Via Potentia ~ Modern Self Defense Training

Our next free seminar on self defense and physical conditioning is Friday, July 29 from 6 - 9 PM. Call or email to confirm availability and save a space.

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Common Questions

Following are some of the frequent questions we've encountered. For detailed treatment of what we do and why, please see our manual. Feel free to call or email us if your question is not answered here:

What martial art should I take to learn self defense?
Most people assume that taking a martial art is the same thing as learning self defense. Many martial arts, their instructors and their students promote this misunderstanding. Unfortunately, it just isn't true. There is a very real difference between using strikes and kicks for sport, demonstration and competition, and using them for self defense. There is a big difference between doing techniques in the air (a form), or against an opponent of similar size who isn't trying to harm you (sparring), and attempting to fight off someone much larger, more powerful, who is perhaps armed, attacked you without warning, and who is trying to rearrange your face, rape or murder you.
Consider the difference between competition target shooting and self defense shooting. They both involve a gun, ammunition, a shooter, and look the same to the observer. Competition target shooting takes intense practice, self control, top quality equipment, form, etc., and they are outstanding shots. But self defense shooting requires an entirely different skill set and method of practice. Interestingly, people who are excellent at target shooting and practice frequently are often very poor self defense shooters (and those who are great at self defense shooting aren't necessarily good at competition target shooting). Doubt this? Police are required to qualify regularly with various tactical shooting skills. Statistics indicate that most police shootings take place at approximately 5-10 feet and under imperfect, stressful circumstances. At 30 feet I can put 10 shots in a row into a quarter size target in a target shooting competion, and there are a lot of people, including those in law enforcement, who can shoot much better than I. But police completely miss the person at 5-10 feet away about 50-75% of the time.
I'm not writing this to pick on police -- they are the only body with good statistics for these situations. In fact, if I try to use target-shooting standards to do fast shooting, I'm just as bad. I'm writing this to point out that being a great shot and being good at self defense shooting are related, but entirely different skills. The problem is that people mistake one for the other, and the people selling the training participate in the deception.
The same holds true for empty-hand, unarmed techniques. Most martial arts have excellent benefits; they teach skills that emphasize self discipline and conditioning in the context of techniques that are useful for sport, demonstration or even a moderate one-on-one conflict. Some of the participants develop awesome skills. They often present themselves as being for self defense, and many can be adapted with work, but genuine self defense from assault requires a different kind of training than you find in about 95% of martial arts programs. The problem is that about every program, instructor and student will claim that their system teaches self defense. The inexperienced person won't know any better.
If you seek self defense training, then first look for a genuine self defense training program like Krav Maga, Via Potentia, or an intense short-term course like RMCAT. These specifically train you for dealing with a violent attack. If that isn't available in your area, the next best thing is a full contact fighting sport like MMA, boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, judo, Muay Thai or jujitsu. These are primarily for sport, but readily adapt to self defense. If those aren't available, seek an aggressive martial art with an excellent instructor, and complement it with a lot of contact work against larger, stronger opponents, heavy bag workouts, etc., focusing on fighting dirty.
Here are some clues that indicate an actual self defense program, or at least something that can be realistically adapted to self defense:
  • Emphasis on awareness, avoidance and escape
  • A recognition that size matters a lot
  • Hard training -- aggressive, non-compliant partners, as much contact as can be handled without serious injury
  • Delivering power shots to vulnerabilities like eyes, neck, lower abdomen, etc., in an effort to cause injury and allow for escape
  • Improvised and conventional self defense weapons -- if the carrying and use of at least pepper spray and a handgun isn't encouraged, you aren't learning self defense
  • All ranges of sparring, including grappling
  • Low kicks
  • Emphasis on learning just a few simple movements very well, versus attempting to master a large variety of techniques
If you see an emphasis on forms, non-contact sparring, board breaking, demonstration, sport sparring, archaic weapons, belt tests, etc. -- the kinds of things found in most schools -- then it may be a great program with a great instructor and participants, but it isn't a self defense program. Anyone who tells you different may be sincere, but is sincerely mistaken. You don't want to find out at the worst possible moment that what you spent months or years practicing is only good for sport or demonstration.
Why don't other martial arts teach these skills?
I often have people in our free self defense seminar who have spent time in other martial arts or have had a lot of rough knocks. A question that often arises, once they see what we teach and practice and how effective it is, is where did we learn this and why aren't other programs teaching it?
The honest answer is that you'd have to ask the masters of those styles. In my experience in several other styles I think that they are simply teaching their programs, and once you've been in a program long enough (without really testing it and comparing it to real life), you get a little insulated. In most martial arts, questioning the curriculum and trying to improve it isn't well-received. You do things the way they are taught to you, irrespective of actual effectiveness in real life, and are evaluated based on how closely you can copy the instructors.
Via Potentia is adaptive and practical by nature. It came to be not out of adherence to any particular style or philosophy, but by studying actual assaults and fights, and developing a curriculum to help people escape these situations. As we find things that don't work well, or can simply be improved, we do so.
What is the practical difference between martial arts and self defense?
In an assault you will likely be attacked with little or no warning, and by someone who uses overwhelming size, power and nonstop attacks. He may have a weapon and accomplices. He is a sociopath who doesn't care how much he hurts you -- hurting you is his goal. The environment will be uneven and hard. The attacker believes he can destroy you with little or no risk to himself -- and he is probably right. You will have an adrenaline dump, which will basically shut down your rational brain, diminish your sense of pain, make you trembly and lose fine motor skills. You won't be able to think straight.
If you are very lucky, he'll be slow and drunk, and not very skilled. If you are unlucky he'll be pumped up on other drugs, fast, and feel no pain.
This is not a "fair fight," a competition or a skill demonstration. You'll need to be able to strike harder, faster and more accurately than someone who probably has 60 pounds on you and wants to hurt you. You'll have to protect your vulnerabilities from injury. If you stick around to fight, you will probably be defeated... plus whatever comes after that. It will come down to who can cause the first serious injury, and against a larger, stronger attacker who chose the time, place and unwilling victim, that probably isn't you. In fact, you being injured may be the first notice you get that you are being assaulted. Your best option, if even possible, will almost always be to flee. The difference is that you may have to use your attacker's body and face as traction.
If you have a weapon of any kind -- even a pencil -- you use it, your elbows, your knees and your claws to cause an injury to the attacker as quickly as possible. These will be gross movements. No high kicks or fancy techniques. They just won't work. Whereas a sparring match can go for minutes, you'll have maybe 15 seconds to explode and run, after which you'll begin hyperventilating, shaking, perhaps vomiting. Some people black out.
Martial arts train for personal discipline and techniques for demonstration and sparring competition. Such techniques have many benefits, but will be ineffective, dangerous (to you), and maybe even impossible to do in an actual assault. You must train with gross techniques against targets that are vulnerable to injury to prepare for defense from actual assault.
What equipment will I need to buy?
We provide all necessary equipment. However, we recommend that men wear groin protection and perhaps a mouthpiece while training with a partner. We have adult and youth mouthpieces for about $5 (we usually just give them to you). Uniforms are optional, and range from about $30 to $70. Some sparring gear is available, but we advise people to purchase their own set if they wish to do a lot of contact or weapons sparring.
Some other items can help you in your personal training time (at home):
  • Elastic bands
  • Kettlebells, free weights (dumb-bells) or improvised weights (e.g., water- or concrete-filled milk jugs)
  • Pull-up bar (or better yet, adjustable-height rings)
  • Heavy bag (you can improvise one by wrapping an old foam mattress around a pole or large, sand-filled ABS pipe)
  • Hand stands can help for improving arm, shoulder and chest strength (push-ups), and assist with front split stretches
  • Some decent mats or a thickly-carpeted area -- 20 x 20 is ideal
These can all be improvised from scrap items with relatively-little expense, or purchased new for a few hundred dollars. Anything more than the above is really "gravy." Full-scope heavy bag work is very important. You must learn to deliver power at all target levels from the ankle to the head.
How long does it take to learn self defense?
You can learn the principles of self defense -- principles that can save your life because they help you avoid and prevent assaults -- in one sitting. However, learning the techniques of physical self defense take time, practice and effort. You will take some bruises along the way. For most people, they are beginning to develop minimal skills in about three months of dedicated practice. Our goal is that people who stay for three terms -- who complete the beginning stage -- will have effective self defense skills.
Do I have to be in good shape?
Predators are more likely to attack people who look like easy marks. If you are in good shape and carry yourself with confidence, it may help avoid attack. Developing strength may also help you fight off an attacker. Via Potentia is specifically designed to help you improve your physical condition gradually. The exercises were chosen and ordered after extensive research, including consultation with skilled physical therapists. We don't expect beginners to have great strength, flexibility or endurance. Our physical conditioning goals for the first three terms are modest. For example, the target for the first three months is to be able to do 10 pushups and situps, 20 squats, jumprope for one minute, and one pullup. It builds gradually from there. If you are already in good shape, then just increase the targets accordingly.
Can I lose weight doing Via Potentia?
Yes, engaging in almost any physical activity can help one lose weight, but many factors affect weight. The two primary ones are food consumption and activity level. There are some difficulties with depending primarily on exercise for losing/controlling weight:
  1. It can easily take 1-2 hours of hard exertion to work off ten minutes of "heavy eating." It is much easier to control portions and make sure you are eating healthy foods than it is to eat poorly and attempt to make up for it by exercise.
  2. Some studies indicate that you have to burn roughly 3500 calories of work to take off one pound; at 400-500 calories per hour of average exertion, you are looking at eight hours per pound, or roughly 160 hours working out. With the typical exercise routine that people follow -- three hours per week -- it would take a year or more to work off 20 pounds by exercise alone.
  3. Exercise builds and tones muscle. Because muscle is heavier than fat, weight loss from exercise is sometimes slower than expected.
Controlling portions and exercise can together help reduce weight. But just realize that it is going to be very, very hard work. In addition to intake control and exercise, people with serious obesity problems should consult a doctor before beginning exercise, start very slowly, and address possible psychological reasons for their eating
There is growing evidence that food choices play an even greater role in weight and health than total calories, and that high carbohydrate, low fat diets may actually be harmful to many people, especially when combined with high sugar/fructose intake.
Also, ignore the images that society presents regarding health and body ideals. Very few people can achieve these (without surgery, personal trainers, and hours per day in a gym). There is nothing wrong with having a little fat on your body. It can be just as unhealthy to have little or no fat as it can to have too much. You need to find the right balance for you.
Does the curriculum change?
The Via Potentia curriculum changes in two senses. First, we adapt it to the needs and abilities of those present. We aren't going to teach advanced, difficult moves to beginners any more than we are going to bore experienced people with "this is a front kick." But the curriculum is also evolving in that we are constantly testing it, seeing what works and what fails in different circumstances, what can be improved, etc. This includes our conditioning exercises.
Note how different this is to "traditional" martial arts that typically continue teaching the same things, irrespective of their relevance and effectiveness (or lack thereof).
How does diet fit into the training?
Via Potentia fitness training is centered primarily around exercises done during the classes. However, food and general lifestyle choices are huge health factors. In terms of diet, we merely recommend moderation and that one get plenty to drink and eat a variety of healthy foods. It is common sense.
The problem is that what is considered "healthy" changes over time, and a lot of what is pushed as healthy (or unhealthy) is sometimes more political or media hype than anything grounded in emperical science or genuine nutrition. For example, we long ago gave up trying to follow all of the contradictory studies about coffee or tea.
There is growing, persuasive evidence that diets high in simple carbohydrates and sugars lead to obesity and other health problems, and that diets that are mostly meats, vegetables and natural fats generally correspond with better health. But individual variances matter.
Some people argue that you should only eat natural, unprocessed, unaltered foods. "If it is in a box, drive through, or you can't pronounce (or don't understand) the ingredients, avoid it." This feels right, but is really misleading. There really isn't anything wrong with having a hamburger from time to time or a box of macaroni and cheese. It only becomes a problem if it is what you eat every day. And the fact that something is processed doesn't necessarily make it unhealthy. Cooking, itself, is a chemical process that changes food qualities -- and some of the changes aren't merely tasty, but they can be good for us. Further, there are natural substances that can be just as deadly as artificial ones, so we're not convinced that just because something is unprocessed that it is necessarily better for you than anything else.
The bottom line is that our bodies are extremely complex systems and require a variety of nutrients to function well. No one food, processed or not, is sufficient. Proper maintenance has many facets, including eating a variety of healthy foods, exercising, sleeping, avoiding harmful habits, and managing stress.
What are the historical roots of Via Potentia?
Most martial arts will present to you a history by which they trace the lineage of their current instructor or the discipline as a whole back hundreds if not thousands of years. While these histories often have a grain of truth to them, they are, on the whole, entertaining fabrications when it comes to any practical connection between the actual techniques and structure of current martial arts schools. The difference with Via Potentia (and with most self-defense-based programs) is that we won't your time or ours trying to invent historical connections where none really existed, or try to impress you with legendary exploits that probably never really happened. What we will do is always tell you the truth, even if that isn't as interesting or pleasing.
The truth is that Via Potentia was created to address the reality of modern assault patterns, the abilities of the typical victim, and widespread health problems. It is rooted not in historical (or mythical) events, but in the reality of human experience, current culture, and the strengths and limitations of the human person.
What styles were combined to create Via Potentia?
Via Potentia was created by studying actual assault realities, the strengths and vulnerabilities of the human body, best practices for adult learning, and proper physical conditioning methods. Think "striking, injuring and escaping" for the self defense portion. For self defense striking, we compiled the attacks that are easiest to learn and execute, and have the greatest chance of injuring a larger, stronger attacker. For self defense groundwork we emphasize learning to move on the ground and learning moves that can help us escape from a large attacker.
We didn't consciously pick techniques or segments from this or that martial system and combine them into something that we liked (or thought would sell). However, we didn't throw the baby out with the bathwater, either; we retained and adapted practices that are common to multiple martial arts and that serve a useful purpose, or at least act as a brief break from our otherwise intense training.
The end result is, effectively, a gradual-introduction to no-holds-barred fighting within the context of excellent physical conditioning. For people trying to relate this to known programs, think Krav Maga plus jujitsu plus outstanding fitness training plus basic weapons. Or, for those who know MMA, just think MMA with all of the foul shots included (plus weapons).
At the intermediate and advanced levels we have a greater emphasis on punching, demonstration, sport and dueling. At this point we become much more like hybrid or eclectic martial arts programs.
We also include gun safety and handling skills, conventional weapons use, First Aid and CPR training. I honestly know of know other martial art or self defense program that includes the unique combination of instruction we offer.
Is it true that size doesn't matter for self defense?
If size and strength didn't matter -- if all that mattered was skill -- then there would not be weight classes in practically every form of contact sport in the world; wrestling, jujitsu, boxing, kickboxing, MMA, etc. No, size and strength matter a lot. Only those who have drank from the fountain of the special martial arts kool aid (and who have never engaged in actual contact fighting, grappling, or who have never experienced true violence) believe that size doesn't matter in a real fight or assault.
People generally don't attack you unless they are larger and stronger to the point that they believe they can intimidate or defeat you with little risk to themselves. Granted, some targets like the eyes, neck and groin are vulnerable irrespective of size, but size and strength do make a difference. An assault happens quickly, pain doesn't stop some people, and the amount of power a large man can bring to bear is often grossly underestimated. You can be knocked out, seriously injured or disabled in one hit from a powerful person who knows what he is doing. Your skill won't matter then.
Also, skill only accounts for so much if you are 120-160 pounds and being attacked by someone who weighs 220 (a typical weight for a violent criminal male). Techniques that worked great in the gym against a friendly opponent, or against someone roughly your same size and strength often don't work at all against much larger people. It is very hard to deflect strikes from someone who is substantially larger and stronger than you, let alone get out from under him once you are on the ground and his weight is on you. He is going to throw or knock you to the ground and pound you into unconsciousness. Your only realistic chance against a substantially larger, stronger opponent is to outrun him, have a powerful weapon, or get a lucky shot in that causes a serious injury before he overpowers you.
Recent surveys of jail inmate patterns indicate that most men who engage in violent crimes are in the 180 to 240 pound range. This is roughly the upper two quintiles for males, which means that men who engage in assault are larger than average. Most attackers have a distinct look to them, at least by the time they get booked into jail. They are also, usually, sociopaths. A sociopath (or sometimes psychopath) is someone who does not have normal moral boundaries and does not feel empathy or sympathy. Roughly one in thirty people are sociopaths (and make others miserable), but violent sociopaths are less common.
Will I learn to fight multiple attackers?
There are three critical factors that indicate a grave situation:
  1. A substantially larger, stronger, or insanely-aggressive attacker
  2. Multiple attackers
  3. The presence of a weapon
If any of these factors are present, then you are in very serious danger, and your chances of being able to defeat the attacker, let alone fight your way out of the situation and live, are greatly reduced.
It is not realistic to expect to be able to fight and defeat multiple attackers without a lethal weapon. It is possible to escape from multiple attackers, and if your attackers all happen to be 5'4", 120 pound idiots who forgot to bring their A game or any weapons, and you are 200+ pounds of meanness, maybe you could teach them a good lesson in planning and victim selection.
How does punching fit into the training?
Most martial arts, fighting sports and even popular self defense programs emphasize punching. The general public therefore believes that punching is what you should do in a fight, but it just ain't so.
We emphasize elbows, knees, shin and stomping kicks, and the like. We want to take the strongest, most insensitive part of our body and drive it into the most sensitive, most delicate part of the attacker's body. The hand and wrist simply are not able to handle the forces involved in powerful punches, especially if those punches happen to land on a hard, bony surface (like the head). Sport fighters thoroughly wrap and tape their hands before a fight, then protect them with padded gloves and wrist reinforcements; even so, breaks aren't uncommon. In self defense we don't have those luxuries. All it takes is one firm swing to hit the cranium or an elbow, and that hand is out of commission. There are many other strikes you can do that are better for targeting weak areas of the body or that allow the delivery of more power without as much risk to the hand or wrist.
That all being said, we do offer minimalist punching training in the first year, and more thorough boxing training (for sport application) in the second and third years.
Can you guarantee that the techniques will work?
I can promise you that if you poke someone in the eye, it will hurt and be hard for him to see. Strike him hard enough in jaw or neck, and he will fall back, and perhaps pass out. Strike the collar bone properly and it will break, disabling that arm. And so on. I can also promise you that we will work on these and other techniques in class. However, the real question is whether you will be able to execute under pressure; when you are scared, influenced by adrenaline, and perhaps already injured. This is the equivalent of saying I can give you the gun and train you to use it, but when it all goes down it will be up to you to follow the training and pull the trigger.
Even the best of techniques can be difficult to execute or ineffective on some people. One of the things you'll find even in class is that sometimes a technique just doesn't work, or you aren't in the right position to get it, and you have to move on to another. The reality in life, and especially in a violent confrontation, is that you can do everything right and still fail.
The good news: FBI and other statistics indicate that people who fought against an attacker often felt that their efforts were beneficial. However, every situation is different. We confidently believe that improving your strength and developing effective self defense skills will improve your chances in a conflict.
Why do you have silly quotes at the top of some pages?
Because one shouldn't take himself too seriously, and we try not to. As various silly thoughts or quotes came up, we just compiled them into a list. Here is the current complete list (don't take them too seriously):
  • Be Not Afraid...
  • Stand for Life
  • Stayin' Alive
  • No holds barred training for psychologically healthy people
  • Choose to Live
  • Investing in People
  • Do Something Good with your Life
  • Free Yourself
  • Move Beyond Air Guitar
  • Fight the Good Fight
  • Discover and Fulfill Your Potential
  • Bust out a Can of Whoop*%@!
  • Discipline yourself, and no one else will have to
  • Sometimes violence is the answer (unfortunately)
  • Some things are worth fighting for
  • 99.9% dragon free
  • No zombies allowed
  • Keep your chi to yourself
  • Carry your weight
  • Wake Up
  • Our forms are better than your forms. Neener neener.
  • Bad guys aren't impressed by your belts, certificates or trophies
  • Delusion Free Zone
  • Think of it as life insurance with perks
  • No Excuses!
  • As cool as the other side of the pillow
  • My way is not very sportsmanlike
  • Resistance isn't futile
  • Not entirely incompetent
  • It seemed like the thing to do at the time
  • Anything beats fingernails
  • Break free
  • The Best Chi in Town
  • Real training, real results, no nonsense
  • And now for something completely different
  • Because no one else was doing it
  • Weaponizing the Human Body
  • Fight back. Always.
  • Fight for your life
  • Be your own bodyguard
  • Brutal honesty zone
  • Tough love zone
  • Self defense is a basic human right
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Do you teach gun defense?
We teach people safe gun handling, target shooting skills, and defensive firearm tactics. We will teach basic gun disarm techniques only after you have demonstrated competency with firearms. We also teach you how to defend against disarm techniques.
Do you teach knife defense?
The best defense against a knife is to run as fast as you can. Defending yourself from someone with a knife literally means to prevent him from touching you. It is practically impossible unless the knife wielder is incompetent.
You appear to teach some sport techniques and ones that aren't really for self defense. Why?
The first year of training emphasizes self defense principles and techniques. This includes learning how to defend from common attacks. We believe that people learn best to defend from something when they honestly know how the offensive weapon or technique works, and can use it themselves. For example, many people use a rush/tackle/leg take-down type attack on their victims. We teach this attack so that people can learn how it is done, how to do it, but most of all how to defend from and counter it. Many such techniques are also useful in sport, for those who wish to enter into competition.
We try not to include techniques that are useful only for sport in the first year, except as a diversion from our usual training.
Do you teach nerve or chi attacks?
No. Most nerve attacks are difficult to get and chi attacks (if real at all) have never been demonstrated to work against an aggressive, violent attacker.
Is Via Potentia good for dealing with bullies?
Television and the movies have popularized the myth that martial arts and similar programs are good for bully situations. I'm not sure that this is the case these days. Bullies tend to pick on people over whom they have advantages of size, strength, or other power. Schools and the general culture discourage standing up for yourself (fighting back) to the point that people who simply defend themselves often get suspended or expelled (or arrested).
Nonetheless, martial arts and self defense training might help in a few ways.
  1. They help develop self confidence, and people who are secure and confident in themselves are less likely to be prey to bullies.
  2. They help develop self control. Many fights result from a lack of self control. Those who know what they are capable of and can control themselves are sometimes less likely to fight with others.
  3. The actual strength and skills can improve your chances of defending yourself from a bully if matters should become physical. I've known people who were small and picked on; through personal strength and wrestling training they got to a point where they were able to defend themselves from bullies and the bullying ceased.
  4. We believe that grappling in particular is an excellent skill for boys and men, as they can help them escape from or defeat an untrained bully. It is also important for girls and women, as assaults on females frequently end up in a grappling situation.
You mentioned confidence. How does that fit into Via Potentia?
Many martial arts claim that they will help you (or your child) with self esteem, discipline, or to be more successful. To assist in this they provide measurable challenges, and when those are met, they provide a certificate, belt, or other recognition. Via Potentia differs in at least two ways.
First, our goal is not that you develop good self esteem. Our goal is for you to develop the ability to protect your life and improve your heath. If that helps with your self esteem, then great (and many people find that it does). Second, our criteria for advancement are much more substantial. In fact, I don't even know of another martial arts program that has calisthenic requirements for advancement.
Confidence is overrated, and can get you into a lot of trouble. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between confidence and foolishness. Developing self defense, martial arts or fighting skills should not result in the kind of confidence that leads someone to feel they can handle any problem, take additional risks, etc.
Many people are insecure about various things. We feel vulnerable because, frankly, we are vulnerable. Any of our lives could be turned upside down or ended in an instant. Our focus is on developing skills, and if legitimate confidence grows from that, then great. But we still want people to recognize that the best thing they can do is be aware of and avoid dangerous situations in the first place. An appearance of alertness, vigor and confidence might make you a less likely target, but it won't make any difference once an attack commences.
The best thing you can have is an honest knowledge of your own strengths and weaknesses, which leads to humility and peace. If confidence fits into that too, then great.
Can I become a "warrior?"
Probably not. If you want to become a genuine warrior, go join the military and get into special forces.
Any self defense or martial art program that tells you that they'll turn you into a warrior -- and many, many do -- is selling you a myth, image or feeling (i.e., snake oil). We don't try to sell you images and feelings in Via Potentia. We just try to help you improve your condition and learn practical self defense skills (for the most part).
Why the emphasis on avoidance? Don't you teach people to fight?
One MMA-jujitsu groupie accused us of charging people a year's tuition for reminding them to keep their doors and windows locked. It was an absurd, ignorant accusation, but the reality is this: It is much, much easier to avoid and prevent an assault than it is to escape from it; and it is much easier to escape from an assault than it is to prevail in one.
I use the example of a "rear naked choke" (RNC) to explain this. The RNC is a technique where the attacker is behind you and wraps his arm around your throat, locking it into the elbow of his other arm. He usually also has his legs locked around you, or you are belly-down on the floor with him on your back. (It is called a "naked" choke because it just uses the arms, not your clothing, to choke you. No, no one is actually naked.)
The RNC and most chokes are pretty easy to prevent if you detect them in advance and stay in a relative position that doesn't allow them. But if you aren't paying attention or are just grossly outmatched, and that arm gets around your throat and locked in, it is almost impossible to escape; you have maybe 5-10 seconds left before you pass out.
It is similar in self defense. An assault is the equivalent of locking in that choke. It takes a lot less work and your chances are much better at just preventing the position where it can be applied than if you get into the position and try to prevail once it is already locked in.
Will I get injured doing Via Potentia?
Sports injury and insurance studies indicate that martial arts and similar hobbies are among the highest injury-rate activities in the world, averaging about four significant injuries per year. By "significant injury" we mean something beyond simple bruising or muscle soreness; something that requires positive treatment and time off to heal. For example, a sprain, fracture, pulled muscle, laceration, or worse.
The rate of injury in Via Potentia is much less than the industry average. We take more steps (and have gone to much greater expense) than most martial arts programs to minimize injuries; top quality mats, safety equipment, etc. We arrange exercises in an order that is much better for your body and, in the event of an injury, we have a complete First Aid kit on hand and our instructors are trained in First Aid.
Part of learning self defense is learning to take hits as well as give them. This isn't a lot of fun, but it needs to be done so that you know what it feels like to get hit, how to deflect hits, and that you can continue fighting through discomfort. From time to time you are going to get hit, kicked or cranked in some way that is less than pleasant. That is part of learning true self defense. At the very least you are going to receive and give a number of bruises. If you don't, then you aren't trying hard enough.
But the honest answer is yes, you probably will get injured eventually. The longer you do it, the more likely it is that, eventually, you will end up with a sprained joint, bloody lip or nose, fracture or similar. That is just life, and is true for any intense activity.
What are the weak points of Via Potentia?
Every style, program or system has things that it emphasizes, and things that it does not do well. Whether these are actually "weaknesses" is really a matter of personal taste. We emphasize self defense striking. The best way to practice is on a live person, but given the nature of these strikes, you can't practice them on a person with contact. There isn't any acceptable level of contact for an eye gouge, ear slap, neck strike (maybe), groin hit, etc. So we practice these in sparring without contact. The problem, then, is that they best practice is always as you would do them in real life. So these get practiced at full contact against a dummy, heavy bag or padded target.
We do contact sparring and grappling, but the initial emphasis is self defense. This means that those who do contact sparring and grappling for competition will often be better at competition-appropriate skills, while we will be better at escaping, strikes and techniques that are less appropriate for competition.
We do not emphasize rank, awards and related things that some people think are valuable but don't really add anything to your training (and are meaningless in application).
Because of our emphasis on practical self defense application, we do a lot more contact sparring and grappling than most modern martial arts. You can go at your pace and intensity, but bruises and abrasions are quite a bit more common for our participants.
Probably our greatest weakness is simply that we do so many different things and don't specialize in a single skill. We are generalists. People who are looking for in-depth training in any narrow area like boxing, grappling, sport sparring, stick work, etc., may be frustrated by our approach. More than once people have come to us seeking advanced training in escrima, boxing or grappling, and I've had to tell them that we aren't a good choice for that kind of training. Someone who wants to "become a boxer," should go and take boxing training, someone who wants to become a jujitsu expert should go and get dedicated jujitsu training, but if one wishes to merely learn the basics in each of these areas (and others), then Via Potentia will be a good choice.
Who are your masters? What is the lineage or "authority" for Via Potentia?
Via Potentia came to be after frustration with the shortcomings, abuses, deceptions and improper practices with common martial arts coupled with a desire to teach practical self defense and good conditioning practices to the public. The curriculum was developed after years of extensive research and decades of martial arts experience. However, it is not a derivative of or accountable to any particular outside organization.
Do you do grappling?
Yes. Self defense events are rarely graceful and often end up with one or more people rolling around on the ground. It is very important to learn how to move on the ground when someone else is trying to hold you down and hurt you. The key difference for us is that our beginning grappling instruction emphasizes escaping, not maneuvering for a win or submission. It is much easier to deliver some dirty strikes to the groin, neck or eyes, and break free than it is to defeat someone on the ground. It is also very dangerous, from a self defense perspective, to be on the ground at all. You are extremely vulnerable to additional attackers or edged weapons.
Do you do submissions?
We teach common positioning and basic, high percentage submissions in the first year -- various sleepers, arm bars, shoulder cranks, wrist breaks, ankle locks (mostly achilles compression) and the like. We also teach very aggressive neck cranks, but these have to be practiced under very controlled conditions and generally aren't "legal" in sport matches. The sleeper holds are, by far, our preferred submissions, as they are relatively-safe to practice with each other and can knock someone out in few seconds. Complex submission more appropriate to sport are taught in the second and third years, as are take downs and throws. We reserve toe holds, heel hooks and knee bars until the second or third year, as they can't be used in most sport matches except at high levels, and we already have submissions from the same or similar positions. It should be mentioned that, outside of jujitsu-style sports in which some or all strikes are prohibited and you are arranged by skill and weight, submissions are generally not effective unless:
  • You got lucky
  • They were preceded by a thorough beating that softened him up
  • He is a complete idiot and weakling (compared to you)
Submissions are very difficult to pull off on larger, stronger opponents. Complex, finesse submissions are nearly impossible to accomplish while you are being hit in the face or if the person is just one or two weight classes above you. Submissions are fine to go for in sport, but it is much more dangerous to fight for them in a real assault or duel in which there are no rules of engagement.
Can I transfer in from another art?
Yes. However, we don't "recognize" ranks from other arts. Ranks have little relevance in our system. We simply try to teach you practical self defense. We can help you adapt other skills you've learned to self defense, too. If you come in with other skills, we do our best to challenge you and accelerate your progress.
Do I need a uniform?
No. We do not require uniforms. If you choose to wear one, we recommend white, heavy-duty pull-over uniforms without belts. Too much class time gets wasted adjusting the flap-style uniforms with belts.
How can I join?
We recommend that you come to one of our free, three-hour seminars on self defense to see if Via Potentia is a good choice for you. It isn't required, but allows you to see what we are about before signing up for classes. You are also welcome to call, or drop by the gym before or after classes.
Are you trying to create "fighters"?
Some people argue that effective self defense is about creating fighters; certainly, a good fighter will be good at self defense. However, we are not trying to create people who are either competitive sport fighters, or who have that psychology. Frankly, I don't like to hit, kick or otherwise hurt other people. While I have no problem with two people who want to do contact sparring and do so without any intention of injuring each other, there is a violent, destructive spirit associated with many fighters, what appears to me to approach a psychological disorder.
We recognize that violence may be necessary to defend innocent life -- our own or others -- but we do not engage in or fantasize about violence or harming others for sport, fame, money or any other reason.
You appear to do stick training. What style is it? Escrima? Arnis? Kali?
Like most of our techniques, our stick training is not derived from any particular system, nor is it an attempt to teach an assimilated martial art. We recognized that, in an assault, any weapon is better than nothing, but that most people simply don't have experience striking with anything. We use sticks of varying lengths to immitate improvised weapons that could be used in self defense, emphasizing the development of several slashing, jabbing and butting strikes that could be done with objects as small as a pencil, as large as a cane, and anywhere in-between.
Can I take another martial art while doing Via Potentia?
Absolutely... as far as we are concerned. We want you to do whatever is best for you, and only one person is in the best position to make that decision: You. However, many other martial arts are very possessive about their students, don't like them to participate in multiple programs, and come up with all kinds of amusing excuses for their position.
What makes Via Potentia different from or better than the gym down the street?
Most martial arts schools are either "traditional" programs that teach a specific style like Tae Kwon Do, or they are mixed martial art programs that have been compiled for sport/competition, or to appeal to the widest audience (to make money). Via Potentia was designed from the ground up to be something that is good for the human person, without regard for traditional martial arts systems or business models. If you want to learn fancy, show off techniques or self discipline, then there are other schools to consider. If you want to learn self defense, physical conditioning and other life skills, then Via Potentia is a great choice. Here are a few of the specific points that distinguish us from the vast majority of programs:
  • Self defense based -- most martial arts claim this, even though it just isn't true
  • Proper physical conditioning -- most martial teach/do conditioning in a way that causes injuries
  • Emphasize spontaneous combination and power development
  • Traditional Western Ethics -- most martial arts have eastern, dualistic ethics that are incompatible with major monotheistic religions
  • No test/belt fees or any other hidden costs
  • No long term obligations or exclusive contracts -- we encourage you to study whatever is best for you
  • Conventional weapons training -- most martial arts, if they include weapons at all, include ones that are impractical in today's world
Why don't you list your techniques on the site or in your manual?
(Actually, we do list them in the manual now.) Our techniques are simple and found in many other martial arts and books. There are five qualities that distinguish our techniques from other programs, even self defense programs like Krav Maga:
  1. We do not emphasize punches for self defense. To become a good puncher requires a lot of training and hand conditioning. Much of the time, you just end up with a broken hand or wrist if you use punches in a fight.
  2. Our techniques are oriented towards striking human vulnerabilities that are usually neither allowed nor practiced in other systems. For example, claw strikes to the eyes, hammer fist and elbow strikes to the side of the head, knife hand strikes to the neck, slaps, knees and kicks to the groin, stomps to the feet and knees.
  3. The key difference is how they are learned and practiced -- not through rote combination memorization but with a view towards spontaneous application in an emergency. This takes time and practice.
  4. Though we do work on developing power and flexibility, our techniques do not require special abilities. For example, beginners are not expected to kick above the waist, and there is no reason to do for self defense.
  5. We don't do any high kicks or jumping or spinning techniques -- "show off" moves -- until after the first year of training. They aren't effective for self defense and most bodies can't do them safely until substantial conditioning, anyway.
Is Via Potentia good for becoming a sport/competitive fighter?
Via Potentia makes an excellent foundation for those who wish to go on to other programs, whether they are "traditional" or sport, because we cover upright sparring, grappling, forms and events found in most systems. You'll also develop excellent physical condition, which can help you wherever you go, and understand how to apply techniques for self defense.
However, training for sport is substantially different from training for self defense. If sport is your express desire, I would recommend other schools. Our focus is on practical application, not on playing for points or according to rules. Whereas other martial arts have to adapt themselves to be useful for self defense, we have to adapt ours to be safe for competition. Some styles say this because they aren't effective in either arena. We say it because we actually have to train differently for competition than you do for self defense. For example, we don't teach the first form until after 2-3 months of classes, and we don't teach tournament-style sparring until the second year. These are primary sports events; martial arts that are designed for sport will teach forms or tournament-style sparring much earlier (often from day one). We put off the sport element because our initial focus is on self defense.
What do you have against (why are you so hard on) other martial arts?
We are 100% in support of any martial art that honestly presents itself, and doesn't take advantage of or deceive its students. There are many different martial art systems with different emphases, techniques and philosophies. The variety is a good thing.
In fact, our frustration with some martial arts really has nothing to do with them being martial arts at all. We are simply annoyed by any organization that misrepresent what it does, that causes injury to, deceives or takes advantage of people. Unfortunately, many martial arts present themselves as being self defense when they simply are not (many instructors just don't know better). Many martial arts teach conditioning in a way that causes rather than prevents injuries, especially in adults. And many martial arts have abusive contracts and take advantage of people. These are Bad Things, and people need to be on the lookout for these and other problems.
If Via Potentia is about self defense, why such an emphasis on physical condition and other topics like ethics?
Via Potentia isn't merely about self defense; it is about upholding life. Strength and overall conditioning can assist you in a self defense situation, but we include it more for the purpose of general wellness. Stated bluntly, you will have more freedom in life if you are in good condition than if you are sickly. The principles are similar behind including First Aid, CPR and gun safety. Each of these can protect your life (or someone else's) in a particular way.
Does Via Potentia have any religious connections or promote any particular philosophy?
Via Potentia promotes seven particular ethics, explained in our student manual and in class. These ethics are derived from an historical school of philosophy known as natural law, and are compatible with most monotheistic religions. We have purposefully designed Via Potentia to be areligious in the sense that it is not its purpose to promote any single religion or religious tenet. However, we do expect participants to strive to be virtuous in their own lives, and to promote life and liberty in society. We believe that it is through an authentic religion, family and positive relationships that one learns true virtue and how to find a purpose for and fulfilment in life. Nothing can substitute completely for this. Our goal is to encourage and reinforce these positive teachings.
Why do you include gun training?
Gun training is optional and for adults. We offer gun training because the handgun is the single most effective self defense tool in the world. Someone who has no chance of physically protecting himself (or herself) from assault can easily scare off all but the most determined of attackers by simply revealing that he has a gun. In most cases, no shots need to be fired. However, one should also develop good hand skills in the event that the gun fails, is ineffective, or cannot be drawn.
There isn't a school in my area. Does Via Potentia offer long-distance training?
We don't at this time, but are thinking about it. Martial arts distance training (MADT) is difficult if you don't already have substantial experience because there isn't someone standing right there to tell you, "hey, you are doing that wrong. Do it this way."
How can I become a Via Potentia instructor?
Virtually any martial arts program can dramatically benefit its participants by simply changing the order of exercises as described on this web site and in our manual. In this way each art can continue to maintain its unique character and techniques while improving student learning, student conditioning and reducing injuries. In other words, you don't have to become a "Via Potentia Instructor" to benefit from and teach our principles. However, if we welcome inquiries from people who are interested in learning and teaching the complete VP curriculum.

Your question wasn't answered above? Feel free to call or email us.

We welcome comments, questions and suggestions for improvement.
Via Potentia, 805 NW Alder St., McMinnville OR 97128
Telephone: 503-437-3450

Copyright Via Potentia. All Rights Reserved. Consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program; consult a lawyer before making a legal decision. All information provided on this web site or otherwise by Via Potentia is provided for educational/informative purposes only, is subject to correction, and should not be considered legal, medical or other professional advice. Use at your own risk.

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