Book Review: “Hidden in Plain Sight”

Title: Hidden In Plain Sight Tracing the Roots of Usehiba Morihei’s Power
Author: Ellis Amdur
ISBN #: 978-0-9823762-0-1
Year: 2009

At one point in my life I had over 500 martial arts related books in my personal library. They covered every style imaginable, and many were in languages I couldn’t read. I would say that 85% weren’t worth the paper they were printed on–and that’s being gracious.

For the most part, these books were written by people–usually martial arts instructors–who are not professional writers or scholars. Just being an experienced teacher does not necessarily make someone an authority on their art, and it certainly does not guarantee that one is capable of explaining their style clearly. Writing is hard.

Many of these books perpetuated myths and misconceptions. A lot of the information in them could easily be disproved with a little research. Worse yet, the books often were filled with techniques that weren’t viable as presented.

In fact, the majority of these books contained nothing but disjointed sequences of photographs and drawings with “chop-socky” explanations of techniques. There was nothing in these that one could–or should–actually learn from. I suppose that they had some use as a reference for students of that particular style who already knew the techniques.

In my opinion, almost all martial arts books are interesting for the “hobbyist,” but have no value for someone really trying to research the (factual) history of an art, delve into the theories of “martial science” or improve their skills past a basic level. Sure, they may contain some worthwhile tidbit from time to time, but overall they aren’t worth the time it takes to read them.

But, every now and then, you run into a book that has valuable content and is written by someone who is both very knowledgeable and has the ability to communicate clearly. “Hidden in Plain Sight” is one of those books.

I’ll start my review with the following two comments: it is not an easy read, and trying to summarize the book with any brevity is impossible. Anyone looking for a “how to” book to improve their Aikido/Aiki skills will be disappointed–sort of. But in some ways, that is the point. He is not providing any information that the real serious martial artist hasn’t contemplated; he is just reaffirming what they should already know that there has to be more to training than just being taught techniques.

At its most basic, this book is an examination of the development of Ueshiba Morihei’s Aikido and how he developed his level of skill–skill that his contemporaries considered outstanding, or even superhuman.

But it’s more than that. It’s also a book about the culture and history of Japanese Budo and the Aiki arts. How training was done in the past, what teachers of the past put themselves through to achieve their level of skill, and how that knowledge was propagated.

The theme of the book is about how many of these methods are overlooked or not understood today, though they are “hidden in plain sight.”

What I appreciate about Mr. Amdur’s work is that he avoids the all-too-common reliance on the mystical nature of martial arts, opting to focus on more of the tangible scientific development and application that make them viable.

I consider this book to be a must-read for any serious practitioner of the martial arts.

On a more personal note, this book has made me go back and reexamine the way in which my teacher taught me (see previously posted essay titled “Training Via Osmosis”). As I said in that essay, I now believe there was a lot more method to the seeming madness of how I was trained.

For this alone, Mr. Amdur’s book was invaluable to me.


Day One

I arrived at my teacher’s home right after school, excited about this opportunity to learn martial arts. I was finally going to learn all those wonderful things I had seen in the movie “You Only Live Twice.” Little did I know how wrong I was.

On my arrival, I was told to complete my homework before we could begin, which I hastily did. I was then shown where I could change clothes, and where I was required to wait until the class began.

Soon after, my teacher’s daughter entered the room and started showing me the proper etiquette I would be required to know if I was going to continue training with her father. Bor-r-r-ing!

That’s not why I was here. I was here to learn to fight with swords and flip bad guys over my shoulder, just like in the movie (keep in mind I was eleven years old with no real knowledge about the martial arts or Japanese culture).

Okay: bow like this; sit like that; don’t do this; keep quiet and do as your told. Got It! Can we please start now? No. When will this girl ever stop talking? What do you mean I did it wrong? I did it just like you said I was supposed to. Really, I have to do it again? All these thoughts ran through my head. I certainly never said them out loud, but I’m sure my body language and facial expressions told her exactly how I was feeling.

Finally, after what seemed like an endless amount of wasted time, the order came that class was starting. I rushed into the garage, eager for my first lesson.

The Interview

After we bowed in and did some breathing/meditation exercises, sensei Yachigusa called me to the front of the class, where I sat and waited. I can not quite describe his look, as he looked me over, but it sure was not one that made me feel welcomed. I remember feeling quite nervous as he scanned me.

After a few minutes, he “growled” something in Japanese; within a few seconds his daughter brought him a teapot and two cups. One cup was placed in front of him, and the other in front of me. My teacher then poured some tea into my cup, and made a gesture to drink.

This was the first time I had ever had green tea, and I didn’t like it. It was so bitter that all I could do was to take a sip before placing the cup back on the floor. Once again he gestured to drink it, and following his lead I gulped it down.
He then poured me another cupful, though I’m positive he knew I didn’t like the taste. I swallowed it anyway.

“What’s your name again?” my teacher asked. “Gary,” I said. “Gary?” he said with a very heavy Japanese accent. “Yes sir,” I replied, not even sure whether he had actually said my name at all; I could barely understand him.

“You train hard, yes?” he inquired. “Yes sir,” I responded. There was silence, as he scanned me over again as if trying to determine if I meant what I said.

“You behave, yes?’ he asked. “Yes sir, ” I replied, thinking he meant I would behave in class. What he was really asking is if I was a troublemaker, if I was “good boy” or not.

“Your parents let you train?” he asked. “Yes sir,” I lied. The truth is my mother had no clue what I was up to. She just thought I was visiting a friend. Looking back, chances are she would have let me do it since she was very supportive of my interests, but at the time I didn’t want to take the chance she would say no.

By this point I started feeling fidgety, and was sweating because of the hot tea. Also, my legs were also cramping up because I wasn’t used to kneeling in seiza (formal sitting posture).

I’m sure he was aware of my discomfort, but he poured me another cup of tea and continued his inquiry.

“You like jujutsu?” he asked. I remained silent since I didn’t know what “jujutsu” meant. Figuring that any answer was better than none I blurted out, “I like judo,” remembering that was one of the arts demonstrated in the movie “You Only Live Twice. “NO JU….DO here, just jujutsu” he responded. There was that word again. What was he talking about?

He poured me another cup of tea.

Then he took a different approach. “You like (pointing at the sword behind him),” he asked. “Yes sir,” I answered, “very much.” “Honto” he remarked (he may have actually said, wakarimasu (I understand), but honto (really) is what I think he meant).

“So, you like to fight?” he asked. “No sir I don’t,” I replied, which was the truth. I had only been in one fight during my entire life to that point.

More silence as he scanned me again. “You train hard, yes?” he asked again. “Yes sir,” I responded now hoping this would end the interview so I could get up and move my legs, which were now in agony.

“Good, let’s get started. Move over there,” he said as he nudged me towards the direction I was suppose to go.

Lesson 1

Wobbling to the backyard of his home, I followed him to a pile of firewood. He pointed to one piece, gesturing me to pick it up. He then pointed to a table, gesturing me to put the wood on it. I had no idea why I was doing this, but I did exactly what I was told. Little did I know that “Loggy”–the name I would eventually give to that piece of wood–would become a major element of my early years of training.

After the log was placed on the table he covered it with a folded towel, and then out of nowhere he punched the log with his fist. His movement surprised the hell out of me, as did his kiai (battle cry).

“You do,” I was told. I just stared blankly. “Hit it!” he commanded. I hit the log. Ouch, that really hurt.

“Again” he commanded. “Again?” I thought, can’t he see my hand hurts.

“Hit it now,” he command, clearly already losing patience with this kid he didn’t even really want to teach. Startled by his tone I hit the log. But I hit it too slowly and without enough power.

“NO!” he yelled, as he forcibly grabbed my hand and struck it against the log. Now I was really in pain.

“Again” he commanded; and though my hand was hurting I hit the log as hard as I could muster. I did it over and over again, until he told me to stop. I had never felt pain like this ever before. And if it hadn’t been for the towel, my knuckles would have been a bloody mess that day.

Without even giving me a hint that he thought that I had done a good job, or even that I had at least tried my best, we were off to the next exercise.

This time I was shown a pile of sand, and instructed to move the pile from where it was to the other side of the garden. Okay, no problem, this would be easy. I grabbed the shovel and bucket next to the pile and started shoveling sand.

“NO!!!!!” he yelled. “Not like that, like this.” He then proceed to pick up two handfuls of sand, walk to the other side of the yard, and drop it. “Do it,” he commanded. And I did.

Needless to say, my hands were already so sore form hitting the log that grabbing handfuls of sand was very hard. It didn’t take long before my hands were cramped up so badly that I could barely keep a handful in them. But I didn’t stop, even when he wasn’t watching.

Handful after handful, I did this exercise for over a half a hour.

“Yame” (stop), he ordered. He then inspected my hands, muttering, “no good, no good,” as he pointed to the two lower fingers of my fist, which were bruised. That was my first correction regarding technique, though in truth, I didn’t have a clue what he meant.

After a short water break, class continued.

The next thing I was taught was a sequence of transitions I can only describe as a kata (solo form). It had nothing to do with fighting. There were no block, punches or kicks, but it was simple to see it would improve balance and strengthen the legs.

No explanation was given about what the movements were for, nor were the movements broken down. It was simply a case of monkey see, monkey do. I have to say, it was pretty impressive to see my sensei, a man already in his 70’s, do this form over and over, apparently without any effort. He made it look easy, and I remember telling myself that if he could do it so could I.

Little did I know that day, but these movements would form the core of actual techniques later on.  Basically, the first six movements were:

  1. From standing upright: move right leg to the right; exhale and squat; exhale again and hold squat; ichi, ni, san, shi,…ju (count to ten); inhale, rise to starting position.
  2. Move right leg back (long stance); do lunge; return to staring position.
  3. Move right leg to the right; exhale, drop down do side lunge; hold lunge; inhale, rise and return to starting position.
  4. Extend right foot forward; exhale, drop butt almost to the ground; hold position; inhale, rise and return to staring position.
  5. Do seiza (formal sitting); rise to kneel, stepping off line; return to seiza; rise to starting position.
  6. Do seiza; rotate body off center line (my students know this movement as a kneeling evasion); return to starting position; repeat to left.

Being youthful, and pretty flexible none of these movements were beyond my ability to imitate, except for number four. I’m not saying they were easy, or I did them right, or that I never lost my balance and fell, but I felt pretty successful with my performance when we were done one hour later.

I have no idea what my teacher thought though. There were never any words of encouragement, and all the corrections were physical: a tug here, a pull there, a kick to widen the legs, and so on. But whatever he thought it didn’t matter at the moment.

By this point, over one and a half hours had passed. My hands were killing me, and the muscles in my legs were exhausted. Part of me was ready to quit and go home. I was also upset that we hadn’t done anything related to what I had seen in the movie, which was why I was there. When would we start doing that, I wondered? But it would be years before that would happen.

I wanted to ask questions, lots of questions; but remembering his daughter’s instructions, I did not.

The final phase of training for that first day was my introduction to ukemi, (receiving techniques, see Training via Osmosis). This wasn’t the ukemi most martial artists are familiar with, where one learns to fall. It was mostly just me serving as a punching bag.

Without receiving any warnings about what was about to happen, instructions on how to fall, or even how to indicate that I was in pain, I was told to punch my teacher’s son as hard as could.

But wait, he was my friend. There was no way I could hit him for real. My first punch was some lame attempt, that stopped short of ever touching him.

SMACK! Out of nowhere my teacher struck my arm. “No,” he snapped, “punch hard.” So I did.

Now I have no idea what my teacher’s son did to me, since it had happened so fast. All I knew was that I was on the ground. I was in pain. Now everything hurt.

“Punch again” he commanded, as I picked myself up from the floor. Against my better judgment I did, though a lot more cautiously. SMACK! My teacher hit me again. “No,” he yelled, “real punch.”

So I punched. Over and over again. The results were always the same. I ended up on the floor without really knowing how I had gotten there.

Of course, the more I was tossed around the more I became frustrated. Soon I was losing my temper. Now I really did want to hit my friend, just to get even. But as I hard as I tried, I only nicked him once, and even that wasn’t enough to stop him from throwing me to the ground over and over again.

Certainly, my teacher witnessed me losing my temper, but he never intervened. He remained expressionless, only breaking his silence to order me to punch again.

“Yamate,” my teacher finally yelled–a word that had no meaning to me at the time. “Class is over.”

Thank God I thought. It had been over two hours of hell.

We lined up, did a few more breathing exercises, and then bowed. Then, just at like the beginning of class, he gestured me to come forward and take a seat. Even before my butt hit the floor, his daughter arrived with another teapot. “Please, not more tea,” I thought to myself.

But it wasn’t tea. Instead it was something with an terrible odor I could not describe. “YUCK! I’m going to have to drink that now?” I said to myself, “No way.”

Fortunately, this foul-smelling liquid wasn’t for drinking. Within a few minutes, he was rubbing it all over my hands. The coolness of the liquid felt great, but the rubbing was almost unbearable. He didn’t seem to care.

“You like class?” he asked me. I didn’t know how to answer him; I was conflicted. I was physically and mentally worn out, and clearly had been pushed past my limit. Yet, part of me still wanted to learn. I was stubborn and did not want to be a quitter, so I answered, “yes sir.”

Once again there was silence, as he scanned me, not quite sure if he should believe me or not. “You’re sure?,” he asked. “Yes sir,” I responded, still trying to convince myself that I meant it.

“Good. Tomorrow you start real training” he said.

What!? Real training? What do you call what we did today?

After Class

As I rode the bus home, and my muscles started to stiffen, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. It certainly was not what I had expected, and I hadn’t been taught anything even remotely similar to what I had seen in the movie.

More importantly, I could not stop thinking about what he could have meant when he said “real training” would start tomorrow. Things had felt pretty real today. My mind was a whirlwind of thoughts, and I debated the pros and cons of attending another class.

Clearly, I felt that my first class, which was over two hours long hadn’t taught me anything. What’s the use in hitting a log and carrying sand? And that silly kata, what was the point? Worse yet, I was still really angry about getting beaten up by his son. And then there was the pain, that wasn’t enjoyable either.

Surely, there were more reasons to quit, than go back.

Looking back, I have no idea why I returned the next day; but I did. As I tell everyone now, I was just a dumb kid, who didn’t know anything about martial arts, and assumed this was how everybody did it. If they could, I could.

Furthermore, I had told sensei Yachigusa I would be there, and I wasn’t a liar (well, except for the part about my mother allowing me to train).

So I did return. And I returned the day after, and the next, and for next ten and a half years, until my sensei left San Francisco to go home to Japan.

This year will be 40th anniversary of that first day.

Training Via Osmosis

Currently I am re-reading a book titled “Hidden In Plain Sight,” by Ellis Amdur. It’s a book about the roots of Morihei Ueshiba’s power, that covers a lot of the history of Daito Ryu and Ueshiba’s development of Aikido.

It’s a very interesting book, written by a true scholar. Although many of the names and martial styles are unfamiliar to me, it has been very informative. The book has, without a doubt, made me see Aikido–at least Aikido as Ueshiba taught it–in a different light.

However, that’s not what I’m here to write about.

In chapter four, “Aikido Is Three Peaches,: Mr Amdur writes:

“A considerable amount of skill, however, can be acquired by the innately talented simply by osmosis. The act of taking ukemi from a teacher who really puts the student through his paces will teach the student some of the body skills without him knowing, really, that he has reworked his body structure. For example, if tested physically with more and more severity, one begins to “instinctively” learn ways of breathing best suited to taking a blow or a fall. This learning by osmosis is further enhanced when one attempts to throw or counter that teacher. Without explicit instructions, one will not learn all or even most of the skills that are possible for a human being to acquire – but one can learn enough to stand out within not only the aikido world, but even in the larger world of martial arts.”

Unlike the common translation of the word ukemi, which most people use to describe falling techniques, Mr. Amdur uses ukemi more literally to refer to a concept of “receiving body.”

Per Mr. Amdur: “Properly understood, ukemi is the mastery of force – the act of absorbing and redirecting energy, and even adding one’s own power and sending it back to the attacker.”

His assertion, and I agree with it, is that ukemi is not just about falling. It’s about learning to “FEEL.”

Learning to “feel,” and using those feelings constructively was something I wasn’t taught. Or at least I wasn’t taught explicitly. But perhaps the ways I made various discoveries related to self-preservation were a direct result of the how my early training was conducted. I took a lot, I mean a lot, of ukemi–ukemi that I was in no way, shape or form prepared or trained to take.

Before reading Mr. Amdur’s book I had always just accepted the fact that I had been the victim of a half-crazed Japanese man who had it in for me. Now I have to consider an alternative possibility; perhaps he was actually looking out for my best interest, and taught me in the best manner he knew how.

In either case, the end result was the same: he forced me to learn things on my own by taking ukemi. By Osmosis!

Lesson 1 – Pain Avoidance

Anyone who has ever read, or listened to, stories about the way I was taught will be aware that for my first three years of training, I was little more than a punching bag for my teacher’s son. I routinely had the crap beaten out of me.

Training was often harsh. While I like to believe that my teacher had no real intention to permanently injure me, I frequently went home with bruises, welts, abrasions, cuts, and sprains. It was a good day was when I only felt exhausted.

Complicating matters, my mother who had no knowledge about the martial arts, and if she had have seen these injuries she would have made me quit. I can still remember wearing a sweater on one of the hottest days of the year just so my mother count not see the welt marks all over my arms. “No mom I’m not hot,” I boldly protested while I quickly became drenched in my own sweat.

Since I didn’t want to be forced to quit, I had to hide my injuries. This meant that I rarely if ever received any professional medical treatment. Occasionally, I could blame these injuries on sports I was involved in. But in most cases, I either treated my injuries on my own, accepted the occasional first aid my teacher offered (usually some stinky liquid that was rubbed on, some foul tasting concoction, or moxa), or learned to ignore and work through the pain.

I guess what doesn’t kill you, does makes you stronger. Although, you do pay for it as you get older.

While it might seem like “lesson one” was to develop a high tolerance for pain, the real lesson that I learned–at least eventually–was how to reduce the amount of pain I was receiving.

Rather than enduring, I learned to evade, avoid, blend with, ride, or redirect the incoming force: ultimately dissipating that force such that most of the energy didn’t impact me and was at least paritally redirected towards my opponent.

Admittedly, training could still be painful. But the rate at which I was injured greatly declined.
In fairness to my instructor, he did eventually teach me techniques that involved evading, redirecting, and blending. But most of the lessons of how to actually apply such skills were self taught out of necessity during those first few years.

His intention, at least initially was clearly to leave me alone to figure things out, myself. Techniques were often done to me without any prior warning about what was going to happen. I had no time to formulate a plan for what I could do in response, or to prepare myself to fall in a certain way. I was simply told how to attack, and before I knew what was happening, I would find myself put in some painful joint lock, and/or on the ground. Often, things happened so fast, that I could not even sense how techniques were being applied to me; I knew the end result, but not the means.

Lesson 2 – Taking Falls

Another thing I had to teach myself was how to fall. Unlike most dojos, where throws and projections are a dominant element of the beginning curriculum, I was never taught Ukemi Waza (falling techniques). My teacher didn’t show me, or anyone else.

I had to teach myself how to fall, out of necessity, and for self-preservation. It was a skill I picked up very quickly, by trial and error, often without giving it much conscious thought. Granted, my falls might not have looked pretty, but they were functional.

After reading Mr. Amdur’s book, and thinking about what he wrote, I can see that not being taught how to fall was very beneficial for me. It forced me to learn to “feel” techniques and how they were being applied. It eventually taught me how to respond in a manner that not only reduced a technique’s harm, but also allowed me to counter it with little effort.

One thing I learned quite quickly, and became very good at, was to instinctively shift my center, or alter my body to counter techniques. Nowadays, I have to make a conscious effort to stop doing this when I am practicing with others, especially if I am the uke (receiver of a technique) or am working with people who do not know me well.

Of course, my teacher’s son was also aware of these methods. Often we would find ourselves in a game of counter-versus-counter-versus-counter, before we could finish the technique we were supposed to be practicing. Basically, we were sparring.

But this was sparring in a way that was acceptable to my teacher. He often encouraged such behavior, because he knew it improved our overall ability to use such techniques in the real world.

Of course, such training ingrained a habit that others often find annoying: I will not fall unless I really have to. When receiving a technique, I will not project, hurl, leap, and/or launch myself–unless my training partner makes me.

Acting too cooperatively and “faking” a fall was something my teacher would not tolerate. If he even had the slightest inkling that we were behaving in such a manner, there would be hell to pay.

“Baka da!* You make it work, or you learn how to make it work. But don’t fake it, ” he would yell (well, that’s the family-friendly version; and the real version would be accompanied by some swipes from his cane or whatever else he happened to be close at hand).

Lesson 3 – Relaxation

Have you ever heard the expression “Tension Kills?” Well it’s more than just an old saying.
Early in my training, when I knew I was about to get pummeled by some technique my teacher’s son was about to perform on me, I would become very rigid. Since I knew it was going to hurt, I would become tense. My body would lock up. Because

I wasn’t pliable and relaxed, I had to absorb the full brunt of the force.
My teacher constantly yelled at me for being “stiff,” too flat-footed, or as he said, too “heavy.” At the time, I thought “heavy” meant I was fat. I was confused since I knew I wasn’t fat; clearly whatever he was trying to teach me was lost in translation.

As time went by, I finally understood that “heavy” meant I was being stiff and rigid. I was being my own worst enemy; I wasn’t allowing myself the ability to move freely and adapt to the situation. I wasn’t relaxed.

Unfortunately, by the time I finally understand what “heavy” meant, I had already started learning how to relax on my own. I taught myself how to become pliable, how to just accept what was about to happen and “go with the flow.”

Learning to remain relaxed was probably the greatest breakthrough I made in my martial arts training in that period. It drastically changed both how I received techniques and how I applied them.

This lesson marked a transition point, where I went from glorified punching bag to actual student. And it only took mr three years of abuse.

Lesson 4 – Every Action Equals A Reaction

What I really love about aiki arts are the subtleties . They are also something I have hated, and which often frustrated me to no end–especially when trying to teach aiki.

Often these subtleties arise because many aiki techniques have to be done in a specific, systematic order in order to work. Just the slight shift of the head at a wrong moment, an imperceptible twisting at the wrong angle, or even improper breathing can ruin the effectiveness of a technique. Sometimes a tiny shift will have drastic results.

In the art of aiki, every action has a reaction.

Conceptually, this is not hard to understand. But putting the concept into practice is another thing. Simply put, in order to perform correct aiki against an opponent, one must first master their own body.

Mastering the subtleties of one’s own body is often referred to as the “internal” part of martial arts. By being fully in control of the body, and using it in an integrated manner with no extraneous movements, one generates extraordinary power, speed, and efficiency. It is not about feeling “comfortable,” it’s about doing things correctly.

By learning to “feel” the techniques that were being applied to me, I learned what actions caused which reactions. These lessons were burned into muscle memory rather than conscious thought. No longer did I think about what I was doing; I just did it.

The funny thing, is that teaching has forced me to reverse this process so that I can better explain and demonstrate the things I am teaching. And, yes, having to stop and think about things has affected my ability to execute them like I used to.

In reexamining things, maybe I’m doing a disservice to my students by trying to explain in too much detail. Perhaps I should be more like my teacher and force them to figure it out on their own. We’ll see.

That said, one of my mantras in school is, ” Stop thinking so much! Just do it.” Unfortunately, this lesson goes over the heads of most students, who can’t or won’t ever comprehend what I’m talking about.

Lesson 5 – Point Of Reference

This is closely related to lesson four; “point of reference” describes the manner in which I learned to apply “actions equal reactions.” Understanding action equals reaction is meaningless if you can’t apply it–apply it instantaneously, without conscious thought.

Personally, the way I process information–whether it be physical movement, verbal instructions, or things I read–is by firmly establishing both a starting point and the objective. How I get from point A to point B can vary.

When it comes to physical movement, establishing a starting point is normally very easy. Reaching the objective is the hard point. There are often translation problems from my mental intention to my body’s physical expression of it. The body is not always capable of, or coordinated enough for moving in the intended way. Too often, you end up either omitting steps or adding extra movements, without ever being aware of it. This brings us back to the subtleties of aiki.

The simplest example I can use to describe “point of reference” comes from when when I took Karate. In the beginning, I had a very hard time learning the kata–their solo forms. I was simply terrible at it. I understood the overall point of learning the kata, but unless individual movements and sequences were broken down with the purposes explained in detail, I found it hard to visualize what I was doing. That made remembering the sequence of movements very hard for me.

Thus, to learn the Karate kata, I had to create various points of reference to remind myself that I was blocking this or that attack, and then using such-and-such defense.

Practicing solo kata does not give the kind instant feedback I was accustomed to having. Since you’re not applying any of the movements to an actual living, breathing opponent, there is no way to check that your movements are correct and viable. There’s nothing to “feel,” except your own actions.

This is not meant to be derogatory, or to suggest that the bunkai (applications) in kata are not effective. It’s just that the way karate practitioners approach their objectives is different both from how I was trained and how my mind processes information.

In fact, my teacher did teach kata. We just did them in reverse. Instead of learning the solo portion first, we started by learning how to apply the movements. After we had understood that, then we would practice the movements on our own.

For me personally, that was a better approach, because I didn’t have to imagine what I was trying to accomplish; I knew my objective. My points of reference where clear: I had to do this in order to achieve that.

As I explain it to my students, forms are sequential movements, that have to be done in a specific order: A, B, C, D, E, F, etc. Leave out one step or alter the sequence, and you are not doing the form. You may get the application to work, often by being forceful, but you still did it wrong.

Lesson 6 – Breathing

The last thing I learned from ukemi was how to breathe properly. This is an ability I don’t think my teacher could have fully taught me, given the language barrier between us. Breathing from the hara (abdomen) has little meaning to a 13-year-old. My teacher could poke my tanden (a spot below the navel considered the center of power) as much as he wanted, I just didn’t get it. I couldn’t feel it.

Of course, learning to breathe properly has a lot to do with relaxation, and learning to “feel.” All these elements seem to always work in conjunction with each other, which can’t be a coincidence.

Unfortunately, I can’t even begin to explain how I breathe in relation to my fighting skills, or how I use “breath” in my techniques. Nor can I explain how I figured it out. It seems like my body learned it on its own through a lot of trial and error.

Undoubtedly, training at the beach (which we did often) assisted my need for proper breath control. My teacher liked to pin us face down in the water, and hold us there until we surfaced, gasping for air. The more one thrashed, the longer they were held. As you can imagine, the first thing we had to learn was to relax and not panic.

Holding one’s breath underwater, even for a few seconds, can seem like an eternity–especially when you’re not prepared for it and are being held there against your will.

Though torturous, my teacher wasn’t drowning us without purpose. There was a lesson to be learned, though it took a while to figure it out. And, no, the lesson was not to stay away from the water when he was around–although that was good advice; it was how to breathe properly.

I learned how to inhale such that an optimal amount of oxygen was taken in, and then how to release that breath as needed–or, in the case of being held under water, how to hold it in and use the air for as long as possible (which is also useful to know when countering choking attacks).

I wish I could elaborate more, but I really cannot describe what I do better.  It has become completely reflexive.

One instructor told me, some years ago, that one should never inhale when doing a technique; it should be done in one breath. He also stated that the samurai would often watch for their opponent to inhale and attack them at that very instant. That was how important proper breath control was.

Unfortunately, he would not go into detail on how to breathe properly. He basically said, “figure it out on your own.”

That statement may not have been the response I was hoping for, but it might be the proper one. Maybe learning to breathe correctly needs to be self-taught, at least to some degree. An instructor can give insights into methodologies, ways to picture what you are trying to accomplish, and even corrections, but in the end the practitioner has to put the pieces of the puzzle together themselves. It’s not easy but it is doable.

However, it’s not possible to learn without combining the other lessons that I’ve discussed.

* * *

As I said at the beginning of this essay, when I started training it was harsh. For most of my adult life, I have been under the assumption that my teacher didn’t like me, and was just trying to get rid of me during the first few years.

I have always wondered why I was taught in this manner, so brutally compared to how other martial artist I have come to know were taught. I’ve even questioned whether what I endured those first few years really qualifies as training, or if it was just hazing.

But maybe there was a lot more method to my teachers “madness” than I ever realized.
Perhaps, instead of just verbally filling my head with theory and principles, things I wouldn’t have understood at the time, he made me learn them first hand. He forced me to use, and develop senses I didn’t even realize I had. He brought out the latent abilities that I needed to avoid being seriously hurt, made me overcome fears in a productive manner, and got me to trust my intuition.

He forced to me to re-work my body, to retrain how my body moved. I learned to mentally prepare myself for a confrontation, and to use instinct rather than conscious thought both defensively and offensively.

He didn’t “give” me my martial skills, he made me take them, and make them my own.

In conversations we had later, when I was an adult, he claimed to have taught us in the same manner that he was taught. Maybe that was how things were done before the commercialization of the martial arts. I don’t have enough knowledge of traditional arts and their training methods to give a definitive answer about that. But if you know me, you know what answer I’m leaning towards.

Traditional or not, I don’t know that how I learned was the best method. It certainly was not a path most people would undertake by choice. I was just dumb kid who didn’t know any better.

But looking back from where I am now, I can honestly say I wouldn’t change a thing.

* * *

* I’ve heard that “baka da” can be translated in many ways.
The word “Baka” can mean jerk, dolt, imbecile, fool (foolish), stupid, worthless, absurd, ridiculous, and/or idiotic. Any of these worlds might describe how my teacher felt when I did things wrong. All of them probably applied when I did things wrong repeatedly after receiving corrections.

The translation I’m going with is; “What you did was stupid.” Although the word “absurd” would fit his personality better than “stupid.”

Of course I guess he could have also said, Baka yamero yo, which I believe translates to “don’t be such an idiot.” This phrase seems to be more appropriate, but given the nuances of the Japanese language may have other connotations that made the phrase inappropriate to use.

I like Baka Janai, myself, which means: “are you stupid or what?” But I think that’s more slang.

Jujutsu: the “Gentle” Art?

When I started training, my teacher did not use a specific name for the style of martial art he was teaching. But anything we did without weapons, if he gave it a label, he would call jujutsu.

At the time, my teacher could have called whatever we were doing anything he wanted; I would not have cared.  As an 11 year old boy in the 70’s, I had no clue about different martial styles. I hadn’t even seen a Kung Fu movie yet.

All I knew was that my teacher was Japanese, and that the techniques I was learning looked like stuff I had seen in The James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice.” That’s all that mattered to me.

It is hard to imagine now, in the era of the Internet, but in the early 1970’s it was extremely difficult to find any information about martial arts styles, history, or techniques. It was even harder to find information about jujutsu.

This was especially true for me:  an 11 year old boy with a mother who not only had no clue what the martial arts were, but mostly likely would have thought them too violent to let me train in or learn about (much of my early training was done secretly, with my mother believing I was spending time at a friend’s house, which was partially true).

Unlike the proliferation of schools nowadays, even finding a martial art school in San Francisco in the 70’s was tough. I don’t even remember knowing anyone who studied martial arts at the time, Excepting the boxing school a few blocks from my house, I didn’t know any martial art schools near where I lived—and believe me I was trying hard to look.

Even the local bookstore, which I went to often, didn’t have a martial arts section, and rarely carried anything on the topic.  When they did have something, it was usually some pocket-sized book written by Bruce Tegner, or a reprint of an older self-defense manual with cheesy hand drawn pictures. It was pretty worthless stuff–no offense to Mr. Tegner.  Though I do give him credit for writing a book on vital point striking, which was my first English-language resource for these methods.

* * *

I wasn’t even able to find a copy of Black Belt Magazine, until the late 70’s when Grandmaster Brendan Lai (of Seven Star Praying Mantis Kung Fu), opened his martial arts supply store on Mission Street. This store was only five blocks from my house, and it soon became my hub for martial arts related materials.

I do not know how much of my spare pocket money I spent there, but there always seemed to more books than I could afford.  I was often kicked out of the store for spending too much time reading a book or magazine instead of making a purchase.

If he had known that many years later I would open my own martial arts school almost next door to his store, perhaps he would have been more accommodating. Maybe he also would have accepted my request to train in his style–but that’s another story.

As excellent a resource as Brendan Lai’s Martial Arts Supply Store was, he focused on books and equipment for Chinese systems.  He rarely had books on other styles. Furthermore, many of the books he carried were written in Chinese and were of little value to me except for the pictures.

Still, I did manage to find many interesting books about Chinese arts covering topics such as Chin-Na (techniques of catching and locking), Shuai Jiao (wrestling), and Chinese broadsword.  These styles, if I may dare to say so, appeared to have similar fundamentals to what I was learning; although I never would have said that to my teacher—heaven forbid.

While Chinese topics clearly dominated the inventory, every now and then a book about Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Judo, or even Ninjas would appear on the shelves. These were a welcome change, and offered me some insights to other arts and training methods.

Unfortunately, they were still not what I was searching for. I wanted books about Jujutsu, and it seemed like those did not exist.  It was frustrating. If I could find books on all these other arts, why couldn’t I find what I was searching for. It had to exist, didn’t it? Was Jujutsu even a real art?

* * *

I was further frustrated and perplexed when I was still unsuccessful in my goal during my rare trips to Japantown, a place where one would assume books on Japanese martial arts would be readily available.  I was able to find more texts about Aikido, Karate, Kendo, Kenjutsu, Samurai History, and even Ninjutsu in Japantown, but still nothing specifically about jujutsu.

In fairness to the Kinokuniya Bookstore, when I went to Japantown with my teacher, I rarely had an opportunity to search for books.  We usually went either to watch Japanese movies or so my teacher could meet up with friends.  In either case, my teacher expected me to sit quietly, eat whatever food was provided, and be his errand boy when he needed something.

Many readers may wonder why my12-year-old self didn’t just ask my teacher more questions. That would of course have been the reasonable thing to do.

In the early years of my training my teacher rarely spoke to me.  He was more intent on figuring out how to make me quit than on teaching me.  On the rare occasions when my teacher did speak to me, it was very hard to understand him.  His English was poor and he had a heavy accent–which would drastically vary depending on his desire to communicate with me.

No matter how little I was able to comprehend him, I didn’t dare ask him to repeat himself. That would just frustrate him, often leading to a needlessly hard training session.  On the other side, I’m not sure how much my teacher understood when I talked to him either; he would often just look at me with a blank stare or frown and walk away.

Needless to say our exchanges weren’t very in-depth, or informative. In fact, I’m sure I frustrated the hell out of him by often saying “yes sir” after he had explained something, and then doing something completely different than what he had expected of me.

The result was that even from my teacher, I was not able to get any information about Jujutsu.

* * *

Now ,I’ve never been known for giving up when I set my mind to do something.  I bugged my local librarian for over two years about this topic.  The, finally, two books about Jujutsu appeared at our local branch. Yeah!!!

Both books were small paperback texts, sloppily printed on brittle brown paper, with awful hand drawn pictures.  Yet, though poorly produced, having them in my hands was like finding gold to me at that time.  Even to this day, I remember how excited I was to find them, and how I couldn’t wait to read the books cover to cover.

And then, in the fist paragraph of the first page of the first book, got the shock of my life.  The book said that “Jujutsu” can be translated as “The Gentle Art”.

“Gentle Art!” I had been training for over two years and there was nothing gentle about it.  In fact, it hurt a lot: my joints were twisted and torqued; I was choked; I was thrown to the ground–and all the while I was being kicked, kneed, elbowed, and punched.

There had to be some mistake. I could not imagine that Samurai would have done a “gentle art.”  They were warriors, great fighting men who would throw themselves on their own sword to save their honor. What would be the use to learning something “gentle,” when it came to fighting on the battlefield.

I was quite plainly flustered.  But still, eager to learn, I checked the books out, and read them cover to cover–repeatedly.

In the end, these books were not very informative; but they were about Jujutsu and that’s all that mattered. They proved that Jujutsu was real, and the techniques were often similar enough to what I was doing that I could relate to them.

In a few, rare cases, they helped me understand some piece of the puzzle I had been unable to get from my teacher, whether by his omission or our inability to communicate fully.

I also carefully studied the hand drawn diagrams.  Looking back, this was really a waste of time.  As you can see by the pictured examples, essential steps needed to make them work were left out.

* * *

They say that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”.  Armed with my new-found books, there was a part of me that really wanted to show them to my teacher and ask stupid questions like “when do I get to learn this?” or, worse yet, “why do they do it that way and we do it another way?”

More importantly there was that nagging question why Jujutsu was called a “Gentle Art.”

Fortunately, common sense prevailed–by which I mean that my sense of fear won out.  I did not tell my teacher about my discovery or ask him any questions related to the books; it just wasn’t worth the risk. I knew my place in the school, and that at any time I could be told to never come back. I had seen such things enough times to know how moody my teacher could be, and that he wouldn’t give anyone a second chance.

I certainly hoped my teacher would never find out about the books.  But it would not make this a particularly interesting story if he had not.  Nor would it be believable that a thirteen year old could keep a secret, and fully fight the urge to ask questions.

I cannot remember why I took the books to class, or what led up to my teacher finding them.  Chances are that he saw them while I was doing my homework–this was required before we were allowed to train and was often done at his house.  I carried these books in my backpack everywhere I went for several weeks, and would read and reread them on my long bus ride home.

However it happened, it happened.  I mostly remember the embarrassment of being caught with them and the fear of what was going to happen next.

To my surprise, and totally out of character for him, my teacher was not upset at all.  He was actually sort of amused.  To say I was dumbfounded would be an understatement.  I had prepared for the worst, and it didn’t come.

Anxious to know why I wasn’t facing the hailstorm I had anticipated, I watched my teacher flip through the pages of the books several times with a smirk on his face.  After several minutes, which seemed an eternity, he handed the books back and told me that they were not worth the paper they were printed on.

Looking at the books today, I have to agree, though both have a place on my bookshelf.  But, at the time, these books meant a lot to me.  How could they be so worthless?  Did he not realize how hard it was for me to find them? I had to know why.

His answer was short and simple: “In time you will understand.”

What?  That’s no answer, or at least not enough of one for a 13 year old.  I needed to know more.

There was nothing but silence.

“Sensei, may I ask one last question?” I inquired in the most respectful tone I could muster, thinking I had now overstepped my bounds. Time seemed to stand still.

After what seemed forever, my teacher gave a nod of approval.  I finally asked him the one burning question I had had since I first opened the books. “Sensei, why do they call Jujutsu a ‘Gentle Art’ when it hurts so much?”

I think that was the first time I ever saw my teacher smile–at least at me–and the first time we had a real conversation. It was certainly the first time he invited me to eat dinner with his family, and it marked an important milestone in our teacher-student relationship.

* * *

I wish I could say that I remember our conversation word for word, but the truth is that I do not.  I do remember that it gave me my first real insights into the concepts and principles of Jujutsu.  The gist of that discussion is something I try and instill on every new student who enters my school.

The lesson that day was simple.  Jujutsu is a “gentle art.”  It is a very gentle art.  However, that gentleness is for the practitioner, not the person receiving the technique.

Traditional Jujutsu is all about obtaining maximum results with minimal effort or force. It’s about yielding to ones’ opponent, and redirecting their force to gain the advantage. Jujutsu is about being pliant.

The “gentleness” comes from learning to flow and blend with one’s opponent so precisely that the techniques seem to work without any effort.

Put another way, your movements are so gentle that they are imperceptible; they cause a reaction that your opponent can’t become aware of, or counter, until it’s too late.

Then again, as Harry Lord, the author of “Lighting Ju-Jitsu” stated, “as for Ju-Jitsu being a ‘gentle art,’ you can mark that down to the diabolical Japanese humor.”

K-9 Self-Defense – A Follow Up – Part 2 of 3

If you haven’t read part one of this topic I strongly urge you to do so. Part two will only deal with mid to moderate level methods of dealing with a violent dog attack.

Maybe it’s unnecessary to say, but I strongly believe that learning to prevent and/or avoid a dog attack is far more beneficial than learning the bulk of what’s in this section. If I didn’t feel that way, there would have been no need for me to write part one on this topic.

Furthermore, no one should practice any of these techniques on their family pet. Severe injury or death of the animal could occur, and depending on the laws in your area you could face charges of animal cruelty. In addition, your family pet may resent your actions, and bite the hell out of you in retaliation. Speaking on the dog’s behalf, you would deserve it.

Lastly, there is absolutely no guarantee that anything described below will work in any particular situation; anyone attempting to use said techniques does so at their own risk. However, if you should find yourself in such an unfortunate situation and something I wrote helped you out, please let me know.

Finally, no dogs, mainly my own, were hurt during any of the photo shoots. Annoyed maybe, confused certainly, but the utmost caution was always used to prevent any distress. And there were always plenty of treats afterwards.

Self-Defense Against A Canine

Before continuing, I suggest watching the below video. Though it’s a bit on the long side, this is what a dog attack looks like. Keep in mind that these are trained dogs, and because of their training they mostly only attack the arm of their victim. An untrained dog won’t be so target specific.

In addition note the following:

  1. The force of the attack.
  2. That none of these dogs have an issue with the size of their victim.
  3. The fact that even though some bad guys are armed and even hitting the dog during the attack, this does not deter or stop the dog’s attack at all.
  4. That being high above ground doesn’t stop the dog from getting to its target.

Now that you’ve watched the video, let me tell you something you most likely figured out, but don’t want to hear. Your chances of successfully defending yourself against a hostile dog, intent on attacking you, without suffering major injuries are almost zero. If the dog has been trained to attack, it is even lower.

First of all dogs move faster than humans.

Secondly, their teeth are designed to rip flesh and crush bone.

Third, your screaming and physical efforts to defend yourself may do nothing more than just incite the dog to become even more aggressive.

Lastly, dogs lack the restraining moral dilemmas, or fear of punishment, that may inhibit humans from attacking another person to such excess.

To illustrate how hard it is to stop an attacking dog: there are numerous cases where people have come to the aid of a person being attacked by a dog, and after hitting the dog several times with baseball bats have been unable to stop the dog’s aggressive actions.

I, for one, know of a police K-9 that was shot in the face with a .38 caliber revolver and who still brought the suspect to the ground before collapsing from its injuries. That’s focus and determination for you (the dog did recover, and was retired.)

With that said, you the reader might wonder why I’m wasting my time writing this. Well, any actions you take are better than nothing, and some techniques definitely work better than others. Just remember that desperate times require desperate actions.

Keep in mind though that nothing I’m about to write below is guaranteed to work, and in order to protect oneself one will most likely have to improvise.

Basic Methods

Chemical Weapons

The major problem with any chemical dog repellent is that one has to had the foresight to arm themselves with such a weapon in advance. Since the majority of people don’t carry around such items, in many respects this isn’t worth my time covering. However, since some people have such predilection for spouting off the merits of such items I would be remiss if I didn’t make some comments.

First and foremost, based on everything I’ve read and my own personal experience, they do not work. To be totally fair though, it would be better to state that no one formula works on every dog, and that in most cases none of them work as well as they are advertised to do so. Certainly, many people–my postman for one–claim to have had success with them.

While I would never rely on chemical weaponry, I will concede that some aggressive dogs will be turned away/distracted if you spray something in their face. Even spraying water works very effectively when I need to deter Taiko (my dog) from some bad behavior. However, I believe these results are based more on the dog’s intent and determination, rather than the repellant chosen.

For example, chemical repellents might work great on Fi Fi who is halfheartedly charging at the postman. They may not work so well on Rex, the territorial Alpha dog who is hell-bent on protecting his front yard.

In my experience, I have never witnessed a trained attack dog that was in the least bit fazed by pepper spray or mace. In two drills at the police academy, my dog and I had to walk through a thick cloud of both agents and perform several tasks. While the dog didn’t like it–for that matter neither did I–I think I was much more debilitated than he was. I’m not even sure he was debilitated at all, he didn’t show any outward signs; I on the other had felt like my face was on fire.

I also used to have a German Shepherd with an inappropriate chewing problem, and every repellent I used she licked it up as if were the greatest dog treat in the world–so much for all those guarantees that these things work.

Now, I’m not saying one should not try to use dog repellents before resorting to another course of action. Anything is worth trying. All I’m suggesting, and suggesting strongly, is to not rely on them.

If they work for you, that is great. If they don’t, you had better have a back up plan.

Mid Level Methods

Since my training with dogs is limited, and some of what I know might be outdated, before I started this section I tried to get some input from the professional dog walkers/trainers in San Francisco, where I live. As you might imagine, my inquiries were met with a lot of animosity.

Even when I tried to explain my reasons for writing such an article, and showed pictures of children with dog bites, most of what I was told was that these incidents were all the fault of the owners. I don’t disagree, but that doesn’t help once a dog attack has begun. Even less helpful were the replies that basically asserted there was nothing one could do.

One professional dog walker–and keep in mind that when I say “professional,” I mean this is their sole employment, although they may or may not have had any formal/serious dog handling training/experience–berated me, claiming there is never any reason to ever hit a dog.

When I asked her what she would do if a dog was attacking her and gnawing her leg, she said she would do “nothing.” Yes, that was her answer. She then added that if a dog ever attacked/bit her it would mean that she must have done something to provoke the dog’s behavior. The worst part is I believe she really feels this way.

Mind you, San Francisco is unique among most major cities when it comes to dogs and the attitudes of many of the people who own them. For example in San Francisco, a human does not “own” their dog. Believe it or not, according to a city ordinance, a dog is considered a “companion,” and the human is its “legal guardian.” Of course if your “companion” bites someone you are still legally responsible. Guardianship also doesn’t get you out of a ticket when you explain to the animal control officer that your “companion” didn’t feel like wearing his leash today. But as his “companion,” do I really have the ability to force him to wear it?

Technique #1 – Defensive Stance

This is relatively easy. Basically, all it entails is adopting a defensive position where your face, neck, and groin area are protected as much as possible. The important factor is trying to keep your body relaxed until the moment of impact. By being relaxed, you will have more mobility to react to the dog’s actions–or as we would say in the Aiki arts , “flow” with the dog’s aggressive actions.

Keep in mind that it is almost impossible to meet a dogs force with force. That’s would be like two cars hitting head on.

A better course of action would be to side step, duck, or twist away from the incoming dog like a matador facing a bull, following up the evasion with some kind of grab, kick, or punch (note that these various evasion methods are all utilized to varying degrees of success in the video showing dog attacks listed above).

Another element of the defensive stance is location. If it is possible, place your back against an object such as a car, tree, wall, etc. While this will reduce your mobility, it will also reduce the directions the dog can attack you from.

Verbal commands such as “stop,” “bad dog,” “sit,” and “down” should be attempted at this time, as well as yelling for assistance.

Technique #2 – The Standoff

This is also relatively easy. Importantly, it puts a weapon in your hand that can be used defensively or offensively if the situation escalates.

Basically, the “standoff” is nothing more than picking up an object and placing it between you and the dog. The bigger the object, the better; but in most cases you will have to make do with whatever is immediately available. Do not pick up something extremely heavy or awkward to maneuver, as this will only slow down your ability to use it effectively.

If you’re lucky, the object you select will not only act as a shield, but it may also startle the dog. Being startled may be enough to get the dog to retreat, or at least back down. When we first picked up the safety cone in the below photos, Taiko was very apprehensive about even approaching it. Having really never encountered one, especially one being waved around in the air, he wasn’t sure what to make of it. It actually took several minutes of encouragement to get Taiko to want to play tug of war with it.

This tree branch does not look very formidable but all the smaller
branches on the end make it hard for the dog to negotiate it. The small branches
also allow the defender to thrust the branches into the face of
the dog striking the dog at numerous points all at the same time.

Both sides of the safety cone proved to be effective.
However the larger end was more of a deterrent.

The standoff is really nothing more than applying one of the first rules of any self-defense system: the use of improvised weaponry. Be creative, and utilize every possible aspect of whatever item you may find.

While taking these photos, we discovered that the safety cone was not only good for fending off Taiko, but that my son’s arm could be placed inside off it like a sleeve. In many respects the safety cone functioned in the same manner as the padded sleeve used to train police/military dogs. My son clearly felt the pressure of Taiko’s bite, but the teeth did not penetrate the skin. (The next day my son’s arm was pretty bruised though.)

Obviously, safety cones can’t be found lying around everywhere. However, a heavy coat could be wrapped around the arm and function just as well.

While using the Standoff technique may not stop dogs from attacking, it could slow them down and provide them with an alternative target to bite at. Your objective at this time is to provide yourself with enough time to determine the best way to escape, to determine what follow up techniques may be necessary, and hopefully buy enough time for help to arrive.

Technique #3 – Throwing Objects

This course of action will most likely not stop dogs from attacking either, but it may slow them down, and give you a few fractions of a second to plan another course of action. You may also get lucky enough to get a dog with a high “fetch” drive–like those ball obsessed dogs you often see at the park. In that case, they may switch course and go after the thrown object–although I wouldn’t bet on it.

How effective throwing an object will be depends on the size and nature of the object and your accuracy. If you happen to be a ninja with a pocket full of shuriken, you may do well. However, chances are the objects you’ll find at hand won’t make this defense worth your time and effort.

If you’re going to try this, I suggest sand/dirt, a handful of small to medium sized rocks (gravel), glass bottle, keys, coins, water (liquids), and any food you may have on you.

Technique #4 – Punching and Kicking

For the most part punching and kicking a dog will be a lesson in futility. Chances are that all you will do is antagonize the dog more, and place your attacking limb closer to the dog making it easier for it to bite you.

However, if this is all you can do, than go for it–and go for it with all the focus and power you can muster. Strike as fast as you can, as many times as you can. Don’t stop until the dog is no longer a threat.

This is an example of utilizing the “Standoff” method and
a kick. Since the dog’s mouth is busy biting the cone it
makes the kick a lot safer to execute.

It should be noted at this point that dogs have a higher threshold of pain than we humans. Any striking technique used must be extremely forceful to have even a minor affect. Fortunately, like humans, dog’s do have week spots that can be injured easier than others. While aiming for these will be difficult they are worth your effort. The below are a few examples.

Note: If you’re an Animal Rights extremist, easily offended dog lover, or cannot bear the thought of ever, under any circumstances, hitting a dog skip the next section.

And do I really need to say this again, “Don’t Try This At Home!!”

Target 1 – The Eyes

This of course would be more of a gouge than a strike. I suggest using the tips of your thumbnails and pushing them in and up. This can be accomplished most easily by using your fingers to grab onto the lose skin on the dog’s head, and curling your fingers into a fist.

The goal of this technique is to create enough generalized pain that the dog will retreat or pull back. It may not stop the dog for more than a few seconds, but one can use the dog’s retreating motion to follow up with another technique.

This is also one target I would suggest biting, if that’s the only defense left for you.

In addition to gouging the dogs eyes I also use my legs to push the dog back.

This technique is very good for those coming to the aid of a person a vicious dog has latched onto, although I hear it does not work on Pit Bulls.

Target 2 – The Ears

One thing every dog I’ve ever owned had in common was the fact they all hated having their ears cleaned. They didn’t mind when I started at the top of the ear, but as I got closer and closer to the skull–where all the dirt and wax always seems to accumulate the most–they would whimper, kick, and squirm, making every attempt to get away form me.

There are two main ways to attack the ears. For dogs with floppy ears, (Cocker Spaniel, Beagle, Labs, Bloodhound, etc.), simply grab, twist and pull. Pull the ears behind the dog’s head and use them like reins on a horse.

For dogs with short upright ears, (Shepherd, Chihuahua, Schnauzer, etc.), gouge the ear hole and force your fingers as deep as they will go. If attacking both ears at the same time, squeeze the head to maintain control.

In most cases you will have to do this facing the dog. However, to reduce your chance of injury, the best way to apply these methods is from the rear. This makes this target better suited for those coming to the aid of a dog bite victim, than for those being attacked.

Target 3 – The Nose

I almost hesitate to mention this one, simply because trying to get at the nose places one’s hands way too close to the dog’s teeth. However, a dog’s nose is fairly sensitive and can be attacked in several ways.

Obviously, one of those ways is to kick or punch the nose. Another method is to bite the nose. These methods are pretty self-explanatory.

A less obvious way to is to grab the tip of the nose and twist it. Done properly, one can actually twist the dog’s head. The hard part is maintaining grip as the dog tries to pull away.

The last method is to force your fingers inside the nostrils themselves. If you take this course of action use your other fingers to wrap around the dogs jaw or chin to gain further control. Of course, this places your fingers in harms way, but if you get desperate enough to force your fingers in a dog’s nose you’ve most likely been bitten several times already and are in a fight for your life. Hopefully by this point, your adrenaline would be flowing to the point where you aren’t feeling much of the pain.

Target – 4 The Toes

Just think how many times you’ve accidentally stepped on your dog’s foot. In every instance, the dog has made a yelping sound and made every effort to pull as far away form you as possible.

Now imagine purposefully stomping on a dog’s foot with as much strength as you have. While it may not fully stop the dog, it will cause them pain, and distract them momentarily. Done hard enough, at the right angle, you may even damage the paw to the point where weight can’t be placed on it. This would slow the dog down immensely.

Target – 5 The Testicles

I have absolutely no first hand knowledge of how effective striking a dog in his testicles would be. However, I’ve heard from several breeders of hunting dogs that it will. Unfortunately, these breeders never told me how they came to this conclusion; I never asked for a demonstration either.

Of course, in my quest for the truth I did ask the K-9 training officers at the police academy, as well as Taiko’s veterinarian. All I got were strange looks, a few sarcastic comments, and the normal answer of, “probably not.”

All I can really say on this topic is this; on one occasion while giving a Taiko a bath–which he hates and fights as if I was trying to drown him–I did accidentally hit his testicles. While he “yelped” and give me what I could only interpret as a dirty, look it did not stop him from trying to escape the bathing process. Based on that, I’m going to say that hitting a dog in the testicles, or better yet grabbing and trying to rip them off, may have some effect. Then again, the effect might be that he just gets angrier.

Since statistics show that un-neutered male dogs bite more often than other dogs, it may be worth a try. Of course trying to determine the sex of a charging dog, and whether he is intact or not may not be possible or prudent.

Vital Points

This canine striking point was taught to me by an uncle who happened to raise hunting dogs. These dogs were not house pets, and were aggressive. They would constantly challenge his authority and fight each other. Sometimes during hunts, they got carried away to the point they would no longer respond to verbal commands.

Since the nature of a pack of hunting dogs is such that one dog will incite the others, any hostile challenges to my uncle’s authority had to be handled swiftly and efficiently. In order to maintain control, the effects of his techniques also had to be devastating, or even debilitating (note that I’m not here to judge my uncle or his actions).

As my uncle told me, knowing where to hit is one thing, having the opportunity and ability to actually hit that point is another. That’s the tricky part, and why I debated with myself whether to even share them in the first place.

I’m no expert when it comes to the anatomy of a dog. Since I lack such knowledge, I consulted Taiko’s veterinarian who has over 25 years of experience. While he could not specifically state why this target is so effective, he was able to confirm where specific vital organs were in relation to it. I will mention though, that Taiko’s veterinarian was of the opinion that there is really no specific point on a dog that one could strike that would deter a dog once an attack has begun.

Vital Point #1

Vital point one is located on the side of the chest directly under point where the elbow touches the torso.

This point should be struck inwards and upward towards the dog’s head to obtain the best results. Kicking with the toes, or jabbing with the fingers would be the best way to fit into the space.

Based on my discussion with Taiko’s veterinarian, this point most likely causes damage to the diaphragm, heart, and lungs by compressing the rib cage. Of course, in order to do such major damage the strike would have to be extremely hard and precise.

I once saw my uncle kick one of his hunting dogs in this spot full force, and the dog went flying. After hitting the ground, it took every ounce of effort the dog had left to limp away. The dog died the next day. Now, before I get angry e-mails about my uncle’s actions, I don’t know if he intended to kill the dog or not. But I do know that the dog was in the process of biting his neighbors show horse, and some immediate intervention was necessary. It was either my uncle’s kick, or the farmer’s Remington .30-06.

Clearly the potential of this strike is lethal. However, if lesser force is used, this is a perfect spot to use to force a dog off balance or knock the wind out of the dog.

Vital Point #2

This is also another point my uncle taught me. This one is located where the thigh meets the flank.

It should be struck inwards and upward towards the tail. Once again, kicking with the toes, or jabbing with the fingers would be the best way to fit into the space.

Anatomically, the only organs near this target are the intestines and bladder, so I’m going to have to assume striking here must damage them in some way. However, even Taiko’s veterinarian was at a loss to explain why striking this area would be so effective.

One theory I have,, based on observing a lot of dog interaction in the park, is that this spot is the same spot dogs cling onto when mating or showing their dominance over another dog. It may be an innate reaction for the dog to either drop, or twist around when this spot feels pressure. At least, that’s the behavior dogs exhibit when they are not responsive to being mounted. Like I said, it’s a theory.

Although I can’t explain why this point works, I can attest to the fact that it does. Not only have I seen this point used on unruly dogs on several occasions, I must confess that I’ve also resorted to using it for various disciplinary reasons.

Clearly, none of these situations were defensive in nature, or involved a hostile dog. I should also point out that in none of these situations was the dog kicked or punched either. No, the dog was simply poked. That’s all it took to get the dog to turn around, sit, or knock the dog off balance enough to force it to his side.

While I don’t think this is as good a target as vital point #1, if hit properly it will work.

Technique #5 Forward/Rear Foot Sweep / Leg Lift

This is another technique more suited for someone coming to the aid of an attack victim than people trying to defend themselves. The main reason I say this is that the timing and accuracy needed to hit/grab the target makes it extremely difficult if the dog is attacking you.

Basically the idea is to sweep the legs from under the dog. Done correctly this will destabilize the dog’s balance, allowing for follow up techniques.

A variation of this technique is sweeping and/or pulling the rear legs with your arms and lifting the dog off the ground. In fact, this method has often been taught as the only method to use to control an aggressive Pit Bull or to make it let go of something it has latched onto.

If you’re not the dog’s owner don’t attempt this, unless you have no choice. Even if you are the owner, be prepared for the dog to turn his hostilities towards you. And don’t think you are in a position where the dog can’t get you. You would be extremely surprised to see the flexibility and dexterity a dog can exhibit.

Watch the below video and see how this Pit Bull twists away and eventually attacks the people holding it. It happens twice. Also note that even when the dog is shot at point blank range by the police who respond to the scene, he still manages to run away.

End Part 2

Self-Defense Against a K-9, A Follow Up: Part 1 of 3

A couple of months ago I received a very nice e-mail from Mr. Loren W. Christensen the author of “Karate Vs Canines,” an article that appeared in the February 2008 issue of Black Belt Magazine. His e-mail was in response to my comments regarding his article as well as some of my general comments on self-defense against canines.

He was also kind enough to send me a copy of his e-book, which I referred to in my blog essay, “Self-Defense Against A Dog Attack” ( As I had speculated, his e-book covers the topic more in depth, and is a great supplement for anyone who read his article in Black Belt magazine. I also recommend it as an addition to what I am writing here.

One aspect of the book I really liked was that he discusses the fact many dog attacks are the result of owners who don’t properly train, discipline, or understand the canine mind.

I, for one, really have a problem with people who treat their dogs like humans. Worse yet are people who treat their dog like it is an accessory–think various starlets such as Paris Hilton.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love my dog, and he is definitely considered one of the family; but he is still a dog. He is an animal. No matter how much I anthropomorphize his behavior, he is not human, and never will be.

Being a pack animal, my dog will try and assert himself as leader–the alpha–if he senses weakness, or my family allows him to do what he wants. That is his nature and I have to respect that. Understanding such differences between our species, and using a dog’s innate desire to fit into a pack, is how we humans teach our canine companions to be good doggies.

In addition, no matter how responsible of a dog owner I might be, there is no way I can completely train my dog not to do the things a dog will do. Domesticated though he may be, dogs are still very akin to their wolf brethren and are often driven by primal instincts. All I can really hope to accomplish is to keep behavior as socially acceptable as possible.

No matter how well trained a dog is, how seemingly friendly, dog attacks can and will happen. And when such a situation arises, we humans need to know how to defend ourselves. We also need to know how to stop our dogs when verbal commands fail, and they are in the process of injuring another animal or humans.

As a dog owner I have certainly witnessed aggressive dogs at the park. I’ve also heard countless stories about dogs killing other dogs, or people getting bitten, in various dog parks in the Bay Area.

Normally these stories focus on an inept dog owner, who lacks the ability to control their dog, or an owner who just doesn’t care how their dog behaves. Let’s face it, some people should just not be dog owners, especially of specific breeds that tend to be more aggressive.
Georgia Rice, a 7 year-old, talks about being attacked by a pit-bull.

While witnesses will claim there were no warning signs, the truth of the matter is that most dog attacks occur when people don’t pay attention to warning signs, or just don’t understand what these warning signs are. This is especially true for little kids, who not only fail to comprehend the warning signs, but also may be seen as subordinates by a dominant-minded canine. In the worst cases, a dog might even see them as prey.

The fact is that 61% of all dog attacks happen in the home or a familiar place, and children 15 years old and under more likely to be the victims by 3 to 1. Children seen in emergency departments were more likely than older persons to be bitten on the face, neck, and head, making their injuries a lot more serious. Statically, dog bites result in approximately 44,000 facial injuries in US hospitals each year. This represents between 0.5% and 1.5% of all emergency room visits.

Determining which breed of dog is more likely to bite, or cause a fatality is simple; you just have to look at the published research. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), un-neutered male dogs are the most likely to bite. Breeds that bite most often were Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Presa Canarios, German Shepherds, Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes Dobermen Pinschers, Chows, Great Danes, St. Bernards and Akitas.

As far as fatalities are concerned, according to the Clifton Study, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Presa Canarios and their mixes were responsible for 65% of the canine homicides between 1982 and 2006. This is a startling percentage when one considers the fact that these three breeds do not make up anywhere near that proportion of dogs owned in the US.

Although there are arguments debating the accuracy of the Clifton Study, one should keep in mind that any breed of dog has the potential to bite and/or kill a human, no matter what the usual tempermant or size.

For example, on October 9th 2000, the Los Angeles Times reported a story about an infant girl who was killed by the family’s Pomeranian (“Baby Girl Killed by Family Dog,” Los Angeles Times, Monday, October 9, 2000, Home Edition, Metro Section, Page B-5).

In this case, the baby’s uncle had left the dog and baby alone on a bed. In the time it took the uncle to heat a bottle, the Pomeranian mauled the infant to the point were she died from her wounds shortly thereafter.

Pomeranians weigh between 3-7 pounds, and range in height from 7 to 12 inches. Normally a Pomeranian is not the type of dog one would worry about being a killer. Of course, that’s my point. Don’t ever assume that just because a dog appears cute and cuddly that it lacks the potential to cause severe injury and/or death.

While pictures of babies with the family dog look cute, babies. Toddlers, and young children should never be left unattended or unsupervised with a dog.

Warning Signs and How To React

The first rule is to never approach an unfamiliar dog. If the dog’s owner is present, ask permission before approaching or touching. Sometimes, even a dog you know, and who has always been friendly, can react differently when on leash. It’s always better to use caution.

My previous German Shepherd, Jenny, became extremely aggressive when on leash because she felt more inclined to protect who ever was walking her, and because she felt her movements were more restricted. This was especially true when other dogs came too close.

The second rule is to never assume that just because a dog is wagging it’s tail it is happy and friendly. A wagging tail can mean many other things, including fear or nervousness. A fearful dog is unpredictable, and can react defensively when approached or confronted by someone or something unfamiliar.

Unless you own the dog, never corner it. And if a dog doesn’t want your attention, don’t force the issue. There are plenty of other dogs out there that will relish your company.

Lastly, don’t think offering a strange dog food will instantly make the two of you friends. Dogs will at times bite the hand that feeds them. In fact, dogs can become quite obnoxious about food matters, and a dog that was begging one moment may become more aggressive in order to get what he wants a moment later.

To determine a dog’s real intentions, one must look at his total posture. Are his ears back? Are the dog’s “hackles” (the areas over the shoulders and just before the tail) erect? Are his eyes narrow or staring challengingly? Is the dog barking/growling or showing his teeth?

This is a picture of Taiko on alert. Startled by a larger dog leaping from the bushes, his hackles and tail are up, as if to say “I’m a big dog too, approach with caution.” One should stop and wait for a dog to change this posture before approaching.

Taiko and his pal Smity appear to display many of the signs of hostility and aggression, but looks are deceiving. They are actually just playing.

While any of the above signs don’t necessarily mean the dog is aggressive or has hostile intent, when in doubt, one should assume they are the dog’s way of warning you. Walk away slowly, and leave the situation.

Note that I said walk away. Don’t ever run. Running can evoke a dog’s prey drive, and cause him to chase you down.

If you start to walk away and the dog follows, then stop and remain still. Some trainers refer to this tactic as “becoming a tree.” This is a time to try using verbal commands, with the hopes that either something you say triggers a trained response or the dog realizes you are really no threat.

I suggest you use the words “sit” or “down,” rather than screaming “bad dog.” Speaking firmly can be productive, but remember dogs don’t understand human speech; so trying to verbally explain you are not a threat is a waste of energy. This may sound like a no-brainer, but I’ve seen my share of people—especially dog owners—trying to verbally convince their dog to behave better. For that matter, I’ve been guilty of that myself from time to time.

I’ve also heard trainers suggest that when walking away or “becoming a tree” doesn’t work, one should climb a tree or jump over a fence. If there happen to be tall climbable trees close enough to get to, go for it; most dogs don’t climb well. However, you better climb fairly high and pretty quickly—at least high enough where the dog can’t jump and reach you. As for jumping a fence, chances are that if you can jump the fence so can the dog. And he will most probably do it faster and more easily than you.

I’m 6 feet 2 inches tall; the stick in my hand is even higher. Taiko completed this jump from a sitting position without really giving the attempt much effort. Imagine what he could do with some real intention and momentum.

Monkey bars or a slide may offer some protection if there is one near by. I recommend the monkey bars as I’ve know many dogs who have no problem climbing up to the top of the slide. While neither offers great protection, it will make it harder for the dog to get to you.

If you think a car offers protection, think again. Unless you’re inside the car with the doors closed and windows rolled up, a dog can still get to you.

My recommendation is that if you are going to waste your energy trying to physically avoid a dog attack, spend the little time you have finding an object that you can either hit the dog with or place between you and the dog.

Another strategy I’ve heard some dog trainers suggest is that once you realize the dog attack is imminent, you should drop to the ground and adopt a submissive position. In other words, you should roll yourelves up in a ball, face down, with your legs tucked in and your hands wrapped over the back of the neck. This is similar to th position people are told to assume during a bear attack.

Since I have no first hand knowledge if such a tactic would be effective, and several police canine trainers have laughed at me when I brought it up, I have my doubts that this would work. My suspicion is that it would just place a person in a better position for the dog to attack. However, depending on the dog and his reasons for attacking, who knows. This would never be my first choice, but if all else failed I might try it. At least you can protect your face, groin, and neck this way.

The last tactic I’ve heard of, which is also debatable, is that when confronted by an aggressive dog, you should try and appear bigger. The theory is that the dog will be intimidated by such a larger adversary and become submissive.

I question this theory for several reasons. First of all, we humans, for the most part, are already larger than most dogs. Additionally, if size mattered to canines, they wouldn’t be used in law enforcement work. I, for one, have never seen a trained police K-9 give size a second thought when chasing or taking down a suspect.

Secondly, while two dogs meeting will often “fluff” themselves up to appear bigger, this posturing doesn’t always work. Often, two dogs equally trying to inflate their personal stature just leads to further physical forms of dominance/hostility to determine who the real “big” dog is.

Lastly, I’ve obeserved that size doesn’t matter in many situations—like the one that exists between Taiko and his nemesis, Leo. Watching the two of them clearly indicates to me that size among dogs is not as much of an issue as it should be. Leo, a tiny 4lb Yorkie, somehow—through shear moxie—convinced Taiko that he is the dominant male. He must think that he is a great giant of a dog despite all evidence to the contrary.

In reality, Taiko could bite Leo in half without blinking an eye, or crush him with the weight of his paw. Why Taiko seems to accept/tolerate Leo’s dominant behavior when he is so much bigger is a mystery. I would like to believe Taiko just has a sense of humor about the situation, but it’s more likely that when it comes to dogs, Mark Twain was right: “What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Preventing Attacks

The best way to prevent dog attacks is simple. CONTROL YOUR DOG. As easy as that sounds, you would be surprised how many owners don’t have control over their dog. You can see this almost every day at the dog park.

You know the humans I’m talking about. They’re the ones who call a dog’s name twenty times before he responds. And even after the dog does responds, it is still a game of cat and mouse before they catch it.

On the other hand, there are those owners who know their dogs have aggression issues, but they let them off leash to run amuck anyway.

For example, one dog at a local park always charges at me whenever it sees me. The owner, while apologetic, excuses the dog’s actions by stating that her dog doesn’t like men. Fortunately. the dog has never bitten me—so far. But I should never have to face such a confrontation at all, nor would I if the dog were on a leash.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do not believe dogs shouldn’t be let off leash to run and play. I allow Taiko this freedom every chance I can. In fact, I think it’s essential for dogs, and I’m a firm supporter of the local dog groups who want to keep San Francisco from closing the few dog friendly parks that still exist.

However, I also believe people need to be more responsible and that if their dog has a behavioral problem, even a minor one, they should never let them off leash in public. After all, their bad dog’s behavior is what gets reported on the news, and that reflects poorly on every other, responsible dog owner.

A worse problem is people who do not properly secure their dog at home. Where I’m from in Louisiana, folks will often just leave them free to roam the front yard. Given the territorial nature of many dogs, that’s just asking for problems.

Now, I live in an apartment one story off the ground; so Taiko’s chances of escaping and becoming a public nuisance are almost zero. He would basically have to jump off the balcony and survive the fall.

Unfortunately, not every dog faces such obstacles. A majority of dog bite cases that make the news are about dogs that escaped from their homes and raised havoc in their neighborhood.

I’m not advocating that every dog owner who owns a home should have cage like the one pictured above. Nor am I advocating that dogs should be chained to a post.

All I’m suggesting is that every caution should be taken to make sure one’s dog can’t escape from the home. This means diligently checking that back and front yards have fences, and making sure windows and doors are secure at all times.

Of course, accidents do happen. And when they do learning the following information will be needed.

Basic Methods — Controlling Extreme Bad Behavior / Hostility

This section covers basic dog training methods. These methods are based on natural canine behaviors, which are taught in most dog obedience classes.

These are your first line of defense. They are intended to correct bad behavior before it gets out of hand. For the most part, this section is for the dog’s owner, but can be utilized by anyone.

In order to do these techniques properly, one must remember that dogs do not communicate like humans. Besides various vocalizations, dogs use a variety of facial expressions, body language, and even olfactory stimulus to communicate. These are methods humans don’t fully understand, and we humans cannot imitate.

When dogs fight, the fights are normally over very quickly. As ferocious as they may appear, they are normally more ritualistic in nature than violent. I’m not saying dogs don’t inflict injuries on other dogs, or kill each other, but like most animal species, dogs seem to inherently understand that getting injured is not in their best interest for survival. So dogs rarely engage in prolonged life or death struggles.

According to Nobel Prize winning ethologist Konrad Lorenz, same species aggression in animals is always restrained, involving ritual, bluff, and violence of a non-lethal nature. Additionally, there are often “appeasement gestures” made by the losing animal, so that the winner will not follow through to the kill. Dogs, for instance, will present their bellies to an overwhelming attacker, which is a sign of submission that normally defuses the fury of this aggressor, thus ending the confrontation.

The dog on the ground, belly up, is being submissive. She assumed this posture while playing—most likely indicating things were getting to rough.

Unfortunately we humans don’t instinctually know the necessary appeasement postures or non-verbal communication methods to stop a hostile dog from following through with his attack. This means the attack is prolonged and injuries can more severe.

This also means that one’s actions when being approached by a dog with hostile intentions can be misinterpreted. What might be taken as a submissive movement or gesture between humans could be seen as a challenge to a dog.

The first, and most common, such type of gesture that comes to mind would be raising the arms forward like one is surrendering. For the human, the hands may raise for several reasons, such as to ward off the dog, or protect the face. Unfortunately the dog may interrupt the forward motion of the arms rising as a threat causing the dog to become even more aggressive and leap into action.

Another common mistake is trying to run away, which I’ve already mentioned. Not only will this tactic more than likely cause the dog to chase you, there is simply no way you can outrun the dog. Running just affords the dog a chance to attack from behind and knock you over.

Lastly, a major method of communication that should always be avoided is staring down a dog. Staring is considered bad doggy etiquette among canines, and for dogs it is a sign of aggression or hostile intent. In many cases, when a dog is fearful, nervous, or irritated, they will purposefully look away, basically just showing the whites of their eyes.

From the hostile dog’s point of view, staring might appear as a challenge, and in their combative state might be just enough to push them over the edge.

Technique #1

This first technique is a classic that is taught at almost every dog obedience school. While not intended as a self-defense technique, it is taught in order to teach a dog not to jump up on someone.

The beauty of this technique is its simplicity. It is nothing more than a knee strike to the dog’s chest, delivered at the moment the dog jumps towards you.

The only difference between the version of this technique designed to correct a bad behavior and one used for self-defense is the amount of power used. To make it more effective yet, one could aim for the dog’s head/face instead of the chest.

Technique #2

Actually these are three techniques which are taught at most dog obedience schools. They are designed to address bad dog behavior such as aggressive play biting or for those rare times an owner has to reinforce his status as pack leader.

I only recommend them if the dog in question is acting totally unruly and you need to seriously correct his behavior before things get worse. These techniques are really about teaching a dog what is and what is not acceptable behavior, or about correcting serious insubordinate behavior when your dog no longer listens to verbal commands.

Since these techniques are based on behaviors dogs do to each other, one should not practice them on the family pet. They are considered very strict reprimands in canine society, and if done for no reason may stress out your dog, who will more than likely wonder what the hell he did to deserve such treatment—just like Taiko did when we took the below pictures.

Chin Tap — Minor Correction

Alpha dogs nip subordinates under the chin as corrections. You can use this technique by tapping (not striking) the dog under the chin. It should be like a quick “pop.” Do not tap the muzzle as this can cause sever injury, or cause a dog to become hand shy.

Of course, in a self-defense situation, you should hit as hard as you can, and don’t worry if you hit under the jaw, the muzzle, or the sides. While hitting a dog’s skull will most likely hurt your hand more than the dog, his jaws can be injured moderately easily.

Cheek Grab — Moderate Correction

This method employs two corrections at once. The first is the grab and shake. The second is the stare down. It should also be used in conjunction with verbal commands.

Staring in dog society is an aggressive action, and alpha dogs will stare down subordinates to keep them in line. Alpha dogs will also chomp under a subordinate dogs’ ears and shake. In dog society, if these corrections are not heeded, it will most likely lead to more serious violence.

While the grab may be useful to fend off a half-hearted attack, I would not recommend the staring for an agressive dog. Since it would be almost impossible for you to hold on to the dog’s cheek for any period of time, one would only be placing their face in jeopardy.

In all honesty, this method is much better to use preemptively than once a dog becomes seriously aggressive and intent on biting. However, if the cheek grab is utilized during a self-defense situation, it should be immediately followed-up with a twisting motion designed to force the dog off balance and to the ground.

In a more serious scenario, where a lot of forward momentum is present, the dog should be forcefully pulled downwards towards the ground with the intention of slamming his lower jaw against the ground.

Alpha Roll (Pinning The Dog) — Major Correction

This final method utilizes three corrective measures at once: the stare, the cheek grab, and placing the dog on his back.

It is considered a major correction, since it places a dog in a position that exposes his neck and belly to attack. In dog society this position is considered a sign of submission; you will commonly see puppies and more timid dogs fall into this position when approached by more dominant or self-assured dog.

Lying on the back is also a major appeasement gesture when one dog realizes he has lost an altercation to another dog. He humbles himself so the winner will not go for the kill.

Over the years, I have seen many dominant minded dogs at the police academy and dog obedience school corrected this way. In every case the dog has changed their entire attitude.

Once again, this technique is more useful as a preemptive measure than it is once the dog is fully intent on attacking you or someone else. However, it’s one of the best positions to try and do since it will clearly tell the dog you’re the alpha—the boss dog&hdash;and he have to heed to your commands.

This is not a technique to try and do half-heartedly. In order to be effective, one will have to use a lot of force and be fully committed to using any means necessary to pin the dog.

An aggressive or headstrong dog will resist you every step of the way. If you fail to fully subjugate the dog, or the dog is extremely intent on exerting his dominance over you, you have now done nothing more than escalated the situation. This mean more serious techniques will now be needed.

Unfortunately, chances are that you will get bitten by a hostile dog when trying to do this technique. Grabbing for the dog’s cheeks/head places your hands too close to the dog’s mouth to avoid that risk. However, though being bitten will be painful, it can be used to your advantage.

In this example, the dog has already bitten and latched onto the arm. For the most part, the correction is the same as the above, except the arm is left in the mouth to aid in the pin. While painful, this will avoid further injury to other parts of the body. In addition, the arm is forced as far back into the dog’s mouth as possible making it harder for the dog to bite down.

If the dog keeps kicking or trying to twist away, I would follow this up by straddling or sitting on top of the dog. For optimal results, try to keep the dog’s legs away from your body (opposite of above photo). Dogs do have claws, and while not as sharp as cats’, they can cause injuries. If things got really bad I would use my free hand to strike the dog, or my knees to kick the belly/ribs.

I would also suggest only using the stare if the dog settles down and submits once placed in this position. Otherwise, keep your face as far away from the dog’s teeth as possible.

End Part 1

The Second Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei – #7 Coupling Principle

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Last year I spent several months writing about the “Top Ten Principles of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei.” Now it is time to cover the next ten most important principles. Of course, one must keep in mind that while these principles are officially less important than first ten, in actuality they are just as important. The truth is that in many cases understanding and executing them properly is essential in order to make the “top ten” fully effective. In other words, they are just another piece of a very complex puzzle illustrating how sceintific martial techniques really are.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.


Generally, coupling means a mechanical connection between two things. In physics, two systems are coupled if they mutually interact. There is another definition from computer programming that also seems appropriate to the art I teach: coupling is a linkage between two parts of a program such that if one part of the program is modified, the behavior of the other part may also be affected.

Basically, the coupling principle is the concept that once a connection is made between two or more bodies, whatever action one body makes will have a direct effect on the other bodies.

In other words, one plus one equals one.

For example, the square and circle below represent two individual objects:

If you move the circle, that movement has absolutely no effect on the square:

Now, let’s say you drive a stick into both the square and circle so they are connected to each other. They are now “coupled.”

If you push the circle down, the square will move also. In this example, the movement will be in the opposite direction as the objects rotate around their common center of mass.

Because they are “coupled,” whatever movement one object makes will affect the other. This is even more apparent when the connection point is rigid, as it is here. Needless to say, this is a crude example of a much more complex principle; but it explains the science that makes this principle work better than any other I can think of, at least in this format.

Maybe a simpler way of thinking about the “Coupling Principle,” is something many of us do outside the dojo–walking a dog on leash.

When I take my dog for a walk on the street we are “coupled” by his leash. Although there is no direct physical connection between our bodies–my hand is not touching the dog–by moving my end of his six foot leash in the proper direction, I can make my dog go left, right, or forward. Or I can make him stop and sit, down.

I don’t have to use verbal commands. If I adjust the tension on the leash the right way, because of proper training my dog knows what he is suppose to do–unless of course he sees a squirrel or a cat, then I’m on the receiving end of the commands and being dragged down the street.

What’s important to understand with this example is that I’m not using verbal commands.  He is responding to non-verbal communication through our couple. My dog reacts to the movements I make that affect the leash.

In this example, my dog he has been trained to respond a certain way to specific movements. But if I don’t move the leash correctly he gets confused and does not know what to do. My movements must be right to get him to behave the way I desire him to.

This is an important factor to remember because one’s opponent in a fight has received no training at all. This means when you use the “Coupling Principle,” your non-verbal communication–in this case “body language”–has to be specific, otherwise the other person’s body won’t know how to respond to your directions.

The basic rule one needs to remember about this principle is that once you’re coupled, any movement, no matter how subtle, has a direct impact on your opponent. Even rotating the head at the wrong moment can move one’s opponent inches off their original position. This is one reason why so many martial art styles emphasize the theory of “no wasted motion.”

Avoiding wasted motion is even more important when practitioners try to execute projections (throws), especially projections that rely on exacting alignments. Sometimes even the slightest, almost imperceptible movement can have drastic consequences.

This of course means that in order to execute the “Coupling” Principle at the higher levels one must learn “cause and effect.” In other words, one must know exactly what wll happen when any given part of the body is moved.

Example: Rear Shoulder Projection

Photo 1 – Two individuals with no connection to each other.

Photo 2 – As the uke (attacker) grabs the tori (defender) they become coupled. Even though the point of contact is small (tip of shoulder) a connection is made and tori can affect the ukes’ centerline.

Photo 3 – The tori lifts his shoulder (the shoulder only) and rotates slightly to the rear by rotating at the waist. Since both subjects are coupled, the lift and rotation pushes the uke off balance to his rear. If done correctly, uke’s hips come forward, creating a hole for the uke to fall into.

Photo 4 – The tori continues his rotation to the rear until the uke is totally off balance.
The shoulder is then quickly dropped straight downward causing the uke to fall into the space that was created during photo #3.

In addition, one must also learn the differences such things as turning the hand versus turning the forearm versus rotating the upper arm can cause. Try it; you’ll be surprised at the results.


Photo 1 – Uke grabs tori by the wrist.

2. Tori rotates his forearm (forearm only) towards the ukes’ arm. Since the tori and uke are coupled at the wrist, the rotation of the forearm causes the uke to come forward and downward. Note how the uke’s wrist has rotated around the forearm. (See below photos.) Also note that nothing has moved from the original position. The only movement was the rotation, everything else remained the same.

Learning all of these intricacies of controlling an opponent through coupling can take years, if not a lifetime to fully master. Add this complexity to the fact that in a real life or death fight numerous movements are taking place within milliseconds, each with the potential to change how one must apply the “coupling principle,” and one can start to see how difficult utilizing this principle actually is.

Fortunately, many of these issues are addressed in the techniques most of us are taught, though one must keep in mind that techniques taught in class often tend to illustrate ideal situations. That’s not a bad thing; it just means it pays to experiment. Nothing beats trial and error.

Oh, and if all of that isn’t difficult enough: how about coupling techniques that involve weaponry? Yes, even that sword on sword blocking action observed in so many styles is a form of coupling, which if the practitioner is skilled enough can be used to create a projection.

Just one more facet to think about.