You Can’t Teach Heart…. Right?

There’s a common saying in combat sports (and other high risk endeavors) that goes, “You Can’t Teach Heart”. As in, either you’re born with the gameness to fight, to push yourself beyond your comfort zone, run into the burning building, and continue to fight in the face of adversity and possible injury… or you’re not.

This phrase has one of two effects on the observer. One, the person gets fired up and feels they’re part of a special class who is willing to fight with heart and overcome adversity. Two, a person who sees someone exhibit great Heart and can’t fathom themselves ever being able to keep up and they subsequently never start.

I would like to propose that ‘Heart’ is a skill like any other that can be built through years of dedicated work, working towards a meaningful goal, a willingness to be uncomfortable in the pursuit of that goal, and the discipline to keep showing up. I will agree that there are people who seem to be naturally fearless and talented at maintaining a winner’s outlook. There are those who were born with the attributes that allow them to excel quickly. I’m not writing this for them. Those of us who question if we have what it takes are not lost. There is hope for us and ample room for growth.

My path to cultivating Heart has been through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. So I’ll be talking about heart through that lens. Why BJJ? Because improving at Jiu Jitsu requires:

  • Discipline to keep showing up.
  • Repeated and Demoralizing defeats (Ego calibration)
  • Collecting and assimilating techniques (motor learning)
  • Discovering your personal strengths and many weaknesses (self-reflection)
  • Developing your athleticism (multidisciplinary pursuit)
  • Mental toughness (Heart)

There’s lots of ways to show Heart in BJJ. Lots of ways to stretch what you can tolerate and develop grit. I’ve been at it almost 8 years,  my BJJ honeymoon has been over for a while, so I feel I can speak about this a bit objectively and with enough experience to be useful.

Cultivate Heart

If there is a genetic component to heart, I feel like I probably was given a minimal share. I am full of fear, low confidence, self-doubt, and generally don’t care for competition. I’d rather go with the flow and fly under the radar. I’m the kind of person who you probably wouldn’t expect to love a combat sport. Here are my observations for what it takes to improve your Heart. To turn from an easy-quitter to someone who is likely to see it through.

  • Maintain an internal focus. Try to learn to be completely present and to understand and accept yourself. Make it less about winning, and more about improving yourself an incremental amount day to day. Strive to say, “If I had to fight last week’s version of me, I’d win”.
  • Keep showing up. Even if you feel the majority of your workouts are placeholder workouts, just keep going. Suppress the negative self talk and say to that voice, “you shut-up until we get this work in” and just go. If you are resolved to your ultimate goals, you’ll be able to see past bad workouts and demoralizing defeats. It seems heart is developed at the edge of your willingness to continue being uncomfortable. At your quitting line. So the more time you spend with opportunities to suffer, the quicker you will develop heart.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be the biggest fish in the pond. If you’re no longer challenged, you need to expand your group of training partners or your goals to continue your personal growth. Luckily this has never been an issue for me, but I can see it in others.
  • Maintain a growth mindset. If you come to view shortcomings as obstacles to overcome, rather than excuses to quit, you will continue down the correct path. If you believe that Heart is a skill to build, and you work at it, you will find you are able to do things that take more Heart than you thought you had.
  • Understand that having Heart ultimately is about Love. Love of the game, love of your people, love of the journey. You might start your martial arts journey because you’re fearful or angry, but if you don’t grow to love the journey itself, you’ll burn out. The people who are dominant through anger or hatred eventually get beaten and crumble mentally. If you’re coming from a place of love, even failure is motivating. Be love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t think of many higher pursuits than self-improvement and self-understanding. I will continue on this path as long as my body and mind lets me. I hope you got something useful from this one.

 

If you want to read more on this topic, check out A Fighters Heart.
Regards,

Mark

Memento Mori : Negative Visualization Practice

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff

Here’s another non-firearm related post on this firearms blog. I’ve been going through some hard times and this stuff is on my mind. I’m writing it out to share what has worked for me, and I’m hoping if you work through this post, you might come out more joyful.

This post is the result of watching my social media feeds, and constantly being in awe at the lack of perspective that I see people have regarding what real problems are. My ‘real problems’ scale is pretty well adjusted, and it’s one of the gifts that having cancer gave me at an early age. I understand pretty well what real problems are, and day to day life struggles don’t trouble me too much.

That lesson is irrelevant to you unless I can help you put your things in perspective to calibrate your ‘real problems’ scale without giving you a life-threatening disease or injury. I’m going to attempt that with this post.

I’m hoping this post will help you understand a few things for yourself:

  1. Things aren’t that bad
  2. It can always get worse (but it’s currently not)
  3. Create a distilled understanding of what makes you, you.

We throw around terms like ‘first world problems’ when we talk about our Wi-Fi dropping while we’re watching a movie or Starbucks being closed when we’re looking for a cappuccino. The issue I see is that people generally have so few real issues, that they confuse their day to day hiccups as real problems, and don’t realize how well things are actually going (even when some things are going a bit bad). So let’s work a two step process and we can calibrate ourselves.

Distilling down your identity

This is a useful thought experiment that Dr. William Aprill discussed with me when I was beating myself up while I was having trouble walking and using my hands from Chemo-induced neuropathy. I was feeling sorry for myself because I was sure I wouldn’t be able to shoot guns again and certainly wouldn’t return to being athletic by any definition of the word. He asked me to figure out what, “makes Mark, Mark.” So I did what he suggested and thought through what, at minimum, I am. What would I have to lose before I would no longer identify as Mark. Here’s how that thought experiment looked.

Am I still me if I lose…:

  • my 500 lb deadlift?
  • my successful career?
  • a flush bank account and investments?
  • my ability to train in combat sports?
  • my family?
  • my ability to stand up for more than 30 minutes before I hurt too much?
  • my ability to consistently remember where I left my keys?
  • my ability to breath without mechanical assistance?
  • my functioning organs?
  • my ability to remember my families faces/names?

You get the idea. I ultimately identified my line in the sand. Your homework is to think through a list of things you generally self-identify with, and pick out the line past which you will no longer be yourself. This is not easy, and might be uncomfortable. Spend a minute to do that now.

You now have the lowest rung in your ladder defined. You have looked past the walls your ego puts up to define yourself and dug down to what you actually are. What makes you, you. If you’re going through some trouble in life, as long as you haven’t been pushed past that line, you still have your identity. You can still be you.

Negative Visualization

The second part of this post will take a page from the Stoics. The technique is called Negative Visualization. It’s the practice of spending a small block of time imagining scenarios where you undergo profound loss of things you value most. The goal is to put yourself in your nightmare scenario for a short time (3-10 minutes), then when your meditation time is over you may realize that everything in our lives is ‘on loan’ and worth cherishing. Even the mundane things. It will brighten your heart. It will also teach you that things could definitely get worse, but they aren’t at the moment. That’s another thing to celebrate.

If things are currently going rough for you, spend your mediation time thinking about how it could be worse. You’ll find you can always imagine a way to make it worse, and you’ll be thankful that it’s not that bad yet. Our constant adaptation to our circumstances can trick us. This exercise will force perspective in a powerful way.

Here’s some examples:

  • Loss of a job
  • Loss of a house
  • Loss of a child
  • Major health crisis
  • Major health crisis of a loved one
  • Loss of bodily function
  • Breakup of a family
  • Your own death

The only thing you have absolute control over is how you think about your circumstances. Everything else includes an element of chance outside of your control, and letting that ruin your mood is wasted energy. This is, of course, easier said than done. It’s a constant process of course correction.

Everything, up to and including our ability to breath, is a fleeting magical gift from infinity. If something is taken from you, be thankful that you had the opportunity to enjoy it. We’re going to be OK.

Thanks,

Mark

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The Keychain Flashlight and OC Combo

I’ll go on a limb and say you have people in your life who you love and who don’t want to be victimized, but they won’t carry a pistol (or pocket a flashlight, or Pepper Spray, or a knife, or Medical gear, etc). What do you do for these people? Explain their inevitable victimization in a WalMart parking lot and wish them luck? Write them off because they have a different moral compass, or because they’re lazy, or have a different lifestyle that precludes being inconvenienced by extra ‘stuff’? Would you write off your family if they wouldn’t follow this path exactly as you have?

I hope not. I hope you treat your friends, families, and clients as individuals and respect their lifestyle and moral decisions. I have several of these in my life (most of my people in meat-space in fact) who either can’t be bothered, lack the confidence in their skills, or are too lazy to carry a firearm or individual self defense tools. Even if I can get them to drop a light and OC in their purse, I know for a fact that they don’t have both of them out while they push their shopping cart through a dark parking lot.

I couldn’t write my people off because I was dealing with my mom, sister, and wife. They all understand and practice ‘mindset’ skills like avoiding task fixation in public, identifying alternate emergency exits, work M.U.C. skills in roll play to preserve space and get deselected, watch hands, and on and on. I only mention it to prevent someone saying, “No tool in an unwilling person’s hands will do a bit of good.” My girls have that.

I have two paths I can follow: Convince them to organize their life around cumbersome gear, or use clever gear to make it so they don’t have a choice. The first option requires that several things line up in a way that I’ve failed to do in 13 years or so. The latter only needs me to find the right gear that meets my needs of effective, reliable, and usable.

The Ideal Tactic (as I see it)

As you are about to push your cart out of the front doors, stop and:

  • Get your keys out of your purse/pocket
  • In your off-hand, palm your self defense light
  • In your strong hand, palm your Sabre Red Pepper Spray (OC)
  • Look out through the front glass to observe the space you’re about to enter
  • walk out the doors, and do a 3-5 second halt to scan the parking lot and along the building to the corners
  • Proceed to car, look into the car  and around the car
  • Load Groceries, taking a break every few bags to lift their head and do a quick scan to see who’s new, and where people are moving
  • Return cart to corral
  • Get in car, start car without delay, and get in drive (no instagram updates)

The Compromise

So that’s basically fantasy land for me. So I’ll use cunning to not give them a choice about having their tools at hand. Here’s my current best solution for my people:

  • The NITECORE TINI 380 Lumens. Rechargeable, Bright, Keyfob light. A super floody light that is only just bigger than those little disposable pinch LEDs. It’s not combat grade, but it’s not cumbersome and puts out enough light to see hands and beltlines at WalMart parking lot distances. It’s also $30.

  • The Sabre Red Gel key chain flip-top unit with inert trainer and target. This give you a robust and more leak-proof flip-top thumb activated unit in a key-chain size. It’s a bit bigger than those spitfire units that are now discontinued, but the spray quality is much higher on this unit. Sabre Red is HOT at 1.33% MCC (more on OC here). The Gel formulation has its advantage in semi-confined space like vehicles, or in buildings where you don’t want to flood an HVAC system with aerosol pepper spray. It takes a little longer to start burning, and can’t be aspirated as easily, but it still has a place. They also make stream configurations in this package, which I’m interested in.

PRoblem solved, problem staying solved

Now we’ve attached a seeing tool, with a force option, with the keys. We spent less than $50. If we can convince them to dig this mess out before they leave the store, there is no reason to be task fixated digging for keys in front of a locked car, there won’t be a panic at someone emerging from a dark corner to cause trouble, and there will be an option to take away an aggressor’s will to fight by impairing their vision and breathing. That’s enough to make the bad guys look for greener pastures. That’s a win.

Training

The great thing about the Live/Inert combo pack I linked above, is that it gives you a paper target to practice with the inert spray. So take your loved one through some basic MUC exercises. Practice footwork, the fence hand posture, verbalization and their verbal tape-loop, up to painting the guy orange. They get a feel for realistic range and the need to aim and how to aim.

How to convince them to buy?

Sometimes you can’t. I’ve been slowly outfitting my family with useful self defense skills and items. When it’s my birthday, I often give my family a shopping list of useful items I want them to buy for themselves as my present. This is the only way I can get them to invest some money in this stuff. Otherwise I just buy gear for them when they’re in town.

Mother’s day is coming up and it might be worth outfitting your mom and/or wife with something other than a card and some chocolate.

PS: These are the same principles I use, but with a handheld light and key-chain OC. Gun folks should have intermediate force options as well.

Thanks for taking the time to check in,

Mark

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Book Review: Red Zone Knife Defense

Coach Jerry Wetzel of Red Zone Threat Management just released a book outlining his excellent unarmed knife defense program. It is 185 pages of rock solid, testable, and easy to implement blade (and blunt weapons) defense. With this book, a willing training partner, a training blade, and a place to train, you could get functional at shutting down a real knife attack and die less often.

The first chapters are a great framing of what a knife defense program needs to look like. The author discusses traditional knife defense programs and outlines the problems with their training modality. The major issue with most is a lack of ‘aliveness’. The highly orchestrated attack lines and total lack of aggressive forward drive one sees in most knife defense programs doesn’t line up with reality. He also points out that you’re not likely to run into a trained knife fighter, but rather someone with a pointy implement and the desire to put it into you as fast and as much as possible. If your knife defense doesn’t take this into account, you need to look into another method.

The author systematically points out the flaws in logic that several knife programs seem to ignore. After you read the early chapters, you’ll be shaking your head at the time you wasted pursuing these other programs. Live and learn.

The Real Secret is that the answer lies in consistent training and understanding what we’re training for.

How Knife Attacks Tend To Look:

Example of highly choreographed knife work:

The Redzone Method:

The best thing about the RZKD program is that it can be trained at full speed, and that the feeder (knife guy) can give a genuine effort to stab you, and you have a reasonable chance to shut it down.

Real attacks have aggressive pressure, multiple rapid attack lines, you may not realize the knife is in play until you’re stabbed, and your empty hand skills will come in real handy when dealing with this problem (so get some), both parties fixate on the blade, it could be really bloody, mostly stabs and NOT slashes, mostly to the torso, and you might have to overcome some of your instincts to be successful.

Coach Wetzel stresses that we might indeed get cut, maybe even badly, but we need to continue fighting until the lights go out, because quitting is not an option.

The Red Zone Knife program blends seamlessly with the other modules that they teach. Commonality of techniques across disciplines, emphasis on cultivating awareness and space management, non-diagnostic defensive postures, and principle based self-defense is the best thing going, in my opinion. Dominating Posture, Pressure, and Position is the key to digging yourself out of the hole.

The author addresses several scenarios in which we might find ourselves:

  • Outright ambush, this is worst case
  • Posturing with a blade, intimidation
  • You’re in a fist fight, then a blade comes out
  • You see the knife in hand at a distance as the attacker crashes in.
  • Grounded against a knife

Luckily for us, the way to deal with these issues follows a very streamlined decision tree, with a common road map to follow.

Step One: RUN… but if you can’t….

Step Two: Control the Weapon Bearing Limb (strategy depends on range). And monitoring for a hand switch.

Step Three:Two-on-One to the ground if the attacker presses in, or the Lasso if he retracts the weapon bearing limb.

Step Four: Weapon disarms. Luckily there’s only two you need.

It’s as simple as this (but it’s not always easy). The author also covers a few less common circumstances to try out including fouling a draw, working against a wall, the ‘hostage’ type scenario, and grounded situations.

I’ve trained in several seminar style classes that included RZKD methods, and I am super excited that this book is out to have a book to work from for my training group. I think you’ll really like.

Highly Recommended.

Mark

Red Zone Knife Defense:



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