"The Author, it must be remembered, writes from his own standpoint!"
My personal "Interpretive" Lens!

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If you have a question not covered in this blog feel free to send it to me at my email address, i.e. "snow" dot here "covered" dot here "bamboo" AT symbol here "gmail" dot here "com"

"One thing has always been true: That book ... or ... that person who can give me an idea or a new slant on an old idea is my friend." - Louis L'Amour


"Ideally, your self-defense will never get physical. Avoiding the situation and running or talking you way out - either of these is a higher order of strategy than winning a physical battle." - Wise Words of Rory Miller, Facing Violence: Chapter 7: after, subparagraph 7.1:medical

"Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider..." - Francis Bacon

Warning, Caveat and Note: The postings on this blog are my interpretation of readings, studies and experiences therefore errors and omissions are mine and mine alone. The content surrounding the extracts of books, see bibliography on this blog site, are also mine and mine alone therefore errors and omissions are also mine and mine alone and therefore why I highly recommended one read, study, research and fact find the material for clarity. My effort here is self-clarity toward a fuller understanding of the subject matter. See the bibliography for information on the books.


Note: I will endevor to provide a bibliography and italicize any direct quotes from the materials I use for this blog. If there are mistakes, errors, and/or omissions, I take full responsibility for them as they are mine and mine alone. If you find any mistakes, errors, and/or omissions please comment and let me know along with the correct information and/or sources.

Reader's of this Blog

A Perspective Study - What is Bunkai [武備志]?

Caveat: This post is mine and mine alone. I the author of this blog assure you, the reader, that any of the opinions expressed here are my own and are a result of the way in which my meandering mind interprets a particular situation and or concept. The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of other martial arts and/or conflict/violence professionals or authors of source materials. It should be quite obvious that the sources I used herein have not approved, endorsed, embraced, friended, liked, tweeted or authorized this post. (Everything I think and write is true, within the limits of my knowledge and understanding.)

Bet you the first thought that comes to mind it an explanation of a technique in regard to its possible applications in a fight or for self-defense, right? I am going to go a bit further in today’s post to answer the question, “What is bunkai?”

First, you have to have the characters/ideograms to adequately define this martial term. This is the one I use:

Bunkai [[武備志]: The characters/ideograms mean, “disassembly; dismantling; disaggregating; analysis; disintegrating; decomposing; degrading." The first character means, "part; minute of time; segment; share; degree; one's lot; duty; understand; know; rate; chances," the second character means, "unravel; notes; key; explanation; understanding; untie; undo; solve; answer; cancel; absolve; explain; minute." Bunkai means to analyze or disassemble, a term used to describe a process of breaking apart a form to explain the application toward fighting or in more modern times self-defense. It describes the meaning of a movement within the kata and basic techniques.

Second, this is the bare bones translation from one of many kanji translations found through Internet sources. Martial artists often assume, rightly so, that bunkai is pretty much about analyzing and dissembling kata, etc., to explain or demonstrate what one can do in relation to what one does to combatants. 

When I think of bunkai, I tend to think about a bit more than analysis of technique. Granted, this is a cornerstone of bunkai and martial arts but it is not the whole of bunkai. When I study things like concepts in martial arts for self-defense, when I study things like fundamental principles in martial arts for self-defense, and when I study the theories and philosophies then use that knowledge to disaggregate my study of martial arts especially toward self-defense I think, bunkai. 

When I study the history of the systems and then use those to analyze and segment and understand my martial arts practice and training I am using the bunkai of the system. Look at bunkai as another way to categorize concepts, principles and philosophies and so on under the heading of Martial Bunkai. It is NOT just explaining the techniques applications, it is explaining the applications that span the entire system of study, the discipline.

I have spent the last decade and more to discover the underlying meaning of my study of martial arts, specifically self-defense martial arts/karate. In order to find that underlying meaning, the systems bunkai, I have to research, disassemble, analyze, recompile, understand, solve, explain and teach and practice and train myself and others the system that is my martial arts (for self-defense).

Bunkai is not just an explanation of the techniques applications in the fight, it is about obtaining the martial bunkai that is the meaning of the system itself. It is the research, disassemble, analyze, recompile, understand, solve, explain and teach and practice and training of the theory, physiokinetics, techniques, and philosophy of the entire wholehearted system and it includes all the aspects of self-defense if that is included in your martial arts. 

Bunkai, not JUST about techniques anymore!

Primary Bibliography of Self-Defense:
MacYoung, Marc. "In the Name of Self-Defense: What It Costs. When It’s Worth It." Marc MacYoung. 2014.
Miller, Rory Sgt. "Meditations of Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence" YMAA Publishing. 2008.

Secondary Bibliography of Self-Defense:
Ayoob, Massad. “Deadly Force: Understanding Your Right to Self-Defense”Gun Digest Books. Krouse Publications. Wisconsin. 2014.
Goleman, Daniel. "Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition [Kindle Edition]." Bantam. January 11, 2012.
Miller, Rory. "ConCom: Conflict Communications A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication." Amazon Digital Services, Inc. 2014. 
Miller, Rory and Kane, Lawrence A. "Scaling Force: Dynamic Decision-making under Threat of Violence." YMAA Publisher. New Hampshire. 2012
Miller, Rory. "Force Decisions: A Citizen's Guide." YMAA Publications. NH. 2012.
Miller, Rory Sgt. "Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected." YMAA Publishing. 2011.
Elgin, Suzette Haden, Ph.D. "More on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense." Prentice Hall. New Jersey. 1983.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Last Word on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" Barnes & Noble. 1995
Morris, Desmond. “Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behavior.” Harry N. Abrams. April 1979.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" Barnes & Noble. 1993.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Gentle Art of Written Self-Defense" MJF Books. 1997.
Maffetone, Philip Dr. “The Maffetone Method: The Holistic, Low-stress, No-Pain Way to Exceptional Fitness.” McGraw Hill, New York. 2000
Strong, Sanford. “Strong on Defense_ Survival Rules to Protect you and your Family from Crime.” Pocket Books. New York. 1996.
and more … see blog bibliography.

My Blog Bibliography

Cornered Cat (Scratching Post): http://www.corneredcat.com/scratching-post/
Kodokan Boston: http://kodokanboston.org
Mario McKenna (Kowakan): http://www.kowakan.com
Wim Demeere’s Blog: http://www.wimsblog.com

Is it mandatory one keep true to the original kata taught?

Caveat: This post is mine and mine alone. I the author of this blog assure you, the reader, that any of the opinions expressed here are my own and are a result of the way in which my meandering mind interprets a particular situation and or concept. The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of other martial arts and/or conflict/violence professionals or authors of source materials. It should be quite obvious that the sources I used herein have not approved, endorsed, embraced, friended, liked, tweeted or authorized this post. (Everything I think and write is true, within the limits of my knowledge and understanding.)

A recent posting brought this question up with the following quote that, for me, stood out prominently. It speaks to one of modern karate’s issues that I personally feel leaves most karate-ka in the past rather then in the now especially regarding self-defense martial arts or self-defense karate. The concern was thinking that if one changed the kata or lost a technique of the kata that the resulting bunkai or technique would also be lost or changed. The quote:

“Kata was wrong therefore the bunkai will be wrong” 

Here is how I would respond to the question:

First, kata cannot be wrong. It may be done differently than you but that does not make it wrong. Second, bunkai also cannot be wrong. It may not work in a particular situation or circumstance but it might work the next time around. It all comes down to what works in a real fight for self-defense, not sport or competitions but in self-defense. That is a whole nother ballgame there and most bunkai today is simply a creation of folks who have not had to find out if it works or not and it is a creation of folks who have not had to apply their self-defense except maybe is some socially driven monkey dance and that was probably not martial arts based. 

Changing or removing techniques has nothing to do with what works and what does not. It means that particular technique won’t be passed along to students in that kata. Remember, kata is not about fighting or self-defense or combatives or competitions but rather a blueprint of techniques strung together it a form that makes it easy to pass things down to students especially when those students have no fighting or combat experience to draw on.

Kata are the creation of those who came before, our ancestors in the martial arts communities who had to take their combat experiences and teach those with no experience so they may go to combat and at least survive to gain some semblance of experience to continue to survive. They created kata in a form that provided a symbolic representation of individual techniques then they put them together in a rhythmic and inter-connectiing form that made it easy to learn but most of all importantly, to remember.

Kata were not created to remain exactly as their creator created them. Since they pass down his experiences in combat you can expect that they will change, not just for changes sake but due to the students personal experiences, studies and accumulated knowledge toward making them relevant to the times of that person. That person living in more modern times where the old ways may or may not be relevant to the current situations and times. 

Kata are meant to be fluid according to the times, the cultures, the beliefs and the experiences of present day practitioners BUT DO NOT CHANGE KATA OR BUNKAI simply for changes sake. If you don’t experience actual social and asocial violence applying your ability and knowledge thereby learning what didn’t work just like you wanted and changing it so it will work at least mostly consistently over many events and situations then DON’T CHANGE THE KATA AND BUNKAI.

Too many of us make changes we “think” are going to work based on assumptions and knowledge learned second or third hand, this is dangerous. 

Bunkai are simply primers toward learning combatives, if you are military, or self-defense, if you are a self-defense martial artist, and are not set in stone. Think more in terms of concepts and principles. 

Concepts such as those taught by professionals who have accumulated many, many experiences with violence. Admit it, most of us have minimal experiences in violent encounters and many of us have almost no asocial violent experiences but that does not mean we should not study and learn self-defense martial arts because like the military, recruits have to begin somewhere so they may or might survive their first combat encounter thereby allowing them to learn from their personal experience and the guidance of senior military with experience.

Concepts are not about specific techniques but rather conveyed experiences that promote better ability to apply any relevant action that will get you through violent conflicts. It has and always will be about learning second hand those concepts, principles, strategies and tactics that will get you through all three phases of self-defense, i.e., the before, the during and the after. Look at specifics found in kata and bunkai as forms that actually refer us physically and mentally to underlying principles of martial systems, i.e., structure, centeredness, sequential locking and unlocking, etc. then let those basics and fundamentals apply toward the concepts of self-defense, i.e., like the before, during and after and so on. 

Look at bunkai as a novice level doorway to create a more holistic concept to what you need to survive conflict and violence. It is similar to the upper and lower basics, they are a good start point but not the end of the road. Think concept, i.e., like understanding the concept of adrenal flooding and then learning how to make that work in your favor instead of against you. Think concept, i.e., like the “freeze” and how that can be overcome cause you are going to encounter it even if you gain experience, it is a fact of life. Think concept, i.e., like “mind-set/mind-state” where giving yourself permission to ignore every day societal well mannered courtesies that are often used against you to allow predators to attack, i.e., to collect some resource they need or to apply some process like they want to see you get hurt type thing.

Addendum: The reason why kata are beneficial to passing marital arts down through the ages. First, it is a form that is suited toward encoding into memory. It is organized in an order similar to some types of memory encoding, i.e., kata as a type of physical and mental mnemonic; where one has a physical, visual, and spatial oriented order with rhythm and associations such as two person kata that show how one movement when association to another different movement work in a specified way; certain positioning in space that leads to a natural order or flow, i.e., why techniques are strung together in kara forms; in an associative way that associations in memory that are associated with images or visualization intended as “examples” tend to cause such associations to encode into deep memory the kata and bunkai; the association of emotion with an image, i.e., performing kata while applying bunkai either by visualization or by two person drills that will result in said emotion and image to be readily recollected and connected in the need to apply it outside of training;  then there is repetition as a common process along with image visualizations and physical repetitive drill practices that play a role in the more complex toward encoding into memory; finally when the adrenal flood is used to train the holistic application of kata bunkai then it can be further emotionally and chemically encoded into the deepest of memory for retrieval later in a violent conflict that is the purpose of our studies in self-defense martial arts.

Kata and bunkai are used as a mnemonic teaching technique or device that aids in retaining the information passed down through the kata. Kata, being a physical manifestation of the discipline combines several senses to enforce retention, i.e., sight, smell and touch. These mnemonics in this form translate the necessary information of kata and bunkai in a way that aids in the transfer of that information, both mental and physical, into long-term memory. Look at the connectivity of kata, i.e., as each section of a kata is done in threes, that promotes memory encoding because of its use of spatial, personal, physical, emotional, etc. solidifying the lessons so they become instinctual.

Because of the kata form and function, kata itself creates its own system of spatial techniques or strategies that themselves consciously improve memory. The only piece often missed in this equation is the effects of the chemical releases due to fear and/or anger produced when confronted by violent conflicts. 

Primary Bibliography of Self-Defense:
MacYoung, Marc. "In the Name of Self-Defense: What It Costs. When It’s Worth It." Marc MacYoung. 2014.
Miller, Rory Sgt. "Meditations of Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence" YMAA Publishing. 2008.

Secondary Bibliography of Self-Defense:
Ayoob, Massad. “Deadly Force: Understanding Your Right to Self-Defense”Gun Digest Books. Krouse Publications. Wisconsin. 2014.
Goleman, Daniel. "Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition [Kindle Edition]." Bantam. January 11, 2012.
Miller, Rory. "ConCom: Conflict Communications A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication." Amazon Digital Services, Inc. 2014. 
Miller, Rory and Kane, Lawrence A. "Scaling Force: Dynamic Decision-making under Threat of Violence." YMAA Publisher. New Hampshire. 2012
Miller, Rory. "Force Decisions: A Citizen's Guide." YMAA Publications. NH. 2012.
Miller, Rory Sgt. "Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected." YMAA Publishing. 2011.
Elgin, Suzette Haden, Ph.D. "More on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense." Prentice Hall. New Jersey. 1983.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Last Word on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" Barnes & Noble. 1995
Morris, Desmond. “Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behavior.” Harry N. Abrams. April 1979.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" Barnes & Noble. 1993.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Gentle Art of Written Self-Defense" MJF Books. 1997.
Maffetone, Philip Dr. “The Maffetone Method: The Holistic, Low-stress, No-Pain Way to Exceptional Fitness.” McGraw Hill, New York. 2000
Strong, Sanford. “Strong on Defense_ Survival Rules to Protect you and your Family from Crime.” Pocket Books. New York. 1996.
and more … see blog bibliography.

My Blog Bibliography

Cornered Cat (Scratching Post): http://www.corneredcat.com/scratching-post/
Kodokan Boston: http://kodokanboston.org
Mario McKenna (Kowakan): http://www.kowakan.com
Wim Demeere’s Blog: http://www.wimsblog.com

What came first: bunkai or two person kata or kata; kobudo or empty hand; chicken or the egg?

An excellent questions from Matt Jones at the Ryukyu Martial Arts (Research and General Discussion) Facebook group. The question goes like this:

"What came first, bunkai or two person kata drills or kata? Then he asks, what came first, kobudo or empty hand? Then, as a jest he asks what came first, the chicken or egg?" So, I answered with the following:

Last question first, actually a one cell type split, then along with evolution, created the creature that one day would soon be the chicken who then laid eggs.

Second question next, empty hand is first simply because humans didn’t survive using weapons until a time came to discover ways to be superior to other tribes for survival. Weapons came second and it is believed that empty hand training was the prerequisite to kobudo training in those early years.

First question next, bunkai because kata were created to pass along those combatives that Okinawans found to be useful, they worked. They took those techniques, tactics and strategies and created kata to teach those who were like recruits of today, no combat or experience so they developed kata from the bunkai to teach and pass on leaving the recruit to test and validate when they entered into combat.


I cannot for the life of me determine why those questions were important except maybe as a historical fact but it was asked and the reason I started this particular blog was to provide an answer to such questions with the caveat that the answers provided are mine from my perceptions, my perspectives and my experiences.

Karate, can it be used to prosecute in self-defense? In the dojo? In ???

Caveat: This post is mine and mine alone. I the author of this blog assure you, the reader, that any of the opinions expressed here are my own and are a result of the way in which my meandering mind interprets a particular situation and or concept. The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of other martial arts and/or conflict/violence professionals or authors of source materials. It should be quite obvious that the sources I used herein have not approved, endorsed, embraced, friended, liked, tweeted or authorized this post.

Caveat II: This is not legal advice. I am not a legal professional at any level. I am merely a martial artist and this is just an attempt to discuss the possibility of prosecution where martial arts expertise may or may not be used against you in a prosecution for fighting, conflict and/or violence. It is advisable to seek out legal consulting of this subject from a legal professional. Read caveat one again, this is just a discussion with ideas, thoughts and considerations I, personally, believe all martial artist must know if they teach, train and practice with other human beings. 

First, if one uses self-defense within the legal scope of a defense of justification most likely will not be prosecuted. As some professionals have written, if you remain within the square of self-defense it is most likely to result in no prosecution. This does not mean the same in civil situations but that is a whole story you can read about in Marc MacYoung’s book, “In the Name of Self-Defense.”

Second, your expertise can become an issue if you slide outside the proverbial square of self-defense. This is also true in the dojo, during practices. At least the potential is there because of the view the legal system and society take toward fighting. It comes down to, it all depends. 

Third, even tho mutual agreement with risks and assumptions known to you, you can go beyond those in the dojo and come under fighting illegal. In my mind it is the difference between legal dojo fighting and illegal dojo fighting. 

In self-defense, it seems that the use of our hands and feet would not be considered deadly or lethal weapons. It boils down to force considerations in an attack and that subject is covered in other, more detailed, sources as can be seen by the bibliography below. It depends on the adversary/attack as to his level of force vs. the applied level of force a martial artist applies. It also may be compared to what force is used vs. what you use as a martial artists, i.e., both are empty handed vs. the adversary is armed and the martial artist is empty handed and so on. Again, it is a complex subject requiring a legal professionals assessment of the particulars and circumstances. There is one quote that may enlighten this subject as it regards martial arts application in self-defense, i.e., “A more practical level, the skilled martial artist confronted by an armed assailant should be able to calibrate his blow to meet the attack with a similar degree of force. Where there is not time to reflect or to accurately determine the intensity of the attack, then one’s trained tendency to protect oneself with a split-second and devastating technique coupled with one’s natural tendency to preserve oneself will not be ignored by the law and in all probability the force will not be deemed to be excessive - again, a question of reasonable and prudent under the circumstances applies.” This would apply toward the legal ramifications while a more civil one could be expressed in the following quote, when practicing in the dojo, etc.:

“In the Dojo, the vast majority of contact between practitioners, whether practicing self-defense techniques or sport applications or engaging in free style fighting/sparring, does not justify a lawsuit because consent is expressly, or, more often than not, impliedly given from the mere fact that the two practitioners agreed to practice together. The scope of the consent cannot be extended beyond that which is reasonable under the circumstances. This range of consent within the training hall is usually defined and controlled by the head instructor or sensei of a particular dojo. The Code of Conduct in the traditional dojo is quite formal and proper decorum while practicing must be strictly adhered to. Historically, this can be traced to the concept of bushido, the way of the warrior, of twelfth century feudal Japan. This oriental code of activity strictly defined proper conduct by which the bushi could apply his martial skills.” 

A martial artist regardless of how the practice and apply their skills shall, take the time to reflect upon the legal consequences that flow from using martial prowess in the dojo, out of the dojo and for sport, combatives and self-defense. The martial artists should also consider perceptions as they relate to martial arts when utilized for self-defense and/or sport because those perceptions can effect the legal matters, if they should arise when applied in the dojo and out on the street. 

When a martial artist considers such things it should be remembered that the law has implications within the confines of the training hall, the dojo and the study of those liabilities are important to the survival of the dojo as well as the martial artist. Just because you practice and train in martial disciplines in a dojo/training hall, you are not exempt from both moral and legal requirements that can, may and sometimes do result in criminal and civil ramifications. 

The end result of this post is this, “Every person who finds the need to apply physical skills in defense of themselves and others must first consider both the criminal and civil liabilities along with other factors such as economical, health and psychological ramifications - to name just a few. That means, the study of laws applicable to martial arts and self-defense and the expertise of legal professionals to translate that law into a form understandable and applicable to you. 

Primary Bibliography of Self-Defense:
MacYoung, Marc. "In the Name of Self-Defense: What It Costs. When It’s Worth It." Marc MacYoung. 2014.
Miller, Rory Sgt. "Meditations of Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence" YMAA Publishing. 2008.

Secondary Bibliography of Self-Defense:
Ayoob, Massad. “Deadly Force: Understanding Your Right to Self-Defense”Gun Digest Books. Krouse Publications. Wisconsin. 2014.
Goleman, Daniel. "Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition [Kindle Edition]." Bantam. January 11, 2012.
Miller, Rory. "ConCom: Conflict Communications A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication." Amazon Digital Services, Inc. 2014. 
Miller, Rory and Kane, Lawrence A. "Scaling Force: Dynamic Decision-making under Threat of Violence." YMAA Publisher. New Hampshire. 2012
Miller, Rory. "Force Decisions: A Citizen's Guide." YMAA Publications. NH. 2012.
Miller, Rory Sgt. "Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected." YMAA Publishing. 2011.
Elgin, Suzette Haden, Ph.D. "More on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense." Prentice Hall. New Jersey. 1983.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Last Word on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" Barnes & Noble. 1995
Morris, Desmond. “Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behavior.” Harry N. Abrams. April 1979.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" Barnes & Noble. 1993.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Gentle Art of Written Self-Defense" MJF Books. 1997.
Maffetone, Philip Dr. “The Maffetone Method: The Holistic, Low-stress, No-Pain Way to Exceptional Fitness.” McGraw Hill, New York. 2000
Strong, Sanford. “Strong on Defense_ Survival Rules to Protect you and your Family from Crime.” Pocket Books. New York. 1996.
and more … see blog bibliography.

My Blog Bibliography

Cornered Cat (Scratching Post): http://www.corneredcat.com/scratching-post/
Kodokan Boston: http://kodokanboston.org
Mario McKenna (Kowakan): http://www.kowakan.com

Wim Demeere’s Blog: http://www.wimsblog.com

Is free style sparring of value in martial arts? In fight training? In Self-defense training?

Jiyu-kumite or free style sparring. The question has been asked, “Is it important to practice or is it not needed?” Sparring in all forms, i.e. one-step, three-step, partner drills, etc., have their function. The focus of that function is the true question here. 

First, martial arts are about the application of fundamental principles for sport, fighting, combat and most important of all, self-defense in modern society. We can go round and round about its historical significance along with its connection to either classical or traditional practices but truth be told there is not enough historical fact to support any of that. 

Second, the form of sparring we see today did not exist prior early 1900’s, i.e., at least as far as can be determined with the scarce data on that subject. 

Third, even as a more modern creation, if that is so, it still holds value especially with the principles as described above. It provides a slow, safe training model that can teach and encode the principles into the mind-state of a practitioner. In that, it is a lot like kata practice. Kata practice being one of those two person type training tools where its historical connections are also in doubt depending on who you talk to or what source you study.

If a practitioner, at the novice and student levels, i.e., the kyu grade levels and the sho-dan to san-dan levels, does sparring in all forms with the mind distinction to learn and apply principles, especially those physiokinetic sub-principles such as structure, spinal alignment, and the centerline, etc., then they will find them more accessible in a stress adrenal type circumstances provided other training of an appropriate nature has been completed.

It comes down to distinctions such as what is applicable to actual fighting in defense vs. sport competitions and so on. This usually falls down and then once a practitioner reaches their limits as a novice and student whereby they fail to graduate and seek the appropriate reality based training in that higher level of practice. Most of today’s martial arts are stuck at those novice and student levels. 

In reality the sparring sessions should incorporate several things to achieve a goal of self-defense. First, train with the adrenal flood. Not an easy thing to do with safety concerns, etc. Second, make all sparring sessions to meet the following criteria of an attack, i.e., it must be a surprise, it must deal with pain and fear and more often than not be fast, hard, very close and by surprise. Way to many SD courses rely heavily on the sport oriented competitive type contests where distance and other such sport concepts rule. 

Then there is the primo training requirement for reality based self-defense, i.e., the training of the mind-set/mind-state. You can train in several models but the mind-set must differentiate and the core training of the mind to deal with violent attacks must be paramount. The distinction is like writing in long hand block letters vs. switching to cursive writing forms. You know the difference and you can readily switch back and forth as circumstances dictate but with only one missing component, the adrenal flood effects. 


This is the same argument martial artists have been having since day one, i.e., are kata worth the effort, are they applicable to fighting, combat and/or defense? In the final answer they all are of value, they all serve a purpose - provided - you make the distinctions and train/practice accordingly. 

Primary Bibliography of Self-Defense:
MacYoung, Marc. "In the Name of Self-Defense: What It Costs. When It’s Worth It." Marc MacYoung. 2014.
Miller, Rory Sgt. "Meditations of Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence" YMAA Publishing. 2008.

Secondary Bibliography of Self-Defense:
Ayoob, Massad. “Deadly Force: Understanding Your Right to Self-Defense”Gun Digest Books. Krouse Publications. Wisconsin. 2014.
Goleman, Daniel. "Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition [Kindle Edition]." Bantam. January 11, 2012.
Miller, Rory. "ConCom: Conflict Communications A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication." Amazon Digital Services, Inc. 2014. 
Miller, Rory and Kane, Lawrence A. "Scaling Force: Dynamic Decision-making under Threat of Violence." YMAA Publisher. New Hampshire. 2012
Miller, Rory. "Force Decisions: A Citizen's Guide." YMAA Publications. NH. 2012.
Miller, Rory Sgt. "Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected." YMAA Publishing. 2011.
Elgin, Suzette Haden, Ph.D. "More on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense." Prentice Hall. New Jersey. 1983.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Last Word on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" Barnes & Noble. 1995
Morris, Desmond. “Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behavior.” Harry N. Abrams. April 1979.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" Barnes & Noble. 1993.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Gentle Art of Written Self-Defense" MJF Books. 1997.
Maffetone, Philip Dr. “The Maffetone Method: The Holistic, Low-stress, No-Pain Way to Exceptional Fitness.” McGraw Hill, New York. 2000
Strong, Sanford. “Strong on Defense_ Survival Rules to Protect you and your Family from Crime.” Pocket Books. New York. 1996.
and more … see blog bibliography.

My Blog Bibliography

Cornered Cat (Scratching Post): http://www.corneredcat.com/scratching-post/
Kodokan Boston: http://kodokanboston.org
Mario McKenna (Kowakan): http://www.kowakan.com
Wim Demeere’s Blog: http://www.wimsblog.com

Punches, which one is the best?

Caveat: This post is mine and mine alone. I the author of this blog assure you, the reader, that any of the opinions expressed here are my own and are a result of the way in which my meandering mind interprets a particular situation and or concept. The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of other martial arts and/or conflict/violence professionals or authors of source materials. It should be quite obvious that the sources I used herein have not approved, endorsed, embraced, friended, liked, tweeted or authorized this post.

Well, in a nutshell all punches are good as they all serve a purpose. That purpose is determined by the situation, the circumstances, the targeting, the timing and the power applied. No one punch, in general, is the best or most powerful. It depends. Many will also find that the most powerful technique applied, in general, tends to be the open hand rather than the fist. Again, that also is determined in the moment as determined by the situation, the circumstances, the targeting, the timing and the power applied.

In the system I practice, Isshinryu, it is often stated that the vertical fist is the stronger punch but as often that depends, i.e., it depends on the testing model and all the variables applied as well as the bias of the testing and the group performing the tests. In very narrow parameters one punching technique and fist formation may well be superior to others but again - it depends. 

Isshinryu’s vertical fist techniques are superior in all ways, in Isshinryu as it is taught, trained, practiced and applied. All in very narrow parameters that are directed in support of and application within the “Isshinryu system.” It also depends on who is teaching the system and how they apply it also in narrow, restrictive to supplement and support that systems teachings, set of parameters, etc. In that narrow and special way, it is superior. 


In the end it is better to ignore such claims of superiority for the more inclusive coverage provided by the fundamental principles of martial disciplines/systems. In other words it is more about the proper application of principles that would provide for a particular applied techniques according to circumstances within a narrow moment in time to achieve power, speed and efficiency/proficiency to a target that comes from the application of proper “Targeting, Timing and Power Generation.” This is where principles rather than a specific technique shine bright shedding light on the subject regarding defense, combatives and fighting - civil and militarily. 

Why does the fist travel up the outside of the body?

In Isshinryu, my system of practice as example, the vertical punch stays aligned with the outside of the body (see snapshot). When executed in the basics and the kata, most executions, the fist seems to move, rise up, toward the outside of the bodies of both the person executing it and the adversary as they stand facing, i.e. during two-person drills. Granted, this may not be the intended targeting yet when you watch video’s or actual demonstrations this is where you see punches go as to paths. 

Take a look at the top view I attempted to draw as to the pathway of a vertical rising punch seen in basics as kata.

The question comes up rarely because when taught the practitioner, being a novice and even student, tends to blindly accept that this punch is done this way because ….

In my view this is inadequate and missed a very important lesson taught through both basics and drills. Much of bunkai is molded to fit certain applications rather than reality. Yes, the rising punch when applied in appropriate situations for appropriate actions is a good thing. It is not the end all thing as often assumed in training and practice. It is about how to use a basic, fundamental concept, to achieve a better, reality based, application once you pass the basic/novice teaching and learning levels.

Explain dude, this is confusing you might ask, well it is about taking the more educationally modeled basic applications and moving them toward a more realistic practice. Here is what I am aiming at:

The rising punch as depicted in the snapshot of Tatsuo-san, although not a basic or kata based other than in this pose for sanchin [couldn’t find or create an adequate and accurate rendition], simply demonstrates the proper, fundamental, way to perform the punch with not further explanation as to how that punch is actually applied. This is due to the educational modifications of kata, etc. for the educational systems implemented early 1900’s and not reverted for more progressive practice and training. 

In reality, the pathway of the punch, if done with proper kamae, results in the person applying the punch moving off-center of the adversary so that the punch is actually applied to the centerline of the adversary. This is the simplest bunkai for this post. See second snapshot below.

One of the major bunkai that is not readily present or observable for both basics and kata are the shifts necessary to move off center of an adversary while maintaining our centerline to achieve an application of a technique like this one, i.e. to achieve maximum efficiency and application while providing a type of Loop (OODA) reset to the adversary, etc. 

To apply this technique and follow the principles the practitioner must move off the adversary’s centerline and often at about a twenty degree offset to the right and forward (not depicted in snapshot) as the rising punch is redirected toward the adversary’s centerline, i.e. the solar plexus, while the shift and turn of the body keeps the practitioner’s centerline toward the adversary’s centerline while taking the adversary’s centerline off causing a reset of the, observe and orient, loop thus providing time for the practitioner, etc. 

If you view the makiwara basics below you will notice that when punching the makiwara the practitioner has their body shifted to one side and the other for proper punch application in relation to the practitioners body as the makiwara represents the centerline of an adversary and so on. 


This is to depict the positioning of the vertical rising punch as executed in basics and kata drills, etc.

When normally practiced, the fist path is directly forward as if the punch is going to hit a target of the adversary's shoulder/arm vs. the centerline solar plexus.

In this version, the practitioner shifts to the left so that the punch will strike the adversary's centerline/solar plexus, as only one possible target, taking their centerline away from the adversary while maintaing the integrity of the punch, body, alignment, etc., to achieve greater power to the target, etc. Keeping to the fundamental principles and exploiting the adversary's OODA, i.e. reset the loop to OO levels to gain and maintain the advantage and so on ….
Addendum dtd December 15th, 2015 at 9:59hrs:

Take a look at the Makiwara video at about 5:19 minutes to see the shifting movement I mention in this article:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyF7OsPlPKE

Then take a look at a video made by Andy Sloane Sensei, Go-dan Isshinryu as well as Isshinryu Historian:

https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10203816053625960&set=vb.1358361539&type=2&theater

If you cannot see the above from Sloane Sensei take a look at his FB Wall to find it:

https://www.facebook.com/andy.sloane.79?fref=browse_search

Remember, all bottles are good, they all serve a purpose.

“How accurate are dan gradings as a sign of progress?”

Caveat: This is my post and my views and my perceptions, not Clarke Sensei’s. The quote above as a question on his site under a photo inspired my post today, nothing more and nothing less. Don’t read into this post as anything Clarke Sensei says or writes or does not say or doesn’t not write or believes or does not believe - it is my perspective and perception and any inferences are mine and mind alone.

First, as a sign of progress is more or less dependent on the individual, the dojo, the Sensei, the Senpai and so on for those unique individuals. It is a personal matter that often gets projected to larger groups with differing perceptions and perspectives and there lies the rub and the fuel that ignites flame wars. 

Second, their accuracy is a misnomer and driven by a social dynamic and actually this distracts from the accuracy and signatory toward progression because, once again, it is a personal journey and thus a personal individual unique thing for that person as to his association toward his seniors in the dojo. Specifically it is a personal relationship with him or herself with the sensei of the dojo. No one else and no one else should be involved or concerned. This is why the wearing of the belt may need to remain a dojo thing rather than a symbol to be recognized by anyone outside that dojo. Only the individual as they grow in depth and breadth in their “personal” practice and training can see within themselves their level of progress toward mastery of the system or style or “Way (doah as in “Do”).” 

Granted the second statement requires clarification because when a novice is learning they are still ignorant to the system and its ways until they reach a certain level of academia and physiokinetic proficiency, understanding and knowledge. It is only when they begin to deviate from the path they follow according to the teachings of the dojo and its sensei that they begin to realize and recognize their self-discovery, self-realization and self-analysis that allows them to determine the accuracy of the level or grade as appropriate to the progress they are achieving. This is the tricky part simply because external influences in the dojo and in the martial communities will influence their thought processes on this especially as it pertains to the human instinctual need of a group dynamic as discussed in human survival instinctual teachings that are group and societal dynamics. 

Third, the practitioner must then have achieved a level of maturity that will allow them to join others outside their dojo while allowing for a return to the bottom to gain acceptance in dojo and communities or groups or tribes that have “different” needs, beliefs and requirements due to different perspectives and perceptions. It is important that the practitioner have as their understanding and belief that such differences and changes have nothing to do with their progress to date along with the level they personally feel and achieve in relation to the new dojo, tribe of social group. 

When you try to create a grading system to recognize and symbolize progression in a martial system you open that system to the incongruities of human nature and differences. It then pits one person against another as well as one group against another creating a divide between like-minded folks in an overall community under the heading of martial arts, martial systems, or martial styles. 

One persons treasure may be another persons junk and that goes for gradings and levels as that disparity under differeing community dynamics tends to create. This is why any attempt to achieve a larger governing community or association tends to fail or at least fall way short of this most personal aspect to the martial arts. 

The uniqueness of human qualities, perceptions and beliefs leads us to recognize this and yet humans still try to assign “things” that will allow them to be managed or governed or controlled where control, government or management is not appropriate. This is why I personally believe that ranking, grading or levels of progress must be a dojo and only a dojo thing. That is why I believe, even at the dojo level, that requirements that are both … and … are best served if derived from the principles that underly all martial systems rather than the specifics created by each individual system or style. The only reason there are systems and styles is the human need to gather into groups or tribes for a perceived survival need but principles transcend all this human intervention through ego and pride based requirements. 

So, in closing, the accuracy of dan levels or grades as to any sign of progression must be kept personal between the individual and the sensei. Even in the dojo it must be an ideal that is fostered at every part of training, practice and instruction even if that means only a white belt is worn no matter the grade or level of any individual so that any hierarchal perception and perspective is achieved through experiences found in practice and training, i.e. the proverbial philosophical symbolic saying of “shown on the dojo floor!”

- Photo caption Shinseidokan Dojo blog by Michael Clark

What is Self-Defense?

What is it and how does that definition apply to the martial arts (emphasis on Okinawan karate, my system of practice)? In the past I have attempted to answer this question with some success but in reality the questions answers have changed drastically. 

In MA/SD the emphasis is most often on the technique, i.e. here is an attack and you need to learn this to counter it, etc. This is no where near true self-defense, as I understand it. Note: remember, all this is my perspective, my perceptions as to experience, training and practice all subject to validation through reality/real life experience as such.

So, lets answer the topic title question first, “What is Self-defense?” In order to fully understand what SD is you have to gain knowledge of all the area’s that involve and affect conflict and violence as it applies to SD - and that is also a narrow view port to the entire spectrum of SD, Conflict and Violence (just take a look at the terse, incomplete/not comprehensive, list in the below bibliography for more). Responses are my personal opinions on the quotes and do not reflect the teachings of Rory Miller or his books.

If you are in MA for SD then consider the following as quoted from, “Meditations on Violence,” by Rory Miller:

1. Donning a black belt, stepping in front of a class to teach, you are seen as an expert on violence.

Response: The simple truth is that many of these experts have no experience with violence.

2. Fair, does not happen in real life, not if the bad guys have anything to say about it and not if the professional good guys do, either.

Response: Almost everything within the teachings of “MOST MA” are based on mutual agreement, safety, and a sense of fair play. Fair play does not exist in real life.

3. If there has been little conflict in your life, your character, your identity, is mostly fictional.

Response: As Mr. Miller will say later in his book, most of what we know about this subject comes by “Word-of-Mouth” and often that comes from what we are exposed to as to media, etc. i.e., television, news as to TV and Internet, movies and other entertainment stuff.

4. Survival is very much a matter of guts and feelings and smells and sounds and very, very little a subject of words.

Response: This kind of describes those reality based things that are not taught in SD. SD tends to be mostly about words as to conveying the teachings along with what one feels are correct responses to conflict and violence - most often techniques against specified and specific techniques - and feelings that are not validated by first hand experience applying SD in real life, etc.

5. Take the information in this book (referencing his book meditation on violence) and treat it skeptically as hell.

Response: Take that to mean all his books, all his works, all his teachings and all his experiences simply because they are “HIS and NOT YOURS.” What works for me may or may not work for you and that goes the same even from an expert and professional such as Mr. Miller and so on. This includes other media outlets such as video’s, seminars, classes, the Internet postings, and so on to INCLUDE any and all the stuff I put out from my end - especially my stuff cause I ain’t no professional and ain’t no expert. 

6. Physical Response to Violence - not about effective technique but about what makes a technique effective

Response: Don’t take any direct and seperated quote as gospel but rather as a small part of a whole because this quote by itself means a good deal but know that avoidance, etc., are far more important - in my mind - than learning ROTE techniques against ROTE attacks, etc.

7. Martial arts and artists, and even people who fight for real on a regular basis have also only seen a very small part of this big thing. Often, the best know one aspect very well, but that is only one aspect.

Response: To my mind this statement simply emphasizes that SD, Conflict and Violence is HUGE and COMPLEX and NO ONE can teach you everything and every method to defend against it. Even the professional who provides us this window toward a complex and difficult subject will readily admit that what they experienced was only a narrow view of the entire picture. One reason I have several of these guys works in my library and under my studies, they all have benefits according to their personal experiences and beliefs, etc. 

8. Violence is complicated as HELL (my emphasis all caps). Just “ONE PIECE (my emphasis again)” - Interpersonal violence - you would need to understand physics, anatomy and physiology, athletics, criminal law, group dynamics, criminal dynamics, evolutionary psychology, biology and evolutionary biology, endocrinology, strategy, and even moral philosophy.

Response: Wow! See what I mean. It is a wonder that more folks are not hurt or killed by conflict and violence than what occurs today. I cannot think of one person I have met over the last thirty-eight years or so that can meet those credentials and teaches self-defense or martial arts, not one. I can’t claim them for sure although I am working on understanding them a bit, a small bit. I suspect that Rory Miller may have actually truncated the list for brevity and to get the point across that it is really, really COMPLICATED. Just read his books then read Marc MacYoung’s book INoSD and then realize they are just touching the surface of this subject. 

Note: Although my efforts so far was to answer the original question the following actually does that for me as a quote from the book used to create this post.

9. Self-Defense is recovery from stupidity or bad luck, from finding yourself in a position you would have given almost anything to prevent. It is difficult to train for because of the surprise element and because you may be injured before you are aware of the conflict. The critical element is “To overcome the shock and surprise” so that you “Can act,” to “Beat the freeze.” Self-defense is about recovery. The ideal is to prevent the situation. The optimal mindset is often a conditioned response that requires no thought (for the first half-second of the attack) or a focused rage

Response: I can say that little to none of my martial arts training was geared toward any of the above in regard to self-defense or even fighting other than maybe the school yard scuffles, social stuff, we all experienced in our youth. This may not be a complete and comprehensive explanation to what is self-defense but it does provide a good picture to compare to what we are all taught as self-defense. 

Response: If we are truly going to study a martial art toward self-defense then we have to take into consideration all that these professionals provide as to the world of conflict and violence. It is NOT what we think it is and it is NOT what we perceive as to our narrow exposure to experiences we may have encountered in life. Very few are exposed to long-term conflict and violence. Even the professionals who are required to step into harms way experience a very narrow view of conflict and violence as dictated by the professional description of their jobs be it military vs. police vs. corrections vs. professional protection vs. bouncers and so on. 

Every time I study the subject and re-study previous studies I find new and different views and teachings and that has not gone into the actual reality based training and practices they recommend if one is serious toward self-defense, etc. Yet, our society is flooded with folks who are “Experts” in the field of teaching MA/SD. 

Just remember, when in a MA/SD training enviroment remember what you read in Mr. Millers publications then consider some of these quotes about black belts and the next one:

“Martial arts try to do more … Some studios promise self-defense skills and tournament trophies, discipline and self-discovery, fitness and confidence, and even spiritual growth and enlightenment.” These are different skills and they are trying to teach them from one profession, one view, one perspective and one perceptive view. “Not one of them is like dueling, sparring, or waging a war.”

Bibliography (The above post are my thoughts and mine alone, the below are simply sources that influence my thoughts on this subject):
Miller, Rory Sgt. "Meditations of Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence" YMAA Publishing. 2008.
MacYoung, Marc. "In the Name of Self-Defense: What It Costs. When It’s Worth It." Marc MacYoung. 2014.
Goleman, Daniel. "Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition [Kindle Edition]." Bantam. January 11, 2012.
Miller, Rory. "ConCom: Conflict Communications A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication." Amazon Digital Services, Inc. 2014. 
Miller, Rory and Kane, Lawrence A. "Scaling Force: Dynamic Decision-making under Threat of Violence." YMAA Publisher. New Hampshire. 2012
Miller, Rory. "Force Decisions: A Citizen's Guide." YMAA Publications. NH. 2012.
Miller, Rory Sgt. "Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected." YMAA Publishing. 2011.
Elgin, Suzette Haden, Ph.D. "More on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense." Prentice Hall. New Jersey. 1983.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Last Word on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" Barnes & Noble. 1995
Morris, Desmond. “Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behavior.” Harry N. Abrams. April 1979.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" Barnes & Noble. 1993.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Gentle Art of Written Self-Defense" MJF Books. 1997
Maffetone, Philip Dr. “The Maffetone Method: The Holistic, Low-stress, No-Pain Way to Exceptional Fitness.” McGraw Hill, New York. 2000

Why are folks so focused on belts in MA?

Think of the belts and the colors as symbols. Humans gravitate toward such symbols as a "Symbol of belonging." That belonging is connected to human survival in a tribe or clan. Although modern times would indicate a loss of that need nature has not. Look to how humans tend to gravitate toward groups of all kinds just like karate-ka tend to gravitate toward a style or system that seems to match their personalities. This is why associations tend to be there along with such affiliations toward a dojo, style or system. We humans have a long way to go to rid ourselves of the trappings of ego, pride and survival as you find in tribes or clans. One of the first things many new tribes do is associate themselves with some symbolic representation that makes that tribe or clan "Unique," and so on.


Also, within any tribe or clan survival depends heavily on maintaining a hierarchy where everyone has a role to play that is inter-connected with that tribe or clan - for survival. Tribal members will look up within that hierarchy to increase their status and importance thereby a belt system in the dojo fundamentally does the same for that dojo's members.


What are the benefits of a cooperative uke vs one that is not (Cooperative vs. Resistive Tori/Uke Model)?

A question asked by a Mr. Milner on the Karate Friends FB Wall dtd Tuesday November 4, 2014 at 6:30 AM. This was my comment to him on this most excellent question. 

This is a pretty darn good question. I believe there are benefits in everything within a system of martial practice. As to the specific of a cooperative uke vs. resistive uke I believe both are critical tools for an MA in order to train the mind for defense. I feel strongly that a cooperative uke is the stepping stone to the resistive uke thereby creating the knowledge necessary to take it to the third step in a more free style practice with partners that include kumite, sport but more importantly the defensive aspects of MA.

For me the defensive aspects are primary along with the philosophical, theory and physiokinetic aspects making my practice and training holistic. 

Back to cooperative vs. resistive uke. In order for beginners and novice practitioners to gain the knowledge and encode it into the depths of the mind a cooperative uke is very much needed. I believe once a certain drill is learned adequately in this cooperative uke model then for that drill, that drill alone while newer drills remain in the cooperative state the tori must begin to experience resistive uke in such drills. This actually takes the tori/uke relationship a bit higher since this type of resistive uke training is actually fluid where both parties will actually take on the roles of both tori/uke. 

It is also my feelings that the tori/uke training model go back and forth between cooperative and resistive along with sessions that will actually take it more toward a reality based training model. Finally, the time when you pass from the tori/uke cooperative and resistive training models is when you take your defensive training to a group that can provide a “Reality Based No Bullshit” type of training where stress induced adrenal flooding occurs so that the encoding of the lizard brain will assimilate such training and superimpose that over the more human instinctive reactions. 

Finally I also recommend that the cooperative and resistive tori/uke model also introduce practitioners to the SD model, i.e. the full spectrum of self-defense as presented in the knowledge shared through the efforts of people like Rory Miller, Marc MacYoung and others, i.e. their books listed on my bibliography page here: http://isshindo.blogspot.com/2013/11/bibliography.html


Most of all, since you seem to prefer the resistive uke model for training, I would recommend the above simply because you are pushing your preferences on others by insisting (it seems that you are insisting from the way you describe your feelings, I could be wrong and if I am I apologize) to remain in resistive uke mode. Remember, as a Sensei or Senpai the dual cooperative relationship in MA is about learning and teaching each other equally and that means although you may be at a level where remaining in resistive uke mode is adequate for you the partners who train with you may still need to work the cooperative uke mode. Either way, even if it feels like the cooperative uke mode is not needed in your personal feelings that model still has a ton of stuff to teach even if it feels like it doesn’t - let it happen and I guarantee you will suddenly get this “Oh crap” feeling one day and gladly get that feeling that all of it was worth it. 

The benefits of cooperative tori/uke is it provides time and experience to teach and learn how MA fundamentals work, i.e. the fundamentals principles of martial systems (theory - physiokinetics - techniques - philosophy). It also benefits practitioners by laying ground work and experience that allows them to have some knowledge for the body, mind and spirit to tap into as they gravitate toward the resistive tori/uke models and is one reason why using both consistently and diligently contribute toward encoding it deeper than simply knowing the moves. 

The benefits of resistive tori/uke is to teach the mind and body how to extract what has been learned in a more fluid and opportunistic manner, i.e. in other words break the patterns in a kata two person drill type rhythm and allow the lizard brain to pull and parcel different appropriate responses without thought, instinctively. This benefit also is about preparation when the training goes the distance toward the reality based training and finally puts the frosting on the cake when you add in the SD knowledge and training for civil self-defense.