Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Victim selection: it's all in the way we walk!

There have been many research studies into what factors make a person a potential victim. Most of these factors relate to body language cues and psychological factors such as dominant vs. submissive personality types. However, one of the most distinguishing cues that separate’s a potential victim from a non-victim is the way we walk…

The most influential study into non-verbal cues was carried out in 1981 by Grayson and Stein. Briefly, they shot silent black and white videotape of 60 people walking in New York City, without their knowledge and in a single location. They then asked inmates incarcerated for violent crime to rank them for perceived assault potential.

The findings were surprising because ‘victims’ were not selected on obvious criteria such as size, gender, race, or age. Interestingly, the inmates themselves could not articulate why they chose some people as potential victims and not others suggesting that victim selection was an unconscious or intuitive process.

However, careful analysis of the videotape revealed that victim selection was dependent on the way people walked. In particular the following five criteria were important in identifying a person as a potential victim:

1.       Length of stride: Having too long or too short a stride for their height.

2.       Walking rate: Walking faster or slower than the general pedestrian traffic around them.  Walking too slow makes you look like you lack purpose, too fast can makes you look nervous.

3.       Fluidity of gait: Having a jerky or uncoordinated gate. Shuffling, staggering or just looking awkward.

4.       Wholeness of body movement: Not moving their body from the centre as a coordinated whole. Swinging arms in an uncoordinated way. This projects an image of weakness, poor balance and lack of confidence.

5.       Posture and gaze: Slumped posture and downward gaze. This suggests submissiveness and lack of awareness.

Though each of these factors in isolation may give out important subconscious cues to an attacker it also seems that all these factors taken together make you look different to people around you and therefore make you stand out from the crowd. Perhaps, just as we look for those differences in behaviour that makes a potential attacker stand out from the crowd, an attacker subconsciously looks for differences in walking styles to identify a potential victim.

Can we or should we change the way we walk? Well, according to experts it’s virtually impossible to suddenly change the way we move or fake body language. Positive changes in gait and body language have to be earned!

Knowledge is power they say – the way to develop ‘positive walking’ is to firstly develop better awareness skills– which require you to look up and engage with your environment, making eye contact with people. This alone will start to make you look more confident and give you a more upright posture.

Secondly, improving fitness will impact on your balance, coordination and strength which in turn should help you develop a more positive walking style.

Finally, learning some self-defence skills has been shown to actually reduce your chances of being attacked. This is related to the confidence and assertiveness cues you give out in your general body language.

So, it’s time to analyse the way you walk; don’t make yourself a victim through ignorance. If your posture and gait is found wanting do something about it – you can’t change it overnight but you can change it over time and the sooner you start……

Ref: Why is everyone always picking on me?
Body language and assault prevention
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Friday, 21 October 2011

Black Belt Testing – entrance or exit exam?

Revolving doors
People are often tempted to compare the abilities of a black belt student from one martial arts system to those of black belt students within other systems. In addition, people often have fixed expectations of what a black belt student should be able to do, this often results in much discussion or argument over the quality of a black belt test.

For some, the new black belt student should be entirely proficient in all aspects of their chosen art or be able to prove themselves in a fight. For others the new black belt student is considered to have just learnt the basics of their art and now their real training is about to begin. This begs the question – is the black belt test an entrance or exit exam?

In case you are not familiar with the concept of entrance and exit exams let me offer you some examples: A medical degree is an entrance exam; at the end of the course the student holds a degree qualification which then gains them entrance into a programme of higher medical training. A medical degree alone does not allow a person to become a fully qualified, fully independent doctor. Likewise a Law degree provides a standalone qualification but it does not allow the holder to practice as a lawyer; it is merely an entrance qualification to higher levels of training.

On the other hand, some training programmes lead to qualifications that allow the holder to go out and work as a fully functioning practitioner in that line of work. For example, qualifications in nursing, plumbing or electrics; these are ‘exit’ qualifications and the student has to pass ‘exit’ exams that prove they are fully competent in their subject and safe to practice. That isn’t to say that there aren’t further more specialist courses that the practitioner can take, there generally are. A junior doctor who has completed a programme of higher specialist training will take exit exams that allow him/her to practice as an independent practitioner.

So, this brings me back to the question, is the black belt test an entrance or exit exam? Does it merely allow you to enter into a higher level of training in your art or does it mean that you are a fully functioning practitioner who has mastered all the techniques your art has to offer?

It depends on the art and the system that you train in doesn’t it? In most systems of karate and other traditional arts I would argue that the black belt test is an entrance exam – it shows that you have learnt the basics and you are now ready to enter into a programme of more advanced training.

However, I think that in some reality based systems the black belt test is treated more as an exit exam and that there is an expectation that black belt students can defend themselves in a very confident and expert way and will have become proficient ‘fighters’.

It may be that the bar is set higher for black belt testing in some systems than in others. I don’t think that this matters too much as long as you are not making direct comparisons. In the same way that you can’t compare degree qualifications from one university with those from another, neither can you compare black belt qualifications of one martial arts system with those from a different system either.

So, if your system of training treats the black belt test as an entrance exam at what point of training do you exit? 3rd dan? 5th dan? If you are a traditionalist then you probably believe that there is no exit exam, that training and the pursuit of perfection in your art is a life-long programme with no end-point.

Then again, you may, for practical reasons, assume that there is an exit point at say 3rd dan. At third dan you may feel that the practitioner is sufficiently proficient in the full range of their art to be able to teach it as a fully qualified instructor. If you treat the black belt test as an exit exam then you may feel that the practitioner is suitably qualified to teach at 1st dan or 2nd dan.

The point though is that you understand what the black belt test in your system really represents in terms of achievement and proficiency in your art. It doesn’t really matter whether it represents a basic qualification or an advanced one as long as you understand where it fits into the entire continuum of your training system and you don’t make too many comparisons between systems without understanding where their black belt qualification fits into their system.

So, is your black belt test an entrance or an exit exam? Where would you consider the exit point to be in your system?

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Monday, 17 October 2011

Stephen L Brayton - guest blogger

I'd like to introduce you to my guest blogger, Stephen L Brayton. Stephen is a Fifth degree Black Belt Instructor in the American Taekwondo Association. In the following post, Stephen provides some class management skills.

Stephen is also a published author. His latest book, Beta, concerns a martial artist/private investigator who is on the hunt for a kidnapped child. You can find out more about Stephen and his latest book (and his previous publications) by visiting his website at

Stephen L Brayton
10 Class Management Skills

One of the first teaching aides I learned as a trainee instructor was the list of class management skills. I had to memorize all ten and demonstrate them in a classroom situation. During each of my recertification seminars, these skills were reinforced and practiced. These skills show how well the instructor is conducting the class and how much he/she cares about the students. The next time you’re in class, check off how many the instructor is following:

  1. Set mood and tone of class. Is the instructor happy to be there or showing what a bad day he’s having?
  2. Set a direct goal. Does the instructor have a game plan for the evening and does he announce it?
  3. Create positive environment. Does the instructor smile and share his enthusiasm?
  4. Personal approach/individual contact. Two examples of this are the instructor acknowledging the individual student by giving him a high five or touching them to make corrections in technique.
  5. Give positive feedback to questions. Does the instructor give intelligent answers to questions or ignore them? Even if the question is asked by a child and does not relate to taekwondo, how does the instructor respond?
  6. Reinforce positive behavior. Acknowledge the attributes for a successful class. Is a student standing at attention, paying attention? Does a particular student assist another having problems?
  7. Realistic praise. “That is the most awesome front kick I have ever seen in my life.” The student isn’t going to buy this and it’s wrong. Praise the student for improvements made from the last attempt or praise some quality in the technique.
  8. Positive correction instead of criticism. “That’s a bad stance, you should try harder.” How will the student feel after hearing this? A good formula is praise-correct-praise. Praise the student for the attempt and find a good quality about the technique. Then show the necessary correction to make it better. Then praise the student for the correction made.
  9. Refer to students by name. Everyone wants to hear his or her name and to be remembered, especially in a large class.
  10. Promote personal victory. As an example, don’t tell the student he needs to kick head high. Rather, give them a realistic goal, and count that as a victory. Even if the improvement is kicking two inches higher than yesterday, it’s an improvement and victory for the individual.

Many of these skills are designed to promote the individual, which is one of the best attributes of martial arts. Yes, there is a team atmosphere, but the individual is the key. I can’t play football, so I wouldn’t make the team. I can’t dribble very well, so I’d sit on the bench a lot. However, I can practice hard and after a few months be worthy of testing for a higher rank. Others may have moved up faster, but that’s okay. I’m concerned with me.

These skills show how the instructor cares about the students. In my book, Beta, my heroine, Mallory Petersen, is a private investigator and head instructor in her taekwondo school. She cares about every one of her students, from the black belt who’s won multiple trophies at tournaments to the squirrelly lower rank who has problems with a basic front kick even after eight weeks’ worth of classes. She has meetings with her staff about instruction techniques and concerns about the students. She knows every one of her students by name and how each is progressing through the curriculum.

Class management skills are vital for a successful club or school. If the instructor isn’t using these on a regular basis, then these are something to pass along.

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Monday, 10 October 2011

Awareness – let's not just pay lip service to this important area of training.

How often do we pay lip service to the skills of awareness in relation to self-defence training? Every self-defence course you go on will tell you how important awareness and avoidance are. Five minutes later you will be moved on to  learning some physical techniques (the fun part) - after all, isn’t that the reason you’re really there, to learn some self-defence?

Yet we all know that most physical attack situations can actually be avoided if we are truly aware and paying attention to our environment. So why spend so little time learning the skills of awareness? Perhaps you don’t think it is a skill. Perhaps you think it is something we can all do naturally and we just need reminding about it now and again.

Do you think you have good awareness skills? Watch this:

Did you notice it? This just shows that we are only aware of things that we are looking for. If we are not looking for something we won’t notice it. Do you know what you are looking for when you are told to be more aware of your environment?

Here’s another video:

This shows us that even when we know what we are looking for we don’t necessarily notice it all the time. This shows that good awareness is a skill that needs to be learned, honed and practised just like the physical skills we learn in self-defence training.

So what is awareness? According to Randy LaHaie of protective

 “Awareness is the ability to ‘read’ people and situations and anticipate the probability of violence before it happens. It is knowing what to look for and taking the time to notice safety-related aspects of what is happening around you…..your level of awareness should be appropriate to the circumstances you are in……….some circumstances call for a greater degree of awareness than others. Obviously, you would want to be more aware when walking alone to your car  at night than when shopping in a crowded mall with friends."

This poses some practical questions?  What is it about people that we need to ‘read’? What are the things in our environment that we need to be alert to? What are we supposed to notice about particular situations? How do we determine which circumstances require a greater degree of awareness?

Okay, so some common sense is required and we do have such a thing as a survival instinct which helps us determine when a situation or person is dangerous. We also have gut instincts that seem to instinctively tell us when something is not right. However, both common sense and gut instincts are learned from experience or training.  Our parents, school teachers and other people teach us from a young age not to talk to strangers, walk home alone at night or go down unlit alley ways. We eventually file away information like this under ‘common sense’. In addition, personal accounts from others or personal experiences we have ourselves of being followed, watched or even grabbed/attacked can internalise and resurface later as ‘gut feelings’ when we experience similar (pre-cursor) circumstances again.

But can we be sure that we have counted all of the ‘Fs’ and not missed the moonwalking bear without specific awareness training? I don’t think so. Why should we presume that we instinctively know what we should be aware of?

In other areas of our lives related to personal safety we expect or be taught or told what we need to know or even to do special training. As children we are taught how to cross a road safely and have numerous practices at it with our parents in attendance until we are deemed safe. Later, when we learn to drive we are taught about hazard perception and tested on our ability to spot hazards.

In both these cases we are taught the things we need to be aware of in our environment – where is a safe place to cross, how to observe the traffic before stepping into the road (speed and direction of traffic), observing for the ‘green man’ etc; or when driving we learn to anticipate the behaviour of people on the pavements (is someone likely to run into the road?), notice a parked car that is about to pull out in front of you and we learn that we must give special attention when approaching an unmarked crossroad or when the traffic lights are not working.  This learned behaviour eventually becomes internalised and we perceive much of it as common sense or gut instinct – we have learned to have an appropriate awareness of our environment for the task we are engaged in.

So if that task happens to be ‘preventing oneself from being attacked whilst going about our daily business.’ What are the things we should be aware of?

There are many very good articles (including the one I linked to above) that tell us about the importance of awareness and how to be more aware but they don’t specifically say what we should be aware of, except in the vaguest of terms e.g. ‘observe for predatory behaviours.’

I would like to put together a guide called ‘Awareness in self-defence- what to be aware of’ and I need your help to do so. Leave me a comment with your advice about what we should be aware of in our environments and why – be specific, not vague. Also tell us the things we can do to practice our awareness skills so that they improve. If I get sufficient comments back I will turn them into a guide  - similar to the ‘World guide to passing your black belt’, in which I will accredit each author with their comment and provide a link back to your blog/website/profile.  I received 21 comments to my request for information for that guide and hope to get a similar level of response for this guide.

Please help if you can….thanking you in advance……

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Monday, 3 October 2011

A visit to Count Dracula....

from Dracula by Bram Stoker, 1897

Is this the beach where Dracula landed?
Whitby harbour

This quote from Dracula  is actually a description of the town of Whitby in North Yorkshire where I have just returned from a short break with my husband.  Bram Stoker was inspired to write his book whilst staying in Whitby and the town still thrives on its Dracula heritage conducting ‘Dracula Tours’ around the town after dark and hosting a ‘Dracula experience’ attraction. The town is also quite a magnet for Goths who clearly like dressing up for the vampiric occasion particularly at the twice-yearly Goth festivals hosted here.

St Hilda's Abbey
The town is very old and atmospheric. The eastern skyline is dominated by an ancient Abbey (St Hilda's Abbey) which lies behind the church at the top of the hill and dates back to 657 AD. The Abbey fell to Viking attack in 867 and was re-founded in 1078 by a soldier-monk. It was finally destroyed by Henry V111 in 1540 and left to fall into ruin, which is how it remains today.

View of Abbey through the Whale bone arch
(on West Cliff)

Whaling used to be a big industry in Whitby and there used to be several of these whale jawbones around the town, though this is the only one left now. Whaling was introduced to Whitby in 1752 (ceasing in 1850) and the street lights were fuelled by whale oil. Whale bones were used in women's corsets as well as other things!

beach viewed from East Cliff (tide out)

Today Whitby is a tourist magnet, not just for its beauty and history but because of its beautiful unspoilt beach. I was amazed at how quickly the tide came in though. After taking this first photo of the beach from the East Cliff, we walked round to the beach and sat on the sand to read. After about 10 minutes my husband said we'd better move quick. I looked up and the sea was virtually lapping my toes. We headed for the cliff, where I took the second photo and you can see how far the tide has come in. 5 minutes later there was no beach to see!

Beach viewed from West Cliff (tide coming in)
Did I mention that I went on this break with my husband - and not the boys? Yep. We're finally at that stage where we can leave the boys at home alone! This was an experimental break to see how we all coped. At 16 and nearly 18 we decided they were ready to fend for themselves for a few days. We chose term time because we knew they would have a structured day at school and be kept busy.

They coped fine - even walking all the way to karate class one evening, what more can you ask?

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