Tag Archives: dog

Creature Teacher: Martial Arts Training Involution #176

Continuing the theme this month, this week’s T.I. is an excerpt from a forthcoming module of my Frontier Rough & Tumble martial arts program on animal teachers.

We learned from Frog that there is a great lesson in sitting still, and we received the gift of contemplation which literally means to watch something — from the Latin  contemplārī meaning “to observe.”

From Dog we learned that there is great utility — and an evolutionary imperative — for not just hiding our suffering but learning to be happy and loving even when we are suffering.

From Hawk we learned that the ability to assume the thousand-foot view, and to keep our eye on the grand scheme, is essential to success.

And from the cave paintings of our ancestors we learned that what is truly unique to the human animal is our ability to visualize and to mythologize — to examine past failures, pre-test schemes and plans, and rehearse our strategies in the flesh-and-blood virtual reality environment of the brain.

From these four animal teachers we can distill four powerful tactics for fighting stress that you can use every day — not just during a self-defense situation, but at work, at home, or any time.  The problem is that when you’re stressed your tendency is going to be toward panic.  So you’ll need to practice this sequence often enough that it becomes second nature.

When you find yourself extremely stressed:

  1. Be like Dog.  Pretend to be perfectly calm and relaxed even when your thoughts are in disarray.  In the same way that water assumes the shape of the vessel in which it is placed, your mind will begin to conform to the attitude of your body if you buy it some time.
  2. Be like Hawk.  Breathe, soar, and gain some distance.  Take slow, deep breaths making sure that your airways remain open at all times.  Make a conscious effort to hesitate for a few beats between inhaling and exhaling phases, but never hold or clamp down on your breath.
  3. Be like your ancestors and go to the cave — the cave of your mind.  Regain your comfort zone by calling up a mental picture of either of a familiar and related training simulation or of an actual previous success during similar circumstances.  You’ve been here before and you’re going to be fine.
  4. Be like Frog.  Go on auto-pilot.  Just be in the present moment.

Creature Teacher: Martial Arts Training Involution #176

These weekly T.I.s can be very physically demanding —  especially if you’re doing them on the weekend in addition to another training program.  This week we’re going to take it a little break and do some head work.  Practice the above drill.  Run through all the steps one by one.  Then make a note in your planner, or set a reminder on your phone, to run through them every day for the next week or so until you have them memorized.  Then take a nice long sit, at least ten minutes.  Try to practice your contemplation for double your usual daily length (but not more than an hour).  Daily internal work — contemplation, meditation and prayer — are essential to the health of the human body, mind and spirit.  If you’re not doing daily internal work there’s no way you’re maximizing your health and potential.  So get started!

DID YOU KNOW…that I have an awesome shop where you can buy all kinds of cool stuff, like martial arts training materials, bespoke books, artwork, and so on?  Check it out!

Canis Familiaris: Martial Arts Training Involution #174

Phoebe (L) and Gobi (R). Phoebe is my wife’s dog, Gobi is my daughter’s.

In T.I. #171 I talked about the formidable faculties of the cricket frog and what we could learn from him about contemplation and the origins of meditation.

This week’s T.I. emerges from lessons learned from the humble domestic dog.  For all the background — and for another excerpt from the forthcoming stalking, tracking, and observation module of my Frontier Rough & Tumble martial arts program. — check out the details below the break.

Canis familiaris: Martial Arts Training Involution #174

  • No talking, groaning,  grunting or complaining for the duration of the training session.
  • Half Pyramid of Clean & Press.  Don’t have a barbell?  No excuses — get creative.  Use two dumbbells.  Gradually fill a ruck sack with barbells, chains, or tools from your garage (a bag full of wrenches and hammers weighs a ton!).  Start  with a naked weight bar and do 10 reps.  Take a 1 min. break while you add approx  1/10th of your max safe weight to the bar.  Do 10 reps, take a 1 min break, and repeat.  When you can’t 10 reps, that’s okay.  Just do as many as you can and keep adding weight until you fail.  My sets were #20 x 10, #30 x 10, #40 x 10, #50 x 10,  #60 x 9, #70 x 8, #80 x 5 #90 x 3, #100 x 2, #110 fail.
  • Heavy bag speed drill.  Set a round timer for 10 rounds of :30/:30.  Get after that bag as fast as you can for :30 and then rest for :30.  Count your strikes for the final round and write it down.  Come back in a few days and beat your number.
  • Dig a hole.  Not literally, figuratively.  Instead of digging in the yard like your dog, dig into yourself.  Sit down in your meditative posture of choice, regulate your breathing, and think back to the last time you were cranky, whiny or selfish.  What was the “pinch that made you flinch” so-to-speak?  Physical pain?  Fear?  Worry?  Stress?  Aren’t you better than that?  What could you do to prevent that from happening again?
  • Journal.  And, as always, record your performance, thoughts and realizations in your training log when you’re done.

Our dog Gizmo, may he rest in peace. One of my wisest spiritual teachers.

The Delightful Demeanor of the Domestic Dog

If your dog is suffering enough to show it, take him straight to the vet.  If he’s in so much pain that he snips at you, he’s probably at death’s door.  Anyone who has ever had a dog knows this to be true.  Gizmo, my little Lhasa Apso, sixteen years old and falling apart at the seams, licked our hands and showed his love for us all the way to the euthanasia room.  I wish I could be half as loving, and half as tough, as that little guy was.

Underneath that happy face, lolling tongue and sleek coat lie millions of years of ingrained, evolutionary knowledge.  Sick wolves are unfit to be selected as mates.  Weak animals get singled out by predators and picked on by any bullies in the pack.  Snippy, grumpy dogs get less food from their human partners.  If you’re a dog, it has always paid to keep your whining to yourself.  It is, in fact, a matter of life and death.

Your dog’s happy demeanor is the result of practical stoicism.

Similar forces had to be working upon humans too.  Who knows why happy stoicism didn’t get baked into our DNA too?  My theory is that our self-awareness prevented it by allowing us an escape hatch — being two-faced.  If I’m right, that means that being a happy and loving stoic is directly linked to integrity.

You see, the stereotype of the stern and frowning stoic is just that.  Your dog knows that behavior is not a bilateral spectrum or a zero sum game.  Dogs — and people for that matter — don’t have to be either happy-go-lucky or  stoic.  Possessing self-control doesn’t mean you have to be inscrutable or have the deadpan aspect of a corpse.

Nor does it mean being fake.  To be clear, we are not talking about simply gritting our teeth and hiding the pain.  That’s grade school stuff compared to what any dog down at the dog-pound can do.  We are talking about actually being happy and full of love despite being in pain.  And this goes for physical pain as well as spiritual and intellectual pain, like stress, money problems, family strife, work pressures, and so on.

It boils down to being the same person all the time, no matter what comes our way.  Isn’t that what integrity is?  Being a dutiful person even when it’s inconvenient or dangerous?  Being kind and polite even when others aren’t?  Staying on course despite the winds of pain, anger, frustration and anguish?

Sometimes reality is literally a pain.   Deal with it.  Start with daily contemplation and awareness training.  Then make a resolution to be like a dog — to be happy and loving even when you’re suffering.  Be on the lookout for signs that you might be allowing your pains to change who you are.  Make a note in your training journal when you catch yourself being whiny, cranky or selfish.  Be introspective enough to untangle your behavior and figure out what’s eating you — just knowing what it is can release its hold on you.    

Toughen up buttercup, or your pains will become everybody else’s pains too.


Note:  One of Mark Hatmaker’s readiness tests, the all-day tenderfoot drill, helped crystallize the above ideas in my mind.  What a great drill — thanks Mark!


DID YOU KNOW…that I have an awesome shop where you can buy all kinds of cool stuff, like martial arts training materials, bespoke books, artwork, and so on?  Check it out!

Self Defense vs. Dogs


This is a small, harmless dog. Unfortunately, some dogs are large and scary.

Last Monday I went for an early morning walk.  About dawn, going down a quiet residential street, I watched a happy suburban couple emerge from their home and bounce down four front porch steps toward an idling minivan.  With them came two large black dogs, breed indistinguishable in the thin light.  Neither animal was on a leash.

The dogs barked in deep bass that echoed off the houses and came toward me at full run.

This is not the first time I’ve had run-ins with dogs.   Once, while on a late night run, a German shepherd jumped the fence of his enclosure and confronted me beneath a streetlight.  Another time I was surrounded by a pack of feral dogs while walking near some dumpsters behind a warehouse.  On one occasion, an apparently gentle dog, leashed by her smiling owner, bit me on the hand after I asked and was given permission to pet.

But the last attack, prior to this past Monday that is, was launched by a large Chow.  It charged silently and, being a dog lover and a peaceful guy, I assumed it just wanted to play.  My kindheartedness earned me a terrifying bite on the upper thigh before the owner pulled him off.  It went for my groin.  I turned and raised by knee to hide the target so the thigh is what she got.  After the Chow, I vowed that if it ever happened again I would not hesitate.  I’m a dog lover.  But I swore that if there was a next time, I would bring all of my defensive skills to bear immediately, without hesitation, and not consign my fate the whimsy of a canine’s conscience.

So, as those two black shapes charged toward me, I deployed my tactical folding knife with 4 1/2″ locking blade, lowered my stance, and yelled involuntarily, “Jesus Christ!”  followed by, “You better get ’em, ’cause I’m gonna kill ’em!”

The husband quickly seized one of the dogs, but the wife missed the second.  She took off after it, yelling for it to come back.  I turned my body and prepared to be ripped apart but not without a fight.   I hammer gripped the knife in my right hand, point up, left foot forward to avoid getting my attacking arm locked in its jaws.  I could hear my blood in my ears.  Fifteen feet short of my position she managed to take hold of the second dog’s collar.  It reared up on its hind legs, continuing to bark ferociously and nearly pulling her over.

“Sorry,” she said, as the dog began to settle down.

“Put your dogs on a leash,” I said.  I folded and stowed my knife and walked home, glad nobody got hurt.

When I write about dog defense I do so with experience.

Defense vs. Dogs

When confronted by an untrained canine that is not charging, adopt a non-threatening stance. Don’t turn your back, run, or look away. If the animal doesn’t get bored with you and leave the area, utter commands like “Sit!” “Stay!” and “Down boy!” while maneuvering toward a building, vehicle, or other shelter. Lock eyes with the mutt and imagine tearing him to shreds like a stuffed animal. Trust me, this will deter all but the most highly trained and/or aggressive canines. Ever tried to swat a misbehaving dog? They are gone before you can get out of your chair. Dogs are empathic readers of body language.

If the animal is charging, arm your strong hand with a pocket knife, ballpoint pen, etc.  Crouch slightly to lower your center of gravity and turn sideways to hide your groin, weak side forward, strong/armed hand to the rear.  In my experience, dogs go for three primary targets: face/throat, genitals, or anus.  Hold your weapon near your hip and tuck the forearm of your weak arm beneath your chin to protect your throat. Brace yourself.  When it latches on, stab like hell.

Do not pull back from the bite — always push into bites, be they animal or human. If you have a light weapon (or none at all), strike downward at the eyes. If you have a pocket knife, slash upward at the throat and chest of the animal from beneath.

If you are yanked from your feet and overwhelmed, assume safety position.  Curl into a ball to protect vital areas. Pull your knees to your chest, interlace your fingers behind your neck, pinch your elbows together to protect your face, and wait for help.

Good luck.  You’re going to need it.