Big Muscles and Martial Arts

How Much of an Advantage Does a Bodybuilder Martial Artist Have Over Someone without Big Muscles?

by Keith Pascal

Would you believe me, if I told you that overall, in high-level martial arts, a musclebound practitioner is actually at a disadvantage in a fight?

Yes, I’m being serious.

Now, don’t get me wrong; muscle tone “is” important, but having huge muscles popping out all over your body is not.

So, let’s break this down:

If you’re in a style that pits strength against strength, then I suppose that bulging biceps and triceps would help you out, but I think most of us would agree that martial arts isn’t about muscling your way to victory or safety.

Yes, you need enough strength to be able to effect a wrist lock, but if you have to completely “muscle” your way into the lock, then 95% of the time, you should have already changed and softened them up with a strike of some type.

Big Muscles Bad for Kung Fu

In Kung Fu (Gung Fu) styles that rely on sensitivity, being too muscle bound in the arms can really hinder your ability to defend yourself (or others).

There are two main disadvantages to being “bulky”:

1. If you can’t touch elbow to elbow, in front of your body, then you are leaving a big opening up the center.

And your enemy doesn’t have to attack to the inside of your arms, either. If you don’t guard your inside line, then he or she “can” punch through that opening, but if you think you’ll simply close that opening in your guard, fine … you have just been faked.

By closing that line, you open up a different line.

And your opponent gets you … easy peasy.

Note: Jesse Glover, Bruce Lee’s first student, was bulky up top, yet he was dynamite at sticky hands (Chi Sao). He could guard that line, even though he couldn’t touch elbows in front of his body. He had a way of getting opponents to “overcommit” on a different line, thinking they had a new opening.

2. If you have a lot of muscles in your arms … big, nice, hard, muscles … they act like marble columns.

They are sturdy.

And it’s this sturdiness that makes them slow moving.

I learned years ago, that a solid block by my opponent was a blessing.

When you walk into a building with solid columns, do you continue walking right into the stone obstruction?


You go around.

If your initial punch draws a solid, muscular block, then you should
“already” be moving around it onto a new line.

Final “Bruce Lee” Thoughts

So, am I recommending no weight training whatsoever?

No, not at all.

Do you remember The Return of The Dragon?

Do you recall the Bruce Lee upper body flex, when all those muscles rippled out, making him look like a cobra?

Well, those were “supple”muscles. He still had the flexibility of a thin person’s body. His body building did NOT hinder the movement in his arms.

Finally, think of some of our lifelong martial artists. Some of them, in their 70s, still make martial arts work effectively… even against younger fighters with oodles of muscles.

In our old age, we lose muscle. It’s inevitable.

But it doesn’t have to be the end of martial practice for us. In fact,
the younger, heavy lifters, might just be giving older martial artists a big advantage.

Just maybe. (wink)



Life Benefits of Martial Arts

You learn more than self-defense with martial arts

Warning: This is a longer-than-normal article

What Did Martial Arts Give You?

by Keith Pascal

Stick with the preamble … we’ll get to martial arts soon enough.

I promise.

Online, I have read a few posts about people who think going to college is useless.

They feel that it doesn’t teach you skills that will make you a fortune, it doesn’t foster creativity, and it’s a conspiracy … a waste of time that the establishment wants everyone to buy into.

Of course, I don’t feel this way, at all.

I do feel that college didn’t teach me all the skills I needed for life. (I majored in Italian undergrad. and Spanish and Teaching for a masters. I don’t use either of those in my current occupation.)

I didn’t teach me life skills, but …it taught me how to learn. Anything.

It taught me to use my brain at a deeper level.

After college, I figured out that I had the ability to create a “course” for myself in almost any subject area.

When I wanted to learn Photoshop, I took a summer and REALLY learned the Photoshop at a deep level.

I did it on my own with books and online. I created homework, study routines, practice, tests, etc.

By Fall, I knew Photoshop better than most.

(Now, I’ve moved on. No more Photoshop for me.)

When it was time to learn marketing, BAM. I read everything I could get my hands on, and I applied it, just like the professors had taught me to do with other subjects.

The whole world is an oyster just waiting for me to create self courses to create “pearls.”

For the last minute or so, we have been discussing college, but I have heard that military service has also imparted lifelong benefit to those who have served.

Many people I know who have served have discipline like you wouldn’t believe. They also understand all the various roles in any endeavor.

And they develop a strong constitution that can be carried to other areas of life — the army guys aren’t the “quitters.”

But what life skills do martial arts teach?

Sure, martial arts teaches discipline, to some extent, like the being in the military. And you get life lessons of how to learn, and to consider some aspects of life differently, but it’s more than that.

Martial arts gave me … the ability to practice a skill to higher level of perfection. Rather than simply learning a new craft or hobby, I can dissect it, learn the basics, then take it to an ever higher level, with the same efficiency as learning martial arts.

Martial study also gave me the ability to overcome certain fears, when I trained for it, and treated it like any other martial arts skill.

Note: I even Wrote a book  on the subject … Control Your Fear: A Guide for Martial Artists.

Now, let’s get to the meat of this article. What I’m about to tell you is, what I think makes this blog different from the others out there.

Here goes…

Connect Martial Arts to Life

Whether it’s college, the military, or a martial arts class, there seems to be a delayed effect of learning the meta-skill of each area.

Many people don’t discover all the benefits that they received from each area, until long after their degree, their tour of duty, or their formal martial studies.

Sometimes, it takes years, before they realize that they have become a different, better person.

What I’d like to suggest is that, we who are martial arts teachers, help our students to make this connection before they leave us.

We should give them the skill to recognize how what they have just mastered will transfer to other areas of their life.

Don’t make them wait to figure out how all of this applies to general life, later.

Lead them down the path of transferable skill.

You could make the claim that some professors are doing this in Universities. They relate their teachings to real life application.

That’s NOT what I’m talking about.

For example, a math teacher might teach that to learn the area of a circle would benefit you in discovering which is a better deal, one large pizza or two mediums.

That’s direct application.

I’m talking about using “how” you learned what you learned in a different area.

For example, imagine that you have practiced an empty-hand martial art for years and years. Then, one year, you and your family move to a cabin with a wood stove.

All of a sudden, you have to split your own wood, but you have never really handled an axe in your life.

As a martial artist, you will take steps in a specific order, to not only learn the basics of wood splitting, but to go beyond, and get to the point that you can split any log with just one, easy, efficient swing of the axe.

I don’t even have to tell you what steps to take.

As a seasoned martial artist, you are already pondering how “you” would go from no-skill wood splitting, to precision, split-the-piece-like-a-warm-knife-through-butter level of skill.

I feel your brain matter churning, right now.

So, start giving your students examples of how martial arts can affect your whole being, from not getting upset in volatile situations, to learning a craft or skill with the precision of a master.

Do you teach martial arts?

If not, how about applying this to your own life?

Do you need a reminder of how you corrected your habit of not blinking when a punch came at your face?

Can you link that to getting rid of some bad habit, like in bowling, or golf, or on the tennis court?

What about calming your mind before sparring or fighting?

Can you use that skill to teach yourself to squelch your nervousness at having to speak for a few seconds at a relative’s wedding or anniversary?

It’s absolutely fascinating to see how the skill of learning skills can transfer:

How would you learn to chop vegetables at the super speed of a French chef or someone cooking in an authentic Chinese restaurant?

How would you develop that precision?

If you had to add numbers on a 10-key calculator, how would you gain the skill to whip through a column of numbers without ever looking at the keyboard?

What about balancing a ton of plates of food all over your arms the way expert waiters do?

The list goes on and on.

Finally, imagine something that you thought was impossible to learn in the martial arts, but nowadays, you have it down pat. You exhibit real skill.

You mastered it.

So, how would you tackle something that now seems insurmountable, in a different area of life, and have the same patience, the same stick-to-itiveness, and finally develop crazy-good skills at it?

Have a great week,

Keith Pascal

PS Are you signed up for the newsletter? The articles posted on this blog are just the tip of the iceberg. If you really want to be different, and dare I say better than other fighters, then you really should sign up. Best of all .. it’s FREE.


If You Consider Fighting Fair, Then You Probably Should NOT Fight

If You Consider Fighting Fair, Then You Probably Shouldn’t Fight

by Keith Pascal

Bruce Lee spread the idea about there being “no such thing as a fair fight.”

The definition of that phrase has come to mean that if you really and truly have to defend yourself, then all rules get thrown out the door.

It’s a question of survival, and you do what it takes to come out of the altercation as safe and sound as possible.

Sounds reasonable, right?

Well, this past week, not only did I read a question about unfair fighting on Quora, but a subscriber wrote in and asked me for examples of fair and unfair fighting.

Rather than providing you with the standard, and probably boring,

definition of unfair fighting as “kicking him in the groin,” I’d like to create two scenarios:

Self-Defense Scenarios

1) Someone is Picking It with My Wife

Let’s say, at some venue, some guy is engaging, not in a good way, with my significant other.

If it’s at the point where I’d calmly ask Kate if she needed assistance, then I have not switched into “dirty fighting mode.”

If I can get her to walk away, then we leave the dude.

If we have to keep talking, then I’m NOT fighting, and I certainly wouldn’t haul off and hit the guy.

We’re just talking.

If the guy asks me to “take it outside for a fair fight,” then there is an almost 100% chance that I WON’T take it outside for a fair fight.

If we’re in discussion mode, then I’m not actively/physically defending myself or my loved one.

No need to allow him to verbally escalate the situation.

It takes the guy starting to physically aggress for me to respond … and then all rules are off. I’d fight dirty and quick.

In fact, I don’t consider what’s dirty or not; I simply respond with the most efficient “answer” possible.

But let’s back up a minute …

Remember how the dude was arguing with your/my wife?

What if, instead of only talking, he  got rough with her as you approached?

What if he hit her or slapped her?

Then the rules “went” out the door early!!

I mean all rules and all the way out the door!

I wouldn’t even get his attention, first…

I’d approach from behind, and deal with him … where he wouldn’t know what hit him.

No kidding.

No warning! No speeches before the fight, like in the movies!


I have all sorts of options:

  • kicking him in the groin from behind
  • collapsing him down with an arm around his neck
  • a solid kick to the side of the knee
  • a hair pull combined with a strike to a vulnerable area

You get the idea.

No rules. No fair fighting.

Goal = Protect my lady at all costs


2) After a Street Festival

Imagine that you and your significant other are walking back to your car after a big street festival, late at night.

You are confronted by a small gang of “thugs.”

They are not being nice, and you are pretty sure that you can’t talk your way out of this one.

Well, then …

I’d start thinking efficient self-defense from the get-go.

The very concept of there being some “set of rules” that we have to stick to doesn’t even enter my mind.

Not for one instant.

And just to take this scenario in an interesting direction…

Say there were five guys (no burger and fries); four of them are concentrating on one of you, and one is dealing with the other.

Maybe four of them are focused on me, while one guy is supposed to detain “the little lady.”

Or maybe the group is interested in my wife, and one dude has the boring task of keeping me out of the action.

Either way, the one of us dealing with one guy, would drop him as quickly as possible …

(Can you say eye jab? Popping the groin? Punching the throat?)

And then move on to help the other … in the most unfair ways possible.

Remember the element of “unfair surprise” from the first scenario?

Any thoughts of fair fighting went out the door the instant you had to deal with multiple assailants.

By the very definition of many attacking few, they have already disregarded any thoughts of fairness.

Note: And even one person attacking me has discarded his “rule card” by getting physical in the first place.

Surprise, eh?

From behind … kicking low, maybe on the side of the knee again, or the achilles tendon, or into the crotch.

If I can pick up a makeshift weapon, then I’m using it … again, with the element of surprise.

If I had a stick, for example, I’d be whacking backs of knees, shins, faces, ears, knuckles … whatever.

One or two hits to each attacker, and then move on to the next.

Our ultimate goal is to get to safety. Or one might say that we’d want “to safely get to safety.”

What I’m trying to say is that if I’m thinking of fighting fairly, in self-defense, then I would most likely choose not to fight.

If I have to fight… if I’m forced into it … if there is no chance to talk or leave … then I will fight.

And to me, “fight” means no rules.

Final Self-Defense Thought

I am good at avoiding fights.

You might not be as talented at NOT fighting.

Because of this, and the ramifications of witnesses telling what you just did, I can’t recommend my defense actions for you.

There can be legal consequences even in defending yourself.

I can advise that you think about all of this now, before you have to defend yourself … and your loved one.


P.S. If you want to further define when you would and wouldn’t fight, and if you want efficient, no-rules ways of dealing with attackers, then check out How to End the Fight with One Hit.

Be Better Than Impulse Gun Buyers — No Guns In Our Family

With all the recent violence, I just had to publish this article….

Be Better Than Impulse Gun Buyers — No Guns In Our Family

by Keith Pascal

Face it, not all of the inhabitants of The United States show common sense.

The correlation between violent acts and gun purchases supports the above claim.

At first, it seems to make sense that every time a mass shooter shows his insane, destructive nature, the sales of guns rise sharply.

I mean … if we get a wake-up call that there are loonies out there with projectile weapons, it scares us enough to want to be able to fight back, to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

Let’s follow this train of thought for a couple of minutes….

1) Some states wouldn’t make it easy for you to get a hand gun.

2) You can’t take a rifle into a concert or to school “for your protection.”

3) In fact, you probably can’t and/or shouldn’t take a “hand gun” into a concert or to school either. (Many venues have metal detectors.)

4) If you had a gun, you might get killed by the surprise shooter, before you ever got your own weapon into play.

5) If you do manage to get your gun out of its concealed place, with all the nerves and adrenaline running rampant, you have to be able to pick out the direction of the fire, zero in on the bad guy, and be accurate enough to shoot him without tagging any innocent bystanders.

6) And speaking of concealed weapons, getting a concealed weapons permit is not necessarily the easiest task in this state. Some states won’t even grant them to “you.”

Hope For Zero Guns But Be Prepared and Aware

Look, when I go to a concert, I’d like to hope that nobody there, except the police, have firearms.

I don’t want the bad guys to have guns, and I don’t want my fellow concert goers to have them either.

I’m there to enjoy the concert.

So, how do you stay safe, if you aren’t going to sport a gun to your favorite fun-time event?

It starts with awareness….

The employees, security, and the police have to be aware enough to check out sketchy people with suspicious body language and gestures.

Also, they should examine large bags coming into (and around) an event.

But it’s more than simply trusting an employee’s awareness skills … you have to exhibit heightened awareness, as well.

If you were in a movie theater and some nut job revealed a gun and started shooting, how quickly could you get down, below seat level?

How fast could you throw yourself on top of your loved one to protect her (or him) from an “angry” bullet?

Could you judge when it would be appropriate (safer) to run for your life, instead of remaining in the line of fire?

If you’re wondering, I practice what I preach: I don’t own a gun, nor do I borrow a gun to go to concerts.

No gun, but I can stick a ballpoint pen in a wall from about eight feet.

Draw a caricature of a head on the wall,  and I can hit the eye from about six feet almost every time.

I’m not saying that’s the ultimate in defense, but I always carry a pen.

BTW, at a movie theater, I have their discount credit card loose in my pocket. I can fling one of those like a throwing star (shuriken) and hit a target from  about fifteen feet away.

It can cut skin, but actually, all I’d need is a distraction. The same with the ballpoint pen.

One last point in all of this guns-for-safety talk….

Wherever I go, I make periodic scans of the crowd. Nobody sees me doing this; I’m subtle. After all, I wouldn’t want to be perceived as suspicious.

Still, I make the occasional glance.

Through body language, you can get pretty good at reading human “tells.”

Whether you want to admit it or not, you could probably pick out most “scuzz-buckets” in a crowd, with a little observation.

If you have to have a gun, don’t let me be the one to stop you.

I just want you to know that it might not keep you as safe as planned, and there are those of us who prefer … a different way.



What Would You Do

Two Scenarios at the Warehouse Store

by Mak

Actually, the subscriber would prefer to remain anonymous. I have given him the code name “Mak,” so I could file this quick article somewhere.

In Issue #878, I referred to two occurrences that recently happened to me in our local Costco store.

In the first case, several carts, both in front and behind, converged at an intersection.

Everyone bumped into each other, and it took a almost a minute for everyone to “untangle.”

Mak’s answer to this first scenario was fairly simple….

Scenario 1 —

Turn down the nearest aisle and go around.

Avoid the mess and move on.

Easy peasy.

In the original article,  I stepped to the side of the oncoming mess, paused for about five seconds against the wall, and then went around the back of everyone.

So, Mak and I had the same idea, but he takes a longer way around to completely avoid the crowd.

In the second scenario, there was a guy looking around “a little suspiciously.”

Of note, was that the guy sported a swastika tattoo on his right arm.

Here’s how Mak responded to this second scenario….

Scenario 2 —

If somebody triggers me to alert, then they get watched.

If I’m out with other people, I tend to point out the individual who triggered me.

If I sense an immediate threat, I will leave and take my people with me.

Here I would look for weapons, signs of agitation, vocal threats, posturing, etc.

If I feel something less immediate, I keep my distance, stay on high alert, and look for other danger signs.

Others similarly tattooed or a group of skinheads–I’m thinking now of gang violence or some sort of armed robbery.

I wouldn’t follow the guy around.

I probably wouldn’t get close at all.

Unless I were in the thick of it when things kicked off, I’d rather not get involved at all.

If I thought there might be more going on that a Nazi sympathizer with decent situational awareness, I’d probably report it to a cashier or a manager….

“There’s a quy on aisle 4 with Nazi tattoos acting suspiciously. You should send security over to keep an eye on things.”

There was an issue of Spider Man recently, in which Peter Parker gets his body back from Doc Ock, and is astounded to learn that the Doc has been communicating with and working with the police to minimize civilian casualties in his super-powered throw downs. It never occurred to him to make the phone call.

I feel like I am a talented amateur in the realm of self defense.

If possible, I will always let the professionals, people armed and (usually) armored, handle it.

Final Thoughts

I like that Mak’s first thoughts are about staying safe.

To that end, he doesn’t mind leaving the situation. He favors avoiding conflict.

All in all, this is a good attitude to cultivate. This goes also with with his feelings of being a “talented amateur.”

Mal is actually an accomplished martial artist, so this “talented amateur” attitude is one that he has adopted. And it’s a healthy mindset.

Even if you are a martial arts master, it’s better if you “leave it to the professionals,” when you can.

Remember, having a martial advantage means knowing how to stay safe and how to avoid conflict.

Two very important lessons.

Thanks, Mak.

We were hacked

Wow! I can’t believe it has been this long. 

Toward the beginning of the year, this site was hacked. I had no idea that the webmaster simply scratched the site and put a WordPress placeholder on a single page.

Ugh. (All those visitors lost.)

Well, I’m back (Keith Pascal, martial arts writer). And I thought that this site could morph into a martial arts/self-defense blog.

Instead of lengthy articles embedded in each post, you’ll get links to all sorts of martial arts information. All of it designed to give you the edge in a real martial arts “situation.”

In fact, to start you out, take a look at

At Tiptoeing To Tranquility, you’ll find free self-defense articles in a variety of categories. You’ll also find good, sound advice for keeping your loved ones safe, especially when you’re not around. is divided into two parts: Information for those who want to protect themselves AND Information for those who want to help others to stay safe.

Make sure to take a look around, and I’ll see you in the next Advantage Martial Arts post.