Thursday, June 19, 2008

Analogies, Breaking Patterns and Stopping

Steve Perry wrote a comment that needs to be dissected. It's a mix, in that part of it points up the weakness of analogy, part of it uses that weakness but at the core it's a really good question.

First the subject that I write about is violence. People trying to injure or kill people. Not hurt feelings or family disputes or playground scuffles. At the core, most of this blog has been about how evil people use force and how to prepare for a very bad day.

There isn't a lot of experience in this area. Most people reading this have never faced a PCP freak or been ambushed by someone with a knife or been shot at or had a group of people try to stomp them to death... With those few that I know with common experiences, we can talk about it differently. We can talk directly. With those who haven't experienced the clarity or the blur or the rush and who aren't haunted by the sounds and the smells and the aftermath I'm stuck talking around it. We have to use analogies.

Martial arts training is an analogy for violence.
Tournament training (at any level of contact or allowable technique) is an analogy for this type of violence.
Research, also, is an analogy, only a picture. C=C is a symbol, not the molecule itself.
Even real experience in one type of violence is only an analogy for another- what I do leading an entry team is not what a woman surviving a rape attempt does.

When I wrote a long time ago that reason is weak (thanks for bringing this out, Steve. I think I have the words now.) is that reasoning without experience will be based on one or more analogies and can never be stronger than the analogies themselves. Without direct experience, you can't even estimate the strength of your analogy. You take that on faith and wind up with reason based on faith as a first premise.

On to Steve's comment (my comments in italics):

"I had a thought about the idea of breaking patterns. I think i understand your basic idea is not to get so locked into a Way that you can't adjust it if needs be. (Exactly) But it brings up a question about options:

Consider a baseball pitcher. He's on the mound, set to throw. Ordinarily, there's the look if there are runners on base, the wind-up, and the pitch. If, anywhere during the sequence, the motion is frozen and the query raised -- how would you throw a strike from here? then the answer is almost certainly going to be "Just like I intended."

(Here we get into analogy weakness.  The pitcher is playing baseball. He is fair certain he is going to throw the ball.  Probably to the catcher but maybe to third base.  What if he looks to runners on base and sees all the fans storming on to the field screaming for his blood?  His solution for that will have to come from outside the game.  If he looks for a baseball answer to a soccer-riot problem, he won't find one.)

(I also want to break this down a little more.)  If, anywhere during this sequence, the motion is frozen and the query raised -- how would you throw a strike from here? (Break. This is where the sports to fighting analogy really departs from the martial arts to fighting analogy.  The original freeze and think concept is for martial arts.  People can spar and roll at what they feel are very intense levels and no one gets injured.  If you stop them and point out that the goal is to injure, they fight completely differently.  That's a big freaking clue that the analogy they are training by is 'off'.  A closer sports analogy would be to take a recreational slow pitch softball player and have him fantasize that he has just suddenly appeared on the mound pitching in the World Series and Sammy Sosa is coming up to bat.  His mindset, his technique... everything will change.  I want to say more real, but all of these examples are real. Recreational slow pitch is just as real as major league play, but they don't cross over that well.) Then the answer is going to be "Just like I intended."  (Maybe, if you are already committed to the motion.  The trouble is, if you are intending to throw slow pitch and it turns out this was a major league game, you will fail.  But you will fail exactly the way you were trained to fail.  You might find some comfort in that, but I don't see it.  However "Just like I intended." does happen and is one of the little details that keeps giving people hope that they can get insight -and you can, don't get me wrong- from unrelated comparisons.  Many people fail to abort an act when it is no longer appropriate. Unprepared and untrained in switching gears some officers fire after the hand comes out of the pocket before they consciously register that the hand was empty or that the shiny object was a cigarette pack and not a gun.

Granted, at punching range, the striker has more options, but assuming that once action commences, he is moving as quickly and efficiently as he can to take his opponent out, why would freezing and asking the question be useful? (Remember moving right versus moving well?  It gets back to this: if he really is moving as quickly and efficiently as he can to take the opponent out, why isn't the opponent going out? If you are moving efficiently but not getting the job done you may be moving right, but you aren't moving well. Again, freezing and asking the question is not something I advocate in fighting but in training because we slip into fun mode without realizing it and those habits ingrain.)

What else can I do if this fails? might be a good thing to consider (training for failure and recovery is another issue and a very important one), but if I'm already on the way to where I want to go as best I can see -- and why would I be doing it any other way? (Because you aren't. Take any drill you do with your instructor.  Stop him and ask, "If you had to finish me right now, how would you do it?" And see what happens.  I've seen your instructor.  He will have a one-move pretty thorough answer.  Maybe three moves if he is in a very bad situation. And this cries the question: if you can reliably bring a human being to destruction in three moves, why does any drill last longer?) why do I want to freeze and think about it?  (Answered above, but to re-iterate: people training and sparring get caught up in a particular mindset that prolongs the game.  It's fun.  Freeze when sparring or drilling and take an objective look and you will find that you are almost never fighting to the goal.  You may be moving right, but you are moving towards a goal (skill acquisition or fun) that is very different from the goal of surviving violence.  Another weak sports analogy: you can have perfect stance, grip, trigger press and breath control but you also need to check occasionally and see if you are hitting anything.) 

How I would take this guy out from this position is how I'm about to do it. If shit happens, then I'll do it a different way. " 

Admirable, but knowing you are working from a training analogy, how many of your training partners have you actually taken out?  If the answer is less than fifty percent there is something in your training done for safety.  Those safety habits are ingrained at least as thoroughly as any combative lessons instilled.  Thousands of reps of not hurting someone creates a skill at not hurting someone, no matter how martially those habits are instilled.  You need a balance to that effect.  Stopping and looking for the goal -in training- is one way of doing this.


Steve Perry said...

A good response, I appreciate it. Speaks to the points I offered, more or less, though it still comes back to the question: Is it possible to train for real violence without breaking your toys?

(And of course, what is "real" violence? If your drunken brother-in-law hits you at the Christmas part and you stumble and break your neck and die, are you any less dead than if if had been a mugger?
You seem to be talking about degrees of ruthlessness, and I agree, some bad guys are badder than others, but it sometimes seems like a kind of wiggle -- will your art work against a three hundred pound biker sociopath/psychopath drugged to the gills who comes at you from behind with a chainsaw? In one of the styles I studied there came a question once -- "Sensei, what would you do if somebody hit you in the head from behind with a baseball bat?"

"Probably fall down unconscious," Sensei said. "I don't walk on water, either."

:Mindfulness" is a great answer for how to move, and I understand what it means, but it is a tad vague on the nuts and bolts side.

"Do the right thing at the right time," that'll work, too, but it's like the recipe for rabbit stew. First, you need a rabbit.

And if the best you can do in training is an approximation, is that kind of training useful or harmful? I suspect the answer is "both," but let me natter on a bit ...

Suppose the tool you have to deal with violence is a handgun. Bad guy comes, you have time to clear the holster and get the piece into play.

Is all that practice of drawing, aiming, trigger control, sight picture, firing totally useless? You've pointed it out before as being a waste of time in some instances -- good range shooters get panicked and their training goes out the window -- but it doesn't always works that way. I know a couple cops back down home who got into shootouts, and drilled their armed felonious attackers dead center. One guy was a front-sight shooter and that's what he recalls doing. The other was a point shooter and he indexed it that way.

This happens frequently enough so that it would seem to have a cause other than blind luck, So, at least *some* of the time, training has some value.

If you aren't afraid, your fight-or-flight tachypsychia doesn't kick in, and while getting to that point might be a long trip, Doc Holliday died of natural causes because he didn't care if somebody shot him ...

Speaking from limited personal experience, the one time I had to deal with a knife in my face, what I knew worked well enough that I didn't get cut. That could well have been because the guy was so stoned he couldn't see which of the three of me he saw to stick, and one robin does not a spring make, but still. Here I am to tell the story of it.

I think maybe the idea of a formal drill that is designed to teach general tool-use might be messing us up. The drills are not for fighting, but for learning the moves in a martial dance.
When you get used to seeing guys coming at you with force and intent, that tends to mitigate a certain amount of fear. Sparring is not the best example of how to deal with an attack, but I can remember when I was terrified to step into the circle and spar. Not for a long time have I felt that way. I have long since acclimated to that one.

For us, a real defense is doing the most with the least amount of effort, simple, short, to the point.
But since you can't practice that at full power against your friends without some serious damage, the question remains -- what do you do to give yourself any ability to move under stress effectively? If it's all or nothing, then you cannot, and there is no point in training.

I don't believe this. Nor, I think, do you.

If some of the general patterns can be altered for more specific uses, then there is value in training. That's what I maintain.

Sonia said...

As Rory likes to say, if the stakes aren't too high, it doesn't matter that we've missed something. Well, we always miss something. Lots of somethings. I don't know the answer, but my question is, how many of those things are we missing because we already "know" what to do and our mind is full of that, and how many are templates we can use? Try holding a panicking cat in your arms. Cat not trained, but very present in the moment.

Kai Jones said...

Yeah, untrained. I was 13 when I fought off a grown man, high on I-don't-know-what, who was attacking me and my younger sister and baby brother in a rage. I don't think training (martial arts or other physical stuff) would have done me much good, but years of dealing with adrenaline highs and stress with no adults to rescue me/us really helped.

Steve Perry said...

Well, as Rory pointed out, similes and metaphors are by their nature inexact. One uses them to try and make a point easier to see, but like maps, they aren't the territory. The panicking cat is hard to hang onto because most of the time, you aren't interested in causing it harm. If you are willing to break its neck, it changes the situation.

I got to play dummy in one of Todd and Tiel's self-defense for women classes a while back when Todd was under the weather. Bunch of college women, and for the finals, Toby and I dressed up in soft armor and went in and tackled the students.

Some of them were passing fierce. One of them managed to rip my head gear off, and screaming like a banshee, pounded madly upon my bare head in a full Berserker rage. I just covered up.

A potential rapist might decide that such a victim was more trouble than she was worth. But, as Rory points out, that was the nature of the drill. I was playing a role, that of an untrained attacker. There was not one of them that I couldn't have decked with a punch going in, and if I had loosed my own reptile brain? All of them together wouldn't have had a prayer -- no matter how fierce a group of six unarmed five-year-olds, the skilled and fierce grown-up wins.

Attitude matters a lot. It will get you past a bunch of situations. But size, skill, and a matching attitude is more apt to do the trick than any one of the others alone. Hulking out is great, but if you actually turn into the Hulk? That's better.

All things are never equal, but in a dust-up, the guy who hits first, hardest, and has a a better idea of what he is doing than his opponent? That's the way the smart money bets.

Kai Jones said...

Okay, I didn't communicate well: I didn't get my point across.

I am trained. I am trained in dealing with adrenaline and chaos. It is not training I would be willing to put any other human being through. The cost was very high, and I am still paying it, and likely will (intermittently) for the rest of my life.

However, being trained did save lives, including mine.

What I understand from Rory (and it's something I sensed from him very early in our friendship) is that he is exploring how to achieve the result without the particular method. How else can people train for this part of it? Is there a way that doesn't break people?

The main reason I don't train physically (study martial arts) is my fear fantasy that I will lose the advantage of my early training. It's hart for me to imagine that imposing discipline will help me.

Steve Perry said...

Read the book. Not bad for a white boy ...

Steve Perry said...

Achieving something rooted in physical motions without methods? I don't see how it can be done effectively.

Learning a system or method and then transcending it? That is a horse of a different color.

Getting past conscious thought to the place where the motion is done automatically and to optimum standard is doable. Look at walking -- it's a trial and error process that eventually leads to an ability to move a very unstable biped over a variety of surfaces, flat, angled, rocky, keeping one's balance most of the time. The physiology of walking is amazing. Designing a robot that walks like a human took decades, and without gyroscopes whirling, still can't be done.

Bruce's Lees rant against the "classical mess" and his admonition to "be like water" were valid viewpoints, but he had to learn the classical mess before he could get past it.

(Kind of like a woman who spends a hour putting on makeup so she can look "natural," there's a raised eyebrow in there ...)

"Just do it" is a wonderful line but it presupposes an ability. If you don't know how to ride a bike, you can't just do it. As Rory points out in his book -- and most adeptly -- instinctive reactions, like freezing, can get you stomped, and you have to learn how to deal with them.

Rory has trained out the wazoo to get that zen mountain-no mountain-mountain effect. To get to the level where you can just do it takes no small amount of time and effort.

You don't need to know ten thousand techniques, but you need a few. A firmly-established mind-set and willingness to do whatever it takes is necessary. The dictum that overwhelming force beats technique makes perfect sense, but if attitudes are anywhere close to the same, then better, mre efficient technique sure as hell matters.

That Richard Dreyfuss line in Jaws -- "Don't wait for me!" is one that Rory rightly points out applies in a mano a mano dust-up. If the bad guy is going to smack you and you can see that, waiting for him to throw that punch and then trying to catch up is maybe not the best strategy.

I think Rory is trying to find a shortcut to teach the meat of what he has learned the hard way. But an experienced expert sometimes takes for granted things that students with lesser expertise don't have.

Remind me to tell you the Cos-and-the-iceberg story sometime ...

Rory said...

That's it Steve, the big challenge. The shortcut. I'm actually looking for two, maybe three.

1) Systems are taught within frameworks. I agree that you need method to teach motion but most instructors go beyond that and include an entire framework, partially as a matter of identity (We are the scroll bearers of the RockemStompem-ryu!) partially to make it a social environment and sometimes just to fill in the gaps when they don't have a clear idea of what they are training for.

Read the relevant section on "Identity" about half way down.
My gut tells me that if you can avoid teaching the framework you can speed up the learning curve.
That's the first shortcut I'd like to find.

1a) People who have trained and haven't fought a lot aren't very accurate in how they assess their own training. It ranges from some of the techniques described in Stupid Moves which are A+ useful but get jettisoned by people who don't understand them to the people who write that boxing is one of the best skills for self-defense when, the second you take the gloves off, a closed fist strike to the head is more likely to hospitalize you than the bad guy.

Trained people (who are the ones I usually work with) usually make big gains with just a point in the right direction- "Why are you flowing with me instead of hurting me? What is your goal here? If your goal changed, how would you adapt?"

And some, the kool-aid drinkers, are the hardest because they refuse to see that not everything in the system is equally valuable and they worship the framework. Even when it clearly isn't a matter of function.

2)The second shortcut and possibly the most critical is: Is it possible to teach experience? on some level, yeah. But everyone who has a teenager knows that you can talk and explain forever and there are certain mistakes that they have to make on their own. After a couple of broken hearts, you get some perspective, but you can't really help someone avoid their first. Can I impart my experience in a way that people can apply so that they don't have the bad joints and arthritis and memory loss and disconnect with society that I paid to get there?

3) The third shortcut is a baby/bathwater thing. I've seen it really strong in a few students, I sense it from Kai at times. If you get a student who has good mental talent, who are natural fighters they are very dangerous in class. "Nurse Ratchett" was a classic. Almost any instructor would have tried to break down her tendency to go all-out, her utter lack of control, her ferocious lack of compassion or compunction in order to make it safe to work with her on physical skills. Those mental skills are exactly what she would need if things ever went really bad.
So the third shortcut (and what I've actually done is have them work just with me, wear armor a lot and suck up the damage) is how to preserve natural fighting instincts while safe instilling skill.

This is a hard problem, but a relatively rare one, at this level.

That's my quest, kids. And I definitely don't have all the answers. Working on it, though.

Steve Perry said...

Again, all good points. I can see the problem with the framework -- if you have to wear the sarong and keep the moves holy relics, that gets in the way. The trick is to get the root stuff that works without accidentally throwing out the baby with the bath water, and for a lot of guys who have tried, it hasn't worked. A couple I talk about on my blog wound up cherry-picking so much all they ended up with were stones -- no fruit. They claim the knowledge, but you can see when they move they don't have it.

Some of what we do requires that you internalize the movement to a point that you can access it without having to think about it, and some of the tools won't work without the underlying principles of motion as we undertake them. It's a problem when somebody says, "Show me a move." because if you don't have the mechanics under it, the move by itself isn't enough. The "how" and the "why" are entwined, and you can't pull them apart and make them function as designed. (We believe, for example, that moving in two planes at once (linear and rotational) is weaker than moving one and then the other. If you you don't know -- or believe -- this, then likely won't try to avoid it, and some of our techniques won't happen when you try them.)

Here are the rules, we hear, but also, Once you know the rules, you can break them ...


Steve Perry said...

One more thought -- not an admonition, but an observation: Experts tend to take things for granted sometimes, they have been doing them so long.

For a time, when they were young, I took my children to an aikido class. One of the teachers gave a talk one morning on ki, and used the analogy of an iceberg.

He was really good at it. Took ten minutes or so, laid it out nicely. Likened the energy to that part of the berg below the waterline you couldn't see, made some good connections, and at the end, asked for questions.

Cos, a little boy, maybe five, said, "What's an iceberg ... ?"

Most of the students in our silat class came from other arts. Most of them ranked in those. Now and again, we get one who has no previous training, and a couple times working with them, I had to stop because I realized I needed to show them how to make a useful fist. Because they didn't know, and when you are in a garage full of guys and gals with all kinds of black belts in this, that, or the other, you tend to take it for granted that everybody knows stuff like this ...