Thursday, November 10, 2011

Protecting Our Children

We recently got involved in a huge facebook debate about what should happen to Joe Paterno and others at Penn State who did not do more to stop the child abuse that was happening at the school. That is turning into a philosophical debate but i do not think that we should forget the bigger issue, protecting our kids and making sure this sort of thing does not happen to them.

I taught martial arts to kids for many years and learned a lot about children's self defense and i think there are some things you can do with your kids that are more help to them than any martial arts program can be. Some times, a karate class can actually become a problem if you are not careful of several things that get overlooked as we teach our children how to kick and punch.

1. Avoid giving your kids a false sense of their skills. It was essentially important for me that the kids in my classes knew that just because they know martial arts, they can not win in a stand up fist fight with an adult that outweighs them by 50 to 100 pounds. I would usually start lessons about self defense versus grown ups by asking the kids a question like this: "Ok who would win, a grown up who has never studied karate or you?" Many, many times the kids would say that they would. Understand that for a child, especially if they are under 10 or so, to train in martial arts kind of makes you a super hero. They even have a super hero uniform. You must let them know that this is not true. One of the worst things that can happen is for a kid to get grabbed by a predator and to try and stand there and fight with them. When it comes to actual physical contact and abduction prevention, children have to strike quick and surprise and then get away. There are weight classes for a reason and if your 50 pound child feels like they can beat a 200 pound man, they are going to lose and maybe disappear God forbid they are ever in that situation.
Talk to your kids about this whether or not they train in martial arts. Let them know to be aware of their surroundings and that they will not win against someone that is that much bigger than them. I would illustrate this by explaining that even though i have been training for well over 20 years, i am not going to win in a fight against a silver back gorilla. They are too big and too strong. Awareness is the key. Let your kids know to keep their eyes and ears open and if they see someone in the distance they are unsure of, avoid that person.

2. Give your kids the confidence to scream and make a ruckus. When we would do self defense training sometimes a drill we would do was to set up an area of the gym that was the attacker's car, and then the students had to avoid getting dragged or carried there. This was a painful drill for me because i would pad up and encourage them to do whatever they had to to keep me from getting them to my car, if they ended up there they would lose the drill. We tried to encourage them to yell and scream things like "this is not my dad, help me! I am being taken!" Etc. It is really hard for kids to do this. There is a sense of embarrassment at yelling out and being loud that probably has to do with encouraging our kids to be quiet at the right times. Go outside with your kids and be loud with them. Let them know that there are times when it is appropriate to scream at the top of your lungs.

3. Be aware of your surrounding. I reiterate this because it is very important, for kids and adults really. We tend to get inside ourselves as we travel around our daily lives. Lots of people look down at the ground as they walk about and try to be unaware of what is going on around them. Looking down at the ground has two bad effects, 1) you are unaware of potential threats until they are right on you and 2) you look like prey. Predators in nature and among humans do not want to work any harder than they have to. They will pick the weakest member of the society to prey on. Be aware of what is going on around you, take note of people you see on the streets from a distance. Encourage your kids to not walk within grabbing range of adults they do not know and be aware of alleys or cover that people could hide behind. Do this with your kids, take a walk and make it an adventure. Work together to figure out places that could be dangerous and learn about staying out of range where somebody could grab you. If there is a stranger by a van on your side of the street, cross to the other side or pick a different route. If someone is following, tell your kids that they can go into a public place and let them know about adults they can ask for help. That is not just police and firemen but could be managers at a crowded grocery store, a waiter in a restaurant with other people in it, etc. Getting your kids to be smart will help them much more than teaching them how to do a roundhouse kick (which i am not discouraging, i think every one should know how to do a good roundhouse kick.)

4. Expand on the notion of strangers. We used to teach the kids in our classes that there were two kinds of strangers, bad ones and those that you thought were good ones. Strangers that you think are good strangers are your teachers, parents of your friends, martial arts teachers, etc. I would ask in class if the kids thought that i was a stranger and many times they would say no. I would then ask if they knew where i lived? What kind of car do i drive? Do i have brothers and sisters? Etc. If they did not know these things i would let them know that i was indeed a stranger. Now they think that i am a good stranger and they should treat me with that respect as they should with their teachers at school, police officers, etc. but these people do not have the right to do certain things. A really big one is to ask the kids to be alone with them. No adult has a right to ask your kids this. I would ask things of them such as, "If your math teacher says, hey we are going to go to my house after school to work on math problems. Should you go? If i asked you to come with me to the gym to practice your karate should you go? Etc." Make your children aware of the things that are allowed of adults and when adults are crossing the line. Even if your child knows someone very well, that person has no right to ask your child to come home with them. This seems obvious to us as adults, but it is not with small kids, especially when someone has won their trust or is in a hero type role.

5. Let your kids know when it is all right to say no to an adult. This is a really really big one. We give mixed messages to kids. Don't talk back to adults contradicts in a child's brain with respect your elders and listen to adults. This also goes along with 4 above. A stranger a child does not know can stun them into submission with a demanding statement like, "Get in the car!" Your child's mind can have a moment of pause while reconciling the two commands in their head. They know they should not talk to strangers, but they also usually are supposed to listen to adults, and they are presented with one giving an order. This is even more needed when the child is confronted by an authority figure in their life. This is the case with the allegations at Penn State. Children were brought into the showers by someone they trusted and respected. In some way, they are following what they have been taught by listening to what their coach said. You have to give your kids permission to say no to adults at some times and you have to have some hard conversations about the kinds of things that they are allowed to say no to. Let kids know that adults have no right to ask them to go places with them unless they have your explicit permission. Also teach children that no one has a right to violate the privacy of their own bodies.

6. Remember why we want to keep our kids safe in the first place. These conversations can be scary for kids so i would always end the classes on self defense by explaining why we teach them these things. Really, the great majority of kids are not going to have to go through the really ugly awful things that we hear about in the news. They are so shocking partially because they are so unusual and beyond the norm. We teach our kids to be safe because we want them to enjoy their lives. I would tell the kids, "i am not teaching you these things because i want you to be afraid, but because i want you to not have to live in fear." That to me is one of the greatest things the martial arts has ever given to me. I do not live in fear. I feel that i am armed with a knowledge that can allow me to go confidently through my life. Tell your kids that too. We teach them these things so that they can be brave in the world, a world that can be dangerous, but can also be wonderful. Give your kids this confidence so that they can avoid being victims, but also so that they can have the confidence and power to help others as well. For example, let your kids know that they should tell you or authorities when something happens like they are approached by a stranger outside of the school or if someone is asking them inappropriate things.

In all of the talk about Penn State, no matter what your views are, remember that the ultimate goal of all of ours should be to make sure that these things happen to no one. Educated kids can help to make this a reality and to keep them safe from the hideous among us who would prey on the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society. The conversations may be difficult, but have them with your kids, you might just save their life and the lives of others at the same time.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Let's be "friends"

John Williams and i have been giving out a lot of relationship advice lately. I know, many of my ex's are saying, "What in the Hell makes you think you are qualified to be doing this?" So true, i am not in any way claiming i have been able to apply any of this advice to my life. But it is very clear when looking at what is going on with other people to understand what is going on with them, and many people have benefitted greatly from what we have had to put out there. That being said and with all apologies to those awesome ladies who have graced my life with their presence, i have a little topic i would like to talk about today.

This actually has two sides, this little coin i am talking about. Let us start with the female half of this equation. We have been hearing a lot of this from some of the patrons at faire and i have had this conversation with about three female friends lately in dealing with several overly zealous suitors that start moving into the realm of stalker-esq. Many, many times, you ladies out there will tell us fellows that you want to be "friends." We all know that is really not what that statement means. Most of the time what that means is that you really do not want us around anymore and would rather be left alone. When we try to actually be your friend, it is just awkward and weird for everybody involved. I understand the human emotion, most of the time, if you are a decent person, part of you will convince yourself that you actually would like to be friends. Most of the time though, i think that you can not get over thinking that we secretly pine for you and are somehow hurt by the loss of you in our lives. It is really OK. Stop using that word to soften the blow, it really does not help and if you really are just interested in moving on to a life that does not include us in it, just say you are not interested. It is much easier, and also really is less painful. For most guys, when a woman says she wants to "just be friends" it is actually kind of insulting because we know what it really means.

If it is a rare occasion where you do like the person and are just not interested in a romantic way but you would like to keep up the friendship, you have to make some effort. Men make an entirely different level of effort for ladies we are actually courting than we do when it is someone we are just buddies with. We also really believe that you saying you want to just be friends means that you do not like us anymore (we are fragile creatures and it is easy to damage our egos.) So, if you really want to be buddies, just say hi, don't feel weird and actually treat us like a friend. If the fellow is a good well adjusted man, you may actually get a really decent friendship out of the situation.

Anyway, moving on, because really, in the scope of things, the "friend" thing by women is not a big deal. We all get over it and move on. A bigger thing that i have noticed that actually can become problematic is the way a lot of men deal with being friended by a lady or finding out that they are not interested. This is what i was talking to my lady friends about and it can become a big issue.

The advice i gave to one of them, and this is solid from a self-defense instructor stand point, in response to a man who would not stop texting or happening by was to send the following text messages (this was also after about a month of the man not taking the hint and getting a little creepy):

1. "Look, i am really not interested so please stop texting me." A normal guy may even respond to this, when we get interested we can be persistent and will try and save the situation with something like, "But why, i thought we had so much in common and have been having a good time?"

2. In response to that kind of text which is not really creepy or scary at this point, it is just a guy who is trying to date you you can say the following, "Look i asked you to stop texting, i am getting a little creeped out right now so please stop."

If the fellow does respond to this one with anything more than an "I'm sorry" and no further texting, you know it is a little bit into the realm of stalker-esq. Most decent guys will feel really bad if they feel they are creeping you out and will then leave you alone. Any other begging kind of text or email that starts to sound angry can be responded to in the following way...

3. "Look, i have told you to stop texting me now at least twice. I am going to contact authorities if you write back. Please no apologies or anything just leave me alone."

Save these texts as well because if it ever gets to the point where you need them for legal purposes you have a record of actually asking this person to stop with the contact. Keep in mind, these are probably not the first texts or messages you want to give a normal guy who likes you, but after you start getting that vibe that it is getting a little bit uncomfortable.

I think we do an awful thing in our society where we make women feel bad for hurting our feelings so you try and be really nice to people you are not interested in. No one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable. Just be up front and honest with people, do not feel you have to sugar coat things to make someone feel good. I have done that all my life and it has caused more pain than it has alleviated.

Anyway, the real meat of this is for the fellows. What is our response when a woman rejects us? As i said before we can be fragile creatures. When we are really interested in a woman what are the reasons? What are the reasons we tell ourselves? She is pretty. She makes you laugh. She has similar interests. Whatever the reasons, when we are in courting mode we put ladies on a pedestal. Here is the hard question: Do you really like this person, or do you like her if she is going to be with you? Here is what i mean, one of my friends stalkers told her how much she made him laugh and that they had so much in common, but then she told him that she was not interested. The next words out of his mouth after he finally accepted the fact were, "You Bitch! You are so mean, i can't believe i ever liked you!" He never really liked her in the first place. What he liked was the idea of her with him and probably the two of them having sex.

We would all be well served to get to a place of unconditional caring about people. All of the things that you like about someone are still the same whether or not they like you back, and if you really like that person it should be regardless of whether those feelings are reciprocated. We have all been on the opposite side of that equation. There have been people who have been interested in us and we were just not feeling it for whatever reason. They are not bad people just because we do not like them. In the same way, i am not a bad person if some woman does not like me because i have a crush on them. If you find yourself feeling angry because a lady rejects you and you start saying angry things about her or speaking badly of her to others, then i hate to tell you gentlemen, but you are that creepy stalker guy. Now if this statement makes you mad, that is actually more proof that you indeed may be creepy stalker guy. You are the guy that makes the woman feel creeped out. It is all about your ego and your self-esteem. You also have to realize, that as long as you are like that, you really do not deserve to get the girl. The real thing to do, if you find yourself in this situation, "Oh my god! I am creepy stalker guy!" is to find out what it is about yourself that you do not like. Probably the ideal of a person is helping you to fill avoid that you have not been able to fill yourself. If you are not happy with yourself, no person you are dating is going to be the magic bullet to happiness.

Any way, this has been a long and rambling tirade and i hope it makes sense. I have just had many friends of mine of the female persuasion over the years that have found themselves in this situation and it would be great to not see them go through that fear or worry. So anyway, i hope you are all awesome and finding what you are looking for. Remember ladies, don't friend guys unless you mean it and guys, for gods' sakes, don't be that creepy stalker guy.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


I have started a crazy task. Got the idea from reading Carlos Castaneda. He called it recapitulation. You know when they say that your whole life flashes before your eyes when you die. Well, it is like doing that but before and without the whole dying thing, at least for some time we hope. Anyone who comes into my room right now will probably think i am a bit of a lunatic and have gone off the deep end. I guess i have in a lot of ways. There is, for example a seventy five foot long time line of my life wrapped around the walls. It is powerful and heavy stuff. Very emotional and draining.

The idea is to see patterns, for me it is especially with relationships. I have never been able to figure out exactly what i am looking for in relationships and it has left a lot of people hurting in my wake. I do not want to do that anymore. I am more tired of it than anyone and it is really time to move on. I am fortunate that i have about twenty years worth of journals, written in almost every day so it is slightly easier for me to get into the mindset of what i was thinking and relive those experiences.

There are definitely patterns, patterns that make me not very happy with myself. I have done many of the same things over and over again. It is time to figure out why, look at them, boldly and honestly and see what the hell is going on and really dig into what it is that drives me to these things. I feel that any time i have been in a relationship i have been looking for a way out, and when i am not in a relationship i am looking for a way in. I do not know if this is because i like the thrill of the chase, am a new relationship addict, am a polyamourist, or just a player douche bag. I do not think it is the last, because i do genuinely become devastated at the idea or action of seeing my actions hurt anyone.

When i look back at my past relationships and just what i was writing about through my journals, i see two different people. One of them is this person who has a pretty good idea of himself in the world, of a relationship with the universe and the earth and a pretty well thought out philosophy that served him well. The other is a guy i want to smack in the face. Early in college i would be talking about how much i really liked at least three different people and then get mad because girls always go for the jerk guy and not nice guys like me. I can not believe that i did not see the irony of that as i was writing about. By the way, the talk of three people at once was all in one days' entry. This has been the area that has always been the Achilles heel for me. It is time to do something about it.

I know this is really hard for Bethany right now. I need to work my way through this before i will ever have a successful relationship that will stand the test of time. I could do like i always do and pretend it is not a problem, but that would not solve anything. Even though it is hard now, she deserves to know whatever it is that i find out about myself. There has never been anyone before who has made me stare this thing in the face. That is how amazing she is. I am very thankful that she is in my life. She saved me once before from a life that i was really not enjoying and i think that she i going to save me again, because i think this time i am going to come to grips with whatever is going on inside my head. If i do, i will owe that to her and the amazing person that she is.