Alive and Kicking #13 – The Flinch Response, Goals and Setbacks, and Roof Painting

by on December 26, 2011

in Alive and Kicking


Alive and Kicking – Martial Arts Over 40


Monday 26 December 2011: Issue #13
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Published by Brett Kraiger. Your comments are always welcome.



Welcome to this weeks edition of Alive and Kicking, the newsletter for martial artists over 40. Today I look at a book that I found fascinating, but only has a tenuous link to martial arts. Also I explore coming up against setbacks and disappointments when aiming for a particular goal. (Well actually it’s about me coming up against a setback, but perhaps what I have to say about it might be of use or interest!)


Something a little different for you today. A bit of a book review, but with a (somewhat tenuous) link to martial arts. I received an email in my inbox today from a mailing list I belong to. The mailing list comes from Seth Godin’s blog, and if you haven’t heard of Seth before then he is really worth checking out. He does a daily blog post which challenges conventional thinking in some surprising and interesting ways. You can find the blog at

Anyway in his latest blog post he pointed out that more than 5,000,000 people had received a Kindle as a gift this Christmas. Of course the first thing you need when you get a Kindle is some books to read on it, and in this email he’d suggested a bunch of books to check out. Many of them his books of course, but there are others thrown in there.

One that caught my eye was “The Flinch” by Julien Smith. Apart from the fact that they are selling this for $0.00, the description had me hooked.

“The idea is simple: your flinch mechanism can save your life. It short-circuits the conscious mind and allows you to pull back and avoid danger faster than you can even imagine it’s there. But what if danger is exactly what you need? What if facing the flinch is the one best way to get what you want?”

I had an experience when doing a self-defense course a few years ago where we experimented a little with the flinch response. The defender stood there with their hands up in front of them, while the attacker would launch either a straight punch or a roundhouse/hook punch to the head. Almost invariably the defender managed to avoid getting hit, by reacting or flinching so fast that the strike didn’t get through.

But what really stood out for me was that most people also dropped their head or averted their eyes somehow, which of course leaves them terribly vulnerable. Why? Because they can’t see what is going to happen next. The attacker holds an incredible advantage.

So how do you use this flinch response, but leave yourself in a stronger position? Well, basically rather than flinch away from something, such as stepping backwards or curling up by dropping your head down, the safer and stronger course of action is to step forward toward the attack. (Of course if it is a straight punch you might want to move a little to one side while you do this!)

I’ve been playing with this at training quite a bit recently. In particular I’ve been working with some black belts to get them to move in towards a random strike, rather than trying to avoid it by moving away. If you haven’t tried it then next time you get a chance, grab a partner and have a go. It’s really quite amazing the difference it makes, and how much of a stronger position you get from stepping in towards the attack.

So… back to the book. The book takes this lesson and applies it to things that you might flinch away from in life. Maybe it’s quitting your job, or asking for a raise. Perhaps it’s talking to complete strangers at a party, or even doing public speaking. There will be things in your life that you flinch from. And you may not even recognize it as a flinch, but that’s exactly what it is. Your brain senses danger ahead. Perhaps it’s not physical danger as in a punch to the head, but the brain reacts in much the same way… and does everything it can, as quickly as it can, and it does it subconsciously. So you pull away from the danger.

What this book is asking you to do is to “flinch forward” through anything like that. Sure you can flinch, in fact you have no option but to flinch because it’s totally out of your control. But flinch in a forward direction – step into the danger, into the unknown. And see how powerful you are when you get there!

I highly recommend this book. It’s really thought provoking. At $0.00 it’s a pretty reasonable price too. I’m sure you can read Kindle books without actually owning a Kindle, either using some other sort of device like an iPad, or even on your computer. So go and check it out.


I’ve spent virtually all of 2011 trying to lose weight. My weight had managed to balloon up to 111kgs (242lbs), and given I’m not very tall this meant I was seriously overweight. Rather than try fad diets, I decided to do it properly and lose the weight slowly. Well it certainly has been slow, too slow for my liking. I got down to 94kgs, but recent weigh-ins had me back up to 96kgs.

So I decided I would go a bit harder at the goal, and increased my intensity and frequency of exercise, and really stick to the plan when it came to watching my food. Three solid weeks of exercising 6 days a week, and three solid weeks of being really careful with what I was eating.

The time for my next weigh-in came last Friday. I was actually quite excited about the weigh-in because I knew I’d increased the intensity and my diet had been awesome.

Up on the scales I get, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. My weight had increased! My body-fat percentage was the same. I was absolutely devastated. I could not believe it.

Right then and there I thought “screw it”, I’ve had enough of this. I really was quite discouraged. I headed into my session with my personal trainer straight after the weigh-in, and basically I just could not be bothered. Normally during these sessions Steve and I exchange a lot of banter. He’ll lay out a super-tough session for me and I’ll accuse him of going soft in his old age. I lap up everything he throws at me and ask for more. But not last Friday. I had to battle my way through the session, and really it was only through a sense of politeness that I didn’t just walk out and go and have a shower. I hated it.

It’s been three days since then, and those three days have been Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. And my diet has been shocking. I’ll be incredibly surprised if I haven’t put on more weight. I had planned on going to the gym today, but found every excuse not to!

This sounds like a bit of a sob story, but there is a point to it. Something happened just before I sat down to write this newsletter which helped me put the past few days into perspective. Something really simple. I spilled something on my shirt and had to get changed.

So I opened my shirt drawer, and I saw a shirt that I have not worn for 2 years. It was way too small for me. But for some reason I grabbed it out of the drawer and put it on. It’s too big now!

And that was enough for me to be able to stop wallowing in my self pity, and take stock of how far I have come. Compared to this time last year I am 15kgs (33lbs) lighter, way fitter and stronger, fitting my new clothes and enjoying my martial arts. So what if I’d put on a couple of kilos, even though I’d been working harder at losing the weight. That doesn’t mean that the weight will all go back on. I just have to refocus on my goals, reset the targets, and start again.

It’s like that with any goal that you set. Very rarely will you just be able to march towards your goal in a straight line. You will have detours, setbacks and disappointments along the way.

The important thing is to just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back to working at your goals again.


Phew, this newsletter is getting long. I guess I had better sign off.

I’ve had a great few days, with all the family around here for Christmas Day yesterday, a wonderfully relaxing day today and no work for the the next two weeks!

Well, no paid work anyway. Unfortunately I have a roof that needs painting – that’s tomorrow’s job. It’s summer here in New Zealand, and the weather the last few days has been great. Things are a bit too hot in the middle of the day for roof painting, so it’s going to be an early start in the morning to try and beat the worst of the heat.

One end of my house is two stories high, and I’m not the best when it comes to heights. But, the job needs doing so I’m going to “flinch forward”, get up there and get the job done!


That’s all for this week!

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All the best!


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Quote of the Day


Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
– Winston Churchill

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