Another thought from the seminar:
Watching two young men work a drill in a combative seminar, they were sparring- playing with distance and defense and deception. The drill itself was supposed to be about explosive response to a sudden attack. It only took a few seconds to explain, at least for those purposes, but it got me thinking:
Why is sparring so different from fighting? And why is that so hard to grasp?
Part of the answer is easy to put into words, but it leads to some torturous paths: Sparring is a balancing act. You want to win and simultaneously prevent your opponent from winning. You want to hit and not be hit. It leads to a strategic balance, a sort of math between offense and defense. 50% of your energy and attention goes to offense and 50% goes to defense. An aggressive fighter may balance out more like 70/30. A sly counter-puncher may be 10/90. An experienced martial artist may test an opponent's aggression and then shift his own balance of offense and defense to match or exploit.
Fighting, real fighting, is not a balancing act. The defense in an ambush is inherent in the terrain and the time and the inattention of the victim. The resulting attack is 100% offense- maximum speed, surprise, power and repetition. Martial artists who train for the strategy of the balance between offense and defense are unprepared for this onslaught. They tend to freeze.
They have convinced themselves that their training is preparation for a fight and this situation is clearly a fight and their brain spins back over years of training and finds nothing it can relate to- the speed is wrong, the position is wrong, the pain and debilitation are unlike anything from training, the preparation is non-existant...
Everything in a real fight, everything in life for that matter, is a variable. People try to control variables. This is where it gets convoluted. The four classes of variables- the four factors in a fight- are YOU, the THREAT, the ENVIRONMENT and LUCK. In martial arts, people try to remove the variables of luck and the environment entirely. The training floor is always the same, obstacles are limited or non-existant. You know when and if you will be sparring and what you will be wearing. You warm up and stretch out (your core temperature is part of the environment, don't forget, as well as alcohol level, blood sugar, weariness and mood).
So in a real fight, 50% of the territory (luck and environment) are new territory for the martial artist.
The variables between you and the threat are also controlled in sparring. You know if weapons will be involved or multiple opponents. You know what defines a win and what your opponent is allowed to do.
Many of the big variables left- (strategy, timing...) are internal, imaginary and overly complicated compared to their equivalents in real life. This is a big danger, too: when a martial artist does try to incorporate luck and environment in their own training they often try to make it more complicated than it is (watch a striker try to teach grappling sometime) and at the same time try to limit the variables (this is where you get the technique versus technique or the scripted escape). Example: Martial artist teaching escape from grab from behind can get very fussy about where to grab, where to twist, how to bend... yet completely space that when someone grabs you from behind they immediately apply power to lift, yank or push you. They complicate the escape movements and ignore the variable that the attack is dynamic.
So sparring glosses over fifty percent of the variables you need to understand. Of the variables left- you and the threat- it overcomplicates them into a game of balanced offense and defense (and many more things, too: timing, for instance, is one of the most complicated aspects of sparring but in fighting is dead simple: you hit people when you can or when you have to.)
Compared to the predator who has only one thing to think about- taking you out- splitting your mind between offense and defense is doing too much with limited attention.
That's the easy part, and it's nothing new to people who have experienced an ambush... so why is it so hard for people who love to spar to grasp this?
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