Buckle Your Belt

I had the fortune, the other day, to be walking along the road behind one of those ‘teenagers’ they have these days.  It was of what I believe is called the ‘Hip-Hop’ variety; you know, the ones that wear lopsided baseball caps precariously balanced on their lopsided heads; the kind who somehow manage to appear to be constantly walking round in circles, even when they’re going in a straight line, as they saunter from one street corner to the next with their adorable lopsided strides.

I know I’m not the first to draw attention to the peculiar pack-conforming behaviours and fashion choices of the youth of today, and to be fair who am I to judge these attempts to belong – those who have read How Not to Get Hit will be all too aware of my own personal fashion choices from those lost years (it’s too painful to go back over here, buy the book – but if I were to tell you a doorman once exited me from a nightclub using the item he could get the best grip on, which happened to be my pony tail, you’ll begin to get the idea).

Still, even though I’m probably the last person who should be casting linguistic missiles from my cosy glass-pained abode, I can’t help thinking that of all the peculiar attire with which these ‘teenagers’ tend to adorn themselves, their method of wearing trousers is, frankly, witchcraft.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to walk down a street with a pair of jeans sitting below your butt cheeks but frankly, it’s impossible.  I can only assume that those precariously balanced baseball caps grant these ‘teenagers’ the magical ability to defy the laws of physics.  Or perhaps it explains the lopsided walk, as they’re actually clenching their butt-cheeks tighter than a doorman clutching a ponytail in a desperate attempt to keep their hippety-hoppety jeans above their hippety-hoppety knees.

For god’s sake chaps, if you’re reading this, buy a belt.  Not only will this free up your butt-cheeks for party tricks such as cracking walnuts, such must be your toning after years of clenching; not only will you discover walking in a straight line isn’t just something other people can do; not only will you be able to wear your comfy old worn-out underwear out of the house since two-thirds won’t constantly be on display; you’ll also learn a valuable lesson in self defence.  Honestly.

You see belts aren’t just good for holding up trousers; they’re also a fantastic way of finding out where your centre of gravity is and this, my friends, is the road to the nirvana of combat.

Accessing your maximum power is all about identifying and using your centre of gravity. Taking away someone’s strength is all about destabilising their centre of gravity.  Throwing someone is all about destabilising their centre of gravity.  Tripping someone over is all about destabilising their centre of gravity.  Neutralising an attack is all about destabilising the centre of gravity.  Winning fights is all about destabilising the centre of gravity.

Power comes not from your muscles, it comes from your balance.  This one’s easy to prove – try hitting a punch-bag as hard as you can whilst standing on one leg.  Very little will happen save for an embarrassed cough from the bag and, perhaps, the floor hitting you.  This is down to the fact that to realise the force in your skeletal stricture you need to anchor that structure against something.  To anchor it, you need to be stable yourself or some of that force will be lost in your own, unplanned movement rather than transferring all the energy into your target.  Ideally you would create this using three points of contact with the ground.  Sadly most of us only have two, so we use our centre of balance as the third anchor point – moving it in relation to our feet to maintain balance and transfer energy into a target, rather than our own wasted movement.  Think about those cool little desk toys from the 80’s, with four suspended metal balls knocking into each other.  It’ll help.

Once this is understood in your own body (give it a few years), then it becomes a simple task to understand how an opponent is creating force (give it a few more years) and, through manipulation of their centre of gravity, nullify this force as the energy they would have put into a strike must be redirected into adjusting their balance, or falling over.

Throwing  is a simple matter of finding your opponents centre of gravity and using your own as leverage to move it.  If you’re big, and they’re small, you can move someone without leverage. The other way round, though, and you’ve got a problem.  Have you ever tried to pick up a sack of potatoes?  Actually no, you probably haven’t, this isn’t the 19th century after all.  Um, modern analogy… ah – got it.

Have you ever been to IKEA and had to pick up a really heavy bag full of home furnishings? Think about how you use your bum as leverage to get the thing over your shoulder – you lift it halfway, and then kind of move your bum under it, yes?  Well, that’s it – you’re moving your balance to a point where you can move the weight around through leverage against your core body, rather than trying to use your muscles to shift all those lampshades, picture frames and washing-up brushes (isn’t it odd how you always seem to leave with one of those washing-up brushes from the escalator).

To throw someone, you have to find their centre of gravity, move yours to a position where you can create leverage, and allow your opponent to ‘fall’ around your own, stable centre.

Tripping is similar to throwing, except instead of creating leverage against your opponents centre of gravity, you’re using their imaginary third leg to make them fall.  No sniggering at the back – your third leg is actually the shifting point of balance created by your centre of gravity to stop you falling over, and ladies have it too.  We all stand on two feet; when we move, we basically start falling over towards our ‘third leg’, or at least where it would be if we had one, and then stick a foot in the way.  By placing a foot where our third leg should have been, we get it under our centre of gravity again to stop falling over and repeat (except those hippety-hoppety teenagers – God only knows how they do it).

So, to throw someone, we need to make sure that our own centre of gravity is rooted and stable, find the point where someone’s third leg is / should be, move their body toward this point (you’ll be surprised at how little resistance you encounter in doing this) and stop their leg from moving under their centre of gravity again.  Hey presto – they are now falling.

Confused?  Yeah me too; nobody said this was going to be easy.  But trust me, you can’t go wrong if you start by buying yourself a good sturdy belt.

@hownottogethit

http://www.hownottogethit.com

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You Don’t Know How to Breathe

You know, sometimes it’s easy to write a blog.   Sometimes you’ll be walking along the street and you’ll see something, or something will happen, and you’ll think “that’s it!” and suddenly you’ll have a topic, or good entry into a point, or both and some deep insightful point about personal safety would be just around the corner.

A couple of years ago that kind of thing used to happen to me all the time, travelling around China for a year it’d be a strange day if I didn’t find something I could write about.  These days, sadly, my experiences are not such blog fodder – my horizons have shrunk to England, a regular 9-5 job, a mortgage, a dog.

Well, no dog.

But I like the image.

And I want a dog.

Such a sedentary lifestyle also comes with its own problems – you don’t realise how much you moved in a day until it’s gone, and your commute consists of stumbling downstairs into the spare room (I work from home).  If you’re over 30, this takes its toll – stiffness, low energy, short breath.  If you’re under 30, you bastard, don’t worry you may not understand yet – but you will…

So, to try and defend against my creeping atrophy, I dedicated my early mornings to stretching, and breathing.  Self defence against sloth, if you will.  For me it was Qi Gong, a series of Chinese stretches and diaphragmatic breathing techniques using dynamic tension.

If that sounds a bit confusing, don’t worry it sounds harder than it is but you’re not alone – almost nobody I know knows how to breathe.  Oh sure they think they do, and they manage to do it well enough to not collapse in a dying heap on the floor every 20 seconds, but trust me they don’t.  No offence but there’s a pretty good chance that you, reading this, don’t know how to either.

And you know what, I’m not sure why.  Babies know how to breathe – you watch the wee nappy wearing tykes as they trot along; you can see their belly thrusting in and out as their lungs remain pretty still.  That’s because they’re breathing with their diaphragm.  In fact you watch a running horse or dog, even an angry gorilla – diaphragm, diaphragm, diaphragm.  (although if you are watching an angry Gorilla to be fair the fact that there is an angry Gorilla at close proximity is probably the main thought that’ll be running through your head. Rather than ‘ooh, look at how he uses his diaphragm to do such a fancy roar’).

Somehow, along the way, we forget on our path to adulthood and replace the correct muscle memory for breathing with a shallow, chest-led breathing that only accesses about 60% of our total lung capacity.

Now this is fine for our modern aged sedentary lifestyle of sitting at home, sitting in a car, sitting on the train then sitting at a desk.  You don’t need much oxygen for that, and you’re not getting much.  Job done.

The problem is, when you’re suddenly put into a high-stress situation like, say, being attacked, you’re not going to be able to cope.  As soon as the adrenal response kicks in, your blood vessels dilate so that more blood can be pumped around the body, giving more oxygen to your limbs and organs to function at a much higher rate for short periods of time – to fight back, run swiftly in the opposite direction, or both.  Any which way, you’re going to need oxygen, and lots of it.

The problem is that with all that shallow breathing you’ve spend all that time training your body to do that’s what you’re going to do in a pickle, and your body is making much higher demands of your oxygen supply, you’re just not going to get enough fuel to get the job done.  It’d be like trying to drive a race car with half the sparkplugs, or running a steam train with half the coal.  Or an angry Gorilla with half the bananas.  Or something.

My advice, for what it’s worth, is to learn to breathe properly and then do it – all the time. This is easier than you might think.  Qi Gong does it for me, but you can also get it from most traditional martial arts (with a good instructor), Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilates, a good fitness instructor or even an actor or speech coach

Through QiGong and martial arts I learnt how to access breathing and use it to add power to movement, but I actually learned most about how to actively engage the diaphragm through a speech coach.

Whatever the source they key is to do it.  As much as you can.  When sitting, walking, exercising, everywhere.  Because you need to turn it into a muscle memory, make it normal, replace that horrible shallow lung-breathing I see everywhere with some lovely, deep, diaphragmatic breathing.

Then, and only then, in a high-stress situation, will you will the correct muscle memory response kick in and get your enough of the 02 good stuff to do what you need to do.  Your body will be primed to squeeze every last drop of goodness from the air and turning it to energy to fight back, escape, survive.

It’ll also help you sleep, and concentrate, and reduce stress, and increase energy and if you’re really luck, tenuously link a dull life of lethargy to a fundamental lesson on self defence for a blog promoting an awesome book.

@hownottogethit