Thursday, February 28, 2013

Autogenic/Combat/Tactical Breathing

A physiological control technique that is taught by Survival Activities is breath control. Grossman refers to this technique as 'tactical breathing' and suggests that extensive feedback confirms that tactical breathing has saved many lives. He explains that it is an easy-to-do technique that can be used in stressful situations to 'slow your thumping heart beat, reduce the tremble in your hands, ... and to bathe yourself with a powerful sense of calm and control.' Siddle refers to this technique as 'combat breathing' and suggests that numerous studies indicate that voluntary changes in breathing pattern can modify an individual's ability to cope with fear-provoking situations and reduce anxiety under stressful conditions. He argues that combat breathing should be a mandatory component of survival and combat training. Christensen suggests that the technical term for this technique is 'autogenic breathing' and explains that SWAT officers report using it before making high-risk forced entries, and soldiers use it to bring calm to their minds and bodies before they go into battle and after the battle to 'come down' from the adrenalin rush.
The above is an excerpt from my book. How does autogenic/combat/tactical breathing work to produce these calming effects? How it works can be understood by referring to the survival process.

The survival process is a model I've developed based on the integration of fight-or-flight, stress and emotion theory. It involves an appraisal process that elicits a feeling, physiological, impulse to act and behavioural response that this designed to influence the initiating stimulus. All the components in the survival process are highly interconnected. Influence one component and you can influence another or all of the other components.

How controlling breathing produces calming effects can be understood by the interconnectedness of the components of the survival process. A stimulus is perceived as a threat eliciting a feeling of fear with an accompanying physiological reaction. Among the physiological reactions is an increase in heart and breathing rates which are designed to increase the amount of oxygen being supplied to the muscles required to flee the threat. Controlling the breathing rate intervenes in the physiological response. This intervention influences the feeling response as well as the other physiological responses as well as the appraisal of the initiating stimulus.
Autogenic breathing needs to be taught and practiced/trained (Crucial Elements of Firearms Training by B.R. Johnson).

I would teach my students that when they felt under pressure in any form of reality based training that if they start to feel overwhelmed to take a step back and suck in a breathe or two. Everything calms down with those breathes because controlling the physiological response affects the feeling response and the appraisal of the stimulus.

Friday, February 22, 2013

80% of killers known to their victims

I came across a newspaper article titled '80 percent of killers know their victims':

Injury science is a relatively new science that studies the causes of injury (including fatal injuries). Injury is studied in terms of all the factors that contribute to an injury: the host, agent (vector or vehicle), and environment.

The host is the person at risk of being injured. While not technically correct for the sake of this post, the agent is defined as the vector or vehicle. The vector is the person who is injuring the host and the vehicle is the object that injures the host. The environment consists of the physical as well as the social, etc.

The World Health Organisation presents a relevant explanation of these factors in causing an injury. This is an extract from my book:
The WHO suggest that the epidemiological model can be used to analyse an act of interpersonal violence where a person slaps another person. In this case the host is the person slapped, the agent is the kinetic energy (slap), the vector is the person who does the slapping, and the environment includes the domestic situation and the societal norms or values that make such behaviour acceptable. These factors interact to cause an injury. Using a model of this type can help to identify all the factors involved in an injury from interpersonal violence.
In the martial arts, the host is the martial artist. Who is the vector? This is an important question because the strategies, tactics and techniques developed and taught by the martial art are determined by the definition of the vector.

For the most part, the vector is largely ignored which means by default it becomes someone trained in the same martial art. Judo teaches defences against judo attacks, karate teaches defences against karate attacks, wing chun teaches defences against wing chun attacks. How self defence oriented is this approach?

Sun Tzu in The Art of War suggests that our odds of success in battle decrease as our knowledge of ourself or our enemy decreases. Most martial arts are very knowledgeable about themselves. Who is the enemy? This is an important question because the strategies, tactics and techniques developed, taught and trained reflects the knowledge of the enemy, explicitly or implicitly.

Who is our enemy? According to the above article, the enemy is an acquaintance or domestic (e.g. partner) and the method of violence is 39% knife attacks or 25% beaten. Does your martial art cater for that scenario? Does your self defence course cater for that scenario? Does your 'real fighting' training cater for that scenario?

My point is that if the focus is on self defence, it behoves us to get to know our enemy. To question the underlying assumptions of the activities that purports to teach us self defence.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How to Help Survivors of Sexual Assault

I read the following article first on a news website and then followed the link to the original source:

What I found interesting is what the author describes as helping her during what she describes as her 'recovery journey.' These are interesting and informative extracts:

My brother steadfastly believed what happened to me and validated how much I was impacted by being molested. The simple act of witnessing me in my pain helped me heal. And so did the mac and cheese he made me when I was sad, and the hours of Nintendo-playing we did when I was too down to do anything else.

My best male friend from college was by my side through the darkest days of my healing journey. After every therapy session, he helped me process what I was learning about myself. He saw me through the powerful emotions that went along with those lessons. He told me he loved me 10 times a day. He stood by my side when I told my story for the first time in public at a Take Back the Night event on our campus. He learned that while he couldn’t “fix” me, he could love me, and that his love would help me become whole again.

Simple acts of friendship and love are powerful tools that help survivors of sexual violence trust and heal.

They want to help, but feel powerless – and afraid to say or do the wrong thing.

The author's best male friend had to learn he couldn't 'fix' her. We tend to offer advice that is intended to help fix the problem but it appears from this experience that even though we may feel powerless, it's enough just to be there.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

'I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves'

This post is inspired by my contemplation of emails that have been exchanged with friends regarding their disappointment with my isolation tendencies associated with burnout. I've thought about their frustrations which led me to a deeper understanding of this and other anxiety related conditions such as anxiety, depression and PTSD. It also has wider implications.

'I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves.' This is one of the final scenes from the Vietnam war movie, Platoon.

The martial arts often philosophically (and self righteously) suggest that the martial arts is designed to improve oneself by engaging in a battle with oneself. Not unlike many religions and philosophies.

Sun Tzu in The Art of War suggests that the odds of success in battle diminish depending on your knowledge of yourself and your enemy. Who is the enemy when you are battling yourself?

America prosecuted the war in Vietnam based on strategy developed during WWII in continental Europe. They did not know their enemy in Vietnam, hence, as Sun Tzu forecasted, they lost the war.

Who is your enemy when you are battling yourself? The understanding of your enemy is understood when the 'survival process model' I developed for my book is understood. Emotions are evolutionarily designed to override cognition. In fact, emotions evolved before cognition. Emotions are designed to promote survival. They are designed to do so without time consuming cognitive processes.

Emotions are designed to be an amoeba stimulus-response chain. No thought, just feel and act. Cognition is often involved in justifying the amoeba stimulus-response chain emotion, but that is just an attempt at justifying and amoeba stimulus-response reaction. There was no thought, there was just doing.

It is a battle between your recently evolved neocortex and your ancient amygdala. However, your ancient amygdala has an evolutionary advantage over your newly evolved neocortex. It is evolutionarily designed to override thought. This is the strategic assessment that needs to be understood in order to pursue success in this battle.

One of the aforementioned friends was quite disparaging of the benefits that 'book learning' provided. The suggestion was to 'just do.' This is not an uncommon attitude, particularly among the action oriented martial arts.

This attitude, unbeknown to these advisers, goes directly against Sun Tzu's advice. A constant theme throughout Tzu's work is to study. Know thy self, know thy enemy, know thy terrain, etc. To just do is a sign of immature strategy. America 'just did' in Vietnam. On the other hand, Ho Chi Minh studied the strategy and tactics of the Algerians who succeeded in ejecting the French colonial power from Algeria.

Experience is limited. It is limited by your experience. I do not bow exclusively to the altar of academia. However, I'm prepared to leverage my experience with the experience of others and 'see further by standing on the shoulders of giants.'

The war analogy is so useful in the martial arts and emotional disorder situations. The quote offered was that 'life is a war we cannot win.' How do you prosecute a war you cannot win? America is once again experiencing the same dilemma in Afghanistan and Iraq as it did in Vietnam in that they are wars they cannot win. Reference was made to the 'quality' of the fight. The Americans did not lose a battle in Vietnam, they just lost the war. Is Vietnam considered anything other than a failure?

I'm not criticising the advice offered by well meaning friends. I'm simply exploring the analogies because they are more telling then they could ever have imagined. The message here is that when we talk about fighting ourselves, we are often talking about our neocortex (cognition) fighting our amygdala (emotion). We have to appreciate the latter has an evolutionary advantage and develop our strategies accordingly. The Art of War has a lot to tell us in our battles with ourselves, but only when we correctly identify and understand our enemy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


This is a mediation on instructing and teaching. It was brought about when considering the objective of my book: to teach both teachers and students.

What does Sensei mean? Apparently it is translated as 'one who is born before.' This may be used in a literal or metaphorical sense. The person standing in front of the class was 'born' in that martial art before the students in front of them.

Sensei is also used to refer to a teacher and to show respect to someone who has achieved a certain level of mastery in an art form or some other skill. Teaching and mastery are very different qualities. A distinction that is lost on so many, including many sensei.

Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.

Who do you want to be taught by? Those who can do or those who understand? The two are not necessarily related.

Morehei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido, was a brilliant practitioner. Reading some of the interviews or biographies of instructors that came after him commonly refers to confusion surrounding his teaching. On the other hand Jigoro Kano, founder of Kodokan Judo, is often considered a mediocre practitioner but without exception a great teacher.

Jan de Jong knew, and he did. He understood, and he taught. But was he a good teacher? A professional teacher who was also a senior instructor of De Jong's would explain to me that, technically, De Jong was not a good teacher.

'The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.'

Using the above criteria, it cannot be questioned that De Jong was a great teacher. He inspired, not like modern coaches with pep talks and rousing speeches, nor 'tough love,' but through his sheer enthusiasm, interest and joy of what he taught and wanted to share with others.

Technically, I am a better teacher than De Jong. Inspiration wise, I'll never come close.

I know some experienced and knowledgeable martial artists and they worship practical ability while dismissing theory. There is a reason why many elite athletes do not go on to become coaches. They can do but they don't understand. Would you seek out Roger Federer to coach you in tennis or the coaches that produced Roger Federer?

'The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don't tell you what to see.'

I may not be the inspirational teacher that De Jong was, but my work (including my book) most definitely is targeted at showing the teacher and student where to look. Most instructors only know how to do a particular move, they don't know the 'why' and therefore, if the student cannot replicate the instructor's actions the instructor is lost.

'Before I started (college), that's the advice my dad gave me. He said to pick classes based on the teacher whenever you can, not the subject...his point was that good teachers are priceless.'

Choose your instructor wisely. Be discerning. The teacher's ability is separate from their practical ability.

A practitioner has a 'use-by date,' a teacher with understanding does not.

Friday, February 1, 2013


I've been remiss in posting posts because I'm in the redrafting stage of my book. No new theories or concepts, just refining the ones I've developed and shared with you.

However, I've had cause to consider mokuso. Mokuso means meditation. It is often announced/instructed at the beginning of many Japanese martial arts classes, and mokuso yama (cease meditation) if often announced/instructed at the end of those classes.

Mokuso is a life lesson that has far more usefulness than the martial arts instruction.

Mokuso is designed to prepare us to live in the moment in order to attend to what we need to attend to. We leave your troubles at the door.

I have a natural mokuso moment when I go surfing. All my troubles, and believe me I have many, are left behind the sand dunes. When I go surfing it is only me and the beach and the surf. Everything else melts away. When I return behind the sand dunes, the troubles are still waiting, but they are somehow easier to deal with. They have been put into perspective.

Mokuso can enahnce that experience. Mokuso is about consciously choosing to live in the moment. We can all think and do things that theory explains, but theory helps us do it consciously rather than haphazardly. Now when I go surfing, I close my eyes and perform mokuso so that I deliberately leave my troubles behind me.

Try it at your work desk when your personal life intrudes. Try it at your home life when your work intrudes. Try it when your entire life intrudes on your entire life.