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An Ode to the Bully

Beware the bully, his shoulders held high,

See how his chest puffs, his gaze holds your eye

Note now the lopsided lope of his stride,

Observe affectations that betray his pride.

He paces his habitat, the Friday night pub,

As he searches for victims amongst the hubbub

The shy the fearful, the innocent or weak

The wealthy the happy, the loner the freak

His gaze flits to and his gaze flits fro,

Scanning the crowds for that tell-tale show

He watches for clues, for evidence to stack

Until he finds the pup that strays from the pack

Predators, you see, never like their prey

To be tricky to taste, or to have to pay

With their own blood for their evening meal

Preferring instead to trick, trap or to steal

“For what good is a feast,” they seem to say,

“If it’s so hard earned as to spoil my day.

Or end my days or cause on me

The pain and suffering I intended to thee.”

And so they wait, and pick and choose,

Until they find a victim whose

Attention is spent on a phone or a book,

Too busy with text to take time to look

Above and beyond their own personal space,

Into the crowd for an unfriendly face

Or who’s defences are downed by a whisky too many,

As they stumbles alone off to ‘spend a penny’.

Or those who through their signals alone,

Declare their fear of the dark, the wide unknown

Or perhaps those whose bodily cues seem to say

That they don’t present a risky buffet.

The fidget, the hunch, the averted eye,

The mumbled words, the timid reply.

For the lost and the lonely, they serve such a rich

Juicy and succulent victim sandwich

But all this grand strategy, this plan of attack

Do little more than to point to the crack

In his armour, the chink, the fatal flaw,

The Achilles heel, the open back door.

The bully you see doesn’t like it when

The fox’s tail gets pecked by the hen

So more often than not the medicine, the cure,

Is little more than a good punch in the jaw.


How Not To Get Hit (Front Cover)_001

Is it just me, or does anybody else out there associate colours with different days of the week?  Here’s how it goes for me: Monday is blue, Tuesday is kind of light grey, Wednesday is a decent orange – but not as bright as an actual orange, Thursday is dark brown, Friday is black, Saturday is white, and Sunday is kind of a ruddy red.

I don’t know why, but it’s been that way since school. Probably it was imprinted on me when I learnt them on colour-coded flash-cards, and everyone else in my class has the same associations whilst those down the corridor, with a different teacher, have different colours, or stripes, or cartoon animals.

So much of our world isn’t actually what’s really there, but a dangerous cocktail of our expectations and interpretation of reality.  We take input from our sensory organs, send it to the brain, and the brain decides what the most sensible interpretation should be.  We all carry our own little versions of the Matrix in our heads, telling us what’s happening and what’s probably going to happen next.

Take pain, for example.  I mean all it is, really, is your brain telling you something’s happening.  It takes an electrical signal, makes a decision that that thing is unadvisable or unwanted, and provides you with a cheery little warning.   Really, it’s the same signal that tells you you’re being stroked, or tickled, or gives you that random itch on the one occasion when you can’t reach your nose – just a little louder.

In fact if you want to find out which bits of you hurt and which bits of you don’t without going through the trauma of stabbing yourself all over with a compass*, tickling can be a useful (and if you bring a friend perhaps fun) alternative.  If it tickles, there’s a cluster of nerve endings.  If there’s a cluster of nerve endings, it’ll hurt more than a bit that doesn’t tickle.

There is, of course, a reason for this – nerve endings are clustered around areas of the body that need to be protected, to give the best possible early warning that they’re threatened.  Which is why you must escape a tickle.  And why palms, feet, belly neck and armpits are classic areas of child torture and cruelty for fathers everywhere.

But it’s not real, you know.  It’s the matrix.  And like Keano, you can break it if you know how.  You can manipulate that mix of expectation and interpretation and turn it into your best weapon.  I’m not talking about how to hit the bits that hurt, though.  That rarely works, particularly in the middle of an adrenaline fuelled, alcohol filled fight.  After all most fights include one of those things, probably both, and both are pretty effective pain-killers.

No, I’m talking about manipulating the pain response, the interpretation of pain signals, and using it as a disruption to turn things in your favour.  Playing your opponent on a string like a puppet master, if you will.  And so, without further ado, I bring you How Not to Get Hit’s patented three rules of pain.

One – the brain can only process (give or take) seven things at any one time.  If you provide more than seven signals, or stimuli, when defending yourself (a series of relatively hard & committed strikes, slaps, or pushes will do) to as many targets as you can get to, it will become increasingly hard for your opponent to respond.  Anyone out there who grew up on eighties Manga, think the seven finger exploding heart technique from Fist of the North Star.  But manage your expectations – no hearts will explode in the execution of this technique.  What will happen though, if each strike is hard enough to send a disruption signal to the brain or is aimed at an area where this disruption signal is hard-wired (like the eyes, groin or throat), is that the attacker will find all the distractions a confusing fog of movement and will likely become less responsive to a) one big mother sucker punch to get them the hell off you and / or b) a hardy shove on the chest, away and slightly downward to break posture, create distance, and get out of there.

Two – the anticipation of pain is worse than the pain itself.  If you can get your attacker to fear pain, then it is likely their will to fight will be reduced in proportion with their belief in their ability to win without injury.  Your ability to fight will, in turn, increase with your belief in your ability to win.  To continue my eighties film analogy, this is the bit where they found the glowing green blood on a leaf in Predator: “If it bleeds, we can kill it”.

Now this can be tricky, since as we mentioned earlier the first thing to go when the adrenaline (or vodka) kicks in is pain sensation.  So instead of going for pain, go for the areas of the body which pain was designed to protect, the vital areas.  Attack the eyes, the throat, the plexus, kneecaps, groin, feet and hands.  Areas of high sensitivity, and areas that the body is hard-wired to protect.  Get a good shot in one of these areas and watch the pain cut through, as the bring tries to protect something it actually needs to survive this fight in the first place.

Also, threaten pain.  Now if he’s attacking you, waving your fist ain’t gonna cut it – we’ve already established that in his assessment of you he’s seen nothing he finds particularly scary.  However if you introduce something that will trigger that response, then the stakes are changed.  Normally I wouldn’t be the one to encourage a weapon since pulling a knife is actually a pretty good predictor that you, yourself, are going to get stabbed.  However if your life is in danger, then picking up something that your attacker fears will do them damage, and waving it about, can be a pretty effective means of halting an attack as self-preservation kicks in.  What’s around you – any ash-trays, chairs or bits of wood?  Get creative; I once saw a kid pick up a bicycle and wave it at his attacker – who stopped, perhaps out of confusion more than anything else.

Three – pain is worse than the anticipation of pain, if it’s unpredictable.  Fear of the unknown is our most powerful, and debilitating fear.  Apart from giant hairy spiders and, for some reason, the witch from the Moomins.  Or is that just me (last obscure 80’s TV reference, I promise).

Now, for the record, we’re getting more into control & restraint territory here than self-defence so if you’re just reading for personal safety purposes, you can skip this bit as it really isn’t relevant.  Still with me?  OK.

Now, what bugs me a lot in martial arts, is when somebody gets a good lock then uses it as an opportunity to test out their newest pressure points.  It’s normally junior grades who do this, as soon enough one finds out the hard way that the quickest way to get a badger to furiously break out of a cage is to poke it with a stick.

However in the process of manipulation, control and restraint giving someone a reason to expect a certain pain from a certain direction is very effective at reducing their resistance to pain from another.  Think of it as an attack on a castle.  You move all your forces to repel an attack on the East wing, which leaves you wide open when the sneaky force advancing behind uprooted trees to breach the West wing (Shakespeare reference that one – pat yourself on the back if you got it).  Get half a lock on, make a big show of a kick or a punch being brewed up in eyeshot, then get a sneaky one in out of their line of site from the other side in a wizardly example of misdirection.  You’ll find it a very effective way of breaking resistance, creating confusion and controlling direction.

So there you have it.  How Not to Get Hit’s introduction to pain.  I’ve barely touched the surface here really, you could fill a whole book with this stuff but at least here, with a bit of though, play and practice, you’ll find something that comes in handy one day.  Whatever colour, or pattern, or cartoon animal, you personally feel that day to be.

*You know, like you did at school to your friends in maths class.  A friend of mine, John, once was asked by another friend, Andre, if he could stab him in the hand with a compass.  Expecting a playful poke, he unwisely agreed.  What he was not expecting was for Andre to suddenly grab his write, pin his hand to the table, raise his compass high above his head like a talisman, and bring it down with all his might**.  It got noisy.  To the best of my knowledge he still can’t wiggle his little finger.

**He should have – this is a guy who once threw a wheely-bin through a classroom window, and took a box of Rice Crispies onto the school bus only to, in turn, throw them at people and shove them up his nose screaming “set the crispy bits free!” at the top of his voice.  Unpredictable, is what I’m saying.

Something a Little Different for the Weekend

How Not to Get Hit has a friend in China who arranges Kung Fu experiences for people looking for a life-changing adventure, from one month to one year.

He’s a fascinating bloke, who has his own blog.  It’s been a busy month for me so in the absence of writing one myself, I thought I;d share with you an interview he recently did  with a genuine, bona-fide Kung Fu Chinese master.  Just to open your eyes a little to life on the other side of the world; everyone could do with having their horizon’s broadened from time to time…

If you like what you read, why not take a closer look at what they do over at – you never know, it might change your life

Interview with Zhou Zhen Dong of Taiji Mantis

Zhou Zhen Dong is the head of the Yantai branch of Taiji Mantis. The sole inheritor to his teacher, Zhang Kai Tang, he teaches Taiji Mantis as well as Hao family Meihua Mantis. Highly respected both in China and the west, he has taught students from many countries, including UK, USA, Austria, Hungary, Russia and Japan as well as various parts of China. 



Zhou Zhen Dong performing “facing the heavens elbow”

Zhou Shifu, please could you tell us how you started your training in Kung Fu 

My first teacher was called Yu Zhi Ru. I was around 15 when I started training with him.  

Master Yu was a Chinese doctor. He would read people’s pulse and prescribe them herbs for a small fee. He did this secretly. He was very skilled, you didn’t need to tell him what illness you had, he could tell by your pulse. Actually I met him because he was a friend of my grandfather. When I was a child he often came to our home, and sometimes he talked about kung fu, showing us some moves. I was interested, and started learning “sheng yuan men” (saintly ape style) from him. The forms included “bai yuan chu dong” (white ape exits the cave), “bai yuan kui yuan” (white ape spies the orchard), “bai yuan tou tao” (white ape steals a peach), “bai yuan gun” (white ape staff), “bai yuan xian tao” (white ape offers the peach), “bei dou quan” (fist of the north star). These are derived from a Chinese myth.

 Could you share the myth for those unfamiliar

 There was a white ape. His father died and then his mother got ill from depression. White ape heard there was an orchard on a mountain where the peaches of immortality grew every 500 years. He decided to get his mother a peach. So after leaving his cave he set off on a long journey. When he finally arrived on the slopes of the sacred mountain, he found the orchard, first spying it from afar to see if it was guarded. Seeing the coast was clear he ran right in and stole a peach. However he was caught by Er Lang and the two of them had a staff fight. Bai Yuan begged him to stop attacking. Once Er Lang realised Bai Yuan could talk he asked why he stole the peach. Moved by the story of his mother, he agreed to give him one peach. Bai Yuan returned home and gave the peach to his mother. Surely, his mother was cured, and so they bowed down and paid respects to the god of the north star. 

Master Yu had a huge black cat which he really loved. That time China was really poor and people were hungry. One day the cat stole some neighbours dried fish, and they caught it and killed it. My teacher became really depressed and got sick. At that time, Master Yu was over 80 years old, and his wife was 30 years younger than him. He was retired at home, and she was still working. Everyday after school I helped to look after my teacher. He told me to go out and buy ginger, leek and radish, and then cook it and put it in a cloth. He then put the cloth on his body to sweat out the sickness. After doing that for a while he started to get better. But then after a year or two, he got sick again, this time more serious. He stopped teaching me kung fu as he got weaker, and taught me pulse reading and Chinese medicine, making me read a lot of old books I didn’t really understand. His wife and I looked after him until he passed away at 85. Me and his wife carried his body to be cremated.

 How did you come to meet Zhang Kai Tang 

Zhang Kai Tang was my neighbour. My sister was engaged to his son and she introduced me. Master Zhang asked me to show him what I learnt, so I performed “bai yuan tou tao”. I used all my power. That time, everybody said I was really good. But he wasnt impressed at all. He said I was just using my arms, and had no body power. He offered to teach me the form “beng bu”. Before, I never imagined kung fu could be so difficult! Also, at that time, I didn’t understand much, what was Taiji Mantis, what was Meihua Mantis. Slowly Master Zhang explained. Bengbu is Taiji Mantis, which comes from Cui Shou Shan. He didn’t plan on teaching me anything more. But I kept hanging around, determined to learn more. So he asked me what do I want to learn, Meihua Lu or Chuan Zhi? He showed me a few moves. I thought Chuan Zhi looked nice, so I said Chuan Zhi. He explained Chuan Zhi was Meihua Mantis, from the Hao family. Chuan Zhi was 4 forms, 20 roads in total.



Zhang Kai Tang

 Can you tell us something about Zhang Kai Tang

 Zhang Kai Tang studied with Hao Heng Xin for six years. Hao Heng Xin was one of six brothers who were the masters of the Hao family Meihua Mantis. After that, his uncle invited Cui Shou Shan to be his live in teacher for another 6 years. That time was very strict, a private teacher who ate and slept with them. In the morning, they did iron body training, trained kung fu all day, then at 11pm every night did meditation. Zhang Kai Tang had 2 brothers, but they couldn’t take the harsh training and dropped out.

 So first he learnt under Hao Heng Xin, later under Cui Shou Shan. Can you tell us something about these great masters

 Hao Heng Xin was famous for his iron palm. It was said he could strike a match on his hand. Zhang Kai Tang learnt this skill from him. One time, during sparring, he hit his partner in the face. It made a cut on his eye which made his whole face swollen. This was due to the medicine they soaked their hands in before and after iron palm training. Hao Heng Xin had a student called Su Shi Chang. He was really strong, as he pulled the rickshaws for a living. He was out fighting one day and beat his opponent. He came back really happy to brag to his master. Hao Heng Xin was meditating, and got annoyed by his disturbance. Master Hao slipped his shoes half on and stood up with his eyes closed, offering to show the student some real skill. His left hand behind his back he held out his right hand softly and told the student to attack him. As soon as the student moved in, Master Hao palmed him in the face, cutting his eye. The next day it was swollen so bad he couldn’t even open it.

 After 6 years, he learnt everything from Hao Heng Xin. His uncle offered to find him “a top level master from Laiyang, the home of mantis”. So he brought Cui Shou Shan to his home to teach the 3 brothers. As soon as he met Master Cui, he was really impressed by his depth of knowledge. His first teacher was really angry, and got his brothers together to beat Master Cui. My teacher went to Master Hao and explained, “You are always my shifu, I learnt everything from you. But I want to keep learning and developing, Master Cui has a lot to teach me.” My teacher always sent gifts to Master Hao during festivals. All his life he said “I have two masters, Master Hao and Master Cui.” 



Cui Shou Shan

After 6 years, Master Cui left at the invitation of Sun Xiang Ting to teach in a school there. Hao Heng Lu (elder brother of Hao Heng Xin) approached him saying “your boxing is great, really great, but you still haven’t mastered all the weapons yet.” He then asked my teacher to teach Master Cui’s style in his school and taught him Damo Jian (bodhidharma sword), Baxian Jian (eight immortals sword), Qixing Jian (seven star sword) and Meihua Qiang (plum blossom spear) in return. Master Cui was really angry by this and forbid my teacher to continue doing this.

 Could you explain about your training during the Cultural Revolution 

During the Cultural Revolution, traditional martial arts were classed under the “four olds”. Any kind of old culture or antiques were forbidden and destroyed. All you were allowed to do was study “Mao Ze Dong thought”, sing “socialism is great” etc.

As far as traditional arts, they were replaced with modern wushu. “first level fist” “second level fist” “first level sabre” “second level sabre” etc. national regulated forms. This included the 24 posture form of taiji. You had to learn all the different Mao Ze Dong books and quotes, life were really boring. There was nothing you could do to enjoy yourself, no happiness. On top of that, life was harsh. Everything was planned and provided by the state. How much meat and grain you could eat every day was regulated.

 So if you were engaged in traditional activities, people would condemn you, persecute you. So that time we had to train in secret. In my teacher’s home, or at night after dinner, I would find a dark place with no people to train. I was seen by people from time to time, if people saw me, they would leave immediately, didn’t dare to get involved. Actually, not many people really went outside at night, they were so poor, so after eating, normally they just slept. And there was no lighting outside anyway.

 During the Cultural Revolution, the red guards just came into everyone’s homes, and took away anything old. Nobody could say or do anything, they took what they wanted and left. If you refused, they put a hat on your head and beat you in public. Called you a “right winger”, “bad element”, “counter revolutionary” etc. After Deng Xiao Ping came to power, these words were banned from use, and the hats were all burnt. He said we are all equal, nobody can persecute anyone else.

 When the Japanese invaded China they banned martial arts training, calling it “iron man training”. That time my teacher buried his weapons and iron palm urn under the ground. After several years, the Japanese were defeated, he dug them up. But they were all rusted. The iron palm urn was totally wrecked, but he restored the weapons. He taught his oldest son with his sabre, and they would cut bricks with it. Then during the Cultural Revolution, this sabre was taken away again.

What about your view on the present state of martial arts in China 

Nowadays, a lot of westerners like kung fu. In the beginning, westerners didn’t know what kung fu really is, and went to universities, or other places like shaolin temple, to learn kung fu. Cartwheels, flying kicks, actually that’s the same as gymnastics. Real kung fu is “among the people”. Slowly, westerners started to realise this, and are now looking among the people, rather than learning “flowery fists and embroidered kicks”, in the old days it was called “chou gong fu” “jun bashi”. Running around the hall leaping around, that isn’t martial arts, it’s gymastics or “yishu”. So after Deng Xiao Ping made the “open door policy” China realised the treasure of traditional culture and is trying to revive it. Tanglang quan has been included in the list of “intangeible cultural heritage”.

 Nowadays due to higher living standards and especially the “one child policy”, Chinese people are afraid of “eating bitter”. This means to endure hardship. This is especially the case in the cities. If you look in the big kung fu schools, the kids are all from poor rural areas. City kids will learn piano, English, dance etc. a lot of old masters have nobody to teach, their arts die with them. A lot of westerners come to China, train hard, respect and love the art; of course a teacher will want to pass their art onto them. Before, a lot of old masters were persecuted, killed, we learnt in secret, we couldn’t open a school or openly teach people.



Zhou shifu with students, Chinese and western

 Anyway, a lot of old styles are being lost. In fact, I believe, in 20-30 years, if Chinese want to revive our arts; we will have to go to the west to learn kung fu. Kids aren’t interested, parents don’t want their kids to learn.

 Thank you for your time, Zhou Shifu

This interview was conducted by Will Wain-Williams. For more information on his teacher, and on praying mantis kung fu, you can visit his website here.

Seven Simple Things

Let’s start this essay, and it is an essay, with a little test.  No wait come back, don’t worry, this will be a fun one I promise.  Give yourself thirty seconds to read through the following list of words.  It’ll help to say them out loud as you read, and visualise items as you go.  Ready, set, go:

Train; cutlery; coffee; rucksack; curtain; ocean; jungle; airplane; shirt; crockery; coffee; trousers.

Finished?  Right no cheating, cover up the words and write down as many as you can remember.

How did you get on?  If you got 10, 11 or 12, stop reading this and go join Mensa right now, you’re a genius.  If you got 1, 2 or 3, maybe try again later when you’re not driving, or fall-down drunk.  Really I’m not being funny, there’s probably something wrong with you if you got 1-3.  Get help.

If you got anything between 4 and 9, congratulations – you’re average.  You’re in the normal range of people who take this test.  If you got 6, 7 or 8 then you’re right at the top of the bell curve, in the good company of the vast majority of the population.  The most average of the average, if you will.  If you were a colour, it would be beige.

Well that was a jolly nice bit of fun.  Now that we’ve broken the ice you and I, keeping your score in mind, let me tell you a little tale…

There’s a city in Latin America which bears the lofty accolade, quite literally, of being the highest metropolis in the world – rubbing shoulders with the mountains and the sky at a dizzying 2,800 meters above sea level.  It’s so high that if you fly there from a lower locale, you run a very real risk of altitude sickness as soon as you get out of the airplane – not, perhaps, the best way to start a relaxing holiday.

This is why many people choose instead to fly to a nearby city near the coast, where the mountains dip their toes into the cool surf of the Pacific Ocean.  There you can catch a train up the mountain, gradually acclimatising to the altitude as you ascend.  Well, I say gradually, but the path from coast to crest is nothing of the sort scaling, as it does, the sheer face of the mountain.

To do this, the train has carved tracks out of the very stuff of the mountainside and to make its’ ascent it zig-zags its’ way across the slope, reversing on itself at the end of each section to make the next climb.

This takes time.  The flight from city to city takes 50 minutes, the drive five hours, and the train a stately four days to reach its destination.  But to dismiss such a journey based on time alone would be to miss out on some astonishing views as the lush, equatorial rainforest that bursts from the coast gradually dissolves into green rolling hills, which in turn give way to purple, jagged mountain tops.

And what a train!  We are not talking about some creaking metal worm in whose innards you perch uncomfortably on plastic seats, sipping bad coffee from a polystyrene cup and nibbling a dried, curled egg sandwich.  No in this train the stately Victorian carriages are made of the finest carved wood, dripping with luxury and excess.  The sound is deadened by the rich, deep carpets and the thick bound curtains whilst tea is served from the finest silverware and china.

All this, and the gentle incline allows the traveller by train to reach the top energised and ready to explore the city, whilst his counterpart alighting an airplane clutches his throat and collapses, vainly clawing the sky as he gasps for oxygen from the thin, mountain air….

I wonder, if we asked these two men as one draws a satisfied breath and takes in the view, and the other takes panicked gasps for oxygen as he drops to his knees, how many words from the list at the start of this story they might recall.  One no doubt will breeze through as he gently takes satisfied sips of air whilst the other will stare at you confused, pre-occupied perhaps with the one single dominating thought of his continued survival.  I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you which is which.

A man I know, let’s call him Ted, recently made such a trip, which as you can probably guess is why I’m able to wax so lyrically about this little-known attraction.  True to form, the gentle ascent meant he positively leaped from the train, ready to explore the beautiful city it took him to backpack on his back, camera at the ready.  Eagerly Ted strode forward, and out of the station.  Here he paused, taking in the extended views of rooftops vanishing into the distance; the crystal clear air making the distant buildings look like a quilt of Lego, or an over-zealous domino track made by a particularly enthusiastic nine year old.

And then, with but a cursory glance to those asphyxiating at the airport, Ted set off.  And immediately into a local man coming the other way, who spilled hot coffee all over our hero’s shirt, trousers and rucksack.  Luckily the local was not annoyed, more troubled in fact by the mess he’d made of Ted.  He began to help, padding with a hankie as Ted tried to deal with the hot coffee on his shirt and trousers, the fear his camera could be ruined, and this man industriously patting at his clothing.  It was at this point that another man arrived on the scene, equally concerned, and began helping Ted off with his rucksack as the coffee was seeping into the pockets, and running down Ted’s back.  Off came the rucksack, which the man then appeared to drop on the ground by mistake.  Another man appeared, picked up the rucksack, and in the blink of an eye all three dissolved into the crowd.

And Ted was left alone, dazed, and with the growing realisation that he had just been mugged.

Speaking about it afterwards, he told me his strongest memory was just how good the four people who did it were. There was no noise, no violence, no force – just a well rehearsed set of actions that left him on the ground without his rucksack.

“By the time I was off my knees, they had gone. I still have no idea where they went. The hotel doorman saw nothing. There were people in the street but nobody reacted. Everything was normal and quiet, apart from the fact that I was standing on the pavement, without my rucksack and with no idea where it was and these people had gone.”

I should mention here that Ted’s not your average holiday-maker.  He’s a seasoned traveller who has seen half the globe over the years; he’s a martial artist of 20 years experience, and he’s an ex-professional rugby player.  And all that was for nought because of seven little things.

Seven little things.  Spilled coffee.  Wet clothes.  Wet rucksack. Apologising, fussing man.  Second, fussing man. Dropped rucksack.  Third man.

The human brain, constantly exposed to thousands of points of stimulus every second of every day, is actually only able to process and retain at any one time, seven simple things.  That’s why you could only remember about that many from the list of objects at the beginning; it’s also why it takes three men twenty seconds to relieve a world-wise, very experienced traveller of a rucksack that was securely attached to his back, and vanish.

Buckle Your Belt

I had the fortune, the other day, to be walking along the road behind one of those ‘teenagers’ they have these days.  It was of what I believe is called the ‘Hip-Hop’ variety; you know, the ones that wear lopsided baseball caps precariously balanced on their lopsided heads; the kind who somehow manage to appear to be constantly walking round in circles, even when they’re going in a straight line, as they saunter from one street corner to the next with their adorable lopsided strides.

I know I’m not the first to draw attention to the peculiar pack-conforming behaviours and fashion choices of the youth of today, and to be fair who am I to judge these attempts to belong – those who have read How Not to Get Hit will be all too aware of my own personal fashion choices from those lost years (it’s too painful to go back over here, buy the book – but if I were to tell you a doorman once exited me from a nightclub using the item he could get the best grip on, which happened to be my pony tail, you’ll begin to get the idea).

Still, even though I’m probably the last person who should be casting linguistic missiles from my cosy glass-pained abode, I can’t help thinking that of all the peculiar attire with which these ‘teenagers’ tend to adorn themselves, their method of wearing trousers is, frankly, witchcraft. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to walk down a street with a pair of jeans sitting below your butt cheeks but frankly, it’s impossible.  I can only assume that those precariously balanced baseball caps grant these ‘teenagers’ the magical ability to defy the laws of physics.  Or perhaps it explains the lopsided walk, as they’re actually clenching their butt-cheeks tighter than a doorman clutching a ponytail in a desperate attempt to keep their hippety-hoppety jeans above their hippety-hoppety knees. 

For god’s sake chaps, if you’re reading this, buy a belt.  Not only will this free up your butt-cheeks for party tricks such as cracking walnuts, such must be your toning after years of clenching; not only will you discover walking in a straight line isn’t just something other people can do; not only will you be able to wear your comfy old worn-out underwear out of the house since two-thirds won’t constantly be on display; you’ll also learn a valuable lesson in self defence.  Honestly.

You see belts aren’t just good for holding up trousers; they’re also a fantastic way of finding out where your centre of gravity is and this, my friends, is the road to the nirvana of combat.

Accessing your maximum power is all about identifying and using your centre of gravity. Taking away someone’s strength is all about destabilising their centre of gravity.  Throwing someone is all about destabilising their centre of gravity.  Tripping someone over is all about destabilising their centre of gravity.  Neutralising an attack is all about destabilising the centre of gravity.  Winning fights is all about destabilising the centre of gravity.

Power comes not from your muscles, it comes from your balance.  This one’s easy to prove – try hitting a punch-bag as hard as you can whilst standing on one leg.  Very little will happen save for an embarrassed cough from the bag and, perhaps, the floor hitting you.  This is down to the fact that to realise the force in your skeletal stricture you need to anchor that structure against something.  To anchor it, you need to be stable yourself or some of that force will be lost in your own, unplanned movement rather than transferring all the energy into your target.  Ideally you would create this using three points of contact with the ground.  Sadly most of us only have two, so we use our centre of balance as the third anchor point – moving it in relation to our feet to maintain balance and transfer energy into a target, rather than our own wasted movement.  Think about those cool little desk toys from the 80’s, with four suspended metal balls knocking into each other.  It’ll help.

Once this is understood in your own body (give it a few years), then it becomes a simple task to understand how an opponent is creating force (give it a few more years) and, through manipulation of their centre of gravity, nullify this force as the energy they would have put into a strike must be redirected into adjusting their balance, or falling over.

Throwing  is a simple matter of finding your opponents centre of gravity and using your own as leverage to move it.  If you’re big, and they’re small, you can move someone without leverage. The other way round, though, and you’ve got a problem.  Have you ever tried to pick up a sack of potatoes?  Actually no, you probably haven’t, this isn’t the 19th century after all.  Um, modern analogy… ah – got it. 

Have you ever been to IKEA and had to pick up a really heavy bag full of home furnishings? Think about how you use your bum as leverage to get the thing over your shoulder – you lift it halfway, and then kind of move your bum under it, yes?  Well, that’s it – you’re moving your balance to a point where you can move the weight around through leverage against your core body, rather than trying to use your muscles to shift all those lampshades, picture frames and washing-up brushes (isn’t it odd how you always seem to leave with one of those washing-up brushes from the escalator). 

To throw someone, you have to find their centre of gravity, move yours to a position where you can create leverage, and allow your opponent to ‘fall’ around your own, stable centre.

Tripping is similar to throwing, except instead of creating leverage against your opponents centre of gravity, you’re using their imaginary third leg to make them fall.  No sniggering at the back – your third leg is actually the shifting point of balance created by your centre of gravity to stop you falling over, and ladies have it too.  We all stand on two feet; when we move, we basically start falling over towards our ‘third leg’, or at least where it would be if we had one, and then stick a foot in the way.  By placing a foot where our third leg should have been, we get it under our centre of gravity again to stop falling over and repeat (except those hippety-hoppety teenagers – God only knows how they do it).

So, to throw someone, we need to make sure that our own centre of gravity is rooted and stable, find the point where someone’s third leg is / should be, move their body toward this point (you’ll be surprised at how little resistance you encounter in doing this) and stop their leg from moving under their centre of gravity again.  Hey presto – they are now falling.

Confused?  Yeah me too; nobody said this was going to be easy.  But trust me, you can’t go wrong if you start by buying yourself a good sturdy belt.

You Don’t Know How to Breathe

You know, sometimes it’s easy to write a blog.   Sometimes you’ll be walking along the street and you’ll see something, or something will happen, and you’ll think “that’s it!” and suddenly you’ll have a topic, or good entry into a point, or both and some deep insightful point about personal safety would be just around the corner.

A couple of years ago that kind of thing used to happen to me all the time, travelling around China for a year it’d be a strange day if I didn’t find something I could write about.  These days, sadly, my experiences are not such blog fodder – my horizons have shrunk to England, a regular 9-5 job, a mortgage, a dog.

Well, no dog.

But I like the image.

And I want a dog.

Such a sedentary lifestyle also comes with its own problems – you don’t realise how much you moved in a day until it’s gone, and your commute consists of stumbling downstairs into the spare room (I work from home).  If you’re over 30, this takes its toll – stiffness, low energy, short breath.  If you’re under 30, you bastard, don’t worry you may not understand yet – but you will…

So, to try and defend against my creeping atrophy, I dedicated my early mornings to stretching, and breathing.  Self defence against sloth, if you will.  For me it was Qi Gong, a series of Chinese stretches and diaphragmatic breathing techniques using dynamic tension.

If that sounds a bit confusing, don’t worry it sounds harder than it is but you’re not alone – almost nobody I know knows how to breathe.  Oh sure they think they do, and they manage to do it well enough to not collapse in a dying heap on the floor every 20 seconds, but trust me they don’t.  No offence but there’s a pretty good chance that you, reading this, don’t know how to either.

And you know what, I’m not sure why.  Babies know how to breathe – you watch the wee nappy wearing tykes as they trot along; you can see their belly thrusting in and out as their lungs remain pretty still.  That’s because they’re breathing with their diaphragm.  In fact you watch a running horse or dog, even an angry gorilla – diaphragm, diaphragm, diaphragm.  (although if you are watching an angry Gorilla to be fair the fact that there is an angry Gorilla at close proximity is probably the main thought that’ll be running through your head. Rather than ‘ooh, look at how he uses his diaphragm to do such a fancy roar’).

Somehow, along the way, we forget on our path to adulthood and replace the correct muscle memory for breathing with a shallow, chest-led breathing that only accesses about 60% of our total lung capacity.

Now this is fine for our modern aged sedentary lifestyle of sitting at home, sitting in a car, sitting on the train then sitting at a desk.  You don’t need much oxygen for that, and you’re not getting much.  Job done.

The problem is, when you’re suddenly put into a high-stress situation like, say, being attacked, you’re not going to be able to cope.  As soon as the adrenal response kicks in, your blood vessels dilate so that more blood can be pumped around the body, giving more oxygen to your limbs and organs to function at a much higher rate for short periods of time – to fight back, run swiftly in the opposite direction, or both.  Any which way, you’re going to need oxygen, and lots of it.

The problem is that with all that shallow breathing you’ve spend all that time training your body to do that’s what you’re going to do in a pickle, and your body is making much higher demands of your oxygen supply, you’re just not going to get enough fuel to get the job done.  It’d be like trying to drive a race car with half the sparkplugs, or running a steam train with half the coal.  Or an angry Gorilla with half the bananas.  Or something.

My advice, for what it’s worth, is to learn to breathe properly and then do it – all the time. This is easier than you might think.  Qi Gong does it for me, but you can also get it from most traditional martial arts (with a good instructor), Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilates, a good fitness instructor or even an actor or speech coach

Through QiGong and martial arts I learnt how to access breathing and use it to add power to movement, but I actually learned most about how to actively engage the diaphragm through a speech coach.

Whatever the source they key is to do it.  As much as you can.  When sitting, walking, exercising, everywhere.  Because you need to turn it into a muscle memory, make it normal, replace that horrible shallow lung-breathing I see everywhere with some lovely, deep, diaphragmatic breathing.

Then, and only then, in a high-stress situation, will you will the correct muscle memory response kick in and get your enough of the 02 good stuff to do what you need to do.  Your body will be primed to squeeze every last drop of goodness from the air and turning it to energy to fight back, escape, survive.

It’ll also help you sleep, and concentrate, and reduce stress, and increase energy and if you’re really luck, tenuously link a dull life of lethargy to a fundamental lesson on self defence for a blog promoting an awesome book.



Twenty Six Things

Excellent blog from my instructor that I just had to share:

Twenty six things.


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