My grandfather used to pack parachutes for the Royal Air Force at one stage in his service during the Second World War. I think I may have inherited my dry sense of humour from him. He used to leave little messages written on rolled-up bits of paper in his parachutes that read something like: “If this parachute does not open, please inform me on your return. – Gerald Walters.”

There have been a few recorded cases of people who have survived falling out of planes without parachutes. One case involved a British Airman, Flight Sergeant Nicholas Alkemade, who abandoned his burning plane at 5,500m altitude during the Second World War and miraculously survived the fall with only a sprained leg, landing in soft snow after his descent had been slowed by pine branches. He jumped without his chute because it had been compromised by the fire and he preferred to die by impact than burn to death. If he had been issued with one of my grandfather’s parachutes, the joke would ironically have been lost in the blaze.

If we were to apply popular logic about depression and anxiety to the need for parachutes in military planes, we would see no parachutes issued to people who may need them because: “A few people did it without parachutes, so you should be able to too. Man (or woman) up!”

Many of our students have battled with anxiety and depression. These banes of modern life are not so much rarities these days but are commonly experienced by just about everyone from time-to-time. They are symptoms of our frenetic, inhuman, alienating and unhealthy modern lifestyles.

They still carry with them an unfortunate stigma, though. In many people’s minds, to admit to suffering from anxiety or depression is basically an admission of weakness. The feeling in some circles runs along the lines of “Get over it and man (or woman) up!”

So, we are a society of people who are never depressed although we are all terribly unhappy. We are never anxious and yet we live in paralysing fear. We are all paragons of happiness and yet suicide rates are high. Ridiculous, isn’t it? Let’s stop pretending, shall we? There is a very real problem here that needs solutions. I have lost students to it.

Anxiety and depression are not admissions of weakness, they are in fact symptoms of a compromised, modern lifestyle that is not designed to accommodate human life or happiness. As a species, we have not had long enough to adapt to the changing pace of our lives. Almost overnight, we went from hanging around in small family tribes, hunting game and gathering nuts and berries, to commuting for hours every day to sit in artificially lit cubicles pushing buttons in exchange for imaginary, digital wealth that can be taken from us at a moment’s notice that we can in turn exchange for parcels of food wrapped in mysterious transparent membranes.

We lost the essential ingredients for true happiness many many years ago in our pursuit for personal comfort, ease and safety. Don’t misunderstand me here. I am a realist. I’m not advocating a return to pre-industrial living because that is impossible.

We can’t change our past.
We can never go back.

But we can apply more careful thought to how we live today and how we are going to live tomorrow. We can become sensitive to our true needs and change our lives to accommodate them. In so doing, we can change our future.

I’m no psychologist, but I have learned a thing or two about people over the years. For what it’s worth and in the hopes of helping someone out there before it becomes too late, I have put my thoughts into a 3-step plan.

Step 1

The first step in dealing with anxiety and depression is to acknowledge that you are in fact anxious or depressed. It seems obvious, but many people never take that first step. Without taking that first step, nothing and no one can help you. As part of that acknowledgement, we should also be prepared to acknowledge its legitimacy. I’ve heard so many people say things like,

“I’m depressed, but it’s just silly.”

Or,

“I’m afraid, but I have no reason to be. I’m just being stupid.”

There is no value in belittling the emotions that we feel. If you analyse the feelings or thoughts that lead you to anxiety and depression, you will find that they most likely have very legitimate sources. There are many things about our lives that are simply scary or depressing and no amount of rationalisation can make them disappear.

One of the most depressing things about life is that we are all going to die and so are the people whom we love. We can’t deny that. We also cannot deny that there are many hazards, risks and dangers that surround us. If you’re feeling free of anxiety today, just read the world news headlines and your anxiety levels will soar.

Certainly, the media sensationalise the truth and blow the risks out of all proportion, but one cannot deny that there are indeed dangers out there. The important step that is missing here is to cultivate a balanced perspective.

Sure, life can be depressing when you consider that we’re all going to die, but at the same time it can be full of the most precious and poignant experiences.

Watching the sun set on a perfect day with family and friends around a barbeque. Is it all worthless because you and your family and friends will ultimately perish? Would it have been better to not have existed at all?

Is it all worth it to see your son smiling up at you after you give him his birthday surprise, or to hear your favourite song playing on the radio or to finally master a difficult series of moves in an advanced kata?

Knowing that life is full of wonderful things does not offset the fact that we will ultimately perish or that it sometimes feels as though there is no point to our existence. It just helps to keep these feelings in perspective.

There are also many dangers out there, but it is important to maintain a rational mind as to the odds of them occurring. It is entirely possible to trip, fall on to a sharp rock, sever a major artery and bleed to death in minutes before help arrives. In fact, I know of someone that sadly passed away in just such a fashion. It’s just that the odds of this occurring to you are pretty small. Remembering this does not make the danger disappear. It’s still there. It just helps to keep it in perspective.

Step 2

The next step is to accept help where it is offered. Many of us are so depressed or anxious that without medicine or therapy or both, we will not be able to dig ourselves out of the hole that we’re in.

There is absolutely no shame in accepting help where it is offered. The true shame lies in the culture that tries to convince us all that if we are unable to pull ourselves together on our own, we are less of a human being. This is absolute nonsense. It makes as much sense as trying to convince a fighter pilot that they do not need a parachute because other people were lucky enough to survive jumping out of a plane without one.

Determine to make the change and accept help from whatever sources are available to you. As a matter of fact, the decision to accept help is a far ballsier move than pretending that everything is fine when it’s not. It indicates a decision to change the status quo. To flex your muscles and wrestle back control of your life regardless of what it takes to do so.

Sometimes we need help when we find ourselves at the edge of the cliff staring into the void, or the void will consume us. The act of turning our backs to the void and walking away makes us stronger, regardless of whether we needed help to do so or not. It doesn’t make the void disappear, it’s just that we have other, more important things to do in this life than staring into it until it eats us.

Step 3

Once you have accepted help from the outside and feel strong and resilient enough, you should start to prioritise positive change. Being pro-active is an important and over-looked antidote to depression and anxiety.

If you suffer from depression, there may be things about your life that could be improved to help you to avoid the black hole. Sometimes the small things make all the difference. Like ensuring that your home is always clean and tidy. It’s amazing what a difference this can make to your outlook on life.

Perhaps something bigger needs to happen such as changing employment or even changing your vocation. Life’s too short to be stuck in a job that eats your soul.

Perhaps you are trapped in relationships that are triggering your depression. Where possible, make some executive decisions and terminate these negative relationships. Friendship or partnership should never come at the cost of your health and well-being. Where this is impossible, lay down ground rules or limit your exposure to these toxic relationships. They say that you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. If family is the problem, we cannot always avoid these relationships, but we can certainly stand up for ourselves and confront the problem head-on by being vocal and insisting on change. It may have zero effect on the perpetrator, but your act in standing up for yourself will have a huge impact on your own happiness. And who knows? One day they may even listen.

If you are anxious about something, prepare to meet the threat head-on. For many of our students, the threat that brings them anxiety is the threat of physical attack or abuse. That is why they came to us in the first place. And that is also why so many of them report that after training with us for some time, their anxiety levels start to drop like magic. It’s because they are preparing to meet the threat. It’s because they are doing something about it. Being pro-active. Empowering themselves. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

If you experience anxiety around other people or when going out in public spaces, perhaps you too secretly fear that other people are going to hurt you in some way. Whether physically or socially, it doesn’t really matter. The mechanics of preparation remain the same. Physical threat from another person or other people is the foundation of your fear. Whether you think so or not.

Ultimately, knowing that you can defend yourself physically provides you with a base level of confidence which will eventually grow into social confidence. Self-defence is a very deep subject and ultimately involves elevating the basic physical techniques into the mental and social spheres. It may surprise you to know that blocks, re-directions, strikes, grapples and throws have their counterparts in social and mental interaction. This is a big enough topic to warrant its own article or series of articles. Suffice to say that this is so for now.

If you are suffering from anxiety and/or depression. Please get help. See below for some of the helplines and services available to you.

And once you are feeling more resilient again, start to make positive change in your life.
​You are worth the effort.

Mental Health Helplines (https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/mental-health-helplines):

beyondblue aims to increase awareness of depression and anxiety and reduce stigma. Call 1300 22 4636, 24 hours / 7 days a week.
Blue Knot Foundation Helpline (formerly ASCA Professional Support Line) provides help, information, support or referral for adult survivors of childhood trauma and abuse, their partners, family and friends, health professionals and anyone in the workplace working with people who have experienced childhood trauma and abuse. Call 1300 657 380, 9am-5pm AEST / 7 days a week.
Butterfly Foundation’s National Helpline, ED HOPE, is a free, confidential service that provides information, counselling and treatment referral for people with eating disorders, and body image and related issues. Call 1800 33 4673 8am-9pm AEST / 7 days a week.
eheadspace provides mental health and wellbeing support, information and services to young people aged 12 to 25 years and their families. Call 1800 650 890.
Kids Helpline is Australia’s only free 24/7 confidential and private counseling service specifically for children and young people aged 5 to 25. Call 1800 55 1800.
Lifeline provides 24-hour crisis counseling, support groups and suicide prevention services. Call 13 11 14.
MensLine Australia is a professional telephone and online support and information service for Australian men. Call 1300 78 99 78, 24 hours / 7 days a week.
The MindSpot Clinic is a free telephone and online service for people with stress, worry, anxiety, low mood or depression. They provide online assessment and treatment for anxiety and depression. The MindSpot Clinic does not provide an emergency or instant response service. Call 1800 61 44 34 AEST, 8am-8pm (Mon-Fri), 8am-6pm (Sat).
QLife provides nationwide telephone and web-based services to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people of all ages. Call 1800 184 527, 3pm-12am (midnight) AEST / 7 days a week.
PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) provides a national telephone information, counselling and referral service staffed by trained volunteers, professional counsellors and supervising staff. Many helpline counsellors have had their own experience of perinatal depression or anxiety. Call 1300 726 306, 9am-7:30pm AEST (Mon-Fri).
SANE Australia provides support, training and education enabling those with a mental illness to lead a better life. Call 1800 18 7263, 9am-5pm AEST (Mon-Fri).
Suicide Call Back Service provides 24/7 support if you or someone you know is feeling suicidal. Call 1300 659 467.
Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) provides 24/7 free and confidential, nationwide counselling and support for war and service-related mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance and anger. Call 1800 011 046.

At the end of this month, my time as a consulting engineer working in the building industry is coming to a close.
Nearly nine years ago now, I came out of a lengthy hiatus from my work as an engineer and project manager and joined the team at a local Engineering Consultancy firm here in Toowoomba, QLD. At the time, I did it specifically because we needed more income in order to invest in our martial arts school. Local council, in their infinite wisdom, had imposed a number of developmental conditions on us before we could officially open the centre on our property. These were all extremely costly requirements which we only fully met and completed a couple of years ago now.

At that time, rejoining the ranks of white-collared workers, I was terrified. I had been out of the industry for a few years and the last time I had actively worked as an engineer in the building services industry, it was in a completely different country: South Africa. I did not know what to expect, and believe me, that was a good thing. There are few jobs outside of engineering consultancy where the level of accountability and responsibility is so high relative to the industry standard remuneration packages. The Dilbert cartoons are often scarily accurate. Stress levels are generally very high and your work is scrutinized on all fronts by unfriendly eyes. The goal of many unprincipled elements in the industry is to make use of mistakes or loopholes in your documentation for their own financial gain. Don’t get me wrong, there are principled contractors out there and I had the pleasure of working alongside some of them, but there appear to be more unprincipled snakes in the grass than not. However, I was very lucky to be working alongside such skilled, intelligent and professional people as my colleagues. At least in the office, I was always supported by friends who had my back. Well, I’m getting side-tracked and it’s not my intention to preach. Ultimately, the industry is what it is. It works after a fashion. 

Back to my story: I was terrified. For the first year of my work, I lived in constant fear of making mistakes. But the long and the short of it was that I still got up every morning and went to work after my training was over. It was hard, but I did it. That’s how I try to deal with fear. I face it. Always have, always will. No point in running away from your fears. They’ll follow you and eventually get the better of you if you let them. My training became one of the supports that kept me somewhat sane and optimistic during the tough patches. It also helped me to feel as though I was moving forward in some way, even when everything else seemed stagnant. One of the other main support structures for me during this time was my wife and training partner, Sherrilyn. Shield-maiden. Only God and Sherrilyn know the full extent of the burden that I carried.

So here I am. Turning a corner. The same terror grips me now as before. I have no way of knowing whether things are going to work out. Of course, I have a plan. But a plan is just a plan. I have no guarantees. My regular salary is coming to an end. I am going to be focusing my full attention on my martial arts school, my training and on the strange inventions and experiments that I have planned for the future. Some could argue that the things that I want to pursue have no meaning or value for anyone else. “No one cares, mate.” That is probably true. I’m sure that there are very few people who want to scientifically measure the physiological impact of certain vocalizations on an opponent during combat. Or to accurately time gross body movement and compare it to fine motor movement (such as a trigger-pull) under stress. Or to measure and define a physiological basis for the concept of Chi. But these are investigations that I am compelled to pursue. 

I am as terrified as I was 9 years ago when I went back into engineering again. But I am bloody well going to do it anyway. 

There are many people who will look down on me. They will question my decision either actively to my face, or behind my back: “How are you going to support your family, Lester?”. Perhaps it is an irresponsible decision after all. I have a family and a young son. I have others who depend on me. But consider this: 

The act of dying is the most irresponsible act that one can perform. And yet, we will all die. We will all eventually drop our responsibilities and exit stage left. 

I have put off what some might term my “pointless” interests and investigations, and compromised my involvement in my school for long enough now in the name of responsibility. It’s time for me to jump off the cliff into the unknown again. Maybe I’ll fall. Maybe I’ll rise like Icarus on waxen wings to touch the sun before the ground rises up to meet me. Who knows?

“Life is like a shooting star. It don’t matter who you are… if you only run for cover, it’s just a waste of time.”

​Written by SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia

I want to remind you first of my over-arching disclaimer to all of my discussions about self-defence. The goal of self-defence is to make yourself and those around you safe. If you can accomplish that without physical intervention, then this is always the better option. I do not recommend fighting unless there is no other option, due to the inherent risks.
For those of you who have read some of my previous articles, you will know that I persist in trying to cut through the pervasive BS that one encounters quite often in the self-defence industry. One of the most pervasive and dangerous perspectives shared by some so-called self-defence experts is that self-defence is easy (as long as you buy their 5-step DVD program, of course. Only $500 and you’ll be right, mate).

As I hope you have gathered from my previous articles, insinuating that a self-defence scenario is easy to overcome is nothing but a pile of baloney. To insinuate this is nothing short of a personal confession of gross ignorance in regards to the reality of self-defence. I would give this type of self-defence ‘expert’ a wide berth. The reality of a self-defence situation is that it cannot be accurately predicted, and the scale of the threat directed at you may vary from the threat of mild discomfort all the way up to the threat of almost certain death. It may involve defending yourself from verbal abuse in a carpark or it might involve surviving a concerted attack by a group of armed thugs with military training in the jungles of Bolivia.

Not Just Physical.

One of the over-simplifications that often comes along with the $500 5-step DVD program, is that self-defence is purely physical. “You just need ta know dis simple technique. Block ‘im ‘ere. Block ‘im dere. And hook ‘im in da nose and you’ll be ‘right, mate.”

A physical fight against another person or against a group of people is absolutely never purely physical because we are all social animals. This means that there are many levels to the fight and we cannot just rely on physical techniques. We need to understand the other levels involved and engage effectively on all levels in order to maximise our chances of survival. In a self-defence scenario there will almost always be a social component, a mental component, a psychological component and the baseline physical component. The physical component is obvious. The mental component should also be fairly obvious. If I am fighting against the odds (such as against numbers or weapon-wielders), I have to apply my mental skills and cunning to ensure that I gain a tactical and strategic advantage over my opponents in order to increase my odds of survival. Fight stupid: die stupid.

Fighting against the odds is a bit like a high-stress, adrenalin-soaked game of chess. One bad move and it’s check-mate. Or check in at the hospital if you’re lucky. In fact, therein lies a secret to superior fighting skill. Playing tactical fighting games. Today, we have various computer games, board-games and table-top role-playing games which can help to develop tactical use of resources and environment. Most ‘tough-guys’ look down on the role-playing nerds of today, when in actuality the role-playing nerds share a common feature with many warlike cultures of the past such as the Vikings: A penchant for playing games of tactical combat and strategic resource management.

The psychological and social aspects of a self-defence situation are closely linked but defined enough to discuss separately. Because of the close link between mind and body, a physical attack or injury will usually have some kind of psychological impact on the person involved. There is a reason that the first person to land a blow will generally win the fight. It’s because that first blow demoralises their opponent and sets the tone for the remainder of the fight.

One can see this dynamic occur during acts of terrorism, where terrorists make use of the psychological impact of their acts to intimidate and demoralise their victims. The reality of a terror attack is that the terrorists are almost always guaranteed to be outnumbered by their victims. If each and every one of the victims involved simultaneously decided to fight back in concert against their attackers, the terrorists wouldn’t stand a chance. The terrorists know this but use acts of terror to convince their victims that they are powerless.

Of course the threat of individual death or injury outweighs the need to act as a group to overpower the terrorists. We are too precious about ourselves these days. In the past, the needs of the tribe outweighed the needs of the individual. These days, the needs of the individual outweigh the needs of the tribe. And this has weakened us as a species. Imagine an ancient group of tribal hunters who are about to embark on a mammoth hunt to bring back food to feed the tribe for weeks except that each hunter was terrified of their own individual death or injury. Not too much hunting is likely to occur.

So what is the antidote for fear and terror in the face of an aggressor that you cannot escape and who is intent on doing you harm?

You won’t like my answer because it’s not politically correct. It’s true, though, so you’re going to get it anyway.

It’s anger.

Simple. Pure and unadulterated anger. Not just any anger, either.
Righteous Indignation. It can fill you with the will to intervene against the odds.

Note that I’m not talking about loss of control here. I’m not talking about losing your temper. “Losing temper” when applied to angry loss of control is an apt metaphor taken from blacksmithing. When steel is tempered, it is heat treated after hardening to make it tougher. Less brittle. If a steel sword is not tempered after hardening, it can be brittle enough to shatter on impact. When a steel sword loses its temper, it loses its toughness, becoming soft. Tempering is thus a process of controlled application of heat to bring out the most beneficial characteristics of the metal for use as a tool or a weapon. Losing our temper in a self-defence situation is likely to backfire on us because we lose control of our minds and can no longer apply tactics and strategy to the situation. Our minds become soft. Once again, fight stupid: die stupid.

Harness it.

We should also bear in mind that we can use similar psychological tactics that are used by our opponents to intimidate and demoralise them. By harnessing our adrenalin dump and our righteous indignation, we can become a psychological power-house. A terrifying opponent to tangle with. If we combine that with tactics and strategy, such as a shock and awe attack against particular elements of a group of attackers, we can overcome significant threats.

Not many people consider a self-defence situation to be social, but it is indeed. Consider that there are typically several levels of communication that occur before an actual physical attack. Body language, posturing and verbal interaction are often used before an attack (depending on the type of criminal activity, of course). This kind of communication is the basis for all social interaction, it is just probably not the polite kind of social intercourse that we are all familiar with. Part of my attacker’s response is often a social attack, whether it is simply cursing at me or calling me names, insinuating that I am stupid or perhaps disparaging my cultural and/or ethnic background in order to demoralise me socially. If I become socially demoralised or accept their belittlement of me, it will have a closely-tied psychological effect which will undermine my physical response. Once again, we can employ righteous indignation here to overcome the pressure of social victimisation.

There is a close link between the positive internal psycho-social pressure of righteous indignation and the rising pressure differential within the bodies of internal martial artists often call ‘Chi’ or ‘Ki’. They are very closely linked and actually reinforce each other. One fills the mind with positive pressure to overcome an external psychological or social attack. The other fills the body with positive internal pressure to overcome an external physical attack. (See my article presenting a hypothesis on the physiology of chi here)

Written by SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia

Over the years that we have run our martial arts centre here in Australia, we’ve had inquiries from various people who have expressed concern about whether they were actually too old to do Kung Fu.

Well… You got me started. I’m 44 years old this year. Am I also too old to do Kung Fu? I suppose that you might think that I’ve been doing Kung Fu since my pre-conception years? Maybe you think that I popped out and karate-chopped my own umbilical in half just before fly-kicking my doctor in the face for slapping my bottom?
There seems to be a common and erroneous public perception which is specific to Australia. I have not seen it as prevalent elsewhere in the world in the places that I have trained in such as South Africa and Taiwan. The perception in Australia is that martial arts is an all-encompassing lifestyle that one is essentially born into. Unless you’ve been doing it from the time that you were knee-high to a grass-hopper, you’ve missed the boat. Too bad, so sad… This is possibly why martial arts schools in Australia seem to target other martial artists with their promotions and advertising. Other martial artists are more likely to join a martial arts school than someone who has never practice martial arts before. It’s a bit weird, if you ask me as someone who comes from a different culture. It’s a bit like a chicken-and-the-egg scenario. “I can’t do martial arts now because I never did it before.” Sound ridiculous? And yet the perception continues to crop up in interviews, inquiries and questionnaires.

Well, I’m living proof that this perception is just pure nonsense. Sure, I’ve been practising my chosen system of Kung Fu (Chang Hong) for a long time, just over 20 years, but if you do the maths, you will see easily that I started training Chang Hong ‘late’ too. Sure, I’ve been in physical training since about the age of 13, but my training was more in Western strength training and conditioning with some forays into martial arts along the way. I’ve been interested in martial arts since I was just a young boy, reading about it and practising various techniques since I was about ten, but who didn’t do that back in the 80s? I mean, for crying out loud, this was still the era of Bruce Lee even though he had passed away the previous decade. The Karate Kid. Need I say more? Every single one of us tried to make and throw shuriken (ninja stars) back in the 80s. There was not too much different about me really. And yet, here I am. The SiFu of a school. The head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia.

As the head of the CMAHC Australia, I have taught and watched many kids classes over the years. I’ve seen enough to make a broad, generalised observation. Kids are generally too young to understand the subtleties of our system of martial arts. This is of course a generalisation. There are exceptions, but they are very few and far between. It’s really only around the time that kids reach adolescence and early adulthood that their minds develop to the point where they can start to appreciate the true subtleties of a very subtle art. Note that this does not mean that practising martial arts is not beneficial to children. I’m not saying that the training is useless. By no means am I saying this. What I am saying is that they will really only grasp the deeper principles when they are more mature.

True traditional Kung Fu is a mature and challenging system of thought. Not just a physical fighting system. If you practice it, it becomes an all-pervasive influence that challenges you to excel in every single avenue of your life. It seeks to establish awareness, balance, unification, power, honesty and resilience in the practitioner. It is truly a path to expansion of consciousness.

Most of our current students are mature people who come from all walks of life. We do have some children who train with us, but they are in the vast minority. Most of our students are in the 20 to 50 year old age group.

We are all under a lot of pressure in our modern world. I work part-time as an engineering consultant (if the word ‘part-time’ can ever really be applied to building services engineering where you’re only ever one heartbeat away from a new deadline). When my part-time engineering work is combined with my personal training time, preparation to teach martial arts classes and actual time spent teaching martial arts, it adds up to quite a bit. Between 14 and 17 hours a day spent working. I spend most of my day struggling to get from one place of work to the next. Perpetually slightly late until I collapse into bed to sleep and repeat the following day. I find that I don’t have much time or energy for anything, but I will always apply my special rule. My special rule is that if I want to do something, I will do it now. Regardless of the difficulty. Time has a way of slipping away from us. Do any of you remember the beginning of the Pixar film “Up”? It’s brutal. If you don’t pursue your dreams, if you carry on hoping for a time when everything is going to fall into place for you and you’ll finally have the energy to pursue your dreams in a convenient fashion, you’re fooling yourself. It’s just not going to happen. The stars will never align. You’re going to get to the end of your life and regret is going to slap you through the face like a questionable wet fish wielded by an angry fisherman. If you want something, you have to make it happen right now or you will lose the opportunity to do so.

If you’ve always wanted to practice martial arts but have been turned away because of your age or because you haven’t done it before or because you think you’re uncoordinated or unfit, don’t allow these silly perceptions to hold you back. Answer the call of Wushu and start training. Whether you’re 20 or 120, the system is broad enough to adapt to your particular physical situation and constraints. You will absolutely benefit from regular Kung Fu training regardless of your age. Don’t wait for the suspicious wet fish of regret to slap you through the face. Learn Kung Fu and skill yourself in blocking regret and punching life in the face.

Written by SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia

​I wanted to call this article: “Is an unarmed, trained martial arts master/combat professional/self-defence expert as lethal as an average person with a knife?”, but this is a rather long and ponderous title and is a bit too click-baitey for my liking. For most people wanting to get into martial arts or combat training or who have perhaps had a few years of training under their belts, it is a question which does occupy some thought. “Will I be more lethal than the criminal with the knife who corners me in a dark alleyway at night?”

Firstly, I think we need to clarify what the actual point of discussion is. The question is not: “Can an unarmed combat specialist protect themselves effectively against an attacker wielding a knife?” The answer to this question has been clearly answered already. Yes, there have been many cases throughout history of people effectively defending themselves against armed assailants with their bare hands. In fact, when we talk about people fighting against the odds, one should also take a look at incidents in which average people have successfully fought off wild animals such as leopards, tigers and lions. In some cases even killing the animals with their bare hands or improvised weapons. It certainly is possible. But the question is: “Is an unarmed combat specialist as lethal as an average person with a knife?”

How do you define lethality? I would define it using simple science. It’s about effort and resultant effect. We train in the traditional methods of Kung Fu or Wushu to enhance and refine our body mechanics. These enhanced body mechanics allow us to strike much harder, move faster and use less energy doing so than someone who does not possess that training. With the required training, it is possible to kill or severely injure someone with your bare hands, but the amount of effort that you have to expend to do so will on average be far higher than the effort to accomplish a similar effect with a weapon. Despite the years and years of training, enhanced control, efficiency and optimisation. Let’s take a knife as an example. A knife is primarily a pressure amplifier. It channels the force of your arm into a very thin edge or point. This increases the force per unit area applied to the target which makes it much easier to damage the target. Try chopping an apple in half with the knife-edge of your hand. Not easy, is it? Now try the same with a knife. Far easier, isn’t it?

Although we may be capable of breaking bricks with our hands after years of training, the amount of effort that we have to put into the strike is always going to be higher than if we were using a hammer. That’s why tools were invented. They make things easier. And a weapon is a type of tool.

As a further example, let’s look at a hand-gun. The gun-wielder pulls a tiny trigger which releases a spring-loaded pin into a small cap of primer explosive which ignites the main explosive charge in the body of the shell casing. The explosive charge in the shell casing causes an attached projectile to be rapidly accelerated along the length of the gun barrel tube before leaving the gun travelling at speeds which can be in excess of the speed of sound. This projectile possesses immense kinetic energy in a very small package because of its velocity. It is very lethal and all the wielder had to do was pull a trigger. Hardly any effort at all to kill someone. The relative lethality of a gun-wielder is insanely high compared to an unarmed person. Regardless of the level of training of the unarmed person.

To answer the question: “Will you ever reach a stage in your training where you will be as lethal bare-handed as someone armed with a weapon?”. The answer is no, based on relative lethality. So it begs the question as to why we bother training how to fight bare-handed or even with simple hand-to-hand weapons at all? Why not skip all that and go straight into training with a fully-automatic assault rifle? Well, it depends on what you’re training for. If you’re training for self-defence, you should train for the absolute worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is a situation in which you are unarmed. Most of us do not get to walk around town with weapons for self-defence. In fact, this approach is not even legal in Australia. We’re not even allowed pepper-spray for self-defence here. Good thing that the god-like Australian government is omnipresent and able to intervene in each and every situation to ensure that we are protected (spot the sarcasm). So the odds are that you will be unarmed in a self-defence situation. Best to prepare for the event then, hey?

Remember that this article is not addressing whether or not it is possible to defend yourself against an armed opponent. This is not even a point of discussion. Of course it is possible to defend yourself against an armed opponent – do some reading of your own. You’ll find plenty of examples from real life which prove that it is possible. As mentioned before, there are also plenty of examples of people fighting off animals. Unlike humans, animals have natural weaponry such as big teeth, powerful jaws, insanely powerful muscles and great, big claws.

​Look at this guy for instance:
http://www.krugerpark.co.za/kruger-park-history-harry-wolhuter.html

Harry Wolhuter who killed a lion with his knife while in a semi-conscious state after it had seized him in its jaws and successfully dragged him off his horse. What is the relative lethality of an adult lion compared to a human with a knife?

Well, I couldn’t find accurate stats on the lion’s strength, but it would be comparable to that of a tiger which can carry double its body weight (over 500kg), can run at over 60km/hr and can smash a cow’s skull with a single swipe of its paw.

Let’s say that I’d be putting my money on the lion. And yet, Harry Wolhutter survived and overcame his superior adversary.

This is where combat training pays off. It increases your chances of survival significantly. But you will never be as lethal as the guy with the gun. Don’t fool yourself. It’s a dangerous fantasy notion to entertain. Stay vigilant and always respect your opponent as well as the situation. Never take anything for granted.

Written by SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia

The hero of the story suddenly stops in his tracks. He lowers his fully-automatic rifle, his usually stoic emotionless face creases with momentary concern. “Hang on… I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”

This is usually the point in the movie when the big badass boss monster makes its appearance for the epic final battle just before end credits role and we start to pick our way through popcorn-strewn aisles on our way to our cars, wondering whether we’ve been ripped off.

Is this a Hollywood trope or is this a real human phenomenon? Is there such a thing as a sense of impending danger? A sense that ‘Something is not quite right…’. A gut feeling? Bush-Sense?

​As it turns out, our brains are a lot more complex than some of us give them credit for. There is a lot of information that is constantly being processed upstairs which we are not always directly, consciously aware of.

When we think about our senses, we generally think about vision, hearing, touch and taste but there are a lot more senses that operate within our bodies. These subtle senses are not often given the limelight. Proprioception (the sensation of the relative position of our limbs and the level of force being produced by our musculature) and equilibrioception (our sense of balance) are a couple of examples. There are others. Equilibrioception is an interesting sense because it is an aggregate sense. A sense of senses. Something that I like to call a Meta-Sense. Equilibrioception is actually built out of the senses of sight, the vestibular inner-ear system and proprioception. These three senses working together give us our sense of balance. Are there other Meta-Senses? I believe that there are.

Synaesthesia is a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sense leads to involuntary stimulation of another. Such as ‘seeing’ tastes or ‘hearing’ colours. This suggests the close operation of our existing senses. This close operational proximity and the phenomenon of synaesthesia would suggest that the senses can be trained to work together closely along with our conscious and subconscious processing to create new aggregate senses that I call Meta Senses. These Meta Senses could provide us with access to information which each sense working alone without the enhanced processing would never be able to give us access to.

I believe that all of these primary senses working together with our Meta Senses and our conscious and subconscious processing yields the information that leads to our ‘gut feelings’. Sometimes our gut feelings alert us to dangers that we should have never been aware of. If we understand our senses in the classical and conventional way, it doesn’t seem possible. But if we see our senses as sources of information which can operate in unison and can be analysed and aggregated in new ways with our powerful subconscious and conscious processing, we can see how this may be possible.

Tiny pieces of information from various senses that would normally be discarded or ignored on their own can be pieced together to yield a big picture. Perhaps the sense of infrasonic vibrations, tiny changes in air pressure sensed in our abdominal cavity or on our skin alert us to the heart-beat of another living thing in a completely darkened room. We may not see, hear, smell or touch anything, but we know that something is there. A Meta Sense has alerted us.

The German philosopher, mathematician, diplomat, historian and political advisor, Gottfried Wilhelm Liebniz (One of the most important philosophers of the late 17th and early 18th century) identified ‘Petites perceptions’ as small, imperceptible perceptions. He indicates that they do not impinge consciously but their overall effect is consciously sensible. I believe that a Meta Sense is made up of Gottfried’s ‘Petites perceptions’.

Within the context of self-defence, being fore-warned of impending danger is a very desirable characteristic. As such, martial art systems like our own system of Chang Hong include extensive training in order to increase sensitivity. This heightened sensitivity makes more of the Meta Senses available to us. In fact, there are even clear examples of the actual construction of Meta Senses through advanced training methods within our system to support our martial responses.

But what are the appropriate responses to Meta Senses? After all, it would not be good to run away from or openly attack everyone or everything you get a bad feeling about. You would soon be charged with assault or disorderly behaviour and rightfully so.

As it turns out, the answer is very simple. Meta Senses are indirect senses as opposed to direct senses such as sight and hearing. If I see someone advancing towards me with a knife, this is direct sense. I can therefore act directly, either running away or fighting to defend myself. If I get a bad feeling about someone, this is a Meta Sense operating. An indirect sense. As such, I should act indirectly. Perhaps I would discretely ensure that I have a clear path of egress, that I have an item in my hand with which I may be able to fend them off with or that other trusted people are with me.

The key is that this indirect action should be subtle enough not to initiate an event. For example, if I get a bad feeling about someone and I pick up a half-brick menacingly, this person may be able to claim later that any ensuing violent event was precipitated by my clearly aggressive actions. Subtlety is the order of the day when it comes to reacting to Meta Senses.

Let’s examine an example outside of the self-defence context for a change. Let’s look at an example within a business context. You’re the general manager of a small business and you have a code of conduct that prohibits inappropriate sexual relationships between staff members and clients. We’ll examine two scenarios within this context.

Scenario 1: You happen to walk in to the back store-room of your office and catch one of your staff members in flagrante delicto with a valued client. You have seen the event first hand. You have direct sensory evidence of an event. Because of this, your action must also be direct. You may decide to fire the employee as a result of this misconduct and you would be justified in this direct action because you have direct sensory evidence. If you were to act indirectly or with subtlety in this case, it would be ineffective because the subtlety would be lost within the context of the event and your leadership would be seen as weak and ineffective. This could encourage other staff members to ignore the code of conduct too. In this case, firm and decisive direct action is required.

Scenario 2: You have an uneasy feeling that one of your staff members is having an affair with a valued client. You have no direct, incontrovertible sensory evidence of an actual event but you do have indirect sensory suspicions based on your own ‘gut feelings’. Your Meta Senses. Because of the fact that you do not have any direct sensory evidence of a breach of your code of conduct, you would not be able to act directly in this case. If, for instance, you were to lay an accusation, you could in turn be accused of defamation of character.

The only course of action that is available to you is an indirect one in this case. Of course, indiscretions of this nature almost always inevitably become public knowledge at some point and at the point where you acquire direct sensory evidence of a misdemeanour, you may then act directly accordingly. In the mean-time indirect action is appropriate. Perhaps you may decide to organise a training day for all staff members focusing on staff-client relations in order to reinforce the fact that each staff member has a responsibility to uphold your code of conduct as agreed upon. You may also decide to observe the staff member more closely. In subtle ways you might ensure that the staff member in question is fully aware that you are aware of their inappropriate behaviour but you will stop short of directly accusing them. This will give them the opportunity to reconsider their inappropriate behaviour and either discontinue it before it becomes a ruinous public scandal or hand in their notice of resignation.

There is a lot more that I can write about the concept of Meta Senses and training these potentially life-saving phenomena. Let me know in the comments section below if you would like to know more.

Written by SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia

There were two news stories which caught my attention this morning. I thought I’d share them with you.

The first story was regarding a pair of hikers in Cape Town, South Africa. A middle-aged married couple, who were walking in the Table Mountain National Park a few days ago. They were approached by a man dressed in the uniform of a Table Mountain Ranger. The man attacked the couple, fatally stabbing the 56-year-old man but his wife managed to escape.
The second story was regarding Chris Parker, the hero of the Manchester Bombing. A homeless man who apparently grew a halo and came to the rescue of victims of the bombing. He was just recently found guilty of the theft of personal valuables from some of the victims of the very same bombing.

So what do these two stories have in common? Nothing obvious, but I feel that both are somehow connected with our current disassociation with the reality of human nature.

The hikers were brutally attacked and it is clear from reading some of the descriptions of the event, that their attacker had always intended to kill them. He had blood on his mind. No doubt, he intended to rob them too, but only after he had killed them. It was only because of the selfless sacrifice made by the 56 year old victim that his wife could escape the scene alive. What do you do with criminals like this murderer? Can people like him be reformed? No doubt they can, but what are the odds of him being reformed? Statistics seem to indicate that the chances of his reformation are very tiny indeed. You might say that I am dehumanising him in making him a statistic. “Respect his humanity, Lester.”, you might say, “He has rights.”. You’re right, of course, but what about the rights of the victim? His rights were irreparably violated. This injustice can never be redressed for him.

Chris Parker. Here’s another gem of a story. When it was claimed that a homeless man had heroically come to the rescue of the victims of the Manchester Bombing, the media lapped it up like so much cream. It’s a story that the average Captain Gullible out there in society desperately wants to believe. Despite the fact that this man already had an extensive criminal record, including charges of theft and despite the fact that he was destitute, he was obviously just a diamond in the rough. Obviously. More than 50,000 pounds was raised on his behalf as part of a crowdfunding effort. It’s pure Hollywood. Almost a rags-to-riches story.

And this is the problem. It is Hollywood. Hollywood and its fantasy notions are what we are plugging into to build our social structure, to inform our opinions and to colour our perspectives. We are seeing the world, others and ourselves through rose-coloured glasses. Or should I say emerald glasses, because it reminds me of the scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and her friends are required to wear emerald glasses in order to view the Emerald City. Without donning the glasses, one would perhaps see the Emerald City for what it truly was. A city built out of shades of grey.

I have written other articles which poke a bit of fun at political correctness and its application to the reality of self-defence. I believe that political correctness is a modern attempt to codify and amplify the old concept of ‘being polite’. This is all very good, but what about the people who exist within our society who are not polite? Do we ignore them and hope that they go away?

Taken to the extreme, what about the people in our society who refuse to respect the laws that the rest of society lives by? What about the people who live in our society, enjoying the safe haven and opportunities it presents, but who have no respect for the life or well-being of others? Do we let them prowl like sharks in the shallows and shed a tear every time that they satisfy their thirst for blood? Do we lock them away in cages with others of their ilk to spend some time living at the expense of the tax-payer, popping pills and satisfying carnal urges under the watchful gaze of the criminal gang leaders who run the prisons? Do we pay for them to further their education in some of the best criminal education institutions for a time only to be released a few years later?

I’m just asking questions, I don’t have any answers. I would like to live in a world where people respected each other but I am first in line to acknowledge that this is not the world that we live in. We live in a dangerous world. Every now and then, dangerous people cross our paths like sharks swimming in the shallows. Don your emerald glasses, stick your fingers in your ears and sing “Lalalalalalalalaaaa!” at your own peril. It is something to consider on the many levels of self-defence application. Whether physical, mental or social. There is no referee who is going to ensure your victory if you are in the right. Might makes right, it seems. There are no rules out there in the real world. You either survive or you die.

In the movie “Cloud Atlas”, a phrase is used in a number of scenes:
“The weak are meat, and the strong do eat.”

As it turns out, this phrase is an ancient Chinese expression quoted from a work by Han Yu, a Tang Dynasty poet, essayist and precursor of Neo-Confucianism who was born in 768.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. It always has been, and probably always will be unless there is a significant change in the very nature of humanity. I’m not talking about a change in appearance or external behaviour. I’m not talking about rules and regulations to curb and control our baser instincts. All of these approaches are ultimately doomed to failure. You can shave the fur off a wolf and wrap it in sheep-skin but underneath the woolly exterior, it’s all howls, hunts and fresh kills. In the absence of this change in the very nature of humanity, what do we do? I recommend that we keep our minds sharp, our bodies strong and that we care for those who are too weak to care for themselves.

Written by SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia.

When I first started studying and training Kung Fu, my very good friends didn’t miss the opportunity to make sure that a certain song got played at parties more often than not and also made certain that I knew that I was expected to put on a dance performance. The best bunch of blokes you would ever have wanted to raise hell with. Thanks guys. You know who you are. We won’t mention any names, will we? But those were cool times and I certainly didn’t mind. I am a terrible dancer but when I do dance, I dance with substance and conviction!
I got thinking a bit about the lyrics of the song, in particular the line: “Those kicks were fast as lightning.” Just for fun, I thought it would be interesting to crunch some numbers and find out a little bit more about what a kick that was as fast as lightning would do to the immediate environment.

I will be using a lot of approximations to calculate these results. An exhaustive investigation is not really necessary in this case because we just want to develop a ‘feel’ for what the situation is going to be like. And of course, for those who cannot work out that I have my tongue firmly in my cheek for this article, we are talking about an event that can never actually happen. It is not within the bounds of human ability.

The speed of the return stroke in a lightning discharge is approximately a third of the speed of light. This is INSANELY fast! The speed of light in a vacuum is 299,792,458 m/s. This equates to about 1080 million km/h. So the return lightning stroke is travelling at approximately 360 million km/h. To put this speed into perspective, the circumference of the earth is 40, 075km. So in 1 millisecond, something travelling at the speed of lightning would have circled the earth. The speed of sound is approximately 330m/s, so at the speed of lightning, we are moving faster than Mach 30,000. As you can already no doubt imagine, my trendy Feiyues and silky black pyjama pants are probably going to ignite and disintegrate at those kinds of speeds leaving me somewhat exposed, but we’ll carry on and grind some more numbers out of this unlikely scenario.

If we simplify things and call the speed of light 300,000,000 m/s, the lightning will be travelling at 100,000,000 m/s. We will use this value in the rest of our calculations.

Kinetic Energy

You should remember the formula for kinetic energy from high school science class:
K.E. = 1/2 m v2 (Kinetic Energy equals half mass times velocity squared)

The mass that we will be working with for simplicity is the mass of my leg, which is 17.5% of my body mass or 14kg. Plugging this into the equation yields a maximum kinetic energy of 7 X 10^16 joules.

The yield of a nuclear weapon is a measure of the amount of explosive energy it can release. The yield is given in terms of a quantity of TNT which would generate the same amount of explosive energy. For each gram of TNT exploded, 4184 joules of energy are released. This means that when I kick at the speed of lightning, I will be releasing an equivalent amount of energy to a 16 Megaton nuclear weapon.

You wouldn’t want to be at ground zero for that kick. Neither would I, for that matter, and I’m supposed to be the one doing the kicking! When we are dealing with these kinds of energies and speeds, a lot of heat and explosive energy would be released. The kick would probably create a giant shock-wave very much like a nuclear weapon, shattering windows and setting fires in a radius of a few kilometres around. Apparently, a bomb with a yield of 1 megaton would destroy approximately 80 square miles of land (DeVolpi et al. 2004). My kick could possibly destroy a large percentage of the Darling Downs and Toowoomba area.

Force

I thought it would also be interesting to calculate the amount of force required to accelerate the mass of my leg to the speed of lightning. We can also use the simple relationship which you would have learned at school:
F = ma (Force equals mass times acceleration)

Acceleration is easy to calculate because we will assume that my leg started at rest and ended at the speed of lightning. If we assume that my leg is travelling 750mm in the kick (0.75m), we can use the kinematic equations to calculate the acceleration.

I will use the equation:
v² = v₀² + 2a(x-x₀) (Final velocity squared (v²) is equal to the initial velocity squared (v₀²) plus twice the acceleration (2a) times the difference of distance and initial distance (x-x₀) or the change in difference.)

Rearranging and solving for acceleration yields an acceleration of 6.6X10^15 metres per second squared. Solving for force assuming that my leg weighs 14kg as before yields 9.3X10^16 newtons of force required to accelerate my leg to the speed of lightning over 0.75m.

To put this into perspective, the acceleration due to gravity on earth is approximately 10m/s which allows us to compute what this kind of force would be able to lift. Around 9X10^15 kilograms or 9X10^12 tons. This is an order of magnitude heavier than the mass of a typical mountain (3X10^14kg). I don’t think that the leg-press machine at the gym goes up to that kind of weight. Not that I follow comic books, but apparently the Hulk can lift the weight of a mountain. But can he do it with just one leg? It is possible that not even the Hulk can summon sufficient force in one leg to kick as fast as lightning.

And remember that the song doesn’t go “That kick was as fast as lightning.”, it goes, “Those kicks…” (plural), “were fast as lightning.” Oh, the humanity! What level of Armageddon are we talking about here? Perhaps this is what killed off all the dinosaurs.

Actually… A possible perpetrator is beginning to take shape through the haze of numbers and the settling dust of approximations. He strides forward and our blood freezes. It certainly isn’t me. There is only one man who could be responsible for kicks as fast as lightning. Chuck Norris. Wearing his Chuck Norris Action Jeans (TM.) with elasticated crotch area.

So all-in-all I would have to agree with the next line in the song. It would be a little bit frightening.

Written by SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia

Reference:
DeVolpi, Alexander, Simonenko, Vadim, and Stanford, George. Nuclear Shadowboxing: Cold War Redux. 2 vols. Kalamazoo: Fidlar Doubleday, 2004.

Cover image:
“Karate kick at sunrise” by bluesbby, CC BY 2.0, available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/17367470@N05/5398040497

There are some hilarious videos on Youtube which capture people trying to do physical training in weird and wonderful ways. These videos are often entitled “Gym Fail” videos. My favourite is the bloke on the cable pulley machine doing powered jumps using the falling weight stack to catapult himself into the air. He really looks like he is enjoying himself immensely. While I agree that most of these videos showcase people who are ignorant of gym etiquette or physical training theory, it does lead to some interesting questions: Who decides when someone is performing an exercise incorrectly and why are we so quick to judge people who do unconventional forms of physical training?

Of course, these questions are of personal interest to me and to a lot of other people who do in fact practice more unorthodox or unconventional forms of training, at least when compared to most conventional Western physical training. Traditional Wushu and other forms of martial arts with long histories that stretch over hundreds or thousands of years often contain training methods which could become the kernel of a Gym Fail video today. And yet these training methods evolved at times when they had to deliver effective outcomes or the practitioner may have ended up paying with their life.

Would ineffective training methods be retained under these conditions? It is possible, but unlikely. Ineffective martial artists and systems tended to be weeded out by the process of natural selection. So the training methods worked, and yet they do not always fit into the framework of conventional training wisdom. Did they understand more in the past when these old training methods were developed? Surely we know more now about how to effectively train someone physically? Surely! Because of SCIENCE!

Well, perhaps we don’t. As a specific example which illustrates my point, the need for deadly hand-to-hand combat training is almost non-existent today when compared to a few hundred years ago. Without the need for developing something, that thing will not be developed. The military is one of the few organisations which still develops deadly forms of combat but we find that most military combat training today, barring a few exceptions, revolves almost entirely around the use of firearms and other ranged weapon systems.

So if militaries are not investing in developing or teaching deadly hand-to-hand combat, who is?

Well… not too many it turns out. Most hand-to-hand combat practised today is practised for sport. Hence the outcomes of modern physical training for hand-to-hand combat will naturally evolve to suit the context of its use. Primarily sports.

Think about it… Would you feel supremely confident about using a sports-based system of combat training within a deadly situation?

If you’re a thinker, you will certainly have doubts about its effectiveness within a context for which it was not designed. And rightfully so. Note that I am not saying that a sports-based system used within the context of a deadly encounter will not work. A lounge sofa can theoretically be used as a deadly weapon, it’s just not terribly efficient because it was not designed to be a deadly weapon. I personally do not like the idea of running around a battlefield wielding a lounge sofa, so if I wanted to prepare for a deadly situation, the best combat systems for me to study would be those which were designed to be used in deadly situations. In this day and age, these systems are limited to modern self-defence systems and traditional martial arts systems. In my experience, I have noted that although proper credit is not often given, most modern self-defence systems borrow heavily from traditional martial arts in terms of their fighting techniques.

The field of Sports Science is not even at a stage where it can claim to have completely and definitively described the most efficient ways to train the human body for specific conventional sporting outcomes. Let alone less conventional, less mainstream outcomes such as deadly combat. That’s why there is an incredible amount of research still being conducted within Sports Science and new and interesting facts and theories are arising all the time.

Despite this, some practitioners of conventional training feel confident enough to mock or scorn those who use less conventional methods. This is just foolishness. I probably did not use the right term to describe the motivation of those who are quick to mock and criticise. It is not confidence at all but entirely the opposite. They are in fact merely voicing their own insecurities. While tripping over their feet in their haste to protect their fragile egos and prove that others are ‘wrong’ and they are ‘right’, they are also inadvertently demonstrating as much ignorance as the bloke in the Gym Fail video using the cable pulley machine to do powered jumps.

A witty quote which is often accredited to Einstein goes something like this: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Einstein is unlikely to be the author of the quote but it is a good quote and applicable in this case. The message of my article in a nutshell is: Conventional training leads to conventional results.

If you are trying to achieve unconventional results and unconventional outcomes for use within unconventional contexts, unconventional training methods will be required. Training in exactly the same way as everyone else, at best, will only yield the same results that everyone else has achieved. It’s not rocket-science to figure that out and yet many people do not seem to have thought that far. If all you ever wanted to achieve is exactly what everyone else has achieved, then go for it. By all means. But if you want to achieve something that no one else has achieved, you will have to find a different way of getting there because you are trying to achieve an unconventional result.

For those who are looking for something different, I encourage you to train outside of the square but to do so intelligently and safely. Apply the old grey matter to invent a means of achieving your unconventional goal. You will be criticised and mocked for not doing what all the other sheeple are doing but you may very well end up achieving something incredible, while they will not. The 99% will always resent those who challenge their personal comfort zones and offend their delicate sensibilities by doing things differently to them.

Written by SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia

When we talk about training for self-defence or combat, we often talk about cross-training because of the unpredictable nature of the event that we are training for. Cross-training basically amounts to training in other disciplines to compliment your performance in your chosen discipline. Cross-training assists in this way by exposing athletes to new and varied challenges which may help them break new ground in their chosen discipline and reduce plateauing or stagnation.

​Some typical examples of the application of cross-training includes runners who train with free weights to increase their muscular strength to help with hill-climbing and weightlifters and boxers who train pure cardio to lose weight before an event. To pre-empt the remainder of my article, I would ask you whether you think that a runner who trains free weights would be able to compete on a professional level in a weightlifting competition or whether a weightlifter would be able to compete professionally in a marathon?

Although cross-training is an effective training tool if applied correctly in order to aid in goal acquisition, it is also possibly one of the most misunderstood training approaches and is thus seldom applied correctly. If applied incorrectly and without understanding, it can lead to confusion and inefficiency. We’ve all seen the gym-fail memes showing people using training equipment in a confused and incorrect fashion. These folks are ridiculed a lot but the reality is that they are actually training something. They just may not be training exactly what they want to train. The same warning rings true for cross-training. If applied incorrectly, the athlete will be training something, just not perhaps what they were hoping to train.

The first step in any training program is to identify exactly what you would like to achieve. Now this is not as easy as it may seem because very few people know exactly what they want out of their training or out of life for that matter. If you can identify exactly what you want to achieve, setting up a training program to achieve this goal is relatively easy if you understand the basic theory of training. Note that the basic theory of training can be applied to training anything. Anything from training a Green-Cheeked Conure to get off his perch and retreat to the back of his cage every time you point a finger at him, to training yourself to maintain a positive state of mind. If you would like to know the secret formula, the basic theory of training, it is simply this:

  • Consistent, small steps forward towards your goal. This involves the use of small, consistent, progressive steps over a protracted period of time.

Simple. If you know exactly what you want to achieve and you follow this formula, you will succeed in achieving your training goals.

This is where I start talking about training specificity. The physical training industry is a very confused and confusing place driven by fads, commerce and occasionally by some science. I’ll use the show Ninja Warrior as a case in point to demonstrate the confusion. I had the opportunity to watch a fellow martial artist’s Ninja Warrior application video a little while ago. He was so sincere in his video, it made me really hope that he gets in. I sincerely hope that he wins an opportunity to compete and I take my hat off to him for doing what he wants to do. He’s been in martial arts for a few decades, even practised ninjutsu for a while. He was demonstrating his fighting skills, forms, swinging swords around and doing some of the physical training that he normally does in classes.

His performance was good, but this is where I start to wonder whether people actually understand that the Ninja Warrior show has nothing to do with Ninjas, Warriors or martial arts in general. Except perhaps the non-combative martial art known as Parkour. The show Ninja Warrior revolves around contestants completing a timed obstacle course. Fighting skill has nothing to do with the show Ninja Warrior.

So we can cross the word ‘Warrior’ out for starters. The word ‘warrior’ has been seriously abused in our current day and age to the extent where its very definition has changed. Everyone and their dog adopts it to describe themselves, but historically it was used specifically to describe someone who engages in warfare. A soldier. If you have not fought in an actual war, I do not believe that you should be calling yourself a warrior.

All we are left with then is the word ‘Ninja’, which describes the historical Shinobi, who were trained in the arts of espionage. Yes, that’s right, not assassination or combat. Although those activities might on occasion be performed by a Ninja, they were not the Ninja’s forte. A Ninja was first and foremost a spy. I know! I know! I grew up loving Ninjas too. In fact, it was the old Ninja movies of the 70s and 80s that got me interested in Eastern Martial Arts in the first place. I have some very good friends who are high-level practitioners of Ninjutsu and I have always had a lot of respect for the system. In particular, the elements of Ninjutsu that exemplify the true historical aspects of the Ninja and showcase their use of subterfuge, distraction and obfuscation. Who doesn’t love the idea of the black-clad, tabi boot toe wiggling, Ninjato-wielding, Ninjutsu-fighting, shuriken-chucking, evasive smoke-bomb-deploying, out-of-sync talking, flick-flack jumping, poison dart-launching Ninja Warrior?

In truth, have you ever thought practically about how silly it would be for someone who was trying to be covert to dress as distinctively as the Hollywood Ninja is dressed? I can just picture the scene:
Japanese Feudal Lord: “My sources say that there is a Ninja who has infiltrated my personal guard.”
Aide: “Oh dear, my lord. Whatever shall we do?”
Japanese Feudal Lord: “Order my men to assemble in the courtyard.”
Aide: “Aaaah! Of course, my lord. And then what shall we do?”
Japanese Feudal Lord: “Shoot the man in black!”

What we were sold by Hollywood is actually just a modern fiction. Go and do your research and you will see that it’s true. Historical Ninjas just weren’t what we were led to believe that they were. Historical Ninja training revolved predominantly around espionage and concealment, not combat. The contestants on the show Ninja Warrior are not demonstrating the arts of espionage, so we are left without any words to describe the show. In the vacuum caused by a logical collapse of the show’s title, I’ll call it “Obstacle Course Fun Show” or OCFS instead. This should help to alleviate any further confusion.

I really admire the level of skill that is demonstrated by the high-level competitors on the OCFS. Their performances certainly represent incredible skill, physical competence and a huge investment of time and effort. I have a lot of respect for this. As far as I’m concerned personally, however, I am not particularly interested in the show itself because completing obstacle courses is not my training goal. Training martial arts for self-defence is.

If I personally were to train seriously to compete in the OCFS, I would have to change perhaps 80%-90% of my training program because it is irrelevant to completing obstacle courses. All those hours and hours of punching and kicking bags would be a waste of time. Along with form-work, sparring, ground work, attack and defence technique refinement, ChiGung, meditation etc. In order to compete at a reasonable level in OCFS, I would concentrate on a combination of Parkour training, rock-climbing, Yoga, gymnastics and specific obstacle course training informed by the obstacles expected on the course itself. I’ve actually had a couple of people ask whether I wouldn’t be interested in competing in the show and my answer is that I enjoy training for self-defence and combat, not to complete obstacles.

That’s not to say that I don’t train strength, agility, movement, speed, accuracy and even do some obstacle course training as well, but the specific goal, or focus, of my training is and always will be combat for self-defence. I am not ashamed to admit that I would not perform particularly well in the OCFS because I have not made this my training focus, or goal. Sure, I would doubtlessly do significantly better than an average person with no physical training background, but relative to trained Parkour practitioners, gymnasts and rock-climbers, I would be below par. In fact, my performance would be as sub-standard compared to theirs in OCFS, relatively speaking, as theirs would be compared to mine in a self-defence combat situation.

All because of training focus.

This is the truth about training specificity. There are certainly cross-training benefits that come from participating in a particular training program that can positively impact your performance in other disciplines, but when compared to specialists competing in these other disciplines, your performance will never match theirs. The notion of the all-star physical performer is as much a product of Hollywood fantasy as that other popular 80’s blockbuster trope, the high school science teacher who just happens to be able to diffuse a nuclear warhead in the nick of time to save the day because, “he knows science stuff!”.

Written by SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia

Cover Image by Joey Gannon (The Last Thing You See) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons