A martial-arts trilemma

So, nine days ago the Mixed Martial Arts program my wife and I had been training in was canceled, and we’ve been shopping for a new school in our area. We’re serious students, twenty years deep in empty-hand and weapons, so the general run of strip-mall karate and TKD joints just isn’t going to do it for us. We require a school with high-quality instruction that can teach us stuff we haven’t seen before.

Fortunately, the area where we live (Chester County in southeastern Pennsylvania) an affluent section of the Boswash metroplex and thus probably nearly as good as it gets in the U.S. for choice. Internet searches turned up two strong possibilities, in addition to the third which is to stick with our current dojo and switch to Tang Soo Do.

We’ve now been to do evaluation classes at both. This is an after-action report likely to be of interest to martial artists of any description, and I’m hoping that the process of writing will help me clarify my thoughts about an interesting trilemma.

A bit of digging with Google actually turned up three possibilities that looked interesting. One place called “Mr. Stuart’s Martial Arts” in West Chester, about 15 munutes from here, teaching MMA and boxing and a system called Haganah F.I.G.H.T that appears to be a variant or close relative of Krav Maga. Another: a local branch of “Steve DeMasco’s Shaolin Studios” 15 minutes in the opposite direction. A third was a location in West Pikeland, about 20 minutes away, teaching Systema.

Alas, the Systema teacher is probably out as a place for steady training. Small school, one class a week on Tuesday nights, conflicts with Cathy’s twice-monthly Borough Council meetings. We’re going to go audit one class, though, in case he schedules more time slots. Haven’t been there yet.

We went to Mr. Stuart’s first to check out Haganah F.I.G.H.T. The place is a converted garage in the poorest end of West Chester – actually, the bit just north of it is a rougher neighborhood than I knew the town even had before I went there. (West Chester is both the county seat and a college town, prosperous and tidy and middle-class – full of red-brick Federal architecture and shade trees.) Inside the place has something of the atmosphere of an old-time boxing gym, including a regulation sized platform ring and a lot of hard-used punching bags.

The students are an interesting mix. A large contingent of college kids and twentysomething white-collar workers (good number of these female), a slightly smaller contingent of shaven-headed would-be hard guys with a lot of ‘tude who aren’t nearly as intimidating as they’d probably like to think they are, and a smallish group with no ‘tude at all who you can spot as the serious martial artists by the way they move and their complete disinterest in looking obviously badass.

Mr. Stuart himself turned out to look like one of the tattooed would-be hard guys, but in his case I don’t think that’s writing any check he can’t cash. Likes to loudly simulate being an asshole, but there’s a twinkle in his eye and all his students are in on the joke. Cathy and I both liked him instantly; I suspect he has that effect on a lot of people.

The training was interesting. Certainly matched the descriptions I’ve read of Krav Maga; close fighting with a lot of brutal soft-tissue strikes (crotch kicks, fingernail rakes, ear smashes, eye gouges). No kicks above waist level (good news for me; with my palsy issues I suck at high-kicking). The style rewards aggression and upper-body power, making it a good match for me both physically and psychologically.

Whether by chance or design, I ended up paired for combat drills with three assistant instructors and a woman who’s obviously a long-term student. All four were impressively capable – smooth moves, excellent physical control, excellent awareness and analytical eye (all four quickly made me as someone who’d been around the track a few times). The three I had opportunity to make the request of cheerfully honored my wish to spar to light contact, and showed no hesitation at all about taking light strikes from me (even the woman mixed it up with me at breath-on-the-cheek range and seemed to enjoy same). An excellent time was had by all.

Cathy and I left feeling like we’d be respected and welcomed by the core group there. Reasonably so, as they probably don’t get walk-ins with our experience level very often; still, it was a nice feeling. And it says a lot about Mr. Stuart, all of it good, that his assistant instructors are so capable.

Nor did I mind having Mr. Stuart publicly tease me about my Asian stances and guard reflexes (“You’ve been studying way too much martial arts – that shit’ll get you killed.”). I got the point; for various functional reasons, fighters in this style guard more like Western boxers, and don’t want to do anything that telegraphs them as martial artists until they actually have to go in and take out an opponent. I actually think a boxing-style close guard is a gloves-induced adaptation that’s a mistake when fighting bare-knuckled, but my first class in a new style isn’t the right time to have that argument with anybody.

Overall, I like the style. It suits me, I think I suit it. I think I’d pick it up quickly and effectively, and it may well be the most brutally practical art I’ve ever seen. The only detail I can complain about is that the place has no changing rooms, which will complicate our logistics a bit if we continue there.

Our second visit was to the Shaolin studio, on Route 30 in Berwyn, which means too upscale to have strip malls; the building looked like a converted dance studio.

It appears they teach very traditional five-animal-style kung fu – again, nothing surprising to me; I’ve seen a lot of the moves before though not done them. Dan Simmons the instructor made a point of telling us he doesn’t teach in the traditional hard-ass style, though, and it was pretty obvious why; the students are mostly suburban upper-middle-class kids who’d be yanked by their parents in a heartbeat if anybody went all old-school on them. Less…gritty…than the crowd at Mr. Stuart’s; I couldn’t imagine any of the would-be hard boys from West Chester walking in here, or even wanting to. Perhaps the most serious knock on the place is that they don’t spar to contact in regular classes – you have to go to the Saturday sparring class for that.

Still, these people weren’t just dancing. Shaolin is a beautiful art that is obviously lethal in the hands of a skilled practitioner – more obviously than, say, wing chun (which I’ve trained in before). You could see some of that deadly elegance starting to manifest in the more advanced students.

I learned a new move, the “crane strike” – same body dynamics as a tae kwon do ridge hand, but hitting with the forearm bone. I also noticed that the moves I found most natural were tiger form – palm hand and rake, especially. I’m pretty sure that’s going to turn out to be “my” animal if I work this style.

The drills include a fair amount of kicking (often well above the waist) which is unfortunate for me. And I’m dubious about the style being as practical as Krav Maga. The instructor asserts confidently that it is, but such claims always need to be taken with several grains of salt. Still…what fun it would be!

I mean, if what you want to do is your classic impressive-as-hell chop-sockey moves with nifty exotic names, Shaolin has got your satisfaction right here. Pure crack for anybody who digs on wuxia movies and has been harboring a sneaking desire to be Kwai-Chang Caine since, like, 1972. Which category, I blushingly admit, includes me.

Not as much depth on the instructor bench as Mr. Stuart’s, which is a consideration (this is a smaller and younger school). Also, there’s a changing room, but just one, and it’s barely bigger than a phone booth. Which creates certain problems at beginning and end of class, though the students are cheerful about it. I’m beginning to think maybe I’ve been unaware of a certain degree of luxury at my previous schools.

Our third alternative is to stay where we are at Iron Circle, a convenient seven minutes from home (with changing rooms!) and do Tang Soo Do. We know and trust Master George Maybroda (the chief of school there) and the other instructors; we’ve seen enough of those classes to know what we’d be getting.

And that’s the problem, really. Cathy and I earned tae kwon do black belts at a school that was pretty good – enough so that the two times I went to Korea and sought out martial-arts demonstrations I didn’t see many people at all who were trained up to our standard. And tang soo do is not very different – a bit softer and more circular, maybe, emphasizing speed a bit more and power a bit less.

We could do Tang Soo Do. I asked, and the chief instructor (who knows us quite well and likes us) agrees that starting us at white belts would bore the crap out of us and waste everybody’s time. Likely we’d test in at some mid-belt level and then, alas, I fear we’d squeeze the available juice out of the style in eighteen months to two years. I’d like to be wrong about this, but the structure and the people to take us much past first dan just don’t seem to be in place here.

Thus our trilemma. Each of the choices available to us maximizes something; what we need to do is decide what we want. If it’s just to maintain the skills we already have and stay fit in a setting that is maximally convenient, Iron Circle. For practical combat training, Mr. Stuart’s probably has the edge. For nifty exotic variations and mad-fun wuxia badassery, neither of the other places could touch the Shaolin studio.

I’m a bit amused with myself, really. My head says “Go do Haganah F.I.G.H.T.”, because my personal threat model still includes a way-outside chance of Iranian assassins, and being able to take out a crazed jihadi hand-to-hand is more or less exactly what that style was designed for. My heart says “Fool, that’s why you carry a gun. Go act out your wuxia fantasies at that Shaolin place. You know you want to.” Then some other random organ whispers that Iron Circle is so conveeenient…

Cathy’s having trouble with this too. She’s less drawn by the Shaolin studio than I (though obviously willing to do it if I really want to) and perhaps a bit more swayed by the advantages of not having to change schools and drive further. But she liked Mr. Stuart’s, a lot, too.

How to choose? This will take some meditation.

112 thoughts on “A martial-arts trilemma

  1. so ESR : no Hapkido then? I know you already know this : it’s most effective kicks are below the waist – the core is locks, throws, pressure points. It’s not trying to be fancy : just effective.

    Are there no schools near you ?

  2. >Are there no [Hapkido] schools near you ?

    Apparently not. I looked in several Hapkido directories and found no schools dedicated to Hapkido with a 610 area code.

    There are a couple of local schools that mention Hapkido in their promotional material – one such is a very good school I trained at in the 1990s called the Dragon Gym. But it’s typical in that it doesn’t teach Hapkido per se; what you get is a soupcon of Hapkido over a TKD base.

  3. If you’re serious about having a threat model that includes targeted assassins, then the right move would be to apply that brain-power to earning a few million dollars and then pay for the levels of physical security and bodyguarding that would be appropriate to that threat. Your choice of martial-arts styles should not be affected by that sort of threat.

    I’d make the choice on the basis of “which one would you be regretting most not having tried in five years time if you didn’t try it” – and that sounds like the Shaolin to me, but your call.

  4. @Richard
    > If you’re serious about having a threat model that includes targeted assassins, then the right
    > move would be to apply that brain-power to earning a few million dollars and then pay for the
    > levels of physical security and bodyguarding that would be appropriate to that threat. Your
    > choice of martial-arts styles should not be affected by that sort of threat.

    *Sigh*
    I won’t speak for Eric, but I want to head-desk every time someone talks like this. It smacks of having seen too many movies and not enough time actually getting shot at or the @#$% kicked out of you.

    Even if money were a non-issue, who would want to live like that? What if Eric wants to go somewhere and relax without a motorcade? What if he wants to know that his safety isn’t 100% dependent on someone else? If I had a very different threat model than Eric does in very specific ways, I might consider the phalanx of armed guards (if only for my son’s sake), but in Eric’s situation I would not give up my freedom to the threat of an attack from — wait for it — people who are pissed off at how some choose to use their freedom. I can’t say for certain that Eric feels as I do, but I highly suspect he does.

    What makes you assume that a few random armed guards are necessarily better for this particular threat model than a well-trained sheepdog defending himself and his family? Eric’s threat model is basically a very low risk of assault by a highly fit (and probably more mobile/agile than him) but medium-skill targeted attacker, or an area effect weapon. The area effect weapon would easily render bodyguards moot, and as long as Eric maintains the level of awareness and martial proficiency (both with hand-to-hand arts and firearms) he’s probably a match for a more personal attack. Meanwhile, having spent time with Eric, I can only imagine how bored and inattentive even the best bodyguards would become hanging out at his house while he hacks, watching him play board games with friends, and occasionally taking him out for a bite to eat. (Though watching me try to make them blush at nerdcons might be fun.)

    An assassin is just somebody sent to kill somebody else by a third party. A bodyguard is just someone fit and trained to try to look after somebody else. Like people in general, they both vary in effectiveness. A knee-jerk “OMG, assassins! Call the professionals!” reaction is an overreaction, and of course assumes that Eric has a big pile of money to burn paying bodyguards to follow him around. As I did when the threat was originally made, I believe that Eric’s assessment is quite reasonable: the situation calls for increased attentiveness and continued dedication to his existing martial path, but nothing more drastic than that.

    As for it having an effect on his choice of martial arts style, what kind of silly person *wouldn’t* take personal safety into account in such a decision, guards or no guards? I’m an exceedingly uninteresting target, and *I* think about self-defense first when choosing my training opportunities. If I’m going to do the work of training, I want to get something from it, and useful self-defense skills are a big carrot.

  5. Perhaps it is time to transition to one of the internal martial arts. Although the martial capabilities take years to emerge, the healing aspects start within the first year.

  6. @ ESR
    No doubt, as you say, 5-animal Shao Lin kung “is a beautiful art that is obviously lethal in the hands of a skilled practitioner”. It would probably be a wonderful physical and spiritual experience. But to me, it sounds like… If your goal is becoming better at defending you and yours, you would do better at Mr. Stuart’s… from your description, it just sounds more like what you are looking for – defence.

    I don’t really know, but I have had the impression since watching Kwai-Chang Caine that your traditional “5-animal Shao Lin kung” was designed by and for monks that spent many years, perhaps most of their life at the temple. The kung fu was designed to be learned slowly.

    I think Mr. Stuart’s place would probably focus on making you a better fighter faster because that is what the place is all about.

    I seem to be getting sort of redundant, here, so I will leave it at that.

  7. “The sparkle in his eye”? The paragraphs describing his school and your experience there seemed to be much more passionate than the rest of your post – just an observation.

  8. Eric,

    David from Iron Circle here — I ran across your blog and, weirdly enough, was the first time I realized that MMA classes were cancelled at Iron Circle. I’d be happy to discuss with you directly if you like, but, I’ll offer a few thoughts here, in a non-linear, meandering sort of fashion.

    First, to a fellow respondent – “Iron Circle” is a little rough as a name, but it’s been around a long time and the name enabled the school to successfully change hands a couple of times over the years. That’s much tougher if you’re called [Somebody's] [Style] [Studio/Gym/Academy].

    As far as the MMA program went, I think it’s probably best for everyone that it is finished, at least in that incarnation. I’ve trained and taught MMA before and I prefer to teach it much differently. That said, I wasn’t the teacher and when I’m the student I try to submit to the style of the instructor. I have always thought that gave me the best opportunity to learn something. I already know what I know – let the teacher tell me what they know and I’ll see if I can incorporate both things into the same internal “system” I’ve developed. I consider a teacher to be very good when they give me new knowledge that makes sense to me. I consider a teacher to be incredibly good when they make me modify something I thought I knew before. Without knocking the teachers, I would doubt the MMA program was adding much to your body of knowledge toward the end.

    You seem drawn to Mr. Stuarts. I haven’t been there, but did train for a couple of years in Krav Maga. This sounds very similar from your description (though I tend to questions martial arts that seen to throw their progenitor art “under the bus”) and is grounded in extreme practicality. It would fall into the class of what folks would call Practical Self Defense, or Real World Martial Arts or various other terms that mean to separate the beautiful and theoretical from the brutally, swiftly violent and effective. Knowing you a bit, I would agree with your assessment that this style would suit you very well. I would suggest, though, if this is anything like KM, that the collection of techniques is interesting, but secondary to the true self-defensive mindset that you are supposed to get from practice. It is a mindset with very little sporting application – one that doesn’t acknowledge points or taps, but insists on destruction of your enemy or at least the total annihilation of their ability to injure you or yours in the fastest, most efficient way possible. How is this not cool? This is reinforced by practical training — full force application on pads held by a moving human and realistic self-defense and combat simulation.

    As a long time martial artist myself, I have to admit, I really appreciate both the art and body control learned from traditional arts and the brutal application of force to solve a problem most typically learned from modern, reality-based arts. I don’t mean to offend traditionalists with the term “reality-based”, but I know that some of the one-steps I practiced with diligence while moving up the TKD ladder were wildly impractical. How many defenses to a punch did you learn that don’t match the effectiveness of a fully committed overhand right to the face? I learned many.

    All that said, I think that almost all martial arts can be extremely effective in “real life”. A key difference, though, would be how long it takes to get from zero to sixty in each one. A few weeks of boxing or wrestling makes you a much tougher opponent than a few weeks of most other things. How long would you need to study Aikido before you felt confident in using it as your self defense system against a truly aggressive attacker? If you had studied it for many years, I think it is amazing.

    I wish I had more knowlege of Kung Fu as I also wanted to be Kwai-Chang Caine and walk the length of some rice paper, leaving no trace. I’ve sparred with friends who studied and were surprised sometimes by how well they moved. I found no superiority to TKD, but do love to see KF forms performed well. I refer you, though, to a weird martial arts documentary called “Fighting Black Kings”, which, back in the 70′s covered a sort of kumite hosted in Japan. Four Americans were featured in the film and were impressive. However, the Japanese did very well and the Karate v. Kung Fu fight didn’t go well at all for the Chinese practitioner. (Karate is more properly Okinawan, but that’s what they were doing, so…..) Of course, Kung Fu has so many variants that it would be impossible to generically classify them. In my mind’s eye, I can see you doing some Tiger strikes and it seems very natural and practical for you.

    Did you know that Mr. Maybroda is also a hapkidoka? hapkidoist? I went to a seminar with him and enjoyed an introduction to some of the basic movements. It shared some wrist locks with aikido or jujitsu but seemed more direct somehow. I only mention it in case you would like to ask him more about it as you are considering your options. At Iron Circle, he sprinkles a bit over the TSD but my understanding is that he has studied for some time and could perhaps teach more.

    I didn’t notice in your previous writing an mention of Filipino martial arts, Arnis, Kali, Silat, etc. They can be brutal, are hand and arm based and include weapons. Your upper body strength and coordination could mesh incredibly well with these arts. When I say weapons, of course, I mean simple one — knives and sticks. I know you are already a trained knife-fighter, but this could be a different knife style you might enjoy. For some reason, I see a lot of Filipino martial arts instruction paired with Jeet Kune Do. I think it is because much of the handwork – strong side lead, trapping, rolling, etc – is consistent. This used to make me roll my eyes a bit. I thought JKD guys were a little silly and mostly just in love with Bruce Lee. I had big issues with a movie-star martial patriarch. I did a little training, though, with a highly skilled JKD guy that was also “cross-trained” in Sambo, BJJ and a few other things that totally changed my mind on that. JKD’s Wing Chun-based striking is fast, effective and just fascinating. I don’t naturally think about leading with my strong side, but I’m open to it now and hope to do more someday.

    For now, though, I’m sticking with BJJ. While I think it is very effective in the right circumstances (mostly against a single, unarmed opponent), I don’t pretend it is a thoroughly practical self-defense system. However, it is, for me, totally engaging both mentally and physically as I struggle to improve myself and find my own style/expression of this art. I wish there was a way for you to enjoy it as much as I do. However, I recognize that the limitations from your palsy give you challenges in movement that I can’t really understand. BJJ recruits the ground/floor/earth/parking lot as a steadfast ally in fighting folks that really wish they were standing up. However, it requires certain movements to really be effective and I haven’t been able to find analogs of those that work for your situation. I regret that I could not.

    Best of luck with your trilemma and don’t be a stranger!

  9. A bit more about Wing Chun…

    I hope this isn’t annoying ESR because it isn’t aimed at ESR, mostly because I believe he said in the previous blog (post?) that he wants something other than more “boxing”. But it contrasts with what has been said, so…”And now for something completely different…”

    As ESR says in this blog/post,

    Shaolin is a beautiful art that is obviously lethal in the hands of a skilled practitioner – more obviously than, say, wing chun (which I’ve trained in before).”

    As opposed to spending many years in the temple, Wing Chun was designed to be learned fast. I find a deep beauty in it, but it is subtle – it doesn’t look like much compared to 5-animal.

    From ESR’s last comment (when I wrote this) in the previous blog/post…

    you don’t scream then leap, you do both together. Part of the point is to rattle him so freezes for that crucial 250 milliseconds or so.

    No one ever said this to me, but I believe that that is what Wing Chun is all about. You keep doing things to your opponent, not necessarily lethal or fight-ending, but that cause a brief interrupt in his brain so you can do the next thing. At the lower to lower-senior levels, at least, most techniques end with doing a chain of punches to the guy’s head. At some point, you have either worked your self into a position where you can have your way with the guy (and his joints) or you have hit him in the head enough times that he needs a full-reboot – then you either finish him off and/or “Run Away, Run Away” – (this is the first time that I have seen the Monte Python aspects to wing chun).

    It is also worth noting that we were taught that there is “traditional wing chun” – what we did – where you step (sideways or sideways-and-in) and there is “Modified wing chun” where they pivot instead of stepping. Pivoting is faster, but stepping gets you one or more of:
    - getting you out of the line of fire
    - getting where you can come in at an unexpected angle
    - kill a tiny bit of time to come in a tiny bit later than expected

    All of these are an advantage if you are dealing with a fighter that is fundamentally better than you are (as long as he isn’t really familiar with what wing chun practioners do).

  10. Long time lurker here.

    After following your last post about this and now reading your follow up, it seems to me Mr. Stuart’s would be the better option for you. I’ve done some martial arts training some years ago, but my assessment is based on what you wrote in this most recent post.

    From what you describe, Mr. Stuart’s school combines depth in instructors, bigger learning potential (i.e. seems like you have more to learn there), as well as a more real-life training curriculum (formal or not) than the other two schools. It would seem you’d be challenged there for a longer period of time than at the other two schools.

    This isn’t to say that the other schools aren’t good. However, I am one of those people who look at changes like this with learning potential being a major factor.

  11. In regards to an armed phalanx: the most important thing serious security forces do is preparation. Checking ahead of time for threats, monitoring potential attackers and so forth. The guys walking beside Obama are the very last wall in a many walled strategy.

    If I were an foreign assassin trying to kill someone, I wouldn’t be walking up to them to smack them in the mouth or shoot them with a pistol. I’d wait across he street in the morning with a rifle and scope 100 yards away, and shoot my target when he/she was getting into his car. Can you say Lee Harvey Oswald? It takes a gigantic infrastructure to prevent that.

  12. One axiom I find helpful with these kinds of things is “When a decision is very hard, there is a good chance that’s because all options are satisfactory, in which case the good news is that whatever you do, things will probably turn out ok.”

    Anyhow, you’re completely correct in that the first step is to figure out what you want out of your training. Personally, I don’t think that optimising martial arts training for personal safety makes much sense at all. Especially for someone who already invests the time and treasure into firearms. The other problem with a place like Mr. Stuarts is that you probably run a fairly high risk of injury there. In addition to the fact that it’s a very hard style, I don’t trust would-be hard guys to take care of me during practice. Old farts like us don’t heal so well, and I really hate missing weeks of training because of a busted rib or what have you.

    If you’ll allow a bit of Aikido snobbery, the one thing missing from most Kung Fu is real practice at falling down. I think that learning to fall down safely is the most practical physical skill anyone will learn in martial arts, and if your practice doesn’t include getting thrown to the ground then you’re missing out.

    Are you sure BJJ isn’t for you? You talk about how your body isn’t suited for it, but I would say that’s really your instructor’s problem, not yours. If this guy can do BJJ, why can’t you?

  13. >I can’t say for certain that Eric feels as I do, but I highly suspect he does.

    You called it pretty well. The bit about not being 100% dependent on others for my safety is particularly resonant for me.

  14. >[Shaolin] was designed to be learned slowly.

    Which is why I asked the senior student assisting, who looked pretty proficient, how long he’d been training. He answered “four years”. He couldn’t have been more than 20 – having trained in empty-hand longer than he’s been alive, I’m pretty sure I’d have a faster takeoff.

  15. Yes, I’ve noticed that when the Israelis want someone dead, they never seem to use Krav Maga. A passing biker simply leaves a little gift stuck to your car.

  16. >David from Iron Circle here

    Dave Wingate or Big Dave? Either way, you’re one of the people I’d miss.

    >All that said, I think that almost all martial arts can be extremely effective in “real life”. A key difference, though, would be how long it takes to get from zero to sixty in each one.

    Agreed. Shaolin, aikido, and BJJ are slow-takeoff arts; Haganah and wing chun are both fast-takeoff ones. I’m less concerned about this difference than I would be if I weren’t very experienced in five different styles – I’m not in the newbie situation of having no practical tools until I get good at what I’m now studying.

    >How long would you need to study Aikido before you felt confident in using it as your self defense system against a truly aggressive attacker? If you had studied it for many years, I think it is amazing.

    Agreed, but it’s definitely a slow-takeoff art. I studied it for 4 years and I don’t think that would have been long enough for practical proficiency even if I didn’t have physical issues with it.

    >At Iron Circle, he sprinkles a bit of [Hapkido] over the TSD but my understanding is that he has studied for some time and could perhaps teach more.

    He actually dangled that possibility in front of me last time we talked. I get that he means well and likes us and wants to keep us around, and I appreciate that…but if he couldn’t afford to keep MMA spun up for two students, he’s not going to be able to run hapkido for the same two either.

    >Your upper body strength and coordination could mesh incredibly well with [Filipino] arts.

    One again I agree. I’ve done a little escrima stick-fighting, even taught it to swordsmen once (that was a good experience). Searching…doesn’t look like there are local schools for escrima or penjak silat. Do you know of any?

    >While I think [BJJ] is very effective in the right circumstances (mostly against a single, unarmed opponent), I don’t pretend it is a thoroughly practical self-defense system.

    Alas, I’ve reached the same conclusion. Great stuff one on one, but going to ground for submission seriously over-commits you if the attacker might have backup. For practical defense, I like the Haganah/Krav-Maga doctrine of disable fast and disengage better.

    >However, it requires certain movements to really be effective and I haven’t been able to find analogs of those that work for your situation. I regret that I could not.

    Master Maybroda also recommended against trying to move to the BJJ track and I can’t fault his reasoning – not even being able to do a triangle properly is pretty limiting. You guys tried your best and I honor you for it, but reality is what it is. Oh well – I did learn some useful ground-fighting, and at least if I ever have to choke someone I’ll be able to do that competently.

    >Best of luck with your trilemma and don’t be a stranger!

    You know, I wish I could think of some practical way to not be a stranger other than just staying there. It would make my choices easier.

  17. I’d be falling all over myself to get into Mr Stuart’s class – I’m solidly in the ‘pragmatic’ school of thought….with a private spiritual sense of enjoyment derived from the meditative qualities of certain graceful forms.

    I’ve got >20 years serious martial arts experience, but where I live now is a freakin’ desert. Nothing except bullshit kick-ass-wannabe academies for kids. Bleh.

  18. I’ve actually ordered one of Steve DeMasco’s training DVDs recently, out of curiosity. His school is a good example of one which may be fairly traditional, but *doesn’t* teach the internal arts.

  19. >Are you sure BJJ isn’t for you? You talk about how your body isn’t suited for it, but I would say that’s really your instructor’s problem, not yours. If this guy can do BJJ, why can’t you?

    Range-of-motion issues. I have spastic hemiparalysis; it’s masked normally because I have a lot of practice walking, so all you notice is a limp that gets worse if I’m tired. But there are some important BJJ motions I just can’t do, like the leg pronation required for a triangle lock. And in general the barrier I have to jump to get novel hip and leg motions is higher than anyone with a fully-functioning motor nervous system can easily imagine. There are times when I’m trying to pattern a new move that I just lock up.

  20. Another thought: consider the likely duration of a choice and the implications of that.

    You indicated that the Shaolin studio was a younger, smaller outfit. That may indicate a higher probability of the business closing down in the next few years. You could try to maximize options by going that route, and anticipate another forced change (to Haganah) down the road, or you could go the Haganah route with the understanding you might lose the Shaolin option in a few years. You also seem to value the friendships you make via the martial arts; you may want to optimize for longevity of the dojo to accomodate that.

    ‘Course, you may find that such considerations simply muddy the waters further…. ;)

  21. Lurker here. I’m a bit curious why you haven’t given more consideration to the internal arts, especially given that you seem to be open to the “weirder” side of things in other contexts (cf. “Dancing with the Gods”). Given that you seem to have some experience with energy healing via neopaganism, I would have thought you’d like to progress further along those lines.

  22. >Nothing except bullshit kick-ass-wannabe academies for kids. Bleh.

    A lot of those around here, too, but also enough good schools that I get to treat the bullshit palaces as background noise.

  23. I suppose I should add that I too have CP, and have found Tai Chi to be quite helpful in improving my flexibility and range of motion. YMMV.

  24. And in general the barrier I have to jump to get novel hip and leg motions is higher than anyone with a fully-functioning motor nervous system can easily imagine.

    I can’t imagine it, but I can conceptualize it; then again my motor nervous system isn’t fully functioning. As I’ve mentioned, I’m one of those shadow autists often considered stereotypically representative of the geek population; we have notoriously bad motor function identifiable in early childhood. There isn’t enough I/O bandwidth going from my brain to the rest of me to allow me to drive my husk around as smoothly as most people.

    One of the things I’ve learned about changquan is that it’s a royal bitch on my motor nervous system, even compared to tang soo do (which I studied for five years and came close to making black belt in). The amount of effort it takes for me to move one limb one way and/or keep my center stable and/or move another limb another way is just phenomenal. TSD wasn’t easy for me, but it was manageable; I’m just out of the beginner stage in changquan and am already going “jesus fuck, this is hard”. Even the stances are harder than the TSD versions of those same stances; you are expected to hit them deeper, and maintain core stability while your arms are flying in circles. It’s a good thing that this is one of the major reasons why I started martial arts; otherwise I’d probably have quit.

    From my experience, if training your motor nervous system is still an important goal to you, then the Shaolin option is something to take a good long look at; there’s a good chance it will kick your motor nervous system’s ass.

  25. >Dave Wingate or Big Dave?

    Big Dave, I reckon! I also didn’t find any Filipino places nearby. I have a buddy that is close with someone that is supposed to be very solid. Names escape me, but I’ll check and get back with you.

    Have a great weekend…

  26. >I’m a bit curious why you haven’t given more consideration to the internal arts

    Well, I’d like to. But good training in them is so elusive and well-meaning bumblers so common that I don’t even expect to get a plausible lead from Internet searches – it would have to be a direct recommendation from someone whose judgment I trust, and so far none have been forthcoming.

    I’ve been walking the “weirder side” since 1973, and mastered parlor tricks like making biofeedback machines turn somersaults well before I took up martial arts seriously. Thus I went to several schools early on, even quite good ones otherwise, where I could have taught many of the black belts lessons about internal power. I’m not under any illusion that I know everything about this stuff, but by damn I can use it; it’s one important way I compensate for my physical disabilities.

    Thus, the set of people competent to teach me more than I already know is even smaller than the miniscule set who have something real to offer newbies. Where the hell do I go to find such people? Mountaintops in Tibet?

  27. Where the hell do I go to find such people? Mountaintops in Tibet?

    China…which incidentally also currently includes Tibet so you get to kill a couple birds.

    The funny thing about traditional chinese kung fu is that there are few actual chinese practitioners about. That said I’m about to go visit the US Kuoshu Academy in Baltimore. They are a traditional school that teaches Tien Shan Pai and a bit of Xing Yi Quan along with the internal styles.

    the area where we live (Chester County in southeastern Pennsylvania) an affluent section of the Boswash metroplex and thus probably nearly as good as it gets in the U.S. for choice.

    Nah, west coast > east coast. For one thing it IS closer to Asia.

  28. Here are a few approaches to finding a good internal martial arts teacher.

    Ask the folks who run the external martial arts schools you respect. My observation is that folks within the martial arts community keep an eye on each other, and know which ones are competent.

    Ask your trusted friends if they have had good results from a local Traditional Chinese Medicine physician or acupuncturist. People trained in those specialties might know of a local internal teacher who would be willing to take on serious students.

    My particular enthusiasm is for CMC-style TCC; a list of teachers from that line of t’ai chi ch’uan can be found at longrivertaichi.org/cmclineagelist.htm .

  29. >Nah, west coast > east coast. For one thing it IS closer to Asia.

    Yeah, that’s precisely why I said “nearly”. The best Chinese food is slightly better there, too, though one needs a pretty educated palate to notice the difference.

  30. I have no experience in martial arts but the Mr. Stuart’s thing sounded incredibly fun.
    You folks who are good at this stuff are very lucky and impressive.

  31. Where the hell do I go to find such people? Mountaintops in Tibet?

    I believe it involves walking on twenty-foot stilts through the Gobi Desert…

  32. Bleh…I looked at DeMasco’s main site. Watching their annual trip to their shaolin temple it looks to be one of the usual toursity ones at the Songshan temple although the abbott did show up for the school photo op. Given Abbott Shi Yongxin’s reputation for commercializing the temple that might be available too for a suitable donation.

    And the five animals forms are not the core of shaolin martial arts…but the part of the core of Shaolin Kempo Karate (with it’s own questionable history) which DeMasco is a 10 degree black belt (woot).

    Meh…the whole thing strikes me as commercialized kung fu about as authentic as Kwai-Chang Caine.

  33. >Meh…the whole thing strikes me as commercialized kung fu about as authentic as Kwai-Chang Caine.

    Can’t argue with the “commercialized” part. I’d never heard of this “Steve DeMasco” before, and naming a studio chain after yourself is a bad sign. For that matter, having a studio chain ain’t a real positive indicator to begin with.

    Talking about “authentic” is slipperier. Yes, I already knew the present abbot is a shameless huckster who has not exactly brought honor to his tradition. There was a recent my-life-with-the-martial-arts book by some Canadian guy that included his tale of a visit to the Henan temple – pretty wince-inducing stuff, seems the place has been distorted into something not many steps short of a Shaolin theme park. That being the case, who knows what’s “authentic” anymore? And what would it mean if you thought you did know?

    I’ve had to wrestle with similar questions before; you can’t train in empty-hand for 22 years without being confronted with them. Hell, Wiccan lineages have many of the same issues.

    Here’s what I’ve concluded: the techniques have their own authority. Going through the motions is actually what matters. It hardly signifies, actually, that the Abbot is a huckster and Steve DeMasco is an entrepreneur on the make. What matters is what they’re transmitting – and I’ve developed some confidence in the ability of these tramsmissions to repair themselves, to produce transformation in anyone who approaches them with sufficient determination and humility.

    Something similar goes for Kwai-Chang Caine. David Carradine may have been a second-rate actor in a series rife with Hollywood cliches, but dammit if there isn’t something there that still shines through forty years later. It’s like the essential mental states of the empty-hand arts are more powerful than any amount of junk and wrong-headedness you smother them in; they keep coming through, lighting up, showing the path to any student who is ready to walk it.

    And it’s no trivial thing that Caine (non)existed. I bet if you polled martial artists of my approximate age, you’d find a whole lot of them imprinted on that series, a solid decade or more before martial-arts instruction was generally available in the U.S. Caine…made us want it. He helped make us ready to receive – infected us with an ideal, and a reason to burnish the humbug and the commercial crap off the transmission when it reached us.

    Now it’s a generation later and we are senior students, and instructors, and that fact is important. We have walked the goddamn path, made of ourselves in truth something not utterly unlike what Caine was fictionally. It was going through the motions that mattered. Doing the techniques, entering the discipline, finding the quiet space at the center of it all.

    That’s why I’m not overly bothered by “commercialism” and arguments about authenticity. The Way is timeless.

  34. Off-topic, but apropos the relevance of Eric’s earlier comments about the slow death of art forms due to irrelevance and disconnect to their audience.

    It seems that this has happened to the Japanese woodcut-print form of ukiyo-e several times throughout its history — only to be brought back when its practitioners found something new to appeal to contemporary audiences.

    A pair of Westerners are attempting a modern revival — with traditional Japanese interpretations of Nintendo video game characters. Talk about grabbing the attention of contemporary audiences.

  35. @esr: “Which is why I asked the senior student assisting, who looked pretty proficient, how long he’d been training. He answered ‘four years’. ”

    One of my options is a local Shaolin Kung Fu school about 10 minutes from home, closer than just about any other option. I’m curious as to whether you think that four-year student would be able to handle himself in a real fight, or was he proficient at smoothness and elegance without necessarily being able to handle the real world?

    On the one hand I hadn’t realize just how many martial arts school there are here on the West Coast. On the other, I notice that some arts are definitely harder to find. Wing Chun really intrigues me, but the nearest school is probably 30 minutes away (more in traffic) and there are no realistic options. BJJ seems to be the most common offering, but watching video of it makes me think that it’s pretty far over on the “sport” side of the spectrum.

    Aikido looks like a softer way in to MA, more reminescient of the yoga I’ve been doing for about 18 months. Now that I’m seriously exploring specific options, I’m realizing this “soft” transition is important to me; there’s no point in scaring myself off of MA completely by starting at the local equivalent of Mr. Stuart’s (yes, there is a school very close to home that I’d describe as “Mr. Stuart’s on steriods,” conveniently located, offering Krav Maga, MMA, BJJ, Muay Thai, boxing, and wrestling). Better to ease in with something softer while preserving the option of going harder-core later…or not. The local aikido program is non-profit and has no long-term contracts, just monthly mat fees.

    I’d love to hear Cathy Raymond’s thoughts on how she started in MA and how she felt as a female noob before developing any proficiency.

  36. Here’s another one to consider – The Empty Hand Family Karate Studio – http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Empty-Hand-Family-Karate-Studio – Shotokan style karate.

    I’ve been training there for about 3 years. I have no personal experience to compare to other places, but the youth kata team won the ISKF East Coast tournament in the spring & one of the instructors (also on the youth kata team) won at ISKF nationals last year. I guess they’re doing something right. Classes six days per week, the head instructor has been training for 30+ years. It’s a family run business by a family that, almost literally, eats, breathes and sleeps karate.

    Sparring is no-contact (sort-of… mostly). No weapons. But a good workout and I think excellent instruction. Small, but adequate changing rooms.

    Possible issue with starting at white belt, but the guy who won the senior division in the national tournament last year came in, originally, as a black belt from another discipline, so people can make it work. I’m not big on rank anyway. With your background, I can only imagine that you’d be able to train in the advanced classes, which is what really matters. Come try a class. It would be great to meet you! ;-)

  37. @Sarah
    > You folks who are good at [martial arts] are very lucky and impressive.

    Nope, we are just people who decided to do something and did it. If you would like advice on getting started in martial arts yourself, just ask. Many of us here would be happy to help. You can also find me in ##martial-arts on irc.freenode.net

  38. This has been an interesting couple of discussions. I wasn’t going to chime in, since my knowledge is pretty limited, but since the topic of Philipino styles has come up, well, that makes me think of Wun Hop Kuen Do. I used to know a guy who trained in Kajukenbo, and they certainly did full-contact sparring. From what I recall, Wun Hop Kuen Do schools also emphasize effective fighting. I assume you’re well aware of all this, and have already looked for a Decascos affiliate nearby, if such is of interest.

    FWIW, I trained for a bit at a Shao-Lin school, affiliated with Sin Kwang The, and I found that there was a great deal to like, so it’s hard not to recommend that path. But when I think about getting back into training, my mindset is different from that of years ago, and so Krav Maga has more immediate appeal. But for an already experience martial artist, it could be that adding some Kung Fu into your mix will aide you in having a broader range of techniques to call upon. As a practical matter, I don’t know how important this might be, but in terms of Brian’s comment, (as long as he isn’t really familiar with what wing chun practioners do), having something unexpected to toss out seems like a good thing.

  39. I a small amount of firearms self-defense training and virtually no other martial arts training, however your statement “Fool, that’s why you carry a gun” bothered me. My immediate question is “Can you identify all threats before they are within seven yards of you?”. According to my training, a threat within seven yards can reach you before you can draw and fire. Thus I would look at bare handed martial arts as a soluntion to threats that are too close for a firearm.

    Still, you have a lot more training than I do, so perhaps I have missed something.

  40. >Better to ease in with something softer while preserving the option of going harder-core later…or not. The local aikido program is non-profit and has no long-term contracts, just monthly mat fees.

    That sounds very sensible.

    >I’d love to hear Cathy Raymond’s thoughts on how she started in MA and how she felt as a female noob before developing any proficiency.

    Cathy says she might guest-post about that here, but warns that it might not be very edifying – she never felt very self-conscious about being female in this context.

  41. >Nope, we are just people who decided to do something and did it.

    What she said, Sarah. That first step is the hardest.

  42. @Scott:
    There are techniques for dealing with gunfights that start at bad breath distances that are (pretty much) handgun specific. If you have a rifle handy and a gunfight breaks out at that distance you’ve really f*d up.

    Folks, again you’re focusing on the ART, not the ARTIST.

    You could rip *every bit* of Jujitsu training out of Old Man Gracie and put him in a Tai Chi class. In a year he’d kick your ass like it was a soccer ball.

    There are four things you need to learn:

    1) Attitude: Aggression, speed and overwhelming violence. To when a fight you need AT LEAST The last one, obviously, but when it’s time you need to drop the thin glaze of civilization like Paris Hilton’s panties and get on with the brutality. At least until your objectives are met. Do not take this to mean turn off your brain, or revert to animal behavior, but as soon as the fight is on laws, honorable behavior, decorum etc. don’t matter. Those are important beforehand, but if you’ve observed them beforehand and you’re now in a fight, clearly your opponent HASN’T and hence you’re in a fight with a barbarian. Treat him as he treats others.

    2) To recognize that the fight is imminent so you can, depending on circumstances move to de-escalate (unlikely), start to arrange things so that when attacked you can defend and respond better, or attack first.

    ATTACK FIRST. If whatever art you’re learning doesn’t teach that, then FIGURE IT OUT or switch arts. The best self defense, once the fight is imminent, is to disable the other attacker before he can hurt you. This is also the most difficult to arrange legally, but again, see #1.

    3) Stress inoculation. Getting used to being hit, to having fists and sticks and such move at your face. Mentally considering being in a fight and having bruises and broken bones to work through. Being picked up and dropped on the floor and having the wind knocked out of you. THESE THINGS ARE IMPORTANT.

    4) Techniques. These are the least important, but once you have the first three the actual techniques are just ways of expressing htem.

    As the philosopher Mike Tyson notes “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in face”[1]

    @Cathy:
    A KM class, especially one that is targeted at women is probably your best entry into a more useful/serious self defense training. The “Soft entry” won’t help you where you need to be most, but a *proper* entry means that you get a proper introduction the the techniques AND some sort of sparring up front.

    This is not to knock Aikido, the Bujinkan, Kung-Fu etc., but those *do* require commitment on the decadal scale. If you’re fine with waiting 2 years for what you’re learning to be useful, that’s fine.

    Other things get more utility much faster. KM, some of the Filipino stick fighting stuff etc. Heck, even a boxing class can get you there quickly, though (modulo what I wrote above) I don’t think punching people in the face is the best option (hit them with a stick or rock, throw them into a wall etc.), but being willing to get REALLY aggressive RIGHT NOW will often beat really tight techniques that you are a bit nervous about exercising.

    [1]Then again, as George Washington notes “Abraham Lincoln’s comments on internet quotes can’t really be trusted. He was a bit of a liar”

  43. >I’m curious as to whether you think that four-year student would be able to handle himself in a real fight, or was he proficient at smoothness and elegance without necessarily being able to handle the real world?

    That is an astute question.

    The proficiency I saw was good form and precision of motion. Whether he could handle a real fight is questionable – that takes a kind of aggression and mental toughness that he may not have yet (I’d bet against it – if I’m reading him right, he’s a somewhat sheltered kid from a privileged background). But for purposes of my evaluation that didn’t matter, because I do have aggression and mental toughness.

    By asking how long he’d studied, I was specifically trying to use the answer to estimate how long it would take me to learn the style-specific movements well enough to execute with precision. I am confident that when I can do that I will be able to fight with them, whether he can or not. And I now have an estimate of at most four years. Odds are I’ll be rather faster; the boy simply hasn’t lived long enough yet to match my breadth of prior empty-hand experience, and therefore is highly unlikely to be able to assimilate a new style as quickly.

  44. That being the case, who knows what’s “authentic” anymore? And what would it mean if you thought you did know?

    Much was lost during the cultural revolution. If I recall correctly the temple got burned down along with much of the writings and almost all the monks got dispersed. What got put back together was done with the approval of the Communist Party. Mkay.

    /shrug If/when I go to China I’ll probably want to visit the Shaolin temple just because it’s cool. I’ll even buy some fake Buddhist beads from some guy on the corner.

    Authenticity doesn’t mean much to me either except when someone is trying to sell me a line that what they teach is authentic blah blah handed down over generations from the sacred Shaolin Temple.

    What matters is what they’re transmitting – and I’ve developed some confidence in the ability of these tramsmissions to repair themselves, to produce transformation in anyone who approaches them with sufficient determination and humility.

    Mmm…as long as you’re going in with the understanding that what you’re learning has been altered to meet the expectation of kids who want to be Po The Dragon Warrior its cool. Frankly looking cool has a lot of merit of its own…who doesn’t want to look cool? It’s really fun.

    I can tell you that wushu (taolu) has nearly no martial applicability in its transmission by design. Its a performance sport much like gymnastic floor routines with kung fu elements. Very athletic and requires real skill and talent. Combat applicability not so much.

    Given that the Shaolin Temple’s cash cow is doing demonstrations…well parity bits, CRC, self-healing, etc can do only so much in any transmission medium.

    Wanna bet that the Mr. Stuart’s instructors would completely demolish the DeMasco instructors in a fight? Of course that would mean an eventual showdown between DeMasco and Kanarek…which would be amusing to watch.

    Something similar goes for Kwai-Chang Caine. David Carradine may have been a second-rate actor in a series rife with Hollywood cliches, but dammit if there isn’t something there that still shines through forty years later.

    And it’s no trivial thing that Caine (non)existed. I bet if you polled martial artists of my approximate age, you’d find a whole lot of them imprinted on that series, a solid decade or more before martial-arts instruction was generally available in the U.S.

    I will quit dissing Carradine…but it would have been so much cooler (if insanely different) if Bruce Lee had gotten that part instead.

    Given the failure of asian leads in later kung fu TV series (Black Sash, Martial Law, etc) it probably wouldn’t have made the same impact though. Still…MUCH cooler.

  45. >My immediate question is “Can you identify all threats before they are within seven yards of you?”.

    Not necessarily, and your reasoning is sound. On the other hand, the incremental difference in my capability to handle a threat inside seven yards, that is the difference between (Eric + Haganah) and (Eric + Shaolin), might be small enough that firearms proficiency is the dominant term in my survival odds. That’s what I was driving at.

  46. @cathy

    I’m curious as to whether you think that four-year student would be able to handle himself in a real fight, or was he proficient at smoothness and elegance without necessarily being able to handle the real world?

    A 4 year student in most commercial martial arts is proficient at passing belt exams and basic movements. He or she is probably somewhat close to testing for a “brown belt” equivalent (two steps down from black if there’s a danbo belt level). Sufficiently trained to provide free labor for teaching kids and white belts…

    For a chinese martial art you’re either a semi-proficient dancer or still a novice. Decadal scale is correct. I wrote earlier that when I started doing a little tai chi it was going to be at least 4-5 years before even the hint of push hands. IF I was a quick learner. I wasn’t, so I bailed in favor of tang soo do.

    For something like Krav you’re going to be much further down the path of useful defensive techniques. The first phase of Krav has no sparring if that’s a concern so it’s still ease in. Sorta…there’s quite a bit of toughening in terms of hitting/kicking pads and holding the pads that get hit/kicked.

    Me, I like TKD/TSD poomsae (forms). These aren’t several million steps, do not require a huge amount of flexibility and doesn’t involve pain. This is like 20 steps removed from combat but I wasn’t doing it to learn to fight.

  47. >I can tell you that wushu (taolu) has nearly no martial applicability in its transmission by design.

    Most wushu, agreed. Not all. I’ve seen wushu where the martial/mystical element was clearly trying to bust out from under the Chinese-opera acrobatics. I think a domain expert with enough determination could repair the transmission, recover a combative/mystical wushu art. But it’s probably not going to happen, now, because it doesn’t need to. Chinese combat arts allowed to exist on their own terms are drawing the people who might be motivated to engineer that repair away from wushu.

    >Wanna bet that the Mr. Stuart’s instructors would completely demolish the DeMasco instructors in a fight? Of course that would mean an eventual showdown between DeMasco and Kanarek…which would be amusing to watch.

    Yeah. I’d bet on the Mr. Stuart’s guys against the DeMasco instructors in a heartbeat, but I’m not sure the advantage wouldn’t reverse further up in the systems. In fact, thinking about it, my guess is that Haganah tops out well before Shaolin does. Which may be an argument for Haganah now, Shaolin later.

  48. On the other hand, the incremental difference in my capability to handle a threat inside seven yards, that is the difference between (Eric + Haganah) and (Eric + Shaolin), might be small enough that firearms proficiency is the dominant term in my survival odds. That’s what I was driving at.

    As LS wrote, I suspect if someone wanted you dead they’d leave you a little gift attached to some part of your car. Or shoot a little ricin pellet into you with an umbrella.

  49. >As LS wrote, I suspect if someone wanted you dead they’d leave you a little gift attached to some part of your car. Or shoot a little ricin pellet into you with an umbrella.

    Well, yeah. If it were a pro-level spook outfit after me. Since it’s not realistically possible for me to game against that kind of threat, I don’t worry about it. Instead, I plan for the threat mode I actually consider most likely, which is potentially within my ability to handle. And that is all I am going to say about that.

  50. Since this discussion has attracted a crowd which might be able to answer my question, I guess I’ll ask it.

    I studied Aikido for around 6 years and got basically nowhere. One problem I had was that I was incapable of remembering Japanese names for techniques, so it all ran together in my head. Another problem is that I’m more or less bereft of grace and/or agility; I routinely glance off the wall right *next* to the door I was aiming for.

    However, I’d certainly like to know enough of a martial art to, say, defend myself against someone who is drunk but big. Is there an art which would be a good fit?

  51. >However, I’d certainly like to know enough of a martial art to, say, defend myself against someone who is drunk but big. Is there an art which would be a good fit?

    Hard to say without a more detailed spec. One important parameter is how much damage you’re willing to do him while stopping him. Note: the answer “whatever it takes” can lead to legal problems.

  52. I always figured “whatever it takes” would involve hitting him with the nearest chair, running him over with a car, etc. Ideally I’d like not to resort to that.

  53. @ esr

    You said:
    I actually think a boxing-style close guard is a gloves-induced adaptation that’s a mistake when fighting bare-knuckled, but my first class in a new style isn’t the right time to have that argument with anybody.
    I believe you’re referring to the basic defensive stance; elbows tight into the ribs, forearms vertical with the open palms facing forward from your body and in the general direction of the threat source.

    This has consistently been explained to me as having several, simultaneous purposes. Foremost of these being that this is the body stance (with your feet positioned directly below your shoulders and one foot no more than half-a-length forward of the other) that best allows for the greatest number of potential options to respond to an attack from – specifically to include escape (“Run Away! Run Away!”).

    A secondary consideration is to influence the perceptions of bystanders (aka: witnesses) in support of your subsequent claim of self-defense. Krav Maga is deservingly (in)famous for its violently brutal pragmatism; having onlookers report that you stood there with your hands held up with your palms toward the aggressor(s) prior to the violence breaking out (as if you were fending them off) is a non-trivial aspect of the stance psychology too.

    A less obvious aspect of the basic defensive stance is that it is an excellent starting position for the various forward-directed weapons disarm maneuvers too – like the famous 7 yard gun take-away (which really requires excellent leg strength; I’m seriously pushing my luck at anything much beyond 4 to 5 yds personally, too much trailer).

    While boxing does contribute much to KM, the basic stance is based more on making you a more difficult target for an attacker to get an arm or wrist control hold on than it is about punch/hand strike throws. KM teaches these are thrown in concert (as close to simultaneously as possible) with the defensive block or lateral body movement used to evade your attackers strike. Where traditional boxing most shows its influence (IMO) is the frequency of combination counter-strikes/punchs thrown in response to any attack (even though most combinations include kicks or knee lifts – it’s an influence, not a limitation :)).

    Might I suggest you consider a split routine approach to your training? 3 days a week at Mr Stuarts one week followed by 2 days at the kung fu school with a single days training with Mr Stuarts the alternate week. Maybe after a few months reversing the schedule for a time. This should allow steady advancement in the Haganah F.I.G.H.T. system while maintaining your current skill level in eastern martial arts technique as well as some opportunity to further explore the mysticism aspect you’ve mentioned.

    I don’t get the impression you are trying for out-right mastery of any particular MA discipline so much as pursueing the challenge of MA training itself. That impression in mind, do you incorporate weight training in your strength training routine? So many eastern MA students in my experience seem to think the two don’t mix, I would be interested in your thoughts about mixing different physical fitness training techniques (running, weight lifting, tumbling/gymnastics/yoga, kata, contact sparing, etc) even if doing so is contrary to traditional thinking.

  54. >I believe you’re referring to the basic defensive stance; elbows tight into the ribs, forearms vertical with the open palms facing forward from your body and in the general direction of the threat source

    Mr. Stuart’s actually uses what they call a “fighting stance” more like a boxing guard, arms raised in vertical parallel a bit forward of the face; hands are fisted rather than open. (One leg slighly back, weight a bit forward.) My objection is specifically to this guard used without gloves; used with heavy gloves it makes much more sense.

    Your “defensive stance” makes more sense to me, at least in terms of its tactical premises, but I haven’t seen it yet. Maybe in my second class :-).

    >like the famous 7 yard gun take-away (which really requires excellent leg strength; I’m seriously pushing my luck at anything much beyond 4 to 5 yds personally, too much trailer).

    Yeah, I know how that feels. My sword school used to teach a couple of gun disarms from that distance, back when the chief instructor was an ex-military guy. I couldn’t do it before notionally taking a bullet – I’m not mobile enough to close that fast.

    >Might I suggest you consider a split routine approach to your training?

    Nice idea, but I can’t budget the time to train quite that intensively.

    >I don’t get the impression you are trying for out-right mastery of any particular MA discipline so much as pursueing the challenge of MA training itself.

    I guess that’s partly true, but I don’t conceptualize it that way. I see myself as a fighter who has chosen not to be strongly tied to any single specialist toolkit. I’m not as good in any one style or weapon as the single-focus specialists, but I adapt and mix styles relatively easily – punch like TKD or wing chun depending on the tactical requirements, mix blade fighting with empty-hand at close quarters, can go to ground and wrestle if I need to, competent with firearms, etc.

    In truth I’m often puzzled that so many martial artists are content to stay in a single box labeled “style X”. If you take the challenge of combat arts seriously, why would you not want to assimilate as many different toolkits as you can?

    (One practical consequence of my approach is that nowadays I pick up new styles and weapons rather quickly. Wasn’t that way when I started, but as I’ve cross-trained more widely I’ve accumulated more referents that bear on anything I run into. It’s much like what multilinguals report about learning languages, as you add each new one the incremental effort required for the next one drops.)

    >That impression in mind, do you incorporate weight training in your strength training routine?

    No, but I’ve considered it. I’m not hostile to the idea.

    But the real reason I don’t incorporate weight training in my strength training is that I don’t explicitly do strength training at all. I understand that it has utility for many people, but I’m already strong enough for my size that my instructors and training partners not infrequently tell me they find it a bit freaky. I think my training effort is better spent on improving other things.

  55. The most accessible classes to me are judo, tae kwon do, kung fu, and “self defense” (designed for practical city living.). I kind of have a more self-defense orientation rather than a sport orientation. Any suggestions?

    I’m in my twenties, I work out a lot, no injuries or disabilities. I’m interested in something that can quickly take me from zero to “can do this cool thing.”

  56. @Sarah: Take one of those self-defense courses first. They only take a few hours, and feature practical things that will help you immediately. Spend as much time as you can punching and kicking the guy in the padded suit. Once you’ve done that, go look for a dojo, if you still want to.

  57. Eric, I recommend you find Rory Miller’s “Meditations on Violence” on your shelf and skim through it again. It might help inform your decision. I think Mr. Stuart’s is the best choice of the three. As an earlier poster mentioned, I can sense your enthusiasm for the place in your review.

  58. >@Sarah: Take one of those self-defense courses first. … Once you’ve done that, go look for a dojo, if you still want to.

    Agreed. Whether you should go with judo, tae kwon do, or kung fu depends on a couple of things. First, look for quality of instruction. Second…what sort of “kung fu”? I’d lean towards that as it’s less likely to be sport oriented (most judo and many TKD schools have technique restrictions designed to make them safer for tournament fighting), but there is huge variation in “kung fu” styles. In the U.S. the most common style is probably wing chun, which is a fast-takeoff style; that would be a good choice.

  59. “A KM class, especially one that is targeted at women is probably your best entry into a more useful/serious self-defense training.”

    Unfortunately I haven’t found a KM class locally that is targeted specifically at women. And yes, by “soft” I’m really talking less about the techniques than about my classmates. Not sure I’m ready to spar with wannabe hard-asses. It’s more abou t the atmosphere than the actual practice.

    “This is not to knock Aikido, the Bujinkan, Kung-Fu etc., but those *do* require commitment on the decadal scale. If you’re fine with waiting 2 years for what you’re learning to be useful, that’s fine.”

    Waiting 2 years, yes, waiting 10+, no. But a year of aikido followed by a few months of KM, definitely yes.

  60. @esr: “…if I’m reading him right, he’s a somewhat sheltered kid from a privileged background.”

    I don’t know if you’re reading him right, but that’s me. Not so much privileged as sheltered; blue-collar, but in a quiet rural rather than a tough urban neighborhood. I went to school with farmer’s kids.

  61. Re practical self-defense, does anyone here have thoughts on this article of Sam Harris’? He seems a lot more focused on the “run away” angle than the crowd here, but I can’t tell if that’s a difference in actual tactics or just a difference in how he describes them.

  62. >Sam Harris [...] seems a lot more focused on the “run away” angle than the crowd here,

    There is a lot of good advice in that article, but I disagree with his emphasis on escape and his commandment that you should never defend your property. This is not just a difference in tactics, it is a failure on Harris’s part to consider the second-order effects of following these strategies.

    To take one of his scenarios…flee the house and leave my wife at a knife-wielding predator’s mercy? No, I don’t think so. Not only would this betray my wife’s trust, advice like that makes predation safer for the predators. Each one of us have an obligation to fight back in order to create incentives against predation, even if that obligation entails risk of death. Cowardice is not just an individual failing, it is corrosive of peace and social order as well.

  63. @esr: No. Harris has got it right. If you can escape, you must do so. You can be sure you won’t get another chance. Get a neighbor to call the cops. Borrow a cell phone and call them yourself while you watch the house from outside. (Look out for a car; another crook may be in it.) Give the cops as many details as you can, including those on your own car(s). The predators will not hang around if the 911 call has been made. (The getaway driver/lookout often will have scanner, and will know.)

    What Harris says about threats and control is hard to accept, but true. Ask your wife what she would want you to do in the situation you posed. I think we’d all would be curious to hear her answer.

  64. Lots of good information in the Harris piece, but he’s got his priorities slightly askew. The primary goal is always to *end the threat*. Escape is often a good way to do that but escape is a means, not an end (even Harris occasionally feels forced to admit this, but he dances around it).

    Avoiding threats in the first place is still best of course- recognizing potential threats in time to avoid them is the essence of ‘street smarts’.

  65. >Ask your wife what she would want you to do in the situation you posed.

    She might want me to run in order to stay safe even at increased risk to her, but that wouldn’t make it the right answer.

  66. She might want me to run in order to stay safe even at increased risk to her, but that wouldn’t make it the right answer.

    Realizing the goal is to end the threat helps clarify things. Because the threat is likely not only to yourself. If *you* can escape, but it means abandoning someone you’re responsible for, you haven’t really ended the threat, now have you? You’ve just increased it, though not for yourself.

  67. @esr: Your escape lessens the threat to her. (The thugs are less likely to kill if a live witness is out there.) I wanted her opinion because I suspect that a woman’s perspective on the situation would be different, and valuable.

    How about the other women? Cathy? Sarah? Care to share?

  68. >@esr: Your escape lessens the threat to her.

    A touchingly naive reading of the situation, obviously uninformed by knowledge about the behavior of actual hot burglars. No. The odds are strong that they’d kill her, probably after raping her.

  69. I have thought of a few interesting things to say about Aikido and Wing Chun. I am going to do some gross generalizing so as to avoid going on forever.

    Both arts are considered to be “soft” arts, although that can sorta mean different things depending on ones intentions. Both are basically purely defensive, meaning that you don’t really start doing the real thing until you are reacting to what your opponent is doing.

    Some years ago I had a supervisor that had done Aikido – he wasn’t training at the time – I don’t know how advanced he was. As has been mentioned, Aikido is good for bouncers – you can bounce people off things. This guy was black – a great guy, relaxed but with a subtle relaxed not-to-be-fucked with feel. He had done some security at concerts and such. I am about 5’7 and it took me over a year to realize that he was shorter than me….. sometimes how tall a person looks is a function of the confidence that they… uh… radiate.

    So… both arts are soft….

    In Aikido, you “meld” with your opponents motion and momentum (his commitment to moving in a certain way) and redirect it and use his force to bounce him. Being able to meld with someone’s momentum and use it takes much training and the training involves being bounced so it includes training in break-falls.

    Wing Chun has a few Aikido like techniques but they are a minor aspect of the art.

    In Wing Chun, mostly you take advantage of your opponent’s motion and commitment to his motion to change your positions relative to him and intercept what he is doing where you have good mechanical advantage and your opponent’s attack has practically no power at all. You intercept an attack while stepping and using your other hand to give him a little shot that does a short interrupt on his brain so you can either hurt him or do another interrupt (rinse and repeat) until you CAN hurt him. Wing Chun is not for bouncers. It is for hurting people that are attacking you.

    Remember the sort of cheesy fighting Kirk used to do in the original Star Trek? Where he would face the opponent and stop round punches with his arm going sorta diagonally out and back in? An opponent would do round punches with either hand but, because of the position of Kirk’s arm, the blows simply couldn’t land.

    That is very Wing Chun like in certain principles… standing to be able to do the same thing on either side and using arm positions that stop punches at a point where they had practically no power. And, generally speaking, any particular technique is very easy to learn and easy to apply and simply works. It is not like what I believe are some karate blocks where if you miss the block, you get hit. In Wing Chun, if you can get your arm into position, you can’t get hit – the geometry just doesn’t allow it.

  70. It seems to me that run vs. fight involves estimates of the odds of success. If you’re responsible for protecting someone else, then fighting makes sense if you have at least some chance of stopping the threat. If you don’t, then running and calling for help is better.

  71. @Nancy, you can improve your odds of success by training beforehand. Or carrying a gun.

  72. esr on Saturday, August 18 2012 at 2:50 am said:

    >>However, I’d certainly like to know enough of a
    >>martial art to, say, defend myself against someone
    >>who is drunk but big. Is there an art which would
    >>be a good fit?

    >Hard to say without a more detailed spec. One
    >important parameter is how much damage you’re
    >willing to do him while stopping him.

    The primary utility of a worthwhile art is to give you the options of dealing with the continuum from “as little damage as possible”, like when Aunt Jane has had a bit too much sherry and is taking a frying pan to her husband with the roving eye, or “as much as possible in as short a time as possible” when an intruder is standing between you and your screaming child’s bedroom.

    >Note: the answer “whatever it takes” can lead to
    >legal problems.

    Laws are different in every jurisdiction, but generally there is a test of “lethal force”, and it involves proximity, means and intent. Once those thresholds have been met (and with hands/knives/sticks proximity is there by default) then no, it doesn’t generally. Especially when you are bare handed.

    Folks like Eric who have multiple belts in multiple arts *might* be held to a higher standard, but I don’t know if that’s ever been done *and* passed the almost certain appeal. You have to be out of your mind to say “I am a 10 degree black-belt, I’m going to hold back on this guy” because he might very well be a former boxer who’s done time and is currently coming down from his last hit of crystal meth.

    @Max E:
    >I always figured “whatever it takes” would involve
    >hitting him with the nearest chair, running him
    >over with a car, etc. Ideally I’d like not to resort to that.

    What you can do to someone depends largely on what threat they present to you. If you’re drinking quietly in a bar and some dude threatening people with a gun or a knife hitting him with a chair is perfectly appropriate and far better than he can expect. If some dude tries to car jack you, run him the f* over. Then back up to check your work. Then do the shampoo thing.

    Crime should be painful. Threatening people with physical harm should be incredibly painful to lethal. The more you raise the cost of crime the less of it we’ll have.

    I cannot think of a legitimate self defense situation that involves me IN a car, and my attacker outside it where hitting him with the car is inappropriate. There probably are some where it’s not the best option, but if you’re presenting a legitimate threat to my safety, you made your bed, now they’re going to throw dirt on it’s lid.

    @Cathy:
    > Unfortunately I haven’t found a KM class locally
    > that is targeted specifically at women. And yes,
    > by “soft” I’m really talking less about the techniques
    > than about my classmates. Not sure I’m ready to
    > spar with wannabe hard-asses.

    Ask them if you can audit a couple classes to see what the atmosphere is like, and maybe ask them if they’d start a woman’s focused class. Women, being (generally) smaller and weaker, while having different hip structure and a slightly lower center of gravity have (slightly) different needs, and *many* women feel as you do.

    @Sarah:
    What city or county are you in? Some of the better places are less easy to find. For some reason a lot of MA joints don’t realize that if you can’t be found on the net you don’t exist.

  73. I’m a grad student on a stipend and without a car, so the most reasonable options for me are the classes offered at my school.

    The description of the Kung Fu class says “meditation, animal styles, kicking, punching, Chin Na (grappling), Shuai Jiao (sweeps and throws), forms, sparring, and much more.”

    (To be fair: I don’t expect it to be likely I’ll get into any actual fights in my lifetime. I *am* interested in trying to learn a new physical skill — I’ve never been very coordinated and it would probably be satisfying to just prove I can do SOMETHING. Also, it can be frustrating to be conscious of being generally powerless, and it’s probably better to do something about it rather than nothing. Obviously, like Cathy, I’m not interested in going to a place with a lot of hard-asses because I’m not one, but it seems unlikely that a class at a university is going to have that problem.)

  74. > Or shoot a little ricin pellet into you with an umbrella.

    Just like the earlier sniper thread, this is a bit unrealistic.
    Good snipers are irreplaceable, just like your ricin-wielding spook.
    So, if you cannot reliably exfiltrate them, ESR is not worth it, IMHO.

    But shooters who can hit a man-sized target at 100 yards with an ordinary rifle with ordinary optics are a dime a dozen. You place one some distance from a predictable location at a predictable time, and just wait for your chance. You might tell them about their escape plan, but they are fungible, so long as you have deniability.

    To me, that is the most difficult situation to defend, unless you have total unpredictability, or the entire secret service.

  75. @LS
    [In response to a question about how I, as a woman, would feel about my male partner escaping and calling the cops vs. staying to confront armed robbers who still have me.]

    It depends on the partner. I am odd in that I’ve only once been in a relationship with someone more formidable than myself, and a couple of times with men roughly comparable. I am accustomed to doing the protecting, not being protected.

    I would want a partner who is not capable of helping the situation to run. There is no sense in both of us dying if only one must, and there’s always the slim chance that he could get help in time to make a difference. At the very least, in his absence I would have only myself to worry about, which is tactically preferable to trying to protect myself and a helpless person under my protection.

    I would want a partner who is even marginally capable to look for a way to give me some advantage in ending the threat. If there was a single knife-wielding threat, anything that gets me the freedom to move will probably do the trick. Bonus points if the threat gets distracted and/or I end up with a weapon (improvised or otherwise) in my hand.

    I would expect a partner who is my equal or better in this area to assess the situation and choose the course of action that maximizes our collective likelihood of survival first, and the state of our property second.

    While Eric and I are friends, not mates, my gut says he’d fall under the third example anyway. He’s got a solid understanding of tactics, he is capable in both empty-handed combat and with firearms, and we know one another well enough (or at least think similarly enough) to coordinate an attack with minimal to no communication. He knows that I’d have his back were the situation reversed.

    Were I the one who had an avenue to escape, I would only take it if doing so increased my partner’s chance of survival somehow — given that losing a hostage tends to make the (typically unskilled and emotionally-driven) guys who do push-in robberies and the like jumpy, that means acting quickly. In the 30 minutes it takes for police to show up, surround the place, and decide who’s in charge, it’s probable that my guy would die. I can’t tell you what I’d do outside of a very specific example (two of my strengths are that I’m great at improvising, and I have a pretty broad base of tactical skills), but I can tell you that inaction is not on the menu.

  76. >given that losing a hostage tends to make the (typically unskilled and emotionally-driven) guys who do push-in robberies and the like jumpy, that means acting quickly. In the 30 minutes it takes for police to show up, surround the place, and decide who’s in charge, it’s probable that my guy would die.

    Absolutely. This is why I wouldn’t abandon Cathy – the goblins’ rage at being thwarted tends to get taken out on the one left behind.

    Cathy is no slouch as a fighter herself by most peoples’ standards, but she has less aggression and less real-world toughening than HedgeMage or me. Alone against one or multiple males with a history of violence, she’d have be at the tip-top of her game to hack it. And if she weren’t, in this scenario I wouldn’t expect any other result than a raped corpse.

    One reason to go with Mr. Stuart’s – a pretty good one, now that I think about it – is that they are more likely than either of our alternatives to try to stress-inoculate Cathy in situations resembling real-world combat. That, more than additional technique, is what she needs to be effective in this kind of scenario.

  77. @esr> “The three I had opportunity to make the request of cheerfully honored my wish to spar to light contact,…”

    Translation: “Please don’t hurt meee!”

  78. @esr> But the real reason I don’t incorporate weight training in my strength training is that I don’t explicitly do strength training at all. I understand that it has utility for many people, but I’m already strong enough for my size that my instructors and training partners not infrequently tell me they find it a bit freaky.

    I suspect you are nowhere near as strong as your fantasy here, and that the reason for your lack of weight training is your inability to face failure on a daily basis.

    How many pull-ups/chin-ups can you do?

    How long can you hold a ‘side bridge’?

    How long can you hold a ‘plank’?

    How high is your standing box jump?

    These are all simple exercises.

    Or, if you would rather:

    How much do you weigh?
    How much do you bench/squat/deadlift?

    And we’ll see how strong you are. Video would be best, of course.

  79. >Translation: “Please don’t hurt meee!”

    Huh? Normally they’d use less force with a new guy. I’m hoping I can get them to dial it up once they know me better.

  80. >I suspect you are nowhere near as strong as your fantasy here, and that the reason for your lack of weight training is your inability to face failure on a daily basis.

    Oh, joy. Another silly haterboy. Probably a Peevish Adolescent.

    The good news is, these usually go away if we ignore them.

  81. @Hedgemage: 30 minutes for the cops to respond? From your previous comments, I didn’t think you lived so far out in the boonies. The cops where I live (NYC suburb) respond to non-urgent calls in a few minutes. They (and the NYPD) will respond to in-progress robbery calls immediately, and in force. They don’t fool around with that stuff.

    I think that the years of training have made both you and esr overconfident. The guys that do home invasions are generally a bit older than your average punk, and have been to prison. They know how to fight; they learned by actually fighting other hardasses. (In prison, there’s a fight every time a package arrives from home.) You cannot possibly expect to match this at any dojo. Those guys will calmly take your best shot, smile, and then kill you.

    In the situation as described, if esr doesn’t escape when he can, the baddies will certainly rape his wife, but they will disable him first – and make him watch them do it. A home invasion is no time for do it yourself tactics. You need professional help. CALL THE COPS!!!

  82. In the situation as described, if esr doesn’t escape when he can, the baddies will certainly rape his wife, but they will disable him first – and make him watch them do it. A home invasion is no time for do it yourself tactics. You need professional help. CALL THE COPS!!!

    Learned helplessness is a sin.

  83. “The primary utility of a worthwhile art is to give you the options of dealing with the continuum from “as little damage as possible”, like when Aunt Jane has had a bit too much sherry and is taking a frying pan to her husband with the roving eye”

    This one doesn’t sound as though it’s necessarily a low-threat situation that’s easy to deal with, depending on how aggressive and strong Aunt Jane is. Opinions?

  84. >You need professional help. CALL THE COPS!!!

    In what fantasy world would I have that option? The premise is that they have a knife to Cathy’s throat, remember? Do you suppose they’re going to do nothing while I pull out my cellphone and dial 911?

    My best estimate is that if I escape she will be killed before help can arrive. If I remain on the scene and pull out a phone, they’ll simply force me to drop it by increasing the pressure with the knife, and I’ll have lost the initiative. No: balls-out attack is the best tactic here.

  85. Thus, the set of people competent to teach me more than I already know is even smaller than the miniscule set who have something real to offer newbies. Where the hell do I go to find such people? Mountaintops in Tibet?
    Potsdam. You would love my teacher.

  86. >I think that the years of training have made both [HedgeMage] and esr overconfident.

    On reflection, I think this is worth addressing as a general point.

    The scenario we’ve been discussing (hot burglars, knife at wife’s throat) is very bad news. I think I’d much rather have been in the theater with the Aurora gunman than this – at least he wouldn’t have been focused on me as a threat, and Cathy wouldn’t be directly threatened.

    HedgeMage and I have been discussing tactics to deal with this, and “attack!” is high on our list of options. But this is not because we have any delusion that we’re action-movie heroes. Far from it. We know – probably better than you do – just how high the odds are that we’d be seriously injured or killed.

    It isn’t “overconfidence” you’re hearing, it’s a cold-blooded assessment that other responses often have worse expected outcomes than attacking. For reasons we’ve explained. You don’t get this because you harbor comforting illusions about the situational frame. You think the goblins will be reluctant to kill if a witness has escaped. You think the cops can get to the crime scene in time to prevent an ugly outcome.

    We have no such illusions. We’ve studied incident patterns relating to this kind of violence (well, I know I have, and it’s a safe bet HedgeMage has has too – in fact, there are reasons she’s probably more expert than I am). These premises might be true, but the odds say they are not. They are dangerous and foolish to bet on.

    So when we speak of attacking, do not mistake this for overconfidence. It is nothing but grim realism.

  87. > Oh, joy. Another silly haterboy.

    Yes, you didn’t answer the questions. We noticed.

    How many pull-ups/chin-ups can you do?
    How long can you hold a ‘side bridge’?
    How long can you hold a ‘plank’?
    How high is your standing box jump?

    Or, if you would rather:
    How much do you weigh?
    How much do you bench/squat/deadlift?

  88. No. You are not hard enough. The true calculation is, “At least save yourself.” (You’re still not out of danger; you have to evade the lookout.) When you are outgunned and outnumbered, it’s no time to think with your balls; they were not designed for thinking.

    The home invaders know that, if they are still there when the cops arrive, it’s game over for them. They will not stick around if waiting for them.

    I’ll remind everyone that we are presuming that you can escape. That is the situation. You are not helpless, and nobody is telling you to call the cops while the gang stands by and watches.

  89. > >Nothing except bullshit kick-ass-wannabe academies for kids. Bleh.

    >A lot of those around here, too, but also enough good schools that I get to treat the bullshit
    >palaces as background noise.

    I’m a bit late to this thread, but saw this and figured this is a relevant question: how does a newbie tell the good schools apart from the bullshit ones? It seems like the same sort of chicken and egg problem that, say, a manager with no technical experience goes through when he needs to find a good developer/sysadmin/whatever. If you don’t have the skills, how can you correctly identify those who do have them? Especially at the stage when you’re trying to narrow down the list from “everything googleable within X miles” to something manageable.

    (not a theoretical question — I keep meaning to get into martial arts myself, and this is one thing that’s always tripped me up. The other being budget, but at least I know how to correct that one. Also, I think I might have asked this already, although I can’t find it so maybe I didn’t.)

  90. Oh, joy. Another silly haterboy.

    “Peevish Adolescent” does sound right. And “R. Duke” is fouling a name in an offensive way (I happen to be in the middle of working my way through my HST books, again.)

    In one of ESR’s links, there was a comment from someone with the handle “rabidbadger”. Now that was a good handle – the guy was offensive in a sick way.

  91. >If you don’t have the skills, how can you correctly identify those who do have them?

    Look for quality of interaction. Good skills aren’t easy to spot at your level, so look for good teaching.

    Do you see senior instructors on the floor, or is the grunt work of teaching handed off to juniors who are unsure in their movements and leadership? Do you see teachers paying close attention to what students are doing, or just walking them through canned drills with little feedback? How often does the class go off-script to address a problem or question?

    Does the dojo smell and feel good? (Don’t discount this. People release different pheromones when they’re happy than they do when they’re upset and negatively stressed.) Are students helping each other? Are they smiling when they leave?

  92. > Yes, you didn’t answer the questions. We noticed.

    I know I shouldn’t feed the troll, but…seriously. Asking questions doesn’t impose on the recipient a moral obligation to answer them. Even less so when being obviously hostile about it.

    As long as I’m at it, have you stopped beating your wife?

  93. @esr

    That might be a bit difficult for me. I don’t read social interactions well; I suspect I’m an undiagnosed Aspie. But it’s more than I’d have to go on looking for skills, and specific enough that I can probably manage. Thanks.

  94. @ A

    how does a newbie tell the good schools apart from the bullshit ones?

    Trust your nose in relation to bullshit.

    Give some thought to what you want – it might include:

    - self defence with the expectation of getting at least some benefit in the first year

    - physical workout and sport with tournaments

    - an art, physically and/or spiritually

    It is can be good to do a particular art, if for no other reason than you can learn a little about it from sources outside the school and see if it meshes with what you are looking for. On the other hand, a lot of great fighters don’t do a pure, single, traditional art.

    A good school for you should have people that have been there for years that have substantial accomplishments in the direction you want to go.

    Some great schools have lethal teachers and seniors that are fundamentally gentle, peaceful people and the classes have a calm or, at least, happy feel (my Wing Chun school was like that).

    Some schools (a kick-boxing school I know, comes to mind) seem to be full of young people that have been beaten and want to ensure that they will never be beaten again. This sort of school isn’t calm or happy.

    The best way is to do some learning about some arts that are available near you and visit schools until you find one that just seems to be…. right. It is like the way I buy a car or house. I shop around to get a feel for what is out there, and then when I find what I want, I buy it.

    I love what ESR said, above:

    Are students helping each other? Are they smiling when they leave?

    You should feel good talking to the head guy and the seniors.

  95. >self defence [...] physical workout and sport with tournaments [...] art, physically and/or spiritually

    These are the three pillars: self-defence, sport/fitness, and do (Japanese word for “path” or “way”, with spiritual connotations). When choosing a school, one thing to decide is what the relative importance of these are for you and find a school that matches that agenda.

    Taking myself as an example, I have (a) a very strong interest in self-defence (actual combat capability), (b) a significant secondary interest in the meditative/elusive spiritual/mystical aspect, and (c) effectively zero interest in sport and tournament fighting. This is important when I evaluate a school. Reproductions of sumi-e on the walls? Good. A rack of tournament trophies and ribbons? Maybe not so good.

    One of the reasons I get snarky about what I call “strip-mall” karate and TKD, besides the fact that the quality of instruction at these low-end franchise schools is generally poor, is that the competence they tend to be focused on is tournament fighting. Even the good ones would be offering the wrong thing for me. But not for everyone! If the thought of being a competitive fighter and winning trophies excites and motivates you, the best of the chain schools may be exactly what you want. For you, the wall of trophies would be a good sign.

    Hm. Maybe I should write a big synoptic post on how to choose a school.

  96. Sarah> The description of the Kung Fu class says “meditation, animal styles, kicking, punching, Chin Na …

    I think Chin Na can be quite useful. Several techniques there to deal with things such as being grabbed from behind, choking, someone continually pushing at you … not all seriously violent attacks, but things which might escalate unless you halt them at the start, or idiots just looking for someone to push around.

  97. @A,
    Your question was covered in the “Shopping for a new martial-arts school” post. However, here’s a few things to look for.

    1. Lots of sparring with uncooperative opponents. It should look safe, but the sparring partners should look like they are resisting. Safe striking tends to include lots of padding. Safe wresting has zero or very light striking. Safe holds/chokes means fast tap outs by the loser and fast releases by the winner.

    2. The instructors are in good shape. Not Olympics shape, mind you, but they should resemble athletes who work out many hours a day. Because that’s what they are.

    3. Lots of conditioning goes on. That is, the students should be breaking a sweat and breathing hard during at least half the class. Just being in good shape is a huge advantage in a fight, and good instructors know it, so they incorporate conditioning into their classes. After a class, you should feel like you both learned something and had a good workout. Both aspects should be obvious when observing a class.

  98. @esr
    > Hm. Maybe I should write a big synoptic post on how to choose a school.

    Yes, please. :)

  99. >Lots of sparring with uncooperative opponents.

    Agreed. I’ve already highlighted contact sparring as a feature of good schools

    >The instructors are in good shape.

    Agreed.

    >Lots of conditioning goes on.

    Here, on the other hand, I disagree. Physical conditioning is important for power styles (karate, TKD, boxing), but not so much for softer ones (like aikido) or styles that can be played soft (wing chun).

  100. LS:
    “”"
    @esr: No. Harris has got it right. If you can escape, you must do so. You can be sure you won’t get another chance.
    Get a neighbor to call the cops. Borrow a cell phone and call them yourself while you watch the house from outside. (Look out for a car; another crook may be in it.) Give the cops as many details as you can, including those on your own car(s). The predators will not hang around if the 911 call has been made. (The getaway driver/lookout often will have scanner, and will know.)
    “”"

    F! that nonsense.

    Breaking into someone’s home should be a capital crime (modulo drunks and survival situations).

  101. > “have you stopped beating your wife?”

    “No. She likes it.” is my typical retort.

  102. esr wrote:
    > Here, on the other hand, I disagree. Physical conditioning is important for power styles (karate, TKD, boxing), but not so much for softer ones (like aikido) or styles that can be played soft (wing chun).

    I have Aikido friends. They are in *great* shape. They do a lot of mat work in their classes, which results in a lot of exercise, since you expend a lot of energy doing ground work. They even prepare you for it by doing warm up exercises, meant to both stretch your limbs and to get the blood flowing.

    My Judoku friends are similar. Very good shape, lots of mat work, lots of cardio during class, even if the cardio is disguised as warm up exercises and ground work.

  103. As for why conditioning is important, lets just say that everything in life is easier when you are in better shape. Everything.

    Even a “soft art” like Aikido is easier to perform when you are in better shape. You’ll notice it right away when doing mat work. You’ll last longer, you’ll be faster to pounce on small openings, and more strength makes it easier to escape sloppy technique.

  104. RE: Conditioning,

    Hatsumi Sensi has allegedly said, in reference to strength and conditioning that “Sometimes you have to move furniture”.

    In a fight between two opponents of perfectly equal skill the winner will be the faster, stronger or luckier.

    I know of no exercises that will make me luckier. So I lift heavy things, swim laps etc.

  105. @LS
    >@Hedgemage: 30 minutes for the cops to respond? From your previous comments, I didn’t think you lived so far out in the boonies.

    My time is split between a farm about 25 minutes from the nearest cop, and 40 minutes from the nearest cop with any jurisdiction there, and a home in Indianapolis, Indiana. You are thinking “robbery in progress” but protocol in most places would treat the situation described as a hostage situation. Sure the cops may be there in 10-15, but that’s plenty of time for robbers to get twitchy, and after the cops arrive they have to secure a perimeter, get a negotiator, etc. That’s easily 30 minutes.

    Granted, if the break-in happened to occur in my home during one of the times of the week where there are 4 squad cars within a 2-minute drive, they might have a perimeter in record time. However, a perimeter doesn’t make the person left inside my home any safer.

    > I think that the years of training have made both you and esr overconfident. The guys that do home invasions are generally a bit older than your average punk, and have been to prison. They know how to fight; they learned by actually fighting other hardasses. (In prison, there’s a fight every time a package arrives from home.) You cannot possibly expect to match this at any dojo.

    You misunderstand my background. I’ve been through real SHTF scenarios and come out the other side — always due at least in part to my ability to take decisive action when it was called for. Also, prior to my current school I trained on army bases with what some lovingly referred to as the “front liners and meat eaters”. It’s a level of contact you just don’t find in civilian-land where no one can afford a medic on duty at every class or the liability involved in training at a high level of contact.

    > Those guys will calmly take your best shot, smile, and then kill you.

    They’ll happily smile and kill someone even if no shot has been taken, and THAT is precisely my point. They aren’t going to wait around for the cops to show up. They are going to kill and move on with their lives. When seconds count, help is just minutes away.

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