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Interview with Steven Abood, Relson Gracie Black Belt, on Invincible Jiu Jitsu and the Women's Self Defense Revolution 

Congratulations on your undertaking of a fantastic endeavor to help fight violence against women.  How can people help and get involved?  

We're actively pursuing the collection of Kickstarter rewards to use to fundraise for the campaign.  We've got some awesome sponsors already, including this very magazine – Jiu Jitsu Style - who was generous enough to donate 8 magazine subscriptions, as well as donated signed books from NY Times bestselling authors, and a skype phone call to a child from the Red Power Ranger.  But we definitely need many more sponsors to reach our ambitious fighting violence against women goals.  If you're a company or individual with any products, items, or services that we could use to fundraise, please contact me at sabood@invinciblewomanproject.com and we'll happily feature you in our Kickstarter video and on all our social media as a supporter of the fight against violence against women. We have Straight Blast Gym International (Matt Thorton) donating private lessons and we'd welcome other martial arts instructors to donate private lessons to help fight violence against women as well.  To thank you, we'll put you in our Kickstarter video which has the support of celebrities who total over three million twitter followers.

Additionally, if you'd like to be informed about the launch of the Kickstarter and other fundraising events, you can email me at sabood@invinciblewomanproject.com, fill out the form at www.iwproject.com, like the Invincible Woman Facebook Page or follow us on twitter @iwproject1

And keep reading Jiu Jitsu Style Magazine for news about when the Kickstarter launches and just because they are awesome in general!

Before we talk about the details of the Invincible Woman Project, which combines self defense and psychology, tell me about your general approach to teaching jiu jitsu, which you call Invincible Jiu Jitsu or Invincible Self Defense? 

Every self defense teacher must ask themselves two equally important questions: "what techniques should I teach?" and "how should these techniques be trained?"  If your goal is self defense, it makes sense to train for what is most likely to occur.  If you were teleported to an alien planet, this first universal law of self defense, the imperative to prepare for what is most likely, isn't going to change.  If you're in school and cramming for a test, it makes sense to spend your limited study time on preparing for what is most likely to be on it.

It is overwhelmingly more likely that you'll be attacked by an aggressive, "unskilled attack" than a stylized attack using martial arts techniques, a "skilled attack".  This is both because 99.999% of the population doesn't regularly train martial arts, and because when emotional (as is almost always the case in a self defense situation) even a skilled attacker will attack in an unskilled manner. Look at boxers who fight in press conferences for instance:  although they trained all their lives to throw disciplined punches, since they are emotional they often throw wild looping punches, shove, and clash together instead of using feints or maintaining distance. The fallacy is underestimating these common unskilled attacks - aggressive strikes, slams, and unskilled chokes - as somehow less deadly than skilled attacks.  In line with the old adage that we don't rise to the occasion but default to our level of training, we must prepare for these most likely attacks and dedicate the majority of our training time to them.

So, the overall philosophy of Invincible Self Defense (as far as what techniques to train) is to first completely ensure that the student is able to defend against unskilled, aggressive attacks comprehensively, meaning, both standing and on the ground, both against unarmed and armed attacks, and both from a fighting stance and from a sudden attack scenario when you are not yet in a fighting stance.

Do other jiu jitsu programs take this approach?

To my knowledge no program completely teaches defenses to all unskilled attacks (the "what to teach") using the training methodology (how to train these techniques) that Invincible Self Defense does, before getting into the less likely skilled versus skilled attacks.  Some programs begin with defense against unskilled attacks then quickly go into skilled versus skilled situations.  Many innovations in the skilled versus skilled aspect of jiu jitsu have taken place since Helio Gracie's original system, and these skilled versus skilled innovators should be commended for taking this aspect of jiu jitsu further.  A skilled versus skilled technique can still be a self defense technique if it meets the criteria of not making one vulnerable to strikes, slams, and can work against large differences in size and weight.

The problem comes when you execute techniques in ways to win at the training method of sparring - for instance, putting your head forward to facilitate a wrestling takedown, jumping to guard, turtling up to avoid side control - all ways in which you are taking advantage of the training method safety rule of no striking or slams to win at the training method, instead of truly winning by creating the right habits to prepare you for a self defense situation.  If self defense is your goal you can still train in a way where you approach full resistance, but you have to train in a way where you disallow habits that would otherwise help you "win" at the training method, and get you in trouble in a self defense situation.


You mentioned training in a way where you approach full resistance - isn't that sportive and not self defense training?

No, not necessarily.  We need to separate two issues that are often compounded together, which are the issues we began with:  what techniques we choose to train and how they are trained.  If the technique meets certain criteria - doesn't make you vulnerable to strikes or slams, and can be used against high disparities in size and weight, for instance - it can be considered a self defense technique.  But then we must ask the second question - how should these techniques be optimally trained?  The self defense and sportive jiujitsu communities are often at war with each other but we can learn from both.  To generalize, the self defense community trains optimal self defense techniques in a suboptimal manner, and the sportive community trains suboptimal techniques in an optimal manner.  Imagine a continuum where on one side we have full cooperation and on the other we have approaching full resistance.  We can never fully recreate a self defense situation, but we should make our training as close to reality as possible.  There is a time and place for cooperative training but eventually we want to approach full resistance.

Apart from the realism benefits, one psychological reason for training with resistance and not fully cooperatively is that competition is fun and keeps you training.  Many a relationship has been ruined by someone addicted to the competition of video games for example!  Since martial arts training partners are by definition skilled, what happens is that skilled versus skilled competition occurs.  A Wing Chun person will engage in chi sao with another Wing Chun person, a jiujitsu stylist will learn counters to jiujitsu techniques, and so on.  While there is self defense benefit to such training if the techniques comply with our self defense parameters (don't expose you to strikes or slams, and can be used against differences in weight), skilled versus skilled resistance training often trains what is most unlikely to occur.  While it may be great that you know that inverted heel hook counter, how likely do you think defense to inverted heel hooks is going to come up in a self defense situation?

To comply with our universal law of training for what is most likely, and also benefiting from the realism of resistance as opposed to cooperative training, Invincible Self Defense's solution is both training partners resisting each other but both playing different games.  One person plays the game of unskilled attacker and tries (for instance) to get in as many simulated strikes, slams, and unskilled chokes as possible, while the other plays the role of skilled defender.  This is done (utilizing safety protocols) in every position both standing and on the ground, with and without weapons, and from a fighting stance and a neutral stance.  Only when this phase one is completely progressed through (defenses against unskilled attacks) for every unskilled attack, do we progress to phase two (skilled attacks), and then finally, phase three (defenses against skilled attacks). Often, self defense teachers think that self defense must be trained only in a static, cooperative manner, and this is simply not the case.

Did you choose the "invincible" in "Invincible Self Defense" for a particular reason or because it just sounds cool?

. Thanks, it is a cool name, but there's a reason behind it.  This whole strategy of defending against what is most likely first, and putting a premium on defense, ties into the old martial strategy of invincibility which is encapsulated by Sun Tzu's adage that "invincibility lies in the defense, the possibility of victory lies in the attack".  Fortunately, when attacked, as Yukiso Yamamoto said, your opponent gives you the gift of his strength, but you must know how to receive it.  In a real self defense situation when people forcefully commit to an attack, there is great potential for using this force to apply a devastating counterattack, but invincibility lies in the ability to completely ensure safety from all positions first - an invincible defense.  The only way a weaker person can defeat a stronger is through utilizing the stronger's force through counterattack. Counterattack presupposes that your defense is good enough to not get swallowed up by the attacker's initial attack.  Additionally, as my teacher Relson Gracie says, "defense is both shorter and more efficient than offense".  Clausewitz echoed this when he wrote that "defense is the stronger form of war".  Don't get me wrong, offense surely has its place in self defense training, but a comprehensive defense, an invincible defense, is first necessary when the stakes are so high.

Tell me about your martial arts background and your martial arts influences

I trained traditional Tae Kwon Do with Master Moo H. Kim from age 3 to 18 then got into Wing Chun, Thai Boxing, and Kali with Sifu Francis Fong during my college years.  I continued training Wing Chun with Sifu Fong's best student, Sifu Eddie Camden (a Pedro Sauer black belt), and then after earning my teaching certificate in Filipino martial arts and JKD Concepts from Guru Dan Inosanto, completely dedicated myself to Gracie Jiujitsu and Judo, eventually earning black belts in both from Professor Relson Gracie and Sensei Steven Alphabet.  Along the way, I was lucky enough to be able to train with teachers such as Helio Gracie and Carlson Gracie before their passing, Helio's sons, grandsons and senior students, Helio "Soneca" Moreira, and teachers such as Mr. Fred Sato, Bruce Lee's friend and judo teacher, Keiko Fukuda, and with teachers at the Kodokan in Tokyo, Japan.  Most recently, I've been working on tactical firearms training and the fundamentals of the Atienza Kali system with Guru CJ Strawn.


Tell me about the Invincible Woman Project 

Both my mother and I have had people in our lives affected by relationship violence, and with 1 in 4 women worldwide suffering from some form of violence, we wanted to make fighting violence against women a priority.  I currently teach a crash course in women's self defense, Invincible Woman Self Defense, at Florida International University where I'm pursuing a Ph.D. in molecular biology with a research focus on diabetes and how fat is accumulated and negated from both a nutrition and exercise physiology perspective.  As a psychology major in college with laboratory work in neuroscience, and with my mother, Dr. Faye Abood's input (a clinical psychologist), we designed the crash course to encompass not only 9 physical training lessons but 9 psychological training lessons, which is also a key and neglected aspect of self defense.  Invincible Woman Self Defense ties into a training method called Jiujitsu Jam, where participants do high repetitions of the techniques they learned in the course in a fun, dance routine-like workout, where they get physically conditioned at the same time.  We're happy that distinguished Stanford Professor of psychology Dr. Philip Zimbardo, after reviewing our upcoming book version of the course, concluded that it was "the most scientifically validated women's self defense and empowerment course."

To spread the course to as many women as possible, we plan to launch a Kickstarter campaign, the Invincible Woman Project, which seeks to make the self defense and empowerment course available to as many women as possible by producing a DVD set, phone app and streaming video lessons of the course (and Jiu Jitsu Jam), and making it accessible for free to every battered women's shelter who wants it.  Secondly, we want to create a free global internet forum where women can connect with one another and find free legal and counseling help.  I'm also an attorney and I will work on the legal end of the free forum while my mother will work on the counseling end.

Thanks so much Steven. It's been a real pleasure hearing your ideas on self defense strategy and best of luck with the Invincible Woman Project Kickstarter.

Thank you!

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February 02, 2015 — Jiu Jitsu Style