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.”


“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 (

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.

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

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.

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