Monday, February 5, 2018
The Midwest Academy's "Leader-Cast", a leadership development podcast, episode 1 is out...stay tuned for more...
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
As the Midwest Academy continues to grow, certain tasks that we used to preform “in-house” we have now opted to “out-source”. The ultimate reason for “out-sourcing” these tasks is to ensure that we are optimizing our time for the educational and training benefit of our students.
One task that we have recently “out-sourced” has been the distribution of Midwest Academy soft goods (clothing). All clothing items will now be available through an online “store” that is accessible through the Academy’s home page. As opposed to the Academy storing and distributing gear, you will now order items directly from the printing/embroidery company. Those items will then be sent directly to your shipping address.
In addition, the Academy’s Leadership Development Group hoped to use this opportunity to briefly explain some of the logos used on our soft good to people unfamiliar with them:
Kanji are the adopted logographic Chinese characters that are used in the modern Japanese writing system along with hiragana and katakana. Just like written English has various “scripts” (block writing/printing, cursive, etc.), kanji also has various “scripts”. The kanji that appears on Midwest Academy soft goods is a "cursive" script and reads as Seizan Ryu or “West Mountain School”. “West Mountain” is a historical reference to the origin and foundation of the primary Art that is taught and practiced at the Academy. A more detailed explanation is available in our student manual.
The term Ryu refers to “school” - not in the sense of a particular structure, but rather a philosophical root which governs the overall learning, practice, and teaching principles and methods utilized by “West Mountain”.
Mon or the crest is not unlike the Coat-of-Arms that once was prevalent and used by most Western families up until recent modern times. The Mon is seal script derived from the kanji for “West Mountain”; this seal is essentially the system’s “coat-of-arms”. It is sometimes referred to by Seizan Ryu practitioners as the “grinning cougar” due to its similarity in appearance to the face of a feline.
The “Combat Flag” or “reversed US Flag”, when used, appears only on the right shoulder of some of Midwest Academy’s gear. Itis an acknowledgement that much of the teaching method specific to the Midwest Academy has been influenced by various teachers’ experiences in the GWOT (Global War on Terrorism). That collective experience and subsequent related experiences have played heavily into the teaching approach of the Academy which emphasizes a utilitarian approach for both the physical skills and the personal development aspects of the art. Many people are unfamiliar with why the flag appears reversed. If one thinks of the flag, not as a logo, but as a loose flag attached to an individual’s arm like a flag pole, then as the individual moves forward, the stripes will flow to the back (giving it the appearance of being “reversed”).
Sho-Chiku-Bai or Pine-Bamboo-Plum is a 3 circle motif on some of Midwest Academy’s gear. This motif appears in traditional Japanese culture and is referred to as Three Friends of Winter; each item is representative of strength, flexibility, and endurance respectively, individually, and collectively. The meanings are connoted as these plants are able to survive the adversity of winter due to their intrinsic attributes. The Academy uses the motif as we believe the greatest personal growth and leadership attributes often develop in the face of adversity.
LDG Triangle (see ordering website for logo depiction) – The Leadership Development Group (LDG) is a subset of the Academy’s teacher cadre that specifically focuses on optimizing opportunities for the personal development and growth of our students throughout the course of their training. The triangle is symbolic of interdependent strength as each side requires the others to keep its shape. It also represents a compass needle pointing “north”; indicative of the personal code and integrity we expect from our students and ourselves. The number in the center of the triangle is indicative of how many years the Midwest Academy has operated at its current location. This run will feature the number "10".
For more information on classes or to schedule a visit to the Academy, visit www.TheMidwestAcademy.com or call (630) 836-3600.
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
History of the Knife
The knife was humankind’s first tool and has been a part of nearly every culture. As humankind's technological skills grew, the knife, as a utility tool, was replaced by a number of other tools and machines; the blade, as a weapon, also became secondary to ballistic weapons.
That said, the knife has remained with us, in part due to its size and in part due to its adaptability; it is a good tool when we lack better ones at that moment. As a weapon, it is still highly effective. In a previous article, we described CSAT founder and SOFD/D (“Delta Force”) MSG Paul Howe’s theory of a layered offense: the layered offense training theory states that the system of fighting with a rifle, pistol, edged/impact weapon, or empty hand should be fairly uniform such that transitions in either direction are seamless, adjustments from force option to force option are minimal, and training for each force option is complimentary to the others.
At the Academy, our students' edged weapons education is rooted in Filipino Martial Arts (FMA), Japanese and Chinese martial arts, and modern day combatives training. Tactics and techniques are continually vetted through traditional training as well as in the modern/current application environment. As a result of these influences, Seizan Ryu, the teaching methodology used at the Academy, has an advanced edged-weapons curriculum that is constantly evolving while the basic curriculum lays the foundation that has been proven effective through the generations.
Understanding the Purpose of a Fighting Knife
One of our teaching tenets at the Academy is that ‘purpose dictates process’; at a basic level, Academy teachers discuss the purpose of an edged-weapon as a starting point to edged-weapons training. While a skilled exponent can use a weapon to create varying degrees of effect, the use of an edged weapon should always be considered deadly force and the level of conflict resolution required should be appropriate to using this level of force.
Our first definable purpose for the edged weapon should be that it is capable of effectively delivering this level of force as efficiently as possible – the basic assumption when one is resorting to the use of deadly force is that it is a defensive response to deadly force already being used by the aggressor(s).
The use of tools for physical conflict resolution, like the knife itself, is as old as human history. Tools gave humans – anatomically poorly designed for physical survival without claws, fur, keen night vision, etc. – an advantage over their base physiology. One of the primary limitations of any physical conflict resolution tool is that it has an optimal range of effectiveness. The edged-weapon is most effective at what the Academy defines as “close contact” range. This provides our second definable purpose for the edged weapon: to provide utility at “close contact” range.
A study of human weapons reveals an interesting correlation between edged-weapons and range: as man evolved, larger edged-weapons, such as swords – which could be effective at “mid-range” - developed since they had a decided "range" advantage over the knife. A knife wielding combatant would have to pass through “mid-range” (where the sword was effective) to get to “close contact” range (where the knife becomes effective) - that gave the sword wielding combatant has an earlier opportunity (at “mid-range”) to take action/seize the initiative. The sword was also more efficient than the knife since its longer length leveraged the user’s physical strength more effectively. And while spears and bows were part of every culture’s fighting arsenals, it was not until the advent of the firearm, which effectively penetrated armor and did so from “close contact” to “non-contact” ranges, that humans put down the sword in favor of the firearm. It is interesting to note, however, that while swords are out-of-the-norm, the knife survived the transition to firearms. While the sword lost some dominance at the “mid-range” when compared to the firearm, the knife – to this very day - remains useful at “close contact” range.
Building a Fighting Process
One of the greatest factors that influences the utility of a “fighting” knife is its design. Today many people carry folding knives, spring loaded/spring assisted knives, or specialty blades such as the karambit or push knives, for example. While these knives have some utility, it is imperative to remember that defensive/counter-offensive use is the primary condition of our force application – that means that the defender has been confronted with deadly force and is responding with deadly force. Knives that require high dexterity movements just to bring them into the fight put the defender further into “reaction” – in light of everything just mentioned, the Academy advocates the use of a single-edged, full-tang, straight-bladed knife as a fighting knife.
After one decides on what type of knife one will use, the next part of the “process” is to decide how the knife will be employed. The two factors to consider are: how the blade will be gripped and which hand the weapon will be used with.
At the Academy, our students build their basic edged-weapons skills around gripping the weapon in a “reverse/icepick” style grip with the edge of the blade facing forward and the spine of the blade facing the wielder’s forearm. The blade is also used primarily in the non-dominant hand (blade in the left hand for the right handed practitioner, for example). There are a number of reasons to use the blade this way, not the least of which is that it allows the user to cut and thrust with the blade while also minimizing leverage against the gripping thumb (the weakest part of the human grip). This grip also allows the knife wielder to strike and grapple without adjusting the weapon; where firearms are concerned, it also allows the practitioner to employ a firearm without discarding the edged-weapon.
|CRKT Kasper knife mounted on a
VTAC Brokos Battle Belt
Knife design and employment method(s) dictate the optimal location of the knife - location of the knife is the final part of the basics of edged-weapons utility. Since the directional draw is the most efficient draw stoke, at the Academy our practitioners learn the advantages of storing the blade on the non-dominant side hip with the edge somewhere between facing forward and facing down depending on individual body types, clothing, and lifestyle requirements. The photo (right) shows a set up for a right-handed pistol shooter where the edged weapon is set to be drawn with the left hand into a "reverse" grip.
Under these conditions, the average practitioner can deploy a blade and deliver deadly force faster than even with a firearm (or in conjunction with a firearm if appropriate) as demonstrated by former Navy SEAL and firearms instructor Kyle Defoor in this video.
At the time of this writing, I have been studying, practicing, & teaching edged-weapons combatives for over 3 decades. One of the most important training “tips” I can pass on to anyone who is serious about improving their edged-weapons skills is to train with the weapon in the non-dominant hand. In most training venues – martial arts, military, and law enforcement – students train with both partners having weapons in their dominant hand (both partners with weapons in the right hand usually); at the Academy, we call this alignment ‘matched’ (training partners right-right or left-left). Very few instructors are versed, knowledgeable, or skilled in the alignment we call ‘mirrored’ (training partners right-left or left-right), however, if you consider that most people are right handed and attack using their dominant hand, the most important training alignment to develop is with the defender using the blade left handed and the attacker attacking right handed. Unfortunately, this alignment is usually neglected as it is the most challenging for instructors and students and least gratifying for their egos…but that's a topic for another discussion.
Contact the Academy for information on viewing/registering for our Weapons Training Program.
Saturday, June 14, 2014
Anyone who has been around tactical community for any length of time, be it as an operator, trainer, and/or leader, is likely familiar with the Viking Tactics (VTAC) 1-5 Drill. Sergeant Major (ret) Kyle Lamb, US Army Special Operations combat veteran, author of “Green Eyes & Black Rifles: The Warrior’s Guide to the Combat Carbine”, and president and founder of Viking Tactics breaks down the essentials of the VTAC 1-5 drill in this video.
In this article, I will refer to this version of the VTAC 1-5 drill as the basic/base drill.
Industry innovators such as Travis Haley underscore that there is a difference between rote drill training, and understanding/developing drills at a “deeper level”. Travis Haley, US Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance combat veteran, former CEO of Magpul Industries Corporation, and president and founder of Haley Strategic Partners, LLC demonstrates an advanced application of the VTAC 1-5 drill in this video.
The purpose of this article is to highlight that trainers/operators/practitioners need to understand drill training at a deeper level in order to ensure a “best fit” approach to training using the drills which facilitate optimal skill development within the constraints of financial budgets and time. At the time of this article, I have over 15 years of experience as a trainer in the tactical community. Although the core curriculum I use is CSAT based, I do use and teach the VTAC 1-5 Drill as one of the training platforms for myself and my fellow students/operators.
· No single drill will provide repetition of all the various skills sets required in any given operational environment;
· Some of the various skill sets needed for the operational environment are trained in direct opposition to each other; and
· Optimal learning does not occur unless trainers/operators/practitioners understand the inherent assumptions contained within a drill’s practice method.
Does that mean that we should drop this version of the VTAC 1-5 drill from our training curriculum? Absolutely not! It simply means that trainers/operators/practitioners should understand that when they practice the drill in this manner, they are training the optimization of aspects such as weapon “weld”, traversing from target to target, manipulation of the trigger, etc.
It is incumbent upon trainers and leaders to develop utility in their training drills that are consistent with their application environments. These “higher utility/application oriented” drill variants should be added into the curriculum. The variants should include the physical skills performance expectations that we seek during application: for instance, if we expect the shooter’s finger to be out of the trigger during movement from one target to the next, we have to incorporate that into the drill’s “language/expectations”. If we expect a follow through sight picture on targets that have been engaged, we likewise have to set that into the drill’s “language/expectations”.
In this final video, we look at a "utility/application oriented" variation of the VTAC 1-5 drill. In this version, some of the individual skills being trained include finger off the trigger while traversing from target to target, follow through sight picture prior to traversing from target to target, and a speed load during the drill execution (intentionally set up by using a partially filled magazine). Since we wanted to incorporate the rifle reload skill, we set the drill distance up along the method described in the previous video by Travis Haley. This is because of the tactical preference to reload the rifle at longer distances while tending to transition to the pistol at closer distances. Even under 10 seconds total time, the trigger manipulation in the drill is less than optimal when compared to the base drill. So while this variation builds utility, for a shooter to improve trigger manipulation skills, the original VTAC 1-5 drill should be used. So here we see two inherent opposite methods needed to train two necessary skills for the operational environment: optimal trigger manipulation when engaging and finger off the trigger when traversing, as examples.
Read more about building utility.
Saturday, May 31, 2014
|"Nana korobi ya oki" (Fall seven times, rise eight).
In the nearly three decades that I have been a student of the Warrior’s Path, I have had the opportunity to explore various disciplines of Warrior training: as a combat veteran of the United States Army, as a member of law enforcement’s elite special operations teams, and –at a core level – as a life time martial arts student, practitioner, and teacher.
Warrior training has many tangible and obvious value adding benefits that relate to self-defense, physical health/fitness, mental acuity, etc. However, these are what may be described as the “surface level” benefits of the discipline. While the training must be focused on these obvious aspects, much of the deeper value is hidden from the uninitiated eye.
The reality is that most student's of Warrior training, even most soldiers, will never actually see "combat". Most law enforcement special operations team members will never be in direct action operations. And most martial arts practitioners will never have to call upon their skills to defend themselves. As a real-world illustration of this point, our dojo, the Midwest Academy, is located in the greater metropolitan area of Chicago, Illinois. 2012 FBI Crime statistics show that the city alone logged 12,272 aggravated assaults (instances of people trying to kill someone) and 500 homicides (instances where people succeeded in killing someone). Despite these staggering statistics which earned Chicago the moniker of “murder capital of the nation”, when expressed as a percentage of the total population of the Chicago area, the homicide rate is about 7.1%. That reinforces the idea that the significant majority of the population, over 90%, will never be directly affected by violence. Since most people intuitively know that to be true, the obvious question becomes why one would expend the time and effort required of Warrior training.
Are there significant tangible value adding benefits that an individual develops through Warrior training other than personal protection? I certainly believe so. In fact, the privilege of assisting others in developing these less obvious benefits of Warrior training was a critical influencing factor leading to the inception of the Academy.
This article briefly touches on what, I believe, are two of the most valuable personal attributes that Warrior training develops in those who integrate the training into their lives. Those attributes can be described collectively as emotional resilience and mental toughness.
Inferences to the tenacity developed by fostering emotional resilience and mental toughness can be traced to Judeo-Christian writings in the Old Testament of the Bible which states, “For the just man falleth seven times, and rises again” (Proverbs 24:16, King James Bible); to the teachings of Bodhidharma, founder of Buddhism, who taught followers to, “Fall seven times, rise eight times” (Bodhidharma); and are even described in the modern warrior ethos of our US Special Operations Forces when they commit that, “If knocked down, I will get back up, every time” (Navy SEAL ethos). The point here is that we, as humans, learned a long time ago that emotional resilience and mental toughness were high value attributes to have/develop; and we know that they still are today.
While the Warrior’s Path requires us to be committed to the development of solutions to life and death problems, the “test” for most on the Path does not appear on the battlefield, but rather presents itself through the various challenges and hardships of life – the loss of one’s health, the loss of one's job, the illness of a loved one, the constraints of time, money, energy and the effects on one’s goals and life direction are but a few examples. Less emotionally resilient individuals, quite often, fall into cycles of anger, hopelessness, and despair when facing these challenges. Many individuals lose momentum and give up hope for a better future, dreams of success, and direction for a better life; instead they live a quality of life that is in proportion with their commitment to “getting back up”. While getting knocked down is less than enjoyable, "staying down" is commensurate with living in fear, with failure as a companion, and drowning in a sense of defeat. Staying down does not require courage or faith; getting back up requires both. In short, while staying down is unpleasant, for the individual who has not developed emotional resilience and mental toughness, it is easier than getting back up and getting back to the challenge with a "can-do" attitude!
Emotional resilience and mental toughness, developed through Warrior training, allow an individual to “embrace the suck”; to get up, to lean back into the challenge with either a more refined strategy for success, or with the sheer force of determination to push through, or – more often – a combination of both. The attributes of emotional resilience and mental toughness are not intellectual. They are visceral. They are a glint in the eye, a feeling in the gut. An individual cannot “pump up their psyche” in an sustainable way. Emotional resilience and mental toughness are attributes that are similar to strength, flexibility, or endurance – qualities built slowly and purposely over the course of time. Good Warrior training programs have a level of emotional and mental challenge designed to push the practitioner outside of his/her comfort zone; to challenge them to push through discouragement, fatigue, boredom, etc. The deliberate adversity designed into Warrior training is the “work load” though which the “muscles” of emotional resilience and mental toughness are developed. It is the grounds upon which the trainee/student learns to exercise their courage and faith - the prerequisites for forging emotional resilience and mental toughness.
The actual formula for developing these attributes is quite simple. Get started (in a high quality program). Lean into the challenge. Embrace the suck. If/when knocked down, get back up, every time. And take quitting off the table of options.
Sunday, May 4, 2014
No Contract Training is just one of the unique characteristics of the Midwest Academy experience. Many people who visit a martial arts school or gym to get information or to try out a training session spend much of their time being bombarded by a “sales pitch” from the business’ staff.
While it is naïve to miss the fact that martial arts schools and gyms need to make a profit in order to keep operating, you also shouldn’t ignore that the reason most schools and gyms encourage a student to sign up for programs such as 3, 6, 12, & 24 months, for example, is because they know that the average student/trainee will lose interest in a just few weeks’ time. The training contract is there to ensure future cash-flow for the business (this is the same business model that most health clubs operate on).
At the Midwest Academy, we have a different approach to student selection and retention. We screen and assess our prospective students during their initial conversations and visits with us; we admit those who pass screening as probationary students (probationary students train tuition-free as our guests) for a short period of time until such time as an assigned mentor recommends them for regular student status (recommendations for regular student status are made on a combination of attitude, attendance, and demonstrated skill progress). At that time they are given the option to take on regular student status at the Academy. In our experience, this selection process eliminates the need for training contracts by ensuring a best-fit approach between students and the Academy.
No contract training means that students with poor attitudes (which we rarely encounter due to our selection process) or students failing to perform (again, another rarity since all Academy students are highly self-motivated) can be removed from the Academy Student Roster at any time for cause. Additionally, a student can opt to stop training at any time of their choosing (students who drop on request may return, however, they must reapply through the Academy’s screening process).
By operating the Midwest Academy in this manner, we maintain our focus exclusively on the quality of training that we provide as opposed to writing student training contracts, tracking contract renewals, etc…less time in the office and more time on the training floor is value adding for Academy students. Our confidence in the Academy is confirmed by the near zero lack-of-interest-related-attrition rate at the Academy (that means almost no one has ever quit because they just aren’t into training anymore) – Academy students can leave if ever their interest wanes, but they don’t because their interest doesn’t. And you won’t want to quit due to boredom, stagnation, or a general lack of direction in your training either at the Midwest Academy!
Contact us for more information at www.TheMidwestAcademy.com
Sunday, January 26, 2014
I have been training people in physical skills since I was 15 years old – at the time of this writing, that’s 25 years of teaching experience. Some of the people whom I am privileged to teach are professionals who require physical skills as part of their profession – military and/or law enforcement personnel generally. Others are physical skills/martial arts students who have a professional approach towards their own training.
This month, The Midwest Academy provided a 120 minute “Women’s Self-Defense Workshop” at a fundraising event; we wish to pass along some of the general lessons learned from that workshop. While conducting research into current “Women’s Self-Defense workshops”, we looked at many of the already existing training platforms and discovered they generally had the following aspects in common:
- They advocate that a woman strike an assailant’s “eyes, throat, & groin”;
- They advocate the use of elbows, knees, & head butting; and
- They presume a single male attacker as the only assailant.
This is excellent marketing in that it allows people to leave with a sense that they have some solutions with which to defend themselves, but is that really the case? From an anatomical perspective, while these are "soft targets", the “eyes, throat, & groin” are the most instinctively & reflexively guarded parts of the human anatomy. In addition, in order to directly strike these targets, the defender places herself directly in front of the attacker - a position that the Academy refers to as “work-space to work-space alignment” – in this alignment, the defender has no advantages and the position is most favorable to the larger, stronger, & more aggressive person. In addition, the defender’s eyes, throat, & groin are as equally vulnerable as the attacker’s. Finally, as if that’s not enough, the strategy advocated by these programs requires the defender to be at a distance close enough to perform an elbow strike, knee strike, or head butt (which, if incorrectly performed, can cause the defender to lose consciousness). And while those anatomical weapons are formidable by all accounts, even trained fighters do not stand and strike at that distance while in that position (work-space to work-space alignment). The formulaic approach clearly has marketing advantages, however, it likewise lacks integrity with regard to the welfare of the student.
Almost all of our attendees were likely surprised during the workshop introduction where we simply stated that they would not leave the workshop with any applicable skills. This is not a reflection on our curriculum, teaching ability, nor any such factor – the statement is based on an understanding of how humans create utility with regard to physical skills – utility is the ability of the skill performer to effectively perform the skill in the environment and under the conditions for which the skill is designed. Utility is the process of moving from a knowledge set – knowing what to do given a set of stimuli – to a skill set – doing what you know given a set of stimuli. It is often described as the path from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence - we have previously made the skill building analogy with how one learns to drive a car. How long does that take? There are a number of factors some of which include: the existing skills of the learner, the complexity of the skill being learned, the methodology being used to teach the skill, the frequency in which the skill is practiced, & the intensity of the training.
The two points, however, to always keep in mind when learning a physical skill are:
· There is a direct relationship between practice and skill development – the more you practice (assuming correct practice), the better you will get.
It is not the Academy's position that there is truly a difference between “men’s self defense” and “women’s self defense”; there may be a case for beginning the training process at different points as, based on empirical data, men & women tend to be attacked for different reasons/purposes and thus are attacked differently. Most attacks on women are initiated with some type of control as most women are attacked by attackers that wish to control them. Most attacks on men are initiated with some type of strike or weapon since the objective is to remove their ability to resist the attack. However, eventually, regardless of gender, a quality training program must address all categories of attacks.
Therefore during this workshop we focused on a principle based solution that achieved the following objectives:
- Moved the attackers control further away from the attacker’s body core (thereby weakening him) and closer to the defender’s body core (thereby creating a relative leverage advantage in favor of the defender);
- Forced the attacker to maintain the control with “limb strength” while allowing the defender to release the control with “core strength” (creating a relative strength advantage in favor of the defender);
- Moved the defender into a “flank” position on the attacker making it more difficult for the attacker to continue attacking and easier for the defender to strike, control, or escape (creating both a relative position & speed advantage for the defender).
A final thought on the 120 minute workshop was that by using a principle based approach, students were leveraging Hick’s Law to their advantage. Hick’s Law states that the greater the number of options, the greater the reaction time needed to employ any of them. Since students essentially learned one principle, their reactions will eventually be very efficient. We say “eventually” since it still requires practice to internalize the mechanics of this principle.
The Midwest Academy's goal in providing workshops is to educate the public on the role of awareness in personal protection. With regard to physical skills, it is our objective to provide a realistic overview of what a usable skill set is as well as to provide the foundation to recognize what utility-oriented training looks like.
For information on this or other programs offered by The Midwest Academy, please visit our website.