Thursday 05/01/17

An often overlooked part of self-defence is learning to fall safely. Sure, it still hurts when you hit the ground, but you are less likely to be seriously injured. A bruise on your back is exponentially preferable to a broken arm, or a fractured skull.

A safety fall (or break-fall, as my instructors called it) isn’t only useful in your self-defence training, it can easily be used in contact sports, during an altercation, or during the course of your everyday life. Slips and trips can result in some very unpleasant injuries. Over the years I have lost my footing a few times, but managed to avoid some serious injuries because I didn’t panic. I let my training take over. Remember, skulls and cement sidewalks don’t mix.

Unfortunately, you can’t learn how to break-fall from a book. This is one of those skills that requires hands-on instruction from a competent teacher.

At this point, you may still be thinking “I don’t want to pay someone to throw me on the ground. It’s going to hurt”. Well, if you are still debating whether learning to break-fall is necessary, I’ll share a little secret with you. In the medical industry, there is a very common injury called FOOSH (Fall Over, Out Stretched Hands). This incident usually results in broken bones in the hands/wrists/forearms.

“So what? A broken bone isn’t going to kill me!” I hear you reply. Sure, you could probably cope quite well with one arm in a cast. But what would you do if you broke both wrists? Have you given any thought to who you want wiping your bum for the next six to eight weeks while your arms are in matching casts?

That’s a comforting thought, isn’t it?

So, do you still think learning to break-fall is a waste of your time?

If your self-defence school doesn’t teach break-falls, or if you participate in a sport like boxing that doesn’t allow ground fighting, you need to find someone who will teach you. You can start by asking your instructor if they would consider getting a guest instructor to teach a one-off seminar at your school. From there you can practice at home, or in the park; the only gear you need is a solid surface to fall on.

If you don’t attend any sort of self-defence training, you might consider approaching the head instructor at your local judo / jujitsu / ninjutsu / aikido school to ask if they would accept you as a short-term student, just to learn the fundamentals of break-falls and tumbling.

If you ever find yourself approaching the ground at rapid speed, I hope you took my advice and learned how to break-fall. As always, please share this information with your friends and family on social media.

Thursday 01/12/16

Role Playing Games (or RPGs) are a great way to spend the evening, and I strongly encourage everyone to have a go at least once. No, not that sort of role-playing game; get your mind out of the gutter. The RPGs I’m talking about allow you to explore fictitious worlds with a character you have created using some simple, pre-set instructions. The game is played with a group of friends, which always makes things more entertaining.

The gaming worlds include: historical/fantasy (Dungeons & Dragons), sci-fi/futuristic (Necromunda), modern day horror (World Of Darkness: Vampire/Mage/Werewolf/Wraith/Hunter), or multi-genre (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – modern day/superhero/sci-fi). There are many, many more, but I’ll keep things simple. The character you create can be as close to yourself as you like, or the exact opposite if you would like to see how “evil-you” would do things.

By now, you are probably wondering what RPGs have to do with my blog, which always focuses on real-world issues. Well, RPGs give you the opportunity to understand why you should learn new skills and refine existing ones.

  1. Organisational Skills. RPGs are a fantastic way for you to gain experience with planning and preparation, without having to endure any real world consequences if you get it wrong. Below, I’ve listed a few of these ideas which are relevant to everyday life.
    1. The first thing to decide on is the reason for going to your destination; is it business or pleasure? Is the nature of your trip time sensitive? Are there elements of your journey that have to be kept secret?
    2. Next, select your destination and plot your travel path. Your course should avoid dangerous locations, while taking advantage of resupply points and safe areas to sleep.
    3. Supplies. Just like the real world, there is a limit to how much your character can physically lift, and how far they can carry a heavy load. If your journey will be on foot, you must carry your own gear. You can’t expect other people to carry it for you.
    4. Weapons. You must be realistic about the weaponry you select. Don’t equip yourself with weapons you don’t know how to use. You are already carrying food, clothes, sleeping gear and other supplies; each weapon you select will add to the weight you are already carrying. Remember, you can’t turn your character into a walking armoury and expect them to silently traverse the countryside.
    5. Before you leave home you have to organise transport to and from your destination; unless you intend to walk the whole way.
  2. Real world skills. Every member of the group is capable of basic tasks such as gathering firewood, standing watch, and digging latrines. In the game, just like real life, the group will only excel if each member of the group possesses additional skills and abilities. The following skills will enable your group to do more than just survive.
    1. Leadership. Being the group’s leader is not about being the centre of attention. Real leaders lead by example. They know how to capitalise on the strengths of each member of the group, how to delegate responsibility, and inspire confidence.
    2. Navigation. Whether your group is in the wilds or inside a spaceship, at least one of you needs to be able to read a map (or schematic) and plot a course. This also includes being able to use a compass and recognise landmarks. Taking an uneducated guess at your route is an easy way to get lost.
    3. First Aid. During an action packed adventure it is inevitable that someone is going get injured. Cuts, sprains, burns, broken bones, and sunstroke are all common ailments that can occur on any adventure, real or fictitious. Your group needs someone who can perform basic First Aid. You can’t expect your group to operate at maximum efficiency if they are hindered by injuries. Promptly looking after minor ailments will prevent them from turning serious, or even life threatening.
    4. Foraging. It is unlikely your group will be able to pop into the nearest convenience store to restock their supplies. Knowing where to find edible plants and safe drinking water is an invaluable skill in any scenario. Hunting is another skill that is ignored in a world where shops are open seven days a week. Catching a rabbit isn’t as simple as it looks on television; it is a skill you need to practice.
    5. Making fire. I have seen this go spectacularly wrong on several occasions. Making fire is a skill that many people struggle with. It doesn’t matter how much petrol and how many matches you use, you can’t start a fire using a log that’s twice as thick as your thigh.
    6. Magic. Yeah, let’s not get carried away; that’s not going to happen.
  3. Problem Solving. Even though you have prepared for a for a specific scenario, there is a possibility it could go pear-shaped. This will force you to quickly re-evaluate the problem and decide on an alternate course of action. Obviously, you will have to deal with the consequences of the new plan. RPGs, like everyday life, can present you with any number of unexpected problems. How well you deal with the unexpected is up to you. RPGs give you the opportunity to experiment with solutions and ideas which might work in the real world.
  4. Teamwork. RPGs are played with a group of people. Having to work with other people forces you to learn the basics of teamwork; doing your share of the work, and helping those who are struggling. There is no such thing as a job that is beneath you. If a job needs to be done, you do it.
  5. Creativity. Participating in a game that relies on your imagination develops your own creativity. Writing a novel, a blog post, or even a story for school requires a good imagination; playing RPGs are a great way to exercise your mind.
  6. Social Skills and Manners. Playing RPGs with a group of people enforce the niceties of polite society.
    1. You have to listen when others are speaking and make sure you don’t interrupt them.
    2. Be patient and help new players learn the rules. Remember, you asked all the same boring questions and made the same silly mistakes when you first joined the team.
    3. Make sure everyone is enjoying the game. The game is no fun if only one or two players are allowed to shine.
  7. Compromise. You might have a great idea on how to solve a problem, but one of your friends might have an even better solution. RPGs teach you to evaluate other people’s points of view and ideas (or be prepared to endure the consequences of proceeding with your own bad plan when a better plan was suggested).
  8. Reading and comprehension skills. Unlike playing video games, you improve your reading skills and expand your vocabulary by playing RPGs.

Each RPG has its own recommended age group. This is usually dictated by the complexity of the ruleset and the maturity of themes presented in the game such as violence, drug use, or other adult situations. It is up to you to decide on a genre (fantasy, sci-fi, horror, etc), select a title that will interest your group, and is of the appropriate maturity level for everyone who will be playing. Trust me; if there are maturity warnings on the box, they are there for a reason.

If you are unsure where to begin, ask your local hobby shop. Nowadays, many gaming and hobby shops run gaming days/nights for people to play their favourite games, and meet new people. New people are usually met with open arms and encouraged to play, or sit and watch (if they are too nervous to participate). Regular players aren’t shy when it comes to discussing the pros and cons of their games. These meetings are a great way to observe how the games are played, and will help decide which game is right for you.

How does all of this relate to you? Well, by now you have probably made plans of what you will do during a disaster, and who you will include in your group. Now is the time to assess your groups strengths and weaknesses; before disaster hits. You can’t learn and practice new skills in an emergency. Examine any gaps in the collective skillset and ask the group if any of them are willing to do some additional training. A group can never have too many medics, fire makers, water finders, food gatherers, knot tiers, or navigators. Take a look at your own skills. Is there something you don’t know, but have always wanted to learn? What’s stopping you? The more you can do, the more valuable you are to the group. You don’t want to be “that guy”; the person in the group whose only function is carrying gear. Anyone can carry gear. At the risk of sounding harsh, “that guy” is just another mouth to feed.

Pictured below are some of the RPGs in my own library.


(Left to right: Top row: Warhammer 40000 Rogue Trader, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Necromunda. Bottom row: Vampire: The Masquerade, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness, Dungeons & Dragons.)

I started playing Dungeons & Dragons in my mid-teens and had a great time. I didn’t know it then but I was developing all the skills I’ve mentioned. If you haven’t tried any Role Playing Games I strongly suggest you give them a go.

If you enjoyed this month’s blog, please share it with your friends on social media.

Thursday 03/11/16

If you’ve ever had to make an emergency phone call, you will remember how stressful it was. Your heart was pounding, your palms were sweaty, and the stress of not wanting to screw-up a potentially lifesaving phone call probably had you tongue-tied. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, here are a couple of pointers that would have made my first time a little easier.

  • First and foremost, CALM DOWN. You’re no good to anyone if your brain is all scrambled. You need to concentrate on your task. If you can’t concentrate properly, grab a pen and paper.
  • Make sure you can clearly define the nature of the emergency. Is it fire, medical, or criminal? It could be more than one of these things. Don’t panic if it is.
  • If it is a medical emergency; get as many details as you can about the patient as you can find out in less than thirty seconds: approximate age, gender, known medical conditions and allergies AND the specific reason you are calling for help (is the patient breathing/conscious?).
  • Get the details about the location of the emergency: the street address, the nearest cross street (or prominent land mark), and the phone number.
  • Ring the appropriate emergency services number. If you live in Australia, your number is 000.
  • I’ll repeat that; the number in Australia is 000 (not 911, as someone old enough to know better yelled out a few weeks ago).
  • Don’t hang up until help arrives (or instructed to do so by the dispatch operator).

A trip for travelers: when you check in to a motel get a couple of the motel’s business cards from reception (one business card for each member of your party). Make sure everyone carries it with them at all times; if you wake up at 2 am and the outside of the motel you’re staying at is on fire, you won’t have time to go digging through the courtesy stationery in the bedside table to find the motel’s address while you ring the fire brigade. Unfortunately, the emergency dispatcher you speak to may not have heard of the motel you’re staying in, or even be familiar with the town you’re calling from (but that is a story for another time). Another reason to keep the card with you is to show the taxi driver if you get lost and need a lift home (trust me on this one).

If you ever find yourself in the position of having to ring for help, I hope this advice makes the experience a little easier for you. As always, please share this information with your friends and family on social media.