It’s Never The Tools

In the trades there is a saying; It’s a poor craftsman that blames his tools. We find this to be true in the realm of self protection as well. If I were to be completely honest with myself I would have to admit quite a few of the firearms I’ve purchased have been an attempt at buying performance. For several years I would practice with a pistol, rifle or shotgun up to a point of frustration. I would plateau, and rather than just keeping my shoulder to the wheel I would wrongfully assume if I just buy a different, better model all things will be right with the world. My performance will take off again, the frustration will go away, and I will be one with everything.

 

Not even close. 

 

The cycle would simply repeat with a different tool. I was caught up in blaming my tools rather than the guy wielding the tools. Could there be times where our tools are holding us back? Sure. However, at this point in time I think it’s safe to say that any firearm from a major manufacturer will be more than adequate. In other words, if I do my part the gun will do it’s part. My search for a better tool was purely a distraction from the real work of perfecting my craft. I didn’t need to buy new gear, or read a different book, or watch a new video, and maybe I didn’t even need to take another class.

 

I just needed to work really hard on the things I already knew, with the tools I already had, and trust the process. 

 

 

If You Can Dodge A Wrench

If you have watched the movie Dodgeball; A True Underdog Story, then you are probably familiar with the scene with Patches O’Houlihan. If you haven’t watched it I have to wonder what you’re doing that could possibly be more important than studying this film but on the off chance you didn’t here is the relevant clip;

 

In all seriousness there have been times in my training career when I have really wondered what we are doing or trying to accomplish with cross-training or hybrid training or whatever you want to call it. Some of it seems as absurd as Patches throwing wrenches at guys to get them ready for  dodgeball. I get it, everyone is on a time crunch so if we could find a way to make one training session cover multiple disciplines then that’s a win on several fronts.

However, specificity and adaption to imposed demands is a real thing. If we want to excel at shooting a rifle accurately at 600 – 1,000 yards, shooting clays with a shotgun everyday for hours instead of shooting our rifle is counter-productive. Yes we are working with a long gun but there isn’t going to be enough carry-over between the two to make the shotgunning beneficial to pursuing our goal of precision rifle work.

Fortunately when it comes to impact weapons any time we work with any impact weapon it seems to benefit all of the impact weapons we use. Whether we are using a baseball bat, an expandable baton, a sap, or a piece of rebar the body mechanics are virtually identical. We will have to adjust for the weapons characteristics yet the rotation of your upper body, weight shift of the lower body, and path our arm travels is the same. If we use weighted clubs, maces or bells we can also incorporate some strength and conditioning into our impact weapons work.

 

IMG_1344
Hanuman with a  mace similar to the ones often found in pictures of the Great Gama. A fantastic strength and conditioning tool with centuries of history, it also works great as an impact weapon workout. Quite a few companies are making maces now but if you can’t afford one at the moment a sledgehammer will do just fine. 

 

There are a number of impact weapon schools and lineages out there, and since you are reading this it’s safe to assume you probably have some background in impact weapons. However, if you aren’t already practicing impact weapon work there is no reason you can’t get started today. The fundamentals of impact weapons work is forehand strikes, and back hand strikes. The easiest place to start is with the X angle. For X angles using a forehand strike, (if you’re right handed), visualize striking from the 2 o’ clock position to the 8 o’ clock position. The other side of the X, still using your right hand, would be a backhand strike from the 10 o’ clock position to the 4 o’ clock position. This is a very simplistic approach to impact weapon work, and finding a coach to help you learn proper technique would be well worth your time. However, swinging an impact weapon with power can look a lot like a good baseball or tennis swing. Transferring power from the legs, through trunk rotation, and into the impact weapon is something athletes in baseball and tennis have spent quite a bit of time and money on developing to a high degree. If you don’t have a coach or background in impact weapons I won’t leave you hanging, we’ll go deeper into impact weapon training in future posts.

It’s Just A Knife

When it comes to gun safety we’ve got it down. Most folks can recite the four rules of safe gun handling, and spot a safety violation immediately.

The same can be said of our driving skill set. Most know the rules of safe vehicle operations and we can see an unsafe driver a mile away.

When it comes to knives, whether it’s for personal protection or it’s utilitarian, we see a lot of behavior that would at best be described as apathetic. I have cringed as I’ve watched folks use their pocket knife to open a box or package by pulling the knife towards their body. Never a good idea. This is usually made worse by the fact that their knife is incredibly dull, as a result they are now driving the blade with great force towards their own body. Imagine how many ways this can and will go wrong. Now think about the outcome if we are hiking miles deep into an uninhabited area and have to cut something? Sure we have our expedient med gear on us however, this scenario is going to get complicated if it involves temporarily losing the use the use of a limb or worse. Again, never a good idea. It’s also completely avoidable by simply practicing safe knife handling.

We routinely see folks handle training guns as if they are live guns, (which is a great idea), yet handle training knives as if they are, well, made of plastic. This is where unsafe knife handling practices begin. We should treat the knife, to include training knives, with the same care as we treat a firearm, vehicle or anything else in this endeavor that could cause serious bodily injury or death. We want to build safe knife handling skills, and through good repetitions make these safe skills habit.

Here’s a summary of safe knife handling rules;

  • Always handle your knife with respect. The knife giveth and the knife taketh away. Particularly when you are hunting, fishing, hiking, and/or camping miles away from the nearest medical facility.
  • Cut away from your body, not toward it. Only always.
  • Let dropped knives fall. Murphy’s law dictates you will cut yourself badly trying to catch a dropped knife. On a hiking/fishing trip a few years ago I dropped a favorite, and expensive, knife while trying to cut a tangled line. I tried to catch the knife before it went into the river. I collected a nice cut and still lost the knife. It would have been better to lose the knife then have to deal with an injury miles out from the nearest aid station.
  • Keep your knives sharp. Bad things happen when we exert too much force due to a dull knife. Also, if you have to use that much force maybe your chosen knife isn’t the right tool for the job.
  • When handing a knife to someone it’s best to set the knife on a flat surface. They can pick it up. If you can’t do that then handing the knife to them handle first, with the blade facing outboard from the palm of your hand is your second best option

These are just a few safe knife handling rules we can implement immediately into our daily practice. Build these habits by applying these same rules to training knives as well. It’s never just a knife.

Plan? Forget the Plan

As multidisciplinary trainees we are trying to cover a lot of ground as efficiently as possible. We want to be as proficient as possible in everything from verbal skills to driving to expedient medical skills, and everything in between. To accomplish this we have to plan our work and then work our plan. Organizing everything into bite sized chunks, setting, and reaching goals is an absolute necessity. If we don’t approach this endeavor in such a manner, we can quickly spin in circles or spend most of our time on things we enjoy rather than things we need to develop. A plan keeps us on task.

 

However, there are times where it is beneficial to scrap the plan. Have you ever had a moment during a practice session where things really started clicking? A moment when you had a breakthrough? Has that moment happened at the last few minutes of a scheduled training session? If we stick with the plan we have to end the practice session right when we are hitting that Flow state and that seems counter productive. Unless we are on a time crunch, I would recommend forgetting the plan and flow with the go. Even with a time limit on the session unless there is something pressing I would stay with the flow. The purpose of our training plan was to bring us to this point where we begin to do things we previously couldn’t do… why would we want to stop? 

 

One of the moments that helped me realize it’s okay to stray from the plan happened during a squat session. My planned session was 10 sets of 2 reps using 75% of my 1 rep max. After the third set my training partners noted that my squat speed was really fast, and the weight appeared light. I agreed, and we decided to add weight to the bar. Before the session was over I was working multiple sets of 2 with heavier weight than my previously projected 1 rep max. I experienced a breakthrough in technique, and strength. For whatever reason everything was working together, and all systems were go. I said to my training partners, and coach that we were deviating from the plan. I was concerned this might derail my training plan. My coach told me that the purpose of the plan was to get me to this point so now is not the time to stop, let’s keep going, and ride this wave for all it’s worth. We can always re-write the plan based on this breakthrough. That’s when something my coaches have always said finally sunk in; the plan is just a template. Keep it fluid, learn to adjust on the fly, and when those breakthrough moments happen ride that wave. We’ve all experienced this in different ways during our training evolution like that dry fire session when everything was going smooth, we forgot how many reps we had done or how many were left to do. We lost track of time, and just worked. When those moments happen it’s time to forget the plan. We can re-write it later. For now, it’s time to flow with the go. 

You Always Have One More

We’ve been talking about the mental game over the last two posts and I’d like to share a few practical methods to begin building this skill set just as we build any other skill set. Fortunately like many things we do in this endeavor there is plenty of overlap so we can work toward multiple objectives with one drill or exercise.

One of my strength training mentors loved to say, “if you have one more rep then you have five more reps.” As much as I hated to hear him say that during yolk walks or car deadlifts I also hated to admit he is right. Every single time I reach what I perceive to be the end of my efforts I find I can dig a deeper, and find more gas in the tank.  It’s painful to admit to myself that there have been times in my past training history when I had stopped long before I should have simply because fatigue beat me mentally. I was mentally weak and as a result I lost a valuable opportunity to toughen myself. Building physical toughness is good but building mental toughness is great. Everything we do on the mat, in the ring, or under the bar is about building that indomitable will, that mental toughness, and resilience that will carry over to everything else we do.

Here is a simple, immediately applicable mental toughness exercise we can do. At your next strength or conditioning session, whatever it is your doing do it beyond the point where you think you are done. If you’re doing sprints on the Airdyne forget the time/interval you’re scheduled to do. Instead go as hard as you can for as long as you can… then go 5 seconds longer… then 5 seconds longer until your legs and arms refuse to move. Only when you can’t move do you stop. Rest then do it again, and again. I predict that at a certain point you will forget how many reps you have done or how long you have been on the bike, and it will be purely about how far or deep into that zone you can go. You start to realize the physical fatigue isn’t the issue, it’s the mental game. This is where you start to build that mental game that refuses to quit, refuses to stay down, that is indomitable. Once you start to train like this you won’t be able to go back to any other way. This is where we start to learn what this endeavor is really about.

Another mental exercise is to simply roll one more time. Say you’re at open mat, and your mind says that’s enough. Your body is tired, maybe you’re a little banged up. Now is the time to build that mental game. Refuse to come off the mat. Roll one more round. Then one more, and then another. Winning or losing doesn’t matter in the gym, and it really doesn’t matter when the objective is building mental game. Mental toughness is built in those moments when we are burnt out physically, one side of our mind saying let’s go home, hydrate, stretch, do some rehab work, and then we’ll come back another day. Ignore that voice, and roll more. Start in bad position, and work from there so it’s even harder. Punish that inner voice that wanted to call it a day. Dominate it, take advantage of this moment, and build that mental game. Essentially any physical exercise or movement that allows you to work past your perceived point of failure is an excellent opportunity to develop mental game.

This is hard work however, anyone involved in this endeavor already knows that. I’ve yet to meet anyone pursuing this multidisciplinary art that is lazy. What I want to get across to you is the transformative power of this endeavor once we understand the physical exercise is only a vehicle. Yes we want to build life saving skills however, as we’ve talked about before we might go the rest of our life without ever having to fight anything or anyone. The mental toughness we build once we know that’s what it’s really about is the key to the kingdom so to speak. This mental toughness opens all the doors we want to go through in life. The refusal to give up, to listen to fatigue, inner doubt, even voices of those that care about us that don’t understand the journey we’re on, the ability to persevere despite the odds. That’s the mental game we take with us when we leave the mat, and go to our place of business. A project that needs to be done, goals that need to be met, or business competitors that want to go head to head have no idea what they’re getting into. We’ve learned to dominate, and control ourselves, taking on something outside of us is so much easier. We know we can always dig deeper, we can always push a little harder, we know we can do anything we choose to do and that’s a fantastic feeling.

Right Now

What can you do right now?

Not what are you willing to do. Not what would you like to be able to do. Not what do you think can do.

What can I do right now?

This is a question that has driven me for years. What am I capable of doing right now? If I’m driving through a rural area, and I see an overturned car am I able to help the people in that car? Can I lift another human, and move them to safety? Can I render aid? What if it’s my car that overturns? Can I get myself, and if necessary my loved ones to safety? Can I perform self-aid and/or render aid to my friends and family?

If I’m awakened by my home alarm system because there is a fire am I able to move myself, and my loved ones to safety? Can I carry an injured family member down an emergency ladder?

In the case of a natural disaster can I dig my way out of a collapsed building? Climb to escape flooding? Can I move large chunks of building or trees that have fallen? Can I move myself, and loved ones through hazardous areas?

Some might think this is a pointless exercise however, for those that have lived in areas where hurricane or tornado season is a real threat this is a legit exercise. Those that live in areas hit by the power outage a few years ago during winter storms might also have a different view on this type of exercise. If you drive on a regular basis you’ve witnessed your share of traffic crashes or at least have seen the damage done when metal meets flesh at 70-90mph. It’s not a completely absurd thought, we just might find ourselves in a situation where we have to honestly answer this question; what can I do right now? 

If you don’t like the answer there is only one acceptable response, fix it. Find those areas where you are unprepared or unequipped, and prepare and equip yourself to the best of your ability. This question usually presents itself in the context of a pass/fail do or die situation. We either have what it takes to dare to be great or we don’t. I know if you’re like me, failure is unacceptable so don’t fail by failing to prepare.

Natural Born Heroes

“There was a time when that question wouldn’t be a mystery. For much of human history, the art of the hero wasn’t left up to chance; it was a multidisciplinary endeavor devoted to optimal nutrition, physical self-mastery, and mental conditioning. The hero’s skills were studied, practiced, and perfected, then passed along from parent to child and teacher to student.

The art of the hero wasn’t about being brave; it was about being so competent that bravery wasn’t an issue. You weren’t supposed to go down for a good cause; the goal was to figure out a way to not go down at all. Achilles and Odysseus and the rest of the classical heroes hated the thought of dying and scratched for every second of life.

A hero’s one crack at immortality was to be remembered as a champion, and champions don’t die dumb… It all hinged on the ability to unleash the tremendous resources of strength, endurance, and agility that many people don’t realize they already have.” – from the excellent book Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall.

Reading Natural Born Heroes and the story of the Isle of Crete resistance is an incredible story of ordinary people that did extraordinary feats. There are several interesting avenues we can take with this book however, for me the most compelling aspect of this story is simply this; resolve to be an adept. In a moment of crisis or urgency be ready to act. Despite whatever odds are stacked against us, or whatever cards life has seemingly dealt us we must resolve to always be ready, and prepared to be useful.

Think about arriving on the scene of a rollover accident in a rural area. We don’t have the luxury of getting a little stronger, or refreshing our knowledge of ditch medicine, nor do we have the opportunity to run to the local pharmacy to pick up expedient medical supplies. Whether we like it or not we have what we have, in all those areas, with us at that moment. Life changes rapidly, and at times unpredictably. Maybe we are the ones involved in the rollover accident in the middle of nowhere. No help is coming, you are your own hero. Only I know the answer to the question; am I ready? Regardless of the answer at the moment, I can choose to begin to improve my odds. Make a pact with yourself to always be ready so you don’t have to get ready.