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January 2012

122. Those Who Need It The Most Do It The Least

When we are little buggers and first learning to tie our shoe laces before we romp off to kindergarten it was just an impossible experience.  In between the dropped laces, clumsy fingers, impossibly convoluted and un-fixable knots, mom and dad telling us to do it again and again, the tears and frustrations, we finally reach a point where we just "give up" and relax and then almost magically, we can finally do it.  But it took practice and patience and finally, belief in the parental-units who are teaching us, along with faith in the instructions.  Martial arts are largely the same; and then some.

Over the last 12 years that I've run my own dojo, and the many years prior to that when I ran the mat for my prime Sensei, I have observed many types of students join class for lessons; many of whom were in law enforcement (including those working for federal acronyms) or  scarier yet, subject to violence of various sorts in their jobs and their daily existence.

These are the ones who need rational martial arts training the most, but in all too many cases, take advantage of the training the least.

Consider .......... a reserve police officer in Texas attends the reserve officers academy for training, during which they recieve a grand total of 6 to 10 hours of training in hand-to-hand.  That's six (6) to ten (10) hours on watch and not semester hours like in college.

One of my ex-training partners in Aikido and Jodo who retired from both his career in corporate security (as an ex-FBI agent under J. Herbert Hoover) and his martial arts training (he was older than I and with his wife finally retired to his dream home in the hill country) told a similar story about his time at the academy at Quantico.

Another ex-training partner in Aikido (sometimes I think I've been on the mat too long as I keep outlasting my training partners) was with one of those Federal acronyms better known as the DEA and was quite active in undercover work.

All told the same story and had basically the same response to the question; "So, just HOW many hours of training did you have in hand-to-hand while at the academy?"

The answer in all cases was pretty uniform and ranged anywhere from 6 to 20 or so hours (clock hours) of training.  The rest largely focused on procedures, certification as a law officer, first aid, how to draw your sidearm without shooting yourself in the foot, how to wear a coat, tie and sunglasses (J. Edgar was apparently pretty tight-assed about a lot of things), etc. and etc.   .... most of which, while important to professional level performance on the job, had little to do with an officer's self-defense when within the range of the 21 Foot-Tueller Rule or developing any kind of zanshin much less true martial skills.

Most of this (training emphasis) had little to do with reality and everything to do with who was training director at the time or what some white-shoe (attorney) had to say about avoiding lawsuits while getting the officer killed in the line of duty; death benefits in the long run being cheaper than the cost of a major law suit (the cynic's view of bureaucracy and the mindless bureaucrat).

This mind-set over time rubs off on the agent/officer who unfortunately begins to always fall back on the visuals/ego-factors of the position which provide "imagined" security and protection; the badge, the uniform, the side-arm, the dark sunglasses and the ear-bug and the security clearance.  All ego-boosters but providing protection from absolutely no-one other than already law-abiding citizens who don't pose a threat anyway.

Recently one of the deshi sent me a link to an article from a law enforcement site dealing with a new threat to law-enforcement ... the karambit; a small knife that can be rigged to automatically open when withdrawn from a hip pocket.  The method of attack is to be within essentally one to two arm's length and when asked for ID to hook a finger in the loop at the end of the knife and then to pull it out of the pocket and slash horizontally across the officer's face and throat.

After discussing it with the deshi and then reviewing the web site I thought to myself, "My God ... how easy is that" assuming of course that the officer is properly trained with internalized responses to begin with.

Seems that police training consists of a couple of hours of training in which one officer faces another, the trainer blows his whistle and then they have at it.  A couple of hours ... wow .... one can really develop some true martial skills here. 

People who work law enforcement or who work for an acronym need to spend a lot more time on the mat than a civilian since they are much more likely to be in harms' way on a daily basis and never know when their skills may be called into play.

So do they? ......... do they actually spend enough time on the mat?  Nope.  Not by a long shot.  If I were an acronym or a police officer I'd live at the dojo if Sensei let me and I would consistently train on a daily basis in everything offered: Aikido, grappling, jodo, kenjutsu, everything.

Karambit and the new, improved, felonious method of use .......  When asked for his ID he reaches  back with his right hand (even tho' 95% of the world is right handed and carries their wallet in their left hip pocket and not the right) so the officer misses this first clue.  His ID is on the wrong side but is on the correct side/weapon side for a right hander to draw it.  He can't strike unless he closes to no more than one arms' length so the officer misses the first index point (the distance).  His attack will either have to rise vertically from the hip to the face or come in horizontally with a slight upward diagonal so the officer misses the first and most important moment of self-defense; domination of the center-line and the most effective first-choice strike target ... the faces, eyes and throat of the knife-attacker.

For a seasoned martial artist this one is almost too easy with the only caveat here being that the trained martial artist cum defender has to be willing to seriously hurt the attacker since all the right responses have already been internalized.  The goal here is to stop the knife as it is being deployed.  After full deployment, the game  (and strategies/waza) changes so the first opportunity for the defender to strike is the most critical.

Officer Acronym on the other hand, with little to no training and totally insufficient practice time for full internalization has no chance to survive.  His academy's preference for use of badge, gun, taser, asp overrides all else and now the Tueller Rule results in Officer Acronym's injury or demise.  He reaches for a side-arm .. and is cut ... he reaches for the side arm but realizes that it's too late ... and is cut .. he panics and tries to close and grapple ... and is cut.

The other part of the problem is that sometimes Officer Acronym tries too hard.  Instead of picking one martial art to do focused training in he picks two, or three  ... always looking for that magic bullet.  Problem is, if Officer Acronym is training in two different art forms under two different Sensei then he potentially now has two different reflexes to the attack and goes into vapor lock.  It's almost better to have one and only one effective second rate reflex to the attack instead.  It may be the second best on the market, so-to-speak, but at least it is fully internalized, automatic and fully ingrained; as opposed to having two competing responses in their head.

Moral to the story (blog); pick the best art form you can find and spend as much time on the mat as possible and fully internalize your responses in order to stop the attack before it is fully deployed.  Do one martial art (and maybe complementary weapons form  ... Aikido and Jodo for example) and get good at it .... really good.

While one may legitimately argue that a civilian doesn't need hair-trigger responses to dangerous situations (assuming they try to avoid problems to start with) someone in law enforcement or who is a federal acronym cannot make that argument at all given their daily second-to-second exposure to the underbelly of society.

I could write for days on this topic.  Years on the mat, years teaching this material, experience in working with my old Sensei who at one time was head instructor to the local SWAT Team, experience in working with law enforcement, having on two separate occasions put together training programs for the DEA and for the Department of Diplomatic Protective Services (working in conjunction with Certified Police Instructors who actually started in Aikido before going into law enforcement), having experienced first hand the preference of immediate subconscious reflexive responses to sudden, unanticipated attacks out of no-where ............. have only strengthened my first response to anyone who has a problem in self-defense situations (esp. law and government) ........ stop lolly-gagging around, get on the mat, increase your training time, increase your mat hours, ask Sensei, ask other senior players, build reflexes, stop using the uniform, badge & gun as your first response, quit making excuses about having duty assignments (do the assignment & get back on the mat).

Train  ... or not ....

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei, Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

January 2012


121. But Mommy, It's My Turn To Win!

To continue my New Year's thematic ........ the truth is truly extreme.

How many times have you heard the phrase, "As a martial artist you must learn to transcend victory and defeat"?

Wow.  If I heard that once from Sensei I heard it a thousand times ... maybe 10,000.  Problem is .... it's largely a lie ... or a falsehood ... or too optimistic and unrealistic  ..... depending on how critical you feel like being today.  It just sounds all "zen-ny" and "new-agey" and "aikido-esque"; sorta like saying, "When you can snatch the church key from my hand you are ready for happy hour."  ...... 

Church-key-can-and-bottle-openerHumans didn't survive the last million years or so of evolution as we shed our hair, lost our tails and climbed down out of the trees and started walking upright and learned how to talk and use tools by not being competitive survivors.  We survived because bottom line; we are highly competitive creatures who got here by competing with nature, with animals, with the weather and with each other.  It's only the fact that we developed abstract and critical thought processes that we haven't killed off the planet or made ourselves extinct ..... yet.

Not competitive you say?  Bwahaha .. don't make me laugh and call you  a liar to your face.

Standing in line at a great restaurant that won't take reservations, waited for 2 hours and the next person called for a table ahead of you got there AFTER you did.  Roll-over or immediately ask the host WTF?

Studying hard in school, took the tests, scored the same perfect 100%, straight A+ scores as one other person but told THEY are going to be the Valedictorian and you're not?  WHAT?

Working that dream job for the big corporation that has one slot open for promotion and a 20% raise in pay.  You have seniority and you've been doing that job anyway for the last 90 days as a stand-in until management decided who to promote ..... and the guy who sits in the cube next to you with half your experience and half your time on the job gets the nood.  And you're happy about that?

How many examples do you want of just how competitive all of us really are?

You want to win just like I do.  The problem is that an overly strong desire to win is largely out of place on the mat when training, especially when doing randori of any kind.  It leads to inappropriate behavior, injuries, hurt feelings, belligerent attitudes and anger.  So this is where Sensei says, "You must learn to transcend victory and defeat"  ...... (must be said in deep booming voice with echos in background like a mystic living in a cave)  ...... you know ...... one bowl, one robe, one koan ..... oh and throw in some mist slithering along the ground like in an old B&W werewolf movie.

So what do we do about our competitiveness?  Well, my solution was one I could never voice to my Sensei as I don't think he'd really understand nor appreciate.  I want to win all the time but ... I equally want to lose all the time.

If I want to win then I'll do my best.  If I want to lose all the time the it's likely that I'll not do my best or, will hold back so that Sensei is not critical.  So the rub here is that if I have the wrong view of "transcending" then if I win I may start feeling guilty about being better at randori/kata so I'll hold back and do badly so that everyone likes me and I follow Sensei' directions.  Now I'll never do my best and never improve.  Judo gets past this with no competition in class but with shiai at tournaments.  Aikido, being a non-competitive martial art (tanto shiai be damned) has no such outlet so randori in class can become an issue.

In Aikido randori (the toshu, tanto kind with no tournament or competitive aspect of that kind involved) I strive for a balance.  I want to win as much as I want to lose.  I want to lose as much as I want to win. 

If I can keep it at 50-50 then both benefit me.  I have the satisfaction in randori of "winning" (more properly translated as "doing the best I can even if the other guy is less able than I am and can neer catch me.")  But if I lose then I have a very positive attitude about that because I can take that experience and improve myself.  It becomes a "win-win" even when I lose and my training partner who just took kote-0gaeshi on me 37 times in a row is teaching me and showing me where my weaknesses are so that my subconscious mind can begin to make those little corrections in my footwork and timing and posture that will, in the long run, make me a much better Aikido player.  If this is the case and my attitude, then how can "losing" to him be a bad or a negative thing?

So now "winning" or dominating the other person in randori teaches me how to be technically best and most effective against a lesser "opponent/uke/player" ...... while losing to that other person shows me my weaknesses so that I can correct and improve upon them.  Both "winning" and "losing" then become positives and I can positively direct and focus my competitive side while not feeling badly or fretting over my "I lost" side.

It is certainly true that in a dojo there will always be those naturals who have spent the time to become better and that in a heads-up randori scenario they will most always come out on top.  However, as long as everyone acknowledges that "winning" is not that "bad thing" that we're told it is and as long as the better players always take the time to assist and teach the lesser players how to improve and grow and become that "better" player, then a positive atmosphere is developed and maintained in which "winning" in randori is not a negative and "losing" in randori is simply nothing more than a challenge to oneself to work to learn to do better and is always, always a positive learning experience for all involved.

Randori is a critical part of training and of learning.  "Winning' therefore is not something to be avoided and "losing" also is not something to be dreaded.  The two are nothing more than two sides of the same coin and each should be valued for its appropriate place in the Aikido paradigm.  One cannot exist without the other and both can, and should be, made positive learning tools for the true Bushi/Aikido player.


L.F. Wilkinson Sensei, Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

January 2012