Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Best Defense Part I: The Weak Ones

The best defense, of course, is not to be there. Don't be in places where bad things happen or bad, stupid, angry or drunk people congregate. Next best is to alter the relationship between you and the threat... I've written about this elsewhere.

For now, I want to talk about physical defense: about not getting hurt when the fight is on.

Most martial artists learn blocks (and passes and parries, etc.) and evasions (ducking, slipping, weaving, bobbing, cutting the line...). For the most part, these are ineffective. Not because the actions are inefficient or the movements don't have a valid application, they are ineffective because of timing, because they are reactive.

Remember the OODA loop? In order to respond to an event, you have to perceive the event (Observe, the first O) figure out what it means (Orient, the second O) decide (D) what to do about it and then Act(A). If the event you are responding to is a punch, the threat is on Act when you start on Observe. You start three steps behind.

If your strategy involves responding to the opponents actions, you are always behind the curve. You are reactive.

Note- in sparring, like in chess, you can see a few moves ahead. You can tell from foot, body, hand and head position what an opponent is likely to do. This gives the appearance in a good practitioner that the block is faster than the strike.

In an unfamiliar situation, the Orient step is thrown off severely. The attack probably won't be what you are used to and the precursor clues (the telegraphs) also will be very different. If you plan to block the incoming attacks you need to wait to see what they are. You are waiting, he is acting. You are in trouble.

This isn't just in personal combat. Remember 9-11? Planes smash into buildings... how do you defend against that? You don't, because it has already happened. At the point that we saw it (O) and figured out what was going on (O), it was over. Intelligence services than went into a spate of Monday-morning quarterbacking, and that's good. They were looking for the clues, the telegraphs that could have warned us earlier. Now they watch for them.

At it's best, reactive defense is iffy. It requires thinking. Thinking takes time.

Next up are static defenses. These are defenses built in to your stance and hand positioning. Look at your 'fighting stance' in a mirror and pay special attention to the holes. Where would you hit you if you stood like that?

(Note: the quotes around 'fighting stance'- when I think things are about to get shitty I stand in what I call a modified Columbo. Feet more or less in sanchin stance, right hand scratching my right eyebrow, right elbow resting on my left hand, left hand up against my right floating ribs over the liver and middle of the forearm covering the solar plexus. It's conversational, non-confrontational, great for asking slightly slow-witted questions and I can explode out of it for three simultaneous attacks and move into the threat's dead zone.)

Static defenses are as simple as remembering to keep your hands up and keep your elbows in. The hard part (go back to the mirror again) is maintaining them while you are moving. Especially when you are attacking. The static defenses are shells, but the shell is composed of your weapons. Whenever you apply a weapon you open one or more holes in the shell.

Better are zone defenses. If you play or watch basketball, the two basic defenses are the man-to-man and the zone. In the man to man, each player of team A is responsible to cover one member from team B and prevent him from scoring. For man-to-man to work, team A must have better players than team B... and team B can still defeat it with superior team work. Reactive defenses are like man-to-man. If you are better, faster, know what is going on AND the threat isn't tricky you have a good chance of making it work.

Zone defense, on the other hand, is a kind of moving static defense. Each time you attack it opens a hole, but each attack opens a predictable hole. If you know where you are likely to get attacked, you can move move some defense there. Throw a high side kick and the lead hand elbow goes down almost to the hip bone, chin is protected by shoulder, lead hand covers to just under the eyes and the rear hand drops under the kicking thigh to protect the groin. Zone defenses, by pairing a defensive action with your attack, allow decent protection without the slow down of the OOD part of the OODA loop. You're only Observing and Orienting to your own actions, which you already knew and the Decide step was done in training when you paired your left jab with ducking your chin, raising your left shoulder and covering your right ear with your right hand.

The good stuff next post.

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