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Mokuren Interview - Loren Christensen

Photo courtesy of Loren Christensen
Today, I am proud to present the latest in our series of interviews with great martial artists. Loren Christensen - Vietnam veteran, retired police officer, martial artist, and prolific author.
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Patrick Parker: I see on your website that your book, Solo Training, ranked in Amazon's Top 3 for three years in a row! That's incredible! You are such a prolific writer, how do you find time to balance writing with family and still have time to train to keep up your status as "one of the 20 Toughest Men on Planet Earth." (Per Black Belt Magazine).
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Loren Christensen: Easy, it’s my job. I retired from the PD in 1997, so that part of my life is over. Today I’m a full-time writer and have been literally from the day after I walked out of the police station. I write from 8 AM to late afternoon Monday through Friday and sometimes on the weekend, depending on what my gal has me doing and/or any pending writing deadlines. So my workday isn’t much different than that of most people except that my productivity shows itself in books, magazine articles and DVDs.
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Training is also part of my day. I weight train three times a week, but nowhere near the level when I was bodybuilding and struttin’ my stuff on the stage. My weight training these days is all about enhancing speed, power and explosiveness in basic martial arts movements. I train five days a week in the martial arts, which includes teaching, solo training and taking private tai chi lessons.
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I was quite shocked when Black Belt magazine told me that the “toughest man” thing was coming out in their mag the following month. I always tell people that it was a typo and that it’s really supposed to be, “The toughest man at my father’s rest home.” I expected all kinds of static over the label and many challenges from young upstarts, as in the days of the Old West. That’s never happened. Mostly my pals tease me without mercy.
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Patrick: You do karate, jujitsu, and arnis - and you have taught individuals as well as police. How much crossover do you see between the skills and knowledge that police need and the skills and knowledge that civilians need.
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Loren: The principles are the same. All fighting – two jets dogfighting over the ocean; three Navy Seals sniping three pirates in a lifeboat; two guys slugging it out behind a topless bar; a cop wrestling a drunken husband into handcuffs – involve the same principles of combat. What changes are techniques and concepts.
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Law enforcement relies on half a dozen to ten techniques. Martial artists study hundred and hundreds.
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One of the biggest differences between law enforcement and civilians is that the latter can flee (and should by law), but the police have to stay. The police go towards the danger from which civilians flee. So that basic difference influences the training each group gets.
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Teaching the police is all about controlling the resistor, maneuvering him into a position for handcuffing and then controlling him during the dangerous cuffing process.
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Teaching civilians is all about defending against a threat, stopping the threat or at least slowing it, so they can get away.
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Patrick: Are there parts of your arts that you don't teach to certain populations? Police stuff that you don't teach to civilians, civilian tactics that you don't teach to SWAT operators, that sort of thing? What is your view of the omote-ura, secret teaching traditions of some schools?
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Loren: As noted in the last answer, the needs of these two groups are different. I don’t teach civilians how to search someone in the kneeling position because it’s not something they need. But other than the few “need to know” issues, there’s definitely a lot of overlap. The only reason I don’t teach cops as I do civilians – particularly the volume of material I teach civilians - is because there’s no time. Most police agencies have very limited hours to devote to defensive tactics. So I take just a few police applicable techniques, and within hours try to help officers learn how to use them in a variety of situations.
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Regarding omote-ura, I’ve never given it a thought. On the surface, it seems rather silly to me. Why is something secret? So the sensei can use it to defend against a student who turns on him, as was supposedly one of the reasons for it in days of old? I had a teacher once, a ranked competitor, who said that he taught all his students his favorite techniques and winning tricks so that it forced him to train even harder to stay on top.
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It’s hard to have martial arts secrets these days with YouTube, books, DVDs and the like out there for easy access.
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There are certainly techniques that I don’t teach until I think the student is ready and I have a pretty good sense of their character. For example, I don’t teach brand new people how to knock people out with a nerve stun, how to rip an ear half off or temporarily blind someone. These so-called heavy-duty techniques aren’t taught until I have a good grasp of the person’s character.
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Patrick: Your books seem to focus on pragmatic, no-nonsense type material. What is it that makes a martial art more than just a set of high-percentage moves? Where is the art in the martial arts? What elevates a martial art from something like "seven ways to snap a neck in less than a second" into being an art form or a fine art.
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Loren: Yes, my approach is totally pragmatic, which began after my return from Vietnam where I had trouble making the traditional art I had learned work for me as a military policeman in war-torn Saigon. This approach continued throughout my police career and to this day.
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I have never emphasized the art aspect, that is, if we define art as “the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions.” If I’m in a self-defense situation, I don’t care about the art. However, I’ve found that what makes a movement artful in the martial arts is often the same thing that makes it scientifically sound.
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For example, a perfectly aligned body that expresses the art and beauty of, say, a roundhouse kick, often includes the same scientific elements that facilitates delivering that kick as fast and with as much power as possible.
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Here’s a more detailed example: Let’s consider a combination kick to the outside of an opponent’s lead leg, followed with a backfist to his face, followed by a front kick to the inside of his other leg. Executed by an experienced martial artist and done quickly and smoothly, it indeed looks artful, even pretty. Now, here’s where the science kicks in, to use a pun.
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First, roundhouse kick (using your shinbone) the outside of your opponent’s leg, specifically that long, sensitive peroneal nerve that extends down it. You kick the nerve to draw the opponent’s attention to a low target and to numb, and even buckle the leg. Just as his brain rushes to that spot, you execute a rip-backfist to his nose. A rip backfist sinks only as deep as the nose cartilage, as it tears across his face in a sort of smearing motion. When the opponent’s brain rushes to the horrific pain in the center of his face, you follow with a penetrating front thrust kick to the inside of his support leg, specifically in the area of the femoral artery.
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Science wise, you have manipulated and overwhelmed the opponent’s brain by moving his consciousness to a low part of his body, then to a high part of his body, and then back to a low part again. You have done this by effecting not just blunt trauma impact, but trauma that is debilitating and excruciatingly painful. In short, you have affected him psychologically and physically. And for those interested in art, you did it all pretty-like.
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Patrick: Having trained in different martial arts from different cultures and traditions, do you find it more helpful to focus on the common ground between them or the parts of each art that makes it unique? Is it easier to teach someone two or three arts at the same time or to focus on just one at a time?
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Loren: My reason for choosing these three arts has to do with ranges. I found early on that too many kick/punch people were ineffective in the grappling range, too many grapplers were weak in the kicking and punching ranges, and too many fighters when given an object – rolled up magazine, telephone receiver, heavy coffee mug – didn’t know what to do with it.
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So that my students and I are better able to function in these various ranges, we practice the kick/punch arts, grappling arts and the stick/knife arts. Okay, I’m using the word “art,” but you get my point. I spend about 70 percent of the time on punching and kicking, 20 percent on grappling and 10 percent on arnis.
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I teach them all at the same time so that about the time the student reaches brown belt level, they’re able to blend the arts seamlessly.
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Patrick: What's your take on the 'ala carte' sort of 'take what you like and discard the rest' mentality you see in some martial artists today?
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Loren: It has to be done with intelligence. It would be ridiculous to take finger techniques from chin-na and tornado kicks from extreme kata and have some semblance of a system. Additionally, I can’t see anyone with less than 10 years in the arts able to create a system. Actually, “system” might not be the best word here. Let’s use “approach.”
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My approach is self-defense for the street. A friend of mine teaches techniques for point-fighting tournaments, and another friend’s approach is the study of a traditional martial art that’s been handed down within an Asian culture. While all three of us study the martial arts, our approach is quite different. The tournament teacher has no use for my mouth ripping, eye pressing and groin tearing techniques. I have little use for his sport techniques. My traditionalist friend enjoys what he is doing and doesn’t want to roam into what I’m doing, or into the sport fighting realm.
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I’ve been teaching and training since 1965 and I feel that all those years of training and exposure to a large variety of fighting systems provides me with sufficient know-how to pick techniques and concepts from various systems that blend with my particular approach.
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Patrick: Do you think it's more important to train your students' physical attributes (strength, endurance, etc...), the techniques of the art they are doing, or the conflict mindset (psychological, spiritual, etc...). I realize all are important, but do you emphasize one or two of these areas above the others?

While we train hard physically, I probably emphasize the mind a little more than the physical, though I teach how to use the mind to improve such things as the quality of technique, power, explosiveness, timing and speed. I teach that when all things are equal, and even when the opponent is physically superior, it’s the powerful mind, especially the mindset, that wins the day.
I’ve seen guys who weren’t that skilled defeat those who were. I knew a man who had an extraordinarily powerful warrior mindset, though his martial skills (he was a low-ranked colored belt) were sadly lacking. Once when he was working as a prison guard, several cons challenged him out in the yard. He didn’t back down but went about dispatching every one of them, looking somewhat like the hero in a Hong Kong chop-socky movie. I would take this man with me into that proverbial dark alley over many black belts I’ve seen.

The longer I’m in the arts, the more I understand the incredible importance of using the mind to push yourself in training, to maximize the quality of techniques, to manipulate the opponent’s mind, to bring forth a sense of controlled rage within yourself, and to bring forth a sense of deep calm.

Patrick: Any tips for instructors?

Loren: Yes, I have three...

1. Don’t Use Exercise to Punish or Reprimand Students - I’ve been in schools where the instructors make students who have broken a rule do 20 pushups or sit in horse stance. I believe this is wrong because you’re teaching people to dislike exercise. You want students to enjoy it and to use it to improve their martial arts skills, to strengthen their bodies in general, and to establish a pattern of lifelong fitness.
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When Wim Demeere and I began writing The Fighter’s Body, the national statistic for obesity in this country was at 60 percent. Six months later, as we were putting the final polish on the book, new stats came out that showed 70 percent of Americans – 7 out of 10 people - are overweight. Sadly, that includes too many martial artists.
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You go into virtually any martial arts school and you see overweight people training, and half the time the teacher is one of them. What the heck!? Martial arts students, especially the teachers, should be examples of fitness. Never should someone whisper, “That guy takes martial arts?” In what? The Way of the Buffet?

Don’t punish your students with exercise; teach them to enjoy it and to love being physically fit.

2. Stop Using Absolutes, Such As “Never” and “Always.” - Replace those words with “often” and “sometimes.” Why? Because there are no absolutes in fighting. (Yes, I know. That’s an absolute.)

I have heard so many teachers and read so many writers say, “A knife attacker would never come at you this way” or “Hit him in this spot and it always knocks him out” or “This move will break his ribs.”

There are too many variables to say these things as absolutes. Such blanket statements risks filling students’ heads with false confidence.

As a cop, I saw people shrug off injuries that should have seriously hurt or killed them and I saw others die from seemingly no big deal techniques. I saw two people survive after being shot five times in the head. Five! And one was still combative. I knew of people who fought up to 90 seconds after receiving a fatal shot to the heart. I dealt with two people who didn’t even know they had been wounded: One was a man whose ear had been sliced completely off with a knife (I found it lying under a car) and another was a guy with a hole in his earlobe from where he had been shot. Again, neither of these people – both were mentally agitated, combative, and had been drinking - knew they had been hurt.

There are no absolutes when dealing with bullets and knives and there are certainly no absolutes when dealing with martial arts techniques.

3. Don’t Kill Your Students - The teacher pronounces a student dead when he is “stabbed” during knife defense practice or “shot” during gun disarming practice. This instills in the minds of your students that they give up when seriously hurt.

Your profound responsibility is to teach students to survive violence, not succumb to it. You want to drill into them that no matter how badly they’re hurt they must continue to fight. You do this by not allowing them to die in training.

You say, “Yes, you got stabbed” or “Yes, that bullet would have hit you,” but I do not give you permission to give up. I command you to keep fighting. I don’t care how many times he stabbed or shot you, you are not dead. You must fight!”

Today’s progressive police agencies teach this survival mindset. The result is that many gravely wounded officers have kept on fighting to ultimately neutralize the suspect, and thus prevent him from hurting anyone else. Many of these officers tell us later that they heard their instructors’ nagging voice in their minds, telling them, “Come on and fight. I don’t give you permission to die. Get up and keep fighting.”

In my book Warriors Extended Edition, I tell of a female officer in Florida who was ambushed by two drug dealers in a garage. During the course of the two-minute exchange of gunfire, the assailants shot the officer 10 times, but never once did she stop fighting. She kept telling herself that she would not die in that garage, that she would not give up, and that she would keep fighting back. She did - and went on to kill both assailants.

That’s an example of a person who had been trained to keep on fighting no matter how gravely injured. That is an example of what you must instill in your students.
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Train hard!
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Wow! That is fantastic information that you have given us from your immense experience. I am so grateful that you agreed to chat with me about these ideas. I have really enjoyed it and have learned a LOT, and I know my readers will get a kick out of this material too!
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Check out Loren Christensen' books,
at his webpage, www.lwcbooks.com
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Patrick Parker, is a Christian, husband, father, judo and aikido teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282
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