of years I've focused so much on learning to be a good instructor & studying the psychology of violence that I forgot to be a lean mean fighting machine.  Being at the academy has forced me to get back out there & use my body, and it feels really good.   So, yes, I do recommend trying this workout, it's difficult but I think there will be a nice payoff if I keep doing it.

Burning:  I'm not supposed to talk about specific law enforcement or corrections training that I experience or witness, but I don't think it's any big secret that those who serve, if they might carry pepper spray, have to get sprayed.  I got sprayed a few days ago.  I'm here to tell you that stuff is it's own special Hell.  

For about the first 20 seconds I thought, wow, this is really horrible, but I can handle it, I can keep my eyes open just a teensy bit.  Maybe 5 seconds later the 2nd wave hit me and quite frankly I don't know how to describe it.  My eyes slammed shut.  I have been told repeatedly that would happen, but somehow I still thought I would be able to open them.  You know, because I'm special.  


I tried prying them open with my fingers, but my face was drenched and slippery because they had to spray me twice, since my eyes closed when they did it the first time.

Not realizing I had actually finished the task I was to complete while my face was on fire, I felt someone grab me and say, "stop, it's over, it's over!" and pull me outside, where someone else dragged me away to get hosed down with water.  That's when I panicked.

I almost drowned once in a scuba accident in the Florida Keys when I was about 12 years old, and when the water hit my face it all came rushing back.  I was determined not to cry or scream, but was fighting the urge to do both.  Because I still couldn't see and now couldn't breathe and was panicking, I was afraid I'd faint and slam my head on the ground. I dropped to my knees just in case and rocked myself furiously while I tried to wash my face and eyes and  not to have a total meltdown.  Later, helping out, it was obvious that most people panic when the water hits them.  In the moment you can't even believe how overwhelming the feeling of pain and panic is, and you know it isn't going to be over any time soon.  The next day I saw some friends who've been sprayed in the past & they poked me and said, "Ha ha!  Your face is still all puffy!"  I felt like I had a raging fever for about the next 18 hours, which was really interesting, since I knew it was just the ground up hot peppers someone had flung all over my face and eyes.


I suspect it's just as painful but not as overwhelming the second time.  I hope I never find out.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012


As a Krav Maga instructor, one of my favorite things to do is come up with drills and exercises that mess with people's heads.  

The goal might be to scare them into a freeze & get them to fight through it, create a confusing situation that forces them to take action even when no obvious correct course exists, or tell them things are going to be one way and then change the rules mid-stream so they have to deal with a situation as it actually is and not the way they thought it would be.

Whatever the situation is at any given moment, my ultimate purpose is always the same:  create a situation where they are forced to feel stress and act to end the situation in their favor.  While it's important to give serious thought to what you would/should/could do in a dangerous situation and to create a plan, I really believe that intellectualizing these things isn't enough.  As they say, everybody has a plan until they get hit in the face.  We often have to experience things ourselves, for good or ill, to totally understand.  

One of my own teachers at the Sheriff's academy appears to have the same philosophy.  A little while ago we had a class on the prevention of sexual assault in the jail - specifically on the Prison Rape Elimination Act.  I confess I never really gave this much thought before, and even had a somewhat callous and indifferent attitude about it.  As Miss Charlotte says, "Nobody wants to talk about rape except to make jokes about prison rape, like that's some great thing."

So anyway - we were sitting in class & the instructor came in and asked us to give him some elements we thought a good leader should have.  We said things like decisiveness, good organization skills, compassion, good communication skills, honor, trustworthiness and intelligence.  Then he asked us to say the name of someone in class who embodied those qualities.  Nobody raised their hand - we're a pretty cohesive group and no one wanted to single out a member, but I can never keep my mouth shut for long, so I raised my hand and mentioned that Mr. G seemed to embody all those things.

Mr. G was removed from the class & several minutes later led back in - but the officer's uniform he'd been wearing had been replaced by an inmate uniform and he was handcuffed like a prisoner.  I was scandalized to see him like that.

Standing next to him in front of the class the instructor asked us to imagine our Mr. G, with all his admirable qualities intact, as an inmate in our jail.  He asked us to imagine him being sexually assaulted and even raped.  It was very upsetting to think about and I wanted them to take those damn cuffs off my friend and put him back in his officer's uniform where he belongs.

But the point was well taken.  All the instructors have been stressing honor and ethics in the job, and the fact that we are the keepers of the inmates, not their judges.  But holy cow, it wasn't until somebody started screwing with my head like I do with my students that I truly felt it.  Then we had to watch a documentary about a young man incarcerated in another Texas jail who killed himself after the staff ignored his pleas for protection after being repeatedly raped by other inmates.  Sometimes the stuff we study is pretty depressing.

I'm not trying to imply that my instructors are encouraging us to baby, pamper, or feel sorry for inmates.  They're not - not even a little bit.  But they are teaching us to remember that each human being is more than the current clothes they are wearing, and to make sure the jail is safe and secure for the officers, the surrounding community, and the inmates.

I came away from the lesson with the determination that the inmates under my supervision are going to follow the rules and behave - and that no one is going to screw with them.  No pun intended.

It's pretty much exactly the way I've run things in classrooms in martial arts and the school district, just with more education thrown in and the stakes raised.

I have to admit I'm grateful for the lesson even though it involved a little slap in the face and am a little embarrassed by my previous attitude.  So, instructor, I'd say that was a job well done.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Guest Blogger Rory Miller!

Anyone who has spent much time training with me has heard me yapping on about the book Meditations on Violence and how you should be reading it.  

The author, Rory Miller, came to Fit and Fearless a few years ago to give a seminar and I, happily, was his contact person.  We've stayed in touch since then and he's always been a huge influence on my training, as well as being an all-around pleasure to talk to.  I'm feeling all mushy now, so I'll shut up & let you get to the good stuff:


Parker wrote something a while ago, and it inspired me (which Parker often does...)
You can read it here:

We are all made of meat.  We forget that.  We live in a world where things don't seem to eat people.  Not being eaten feels normal.  And so we forget that we are made of meat.  And most of the time it is a safe thing to forget.  Maybe even justifiable. But when it becomes important, when the tiger leaps or the knife flashes up, damn.  Because we are made of meat.

We forget that, historically, the meat world is normal.  The safe world, where things don't wait in the dark to eat us, is new. So new it shines.
And we are programmed, designed, evolved to live in the meat world.  Our deepest programming-- fight, flight, freeze; eat when we are hungry, sleep when we are tired-- are all about being meat.  We are wired to deal with a world far more dangerous and violent than this one.  And that's a good thing, because when the safe world slips or shatters and what matters is blood and fear, we're kind of set up for that.  It is natural and if you let yourself be an animal, you have a good chance.  Your ancestors, after all, survived far worse.  You are the product of thousands (or more) generations of success.

But... as much as we are wired to survive in the world where things eat and are eaten, human survival strategy is to get along, to live and work in groups that can protect us by having a mass of people and a range of resources.  Part of getting along is to expect a nice world in order to create and maintain the nice world.  When things go bad, our wiring to survive (and sometimes even our training) comes in direct conflict with our conditioning-- the years and years of being taught to get along.

We interact nicely with the nice world, which allows it to be the nice world.  But the world will never be completely nice or completely safe, because to be the only nasty person in a world of nice people is a superpower.  The person who can operate at the level of meat has an almost insurmountable advantage over the person who can only operate at the level of feelings.

Embrace the nice world.  But do it as a choice.  It is not the only world or the only way to look at the world.  Get to know yourself as an animal.  Learn the world of prey and predator, where things are made of meat.  It _is_ natural.  And if you must go there, go with your whole heart and trust your DNA.

Montreal Apr 2012

Thursday, April 19, 2012

An Update: I'm Tired

No lie.  Today about halfway during PT one of the instructors asked, as we cadets attempted to breathe and remain standing at the same time, "does anyone have any injuries?"

I seriously considered begging him to punch me in the throat so I could say yes and it would be over.  For once my brain overrode my mouth and I just said, "NO, SIR!" so the whole class wouldn't have to pay for my smart-ass-ness.

I have to admit, I had no idea how much education goes into a corrections job.  We study or attend interactive lectures every day for hours on every facet of the jail system, case law, the Constitution  It's quite fascinating, really, but I'm glad it's almost Friday because my head is so crammed full of new stuff that each new fact is having to work harder to squirm it's way into my brain.  

Every day they harp on honesty, integrity and professionalism and that makes me really proud to be hanging out with these people.

That's pretty much whole life right now consists of studying, doing insane exercises invented by brutal Soviet scientists during the Cold War, studying, shining my boots, and studying.  

And now I must sign off, because I kid you not, it's time to study.  And then I have to shine my freaking boots.  

6 more weeks.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

On Abject Terror

I usually edit these posts to within an inch of their lives, but I'm so pressed for time I'm just jamming this out, so good luck to me...

I've joined the cadet class of corrections officers at a Texas sheriff's office.  It's been a wild ride so far & I'm completely overwhelmed.  

But what I want to tell you about is an experience I had at the end of class today.  We do some sort of PT (physical training) every day.  This might be running, calisthenics, etc.  Today we did the big obstacle course.  Not the one I qualified on.  The big one.  

The big one that seems to confront every physical weakness and phobia I have.  And I don't have many, so it was particularly diabolical.  First we had to weave ourselves over and under a bunch of large horizontal pipes that were high enough off the ground for me to need to step on something to get on it.  Exhausting and very scary.  So scary that I was shaking by the end of it, because the damn pipes just kept getting higher.  My teammates helped by literally pushing me sometimes.  

We did other scary stuff that all required excellent grip strength and upper body strength.  I don't have that stuff.  So then I was REALLY shaking.  Next we had to jump over some walls.  Now I'm not good at that, but my friend Matt taught me how to do it, so I thought I'd be fine.  NO.  With so much adrenaline coursing through me I tripped at the top & slammed face first into the ground.  Shaking harder now...the little intermediate wall, I don't know what the hell it's doing there, it's only 2 feet tall (seriously) but my body was shutting down so - you guessed it - I tripped & fell on my face again.  I wish you could have seen the look of disbelief on my instructor's face.  Strangely, the 3rd wall was not problem.  

Then we crossed other hideous obstacles.  If they were high off the ground I shook uncontrollably & did it slowly or with assistance or both.  If they were not high off the ground I was totally fine.

Then I faced my arch-enemy.  The rope wall.  Just climb this little 20-ish foot wall, clamber over the log at the top & clamber down.  I have never ascended 3 feet up a rope wall, and it's not for lack of trying (net wall?  I don't know, it's a net made of rope).

The instructor said we didn't have to do it if we didn't want to (we were already well past time to go home & I think he thought I might be having a stroke), but that just made me more determined.  Because I am stupid.  So I climbed up, got to the top and froze.  I mean I froze in terror.  Not like "no one is going to ask me to the prom" terror, but "if I fuck this up I'm going die or spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair" terror.  My instructor was up there, too, trying to talk me while I just clutched the log like a baby monkey murmuring "ohGod-ohGod-ohGod".  

So he asked me, "do you feel confident?"  My hands were occupied so I couldn't choke him. 

"No, I do not feel confident!"  He told me to go back down the way I came.  This did not compute.  No way.  

The other instructor grinned at me from the ground & said, "hey there, if you don't mind, it doesn't matter.

I thought of something my friend told me once.  I won't say here who it is, because it was a private conversation & he said not everyone appreciates hearing it.    He told me this:  nothing matters.  Sounds sad, right?  He said in 100 years we'll all be dead & nothing but a distant memory to a very few people.  In 300 years no one will ever know we, as individuals, existed.  So do what is meaningful to you right now and don't worry about what people think, don't worry about failing.  Because it doesn't matter.   I find this incredibly liberating.

So when the instructor said that, I heard my friend saying, "It doesn't matter." And I unfroze & let the instructor up there with me talk me through the rest of the exercise.  He is a very patient man.  

So, I faced my terror.  While we stood at attention for the lowering of the flags I was still shaking so hard my teeth were chattering.  I have a massive swollen green shin from where I fell at the beginning of the course.  I don't don't care, because I faced my terror. 

It may not matter, but it matters to me.

Btw, all the other cadets were incredibly supportive & cheered me on.  I overheard one guy say to another as I finished my descent, "I think I hear Eye of the Tiger playing in the background".  :)  I like these people.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Don't Make a Move! Nah.

I was about 17 years old.  My grandfather had moved out to the country, so far out that boondocks would be the polite term.  People in these areas often keep lots of animals, and most of the folks near him had a bajillion dogs, cats, chickens, fighting cocks, goats, etc. 

But one family had a taste for exotics.  They periodically had various creatures, but the permanent residents I remember were the golden eagle and the tiger.  I was always trying to get a peek at that tiger.

One day the whole family was away, and because I am a genius I decided to trespass on their property & see him close up.  He was pacing around his large covered cage, which was bound only in the kind of typical chain link fence that I could have easily escaped with moderate effort.  In fact, a couple of years later he did just that - but today was not that day.

Seeing me, he stopped pacing.  I crept slowly closer until I was touching the fence.  At that point he started rubbing himself against the cage, walking back and forth, so I did what he obviously wanted & stuck all my fingers through the fence & petted him, scratching and rubbing as he made each pass.  It was interesting to note that his fur wasn't soft, but firm with the waxy/oily feel of a dog that needs a bath.

After a few minutes he stopped & looked at me again, then he walked back behind a platform built for him to climb & lay on.  He peered at me from behind the barrier and like lightning jumped out & leaped straight toward me, slamming against the fence.  

I suddenly realized I was made of meat.

Did I run?  Did I get out of there as soon as my now-shaky legs would carry me?  Hell no!

I froze.  Because that's what people do when they're startled. 

Then I backed slowly away, apologizing to the tiger for bothering him, because in that moment the tiger was absolutely the boss of me.  

So often I've had students confess to me that during sparring, or practicing a stressful technique, or during an actual attack they simply froze and did nothing they were "supposed to do".  They are usually ashamed, and the higher the stakes were at the time, the harder they are on themselves.

The most heartbreaking instances of this are the assault victims who tell me they "let him" assault them.  They believe, mistakenly, that they should have instantly turned into Jason Bourne.  They believe, mistakenly, that because they responded by freezing, they are weak.

Hell, I have no idea if they're weak or not, but what I do know is that freezing is not a sign of weakness.  Freezing is a completely normal reaction to a new stimulus, particularly when the stimulus (attacker) is providing shock, pain, or the threat of either.

The goal in your Krav Maga classes is not to get to the point where you don't ever freeze, because the chances of that happening are slim indeed.  By that, I mean it's not going to happen.

So the goal becomes shortening the freeze more and more each time you experience it - and we're shaving it off by milliseconds at a time.  It's the reason the drills I make up often have a chaotic quality - I want you to become accustomed to assessing chaos & figuring out the best course of action as quickly as possible.

We'll talk about practical strategies for shortening your freeze another time.  For now, I just would like for you to accept that no matter how much training you have (and sometimes because you have training) an immediate freeze is a natural and normal response to a new threat.  There is nothing wrong with you.  

I know I've talked about this before, but it's still bugging me.

I can feel a new drill percolating in me for the morning class.  Start to think about how to escape a room full of people when someone is trying to prevent you from leaving.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tiny Tigers

A 7 year old girl fights off an attempted kidnapping.

Since this event made the news last week, parents everywhere have been discussing the best way to teach their kids to defend themselves without making them terrified to go out into the world.  Some parents throw their kids into the deep end by just being completely honest about how brutally violent a predator can be, letting them watch violent movies with adults, etc.  

Others take the opposite view.  I was fascinated by one woman who posted that she completely shielded her daughter from any concept of violence or danger or "badness" in the world, in an effort to protect her innocence.  It reminded me of the young Buddha being raised within palace walls without knowledge of sickness or death.

As usual, I believe the best way lies somewhere in the middle.  I'm not here to try to tell anyone how to raise their children, but if you choose to prepare your kids to deal with the world as it actually is and not how you fear it is or wish it were, the difficulty lies in how to get the message across without freaking them (or you) out.

Having taught children in Karate and Krav Maga, I've discovered a few things you can do to help your kids learn.  Please take whatever you think you might find helpful, and feel free to add your own ideas in the comments.  Every little bit helps us raise our kids into strong, smart, confident men and women.  

*Make sure your kids know your full name, your cell phone number, and their home address.  Kids with stepfamilies will need to know both sets, and they can accomplish this at a much younger age than one might think.

*Have your kids practice dialling 911-send.  Turn the phone off first, so the call doesn't go through!  Then have them practice it under pressure.  That pressure can be you playing chase with them saying "I'm gonna get you!".  It's hard for them to concentrate when they're running & giggling & shrieking, so it's good practice.  You can also have them race another child who is dialling on another phone for a small prize.  That raises the stakes. The purpose of adding the pressure is the adrenaline rush makes one's small motor skills deteriorate.  This is what they will experience during a real event that's serious enough to warrant calling 911.  They must practice pushing 'send' after 911 if its a cell phone.  

*If they spend time in a day care facility that has the typical phone system in which one has to dial 9 to get an outside line, they should practice dialling 
9 911, too.  Adults should do the same.

*Once they've successfully "dialed" 911, role play with them.  You play the role of the operator and ask them questions like "What happened?" "Where are you?" etc.

*Many people teach their children not to talk to strangers.  It's a good idea to also teach them how to ask a stranger for help if they get lost or someone tries to harm them and they escape.  I teach my students that its safer to approach someone for help than to go with someone who has approached you.  Obviously not everyone who approaches you is a predator, but it's not uncommon for a predator to pretend to help someone they intend to assault.  That's why they're called predators.  Most people are willing to help if asked, and you stand a better chance of choosing an honorable person if YOU (i.e. the child) makes the choice. (See Gavin de Becker's The Gift of Fear for more on this subject).

*When my stepdaughter was young we had a password.  If someone tried to give her a ride home from school saying something like, "Your parents got into an accident and asked me to give you a ride to the hospital", she was to ask them "What's the password?"  If they didn't know it, she was instructed to run like hell.  Predators think of all kinds of lies to entice children to get close enough to grab.  Anyone who doesn't know the password doesn't need to get close when your child is alone.  Incidentally, it is crucial that the child understands that NO ONE should be told that word except for people the family has agreed will be called upon to get the child in case of emergency.  Not even friends and other family.  Sadly the most common assaults are committed by someone the victim knows.  My stepdaughter is 21 years old now, and I STILL haven't told anyone the password.  

*On a similar note, one of my adult students has prepared her family for a home invasion.  If someone comes to the door and this student says to her kids, "Oh, I just remembered I forgot to reset the timer on the microwave" her children are to calmly but quickly go to the downstairs bathroom, taking a cell phone and lock themselves in until she gives them the password to open the door.  I think this is genius.  By the way, that's not the phrase she actually uses, I just made that one up.

*Children need to be taught when it's okay to disobey an adult.  I"m referring to "NO" as a response to a stranger saying "get in my car" vs. mom or dad saying "it's time for bed".  Active disobedience is very difficult for kids who are not regularly in the habit of behaving this way.  Also, the rules on this are different in different families.   Think about where your boundaries are regarding your child's behavior.  What are your expectations of what they must endure to remain out of trouble and when can they say no?  To whom can they say no?  When can they physically resist?  Run away?  Strike back?  What kind of strike is acceptable for your child to defend himself (if any)?  Shoving?  Slapping?  Using a weapon?  
How about when the aggressor is not an adult but another child?  How much bullying (if any) should your child put up with before defending herself?  You don't need to labor through every possible scenario with your kids, but having a clear concept in your mind of what is acceptable will help you discuss these matters when the subject arises.

*Often the hardest part of having these talks with your kids is simply getting started.  I have a friend who starts by asking her son, "Hey, what would you do if..." and lets him provide the first solution.  This is awesome, as it gives her an understanding of where his head is at already, and essentially turns the talk into a brainstorming session with the kid.  Then instead of telling just scary stories about "what could happen" you're focusing on solutions, finding holes in each others ideas and using that space to create a plan.

*My experience with kids has been that they're not traumatized by talking about this subject.  Most traditional fairy tales are pretty graphically violent, so these aren't new ideas to children.  If you find that your child does start to get scared or retreat, stop talking about it for the moment and find another way to approach the subject.  It may help to have another person discuss it with them or to change the environment in which the discussion is held next time.  Discussing or role-playing and practicing with a sense of play can also help.

*Lastly, I'm going to recommend letting your kids give martial arts a try.  Visit a school that is convenient to your home and affordable and just watch a class. If you like what you see talk to the instructor about the school's philosophy regarding self-defense and fighting, discipline and self-control.   Many parents fear their children will become violent if they are taught martial arts, particularly if the child has behavior issues to begin with.  My experience has been the opposite.  Children with a healthy outlet for the natural aggression we are all born with learn control and self-discipline, in addition to learning to defend themselves.  If you try it and don't feel your child is benefiting, remove them from the school.

*Ok, this is really the last one.  You will notice in the video the girl who was grabbed didn't do any fancy ninja moves to disable her attacker.  She simply screamed and kicked with all her might. (Screaming, "He's a stranger!!" is helpful, btw.)  All she did was one of the most important things you can do - she made it not worth the extra effort to kidnap her.   She made a poor victim.  Nice job, kid.  

If you'd like more information on making sure anyone who attacks you is practicing poor victim selection, read my friend Jennie's post on the subject.

Regarding kids in martial arts, here's a little video of a 4 year old and a 9 year old being introduced to headlock from the side.  I told the kids they could hit me as hard as they wanted to.  Kids love to hear that.  Turn the sound up. :)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Request Backup

Let's just say you are walking to your car.  You're alone, and there's no one nearby.  It's dark...but did I just see someone hiding there...?

You get the picture, and it's creepy as hell.  If you're in danger and there's no one around to hear you scream or call for help, wouldn't it be nice if you could just push a button and someone would know you're in trouble?

I was approached after last weekend's ladies-only class by a student who showed me a new app she's created, and it is that button.  I am very excited about this.

The app is called Guardian Trace.  

So let's go back to that dark parking lot. Having previously estimated it would take you 4 minutes to reach your car, you had set your GT app for 4 minutes and kept your phone handy.  

That someone you realize an assault is about to you!!  

If you have time, you push the panic button on your phone, since you were clever enough to keep it handy and the app ready.  An immediate email or text is sent to whoever you wish to know you are in danger.  The notice tells this person (or people) that you've activated the alarm and includes a link with your current location.  If they click the link your phone's GPS indicates exactly where you are right now.

If the attack was a blitz and you didn't have time to activate the alarm, it will automatically send the email or text as soon as the 4 minute timer (or however long you've programmed) is up.

The GPS aspect is particularly essential if, God forbid, they are taking you to a second location.  

No, this app will not call 911 for you.  You should still do that if you can, and the person contacted by the app should do so as well.  

The usefulness of Guardian Trace, as I see it, is that if you don't have time to call 911, if you don't even have time to push a button, the app calls for help for you.  This is crucial when an attack is sudden or when you simply can't get your hands on your phone.

For goodness sake if you start the timer and you're safe remember to deactivate it or you'll scare everyone half to death.

Full disclosure:  As of the writing of this post I have nothing to do with these people, I just like the app.  

Guardian Trace is free.  If you just want email alerts, it stays free.  If you want text alerts (which I think seems like the way to go, since who knows when people will check their email) it's $10 for six months, and more for one year.  I don't remember how much more, because I bought 6 months worth of service.

If you're wondering if the GPS means Guardian Trace would make a good tool for stalkers, it won't.  The owner of the phone has to activate everything herself or himself, and you can't secretly put it on someone's phone.  So if you're looking for a tool to help you stalk people more efficiently, keep looking.

Friday, January 27, 2012

"I Do It Because I Suck and I Hate Sucking"

This is what my friend said to me today on the phone about her painting classes. It's one of the 2,000,000 things I love about her.  She's willing to suck at something, in public, to become good.

I feel her pain on this one.  I started putting on weight in 2010 after dealing with a family member's crisis by eating lots of ice cream.  I swear it made sense at the time.  Then last year I had 2 surgeries & the not-working out and eating train really picked up steam.

That was kind of a disaster, so I've started working out regularly again & started taking Krav classes again, which reminded me why I love this stuff so much in the first place.  

But holy crap do I suck.  And when you go to class you suck in public.  

Last night I went to class completely prepared to suck and was not disappointed, but oh my god it was so much fun!

Matt had us out in the dark choking each other against a storage container with an uneven surface, then choking each other on a table so we couldn't use our feet.  We were on our backs on a table of upturned wooden boxes, the attacker standing in our guard & leaning over us choking us.  Our feet couldn't reach the ground so they couldn't be used to generate power for the defense.  Then we had to run a short distance (suck).  

Then the fun began.  We learned a couple of parkour jumps over the boxes we'd just been choked on.  I have a massive mental block about jumping over things. I can climb a fence & jump over it like an 11 year old taking a regular short cut through the neighbor's yard (which I once was), but jumping over a solid object, even one much shorter than a regular fence is like facing a hungry lion after rolling around in cat food.  I soooo did not want to do it.  My heart was pounding in my throat and it was made worse by the fact that I knew my feelings were ridiculous. 

Everybody else was flying over it like professional stuntmen, but I, um, was not.  I wanted to quit, I just didn't want to quit in front of other people. So I kept heaving myself over.  I wish I could have wailed each time just like Chewbaca, it would truly have completed the picture.

Then came this little exhaustion drill, punching endlessly, defending surprise chokes, running & jumping over the boxes & getting surprise attacked again. By my third round I was getting tired, too tired to be scared.  So I just went up to the box & jumped over it like an 11 year old kid. HA!  

The lesson, of course, is that the problem is all in my head.  It's interesting how knowing that doesn't help at all.  

Me and my super-fly friend who won't suck at painting for long.
I'll go through the same process of sucking again over and over until I reach some sort of internal critical mass where I just begin to jump without fear or hesitation.  How many times will it take?  I have no idea.  I also don't care.  What else am I gonna do, sit around and suck at this stuff?


Thursday, January 26, 2012


While the investigation is ongoing, there is a chance that Esme Barrera's murderer has been found!  The suspect in question was found dead after an apparent suicide.  It seems his DNA has been linked to the crime scene on New Year's Eve as well as to a series of attacks last summer.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Guest Blogger: Miss Carrie

I read a story once about a woman who wrote letters to her future self & sealed them up with a "to be opened" date written on the outside of the envelope. The letters gave her future self advice and reminded her what it was like to be younger and still unaware of all the events that had passed since the sealing of the envelope.

Here one of my morning students, Miss Carrie, gives her younger self some life advice.  

What would you like to tell your younger or older self?

Dear 16 year-old Carrie,
As I am writing this to you, you are 16 years-old. You are 16 years-old, and you hate your body.  You cry endlessly about it, you starve yourself, you think no boy will ever love you and you look in the mirror and hate what you see.  As your 29 year-old self, let me break some stuff down for you and drop some truth bombs all over this mess. 
Look I get it. You’re in ballet and you will never be 5’11’’ and 103 pounds. You’ve always had hips, but that’s bone there, lady, and unless you saw them off, you’ll always have a bit of an hour-glass body, even at your thinnest. Maybe pursuing something that has a physically impossible standard for you to reach might not have been the best idea [you’ll never make the basketball team, either], but you love to dance so I get why you do it. And you’re raised with all the “beautiful” people on TV and their ridiculously thin bodies and they all talk about how it’s natural and takes really no effort. Well it’s not natural or effortless. I can tell you those people have nothing to do but to maintain that thinness, they sometimes use drugs to achieve it and at least half the celebrities you worship will be in rehab by the time you reach 29 with me.  They’re also starving themselves just like you. Just wait until you see what they do to these “perfect” people with Photoshop. You’ll learn what Photoshop is soon enough. Perfection is a joke, there is no such thing. 
And here’s the real truth: that is totally ok. 
Think about all the time you’ve been wasting crying over how fat you are [which I have to say, at 5’4’’ and 110 pounds, is laughable, but teenagers are stupid. Sorry]. Did that do anything? Do you think your tears will shave down your hip bones or lengthen your legs or enlarge your hands? Why are you wasting time on the things you cannot change? Believe me, when you get into the world and you see how messed up some of it is, there is a lot of energy you can spend on trying to fix things you can actually change. 
And those boys you’re so crazy over? Here’s something I know you won’t see coming: they love your butt. I know, that hideous thing at the back of you that no matter how much you starved yourself to get rid of you never could? Yeah, that one.  Every guy you will ever be with will be borderline obsessed with it.  You want to know why? Because it’s full and womanly, and apparently quite fun to play bongos on. So all these boys you think will never love you will actually love you for some of the things you hate about yourself right now. And if they love your body, why can’t you?
The amazing friends you have now will still be your friends in 13 years, so they are just as awesome as you think they are now. They’ll have spread all over the country [and world], but when you get together, it’s like no time has passed at all. You’ll make new amazing friends, too, people you share your soul with and they to you and it’s one of the best things in your life. And as much as you love them, they love you, too. For all the weird and wonderful and annoying things that make up you and I, they love you. I cannot stress enough to you how loved you are. And since you have impeccable taste in friends and trust their opinion, if they love you so much, why can’t you love yourself?
I won’t lie to you, you’re going to go through some shit. Some really bad shit. But you crawl out of the rubble every time. You’re a survivor and you’re stronger than you think. I’m here to tell you that you get stronger than you can ever imagine. You start taking Krav Maga and push yourself and where you used to pray for spaghetti-like arms, you will enjoy the muscles that you develop. Try not to pass out when I tell you that you will become 20 pounds heavier than you are right now. Ten of that is probably fat, you’re a woman and it’s natural [you also have a crippling apple pie addiction], but ten of that is probably muscle. It suits you. And beyond all comprehension, with that scary 20 extra pounds, you will love your body more than you ever had. Because it’s yours, you’ve put the work in and you feel the strength in you. It’s the combination of your inner strength and developing your outer strength. That +20 on the scale? It’s just a number. It means nothing, it is not you. You are strong and smart and funny and capable and you deliver a mean roundhouse kick. You will eventually stand up for yourself, not take crap from anyone and give back to the world around you. What is not beautiful about that? What is not beautiful about you? A number on scale? A dress size? 
In short, just stop worrying about it, you’ve got far bigger fish to fry on this planet in whatever time we wind up getting here. You’re beautiful because you’re you. You may not be thin, but you are strong and that will carry a lot more importance to you as you get older, so try to relax. The world doesn’t end when you hit 120 pounds, or when you hit 130. And you’re actually really looking forward to turning 30, especially since you wasted so much time not enjoying or loving yourself through your teens and 20’s. So stop crying about it, eat a damn sandwich and be with the people you love. Make the world as beautiful as you are.
Oh, and don’t date a guy nicknamed Sleazy. It’s not ironic.
Catch you on the flipside,
29 year-old Carrie