I recently posted an article called The myth of military hand-to-hand combat systems here on my blog. It’s on an erroneous line of thinking I see in the self-defense community and market place. I did my best to state my case but as always, when you state an opinion publicly you will ruffle some feathers. That’s part of the game and I don’t have a problem with it.
So I wasn’t surprised when I got more than the usual hate mail on this piece. My standard procedure is to file those mails away without really reading them. I simply don’t have the time for it and consider them at the same level as some anonymous idiot flipping me the bird in traffic because I don’t speed up fast enough for his taste: I smile and just go about my business.
But every now and then, a piece of hate mail catches my attention and I keep on reading. Last week I received one of those and it stood out in several ways:
- Some of the points the guy made made sense to me. I disagreed with what he said but I could see why he came to those conclusions.
- He had taken the time to write the most lengthy piece of hate mail I have ever received. It was impressive.
- His use of profanity was equally impressive. I consider my cussin’ abilities up to par but it seems I am sadly mistakin’ and still have a lot to learn.
All in all and interesting mail but he was still verbally abusive though. Instead of replying in kind, I’ll just pretend the mail wasn’t dripping in bile and offer some counter-arguments to the points he made. I’ll explain why at the end.
My right to speak
The first argument he made was that I had no right to speak as I am a civilian and clearly have no idea “what the military is all about.”
That’s actually only half true.
Yes, I am a civilian but I did perform my military service here in my lovely home country of Belgium. I was in fact in the last batch to be drafted before they abolished mandatory service. So as they say, I did my time and served my country. It gave me enough experience with military life and how armies operate to form an educated (and trained) opinion.
That said, I was never deployed because, well, Belgium hasn’t been at war in a long time and soldiers performing their service don’t get sent on missions. I know the situation is different in the US but that’s how it was over here. I also didn’t join the army professionally (though I considered it for a long time) because I was focused on other things at that time.
In the more than 20 years after I was discharged, I have trained with, hung out with and befriended countless of active duty and retired soldiers of many different countries, branches and rank. We talked about all sorts of things, including lots of things that actually happened but will never make it into the history books or get a reference on Wikipedia. Which is of course the nature of the game.
So I consider myself experienced and informed on the topic, though I wouldn’t go so far as to claiming expertise.
The next criticism was that the low number of hours the military spends on hand-to-hand combat systems “is total bullshit.”
Clearly, he didn’t read what I wrote in the article. What I did was remember how many hours I got during my service (very, very, little), then I looked it up in available manuals and finally I asked all the former and active duty personnel I could find for their input.
Though this is of course no statistical study, it is also statistically unlikely that they all gave me such low numbers by accident. So I stand by that information until proven wrong. Which anybody can of course prove by providing actual sources or speaking from their own experience. Do remember that we’re talking about official training and not training on your own time. Apple and oranges and all that…
Then there was the comment about me being a pussy for “apologizing in advance and discrediting my own words” in the introduction. At that point, I started wondering if he actually stopped to think about why I wrote that introduction or if he just wanted to fly off the handle because I touched a nerve. Who knows?
There are multiple reasons why I wrote the introduction that way. Let’s go over them:
- Take a look at the picture here above: no matter how carefully you explain something, some people will always twist your words out of context to suit their own needs. In my experience, it helps a lot to frame the context of an article clearly before putting forward your arguments. It cuts down on the knee-jerk reactions and hate mail (though not a fool proof method in this case…)
- Communicating clearly. I learned this one from Bob Orlando in his book Indonesian Fighting Fundamentals in which he does something similar. He writes that before you talk about something, it is helpful to explain what you are not talking about. And I agree with that 100%. In many models of communication, there is the concept of “noise” or at least errors that cause information to be interpreted incorrectly by the receiver. Given as we don’t have non-verbal communication or direct feedback to help us interact on my blog here, I think communicating what you are not saying is just as valuable as the message itself.
- Because I value my friendships. We already established that it’s easy to misinterpret words without non-verbal communication. With that in mind, I wanted to make it clear to a bunch of friends of mine that I wasn’t out to hurt them or insult them. Among those people are several who are heavily invested in training in those military systems. Others teach them. Still others are big names in the self-defense industry (I’m not going to name drop; they know who they are.) and I wouldn’t want them to think I’m out to ruin their business. Some of them knew I was writing this article and gave some feedback before I published it. Others got in touch with me after they read it online. Not one, not a single one of them was upset or disagreed with me. In particular those big name authors and instructors were pretty much in total agreement with me and right away understood why I had written the introduction. They appreciated the courtesy.
- Our minds are not logical. The overall goal of my introduction was to bypass several of the reasoning and logical fallacies we all have to try and avoid. That list of fallacies is long and we all (including me) fall victim to them, no matter how much we think we don’t. So any time you can help people avoid them, I consider that a sign of good and clear communication.
How all this gets interpreted as “being a pussy” is beyond me. I fail to see why I would be one if all I do is try to be as clear as I possibly can.
The next insult was that I’m “an embarrassment to the Paladin Press catalog” because Paladin Press has numerous books and videos on military hand-to-hand combat systems and I am an author with them as well.
First of all, last I checked, I’m still on good terms with them (Hi Peder, hi Brad, hi Mark!) Nor did they send me a scathing email to tell me how much they hated my article and will never ever work with me again. Of course, I can’t prove a negative in that such a mail will never come but so far, it hasn’t. So I think all is still well on that front.
Second, the people at Paladin Press are smart cookies. They know the self-defense market well and know what they’re doing. They also let their authors do their own thing. After all the years I’ve been published by them, I have yet to receive the official rule book of all things Paladin Press, nor have I read anything like that in all the contracts I signed with them… Meaning: they don’t tell their authors which books to write, which videos to make, which articles to write and most importantly, they don’t tell us what to think. So if they can have a live and let live attitude, I don’t see why anybody else should take offense in their place.
My own system
A final remark was “you’re a greedy attention whore and just want to make money with your own shitty system (I bet you think it’s so much better than all the rest) by trashing others”. This one actually had me laughing out loud as it’s just ludicrous and very much ill-informed. Let’s take a look:
- I blog because I like it. I like writing and blogging is a part of that. God knows I don’t do it for the money because aside of some affiliate commissions and advertising revenue, my blog doesn’t generate an income. And even those earnings are still a long, long way off before I could even consider living off them. That’s also not taking into account the revenue I lose by not working with clients. I calculated it (thanks to Ithemes sending me their latest newsletter) here. The result: I didn’t earn US$44.960 by working with clients while I wrote the over 500 posts on my blog. Any earnings (both direct and indirect) I’ve had from blogging are a drop of water on a hot plate compared to this. Please tell me again how I’m doing all this for the money…
- I have a full-time job. I’ve been a self-employed personal trainer for over 18 years now. I don’t need to “sell my system” to make a living. I already am making a living. Any additional income from my books, videos and seminars is great but I don’t depend on it.
- I didn’t trash others. Hence the introduction in which I clearly state I have nothing against the people training in those military system, teaching them or making products on them. I don’t see which part of that isn’t clear?
- I don’t think a “best” system exists. There’s no such thing. My Combat Sanshou system is the stuff that works for me and my students. So what? I know full well it won’t work for everybody, that’s not possible. I also know full well some people will not like it and prefer other systems and that’s perfectly fine. I thought I had already written enough blog posts about how I value diversity and think you should make your training work for you, regardless of the system you study. Guess not…
- I’m a lousy attention seeker. I just checked: in over 500 posts, the words “Combat Sanshou” only show up in 35 posts (including this one). So either I’m really bad at promoting my own system or self-promotion is not the goal of this blog…
Now I understand that he might not have read all my previous posts and doesn’t know what this blog is about. That’s certainly possible. But then it isn’t a smart idea to start spewing bile with uninformed opinions.
Some of you might think I’m justifying myself and don’t get why I take the time to reply to a hater. I understand why you think so but I don’t see it that way.
First of all, I’m a big boy. I can take the criticism. I’ve been on the receiving end of it for over 20 years and have gotten used to it. But more importantly, I don’t see this blog as a one-way street. Obviously I do most of the writing but the whole purpose of a blog is to create interaction with the reader, aka: you.
We mostly talk to each other in the comments section of my posts or via email, Facebook and Twitter. Most often, these interactions are positive and I enjoy it. But as an instructor or author, there’s always a risk of starting to believe your own hype. Sure, the positive feedback strokes my ego just like anybody else. But I do my best not to let it go to my head (“Too late!” some would say…) and very much like to hear opposing thoughts too.
One way of doing that is confronting critics. I think it’s important to listen to them just as hard as I listen to the people who like what I do. Because there is no growth in never being challenged to rethink your position. So when I get hate mail that has some interesting points, I most definitely think I should share them with everybody and discuss those issues. I think I benefit from it and perhaps you might do so too.
The only sad part about the mail I received was the cursing and shouting. If you revert to ad hominem, then I stop talking because you clearly lack the skills for a meaningful debate. Perhaps your arguments are worth exploring (like they were with this mail) but I’m not going to waste my time if a meaningful exchange is simply impossible.
So in closing, I’d like to reply to my anonymous hater:
It’s OK if you hate my guts. I can live with that.
All that matters is that you are confident in your own training and abilities, regardless if they come from a military system or not.
I’m OK with my own choices in that regard and I hope you are too.