Monday, June 25, 2012

Nothing Personal: Emotional & Psychological Detachment

I've worked in private security, bouncing and bodyguard work and, in order to be effective, we have to keep ourselves removed emotionally and psychologically. As situations escalate, a calm and objective mindset is required to make crucial decisions. A violent crisis wants to take away your cognitive thought, because that's always where the solution is found. Of course I've never been in  a shootout or war zone, but I do have some experience with violence and security. In my experience, I was always able to keep myself and others safe when I could control my emotional investment, while always had bad results when engaging with anger or fear.

Your first response isn't always your smartest one
When a situation becomes dangerous, you probably won't have any kind of warning or time to prepare. Chaos can takeover a crowd in no less than a second, therefore forcing you into responding immediately. This has been the case, for me at least, in both personal and professional settings. The fastest emotional responses I've felt have been either fear or anger. These are never the right ones either. Just because they're the fastest doesn't mean that's what we'll need to solve the problem. As Deepak Chopra often teaches, we are all responsible, as adults, for our own emotional intelligence. In my earlier days of working in security, the first thoughts that would enter my mind were always "Why is this happening to me?". Avoid this at all times! It's a combination of panic and self-pity and it will swiftly remove your problem-solving skills in a heartbeat. The truth is, the situation is not happening to you. It's just happening. It exists without you, but you might be able to help. Conditioning, experience and meditation will help you control your initial emotional reaction. As my sensei Kevin Secours often reminds us, even acting afraid requires the use of your cognitive mind, therefore helping you remove fear from your decisions. Be logical and objective and you'll start to feel like you can control the situation, even if only in a small way. Fear and anger will prevent your ability to do so. Identify when this is happening and respectfully move past it. Easier said than done, of course, but that's what practice and meditation is for.

Don't make it personal
In a professional setting, the crisis is seldom personal towards you. Even when defending yourself as a civilian, although more likely, it's still often not targeted to you personally. Violence is often the result of the aggressive and desperate people of society, lashing out at anything they think could make them feel better or improve their situation. Analyzing the measure of how personal a threat is is a luxury that we're usually not afforded, therefore not helping our chances of going home safely. Remove your emotions and psyche from the situation, while responding with a cold detachment. This might sound mean, to some, but consider your life, well-being and/or that of a loved one at risk. If anything happened to them or if you were rushed to a hospital, you might look back regretfully at how you handled yourself. As Tony Robbins discusses, you'll always regret opportunities you didn't take more than the ones you did. Of course, he didn't introduce this idea in the context of a fight for your life, but the concept applies here too. Remove yourself from "feeling" any way about the scenario and pursue the solution with conviction.

Aggression seldom beats aggression
Unfortunately, I have experienced situations that were directly personal toward me. As you might imagine, it is much more difficult to control your emotions when someone is threatening you as a person. Sadly, it is that much more important to stay removed. A few years ago I was working in a bar and teaching martial arts on my days off. A student of mine, at that time, had gotten himself into some trouble with some dangerous people. He had to go into hiding and they were so eager to find him that they put a reward on his location. One night, working a shift on my birthday, a group of very large men came into the bar, blocked the exits and asked to have a word with me. They explained to me that someone I had kicked out of the bar a few weeks earlier had told them that I was friends with the person in hiding, hoping to get reward and some revenge on me. They explained to me that if I didn't either help set him up or reveal his location that they would take me instead, hoping he would come out of hiding for my sake. The first thing that popped into my head, when understanding the threat, was to reach for the bat behind the bar and start swinging for homeruns. I calculated that I could take out at least three of them before the car full of extra guys outside neutralized me. I couldn't help think how "unfair" it was that I was being threatened, on my birthday no less, for someone else's mistake. A violent response on my part would also endanger everyone around me as well. The room was tense and I could tell that my customers were uncomfortable. I put my personal feelings aside, explained to them that I wouldn't be able to cooperate and then started listing reasons why involving me wouldn't help them at all. I used every Neuro-Linguistic Programming concept I ever heard of. Having put my emotions aside, it became clear that verbal de-escalation was not only possible, but the only way for anyone to get through the night safely. It took a lot of talking, asking questions that I knew the answer to, ego flattering comments and the resisting the constant urge to fight my way to the door. It worked out, in the end. This was a highly personal attack on my sense of security, resolved by controlling my feelings and responding with logic. This, of course, might be an extreme example, but what's really "extreme" in the context of personal safety and violent emergencies?

At the start of every security assignment I've ever worked, no matter how dangerous, I'd tell my team the same thing at the start of every shift: Stay calm, stay sharp and get home safe.

Jordan Bill
Fight or Die


Here is a highlight video of a Choke seminar I taught not long ago. It's relevant because defending against a choke is a highly psychological challenge for most. Techniques are only effective when the defender can establish a control over their emotional response. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Solo Training: Where There's a Will, There's a Way

Before I found the dojo that I've a member of for the past 15 years, I spent a lot of time training with friends without a teacher and in classes that weren't quite what I was looking for. Trying to combine what I saw on television to what I was learning in class wasn't exactly ideal, but it did help me learn to think for myself at a young age. I remember a time in my early high school years when I had worked out a three-way barter system, because I was determined to train but had no money for classes and didn't know of any schools that were teaching what I wanted. When there's a will there's a way.
I was a pro wrestling fan for as long as I can remember and back then there was an underground extreme wrestling promotion that was banned from most TV stations. As a result, you had to call their 800 number and order the tapes (yes, VHS tapes. Shut up, I'm old). I had a friend at that time who explained to me that the roots of pro wrestling came from CACC (pronounced "catch") wrestling and that if I liked the show they were putting on then I should look into the real thing. He then lent me some Karl Gotch instructional videos. I was hooked. This chain reaction of events was one of the best things to happen to me. My friend had told me that he'd been watching the tapes for a long time and wanted to try the techniques but he didn't have a partner and couldn't afford lessons at a gym. He proposed that he would keep buying the tapes if I agreed to meet him twice a week to practice. Sold!
Shortly after that, another friend of mine had started training in Hung Gar Gung Fu; a style I always had an interest in. He consistently invited me to join him, but I didn't  have any money to sign up and very little free time with rugby practice and my wrestling practice twice a week. Luckily for me, my Hung Gar friend got into a fight with a kid in his neighborhood and he was rendered helpless when the bully tackled him to the ground. He approached me to learn some of the grappling I was practicing. In exchange for some wrestling practice, he would share what he was learning in his Hung Gar classes with me. This gave me an extra way of practicing my grappling and a way of learning a new style. None of us were qualified teachers, of course, but we did the best we could with our options.
We trained this way for a long time. We eventually branched out into boxing and other styles. When I eventually ended up in Kempo Jujitsu I knew I found my new home. They both joined as well, but ultimately stopped training shortly after high school.
Years later, I would eventually realize that I happened to live in the same city as one of the best instructors in the world, so I promised myself I would never take that for granted. I experienced not having access to the training I wanted and I've met some very inspiring men and women over the years that traveled long distances to seminars to bring new information back to their humble clubs. Not everyone has access to what they want and it's important to remember that. I'm always happy to see that there are so many warriors that don't let that stop them from learning. The following are some ways of training when you're on your own or with a partner that I still keep up with now. Just being part of a large martial arts community doesn't always mean that we have the same schedule, so here are some tips that work for me and hopefully you also:

Conditioning and Bio-Mechanics
Keeping up with your conditioning and cardio exercises can keep you busy for hours every day, if you want them to. There are many ways of training your body both with and without a partner. Running, skipping, kettle bells, free weights and yoga are just some of many that I practice on my own all the time. Also, when studying your techniques, isolate the movements required and practice them on your own, without any resistance from a partner. This will train muscle memory and proper mechanical structure. Not only will this come in handy for execution, training this way can also help prevent injuries later on.

Partnered Drills and Technique Practice
Training with a partner doesn't always have to be sparring; a lesson we quickly learned when we stopped improving. At first, most of the footage we were working with were sparring sessions. Every time someone executed a technique successfully, we would break it down into stages and then isolate those movements. Repetition became the name of the game. We weren't experienced enough to train our skill sets any other way so we took the literal approach. We worked with no resistance until we felt comfortable to to try it out in sparring.

The Age of Information
As the internet continues to become the main source of information for the world, it's that much more important to have some kind of online presence. Not just to make yourself known, but to find what you're looking for. You'll find instructional videos, instructors and training opportunities that you might not have been aware of otherwise. I've met people who have created and joined online martial arts communities and travel the seminar circuit almost exclusively. Connect with others of similar interest and build a network of information sharing. It's easy to set up and free!

Another decision I made, despite being part of a dojo, was to start teaching in my community. I found a cheap venue close to my home and started a club. This was an excellent way of reviewing what I was learning on a regular basis and an easy way of training more. I've met teachers who don't have any schools in their area who manage small clubs via online videos. They receive lessons from a distant instructor and film themselves training. The footage is then sent back for feedback. It's a great system that can keep everyone motivated and working hard!

These are some tactics that have come in handy for me over the years and that I still practice now when I need to train more on my own. I've been inspired by some stories I've heard of humble beginnings into training that have lead to great things. The heart of a warrior doesn't care about circumstance, they'll find a way. Hope this comes in handy one day.

Jordan Bill
Fight or Die

P.S. Please feel free to share any solo training tips you practice! There are lots of great practitioners out there that could use that info!

P.P.S. Also don't forget to check out our new Articles section on the site! New content will be added there on a regular basis so make sure to keep checking in!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Irish Stick Fighting with Glen Doyle

This weekend I had the honor to train with the one and only Glen Doyle, as he shared his family's time-tested methods of Shillelagh fighting. This was my first experience in Irish stick fighting and I have to say it was amazing to learn so much and in such a great environment. Glen Doyle's teaching method complemented how I like to train and teach very well and I could tell I was learning a lot of new information that will be integrated into my training immediately. This style had been passed down from father to son for generations and it was a real privilege to share some sweat with everyone present. We learned about the roots of the system, how it changed over the years and for what purpose, how Glen learned it from his father and, most importantly, how to be an effective stick fighter! Also, a big thanks to Kevin Secours for hosting Glen and introducing all of us to his great methods.

Tried and Tested
Glen shared some of the rich history of Irish stick fighting with us this weekend. He told us about the Whiskey Wars, which was a period in time when major whiskey companies were sending gangs of stick fighters to their competitors, some to please their English consumers tastes and others to maintain the honor of family recipes. The style teaches a lot of spacial awareness and proper footwork, sure signs of a battle-tested fighting method. I'm a firm believer that a martial art style or instructor can instantly prove its legitimacy by answering questions before you've had a chance to ask them. When I'm being taught why swinging my stick to wildly might accidentally hit someone on my side or that stepping a certain way will make sure I don't trip over bodies, I know I'm being exposed to the real deal.

Personal Touch
We were also given the opportunity to hear about how Glen had been taught this family art from his father. Starting with boxing at the age of four, he then went on to learn the fundamentals of stick fighting and he demonstrated some exercises that his father used to teach footwork and movement by making him work empty handed first. He shared with us many fond memories of training with his father and family lessons that had been passed on to him. Glen also shared with us that we wouldn't have had the opportunity to learn about the Doyle Shillelagh fighting method if his father hadn't agreed to let him teach outside the family for the first time. For that, we owe Glen a big thank you. With each  new lesson, there was a sense of history and personal memories that Glen shared with his father and it was humbling to be a part of that.

Choices and Variations
With the accumulation of injuries and an aging body, I always appreciate learning variations. It's important for me to have options when it comes to delivery mechanisms. The techniques we learned also came with options that the art has developed over different generations and contexts. The first generation often held the stick in one hand, more like an armed boxing style. To counter this, fighters developed a two-handed style that would confuse the more traditional fighters. With the incorporation of the two-handed style, fist were still used for punching in a much less telegraphic way. We were shown variations on hits to prioritize speed, power or balance and encouraged to try them all and decided which worked best for us. Due to knee injuries and feeling particularly sore that day (thanks, Kevin) I opted to work with the more stable stance. I enjoyed the option of trying variations on just about every thing we practiced that day. This is also a good sign of a battle hardened fighting system. No two fighters move the same and I'm glad that was addressed as well.

I highly enjoyed training in the Doyle stick fighting system and I'm happy to have months of homework and practice ahead of me. Glen shared some of the amazing history of the style with us so that each exercise always had a sense of context and we always knew what situation we were training for. It was very interesting to hear about his own path in martial arts and learning under his father, who we all hoped to honor in our own training. Glen taught with humor, humility, respect and an assistant instructor who had a lot of really good tips to share with me and help me learn faster (thanks, Chris!). For more information on Glen Doyle and his martial arts, just check out Also, another big thank you to Kevin Secours for making this seminar possible and all the participants at Integrated Fighting Systems for the great experience.

Jordan Bill
Fight or Die