Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Things That Make Me Go Hmmmm....

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.


jks9199 said...

One quick comment on beginners...

I've found beginners are the most dangerous to train with because they are the least predictable. (Good training for reality... but risky for practice.) They'll do things that you don't expect, at times you don't expect, with more or less force than you'd expect... and they'll get something right at the damnedest times (as the scar on my chin attests). But the student is also only part of the danger; assumptions by the instructor ("he's only a beginner...") are another part of the danger.

And on calmness...

The "calm" in chaos definitely isn't the same as being at home & relaxed -- at least not in my experience. It's more like focused concentration & confidence. I'm not sure there's a good way to teach it other than experience... Even the best simulation training only gets so close...

Beyond that -- lots of things to think about in this post.

Jay Gischer said...

You said: "The ten years of training before that did absolutely nothing for adrenaline control in my first few fights."

In one sense, I'm sure you are correct. No training is going to get all that close to battle.

But I would challenge this statement all the same. Can you perform a controlled experiment? Put someone with no training in the same situation, would they have the same control?

Furthermore, some people have life experiences that amount to training, can you isolate that factor?

I am quite sure that there are situations in which I have much more composure now than I once had. And that is because of training.

Steve Perry said...

Nose bones. I did a tour with an orthopod as part of my training as a Family Practice PA, and I paid some attention to this one, having heard and read it many times. Anatomically-speaking, it doesn't happen. If you were born on Krypton and can hit hard enough to collapse the whole nasal-frontal suture, yeah. Otherwise, no, else there would be bodies piled chest-deep every Friday night in bars around the world. Sooner or later, somebody would get the right angle with a wild punch.

Guy I trained with had been in the ortho-biz for thirty-five years, about to retire, and he had treated thousand of facial injuries and never once seen it.

Nor, in my looking through the literature, then and since, have I ever found a verified case of it.

So, either it requires a skill up there with that of reliably causing commotio cordis, or it doesn't happen.

Go back and look at a skull. The only thing you can drive into the brain there isn't going to happen with a heel-of-the-hand strike. Simply isn't.

Rory said...

Thanks, Steve.

Jay- Good point. Without a controlled experiment there's no real way to be sure. Trouble is, a controlled experiment on violence will never pass a modern ethics committee, and the fact that it was an experiment would remove a lot of the surprise and fear factors.
All we are left with is a longitudinal, single subject, self-reported (and therefor subjective study). So I can only report that the emotional feel of my handful of kid fights before training was very similar to my first casino fight after six years of training and my first jail fight after ten. I did better, tactically and technically (or just bigger and stronger or?) but it was a very slow, conscious and deliberate actions, forcing myself to make each move. Just a data point.

Patrick Parker said...

Wow! other than just saying , great post, I have a couple of tidbits to add.

RE: nosebones - I'm with Steve. I'd think commotio cordis would be easier to produce than nosebone-in-brain-itis

I really got a kick out of your comment that you'd spent hours in seiza doing technique. I hust wrote a series of articles on suwari, and whether it is useful or not...


Why do you figure that you're able to do hours of suwari without setting off those 'when would I use this" moments you refer to? What do you think we get out of the more esoteric practices like suwari?

Steve Perry said...

I think a trained guy with a mad on is going to do more damage than a newbie, but I also think part of the reason is that you, as a student or teacher, are trying to not-hurt the newbie. Because you know he isn't going to get that close unless you allow it, for purposes of the lesson.

Part of training is allowing people to do things to learn that you wouldn't allow them to do if you were really attempting to avoid injury or to damage them. I think you have to factor that into the equation.

If I get hit in practice by somebody and I'm trying to stop it, then it's my fault, because theoretically at this point, I know how to stop it.

If I have to stand still and allow Joe Newb to come in and try something he's just been shown, then his lack of control is apt to be something of an issue.

I could make the argument that you are more likely to get hurt when your two-year-old leaps onto your crotch than in either of the sparring situations, and for the same reason: What you can do to protect yourself against your child, you had better not do ...

Swordfighting Europe said...

The Will overcomes the Skill.

Apart from that will (determination/ferocity etc.) my second favorite is concepts to guide simple techniques.
With simple I mean: not elaborate.
Or: simple in the sense that you can easily do them, without hesitation, under high pressure.

Which takes me to something else:
a pressure test.

How effective are you, when under total and heavy pressure?

just a few cents added for devaluation ;-)

Bert Bruijnen

Jim Coles said...

I just ordered your book from Amazon yesterday and came across your blog only today. After reading this post, I'm very glad I ordered the book. I've seen guys who train like crazy but lack that vital ingredient that is all important: Fighting spirit, will, whatever. You're definitely right in that it's the guy who's set on gutting it out and imparting damage no matter the cost who most often emerges on top.

James said...

My first Sensei said "if someone is absolutely determined to bite your nose off and doesn't care how much he gets hurt, you'll probably beat him to a pulp...he'll probably also bite your nose off". I can remember times where I've been in bad situations on the street and a kind of cold, controlled anger comes over me. I don't think - I do. And only later can I piece together how it happened. I also don't notice injury. I finished cuffing a guy once and had my back up point to my leg with a concerned look on his face. There was a shard of glass sticking out of my thigh. I remember looking at it and thinking "well, that should hurt like hell". I didn't feel a thing. I'm not sure that any amount of sterile Dojo training (as much as I love the MA) can develop that in people.