Thursday, March 29, 2012

A healthy respect for weaponry.

Hey, we're all adults.  We know that knives are pointy, swords are sharp, and sticks can crush.  Most of us have had a few cuts and contusions to hammer the point home.  Oddly enough, for most beginners, I feel that while they are inherently aware of these facts, it doesn't register in a martial context.

I will have an adult student who does food prep on a regular basis, chopping vegetables, cutting chicken, beef, etc. look at me thunderstruck when I do a cutting demonstration.  Something about that cutlet of chicken breast is so far removed from a living thing that we can't see how the damage done - and let's be honest, we are damaging that chicken breast by irreparably cutting it in half -- could ever translate to being stabbed.

I have never been shivved or stabbed.  I've barely been lightly poked by a knife.  I'd say this puts me firmly among the majority of first world residents.

You see this in a movie theatre.  People will watch the most amazing displays of violence without batting an eye.  If the star of the movie gets a paper cut though, everyone gasps and shudders a little bit.  We can identify with this pain, it is familiar and we relate to the discomfort on a personal level.  Being stabbed or beaten is just so far removed from our experiences we can only look at it from a clinical level.

So as a service to your students, do everyone a favor and line them up and stab them. At this point, I should point wildly to the disclaimer on the top left of the page which mentions my parent organization does not share or endorse my views.

Though the Internet Sarcasm Font is still in development, I think everyone can tell that I was joking.  Right?

Why am I thinking about this?  For most of my time as an instructor, I have taught adults.  I've taught adults from 16-60+ from White Belt to 3rd Dan.

For the past few years, I've taken to teaching kids.  My most senior kid is a Red Belt.  And he is nine.  He has been my guinea pig as I get used to teaching kids (because he gets everything first as senior rank.)  How do I teach Bassai? Let's try with the kid...  Expectations for drill combinations?  Let's try with the kid.

At red belt in my organization, you are formally introduced to the knife.  While the dangum hyung is still many years off, we begin teaching standard knife defenses at Red Belt.  That means disarming someone who wants to stab you.

That means disarming someone who wants to kill you.

Adults, adults who should know better, often forget this.  I watched an E Dan Candidate at her black belt test perform a jump split while simultaneously performing a low x block to her attacker's knife wielding hand.

Does a nine year old stand a chance in hades of disarming a fully grown, knife wielding adult intent on killing them?  Well, let's say I don't like the kid's chances.

So the lesson boils down to teaching the mechanics.  Like most techniques, they will grow into it.  Focus on the distance, using the body with the throw, breaking the balance, etc.  All great lessons.

Consider the knife again.  To be a good partner, we must also give a good attack.  This means, we need to teach the nine year old how to cut, how to stab, etc.  We are trusting the kid with deadly motions, even in the hands of a nine year old.  Where his back kick may harmlessly bounce off me, he can probably stick a tanto into my ribs pretty easily.  Can I most likely outsmart him and defend against him?  Sure, but don't be an idiot and think that the stakes didn't just go through the roof.  People have been killed in dumber situations...

You might roll your eyes and think I'm being a little hypersensitive.  "It's just a skill",  "if they are a serious student, it'll be ok" , "no big deal we teach our kids sentry removal techniques all the time."

It is a big. Damn. Deal.

Let us go back to the simple staff, the great teacher of the weapons.  What lessons do we learn from staff? A hard long stick gives us reach and extra power.  Ask a kid who messes up a full speed figure 8 if staff can inflict damage.  They've felt it.  They respect it to some degree.   Even a staff is a dangerous weapon, and needs to be treated that way from square one.

I force my kids to carry their staff to and from the dojang upright tucked behind their arm, paralel to the body.  Don't swing it, or carry it horizontally, bumping clumsily into your surroundings.  Look at who is around you before you pull it from the bag, be aware of your surroundings before practice.  Hand off the staff respectfully.

Why do I focus on these things?  Because each of these kids, with a staff in their hand, can seriously injure someone and being accidental in nature doesn't make it hurt less or take back the action.

How many people have been killed and their last words were "relax, it's not loaded."

We might dress up a staff, taper it, cover it in glitter, holograms or unicorns farting rainbows, but it still represents something very powerful.

All of this babble leads back to my Red Belt.  The one I've already trusted with a staff.  He's a good kid, but I'm not giving him my Spyderco anytime soon.  He gets a wooden knife.  Then maybe a more real looking rubber one, then an aluminum trainer, and finally maybe an actual dangum.  This is over the course of years.  If Mom and Dad want to buy him a Randall A-1, that's their choice, but on the floor they can use the stick for a few years.

My goal is to create a weapon safety program for my kids, like the Totin Chip card used in the Boy Scouts of America, to show that they have earned the right to practice with weapons in the dojang.  If a kid earns his card and does something stupid like take a swing at someone, then they can't bring their staff on the floor for 3 months.  Three months?  But what about testing?

I guess if they can't bring the required tools for training onto the floor, they can't pass, so I guess it's not even worth letting them test.  Lesson learned.
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