Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Who the Hell is Ragnar?

Let's get one thing straight, I am not a long distance runner. I have run great distances in the past because coaches, instructors and superiors have told me to. I run to make weight, I run to pursue and of course, I run when chased. I have never run in a foot race of any kind after the 7th grade until today. 30 years later, my instinct to never back down from a challenge and to always say YES may have flipped my sorry ass from the frying pan into the fryer.

Enter the RAGNAR RELAY. A 175 mile race that was started in 1980 by a guy named Steve Hill who is obviously a sadist at heart and probably not to be trusted. The race is named in honor of Ragnar, a Norse King who is known for pirating and pillaging as only good Vikings do. I don't know what the connection to the race is other than Ragnar was crazy and the maniacs who run this thing are even crazier.

The Ragnar Relay is a 175 mile race over a 24 hour period. The 175 miles are split up between 12 team members. Some teams have 6 but those groups should be ashamed of themselves for being able to run that far and that fast without dying.

Each team members is responsible for 3 legs of the race for a total of 16 miles. The legs are rated from MODERATE, HARSH to VERY HARSH (notice there's no "EASY" if there is, I wasn't assigned one). We're running in the May 15th relay from Woodstock, NY to Bronx, NY. We start at 8:00am and will probably finish up around 9:00am the next morning. So that means running in the middle of the night and at all hours, depending when you're scheduled to run.

12 people in 2 vans, sweating, smelling and eating a lot of prepackaged, complex carb supplements that taste like cardboard and old socks. I can smell the body order NOW! Just like training camp, another memory I would rather leave in the far reaches of my mind with other memories like losing my 4th grade girl friend to Gary Fransiconi.

I started training in February. 3, miles, 4 miles, 5 miles, 8 miles, 10 miles, I've been cruising and thought I was doing great, until our first team practice last Sunday.

Our team of 12 consists of 3 old guys (one of which I am) and 9 young bucks: 20 somethings who have not yet felt the effects of the harsh life, endless hours of torture that can only be attributed to violent hobbies, dangerous job obligations and plain old lack of judgment.

Last Sunday we all met for the first time at our team leader, Joe's house. Incidentally, Joe is the one who asked me to run the race within 5 minutes of our meting for the first time...I should have known better.

We started to get to know each other (read feel each other out). In addition to Joe, two of the guys Joe's son Tom and his friend Nick, seemed to be the ones with the running experience. Of course Nick was the guy who hasn't worked out in a while. NOTE: when someone tells you this, be prepared to be sandbagged. People ho train a lot will tell you they haven't been training while people who don't train, tell you they train all of the time.

At this point I know I'm not the fastest in the room. But I'm thinking, I've been training since February, how bad can it be?

We start our 6 mile work out. Tom takes off like a shot, he's so far ahead he can only be tracked by satellite. The two old men of the group me and Joe started side by side (Joe has about 10 years on me but to be honest, the way I ran, you wouldn't know the difference). After a few hundred yards I decide to make the novice mistake of going faster, a decision I will live to regret.

At 2 miles we've spread out a bit. I'm in second and I'm so far in second that I can barely make out Tom's figure on the horizon. Meanwhile I pick up a little red dot in my peripheral vision.

Mile 3, the red dot can now be identified him as Nick "the guy who hasn't run in two months." By mile 3.5 Nick is knocking at my back door and I'm maintaining my pace. At mile 3.75 he passes me and I have a startling revelation...

I don't know how to run!

This kid cruises by me like he's walking, I means as he pulls away he looks like he's literally gliding. I on the other hand am feeling every bump in the damn road.
Ignorance exposed. I realize that I have no long distance running technique whatsoever. 42 years of walking, sprinting, climbing, repelling, fighting and all of the other F words, I can't run.

At this point I come to my second revelation...
I have 2 miles to go and I've been trying to keep up with the marathon man.

As Nick fades in the distance I bare down for the final 1/3 of training.

The last mile sucked, it was all up hill. What pissed me of about this hill is that it wasn't a steep, kick your ass and make you throw up hill. It's a subtle incline that makes you feel like its not really a hill at all. It's just a steady stream of gravity weighing your body down. Like a millstone, pulverizing your body and your will to run.

I'm thinking I should maybe walk.

Just as I'm going to submit, Joe comes out of nowhere and is at my side. So much for stopping. The former Ranger was exactly what I needed to kick it into high gear and finished the Godforsaken workout.

So how fast was I running? Try 8 minute and 59 seconds per mile for 6 miles. That's my est time for 6 miles. Too bad that time paled in comparison to the young bucks 7 minute mile times.

Like I said, I'm not a runner but hell, it's never too late to start new things and meet new challenges. Accepting new challenges is the secret to youth. Learning is the key to being young. Getting out of your comfort zone is humbling but it allows you to understand what it's like to be a beginner, to learn and look awkward doing it. As an instructor, mentor, teacher or supervisor It's important that you do things that take you completely out of your element.

Now I'm off to do another 8 miles...more to come.

To learn more about the Ragnar Relay go HERE

Damian Ross is CEO if The Self Defense Company and founder of The Self Defense Training System.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Almost Self Defense

Tactics always come first, techniques are secondary. While each individual technique has its advantages, whether it’s a punch, a heel of hand, an edge of hand or an elbow, it’s not nearly as critical as the protocol by which you attack.

The vast majority of martial arts and self defense experts don’t consider tactics. In fact, they do the opposite and focus on specific technique. They do this because it is easier to quantify skill. The more techniques you know, the more skill you have. Techniques also make it easier to communicate and compare styles and systems. Individual techniques allow us to evaluate performance of an individual through proficiency. Hey, there is no doubt that the better you perform a technique, the harder and faster you attack, the more successful you will be, but with the wrong tactics, you’ll never have a chance to unleash hell on your target.

Techniques are like rounds in a firearm. They have a single purpose, to destroy your target. Like a soldier going into battle you have tactics to tell you when and how to fire your weapon. The techniques are the means by which you enforce your tactics. They are mindless, just like the bullets in your gun.

The following is a video I pulled from youtube. I only use this because it is an excellent example of a well meaning martial artist with some good ideas and even better intentions. She is an excellent example of what’s out there today. She says some good things but they are combined with some serious tactical flaws. Like most martial artists, she is only half right. She says some of the right things and to the untrained observer, it sounds reasonable. Unfortunately in the world of self defense there is no room for half right. Like my Dad used to say, “YOU CAN’T BE HALF PREGNANT”. It’s an all or nothing proposition, you’re either all right or all wrong.

The video starts off great. She is right on point and has some excellent ideas. When I first started watching it I was excited to see something pretty good for a change. At 1:10 in the video, she’s really cooking, great use of verbal skills, setting boundaries. The whole initial presentation is right on the money especially for women and youth citizens.

At 4:40 she starts focusing on techniques and target areas. This is what most martial artists are good at. Identifying vulnerable areas and giving you suggestions on how to attack them. This is usually the primary focus of the self defense instruction, but you are going to see, it’s not the most critical. Then, she falls apart.

TACTICAL MISTAKE 1: at 6:05. Action is faster than reaction.
Here she is grabbed on the arm and advises to yell and pull away if you can. This wastes critical and valuable time. The grab is only the beginning and it PREEMPTS the real attack. You don’t know if it is going to be a punch or a stab. You must assume the worst. You ca not make a spilt second, life or death decision based on what your attacker is going to do. You must attack immediately and ruthlessly in order to maximize your survivability. You must assume the worst case scenario. If an unknown assailant assaults you (physical contact) you have the right to defend yourself.

You will never be able to react fast enough. You have already screwed up by letting him get close to you. You do not have time to try verbal skills or anything else that will give your attacker the opportunity to inflict more damage. You need to begin immediately inflicting damages on your target to maximum your chance of escape or victory. You must attack with harsh intent in order to ensure your survival. Anything less, leaves you dead. Never put your fate in your attacker’s hands. EVER!

TACTICAL MISTAKE 2: at 6:41. Always attack the man.
Like we mentioned before, the grab preempts the real strike. In this case the guy could hold onto her wrist from now until eternity and she would never suffer any damages. The real pain is yet to follow. When you focus on the specific technique, in this case the wrist grab, you ignore the most dangerous part of the scenario…the rest of the attacker!!! While you’re messing around with his grab he will be beating you to death. Now, if it’s your drunk brother in law, OK, you know the guy- he’s not going to kill you (you hope), but if this is some scumbag off the street, you have no choice but to obliterate him as fast as possible. In real world self defense, you don’t even pay attention to the grab. You focus on destroying the man behind the grab.

TACTICAL MISTAKE 3: at 6:50. Loss of finite motor skills.
When you’re stressed your hormone induced fear will make finite motor skills impossible (Read Lt. Grossman’s ON COMBAT). When under fight or flight stress you will only be able to do a few gross motor movements. Small movement like twisting the wrist for a release not only waste critical time, but are nearly impossible in real world conditions. Imagine getting grabbed in a dark parking lot, do you think you will be able to recall wrist release number 1?!?!?! Instead you need to train in methods that teach you to apply a handful of injury causing, skull cracking techniques to any situation. While you’re twisting your wrist, he’s punching you in the face. I don’t know about you but I’d much rather be the one punching his face while he’s grabbing my wrist.

TACTICAL MISTAKE 3 at 7:22: Plan for the worst, hope for the best.
Here she finally talks about striking him. This is putting the cart before the hoarse. Her presentation would have been so much better if she did this first and didn’t bother with the other crap. Or she presented the verbal skills and wrist release as non-violent alternative to familiar attackers like boyfriends and family members. But she offers it as a last resort. In the real world you must always assume the worst: he’s stronger, bigger, has intent and has friends. Assume he is armed, even if you don’t see a weapon. In the latest uniform police report, over 70% of all violent crime arrests a weapon was present. Not used, but on the assailants person. In order to survive and win you must act with these assumptions.

TACTICAL MISTAKE 4 at 7:37. Note on assailants attack: This type of attack is meant to intimidate it’s victim. The arms will not be extending like Frankenstein’s Monster. You will be jacked up and brought in close: nose to nose, eyeball to eyeball. This type of attack is in efficient means of choking but a great way to set up a head butt or a knee to the groin. You will be jack up, banged and bounced around. You’re head will be slammed off of a wall and you will not be standing still.
At 8:05 she assumes he will not be hitting you. Well she doesn’t live in our neighborhood, like I mentioned, knees, head butts and toe kicks into your shin are soon to follow if this guy is a good street fighter.

TACTICAL MISTAKE 5 at 9:30. Assume the worst (again). A bear hug is a violent attack performed by larger people on smaller people. You must also assume that if your assailant assumes this method of attack they have some comfort level with it. She doesn’t talk bout maintaining balance, and a good foundation that without you won’t be able to do a damn thing. Also keep in mind that if you are trying to maintain your balance you WILL NOT BE ABLE TO KICK. Now if my wife were to come up behind me and embrace me like this, no problem, I’d knock her cold. But when a drunk, Division 1AA linebacker grabs me from behind, I’m lucky to be conscious. Now, at the very end she has some more good ideas, but because of critical tactical mistake you will never even have an opportunity to perform these.

By no means do I mean to embarrass the person on the video, this is just a great example of a well meaning, caring martial artist making typical mistakes that all martial artists do.

The tactics of self defense are the same that apply to combat:
1. Concentration of effort Principle, is a fighting force's edge. Once an aim is identified, earmark enough resources to achieve it and focus them on the task. An old maxim has it that he who defends everything defends nothing; and it is also true that he who attacks everywhere will capture nothing. In self defense, you can’t plan for every specific situation, but you can train to attack the target in one similar manner. This concentrates your effort. For example: training, specific and different defenses for a wrist grab or a collar grab or a choke will dilute your effort, but training to dismantle anyone who puts their hands on you at close range with a few techniques, concentrates your effort.
2. Deception Principle, is the act of allowing an opponent to only react to the wrong circumstances. Diversionary attacks, feints, decoys: There are thousands of tricks that have been successfully used and still have a role in the future. In self defense you may appear to be weak or injured, you may also ask questions or use concealed weapons and tools to distract or injure your target.
3. Destruction of enemy forces Principle states that you will achieve your other war aims (strategic and tactical) most efficiently if you reduce your enemy's forces. Remember that you both have limited resources to deploy in order to achieve your own aims and to prevent the enemy from achieving hers. The destruction of these resources tips the balance against you. In self defense, you MUST always use methods that cause maximum damage to your enemy and minimum damage to you in the shortest amount of time possible.
4. Economy of force Principle, the ability to use all forces effectively. A common principle of war; the attentive commander knows that his troops, equipment and supplies must be husbanded and used carefully, only if there is a good chance of success. Of course, the terrible conundrum is that success only comes when one exposes their forces to risk. Allocate minimum essential combat power to secondary efforts in self defense, anything less than complete commitment to obliterating your enemy will cause you to waste time and energy. A “non-lethal” or “non-violent approach” like a wrist release will divert time, energy and attention away from the real objective: survive and win at all costs.
5. Initiative Principle, or simply "Carpe Diem" translated as "seize the day". This is self explanatory: the failure to act is a failure.
6. Maneuver Principle, consists of the various ways in which troops can be deployed and moved to obtain offensive, mass, and surprise. Place the enemy in a disadvantageous position through the flexible application of combat power. In self defense you must always move forward and take ground. This keeps your enemy off balance and incapable of attacking you. Attack, attack, attack and for good measure…attack again.
7. Mass principle, is the concentration of superior force at a critical point. Concentrate combat power at the decisive place and time. In self defense you put your strongest weapons to their weakest targets.
8. Objectives Principle. Tactics should be directed to achieving a particular outcome such as a successful disengagement from an advancing enemy, or merely causing a greater proportional loss to the enemy than to your own force (attrition). Once an aim is identified, time, resources and effort are expended to achieve it; therefore, these are wasted if the aim is frequently changed. In self defense, it is self preservation with NO regard towards your enemy. When you start to act with your enemy’s safety in mind, it confuses the objective. Your objective is to survive and win at all costs, anything less is gross miscalculation.
9. Offensive Principle. Seize, retain, and exploit the initiative. Direct every military operation towards a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objective. In self defense, you can not hold back until the threat is gone.
10. Relentless pursuit of foes Principle, is the idea of breaking the enemies morale by relentlessly attacking a foe, not giving them the chance to recover, which brings you that much closer to breaking the enemies will to resist. In self defense you must attack ruthlessly and violently. The more brutal your attack the higher the rate of success.
11. Simplicity Principle Prepare clear, uncomplicated plans and clear, concise orders to ensure thorough understanding. In self defense you need only one objective combined with clear and specific actions that can be applied and adapted to any situation. More complicated techniques and ideas leads to confusion. Confusion leads to hesitation and that wastes resources like time and effort. Keep it simple.
12. Surprise Principle, is the act of using stealth and deception in your attacks vs. the enemy. Strike the enemy at a time, at a place, or in a manner for which he is unprepared. In self defense the one who strikes first, usually wins. By using distance and methods of deception you can expose your target’s intentions and create an opportunity for you to attack first.
13. Unity of command Principle, or cooperation, is essential to the pursuit of objectives. For every objective, ensure unity of effort under one responsible commander. Self defense has one goal: survive.

Tactics always come first. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the battlefield or the back ally, the octagon or the parking lot. These are the laws of conflict and can never be ignored.

Damian Ross
The Self Defense Company
The Self Defense Training System
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