It’s hard to tell how deep bullshit goes. Really. You hear someone say, “Twelve pounds of pressure will break a knee.” He believes it because someone he trusts said it. A little thought (or experimentation- put a 12 pound dumbbell on your locked knee) and it is pretty clearly bullshit. People who believe it, believe it. People who know better think the people who believe it are stupid.
“A palm heel can drive the nose bone into the brain.” Same dynamic…except how do you know it doesn’t? How many times have you tried? Logic might work. I’ve heard people say that there is no nose bone, the nose is all cartilage. Did they never feel their own nose? Ever use the little ridge of bone at the base of the septum as a leverage point? "There is no place to drive the bone, if it exists, through the skull…" but I have heard that there is an opening for one of the facial nerves…
Again, and understand this here- I’m not saying which is right or wrong. I haven’t done it myself and I haven’t examined enough real skulls to make a guess. What I am saying is that in many cases not only belief, but denial of belief, are eqully based on hearsay. Not on facts, not on experience. For some reason denying a belief automatically has more credibility than perpetuating one.
We hear things and we believe them, but sometimes we see things and ignore them, things that could have some really deep implications.
Here are some things that make me go “hmmmm” in martial arts training. They may be nothing, but I suspect some of them have some pretty powerful effects. I want to thank Bobbe for getting me thinking about this, or at least pushing it in this direction. Here are a few:
You are more likely to be injured by a beginner than by a blackbelt. This fits my experience and I’ve heard it stated by instructors in many different styles. So, hmmmmm. What does it mean? If someone training to break people becomes less likely to break people the longer he trains, what is the training really instilling? Here's a scary, bizarro world thought- is it possible that MA training is specifically designed to pull teeth? To make the students safer and easier to control?
The obvious counter argument is that the advanced student, the 'expert' merely has more control. Possible. Safety habits are still habits, you fight the way you train… blah, blah, blah. If this is true, that you fight the way you train, then the hours of practicing NOT hurting people will make that your default when you need the skills. The habit of control in the dojo is still a habit. You practice pulling punches and you will pull punches. You simulate using pepper spray by pressing on top of the safety and saying, “SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS” you will do it in real life and the crook will give you a very strange look (right, Sean S.?) And, from the other side, I can't recall ever hearing a boxer say that you are more likely to be hurt by a beginner than a pro.
The utility of skill at all. Take this one with a huge grain of salt because it comes from someone who has spent decades honing skills: Attitude is far more important. No skill will help you if you freeze for too long. Sanford Strong’s research in some of the worst-case scenarios (abduction rape/murders and home invasion torture killings) indicated that attitude, specifically the decision to make the bastard pay no matter what it cost, was the single biggest factor in survival. Not skill, not size. Ask anyone who knows what they are talking about this question- “Which would be more dangerous to fight, a 200 pound blackbelt who was afraid of getting hurt or a ninety pound housewife who didn’t give a damn if she was killed as long as she took you with her?” Even Jeff, (the guy who trains unbelievably hard to do some very dangerous things and demanded an extreme level of precision under stress)- well, he’s the guy who said, “Violence of action trumps technique.”
So it’s not just me, Jeff is another training junkie who thinks attitude and ferocity are more important than precision or skill (are precision and skill the same thing? Measurements of each other?). This is where people with agendas get their panties in a twist: Neither Jeff nor I have ever said or ever will say that training is unimportant. Ferocity and skill are in no way mutually exclusive. It’s just that a timid technician will reliably lose to an untrained lion.
Training to maintain calm in the face of violence. Maaayyyybeee. I can do it, but it is nothing like the peaceful calm I feel when I am luxuriating in bed in the morning. And it's something that came from experience after the oh, 20th or 50th Use of Force. The ten years of training before that did absolutely nothing for adrenaline control in my first few fights.
So what kind of calm are they training for? Do they even know? How many different mindsets have they experienced in others and in themselves and which mindsets have they felt when someone was trying to kill them? Blind panic works sometimes and a ‘flight’ response in the right direction can sometimes do more damage than a ‘fight’ response.
So, tying back to the last point, why isn’t more emphasis placed on training ruthlessness and ferocity? Not the imaginary ruthlessness of visualizing what your knife could do to flesh but instilling the habits of driving it home and ripping it out and moving on. Not the flowy, peaceful harmony of an imaginary Shaolin but the beautiful, cold, precision of a hunter. Is it taught so rarely because it is a complete unknown? Could the natural mindsets of battle be a complete mystery to people teaching fighting and self-defense? Does that bother anyone else?
Or is it because they don’t know how to teach it? Or is it because the magical thinking of, “We train to stay calm in the face of violence” is enough of a talisman and the real thing might upset the magic? Or, most damning, is it a fear of creating a student that they can't dominate?
What are they training for anyway? Often, in a MA class, I get a ‘when would I use this?’ moment. Sometimes because of legal justification, but sometimes just because the situations where it would come up seem so very unlikely. Weapon defense techniques are a big one for these moments, but I have spent hours practicing technique from seiza. I even know how to bow in armor.
I try to be pretty specific when I teach. I know lots of ways to take someone down without hurting them because that was my job, but really, unless it’s your job, there’s not a lot of use for that. Outside of that, when I talk about self-defense, physical self defense, that is a whole different animal. That is pure survival in situations where one or more humans has worked hard to make sure that you have the minimum possible chance of survival.
Afraid and overwhelmed and in a bad position are kind of the basic starting positions for self-defense. (aside: real self defense is all about avoiding this. Physical self defense is what you use when that has failed).
The techniques need to be based on gross motor skills, have to be married from the get-go with accessing the appropriate mindsets, and must be based on flexible principles or you will be overwhelmed in the chaos. Lots of it has to be taught from the body out instead of from the brain down.
So what are they (or you) training for? I’m all for fitness and preserving culture. I like fun, and there is very little more fun than clanging steel in a safe environment. But when it goes to where I am going (and most of the people that seek me out for training want this piece) it is about violence. Hard, scary, personal, dangerous, messy.