Monday, August 1, 2011

What are they teaching these kids?

Karate is not self defense

Why does this 10 year old kid have a Black Belt?

Now before I start a flame war here me out.  I had the privilege of cross training in Goju Ryu Karate with Lewinski Sensei while I was in college.  Fantastic training focusing on the practical application of a traditional art.  I love the way Karate was taught there.  In fact I have incorporated much of what I learned into the Taiho Jutsu I now teach.  Karate can be used very effectively for self defense.  However, the issue I have is that Karate is rarely taught the way it was at MSU, especially to kids.

Which brings us to today’s exciting blog….

“Tales from Safety Camp”

Last week I was a camp councilor at “Safety Camp”.  Safety Camp is a program for children 8-10 years to learn Police Officers, Fire Fighters, and EMT’s are just regular people while they are educated on safety topics. 
Safety training includes:
  • Fire safety
  • How / Why to call 911
  • Electricity safety
  • Hazard House – how to get out of a burning house
  • Water Safety
  • Bike Safety
  • Internet safety
  • Self Defense

The guy who used to teach the self defense portion couldn’t make it so the camp organizers asked me if Lise could teach it.  Lise and I have taught women’s self defense for this person before.  Lise agreed to take time off from work and developed a lesson plan

The kids are divided into 3 teams (Green, Orange, and Purple) and rotate between different safety topics and playing.  I was a councilor for the Green Team Cobras (I was Cobra Commander of course).

The camp starts with an opening ceremony with all the Chiefs from all the local agencies and McGruff, Sparky, and Smokey all in attendance.  The camp organizer introduced the Self Defense portion with Lise as Karate stuff where you get to kick and punch.  Lots of kids jumped up yelling oh, oh, I know Karate and started doing their “moves”.  I whispered to Lise you are going to have lots of habits to break.

As luck turned out my Green team had Self Defense with Lise first.  I could help her out a little bit while she got a feel for how she was going to present the class.
Lise started with very basic common sense things that all kids should know.  Things like how to keep themselves safe so they don’t need to use self defense skills.  As she was transitioning from theory to physical skills, she talked about how important it is to never let a stranger take you away (to a secondary crime scene).  One of the kids asked what if they have a gun.  Before Lise had a chance to answer a kid said I know this I know Karate, you can just take the gun out of his hand.

I said ok Karate kid stand up.  I made my fingers into a gun.  I told him to get into my car or I was going to shoot him.  He moved to grab me.  I yelled BANG really loud.  Your dead, your black belt could not keep you from getting your head blown off.  We will be sad and send flowers to your funeral.  Then I asked him what does he think would work better than trying to wrestle a gun away from an adult 3 times his size that has the intention to hurt him.  He didn’t know (must not have been listening to Lise because he already knew every thing).  So I reversed roles with him.  He made a gun and said get in my car.  I started yelling help this guy has a gun help and running around.  All the kids laughed.  I made the point that I might not even be able to take the gun away from this little kid.  But I don’t need to take the gun away to defeat him.  He needs quiet and privacy that is why he wants to drive me away so he can hurt me with out anyone being able to stop him.  If I bring a lot of attention to him he has lost quiet and privacy.  Predators attack easy prey, I just made myself more work than it is worth.

Physical Techniques
Following the theme of an adult attempting to take them to a secondary scene the first technique Lise taught was an escape from a wrist grab.  Lise showed how to make your wrist skinny, how to slip your wrist between their fingers and thumb, and how to move your entire body to generate power and get out of the way of any secondary attack.  A different kid yelled I already know that, I know Karate….

I said ok Karate kid try it on me.  I told him my car was parked behind that tree (about 10 yards away) if I put him in the car I’m going to do horrible things to him.  I also told him if he could escape with what he already knew I’d give him $5.  I grabbed his arm and started walking away.  He didn’t do anything Lise showed him.  He pulled against me trying to use strength and pulling his wrist into the strength of my hand instead of the weakness of the gap between my fingers.  I asked him if he really thought he would be able to out muscle a 250 lb grown man who bench presses Buicks, and has the intent to hurt you.  He said yes.  I replied ok try again.  This time I gave him a nice Yonkajo which brought him down to his knees (Aikido guys will know what I’m talking about).  So we reviewed what Lise taught. Using physics not strength.  We tried again, I held on as tight as I could and started pulling him away.  He stepped in using my motion not fighting it.  Created power through weight transfer and used that power to move his wrist through the gap in my fingers.  He escaped.  Minimum effort, maximum result.

Attack from rear.
The last physical technique Lise taught was a hair pull / drag off from the rear.  Again sticking with the theme of an adult attempting to take them to a secondary scene.  Lise taught to drop your weight, use your arms to protect your head, step in to break free and run away.  Can you guess what happened next readers?  Sure enough a 3rd kid said I already know this I know Karate. 

So I grabbed his hair and growled in his ear that I was going to drag him off to my creepy van with the windows painted over and eat his face off. (maybe they were not ready for stress inoculation yet but that’s the way I roll)  He tried to elbow me.  I simply started pulling him and destroyed his balance he couldn’t do anything.  So lets try this again, what did Lise show you.  1) drop your center.  See how I can’t pull you now?  2) Protect your head – I gave him a playful slap to see why that is necessary.  3) Turn and step with the drag.  He was free -  Minimum effort, maximum result.

Gather around children
After the 3rd I already know this I know Karate I felt the issue had to be addressed.  I had the kids gather around.  I told them that I had been teasing Karate a little bit but that I thought Karate was really cool (I do).  I told them it was great for what it is.   Karate is a great art and a great sport.  And sports can boost focus, respect, balance, self control, setting and achieving goals, making new friends, and having a great time!  You can learn all those traits playing basketball, volley ball or swimming too.  But Karate doesn’t prepare you to protect yourself from an adult with the intent to do bad things to you anymore than playing basketball, volley ball or swimming.  So it is important to listen to the self defense instructor even if you know Karate, because when you did what she taught you escaped every time.  Great job!, you could tell I was trying really hard to hold on to you guys and I couldn’t.  That’s awesome.  But, when you did what you thought you knew you failed and the bad guy could have taken you away and done what ever they wanted to you.  If you learn just one thing from the self defense class is that you can not out muscle an adult.  That is just Hollywood movie silliness.  Much better to use Lise’s advice on how to prevent that situation from ever happening, and if God forbid that it ever does to yell and scream and bring as much attention to yourself as possible.  Because no mater what you can’t let them take you away.

Proving ground.
So after my little talk it was time to play on the playground until we rotated to the next safety training topic.  Lise did a great job playing with the kids.  She was the stranger.  She would stalk and grab kids while they were playing.  And guess what?, under pressure against a random (well 1 of possible 3) attacks the kids reacted instinctively with the appropriate technique.  While the other kids yelled help help stranger.  Awesome.

Moral of the story
45 minutes of self defense training served these kids much better than years of Karate training being called self defense. 
  • One simple fundamental motion that works for multiple attacks
  • Realistic attacks / scenarios not retrofitting the attack to fit the defense (see a spinning kick to knock a gun out of a hand)
  • Making sure they can do the technique under pressure.  Competence builds confidence
  • Being honest – we are not selling anything so we are not trying to make what we teach the answer to everything

How many Karate instructors are trained and experienced in Close Quarters Battle?  Not many, if so why are the teaching gun disarming especially to kids. 
Because it’s cool and cool = $$$?

Bottom line if you are a Karate (or any other type of martial art) teacher that teaches kids, teach your art, but don’t fill the kid’s heads with fantasies that they can use that martial art against a grown criminal. 

If you have a separate self defense class make sure you are teaching - simple fundamental motions that works for multiple attacks, realistic attacks / scenarios not retrofitting the attack to fit the defense, making sure they can do the technique under pressure, and most important BE HONEST.

If you can’t meet those criteria with what you know you owe it to your students to learn how.

Shameless self promotion ALERT!!!!
If you want to learn to use what you already know to teach self defense please come to Marc and Rory’s seminar

Train hard, train smart, be safe – BE HONEST!




  2. I always like reading your blog & thought this was one of the best posts yet. As I've been checking out various schools, I've noticed some of the same things while watching the various kids there. I was watching one where they had a kid (about 15-16) teaching. He had a black gi & what looked like a 2nd degree black belt. He was full of confidence & was a little cocky & condescending to his students (about 50/50 mix of kids & older adults). It was fairly obvious that there was no real experience in actual street violence. After wards, some of the kids were goofing around & started doing bear hugs from the rear & their well practiced techniques weren't helping them escape. The instructors were trying to show the kids that it was because they weren't grabbing correctly. I was amused as they showed them how to grab the person 'correctly' again so the technique would work. It's always surprised me to see kids w/black belts. I think schools like that have a purpose, but but it's usually not teaching useful self-defense. The kids usually aren't going to run into someone their size that their 'ultimate techniques' would work effectively.

    I did almost fall over laughing thinking about your interaction w/the kids. Maybe we can get you up here for our safety camp next year & I'll bring Gunner to your Safety Camp for a demo.

    BTW This was a Karate school.

  3. Great article, echos many things I see taught as self-defense.

  4. Great post. Too many self defense programs are too heavily set in fantasy land.

  5. good article. keep it practical and tactical

  6. Thanks for sharing such great tips!
    And such great blogs, we will reading these all weekend and picking up some tips and sharing our experiences! Kenpo Karate, Fort Collins, CO