best exercise nobody does

 

 

CrossFit exposed me to an exercise that I had never thought of attempting before, the overhead squat. The overhead squat is a demanding, whole-body exercise. It builds strength and flexibility in the shoulders and core, especially the lower back, as well as the legs. It improves balance and coordination.

You won’t need much weight to start with. Just a bare Olympic bar might be too heavy as you will find. A dowel or PVC pipe can make a good substitute. The issue isn’t as much the weight as it is technique and flexibility. With a wide snatch grip, press or jerk the bar overhead and lock your elbows. Assume a wider than shoulder width stance, with your toes pointed out. The wider stance and pointed-out toes should help you keep your torso upright, which reduces the load on the lower back and shoulders.

Now, keeping the bar roughly over your heels, squat down as far as possible, then stand up. This is one rep.

The depth of your squat may be limited by your shoulder flexibility. In order to keep your weight balanced, you’ll have to rotate your arms back as your torso leans forward. If you aim for a little more depth with each workout, your shoulders will get more flexible.

The woman in the above photo is Nicole Carol of CrossFit fame. That lady could “smoke” many guys I know in physical competition. Bodyweight overhead squats…Id be lucky to be able to reach one rep.

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people don’t ‘win’ life, they live life

Barnstar trophy
Barnstar trophy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My good friend Paul posted this as a comment on my “about” page. We are usualy on the same page on this sort of stuff and I thought this comment was such a good encapsulation of my mindset that it deserved its own post.

I don’t think that a civilian leading an everyday life should have to adopt/adapt/’emulate’ (read copy) a ‘warrior’ lifestyle in order to find a codex of values and character traits to deal with the challenges of life. In many ways it can be counter productive, IMO.

The character traits and virtues have not been clearly defined, but I am working with the assumption that they include the basics such as Integrity, Honesty, Moral and Physical courage, commitment….and the like. Well, those same qualities are evident in the Boy Scouts, most postive and successful business organizations, healthy religious practices, personal growth programs, philosophical pursuits of self awareness….

The BIG difference between using the ‘warrior’ model/role model and any of these other possible options is two major things:

1. The basic belief that the warrior is/will be in conflict with someone or something.

2. The basic belief that victory is the end goal/object…that there IS an end goal/objective at all.

There is a problem when approaching life with a ‘conflict’ mentality in a civilian (please read ‘civilized’) world. Basically, the ‘warrior’ mentality requires one to see every situation as a fight, every challenge or problem as a conflict. That means the ‘warrior’s’ mind will define someone or something as the ‘enemy’ whether there is one or not.

On the second issue, life is what it is, it is cyclical and there really is no ‘end goal’ objective, IMO. People don’t ‘win’ life, they live life. In the military/LEO, all those values/virtues are meant to keep a person focused on completing the objective, but – as we have seen too many times with war veterans, there isn’t much help in the ‘warrior’ mentality with how to cope with the aftermath (returning home to civilian life at the end of deployment, after combat, after trauma…).

I think a more properly aligned mentallity for civilian martial arts training – especially those systems/schools that are trying to be reality based or self defense focused, is one based on being a good citizen, the legal system of the country/state/county/town or city, and personal family upbringing.

I don’t normally pull the ‘been there done that’ game, so I hope this is taken for what it is meant to be: Substantiation of my position, but I’ve been a civilian and a serviceman, I’ve been trained as a teacher by degree, desire, and experience via the service, college, career, and mentorship.

Based on those experiences and trainings, I don’t see ‘warrior’ mimicry as the best choice of role modeling.

Personally, I’ve used the term ‘Everyday Hero’ for the type of ‘image’ that encapsulates the values and virtues that I would like to see my students and children strive for at times.

-Paul Martin

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bushido, the soul of Japan

cherry

Chivalry is a flower no less indigenous to the soil of Japan than its emblem, the cherry blossom; nor is it a dried-up specimen of an antique virtue preserved in the herbarium of our history. It is still a living object of power and beauty among us; and if it assumes no tangible shape or form, it not the less scents the moral atmosphere, and makes us aware that we are still under its potent spell. The conditions of society which brought it forth and nourished it have long disappeared; but as those far-off stars which once were and are not, still continue to shed their rays upon us, so the light of chivalry, which was a child of feudalism, still illuminates our moral path, surviving its mother institution. It is a pleasure to me to reflect upon this subject in the language of Burke, who uttered the well-known touching eulogy over the neglected bier of its European prototype.

Authored in 1900 by Nitobe Inazō, a Christian, agricultural economist, author, educator, diplomat, and politician during Meiji and Taishō periods of Japan, Bushido: The Soul of Japan, was one of the first major works on Samurai ethics and Japanese culture written originally in English for Western readers. A best-seller in its day, it was read by many influential foreigners, among them President Theodore Roosevelt, President John F. Kennedy and Robert Baden-Powell. It may well have shaped Baden-Powell’s ideas on the Boy Scout movement he founded.

As Japan was undergoing a profound transformation of its traditions and changing into a modern society, Nitobe was researching the ancient ethos of his nation, the result being this seminal work. Being born into a Samurai family himself, he found in Bushido, the Way of the Warrior, the sources of the virtues most admired by his people (and himself): rectitude, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honor, loyalty and self-control.

He also investigated other ancient traditions of Japan; Buddhism, Shintoism, Confucianism and the moral guidelines handed down over hundreds of years by Japan’s Samurai and sages. He also sought out similarities and contrasts by citing not only Western philosophers and statesmen, but also the shapers of European and American thought and civilization going back to the Romans, the Greeks and Biblical times. He found a close resemblance between the Samurai ethos of what he called Bushido and the spirit of medieval chivalry and the ethos of ancient Greece, as observed in books like the Iliad of Homer.

Like State sponsored Shinto and the Hagakure, Nitobe’s work was also hijacked by the Japanese Gvt. to resurrect Bushido and fan the flames of militarism in Imperial Japan. In modern times it has been criticized by modern historians as being overly idealized and romanticized. As a matter of fact Bushido as a term is rarely found in any pre-Meiji Japanese Texts, the word as we know it now is almost entirely due to Nitobe’s book.

Nitobe himself was a noted Japanese statesman, member of the League of Nations, believer in a Democratic Japan and a staunch critic of Japan’s increasing militarism up to his death in 1933. His lifelong wish was to be “a bridge over the Pacific”, joining the cultures of Japan and America.

The book in its entirety can be found in various places on the internet.

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is experience a necessity?

Author, Five Ten Footwear URL, Various No Copy...
Author, Five Ten Footwear URL, Various No Copyright’s violated, provided with permission by Five Ten Todrick 21:32, 4 April 2007 (UTC) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A while back I was involved in a debate over whether a martial arts instructor with “combat experience” (had been in fights) was superior to an instructor who had not. The debate raged between camps that argued that martial arts had already been “combat tested” through the centuries so it was the arts techniques that mattered, not the fighting experience of the instructor. Others stood on the premise that it was “the dog in the fight” that mattered. They said that the instructors experience gave him more insight in how to transmit the arts fighting skills. I argued that “Real world fighting experience” was a necessity when developing or advancing a new fighting system; as the focus of any system of combat should be “combat effectiveness”. But I added that it wasn’t “necessary” that the person teaching that system had to have used the techniques himself to be a valid instructor.

I made an analogy of the relationship between “combat experience” and martial arts instruction to a sport I used to participate in…rock climbing.

Climbing is a very technical sport. There are specific physical techniques for climbing different features and various ways to use your hands and feet to adhere to the rock. Beyond using your body, there are ropes and knots. There’s hardware with specific uses and precise applications; carabineers, descenders, cams+chocks, harnesses, chalk, webbing and on and on. Many climbers (me) start by top roping (rope goes from ground to top and back to climber, so you don’t fall more than a few feet) or gym climbing. This is a safe environment where you can practice technique, train with gear and even compete. Many climbers never leave this level and that’s OK, it’s as close to a real cliff as you can get without a real cliff. The skills built here can be applied to the “real thing”. Most walls are 50′-100′.

“Real” rock climbing is called lead climbing. A length of rope connects two climbers. One climbs up placing anchors and clipping the rope through them as he goes. The length of fall depends on how far back your last anchor is and if it holds. Once the rope runs out the leader sets up an anchor system called a belay and the second climber climbs up, removing the anchors and the system repeats. I’ve climbed faces as high as 800′-900′ and those are on the small side of average.

The first time I “lead” a climb, it was an eye-opener…. I had the technical skills; I knew the ropework, the knots, and the gear placement techniques. I could climb gym routes 2-3 grades higher than the cliff I was on BUT…. I could die here, I was getting way up, I was getting scared, my physical technique was degrading, I was clinging and scrambling more than I was climbing, I was slapping in anchors as quick as I could (OK was good enough, #@$% perfect). I learned that some techniques I could pull off in the gym I couldn’t do (yet) on the face so I tossed them. Many times I “just did things” without thought, sometimes there were moments of “wow I actually planned to do that and I did”. I did it though and made it to the top.

Did the gym training help? Couldn’t have done without it. Did it apply on the cliff? Yep. Did “real” climbing improve my technique? That is a qualified “yes”, yes in the sense that it gave me a better grasp on what I had to work on back in the gym. It gave me a different perspective on what my training produced and my “real” (current) ability to apply what I learned. Was the “real” climbing “necessary”? Obviously no. I did my first climb successfully with what I had. If I lived near real cliffs and could climb on them regularly I probably could have improved my technique with constant practice on them, if I survived. Did “real” climbing give me more clout in teaching a new climber? Not really, there are many climbers WAY better than me in the gym and on the cliff , BUT…I think I could give a new climber a better grasp on what the “real” thing is like and what he should know, at a minimum, to reach the top than a gym only climber. I would advise him to get better training on technique than I could provide though.

Now an analogy can’t be perfect in all its facets. I chose to climb, it wasn’t something I was forced into or would rather have avoided like a fight. But this is as close to an explanation of “experience counts” as I can make right now.

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the gun vs knife thing

English: A rubber knife
English: A rubber knife (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you frequent any internet forums that cover defensive tactics, you will encounter the Gun vs Knife debate. “Gun People” argue that “you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight”. They say the gun is an equalizer because a person of any age, size or disability can defeat someone of superior size, strength and number. “Knife people” argue the blade never needs reloading and is often times more lethal on a stab vs single shot basis.

The way I see it, if the knife was a “superior” weapon, Id have one on my duty belt instead of a Glock… The “problem” with the gun is improper training and a belief that having a gun means you only need to train marksmanship skills and no unarmed ones. If incorporated into a good CQB system the gun is as effective close up as a knife.

The knife is an offensive weapon by nature, you have to make contact, slash and stab to make it work. As such there is always going to be an athletic component to its use. The elderly or disabled are just not going to be able to employ a knife in the same manner as a fit and athletic youth. The gun, even with all my proselytizing about CQB and unarmed tactics, is at its root a “point and shoot” affair. The gun can be used defensively by gaining distance, getting cover and using the range advantage to deliver force when necessary but still be a creditable threat at range. The important thing for the operator to learn is to survive the contact range fight, gain distance and get cover. This is an important distinction when it comes to the court battle that will inevitably come after a deadly force situation.

The problem with ANY weapon is who has the intent and initiative! If you have a knife (sheathed) and I have a gun (holstered) and I decide to shoot you and you aren’t expecting it, I’m going to have the advantage because you are going to have to catch up with me (basic OODA stuff). If you already have a knife in your hand and are within 21′ of me and I decide to attack, you have the advantage of already being armed. Id be willing to bet that if you had a knife in your pocket and I had my G27 in a good holster, with my jacket on and unzipped and I was AWARE of you as a threat, I could beat you to it. If you had the knife ready in your hand, it would be a different story. This all cycles back to; tactics, awareness, conditioning, mindset and preparedness being more important than weapons, techniques or styles of martial arts.

The bottom line is that if you are LEGALLY JUSTIFIED in using deadly force it really doesn’t matter if you use a rock, knife, gun, rocket launcher or tac-nuke to the penal law side of the house. The civil law side can be a different story.

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this is what im talking about

I found this video today and I have to say that I like what I see. Florian Lahner, the German CCSD director is teaching techniques that cover all ranges and aspects of combat.

Take a look at the CQB pistol techniques shown in this video, they are prime examples of what has to be learned to avoid the Excalibur Syndrome as I have described it in previous posts.

 

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the master speaks

John Dean “Jeff” Cooper (10 May 1920 – 25 September 2006) is recognized as the father of what is known as “the Modern Technique” of handgun shooting, and was considered by many to be one of the 20th century’s foremost experts on the use and history of small arms. Jeff Cooper is also the author of the Cooper Color Code.

The modern technique emphasizes two-handed shooting using the Weaver stance, and is composed of 5 elements:

  • A large caliber pistol, preferably a semi-auto
  • The Weaver stance
  • The Flash Sight Picture
  • The Compressed Breath
  • Surprise Trigger Break

Cooper believed that the most important means of surviving a lethal confrontation was NOT the weapon nor the martial skills. The primary tool is the combat mindset that he broke down into the following categories:

  • White – Unaware and unprepared. If attacked in Condition White, the only thing that may save you is the inadequacy or ineptitude of your attacker. When confronted by something nasty, your reaction will probably be “Oh my God! This can’t be happening to me.”
  • Yellow – Relaxed alert. No specific threat situation. Your mindset is that “today could be the day I may have to defend myself.” You are simply aware that the world is a potentially unfriendly place and that you are prepared to defend yourself, if necessary. You use your eyes and ears, and realize that “I may have to SHOOT today.” You don’t have to be armed in this state, but if you are armed you should be in Condition Yellow. You should always be in Yellow whenever you are in unfamiliar surroundings or among people you don’t know. You can remain in Yellow for long periods, as long as you are able to “Watch your six.” (In aviation 12 o’clock refers to the direction in front of the aircraft’s nose. Six o’clock is the blind spot behind the pilot.) In Yellow, you are “taking in” surrounding information in a relaxed but alert manner, like a continuous 360 degree radar sweep.
  • Orange – Specific alert. Something is not quite right and has gotten your attention. Your radar has picked up a specific alert. You shift your primary focus to determine if there is a threat (but you do not drop your six). Your mindset shifts to “I may have to shoot HIM today.” In Condition Orange, you set a mental trigger: “If that goblin does ‘x’, I will need to stop him.” Your pistol usually remains holstered in this state. Staying in Orange can be a bit of a mental strain, but you can stay in it for as long as you need to. If the threat proves to be nothing, you shift back to Condition Yellow.
  • Red – Condition Red is fight. Your mental trigger (established back in Condition Orange) has been tripped. You take appropriate action.

The attached video is the “Master” himself instructing a class about the supprise trigger break. Cooper was as much a Sensei or “Master” of his craft as any person trained in classic martial arts.

excalibur syndrome

 

Excalibur Syndrome is a term a friend of mine coined for a tendency toward over-dependence on equipment that some weapon carriers have when confronted with physical force.

Many knowledgeable practicioners have heard of the Tueller Drill or the “21′ rule”, where it is shown that an officer, even with an exposed holster, has difficulty drawing and firing effective hits on a rushing opponent within 21′. The Excalibur Syndrome, while sharing similar roots, is a bit different.

Excalibur Syndrome is the overdependence or “talismanic dependence” on the weapon that causes people to singlemindedly attempt to access it even when they are being attacked. You can see it in officers trying to draw while being repeatedly punched in the face (as is illustrated in the attached video), women attempting to get their OC canister out of their purses while being assaulted and other similar events.

Weapons are important and effective tools that can make the difference between life and death, but they are only effective when they can be deployed. If you are going to be knocked out, choked out or bled out before you can deploy a tool then the tool was useless.

Police firearms instructor Dave Spaulding calls this close range situation “The Hole” . In an article I recommend to every Cop or civilian firearms carrier, Dave says:

The first thing you need to understand: The firearm is not the solution to every confrontation, even if deadly force is justified. When your confines are The Hole, introducing a gun may result in the suspect seizing it and using it against you. My opinion – based solely on personal experience – is that when confronted at double-arm’s length, you need simple-to-perform (but quite effective) hand-to-hand combat techniques, such as knee, elbow, palm-heel, forearm and head-butt strikes. Unfortunately, these skills are being replaced with more complicated subject-control techniques, such as wristlocks, pressure points, grappling and arm-bar takedowns. This is regrettable, because to disengage and create the space needed to employ a firearm, you must make aggressive strikes to soft parts of the body.

In addition, note these three points:

• You cannot draw a holstered pistol against a weapon that is already drawn;
• Action will always beat reaction unless you do something to distract the attacker; and
• If a gun or knife is already in play, the weapon must be the focus of the attack, not the individual

closequarter4

Which is exactly what I am trying to say here. That pistol you spent a fortune on, all that training at Blackwater and Gunsite and your IPSC titles will not save you if  you believe that weapon skills and that magic talisman are all that you are ever going to need. Defensive tactics are layered. If you are able to avoid the situation entirely through wise choices then do so. If you are alert enough to see trouble starting ahead of time you can engage at as far a range as possible and from cover. If you are cornered and can see that trouble is coming you need skill sets to cover that and if you are caught flat footed at close range, you better have the unarmed skills to prevail.

Check out my post on threat indicators, as it goes hand-in-hand with this.

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hagakure

hagakure

Lord Katsushige always used to say that there are four kinds of retainers. They are the “quick, then lapping,” the “lagging, then quick,” the “continually quick,” and the ”continually lagging.”The “continually quick” are men who when given orders will undertake their execution quickly and settle the matter well. Fukuchi Kichizaemon and the like resemble this type.

The “lagging, then quick” are men who, though lacking in understanding when given orders, prepare quickly and bring the matter to a conclusion. I suppose that Nakano Kazuma and men similar are like this.

The “quick, then lagging” are men who when given orders seem to be going to settle things but in their preparation take time and procrastinate. There are many people like this.

Other than these, one could say that the rest are ”continually lagging.”

 

 

Hagakure, roughly translated as Hidden In the Shadow of Leaves, is a book that was authored by the samurai, Yamamoto Tsunetomo, former retainer to Nabeshima Mitsushige, the third ruler of what is now the Saga prefecture in Japan. Hagakure records Tsunetomo’s views on bushido, the warrior code of the samurai.

The Hagakure was written approximately one hundred years after the start of the Tokugawa era, a time of relative peace when Japan was closed to any foreign influence. With no battles left to fight, the samurai class was being transformed into an administrative arm of the government, training and practicing the martial arts but seldom engaging in combat outside of duels and brawls. After his master died, Tsunetomo was forbidden to perform a ritual suicide by an edict of the Tokugawa Shogunate and it is thought that the Hagakure may have been written as a response to the change in tradition and was an effort to define the role of the samurai in this more peaceful society. Several sections refer to the “old days”, and imply a dangerous weakening of the samurai class since that time.

His work represents one approach to the problem of maintaining military preparedness and a proper military mindset in a time when neither has much practical application. The Hagakure remained a fairly obscure work until 1930’s Japan where it played a role in the resurgent militarism of WWII imperial Japan. Illustrating the danger in trying to resurrect modes of thought from times that were vastly different from our own. The student studying these codes needs to remember that the “trick” lays in finding the similarities and consistency in human thought that may have remained over the ages and see how these ancient codes may or may not apply to our times.

 

Some sample translations of Hagakure can be found here.

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being tough isnt the same as being mean

dont_quit

A topic came up in a conversation between a friend and I. It was centered around what we perceive as a trend towards “non-competitiveness” in American education. You have all heard the stories…no dodgeball in school…we cant have “winners” and “losers” because we don’t want our children “feeling” inferior…”failure” is turned into something to be avoided at all times instead of being viewed as a fact of life and an opportunity to grow.

It’s our opinion that children need to be exposed to the “facts of life”. We do fail, we fail all the time. There are winners and loosers in life. You will not be that precious unique snowflake out there in the job market. The idea is to learn what to do with failure, not to teach our children that failure is somehow unacceptable and to be avoided at all costs. That breeds people who never even try.

I think that there has been a bit of confusion between “toughening” our children and making them “bullies” or “mean”. When someone talks about “toughening” up a child it seems to get translated into being some overbearing father who wants to push their child to an unattainable standard. Or the abusive dad transforming their kid into a playground terror. Toughness isn’t the same as meanness.

Mental Toughness is defined as having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables one to cope better than their opponents with the many demands (e.g., competition, training, lifestyle) that are placed on them as a performer. Specifically, to be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, resilient, and in control under pressure.

Teaching our children that they are each a “precious snowflake” is all well and good, but what ultimately serves them better in life, protecting them from the pressures of reality or preparing them for it?

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