Monday, June 02, 2008

Persistence of Patterns

One of the most fundamental differences between martial arts and violence is the goal. Most martial arts have a single definition of a win- the KO, the submission, ippon, five legal touches...-and in any real conflict the goal (as well as the parameters) may be different. Fighting to destroy is different than fighting to subdue, both are different than fighting to escape or fighting to cover someone else's escape. Sometime you need to create space to access a force option or create enough time to get help or make a plan.

One of the fundamental differences between martial artists and violence professionals is the ability to choose the appropriate goal and to fight to that goal. It is single-minded (though the awareness should be wide open). Single minded can be taken wrong: Fighting to win is one thing. Fighting not to lose is something completely different. A violence professional will do one or the other. A martial artists tends to try to find a balance, and they tend to be very confused by someone who ignores the balancing niceties and just does what it takes. YMMV.

Even worse, the stated goal in a martial arts class is rarely the real goal. In the class, you may be told or believe that you are practicing 'fighting' or 'self-defense', but the students are actually always striving to make the teacher happy.  So they try to move the way the teacher moves and they try to 'flow'.. and they don't run or draw hidden weapons or break the pattern.  Breaking an expected pattern is almost always a good survival strategy.

The seminar went well and I did what I was supposed to do. Kj would present a drill, the students would practice it, and then I would explain how it could get you killed but also what was inside it that made the drill valuable.  'The drill is not the thing' was the mantra for the day.

One of the drills was a continuous attack with two weapons and the defender, with a short stick, was to flow and counter attack.  I've seen this drill a lot in arnis and related arts. I paired with one person and we played for a few seconds before I stopped it. "Change your mindset, " I said, "You're thinking about flow and foot work and stuff.  Let's do the same thing but this time, HURT ME."

For the rest of the drill she was still fluid, but the improvement was palpable.  How she moved, her distancing, her targeting, her balance of offense and defense were profoundly different. Profoundly improved, from the survival point of view.

I did/said something similar with an instructor rank.  He didn't get it, so we switched- he went for the continuous attack.  I'm not sure what I did could be called a flow.  In slow motion I slipped him, took his back and extended his spine.  Owned his balance, both his weapons were neutralized and the pommel of my stick was over his exposed and stretched trachea.  His eyes got very big.  He saw it, he could move as well as I did (honestly, better- he probably has more original issue joints).  Within a half hour, though, he was back in the exact same pattern of movement he had started in.  The years of training had ground a deep rut for his mind.

This really came to my attention hard towards the end of the seminar.  KJ had me go over how real knife assaults happen- close, fast, surprise if the threat can get it, usually in a confined space, and with part of you grabbed and controlled.  There are a few things that work from there and we played them, had them practice.  The notebook with the pictures of knife wounds was on the table.  They knew or should have known that this was the no bullshit deal- maybe just a few percentage points of chance, but stuff that had worked against real attacks, against attacks the way they happen.  Everyone started backed up against the wall with their partner/enemy at bad breath range.

Within ten minutes, all of the bad guys had taken a step back so that they could work at dojo range and were giving long, slow, obvious leads.  The technique works better that way, I guess.
The weird part, and the danger of patterns, is that they had all done it and no one realized it.


Steve Perry said...

"So they try to move the way the teacher moves and they try to 'flow'.. and they don't run or draw hidden weapons or break the pattern."

Which brings up the question -- so how do you teach a systematic way of attack and defense? I have a scene in a novel wherein a MA student is gonna get a group-thumping in class. Teacher says, "Whatever you want is allowed." So the student walks over to a pile of mats, pulls a hidden handgun out, and says, "Okay, come and get me." to the unarmed students.

End of match.

It's a funny bit. It lays out a basic truth, and it shows outside-the-dojo thinking. But it begs the question. Sure, Indiana can pull his revolver when the swordsman starts his twirl routine. But in the next movie, when he reaches, the holster is empty.

"Do whatever it takes." is valid and on-point, but how does a student learn what it takes without practice? Doesn't everybody have to start somewhere? Where is that?

General principles are the way to go, but don't you teach these with specifics? You can say, "Well, it doesn't matter what tool you use, punch, kick, elbow, stick." but if you don't have tools, isn't it like telling a guy who doesn't know what a hammer is to practice driving nails using one?

Yeah, I know, MMV (my milage varies ...) but it does seem to be a valid question. How do you get there from here?

Kai Jones said...

but how does a student learn what it takes without practice?

Granted I am not a student of the martial arts, but this has to be partly mental preparation. The first thing I thought of about your scenario was if we all charge the guy, he'll injure some but we can take him. Are you willing to charge the guy? Or to run away, if that's possible? This thinking can be practiced just like the physical skills can be.

Sometimes we puzzle-solving, tool-making, pattern-seeking monkeys work better (more effectively) within limits, it's true. But then you have to practice not having limits.

Steve Perry said...

Not arguing against that, Kai -- I've stipulated more than once that I believe the mind-set is what trumps most of the time. The fight isn't under the glove, it's under the hat.

"Go postal. Open a big can of run-bugfuck-amok on 'em. Add a dash of Viking Berserker, and a sprinkle of Moro with nuts-wrapped-in-shrinking-wet-rawhide. Throw everything including the kitchen sink at them until you get an open space, then run like hell."

Which goes to mindset and intent, and should get you places that Pray, sir, do not beat me! probably won't.


If the guy/guys in your face have similar mindsets, then the concept of ability, i.e. skill, would seem to have some value. You might be able to train the banzai do-or-die 'tude, but that's not what we are talking about.

You can teach somebody the philosophy of how to be a carpenter, but if he's never driven a nail or used a saw, he is going to suck at it come construction.

Two bad asses, the one who starts first has the obvious advantage. But if you go second, is there no hope for you? And if there is, what do you need to have in your tool chest to make that chance work? If attitude matches attitude for ferocity, what then?

It's not about limits, it's about options. The monkey brain generally isn't fast enough to analyze stuff in depth once serious action commences, so when the bad guy goes booga-booga, if you have to stop and think about a course of action, you are stewed prunes.

Yeah, if you have fifteen years of dealing with violent felons and you can't remember how many times you've been in the dill, that'll be a world of stuff upon which you can draw, but if you don't, then what?

I ain't Rory. I don't have his skills and experience, and never will have. How do I make do with what I have?

Rory said...

Steve's original question is a good one and deserves a real post.

His very last question- how to make do with what you have- is central and shorter.

An analogy: Skills are answers to problems. Learning skills is equivalent to memorizing answers. When you answer before you have really understood the question, you have a problem. These are the people who get stuck in patterns. When you start with answers and back-engineer the questions to fit those answers, you have the kool-aide drinkers.

Any decent martial artist should have all the physical skills that he or she needs to solve most common problems. They tend to lack the mental skills to accurately perceive the problem and the fortitude to, in an instant, realize that training occurred under different conditions with different goals and different parameters and selectively keep the good and jettison the inefficient, dangerous and/or illegal stuff.

Just mentioning this stuff gets wide eyes in a room full of dedicated 20+ year martial artists. That is deeply wrong. No matter how ritualized or safe or sport-oriented someone who has been studying a martial art (dedicated to Mars the god of war, MARtial) should not be shocked by the most basic elements of violence and assault.

More later.

Kai Jones said...

It's not about limits, it's about options. The monkey brain generally isn't fast enough to analyze stuff in depth once serious action commences,

Yeah, that. I'm completely untrained physically; I have very few options to respond to violence. I've focused my training on avoiding situations. I'm at risk to a blitz attack from a predator--but I'm not willing to train several times a week to be able to survive that attack, because the likelihood of it is very low in my life.

Surviving my childhood taught me awareness and threat assessment as a constant behavior, along with mental rehearsal for strategy. I'd love to take people on a walk with my mental narration; most people I tell about it think I'm paranoid.

Steve Perry said...

I'm with you -- staying out of trouble in the first place is the stitch in time that saves nine. See it coming, get out the way.

Much of what Rory and I kick back and forth goes to the missed-it-coming-now-what? aspect. A lot of formal dueling in martial arts starts like the opening of Gunsmoke -- squared-off, ready, prepared to deal with the threat. If you get hit from behind and you don't have a way to deal with that, you are screwed.

Screwed anyway, if the attacker does it right, but if that's the case, not much helps. If he doesn't nail it perfectly, you might have a chance, and a lot of what Rory speaks to goes to this: When your carefully-practiced set-up gets bypassed, when your patterns don't apply, then what?

Steve Van Horn has a note on his website: "Combinations are great if the universe would hold still while you execute them."

I'm not ragging on Rory for specific punches and kicks to deal with ambushes, but for principles that can be used with existing tools.

He's getting to it. Slowly ...

Ukemi said...

"Skills are answers to problems. Learning skills is equivalent to memorizing answers."
The first sentence I get, the second... I really don't. Learning skills, in any endeavor, (as far as my experience has carried me) isn't about memorizing answers as far memorizing methods. A good mathematician hasn't memorized all the problems in the world, he's just memorized the functions, and the order that they best work in. All the techniques that he could use on a problem that jumps him on his way home, and the best situations in which to use them.

So when he sits down to work out a problem, it just falls out. It might take a bit of jiggling about with more difficult ones, but that's because his principles are not perfectly integrated. After getting the answer, he understands the principles a little better and will have more success on more challenging problems.

(Caveat: This is also how my mind works. I don't learn answers, I learn methods and then work out the answer to each question. Though I never enjoyed maths like some I know, it suited the way my mind works, and I did well. Now at uni I have to both rote learn things and work with logical principles and reasoning. I'm poor at the rote learning (I find it arbitrary), but much better at the reasoning side. Again, YMMV.)

"When you answer before you have really understood the question, you have a problem." I do this, and it seems to me that though I get hit, they get hit worse. G and I were training responses to random hits, one came that I didn't perceive, and I ended up throwing a knifehand strike to his throat. Accident. I only noticed because G had gone down matrix-style to avoid it.

David does it to. His reaction to an unknown strike is to throw his hands out, either they'll intercept a strike, or they'll hit. Actually, a similar WC technique, maan sau (entry technique), means 'ask the question.'

And, from what I've do it too? "...when my senses get overwhelmed, I shut down the source of the information. Too put it in OODA terms, if I feel myself caught in the OO bounce or sense it about to happen, I attack. The OO bounce has become an Observation in and of itself with a simple one choice orient ("I'm frozen") followed by a simple Decision: "Hit the bastard!" and a simple action- POW."

Less of a 'not really understood' the question and more of a 'fuck the question' type of response though I guess.

Also, at some point you discussed joint locking. Hundreds of techniques, but I believe that you said you taught the principles of them, once one understood what angles/structures caused the desired response, one then had to learn to see the option when it was there. Functions, and principle. Techniques and opportunity.

"When your carefully-practiced set-up gets bypassed, when your patterns don't apply, then what?"
So, when a question comes that you don't have a pre-recorded response to? You'd fall back on principles wouldn't you?