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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Fasting for Weight Loss and Health – My Experiences

Disclaimer: I'm not a medical professional. I'm only an interested lay-person with a lot of time spent reading. You should do the same, and consult a doctor. Also drink more water and call your mom.

“Everyone has a physician inside him or her; we just have to help it in its work.  The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well.  Our food should be our medicine.  Our medicine should be our food.  But to eat when you are sick is to feed your sickness.”
                                               – Hippocrates

I recently ended a 5 day fast, and I received several requests to outline my thoughts and experiences on fasting for weight management as well as for health. This isn’t a tactical topic, but if our ultimate goal is to protect and preserve our lives, then we have to consider health and body composition as a topic in our self-defense plan. I’ll try to keep this post short and functional, with lots of links that you can explore if you’re so inclined.

Story Time

It’s 2010, and I’m a 27 year old sedentary gun guy. I have a few formal gun classes, and am quite sure I have a good handle on things. I am two years past my first stem cell transplant for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and don’t pay much attention to my diet since I am just sort of happy to still be alive. I don’t like to look at myself in a mirror after a shower because I weigh about 235lbs at 6′ tall and I look like a more-pale Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. I had been a bit overweight nearly all of my adult life, but I have reached apex fat. Time to do something new.

Luckily I find a guiding light. I read a thread on TPI, Craig Douglas’ discussion forum, about intermittent fasting for weight loss. Larry Lindenmen writes a great thread that inspires me to give this ‘don’t eat for a while and lose weight’ method a try. I start with 3 days a week, 24 hour fasting in conjunction with beginning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and I lose 50 lbs within about 9 months without changing the types of food I ate. Simple. But not always easy.

I had found a method that worked for me. I have continued to use intermittent fasting as a way to maintain body composition in the leaner times, and get back down to a reasonable weight in the chubby times. I’m not an athlete. I’m not special. I don’t have a physically demanding job. I just want to look better naked and avoid avoidable diseases related to obesity.

I’m no stud, but I’m better off than I was.

What Is Fasting?

Fasting is simply not eating. No food in. The duration and purpose is variable, but the principle is as old as humanity. Fasting is in our DNA. When we were living in caves, fasting was the time between finding a berry bush and killing the next antelope. The ancient Greek philosophers advocated fasting for health and mental clarity. There’s fasting in every religion. It’s only recently that we ‘just can’t imagine missing a meal’. America’s waistlines show it.

If you want to try  fasting, think of it as chopping out a few meals that you otherwise would have eaten. With only two 24-hour fasts a week, you are hacking 2500(ish) calories out of your weekly intake. Even if you only view it as a way to control calories, you’re still making a profound impact on your caloric intake and you’ll see the fat fall away. No need to alter the foods you currently eat. Pizza and beer is still on the menu, as long as you make up for the splurge with a 24 hour fast somewhere in your week.

There is real evidence that fasting is superior to simple caloric restriction from a physiological standpoint, but I’ll save some of that for later in the post in case you’re in a rush.

It costs nothing. There’s no preparation involved. It’s time flexible. It’s lifestyle flexible. It’s simple. It works.

Is it hard?

Here’s some quick thoughts I have after coming off of my 5 day fast.

  • I lost 7 pounds, 3-4 of which was fat, and the remaining is water weight. As you shed glucose, you don’t hold as much water. The water leaves after a day or two, and everything after that is fat being consumed.
  • You’ll feel real hunger, not the usual boredom hunger you usually feel. It peaks at about day 2, then after that the feeling of hunger goes away.
  • Coffee makes it easier.
  • Taking control of your hunger is reassuring and empowering. Don’t be a slave to food.
  • Think of calories on a weekly time scale. Know that if you smash 4,000 Calories of wings and beer, that it’s OK. Just eat a little less next week and add an extra 24 hour fast.
  • Due to the flexibility of the ‘diet’, you won’t as easily derail yourself with a big cheat day. I’m prone to derailing when the diet is strict. Fasting means you don’t have to say no to birthday cake or a slice of pizza.
  • I notice a real mood lift once I go over the two day hump (which is the body changing energy pathways from glucose to ketone bodies)
  • Energy levels are steady, but lower than usual
  • Glycolytic exercise like martial arts or crossfit workouts become very difficult on an extended fast. I can easily time 24 hour fasts around Jiu  Jitsu classes, but 5 days straight made me take a few classes off.
  • Feeling real hunger is something we are not used to doing. You will feel real body hunger, not boredom hunger. It’s simple, but it’s not always easy. Remind yourself why you’re doing it and keep yourself occupied with other things. The biggest reason people fail is they sit around fantasizing about eating. Stay busy.
  • For me, ‘eating less’ is difficult. ‘not eating’ is easy. I’m pitiful at self-moderation, but I can easily stop eating for a while.
  • Don’t tell people what you’re doing. They will try to sabotage you. They usually don’t even know they’re doing it. You will get offered cookies and snacks. Keep your plan to yourself until you start making progress. Trust me.
  • You will have a lower food bill and fewer dishes. It’s the diet that pays you to adhere to it!

How Do I Fast?

Most of these fasting techniques allow for black coffee, tea, water, and a diet soda or two. That’s really all you want to ingest. If you sneak a bite, you’re only cheating yourself. As with lots of things, people try to make it more complicated than it is, thus lots of rules and specifics to set their methods apart. When in doubt, don’t eat and only drink water. Easy. Here’s a few variations that I’ve tried.

  • Eat/Stop/Eat: My preferred method. You simply eat a meal, say lunch on a Tuesday, then you don’t eat again until Lunch on Wednesday. 24 hours of not eating. Do this 2 or 3 times a week. You’re hacking 4-6 meals out of your weekly diet which adds up to significant caloric reduction in a given week.
  • The Warrior Diet: It’s a little more structured but basically you’re eating one meal a day, or only a small snack for lunch, then gorging at night. It’s feeding within a small window of time.
  • Leangains: It was designed by a body builder but the crux is that you have an 8 hour window in which you eat your daily calories, and then don’t eat for the next 16. 16/8.
  • Extended fasting to encourage Autophagy: This is a process of cellular cleanup that happens when the body isn’t getting any outside fuel/protein. The body scavenges damaged and old cell components and recycles them for building blocks of new fresh cells. It also reduces inflammatory markers which can help with the myriad issues that people can experience with a prolonged inflammation response. My longest is a 5 day fast, but you start benefiting after just 24 hours. This one is especially interesting to me on the cancer mitigation front.
  • Link to a list of a few more techniques you can try.

Diets that Might Accelerate Weight Loss Combined with Fasting

I like to dabble in diets because it keeps things interesting. I ultimately credit my weight loss and maintenance to fasting, but I like to experiment with my performance and body by trying different ways of eating.

I have tried all of these diets for a minimum of four months. I did Paleo for two years. One common feature of the diets I list is they all strive to limit insulin release (the body’s sugar storage hormone) to one extent or another.

When I fail at a diet, it has always been in my adherence to the plan. That’s a personal failure. Life got in the way of adherence. Every single one of the listed diets has worked for me while I did them. I never stopped because I was experiencing adverse effects or unexpected results.

Dr. Jason Fung’s lectures (embedded below) make a strong case that by limiting the input of glucose/fructose, and thus minimizing the insulin-response, goes a long way to allowing the body to burn through the cellular reserves of glucose and tap into fat storage. The problem of fat loss seems to go beyond calories in/out.

  • Paleo: A popular diet that at its core relies on shopping around the outside edge of the grocery store. Meats, veggies, nuts, fruits. Avoiding (insulin releasing) starches, sugars, and grains. It also tells you to avoid common inflammatory foods like dairy and legumes, which many people have trouble processing and causes an unintended immune response. You can dig for the details if you’re interested.
  • Ketogenic: High fat, moderate protein, minimal carbohydrates. No, eating fat doesn’t make you fat. The goal of this diet is to drop carbohydrate (glucose/fructose) intake down the the point that your body changes energy pathways from glucose based to fat (ketone-body) based. The fat that the body uses is a combination of what you ingest, plus mobilized fat from your body’s reserves. This works really well for fat loss for most people. We have good luck with it.
  • 4-hour body Diet (Slow Carb): lean meat, beans, and veggies and no white foods like sugar, pasta, rice, bread, cheese. Eat the same few meals over and over again, Don’t drink calories. Start your day with protein, Don’t eat fruit. one “cheat day” a week. My wife and I both had good success with this. The ‘slow carb’ part is the insulin limiting key of this one.
  • ChaosAndPain’s Apex Predator Diet: This is a bodybuilder’s diet. A period of strict keto, then daily meat-on-bone meal, protein shakes, one day of fasting a week, heavy lifting, etc.

Why Calorie Restriction Fails

It’s safe to say that everyone has tried the ‘eat less, move more’ type diet for fat loss. It turns out there’s a reason that your weight loss slowed and then halted the longer you were on the diet. It’s the body adapting to a long term self-induced famine. If you severely restrict daily calories over a long period, your body turns down its expenditure of energy to accommodate the long-term shortage. Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) drops to accommodate your caloric deficit.

Fasting is distinctly different than caloric restriction. The total lack of food input actually increases energy expenditure by the body, increases norepinephrine release, and mobilizes fat storage for energy.

If you want to dig deeper into this and see a convincing pile of studies to support this conclusion, I point you towards Dr. Jason Fung. Dr. Fung has a great narrative that is built on 100 years of clinical research. His ‘two compartment model’ makes a lot of sense in explaining why calories in doesn’t always equal calories out. I encourage you to watch his lectures and read his books if this interests you.

If you give it a shot, let me know how it goes. I think you’ll find that it’s a relatively effortless way to lose fat. If you have questions, I’ll answer what I can and refer you to source material as needed.

Resources and More Info

If you have time, please watch this talk:

Dr. Fung also is a big advocate for fasting and actually wrote a book on it. Here he is explaining why fat loss is more than an energy in/out phenomenon.

  1. The Complete Guide To Intermittent Fasting Dr. Jason Fung
  2. EAT/STOP/EAT Brad Pilon
  3. 4 Hour Body Tim Ferriss
  4. Keto-Diet Primer on Reddit



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