Tuesday, July 07, 2009


Damage changes almost everything.  Not just the fact that when things start (at least, if you're the good guy) you might well be injured before you are fully aware it's  jumped off.  There's a lot of denial, but that's actually pretty obvious if you think about it.  And it's not just that too many people can't seem to differentiate between pain and damage in their minds and think that both are equally likely to stop a bad guy or equally are reasons to stop or quit.

It's far more than that.  You have to get close to reliably injure people.  Sure, sometimes you can flick the eyes or break the little bones in the back of the hand at a relatively safe distance but to reliably damage someone so badly that you can safely escape is close-in work.  There is a pretty specific zone where your strikes have maximum power, and inside that zone there is a sweet spot where everything works better.  And it's close, baby.  Unless you are behind that guy, there's no safe way to be in that range.  If you can finish him, he can finish you.  That takes a different mindset than playing a game of speed tag.  In most sparring, the biggest fear is looking silly.  Being so outclassed or doing something so stupid that your fellow students start laughing.  Damage is different.  That is a fear of being crippled, a fear of blinding and memory loss.  Possibly, you will face the deeper fear of where your line is: how much damage you will take before you beg for it to stop.  Most men would have a very hard time living with the memory of begging.

The close range changes some things, but even systems that spar at close range sometimes don't produce students who understand damage at close range.  Infighting I can tag you, steal your balance, let you know in many little ways how good I am or am not.  And I can do all that sloppy.  To damage takes a more precise, more coordinated body mechanics.  You can practice to show that you are good, practice to be good, and never master the differences of body mechanics you need to break bones.

When Mac set up the boxing sessions for enforcement he tasked me as one of the sparring partner/instructors.  I am not a boxer.  Still, boxing with J, a former college football player, who outweighed me by at least forty pounds, was wearing body armor and both of us wearing 16 oz. gloves, I broke two of his ribs with a short right hook.  Yeah, bragging again.  Maybe. But that's not the point.  Boxers do this all the time, most are stronger, more fit and spend far more time practicing strikes than I do- their injury rate should be astronomical.  But it isn't.  I finally had the opportunity to ask one why.  He said, quite reasonably, "There wouldn't be any boxers if we always hit like that."  Yeah, if I was boxing every day there would definitely be an unspoken agreement not to take each other's heads off.  It wouldn't take long for that agreement to seem like going 'all-out'.

There's also an element in sport that both is and isn't present in other venues.  'Not losing' in many ways, drives more strategy than a desire to win does.  Boxers and MMA fighters and anyone who plays with contact has to protect themselves.  The clinch can be a big part of strategy and there are lots of things you can do with it, but it exists as a 'not losing' strategy. The goal is to prevent him from harming you.

People are free to disagree with me on this, but when damage is the point, the offensive becomes the defensive.  When someone is trying to injure you the most efficient way not to get injured is to shut him down.  This is more obvious with weapons.  Unless you are very lucky (and having a stupid, clumsy attacker is the ultimate in luck) if you try to stay on the defensive against a knife, you will be cut to ribbons and then finished off.  Unless you are in a hardened site, hunkering down or trying to dodge when people start shooting at you only works until you get picked off.  To stop someone from shooting you (if they are coming at you for damage- see, not pray and spray to keep you head down or blazing away as they run away, this whole post is about damage, both from you and to you) you pretty much need to shoot him. Blowing up works too.

Because people can take more unarmed damage than armed; because many can't distinguish between pain and damage and; most importantly, because most have never really been in a situation that was about damage, they can choose to believe that defense and offense are both 50% of the equation.  And they can be, if both are playing that game.  If both are trying not to lose.

It feels, it looks, it is very different when one of the parties is there to do damage.  Range, body mechanics, mindset.  All different.


Don Weiss said...

Have you read some of the 'Target Focus Training' materials? They say pretty much the same thing - cause damage/injury, not pain, when you strike. Practicing in their slow method does show the close range you need to be in to do the damage.

Steve Perry said...

Makes perfect sense to me. It's one of the reasons that a serious fighter isn't going to crank this stuff up unless it is necessary.

I dunno if you've been following the local news since you've been away, but that homeless guy -- Chasse -- who died during an altercation with LEO's in Portland? Big lawsuit got settled, county paid almost a million bucks.

Turns out it wasn't ED killed him:

"The Multnomah County medical examiner said Chasse suffered 16 broken ribs, a broken shoulder and sternum and massive internal injuries."

What you get for pissing on a tree in Portland and then running from the law ...

Bill said...

A weakness of most martial arts training today; strikes and blocks and counters take place at a comabitively unrealistic range. The techniques are often intorduced at a range where the counters seems to work magically, and at a speed that is unrealisticly slow. Techniques can be introduced at a slow speed and at a safe range, but if an instructor does not correct for reality after the basic body mechanics are learned, then it isn't going to be there for you when you need it. The bad guys never seem to cooperate; they strike full force and at a range that will likely result in a lot of damage.

Kamil said...

An insight fundamentally missing from every place I've ever practised -- irrespective of their commitment. How could a boxer punch his hardest every single time in a boxing match, in training? They have to be pacing themselves and somewhere inside they know the other guy is too. The only fighter who ever banked on knocking the guy out in the first 90 seconds was Tyson. Every other fighter is trying to win the fight, not break the other guy in half. The pacing of a match is nowhere to be found when there's no bell and corner.

You mention the underestimation of range, but in your writing (particularly 'Meditations') you tend to emphasize the mindset and I couldn't agree more. You have to move your mind to a place where a backward step is a step off a cliff, especially when there's a weapon. If you can't start there, with that compulsion to move forward and meet the danger, you'll never get close enough to hurt and you'll never turn him from offense to defense.