Thursday, October 25, 2012

Too Dangerous To Spar, Revisited

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved

I have received a few emails about a previous article of mine entitled "Are Martial Art Techniques Too Dangerous For Sparring?" and while it seems the article was well received by most maybe I did a poor job of expressing my main point. In that article I stated that neither myself, my school, or the style that I study spars and we don't believe that sparring is really a beneficial method of practice.

The two main arguments I put forth were (1) that since sparring eliminates so much of the martial arts for safety sake what you're left with is not your martial art, its kickboxing, and (2) in real violent encounters people don't put their hands up and square off in fighting stances and they simply don't resemble kickboxing matches, so why kickbox in the first place? However, while both of those are valid arguments, based on a couple responses I got I think the issue is context so that is what I will try to go over here.

First I should say I'm not trying to stop anyone from sparring as part of their martial arts training and I could not care less if people spar. All I'm doing is stating why my style doesn't do it and address the ridiculous comeback proponents of sparring use by asking if a style is too dangerous to spar with.

My first taste of sparring was studying boxing at 9 years old and then a couple years later when my Kenpo instructor had me join the American Taekwondo Association and enroll in the local Taekwondo school. Having already studied martial arts for about 5 years I found most of it easy and often confusing, but what really tripped me up is after I got my yellow belt and started sparring, which happened after about 6 months.

I remember the first time I put on pads and sparred, it came after a great class we had on the importance of forms. In Kenpo we learned mainly by exercises and drills, we only had two forms and used them primarily as warm ups so all the form work was new and I really got into it. Afterwards we put on pads and paired off for sparring. Not even thinking about it I assumed a back stance and when my partner punched I hit his arm with a near perfect inside forearm block followed by a front snap kick and left reverse punch to the body. I didn't hit my partner hard but I did have near perfect form. My partner started swearing and complained that I was trying to hurt him and said his arm was "killing" him as a result of my block.

After agreeing to go softer he threw a front snap kick and I stepped into a horse stance and hit it with a low block causing him to fall to the ground holding his leg. My instructor came over and explained to me that I was "doing things wrong." I explained that I was doing the Taekwondo we had just been working on and he told me I should be dancing around on my toes and not doing the same blocks we learned in the forms. "But, that’s not Taekwondo that's kickboxing... I'm here to learn Taekwondo... it works... ," I said pointing to my unhappy partner who was rubbing a bruised calf. I was told that Taekwondo is a form of kickboxing and I replied, "No its not!"

We spent maybe 5% of our time sparring and the other 95% of the time being drilled on proper form; so 95% of our training was contradicting the other 5%... and I was the only person in the school bothered by this. I ended up staying until I got my black belt and when I started teaching I made it clear that we had a "martial arts portion" of the class and a "kickboxing portion" of the class. One day I was talking to a very skilled brown belt who got his clock cleaned by a black belt who wouldn't last 10 seconds if they fought for real and I quietly said, "Don't worry about it, it is just kickboxing, it doesn't prove anything and unless you plan on doing that for a living who cares?" The chief instructor was standing behind me and my time at that school was pretty much over after that.

I believe martial arts are all about self-defense and because of this belief I approach the martial arts from a different context then a lot of people. Most people I know think that martial arts are about competing, either with someone in a classroom, someone at a tournament, or someone trying to take your life. I don't want to compete and don't care who is bigger, faster, stronger, or more skilled. I want to protect myself and my family from violent individuals.

Most people dismissively say that the reason I don't put on gloves and spar is because my skills are too deadly to spar with. I respond by saying, "You're right, and so are yours which is why you don't spar with them either, you kickbox."

If you study "modern martial arts" that are comprised mainly of punching and kicking techniques then sparring and competing is fine, but if you study "old school martial arts" that are made up primarily of strikes to the temples, eyes, ears, throat, sides and back of the neck, heart, liver, spleen, kidneys, groin, knees, and ankles then sparring becomes much more difficult.

The thing with sparing is that safety is the utmost concern, and rightly so, so a lot of techniques are not allowed. The problem is that all the things they take out in order to spar are the actual "meat" of the martial arts. Strikes like eye gouges, ear slaps, forearm strikes to the throat, palms to the chin, elbows to the back of the neck, shins to the groin, kicks to the knees, stomps to the kidneys and ankles, and such things are the real "meat and potatoes" of the martial arts and the fancy stuff is just the icing on the cake. The icing on the cake is not the meal, learning how to drive a palm strike through someone's chin is the meal. These are the things that cause injuries, put people down, and save your life when someone else is trying to take it. That is also why I don't spar.

The problem with sparring is that it is a competitive activity. How would you like to compete in an eye gouging competition? Or, how about an ear slapping competition? How would you like to grab another guy and see who can punch each other in the throat the best, or shin kick each other in the groin better? The only way that you can practice these dangerous techniques in a meaningful way without seriously injuring someone is to go slow and work with a cooperative partner.

If we were going to practice a backfist to the head then we could probably spar with that and no one would get hurt. However, how about if we practice backfists to the kidneys, would you want to spar with those? There is no way that I'm going to spar with someone that is trying to backfist me in the kidney. I've been nearly put on the floor by someone hitting me in the kidney while going slow under controlled conditions.

Sparing can teach you some valuable things, but you can learn the very same things from doing controlled drills. We do a lot of drills that get people used to being attacked with random movements and drills to get used to be attacked suddenly and aggressively. With the right drills you can get the benefits of sparing and practice striking vital points while keeping your students from getting injured and drowning in lawsuits.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Modern Attacks, How Far We Haven't Come

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved

One thing that really surprises me is how people think that we today are so much smarter and so different than people that lived a hundred years ago, or a thousand years ago. It seems that most most people think that today we are so much more evolved and, I dare say, better than our ancestors. After all, those dimwitted rubes we read about in the history books didn't know how to make a light bulb! Those morons had to walk everywhere because they were too stupid to build cars...they didn't even have double ply toilet paper! Those cavemen!

The simple truth is that humans have had the exact same brain for a long time. Homo-Sapiens are at least 200,000 years old and the best we can tell our brain, as it is today, may be 36,000 years old or even older. Most people find it hard to believe but scientists have found evidence 36,000 years old of humans with the "modern traits" of art, music, open trade between peoples, and religious style burial rites. Regardless of the actual number of years, it is safe to say that the human brain has had the exact same capability for the last 7,000years. So how are we smarter?

The simple truth is that we are not smarter, more creative, or more resourceful than our ancestors were 7,000 years ago. Today we merely have more information and more technology. The reason we have light bulbs and MP3 players today and we didn't have them 7,000 years ago isn't because we are smarter, it is simply because we have had the necessary time required to figure them out. It is the same reason that in a hundred years we will probably have computers the size of your thumb nail, or smaller, and a person's normal looking sun glasses might have hard drives in them that can store every song ever made and project turn-by-turn directions on the lenses.

My point in all of this is that when people talk about martial art today being more effective in self-defense than they were in the past they are probably misinformed. Yes, we have more information about psychology, physiology, and physics than we did 2,000 years ago but we still have the same brain, the same arms and legs, and the same violent tendencies. A violent assault today will look the same, functionally, as a violent assault in 1654 ad and the same as it would it 3728 bc. We are no better than those that came before us, and if we are greater it is because we have stood on their shoulders.

I try, best as I can, to be open minded about wrestleboxing (my name for "ultimate fighting" as I don't agree with the term "mma") but I have a very hard time ignoring it and that is probably because they shout so loud. Wrestleboxers talk about how they are pinnacle of the martial arts world, about how everything that has ever happened in the entire history of combat has led to them. What a load of crap! Most of them have little to no technique and don't know how to get out of a choke hold, which is yellow belt material in my dojo. I watched a documentary a while ago about Bruce Lee's impact on today's society and for a reason that baffled me they started to interview wrestleboxers. Then the guy that owns the UFC, I think his name is Dana White, really put his foot in his mouth when he made the comment that the martial arts have evolved further in the last 10 years, because of wrestleboxing, than they have in the last 10,000 years. I am going to assume he was just hyping his business because I can't believe someone could be so uninformed to believe that. All it takes is a look in a history book to see that people were doing the exact same thing in Greece over 2,000 years ago, and then far, far, before that. Wrestleboxing isn't new or special, it is just an example of how fads happen in a cycle, the same way my wife was wearing bell-bottom jeans awhile back.

The real purpose of this article isn't to complain about wrestleboxing, it was to talk about how people don't understand martial arts in context. People believe that the martial arts are archaic forms of combat that don't "work" anymore. I agree with this idea on many levels because a typical Karate class doesn't prepare someone to survive a violent assault. Guess isn't meant to. While there are instructors and styles out there which deal specifically with self-defense, most instructors teach their art as an art form. The issue isn’t' what Karate, for instance, teaches it is how they teach it. Even the autobiography of Gichin Funakoshi spoke about he and others purposely changed Karate to make it more of an art form. What they changed was the tone and focus of the art (from causing injuries to people to "character development").

I've used to go a gym that had a boxing club in the basement and a Shotokan Karate club on the third floor. Both classes let out about the same time and the parking lot would fill with people in boxing attire and people wearing pretty white Karate gi and various colored belts. The boxers were a young cocky bunch and more than once I saw fights break out. The interesting thing is this: out of 5 fights I witnessed 4 ended with the boxing student "winning" and only one ended with a Karate student "winning." When the boxing student "won" they did so by charging forwards and repeatedly throwing punches until they hit something and then they kept it up until their opponent was on the ground; when the Karate student won he, a senior black belt, did so with a front kick and an elbow to the head. When the Karate student lost they went home with black eyes and bloody lips but when the boxing student lost he had to go to the hospital.

After studying the whole thing I realized why the fights had come out as they did. The senior black belt in Karate "won" his altercation because he was seasoned through years of Karate training and he was just technically better than the boxer he fought, who was one of the top fighters in the club. Karate should be a superior methodology as it is far more advanced and has many more options and tools available to it. However, the boxers won for one very good reason...not because boxing is better but because the training was more specific. Over the 25 years I have spent in the martial arts I realized that martial artist train to DO techniques while boxers train to hit people. After I realized that I retooled the way I and my students train and introduced several new drills to get us used to using our techniques to hit people. Since then the martial arts have sprang to life anew and make more sense that they ever have before.

The last thing I'll say in this here is that I recently read another article about how the "ancient" martial arts just aren't adequate to deal with "modern attacks." What? The only modern attack I can think of is maybe a missile shot from a predator drone. Even firearms aren’t really a "modern attack" because firearms have been around just as long as most of the martial arts that are practiced today (the most widely practiced form of Karate today is Shotokan , and while Karate itself dates back about 400 years, it dates to about 1922). When it comes to hand-to-hand combat there is no such thing as a "modern attack". If you go back 2,000 years you'll still see people attacking each other from behind, hitting them with sucker punches, dancing around in fighting stances, wrestling, and just plain old attacking with pure violent intent. The idea that what we do today is so much more advanced or different than what people did in the past is just plain wrong. If you put a top UFC fighter up against a top Greek Pankration fighter from 250 bc they would find each other fairly well matched (although the rules in Pankration were not as strict as they are in the UFC so the "modern" guy would probably be at a disadvantage).

When the orient started becoming westernized in the mid 1800's the societies changed and tried to become more, I don't want to say civilized, but maybe more civil. When that happened the martial arts had to become more civil too, but what happens when a fighting system become less violent? It becomes less efficient. The martial arts became less violent but all you have to do is put that back in there; reintroduce the intent to cause injury with every blow, get them back to training to use their martial arts techniques for hitting people and shutting down the body by causing injuries and you'll get the efficiency back. However, people attack you today exactly the same as they attack you 5,000 years ago, that didn't change.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

History of The Belt Ranking System

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved

There are many myths in the martial arts, but the two I hear the most, which are recited in nearly every martial arts school I know, are (1) that the martial arts originated in the Shaolin Monastery in China and (2) how the belt ranking system originated. I have talked in other articles about how historians have shown that the martial arts did not originate in the Shaolin Monastery so here I will talk about where the belt ranking system originally came from.

The most common version of the myth I hear is that originally the martial arts only used one belt and it was white (sometimes they say it was a white piece of rope). As the student practiced over the years their belt became darker and darker due to absorbing sweat, blood, and dirt. The myth goes that if you saw someone with a belt that had become black you knew they were an expert. This, while perhaps romantic, is totally false.

There are actually three different components that make up our modern ranking structure and we need to look at each of them to fully understand our history. The three components of our ranking structure are the use of colored belts, the ranking structure that the belts symbolize, and the concept of the "degreed black belt". Each of these has a separate history that is connected to the others.

The use of colored belts comes from Japan and it was originally a way to organize competitors for tournaments. The Japanese take competitions very seriously and there is no shortage of things to compete in, such as swimming, flower arranging, diving, running, painting, sculpting, dancing, singing, serving tea, etc. In organized tournaments there were two different levels of competition: beginner and skilled. Either you were a skilled competitor with a local, regional, or national ranking or you were a beginner trying to become skilled.

If you were going to hold a swimming contest, for example, perhaps hundreds of competitors would show up dressed in their traditional kimonos and you would need a quick way to tell which division each person was competing in. The answer the organizers came up with was that someone competing in the skilled division was to wear a black obi (a thick traditional fabric belt worn around the kimono) and a beginner was to wear a white obi. This manner of marking competitors gained popularity and more and more organizations decided to adopt it but they didn't always use obi, sometimes they wore headbands or ribbons tied around their arms. It is from this practice that we get the wearing of the white belt for the beginner and the black belt for the skilled practitioner.

The actual ranking system itself also comes from Japan and it is called the "Dan System" (pronounced "Don" and meaning "level.") For some competitions having people separated into beginner and skilled divisions was enough but for more complex and popular games they needed a way to rank people within those divisions, and the most complex and most popular of all was the game of "Go".

Go is an oriental version of chess and taken very seriously in Japan, China, and other countries throughout the world. Sometime around 1680 a go competitor named Honinbo Dosaku, who is considered perhaps the greatest and most influential player in history, introduced the "dan system". Under this system each player was ranked at a certain level based on their experience, record, and handicap. Skilled players were given a rank of "1" through "9", with the rank of "1" representing that the person was ranked at the first level which was called "Shodan", meaning literally "lowest level" and the rank of "9" representing the person was ranked at the highest level, called "Meijin" meaning "brilliant man." Honinbo Dosaku based this ranking system on the ranking system already used in China for go competitions called the "9 Pin Zhi".

If you were not considered a skilled player you were put into a group called "Kyu." Originally there were no rankings inside Kyu, everyone was lumped together and the goal was to get good enough to progress out to the level of Shodan. What got you out of the Kyu division was purely skill and there was no time restraints making you wait a certain period of time. In the same way when the martial arts started using belts the Kyu ranks were very informal and if you could demonstrate enough skill to get your black belt in a short period of time they gave it to you. Later on Go organizations started adding ranks within the Kyu division and today there are 30 ranks in the Kyu system. A student today in Go starts out with a rank of 30 Kyu, the lowest rank possible, and works up to the rank of 1st Kyu, which is the highest rank in the kyu system and then goes on to the Dan Ranks; in modern go, kyu means "pupil" and dan means "skilled player".

When the martial arts started out they did not have a ranking system at all and you were either a student, a senior student with limited authority during class, or a teacher. As time passed and more formal schools emerged your teacher might issue you a certificate called a "Menkyo Kaiden" which translates to "certificate of total transmission." This meant that you had learned the total art from that teacher and were qualified to teach it. The issuing of these certificates were fairly rare because it could take numerous years of hard work to earn one, like today people moved around so they sometimes had to learn from numerous instructors, and some instructors just didn't give them out.

The way the belt system came to the martial arts was by a Japanese man named Kano Jigoro (1860-1938). Growing up Kano Jigoro was a particularly small child from a wealthy family and had a problem with being bullied. To remedy this he began studying Jujitsu which is a martial art consisting of joint breaking techniques and throws. In 1868 Japan went through a change of government in the "Meniji Restoration" and the country became more and more westernized. Soon the violent practice of Jujitsu fell out of social favor and a lot of instructors quit teaching.

In 1882 he founded a new art called "Judo", meaning "the way of gentleness". In the new modern westernized Japan Jujitsu and its violent techniques were considered unfashionable and not necessary so many practitioners tried to distance themselves from it by learning it in secret. Judo was to be a gentler martial art that was based on the teachings of Jujitsu but was also a sport that anyone could learn and compete in. It was to be a gentle modern sport for the new modern Japan.

Judo thrived and soon Judo competitions happened with the same frequency as swimming or dancing competitions. Being a competitive activity with no real ranking system, Kano Jigoro adopted the wearing of belts that had already been in use for hundreds of years. There were no martial arts uniforms back then so they practiced in kimonos and beginning and intermediate competitors wore white obi over their kimonos and advanced competitors wore black obi over their kimonos. This was the extent of the ranking system in Judo at this time; either you were a white belt or a black belt and technically the founder of Judo was the same rank as his other black belts.

Since Judo was a sport it didn't take long for Kano to start adopting Dan ranks as some form of the system was used by most athletic associations. He started by adding 5 levels, 1st Dan through 5th Dan, with himself holding the highest rank. At this time there were still no ranks within the Kyu system and only the two belt colors were used. Later, Kano's school won a competition against a leading Jujitsu school leading to Judo being more popular and more Jujtsu systems adopting the Dan system. When Karate was brought to Japan from Okinawa by Gichen Funokoshi there we no belts or dan ranks used in Karate but Funokoshi adopted them in an effort to make Karate more accepted by the Japanese.

In 1895 the Japanese Emperor Meiji decided that throughout the county's fast paced westernization it need to protect and embrace its warrior heritage so he created an organization called the "Dai Nippon Butoku Kai", meaning the "Greater Japan Martial Virtue Society", which operated as part of the Ministry of Education. The Dai Nippon Butoku Kai was the official government organization that had the authority to organize the martial arts and standardize and regulate their ranking systems. By this time most martial arts in Japan had adopted a ranking system and the ones that hadn't would soon be forced to.

In 1899 the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai published the official rules for Judo competitions. They also standardized levels to the Kyu and Dan grades. Under their system a student starts out as a white belt without any rank whatsoever, and then tests for 10th Kyu and works up to 1st Kyu. Once a student had demonstrated competency in the basics of the art he is considered to be a serious student and is awarded is 1st Dan and the rank of "Shodan", or "lowest level". While some people in America consider a Black Belt to be an expert, in Japan the first three dan ranks are considered student rankings.

Traditionally, Shodan means you have learned and are competent in the basics of your art, you are ready to learn some advanced teachings, and the student is often allowed to teach lower belts; Nidan (the second Dan Level) means they are more polished in their basics, they are ready to learn more advanced teachings, and they are often allowed to teach the upper Kyu ranks; Sandan (the third Dan Level) is the final student ranking and means they have fully competent in the basics, are competent in a good deal of the advanced training they have received, and are allowed to teach students on their own, normally up to one rank below themselves. It is at the rank of Sandan that the "Yudansha" (holder of a Black Belt) is permitted to be called Sensei (teacher, or "one who is further down the path of learning than I"). By the time someone reaches 4th or 5th Dan they know and are competent in the entire system.

While in America most people are eligible to become a "master" at 4th Dan, in Japan 4th and 5th Dan are considered to be "experts". 6th Dan and above are considered "master level rankings" and are honorary rankings given more for time spent in the art and total lifelong contributions to the art rather than physical skill (although in some traditional systems you can be considered a "master level practitioner" at 5th Dan). The highest ranking in Japanese martial arts is 10th Dan and is generally reserved for the founders or leaders of the style.

While in America some 1st Dan are considered experts and even open their own schools or start their own clubs, in Japan if you start your own school you are expected to be a 6th Dan or higher. The Japanese consider 6th Dan to be the rank of "head teacher."

After WWII American soldiers stationed in Japan studied Karate, Jujitsu, and Judo and when they returned they introduced the arts to the general public. It is from these returning soldiers that most martial art knowledge came to America, but with it comes a problem. Most soldiers did not spend more than a few years studying while in Japan and they were not qualified to teach let alone own their own schools. In addition there is a long tradition in the martial arts of deliberately withholding the real teachings from untrusted students. While in Japan there were teachers who offered to teach Americans, most teachers wanted nothing to do with us; after all we did just defeat them in war and were now occupying their country. There are many accounts of American soldiers harassing teachers, threatening them with violence or arrest, or even vandalizing their school if they refused to teach them. As a result most ended up giving in, but in the tradition of masters in both China and Japan, it is widely believed they taught them the movements but left out real applications. In this way they could pacify the Americans but keep the fighting secrets only for the Japanese.

A result of these perhaps unqualified soldiers returning to open schools and introduce the martial arts to mainstream American were sometimes low quality teachings and lots and lots of misconceptions. One big misconception was that 1st Dan was an expert rank. People saw that only the teachers wore black belts so they assumed everyone with a black belt was an expert. As time went on masters from other countries have come to America and tried to correct that, and other misconceptions, but most have found that it was easier to "go with it" because it was those misguided people who paid their bills.

The Belt System in Korea and China

In 1904 Japan gained control over Korea and sought to turn it into an expansion of Japan. In order to make the country as Japanese as possible they outlawed native martial arts while encouraging the practice of Japanese martial arts like Jujitsu, Judo, and Karate. Not all native Korean martial arts survived this occupation but after it ended the Korean martial arts emerged as versions of Karate, using the same uniforms and ranking systems.

A main difference in the ranking structures of Japan and Korea is most Korean arts only have 9 Dan ranks to the 10 used by the Japanese. The reason for this is that to Koreans 9 is a special number because it is the highest single digit multiple of 3 which they consider to be a sacred number.

The Chinese martial arts had no formal ranking system but schools in America started to use the Japanese ranking system and giving out belts in the 1960's because students had come to expect it. Currently most Chinese martial arts taught in the US have some type of belt system, although most use lightweight sashes tied at the side of their body instead of thick belts which are tied in the center of their body as a way to separate themselves from Japanese and Korean systems.

An interesting note is that companies making martial art uniforms did not come about until the early 1900's and most people in the US had to buy Judo uniforms from Japan until the 1970's when they became widely available. Before this people either didn't use uniforms or belts or they made them themselves. Until belts became widely accessible a teacher normally gave his student a white belt when they started training and the student had to die the belt different colors when they were promoted. This may be an origin of the myth that a black belt is black because it has gotten darker over the years.

Origin of the "Degreed Black Belt"

One thing most people don't know is that before 1964 there was no such thing as a "degree" of black belt. The black belt was used to symbolize that a person had status under the Dan System, but each rank had a specific name:

"Shodan" is the first level in the Dan System and means "lowest level".
"Nidan" is the second level in the Dan System and means "second level".
"Sandan" is the third level in the Dan System and means "third level".
"Yodan" is the fourth level in the Dan System and means "fourth level".
"Godan" is the fifth level in the Dan System and means "fifth level".

The above five ranks were symbolized by the wearing of a Black Belt. To attain these ranks the student would often have to go through a formal examination or compete for them in a competition. However, exceptions were made for weaker practitioners or practitioners of special status.

"Rokudan" is the sixth level in the Dan System and means "sixth level".
"Shichidan" is the seventh level in the Dan System and means "seventh level".
"Hachidan" is the eighth level in the Dan System and means "eighth level".

The above three ranks were symbolized by the wearing of either a Black Belt or a belt of red and white sections. Traditionally formal examinations were only required up through Yondan or Godan (Fourth or Fifth Dan), and all rankings over 5th Dan were usually awarded without a formal examination and given for time in grade and total service to the perspective art. Service to the art was considered practicing, teaching, judging testing's and tournaments, doing work for the schools, writing papers or books about martial arts, or being a spokesperson for the art to the general public.

"Kudan" is the ninth level in the Dan System and means "ninth level".
"Judan" is the tenth level in the Dan System and means "tenth level".

The above two ranks were symbolized by the wearing of either a Black Belt or a Red Belt. It should also be noted that because the ranks in the Dan System is what was important some martial arts did not use belts at all. In systems like Iaido (art of drawing the sword), Kendo (art of fencing with the sword), and Jodo (art of fighting with a short stick) they did not use any outward representation of rank at all.

If you were promoted to the fourth level under the Dan System, for example, you were given the title of "Yodan" and that is what your certificate would say. The concept of "degrees of black belt" came from Grandmaster Ed Parker, a man who is known as the "Father of American Karate."

Grandmaster Ed Parker (March 19, 1931 - December 15, 1990) was the person to really make martial art mainstream in America. He taught Elvis Presley, many other celebrities, appeared on TV and in movies, and was the first person to have a large chain of schools in America. He was a considered by many to be a larger than life figure and a tireless self-promoter.

Grandmaster Parker, who was born in Hawaii, began training in Kenpo in the 1940's under the legendary Professor William Chow. He was promoted to Shodan in 1953 and soon after moved to the mainland and opened his first school. His main school was in Pasadena and called the "Pasadena Kenpo Karate Studio". In 1957 three brothers named Jim, Al, and Will Tracy started taking classes there and in 1959 the school was turned over to them to run and they did until 1962 when they opened their own school.

This was the first time someone had tried making martial arts a large scale commercial venture in America and while Grandmaster Parker knew martial arts he was still learning about running a successful business. The Tracy brothers became important to Grandmaster Parker because they put a selling system in place that made the schools more profitable than ever, and they organized the teaching methods and standardized what was being taught throughout all the schools. They made Kenpo more organized, more accessible to students, and more profitable and Grandmaster Parker was usually quick to adopt most of what they did as the "official way." However, there were several areas on contention between Grandmaster Parker and the Tracys.

Grandmaster Parker created his own organization called the "Kenpo Karate Association of America" (KKAA) and it was through this organization that he gave out rank. However in 1964 one of Grandmaster Parker's students opened a school in Ireland so he turned the KKAA over to the Tracy brothers and he started the "International Kenpo Karate Association" (IKKA). Under the IKKA Grandmaster Parker had different requirements for promotion than he had in the KKAA and when asked the Tracy brothers agreed to join the IKKA on the condition that they and their students would be held to the old, and they felt more, standards of the KKAA.

A big area of contention, and there many, between Grandmaster Parker and the Tracy brothers was giving out rank. Grandmaster Parker felt that he had the right to give out rank freely to whomever he wanted often without examinations or putting together a panel of other black belts. Grandmaster Parker would try to bribe students from other schools with a promotion to Shodan if they joined his organization and there were stories of him just giving brown belts their Shodan just because he liked them, because they did a favor for him, or just because he felt he didn't have enough black belts.

The Tracy brothers didn't approve of this manner of giving out rank and it became the biggest area of contention between the two organizations. As the organizations grew this became more and more of an issue and Grandmaster Parker knew he had to do something so he solved this the issue in a way that would have made a Judo expert proud... he sidestepped the entire issue and just stopped using the Dan System!

In order to get around the established ranking standards he started putting "1st Degree Black Belt" on the certificates instead of Shodan. This created a lot of controversy at first because there was no such thing as a "Black Belt rank", it was the Dan rank that was important and the belt merely symbolized that the individual has some type of Dan ranking. "Black Belt rank" was just something he made up and it had no real meaning; it was a way for him to circumvent the Dan system with something similar enough where the uninitiated Americans ready to join the "karate craze" wouldn't know the difference.

Due to Grandmaster Ed Parker popular status most of what he did was blindly accepted by Americans who didn't know any different. Today in America most rank certificates say "1st Degree Black Belt" instead of 1st Dan or Shodan, and it is my experience that most martial artists don't understand a Dan Rank is or what Shodan means.

Honorary Titles

The last thing we'll cover here is the honorary titles given out in the martial arts, there are two non-traditional titles and four traditional titles commonly used in the martial arts. We will cover the nontraditional titles first. Non-traditional titles: Master and Grandmaster

The ranking of "master" again comes from the game of Go. At the start of the 17th century the Japanese Emperor instituted four Go schools in Japan where people devoted themselves full time to the practice of the game. Higher ranking players, often at the 5th Dan level and above, were considered to be "Master Players" due to the sheer devotion and skill needed to attain those rankings and play at those levels.

When the martial arts fully adopted the Dan System under the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai between 1895 and 1899 they also adopted the concept of "Master Players" as well as various samurai titles not used in Go. While the Japanese martial arts didn't have the actual title of "master" they did have several titles that expressed the same concept.

The title of "master" didn't really come into common usage until after WWII when American soldiers learned martial arts under Japanese instructors. The literal title of "master" most likely came about from the English translations of the various titles their instructors had. When the soldiers returned home and opened their own schools they talked about the "masters" in Japan and when the Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans came to America to teach they ran with it. After all, "master" is a fairly simple title that is easy to understand whereas traditional titles like "Hanshi" have a deeper meaning that is harder to translate.

Today the title of "master" is used by most martial arts and granted to those as early as 4th Dan in some styles and as late as 9th or 10th Dan in some styles. The title of "Grandmaster" is a modern creation and is usually given as a title above master and designates the highest ranking in a given style. The origin of the title of grandmaster could come from a translation of the title "Hanshi", which is talked about below.

People ask me what the title "master" means and it really depends on deep you want to go with your explanation, but in my opinion the easiest definition for our culture is this:

A teacher is someone who is capable of teaching students.
A master is someone who is capable of teaching teachers.
A Grandmaster is someone who is capable of teaching masters.

Many systems have gotten away from using the title of "master" in favor of the term "master instructor" which is simply someone with a higher level of expertise than a regular instructor.

Traditional Titles: Sensei, Sifu, Renshi, Shihan, Kyoshi, and Hanshi

"Sensei" is a traditional Japanese title meaning "teacher" and it used not only in the marital arts but in the regular school system as well.

"Sifu" is a Chinese name meaning "teacher" it is used in the regular school system as well.

Renshi, Shihan, Kyoshi, and Hanshi are tradition titles that date from the time of the samurai. These titles are Japanese honorifics and are honorary titles that may have different meanings within different organizations, and are totally separate of rank. For example, one person may be a 5th Dan Renshi, and another person may be a 6th Dan with no honorific title. These titles speak more to a person's character that their martial ability. These ranks are solely used in arts with a Japanese heritage are not found in any Chinese or Korean styles.

"Renshi" means "expert trainer". This title is usually given to a person who ranks 4th or 5th Dan.

"Shihan" and "Kyoshi" both mean "master teacher" or "teacher of teachers." These titles are normally given to people who rank 6th through 8th Dan.

"Hanshi" is the highest title awarded in marital arts and can also be translated as "teacher or teachers" and some translate it as "grandmaster". The translation to "grandmaster" is more of a translation of the concept of the title and not a literal translation.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Are Martial Art Techniques Too Dangerous To Spar With?

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved

I often get asked by other people who study martial arts if my school, style, etc. spars full contact. When I tell them "no" they often get concerned telling me that full contact sparring is the only way to make sure our techniques "work". They then ask me what kind of sparing we do engage in and I tell them we don't spar at all... and suddenly in their eyes I have become the biggest fraud on the planet, a disgusting creature so low I should be so ashamed of myself that if I had any integrity at all I should give my black belts back, return every dime I've ever made from teaching martial arts, advise my students to burn any belts and certificates I've given them, issue a public apology, and walk away from the martial arts world in disgrace. It's a good thing I didn't tell them that I'm also not a Bruce Lee fan or they'd probably shoot me on the spot.

First of all I find it funny that some people think you need to get all padded up and spar in order to see if techniques "work". If you want to know what "works" then study sports medicine, that will tell you more about what "works" (damages the human body) then sparing ever will.

The next question people usually ask me is if we don't spar because I'm one of "those" people who think that my style is too deadly to spar with? My answer is that all martial arts are too dangerous to spar with and that is why people don't do it (they kickbox instead). The thing is my instructors and I look at the martial arts in a little different context then most people. We look at martial arts as being primarily forms of self-defense and don't care for competitions. If you study "modern martial arts" that are comprised mainly of punching and kicking techniques then sparring and competing is fine, but if you study "old school martial arts" that are made up primarily of strikes to the temples, eyes, ears, throat, sides and back of the neck, heart, liver, spleen, kidneys, groin, knees, and ankles then sparring becomes much more difficult.

The thing with sparing is that safety is the utmost concern, and rightly so, so a lot of techniques are not allowed. The problem is that all the things they take out in order to spar are the actual "meat" of the martial arts. Strikes like eye gouges, ear slaps, forearm strikes to the throat, palms to the chin, elbows to the back of the neck, shins to the groin, kicks to the knees, stomps to the kidneys and ankles, and such things are the real "meat and potatoes" of the martial arts. These are the things that cause injuries, put people down, and save your life when someone else is trying to take it. That is also why I don't spar.

The problem with sparring is that it is a competitive activity. How would you like to compete in an eye gouging competition? Or, how about an ear slapping competition? How would you like to grab another guy and see who can punch each other in the throat the best, or shin kick each other in the groin better? The only way that you can practice these dangerous techniques in a meaningful way without seriously injuring someone is to go slow and work with a cooperative partner.

If we were going to practice a backfist to the head then we could probably spar with that and no one would get hurt. However, how about if we practice backfists to the kidneys, would you want to spar with those? There is no way that I'm going to spar with someone that is trying to backfist me in the kidney. I've been nearly put on the floor by someone hitting me in the kidney while going slow under controlled conditions.

Sparing can teach you some valuable things, but you can learn the very same things from doing controlled drills. We do a lot of drills that get people used to being attacked with random movements and drills to get used to be attacked suddenly and aggressively. With the right drills you can get the benefits of sparing and practice striking vital points while keeping your students from getting injured and drowning in lawsuits.

When you decide to spar you take so much away from the martial arts that you end up not doing the martial arts, and you end up kickboxing. Martial arts and kickboxing are two different things and there really isn't any reason to do kickboxing if you study the martial arts. You most likely will learn bad habits and get an unreal view of what criminal violence actually looks like. If you are assaulted by a violent criminal it won't resemble a kickboxing match; they won't tell you that they are going to assault you beforehand and let you get into a fighting stance while they do the same. You're not going to dance around on your toes with the violent criminal trading jabs. That is nonsense but that is what most martial arts schools and wrestleboxers (people who do "ultimate fighting") would have you believe.

Today some people scoff at styles that don't spar and think those styles are ridiculous in their belief that their techniques are "too dangerous to spar with". However, if you were to tell them that you suddenly changed your mind and now you agree with them, and then climb into the ring with them and announce that you'd be happy to spar with your techniques so in addition to throwing punches and kicks you will be doing eye gouges, throat strikes, groin strikes, ear slaps, clawing, striking the neck and the front of the knee, joint breaking, neck breaking, and you just might throw in a bite or two... suddenly they act like you're crazy... after all if you did that someone could get hurt!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Two Jobs of the Martial Arts

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved

I joined the military right out of high school. I was from a small town and couldn’t wait to leave so as soon as I could I packed my bags and shipped out to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas for basic training. I spent four years in the Air Force and serving my country is one of the greatest things I ever did.

One of the things that always stuck with me happened during the first week of basic training. My T.I. (training instructor, more commonly known as a drill sergeant) brought us into a class room, sat us down, and asked for a show of hands of everyone who joined the Air Force to earn money for college and numerous hands went up. He then asked for a show of hands of people who joined to see the world, learn skills they could use as a civilian, and who joined to do “cool” stuff like fly planes and drive tanks.

After questioning us about our motivations for a few minutes he nodded and looked down, and then he looked back up and got deadly serious. He then said something I’ll remember for the rest of my life; he said:

“Great! Those are all great reasons to join the military and each and every one of those are achievable. But…regardless of why you joined…you have to understand that we are in the business of conducting war. Each and every one of you, regardless of the job you do, can end up in a combat zone and it doesn’t matter if you’re a cook or an accountant…someone could hand you a rifle and send you out to kill the enemy. I don’t care why you joined, I don’t care what you think you are going to be doing while you’re here, and I sure as hell don’t care what your career field is…the military only has TWO JOBS! The TWO JOBS the military has are…1.) To Kill People, and 2.) To Blow Shit Up! Each and every one of you will either be in the business of killing people and blowing shit up, or you will be supporting someone so they can kill people and blow shit up! Those of you who joined to go to school or see the world…great! You can do that…but NEVER forgot the business you’re in. If you do you can get yourself, the person next to you, and possibly dozens of people…or more…killed.”

That brought it home for me. It was straight forward and it made sense. All the fancy technology and titles, and all the cool weapons and training, it all has one purpose. To put on the uniform of the US military and to forget the basic job that the military does it to put your life in jeopardy and do a disservice to your fellow soldiers and your country.

Now, how does all this apply to the marital arts? It just so happens that just like the military has two jobs, the martial arts have two jobs. When we fail to understand these two jobs we fail to understand the martial arts, and when we do that we’ve lost our way and we are putting ourselves and our students in danger.

The two jobs of the martial arts are: 1.) To enable us to cause injuries to people, and 2.) To enable us to not have to cause injuries to people. That’s it. Now sure, we can always go above and beyond that and add fitness, medicine, and spiritual development; however, if we don’t focus on the two jobs of the martial arts then what we will have won’t actually be martial arts. We have a lot of martial sports like Judo and Wrestle-Boxing (ultimate fighting) but they’re not martial arts (Judo and Taekwondo can be martial arts depending on how they’re taught but in most schools, like ATA schools where I learned Taekwondo, they are just sports).

The martial arts have lost their way by distancing themselves from the concept of violence. The martial arts in large have shunned violence as destructive and told people that good technique will overcome violence. The problem is that that doesn’t work. Who are the most successful people during a kumite or wrestle-boxing match? 9 times out of 10 the most aggressive and violent person is the one that wins even if their opponent is better technically.

Violence is the reality. To shun the notion of violence is delusional because guess what you will be encountering in a self-defense situation…VIOLENCE! Violence is not good or bad, it is merely a quality. Violence is defined as the excretion of physical force with the intent to injure or abuse; it is an all-out single minded intent to hit a target and cause an injury and it is what wins violent encounters. It is the reason that the old masters were more able to use martial arts successfully in self-defense than a lot of people are today; they knew that technique needs that single minded focus and intent in order to work.

The second job (to enable us to not have to cause injuries people) includes understand what the martial arts are for, having respect for our abilities, situational awareness, de-escalation skills, anger management, and everything else.

As instructors, if we embrace the truth of these two jobs it will help us to better serve our students. Also, if we sit them down and explain this to them like my T.I. did to me it will help them to better understand what they’re training for and help to keep the safe.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

My rant on the 5 big weight loss myths and the fitness industry as a whole.

By Matthew Schafer, CPT, CFN
Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved

The other day I had to listen to someone give a lecture on weight loss and fitness, and while I was able to hold my tongue it was only with great effort. This person tried to come across as an expert but merely regurgitated the typical information you find in a fitness magazine or hear people talk about in gyms, and the problem is most of that information is either only partially true or just plain wrong.

One of the problems with a lot of the common information that’s regurgitated is that some of it is true, but only true in certain situations, or if you only use certain definitions. There are a lot of things that are only true if you use a very narrow look at research findings, and it gets even worse when you consider that most of the common fitness knowledge out there comes not from real scientists doing real unbiased research, but rather from companies hired by the food and fitness industry to conduct “scientific” studies meant solely to provide evidence that their products work as advertised.

One of the incredibly misleading things these research companies do when conducting a fat loss or muscle building study is to only use healthy people between the ages of 18 and 25. What people don’t realize is that people in these age ranges are so hopped up on human growth hormone and other natural growth mechanisms that nearly any fitness program will produce results. The "scientists" make these young people take whatever muscle building or weight loss product they are testing and then put them on a reduced calorie diet and make them go and work out a couple days a week, usually with a personal trainer, and guess what…all of the 20 year olds who ate less and exercised lost fat and gained muscle…so the new product must work! This is incredibly misleading to the general public but it is these kinds of tests that that are paid to engineer a specific outcome that produces most of the fitness and weight loss knowledge the “experts” are spouting today.

One of my favorite nutrition experts is name Brad Pilon. He worked as a research and development manager for one of the largest supplement companies in the world and ended up leaving in disgust over the amount of corruption in the industry. Over and over he saw supplement companies coming out with new products and then buying test results from labs to prove that the new product worked. Being an industry insider with the education and experience to understand the actual scientific studies being done, he has devoted his life to help people understand the garbage spewed out by the fitness industry. A good deal of the information that follows comes from reading his books (as well as the education I received in becoming a Certified Personal Trainer, CPT, and Certified Fitness Nutritionist, CFN) and then double checking his sources which he happily gives and encourages you to check.

Here are five of the most common myths that everybody is regurgitating and the actual scientific truth behind them. It should be noted that the information I give here is assuming you are perfectly healthy. There are some illnesses that cause the various systems in your body to act abnormally and either speed up or slow down your metabolism.

“Myth #1: If you don’t eat regularly you go into starvation mode and your body eats itself, or it stores each and everything you eat because it thinks food is no longer available.”

Truth: There is a degree of truth to this, but here is whole truth as it applies to losing weight...your body is not stupid or suicidal, if you have body fat to burn your body will burn it before it starts to consume lean tissue. Also, this myth takes a very short sighted look at how your body works. When you look at weight loss you shouldn't measure it day to day, but rather, at a minimum, week to week.

Your body weight fluctuates day to day with your level of hydration so it is very hard to draw reliable conclusions about weight loss on a daily basis. You might step on the scale in the morning and see that you gained two pounds when in reality you lost one pound of fat but drank an abnormally large amount of water the previous day or consumed a very large amount of sodium. Remember, the typical bottle of water is a pint, and “a pint is a pound the world around.” If you weigh yourself and then drink a standard bottle of water and step back on the scale you will have gained one pound but not gotten any fatter.

If you look at results week to week you have enough data to actually draw a conclusion. Let's say for the sake of argument that on Monday your body does freak out and end up storing more of what you eat as fat than what it normally would. When your body gets done freaking out things will go back to normal and everything will even out. So even it it does freak out on Monday, by Friday or Saturday it will have evened out. So if you do go through periods where you don’t consume as much you MIGHT store more of the little amount you do eat, but if that does happen it will all even out over time, AND your body will still break down and consume body fat if it needs to. “Starvation mode”, as it is commonly talked about in the fitness industry, is a myth.

The only time you will go into actual starvation mode is if you are completely out of excess body fat. If you go up to a starving person in Africa and give him a cheeseburger, because he is actually starving, his body will store everything it can and he will only defecate a small portion of it. It is important to understand that, in a healthy person, PROLONGED FASTING LEADING TO KETOSIS is what happens when a person doesn’t have an ample supply of calories in the bloodstream, muscle cells, or liver to meet its needs and starts breaking down stored body fat for energy, STARVING it what happens AFTER you run out of excess body fat and your body is forced to start breaking down lean tissue for energy to survive.

The only other way your body will store an abnormally high amount of something is if you give it something it hasn’t had in a long time. For example, a lot of people who did the Atkins’s diet and restricted carbohydrates binged on carbohydrates when they stopped the program. Since their bodies hadn’t had carbohydrates in a long time when their bodies detected them it stockpiled them and this led to heart attacks in some cases.

The typical American has enough body fat to feed their body for 4 to 5 days. This means that if the typical American stopped eating on Monday their body would have enough fat stored to feed it until at least Thursday or Friday. On Thursday or Friday when their excess fat stores are depleted, only then does the body go into “starvation mode” and consume lean tissue.

If you have more body fat than the typical American then you can last even longer. A morbidly obese person weighing over 300 lbs. can go several months surviving off of body fat until it is all depleted and the person needs to consume lean tissue.

This is another problem with studies regarding fasting. If a lab is doing a study on the effects of fasting they choose typical fairly healthy subjects who are fairly skinny. These skinny people only have enough body fat to last them a few days before they start to starve, and so the conclusion is made that fasting is bad for you after a very short period of time. The truth for a healthy person is that fasting can be very beneficial, and for a healthy person fasting, especially intermittent fasting, can be a very effective way to lose excess body fat.

Myth #2: “If you’re dieting you need to focus on eating protein because protein builds muscle and burns fat.”

Protein, carbohydrates, and fat are the three primary macro-nutrients (source of calories) and they don’t cancel each other out like a game of rock, paper, scissors. Consuming protein CAN support fat loss in three ways. The first way is that protein CAN support muscle growth (if the necessary calories are there and if muscle growth is stimulated through work or damage) and since muscle cells require more calories than fat cells to survive the more muscle you have the more calories you burn overall. However, it should be noted that a pound of muscle requires between 6 to 13 calories a day to stay alive (based on current findings) so even if you put on an extra 20 pounds of muscle you only up your daily caloric need by between 120 and 260 calories a day, which is a fairly small amount.

The second benefit protein CAN offer fat loss is by extending digestion time. Fats and carbohydrates normally exit the stomach in under an hour once consumed, but by eating protein with the fat and carbohydrates you can offer the body something more time consuming to break down and it will be 3 to 4 hours until the last of that meal leaves the stomach. Where this CAN be of benefit is that by eating protein you can get your stomach to release food to your body over a longer period of time and this can keep your blood sugar from spiking and help it stay more level. More on this in Myth 3.

The third way is that protein is harder for your body to break down so it requires you to burn more energy to process it. I’ve heard claims that due to the increased amount of energy required to digest protein eating a large protein filled breakfast was the same as jogging 3 to 4 miles in terms of energy expenditure, but the problem with this is that while it does take more energy to process protein it doesn’t necessarily equate to fat loss. What determines fat loss is how many calories you consume in a 24 hour period or a one week period vs. your total expenditure. Eating more protein can increase your TEF (explained in myth 3) and, when combined with the amounts of your BMR and AI (also explained in myth 3) can lead to an increase in fat loss, but it not the actual protein itself that is responsible for the burning of any extra fat that could possibly result.

One place where this myth comes from is a misguided notion of what protein is and does, and also there have been studies done that you could read as supporting this myth. Studies have looked at the weight loss of people who ate higher and lesser amounts of protein in their diet and most have found that the more protein people eat the more fat they tend to lose. The problem is that if you look at the studies closely you’ll see that those eating more protein filled up on protein rich food and as a result they ate far less carbohydrates and fat and consumed less calories total. It is the decrease in the consumption of carbohydrates, fat, and calories in general that lead to the weight loss.

The last thing I’ll say about this is that there is nothing wrong with eating a high protein diet while trying to lose weight and there is evidence to suggest it may be a good idea. Did the increased protein consumption in the studies mentioned above make the participants feel fuller faster and make them feel fuller longer? Yes it did. Is there evidence to suggest that eating more protein while trying to lose fat is a good idea? Yes, provided you eat less carbohydrates and fat leading to you consuming fewer calories than you need each day.

So protein CAN have an effect that supports your efforts to eat less, and protein CAN have an effect that supports your overall weight loss goals. Protein, however, in and of itself does not build muscle nor burn fat.

Myth #3: “To lose weight you need to eat 4 small meals a day,” or “5 small meals a day,” or “6 small meals a day,” or “7 small meals,” or “eat every 3 to 4 hours all day long.” Or, “Eating frequently stokes the furnace and revs up your metabolism so you need to eat all day long.” Or, “If you don’t eat every 3 to 4 hours you’ll go into starvation mode and Satan will come up from the depths of hell and claim your soul in his firey grip.”

Ok, I was a bit dramatic on the last one but I’m just trying to match the adamancy in which these notions are held as gospel by the fitness and weight loss industry. When people find out that I only eat one or two meals a day and I’m a firm believer in intermittent fasting people look at me like they’re trying to figure out how I’m still alive. This is a good example of the fact that if you repeat something enough times people will start to regard it as true..

We’ve already talked about the nonsense of “starvation mode” so let’s talk about the necessity of eating multiple small meals all day long.

First it should be mentioned that the studies that tested this method for weight loss defined a “meal” as anything consumed, liquid or solid, that was over 45 calories. So the studies that looked at this method of numerous small meals didn’t have people stop and eat a traditional meal 5 or 6 times a day. They would eat three traditional meals a day and have two or three meals that might have consisted of a small handful of nuts or even a low calorie beverage. That being said let’s look at the nuts and bolts of this theory.

If you eat a “meal” consisting of at least one exchange (for the purpose of this paper lets say that exchange means “serving”) of each protein, carbohydrates, and fat it will take 3 to 4 hours to leave your stomach, and if you repeat this every 3 to 4 hours your body will be digesting food all day long, or at least during the waking hours of the day. By doing this you will achieve two benefits; firstly by having the food leave your stomach slowly you MIGHT prevent a spike in insulin levels and since insulin is a hormone that tells your body to store energy, by not having a spike you will have less of a signal to store the food you just ate. Lower insulin levels means less of the food you just ate will be stored as fat and it will either be burned for energy or passed through you and end up in the toilet.

The second benefit is that by doling out food slowly you will keep your blood sugar fairly level all day. If your blood sugar goes above 120 milligrams per deciliter you will have an insulin surge and if your blood sugar goes below 80 milligrams per deciliter you will feel hungry. So the thought is that by keeping your blood sugar between 80 to 120 milligrams per deciliter you will store less of what you eat and feel less hungry.

It sounds good, but is it good? We’ll it isn’t bad.

If you like eating this way then you should absolutely continue, but it just isn’t necessary. The actual benefits of this type of diet are more behavioral than physiological. Many people find that by focusing on set pre-planned meals they think about eating less and find that they can stick to a diet better. People tend to find that since they are eating several times a day they are less hungry, but is that because their blood sugar is kept level or is because they’re constantly eating? Is it both?

There is nothing wrong with this but it just isn’t the weight loss law the “experts” claim that it is, nor does it necessarily have the benefits they claim it does.

We already know that the “experts” are wrong when they claim that if you don’t eat several small meals a day you’ll go into “starvation mode” and the world will end, but they also claim that eating this way boosts your metabolism. They say that your metabolism is like a furnace and you need to keep feeding the furnace to keep your metabolism going and burn calories. Is this true? Yes and no (but, in context, mostly no).

There is no end of things that are supposed to “boost your metabolism” so let’s look at your metabolism. Metabolism is the process where your body builds things and tears things down to keep you alive. How the term is used in the fitness industry is to mean the rate at which you burn calories. This is a very narrow definition of metabolism but it is the one that we will use.

In using this definition, there are three things that regulate how many calories you burn a day (again, assuming you are healthy). Those things are your basal metabolic rate (BMR), your activity index (AI), and the thermogenic effect of food (TEF). What this all means is that your body spends energy on only three things: 1.) running the bodily functions that keep you alive, 2.) making you move, and 3.) digesting food and processing energy.

Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is how many calories it takes to do nothing more than run your body and keep you alive for 24 hours. If you were in a coma it is how many calories you’d burn in a day. It is not taking into account anything other than keeping you alive.

Your activity index (AI) is all the movements you make in a day. It is all the movements an average person makes just living, such as yawning and walking, plus any extra exercise like deliberate running, playing sports, or going to the gym.

The thermogenic effect of food (TEF) is the energy it takes to digest and process everything you eat, and we’ve already talked about this a little when we discussed protein.

Those three elements make up your metabolism and determine how many calories you burn in a day. Most of the things that are supposed to boost your metabolism (like pills) merely make your heart beat faster and increase your AI. Eating more protein will slightly increase your TEF.

So where in this math does eating 6 meals a day speed anything up? Taking a set amount of food and consuming it in 6 meals versus just 3 doesn’t affect your BMR, and since it is the exact same amount of food it doesn’t really affect your AI or TEF either.

The way they get away with saying that eating increases metabolism is because “truth-in-weight-loss police” don’t exist, and because in a very small way it does. If you eat something your body has to digest it and it does take energy so you are metabolizing something and for those minutes your net energy expenditure does increase, but in a way that is not necessarily meaningful.

Your metabolism is going all day long and does not stop until you die. Since your body spends most of your energy on your BMR, just keeping you alive, the most meaningful way to increase or decrease it is to weigh more or less so it has more or less of you to keep alive.

This is also why eating less, consuming fewer calories, is the secret to losing weight. If you run on a treadmill for an hour and burn 300 calories you just spent an awful lot of energy, an hour of your time, and now your body MIGHT have 300 calories to make up. But, if instead of going to the gym you look at what you eat in a day and decide to switch to diet soda and eat two fewer muffins during the day the small effort you just made could cut out 800 calories from your diet.

If you need 1500 calories a day to stay alive, you burned another 350 by moving all day long, and another 120 by digesting food that means you need 1950 calories for that day. If by cutting out the muffins and soda you only took in 1150 your body has to come up with the missing 800 calories because math is math. Since a pound of fat contains roughly 3500 calories, if you did that for 7 days you’d lose just over a pound and a half.

While very beneficial, exercise is not a very effective way to lose fat. You can go to the gym and kill yourself every day but until you eat less than what you need you won’t really lose fat. The main benefit exercise has, in terms of weight loss, is in “body reshaping”. Through exercise you can build muscles and develop a strong toned figure that fat loss can uncover.

One thing that should be mentioned before this myth is closed is that through most of human existence man only ate once, maybe twice, a day. There is no actual need to eat three times a day and that we do it today is merely a social convention. For thousands of years people have hunted and foraged all day long, expending a lot of energy, and then at the end of the day they’d sit around and eat a very large meal and did just fine.

The Spartan Army, one of the most effective military forces in history, ate just one meal a day. They would march and train and fight all day and then gather shortly before going to bed and eat a very fatty stew containing animal blood to make it taste bad.

A lot of people try to muddy the water to sell products and uncover fat loss secrets but you still can’t escape the simple truth that fat loss comes down to math: calories in versus calories out, which means eating less.

NOTE: Just so there is no confusion I'm not saying eating several small meals during the day is bad, the fact is that many people do get benefits from it. Eating small items all day long and having all meals pre-planned does help a lot of people not overeat and stick to their diet. If you are sensitive to low blood sugar then this manner of eating is probably ideal for you. There are a lot of benefits to eating this way; my point is that it isn't the grand necessity the fitness industry makes it out to be. While it can help you stick to a diet, consume less calories, and feel less hunger it doesn't "super charge" your metabolism and burn more calories versus eating everything in one sitting. While it is technically true that every time you eat something it does increase your metabolism for a little while, the rise in metabolism occurs simply because you're asking your body to do more work. It is the same rise in metabolism you'd experience if you got out of a chair and walked across the room, since you're now asking your body to do more work compared to when you were sitting in a chair.

If you eat 1500 calories of food and it takes your body 130 calories of energy to digest and process it, it doesn't matter if you eat that food all at once or in small amounts throughout the day, your body will still expend 130 calories to digest and process that food.

Myth #4: You shouldn’t eat just before going to bed because since your body doesn’t need the energy while you’re sleeping, you will just store everything as fat.

This is a very wide spread myth that is and isn’t a myth. I first heard it years ago watching a documentary on sumo wrestlers who would eat a large meal and then take a nap afterwards because they believed “sleep after eating builds bulk”.

First, you do need energy while you are sleeping. While you sleep your body is still hard at work keeping you alive and healthy. There are even “experts” who suggest that you should eat a small meal right before going to bed to keep your blood sugar level while you sleep.

It is true that you will store more of what you eat because when you are asleep there is little to do with all the extra energy you just put in your body. A far greater amount of what you just ate will be stored as fat, however for most people it will even out once you wake up and start the next day.

If you need 2000 calories per day to maintain your current weight and you consume 1000 in the morning and then the other 1000 just before going to sleep you will still have consumed 2000 for that day. Sure, because you didn’t consume the full 2000 calories during the day at the exact time your body needed it your body pulled what it needed from energy stored in your muscle cells, but then it put what it didn’t need back when you next ate. Again, look at your weight not day by day but rather week to week. Many people have noticed that if they don’t eat before going to sleep they do in fact lose weight. Myself, I’ve noticed that if I don’t eat after 7pm I can easily lose weight but the reason is because I’m in the habit of consuming more calories later at night.

Myth #5: “A calorie isn’t a calorie,” or “not all calories are created equal" or "your body treats different calories differently."

Brad Pilon put it very succinctly when he said,

“A calorie is a measure of energy. So a calorie by definition must be a calorie, just like an inch is by definition and inch and a pound by definition is a pound.”

He also said, "The controversy over differing nutritional theories arises more from semantics and the limitation of language than it does from scientific principles." How right he is.

People argue this one over and over and the reason this doesn't get resolved is because, technically, both sides in the argument are right. The problem is that they are making different arguments. The truth is that a calorie is a calorie and always shall be; all calories ARE equal. However, when people argue that a "calories isn't a calorie" what they are really trying to argue is that macro-nutrients are different, which is true.

Macro-nutrients are the substances that your body derives calories from. There are three primary forms of macro-nutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat (alcohol can also be considered a macro-nutrient). Where they are not equal is that proteins and carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram (based on current estimates) while fat contains 9 calories per gram. Fat is also the fastest absorbed and easiest to store from of macro-nutrient you can eat, since the other ones require your body to break them down and convert them first.

When people say that all calories are not equal or that your body treats different calories differently what they’re arguing is that if you eat a 500 calorie piece of meat your body will react to it differently than if you eat a 500 calorie piece of cake. This is absolutely true. The cake being mostly fat and sugar will leave your stomach in 40 minutes or so, cause a spike in your insulin levels causing you to store more of it, and since it doesn't have to convert the fat in the cake into fat your body will have to do less work (burn less calories) to digest and process the cake. The piece of meat, on the other hand, will take up to 2 hours to leave your stomach, probably not cause a spike in your insulin levels (although protein can do that), and your body will have to break it down into glucose and fatty acids. So while it may take you 15 calories of energy to digest and process the piece of cake it may take 50 calories to do the same to the piece of meat.

On top of that the piece of meat will have more amino acids in it allowing you to absorb more of its nutritional value.. So the piece of meat will have more of a net nutritional value, not spike your blood sugar, keep you feeling fuller longer, and take more time and calories to digest. It is true that your body does treat macro-nutrients differently; but, at the end of the day you consumed 500 calories either way.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

“Just Yell Fire” – A Review of The Self-Defense Video For Girls

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved

Normally I don’t do reviews. Either something has to be horribly good or horribly bad for me to spend the time commenting on it, but “Just Yell Fire” and its sequel, “Just Yell Fire, Campus Life” falls into the former category. Overall I enjoyed these videos and I have to say that they are one of the very few self-defense videos that I would endorse.

I thought the name was catchy too. You have the first video “Just Yell Fire” and the second one “Just Yell Fire, Campus Life”, it reminds me of the TV show “Saved By The Bell”. Perhaps the third video will be “Just Yell Fire, Hawaiian Style”. (Bad joke, I know)

What I wanted to do with this review is list all the things I liked about these videos and all the things I didn’t like. To start everything off the fact that these videos are completely free and can be watched right on their website is great. ( You can’t beat the price or the convenience of being able to watch them right away on your computer.

The production value is far above average for most videos on the market and they even managed to put some celebrities in it. Of course you won’t see Brad Pit or Dustin Hoffman in there, but you will see some people from the TV shows “Lost”, “Dancing with the Stars”, and the like.

In terms of self-defense the biggest reason why I like these videos and have given a link to the website to a lot of females I know is because these videos show something I call “Target Based” self-defense. They don’t teach you to put your hand up and dance around like so many martial arts and self-defense programs out there; instead they show you targets on the human body and tell you to hit them. This method is incredibly effective and incredibly simple.

I read a story a long time ago about an elderly Kung Fu master who lived in Chicago. This master was a small man in his 70’s who made a living by running his own martial arts school in the outskirts of the city. One evening he was out walking his dog and three young punks decided he would be an easy target and tried to mug him. He proved to be more than a match for them and he got away, and the next morning the newspaper ran a story on the front page about how a local Kung Fu master had bested three muggers.

The next day this man showed up to open his martial arts school for the day’s business and he found a large group of people waiting outside for is arrival. As he went to unlock the door people cheered for him, congratulated him, and asked to join his school. When he was inside his students pulled him aside and asked him what technique he had used to defeat the three men. One student said he thought it must have been one technique, the other student suggested another, and a third student was sure his master had used a secret technique he had yet to teach them.

At this the old man said, “Technique? I didn’t use any technique. I was so scared I just kept hitting them as hard as I could until I could get away!”

This is the simple truth: the physical side of self-defense is about hitting the vulnerable areas of the human body over and over, as hard as you can, until a situation is created where you can escape. There are no fighting stances, no jabs, or fancy footwork; you drive your thumb into their eyeballs and create a result.

Now, there are a few things I didn’t like so much, but most of them are minor.

In the first video, “Just Yell Fire”, they have these little inspiring clips in-between the scenarios that reminded me of tampon commercials. I just thought it broke up the video. If they would have had the girls sternly look at the camera and firmly say “You deserve to blah, blah, blah…” it would have kept the proactive energy; instead when these parts came up I turned off the sound and recited lines I thought might be appropriate for feminine hygiene commercials, such as “You deserve a vagina that’s springtime fresh!”

Yes…I know these videos are made by young girls and their target market is young girls so it may be perfectly appropriate but I felt it just broke up the energy of the videos. Watch the video and I bet you’ll be doing voice over work during these parts too (well…maybe just the guys).

Another minor thing that I found a little humorous with the first video is that apparently everyone in the entire world wanted that brunette girl to die. When they would show a scenario they would first show the “incorrect” behaviors using a brunette girl, and then they would reshow the scenario with a blonde girl that showed the “correct” behaviors and she would escape her attacker. If you watch the video you’ll see that in every scenario there were several bystanders that couldn’t care less if that brunette girl is kidnapped.

In the first scenario a van pulls up to a bus stop with 10 or so people present. A large man gets out, grabs a girl and pulls her into the van while she screams and struggles. When the van drives off you see that NOBODY has moved and inch or is even looking at the van and one lady is still sitting there reading her book! Nobody there so much as acknowledged the kidnapping.

In every scenario the brunette girl would scream her head off and even though there were people right there nobody even looked up; but when the blonde girl yelled “fire!” people ran right over and in one scenario they even pinned the attacker to the ground. I guess blondes have more fun because they live longer.

As far as more serious stuff, the program is built off of yelling “FIRE” instead of “HELP” because people are supposedly supposed to respond more to the former. This is a common teaching and intellectually it sounds like it might have some validity but I’ve never seen any studies that show its benefits. I don’t believe anyone has proven it to be more effective then yelling “help” but yelling anything I believe is a good idea.

I would have liked to see a close up on all of the strikes. They did show a close up on a couple, but in my experience students really need to see the vulnerable areas being hit so they can get it exactly right. Even the slap to the ear was grazed over mostly, in the second video they talked about cupping the hand when you hit it, but in the first video the demonstrated it with an opened hand.

I would have also liked to see them go over the effects of the strikes they showed. Yes, I know these videos are for young girls but in my opinion people need to know what kind of injuries their strikes will create. I liked the fact that they showed the guy bleeding after being hit in the eye was nice but what is the short term and long term effect of that trauma?

Striking the groin is always a subject that is a little touchy with me. People just don’t understand their biology. The main target of a groin strike is not the testicles, or at least it shouldn’t be. If the testicles are the only thing being hit then that is a source of some pain but pain is so relative. I’ve been kicked in the testicles quite a few times and been very mildly effected and I’ve read cases where people have been attacked and they’ve grabbed their attackers testicles in their hands and squeezed so hard they ruptured, and the attacker kept on fighting. The groin is what you hit, but the pelvic diaphragm is what gives the big result and puts people on the ground (more on this in my article “Striking the Groin, Does it Always Work?”).

Another thing is the technique they show where they grab their attacker’s ear and I don’t know if they are trying to rip the ear off or just cause some pain…that techniques left me confused.

My biggest criticism of these videos is that in the second one they warn you that you can kill someone by pushing their nose into their brain. Complete bullshit. This is a horrible myth that has been debunked over and over and needs to go away. After all, if you picture how a skull looks you’ll see that there isn’t even a bone in the nose to push into the skull.

Despite these few things the videos are fundamentally good I would recommend them to anyone, not just young kids and not just girls. Even boys should see them because they can use the techniques too, and seeing how easy it is to get hurt it might give them a different attitude on how to treat girls.

The website is Just click on “Watch Online Now Free” on the left side of the screen (they do want you email address and zip code).

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Art of Using the Fist

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved

When it comes to physical conflict between two people the first weapon of choice is usually the fist. A solid mass of balled up bone and flesh thought perfect for crashing into someone’s body and causing pain and injury, the fist is a weapon older than recorded time. The fist is a noble weapon too; putting up your fists to protect your honor, or boxing in a ring, are seen as noble, heroic, and manly by much of western society.

I remember when I started to train in martial arts and got my first real practice in using my fists. The first few years of my training in Karate I hit nothing with my punches and kicks other than air, and the air seemed to move out of the way of my lethal fists pretty quickly so I got quite confident in them. Then one day I was introduced to a heavy bag, and this is where the story changes.

I went up to the heavy bag which was probably about 75 lbs (at that time I probably didn’t weight too much more) and hit it with a few light punches to get used to it. After building my confidence for a minute or two, I got into a left front stance and prepared to drive a right reverse punch into the bag so hard it would disappear in a cloud of smoke and all that would be left would be a shiny gold coin (Super Mario Bros had just come out). So I drove my fist forward and connected with the bag with a loud “kiai”…but the bag didn’t move and my hand and wrist were in such pain thought I had broken them.

At the time of this writing (May of 2009) I have been practicing martial arts for a little over 24 years and I have come to learn that my story is very common. Very few of the people I talked to have had positive first experiences with a heavy bag. Most were quite disappointed to find out that their lethal fists were more like marshmallows when actually hitting something of substantial size.

The problem people have is twofold: they don’t have the proper tension in their fist and wrist and/or they don’t have the proper bone alignment. What this all comes down to is poor training on the part of the instructor. An instructor should always be present the first time someone uses a heavy bag.

To try to help those who might suffer the same fate as I, and countless other martial artists, here are the fundamental lessons I’ve learned about using the fist during my marital art career:

Proper Tension

When you strike with a fist what you’re really doing is using your fist as a medium through which to transfer your body weight into your target. The ONLY way this will happen is if your fist is squeezed as tight as you can make it.

When you collide with your target a lot of force will try to go in a lot of directions, and force travels quite well thought things that are solid (like bones and tight fists) but it doesn’t travel very well through things that are soft. Things that are soft tend to ABSORB force rather than transfer it on to something else.

What does this mean to you? It means that when you punch something, if your fist is not squeezed as tight as possible and your wrist is not locked tight when it collides with that heavy bag, or a person, the structure of your fist will fail. I’ve sat on the testing panels of a couple different martial arts schools and my biggest pet peeve (I’ve got a lot of them) is seeing people doing their techniques with bent wrists, loose fists, and kicking with relaxed feet. I went to one school and I could actually see daylight through the fists of a lot of their students. At the end of one of these testings I told one young teenage girl that she needed to start making proper fists because if she ever actually hit anything she would most likely break her hand and the audience laughed. Clearly this school taught a “martial sport” and not a martial art.

The first thing that typically fails is the wrist, which will bend (more on this later on) and the second thing is your fist itself. When your fist or wrist fails to remain strong and solid they become soft and guess where the force from that punch is going to go? Once your wrist is bent or your fist is loose you’ve created a weak point that is going to absorb force rather than transfer it. In other words, the force from your punch is going to sprang your wrist or break your hand instead of being transferred into your target.

When you make a fist, start by fully opening your hand and relaxing it. Then curl your pinkie in followed by your ring finger, middle finger and index finger. Squeeze them into your palm as tight as you can, and place your thumb so it lies across the first joint of your index and middle fingers. The harder you squeeze your fist the stronger it is. There is a saying that you want your fist to be “knuckle white” which means that you squeeze it so tight some of the color drains from your fist.

We are going to cover the wrist in a little more detail later, but you want to lock it as tightly as you can. A good mental image to use during your punch to help put the proper tension in your wrist is to imagine that your arm is a high pressure hose similar to what a firefighter might use. When you set in your stance it is like turning the valve on the fire hydrant to let the water out. When the water starts flowing down the length of the hose your rear heel starts you push into the ground and then the water shoots up your rear leg. Then the water shoots into your hip and your hip begins to turn towards your target. As soon as your hip starts to turn the water jumps from your hip and shoots forcefully into your elbow and your arm starts to move, not because your muscles are trying to move it but the force of water inside your body, being under very high pressure, is making your arm move on its own.

The water that began by entering your rear heel in now shooting down the length of your arm and your fist is now going straight into the target, and when your fist hits the target the water forcefully and violently flows through you, up from your rear heel and out of your first, into your target. On contact visualize the water shooting out of your fist and going into your target. This imagery will help you not only hit as hard as you can but also put the proper tension in your wrist.

In terms of the structure of the fist, the only thing that really needs to be addressed is the striking surface. You want to hit with the knuckles of your index finger and middle finger. These knuckles are very strong while the knuckles of your ring and pinkie fingers are easily broken. Whenever I throw a punch I see my target and I think about bringing these two knuckles into my target. I don’t think about bringing the entire fist, I think about the two knuckles shooting into my target and pushing all the way through it as the water shoots down my arm and into my target. The fist is just along for the ride, those two knuckles are your striking surface during a punch.

Aligning the Wrist

The first problem people generally have when they hit a heavy hag, or person, is their wrist gives out. The reason for that is that people generally hit with a “horizontal fist”, or in other words when they punch they hold their fist so that their palm faces the ground and the back of their hand faces the sky.

The good thing about this manner of punching is that it leads with the knuckles of your index and middle finger so that the proper striking surface is out in front. The drawback to this manner of punching is that your wrist is in a very weak position. You have two bones in your forearm; the ulna bone is on the outside of your forearm and the radius bone is on the inside of your forearm.

When being held naturally both of these bones are in perfect alignment, but when you rotate your hand over your radius bone crosses over top of your ulna bone, taking it out of perfect alignment, and that is where the weakness comes from. What you’re really doing when punching with a horizontal fist is taking the bones of your forearm out of proper alignment and putting your wrist in a very weakened state, and then applying a lot of force to it. The horizontal fist fights the natural structure of the body and therefore I never use it.

It is interesting to note the old bare-knuckle boxers of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s knew this too. They had to punch their opponent’s body with absolutely no protection for their fists and what they quickly realized is that it is very easy to injure your hands and your wrists. To help remedy this, the bare-knuckle boxers started using the “vertical fist” (which is also heavily used in the Chinese Martial Arts). In the vertical fist you make your fist the same way as the horizontal fist but you strike with it upright so the pinkie side of your fist is facing the ground and the thumb side of your fist is facing the sky.

The advantage to this is that the bones of your forearm are in perfect alignment so the force coming down the arm flows right through the wrist. This is the strongest way to hold your wrist and it is actually quite difficult to injure your wrist when held in this manner. However, the vertical fist does have a drawback; because of the way the fist is designed this fist tends to lead with the knuckles of your ring and pinkie fingers instead of the stronger index and middle fingers. So this fist is far better for your wrist but not as good for your hand.

The fist that I use is a compromise between the two that gets the benefits of both: the “diagonal fist”. Instead on holding my fist horizontal or vertical, I hold it at a 45 degree angle. At a 45 degree angle the radius bone crosses over the ulna bone only very slightly, so the fist is vertical enough not to compromise the structural integrity of the arm and weaken the wrist. Also, at the 45 degree angle the fist is still horizontal enough that you lead with the knuckles of your index and middle fingers.

The diagonal fist has been my fist of choice for well over 15 years and everyone who I know that has tried it has adopted it, save a few very traditional Karate practitioners who understood the logic and liked the fist but at the end of the day they could not accept it as “Karate”.

Above and Below the Shoulders

Get a partner and have him stand in front of you, just far enough away so there is about 6 inches distance between you and their outstretched fist. Have them extend their fist to your solar plexus and you’ll see that the knuckles of their index and middle fingers are right there at the very front of the fist. Have them lower the punch to your stomach and you’ll see the same holds true.

Now, have them raise their arm so that their fist is held level with their shoulders and you’ll see something, at this height the knuckles of the index and middle fingers and the second joints of those same two fingers are sticking out at about the same distance. In other words, if they punched a heavy bag and hit at their own shoulder height, because the knuckles and joints of those fingers are even, they would actually hit with the flat of their fingers in between the knuckles and joints.

Now have them raise their fist as if they were going to punch you in the nose. What you’ll now see is that the joints of the index and middle fingers are actually closer to you than their knuckles. What this all means is that when you are punching below the height of your own shoulders the knuckles of your index and middle fingers will be out in front of the fist so that the fist will strike the target properly. However, if you throw a punch at a height equal to or above your own shoulders the joints of your fingers are now going to hit first and that is not such a good thing.

The way you remedy that is to firstly don’t punch to the head or neck (more on that later) and secondly, if you do, you should use a “diagonal upset fist”. An upset (to force out of the usual upright, level, or proper position) fist means that you turn your fist over so that your palm faces the sky. If you turn a vertical fist over 45 degrees to the outside (so that your palm now faces upwards) you’ll see that the proper knuckles now lead the fist.

Anytime you punch above your own shoulders you really have two choices: 1.) Strike with the joints of the fist instead of your knuckles, and 2.) Use a diagonal upset fist and hit with the proper striking surface.

The Proper Use of the Fist

Now that we’ve covered the basic mechanics of hitting with a fist (structurally anyway) let’s talk about how to properly USE the fist. Bottom line, the knuckles of your fist are VERY easy to break. If you have your hand wrapped up and have padded gloves on you don’t have to worry that much (although professional fighters do break their knuckles all the time) but if we’re talking about surviving a real violent altercation where you have to use your bare fist directly against the human body it is a different story.

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s bare-knuckle boxing was very popular in America (although it had been around since the at least the 1600’s). There was, however, a problem with bare-knuckle boxing that caused it to fall out of favor…namely it was often boring to watch. The reason bare-knuckle boxing got boring for spectators was the lack of action.

Without any padding on the fists, if you got hit by the bare fist just a single blow could end the fight by seriously hurting you and breaking the hand of the other guy. This lead to bare-knuckle bouts being more like sword fights in Japan, where the two would square off and measure each other looking for a weakness and they won by out-thinking their opponent, not by out striking them.

Since the fist could easily be broken if you hit incorrectly or missed your target (which could end your career and hurt you financially) you didn’t throw punches carelessly. You slowly circled your opponent and only threw punches when you saw a definite opening. Also, since you could get knocked out so easily you also tried to stay away from your opponent and you only closed distance when you saw an opening to throw a punch.

As far as spectators were concerned, what happened during bare-knuckle boxing matches was a lot of nothing. The longest bare-knuckle boxing match on record lasted 6 hours and 15 minutes and occurred in Australia on December 3rd, 1855. The fight ended when, after 17 rounds, Johnson Smith threw in the towel to his opponent James Kelly. After 6 hours and 17 rounds there was no big knock out, just one guy throwing in the towel.

The crowds wanted to see more action and that meant that more punches had to be thrown. The solution was to wrap their hands (to squeeze the bones together and ad tension and support to the fist) and to start wearing padded gloves. They started with 4 oz. gloves and today we’re up to 16 oz. gloves. The reason the gloves got bigger is because the crowds wanted more and more action so the fists needed more and more protection.

When many military and law enforcement units learn combatives they are often taught to NEVER punch. The reason is that these groups use a lot of weapons and tools and can’t take the chance of breaking their fists by punching. If a soldier or police officer injured their hand by punching someone now they cannot properly operate their firearm, use their radio, or even open a door.

A fist is an ok weapon, but it is just one of the weapons that a martial artist has in their arsenal. Just like every other weapon, the fist has a proper use…which is to hit muscle and organs. The knuckles of the fist are best used to hit soft tissue are should be (in my opinion and in the opinion of many other marital artists) used for hitting the soft tissue of muscles and organs.

Any place on the body that is heavily PADDED with muscles or contains major organs is a good target for the fist. The front and back of the torso, the arms, and the legs are fine. The neck is ok, but the hips and head are off limits.

The reason the neck is just ok is because the size of the fist makes it harder to strike the front of the neck. The fist is ok for the side of the neck and the back of the neck, but there are other tools that are a lot better for hitting the front of the neck than a fist.

The hips are off limits because they have many protruding bones and the head is off limits because it is nothing but a large bone.

Let’s examine the anatomy of the head in relation to punching. If we start at the top we find the top of the head and the forehead. These areas are where the skull is the thickest and the fist is the most useless; plus there really isn’t anything there to hit. There are some nerves you can hit but to get them you need to use your fingers tips or the joints of one of the fingers and to use those areas as striking surfaces takes numerous years of dedicated practice to toughen them up and even then they can still break.

The only two decent tools on your body for striking the upper skull and forehead are the heel of your foot and your palm. If you were to throw someone on the ground you could stomp on their head to try to cause a concussion (the brain hitting the inside of the skull resulting in unconsciousness) and you might also crack the skull open (this of course should only be done as a very last resort and when your life is in danger).

The palm is an excellent tool to use against the forehead because it can handle the hard surface better, and that palm to the forehead can jar the brain and cause disorientation and possibly a concussion. An excellent technique that I’ve seen some schools teach is as soon as your aggressor gets close enough to drive the palm strike into their forehead, and then repeatedly fire palm strikes into their forehead as they walk forwards essentially walking right over their attacker and dropping them into the ground.

As we continue down the front of the face we find the eyes; great targets but not for the fist. The eyes are best left for the fingers. If you were to hit the eye hard enough you can vibrate the optical nerve enough to cause a knockout but you’d also most likely break your fist.

Going down we have the nose. Yes, you can punch into the nose to break it but the nose is much easier to break if you hit if front the side and again you might break your fist.

Going down we have the mouth and this is where the old bare-knuckle boxers learned a big lesson. NEVER punch someone in the mouth with a bare fist! You can break their teeth and when a tooth breaks it becomes very sharp. Many bare-knuckle boxers have had those sharp broken teeth severe the nerves in their hands and end their careers. In addition, now days you have to worry about swapping body fluids.

The chin is a great target but not very good for the fist. Again, it is a hard bone so there is potential damage for your fist. Additionally, if you miss you will probably hit their teeth, which we know isn’t good, or their throat which is only good if your intention is to kill them.

Looking at the side of the head we find the temple. The temple is a great target, just not for the fist. The temple is good for three reasons, 1.) While the skull is mostly contoured (allowing your hand to skim off during follow-through and in do so dissipate a lot of the force) the temple is a fairly flat surface. This means when you hit the temple more of your force goes straight into the brain and surrounding nerves and arteries. 2.) If you place your finger on your temple you can feel your pulse. That is your “temporal artery” and striking this artery can result in unconsciousness or death (if the artery becomes pinched shut). 3.) In your head you have a “horseshoe of nerves” that exit the brain at each temple and runs down behind the jaw. Striking these nerves can result in them sending an electrical response to the brain that will overload your body’s electrical system and cause you to pass out. Again, the temple is a great target, just not for the fist.

Going downward the ear is next, but again the open hand is much better than the fist.

The TMJ (Temporal Mandibular Joint) and the jaw are next and here the fist could be used but again I wouldn’t. The jaw is a good target because you can cause the head to whip around and give them a concussion resulting in them passing out, or you can cause the jaw to slam into the skull and pinch down on the “horseshoe of nerves” and make them pass out that way. Again, if you miss you either go high and get the teeth or go low and get the carotid artery which could be lethal.

With the skull being a large bone the fist just isn’t a very good weapon to use again it. When I say “fist” I’m talking about the “two knuckle fist”, or the standard method of striking with the fist where you hit with the knuckles of the index and middle fingers. There are a couple of fists that do have some uses against the skull, such as the hammer fist (hitting with the softer bottom of the fist) and the four-joint fist (putting the thumb on the side of the fist, locking the wrist, and hitting with the joints just like you are knocking on a door).

Other more versatile methods of striking the head are with the base of your palm, your fingers, your forearm, an “ox jaw” strike (like a “karate chop” but instead of using the soft side of your hand you cock your hand slightly and use the hard bone on the side of your wrist), or elbow.

Training the Fist

The last thing I’m going to talk about is training your fist to handle impact. I’m a big believer in makiwara training. The makiwara is a training tool used in Karate to toughen the body to handle impact. I know a lot of people who don’t believe in makiwara training, saying that it does no good or you end up with ugly calluses, but this isn’t really true.

As long as you train correctly you don’t get hurt or develop those calluses. The trick is to not hit as hard as you can, especially in the beginning, and your makiwara has to be able to move a little bit. The standard makiwara is just sticking a post in the ground, wrapping it with some type of padding, and then hitting it repeatedly, but I believe this is too jarring for the body. I’m not going to go in depth on the makiwara here but from the point of impact the striking surface should be able to go back 4 to 6 inches. This is going to take a lot of that jarring force (wear and tear) off your body and help you learn to drive through your target, not just to your target.

The thing the makiwara does it is actually strengthens the bones. By repeatedly punching, chopping, kicking, etc. the makiwara your bones will develop little fractures and then heal itself by building new bone over top. The result is that makiwara training is for bones what weight lifting is for muscles. Makiwara training causes your bones to get denser and stronger so you can punch harder and harder without being injured.

Makiwara training also teaches you to transfer your body weight into something hard which results in you learning to hit harder and harder. The hardest punchers I know use the makiwara as part of their training. The effect of the makiwara is cumulative, so you don’t have to spend hours every day using it. If you punch it 20 times a day with each hand, focusing on perfection and not just getting to 20 as fast as you can, in just three months your punches will be greatly improved; in 6 months it will be a night and day difference, and in one year you’ll have to start pulling your punches during class as to not hurt your partner.