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Balancing Martial and Art

Street-fight-1You begin knowing almost nothing when you start to train.  Maybe you have been in a fight, maybe you just love the idea of the martial arts.  Either way, you show up to gain something that you don’t have.

If you train in classical martial arts, you will begin to ask yourself, “Does this stuff really work?” after you reach a certain level of proficiency.

Martial arts takematsuIf you pursue a nitty-gritty, street fight winning combatives system, you will ask yourself, “Is there a more efficient way to do this?” or, “How do those old guys make it look so easy?”.

The good news is that those two questions can be a fantastic tool for ratcheting up your abilities quickly if you let them.



Having read several books by Rory Miller, and having trained with him in person at BuYu camp last year, I have pushed our training in a direction that emphasizes using what we already know to prevail in a fight.  It really cleaned up my knowledge of classical martial arts and weeded out some bad habits that I have picked up over the years.  We will pursue this path in the future, but I couldn’t help but notice that I ended up in situations that I handled badly, even though I prevailed.  At that point, I began to wonder if there isn’t a better way…  You see where this is going, right?

Silhouette illustration of two figures doing martial art stanceSo, now it is time to go full circle and study the classical techniques slowly and methodically while trying to understand why these training methods have prevailed for hundreds of years.

I believe that it is important for any student of conflict to steer away from the extremes of martial art zealotry (blind faith) and brute force combative methods (experience based knowledge).  When the balance shifts too far one way or another it is time to re-center yourself between what you already know and what you can be taught.


On Courage and Convictions

I live a few miles outside of a small town in Wyoming, and the other day I was flagged down by someone standing in the middle of the road while driving into town just before sunrise.  Out here people hit deer or swerve off the road because of animals, so I stopped in case help was needed.

It turns out that he was about 17 or 18, walking in the middle of nowhere at dawn, drunk or stoned (probably both) and had no idea where he was.

I embrace the idea of making the world a better place and protecting life (even the bad guy), and if he kept getting out into the road, he was going to get himself killed.  As we talked, I listened carefully to my instincts and intuition, and decided that although he was a risk, he was not a big risk.  To make a long story short, I put him in a tactically acceptable location in the car (no, not the trunk) and gave him a ride into town.  I dropped him off in town without incident, and we each went our separate  ways.  I’ll never know if I made much of a difference or saved his life or whatever, but what the heck, it seemed like the only thing to do.

The story is of interest because a friend of mine who is much stronger and generally physically superior to me stopped for this young man earlier, but declined giving him a ride.  Other friends that later heard the story expressed their concern with my sanity.  They are justified with their actions and opinions because it would not have been safe for them to help.  These friends and I all believe in the ideas of charity and helping our fellow man very devoutly as part of our religious faith, and statistically, they were all better examples of going the extra mile to help others than I am, but this time they were unprepared physically and mentally.  They had not “run the scenarios and done the math” mentally for a potentially hostile situation. They couldn’t improvise weapons they may have needed, and probably don’t carry a dedicated weapon; in essence, they were the wrong piece to this part of the puzzle.  I was the right piece of the puzzle because I had, I could and I do.

I am not writing this to tell everybody what a great guy I am.  I want to inspire my fellow sheepdogs that there are holes in the puzzle-fabric of the world where we are the only fit.  Most people view our need to study the fighting arts with caution or worse, but in spite of that it is important that we keep up our training and mindset.  We want to help those that really need it, and there are people in dangerous situations who need our help.  Sometimes we are the only ones that can help them.

Stay strong, train hard and maintain the courage of your convictions.


Want to learn how to use a staff?

bo_staffWe are pleased to announce the first of our martial arts for beginners seminars.  The class will be a fun and relaxed introduction to the basics of stick work for the martial arts student, the actor or the casually interested.  No experience or special physical ability is required.

The following concepts will be covered:

  • Basic grip techniques.
  • Basic footwork needed to maintain control of the staff and balance.
  • The relationship between speed, power and accuracy.  When each is appropriate, and how to create them.
  • Spinning the staff for combat effectiveness (and because it is cool…)
  • Practice combat forms (kata).  The student will learn several movement sequences that can be practiced later to reinforce the material learned in the class.Rokushaku_Bo_002_large

Some equipment may be available to borrow, as well as some to purchase.  It would be preferable to purchase your own rattan or hardwood staff prior to the class.  They can commonly be found for sale on the internet.  Your staff should be roughly the same height as you, slightly taller would be preferable.

bujinkan 250 001

Location:  Lander City Park
Date: Saturday, June 15, 2013
Time: 9:30 am to 12:00.
Cost: $25 per student.

To enroll, click here

Questions?  Email bujinkanlander@gmail.com or call 307-463-4522

Dead Wrong, and not in that order.

During a recent training session I heard a story that really shook me.  I would like to present it to you from the viewpoint of one of the victims.  I am going to do my best to not embellish this very much, but I will take some liberties in describing the scene to fit the description that was given to me.  Think about what you would do…:

You are in college.  While walking through a residence building (it was either a dorm or an apartment complex, I am not sure), you hear yelling, several loud noises (like something big being dropped, or a hammer hitting  board), a  fight and then a crash.  Being the good Samaritan type (sheepdog), you investigate to see if you can help.  As you turn a corner, you see that a door to an apartment is open, and there is a mostly naked man pinning another man on the floor and beating him savagely.  It is obvious that the fight began in the apartment and has made its way into the hallway.

You pull the aggressor away from his victim.  He struggles frantically to break free from you.  He is yelling at you to let go of him, but you hold him so that his victim can stand up and you can see if he is ok.

So far so good.

The victim steps just inside the doorway, recovers his handgun and proceeds back into the hallway, next to you, where he shoots the frantic, naked man to death.  He then goes into the apartment and shoots his ex girlfriend to death as well.

The “rescuer” escaped with his life, but only in a sense…  His trauma from the event makes him victim #3. he could have easily been killed in the exchange as well.

The full story is not uncommon.  It starts with a jealous ex boyfriend looking for revenge, and finding his ex in bed with her new guy, he decides that if he can’t have her, nobody can.  He shot several rounds into the floor around the bed, and at some point the naked guy found an opportunity to attack the ex and disarm him.  A fight ensued, and, well, you know the rest.

Why do I bring this up?

If you have the sheepdog instinct, you can be a danger to others if you don’t train yourself to protect the “bad guy” as well as the “good guy”.  That training is available.  Get it.  I don’t care if you are not a martial artist, or don’t want to carry a weapon, or whatever your desire is to limit your potential.  Figure out what you are willing to do, and get the training to do it properly.

Lets contrast the story from above with something that happened to a very good friend of mine (this has been published previously on my website.  Please forgive the redundancy)

… [he] witnessed a man with a golf club chasing an unarmed man down.  He was able to intervene and safely disarm the “attacker” and keep the “victim” safe, but under control also.  It turned out that the attacker was a store keeper who had just been robbed, and was about to make a very big mistake by chasing down and beating the robber in back of head with a golf club in anger.  He could have lost everything in a law suit (or worse) if he had succeeded; regardless of whether the robber had deserved it or not.  If my friend had jumped in and beat down the “attacker” until he dropped the golf club, or worse yet, shot him to protect the “victim”, he would have done the wrong thing, even though it seemed right at the time.

Can you imagine having to live with yourself after a mistake like that?

That is why (to quote Jack Hoban) “The training was designed to help us develop as protectors of life.  Whose life?  Self and others.  Which others?  All others, if possible. Killing only to protect life.  This seemingly paradoxical statement – killing only to protect life – is the behavior of the Ethical Warrior.  It is predator-like, in that it can be cold and professional.  But the objective is to protect, not kill.”  

In the end, the real bad guy was restrained, the police showed up and arrested the robber, and the real good guys stayed safe.

Think about it…

Martial Arts or Women’s Defense?

That seems to be the big question everybody is asking me these days.  While updating my Women’s Defense curriculum, I found that all of the information and differing opinions about the best way to teach a short, effective defense class tailored to the needs of women was overwhelming, and quite frankly confusing.  Some instructors encourage the use of pepper spray, tasers or firearms, while others claimed that those things are ineffective for most people.  Some national organizations claim that martial arts are ineffective for women, while others encourage you to maintain your skills by continuing to study.  So, how do you sort through it all?  By using the same method that is taught almost universally in any defense system anywhere:  Trust your instincts.  You know what is best for you.

Let me Elaborate…

As of the time that I wrote this, I have spent over 24 years studying unarmed and armed self defense including the use of knives, sticks, firearms and just about anything else that I can.  I have trained with law enforcement officers, soldiers and civilian experts, and I ask a lot of questions.  Does that make me a tough guy?  Not really, but it means is that I have a great deal of information on the subject of self and others defense.

That being said, let me give my completely honest opinion of “Women’s defense”:

Is there a set of skills that you can learn in 3 hours that will enable you to absolutely keep you and your family safe from any physical attack?

Of course not.

Why would police, military and martial artists invest in literally years of training if we could just take a 3 hour “Women’s self defense class” and be done with it?

Is there something so special about being a woman that there are ways of fighting that apply to women exclusively?  No, not really.

So, Should there be special classes for women, and will it really work?  Yes and yes.  Surprised?  Consider this:

  • Many women have been unintentionally taught to be timid and to give in to the demands of an aggressor.
  • Those same women are much less likely to give themselves permission to defend themselves until they have lost the advantage and are in a situation where they have a reduced chance of succeeding.
  • Women who are forced to physically defend themselves are most often targeted by a “predatory” person who is looking for someone smaller and weaker than they are, and who is looking to get something from them, such as money or a sense of power and superiority.
  • Because young women don’t typically physically fight each other for social status the way young men tend to, they often have little understanding of their natural capacity to defend themselves.

In order to break the self doubting mindset that leads to victimization, a “Women’s self defense” class is very valuable, and there are many organizations (including our dojo) who offer just such a class.  The goal of our class is to:

  • Awaken your natural self protection instincts.
  • Make you realize how capable you already are of defending yourself.
  • Encourage you to take the responsibility for your personal safety, especially if you have come to rely on other people to make sure that you are safe.

Can I do that in 3 hours?  Yes I can.  8 hours would be better, but I can get you started in 3.

Is a  Women’s Defense class enough to keep you out of trouble? 

So, what do your instincts tell you?  Trust them.  Only you know the answers to the question.  Let me offer some of the following ideas for you to consider:

  • The Women’s self defense class is essentially an introduction to tactical skills.  It will dramatically increase your odds of survival when being targeted by a predator, but there are more things that you can learn that will increase your skills still more.  Do you feel safe enough, or should you seek further training?
  • The physical defense portion of Women’s Defense teaches that you can dish out more damage than you thought you could.  This is a powerful piece of information to have.  Once you have those skills, you need to keep practicing them.  Is there something you can do that will help you build on what you have learned, and give you many new skills that you have not even considered yet?  There are also some martial arts that will not help you at all.  If you feel that the physical portion of the class was valuable, but you need more, I suggest further unarmed combat training.  What makes one martial art or training program better than another?  It depends on the focus of the training, and your focus while training.  Contact me and I will give you my opinions.

What about a handgun or pepper spray?

Weapons such as pepper spray and tasers are a commitment.  In order for them to be effective, you have to have them ready when you need them.  You also have to be able to use them smoothly, accurately and proficiently.  This requires some training and also requires practice.  They won’t do you any good in the bottom of your purse or back at home when you are surprised…  If you are willing to carry them as a weapon, they can greatly increase your odds of survival, but you have to be willing to adopt certain aspects of a “warrior’s mindset” that goes well beyond the scope of a Women’s defense class.  If they sound like something you are interested in, you will want more training, and I can offer it.

Firearms are even higher maintenance that the other weapons.  I am a strong supporter of carrying firearms, as they can make an 85 pound girl as formidable as a 300 pound football player.  That being said, there is a significant amount of physical, emotional and legal training needed for somebody who carries a firearm.  That training is available, and can be enjoyable.  Don’t skip it if you are going to carry your gun.  Just don’t.

If you are interested in a Women’s Defense Seminar, or more in depth training to reinforce what you have previously learned, please contact me at:

Bujinkan Buyu Lander Dojo

Aurora Colorado: Into the wind.

This blog post is part 2 of 2. To read part one, click here

There are few things more annoying than an “armchair quarterback”.  It is easy to have an opinion when you didn’t participate.  That being said, I am going be a hypocrite, so lets just take that as given.  I offer no defense on my part for that; I only ask forgiveness, if necessary, for my speculation.

I hope that my previous article got you to see the better side of the people around you.  I did note, however, that not everybody in the theater that night was a shining gem of humanity.  Lets dive a little  deeper into the subject, shall we?

I heard of one man who abandoned his girlfriend and her children for fear of his own life.  His protector instinct was not functioning. Why not?   Think carefully before slandering him as a coward.

There were reports of shell casings hitting people on the head, which would indicate that they may have been less than 10 feet away, and off to the side of the shooter.  He was wearing a gas mask and therefore had limited peripheral vision.  It appears that some people were located very close to the shooter and were not able to stop him.   I don’t know all of the details, but I can’t escape the thought that it could have been stopped or at least slowed if only…  If only what?  That is the question, isn’t it?

In summary, some people failed to act, and others acted incorrectly. Why?   I can’t be certain, as I am just an armchair quarterback, but I see a clue in our school’s zero tolerance policies and its unintended consequences.  Society pressures us to be non-violent, and that is generally good, but maybe the over zealous zero tolerance policies of the schoolyards and other workplaces have left us without a mental “tool kit” to cope when somebody else is violent.   When discussing school “bullies” with many of the children in my youth martial arts classes, I encounter a common theme.  The bad kid doesn’t care if he or she gets in trouble, but the good kid feels helpless to stop him for fear of repercussions from the school administrators.  So taking action even to defend one’s self (or a friend) gets removed from the possible options.  As a result, bully problems in schools appear to be on the rise as the zero tolerance “solution” is more strictly enforced.

I recall several times when I have been told that violence is never the answer.  I disagree.  Try as we might to resolve things peacefully, once  a situation reaches the point that that violence is the answer, it is the only answer, and will probably need to be served in generous portions.  So back at the theater, perhaps those who behaved badly didn’t have any violence in their problem solving tool kit.   They may never have considered it seriously.  With that option removed, they were probably overwhelmed by the situation. Lets be fair, to be prepared for the unthinkable, one would have to think about it first.  Somewhat paradoxical, isn’t it?

They may have never thought it through and readied themselves because “it would never happen to them”.    Even while it was happening, they were telling themselves “this is not happening…”  When they finally came to the realization that it was actually happening, and they needed to do something, they didn’t know what to do.  Why not?  Go back to the beginning of this paragraph and loop through it again…

That fatal loop is an exception to the rule.  When you consider the statistics of it all, the chances are incredibly high that it wouldn’t happen to those people or anybody else.  It is so unlikely, in fact, that one might be correct to say that it wouldn’t happen to them.

The odds are that it won’t happen to you either.

Seriously, it won’t… but it might. Ever buy lottery ticket?  Do you get indoors during a thunderstorm?  Do you have an insurance policy?  Why?

Because things happen, that is why.

If you could go back in time and talk to the people in the theater two years ago what would you have them do to be ready to protect the people that they love? (“Don’t go to the opening show of Batman in 2012…”  Yes, very insightful, but off the point.)   So, could your advice apply to yourself?  How do you know that you won’t need it some day?  After all, things happen.

So, what are we talking about here?  Attending a self defense seminar?  Buying  pepper spray?  Taking a gun class?  Those things are good.  If that is all you can manage, then it is slightly better than nothing, but self defense skills are perishable and need regular maintenance.  What I am talking about is training to think like a warrior.  To be alert, resourceful and committed to action.  The best way to maintain that mindset is regular and  realistic training.    It should  not be so traditional that it overlooks modern weapons and realities, nor should it be so new that it discards the wisdom of over a thousand years of real experience.

It is time to address the elephant in the room: Is it even possible to fight a heavily armed and armored opponent with your bare hands? Can you actually be prepared? That is a tough one to answer. It has been done successfully, but rarely by someone without good training and a serious combat mindset. When you are beginning your training, the guy with the gun wins most of the time. Victory is eventually possible if you learn to always cheat.

Being unprepared for an attacker means that you don’t know the rules, and therefore can’t cheat.

(Yes, I know that there is another elephant in the room.  The first rule of gun fighting is “Have a gun.” It is the best way to cheat.  The reality of the situation is that it was illegal to have a gun in that theater.  I don’t want to turn this into a political discussion.  Draw your own conclusions.)

I hope that you have realized by now that you have people you will protect if you can.  What this means is that whether you want to or not, you will step into harms way for them if the time ever comes.  Wouldn’t it make sense to be ready for that?  Reinforce that feeling with some ability and you’ll have a much better chance of being there for them the day after.  Unlike the people we discussed above, you are going to have to think about it.  Then you are going to have to do something with your conclusions.

The downside to all of this is that it will take time, which you probably don’t have.  It will take money, which you probably can’t afford.  Besides, nothing that bad will probably happen to you, right?  Lets look at this from another angle for a moment:  It is really a matter of priorities.

We all waste time and money.  We watch too much TV.  We buy stuff we don’t really need.  You get the idea.  Could you find something to exchange for some training time?  What do you have to lose?   Another re-run of “Friends” and a Chia Pet?

What do you have to gain?  A chance.  A chance to be more.  A chance to be the difference.  Not to mention health, peace of mind, friends, a good challenge…  You know, quality of life.

You see,  your people need you to be trained.  Really, we all need you to be trained to defend yourself and the people you care about.  The police can’t be everywhere.  I can only speak for myself here, but I am tired of hearing about evil people getting away with terrible things.  Maybe I would like to see the good in people a little more often without digging so deep.  I would like more people to step up to the line and become somebody who can make that difference.   It would only take a few, here and there, and wouldn’t that be a great world to live in?

If the recent shooting in Colorado taught us anything, it is that we can’t be complacent.

Think about it.

Aurora Colorado: Stepping back from the edge.

I hope that this event has not touched you directly, and if it has, you have my deepest heart-felt sympathy.  Whether or not we directly suffered from this, we all were hurt by it.

… This just puts me one step closer to losing complete faith in humanity…

After the much publicized shooting, I found that quote on a friends Facebook wall.   It is hard to disagree, isn’t it?  It has been too often that we have had to see the darker side of people, and tragedies like this make it hard to cling to the idea that people are not inherently evil.

I propose to you, gentle reader, that if we can get past the shock, disgust and fear of what happened, there is a very bright and inspiring side of people: Heroism.  The kind of heroism that we saw in Colorado was 100% pure-everything we love about humanity-I am going to die so you can live heroism, and lots of it.  At least 3 people lost their lives by shielding (and saving) somebody else with their body.  Many others who survived told about throwing somebody on the floor and covering them, or helping someone else get out the door by staying behind in the line of fire.  How about that?  Do people still suck?  Not all of them, and especially not when it comes down to life and death.  One act of evil exposed probably 25 acts of profound, beautiful, ultimate good.

Think about that for a moment, because it has happened time and time again.

May I ask you to imagine yourself in a situation like that?  Would you do the same for your family or the people you truly care about?  You might even do it for a stranger, like some probably did, and that would make you a Hero.  A Protector.  When asked their thoughts on why they risked themselves to help someone else, most of them say the same thing, “I am not a Hero, I just did what anybody else would do.” and they are right!  Most people would help if they could.    I know that I would, and I would be willing to bet that you would too, wouldn’t you?   Because of people like you and me, there are thousands of daily examples of that bright spark of greatness that is contained in all of us.

I have not lost faith in humanity because of this; I have gained it.

There are people who didn’t act very heroically, aren’t there?  Does that contradict everything I just stated?  It does not.  We will take a close look at that, and how not to be one of those people in the next post.  Stick around for Part 2 of this Blog, coming soon.

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