Know What to Look for When Mak­ing Mar­tial Arts a Part of Your Per­sonal Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram

RECOIL OFFGRID - - Pocket Preps - By Con­rad Bui

Pic­ture this — you’re at an ATM late at night by your­self when two larger men come up be­hind you. At first you think it’s two peo­ple wait­ing to with­draw money af­ter you, but your spidey sense tells you that some­thing’s off and their de­meanor is dis­com­fort­ing. You have no CCW pis­tol or knife on you, and you never both­ered to learn mar­tial arts. If things go south, the odds won't fa­vor you as the vic­tor.

Sud­denly you find your­self sucker punched in the back of the head, im­me­di­ately fol­lowed by a few quick kicks to the rib cage and face af­ter you hit the ground. Be­fore you know it, the two as­sailants grab your wal­let and quickly dis­ap­pear into the night. Their re­ward? Your cash and ID. Yours? A trip to the hospi­tal. You de­cide to pre­vent that kind of sit­u­a­tion in the fu­ture and feel­ing of help­less­ness by tak­ing up mar­tial arts.

When it comes to se­lect­ing and prac­tic­ing which sys­tem is right for you, the choices can be stag­ger­ing. Is karate bet­ter than kenpo, or should you en­roll in kali? What are the dif­fer­ences? How do you know if you’re re­ally get­ting what you’re pay­ing for? And most im­por­tantly, what do you hope to ac­com­plish? Learn­ing to de­fend your­self? Com­pet­ing? A good form of ex­er­cise?

All these con­sid­er­a­tions may be what’s pre­vent­ing you from tak­ing that ini­tial leap of faith, so here we’ll help take some of the guess­work out of de­cid­ing which mar­tial arts sys­tem to go with, pick­ing out a school, and choos­ing a teacher.

Cause Worth Fight­ing For

“There are so many ben­e­fits that I ad­vo­cate ev­ery­one — old, young, male, or fe­male — should prac­tice at least one mar­tial art con­sis­tently,” ad­vises Pa­trick Vuong, con­tribut­ing writer and founder of Tiga Tac­tics, a self-de­fense train­ing and con­sult­ing com­pany. “The most im­por­tant rea­son is to de­velop phys­i­cal skills that can be ap­plied in a life-threat­en­ing self-de­fense sce­nario.”

Learn­ing mar­tial arts and com­bat­ives can take up time and money. Is it even worth it? Be­yond de­fend­ing your home and hearth, here are five more rea­sons to get with the mar­tial arts madness.

Fit to Fight: Tak­ing up some type of ex­er­cise (mar­tial arts or oth­er­wise) will re­duce your chances of de­vel­op­ing com­mon killers like heart dis­ease, can­cer, and di­a­betes. The ma­jor­ity of us will even­tu­ally suc­cumb to these mun­dane ill­nesses rather than a zom­bie apoc­a­lypse. It makes sense to prep for lethal sit­u­a­tions, and ex­er­cise will help with the most com­mon kinds.

Take the Chill Pill: You just had a hard day at work, your boss yelled at you, your sig­nif­i­cant other for­got your birth­day. You need to let off steam in a con­struc­tive and healthy way. Here’s your so­lu­tion — don the mitts and hit the heavy bag. Phys­i­cal ex­er­tion in the class or gym will do won­ders to bring your stress level and blood pres­sure down.

Con­fi­dence: It’s no sur­prise that thieves and bul­lies tar­get the weak­est-look­ing prey. Al­though their in­ten­tions are ma­ligned, bad peo­ple tend to be good judges of your over­all de­meanor. Walk­ing the streets know­ing that you can de­fend your­self gives off vibes that will make the hooli­gans think twice be­fore mess­ing with you. Also, your new­found kick­ass con­fi­dence can im­prove all ar­eas of your life, in­clud­ing home and work.

Birds of a Feather: You’ll make more friends and im­prove your so­cial skills by get­ting off the couch and haul­ing your butt to class. Dur­ing a cri­sis, hav­ing friends and be­ing so­cial with others will do won­ders to im­prove your odds of sur­vival. You may even find others who’ll be­come a part of your sur­vival com­mu­nity — never a bad thing.

Stress Inoc­u­la­tion: Learn­ing self-de­fense will in­volve train­ing that cre­ates anx­i­ety and ten­sion. This is a good thing. Spar­ring, force-on-force/sit­u­a­tional train­ing, “rolling,” or wrestling will help you deal with the adren­a­line dump in-

volved in a cri­sis or vi­o­lent en­counter. With enough train­ing, you’ll learn to re­main calm in the eye of the storm.

What’s Your Style?

In the days of yore, find­ing a good mar­tial arts teacher was about as easy as find­ing a uni­corn. There was no Yelp or Google to search or re­view mar­tial arts schools or learn the dif­fer­ences of the many sys­tems. To­day, just type in “mar­tial art” and your zip code, and if you live in a met­ro­pol­i­tan-ish city, you’ll see plenty of schools in your area. Then, it’s a mat­ter of un­der­stand­ing the ba­sic dif­fer­ences.

Mar­tial arts can be di­vided roughly into three ma­jor cat­e­gories: tra­di­tional/cul­tural arts, sport, and self-de­fense/com­bat­ives. Be­fore we get hate mail about the three cat­e­gories, please un­der­stand that the line is clearly … ahem … blurred. Each cat­e­gory shares at­tributes of the other two. Think of three cir­cles that over­lap each other. Sport prac­ti­tion­ers of­ten ac­knowl­edge their cul­tural roots and learn self-de­fense. Com­bat­ives arts bor­row tech­niques and train­ing meth­ods from both sports and tra­di­tional arts. And, of course, the tra­di­tional arts can fea­ture com­bat­ives and a sport as­pect. Please re­mem­ber that these cat­e­gories are a means of ex­plain­ing some gen­eral (very gen­eral) cat­e­gories of the mar­tial arts.

Re­mem­ber Your Roots

Tra­di­tional/cul­tural arts have been around a long time be­cause these arts have sys­tem­atized (and even­tu­ally for­mal­ized) the art of com­bat. Most arts from Asia are con­sid­ered “tra­di­tional” arts. In fact, they're con­sid­ered the most pop­u­lar type of arts and can be found at your lo­cal strip mall and re­cre­ation cen­ter.

Brand Names: aikido, hap­kido, ju-jitsu, karate, kenpo, kung fu, pekiti-tir­sia kali, tae kwon do, and tai chi.

The 411: When you start class in a tra­di­tional art, you’ll most likely need to pur­chase a uni­form that may re­sem­ble what you saw in the Karate Kid movie. You may learn respectful eti­quette (such as bow­ing) and new ter­mi­nol­ogy from your art’s home coun­try. You’ll usu­ally learn com­bat­ives tech­niques with part­ners. The ma­jor­ity of tra­di­tional arts also prac­tice these tech­niques in­di­vid­u­ally in set pat­terns called “kata” in Ja­panese and “hyung” in Korean. You may also learn tra­di­tional weapons like the staff, sword, or spear.

Leg Up: The big­gest ad­van­tage of train­ing in tra­di­tional arts is sum­ma­rized in one word: con­ve­nience. You can find a tra­di­tional mar­tial arts school al­most any­where, in­clud­ing Ru­ral Town, USA. Tra­di­tional arts, when taught cor­rectly are also very safe be­cause many tra­di­tional sys­tems of­fer co­op­er­a­tive tech­nique train­ing where lit­tle to no re­sis­tance is ex­pected from your part­ners, al­low­ing for the safe prac­tice of tech­niques.

There may also be a ben­e­fit of learn­ing an­other coun­try’s cul­ture and ter­mi­nol­ogy. For the kids, tra­di­tional arts ex­cel at teach­ing them dis­ci­pline, re­spect, and per­se­ver­ance — life skills.

Throw Down: The bulk of tra­di­tional sys­tems were at one time revo­lu­tion­ary, but as the years passed, many sys­tems have be­come stag­nant and out of touch with mod­ern ad­vances in train­ing sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy.

Fight to Win

Wrestling is likely the first com­bat­ive sport af­ter two pre­his­toric sib­lings started rolling on the ground vy­ing for dom­i­nance. The mod­ern-day Olympic com­mit­tee rec­og­nized wrestling as a sport in 1896. Soon af­ter, other dis­ci­plines were rec­og­nized, such as box­ing in 1904, judo in 1964, and tae kwon do in 2000. Fenc­ing and shoot­ing can also ar­guably be cat­e­go­rized as com­bat sports. Then, on a fate­ful Novem­ber back in 1993, eight com­bat­ants from dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines (in­clud­ing kick­box­ing, box­ing, karate, and Brazil­ian Jiu-Jitsu) met in­side a chain-linked cage to de­ter­mine who was the “Ul­ti­mate Fighter,” and thus was born the Ul­ti­mate Fight­ing Cham­pi­onships (UFC). To­day mixed mar­tial arts (MMA) is one of the fastest grow­ing sports around the globe.

Brand Names: box­ing, Brazil­lian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), judo, kick­box­ing, MMA, Muay Thai, Olympic tae kwon do, and wrestling.

411: A com­bat sport class usu­ally starts with a warm-up de­signed to get you sweaty (to con­di­tion you and warm up your mus­cles, for in­jury pre­ven­tion). De­pend­ing on your se­lected art, you’ll likely learn to punch (box­ing), kick (kick­box­ing and tae kwon do), throw (judo), wres­tle (um … wrestling?), lock up a joint on the ground (Brazil­lian Jiu-Jitsu), or all the above (MMA). You’ll likely ex­pe­ri­ence spar­ring where your part­ner is re­sist­ing your tech­niques while at­tempt­ing to ap­ply their own.

Leg Up: Look­ing to K.O. an at­tacker along with your own sub­cu­ta­neous adi­pose? Look no fur­ther than com­bat sports. Be­cause this is a sport, there’ll be plenty of con­di­tion­ing, of­ten in­volv­ing the lat­est work­out meth­ods like high-in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing (HIIT). Burn­ing fat along with learn­ing com­bat­ive skills make the com­bat sports a fast-grow­ing seg­ment of the work­out in­dus­try.

Along with the work­out, fully re­sist­ing part­ners will help you deal with the stress en­coun­tered dur­ing any stress­ful calamity. Fully re­sist­ing part­ners can be un­pre­dictable, and deal­ing (calmly) with that un­pre­dictabil­ity can be the ace up your sleeve in a self-de­fense sit­u­a­tion. Like to com­pete? There are nu­mer­ous tour­na­ments across the coun­try in al­most any com­bat sport you choose. And com­pe­ti­tion will also help pre­pare you for the streets by in­oc­u­lat­ing your ner­vous sys­tem to the adren­a­line dump. As com­bat sports be­come more pop­u­lar, you’ll see more and more gyms pop­ping up.

Throw Down: Ev­ery sport has rules to keep the com­peti­tors safe. As long as sport par­tic­i­pants are aware of the safety short­com­ings of their sport, they can be­come ef­fec­tive on the street. Say you joined a box­ing gym be­cause it’s close to home, no prob­lem. Just be aware that on the

street, there may be mul­ti­ple at­tack­ers, ground fight­ing, and weapons at­tacks. Sim­ply plug those holes by cross-train­ing when you can. Also some sport gyms (es­pe­cially MMA and BJJ gyms) can get quite ex­pen­sive. If cost is a con­cern, it’s a good thing you can find wrestling, judo, and box­ing in most met­ro­pol­i­tan re­cre­ation cen­ters. Also, in­jury may be an is­sue with sport com­bat­ives (es­pe­cially with age), since par­tic­i­pants of­ten train at or near their max­i­mum in­ten­sity.

Bare-Bones Beat-Down

Com­bat­ives (aka close-quar­ters-com­bat or CQC) is the third ring of the mar­tial arts. Not to say that tra­di­tional arts or sport-ori­ented artists can’t fight; com­bat­ives merely fo­cuses on the mar­tial and not so much the art. Com­bat­ives is a rel­a­tively re­cent term, and Amer­i­can com­bat­ives largely started in the World War II era, with Wil­liam E. Fair­bairn and Erick A. Sykes (of the fa­mous Fair­bairn-Sykes fight­ing knife). Their goal was to teach no-frills tech­niques and train­ing against com­mon at­tacks.

Brand Names: com­bat­ives (ev­ery branch of the mil­i­tary has their own pro­gram), de­fendu, jeet kune do, kappa, krav maga, self-de­fense, and SPEAR sys­tem.

411: If you’re able to find a com­bat­ives school, more power to you! Of the three, com­bat­ives may be the hard­est to find. There’ll likely be a lack of uni­forms and for­mal­ity. For­get about bow­ing and dis­pens­ing of Mr. Miyagi-style wis­dom. Af­ter a brief warm-up you’ll likely go straight to the palm smash, ham­mer fist, or eye gouge. As you ad­vance, you’ll learn to use your el­bows, feet, knees, and ba­sic grap­pling. The use of mod­ern-day weapons (blunt, edged, and firearms) may be taught, but cer­tainly the de­fense against these weapons will be prac­ticed.

Leg Up: Straight up, if your pri­mary goal is to de­fend your­self, this is the cat­e­gory you want. Com­bat­ives sys­tems are of­ten based on mil­i­tary or law en­force­ment pro­grams, so the tech­niques and train­ing meth­ods are pres­sure-tested in the field. The lim­ited cur­ricu­lum makes these sys­tems easy to learn, and train­ing will of­ten in­clude sit­u­a­tional aware­ness, ver­bal con­flict res­o­lu­tion, and con­di­tion­ing.

Throw Down: The most dif­fi­cult part of com­bat­ives train­ing is find­ing a school nearby. Krav maga is the clos­est thing you can get to a com­mer­cial com­bat­ives school. Not only can it be dif­fi­cult to lo­cate a com­bat­ives school, but you want to “be wary of in­struc­tors who claim to have taught elite mil­i­tary and law en­force­ment with­out ver­i­fi­able proof,” Vuong says. “It’s easy for shys­ters to get away with these false claims, be­cause they claim their past is too clas­si­fied.” Also, be­cause of its very na­ture, com­bat­ives cur­ricu­lums of­ten have lim­ited tech­niques (and for the street, that’s a good thing), mak­ing the classes rep­e­ti­tious and po­ten­tially bor­ing in the long run.

Keep in mind these are gen­eral cat­e­gories and pro­vided as a sim­ple ref­er­ence. All mar­tial arts sys­tems will give you the ben­e­fit of a good (or great) work­out and pro­vide the prac­ti­tioner the added ben­e­fit of self-de­fense skills.

The Right Stuff

With so many types of mar­tial arts out there, how does one go about find­ing a school? Glad you asked, be­cause a good school can pos­i­tively change your life. The first thing to do is ask around. You prob­a­bly have a buddy who’s cur­rently train­ing. Get their ad­vice and see if you can tag along to watch a class or two. Hook­ing up with a buddy for your train­ing will im­prove your friend­ship, and give you some­one to hold you ac­count­able to at­tend classes.

We also rec­om­mend that you go on­line and check a school or gym’s re­views. Too many com­plaints mean that you should move on to re­search an­other place. An­other thing to con­sider is prox­im­ity. If the gym is too far away, chances are slim that you’ll want to con­tinue year af­ter year, and con­sis­tency in this world is very im­por­tant.

Trainer Dan­ger

How do you know if a teacher is any good? “Se­lect­ing a good teacher is the same as se­lect­ing a den­tist, me­chanic, or lawyer — do your due dili­gence lest you get swin­dled, or worse, in­jured,” ad­vises Vuong. First, do an on­line search on the in­struc­tor. Are there any com­plaints about how he or she teaches? Are there too many in­juries? Did their name show up in the lo­cal pa­per as a child mo­lester?

Get the right in­tel be­fore spend­ing your time and money. Ask to ob­serve a cou­ple of classes or sign up for the in­tro­duc­tory les­son. Make sure to ob­serve the teacher’s man­ner­isms. Is the teacher help­ful and pa­tient? “The teacher must be able to of­fer an in­sight­ful class that's also chal­leng­ing, fun, and safe,” says Vuong. Lastly, talk to the stu­dents. Are they friendly and po­lite? Make sure you get a good vibe and feel safe at all times dur­ing your ini­tial visit(s).

Fin­ish Him!

Learn­ing some form of self-de­fense (armed and un­armed) is highly rec­om­mended. You don’t have to be Bat­man or Cap­tain Amer­ica to pro­tect your­self, your fam­ily, and your sup­plies in a life-threat­en­ing sce­nario, but ev­ery bit of train­ing will help. Get­ting off our duffs, break­ing a sweat, and learn­ing the skills to sur­vive works for us, and it’ll work for you.

The re­verse (or right straight) punch can befound in all strik­ing arts. Dur­ing his karate tour­na­ment days,the au­thor has wit­nessed bro­ken ribs from thistech­nique.

A tra­di­tional side kick is of­ten used as a punch counter. On the streets, the same kick can be tar­geted to the knee with devastat­ing ef­fects.

Each cat­e­gory of mar­tial arts shares el­e­ments of the others. Train­ing in any art will im­prove your fit­ness and make you more com­bat ready.

Many mar­tial arts of­fer self-de­fense. Com­bat­ives train­ing sim­ply fo­cuses on that as­pect. Here, Bui prac­tices kick­ing to the groin off a ham­mer strike. Sit­u­a­tional train­ing like this cre­ates mus­cle mem­ory for when SHTF.

Look­ing to de­fend against edged-weapon at­tacks? Speak with po­ten­tial in­struc­tors to see if they of­fer this as part of theircur­ricu­lum.

Pa­trick Vuong, con­tribut­ing writer with in­struc­tor rank­ings in kenpo karate, Lai Chung Chuan Fa, and Pekiti-Tir­sia Kali, teaches a stu­dent the finer de­tails of jab­bing the eyes. A strike like this can in­ca­pac­i­tate the big­gest of at­tack­ers.

Muay Thai (aka Thai box­ing) and MMA are two sports where you can strike your op­po­nent full force with an el­bow, le­gally. Pic­tured is Muay Thai coach Con­rad Bui hold­ing pads for Bel­la­tor MMA fighter Diego Her­zog. Hit­ting pads al­low for full con­tact train­ing with­out the in­juries.

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