Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Western Art of War

Readers of Cook Ding's Kitchen are well aware of The Art of War, the 36 Strategies and the 48 Laws of Power.

There was a western Art of War written in ancient times when the Roman empire was in decay. The writer put down his thoughts in hope of reviving the Roman military and with it, the empire.

Some of it says the same things as the other books, as you'd expect. But some of it takes a decidedly different perspective altogether. Like the rest of these classics, this book has lessons which we can apply to our individual daily lives.

Below is an excerpt from an article about this Western Art of War. which appeared at The Art of Manliness. The full post may be read here.

Sometime in the late 4th or early 5th century, as the late Roman Empire stumbled along in the twilight of its power, an author of whom almost nothing is known compiled a book on the art of war to present to the emperor.

Rome’s economy was soft, its politics corrupt, but what most concerned the author was the creeping disintegration of the one institution that at least kept those other two extant: the military.

Like the rest of Roman society, its once mighty fighting force had fallen victim to decadence. Whereas the army of the early empire had consisted of highly disciplined, well-trained Roman regulars, the standards of the legendary legionaries had fallen, as had their numbers; a much smaller standing army was now supplemented with auxiliary units composed of barbarian mercenaries.

Epitoma Rei Militaris (Epitome of Military Science) by Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus (known simply as Vegetius) was an attempt to get the emperor to remedy the military’s weaknesses before it was too late. “Epitome” here refers to a summary, as Vegetius’ work was not an entirely original composition, but rather a collection of “commentaries on the art of war abridged from authors of the highest repute.” The Epitome of Military Science collects the wisdom of Rome’s early military commanders on organization, equipment, arms, leadership, logistics, and more. The book contains both practical advice on how to recruit, train, and harden troops of excellence and courage, as well as pithy maxims on tactics and strategy. Vegetius said the work could be called a “Rule-Book of Battle” or the “Art of Victory.”

Vegetius sought to reach back into the history of the early empire in order to illuminate the principles in force when the Roman military had been at the height of its powers, and to demonstrate that those methods and tactics were what created its power in the first place. In reviving these principles, he argued, Rome’s greatness could be revived as well.

Vegetius’ call for reform ultimately went unheeded, failing to stem either the Roman military’s shift towards greater reliance on mercenaries, nor the laxity that permeated the remaining shell of its citizen-staffed army. However, as the only surviving Latin art of war, it remained a popular and influential guide book for officers and generals in the centuries that followed. In the Middle Ages, it was an essential part of a prince’s military education, and leaders up through the 19th century continued to consult its classic tips on gaining the upper hand in battle.

While Epitoma Rei Militaris is lesser known today than other works on the art of war, it’s still a worthy volume packed with advice that, like all martial strategies, can be applied to challenges and competitions beyond the battlefield — literally and metaphorically, on a personal as well as societal level.

Below you’ll find some of the most vital lessons from the book, which when carefully pondered, can be used to improve your approach and tactics in whatever fight you’re facing.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Almost Anyone Can Be Your Teacher

Below is a post made by Jim Russo on his excellent Facebook Group Zhong Ding Tai Chi Chuan.

You can find out more about Jim and his Tai Chi Chuan at his website.

This is one of my favorite Chinese proverbs as it suggests that at least one of every three people you pass on the street has the capability to be your teacher. This also suggest humility which is something I have not seen in modern day "martial artists". This is not only ethically disturbing it is ignorant as it limits ones opportunities to learn. The last event that I had certain individuals tho...ught the need to test other individuals to see whether there was anything there for them to learn. Clearly they have a lot to learn...

The proverb consists of eight characters pronounced ‘san ren xing, bi you wo shi yan’. Its literal meaning is amongst three people walking, one can certainly be my teacher in English. This proverb originates from Analects of Confucius. Its extended sense is that you should learn from his or her good merits, and meanwhile, review yourself by reflecting his or her bad merits and correct them if you have. Confucian admonished us that to be a backbone of society he or she should be modest and eager to learn, and also be constant to make self-cultivation consciously.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Cheng Man Ching Short Tai Chi Chuan and Yang Long Forms Compared

Robert Chuckow, a student of Cheng Man Ching (Zheng Manqing), wrote this comparison of the two forms in 2011. I found it to be interesting reading. An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here.

Yang Cheng-fu (1883–1936) was a grandson of Yang Lu-chan, the originator of the Yang style of T’ai-Chi Ch’uan. Cheng Man-ch’ing (1902–1975) was an inner student of Yang Cheng-fu. After Yang Cheng-fu’s death and before coming to the United States, Cheng Man-ch’ing created a shortened version of the traditional form taught him by Yang Cheng-fu. That shortened version is now widely taught in the United States and other countries.

Practitioners of Cheng Man-ch’ing’s T’ai-Chi short form (C.M.C. form) are largely unaware of many of the changes he made. Most of them know that Prof. Cheng removed postures and repetitions from the Yang Cheng-fu T’ai-Chi long form (Yang form), changed “Step Back to Repulse the Monkey” to feet-parallel, and emphasized the “beauteous wrist.” But there are many other changes. It is important to understand what the changes are, why they were made, and the relative benefits of each of the two forms.

I learned the C.M.C. form under Prof. Cheng in Chinatown, NYC, from 1970–1975, at the T’ai-Chi Ch’uan Association and the Shr Jung School. I have been practicing that form since then and have taught it continuously since 1973. I also studied for six years during the 1970s with Grandmaster William C.C. Chen (Chen Chi-cheng), who originally learned T’ai Chi from Prof. Cheng in Taiwan. Chen’s form is an offshoot of Prof. Cheng’s, and parts of C.C. Chen’s form are done the way Prof. Cheng originally taught but later changed. When asked, C.C. Chen freely delineated between what he had originally learned from Prof. Cheng and what he had then changed. As a result, I learned some of the changes that Prof. Cheng had made since teaching Chen. I also observed some changes that Prof. Cheng made during the five years that I studied with him.

I learned the Yang form from the late Clifton Cooke in the mid 1970s and later from Harvey Sober. I have been teaching the Yang long form to my senior students for about two decades. Sober’s version came from the late Franklin Kwong (Kwong Yung-cheng), a direct student of Yang Cheng-fu (see a video of Kwong doing the Yang form:

According to some of his students, Kwong claimed that his version was authentic.

There is some variation in how those who studied with Yang Cheng-fu do his form, which may be explained as follows: (1) Yang Cheng-fu may have changed his way of doing the movements over the years, (2) At a given time, he may have taught different people differently, (3) students taught in the same way sometimes inadvertently do movements differently from what they were taught, and (4) his direct students may have made purposeful changes based on their state of physical health, the limitations of their students, or other considerations. Nevertheless, certain conclusions can and will be drawn.

The following links are for the names and sequence of movements of both the Yang and C.M.C. forms: and

In addition to Prof. Cheng’s elimination of some movements of the Yang form (discussed in §1, below) and the elimination of repetitions of movements (§2), there are general differences throughout (§3); differences in the order of the movements (§4); differences in movements that are in both forms (§5); transitions that occur in one style and not the other for movements common to both forms (§6); differences in transitions between successive movements common to both forms (§7); and differences between what Prof. Cheng taught, what he did, and what those of his students do and teach (§8).

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Dao De Jing, #64: What is Rooted

The Dao De Jing is not only one of the world's great classics, it is one of the foundations of Philosophical Daoism. A free online version of the Dao De Jing may be found here. Today we have #64: What is Rooted.

What is rooted is easy to nourish.
What is recent is easy to correct.
What is brittle is easy to break.
What is small is easy to scatter.

Prevent trouble before it arises.
Put things in order before they exist.
The giant pine tree
grows from a tiny sprout.
The journey of a thousand miles
starts from beneath your feet.

Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.

Therefore the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains as calm
at the end as at the beginning.
He has nothing,
thus has nothing to lose.
What he desires is non-desire;
what he learns is to unlearn.
He simply reminds people
of who they have always been.
He cares about nothing but the Tao.
Thus he can care for all things.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

TT Liang Sword Form

TT Liang was a long time student of Cheng Man Ching. In the video below, he's performing the sword form.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Hong Junsheng Push Hands

Hong Junsheng was one of the great names in Tai Chi Chuan. He was a master of Chen style and a student of Chen Fake. Below is a clip of his push hands.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Internal Path of Wing Chun

Today we have a guest post by Jonathan Bluestein. Enjoy.

The Internal Path of the Wing Chun Master

By Jonathan Bluestein

Karma and Fate have an interesting thing about them – they lend themselves in various ways based on a person’s choices and inclinations. That is to say, that Karma and Fate are seldom blind. More often than not, our thoughts and actions lead us to experience them in a given way. We usually cannot explain how this happened, so we call it ‘luck’. But life is about more than simple luck. I guarantee you that by indulging and immersing yourself to an immense degree in whatever you like and are good at, your life will head in very unusual and expected directions. This article is about one such occurrence, and its most extraordinary consequences.

Some years ago I have made a decision to advertise my best-seller, Research of Martial Arts, in a rather novel way, which shall not be detailed here. Thousands of miles away on a different continent, this manner of advertising caught the attention of one Keith R. Kernspecht. He decided to purchase my book, and thoroughly enjoyed it. He then reached out to me via email, and we began a correspondence which lasted two years. I seemed to recall I have heard of this man before, and indeed two quotes by him appeared in my book. It struck me then after the first email, that this is no ordinary individual, but in fact the head of the European Wing Tsun Organization (EWTO) – the largest martial arts organization on Earth, which by this time has grown into an empire of over 1000 schools and roughly 60,000 students. It could in fact be argued that master Kernspecht is the most commercially successful martial arts teacher to have ever lived; and, he was eager to befriend me.

In the pictures:  master Keith R. Kernspecht with the author of this article, shifu Jonathan Bluestein.
One thing led to another, and by Fall of 2016 I received an invitation from him to spend a week by his side in Italy, at a location which I prefer not to disclose. Then the first week of the month of August of the year 2017, we indeed spent together, also with his daughter Natalie, conversing and training some 6-10 hours a day. Why was it then, that dear master Kernspecht chose to have me around for that period of time? It had to do with his unique journey in the martial arts.

Sifu Kernspecht has been in the arts since the late 1950s. He has studied with so many teachers, I doubt he even remembers all of them. He was found among the first groups of Jujutsu and Karate practitioners in Europe. Then he became one of the first Europeans to have ever practiced Wing Chun, since 1970 (originally under sifu Joseph Cheng). He was also a student of Jesse Glover, one of Bruce Lee’s closest and best students. Eventually in 1976 he became a student of sifu Leung Ting, with whom he stayed for decades, and the rest is history. Keith and Leung Ting built a grand martial arts school empire, with the majority of the work having been done by Keith on the European continent.  

Throughout the years Keith was always a great researcher and innovator. He met up and befriended most of the long-term students of his late sigung Yip Man, who was the teacher of both Leung Ting (to whom he was close and taught many years) and of Bruce Lee (whom Yip Man actually taught for less than 3 years while Lee was a teenager). By training and questioning his many brothers and uncles in the system, Keith was able to understand it and also its history better than most.          
He was additionally quite keen on developing training programs which were meant to appeal to all sorts of crowds. Although he always kept his Wing Tsun ‘pure’ at its essence, his organization infused ideas and some techniques from Greco-Roman Wrestling, American Wrestling, Escrima and more. He brought in famous masters such as Escrima teachers Rene Latosa and Bill Newman to teach their curriculum under the EWTO umbrella, but also people like the successor to Karate legend Masutatsu Oyama and pioneer of Mixed Martial Arts Jon Bluming sensei, MMA prodigy Gokor Chivichyan and grappling legend Gene Lebelle to be a part of his extended martial arts family. In addition to that, his organization has long been offering specialized classes for women, security forces and law-enforcement agencies which used his Wing Tsun in novel and interesting ways.    

By 2000, when he was 55 years of age, Keith was awarded the final degree in Leung Ting’s Wing Tsun – the 10th master’s degree, and in this became the only person to hold the same grade as his sifu, closing a circle which began some 35 years earlier.    
It was about that time that master Kernspecht felt he should delve even deeper into his practice, and begin a process of transforming it. This was partly of course as old age was creeping on him, and he could no longer rely on his physical prowess and sharp reflexes (which, I should note, were still quite formidable when I met him at the age of 72!). Now Keith sought to take a second, more objective look at his Wing Tsun, and consider how ought it best be improved.
Granted, Keith had some doubts above various aspects in the practices of all Wing Chun lineages for years, but was patient and respectful enough to wait until he became quite mature in his style and understanding of art before taking dramatic action. After all, there was no reason to rush as the system he taught was already quite effective in most respects, easy to learn and proven in real-life situations, before any internal modifications were made to it.

Then at around 2010 his thoughts and concerns began to materialize into a more coherent picture. What Keith saw, was something which he had hints of for decades. He saw that he had a martial art in his hands which spoke of many principles shared with the internal martial arts of China, but in fact did not have the physical means and methods for putting it all into practice fully. He sensed and strongly felt that his Wing Tsun ought to somehow become ‘more internal’, and had made a decision to go on one final quest and adventure, with the goal of leaving the world with a new Internal Wing Tsun, before he himself could no longer practice.            

The guidelines for Keith on this quest to remake his Wing Tsun were as follows:

-          Looking for methods which did not teach ‘dead’ movements that were to be memorized well by heart but not really put into application in real fighting.             

-          Avoiding an approach which offered many applications in the format for ‘an answer for every questions’; rather, seeking principle-based systems.            

-          Doing without any methods which relied upon brute physical force, endurance, an ability to take punishment, fitness, reaction speed, instincts, misunderstood spontaneity & creativity and blind aggression.             

It is a brave thing to do, taking a fresh new path and journey during the seventh decade of one’s life, but then again, Keith is no coward. Having met countless challenges in his lifetime and having passed through the hell of them all, nothing could stop him from succeeding also with this one.         
For the sake of attaining his goal, Keith sought out people with knowledge or mastery of the internal arts in order that he could learn from them. The first person to have led him in that direction was his dear friend, the late Prof. Horst Tiwald, who is unknown in the English-speaking world of martial arts but was quite famous in German academic circles. Professor Tiwald, although not a martial artist himself, was capable of explaining to Keith the principles and concepts behind that internal arts even better than teachers he had met and all books he had read (Keith has a library with over 1000 martial arts books). Professor Tiwald acquainted Keith with various masters of the internal arts, and he started questioning and training with many of them

An early friend and colleague of Keith who helped him out with this is master Jan Silberstorff, who is the top Western disciple of Chen Taiji Quan master Chen Xiaowang. Later Keith also became friends with master Yang Linsheng. I was surprised when Keith showed me some videos of master Yang Linsheng, as his existence somehow evaded me up to that point. Likely, as he primarily taught in Mongolia and Italy. Once I saw the videos, which are available on Youtube by the way, I could immediately tell this was a master of a high level. He also practices and teaches some 9 different styles, including Xing Yi Quan, Taiji Quan, Bagua Zhang and Tongbei Quan. Indeed, Keith testified that master Yang was one of two or three people in his lifetime to who he could do little to if they really wanted to hurt him. You may ask – who is that ‘other person’? Well, it is he who is now Keith’s teachers of the internal arts, but his identity I have sworn to keep a secret until he is publicly revealed by the end of this year (2017).

Without getting into too much detail, in order not to reveal the teacher’s identity, I can simply tell you the following:        
Keith met this teacher some years ago, and that teacher impressed him tremendously. The teacher had a special method for instruction, which Keith felt could significantly better his Wing Tsun and eventually truly make it into a ‘fully internal’ system. Since then, Keith and his daughter had together spent over 2000 hours learning from that master and some of his top students. Keith in turn later met with his own top students and taught them much of what he had learned, so they could gradually transmit small bits and pieces of this knowledge to their students and the many EWTO schools worldwide. Eventually, Keith hopes to have a scenario in which his Wing Tsun is internalized, and the EWTO students could, if they want, gradually undergo a long process of learning which will take them step by step and year by year from the external to the internal.

Keith Had summarized the changes and additions he made to his Wing Tsun via the following general points:

 Having multi-dimensionality and circularity in every part of the art. Every movement has a forward and back, a left and right, an up and down, an expanding and contracting.

 Emphasizing balance, and therefore also relaxation (A Confucian idea – the balanced person can also become relaxed).

  Having a clear separation of Yin & Yang -  very simple energy management that acts upon a powerful movement motor and takes its effect with the help of a clear structure.

 Natural opening & closing of the joints; utilizing the power of the joints & fascia through horizontal rotation and the a lot of shifting of one’s bodyweight from one side to the other.

 The use of indirect rather than direct forces. Multi-vectored attacks.

 Specific use of convex & concave body mechanics.

 Sticking to the physical contact point, including the use of suction. Compelling the opponent to remain in contact by creating and offering a sphere with corresponding pressure.

  No resistance, but not the opposite either – giving way or running away from the point!

  No automatic, blind reactions. Rather, acting in the Zen-Buddhist sense described by his friend Prof. Tiwald; of being mindful and fully conscious in action for as much as one's own skill level allows.             
What is actually occurring here and that I have had the honour of witnessing, is master Kernspecht making a choice and acting in a manner which shall change all of martial arts, forever. The implications of an organization numbering 60,000 individuals merging its curriculum and joining its path with a different martial art shall impact the course of martial arts history for centuries to come. There is absolutely no historical precedent for a transmission on the population scale which master Keith R. Kernspecht has attained, and neither is there a precedent for someone of such influence acting in this manner.

In the midst of this incredible turn of events, here I was – a 29 year old man in the beginning of his journey, being greeted by a big, smiling grandpa figure and his incredibly cheerful daughter, who is about my age, at an Italian airport. I could not believe these guys. From the moment they saw me, they treated me like I was a family member they had not seen in years. I had never experienced such a warm welcome in my life from someone who was not my romantic partner. Then throughout our week together, Keith and Natalie maintained this attitude consistently, catering for my every need, and looking after me like their own keen. I will never forget their kindness.       
t is funny how people like Keith are often at the center of silly political arguments, and are attacked left and right by various individuals who seek to undermine them and steal some of their knowledge or power. But meeting Keith, it was perhaps the third time in my life in which I have realized that actually, the great teacher was truly a sweet and lovely guy, while many of those who attempt to belittle or curse him are in fact bitter and envious. Having spent more than 40 hours with the man, one on one, I could say with certainty that nothing in the world could convince me that he is not an honorable and worthy human being. Alas, when you have to deal with big organizations, handle big sums of money and lead large groups of people, you will always have enemies.  

The reason Keith had me hop over to his favourite Italian spot was mere curiosity. He saw in my work that I had good understanding and insights into the internal arts, and wanted me to explain to him my take on them and my traditions as I teach them. We therefore spent most of our time together with me making an effort to demonstrate and tell Keith and Natalie of everything I knew. The focus had been on the curriculum of the Xing Yi Quan system which I teach, and also that of the Southern Mantis which I practice (of the Jook Lum lineage), which I have not begun teaching yet (as of the year 2017). Both of these are very deep internal martial arts, and it takes a while to describe and demonstrate all of their methods. Despite the dozens of hours we spent together, I still was not able to show Keith and Natalie everything, though I likely managed to get across at least 70% of the material. These arts are quite deep, and apparently it takes over a week of whole-day exposure just to demonstrate and discuss everything. Then again, if I was told in advance I had two weeks, I am not even sure whether they would have been sufficient.       
Thankfully sitting with two master-level teachers, the job which was given to me was simpler. I could not have discussed even a fifth of what I did with most other people. Being good Germans, the two were patient listeners and always asked the best questions one could hope for. I felt that through this week of showing them what I know and teach and answering their questions, I also learned quite a lot about my martial arts as well. This was partly by all of us discussing and comparing the many similarities and differences between the arts we have been exposed to.       

In the picture: master Keith R. Kernspecht and his Italian student and representative Dai Sifu Filippo Cuciuffo, together with shifu Jonathan Bluestein. This was a smiling competition and Filippo won it with ease. He can also beat us at cooking and soccer. 
Then in-between, I have also had the opportunity and great privilege to practice a bit with Keith and Natalie. It has been a while since I was fortunate enough to touch a person far more skilled than I am who was not my teacher, let alone someone with some 6 decades of experience. I fondly remember that moment. I was showing something to Natalie on the first day, and at least with her I could contend. Then Keith jumped out the sofa and said: “Now show us how you would do this on me!”. I knew this moment was coming, of course. I touched his hands, and… oh, damn. I did not like that feeling… the feeling of being a beginner again. The granpda would not bulge, and I could not move. He got me. I was not sure what happened. Then we had a long push-hands session of sorts, which Keith used to test me. I was hit quite a lot during that session, though always with moderation and in good spirits. Something was not right. I could somewhat make my position and control my angles, but then every time I thought I had an opening, his hands were striking me before mine could reach him. Often, his hands would reach just a fraction of a second before mine, but they were ahead of me every single time. This, I learned later, was due to special methods which were taught to him by his newest internal arts mentor, who was apparently far more skilled than he in using these annoying skills.         
Over the course of the week, especially after Keith showed me how he was controlling me, I was finally able to move him around a bit sometimes. But this was of no use, because within moments he could always strike me or make my structure stuck as before. I should not think too much of myself, though. Firstly, he likely was not giving me even 50% of his power. Secondly, I am a 29 year old fellow who was training with a 72 year old man with joint problems who could not even do strength training anymore, and was still stronger and faster than me, with better reaction time, and could likely have killed me if he wanted to. I could only hope to have half of his ability at his age, as he is still capable of physically dominating people 10-50 years younger than him, some of whom he himself had taught for decades. Keith jokes happily and says: “Yes, now with my new internal skills, I can be slower and lazier and still win. Isn’t it great?!”.

Keith therefore did not of course invite me so I could be his teacher, but rather as a friend and colleague. From the height of his knowledge and achievements he was modest enough to recognize that I likely knew many things that he did not, and wanted my aid with his fantastic research and project. As a matter of fact, Keith has got a whole lot more to teach me than I have for him, but this first trip together focused on exposing what I knew, as it relates to what Keith is up to at this period of time. Beyond his teachings, he is also engaged in the writing of three new books, one of which will be detailing his long and unique journey into the internal arts. I hope that in the future I shall have the opportunity to spend more time with Keith, Natalie and their teachers, in order that I too could educate myself further. In the meanwhile, I felt that I had done my best under the circumstances. Keith and Natalie were pleased that I did not hold any information from them whatsoever, apart from a few specific practices which my Southern Mantis sifu forbade me from teaching and explaining. But then again, this is my general approach to the martial arts – I never keep secrets from those who genuinely want to learn, can understand them and whom I can trust; especially not from people who have shown me great kindness.

Though my personal contribution to the tremendous historical undertaking Keith is involved in is perhaps minor, compared with the influence of others more skilled than me, I was very happy to have been able to take part. I feel that perhaps, our long discussions have aided Keith and Nahi grasp a little bit better what their other, more influential and knowledgeable teachers had taught them, and through this I may have done a great service to many people whom I will never even meet. This historical crossroad with two special individuals shall forever be in my heart, and more adventures are sure to come…              

To read more about the EWTO organization of master Kernspecht and find a school near you, please visit their official website:


Jonathan Bluestein is best-selling author, martial arts teacher, and head of Blue Jade Martial Arts International. For more articles by shifu Bluestein, his books and classes offered by his organization, visit his website at:

You may also subscribe to Shifu Bluestein's youtube channel, which is regularly updated with rare and fascinating martial arts videos:

All rights of this article are and the pictures within it are reserved to Jonathan Bluestein ©. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission, in writing, from Jonathan Bluestein.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Kyudo Hanshi 10th Dan Suzuki Hiroyuki

Suzuki Hiroyuki was a 10th Dan in Kyudo. He was a student of Awa Kenzo ("Zen and the Art of Archery."

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Staying Calm Under Pressure

Staying calm under pressure is an important quality. Maybe a bomb disposal specialist may have something to say about this. The Observer had an article about this.

Below is an excerpt. The full article may be read here.

We’d all like to know how to stay calm under pressure. Sure, I could pull a bunch of research studies on it and just summarize those for you. But that always leaves the lingering question: “But does this stuff work in the real world?”

So who really knows about being cool as a cucumber under the most intense pressure imaginable? I’d read that when top bomb disposal experts approach a device designed to kill them, their heart rate actually goes down. Folks, I think we have a winner…

So I called a Navy EOD Team Leader.

Navy EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) isn’t like your average police department’s bomb disposal unit. These guys defuse torpedoes—while underwater. They disable biological weapons, chemical weapons…even nuclear weapons.

For security purposes our friend requested to remain anonymous. He’s been deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan and faced some things that are—quite literally—the stuff of nightmares. Repeatedly.
So what can you and I learn from him? How do you stay chill, keep your focus and make tough decisions when facing the most intense pressure imaginable?

Let’s get to it…

Avoid “The Rabbit Hole” And Do A Threat Assessment

Something’s going wrong. You’re worried and your mind starts to race. Your old friend Panic is nuzzling up to you and wants to snuggle. Your brain starts asking, “What if X happens? What if Y happens? What if? What if? What if?”

Navy EOD techs refer to this as “the rabbit hole.” And if you go down it, things are going to get very bad very fast. Here’s our EOD Team Leader:
With any device that’s improvised we talk about “rabbit holes.” You can go down the rabbit hole of “What if they put in this? What if they included this bit of circuitry or this kind of switch or this crazy new device or circuit board or whatever?” The opportunities for people to construct new and ingenious and totally insidious IEDs is just infinite. It’s possible when you’re looking at the device to go down a rabbit hole of “It could be this, it could be this, it could be these 10,000 different things…”

You need to avoid going down the “rabbit hole” and do what Navy EOD techs call a “threat assessment.” That means looking objectively at the situation and asking, “What kind of problem is this?”

Think about a similar situation you’ve been in before that looked like this one. How did you resolve it? What worked? Maybe you’ve never been in a situation exactly like the current one, but that’s okay. Generalize. You’ve probably dealt with something that was kinda similar or you’ve seen someone else do it.

Leveraging experience is what makes the top Navy EODs able to stay calm and size up a terrifying situation before they’ve even approached the explosive device. Here’s our EOD Team Leader:
They develop this sixth sense about what’s going on. Some of the guys had seen and prosecuted 300 or 400 devices. It was amazing what they could tell you before they ever saw the device. “This device is probably just a pressure plate, maybe with an S and A switch. There’s a possible secondary back-up waiting for us if we were to go at it from this angle.” They would just be able to tell that from merely looking at the situation.