Thursday, July 03, 2008

Does It Have To Be?

Steve Perry wrote yet another comment that deserves a lot of thought. He's right, and it's something I've wondered about myself: (See the August 5, 2005 post on New Ways- I can't tag from this machine) The essence- sometimes when you have done something for a long time, you forget the basics. You can do them, you just forget to explain them, or even point them out. Steve's instructor is really good (extraordinary by most measures) and gets a lot of experienced martial artists who need the shift in perspective that he offers. Ergo, most of his students would be considered very advanced in most schools and the basics are just assumed. When a new student shows up who doesn't know how to hold a stick or make a fist, it throws everything off-kilter. The instructor has to stop and switch gears.

Read the August 2005 post. The essence is that it takes a lot of practice, a lot of reps to get to some high-end skills. Every really good fighter that I know followed this route. But is it really necessary?

At this stage I sure don't know and don't really have an opinion on it. But here is a speculation, a possibility: What if you can skip that step?

Most people can move. Athletic people move well. Fighting is just moving. People already know what hurts and what can injure them. If it's not knowledge of those areas that makes a good survival fighter, maybe it is mental, attitude. Sanford Strong describes some of the survival mindsets that have gotten through truly hideous home invasion crimes. The attitude, the determination to "make this bastard PAY!" was a big factor, a huge factor in survival.

Isn't that natural? What if we are approaching this the wrong way and making a good survival fighter* is not about putting a mindset in but about taking one out? If it is not bequething a tool but removing a leash?

One example from my lovely wife: She is a wonderful dancer. A belly dancer, an exceptionally graceful woman. For years she couldn't and wouldn't dance. She was afraid she would dance poorly, that she "didn't know how." The second she decided to step on a dance floor, get into the music and have fun, she could dance. Classic ballet? Salsa? No. But she could move with power and grace to the music. She was dancing.

What if a huge gain in fighting skill could be made by simply deciding to 'let go'. That's the other thing that all extraordinary fighters (competition too) do. They let go. True, after they have spent the hours ingraining the skills... but is there any reason why the letting go can't come first? Would it allow them to learn skills without baggage?

Intriguing questions.

*Not the same as a competitor. Competition is a test of skill and will and technique and fitness and... Survival can be anything and everything


Kami said...

It is an interesting question. On the one hand I really like the idea of teaching people to let go. But on the other--let go on what? A heavy bag? Lots of people hurt themselves on those. So, teach them not to hurt themselves and then let go?

Lots to think about.

Nohn said...

I'm not sure you can give someone the right mindset, or that a shortcut exists that would cause a person to develop it. In my experience, you're either a vicious bastard or you're not. You are a vicious bastard, Rory (and tend to hang out with the same), so you might not see this... I have the privilege (or handicap) of not being a vicious bastard, so I might have a different viewpoint.

For example, many, many first-year fencers (especially girls) don't have a well-developed killer instinct. Without that earnest desire to go out on the floor and totally destroy (kill) your opponent, you're never really going to be a successful fencer.

That's something I've never been able to teach. I can drill the mechanics up one side and down the other, and I can turn out fencers who are beautiful mechanically. But I've never succeeded in teaching someone that attitude.

My fencing master (Len Carnighan) used to say that fencing got good only when you were tired. By tired he meant: When you are on the strip in your third 15-touch bout; your quads and glutes are seized up; you're gasping (and it feels like your lungs are hanging outside your body); your mask, jacket, plastron, lame, and glove are soaked through; your shoes are squishing on the strip; you're tied at one win apiece, the score is 13-13 and you need a two-touch lead to win... (And the other guy just won his second B and you really, really REALLY want to kick his ass.)

Well, that's when technique doesn't count for a hell of a lot. You've got to pull the primal bits out and let 'em walk, 'cause that's the only way you're going to win. This isn't something that can come from the outside, either. You have to reach down deep and find it yourself...

(I won that bout, by the way. Hit the guy with the same touch twice to win 15-13. Loser. HA. But I'm not going to talk about the times when I didn't. heh...)

I once fenced with a woman, and when we were done she shook my hand and said she really didn't like fencing. I asked her why, and she said, "Because it reminds me too much of arguing with my boyfriend."

She didn't win that bout, and I'm pretty sure she wasn't winning the arguments, either.


Anonymous said...

When asked how she made her 275 yard drives (about a hundred yard farther than her competition), golfer Babe Didrikson Zaharias said, "Why, I just loosen my girdle and let the ball have it." (New York Times, June 13, 1947)

Steve Perry said...

It is a wonder, and I don't know the answer.

What I have come to believe works best for me is to train a simple set of tools to the point where I can trust them to be there when I need them. To get to that place where the flow is there -- the zanshin of it all so you know exactly what to do in the moment.

You can learn the motions you think will do the trick by doing forms, but to apply them, you need a resisting partner or partners, and of course, that's another whole can of worms -- since you can't do pedal-to-the-metal every training session without running over folks and leaving them smashed on the side of the road, how much of an approximation can you get at less than full speed and power?

On gun night, I watched a bunch of pistol shooters filmed from the front by a remote cam, and most of them blink every time the gun in their hands goes off.

Some of them don't. Todd Jarrett let go ten rounds from a .45 Colt semi-auto and never blinked once.

I think that means something. Blinking against a loud noise is an instinctive reaction, and he's gotten past it. (He's wearing shooting goggles, so he knows nothing is gonna poke him in the eye, but that's not it. He's shot so much he's gotten past it.)

One of the ways I have learned to trust my tools is to have somebody my size come at me hard enough so that if I miss, at the very least, I'll get thumped and decked. If I can thwart his attack with an attack of my own, parry, or block, and control the center line and thus the attacker, that's not a real world fight, but it does offer me some confidence that the tool will work against somebody trying to hit me at speed and power.

If I ever get hit in class by somebody I know is coming? My fault. Always.

Maybe the tool won't work on the street, but a full-power strike from somebody who knows how to throw one is going to do damage, and getting used to seeing them and dealing with them? Makes sense to me that it would remove some of the fear that you might feel with somebody offering a similar move on the street. If I can stop the 230 lb. silat guy throwing a focused punch, that's got to be worth something.

How much? Dunno.

Yep, we all know how to move, but some of us move more efficiently and effectively than others, and that skill would seem to be useful if you can gain it.

If I didn't have any technique, the instinctive moves I could offer might or might not do the job, and pretty much, I don't trust those except for the "Oh, shit!" situation. Ducking and covering might keep you from getting whacked, but it doesn't short-circuit the next attack, and I'm still of a mind that a trained berserker beats an untrained one.

Rage=Rage. Rage+Skill, you have more ammunition than rage alone. It seems to me that more ammunition is better.

Kai Jones said...

Can you release something that isn't there?

People respond differently to the same stimulus; while I grant there might be some stimulus to be found that would elicit the vicious bastard in each of us, I think it's likely that some don't have it. Or they've buried it, intentionally or no.

Some people don't believe in the right to self defense; of course they won't be taking a class or studying martial arts anyway.

Anonymous said...

I think you have a good idea there. It makes me think of Bruce Lee in the idea of formless form. As a martial artist I have thought that might be the way as well as seeing many other people I have trained feel the same. What I finally came though was "I'm not Bruce Lee."
I think in that same respect we can no longer look back and know what it is to be without our skills.
In our womens self defense courses we have taught open hand stirkes and Vital area strikes for well over a decade, and everytime someone had a real encounter they would come back and say "I didn't know what to do my body just reacted with a basic strike"

I don't mean to sound patronizing, I'm sure you know all that. In every real fight I've been in, (and I'm not proud of that statement) my sweaty palms and wobbly legs were always saved by basics. Of course I have learned to let go no, but I don't know if I could have done so without the structure of the basics.

In fact I sought you out after reading your book and I think you have a great way of looking at the arts vs. reality. Also I think the world needs more people like you teaching that traditional arts really do work.

Toldain said...

In my ryu, Danzanryu (thanks for the kind words earlier, Rory), we call the "vicious bastard" attitude "shin". I believe that everyone has it, but for many, including me, it's on a very short leash. And for good reason.

Here's an example. My sensei tells of talking to a woman at work about a problem she was having, and the attitude, the shin, necessary to deal with it. The woman replied that she didn't think she was capable of violence.

Sensei asked her, "What would you do if you saw a man butt-fucking a child?"

Her reply was instantaneous, "Why I'd rip his fucking head off!!!"

"Well, there you go", he said. "Now we just need to train that."

Anonymous said...

I think the "let go" idea could grow into something cool. Most people have a point where they would "rip someone's head off" but they have some acknowledged and unacknowledged limitations on when that is an acceptable plan of action. It does serve a purpose to keep society from genocide at the beginning of the work week, but it limits our self-preservation when we don't have a clear sight on when we do give ourselves permission to be violent.
I learned some very valuable lessons on this from you and have not had any other martial arts instructor even touch the subject. Most assume you have it or you don't. I have also noticed they have preconceptions on who has it and who does not. That might be some great food for thought.
Learning to hit a bag without putting wrist bones out is also a good tool too when you don't know the basics also. Going back and going through all the basics did solidify a lot of what I learned as well. Muscle memory is a really cool thing.

nurse ratchet

Steve Perry said...

The problem I have with the let-it-go scenario is that it seems all-or-nothing. Release the slobbering reptile hind brain from its cage, yeah, it is fearsome, but it also doesn't want to back off if that first or second punch does the trick.

In my limited experience, there are only two positions for the switch -- on or off.

This is where the skill stuff would seem to come into play. Rory tells the story of his first encounter with an inmate and how he was all revved up for battle but that one punch and the guy was done.

It would seem to me that you don't need to be a vicious bastard if you have enough skill and willingness to apply it -- though that might be part of the definition ...

Rory said...

I think Steve may have hit on a problem in his last comment, something critical. He writes:

"The problem I have with the let-it-go scenario is that it seems all-or-nothing. "

First off, I can't speak for anyone else in the discussion, but I have never felt that way. Sort of. At least in one direction. This may be pivotal:

"Let it go" or "unleashing" or "getting in touch with you inner berserk" or Danzan-ryu's "shin", no matter what you call it there is a mental and emotional aspect to survival combat. Every instructor that I know who deals with the mental aspect effectively, every last one, also deals with technical proficiency. They acknowledge that skills will downgrade, but they drill skills.

Yet I know dozens (maybe a hundred if I put my mind to making a list) who teach physical skills without ever touching on (or just being so wrong it would be better if they just shut up) on the mental and emotional aspect.

They put out platitudes, like "the skill will be there when you need it" or "exercise x forges your spirit" or...
But (and you rarely see this unless they get a beginning student who is a great natural fighter) many of their drills and exercises work to BLUNT the mental edge. The constant demands for control; that students are admonished for making contact; that safety is paramount... all good things, but all things that damage the mental skill and, IME the mental/emotional aspect is more than half the battle.

So, a student walks into a training center and he is average- 50% physically skilled, 50% mentally prepared. An increase in either raises his effectiveness- 100% skilled but only 50% ready to let go, 150 points (although there is an aspect that without the mental you can't access the physical at all under stress, but I'm trying to keep this simple).

Take the same person and raise the mental 50%, again 150. Raise them both: 200. But if in the process of raising the physical you blunt the emotional for safety or for obediance masquerading as discipline, you might stay at 50 or even drop.


Daniel said...

I think there are actually two problems here. The first is to develop a technical skillset just like any other activity. The major problem here is that we judge the effectiveness of martial technique
on purely subjective terms, usually on looks alone. The only time I've even seen an objective measure even in the movies was one of the later Rocky films where the russian dude punched some kind of impact sensor to prove how tough he was. We spend years in the martial arts without knowing if we improved 5% or 25% in the first 100
repetitions of a reverse punch. How about the first 1000 2000 10000
etc. After the first 100000 do you
get better stay the same or get worse? How hard can you hit, do you know? Has anyone strapped an accelerometer to their fist to read the G forces in acceleration, and deceleration? The point here is
that if you aren't practicing martial science you are practicing martial witchcraft. I knew an old black man who joined our karate class. The man must have had some former boxing training because he had a punch like a frieght train. Eventually he was taught to punch "correctly" and it seemed to me that it made him less powerfull and less flexible. How do you know if those knuckle pushups are actually making you'r punch all that more powerfull or not? Is speed training actually more effective? We would be greatly helped by a set of simple provable measurements.

The other problem is the "attitude-mind thing" I am still thinking about that but it seems obvious that we need to train to think independently and tactically starting day ONE! We also need to develop exererzises that emphasize
colse , fast , scared, hit ,and confused from day ONE.

Anyway thank you Rory for publishing such an honest book it connected my "scratch notes" and my experiences very clearly.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to write about three events that happened to me that speak to the idea of "letting go".

I used to work as a doorman at a bar. I spent years doing work, and I have had many altercations. 10 years ago, I trained MMA for a solid year, several times a week in a reputable dojo. Hard work, hard fighting, I got kicked, punched, and rarely won a bout. But I learned a lot. So after my training started, I got my first chance to use it. We were escorting several patrons out, and the first patron turned on one of the senior staff, and everything broke loose. The guy who was my responsibility tried to grab me from the side in some kind of choke. I reacted, spun him, took him down, took his back, and choked him. Not out, but enough. So there I am surrounded by a fight, on the ground, stuck with a body on top of me I can't let go of, and can't choke all the way out. Not good. My fellow staff quickly quelled the problem, and helped me out. Bad rookie mistake, only saved by my friends. Another instance, years later, now I'm the senior man, we have a well skilled, reasonably sober problem, and I have to handle him. We move quickly, I'm the lead guy, and I get him in several solid submission holds, yet he won't quit. And I won't cross that line and break something. We are in front of people, some of whom are recording stuff on there cell phones! Eventually, I just choke him all the way out. Which is bad. Now we have to call the ambulance, cops, take statements, etc. So I stop training MMA, ju jitsu, whatever you want to call it, I can't use it like it's supposed to be used, so it's not meeting my needs. There are many more events, but these are two examples. Last example. Most recently, I was walking up to a situation that was already being handled by two other guys. I haven't trained in a dojo for years, and I haven't missed it. All of a sudden, one of the "bad guys" spins on of our newer guys, and sinks a solid, well executed choke. I blanked out, moved fast, went directly behind the bad guy and seized his head with both hands, and I felt one of my fingers go into his eye socket. Up to a knuckle. I twisted his skull as hard as I could, using my leverage from inside his eyeball, and bulldogged him to the ground, took an ugly side mount and bounced his head repeatedly onto the asphalt until he stopped fighting, which was REALLY fast. I was terrified. So was he. He was helped into a car by some friends, I went back into the bar, and had a severe case of diarrhea. But I have never taken someone out as quickly and efficiently. So now what? Where is that line? How do we train to cross it back and forth without losing sense of our selves? Did I train to do that somehow, or was that always innate knowledge that I unconsciously let go? Because I don't feel any of my training covered that. And I have never been tired after a fight in a physical sense. They are always over too fast. So whats left? And where do we find it. That is what we have to ponder.