Entrenched Positions in Self Defense

Although you can and most likely should try to glean what you can from what happened in Las Vegas in regards to your own safety, navigating a panicked crowd, etc., I want to make it clear that this post was written and prepped for publishing late last week before everything went down. So, no, I will not be talking about Las Vegas in this post.

The hardest thing, I’m told, is attacking an entrenched position. The challenge comes in the form of finding a way to maneuver around, to flank the position. This is just as true on the battlefield (never served, comment here is made from reading and going off what I’m told from servicemen who’ve “been there”) as it is when discussing opinions, especially hot button ones. You have to maneuver, you have to flank in order to get through the faulty logic and reasons in order to communicate effectively.

On practically every topic, you will find entrenched positions – regardless of fact, regardless of information or misinformation – it’s practically a given nowadays.

It doesn’t take long to find these entrenched positions in regards to self-defense.

If you hang around anyone self-defense minded long enough, you’ll eventually hear them talk about protecting their family and sometimes about how if “the day” comes, that they’ll be able to do it.

They’ll be ready. Full stop.

From my personal experience among those in the self-defense world, most of those who are “entrenched” fall in line with someone who – despite being well-meaning, – is untrained, unprepared, unhealthy (usually a few rolls over the belt), uninformed, or some sort of combination of those four.

I’ve had both failures and successes in the few conversations I’ve had with well-meaning folk like that fall into this category. The failures, of course, came from doing exactly what you shouldn’t do and the successes came from flanking to see what was behind the entrenchment.

When I’ve gotten around, I’ve tried to understand exactly why they believe they’ll be able to deliver on “the day”. Maybe its a form of cognitive bias, or confirmation bias – I’m not really sure – they insist that they will be able to deliver on “the day” despite training, despite physical fitness, despite mental preparation and counting the cost due to a myriad of reasons: the adrenaline surge, the love for their family, the anointing of God (think Samson), the weapons they possess, the “cowardice” of the criminal, etc. I have had at least five one on one conversations of this caliber over the last handful of years.

This subject popped back into my head again after my writing my posts about preparing for and participating in my first BJJ Tournament (See here, here and here.)

Firstly, as I cannot and do not speak on behalf of the trained warriors in our society (LEO, Soldiers, Special Forces), for the civilian, nothing can fully, truly, “prepare” us 100% for the time that violence comes to our doorstep. The closest we can get to 100% preparedness is training.

Serious training.

Training, drilling, stress testing the skill set learned, repetition upon repetition upon repetition, pushing your body physically, inoculating yourself to stressors similar physiologically to a real fight, rinse, repeat.

Over and over.

Similar to my experience at the tournament. I had trained, trained and trained some more. I had pushed myself with physical training on top of BJJ. I had taken care of my body with proper fuel and severely limited my intake of sweets and junk. I rolled many, many times with people who are better than me, both equals as far as rank as well as higher belts. I did everything that I thought was right to do in order to prepare. All of it certainly helped.

And here is where I tie this back in to the subject of self-defense.

At the end of the day I still found myself lacking and among the participants who did not go home in the top tiers of their brackets. I lost.

Does that mean I will lose in a real life fight? Not necessarily. However, I have gone so far as to see how my mind and body would react against an opponent who didn’t know me and was going full power against me to put me down. I put my BJJ skill set, technically speaking, to the best stress test I could and came back with a couple of losses.

Now, what if I believed with all my heart that the adrenaline would somehow get me through the matches – without training, without preparation – see what I’m getting at there?

My wife and kids were watching, too, and I love them dearly. But my love for them didn’t give me any special abilities. I personally do not buy the stories of “I know a guy who knew a girl who knew the cousin of the roommate of the person who bench-pressed a car off their baby”. People, no matter how much they love you or you love them, cannot imbue you with a super human strength and berserker warrior ability when their lives are in danger.

Guns aren’t magical. They are tools. Inanimate objects, devoid of special powers. Like it or not, when operating said tools in a real situation, what we have or haven’t trained will be to our benefit or detriment, and even that will be a severely downgraded version of our best training. I can’t be hardware oriented, tools are just tools.

I could’ve worn my coach’s brown belt and his favorite Gi but those things are just clothing – there isn’t anything magical or special in them that could transfer to me. It is the training that the person wearing the Gi and belt have put in that makes the difference.

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Hopefully you are tracking the overarching point of this post.

I won’t magically “have it” on the day that “shit goes down”.

This isn’t a mythical legend I am living in.

This isn’t a cartoon.

If I am serious about protecting my loved ones or myself, then it should behoove me to remove the planks from my eyes, take an unflinching objective look at what I am doing and weigh it against what I am not doing, and adjust accordingly.

Nothing can substitute training and preparation.

My life and the lives of those I love do not deserve anything less.

Train, then train some more.

Deeds over words.

So, some may be thinking, “Well, Tom, do you think you’ll be ready when/if the day comes?”

My answer: Am I willing? 100% Am I able? 100% Will it be enough? I hope so.

I don’t think I’ll ever come to a place where I believe I have done “enough”.

I have work to do. What about you?

Pursue Mastery.

choose-wisely

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BJJ White Belt: After the Tournament – Part 2

 

img_7825.jpgIf you would’ve told me a year ago that I would be training in Jiu-Jitsu, I would’ve liked the sound of that and more than likely believed you. It was on my radar. As someone who takes an interest in self defense and protecting my family, I knew that I needed to improve my “ground game” (read as: non-existent ground game).

If you would’ve told me a year ago that I would be training and competing in Jiu-Jitsu, I would’ve been highly skeptical. Full contact competition was a far off dream; an aspiration that I had discarded to the “I missed my window” bucket of my life.

On Friday morning, the day before the tournament, I reflected on everything I had gone through and endured in the last two-plus-years to arrive at this point. Participating in this tournament was very meaningful to me. Meaningful as a martial artist. Meaningful as a man pursuing mastery in his life. Meaningful as a father and husband. Meaningful to my life’s journey as a whole.

Getting there Saturday morning, standing in the gym with the noise of the cheering, the coaches yelling to their students from the sideline, the announcements over the PA system, the buzz and vibrant energy…it was an interesting experience, to say the least.

I hope that I remember this tournament for a long time to come. Not only to build off the things I learned, but also to remember it from the white belt viewpoint. I like helping people, so I want to use this experience to help my teammates who are yet to join our ranks as competitors, and also to help you, dear reader, if you should raise your hand and step on to the mat for the first time. Perhaps what I write here and the words of wisdom from my Coach, will help you to be successful in more ways than just medals, when you get to your first tournament. Perhaps you are farther down the line and you have forgotten what it’s like to be a white belt. Hopefully these BJJ White Belt posts are helpful.

The Footage

Looking Back, Being Real

I’ve watched the above footage of my fights handfuls of times. As I watched, I would recall as best as I can what was going through my mind, what my body was feeling. As I watched, I would pay close attention to my performance, listening to the words my coach was shouting from the side of the ring, and above all seeing where I made mistakes. From all of that, I’m making notes of things I think I need to work on; resolving to get back on the mats and do better.

Pause.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in not securing the win.

Bluntly?

It fucking sucked.

With my coach, my teammates and friends and my wife and children watching – I didn’t come through… twice.

Fucking. Sucked.

You, like I, could have the best attitude in the world. You could understand and accept that you win or learn and be dedicated to learning from your mistakes. You could be a good sportsman, sincerely congratulate your opponent and be mature about your loss. But if you lose, you are going to be disappointed, upset and maybe even a bit pissed off.

I think that it should happen, if you want to get better and improve. You should be disappointed. You should be pissed. That is the part of your ego that pushes you to do better, to become more than you are, to learn from your fuck ups and blast through them next time. The wrong path, of course, is to be so upset, so disturbed, that you are a puddle of melted snowflakes. Don’t be that person. Be the other. The one who brushes himself of, gets up and moves forward.

If you lose and can’t think of a single thing you did wrong, I think that’s hubris trying to cover your feelers from getting hurt.

Embrace the fail, the suck, then move forward.

That’s the step I’m on. Moving forward.

Mind and Body

I mentioned above that I tried to recall how I was thinking and how my body was feeling.

I mentioned in the previous post about my nervousness. The nerves quieted down when I committed and stepped on the mat. The first round was exhausting, it felt more exhausting than the second even though I think I expended more energy in the second round fighting and keeping my opponent in my closed guard. Correction, I know I used more energy. That’s one thing my coach and I went over regarding the second fight.

As far as the mental plane is concerned. I wasn’t afraid. I just got frustrated… a lot. This is an area Coach and I have been working on and will keep working on. I didn’t execute with conviction. What I mean by that is this: there were techniques that I have successfully executed during live rolls in class, techniques that were part of my game plan for the tournament, and I didn’t have enough faith in myself to pull them off. I heard my Coach, I barely saw the openings, but my lack of confidence in executing instead of listening to my coach, drawing on the successes and executing with belief and conviction in them, led to that failure.

Reviewing the footage, it was painfully obvious the openings that were presented to me.

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Back to the physicality of the tournament. I’ve trained, I’ve conditioned and I’ve regularly hit the gym as well as the mats and those two rounds were extremely taxing. In a prior post I spoke about how my body and mind shut down during some rolls with my team. During that first roll, those same physical and mental things began but I was able to push through it and it was easier on me.

The unpredictability and uncertainty of an opponents game, plus the fight or flight physiological responses your body generates, added to going full on against said unknown opponent add up to an entirely different experience when compared against rolls with teammates. Even those taxing and exhausting rolls with your teammates where you feel like collapsing on the floor afterwards. Its just different.

My grip was shot by the end of the second roll. My forearms, especially my right as I favored the cross collar grip on both fights, were pumped out and it took almost ten minutes before I could unscrew the cap for my water bottle. Seriously.

I woke the next morning sore. Primarily my upper back, arms and forearms but I did have some stiffness in my legs and glutes. I only did two rolls, going the full five minutes each time, but it had felt like I had gone through a harder workout. That’s the physiological response, the adrenaline, the amped senses and muscles, etc.

The Team

We’ve spent a great deal of time coming together and fostering the environment for both competitors and non-competitors to come together as a team. We had spent countless hours preparing, drilling, rolling, sweating and nursing our bodies back to health only to do it all again over the last three plus months. We truly wanted the best for each other and looked out for one another as best as we could all the way to the tournament and back. The camaraderie, the support and care for each team member was evident

Coach tried his best to be ringside at every match, but when it came down to multiple team members being on multiple rings at the same time, we all made sure to have at least one team member ringside to help the one in the ring. Coach had instructed us on this prior to the tournament: things to say, things not to say. Our primary objective would be to help the teammate in the ring keep track of time and points if Coach couldn’t be there.

“Okay, you’ve got four minutes left. Take your time.”

“You’re up by 3 points, keep going, you’re doing great!”

“Okay, you are down by 2, don’t worry about that. Let’s look a better position to even the scales. You’ve got three minutes to go, you can do this.”

Things like that.

Now, to preface what I’d like to share next, you need to understand that there were three brackets in which at least two of our teammates were competing together. This means that there could potentially be a fight for 1st and 2nd place at the top against our own teammates. Some gyms are fine with this, but as Coach explained to us before the tournament, we wanted to shut brackets down, not go against one another at the top. We roll against one another all the time at the gym and we didn’t drive two+ hours, spend extra time training, extra money on food, lodging, gas and entrance fees…just to roll against our own teammates. So if it came down to going for first and second place, we agreed that we would not fight, we’d have pre-arranged who took the gold and silver medals.

Hopefully, you see where this is going.

One of my teammates was competing in the same bracket as I. I have to give him massive props for his performance, sportsmanship and being a solid teammate. He lost his first round and won his second. His third round he was bracketed against me, which would’ve been my second round. It wasn’t a fight for first and second. We were in the consolation bracket going for third.

So, he and I were taken back for a second.

We told the judges as they called us up that we were from the same school/team and didn’t want to fight each other. Instead of arranging it differently, they told us “that’s just what happens”. My teammate then replied, “He’s going through, then. We’re not fighting each other.” The judges agreed to the request and they changed the bracket up.

Double elimination. He was out of the tournament.

Read the last two sentences again. Appreciate them.

He gave up his third fight so I could have a solid second fight against a different opponent. It was an honor that I still don’t believe I deserved. So for that reason alone, you could appreciate why I am so disappointed that I couldn’t secure the win on my second fight. I owed it to my teammate to give my best and secure the win.

I owe him one.

So, yeah, the team is solid. Continually getting closer as a unit, a tribe, a family.

We, as a team, did amazingly well in the tournament. 8 competitors, 6 medals including one double gold! A medal in each bracket that we competed in, save for mine. That’s pretty damn impressive! As a new school, going on 1 year old in early October, we were barely a blip on the radar on the day of the tournament. By the end of the day, each of us had multiple conversations from people we either competed against or others we didn’t know coming up to us and asking where we were from, who we were, etc.

We turned heads.

Back to the Garage

“It’s just like building a race car – you run it, see what works and doesn’t, back to the garage to tweak and mod until the next race.” ~Coach Shane

By this Wednesday’s training, as I said, I had reviewed the footage multiple times. I knew what I did wrong. Coach knew what I did wrong. Coach knew that I knew what I did wrong and he confirmed that as we reviewed the film together at class.

  • I fought too long and hard to keep my opponent in my guard, tweaking and modifying is needed here, back to the garage.
  • My framing for someone getting into side control on me is getting better, but it needs some tweaks, back to the garage.
  • I need to look at setting up multiple attacks instead of working one really hard then switching entirely to something else, back to the garage.
  • My sweeps need improving, back to the garage.
  • I need to put more confidence and faith in my takedown ability, back to the garage.
  • There are things that I am looking to implement in my workouts to continue increasing my strength conditioning as well as my cardio (sprints and steady paced), back to the garage.
  • Props to my opponents for their wins, but I allowed them to dictate the pace of the fight instead of setting the pace myself, being more aggressive and more assertive, back to the garage.

Back to the garage I go. Back to the garage our team goes, pushing each other and working with each other to improve and hone our game. There are a couple tournaments before the end of the year. I’m not sure if we will compete in those. For now, I’m sticking in the garage, but for any of my teammates who want to get out on the track sooner, I’ll be doing my part to help out. I know they’d do the same. I’ll be looking to compete at least twice in 2018, maybe more.

We’ll see what the year brings.

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Moving Forward – It’s Over

“What you’ve gotta understand is that it’s over. Seriously! Nobody cares anymore. That win is only as good as that day. If the day were done over again, a lot of the people who won could’ve lost. It’s like Any Given Sunday that way.

The only thing that matters is how good your Jiu-Jitsu was on that day, and now it’s over. It doesn’t matter anymore.

When the next tournament comes, it doesn’t matter if you medaled three times in the prior tournament. You still start from square one. Your prior wins don’t count at the new tournament.

Those who won might not have taken as much away, learning-wise, compared to those who lost. It’s hard to win gold and then try and dissect that performance, why mess with it?

It’s over.

Everyone, even the gold medalists have room to grow- that’s why we do this, to measure ourselves and then improve.” ~Coach Shane (an amalgam of a handful of recent conversations)

It’s over. Something I needed to hear.

I’m moving forward. Something I needed to do.

I know I am harder on myself than anyone else is. I’m well aware of my flaws, my shortcomings, my failures and mistakes, as a father, husband, friend and even in BJJ. But I move on. No navel gazing. No “woe is me”. No bullshit.

It no longer matters what happened. What will I do today to improve?

Back to the garage.

Pursue Mastery.

**Hey there, thanks for reading this post! If you find value in the writing you find here, the biggest compliment I can receive is for you to share the ever loving shit out of it. Thanks again for reading!**

Train, train more. Train harder.

Inspired by this post over at SHTFPLAN.

Antifa (link for humor, but truth is oft found in humor) and their ilk are speaking more and more about training, organizing, and learning how to be proficient in hand to hand combat as well as weapons. These are people who are willing to make IEDs out of glass bottles and M-80s and throw them into a crowd, as well as deliver bricks to the face of someone opposing them.

They are willing to be violent, very willing. Just disagreeing with them is enough of a reason for them to become violent. Now granted, I’m not looking to go to events in places that mobs like this congregate, but that’s not the point. I could be caught unaware and be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Shit happens. The point that I want to focus on here is training. How well are you going to fare against them when they up the ante on their training and you are at the wrong place at the wrong time and you just happen to look like someone they hate and do not tolerate?

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Train, train more.

Train harder.

Like I was explaining to a friend a few weeks back. I’m not training to defend myself against a coward who will tuck tail and run as soon as my right cross connects with his chin. No. I’m training for the 350lb gorilla looking motherfucker with his five friends ambushing me, hell-bent on destroying me and doing unspeakable evil to my loved ones. My mindset is this: I am the only one that stands in the way.

Appropriately enough, Tim Kennedy shared a similar sentiment this morning. Emphasis in bold is mine.

If you keep knocking on the devil’s door, at some point he is going to answer it. In that single moment, when you’re going to have to fight for your life, what you do then and there truly won’t matter. There will have been thousands of decisions up to that point that will dictate the outcome. Every one of those decisions contributes to your survival or failure and potential death. Your life may not matter, but those behind you that you are there to protect will face the horrors of evil without you standing in the way. Have you trained? Have you put the blood, sweat, and tears into preparing for this chance to be the defender we need? Your spouse, children, and potentially hundreds of innocent and vulnerable lives, with nothing to stop the violence headed their way but you… what have you done to prepare you for that fight?

I’ll look this devil trying to dish out death straight in the eye and tell him to pick his poison. Either way, he’s going to die.  ~Tim Kennedy

Now, if recently re-enlisted Special Forces/retired UFC MMA fighter Tim Kennedy believes there is no such thing as enough training, and if others like him down the line believe the same, and guys like me who are so low on the totem pole that we’re not even on the radar believe there is no such thing as “enough”… What makes you believe your training is enough?

Train, train more.

Train harder.

There is no such thing as “good enough”. Do not believe for one second that you can “just go to guns” or draw a knife and be guaranteed victory. No, train with the understanding and mindset that there are people out there that can easily take that gun from you and whip you to death with it, or take that knife from you and ventilate your chest cavity with impunity.

Let that sink in.

I am not the baddest, meanest, most lethal motherfucker out there, I am well aware of my shortcomings as well as my proficiency. That being said, every day I am trying to get the edge of my “knife” sharper. To be more resilient, stronger, faster, to endure more and be harder to kill than I was yesterday. This is why I enjoy training with and around guys who are better than me. This is why I seek out training from highly proficient people whenever I can: the range, the gym, the mat. I keep hubris in check and embrace the humility of knowing there are always bigger, stronger, faster, more proficient people out there.

Train, then train more.

Train harder.

Pursue Mastery.

Acta Non Verba

“A good man doesn’t go around begging people to believe in his goodness. His actions and behavior speak for him.” ~C.H.

As the Scripture goes, “by their fruit you shall know them”. Actions and behavior, these things prove what you are about; these are the fruits of what you really believe or value. You can emote, prattle on and make convincing cases about all the things you believe or support and the positions you take. But without corresponding action, it doesn’t really matter.

Men. Fucking. Do.

Acta Non Verba. Actions not words. Like it or not, this is the plumb-line. You’ve heard it a million different ways: Talk is Cheap. Put up or Shut up. Put your money where your mouth is. Walk the walk. Prove it.

If you pause and listen to all the talk around you from your friends, your family, your coworkers, etc., and compare what they say versus what they do, you can very quickly make assessments as to who is full of shit. Their behaviors and actions prove what they are really about. This is very disruptive, I know, because talk is always the easier and more comfortable path. It’s disruptive because it is the wind that will cause our house of cards to tumble and be scattered. Politics, Religion, Work, Relationships, Passions, Hobbies, Businesses, etc… all of these and more are weighed by what you do over what you say. Well, except maybe politics and religion, people seem to eat up massive amounts of bullshit in this area before calling leaders out on what they actually do… but I digress.

Acta Non Verba not only sifts the wheat from the chaff, but it can actually help us find the harmony in our own beliefs as well. Notice, I said harmony and not balance. Balance is like a see-saw with no motion. Harmony is more like two people working in cooperation with each other on that see-saw. The tides ebb and flow, bands and orchestras work together, peoples and tribes find a way to create civilization. It is all more harmony than balance. Applying Acta Non Verba helps find the harmony by prioritizing and executing; sifting through and finding the most important things and then acting on them first.

I’ve been putting Acta Non Verba into action in my own life over the last few years; taking inventory of what I do versus say and focusing on the doing more than saying. And if I don’t do then I shut the fuck up. It is a great reminder to continually strive to become a better man. To show, through my consistent actions and behaviors, the kind of man I am and am becoming. Talk is cheap. Actions have value.

No more, “I’m gonna do…”. No more, “I’m planning on doing…”. No more, “I should do…”

No more. NO MORE.

“Talk – Action = ZERO”

There is much more that could be unpacked here, but I am trying to keep my posts shorter and to the point.

ACTA. NON. VERBA.

Pursue Mastery.

 

BJJ White Belt: Starting from the Bottom

Keeping in line with pursuing my goals for 2017, I recently opened a new chapter in my life and began learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Day 1, Intro Class.

For the first time in years I joined a martial arts school, put on a uniform (Gi) and donned a white belt. It is a newer school in the area led by both an experienced brown belt and a purple belt. The rest of us are white belts of varying degrees and as of this writing, I only have five sessions under my belt. The other white belts are light years ahead of me.

And I don’t mind it at all.

In fact, I’m loving it.

I’ve had the opportunity to be a “white belt” in many areas over the last few years. Weightlifting for one; learning the proper form for the big lifts and slowly progressing upwards until I hit my goals.

Taking an amazing Pistol Course last year is another.

Although the feeling of being a fish out of water or not knowing your ass from a hole in the ground or being shown just how much of a “white belt” you really are can be frustrating, to say the least, it is one that I enjoy in a twisted sort of way. There is always room to grow and become better.

Ego and Hubris (the way I view them), don’t get along.

Ego is a positive force in your life as it drives you to do better, to want to become more and strive to go to the next level. Hubris is the part that has to be checked.

Hubris will tell you, “You’re good enough, just the way you are.”

Ego says, “You can do better. You can improve.”

Hubris says, “Just practice on your own. You got this.”

Ego will reply, “You should practice on your own, but you also need to seek training. You need to get around people who are better than you so you can be challenged, stretched and step your game up.”

And I’ve had plenty of opportunities to either let my ego push me towards growth or let hubris pull me towards stagnation.

Humility is a necessity to furthering your training.

Like I mention in the above linked article about humility, I like to approach training with an “empty cup” mentality. It helps me to keep hubris in check, even in “familiar” territory, so I can learn and absorb as much as possible in order to grow and become better. It can be hard at times, but I’ve found that taking the empty cup approach usually yields the most return on investment for me.

So now I’m learning BJJ, starting from the bottom in so many ways. I’m still green. I’m in unfamiliar territory. Flopping around on the mat, trying to learn how to roll my body. I am dripping wet with sweat after each session. I’m learning that while what I’ve accomplished in the gym regarding strength and endurance is good, it’s not everything against a younger, lighter training partner who is even a month or two ahead of you in practice. There are different breeds and degrees of strength and endurance needed for this new chapter. To top it all off, I’m nursing a weakened/strained shoulder due to over-training at the gym.

There are ample servings of humble pie for me to digest during this new season of my life.

My cup is so damn empty.

And I’m fucking loving it!

Another day of training, another opportunity to improve.

Use your Ego for good. Check hubris at the door. Become better.

Pursue Mastery.