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Wim Demeere's Patreon newsletter: Vol 2, Issue 1

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This is a free issue of my monthly newsletter. https://www.patreon.com/wimdemeere/
For the one-year celebration of my Patreon page, I created all rewards twice: once for the Patrons and then again for public use. You can find those here: http://www.wimsblog.com/2018/02/one-year-on-patreon-time-to-celebrate/ This issue of the newsletter is a part of that free content.

The newsletter typically has three to four articles in it. Some of the recurring categories are:
- Training tip
- From my mailbox
- What am I reading?
- Quote of the Month
And much more. The goal is to offer insight and information you can apply immediately for your martial arts and self-defense training and to improve your personal safety.
Enjoy

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Wim Demeere's Patreon newsletter: Vol 2, Issue 1

  1. 1. WIM DEMEERE’S PATREON NEWSLETTER Volume 2 / Issue 1, February 2018 THINGS ARE NOT ALWAYS WHAT THEY SEEM A little while ago, I was at the coast with my girlfriend and we had a great time just chilling. During the day, we went to a nice little place for coffee and when I went to pay the bill, I saw this bottle on the counter: The brewery’s homepage, Dutch only: http://www.gentsestrop.be Here’s my question: what do you think of this? Which emotions does this stir up in you? Do you think it is funny? Weird? Morbid? I asked this on my Facebook page and here are some of the answers: NEW BEGINNINGS Welcome to Patreon Newsletter #1 of the second year! It’s hard to believe it’s already been one year since I started my Patreon page. Tempus fugit, and then some… Special note: exceptionally, this issue is FREE TO SHARE with others. As it’s part of the one-year celebration, you can give it to anybody you think might enjoy it. Perspective, it changes things…
  2. 2. Ambivalence tending to curiosity. It's an interesting drinking game... No emotions stirred. There were more, but the gist was the same: nobody took offense or felt pretty much anything. Here’s the thing: an older black man who grew up in the Southern US looked at the picture too. One of his ancestors was lynched. He didn’t think gallows are funny. He found it offensive. He wondered (if the purpose was humor or marketing instead of simply being offensive) why the bottle was brown? He didn’t think there was anything that could make him change his mind, because black slaves weren’t permitted to drink alcohol, unless their owner specifically let them. To him, the picture suggested an offensive image that threatens black men with death should they drink that beer and therefor it promoted white supremacy. Through the filter of his life’s experience, that conclusion made perfect sense and no other explanation could make a dent in it. But there is one though; a perfectly valid explanation. It consists of two parts. First, emperor Charles V was born in the city of Gent but his relationship with the city wasn’t a comfortable one. At one point, the city’s nobility revolted against the high taxes they were forced to pay and the emperor was not amused… He didn’t blow a fuse though and instead played it smart, turning it into an impressive case of political maneuvering Game of Thrones-style. Long story short, he returned home and played it hot and cold, making it difficult to guess his intentions. When it suited him best, he made these clear: He executed a bunch of the leaders of the revolt and shamed another bunch: they were forced to parade barefoot through the streets and the lowest among them had to wear the hangman’s noose (“strop”) around their necks. The city lost its privileges and the emperor did some more political and tactical maneuvering that changed the dynamic in the region for a long time. To this day, the citizens of Gent are called “stroppendragers” which means “noose-wearers” and “strop” in short. Every year, they hold a parade in which the incident is reenacted, taking pride in their defiance of authority. It looks like this:
  3. 3. It’s been almost 500 years and this tradition is still very much alive, with the nickname used every day. More about that in a bit, but you can see they take pride in it. The tagline at the bottom of the gallows reads “Fier Gents Bier” which means “Proud Bier from Gent” Before I move on, the second part of the explanation: why was the beer bottle hanging from the gallows brown? Was that a racist reference? No. Beer has existed for millennia, but storing it in glass bottles is a relatively new thing. Early on brewers discovered that clear glass was a bad idea. The UV light from the sun tended to mess up the taste, so they started using brown glass, which prevented it from happening. Simple as that. Even though technological advances have made it possible to use clear glass now, brown glass is still a fully viable solution ad has become a tradition as well. Nothing nefarious, just a simple solution to a specific problem… The whole bottle-from-a-gallows thing is just a marketing gimmick, trying to play into the patriotic feelings of one of Belgium’s oldest and biggest cities. What’s the point? There are several points I want to make. • When you see the strange or inexplicable, don’t assume there is no reason for it. • What you find offensive, others don’t even care about. • Your personal filter through which you view life isn’t the only valid one, nor is necessarily better than any other. There are also some lessons re. self-defense and violence, we can learn from this.
  4. 4. • An essential component of self-defense is understanding the point of view of others. You don’t have to agree with them, but if you can understand their position or how they came to it, it makes it easier to reach a compromise or avoid conflict altogether. Trying to see things from your opponent’s point of view at the very least gives you a better insight as to how you can beat him. So I’d say it’s a skill worth cultivating for several reasons. • Emotions, no matter how valid, can cloud your judgement. I understand the man being offended by the picture. Given his personal experience and what happened to his family in the past, I’d say his reaction is not surprising. The part where I disagree is when it stopped him from even considering he might be misinterpreting things; because he clearly was. In this case, no harm was done, but you can see how you can get into trouble real fast if you let emotions rule your thinking, no matter how valid these emotions may be. • War, revolt and revolution have long lasting consequences. I spoke to a survivor of the Rwandan genocide last year. It’s been 25 years and the wounds are still deep… They’ll probably heal, but not any time soon: I personally know elderly people who have standing feuds with other families over the repression that happened here after WWII. It’s been over 70 years… And as explained above, even a minor revolt such as the one in Gent can cause repercussions that continue throughout the centuries. The reason I bring up these three points: Since the inauguration of President Trump, I’ve seen lots of people on both the left and the right call out loud for “resistance” and “revolution.” I’m not going to debate the issue, but I would like to point out that these words have a specific meaning and often lead to violence when followed up on. The kind of violence that has repercussions well into the future, as demonstrated in the examples above... So I would urge those who speak that kind of language to: • Perhaps they might want to consider the perspective of those who see things differently and that those people just might have a point too. • Not just follow their emotions, no matter how valid these might be. • Think of the consequences of their actions and how long it might take for these to dissipate. As you all know, I don’t write about politics. Obviously, I have my political views, but I don’t see the point in sharing them or arguing over them. I’ve only rarely seen anything good come of that. Instead, I prefer to discuss the realities we (might) face when we don’t consider the perspective of how our actions can have long-term consequences. I’ve found that doing so tends to change my mind on what to do. In closing, I’m not having a go at the black man I mentioned. I’m using his reasoning as an example to demonstrate the underlying dynamic that is all too human and we all fall prey to it. If you agreed with my explanation of why he is wrong, then follow that thought to its logical conclusion: If he is wrong about this because of how his personal filter and emotions got in the way, what are we wrong about because of the same dynamic? We’re just as human as he is. It’s safe to assume we also have erroneous thinking patterns on certain topics. I firmly believe that being aware of this dynamic and accepting out own fallibility is the first step in fixing this problem. QUOTE OF THE MONTH “One should learn before one teaches.
  5. 5. “Alexander Villard” I posted this meme a few months ago on my Facebook page. It’s from one of my favorite movies, “By The Sword”, starring Eric Roberts as an arrogant fencing champion and F. Murray Abraham as, well… Just watch the movie and find out. Suffice it to say, he isn’t a great fencing instructor when the two men meet for the first time. In that scene, Roberts asks to demonstrate some basic fencing techniques and after viewing the result, he delivers that line. Before I go on about that, something else first: I was recently interviewed for Randy King’s podcast “Talking to Savages” and we talked about all sorts of topics to do with martial arts and self-defense. One of the things I mentioned was that when I started training, there was very little choice as to which art or style you would practice; you picked what was available. In my case, I had the choice of judo and jujitsu when I started at age 14. A few years later, kung fu became available and I went with that because I liked it better. Those were the choices I had, nothing else. For many people, training was exactly like that: you took the class that you could attend because it was close to you or within traveling distance. Another aspect is that there was precious little as far as instructional material was concerned. There were some videotapes available, but the selection was rather limited. What’s more, the books and videos on offer were most often from the same instructors, so you were mostly exposed to the same sources on any given art. As a result, the knowledge you could learn was also limited. Speaking only for myself, I tried to compensate that by training as much as I possibly could and that includes outside of classes I attended. I got home after class and then trained some more because I was afraid I would forget the techniques. And then I trained the next day as well and so on until the next class. I did that for many years and continue to do so to this day. And then we get to 2018… We are now in the age of Internet wisdom and YouTube experts. It’s been going on for a while, but if you go online or visit YouTube, it’s incredibly easy to look up instructional material. There is a wide variety of quality levels to be found, ranging from the impressive to the horrible. I’m not going to criticize any individual instructor, I’ll leave it up to you to decide
  6. 6. which is which for your own tastes. That said, I’m sure you can agree with me that there is some rather poor quality instructional material available on the Internet. It gets worse… When you search for pretty much any self-defense or martial arts topic in your preferred search engine or on YouTube, the results that rise to the top have changed tremendously in the last few years. Today, the results are almost always from “YouTube experts.” All too often these are people who have some training in a specific martial art or self-defense system and clearly some passion and dedication to promote it. Most of all, they possess excellent marketing and promotional skills. They make the kind of videos that follow the best practices of the moment when it comes to video length, choice of title, keyword research, thumbnail layout, and all the other factors that are important to rank high. Notice that quality of instruction is not a part of that equation… The result is that we now have a truckload of people who are seen as experts by the public, when in reality the only have a fairly limited amount of training and experience. This in turn dilutes the quality of the information that is passed on to the viewer who looks to these people for advice, knowledge and understanding. One way in which this manifests is in an oversimplification of instruction: These experts answer questions along the lines of “How to beat any opponent in the street” or “The best technique to beat a larger opponent” in videos that are typically between 5 to 10 minutes long (because that’s what YouTube likes.) There’s nothing against that, I made videos like that myself. The real issue is that they tend to promote what they show as an absolute; there is no nuance. Because they make such outrageous claims in their click bait titles, there really isn’t any place for nuance either. Instead, they play upon the desire of the uninformed to find a quick solution to whatever problem worries them. As a result, the information that gets passed along is extremely incomplete which in turn leads to misinterpretation and misuse of the techniques shown. Given as there are more and more of such YouTube experts gathering a huge following, the appeal to copy this approach is high for beginning instructors. Which turns this into a vicious cycle… It’s a free world and everybody is free to become an entrepreneur and sell his services. This includes promoting them in whatever way they see fit. It’s not my place to tell them what they can or can’t do given as I wouldn’t accept that kind of meddling myself. The reason why I mentioned it to begin with is to point out how difficult it has become for novices to find solid information. Because in contrast to how things were when I started training over 30 years ago, there is now a massive overload of instructional material. This makes it virtually impossible for the beginner to know what is worth learning and what is complete nonsense. There are no answers to this problem, at least none that I am aware of that don’t involve some form of censorship. That shouldn’t even be an option. Instead, I do my best to offer nuances, caveats and hopefully in-depth information in my books, videos and blog posts. I am fortunate to not have to make a living online, having a full-time job already: I don’t have to cater to whatever latest quirks the algorithms of Google and YouTube force upon content creators. I can just do as I please and will continue to do so. That means continuing to train and study so I have something to teach that is nuanced and worthwhile. And that’s why all my stuff tends to be longer to read and view than whatever comes up first on an internet search… TRAINING TIP: AWARENESS AND AVOIDANCE, PART 2 I start this second part with the assumption you both read and practiced part one. If you didn’t, do that first before you go on with what follows here below. The main reason for that is that it covers the ability to spot when somebody acts out of the norm. Especially if the person is trying to blend in and not be noticed. That said, let’s move on to the main topic of this part:
  7. 7. Watch the watchers Except when you live in “interesting times and interesting places“, not everybody around you represents a huge potential threat to your safety. Thinking otherwise is simply not realistic nor practical: you cannot be on high alert 24/7 and treat everybody as if they’re trying to kill you. This leaves us with only one alternative and that is creating hierarchical categories that distinguish between different threat levels. The Cooper color code is a well-known example of that and what I’m talking about is a variation of that: instead of categorizing the situation, categorize the people. The goal is not to replace the Cooper color code but to add an additional layer to it, a set of subcategories if you will. Obviously, people can move from one category to the other in a heartbeat depending on circumstances, but this should only happen if there is a valid reason for it. Your awareness is the tool you use to determine that. For instance: • The old lady in a wheelchair you regularly see at the supermarket is unlikely to pull a knife from her purse and stab you through the heart. Placing her in the “non-hostile” category makes perfect sense. • The teenager walking towards you on the sidewalk with sagging pants, an exaggerated walk and swaying arms doesn’t necessarily represent a lethal threat, but he might easily feel provoked. That increases the odds of social violence, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to place him in the “potential problem” category. • The guy on the other side of the street, walking the same direction as you while holding his right arm a bit rigid next to the side, could just have a shoulder injury like I have as I write this. Or he could be trying to keep his gun from moving around and dropping out of his pants because he didn’t secure it correctly. You might never know which one it is, but you best put him in the “take action now” category, whatever that action might be… Each category contains a different level of threat which means you act differently upon placing people in it. The whole concept is to have a hierarchy of importance that determines your reactions to those people. Just to be clear: these are just a few random examples to give you a sense of what I’m talking about. There are plenty of other ways to analyze your environment, so don’t get stuck on them. At best, use them as an example to start working on your own system. The reason I gave to his explanation is to bring us to this part: there’s a category of people you could call “unknown quantity, keep track of.” There are multiple reasons why you would place somebody in that category and one of them is the fact that they watch you. Not in a general sense like they watch everybody else, but in a way that makes you believe they just placed you in a category of their own. They are assessing you, just like you are assessing them. Given as a large part of the general population routinely doesn’t pay attention to their surroundings, when you spot somebody looking at you like that, pay attention. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they have bad intentions but taking that possibility into account is the safest bet. In many cases, the way you react to them spotting you determines what happens next. There are good and bad ways of handling that: • The bad way: completely overreact and go nuts. Or (to a degree) the opposite: don’t react at all and pretend you are oblivious. • The good way: have a measured response that depends upon the context and your environment. Treat each case individually, but always raise your level of readiness to take action. I am not going much deeper into this because you could easily write a book about that topic alone. I want to focus on something else, on how to spot those watchers. Let’s first look at a few tools that you need. Hard focus versus Soft focus Next time you’re in your living room, look at an object’s across the room. It doesn’t matter what it is, a book on the bookshelf, the clock on the wall, whatever. Look at it and then really focus on it, concentrate on just that object and nothing else. It won’t take long before your field of vision narrows and everything around the object fades a bit into the background. You exclude the information in your field of vision around it to enhance the image of the object itself. This is hard focus. Compare it to focusing the lens of a camera on that object to see it in the highest possible detail.
  8. 8. Close your eyes for a few seconds and then look at the object again. This time, instead of focusing on that object, relax your eyes and try to see as much as possible of the rest of the room but without moving your eyes away from the object. It takes some practice, but eventually you’ll be able to see a lot more than if you focus on that object. This is soft focus. Instead of looking at the trees, you try to see the forest. Soft focus is one of the most useful skills for being aware of your surroundings. Human beings are wired to have a hard focus and we often instinctively jump from one focal point to the next as we take in our environment. The problem with that is that you can easily miss critical information. Watch this short video for a perfect example of this dynamic. It’s been around for a while now but is a clear and simple way to illustrate the concept. When you watch it, even if you’ve seen it before, use hard focus to keep track of the white team. Then watch it again but use soft focus. Don’t try to keep track of the white team, instead just look at the way everybody moves. See the pattern, not the individuals. When you do that, the anomaly sticks out like a sore thumb. You can use this video for other lessons as well when it comes to awareness and self-defense, but I will leave it at that for now. I just wanted you to do this exercise so we’re clear on our definitions when it comes to the different kinds of focus. Peripheral vision Most people are well aware of what this is so I won’t belabor it. For a quick and dirty primer, watch this short video and perhaps even do the exercises shown. That way we’re all on the same page. The key part about using your peripheral vision is that it goes together with using soft focus. When you use soft focus, it is easier to get the most out of your peripheral vision. Because you don’t jump from one focal point to the next, you spot movements in your peripheral vision and also see patterns more easily. With some practice you can even train yourself to get more information out of your peripheral vision than you might expect. Once you get into the habit of using it, you quickly make progress in that regard. A quick sidebar: My tai chi chuan teacher always stressed to constantly practice peripheral vision when training our forms. We do those anyway, so might as well get the most out of them. Then, when we practice the self-defense applications, he makes us defend against attacks originating from the edges of our peripheral vision. The point is not to be able to swat any incoming attack from those angles out of the air, but to be aware of where danger can come from and practice peripheral vision to not be blindsided. I teach the same way with my own students. A quick little tip he gave us: as you practice your peripheral vision, experiment with looking at a slightly downward angle as opposed to straight ahead and notice how it improves your field of vision. Back on track. How does this all fit together? The goal is to develop the ability to see the people who watch you and not set off their alarms unnecessarily. A good way of doing that is using soft focus and your peripheral vision. Here’s an example: Next time you go to a restaurant or a bar, as soon as you step through the door, make a mental map of everybody there. Use soft focus and your peripheral vision instead of looking at each individual separately. As you do so, pay attention to the actions (or sudden lack thereof) of everybody there: • Notice people who were moving and suddenly stop. • Notice the opposite as well, those who were stationary but turned towards you when you came in.
  9. 9. • These don’t have to be big and obvious movements, it can be quite subtle. The better your peripheral vision and soft focus, the better you’ll be able to see it when it happens. • Of course, other factors are also involved. For instance, when everybody goes quiet as you step in, that’s obviously a giveaway. But in this article, I want to focus how to use your vision so I leave those things out of the equation for now. • Notice who is sitting where. Who is sitting with his back to the wall? Who has the best view of the entrance? Who has a clear view of the entire space? Look for people who sit in tactical spots, but also those who sit in the second- best spots. • More challenging but perhaps even more important: who is pretending not to notice you? There is a difference between somebody moving in a natural way to see who enters the bar or restaurant they are at, and that person making a deliberate effort not to move. This is a difficult one to assess so don’t worry if you have trouble with it in the beginning. All this gives you information. It only takes a handful of seconds, but it gives you both a sense of the place as soon as you come in and tells you who to pay attention to at the same time. It’s not over though, here’s the next part: • Take your seat and as you do so, continue to use your peripheral vision to track everybody there. Every movement you make is an opportunity to acquire more information about your surroundings. The key is making it look natural; just go to your table or go sit at the bar as you normally would. The only difference is that you pay attention at the same time. • Once you are seated, do what is most appropriate for that place. In a bar, trying to get the attention of the bartender is normal so use that as a way to look around some more. In a restaurant, looking at the menu is also a good opportunity to use your peripheral vision. Or you can always take your cell phone, open up your email app and pretend to read as you scan the room with your peripheral vision. Be aware of your eye movements as you read: make sure these are natural as opposed to having a robotic, fixed stare. • When you go to the bathroom, that’s another opportunity to take in some more information. Are people looking at you? Do they suddenly change places? Is somebody gesturing at you? How do people act when you return to your seat? Once again, every move you make is an opportunity to gather information. Now these are all good awareness drills in and of themselves, but for now the goal is to see the people who are watching you. By using soft focus and peripheral vision all the time and at any opportunity, is much easier to spot the watchers. You can then pay attention to them and determine if they are a threat or not. That is the awareness part that buys you to time to practice avoidance when possible. One caveat: you can discover that you are not the only one paying attention and people react to it in different ways, depending on a whole host of factors. Here’s an example from a private group I am a member of, shared with permission:
  10. 10. As this example illustrates, trained watchmen can recognize you for what you are, even when you’re trying to blend in and nobody else notices you. So don’t be surprised to get called out on your actions, which doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in trouble. Case in point, here’s another funny anecdote from the same person: Once again, some people pay attention and see you. Many will leave you alone, but not everybody. In these examples nothing really happened, and with a bit of luck you can even strike up some interesting conversations. Conclusion Watching the watchers is an art in and of itself. It takes a lot of practice to do it in a natural way so you don’t raise suspicion, but it’s worth it. It is a valuable tool both to practice awareness but also to spot a certain category of people who most certainly pose a serious threat to your safety. Next time you go to a bar or restaurant, try out the things I explained here above. Take it slow and be relaxed, act as natural as you can but be prepared with an explanation should somebody confront you on what you’re doing. If you have no immediate plans to go out, try this exercise instead: Wherever you go throughout your day where there are lots of people but you are extremely likely to run into somebody who knows you, try to see them before they see you. Pay close attention to how they act, react, move, nonverbal expressions, interrupt their movement patterns, and anything else you can think of. This gives you a baseline for what a friendly reaction looks like. You can use that as a starting point to determine what would be the opposite. Have fun training and we will continue this in part three of the next newsletter.
  11. 11. WHAT AM I READING? I just finished reading ‘Foxtrot in Kandahar: A Memoir of a CIA Officer in Afghanistan at the Inception of America’s Longest War’ by Duane Evans. There are two reasons for this: first, because it is a topic that interests me. I’ve always been a fan of military history, so this book was right up my alley. Second, because it is written by a friend of a friend. Unfortunately, he passed away last year, and I only heard about this book from his widow. She praised it, so I bought it to support the author. This book tells the story of a CIA officer who gets involved in the war on terror after the 9/11 attacks. He hadn’t planned on it as his career was taking him in different direction, but then the attacks happened, and he felt the need to be involved. He did just that and eventually ended up in Afghanistan at the heart of the war. The author describes in detail both the unfolding events and his emotions at the time. You get an in-depth look of how chaotic things were in the intelligence agencies, as they were scrambling to handle the immediate aftermath of the planes crashing into the twin towers. It was all hands on deck and surprisingly effective considering the circumstances. When the author starts describing how things went in Afghanistan, the situation was similar: there were a lot of people doing the best they could, but invariably things went wrong or were even amateurish. I believe it’s safe to say that nobody was ready for 9/11, not the intelligence services, nor the military and this book details that clearly. On top of this chaotic situation, there was the usual political maneuvering and territorial disputes. The author details many such incidents and even though they’re all too human, I often found myself shaking my head. “Foxtrot in Kandahar” is an easy read with short chapters, which makes it a good choice for a book you want to read in short bursts, whenever you have five or ten minutes free. That’s how I read it and I enjoyed it very much. I hope you do too. That’s it for this Newsletter. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful. Let me know on Patreon if you have feedback or ideas I can use to make it better. Thank you for your support! Wim’s Patreon Page: www.patreon.com/wimdemeere

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