Saturday, December 29, 2012

School Violence By Firearms

The Sandy Hook tragedy is a tragedy. There is now a debate about a gun control debate. What can be done to prevent and control injuries from school violence by firearms? First, how can we study the problem? Second, how can we brainstorm possible interventions to prevent and control injuries from school violence by firearms?

Injury science (my chapter nine) provides the answers through the use of Haddon's Matrix. This goes far beyond the simplistic single cause, single solutions that are being offered to a simple public. Far, far beyond. It goes beyond mere prevention. It also focuses on what can be done to minimise injury and the impact of injury when prevention measures fail and injury occurs. Not just physical injury, but also psychological injury.

The Haddon Matrix is a three by three, or three by four, matrix. It provides nine or twelve intervention possibilities to prevent and control injury. The National Rifle Association's suggestion to insert armed police officers in every school in American is a simple intervention aimed at only one cell in Haddon's Matrix. Barrack Obama's possible attempts at gun control is a simple intervention aimed at only one cell in Haddon's Matrix. Haddon's Matrix suggests that there is far more that we can do to prevent and control injuries from school violence by firearms.

Has injury science and Haddon's Matrix been turned to school violence by firearms. Yes it has! See here for the application of Haddon's Matrix to the issue of injuries (fatal and non-fatal) arising from school violence by firearms. All those responsible for possible or potential solutions to this problem NEED to approach this problem from an injury science perspective. This perspective exemplified in the Haddon Matrix which goes beyond mere prevention, and looks at ALL the factors that contribute to an injury over the ENTIRE time frame of an injury.

Friday, December 28, 2012


There was a very odd moment last week. I finished the first draft of a chapter in my book and I sat back and thought, 'I'm done.' I've finished the first draft of my book (with the small exception of getting some physiological information on joint techniques that target the wrist). Done. No more finding and developing theory, it's now editing. It was a very odd feeling.

The book had over 170,000 words which equates to over 300 pages. The editing process over the past week has reduced that to just under 100,000 words and 265 pages with no loss of information. I expect that number to reduce even further.

The book has 17 chapters:

Chapter 1 Introduction
Chapter 2 Core of All Learning
Chapter 3 Kaizen: Analyse Tactics and Techniques
Chapter 4 Force
Chapter 5 Balance and Unbalance
Chapter 6 Stances and Motion
Chapter 7 Throwing and Takedown Techniques
Chapter 8 Joint-Locking Techniques
Chapter 9 Injury Science
Chapter 10 Striking and Kicking Techniques
Chapter 11 Blocking Techniques
Chapter 12 Nature's Breakfalling Techniques
Chapter 13 Martial Arts Breakfalling Techniques
Chapter 14 Strangulation Techniques
Chapter 15 Pain
Chapter 16 Survival Process Pt 1
Chapter 17 Survival Process Pt II

I have a friend who is the headmaster at a school helping me edit the book. He has no background nor interest in the subject matter. If he understands what I am writing about and his interest is retained, I must have done a good job. So far that has been achieved and he has informed me that he is excited by the content. That it is like no other book written for the martial arts and other activities associated with preparing a person to survive a violent encounter. He is right.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Chinese Proverb

Facilitating the Understanding and Study of Fighting Methods is about teaching the reader how to ‘fish’ so they can feed themselves for a lifetime. It is also about teaching the reader how to teach others to fish so that they can feed themselves for a lifetime.
I'm still working on the title of the book.

Facilitating the Understanding and Study of Fighting Methods is written for both teacher and student alike. It is written to assist teachers in understanding and teaching their methods. It is also written to assist students in understanding and learning the methods taught by their teachers. A fallacious assumption in our education system is that students inherently know how to learn. They may do to varying degrees but not necessarily efficiently or effectively. Greater efficiencies and efficacies are achieved when the student is first taught how to learn. Facilitating the Understanding and Study of Fighting Methods empowers students by enabling them to take responsibility for their own learning experience. It encourages students to become their own teachers or at least to manage their learning experience. In this way, Facilitating the Understanding and Study of Fighting Methods also challenges teachers to be better teachers.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Our Hands Evolved For Punching & Isshinryu Karate Fists

A study was published this week in The Journal of Experimental Biology which argues that human hands evolved for punching and not just dexterity. The complete paper can be read here. The researchers were associated with the University of Utah and a copy of the University's reporting of the paper can be read here.

I'm only going to touch on one small aspect of the paper.

Humans buttress – strengthen and stabilize – fists in two ways that apes cannot: The pads of the four fingertips touch the pads at the top of the palm closest to the fingers. And the thumb wraps in front of the index and middle fingers, and to some extent the ring finger, and those fingers are locked in place by the palm at the base of the thumb.

The second and third experiments found that buttressing provided by the human fist increased the stiffness of the knuckle joint fourfold (or reduced flexing fourfold), and also doubled the ability of the fingers to transmit punching force, mainly due to the force transferred from the fingers to the thumb when the fist is clenched.
The authors of the report are describing the common garden variety fist configuration and the biomechanical benefits of this configuration (see figure at top). However, Isshinryu karate teach to place the thumb not wrapping in front of the fingers but to the side of the fingers (see image right).

Based on the abovementioned study, it could be argued the Isshinryu karate fist configuration is biomechanically less efficient than nature's configuration which most other martial arts have adopted. Is there any explanation why Isshinryu karate may have adopted this unique fist configuration?

A possible explanation lies within an obscure but interesting paper published in American Anthropologist. The researchers investigated the relationship between commonly occurring types of violence and those that are popular in sport. They found that common injuries to the hand in modern society where boxing is popular is to the little finger and ring finger bones in the hand, which is commonly known as a boxer's fracture.

The researchers gained access to the 857 bodies when a cemetery was being excavated in England. The bodies were buried between 1750 and 1850. They found significantly more fractures of the thumb than boxer's fractures. This puzzled them because boxing was popular during that time.

They suggest a possible explanation might be found in the style of fighting employed by boxers during the period when the burials were made. Boxing was bareknuckles and boxers used vertical fists rather than the horizontal fist of the modern day boxer. A boxer's fracture often occurs then the little finger side of the fist impacts rather than the intended pointer finger side of the fist. A similar argument applies the to ancient boxers using vertical fists. If the boxer misses with the intended part of the fist the thumb impacts resulting in an injury.

Isshinryu karate may be sacrificing biomechanical efficiency in order to reduce the risk of injury when using a vertical fist to punch. Now there is support if any Isshinryu karate exponent argues the safety aspect of their unique fist configuration.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What Does A Green Belt Mean?

I've written two posts on the question - What does a black belt mean? - in my Kojutsukan blog: #1 and #2. I've also recently posted a similar post on my The School of Jan de Jong blog.

I've been discussing this issue with a very knowledgeable, albeit relatively lowly graded, martial artist. He was awarded a green belt in Jan de Jong jujutsu. He brilliantly posed the question, 'What does a green belt mean?'

Do we get defensive or judgemental when we ask or answer the question, 'What does a green belt mean?' Do we talk about 'journeys' and how it doesn't mean much to us? Do we get all esoteric or philosophical over a green belt? Not so much.

We start to talk about progression. We start to talk about a level of achievement. Now we are starting to talk about things that matter.

I suspect there are very few people who would get all philosophical or esoterically wax on if they were asked what does a Bachelor degree means. They would not get defensive in actively pursing this milestone as a goal. They would not be condemned because they wanted to get a Bachelor of whatever.

Asking what a green belt means encourages us to suggest the martial artist needs to 'get over themselves' when answering the question, 'What does a black belt mean?' It encourages us to suggest that the martial arts in general needs to get over itself.

Asking these two questions encourages us to specifically understand and articulate what each grading/belt means. It encourages us to examine the content of the gradings in order to see if they are actually achieving what they are designed to achieve. Is there progression? If so, how?

Interestingly, what does a green belt mean comes to become a far more important question than what does a black belt mean.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

What Does A Black Belt Mean?

The final two questions in my redesigned theory grading are:(a) what does a black belt mean to you?, and (b) what does a black belt mean for Kojutsukan (me)? I put these questions to two shodan candidates. Their responses demonstrated that this question - what does a black belt mean? - is a very important and revealing question.

One of my more popular posts concerns this issue with reference to Jan de Jong's shodan gradings. In that post I refer to a number of authorities who describe the black belt as the beginning of the study of that martial art. That a minimum proficiency is gained prior to shodan and then the study really begins.

I recall a senior instructor of De Jong's (who now has his own school) telling me how his 'eyes were opened' when he trained shodan. Why were this instructors 'eyes opened' by the shodan gradings? Because he was learning the 'patterns that connect.'

When I discuss this issue with the abovementioned shodan candidates, I will explain that up until the shodan gradings they were 'trained monkeys.' They know some 'tricks,' otherwise known as defences. Shodan teaches them the patterns that connect so that they can see a system rather than a collection of techniques.

The difference in thinking is between analytical thinking and synthetical thinking. Analytical thinking involves identifying differences and learning single defences. Synthetical thinking involves identifying similarities and learning a fighting system. Remember, the core of all learning is the identification of similarities and differences. The kyu grades are about differences, analytical thinking. The dan grades are (or should be) about similarities, synthetical thinking.

It has been said that with analysis you gain knowledge but with synthesis you gain understanding. The dan grades should be about gaining understanding.

The mon grades that De Jong developed and installed at the front of the kyu grading system introduced the student to a synthetical view of his jujutsu. They offered the potential of gaining understanding through their study. These lessons were lost on novice students. In fact, the lessons were lost on many of the shodans and instructors as well. Possibly they were lost on the novice student because their instructors had not gained the understanding offered by the mon grades.

The consideration of the question, what does a black belt mean?, raised a number of issues. The abovementioned former De Jong senior instructor with his own school has dropped the mon grades from his grading system. He explains that decision as going back to the original Tsutsumi Hozan ryu jujutsu. The issue of original or Tsutsumi Hozan ryu is another issue, but, was dropping the mon grades a good thing or a bad thing?

You could argue to train in the traditional manner. Teach the monkeys tricks in the kyu grades, then teach them to see the essence of the system in the dan grades. Whether or not the dan grades of most martial arts teaches the person to see the essence of their system is another matter.

Should you be teaching analytical and synthetical thinking from day one? Another interesting question. My approach is to teach a person to 'think' and then teach consistently using this way of thinking. This produces efficiencies and efficacy. Rather than giving the student a fish, this approach teaches them how to fish.

My theory grading goes beyond anything ever produced in the martial arts. It could be used to understand and study any martial art, and would produce greater insights into those martial arts. If shodan is the beginning of a student's study of their martial art, should this theory grading be distributed over a number of dan grades?

It was often suggested that most martial arts consider shodan to be the commencement of a student's study but the De Jong shodan signified mastery. That was because the shodan grading was one of the most comprehensive in the martial arts world and focused on a systems view of his jujutsu (although the latter was not explicitly appreciated until now). If this view is adopted, then my theory grading should be retained in the shodan grading as it provides a way of thinking and viewing not only the martial art being studied, but all martial arts.

It could of course be argued that this level of understanding is not required at shodan, but can be gained when studying higher dan grades.

'What does a black belt?' is a question that raises a good many questions. There are no right or wrong answers to this question, only the opportunity of gaining a deeper understanding of a martial art being studied.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Shime Waza, Neck Restraints and Neck Holds

I'm writing a chapter on shime waza (strangulation techniques). Law enforcement use these techniques to varying degrees but do not refer to them as strangulation techniques for obvious reasons. They refer to them as neck restraints or neck holds. I will refer to these techniques as neck restraints (NR).

There are two basic types of NR: those that apply pressure to the front of the neck and those that apply pressure to both sides of the neck. The former targets the airway and the latter target the vascular structures of the neck. The former are referred to as respiratory neck restraints and the latter as vascular neck restraints. I will refer to them as respiratory neck techniques (RNT) and vascular neck techniques (VNT) respectively.

What is the mechanism of injury with NR? I'm referring to a Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission report into the use of a VNT by Queensland police officers which resulted in a suspect experiencing serious brain injury, i.e. a vegetative state. The independent medical opinion (Dr Hoskins) annexed to the report considers the mechanisms of injury associated with a NR.

There are four basic mechanism of injury associated with a NR:

1. Occlusion of the airway.
2. Occlusion of the carotid arteries.
3. Occlusion of the jugular veins.
4. Stimulation of the carotid sinuses.

There is no suggestion that the VNT turned into a RNT in the struggle with the mentally disturbed suspect when attempting to restrain him. So the pressure was applied to the sides of the neck and not the front of the neck. It is disturbing that the occlusion of the airway was ruled out as being responsible for the injury for reasons other than an understanding that a VNT does not apply pressure to the front of the neck.

It is a common explanation that a VNT is designed to occlude the carotid arteries and thereby stop the supply of oxygenated blood to the brain causing unconsciousness. The vertebral arteries which transfer blood to the brain along the cervical spine vertebrae continue to feed the brain with enough oxygen to stave off brain damage but not enough to maintain consciousness.

The occlusion of the jugular veins is often overlooked as a mechanism of injury. Dr John Pi (who is also an FBI Special Agent) organised and led a panel of medical personnel to research the carotid restraint (VNT) and, among other things, create a better understanding of the medical explanation for its effectiveness. The results of the study were also published in Advanced Concepts in Defensive Tactics: A Survival Guide for Law Enforcement. The panel considered the effectiveness of the technique was due to occlusion of the jugular veins and stimulation of the carotid sinus rather than occlusion of the carotid arteries. The reasoning includes the relative amounts of pressure that needs to be applied to occlude the veins and arteries. Two to three times more pressure is required to be applied to occlude the carotid arteries than the jugular veins.

Occluding the jugular veins has the effect of stopping the deoxygenated blood from returning to the heart. Dr Hoskins explains that it is an over-pressure phenomenon where blood is being pumped to the head while its exit is blocked by pressure on the veins. He suggests that it is thought, but lacks experimental corroboration for obvious reasons, that it takes 20 to 30 seconds for this phenomenon to develop. The obvious evidence of occlusion of the jugular veins is a blood engorged face.

Is it an either/or proposition? Is either the occlusion of the carotid arteries or the jugular veins the cause of injury? Dr Hoskins refers to blood bleeding from the nose and ears, and pinpoint bleeds over the eyelids and the whites of the eyes when the jugular veins are occluded. But what if the carotid arteries are occluded at the same time? The only blood trapped in the head is the blood that was in the head at the time the carotid arteries were occluded.

Research has demonstrated that unconsciousness from a VNT results from a lack of oxygen to the brain. Dr Pi's panel suggest that occluding the jugular veins has the effect of stopping the forward flow of blood into the brain. Studies have shown that VNTs result in unconsciousness in approximately 10 seconds. Does occluding the jugular veins result in unconsciousness slower or faster than occluding the carotid arteries? Were the aforementioned studies also occluding the jugular veins?

These questions have not be considered let alone studied.

Now lets turn to the carotid sinus mechanism. Dr Pi's panel suggest stimulation of the carotid sinus is also responsible for unconsciousness when applying a VNT. Dr Hoskins eventual determination as to cause of injury was the stimulation of the carotid sinus (after a process of elimination). Stimulating the carotid sinus causes a reduction in heart rate. This has been referred to as an 'interesting theory' by noted forensic pathologists when it's referred to in connection with deaths from strangulation (including NR).

I've tried it. Yes! I've tried to stimulate my carotid sinus in order to render myself unconscious. I've used manual and mechanical means to stimulate my carotid sinus. I've had my GP who is trained in carotid sinus massage, massage my carotid sinus in order to reduce my heart rate (and hopefully render me unconscious). Nothing!

Law enforcement love VNTs:

When included in the force options available to police officers, these techniques have been described as providing 'more protection to the officer than any other known method of control, and it concludes physical resistance without injury to the subject faster than any other restraint means known.' They are techniques that are capable of being 'used effectively regardless of the size of either the person to be controlled or the size of the police officer,' and being the only safe way to subdue very violent offenders or those who are not responsive to pain compliance techniques, such as those under the influence of drugs, emotionally disturbed or mentally ill persons, and those experiencing an adrenalin rush.
(taken from the draft of my chapter)

The Canadian Police Research Centre (CPRC) has produced a number of reports on the use of NRs by law enforcement. They love them. However, deaths have been associated with the use of NR. This association is a matter worthy of its own post, however, the CPRC and many other authorities tend to lay the blame for any fatalities on RNT while favouring VNT. They favour VNT because they are so effective.

There is a serious flaw in the logic. VNT are capable of stimulating the carotid sinus. You do not need to stimulate both carotid sinus like you do with occlusion of the carotid arteries. It takes less pressure to stimulate the carotid sinus than it does to occlude the carotid arteries or jugular veins. And once the carotid sinus has been stimulated it cannot be unstimulated. If stimulating the carotid artery results in a slowing of the heart rate, sometimes too much and death, then VNT are inherently more dangerous than RNT. I am staggered that this logic has not been considered by any who have considered the use of NR by law enforcement.

The stimulation of the carotid sinus mechanism exists. A senior student of Jan de Jong shared an experience with me where he was nearly rendered unconscious when Maggie de Jong performed a technique on him during a demonstration. It was a defence with a jo (4ft staff) that applied force with the forearm and jo to the neck to cause the attacker to fall to the ground. The technique was held on for the barest of seconds and therefore his experience could not be attributed to occlusion of the arteries and/or veins. As it turns out, he has a slight heart condition, which some authorities suggest puts him at in a high risk category of injury with VNT. I have since advised this student that he is not to have any VNT or similar neck techniques applied to him because of his underlying heart condition.

What is the conclusion from this study of NR. They are very effective, but the exact mechanism for their effectiveness and their inherent risk to life is not known.

There is a duty of care issue here (a part of another chapter in my book). If you don't know the mechanism of injury, how can you prevent or control injury if teaching these techniques? Ignorance is no defence.

When I've discussed my work with other martial artists, many have expressed scepticism and suggested that people are only interested in the 'how' and not the 'why.' The same instructors are then often seen supporting their how instruction with a why explanation. Any instructor who explains the how of NR are doing so on flawed information.

If any instructor attempts to explain the why behind the how, they had better do the leg work to understand the why. Based on experience, the why is not easy to come by within the literature associated with activities associated with preparing a person to survive a violent encounter.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle

When attempting to explain ubiquity theory, Mark Buchanan refers to an example of building a pile of sand one grain at a time until there is an avalanche. It was the final single grain of sand that was placed in a particular position that caused the avalanche.

I have been thinking about this when following the furore that has erupted over the suicide of a nurse working in the UK after a prank call from two Australian radio personalities.

More reasoned heads have explained that suicide is a complex issue involving many factors. The phone call may have been the one little grain of sand placed in the right place at the right time on a pile of sand in a critical state that was the nurse.

This then reminds me of a quote that may or may not have come from Philo of Alexandria: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.

The nurse may have been fighting a great battle which put her pile of sand in a critical state. Many people are.

The prank call was made as a joke. It's a sad indictment on society when we gain so much pleasure at the expense of others. One person's joke may be another person's grain of sand that causes an avalanche. One person's unthinking comment can be another person's grain of sand that causes an avalanche.

The radio announcers did not know the nurse was a pile of sand in a critical state. How much more aware of what we say should we be if we know a person is in a critical state? The answer is obvious. Or is it?

Bono of U2 wrote 'Stuck in a Moment' as a conversation he would have liked to have had with his friend, Michael Hutchence, lead singer of INXS who took his own life:

It's a row between mates. You're kinda trying to wake them up out of an idea. In my case it's a row I didn't have while he was alive. I feel the biggest respect I could pay to him was not to write some stupid soppy f--king song, so I wrote a really tough, nasty little number, slapping him around the head.
Bono is trying to place a grain of sand that reduces the critical state of his friend's pile of sand. However, people don't feel depressed or anxious because they want to. They would change the way they feel if they could. This tough love, or even positive thinking-type approaches can be tough to take. It can reinforce a sense of failure - which becomes another grain of sand placed on a pile of sand in a critical state.

As people generally, but particularly as instructors who come into contact with survivors of violent encounters, we have to be very aware of where we are placing our grain of sand on the person's pile of sand which is in a critical state. The intention of the placer of the grain of sand is of little comfort to the destroyed pile of sand when an avalanche occurs.

We should think like sand-people and be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.

Friday, December 7, 2012

'It really broke me': Jill leaves a fighting legacy.'

I have not posted for some time because I'm now in the process of redrafting. Fair enough, this week I've decided to include a chapter on shime waza (strangulation techniques) within the proposed book. This chapter provides the 'why' behind the 'how' which many think they understand but very few do. In the mean time, I came across this newspaper article concerning women self defence:

The video accompanying the article includes certain statements by a women's self defence (WSD) instructor. She explains that teach their students about the 'physiological factors that affect their bodies when they are under that stress and which helps then understand it and use it to their advantage.'


The founder of stress theory, Hans Selye, got it right when he famously said that everybody knows what stress is, but nobody really knows what it is. If you think you know what stress is, you don't.

Stress inoculation training and stress exposure training are training methodologies used by law enforcement and the military to prepare their personnel for operational service. Surely the very foundation of these courses has to be based on an understanding of what stress is. Surely the very foundation of these courses is undermined when stress is an ambiguous concept.

I have been confronted by a knife-wielding attacker on two separate occasions. On both of these occasions I did not experience a 'stress reaction.' I did not experience the physiological factors associated with stress. What does the information presented in the abovementioned WSD courses have to offer me in terms of turning these physiological factors to my advantage? In fact, their absence could become a source of concern eliciting their own physiological and cognitive responses which I need to deal with in addition to the external threat posed to my well-being.

We need to move beyond the ambiguous concept of stress. We need to understand emotion. We need to understand the survival process. We need to stop 'dising' nature's survival mechanism. WSD courses are often predicated on the fact that women are defenceless. THEY ARE NOT! They would not have survived throughout evolutionary history if they were defenceless. However, by indoctrinating women into believing they are defenceless runs the risk of changing them into being defenceless. It runs the risk of negating nature's survival mechanism.

The WSD courses and all other survival activities' courses that I am considering starts out with an understanding of nature's defence mechanism. What has nature given us that promotes our survival when threatened? It then goes on to understand how the methods developed by survival activities are designed to be improvements on nature's survival process. This understanding is no mere academic exercise. Research has shown that this understanding can help manage and support the survival process.