Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More Mental Than Physical...

I say often that fighting is more mental than physical, especially survival fighting and ambush survival. There is a deep trap there and it needs to be addressed:

Someone will read those words and decide: "Therefore reading and thinking about fighting is just as good as, hell better than, physical training." It is not, and that thought is the same thought that keeps people studying the same things over and over again, the thought that leads to the kool-aide drinking certainty that this (weapon, style, teacher, solution) is it. It is all staying inside the comfort zone. I know there are armchair quarterbacks and lounge generals and things like that in other endeavors, but in martial arts, especially in it's relationship to violence, it seems that the majority act as if thinking were doing. You don't get people who read art books believing they can forge a Rembrandt or that they could front for Aerosmith from watching MTV... sometimes it feels like only in martial arts do you get people who believe that they have learned enough from watching Jackie Chan to defend themselves, have read enough books on ancient swordsmanship that they could kill.

Awareness, initiative and permission (the Big Three) are all mental aspects, not physical, yet knowing is not doing.

I can describe how senses can be overwhelmed and how things can become a blur until you can parrot the descriptions back to your students... but you will have no idea what I mean until you feel it. Of all the people who have read descriptions or even seen documentaries, not once have I seen a person recognize a rattlesnake's warning for the first time. Almost all had an intense surge of adrenaline at the sound, but few knew why- and no one who has ever heard the sound in an unexpected place forgets it. You can read and read about predator dynamics, but until you have been triangulated by threats, the difference between an ambush set up and three people walking in different directions is small, unnoticeable. You can visualize precursors and fights, but until you have seen and felt and smelled one, the visualization is just fantasy, a day dream. For your first ten for that matter, you won't remember them clearly. Your second hundred you will lose faith that they are predictable enought to visualize.

Initiative is a mental decision, but a physical action. Sitting in your comfortable chair in your climate-controlled room, your greatest danger some pixels on a screen it is very easy to decide what you will do if and when... actually doing it is completely unrelated. The only way to learn to act decisively is to practice acting decisively. Quickly, powerfully and without hesitation. It is a mental skill, and the things which interfere with it are mental problems, but the expression of it is purely physical.

Permission- you can try all you want, but you can't intellectualize your own glitches. What you think you can do (or can't) often has no bearing on your real limits when the time comes. Your fantasy self rescues maidens in distress... in real life, when you hear a scream, do you run towards it, run away, or look around to see what others are doing? These are limits you can only find by going into the dark places where they will be tested. If you don't like what you learn there, they can only be changed by returning and trying again.

The culminating moment from the seminar, for me:

After class, I ask each of the students the one thing they will remember. One kid said, "Until I saw the video of the officer dying, I didn't believe it could happen to me. That I could freeze." He always thought that knowing what to do automatically meant he would and could do it. Watching someone die who also, probably, believed this opened his eyes.

The ability to make decisions is not the same as the ability to execute decisions. One pair of eyes, ever so slightly, opened.


Mark said...

It was fascinating to see some of the other students watching the video and commenting about what he should have/they would have done. You got through to the one student when you pointed out that the deputy knew all that stuff too--but that his hindbrain was in charge. I'm not sure all of them really got even then, but the disconnect between watching it unfold on a video screen and being there could hardly have been clearer.

Mac said...

A case in point when, a couple weeks ago, I wrestled a 20-year old schizophrenic after a routine ped stop. It really pointed out the differences in the training scale - self-defense vs defensive tactics in particular. Trying to control him by myself was a handful - all the fancy locks and grabs, pins, etc., don't work on a squirmy, mad mental. After wrestling for the Taser (and I got tased in the process - I'm starting to get used to the feel), I was able to change my tactics in mid-battle because I have practiced, visualized, practiced and applied that practice over and over in stressful situations. It's the one type of training most needed but least understood and taught. Rory and Kevin's seminar was an excellent start and points out why the martial culture today lacks the one absolutely vital element for growth and success - motional involvement. I did win, but only because I stopped fighting him; I went from treating him as a 'threat' (although that aspect must never leave the mind) to comforting and consoling him. Then he was easily handcuffed and, after mental and physical evaluation at a local hospital, taken to jail. His mother witnessed most of the fight and was held back by a civilian observer. Afterwards she said to me, "thanks for not killing my son." The goal was, and is, for a professional, the goal and is counter to the 'process, not product' philosophy of most martial arts. But, too, the end does not justify the means - perhaps the end defines the means.

Kai Jones said...

So, Mac, did we meet at the seminar?

Anonymous said...

Kai - I have read your replies with interest, and satisfaction - your level of understanding and inquisitiveness are enlivening. We didn't meet unfortunately - I was out of town, but I look forward to the next one.