How Malcolm Gladwell and Tim Larkin Can Save Your Life

Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, Talking To Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know and Tim Larkin’s book, When Violence Is The Answer: Learning How To Do What It Takes When Your Life Is At Risk, may seem to have little to do with each other just based on their titles. In reality, though, nothing could be further from the truth. Both of these books should be required reading for anyone navigating their way in today’s dangerous world.

Interestingly, early on in both of these books, the use of examples from a “routine” traffic stop demonstrate how unpredictable life is.  In both examples the author illustrates how the situations escalated quickly and had tragic results.

Mr. Gladwell uses the example of a woman getting pulled over for a minor violation and how this exchange led to her unfair arrest. She committed suicide three days later while still in custody and the officer who arrested her lost his job. Mr. Larkin uses the example of a female officer who pulls over a man who has his young daughter in the car with him. The officer in this case was too forgiving and gave the man the benefit of the doubt, not even putting her hand on her service weapon. She believed the man would not do anything violent or upsetting in front of his daughter. She was wrong. The man rushed the officer and nearly beat her to death.

Law enforcement officers have a difficult job. They never know when someone could turn on them and have their life suddenly in danger. In addition, they are vulnerable to public scrutiny no matter what choice they make. It is obvious that this can put an officer in a no-win situation.

What about the rest of us? Do we have it any easier? Probably not. I use these two examples from these specific books because everyone has such strong opinions about what the police should and shouldn’t do in various situations. But do we really know what we would do if we found ourselves in similar situations? No. Most of us are not trained police officers. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “He should just shoot him in the leg.” That’s actually a good idea… if you want to miss the bad guy and hit the innocent child behind him walking home from school!!

My point is that most people do not have any real training and live in a fantasy world where they assume that they know what would be the right thing to do were they to find themselves in a dangerous confrontation. However, you cannot talk your way out of a fight when the other person starts punching and compliance does not insure your survival when confronted by a mugger who does not want to leave a witness behind.

Both of the books I am recommending touch on the idea of social contracts. Social contracts consist of the unspoken rules of how people are supposed to behave toward each other in a civilized society. The problem with this is that not everyone plays by the same rules. You may walk into a room while I am reading a book and think that I am being rude and chastise me because I failed to say hi to you. At the same time, I may feel you are being rude being interrupting my study time.

Admittedly, that is a rather tame example compared to what you will find in both Mr. Gladwell’s and Mr. Larkin’s books. Their examples show that things can take a tragic turn at a moment’s notice, and it could happen to anyone, anywhere.

Tim Larkin’s book expresses a number of viewpoints that I have been recently advised to avoid expressing myself. This is because I teach martial arts and there is the chance of opening myself up to a degree of criticism and possibly some legal conflicts. Mr. Larkin talks about when violence is and is not the answer and to what degree it should be used in a very real and practical way. If you read his book or listen to the audio version, take everything he says to heart.

I strongly recommend reading both Talking To Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell and When Violence Is The Answer: Learning How To Do What It Takes When Your Life Is At Risk by Tim Larkin. These books could save your life.


A Late Tribute for Sifu Abdulmuhisy

In life we meet many people along our journey. Some people have no impact on us and we don’t even notice they passed by in our life, while others may shake our world and, for better or worse, we are never the same again. Others, however, may have a more subtle effect on us. They are the ones who inspire us and show us a side of humanity that can be compassionate and understanding while still maintaining the strong qualities that make a man a leader of individuals.

Sifu Abdulmuhisy Abdurrahmam was one such man. I was saddened to learn recently that he passed away in September. He was one of those rare people that touched my life in so many ways. That’s why I want to take a moment now to remember and honor Sifu Abdul.

I met Sifu Abdul back in the mid 1990’s when I was introduced to him through my king fu instructor at that time. Sifu Orlando knew that I was interested in becoming a writer and put me in contact with Sifu Abdul who was an editor and writer for Action Martial Arts Magazine. After our introduction I also wrote for the magazine for a time, Learning from Sifu Abdul about the magazine, writing and people in general as I went along.

While Sifu Abdul was not someone I spoke to every day over the years, I did try to keep in touch as best I could. People in today’s world have busy lives. I regret this now as I’m sure I could have learned so much more from this man. Yet I was truly blessed for the time I knew him and the conversations we’ve had over the years.

He had an understanding of people that is matched by very few. I was always impressed how he never spoke bad about anyone, but didn’t shy away from explaining to me the politics involved in various situations. He was the epitome of someone who was strong and honorable. Yet he was also the most humble man I have ever met.

The few time I was privileged enough to practice push hands (or chi sao) with Sifu Abdul I knew I was in the presence of a true Tai Chi master. His hands were like air. The kind of skill you read about in the Tai Chi classics, but won’t truly understand until you experience it.

I’m glad my path crossed with Sifu Abdul. Even though he is no longer with us, he will still serve as a reminder to me of the kind of human being we can all strive to be and I am sure his memory will live on for all those who knew him.

You Are Not Too Old To Start Your Training

Several years ago I was working a security job in Towson. The pay wasn’t great unless I worked inhuman hours and there was no health insurance attached to the position. However, I loved this particular assignment because I was in an empty building for twelve hours where I could practice Kung-Fu and work in my poetry and short stories. One day I was talking to my supervisor, and somehow the subject of my martial arts training came up. After a few moments he said something like, “I’d love to learn to do that, but I’m too old now.”

This is something I’ve heard quite a few times when talking to people about martial arts. The most ironic thing about this is that almost every single time I have this conversation and ask the other person how old they are, they turn out to be about five to ten years YOUNGER than I am. Perhaps my training has something to do with that, since it keeps me in good shape, or it could me that everyone in my family looks young for their age. Whatever the case, I don’t buy it when someone says to me that they are too old to start training in the martial arts. If you want to do it, just do it.

With 2020 coming in a few days, now is a good time to make it a New Year’s resolution. Everyone should know at least some basic self defend techniques. Of course, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

1. Be realistic. If you are getting up there in age you may want to start off slow and build up slowly. I am a firm believer that one should get in shape to do martial arts and not do martial arts to get in shape. I’m not saying that martial arts isn’t good exercise, but I am saying that a good amount of cardio, strength training and stretching outside the dojo or Kwoon will make one a better martial artist and over all healthier person. You won’t be doing back flips right away. Actually, I’ve been doing martial arts for well over 30 years and I’ve never done a back flip in my life.

2. Do your research. Decide what type of martial art is best for you based on what your end goal is, how much it costs to train, and proximity of the school to your home. It’s not a good idea to just go to the closest school or even most popular school. Know what you want to get out of your training. Do you want to win trophies or be able to defend yourself against muggers in the park? I’m not saying you can’t do both, but the training will usually focus more on one than the other depending on the school and style of martial art.

In the end the most important thing to remember is that you aren’t too old. That’s just an excuse. One of the most important lessons martial arts training will teach you is how to stop using excuses to get out of doing something you may be hesitant about doing. Martial arts training will give you the confidence to just do it, no matter how old or young you may be.

Book Review: The Technical and Creative Genius of James LaFond’s Books on Combat, Baltimore and Women

Several years back I met James LaFond at Jimmy Frederick’s Kempo school in Towson, Maryland, where he was giving a seminar on stick fighting and boxing with Sifu Arturo Gabriel (whom I’ve been studying Wing Chun and Escrima under for about twenty years now). Sifu Gabriel had been telling me about James for a long time before I actually met him, explaining that James was also a writer and working on a book that studied the violence in Baltimore in a realistic way from first-hand accounts.

After meeting James and training with him during that seminar,  I was impressed with his practical knowledge of stick fighting and boxing. He kept things simple, to the point and realistic. He told me later I made an impression on him as well because of how difficult I made it for him to land a punch on me when we were boxing. I should probably admit two things here:

  1.  I kept instinctively throwing the bong sao (Wing Chun’s wing arm block) as a defense, even though I was trying to stick to boxing, and
  2.   I just don’t like getting hit. As much as I love training and am more than willing to get hit to learn to be a better fighter, my first instinct is still to avoid it when possible.

Before getting together with James for that first time of some good, clean, semi-controlled, violent stick- fighting fun, I managed to find and read a couple of his books.  The first three books that I read were The Logic of Force: A Fighter’s View of Blunt-Force Encounters, The Logic of Steel: A Fighter’s View of Blade and Shank Encounters, and Twerps, Goons and Meatshields: The Basics of Full Contact Stick-Fighting. I found all of these books extremely fascinating and informative. The first two titles from the above list come from James’ “Violence Project,” where he studied the violent encounters of people in Baltimore using real-life accounts and statistics. It’s no secret that Baltimore can be a violent place to live, regardless of age, race, gender or religion. Although a higher socioeconomic status may allow one to move to a slightly less dangerous neighborhood, no one is entirely safe anywhere in today’s day and age.

James’ books capture the true essence and reality of every day violent encounters that don’t usually make the evening news. If you truly pay attention to these stories, you can learn how and why to avoid these dangerous situations people find themselves in, and how to survive if you happen to find yourself face-to- face with someone wishing to do you harm. These books are both informative and entertaining in that guilty pleasure kind of way. I have no doubt the stories in these books are true, as I am from Baltimore County and spent a good amount of time in Baltimore City. I even know one or two of the people James interviewed for his books and can attest to their character. Truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction.

While I haven’t quite gotten to James LaFond’s fiction books yet (he is probably one of the most prolific writers I’ve ever met), I did just finish reading On Bitches: A Caveman’s Treatise (Why Women Are Screwed Up and How Men May Deal With Them). This book was pure entertainment and I couldn’t put it down. Some readers may find some of the stories, as you can probably guess by the title, to be a tad offensive and one-sided. Yet, once again, I was engrossed in the narrative. Not just because of his colorful way of phrasing things, but also because of my experience with people who really do act this way and say these things, which you would never think normal people say or do. Perhaps the people James interviews for his books aren’t quite normal compared to the rest of America. Baltimore is a unique place to live.

Jame’s LaFond’s books capture the authenticity of what it is to live in Baltimore.


A Time For Self-Reflection

There are two times of the year I will usually do some self-reflection and revisit and revise my goals in life. The first time is right around my birthday at the end of July. The second is toward the end of the year when most people are making their New Year’s resolutions. I like doing it at these times because they are spaced far enough apart to give myself enough time to really know if I’ve been putting forth the effort or just going through the motions. Or, sometimes I’ll just write down some lofty goal as part of a long list of smaller goals and then completely forget about it. That’s what happens more often than not.

As we enter into the year 2020, I’ve come up with a theme for the year:  Perfect Vision. I’m not going on blind faith or diving into things without doing my research, as I’ve done in the past. While sometimes blind faith has led me to awesome opportunities, most times it has led me down a rabbit hole of debt and disappointment. While not a valid excuse for ceasing to move forward in life altogether, blind faith can definitely create some time-wasted setbacks.

In this past year, I’ve changed departments at my company, published a book (The Wisdom of Wing Chun, available on Amazon), and moved into a larger home. Things are going well. However, things are still not perfect. I would like to be able to spend more time with my wife and family. I would like to be able to afford certain luxuries that we are still putting off. I’d like more flexibility with my time to write and train and teach kung-fu.

One thing you may notice about my list is that it didn’t focus too much on money. Of course, money is important to me, but I’m finding lately that time is so much more valuable. We can choose how we spend our money, just like we can choose how we spend our time. We can keep track of our bank account and make adjustments as needed, just like we keep track of time so we aren’t late for this event or to take that medicine. And, we can always get spent money back in the form of birthday money or a raise.  We can’t get spent time back. This is where time is different. Sometimes it may feel that we have all the time in the world…. until suddenly we don’t.  We can’t run to the ATM and withdraw more time.

That’s why I’m all about having a clear vision in 2020. I don’t want to waste any of my time on things that don’t matter or don’t have a significant meaning to me or those around me.

You may notice that I haven’t yet told you what my goals are for 2020. That’s because I don’t have that clear vision yet. I’m taking the rest of December to do some deep introspection and self-reflection to see what truly matters to me. I’m wiping the slate clean so-to-speak, at least for now.


The Problems of Teaching

I’ve never had an emotional problem with teaching. I’ve always loved teaching. Yet it isn’t quite as easy as most people might assume. Complications can arise for any number of reasons,such as politics or personality (or cultural) differences, that can make communication difficult.  However, I’ve found that there may be one key to teaching effectively that I myself had overlooked for some time. In order to teach and reach your students effectively you must apply the same rule that a good writer must keep in mind when writing:

“Know your audience!”

When I was in the third grade my teacher gave the class an assignment to draw what a pilot would see when he is flying. I filled a third of the paper with clouds and a couple birds. That rest of the paper I filled with what I thought the knobs and controls would look like. My teacher didn’t like my picture, telling me that she wanted to see more of what the sky would look like because that was more interesting. “The technical stuff the pilot sees is boring and no one cares,” was the implication. I thought at the time maybe I didn’t understand the assignment. However, as far as I was concerned, I did exactly as I was instructed.

Today I realize that my problem wasn’t that I did the assignment wrong. It was that I didn’t know my audience. I drew the picture for me and not for her. She could care less about all the knobs and gauges on a plane’s control panel, even though I was intrigued by the idea. She wanted to see a beautiful sky or maybe what the earth looked like from high above. I didn’t think that was particularly interesting; I can look at the sky any time.

Now, as I begin to teach more in the martial arts, I must remember to keep this lesson in mind. It doesn’t matter if you are giving a speech, writing a book or teaching: one needs to remember that they are addressing a specific audience. Sure there may be things that I understand perfectly and find fascinating with any subject, but I have to remember that my audience (or students, in this case) comes from different backgrounds and experiences than what I’ve had in my life. It’s important for me to respect that and take these differences into consideration when creating and presenting my lesson plan.

Probably the most important factor for me right now would be age. While I can relate to people who are around my own age, it can sometimes be difficult to teach those who are older or much younger than me. This is one of the reasons I avoided teaching children (other than relatives or family friends) for such a long time. I would often forget that a child still in school does not have the same educational background as an adult would have. When I teach the martial arts I have a tendency to use examples or illustrations from such various subjects as geometry, history, anatomy, science, and even English. Someone who hasn’t completed a certain grade or taken a certain subject yet could be left more confused or perplexed by my analogy or explanation of certain techniques and concepts. In addition to the differences in what is being taught in school today compared to when I attended, there are also dramatic differences in culture and the way children treat each other. Sure, there were fights when I went to school, but that was the extent of it. At the end of the day everyone came home alive and safe. When I teach a teenager attending school now, I keep a couple things in mind:  practical ability and underlying morality. While I want to feel confident in my students’ abilities to survive a physical altercation, , I also want to make sure I am not training bullies and thugs.

Teaching adults isn’t always quite as challenging, though it can be at times. I was raised to respect my elders. Sometime adults can be as temperamental and stubborn as children. It can feel a little strange when an adult reacts to discipline in the same way an adolescent would react.

There are any number of ways to handle this situation. Once again it comes back to knowing your audience (or who you are teaching). For example, when I was a training facilitator for a security company, the threat of someone losing their job was usually enough to get someone to fall on line. If it’s a situation where I am with someone for private lessons they have to option of going somewhere else. What it really comes down to respect.

Respect is not just from my students, but also respect from me to them. I believe I owe them the respect of getting to know them as human beings and understanding their motives for coming to me to learn in the first place. I believe this alone would go a long way towards making me a better teacher to my students.

If you’ve read to this point in my post, please feel free to comment. Even though I’ve written quite a bit, I’m positive I didn’t cover everything thing there is to cover on this subject. Ask me any questions you may have and express your opinion. Let me know what you agree with or what you disagree with. Either way, I’d love to hear from you.

Making Comebacks

It’s been months since I’ve found myself on this forum writing about my observations on life, work and the deeper meaning of martial arts training. Sometimes life distracts us from our goals or some goals begin to outweigh other goals for a certain amount of time. A short break can turn into a long break. The important thing in these situations is to take a moment to evaluate your priorities and then get going in the direction you’ve determined you should be moving toward. That’s what I’m doing right now.

Back in January I began writing a blog on New Year’s resolutions. Then I started three more without completely finishing any of them. I also took a break (and am still on this particular break) from making new YouTube videos. I’ve switched jobs and moved into a bigger home which has taken a lot of my attention since everything was happening around the same time. But things are settling down now and I can begin once again to focus more clearly regarding my priorities with regard to career and family.

As L L Cool J said, “Don’t call it a comeback.” I don’t feel as if I’m really making a comeback;  I’m just getting myself back on track. I’ve always had a habit of putting so much on my plate, so to speak, that I end up biting off more than I can chew. (How was that for appropriately combining metaphors?)

Writing is one of my first loves so I am going to get back to putting out these blogs on a more regular basis, probably once a week as I originally intended. I will also write about martial arts and training, but I also wish to expand my topics so even non-martial artists may be interested in reading what I have to say.

If you are reading this, I’m also interested in what you have to say. What subjects would you like me to cover? What can I do here that would bring value to your life? Seriously, I’d like to have an open dialogue with my readers. No one stops learning and while I am a teacher I am also an eternal student. This means I’m very much interested in what my readers have to say.

One last thing. I’ve finally finished my book called The Wisdom of Wing Chun and it is now available to the public on Amazon. Please check it out when you get a chance. Thanks for taking the time to read this. I pray everyone is doing well.