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Cognitive Dissonance In The Martial Arts

face claw

I posted recently on Facebook about Firemen who rescued some piglets from a fire and how the grateful farmer then slaughtered them and rewarded the firemen with sausages made from their carcasses. As a meditation I suggested that if that made the readers uncomfortable it might be because they were experiencing ‘cognitive dissonance’ because they might hold two opposing views about the piglets, one because they are cute and cuddly and the other because they like them as food.

This then made me think that it might be a good idea to draw some of my teachings together under this label to explain the difference between blind assumptions that create the condition and using it as a tool in our martial arts and in stressful times.

Let me explain.

In the book ‘The Prehistory Of The Mind’ Steven Mithen explains the development of the human mind as like ‘a Swiss army penknife’ with utilities like the need for survival, the need for love and affection, the need to procreate, the need to communicate and recognising what we need to eat and so on that develop faster than all other parts of the mind. These utilities are separate from each other and this explains why we can see baby pigs as cute and cuddly one moment and then be eating them later; as it utilises different parts of the mind.

Steven then relates how as humankind developed, some people have developed channels between these utilities and can start to relate one to the other, bringing about in some the need to reconcile the apparent dissonance between the two.

So in our meditation and self study we need to recognise the ‘blind assumptions’ about everything that our culture and upbringing has given us as a set of views and values and then apply our own critical thinking to them to decide if we really do think that way and to find what our views really are. This process dramatically changed me as a person as I realised that I had previously just adopted the views and values of my family and culture without challenging them!  I had been wearing a mask all this time and not known it, my deep rooted fears and anxieties were borne out of cognitive dissonance because the views I thought I held weren’t really me and deep down I felt uncomfortable with them.

Good meditation took me through this process of self examination to find out who I really was and to find my own resonance.  It was a huge relief to eventually discover who I was and the views that really resonated with me.

Then as martial artists we can train this dissonance as a tool when life serves up it’s usual unpalatable fayre. If we have to defend ourselves or someone else, or fight to keep the peace and we don’t like hurting anyone or anything, we need the skill to be able to disassociate our connection to another person to see them purely as a target to hurt them enough to stop them and this is where a trained ‘cognitive dissonance’ can work for good.

When I’ve had to take a loved pet to the vet to have them put down, when someone close to me is dying painfully, when all I want to do is to collapse in a sea of emotion but someone has to take action to get things done, that necessary separation, if well trained, can come to the fore.

If you are an empathic person and naturally link into someone else’s anger, pain, suffering or depression you end up taking on their emotions and life can be really hard! The person might feel better after an hour but you can still be walking about with their depression for weeks if you’re not careful! Again training for that separation, so you can deal with their emotions positively, you create that ‘cognitive dissonance’ until you can bring the resonance between you back is a real skill.

The ability to be able to ‘wake up’ using mindfulness, to examine our mind and opinions, to discover who we really are what we really think, to understand and connect the different parts of our mind and draw on that embedded ‘utilitarian’ part as a skillset takes regular daily training can be truly life changing – and it helps to develop the necessary toolbox to make us more emotionally intelligent.

That has got to be worth the effort!



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Keep Your Child Safe!

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This is the time of the year that children are going up a school, from Infants to Junior and importantly from Junior to Senior and Senior to University.

Parents in their infinite wisdom decide that their children will have more homework and often drop their martial arts training and teenagers going to university often move away from the area of their club and don’t bother to find a new one.


Why? The children going from Junior to Senior school will need to move up in their martial arts club to the adult training; because the bullies they will invariably encounter will be adult size and age. Their training needs to change to be able to deal with it emotionally and physically. They will soon be going out on their own and with friends and going to nightclubs and will encounter  nasty weaponised violence, their bodies are rapidly changing and they are likely to suffer attempted sexual assault, they will be changing friends and likely to befriend people that will try to introduce them to drugs. If they are able to keep their friends and be training in a healthy, challenging environment in a martial arts club and learning how to deal with all these new dangers they will have a MUCH better chance of staying sane, healthy and safe.

Homework and study can be challenging, the biggest enemies to academic success are distraction and laziness, the ability to be able train in a club and at home to learn to remain aware and focused are essential skills. you can only study for so long and need an activity that will correct posture, breathing, awareness and focus – what better than martial arts that will also keep you safe and can be practised anywhere, at any time without any special equipment?

Universities are the target of many different kinds of criminal, young, naive, distracted vulnerable targets make for easy pickings, muggings, rape, sexual assault and home invasion are most likely to happen at this time. Emotional intelligence, awareness and good training is essential to deal with these problems.

Schools and universities have become number crunchers and box tickers, they don’t like to admit they have these problems, at the end of the day the only person to keep youngsters safe at the time is inevitably the youngster themselves. They need good training.

The best thing parents can do is to keep their children and youngsters engaged in their martial arts wherever possible, make sure they are getting the right kind of training and give as much encouragement as possible – failure to do so can result in a very heavy price indeed.


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Rules Of Self Defence and Bullying

Photo on 06-06-2017 at 15.53

Rules Of Self Defence And Bullying

No-one can touch it unless you give consent.

No-one can enter it without your consent. The perimeter of your personal space is the point that you must react, reactions can range from “get out my face” with a polite hand to their chest to raising your hand to meet theirs with a redirection and maybe joint lock as it crosses that line to a pre-emptive strike in a dangerous situation.

Stand tall, breathe deep and keep an aware and and focused mind.
Look people directly in the eye and speak and act confidently.
Use positive body language.
Be polite, courteous, kind, tolerant and patient with others.
When needed, be firm and do not allow anything you are not comfortable with.

If you don’t, you will fail when it really counts, these aspects need to be practiced 24/7.

These 4 basic rules for both children and adults require training and changes to your lifestyle to be able react in this way under pressure. Any good martial arts club will focus on maintaining these rules under ever increasing pressure and technical training will give practical methods of dealing with any problems.

Training will include:
Knowing the law regarding self defence
Mind and emotional intelligence training
Street strategies
Work on distance, angle and avoidance
Grip releases
Street weaponry and their defences
Strangles and chokes

I’ve kept this simple and to the most important points so they don’t get lost in a complex article.


Tai Chi – The Ultimate Skirmish Art

sword bat copy

Tai Chi – The Ultimate Skirmish Art

“I would consider tai chi to be the ultimate skirmish art” said a night club doorman of 28 years and lifelong martial artist.  “This is exactly what happens on the doors and it gives us the skills to deal with being pushed, pulled grabbed and hit from all directions at the same time, we’re often in a melee and the ability to cope with simultaneous multi directional attacks is essential.

The mental image that most have of Tai Chi is that of the ‘hippy’ or ‘health’ version and of old age pensioners creaking along to the only range of movement and speed that they can cope with.  Or it may be of the ‘youtube’ version of bodies flying unconvincingly away from an aged masters ‘magic’ light touch or of bad karate or aikido applications to the strange movements.

Tai Chi is a martial art.  It can be taught very methodically.  Those that consider it a martial art often say that you have to practice it for years to be any good, in fact the same can said for any art. Tai Chi starts with the qigong exercises, in the Yang Family these are essential foundation training that releases the body core to allow internal softening, connection and rooting.  They then work methodically through the body, opening the joints, softening the muscle and fascia connections, flexing the spine, correcting the posture and working all the powerful directional movements that a human body can do.  The ‘exercises’ also work the ‘jins’, the energy lines through the body exciting the system to engender a vigorous health and positive, powerful movements and technique.

When skills are taught, they are taught in the exercises first, then put into the hand forms, weapons forms, push hands and finally boxing and grappling applications.

Being taught properly and methodically means that the student is taught what he ‘needs’ rather than what he ‘wants’, this is known as ‘eating bitter’ and can be construed by a part of modern society who want to be ‘entertained’ as boring and painful.  Those people would be attracted to what is known as ‘tourist’ Tai Chi where they are entertained with simple unskillful movements that make them happy and keep the instructors rice bowl full.   This is the popular form of Tai Chi.

To be taught properly, the student needs to learn how to stand, how to breathe, how to think and focus his attention and then how to move.  He must ‘empty his cup’ of whatever he thought martial arts and fighting were to be able to learn the skills from exercise to form in a pure liberated movement free from emotion and wrong intention.  He would then learn how to generate power from the feet, through the legs, manipulated by the core and torso to be fed out through the arms and hands.  Different forms of connected power are used for striking, manipulation, locking, escaping, strangling, choking and throwing.

It takes time and effort (the meaning of the words ‘kung fu’) to work these skills into the body until they become natural and any form of trying to force them will result in unnatural tension and anxiety.

Development is a lifelong process, it’s said that the student will first learn in feet, then inches, then hundredths of an inch, then thousandths… then hundredths of a thousandth of an inch.  BUT….. he is better on day 2 than he would be on day 1, any skill learning is the same process.  ‘Tourist’ technique in any art may work until the student meets a powerful, internally connected fighter, who will simply walk through or disrupt anything he has to offer.

The difference with Tai Chi is that it is a skirmish art; it is a continuous double helix spiral of movement and momentum, during this continuous movement the practitioner remains actively powerful and responsive in all directions for every hundredth of a thousandth of an inch.

The founder of the Yang style, Yang Lu Chan, was the son of a farmer who loved the Martial Arts and had studied Shaolin Hung Quan with a local instructor before studying in the Chen family village under Chen style Master Chen Chang Xin.  Yang Lu Chan was his most talented student and eventually returned to his home village at Yung Nien where he taught for a living.  He was undefeated locally and in his travels where he won many matches utilising his soft and yielding art that as a result became known as ‘mien quan’ (cotton boxing) or hua quan (neutralising boxing).  ‘Cotton boxing’ because for the opponent, it was like putting their hands into soft cotton and finding a needle in the middle!

By the time he was middle aged Yang taught at the Imperial Court and was tested by experts many times and never defeated, this earned him the title ‘Yang the Invincible’.  He became the martial arts instructor to the Shen Ji Battalion and taught in the Royal Households earning the title .Ba Yeh’ (Eight Lords) because eight princes studied under him.

Teaching at the Imperial Court was a grave responsibility in that he was obliged to teach well or it would be considered treason with a probable death sentence!  It also gave Yang the opportunity to meet with and compare his skills with the best in the land.

Yang was a hard taskmaster to his three sons with one dying early, one attempting suicide and one frequently running away and attempting to become a monk.  Eventually both remaining sons became masters in their own right and both taught at the Imperial Court.

‘Cotton boxing’ is an interesting term because it indicates where the vital secret of Yang Tai Chi Chuan lies.  In combat the mind tends to be coarse and responds only to harsh and sudden movement ignoring the soft and sensitive.  The Tai Chi practitioner develops the skill of  ‘four ounces to move a thousand pounds’ and when the opponents mind is going coarse, his becomes more sensitive and works on a subliminal level neutralizing the opponents force with light touches, sticking, following, redirecting and controlling with power connected from the feet and legs up through the core, manipulated by the waist and out through he hands.  The ‘soft’ strikes carry that same connected power that although deceptively soft, carries the ‘kick’ of a donkey!

It becomes a ‘skirmish art’ because the body moves in that framed, posturally aligned and internally connected manner and is able to repel attackers from any direction at any time.  I remember when I talked about ‘fa jin’ being ‘like a whip’ to Ma Lee Yang she thought about it for a moment and then said that it was more like a ‘pin ball machine’.  This troubled me for ages, as I couldn’t see her point until I grasped the double helix and the ability to bounce or send power to any point of the body and in any direction in an instant.  A whip has vulnerable points in its’ movement and is committed – the pinball isn’t.

It makes the martial aspect of Tai Chi very different to that of most other martial arts.   I don’t think there is a ‘best’ art, only the best art for the character of each student.  It’s never the art, but the person that practices it that makes it efficient.

Good Yang style Tai Chi as a ‘skirmish’ art certainly suits doormen, security personnel and law enforcement officers.  I have taught all 3 categories successfully for over 3 decades.  Sometimes you have to search for the right instructor and art and not be put off or be influenced by others or by the first instructors you meet.  It can take as much time and effort to find the right instructor as the actual training itself!  People have often said to me “I always knew it was there in Tai Chi, it was just not easy to find”…..


How To Stop Bullying

steve adam

How To Stop Bullying

Simon was 13 years old and usually an enthusiastic and happy member of the adult class.  Tonight he really did seem ‘off his game’ – he was quiet and messing up his timing and distance by blinking and seemingly scared of being hit.  Sensei noticed this and followed him down to the changing rooms.  Simon was sitting staring into space.

“You alright Simon?” asked Sensei

“Yeah… sure…” said Simon in an uncertain tone.

“What’s up mate, it’s unlike you to be off your game like this?” pressed Sensei.

“Just an off day I guess,” said Simon.

“C’mon mate, open up, you can’t hide anything in here, your emotions always show up in your movements, anything I can help you with?  This is my job you know, take advantage and talk.”

“It’s these kids at school… they just won’t leave things alone..”  Simon looked empty and dejected.

“What are they doing?” asked Sensei.

“They just don’t like me, they don’t like the way I walk, talk, dress, the fact that I do Karate….  They just keep pushing and pushing…”  A tear almost bubbled up but Simon swallowed it down and looked away.

“Are they physically pushing you?” asked Sensei.

“That and a lot more, they’re always taking the p***, always behind my back, sticking stupid notes on my back, spitting at me from behind, always commenting on my clothes and hair, playing practical jokes, bumping into me, saying that my Karate is stupid and that I couldn’t punch my way out of a paper bag, making kung fu noises every time I pass…  They’re looking for me to fight; I just can’t stand it anymore.”  Now a tear trickled down his agonised face and he wiped it away

“You’re right not to give them what they want,” answered Sensei.

“But it is going to happen isn’t it?” said Simon yielding to the inevitable.

“Have you been to the teachers?” asked Sensei.

“Yeah….  They just said to stay away from them and that it was six of one and half a dozen of the other and that we were all to blame” said Simon angrily.

“A common first response, have you discussed it with your parents?” asked Sensei.

“Yeah, done that, my Dad told me to walk up to them and punch them on the nose and my Mum went down and spoke to the head teacher who told her that they don’t have any bullying in the school and they had looked into it and think that we’re all to blame.  Do you think that I should punch them on the nose?”

“Not unless they attack you” replied Sensei.  “I would suggest a two pronged attack.”

Simon turned to look intensely at Sensei and asked “explain….”

“Firstly you must play it by the book, keep a diary, record everything that’s said and done, photograph any damage or harm that they do to you.  Get your parents to see the head teacher and record his response in writing, if you’re not happy with it, take it to the school governors, if you’re not happy with them go to the education department and your local councillors and MP.  Keep going and NEVER give into bullying, not from these kids or the teachers, be determined and keep going until this despicable behaviour is stopped.”  Sensei was quite animated and Simon could see that he despised bullying.

“What’s the other prong Sensei?”

“Confront the bullies at the time, don’t play their game.  Use positive body language, look them in the eye and ask them why they are doing the things that they are, ask them what their problem is.”

“Won’t that cause a fight Sensei?”

Sensei looked at Simon quite intensely.  “No, you’re standing up for your rights; no one has the right to treat you in this way, you must not allow it to happen, if you give in once, they will just do it again and again.  If they try to physically abuse you and no one is there to protect you, it’s important that you defend yourself making sure that you use ‘appropriate force’ so they are unable to continue the abuse.  If your defence is supported by the inaction of the teachers and school authorities, you are in the right.  Never – and I repeat never, let anyone abuse you in any way.”

“I see where you’re coming from now Sensei, I’ll talk to my parents when I get home.  Why do you think these kids are so nasty?”

“Because they have a very low self esteem and were probably bullied or got their own way by being nasty, either at home or school, we must feel sorry for them to a certain extent, but also make sure that the strategy doesn’t work for them by confronting them in a way that they can’t deal with.  Your determination and courage must be twice as much as theirs, they must be defeated by strategy and not coming down to their level.  They need to know that trying it on with you will not give them an easy time.

You might end up with a few thumps, but probably no worse than you’ve received accidentally in here, and if you do… it’s more ammunition for the other ‘prong’ of your attack.

In life, some people will like you and others won’t, you have to accept that.  But it doesn’t give anyone the right to abuse you.  You don’t want to ‘use your Karate’ on anyone, you’re happy to train in here and don’t want to hurt anyone – and that’s good.  If someone wants to abuse you then your training here will help you to control what you have to do to the other person, remember it’s them that dictates the level of violence you have to use to prevent their attack.  The authorities are supposed to ‘clear up’ the mess created by the incident, but they aren’t there at the time, so you have to be in control of what happens.  The level of violence is dictated by the attacker.

But NEVER, and I repeat NEVER let anyone abuse you in any way.  It’s your right as a human being.  Stop it before it gets out of hand.”

“Thank you”, said Simon, “now I know exactly what to do, and how to do it.”