Interview: Loren Christensen, Author / Reality Combat Expert
I’m very pleased to present this interview with Loren Christensen. Loren has developed a strong reputation in the realms of martial arts authorship and modern self defense/combat.
When it comes to putting martial theories to the test, Loren is a model example for how to do intelligently and effectively.
For anyone who likes to augment their training with practical books or videos, Loren is likely already in your library. He has worked on projects such as “On Combat“, “Warrior Mindset“, and “Solo Training” (among many others). He is a frequently utilized resource for police training programs and has become a respected voice in the realm of conflict resolution.
Having started in traditional arts and expanding his experience across multiple systems, Loren provides a mature and proven voice for people of all backgrounds to learn from. Please enjoy the following Q&A session as I ask Loren about his background, his theories on combat, and his most recent writing projects.
MA: Thanks for agreeing to participate Loren. Your bio states that you started your martial training in 1965. Could you tell us what inspired you to get involved at that time, and what your first art was?
LC: I was 19 when I began training. When I was 18, I broke my back in a weight lifting accident and had to wear a brace. The doctor told me to stop lifting but I had to do something with my teenage energy. So my buddy and I went to check out this new thing called karate and I was hooked from the first day. I couldn’t kick for a while because of my damaged spine, but I kept working at it until I could lift one leg, then the other, then kick shin high, and then knee high. In a few months, I was kicking as well as the other new students.
My first fighting art was called kong-su, a Korean system that was heavily influenced by the Japanese fighting arts. I stayed with this style until I went into the Army in 1967.
MA: Could you provide us with a brief timeline of when you enlisted in the military, when you began your career as a police officer, and when you attained your Bachelor of Science degree?
LC: I entered the Army in 1967, serving with the Military Police. I spent a year in the Florida Everglades as an MP dog handler, and then went to Washington DC to take a crash course in the Vietnamese language, and finally to Vietnam where I was an MP in Saigon.
I got out of the service in 1970 and joined the Portland, Oregon Police Bureau in 1972. I worked many jobs on the PD, to include patrol, gang enforcement, dignitary bodyguard, defensive tactics instructor, and Intelligence. I retired in 1997.
I took night courses early on and graduated from Portland State University in 1980. Earlier, I graduated from Clark College in Washington with a major in theater.
MA: Your experience includes 11 black belts in three different fighting arts. Could you talk a bit about these three arts and who you trained under?
LC: My emphasis of study has been primarily in the kick/punch arts, secondly the grappling arts, and thirdly the stick/knife arts. My goal is to develop skill in all four ranges: arnis stick range, kicking range, hand range, and close-quarter range, which includes grappling. Many fighting styles don’t cover all these ranges. For example, some jujitsu fighters have poor to nonexistent kicking and punching skills, and some kicking arts contain very little if any grappling. That’s a weakness. In my view, martial arts study is about striving to eliminate or at least minimize weaknesses.
In the kick/punch arts, I’ve studied karate, taekwondo, Muay Thai, boxing, and kung fu. In the grappling arts, I’ve studied aiki jujitsu, chin-na, police defensive tactics, and a little aikido. In the stick/knife arts, I’ve studied arnis. My objective over the last many years of training has been to incorporate, based on my 29 years of street experience in law enforcement, only what I know is useful for street self-defense.
I’ve been awarded belts from Master Bruce Terrill, Professor Duke Moore, Soke Tim Delgman, and Professor Remy Presas.
In 2011, I was inducted into the martial arts Masters Hall of Fame in Anaheim California and given the Golden Life Achievement award.
MA: How has your martial training intermingled with your military and police career? Were you forced to train after hours (off-duty), or did most of your combat training come from those establishments?
LC: I had already been training in the martial arts before I went into the military. I trained a lot in the Army, mostly on my own or with a few guys I taught, though I did take a little Shotokan when I was stationed in Florida. In Vietnam, I didn’t train at all, but as an MP I got into countless brawls, sometimes several a shift. That was probably one of the most intense learning experiences in all my years in the martial arts.
After I got out of the service, I picked up my martial arts training where I left off. In 1972, I joined the police bureau and trained and taught before or after I went to work. A year into the job, I was assigned to teach cops defensive tactics and went on to develop a program that they still use in part today.
Except for police defensive tactics, my martial arts training was always separate from police work, though I used it on the job a few hundred times.
MA: What inspired you to begin your lifelong search for practicality in training? Was it a specific moment, or more a general need due to your hazardous occupations?
LC: I was not satisfied with my fighting ability as an MP in Saigon. The city during the war years was one of the most dangerous in the world and the MPs were smack in the middle of it. For several months, I worked a walking beat with seven others, four Vietnamese police and three American MPs. At 6-feet tall and 195 pounds, I was the smallest, chosen by the brass because of my martial arts skills.
Walking into bars, massage parlors, alleys, night clubs, and along sidewalks crowded with drunken military guys and Vietnamese criminals exposed us to a lot of fighting. I found that my robot-like karate movements—deep stances, punching from the hip, inside and outside blocks, and so on—that I had been taught in my Korean/Japanese traditional style did not work well for me. Now others might have done fine with it, but I had trouble adapting it to ugly street reality. So I promised myself that if I survived Vietnam, I would spend the rest of my martial arts career studying reality-based fighting techniques. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since.
My early karate style emphasized competition sparring with all the associated drills. I discovered in Vietnam and confirmed later in police work that few fights go down like a sparring match. Most of the scuffles, fights, and all-out brawls that I was involved in exploded in an instant, so quickly that there was no time to assume an on-guard stance, let alone move about and stalk one another.
I did develop from all those countless reps in my early karate training, tremendous power, especially in my reverse punch. On one occasion in Saigon, a Marine jumped me during a raid on a brothel and in the course of our struggle I punched him in the chest with a hard reverse punch. He fell instantly but then went into cardiac arrest. It was a long night waiting to see if he would live. He did.
The incident bothered me for a long while after and was one of my motivations to later develop safer control techniques for law enforcement, safer for cops and safer for the bad guys. When I was in the MPs, we didn’t have such a thing.
MA: Who were your biggest influences as you attempted to improve your abilities and grow into a more complete warrior?
LC: Early on, my influences were tournament champions, guys like Louis Delgado, Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis, and many others. I got to see these guys fight several times and I always went away hyped. In 1968 or 1969, I saw Bruce Lee at a tournament on the East Coast. He was a guest star attraction and was coaching Louis Delgado. I watched Lee train him for a while and was floored at Lee’s incredible speed. He told a bunch of us that he had just made a movie called Marlowe and was on his way to Hong Kong to make a few more. I remember thinking, he ought to do well. He did, didn’t he?
In street-reality martial arts, the slant I’ve taken for the last 40 years, I admire the writings of Marc MacYoung, Kelly McCann, and Melissa Soalt.
MA: When did writing become a part of your life? Was there a particular impetus that got you started, or have you always been a journal writer of sorts?
LC: I started writing when I was about 12. I loved hearing my stuff read in front of the class and the positive reinforcement I got at home. In the Army I wrote a filler for Reader’s Digest, took the $75 payment, and bought a typewriter upon which I wrote my first book.
In the 1980s, I began writing regularly for the martial arts magazines. I wrote another book in 1987 and have been working with five different book publishers since. After 45 nonfictions on a variety of subjects, I recently signed a deal to write a police/martial arts fiction series. The first one came out last month, Dukkha: The Suffering.
MA: You’ve authored many influential books, and “On Killing”, “On Combat”, and “Warrior Mindset” are an exceptional trio. I understand they weren’t originally created as a trilogy, but they certainly do build on one another. What was it like working with other top professionals like Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Michael J Asken?
LC: While I didn’t write “On Killing” I did coauthor “On Combat“and “Warrior Mindset“. I had just seen Lt. Col. Dave Grossman on CNN or one of those news programs when his assistant called me and said that the Col was on hold to talk to me. It was like surreal. I’m looking at the TV and looking at the phone and looking back at the TV again. Anyway, the Col told me he liked my book “Deadly Force Encounter” that I cowrote with a police psychologist and that he had an idea for one called “On Combat”. He wanted me to write the first draft based on his talks, a monstrous box of notes, transcripts, and anything I wanted to include. Then he would add his touch and I would edit it. I agreed and 31 months later we had a completed book, which has been a best seller since 2003.
About three years ago, police psychologist Dr Mike Askens met with Col. Grossman to talk about doing a book that would be called “Warrior Mindset”, its target audience cops, military, and martial artists. The Col didn’t have time so he hooked up Dr Askens with me. We humped it for a year and it was published a while after.
Both of these fine men possess great minds, far greater than mine. What I brought to the jobs was experience in a war, police work, the martial arts, and an ability to write and make the manuscript readable to the target audience.
MA: Sometimes traditional artists realize they need to refocus on practicality and not get too lost in the “trappings” of traditionalism. For individuals such as that, what could you recommend to get them on the right track?
LC: First they would have to know that they are lost in the trappings. Others might be perfectly happy functioning this way because they enjoy learning the culture and the art. And that’s fine. For others who want to go beyond this and examine, say, reality-based training, they either have to leave the traditional school, if it’s not satisfying that need, and seek out a street-oriented system. If that isn’t an option then they need to seek learning on their own.
For the latter, I would suggest going to youtube and watching the kuhzillion videos there that show real fights. Then ask, how does this relate to what I’m learning? Will my stuff work in the barbaric chaos that I’m seeing over and over in these videos? What do I know that would work well in these situations? What do I know that wouldn’t?
Tough to do? Oh yes. No one wants to admit that all the time they’ve spent training just might not save their bacon when the caca hits the fan.
Another approach for the person who feels lost in traditional trappings is to take a new look at what they do know. Consider a block and reverse punch. It works great when the opponent steps in and throws a stylized karate punch. But how will that block and punch work in the following places (all of which I’ve fought people):
• on stairs
• in a car
• on your back
• in a corner
• in a closet
• on your knees
• on a cluttered floor
• on the side of an embankment
• in a toilet stall
• between a bed and a wall
• in a crowd
If your material right now doesn’t work in these places, you better seek out something that does or work real hard to make what you do know, work.
MA: Could you discuss how the warrior mindset is similar/dissimilar for soldiers, police, and civilians?
LC: This is the subject of about 700 combined pages in “On Combat” and “Warrior Mindset”. So let me just give you my definition of a warrior mindset.
Mine is broader than limiting warrior or warrior mindset to cops, soldiers and martial artists. For example, I think a single mother who holds down three jobs to feed her kids and fights to keep neighborhood drug pushers and drug members away from her children is in possession of a powerful warrior mindset. I think a soft-bellied computer geek who steps in front of a bully to protect a weaker person is a warrior.
In short, anyone who goes toward the sound of gunfire (“gunfire” can be a bully, a drug pusher, a corporation, and the government when it’s wrong) while everyone else flees is, in my opinion, a warrior. Another definition that is similar is: One who does what needs to be done.
MA: One of the biggest obstacles in real conflict is getting passed the “amygdala hijack” and handling flight/fight/freeze. What do you recommend to students in order to better manage that aspect of the body’s natural response?
LC: First, you must do stress training, such as bulletman and model mugging. Don’t just beat the padded people but create realistic scenarios. Of course, there is always that thought that this isn’t real, but it’s still possible to get an adrenaline surge and jack the heart rate up so that can see how you function under such conditions. I know of cops who practice simunition training—sort of like paintball but the “bullet” impact hurts more—who have recorded heart rates close to 300 beats a minute. Remember, you start losing your fine-motor skills around 140 beats a minute. By the way, this is accelerated heart rate caused by stress and red-hot adrenaline; it’s not the same accelerated heart rate as when you run around the block.
Second, practice mental imagery where you imagine in your mind and in your body a high-stress situation. Mental imagery is different than visualization because the former uses all your senses to see, hear, smell, feel and touch all the elements of an assault, car jack, whatever. This is a powerful tool that is being used by everyone from Olympic athletes, to SWAT guys, to troops in Afghanistan. Not to plug a book, but we talk about this at length in Warrior Mindset.
MA: With the increase of communication through the internet, television, books, etc., “trolling” has become a huge part of modern martial arts culture. Trolling entails all of the typical my-art-vs-your-art, you-don’t-know-squat, angry forum thread behavior. Have you encountered this kind of behavior since you’ve begun publishing, and how have you handled it?
LC: Not much. I do what I call an ego check ever so often to see what people are saying. I haven’t encountered anything too terrible. Anytime you put yourself out there you have to be ready for negative comments and all-out ugliness from unpleasant people. It’s simply the way some people are and it will never change. So you have to develop a tough skin and don’t make them important to you.
MA: Speaking of publishing, you recently expanded your resume to include martial arts fiction writing. Could you tell us a bit about your newest (first) novel, Dukkha: The Suffering?
LC: Here is the teaser.
Police Detective Sam Reeves, a 34-year-old martial arts instructor, has a solid fifteen-year record as a good police officer with the Portland Police Department. For the first time, Sam is forced to take a life in the line of duty and despite the findings of “good shoot” he struggles to recuperate psychologically from the killing.
Facing up to his fears Sam returns to work and then within days is forced to fire his weapon again— killing two more people. With his spirit almost broken, Sam meets a stranger… a man who claims to be his father, who Sam has always believed to have died in a North Vietnamese prison camp a long time ago. This odd man, named Samuel, is as convincing as he is quirky and is revealed to be a phenomenal martial artist, the likes of which Detective Sam Reeves has never encountered. This ‘Samuel’ comes out of nowhere, equipped with a family in Vietnam and a daughter named Mai who is about to graduate from Portland State University.
With a series of interlocked events of violence: a revenge-seeking uncle, the destruction of his martial arts school, his new father’s connection to some lethal Vietnamese outlaws, Sam’s life spirals into a dreadful new direction.
MA: Was it difficult to let go of the hard research of non-fiction and embrace the open landscape of fiction?
LC: I actually did as much if not more research for Dukkha than I have for other books. For example, for the first two fiction books, I’ve been helped by a medical physician, two Vietnamese, an Apache, several soldiers, three psychologists, two experts on weaponry, a SWAT officer, a teenager, and two patrol officers. Oh, and Google. The stories would not be as real and accurate as reviewers are saying without these good friends.
MA: Should we be expecting more books in this series?
LC: Yes. The second one is completed and being edited and I’m a few pages into the third.
MA: Thanks again for your time! Where can people reach you if they have any questions or want access to some of your work?
LC: Thank you. I can be contacted through my website at www.lwcbooks.com
I hope you enjoyed this session with Loren Christensen. He has a great way of providing reality checks for anybody’s training, and does so in a manner that promotes learning over ego.
If you’d like to hear even more from Loren, friend of the site Patrick Parker also has an interview with Loren at Mokurendojo.com. Patrick asks a different set of intriguing questions and focuses on some of Loren’s other written works.