Why your child should train in a Martial Art

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As a Martial Arts instructor for the last 35 years I have seen a great many children walk through the doors of our studio. Some come through with no idea of what they are coming into, their parents have heard that Martial Arts training will be good for their child and in they come. Quite often we get children turn up and crumple in a heap of nerves, never getting close to walking on the mat, where five minutes before they have been all up for starting to train, the idea being more powerful than the actual act of doing.

So what is it about training in the Martial Arts that parents find so appealing?

Well the reasons are varied and apart from the obvious of wanting them to be able to defend themselves, it could be that their child is very shy and timid and needs to gain confidence and self esteem, they may need to learn how to be more socially active and engaging with other children. It could be that the child is unruly and mis-behaves and in need of discipline and respect. Or maybe they are a little lazy and unfit, too much TV and/or X-Box/Play Station in their lives. Whatever the reason, one of the base effects of martial arts training on a child is an increase in confidence and self-esteem. It has been said that confidence is a child’s first weapon.

Of course we must not forget that one of the common reasons, that unfortunately we see way too often,  is that age-old problem of bullying and to understand this subject in a lot more detail please refer to my earlier blog on this site, which delves a little deeper into this complex subject.

In our organisation, we know the benefits and how to achieve these aims, our motto is “BUILDING CHARACTER THROUGH MARTIAL ARTS” as good character contains everything that the majority of parents strive to embed in their child’s life. Having respect for themselves and others and discipline in all areas of their lives, including self discipline. Being thoughtful and caring to others, helping others, having fun, but knowing when to be serious. Ensuring a child is confident and socially active ensures a good transition into adulthood and sets them up for a lifetime.

This brings me to one of the most critical and pivotal points in any child’s training and that’s the relationship and interaction between all three parties involved and yes, have no doubt about it, there are three! The instructor, the student and the parent, without all three working together it’s all too easy for apathy to set in and a child’s training to drop off. Once this sets in the child begins to fall behind others in his group and ultimately loses interest, but really this is just an excuse, as without support from their parents in bringing them regularly to training and keeping them on that path, they are not able to keep up with their peers and so begin to hide behind excuses as to why they do not want to train anymore, so parental support is an absolute crucial element and must not be undertaken lightly when deciding to start your child learning any martial arts discipline.

It could be argued that the two most important qualities taught within the Martial arts is respect and discipline and the two things that are lacking in many of our mainstream Schools in today’s age is exactly that!     Every child needs to have an understanding of these qualities, without them they are heading down a path that we have all too often seen. You know the one! the one that bullies, uses profanities, stays out late, never listens to authority, starts smoking & drinking at an early age and don’t think for a minute that your child is too young for some of these. The really fortunate thing is that once set on this path, changing it is not as hard as you think, they just need the right motivation and support. 

Notice that up to now the one thing that I have not mentioned is that Martial Art training teaches a child to “fight” and that’s because fighting is the very last thing that we want our young students doing. In our organisation, if we find out that any of our students are misusing their skills, then they enter a strict warning schedule, with the 3 strike rule ending in them being asked to leave.   Having said that, our aim is to teach a very efficient and effective method of fighting that can hold its own with and exceed any other Martial Art, if the need arises,  this results in a very confident and socially aware child. We teach every child to become aware using the color codes of awareness. This Code of Awareness has its origins in the U.S. Military, it was adapted by the late Jeff Cooper, USMC(ret) and founder of Gunsite and is used in many martial art schools today. Condition White, for instance, is  where you are completely self absorbed with your own thoughts, you may be engaged in a phone call, listening to music on your earphones while walking down the street, this is when you will get taken by surprise. The last thing that most people would do is walk across a busy road with no regard for the danger it possesses, yet so many walk the streets today oblivious to the dangers that surround us. Avoiding this state could be the difference between getting home or not.

There are so many different martial arts out there today, that makes choosing one to achieves a parent’s aims a lottery, so a word of advice, research what you are entering into. Make sure that you are happy with what could be one of the most important decisions you make in your child’s life. There are many martial arts organisations out there with Instructors of limited experience with no lineage,  that have no defined syllabi for different ages, choosing to teach the same material to every age group, including adults!!  That’s like sending your child to school where there is only one class room and everyone gets taught the same thing! It is so important to ensure that each child achieves within their group, has goals to work for, yet is not in over their heads. Most parents and even some martial arts instructors themselves have no idea what damage can occur when maladaptive behaviour is taught to children, it is therefore so important that whatever martial art you choose has the necessary knowledge and experienced established Instructors to not only teach your child to protect themselves, but to do so in a safe and effective manner with attention paid to correct biomechanical movement as well as having a sense of respect, self-esteem and confidence to live their lives fully.

The value of Martial Arts training and your child’s future and confidence is so often never seen, hopefully this will help parents appreciate how important the decision is to start your child on their Martial Arts path of learning and the level of commitment that is required.


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Choice Reaction Time – are we really that simple ? Part 2

Part 2

Following on from February’s blog here is part two, what I have attempted to do here is convey the understanding that some ideas should be thoroughly examined before we take them as fact.


If the above was not enough evidence there are some that take the basic idea of CRT and expand it to use a doubling rule.   In citing this rule they believe that every decision over and above your first choice will double the time taken to react.   A simple piece of mathematics will help us here.  Choosing between two choices takes approximately 300 milliseconds (ms), add another choice and we get 600ms, another 900ms, another 1 second, 200ms etc – you get the concept I’m sure.    What we have is 1.5 seconds to choose between 6 choices, if this were the case, then not only would we see a fantastic staggering effect when it comes to most highly skilled sports like motor racing, MMA, tennis, football, the list can go on and on, we would also in all probability not be the dominant animal on the planet today, as those 1.5 seconds to make a choice between 6 strategies and actions would have made us food rather than the hunter.

After Hick’s Law came the Power Law of Practice (“PLP”).   In 1980, Newell, Allen and Rosenbloom published a paper that explored the subject of practice and the performance improvements that it creates along with the supporting mechanisms that allow the improvement to become embedded in the behaviour of the individual.  This research considered the chucking theory of learning as a means to explain some of the outcomes of performance that relies on practice. They wanted to confirm the empirical reality that this law was applicable to learning in general rather than just being restricted to skill. The PLP is usually associated with perceptual-motor skills. Before I move on with their research it’s important to understand a little more about the processes involved in learning skills.

The development of perceptual-motor skills begins early in childhood and continues throughout life, providing that the adult individual continues to expand their skill set. There are three stages to this process of development.

  1. Cognitive
  2. Associative
  3. Autonomous

The first stage looks at what is needed to perform a move or task.   This stage requires a certain understanding of the action that is to be learned.

At the second stage, practice is required; another term for this could be “training”, where an individual trains a move or sequence of moves over and over again.

The final stage is embedding the moves into the subconscious so that they can be performed without having to pay attention to any procedures that need to occur. The aim here is to produce speed and accuracy, anything other than this would revert itself back to stage two.


Any hand eye coordinated movements fall into the category perceptual-motor skills, other examples would be body movement and control, which includes bilateral movement, postural formation and control, auditory language skills, visual-auditory skills and any martial based activity would fit into this category. Before any of the higher skill levels can be achieved or worked on an infant must first acquire the basics, which include rolling, crawling, standing, walking, running and so on until they have a good overall control of their body. Once this has been achieved, more advanced skills can emerge, such as running and jumping, catching and writing, these all involve motor skill practice. The next explanation needs to focus on the perceptual side of this equation. Perception is harder to define, as it’s the knowing of how to do something rather than the performance of the skill. Perception skill also has to be separated from intellectual skills, these are generally skills that can be written and defined to allow others to follow the instructions and gain an understanding of how a particular skill is performed.  For example, a person could after some explanation write a manual on how to play chess.   Now imagine trying to write a manual on how to ride a bike, the general principles could be written down, but the ‘how’ could not.   It’s the performance of the ‘how’ part that relates to perceptional-motor skills which cannot be gained by simply reading a description of the act. Once these types of skills are internalized they become part of natural behaviour, in other words the skill becomes an ability, which is performed spontaneously without input from the conscious mind and it’s these highly developed perceptional-motor skills that can be learnt and developed with enough volitional practice.   Here we can see the link between the PLP and the perceptional-motor skill ability as over extended periods of time the ability is learned and transferred from a simple motor skill into a perceptional-motor skill. The transference occurs and performance speed increase when practice becomes a habit and not just something that is trained a few times a week and that’s the biggest difference, if an individual is practicing as a result of habitual processes then the behaviour will soon become ingrained, becoming a perception-motor skill.

The research conducted by Newell, Allen and Rosenbloom (1980) into the ubiquity of the Power Law of Practice theory did not fit the simple power law. They concluded that there were systematic shape deviations in the log-log space, in their words “ There exists a ubiquitous quantitative law of practice, it appears to follow a power law. That is plotting the logarithm of the time to perform a task against the logarithm of die trial number always yields a straight line, more or less. We will refer to this law variously as the log-log linear learning law or the power law of practice”.  To summarize their research they found that the law holds for performance measured as the time to achieve a fixed task.   They looked at three learning curves; exponential, hyperbolic and power law. They found that there was a mechanism that was slowing down the rate of learning and those errors in practice decreased with practice and accuracy increased with practice. This was true for different types of learning, which included perceptual-motor skills, perception, motor behaviour, memory and complex routines. This provides evidence that simple basic responses like those that were tested in Hick’s Law, will, along with complex movements, all fall into the category of PLP.  It is therefore a mistake to focus on simple movements to the exclusion of complex ones as both have the same learning capacity according to the law of power learning.

What is evident from the above is that humans have a capacity to learn complex movements and have protracted capability to remember data. This will help to explain the complicated skills that are involved in sports that have complicated routines like playing tennis, boxing, self-defence systems, or actions like typing, playing chess all involve the ability to learn, memories, practice and over time internalise so that the activity becomes a part of the perceptual-motor skill, no longer requiring complex thought processes to maintain the behaviour.

Lets take a look at some more up to date evidence that relates to this work, research by Silva, Cid, Ferreira and Marques (2011) into the attention and reaction time in Shotokan Athletes produced some interesting results. The aim of their study was to analyze the attention capacity and reaction time in Portuguese karate Shotokan athletes.  The participants were physically characterised into weight, height, body mass index and body fat mass percentage and evaluated on Simple Reaction Time (SRT), Choice Reaction Time (CRT), Decision Time (DT) and Distributed Attention (DA).   What they found was that both female and male participants, when tested for SRT, reacted near to the 300 ms mark and that there was no significant difference between the two gender groups. However both the CRT and the DT indicated a significant difference, which was higher in the Dan and 35+-year group than in any other group.  The Dan 35+ group also showed a lower percentage of mistakes. The athletes who had more years of practice and were higher in grade needed more time to react to the stimulus than the younger less qualified individuals, however they made far fewer mistakes in their choices than the other group.

Reaction times have been the subject of study for many years, they were first studied by Donders (1868), the results that were obtained showed that a simple reaction time is shorter than a recognition reaction time, and that the choice reaction time is longest of all and it’s this CRT that Hick studied.

This brings me all the way back to those that blindly quote a small part of Hick’s Law to justify their simplistic approach to human movement and reaction times, knowing how the human body works and how psychology has helped to explain very complex abilities within the brain enables a logical system to be built. One that allows for the complex ability of the human brain and the highly coordinated ability of the body to move in space and time.   Let’s not just sit back and pull the wool over people’s eyes. I have not touched too much on attention, fear or startle reactions that can, in the right circumstances and with the proper training, increase the body’s reaction speed, let alone symmetry or arousal based reactions.  So it’s fair to say that we have come a long way since the early tests of Hick and certainly Ockham in the 14th century. Ultimately, simplicity will always be a part of any system, but it does not have to stop there, correct training on stimulus based reactions will get results, scenario based systems will get results, simple techniques, will get results, what matters is how they are trained and what mental processes are engaged in the practice. So let’s not try to rubbish other arts for the sake of another student and another pound, let’s push the boundaries instead and convey knowledge and skill the best we can.


Jefferys, W H. and Berger, j O. (1992) Ockham’s razor and Bayisean analysis. American Scientist. Vol. 80. No 1 (January-February 1992), pp. 64-72. Published by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.

Cohen, N. Poldrack, R. Eichenbaum (1997) Memory for items and Memory for relations in the Procedural/Declarative memory framework. Psychology press, an imprint of Erlbaum (UK) Taylor & Francis Ltd.

Darryl W. Schneider, John R. Anderson Cogn Psychol. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2012 May 1. Published in final edited form as: Cogn Psychol. 2011 May 1; 62(3): 193–222. doi: 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2010.11.001

Newell, Allen and Rosenbloom, Paul S., “Mechanisms of skill acquisition and the law of practice” (1980). Computer Science

Department. Paper 2387. http://repository.cmu.edu/compsci/2387

Kosinski, R, J. (2010) A Literature review on Reaction Time. Updated September 2013,. Accessed on 17-02-2014 @ http://biae.clemson.edu/bpc/bp/lab/110/reaction.htm

Silva, C. Cid, L. Ferreira, D. and Marques, A. (2011) Attention and Reaction time in Shotokan Athletes. Published Revista de Artes Marciales Asiaticas (2011), vol, 6 issue 1, p141 16p. accessed on 17-02-2014 @ http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/eds/detail?vid=6&sid=389cb1f5-4638-440e-93a6-9a977afa7678%40sessionmgr4003&hid=4203&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmUmc2NvcGU9c2l0ZQ%3d%3d#db=s3h&AN=62829617

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Choice Reaction Time – are we really that simple?


Recently I received a link to a post regarding Reality Based Self Defence (“RBSD”).  The post covered areas that are usually used by this specific area of martial arts to support the techniques that they use, it also covered areas of science and how it relates to human movement and behaviour stating Ockham’s Razor, Hicks Law and Power Law of Practice (“PLP”) to support underlying technique.   Having recently introduced a RBSD method myself I feel it appropriate to write something.  This has been an intention of mine for some time. The book that I am currently writing delves into this topic in a great deal of depth. I would first like to clarify my approach to my own combative training vehicle, Volitional Attention Training (“V.A.Training”), as it is important that the reader can place the information into context.

V.A.Training is not a self-defence method, period.   It was not conceived to be and does not in any way teach a defence form of tactics, quite the opposite, if asked to define it I would say, “it teaches a method of Self Preservation”. Although it has limited scenario based techniques it’s main aim is to develop stimulus-based responses. This method has been pitched at a very specific category of violence, that of A Social level and not the every day social violence that we encounter 98% of the time. I use this high percentage to get across my point that this is not for your every day classes that teach self defence, and therein lies one huge psychological problem, because the majority of RBSD methods believe that what they teach will allow an individual to manage and cope with A Social violence, using different situations in different environments to convince individuals that what they teach is the real thing!   The “real thing”? according to whom?


Ockham was a 14th century English philosopher who first proposed the principle that “plurality should not be posited without necessity” and its from this very unobtrusive start that we later arrive at Hick’s Law and then subsequently we find RBSD instructors advocating that human movement, within a combat situation, should be trained only to a very limited amount of moves.   According to Jeffery’s and Berger (1999) it’s unclear as to what was meant by this statement, as it can be interpreted in many ways.  However, later versions were clear and here is an example given by Jeffery’s and Berger:  “entities should not be multiplied without necessity” or “it is vain to do with more what can be done with less” and finally, a more up to date rendering, “an explanation of the facts should be no more complicated than necessary”.  Over the years, many noted individuals have used this theory to reduce complicated ideas to a simple more logical theory and this is all well and good when it relates to simple ideas and is used as a rule of thumb. However, humans have made great leaps forward since the 14th century, in our understanding of DNA for example, not a subject where corners could be cut to aid understanding and it’s therefore easy to see how those with a limited arsenal would want to use such terms to build a self defence system upon.   This theory was then backed up years later by Hick and then followed by PLP.

In fighting and in sports, we all know action beats reaction.   If you are reacting to an attack, as the good guys generally are, you are already behind the action curve. Just how behind scientists have labored intensely to discover over the last 60 years, and like splitting the atom, they have split the single second into one thousand parts to do it.   So what did Hick prove and what was the benefit to human movement?   Basically Hick experimented with reaction time and the decisions that occur during this process.    To be very accurate his research centered on Choice Reaction Time (“CRT”) and it’s the “choice” which has been conveniently dropped from most of the writing surrounding this law, which according to Hick slows down as the decision variables increase.   In other words, there is an increase in choice reaction time with the logarithm of set size, or put another way, the more choices you have the longer it takes to choose. There are some statistics around that state that it takes 58% more time to choose between two choices.  That’s a staggering amount of time when real time life and death decisions are needed, right?  Hick’s Law explores the interference that occurs during retrieval from declarative memory, it also goes on to state that there are occasional savings in response time due to stimulus response repetitions, this is covered in detail within my new book.    Just looking at the words being used here will give a clue as to what is going on, ‘choose’ and ‘stimulus response’ are two examples that are key to understanding the implications of this Law when applied to behavioural based method s of self defence. The message that is relatively clear here is that there is a significant change in data, with practice and stimulus response repetition.

Here is an extract from my next book concerning memory, which will help spread some light on the confusion that has occurred;

A stimulus that brings forth an episodic memory will also bring with it the ability for the mind to pay more detailed attention to that particular thought. Episodic memories are those that are encoded into the mind through an emotional experience.   These experiences are capable of coding in the time, place, feelings and details of the event, they are far more real to the mind than attempting to memorise an event to which you are just a passive observer. Semantic memory is generally concerned with knowledge of the world that we live in, there is a difference between knowledge that is factual and personal experiences that have encoded knowledge and understanding with a greater grounding and meaning.   Both semantic and episodic memory deals with long term, rather than short-term memory.  A key difference is that episodic memories encode the actual acquisition experience and the context in which the memory occurred.   For any combative or martial art technique to become efficient and effective, the coding process will need to support the intended action.  Techniques will have to become linked to procedural memory. Declarative memory deals with facts and data gained from learning. “declarative memory serves to “chunk” or “bind” together the converging processing outcomes reflecting the learning event, providing a solution to the “binding problem” for memory, Cohen, N. Poldrack, R. Eichenbaum (1975).   The sea is wet and the sun is hot are example of long-term declarative memories. Procedural memory is concerned with long-term memory including complex motor skills. These skills are first coded into the brain and over time become second nature; you do not have to use a cognitive thought process to access the skills. Playing a musical instrument, driving a car, or combative/martial art techniques, are all examples of procedural memory.

Its important to understand the context in which the original research was conducted and to also get a grips on what is happening when the human brain is being programmed by the type of reactions that it will default to in times of stress. I know that some of the research and the terms used are a little complicated, but bare with me, in order to support the information here, it is vital that I validate the theories, so apologies in advance for some of the writing….

There has been plenty of research into the area of reaction time; one particular piece was done by Schneider and Anderson (2012).  Their research explored past research on Hick’s Law and its interpretation in terms of information theory, which they based on the Adaptive Control of Thought-Rational. Their model produced a set-size (number of stimulus response alternatives) that closely resembles Hick’s Law.  They also account for changes in the set-size effect with practice and they explain the stimulus response repetition effects, which together challenges the information theoretic view of Hick’s law. The original research conducted by Hick was carried out in 1952, he used a computer test, to measure the time it took to decide between options and came up with the equation RT=a+blog2 (n). In basic terms his research confirmed that when faced with choices it takes longer to choose and the more choices that you have the longer it takes and it is from this very simple thought process the up to date reality based methods of teaching were born.     Are we humans so very simple?   Is the way the human brain works so simple?   Does it take a long, slow, encumbering amount of time to make decisions that could, put life at risk, for example?  For some, the answer is a resounding YES and as a consequence they misinterpret this information or worse, still do not have the knowledge that allows for an intelligent exploration of human behaviour.

Research by Schneider and Anderson (2012) found that when practice was allowed the slope of Hick’s Law tends to decease as the number of trials increase.   There have also been mathematical calculations done that estimate that after about one million trials the CRT will be independent of any set size.  So there it is, one million repetitions and your reaction time will be down to zero!    Lets remind ourselves what Hick found.   Using CRT   experiments, response was proportional to log (N), where N is the number of different possible stimuli.   In other words, reaction time rises with N, but once N gets large, reaction time no longer increases so much as when N was small, as the number of stimuli rise so the RT decreases.

Kosinski (2010) created a literature review on reaction time.   Within the review he discussed practice and errors and what he found would at first seem to support Hick’s Law in that, when participants were new to a choice reaction test, they were predictably slower.   Once they had time to practice, the reaction times increased.  Again very predictable, and too most a logical progression.   The results also found that when errors were made, RT slowed, they also noticed that practice time stabilized the reaction time for up to three weeks.   If a system was teaching a limited amount of moves, it would certainly see results based on these facts as the practice that was repeated would have embedded itself for a reasonable amount of time and if further practice was undertaken then the results would bounce themselves on for another period of time.   There is no distinction here with complicated routines, if volitional practice occurred, reactions and movements would soon start to get faster with less mistakes.

Now here is the real important part Stimulus Response and Hick’s Law!   What Schneider and Anderson (2012) also found is that the slope of Hick’s Law can be close to zero for highly compatible stimulus-response combinations.   The type of responses that were researched covered vocal and manual responses to manipulated stimulus types.  Without going into the detail, the explanation given for the close to zero stimulus-responses combinations were highly compatible and that much more pre-experimental practice had occurred prior to test as a control less compatible combinations were also tested (Brainard et al., (1962); Davis et al., (1961); Fits and Posner, (1967); Longstreth et al., (1985); Teichner and Krebs, (1974); see Morin, Konick, Troxell, and McPherson, (1965) cited by Schneider and Anderson (2012).    This evidence supports the age old adage of practice makes perfect or a more up to date term might be, perfect practice done slow and accurately programs the brain to respond fast! In the above tests the stimulus responses were chosen for their compatibility with natural behavior.   However, the real point is that it’s not a good idea to take what seems to be a logical statement, warp it out of all context and then sell it as the answer to all the problems.   It takes long enough to get to grips with any movement, let alone maladaptive ones.




Jefferys, W H. and Berger, j O. (1992) Ockham’s razor and Bayisean analysis. American Scientist. Vol. 80. No 1 (January-February 1992), pp. 64-72. Published by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.


Cohen, N. Poldrack, R. Eichenbaum (1997) Memory for items and Memory for relations in the Procedural/Declarative memory framework. Psychology press, an imprint of Erlbaum (UK) Taylor & Francis Ltd.


Darryl W. Schneider, John R. Anderson Cogn Psychol. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2012 May 1. Published in final edited form as: Cogn Psychol. 2011 May 1; 62(3): 193–222. doi: 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2010.11.001


Newell, Allen and Rosenbloom, Paul S., “Mechanisms of skill acquisition and the law of practice” (1980). Computer Science

Department. Paper 2387. http://repository.cmu.edu/compsci/2387


Kosinski, R, J. (2010) A Literature review on Reaction Time. Updated September 2013,. Accessed on 17-02-2014 @ http://biae.clemson.edu/bpc/bp/lab/110/reaction.htm

Silva, C. Cid, L. Ferreira, D. and Marques, A. (2011) Attention and Reaction time in Shotokan Athletes. Published Revista de Artes Marciales Asiaticas (2011), vol, 6 issue 1, p141 16p. accessed on 17-02-2014 @ http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/eds/detail?vid=6&sid=389cb1f5-4638-440e-93a6-9a977afa7678%40sessionmgr4003&hid=4203&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmUmc2NvcGU9c2l0ZQ%3d%3d#db=s3h&AN=62829617

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Good the Bad and the Ugly

The year past and a new one to begin.

2013 was one of those years when you take two steps forward and one back, it did have some great highlights though. This blog is more about some of the things that have happened in the past year and a look into the future. American Kenpo (AK) still remains a focus point for me and in February 2014 will see my 33rd anniversary in the art of AK. For those that have never experienced the art of AK, I would strongly suggest you take a look. During the year I read a quote by someone who considers AK a weak system. Most of us that have been around for a while understand that any chain is only as strong as its weakest link and AK is no different. Over the years so many people have started to teach AK that in some camps it now looks like a distant copy of an even worse copy, which again is no different from any other martial art. However such a broad statement of a system that has been around for the length of time that AK has is not justified, there are different variations of instructors, but the way the system was designed has yet to be matched, which is my opinion. It was designed to evolve which to many instructors is an excuse to teach what they want, but that’s not the essence of what the evolution of AK should be like.

During the past decade there has been an explosion of reality based combative arts and I have added to that myself with Volitional Attention Training which I will discuss later, for now I want to cover a problem that a lot of these instructors have in these reality based arts and that is the question of how to teach a combative art that has to be completely variable and be able to adjust to the ever-changing environment of a fight. Let’s face it how do you teach individuals to know how to change to a void of different techniques that nobody can predict? or just teach a few moves and hope you do not get attacked in a way that is not covered in what you teach!

Well that’s the difference between a method of teaching something and to be honest, just winging it!   To help anyone understand how this can be achieved all I need to do is take you back to when you were a young child learning to get to grips with communicating to your parent. You start at a very early age usually between one and a half years old and three, before you can talk yourself you begin to understand language and meaning, you learn the meaning of simple words but have no ability to talk. So how do you start? You learn the good old alphabet A through to Z and you start with simple Phonetics “Aaaaa, Baaaa, Caaaa” and so on.  Eventually you are capable of putting short words together, then sentences and so on until eventually you are able to write. Now once you have achieved this ability your are able to write whatever you want as long as it makes sense, others can read it, and it follows the rule of your particular language. Well that is exactly how any movement based combative art works as well, or at least it should do, you have to know basics, once you have them and are capable of putting them together in a pattern that follows the rule of fighting then you have your method, if you do not follow this procedure then what you have is chaos and your students will soon fail at following your mind.

During the year I had the honour to teach at a few events where students from other arts were present and the one thing that stood out was their ability to be open to learn, even though some of the techniques were not what they were used to. What was evident was the students and their instructors were not held down or tied to a process that restricted them and that’s the way it should be, sharing and learning from different people and different arts. Eddie Quinn and his group were a prime example of this, along with others, such as the Sacred Springs Group, GIMA, and my High Wycombe guys, Steve and Julian and their students and not of course to forget my good friends in Holland.   It is groups like these that make the journey worthwhile. Closer to home everyone in the BKKU contributed to an excellent year. Over the years one thing has become apparent and that is that getting a Dan grade within the art that I teach is not an easy path, with only one Dan grade moving up in 2013 Mr O White from 1st to 2nd and no Dan grades.   It’s been a quite year, plenty getting to Black to start the long road ahead of consolidating and training to test for 1st Degree Black – I am looking forward to seeing what happens in 2014.

In October 2013 I launched Volitional Attention Training (V. A. Training) this has been something that I have been working on since the early days when Rapid Impact Combatives was launched, the trouble was the title did not encapsulate where I wanted to go with it and as expected there are now people in the martial arts world that say I am no longer teaching AK, again nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that AK does not hold all the answers, as the animal which is violence is a massive one. Ed Parker Jr for example has launched what he calls Paxial Arts, a method designed to teach primarily children how to “not get caught up in a physical confrontation” how to take the aggressive movements and not return them with hard strikes or kicks, it’s not Kenpo but it’s still very effective for that very specific part of violence and I personally believe that it has its place right at the bottom of the social violence ladder with a cross over into some areas of higher intended violence. However as you begin to climb this ladder the aggression and violence changes. The bottom rungs are your low-level bully tactics that involve violence that is threatening, with an escalation to strikes. What we then have is everything in between that is not A Social violence, this includes all martial arts and sport applications, maybe a project for 2014 should be the categorisation of this ladder of violence! unless it’s already been done. A social violence is at the top and primarily includes WAR and situations when an individual is actually trying to kill you, period!   It’s this level that V.A. Training is designed for, right at the top of the ladder of violence. It seems logical that to cover all areas of violence you will need knowledge that would take several lifetimes to achieve.

There two areas that are lacking within the combative arena and these are psychology and body control procedures, all to often what I see is a concentration on physical technique. I am not saying before anyone gets on their high horse that technique is not important, as quite obviously it is.  What I am saying is that physical techniques make up for maybe 50% of what you should be training in, it could be as low as 30% with the rest of the 70% divided between psychology (mental training) and internal body control (breathing). there are some arguments that the majority of the time should be concerned with mental preparation rather than physical, today most have it about-face with the majority of time spent on physical application of techniques. In the future once individuals really understand this, I predict a massive change of focus. In 2013 I really started to push the psychology behind weapon training and the negative loop mechanism, just about everyone that understood it, got it!  Let’s see how long it takes to filter into the mainstream. What was great to see is that groups that have taken this on board in the past have now altered their training procedure to reflect positive training loops that support spontaneous reflexive actions. V.A. Training is all about creating this balance and ensuring that the training uses the most up to date processes with regard to psychology and internal control systems. In 2014 I will be licensing V.A. Training out to instructors of other arts who have already gained experience and knowledge in what ever their style is, as V.A. Training only deals with the top of the ladder violence.

Looking forward further into 2014 will see my second book on the shelves, the next one is a step up from the last and covers the in-depth knowledge that V. A. Training is based on, check out a couple of the last blogs in 2013 as they will give you a flavour of the material to be covered.

If there are any areas that readers of my blog would like to see featured next year drop me a message and thank you to everyone who has visited this site and taken the time to read my material.



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Mental Force Training

Short extract from the material used as a structure for Volitional Attention Training, this provides information on memory, attention and the pitfalls that should be avoided at all cost.


Evolution also plays a part in our understanding of mental force and the benefits derived from possessing it, with a direct link to Darwin and survival of the fittest. Imagine a history where humans did not possess these types of abilities, would we have ever dragged ourselves out of the primeval world that we occupied? There are mental processes that have to be overcome in order for any individual to live a life, to find a mate, reproduce, to survive! To enable this process, not only does the mind have to be mentally fit, also the physical body has to be healthy and fit. As humans we are constantly under threat from our mind’s activity, we therefore have to understand what is happening when certain moods take over the dominance of our minds, or when we create thoughts that are not congruent with our mental direction. Maintaining the physical body has to form part of this process, if an individual suffers from a physical impairment, is obese, sleep deprived, lacks nutritional balance, inputs substances into the body (drugs), then the consequences of this, result in a human organism that is not in balance, the body and mind do not work as one. If the mind was mentally tough and capable of survival and the body was not, it would not take long for one to adversely affect the other, or vice-versa. Therefore physical conditioning should be equally as important as mental conditioning.


Bringing these ideas into attention earlier in this discourse creates an understanding that attention has to be thought about. A stimulus input into the brain creates a mechanism of mental processes, that in turn leads to an amount of mental attention being applied to that stimulus, how long attention is maintained will depend upon the amount of mental force that the individual is capable of bringing to bear upon the stimulus. A stimulus that brings forth an episodic memory will also bring with it the ability for the mind to pay more detailed attention to that particular thought. Episodic memories are those that are encoded into the mind, through an emotional experience, these experiences are capable of coding in the time, place, feelings and details of the event.  They are far more real to the mind than attempting to memorize an event to which you are just a passive observer. Semantic memory is generally concerned with knowledge of the world that we live in, there is a difference between knowledge that is factual and personal experiences that have encoded knowledge and understanding with a greater grounding and meaning.   Both semantic and episodic memory deals with long-term, rather than short-term memory, a key difference is that episodic memories encode the actual acquisition experience and the context in which the memory occurred.   For any combative or martial art technique to become efficient and effective, the coding process will need to support the intended action, techniques will have to become linked to procedural memory.  Declarative memory deals with facts and data gained from learning “declarative memory serves to “chunk” or “bind” together the converging processing outcomes reflecting the learning event, providing a solution to the “binding problem” for memory, Cohen, N. Poldrack, R. Eichenbaum (1975). The sea is wet and the sun is hot are example of long-term declarative memories. Procedural memory is concerned with long-term memory including complex motor skills. These skills are first coded into the brain and over time become second nature; you do not have to use a cognitive thought process to access the skills.   Playing a musical instrument, driving a car, or combative, martial art techniques, are all examples of procedural memory, “procedural memory enables organisms to retain learned connections between stimuli and responses, including those involving complex stimulus patters and response chains, and to respond adaptively to the environment” Tulving (1985). There is no defined limit to long-term memory, providing that the correct coding procedure occurs then complex motor skills that involve, combative and martial art techniques can be built up. Continued repetition of these movements will lead to a stable procedural memory, which ultimately leads to spontaneous movement, this is arguably the aim of any person engaged in this type of activity.   It is important to remember here that any human movement can be learnt in a manner that is not congruent with natural movement, it is maladaptive.   Continual repetition of techniques that do not follow this premise will eventually cause damage to the organism.   Occupations that involve high stress and the potential for deadly force encounters are particularly exposed to incorrect episodic memory imput, and again, if continued exposure to this type of maladaptive behaviour, could have disastrous consequences, “in the blink of an eye, the officer snatched the gun away, shocking the gunman with his speed and finesse. No doubt this criminal was surprised and confused even more when the officer handed the gun back to him, just as he had practiced hundreds of times before” Grossman, D. (2004). This is a good example of incorrect coding of a maladaptive procedural memory, the officer involved continually practiced this disarm, until he had coded it into his mind, in doing so creating a spontaneous response, it had become second nature to him, I term this “negative loop coding” (NLC) which should be avoided for obvious reasons. The disarm in itself was never the problem, in fact over time several episodic events could have occurred in this officer’s life, for example he may have already been associated with lethal force encounters, he may have had colleagues die in the line of duty, any of these high emotional states would have led to an episodic memory. Once the officer had started to pay attention to this training loop and began to practice the disarm in all sorts of situations, both at work and at home, he had started to encode procedural memory, the only problem with the training was the handing back of the weapon! to do it again and again, and again!   A key point in this behavioural pattern is volition used to pay attention. Once attention on the training pattern had begun his brain would have been firing neurons at a fast pace, to start the encoding, drawing with it greater amounts of mental force, enabling focused thoughts on the reasons for the practice to be thought about, in other words the officer was undertaking, mindful attention.



Cohen, N. Poldrack, R. Eichenbaum (1997) Memory for items and Memory for relations in the Procedural/Declarative memory framework. Psychology press, an imprint of Erlbaum (UK) Taylor & Francis Ltd

Tulving, E. (1985), How many memory systems are there? American psychologist, vol. 40, April 1985. Printed in USA.

Grossman, D. Lt. (2004). On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of deadly conflict in war and in peace. Millstadt, Il: PPCT research publications.

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The age old problem Bullying Part 2

The age old problem that will not go away ‘Bullying”
It does not take a great leap of imagination or foresight to understand that children mimic behaviour that they see in both their peers and their parents, it is therefore vitally important that, parents modeling aggressive behaviour, understand that their children are in all likelihood going to learn that very same behaviour. Even the words that they use to convey information about how to deal with aggression and handle physical contact are going to impact heavily onto the child’s mind.
At such young ages any behaviour that a child exhibits is generally for a reason, we may however sometimes struggle to ascertain the reason why at the time. Young children will display and mimic behaviour well before they begin to mutter their first words, parents lead the way by touching their head and encouraging the child to do the same, attempting to get the child to understand ‘head’. Then ever so gradually they begin to develop curiosity and start to explore the world according to them. As the child grows older more complex behaviour starts to reveal itself, copying parental behaviour, using a knife and fork, trying to put on clothes or performing body and facial expressions, all this requires is an amount of attention and they are off. Play also develops with other children or substitute children in the form of dolls or that stuffed teddy bear, these are very early signs that children are beginning to imitate parental behaviour patterns.
Fast forwarding a few years we now find a child well versed in a set pattern of behaviour that can be traced  back to early experiences, they are now entering the social world of interaction and have a minefield of emotional and physical interactions to negotiate. One of the primary interactions of children from a very early age is that of negotiating a hierarchy and creating a status within their social group. It could be argued that the reason for dominant adaptive behaviour “bullying” is solely designed to elevate individuals to positions of dominance to create status within the group. The status of an individual can be linked to a better chance of survival, more food, better prospects, all ultimately leading to survival of the fittest.  A question should be ask at this point, is higher-archival and status developing behaviour universal? If it is, then just like the primate research in the previous blog, it could answer a great many questions, something for later. Lets look at a few thoughts that help explain why a bully bullies and why they continue to bully throughout life.
Once a bully inflicts pain and humiliation on their victim, they realise that they have power over others and like a drug, they feel good on it. This power also brings with it social status.
Nobody actually deals with them and tells them that it’s wrong to bully, so they continue to inflict pain, as the behaviour is left unchecked they think it’s ok to continue.
Bullies bully because they have low self-esteem, they feel insecure and are not like normal kids, as they do not have many friends and feel bad about themselves.
Bullies are psychologically damaged, either at birth or have become that way due to bad parental guidance.
Bullies have been made by their parents and have been exposed to violence and aggression within the family.
Not all of the above statements are an accurate representation of the facts “Research indicates, for example, that toughness and aggressiveness are important status considerations for boys, while appearance is a central determinant of social status among girls”  (Eder, 1995 cited by Espelage and Holt (2001).   They then go on to say, “Therefore, it is likely that this pressure to obtain peer acceptance and status might be associated with an increase in teasing and bullying to demonstrate superiority over other students for boys and girls either through name-calling or ridiculing” Research indicates that bullying behaviour is not about the bully fulfilling a need to harm and make afraid and in doing so satisfying a deep need for evil, although this may be the case in the odd child, instead it points to social pressures and peer group standing as one of the main causes for this behaviour “the analyses in the present study of 6th through 8th grade students quite clearly indicate that students who bully their peers on a regular basis share the same amount of popularity or peer acceptance (i.e., number of friends) as those students who do not bully their peers. This finding suggests that students who bully others are not necessarily socially rejected but do have friends” Espelage and Holt  (2001).  This would also lend evidence to contradict the claim that the bully is insecure, has low self-esteem or has been psychologically damaged by his/her parents. Instead the opposite is maybe true, they are intelligent, strong and have a clear identity and sense of self.  They are also supported and encouraged by their peers, they mix with children of similar traits, even though they may have been taught that this type of behaviour is wrong, as these are very powerful supporting groups that will continue to encourage this behaviour.  It’s not all about social states and peer groups, bullies can lack self-confidence, or they desire attention and these feeling will have been exaggerated through the lack of early parental guidance.

What’s happening within the brain?It’s only recently that researches have started to scan the brains of both those being bullied and the bully, with surprising results. When interviewed children who were on the sharp end of a bully’s tactics reported the same feelings and symptoms that were given by people suffering from depression, anxiety and fear. This would suggest that there would be a manifestation of psychological and physical  effects on the child. Researchers are now becoming aware of the true implications of bullying and how it affects children and their brains “using SPECT brain imaging, Todd Clements, M.D., Medical Director at the Clements Clinic in Plano, Texas, has discovered that the brain scans of bullied patients resemble the brain scans of patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Patients with PTSD report identical symptoms such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, inattention, flashbacks, etc. What this means is that the human brain is interpreting the trauma of bullying in the same ways a soldier’s brain interprets the experiences of battle or how a car accident victim’s brain interprets the accident (see images of normal and bullied / PTSD brain images). Humans have the ability to adapt to their environment which gives them, the best chance to survive. Unfortunately, a bullied child’s brain interprets the bullying as a threat and adapts to deal with the trauma” Divine (2010). It may well be the case that most of those that are bullied during childhood go on to be confident individuals in adulthood, however there are some that are severely damaged by acts of a bully, if anxiety is allowed to transfer itself to adulthood, then changing long-term ingrained behaviour will be even more difficult to alter. This behaviour is in all likelihood part of normal children’s behaviour patterns, its effect is exaggerated due to social and cultural changes throughout our evolutionary development. Knowing this should give parents and those that are in positions of authority in teaching children an advantage, to develop programs that can help both bully and victim.

Brain scans on the bully also revealed interesting results “that bully beats you up because he enjoys it. Healthy kids’ brains respond to other people’s pain with sympathetic twinges in their own pain centers. But bullies who witness pain show activity in their brains’ reward centers. Aggressive adolescents showed a specific and very strong activation of the amygdala and ventral striatum (an area that responds to feeling rewarded) when watching pain inflicted on others, which suggested that they enjoyed watching pain”Newitz, A. (2008). The activation of reward centres does indicate that some bullies derive pleasure from the activity of bullying.   However this is not the case with every person that bullies, or at least from some interviewers’ research, there are children that state that they do not get pleasure from it. Further research needs to be done to confirm this as, even though on one level a child may not think with their conscious mind that they enjoy it, something completely different may be occurring within the brain.

It is also the situation that a large amount of children that get bullied never find the courage to say anything to either parents or teachers, as they themselves feel that admitting this to peers is a sign of weakness.  It is therefore up to those that are in positions of authority with children to be mindful of the signs that a child is being bullied. , It’s also important to remember that this is abuse, it may not be as bad as sexual abuse, but it’s no less harmful and so the responsibility falls firmly at the feet of parents, teachers (martial arts instructors), friends anyone that has a child’s best interest at heart. The signs may be very subtle and these may include;

Signs of emotional distress – nervousness, anxiety

Withdrawn, tearful, aggressive, depressed, nervous habits

Lacking in confidence

Bruises or scratching on a young person or attempts to hide physical injury

Torn or damaged clothing, missing personal items

Unusual bed wetting

Fear of going to school – excuses of illness often made to avoid going to school

Coming home without money or belongings that they should have

Having trouble with school work or grades for no apparent reason

Lack of interest in doing things they would usually want to do

Behaviour clues are only as good as the person paying attention to the changes that are happening within the child, for a child to hide stress, fear, or anxiety and possibly physical injury, bruises and scratches for example will take a large amount of effort on their behalf and in the majority of cases they may not even recognise the change themselves.

A plan of action

It’s important that we all remember that fear, anxiety and stress create changes within the child, the brain adapts to the psychological threat, therefore any attempt to help the child, will need to focus on the mindset of the child , superficial patches that deal with outward behaviour will only create short-term results. To obtain long-term recovery the mind will have to be rewired back to a more stable setting. To help address these underlying deep issues, principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) should be part of your tool box, martial artist have been practising this for centuries, it’s know as meditation. Children will also need coping strategies and skills that will help them manage interactions with a bully.

Those that are in positions to help children need to have an idea of how to interact with the child, what they should do and say, there are some things that should not be said or done, especially if you want to avoid making a bad situation even worse for the victim.

1. Ensure that you remain calm at all cost, showing signs of anger or frustration will be seen by the child and focused on, they may believe that they should not have said anything.

2. Keep reinforcing that they have done the right thing by bringing this to your attention, let them know, that you know it must have been a difficult decision.

3. Take time to discuss how they feel, slowly getting around to the important questions, who, where and when?

4. Take it slowly, one step at a time, the longer that the child has been bullied the more emotional torment could have occurred.

5. Agree with the child the first steps, it should be their idea if possible and not yours, working together to tackle l the issues that are raised.

6. Are there simple ways in which avoidance of a person or place could stop the bullying, keep in mind that once a bully has identified a target they may go out of their way to find them and continue the abuse.

Do not leave it thinking that it will sort itself out, take action before things get any worse.  Tackling this behaviour needs to be with the support of schools, clubs or any event that your child attends. make sure that you meet with the person at the school who is responsible for their bullying procedures, they should have an anti bullying policy, make sure you see it. getting someone to take responsibility for monitoring interactions while at school. Remember recording meetings and agreed action in writing places a degree of importance on the matter, it’s not going to go away and needs to be dealt with. If you are not happy with the way things are going keep going up the line of accountability, board of governors, positions, you are the only person that can keep the ball rolling and protect your child’s long-term emotional intelligence. This all seems logical information and hopefully it’s not new to parents.

The martial arts

Any good  martial arts school will have a policy in place to protect the children that attend, however it’s not just the policy it’s the whole mental and physical training that is important. Good martial arts instructors will teach children non-violent solutions to bully avoidance, this will include strategies to talk and avoid a confrontation, it’s about confidence in yourself that you do not have to resort to physical confrontation to deal with the bully. The goal is to discourage bullies if the potential victim can resist the verbal assault, taking away the control and emotional pay-off, the bully will be less likely to choose them again, as with most perpetrators of violence or crime they are looking for easy individuals to attack. One that has the potential to fight back or is aware and not an easy victim will probably not be chosen. Tactics that are taught should include avoidance, appropriate verbal exchanges, neutral/confident body language and facial expressions, selective ignoring and self-control, physical confrontation is the very last thing on the list.  Bullies are looking for the nerve that makes any individual react, if a child can hide their emotions then they are well on the way to counteracting the bully. Once they discover a victim’s weakness they will do it again and again to see the same reaction over and over again.

Physical techniques are the last resort to dealing with a bully, the problem with any conflict especially with children is knowing were the boundaries are, when is it the right time to act, to fight back? is there a time? should you never resort to physical violence even when being beaten on? There are some that would support this, with words such as “if you use violence against a bully you are then no longer any better than the bully” we have  all heard this at some point I am sure and to be fair adults have the same problem, when to fight or when not to fight?   Should I use a pre-emptive strike? These are important questions and are beyond the scope of this  text and will be covered later. The most important point is should any child use violence to protect themselves? The answer to this question will be different for a great many individuals, ask an adult this very simple question, if you were being beaten by another adult and had the means to defend yourself would you? My thoughts on this is that everyone has the right to defend themselves and their family, should it be different because they are a child? Children will eventually come of an age where they can process this line and do the right thing at the right time, the main aim here is to convey knowledge of the bully and the victim, what they are and how to help a victim fight back, hopefully before too much psychological damage has been done. If you are dealing with a child who has already become a victim, then it’s no good just treating the behaviour of the child you have to get to the root cause of the problem,  the psychological effect on the mind.

Be mindful all the time!


Cyber bullying


Recently in the UK a 14 year old girl took her own life due to Cyber bullying, if this tells us anything it should be that parents have to be vigilant all the time. This type of bullying is disturbing and it’s not the first time that young adolescent children have resorted to suicide. This type of bullying is perhaps the most dangerous type of bullying as it can be done anonymously and has a very powerful effect on the mind. Why would someone believe what they read on an internet forum or text message sent to their phone? The reason is how our brains work with regard to the law of similarity. If it looks like a tiger it is a tiger. Like causes like and the brain perceives this, if we see a person being sick just after eating a particular food, we ourselves will not want to eat the same food, this has an evolutionary benefit, as it would have protected the individual from consuming the same food and suffering the same fate. Experiments have shown that if we create a negative thought and feeling this will transfer to our conscious mind and become prominent, over the fact that we know it not to be true. For example take a glass of clear drinking water, apply a label to it that says ‘contaminated with radiation’ and feel the effects that this will have on thinking about drinking the water. This rule of like causes like, can be seen when we observe an individual that has in their past decided to ink their body with ‘tattoos’ for example, or someone who has worked out and is big and muscular, we link these individuals with bad behavior or crime and in doing so our minds automatically create a thought of, stay away from them, don’t talk to them, there is a threat there somewhere, even though in our mind, if we take the time to think about it, there is no real danger. These linked thoughts of similarity are ancient wiring processes within the brain that are automatically transferred to the mind and brought into conscious thought. In the time of our Stone age ancestors this process would have worked perfectly, there is a tiger, looking for food; we had better be on our way before we are the food! Children these days are exposed to constant stimuli input from the cyber world, over time this informational input which was once used to aid humans survival, has adapted itself to create the idea that what is read and spoken about on the internet is indeed “true and real” the mind uses similarity and adapts the belief within the individual that what they read is how it is. Cyber bullying is found in mediums such as email, text messaging, and social networks such as Face Book, MySpace and “ASK”, the last one it would appear being particularly unregulated as the bully can remain anonymous as they can create false names and profiles. Cyber bullying consists of the same threats that can be found in any bullying situation, with threats of violence, verbal abuse and the use of language that may not be normally said when face to face.

The bully who knows no right from wrong

There are a few bullies where no amount of therapy will help, the only explanation is that the bully is a cruel individual, they like to harm and inflict pain on others. What’s more,  these bullies have no understanding of what Is right or wrong, they feel no remorse, lack empathy and in most cases these individuals carry their behaviour with them through into adulthood. These type of individuals have predisposition to violence, aggression, manipulation and lying, they can also be very intelligent and in some cases very hard to spot, one in 25 adults have this type of character trait. Quite often people will use the term nature versus nurture, in the case of these individuals it is nature that has created the shortfall in the ability to understand and nurture will only have a very limited effect. understanding this particular type of character trait will require more text than this article allows.



From all the information above it would seem that we live in a world that is controlled by fear and to a degree this is the case, we are fearful today of so many things, we fear the sun, diseases, bad health, violence is everywhere, we do not let our children play freely due to predators, the risk of terrorism is ever-present, the list goes on and on.  The fact is that nothing creates a feeling more powerful within our minds than the risk of fear. Is it true? –  are we now living in the most dangerous times within our evolutionary history? Facts would argue otherwise, our life expectancy has increased generation on generation and statistically fewer people die today theatre they did 100 years ago. What we do have now is instant communication across the globe, when a horrendous event occurs such as the September 11 terrorist attack in New York, we are instantly dialled into the event and those survival mechanism within our brain are triggered, we become fearful.  This subject is not one that we like to dwell on long, but we must remember that the bully can be overcome, there are ways to combat their effects.


Bullying and the effects that this behaviour creates is a very serious issue, if they are not addressed than the psychological scars will continue throughout life. We will never eradicate this behaviour completely, acknowledging this gives us the tools to understand the behaviour, identify those that carry out the bullying and their victims. This in turn allows for real control and management for both parties. They are both victims,  the bully from exposure to cultural stimuli and a lack of nurture with the child’s best interest at heart and from a left over survival mechanism within the brain. The individual who is subject to the bully’s behaviour, is also a victim of cultural stimuli, lack of understanding, support, love and nurture.  My hope is that this information will at least help a few, if it does, then at least a few will grow up without the foreboding baggage given to them by a bully.



Divine, M. (2010) Bullying Hurts: How bullying takes our brain’s ability to adapt and turns it against us. Posted on 07 September 2010 by admin. accessed on 04/08/2013 @ http://www.michaeldevinecounseling.com/blog/bullying-hurts-how-bullying-takes-our-brains-ability-to-adapt-and-turns-it-against-us

Espelage, D,  L.  and Holt, M, K. (2001) Bullying and Victimization During Early Adolescence: Peer Influences and Psychosocial Correlates. Howarth press, Inc.

Newitz, A. (2008). brain scans reveal that teen bullies get pleasure from your pain. Accessed on 05-08-2013 @ link. http://io9.com/5079234/brain-scans-reveal-that-teen-bullies-get-pleasure-from-your-pain

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The age old problem that will not go away “bullying” Part 1



Lately the weather has been hot and we are in the middle of a heat wave, those dedicated children that have been still coming into class have been trained in the warrior mindset. What is this mystical mindset? Well in truth its nothing out of the ordinary, when applied to children it’s teaching them to use their heads when confronted with that age-old problem the “bully”  and you know that there is always one out there somewhere!

Why is it that there is always someone wanting to steal your money, take your lunch or just pick on you because they feel they can, of course there are always those that have experienced success in fighting and then want to prove how big they are by inflicting pain on the geek, or socially timid child? As a child, experiencing the torment either mentally or physically inflicted on you by a bully, can be a very frightening event, leading to that child becoming withdrawn and socially excluded, everything will suffer, their school work, confidence, relationships with their parents and within themselves, with feelings of low self-esteem and a lack of confidence, all of this could ultimately lead to long-term transference of anxiety into adulthood. There are ways to fight back, but first we must understand this age-old problem if we want to give these children a fighting chance.

Lets face it, haven’t our schools known that bullying exists, yet it has still continued generation after generation? I know that there are bullying  strategies in most schools, so why over such a long time have we not been able to eradicate this behaviour?   Bullying is a distinctive behaviour pattern, which involves individuals deliberately harming and humiliating others creating an asymmetrical in-balance between individuals or groups. This type of behaviour is intended to harm or inflict psychological advantage, it occurs repeatedly over time, resulting in an imbalance of power. There are views around that believe that bullies are not born, instead they believe that they are moulded through their early developmental stage in life, through bad parenting  and  aggression traits starting as early as the terrible twos! Is it simply the case that if there were no victims, then bullies couldn’t exist? As we all know, they don’t pick on just anyone, they single out children with a certain lack of confidence, they give off a sense of fear long before they ever come into the bully’s crosshairs, and let us never forget the fact that once a bully always a bully right?  Well that’s not the case, if it were, what you are saying is that no individual can learn, change, adapt and that they are pre-programmed from birth with no chance of any volitional choice. Adult bullies have a very destructive character and will bring fear and intimidation to groups, whole societies as well as the isolated wife,  manipulated, controlled and abused behind closed doors.


The reasons why children become a bully

The first task here is to explore when and why children begin to develop the bullying trait or behaviour, and is this behaviour culturally and socially specific to regions or countries?  If bullying is a universal global problem set across all types of countries and societies, then we have to entertain the fact that this could be a hard-wired human mechanism, left over from our cave man past. To answer this question,  we can look at research conducted “this international cross-sectional survey included 123,227 students 11, 13 and 15 years of age from a nationally representative sample of schools in 28 countries in Europe and North America in 1997–98. The main outcome measures were physical and psychological symptoms. Results: The proportion of students being bullied varied enormously across countries. The lowest prevalence was observed among girls in Sweden (6.3%, 95% CI: 5.2–7.4), the highest among boys in Lithuania (41.4%, 95% CI 39.4–43.5). Due. (2005). What this research tells us, is that bullying is not contained to any particular culture, society or country, every country surveyed contained instances of bullying from European countries, to America and Japan, providing solid evidence that bullying is ubiquitous across human cultures. It does not take long to find instances of bullying in every country around the world, so does this all stem from aggression problems in children that start around two years old? and if so why? What is clear is that bullies are born and they are not made. Every single person on the planet may well have the capacity to become a bully or to a lesser degree may already be one. Not a thought that some may wish to entertain, if this is indeed the case, then humans have a capacity for this very distinctive behaviour, it is therefore genetic, inheritable and passed down through the generations and not as some may argue moulded from the parental nurture or rather the lack of it, instead it seems that this behaviour has its origins in stone age man, one thing is for sure we have no way of telling what behaviour was like at that time, did pre historic cave men’s children bully the more vulnerable among them to gain power and in achieving this give them access to more resources, attracting a mate in later life?  No amount of research into our fossil history will provide an answer, but, could we find an answer in our closest relatives? If primates and other non human related animals have the same type of behavioral patterns this would help answer the question and provide humans with a far greater understanding of the nature of bullying. The problem here is the evidence used to show intent, how would we know that a primate has made a volitional decision to inflict harm to another primate in order to gain power over them? If Primates have these same behaviour tendencies then this would effectively pre date the dawn of Homo sapiens.

Primate evidence.  


Research has been conducted into primate behaviour, with interesting results “Bullying-like behaviors are found in every major group of primates, and can sometimes be severe. Among baboons, one of the best-known non-human primates in the world, bullying-like behaviors are common” Altmann, 1980). cited by Hogan & Sherrow (2011). Later in the same article they go on to say “Chimpanzees live in communities with many males and females and males live in the groups they’re born into their entire lives. Males also form dominance relationships with each other based on physical power and friendships, which they use in competition over mates”. This provides us with strong evidence that bullying or to rephrase the word behavior designed to achieve dominance, is universal throughout both human and primate species, making this behaviour a trait that is hard-wired into our genetic makeup. This behaviour is designed to ensure that dominance over social groups and individuals is achieved and in doing so the dominant individuals gain popularity, access to resources enabling them to survive longer and reproduce, in Darwin’s term it’s survival of the “fittest”, therefore transferring their genes to future generations, ensures the survival of the fittest. Evolution has a large part to play in the majority of human behaviours, it’s finding that evidence that leads to a greater understanding of why we humans, sometimes do what we do.

Other species also display such behaviour, take a litter of dogs for example, out of a large litter there is always one runt of the family, the small one that is always last to get its chance to suckle mum’s milk, if the runt is fortunate to survive this early stage it can then be observed being group bullied into leaving the food alone until the pack has had its not so fair share and there is usually a dominant one or two that lead this behaviour. This behaviour is no different to humans or primates, there is a hard-wired mechanism that says, get more food and you will benefit above the others, even if they are members of your own family.

Humans today are fundamentally different from our past ancestors, we live in a very different world, one in which global communication happens in a heart beat, we celebrate an event post it on Facebook or twitter and a moment later someone reads that in a different country the other side of the planet, what would have taken a great deal of effort is achieved at the click of a button. We communicate via language that, to our cave man relatives would probably sound like an alien dialect. Now assume that this internal mechanism that creates our behaviour, designed initially to allow for dominance and more survival opportunities is suddenly transported to 2013, the need to fight and use behaviour such as aggression to obtain resources to survive has now no real destination or outlet, it now manifests itself in today’s children as bullying behaviour, what we were initially hard-wired for has nowhere to go. Communication has heightened our ability to transfer aggression, to speak words that cut like sun rays through the sky, humiliating and harming the subjects of our discourse and all this from the mouths of our most treasured possessions our children. Not only do we have the medium of language, we also have a plethora of other channels in which to convey our hatred to our intended target and all with a certain amount of annominity. The use of text messages, social media sites on the web, all allow easy access to intimidate, spread gossip and lies about our victim, while at the same time maintaining distance, it’s no wonder that the behaviour once designed in our evolutionary history has now been distorted beyond all recognition, allowing for this behaviour not only to maintain itself, but also to change and become more intensified than it ever was in our past history, this being the case the age-old problem seems destined to be with us for some time to come.

Culture has also helped mould behaviour that further supports bullying, in today’s environment violence is seen almost every day, it may be the local news broadcasting images of police dealing with local criminals, television series portraying family violence, the local newspaper, internet headings, sport events like boxing, games that encourage children interacting with high-end violence, the list goes on, all of this helps support the view that what is termed social violence is acceptable behaviour “the murder rate in America today is six per 100,000 per year. If six more out of 100,000 people were convinced to kill, the murder rate would double, remember, murder is just the tip of the iceberg because for every homicide there are tens of thousands of injury assaults, hundreds of thousands of thefts, millions of acts of bullying, and an untold amount who live their life in fear. The June 10, 1992, issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the world’s most prestigious medical journal, reported that violence depicted on television “caused” (caused is a powerful scientific word) a subsequent doubling of the homicide rate in the United States 15 years later. The AMA is so convinced of the impact of violent media, that they said if television technology had never been developed in the United States (or if we had kept our kids away from it) there would today be 10,000 fewer homicides each year, 70,000 fewer rapes and 700,000 fewer injurious assaults” Grossman (2004). This is damming evidence that media based violence has had a significant effect on our children, changing the way that they view the consequences of such acts and in doing so developing a behaviour pattern that accepts  social violence as a society norm! When will parents realise this simple fact, it’s not enough that all too often children have to be witness to extreme levels of violence within the family unit, they are then subjected to a near constant stream of aggression and violence, which 1,000 years ago would give a natural fitness advantage to those children that progressed through adolescence to adulthood, giving them a far better chance of survival, procuring a mate and distributing their gene for inheritance into their children. In today’s society there is no requirement for this aggressive behaviour which has nowhere to go.

It must also be remembered that bullying tactics are not just the sole preserve of the individual, groups, organisations and whole countries can become susceptible to the power struggle, resorting in all types of underhanded and big brother bullying tactics. These groups will target others with tactics designed to intimidate, coerce or harm them, all designed to ensure that the group achieve what a minority perceive to be, what the majority want! Political groups and leaders of countries use bullying tactics to maintain social order or to suppress uprising, even though the mainstay of the population may disagree with the pattern of behaviour, they are usually powerless in the face of such power.

Above we spoke about the inability for some parents to cope with early aggression in children and that this could start as early as two years old, the behaviour of children at this early age, seems to be hard-wired into the child from birth, as most parents would attest to experiencing this type of behaviour in their two or three-year old children, up to the age of two a child has usually had no real input as to aggressive behaviour patterns, is this the age when these evolutionary traits begin to reveal themselves? Or is it the parents fault for mis-treating the child at home, causing feelings of insecurity, which leads to aggression?   Observed behaviours that children witness may well play a role in supporting the inbuilt behaviour patterns, that society now refers to, as bullying.

The terrible two’s  


Every parent gets to hear about the terrible twos and how behavior during this time can be a testing one for any parent, it’s the beginning of a new era when the unassuming smiling, crying, loving baby begins to show patterns of behaviour that are testing to a great many parents, some say they never experience this, but those that have are often unprepared for the change from cooperative baby, to nothing is right! This change is not timed exactly with the age of two it can start before two, or later, up to the age of three. During this stage cooperative behaviour changes, as a parent you may notice a new level of NO! doing the opposite of what you have told them “don’t throw your cup on the floor” and guess what it ends up on the floor so many times you eventually take it away, tantrums are common place and can occur out of the blue and for apparently no reason, at least to the parent, you suddenly have on your hands a more assertive bundle of joy.

At around this age the brain is going through a massive amount of development, the mind is beginning to have an influence on what the child perceives to be what they want and not what you want for them, they think for themselves and begin to demand attention, they want things that are important to them and no amount of logic from the parent can persuade them otherwise. Feelings, language and increased mobility, all start to occur around this time, bringing with them the ability to communicate, express emotions and independently move. The stage prior to communication, via the medium of words is termed presymbolic, when the child has the ability to speak its called the symbolic stage. During this time they are having to deal with a fantastic amount of in-coming stimuli, their brains are undergoing neurobiological and psychological changes, resulting in self-awareness and a sense of understanding of self.

What impact on behaviour in later life does this stage of development have and can this early transformation, if handled badly by the parent, result in a natural tendency for bullying? One of the traits displayed is that of an unwillingness to share, they are possessive of food or toys, this in itself could be a very early indicator that what they have they need to retain, in order for them to nourish themselves and have tools to explore. Learning to interact with other children also becomes a key skill throughout this time, as up to now the majority of contact has happened with immediate family, they now begin to mix and interact with other children, this time of early interaction is crucial to learning acceptable social skills “researchers have found emotional development and social skills are essential for school readiness. Examples of such abilities include paying attention to adult figures, transitioning easily from one activity to the next, and cooperating with other kids” Cherry, (2013). These points are key if we are to find any link between this stage of developing behavior and patterns of behavior in later childhood and the point that is of great interest is “paying attention” It ca not be overestimated how the importance of volitional attention impacts on our ability to wire the neurological pathways within the brain, how paying attention is a key aspect in the way the mind learns, for an early child paying attention, has the benefit of clear and unrestricted access to the brain, imagine an empty piece of paper just before you begin to draw, you are free to create whatever image you want! and that is what paying attention to parental behaviour does for the young child, they begin to recognise how to express feelings and interact socially, all through observation of the people they see the most their parents. These observations imprint neurological pathways within the young developing brian and in doing so create patterns of behaviour.

It is not hard at this point to understand that if your child sees two parents at odds with each other, not sharing, or not correcting behaviour when the child does not share, that this will develop within the child an understanding that this is acceptable behaviour, if the innate hard wiring suggest that food needs to be kept, parents sharing food help suppress a heightening of this behavior. Parent interaction between themselves will also be attended to by the child and parents who argue, create tensions, do not show gratitude, or worse still shout, argue or fight will imprint this onto the child, who will then continue with this behaviour in a great many cases when they begin their interactions with other children. If there is an underlying tendency for a child to dominate due to evolutionary adaptive mechanisms, they will learn that aggressive behaviour is the way to achieve this. Therefore modeling appropriate behaviours that are socially acceptable are essential at this stage. A well known method of learning is operant conditioning, this type of learning involves either positive or negative reinforcement. This is where behaviour is rewarded, this type of learning also has to be considered carefully as reinforcing a maladaptive behaviour could be disastrous, that is why it is so important that when a child demonstrates positive behaviour that they are emotionally rewarded, which in turn reinforces the behaviour. Cherry (2013),  goes on to say that “parents can also boost empathy and build emotional intelligence by encouraging their children to think about how other people feel. Start by inquiring about your child’s own feelings, asking questions about events in your child’s life. “How did you feel when you lost your toy?” “How did that story make you feel?” Once children become skilled at expressing their own emotional reactions, begin asking questions about how other people may feel. “How do you think Nadia felt when you took away the toy she was playing with?” By posing such questions, children can begin to think about how their own actions might impact the emotions of those around them” emotional intelligence is a key factor in ensuring that any child begins to understand feelings, this also includes the natural feelings of fear and aggression, as it is these feelings that lead a child ultimately down the path of a bully, this is not to say that feelings of fear and aggression are bad, they are not, its managing these feeling and coping with them, while interacting within a social group that is important. As we discovered above evolution plays an important hand in providing adaptive behaviour that in our caveman past was absolutely necessary, there were no child play groups available to these ancestral children, where they could learn in a controlled environment, with this in mind it’s no wonder today’s children sometimes have a hard job finding the boundaries of what is acceptable behaviour.

Now that we have began to understand the behavior that we label “bullying” it’s time to explore what we as parents or martial artist can do to help a child deal with this pattern of behaviour. It has become evident that a bully is born and that they are also moulded through two very powerful influences, evolutionary adaptive behaviour and parental guidance, learning how to fight back is where I now turn my attention to, however it’s really important that we learn from the evidence above that bullying is another word for aggressive natural behavior designed to achieve dominance and fitness over others, we will never eradicate it from our schools or our social lives, as adults, what we must plan for, is education, helping both children and adults manage these types of behaviour,  in doing so understand our evolutionary history and the reasons that Humans behave the way we do.


Cherry, K. (213). About.Com Psychology. Social and Emotional Development in Early Childhood. accessed on 31-07-2013 @ http://psychology.about.com/od/early-child-development/a/Social-And-Emotional-Development-In-Early-Childhood.htm

Due, Pernille, Dr. (2005). bullying and symptoms among school-aged children:international comparative cross section study in 28 counties. European journal of public heath. accessed on 28/07/2013 @ http://eurpub.oxfordjournals.org/content/15/2/128.short

Grossman, D. Lt. (2004). On Combat: The Psychology and physiology of deadly conflict in war and in peace. Millstadt, Il: PPCT research publications.

Hogan, M. and Sherrow. Phd.  (2011) The Origins of Bullying. Originally published in Scientific American, December, 2011


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