Thursday, September 29, 2005

Relax…. It’s only a fight!

By Joel Persinger

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to take a friend to the shooting range for a round of trap. It was his first experience trying to shoot flying orange clay targets out of the air with a shotgun (or anything else for that matter). But, it was something he had always wanted to do.

Now, if you’ve never shot trap… you should know that you stand at a station, load one round, yell “pull” and when the little clay “Frisbee” target flies out in front of your station you shoot it (or at least attempt to do so). If you ask me it’s the Girl Scout cookie of shooting. Nobody can start without wanting to do it again. But I digress.

As I was saying, I took a friend to the range who had never done this before. The range master and I went over the rules, explained the concept and demonstrated the functioning of my wife’s little Remington 11-87 20 gage semi-auto field gun (a sweet little shotgun if there ever was one). I shot the first round as a demonstration for him. He was blown away (pardon the pun) by the fact that I hit 20 out of 25 targets. What he didn’t know is that 20 out of 25 is kind of average at best if you’ve been doing it for a while, which I have.

After I shot the first round of 25 it was his turn. I went over the functioning of the weapon again and stood behind him as he took his first five shots at station one. Each shot was a clean miss and each time he was more disappointed and became more rigid in his stance. His grip on the gun might as well have been a death grip. With great determination on his face, he moved to station two.

At station too, I demonstrated a proper stance, mount of the gun, eye alignment and so on, then passed the weapon back to him. The puller was ready and away he went again. Five shots… five misses. He looked very disappointed and off we went to station three.

It was there at station three, that I suggested he take a few deep breaths and relax. “The gun isn’t going to jump out of your hand” I said, “just relax, follow the bird and squeeze the trigger as the muzzle passes through the target. Then follow though just as you would with your golf swing.” He breathed for what seem like a year, took up his stance, mounted the gun and shouted “PULL”…. “BAM” barked the little gun and “SMASH” went the target! “Good shot” I shouted… “do it again” and he did, eleven more times for a score of 12 out of 25. Not bad for the first time out.

So, why did I tell you this story on a martial arts blog? I told you because it is a lesson that teaches all of us a simple truth. We are all our own worst enemies. The more we fail the harder we try and the less we do. The moral of the story is; don’t “try”… “do”. When my friend stopped trying with all his might to force his will upon the situation and simply relaxed, he succeeded. Had he kept trying with all his might, he might not have hit a single clay.

In your practice this week, whether it’s hitting the bag, working through forms, sparing with friends or whatever form your practice takes, relax. Take your time, some deep breaths and relax. You’ll find that you are faster, stronger, more agile, more accurate and in general a better fighter if you stop trying so hard and just do it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Weapons for self defense - What are my choices?

By Joel Persinger

As you have probably already guessed, my weapon of choice is avoidance. I prefer to avoid trouble in the first place, so my need for a weapon won’t come up. However, trouble can sometimes find you no matter how hard you try to avoid it. With that in mind, there are several weapons you can use to defend yourself. Keep in mind, the first rule is to obey the law. Don’t select a weapon that is against the law to have or use. Check with your local authorities in order to find out which weapons are legal in your area. Here’s a short list:

* Gun: If you are going to use a gun for self defense, PLEASE do the following.

  • Get some great training from a place like Gunsite Ranch There may also be a local shooting facility in your area that offers self defense training, but you can’t go wrong with Gunsite.
  • Take a firearms safety course.
  • Buy a quick access gun safe and use it! These can be purchased from most gun stores and will allow you to get to the firearm with the use of a combination locking system. They provide quick easy access for you, but the criminal and your kids are locked out. Make sure you bolt your gun safe to the wall or floor so the crook can't just take the safe, gun and all, and run off with it.
  • If you use a shotgun for home defense, invest in a quick access shotgun rack from Mossberg firearms. It will work with a pump gun like a Mossberg 500 or Remington 870 and will allow quick access for self defense, while making sure the crook and your kids can’t get to the fire arm or take off with it. Any firearms that are not being used for self defense should be locked in a gun safe with the ammunition stored separately.
  • Do Not carry a firearm on your person unless it is legal for you to do so.
  • For heaven’s sake join the NRA and your state affiliate organization. I am a member of the NRA and the California Rifle and Pistol Association for example. They have great programs to help you use your firearm effectively, responsibly and safely.
* Knife: In some states it is legal for you to carry a tactical folder like the Kershaw I carry. I’m in California where it is legal, but you will want to check the laws in your local area. A tactical folding knife opens quickly with a flick of the thumb. My personal knife is a Kershaw and is very quick to get into action. I carry it wherever and whenever it is legal to do so.

  • Learn to fight with a knife. There is nothing worse than having a weapon that you don’t know how to use. It may very quickly become your attacker’s weapon if you can’t use it properly. Classes are easy to find. There are many seminars you can attend. David “Adventure” Collins and I are attending a knife fighting seminar in Long Beach this weekend for example.
  • It should be mentioned here, that I could probably beat the tar out of David in a hand to hand fight because of my skill and size, but he could cut me to ribbons with a knife any day of the week and barely be breathing hard while I was leaking blood all over the pavement. The lesson is simple; if you’re a smaller person like David, pick an equalizer and learn how to use it. It can make all the difference between survival and injury or death. I’m 6 foot 3 inches and 230 lbs with a black belt in Tang Soo Do and a lot of other training, but I still take an equalizer of some sort everywhere. If I do it and you’re name isn’t King Kong, then you should do it too.
  • There are some cool (and frightening) knives out there. “Adventure” Collins went to the Cold Steal Challenge in Ventura last week and came home with a couple of interesting ones. These knives are made of composite materials (A fancy word for plastic). They are very sharp, pointy, strong and impervious to the elements. They’re also very light. I don’t know if their legal to carry, but they sure would be handy in a rainy or wet location since they won’t rust. Each has a required metal ring in order to make sure they are detected by a metal detector. However, the ring can be removed easily. My understanding is that these knives are instantly illegal once you remove the metal ring. It’s precisely because of these kinds of sneaky weapons that I carry my cane when I fly (and why I am grateful for Air Marshals). Honest folks will use these appropriately and should have the right to do so. Nevertheless, if you’re in law enforcement, be aware of these. If the ring is removed, metal detectors won’t pick them up.

* Stick / Cane

  • The simple truth is you cannot carry a gun or knife in many places, but you can carry a cane anywhere at anytime and stick type implements are all over the place. For example: the big Maglite flashlight in your car’s glove compartment is a stick. Your tire iron is a stick. A broom handle is a stick and so on.
  • For Cane: check out Cane Masters at I am a member of the Cane Masters International Association as is “Adventure” Collins. I own several of their canes and take one with me everywhere I go (even on the airplane). I’m almost 50 years old, so no one asks me about it. Between the Cane Masters system and my Arnis instructor, I have really learned how to use this weapon.
  • You can learn some great stick (and knife) technique from Hock as well. Check out the website at

No matter what weapon you select, make sure you know how to use it and the consequences of doing so. This is part of being a responsible martial artist.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Some great books on self-defense, martial training, etc.

By Joel Persinger

Someone asked me recently which books or authors I recommend. Well, here are a few. I’ll give you a longer list at another time.

• Anything by Loren W. Christensen The dude has been there and done that. I have a couple of his books and will buy more. The two I have so far are “Fighter’s Fact Book” and “Solo Training”, but all of them are good.

• Anything by W. Hock Hochheim Mostly he has videos with workbooks, but everything this guy teaches is on the money.

• Zen in The Martial Arts by Joe Hyams. This is a little book on the lessons Mr. Hyams learned as he traveled the martial road. It won’t teach you how to fight, but it will teach you how to think and act.

• Karate-Do Nyumon by Gichin Funakoshi. Master Funakoshi shares considerable wisdom in this little book.

• Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee. Mr. Lee’s thinking is fascinating to read. He brings a unique perspective to the fighting arts. It's both refreshing and challenging.

• The Dao of Taijiquan by Jou, Tsung Hwa. This is a book for someone who really loves the internal Chinese art of Taijiquan. It’s for someone who wants to understand the philosophy, history, forms and application of practice such as push hands, core training, breath training and so on. It’s a tough read if you’re not really interested in this stuff. But, if you are, Jou, Tsung Hwa was the foremost authority on Tai Chi of any family and the founder of the "Tai Chi Farm". Unfortunately, he was killed in a car accident a few years ago, but his wisdom, research and knowledge are still here for us in this and other books.

If you have a favorite martial arts book, please let me know. I’d love to read it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Who Do we train to Fight.

"Remember, you train not just to know how to fight, but you train to learn how you will be attacked. Most of the attacking population is untrained. Another portion is poorly trained. The next and smallest segment is properly trained. Make fun of kick boxing or pressure point fighting, or high school wrestling, or joint locks? You should know what they know, to know what to expect.

Three classes of fighters...
- Untrained and poor fighters
- Instinctively good, yet untrained
- Properly trained "

By: Hock

What Do You Hit With What? ...What?

By Joel Persinger

I try to stay away from “rules”, but here’s one anyway. When striking an opponent with parts of your body (hand, foot, elbow, knee, head, etc.) it is generally better to hit hard targets with soft things and soft targets with hard things. At this point you’re probably asking yourself what kind of stuff I’ve been smoking. We’ll, I haven’t been smoking anything, I’ve just hit a few people in my life and learned how to do it without breaking my hand or foot.

So, here’s what I’m talking about. If you’ve been in martial arts for any period of time you’ve probably been taught to launch back fists, punches and so on at people’s faces, jaws, temples and the like. You may even have been taught the ubiquitous head but. Well, I’m here to tell you “don’t do it”. Hitting some dude in the head with your fist is like hitting a bowling ball. The chances are good that it will hurt you much more than the bowling ball (head). Head butting is just as bad. It works well in the movies, but in real life, more times than not the one issuing the head but ends up just as hurt as the one who received it. Imagine, taking two bowling balls and smacking them together. Crunch! Nobody wins.

God created your head with lots of strong bone to protect the little gray cells inside that keep you thinking. In fact, your head is one of the best protected parts of your body. Let’s face it, we don’t call each other “hard headed” for nothing. So, if you’re going to whack some guy up side his head because he’s attacking you, do it with a club if you have one (just recognize that you might kill him in the process). If you don’t happen to have a club at the ready or the situation doesn’t justify killing your attacker, drill him hard with a palm strike or three. Just as God put lots of bone in your attacker’s head, he put lots of pad on your palm. With palm strikes you can splash his brain around in his head, snap his jaw around sideway or send his noggin flying up and back so hard he won’t know his own name, and you can do it without breaking your hand in the process. The other nice thing about palm strikes to the head is that they stick to what you hit. Try this (gently please) with a friend. If you punch someone in the jaw or head with your fist it will glance off just after impact. However, if you strike the same areas with the palm it tends to stick and follow through. Try it a couple times and you’ll see what I mean.

The reverse of this is to strike soft targets with hard things. Some examples would be; striking the eyes (finger and thumb strikes mostly), throat, neck, solar plexus, stomach, kidneys, groin and so on. These are places where hard objects like fists, ridge hands, sword hands, elbows, heals and knees can strike with devastating results. Try this line of thinking in your practice this week. Hit hard things with soft and soft things with hard. It might change your approach to what you hit with what.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Don’t be a target.

By Joel Persinger

Self defense shouldn’t be complicated. For most of us, it’s less about learning to fight and more about not getting into a fight in the first place. With all my training and experience, there’s one fact that has become crystal clear to me. The only fight I am sure to win is the fight I never get in.

Now, before you say anything I know that avoiding a fight isn’t possible for everyone. If you’re in the military or law enforcement for example, your job is to fight so the rest of us don’t have to. This is why I have such great respect for those who serve and protect me and my family. But for most of us, having to fight is a rare experience if we experience the necessity at all. The other great difference is that unlike you and I, law enforcement and military personnel seldom go unprepared into a fight and hardly ever fight alone. The rest of us have to fend for ourselves most of the time, so avoiding trouble seems a lot more sensible than looking for it.

If avoiding trouble is the object, how do we do it? Here are some things to think about in your daily walk through life that might help you stay out of harm’s way.

Be aware of your surroundings. Awareness is the key to most everything when it comes to avoiding trouble. When you’re evaluating risks in a specific location ask yourself the following: Is there danger present? Is there more than one way out if danger shows up? Can you position yourself to minimize your risk (Example: sit close to an exit. Take a seat from which you can see the entire area, etc)?

Be aware of the people around you. Look for obvious clues that point to trouble. For example: A man wearing a long jacket in the summer time, five guys hanging out in a dark parking lot, a mouthy woman with a big boyfriend starting to cause trouble, a shifty eyed customer in line at the bank looking nervous, etc.

Listen to yourself. More people get into trouble by ignoring the little voice in their heads when it’s screaming “Look out, something’s not right” at the top of its proverbial lungs. If your instinct is telling you to look out, then for goodness sake LISTEN!

Be prepared. Dress for the occasion by wearing cloths you can move in and shoes you can run in. You may be a knockout 12 on a scale of 10 who wants to strut her stuff, but you can’t avoid trouble wearing a tight leather skirt and six inch spiked heals. If anything, you’re asking for trouble from the first loud mouth that heads your way and when it comes you’re going to be hard pressed to run from it. Now that you’re dressed appropriately don’t forget to bring simple items like a cell phone and a little flashlight at night.

Take someone with you when you can. The police and military do, why should we be different. As the old saying goes, there is strength in numbers.

Have a confident attitude. Here are the dos and don’ts of attitude: Don’t be a jerk or mouthy. Don’t look like you’re spoiling for a fight. Do look confident and strong. Do walk with purpose. Do keep your head up and look around.

It’s important to remember that predators take the path of least resistance. If there is a choice between you and another potential victim, a predator will select the one that looks weaker, easier and less likely to hurt him or cause him trouble. Your goal is to be de-selected because your behavior raises the level of risk to the predator.

Remember the rule of non-attendance. If trouble starts, leave. If you think trouble is likely to show up, don’t go there.

The last thing on the list is being able to fight. Don’t get me wrong, you should prepare for the necessity to fight, but it must be an option of last resort.

Monday, September 12, 2005

One way or another.

By Joel Persinger

Over and over again I hear martial artists (both students and teachers) claiming that their way is the only way or the best way or the original way or whatever. Some think the argument has its roots in the age old question “which martial art is best?”, but that could not be further from the truth. The argument has its roots in pride and arrogance.

Martial arts as we know them today were developed over thousands of years through trial and error. Therefore, martial arts are a work in progress. It is only through the lens of pride that we gaze upon the limitless number of approaches to the arts with a feeling of superiority. In fact, some arts actually started from the same root and were split due to arguments or politics. In which case, they are essentially the same. Perfect examples of this are the various “Karate” styles.

I received my black belt in Tang Soo Do (a Korean Karate style). Tang Soo Do could not be more similar to ITF Tae Kwon Do if it wanted to be. Sure, the “forms” (Katas, Hyungs or whatever you want to call them) are a little different and one instructor may focus upon the sport while the other focuses upon the ability to defend one’s self. But a round kick is a round kick, a front kick is a front kick, a palm strike is a palm strike and a back fist is a back fist in both of these arts as well as most other “Karate” styles. The techniques are very similar even if the philosophies may be somewhat different.

When my Tang Soo Do instructor retired a Tae Kwon Do instructor took over. Both instructors focus on self-defense, so the skills are about 50/50 hands and feet. Each instructor has a different approach to teaching and the traditional “forms” are different. Beyond that, the arts are the same. Both arts are Korean and have the same roots. They split over politics. Both of these arts claim to have been created by individual Koreans. Yet, if you pick up a book on the Karate of Okinawa (Karate-Do by Gichen Funakoshi for example) you will find it is basically the same art. In spite of this, I have heard many argue that one Karate style or the other is better. What prideful nonsense.

The simple truth is that no art is better than the other any more than one size really fits all. Truly different fighting systems may take different approaches to solving the problem of combat, but unless one of us has mutated recently we are all limited to having two legs and two arms. I have studied Karate styles, Philipino styles, and some internal Chinese arts. In doing so, I have discovered that each has its strengths and weaknesses. None are the perfect art.

As a black belt in a Karate style I have had the honor of being in the ring with other Karate men, Wing Chung instructors, Arnis and Kali instructors, Jujitsu practitioners and others. In each case these men managed to hit me, kick me, or put me on my butt and in each case I returned the favor. I remember a particular Wing Chung instructor who came blazing at me with chain punches (an absolutely devastating technique). He almost always got through with one or two and they hurt. He was obviously quite pleased whenever he managed to hit me (which was fairly often). On the other hand, I was quite pleased when I bopped him upside his head and through him hard to the mat or when I kicked him so many times it sent him running around the mat to escape. Now… which art was best that day, Tang Soo Do or Wing Chung? The answer is neither. Had we been fighting instead of playing around he would have hurt me badly and I him. End of story.

In the final analysis, the art that’s best is the one that helps you accomplish your goals. For example: If you’re military or law enforcement and just need to know how to fight, then simple, direct, quickly learned arts might be best. Krav Maga or W. Hock Hochheim’s Close Quarters Combative classes would be perfect. On the other hand, you may be looking for a way to keep in shape while learning focus, balance, patience and self-defense. In that case, a traditional art might be the ticket. I happen to like both. So, I study some traditional arts as well as take every opportunity to learn practical street fighting by attending seminars and working out with other friends who do. The bottom line is that only you can determine what works best for you. But what works best for you may not be best for the next person. If we were all the same, the world would be a very dull place.

So, I encourage you to study different arts as you go along in your life. The end result is that you develop your own art by adding what works for you to what you have already learned. Remember, humility is always better than pride… so practice humility and remember that every art has something to teach us.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Rule of non-Attendance

By Joel Persinger

One of the first rules of self-defense is not to get into trouble in the first place. This requires being aware of your surroundings and practicing the rule of non-attendance.

The rule of non-attendance is basically this… if there is trouble in a place, don’t be there. It’s not rocket science and yet few really consider it. Here are some examples of non-attendance that can save your life: If you know you might find trouble at a bar or nightclub, don’t go. If you know you can be attacked at a walk-up ATM at 2:00 in the morning, don’t go. If five women have been raped while walking in the park, don’t walk in the park. If you know you have a greater chance of being attacked if you park your car in the dark corner of the mall parking lot, then don’t do it. Park under a light or have someone walk you to your car. If you know trouble is somewhere, don’t go find it. These are simple applications of thought and choices that reduce your risk of attack significantly.

This also applies when trouble shows up where you are. I am always amazed by people who see police cars with lights flashing and rush to see what’s going on. If the officer is working a suspect and the situation goes bad (bullets flying all about), I prefer not to attend, don’t you? As a consequence, when I see flashing police lights I go the other way. This is the concept of leaving at the first sign of trouble.

A real world example of this principle happened about a week ago when I went to meet a long time friend for lunch. We’ve been having lunch in the same place for quite some time and almost always sit in the same booth. Even martial artists are creatures of habit. I arrived early and sat down in the customary booth. While I was waiting for my friend, I could not help noticing the four plastered individuals at a table near by. They were obviously drunk beyond measure. They were loud, obnoxious and looking for trouble. I sat there for a few minutes before I realized that staying there is exactly what I teach my students not to do. So, like a good little self-defense instructor I followed my own advice and moved to another section of the restaurant. My friend arrived, found me at the new table and we had a nice lunch as usual. There was trouble brewing and I chose not to attend.

There’s nothing flashy about these self-defense techniques and they will never land you a gig in a Jackie Chan flick. But practicing non-attendance requires a lot less work and will keep you out of trouble more often than not.

The Bigger They Are…

By Joel Persinger

All of my life I have heard it said that “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”. Well my friend, I have news for you. The truth is this… the bigger they are, the harder they hit! In fact, let’s take it a bit further by saying that the bigger they are the harder it is for the smaller person to survive.

Here’s what I mean. Given equal skill levels a 225lb man will overwhelm a 150lb man or woman. Take this even further and say that a 350lb football player will likely defeat a 225lb black belt. I should know, I am a 225lb black belt who would not want to be facing a 350lb football player in a fight.

Having said all this, the simple message is “even the odds”. One of my favorite quotes is “They say God made all men and Sam Colt made ‘em equal”. If given the choice I will never fight anyone regardless of size without an equalizer of some sort. It may be a knife, gun, broom handle or a metal folding chair but you can bet I’m going to cut, shoot or smack him with something big! As my martial arts buddy and fellow instructor, David Collins, is fond of saying “cheat first, cheat last and cheat in the middle”.