Last Week and Measures

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Last week didn’t turn out as hopelessly as I’d feared. As I mentioned in my previous post, once I realized that pride was at stake, and not my passing or failing, I was able to calm down. Maintaining that attitude through the week allowed me to keep from panicking too much. For instance, working with my faculty client for the first time. I can only liken the before attitude to “first date” jitters. Most of the other student trainers felt the same. The pride versus competency discussion took place in my mind once more and I calmed down. The first session went really well.

Every now and then my life brings in these little leitmotifs. Last time was confidence versus inertia. This time it’s pride versus competency. I suspect this one will become a major theme for the semester with other issues taking up the leitmotif slots. We’ll see.

In other news, my personal physical activity schedule continues to decline. It is something I suspected would happen this semester, but it’s nonetheless discouraging to watch. Especially since I start to feel hypocritical between my actual work out schedule and what I know I’ll be telling my client. My major saving point is that we’re eating healthier at home. My estimated Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) is somewhere between 1900 and 2000 calories per day. It’s hard to imagine, but that’s supposedly just to maintain weight if I’m lying down all day. It seems awfully high to me. I would have to do one of those labs where a machine analyzes my oxygen intake and output at rest to see if that’s actually what I’m supposed to be taking in. I’d love to do it…unfortunately money is the primary issue preventing me.

According to bioelectrical impedance, my total body weight is 29% fat. According to calipers done by a fellow student, I’m somewhere between 11% and 15% depending on 3-site or 7-site pinch tests. Looking at waist-to-hip ratio, I’m probably somewhere between 20 and 25%; however, according to BMI, if I were 0% body fat, I would be somewhere around a BMI score of 24 (overweight is 25 and obese is 30+). According to my age estimated max heart rate, I’m most likely already dead of an over worked heart. (Age estimated MaxHR (Gillesh method): 182 bpm; actual submax test results regularly put me over 200.) Why all of these odd numbers?

From my statistics classes way back when, the larger the population used in a measure, the more likely the distribution of results will end up as a bell-curve. With nearly all of the measures used in basic personal fitness training, the various interpretive tables and charts are based on a 2 standard deviation curve (I think). This means that for a minority of people, these tables are just plain wrong. (Performance level athletes usually have their own tables, so they don’t count as part of this minority.) The tables and charts and estimations are there both as a guide and, more and more frequently, a legal defense. The only way to determine an individual’s true maximum heart rate is to do a physician supervised maximal heart rate test. Short of that, you’re stuck with submaximal tests and age predicted equations. Most personal trainers are not certified to do submaximal tests, so they’re stuck with the equations.  Yet those equations are better than nothing. It gives an expected range recognized both by the fitness industry and by the medical industry. Work within that range and you’re protected by industry standards if something goes wrong. (Unless you do something incredibly stupid like responding to “my chest hurts” with “keep running”.)

How does this apply to me? I know I’m overfat; however, “normal” fat would still leave me “overweight”. So weight means far less than body composition (a good rule in any case). I’m roughly 100 pounds lighter than my dad at my age and probably at least 50 pounds lighter than my mother, so I’m doing fairly well with combating heredity. I take amphetamine salts for ADHD (brand name: Adderall) so my entire heart rate chart (including max heart rate) is shifted upwards (as is my blood pressure). Thus, using heart rate as a measure is dicey for me, so I have to rely on the RPE scale (Ratings of Perceived Exertion).

The major lesson here? Measures are good guides to understanding, but relying too heavily on them could lead to misunderstanding.




Periodically you see posted signs with large type, bolded lettering at the top: NOTICE! Sometimes this lettering is underlined or italicized in an attempt to raise it from mere prominence to attention-grabbing radiance. The sign writer seems to believe that this simple written command will seduce its reader into paying extra attention to the message. Every now and then it even works; but when it does, commanding attention is the least of the posting. There is usually also an action component. NOTICE: report finding lost items to campus police. NOTICE: The Astronomy Club is looking for new members, inquire with ______ (president) or _______ (faculty advisor).

Paying attention to things around you is a good idea in general. But understanding the implications of what you’re seeing and then ACTING on those implication is even better. Simply “noticing” is not enough. One of the best examples of the difference between noticing a fact and understanding a fact I’ve seen so far is within one of the first few chapters (chapter 4, I think) of Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. The scene I refer to is when Delauney asks Phedre to describe what she’d observed about the carriage and horses she’d just arrived in. She gives a very good description of them and thought herself very observant when Delauney praised her. Then Delauney asks Alcuin (who’d only seen the horse and carriage long enough for Phedre and Delauney to disembark and Delauney to pay the driver) to describe what he’d observed. Instead of describing the physicality of the horses and carriage, he describes that the unmarked carriage meant a livery stable, that matched white horses were rare and thus valuable (so that the stable was probably prosperous), that the driver had the mannerisms of someone country-bred but had been in the city long enough “not to bite the coin given by a gentleman”, and thus it would not be too difficult to trace the coachman if he needed to be questioned.

The more information you have in your mind, the easier and faster it is to do this. Also the ability to make connections between multiple disciplines is a good skill to train. (For instance: The reason why stars are dimmer than our sun follows the same principle why we do not bleed out every time our heart beats.) It’s one reason I love learning. Every time I find a connection between disciplines, I feel like I’ve pulled a gem from a bog. This is what I try to impart in my “running woman” exercise.

I’d been trying to get my students to think in this manner for many years before Kushiel’s Dart was published. I’d been giving my students a simplified example and asking them to come up with possible scenarios for what they see. I start with something like: “You see a woman running. What’s going on?” I usually address newer students first and rarely get anything other than “She’s running from someone.” Occasionally, I get “She’s out exercising.” Given that the “running woman” exercise is done in the context of a martial arts or self-defense class, the answers are understandable. If no one asks clarifying questions, I start adding details: “She’s dressed in slacks and a nice blouse.” There goes the out for a jog explanation.  “She doesn’t look back and her head is up.” Probably not running from someone. And so on. Depending on how quick the students are, I may end with “She has nothing in her hands, but everyone else on the street is carrying a closed umbrella.” If they need something a little more obvious, I throw in “The sky is filled with low, black rainclouds.” So instead of running from danger, she is trying to get home before she gets soaked. Depending on the level of interest and the number of light bulbs I see going off above people’s heads, I take it further into possible habits and thinking patterns.

Unfortunately, this sometimes gets me into trouble. As a very shy extrovert (not really a contradiction), I spend a lot of time around people without directly interacting with them. I also tend to score very high on empathy. Since I tend to think in sensations rather than words, it’s not difficult for me to see someone in distress and get “sympathy pangs”. It’s also very easy for me to get sucked into their problems. This is one reason I’m not a therapist despite many people telling me I have a talent for making people feel comfortable and safe; until I get these responses under conscious control, I would get burned out too fast be of use to anyone. I recently told someone, “If I see someone in distress, I can’t not respond.” As I said, seeing, understand, and responding sometimes gets me into trouble.

Seeing a NOTICE! sign, or posting one, is all well and good, but it is rarely sufficient to the underlying reason why the sign was posted in the first place. A notice sign calls for understanding and action. A paper posted on a bulletin board is usually about a matter simple enough to understand and act upon. But paper notices aren’t the only notice signs out there. Many of those notice signs are hidden beneath other things, and in order to see them you have to understand the implications of what you’re seeing on the surface. “Reading between the lines” is often hard enough in print. Graduating from the two dimensional of text on a page (or screen) to the four dimensional world of life is much harder, but it can be done.

The “Benefits” of Situational Awareness

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Folks, contrary to what your big brother or prima dona drama queen friends taught you, driving is a COOPERATIVE activity. Especially in the rain.

–Something I posted on my Facebook page

A while ago I posted a few articles I wrote on self-defense. Situational awareness plays a large part in keeping yourself safe, especially in everyday activities like driving. Seeing someone edging closer to the dashed lane stripes can give you an important clue they’re about to jump into your lane…even if they don’t have a turn signal on. (I always laugh cynically when they jump into my lane THEN activate their turn signal for about four blinks before turning it off again. Yes. I know you wanted to switch lanes. Thank you.) It’s also critical to knowing where your escape points are. (i.e. where other vehicles aren’t)

Today it rained. Sometimes hard, sometimes soft, but nearly constantly. So when out driving, I put a little extra distance in front of me and keep a sharper eye on those around me. It was during one of my area scans that I noticed it: the guy behind me had a very…odd…look on his face. The fact I could see his expression told me he was too close to begin with, and I wondered if he was paying attention. Keeping that in mind, I put checking my rear view mirror on my “check frequently” list.

Over the next mile or so, his expression changed occasionally, but he never looked anywhere but in front of him. No checking the mirrors. No checking the lanes. I could almost see the tension in his neck. If he was that caught up in something, or zoned out…. I put even more distance between me and the car in front, in case the guy behind me needed more reaction time.

Just before my exit, I checked one last time. In the second or so it took me to be sure of what I was seeing, a woman sat up.

Really? Talk about slippery surfaces. And in traffic.

4 Self-Defense Concepts from Defensive Driving

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I’m too tired to come up with something original today, so here’s a reprint. *Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote under another name a while back.*

If you look, you will find that a lot of our lives have self-defense concepts built in. Defensive driving is probably one of the most obvious.

1. Sight Distance: This involves not only what you can see, but what you CAN’T see. Knowing where your blind spots are helps prevent freezing in surprise at a critical moment.

2. Exits: I’m not talking about getting off the highway. Have an escape plan. In defensive driving, if you know where the holes in traffic are, you know where you can go if you need to dodge the tailgating accident in front of you. In self-defense, if you know where your safe areas are, you won’t have to spend critical time trying to figure it out.

3. Situational Awareness: Complimenting the idea of exits is situational awareness. Situational awareness is about knowing what’s going on around you. Exits is about knowing where danger is NOT; situational awareness is about knowing where danger might be.

4. Obey the Signals: Guess what folks, there are almost always precursor signals prior to an attack. Pay attention to them. If you run a red light, you might get in an accident; if you ignore the signals of a threat, you will most likely get into physical conflict.

4 Easy Things for Self-Defense

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*Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote under another name a while back.*

1. Know Your Area: If you know your area well, you’re much more likely to be able to escape an attacker. What do I mean by “know your area well”? This is not, I can find my way home from work or shopping. Know your area means knowing where the dead-ends are. It means knowing where the hiding places are. Know which neighbors you can run to for help.

2. No Doze: When traveling, or even walking to the corner store, stay awake and aware of what’s going on. Watch for people who try to remain unseen. Watch for nervousness in movements. Listen for footsteps and breathing (not your own). Look behind you using reflections from windows. Be aware of shadows.

3. Make Friends: Get to know people in your area. Your best defense is people greeting you by name. If you’re being social, you’re building up a defense network. Joe down the street may have noticed a car circling the block several times. Mary across the street may have noticed the same car stop in front of your house for several minutes before driving off. If you don’t speak with them, you might not find out someone’s scoping out your house until it’s too late.

4. Don’t Flash. Nice things are fun to have. They’re great to use for special, or at least specific, occasions. Don’t wear your nice jewelry to the mailbox. Showing off can be fun. Showing off in the wrong place can be dangerous.

The 4 Lines of Self-Defense

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*Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote under a different name a long time ago.*

The cry of “Self defense!” is common among those who get into trouble for fighting. Often this is heard from both parties, which makes the statement suspect. The phrase “self defense” in essence means to protect oneself from harm by striking an attack or attacker so that you are not harmed. Self defense is a complex concept. The defining the word is the easy part. In terms of cultural and legal meanings, it gets even more confusing; however, the purpose of this article is to examine what goes into self defense, rather than what comes after.

There are four major concepts within the topic of self defense: knowledge, attitude, awareness, and skills. Each concept contributes to your personal safety. If any one of them is left out, the danger to yourself increases dramatically.


Simply put, Knowledge is knowing what’s out there. You may see on the local news that there was a murder two blocks over. You may read in the newspaper that there have been a string of robberies targeting convenience stores. You may hear on the radio that there is a major storm approaching quickly. These are items that serve to catch the attention. You now know that they took place and that finding yourself in a dangerous situation is an increased possibility.

Beyond the attention grabbers used by the various media, look at the details of the incident (or approaching situation). The murder victim was a reclusive man. He was killed when he surprised a burglar in his house. The convenience store robberies all took place in the Westlake area between the times of 9:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. The approaching storm is predicted to be the worst storm the city has seen in 50 years. These details tell you that the murder was an incidental killing and not done by a serial killer, it’s probably a good idea to stay out of the Westlake area convenience stores between 9:00 in the evening and 3:00 in the morning, and that covering the windows and making sure you have enough supplies for at least a week after the storm hits is a smart idea.


Most self defense courses and workshops will tell you that attitude is how you present yourself. Many will even tell you some basic body language to use: head up, shoulders back, relaxed gait. What is often left out is that attitude is as much internal as external, as much mental and emotional state as posture. This is not to say that such workshops ignore the internal aspect, just that they tend not to explicitly state it. In many ways it is easier and faster to fix the outward appearance. Since workshops rarely last more than half a day, the decision (a wise one in my opinion) is to spend more time teaching knowledge and skills.

The internal aspect of attitude should not be ignored, however. Confidence and mental readiness take longer to build, but will withstand more scrutiny on the streets. Most support groups have some form of the phrase “Fake it ’til you make it.” In essence, that is what one shot workshops teach in terms of attitude. By faking the appearance of confidence, you may prevent a possible predator from thinking of you as an easy target. That shell, however, is very thin. Those more observant will see the slight hesitation in the footsteps, the unusually fast breathing, the flickering eyes. With an internal framework of confidence and mental readiness, the exterior presentation is not a shell, but a natural byproduct.


If you closed your eyes right now, could you list off all the exits to the room you’re in? Could you tell which is the closest? Could you tell which would be the fastest to get through? Awareness is knowing what’s going on around you. Of all the components of self defense, awareness is the one that uses all five senses. Perhaps more so than attitude, having an active awareness takes work. It is also one of the hardest aspects to train. Though few instructors of self defense deny the importance of awareness, almost none bother to attempt to teach it in workshops. Most of the workshops I’ve attended merely give lip service to it. “You have to be aware. Be aware of people around you. Be aware of traffic.” After that, they move on to a different topic. No advice on how to be aware. Not even a short mental checklist for when you enter a room. To most people, awareness is passive. While there is a passive element to it, effective awareness is active.

When you walk into a room, where are the exits, where are the obstacles, who are the people, and what can be used as improvised weapons in the worst case scenario? A simple four item mental checklist allows people to feel in control of the situation. A person with a sense of control has more confidence than one who does not. An active awareness affects attitude. It also lets you know when something is wrong with a situation.


The last line of self defense are your skills. By skills, I don’t just mean fighting ability. Skills are your actions. They answer the question “What are you capable of doing?” A few of the self defense workshops I’ve attended focus on three or four release type skills and spend the rest of the time on learning how not to need them. Defusing a confrontation is one of the most valuable self defense skills a person can have. Successfully defusing a situation prevents the need for fighting. Having the people skills that allows you to avoid a confrontation in the first place is even better. If you end up with violence, all your other self defense skills have failed. It is only at that point, that you need to have a strong grounding in fighting skills. Conversely, and somewhat paradoxically, by having a strong foundation of fighting skills you provide the framework on which to build your knowledge, awareness, and attitude.

As an analogy, look at a play. Knowledge sets the stage of your day to day living. Knowing what the stage looks like is vital if you don’t want to trip over the props strewn about. Awareness is understanding the plot of life’s play. Once the ebbs and flows of the plot are determined, you have the opportunity to rewrite your part. If knowledge is the stage of living and awareness is the plot, attitude is the actor. Attitude sets the patterns of thinking and behavior. Skills are the acting in a play. They are what determines what happens.

Although Shakespeare was speaking of the stages of human existence in his famous soliloquy in As You Like It, we can use it to summarize the lines of self defense.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…

Knowledge, attitude, and skills are in the first three lines. Awareness, as life’s plot, is outlined in the subsequent 24 lines. To defend oneself is to prevent harm coming to you. Through knowledge and awareness, you can analyze any particular situation. Through attitude and skills you can change the situation. In all cases, self defense is very much an active, rather than reactive, event.