I joined a second dojo a few weeks ago. The teacher there has extensive experience with boxing, Brazilian Jujitsu (what you do once you’re on the ground for newbies like me), and training students for the sport of MMA. He knows I’m not there for the sport, but the real life applications, and throws me an additional insight from time to time (“here’s what you’d do if you are on concrete…”).
The other aspect I like about this second dojo is the emphasis on full speed, full contact. With fairly complete body armor and *lots* of verbal communication with your partner, we can safely ramp up the sparring while staying in a learning mindset, avoiding that triggered reaction of closing off your mind and going into fight-flight mode.
I’m beginning to think of this less as “self defense” training and more of “self offense” training. Given the scenarios I’m training for (someone trying to abduct my child, etc), my objective is to hit first, even though I am the second to move. A professional trainer named Jerry Lee Peterson came up with this concept first, I think. The idea is the the Bad Guy(s) have made the first move, but through superior conditioning and training, I am the one to land the first significant hit.
Similarly, Paul Evans explains that self-defense is very different than a counter-attack. A defense merely delays the oncoming attack from overwhelming you, whereas a counter-attack stops the attacker by attacking him…which is quite different than defending against him.
Am I ditching my first aikido-based training? No way; it is still the foundation of everything I’m doing, given it’s pure focus of diffusing the negative situation with a positive outcome. How could potentially disabling someone by smashing them in throat and then nuts for a quick “stun and run” be considered positive? Because it is better (legally, ethically) than the alternative. There is a reason the police train in aikido tactics for control and restraint.
Now that I am spending more time on BJJ, I’ve found some interesting thoughts that BJJ instructors are saying about aikido and how one flows into the other. You can see it in Roy Dean, who holds a black belt in both aikido and BJJ. And Ari Bolden, who holds a black belt in aikido, Japanese Jujutsu, and a purple belt under Eddie Bravo. These are genuine Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioners demonstrating an appreciation for aikido. That’s got to say something about the art.
When describing my 3X weekly training sessions I do during my lunch break, I’ve found the easiest, most accurate description is “MMA for self defense, not sport”.
For those that even know what MMA is (“mixed martial arts”) they immediately understand the reference to it not being for sport. In regulated MMA bouts, there are many things off limit, like the gouging of eyes, striking of throats, and kicking of groins. Exactly the type of techniques you want to use in a real life self defense scenario!
For those who know martial arts, I can usually make reference to studying MMA from an aikido perspective and they at least begin to understand why. I’ve been asked if this is Hard Aikido. It’s really not. Hard Aikido appears fairly effective (and darn cool), but it still involves just too many complex moves, and suffers against attacks that are based in grappling.
The Hard Aikido moves are beautiful – a true art – but the spheres involved are just too large. The aikido that my sensei is drilling into me uses very small spheres, usually transitioned to by something in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, Muay Thai, or Wing Chun, depending on the distance of the original attack. Spheres? What are spheres, you ask? Learn more.
For those who have no idea what MMA refers to, they still understand the “self defense, not sport” reference refers to my lack of interest (but not respect) for progressing to higher levels (belts) or doing sport competition. It’s simply me, my sensei, and a desire to learn very practical techniques to protect my family and friends.
I put together the attached diagram to quickly describe what our training is beginning to look like in a flowchart manner (because I’m a dork for diagrams). It’s based off a quick flowchart my sensei drew (as an artist, he also tends to diagram alot; we have a whiteboard in the dojo).
As you go through life, you practice continuous, calm awareness, noted on the left side of the diagram. When a situation progresses from normal (green) to cautionary (yellow) to immediately dangerous (red), my hope is that I train my mind/body to respond automatically in those high stress situations.
Scientific writers describe this auto response as an “autonomic reaction” – an automatic response of the mind and body at a subconscious level. Aikido writers refer to this “move second, strike first” concept as harmonizing, or welcoming the attack. Your awareness to an attacker (moving first) enables you to blend with the attack (moving second) and still land the first blow (striking first). The blow might be a parry done while spinning to one side, but if done in the correct “always thinking forward” mindset, the first strike disables the attacker’s would-be blow.
Of course, the primary goal would be to evade those situations anyway, even before they hit the caution stage.
There are thousands of techniques in the various martial arts that we *could* study, but won’t. Unless you are logging decades of concentrated study inside a dojo, all those techniques just won’t work in a high stress situations when your “fight or flight” adrenaline has taken over your brain and body functions. But if you know a few relatively simple and fast techniques very, very, very well, the mind/body should be able to protect you and your loved ones when it goes into auto-drive.
I get asked often what type of “weapons training” I am doing that does not involve guns. The basic answer of “I train with a stick” usually solicits blank stares in return. Look up a few videos on YouTube like these to see how powerful a practiced stick defense can be:
Arnis (shows transition from stick fighting into unarmed self defense):
Take a moment to look around you and realize just how many “sticks” are within reach as you go about your day. For me, there are usually plenty available (a.k.a. rake, walking stick, tree branch, baseball bat, rebar, shovel, etc).
Warning: take a note from Kip in Napoleon Dynamite. You might not want to train to be a cage fighter by just watching videos. Head to your local dojo for real instruction and full armor/speed practice.
Re-engaged with a new (old) teacher for physical security training recently. I’ve known this fellow for years, trained under him awhile ago, and trust him to teach me these potentially deadly techniques with the correct mindset. Specifically, one of being positive and solution-focused.
He was open to contracting with me for private lessons in a customized format, makes my dojo commute time only 15 minutes (by bicycle) each way, and meets with me during my lunch break. Cool.
We’re studying the same practical topics as krav maga (unarmed defense against chokes, strikes, kicks, knife, and gun), but from an aikido perspective. Aikido is known as the only martial art that is non-aggressive. While I appreciate that fact because I believe in seeking harmony, it also leads to criticisms of the art.
We are attempting to remedy these critiques by bringing in portions of other disciplines, such as Brazilian ju-jitsu (ground work/escape), Wing Chun (close combat), and Muay Thai (striking/kicking distance), with a focus on simultaneous defensive and offensive maneuvers.
Because all aikido-based techniques wait until the other person attempts to do something negative to you before responding, it is great for diffusing potentially negative situations. But in case they can’t be diffused, I’ve added weapons training to my sessions for the jo, kubotan, and stick fighting. Why those specific weapons? Because I already carry them every day.
A jo is basically a long stick. Between hiking sticks and garden tools, I spend a fair amount of my day with something like a jo already in my hand.
A kubotan can be any small cylindrical object. For me, that’s the space pen, small tactical flashlight (during travel) , or pocket multitool (not during travel) that are always in my pockets.
The fighting sticks are martial arts version of a policeman’s baton. I keep a collapsible ASP baton attached to my bedside so I can sleep better.
And why weapons training at all? Because a recent discussion with my wife made it clear to me that I will never be allowed to store guns in our house, loaded or unloaded. Scratch that, once the local coyotes and raccoons started attacking our chickens, guns made it onto the approved list. But this logic still applies for those (many) times when I am not armed. I can usually find something nearby to serve as a stick.
I do not disagree with any of her arguments; I could make all the same arguments myself. But it convinced me of one thing. If I cannot have a “weapon” in the house (e.g. a gun), then I need to become the weapon myself.
This part of my Physical Security task overlaps with my Personal Training task. Much of physical security is centered on hardening my home to burglars and would-be home invaders, but a portion of this task is the hardening of myself.
I’ll also (selectively) begin hardening my family. I want my wife to know how to physically defend herself and escape an attack should I be traveling for work. And I think it is one of my fatherly duties to raise children who know how to responsibly defend themselves and their friends, and to encourage others to think peacefully. As my young son said the other day, “Dad, I think there are alot of unfriendly kids in the world.”
Like many other parts of the Personal Training task, I’m now making up for items I wish I had learned as a youth or young adult. Things like how to solder, how to use a plumb line, or how to disable a person(s) attempting to hurt someone I love. It’s this last item for which I’ve started conditioning recently. I’m now studying martial arts for the first time in a focused, supervised manner at a local dojo.
My primary focus is how *not* to get in a fight; how to deescalate any situation that might cause someone to physically attack you. But part of martial arts is also focused on how to efficiently and effectively disable someone threatening yourself or your family.
Even though we train at speeds well below full speed, I’m going to be lucky to get through this training without breaking my nose at least once.