Super Secret Tip to Become the Ultimate Ninja/Kung Fu Master

I am now 36 years into my martial journey. If we include the study and use of firearms in all its aspects as part of that, I am actually 46 years into it.

I just celebrated the 36th anniversary of starting down this path when I walked into the dojo of American Karate Studios the day after my 16th birthday. Since that day, there has not been a day that went by that I was not actively training under the eye of an instructor/teacher/coach/mentor, and working either the actual physical actions of it, or the continuing mental obsession about it was not running on loops through my brain.

I think that after that length of time, there are certain conclusions that I can draw about success in training, or the lack there of. Let me give you what I believe – no, scratch that – what I KNOW to be the single greatest key to achieving success, especially for the average, everyday person. This is something that if I were a smart business man, I would not give out freely here. Instead, I would put up one of those hard sell websites with tons of testimonials and hints about this “secret”, and then charge some odd amount like $97 to sell you an e-book that took me 5 minutes to put together. Instead, since I am not a particularly smart man, I will just give it out for free to anyone who bothers to read my ramblings.

So here is the main tool to help you become a fighting master in whatever method or delivery system you choose:

Do what you can, with what you have, in whatever time you can carve out, and DON’T QUIT.

That is it. The one single thing that helped this non-athlete with very little unoccupied free time to achieve a decent level of performance and a level of understanding to the point that I am an okay coach and can get material across to all sorts of people. So let’s break this down and look at what I am trying to say.

One of the underlying trains of thought I hear over and over again whenever I or anyone else brings up the need to work on empty hand skills is an “all or nothing” refrain. That is, if someone can’t get to a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu gym three times a week, then there it is not worth it. Or, if someone has physical handicaps of some sort (injury, age, etc), then again, there is no reason to do any of it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just because we will never be as good as Jon Jones, or George St. Pierre, or Roger Gracie is irrelevant. We are not trying to be them, nor are we in competition with them. We are not really even in competition with the bad guy who may be out there waiting to attack us. While certainly we may need to fight them, we cannot do anything about their ability. We have no control over that. The only thing we can control is our own ability and/or capability, so THAT is who we are in competition with – the us (in an individual sense) of yesterday. All we need to worry about is if we better than we were yesterday.  Even if that better is only measured in fractions, then it is still in a positive and forward motion. Are we more capable and dangerous than we were the day before in any measure? If the answer is yes, then be happy. If the answer is no, then fix it!

There are far too many people who have serious disabilities who do train for that to be an acceptable out. People with cerebral palsy, paraplegics, blind people, folks in the 70s and 80s, etc. all train and even compete. If they can do it, so can you!  There are no excuses. Take a look at this:

 

 

Seriously, if you think because you have a bad back, or have had hip replacement, or only have the use of one arm, then there is no point to trying to improve your ability to defend yourself, you are selling yourself short. Do you think the bad guy cares that you have a bad knee? As a matter of fact, he might target you because of that. There is no special get out of jail free cards. You better be prepared for that assault to the best of your ability, and that preparation starts as soon as possible. Do what you can. If all you can truly do is train at a BJJ or MMA or Boxing gym once a month, then do it. It is better than sitting on your ass in front of the keyboard talking about how your mindset and cool gear will see you through. Don’t settle for being too scared or lazy, and just strive to be a tiny bit more dangerous each day.

Another refrain I often hear to try to excuse someone doing the work is that they don’t have a gym or instructor close by. Well, then look at travelling to seminars and learning and getting better. Or buying DVDs and books. OR looking online to the tons of free videos that are out there. Learn as best you can in a distance format, and practice on your own. There are a lot of things you can do solo. For example, just practicing fundamental BJJ ground fighting movements like hip lifts and hip escapes will help more than you realize. If all you have, is trying to follow along to a DVD, then follow along to that DVD and practice the moves as much as you can. Do what you can, with what you have.

The final excuse that people generally make is “I don’t have time”. That statement is then too often followed by the person saying something like “I spent last weekend binge watching the last season of Game of Thrones”. And they do not see the dichotomy there. Look, there is almost no one on this planet that cannot carve out two minutes to practice something. The busiest person I have ever seen still had a couple minutes of down time. You can use that down time to play Candy Crush mindlessly, or you can use it to make yourself one tiny fractional bit more capable. It is up to you.

I know some of you are saying right now “This is all easy for you to say Cecil since you do this full time and have plenty of time and energy available, and you are a professional martial artist and athlete”. And nothing could be farther from the truth. I don’t do this as a vocation. I do it as an avocation. It is what I love. I put food on the table and a roof over my head by having a real day job that I am at Monday – Friday 8AM – 5PM, and have been that way for the past 30 years since graduating college. There have been times in my life that I was working as many as 80+ hours a week, as well as traveling out of town on weekends. I also have been married and have children so for the past 27 years  I have had full family obligations to occupy non-work time. On top of that, I have no athletic ability whatsoever. I was the kid always picked last for dodgeball (we called it warball) in PE. I also have had pretty severe asthma all my life, with numerous hospitalizations for life threatening attacks (the first was when I was one year old, and the most recent was about 1 ½ years ago). Let me tell you, trying to train hard with that going on presents a lot of challenges. To add to my woes, form everything doctors and lab work have been able to figure out, my thyroid – that wonderful little gland that contributes mightily to things like energy, muscle making, and converting food to useful stuff instead of wasted fat – has never worked . Ever. Makes it more a matter of willpower to train because my body does not have excess energy demanding to be burned off. And as the topper, I am not particularly good at mentally grasping new stuff. It takes me some time to “get it”. In sum, I have exactly ZERO things that people typically look for as a reason that you can get good at fighting. It is not easy for me to dedicate time to do this. It requires me to think and plan ahead, and to exercise a lot of willpower and discipline to execute. I am almost the poster child for having reason to NOT doing this. But I did it, and continue to do so, and the one thing that I had going for me was that I am obstinate as hell. I am plain stubborn. When I set my mind, I will just keep plugging away. It may take a long time (and generally does for me. After all it took me 16 years to get my black belt, when the standard time is 8-10), but I will get there. Which is the final point. This whole study is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Just keep heading that way and stay on the path. DON’T QUIT. It may take awhile, but as long as we are a bit better than the day before, we are headed the right way.

Staying In My Lane

 

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So I need to follow up to my previous post about staying in your lane. I am going to do essentially a public mea culpa and make sure that everyone knows what lanes I should stay in. After all, if I am going to call out others, I should be held to the same standard, right?

I have been actively training in Martial Arts for 36 years. The operative word is ACTIVE.  There has not been a week in that time that I was not training under the eye of a coach/instructor. I have lots of experience in a ton of empty hand systems, as well as multiple methods that involved blade and impact weapons. I have been teaching in small group and private lessons since 1987, and I have been teaching open enrollment seminar/courses since 2007. I have had a semi-successful run in competition (mostly Brazilian Jiu-jitsu tournaments), so I think I can safely say I have by hand-to-hand bases covered as to depth and breadth.

I have been shooting for as long as I can remember. Hunting as early as five years old, and doing a number of shooting and hunter safety classes as far back as eleven years old. I became interested in defensive shooting, particularly with a pistol, in high school around 1980. My college graduation present form my parents was a trip to Gunsite in 1987 to take the 250 General Pistol class with Jeff Cooper there, and Louis Awerbuck as the instructor. I have done courses with famed trainers like Larry Vickers, Pat MacNamara, Kyle Lamb, Tom Givens, Craig Douglas, Chuck Taylor, among others. I have also trained with a number of slightly lesser known, but still excellent regional instructors. /I have regularly competed in Steel Challenge, multi-gun Tactical, and USPSA matches. And I have been fortunate to have spent my life in Arizona, where carrying a gun has always been an accepted thing, even before the current CCW system was in place.  My focus has been more on the pistol, but I have logged plenty of carbine work in as well.

I have had Red Cross CPR/first aid course certifications (which I am actually due as of this writing to renew), as well as some other emergency med training, albeit in a very basic manner and level.

I have been studying strength and conditioning for decades, but though well read and have done a ton of experimentation on myself, I have little formal education there.

So, where does that leave me?

Well, I can safely feel like I have a bit of a handle on the H2H stuff, whether it be unarmed, with blades, or with impact weapons. I’m pretty sure I know some about grappling, both vertically and horizontally. So I have no problem teaching and talking about most things there. Combine that amount of experience with the pistol work, I fell that I can also talk and teach intelligently about the under 5 yards situation with handguns in play.

Can I teach handgun stuff outside of 5 yards? Maybe, but why? I certainly can’t add much to the conversation in comparison to so many better and more experienced trainers out there, whether they are the nationally recognized ones, or the myriad regional instructors. Just within my home city, I am personal friends with 6 or 7 far, far better people who can run a handgun better than me, and have a lot more time actually teaching it to others. Why waste everyone’s time by trying to pretend to be an expert there too?

How about carbine? Eh. Maybe to friends and family informally, but not for money. Again, I don’t have the depth and breadth that so many others have there. Shotgun? Even more so than with carbine.

What about team tactic room clearing? Please! My experience there is totally limited to Call of Duty games. Medical? My nurse daughter would skin me alive if I had the effrontery. What about arrest and restraint methods? My LE knowledge/experience is limited to a handful of ride-a-longs. Me telling a cop with 10 years of street experience how to slap handcuffs is such a nauseating thought. I may be able to give him some ideas of how to postionally control someone on the ground, but that is where I need to stop.

That’s pretty much it. If you see me suddenly advertise “CQB Room Clearing and Face Shooting”, or “Vehicle Extractions”, please call me out publicly in as many places online as possible. Don’t let my head get swelled up and I start thinking I’m all that!

Stay In Your Lane. It’s Okay to do that.

 

One of the great advances in the study of fighting in the self-defense/tactical firearms realm over the past 15 years or so has been the acceptance of the concept that fighting is not one dimensional. Just because you can shoot a pistol or rifle really well in no way means you are prepared to fight to protect your life. On the contrary, now we understand that the study of such activity requires, in addition to firearms skill, the ability to have a functional pre-fight threat containment strategy (including de-selection, de-escalation, knowing how violent criminal actors think and act, verbal judo, etc), strength and conditioning, empty hand fighting ability (both standing and on the ground), blade and impact weapon, less lethal tools such as OC spray, traumatic medical care, and most importantly, how they all work together. In short, rather than a single dimension, we have to be integrated, multi-disciplinary tactical thinkers.

That is an awesome and welcome shift in our collective conceptual outlook, because it makes us better prepared to actually survive worst case scenarios and prevail. However, one drawback to this is the tendency on some instructors’ part to suddenly advertise that they are able to teach everything across the board – that they are, in effect, one shop stops for knowledge.

The simple fact is that this is nearly impossible. The sheer denseness and chaotic-ness of the totality of combat precludes almost any single person from being an expert in every field. There may be some who are great in a few areas, and have experience in some or even all of the others, but to do so with enough depth and breadth that they can teach material? Sorry, it just does not work. Instead of staying in their individual lane(s), they seem to feel that if they don’t project the aura that they know everything about everything, people will stop listening to them. So they then start teaching and offering coursework in areas they are clueless in, or start offering commentary on the viability of others who are actually knowledgeable in another area.

 

Take the example that everyone in the tactical firearms community is probably familiar with – a person who has served in the military in the past 15 years and has involved in real world violence over and over again during the current Global War on Terror. Perhaps they have even served with one of the Tier One Specops units like Delta or the Navy SEALS. Without a doubt, this person knows how to run a rifle, understands fighting mindset, knows team CQB room fighting and open field warfare. Maybe they even were the medic for their unit so they have a solid background in trauma care. Perhaps his unit was one that did some specialized work and used pistols in combat. This person leaves the military and starts teaching to make a living. Now, in those areas discussed above, this person is without a doubt a Subject Matter Expert (SME) and can pass on incredibly valuable lessons. Does that mean he also knows the ins and outs of the realities of concealed carry? What if he spent his entire career in a uniformed capacity? Can he understand what it is like to have to operate daily (not on one and done occasions) in a Non-Permissive Environment (NPE)? What if he starts teaching courses and writing articles on strength and conditioning? What training has he had in that? Just because he himself is in good shape and works out a lot does not mean he has knowledge that everyone else can benefit from. What about knife work? Contrary to what the movies like to portray, the list of combat soldiers that used a bladed weapon on an attacker are far and few between. And don’t even begin to think that there is much instruction or training involving knife work being officially taught to any big time military unit.

A case in point in how to conduct yourself is Kyle Lamb, formerly of Delta. Kyle is a terrific shooter, and decorated and experienced combat vet. His lectures on mindset are phenomenal. His understanding of shooting tactics and running rifles or pistols are at the highest level. Do you know what he never teaches? H2H. Even though he had some Army Combatives training, he knows he is not at a level where he would be comfortable teaching others. And that has not affected how great a fighter or instructor he is. An instructor does not have to be a jack of all trades.

Another glaring example of the exact opposite way to conduct yourself is in the specific world of hand-to-hand combat. Since the Gracie family burst on the scene publicly in the late 80’s and forced everyone to concede that ground fighting is not only a possibility, it may very well be a definite in a fighting scenario. At first, the martial arts world tried to show ways that they could defeat the grappler and never go to the ground (I still have a number of old martial art magazines filled with articles that are laughable in their ignorance on how much of a nightmare an experienced, trained grappler can be), but with years and years of not just Mixed Martial Art (MMA) events like the UFC, but real world video footage that show lots of fights go to the ground, the realization has set in that you better know how to handle it if you do find yourself on the ground. Unfortunately, this has given rise to a number of instructors who try to shroud themselves in the mantle of “expertness” when they have spent little if any time studying grappling. So this person who offers excellent instruction when the fight is upright tries to teach groundwork and makes fools out of themselves. And more importantly, passes on info and techniques that could very well get a good guy killed.

If you cannot point to any serious time in training grappling with specific and exact instructor or gym, and only throw around vague hints that you did this and that, but with no proof, don’t put out videos showing your answers to the ground when all you do is look ridiculous with techniques that are demonstrably idiotic.

To sum up, just stay in your lane. If you are truly an expert in that lane, no one will care if you are not an expert in all of them. That won’t diminish you in any way shape or form. What will diminish you is teaching or talking about stuff you have no clue about. So just don’t.