Monday, August 10, 2009


Balancing offense and defense is largely a sparring artifact.  At hand fighting range there is a sensitivity and a flow to sparring- the fist comes in, you glide it off line with a touch and snake your own strike over the top and he raises his elbow and/or shrugs his shoulder weaken the strike...

You don't commit your weight to a strike in sparring, largely because you don't want to do any real injury and partially because you have been convinced by your instructors how easy it is to destroy the balance of an over-committed attacker.  Being cautious from both ends, we train our attacks to be weak and don't realize it. Reps are reps.  A thousand reps of weak attacks hones the skill of attacking without power.

That's only a piece, because the defenses that we learn are based on these uncommitted attacks.  And they work well here, for what it is worth.  But the physical and emotional difference of a truly committed attack is amazing.  It will blow through many of the sparring defenses.  It can freeze you and take away the subtle glides and evasions.

It's not a difficult problem, the fully committed attack. The physics are pretty simple, the stuff that works works pretty reliably.  But it is so rarely addressed in training (more, I think, because it is not very safe and most people cannot summon the emotional intensity on demand) that when it happens it is an alien thing.

Many of the things that don't work in sparring are beautiful for the fully committed attack.  Some of the old stuff has what you need- imprecise enough to cover a wide area, gross-motor based, closing and leaving you in good position... and some of these very same things are suicide in  sparring.  The x-block that Steve and Scott rightly decry is a godsend when you see a flash of steel arcing towards your belly with a frothing, angry, PCP or meth dosed freak behind it.

And this is the thing.  Monkey dances, sparring, dueling are fine.  But someone trying to slaughter you, whether a predator working from ambush or a domestic situation yielding to rage, will be the fully committed attack.  With all of the threat's weight and speed, no holding back and with the psychological intention of introducing your insides to the cold air.

This leads to risk training. It's a little tweak for some, terrifying for others.  Every so often you must practice defense in an environment where if you do it wrong, you will be injured.  A full power, full speed baseball bat strike to the head. Preferably from someone with the skill to put himself in a rage mindset for a single blow and then come out of it.  The old two man kata, at higher levels, had a huge element of this.

And here is the test- if uke attacks with full power, speed and rage and tori screws the defense and uke in any way is able to regain control and not hurt tori, then uke didn't have the right mindset to begin with. The training would have been 'off', valueless.

I'm not suggesting this training method, because it is not safe.  I do it as tori. I will do it as uke if I know that tori completely understands that I will not pull in any way and his own survival is entirely in his hands.  I am reluctant to risk a manslaughter charge for training, especially if it is for someone who may choke or not understand.  The stupid and clumsy need not apply.

But there is a lesson there.  Especially if you can be both, the fully committed attacker and the defender.


Steve said...

I worked out with a Japanese Shotokan guy eons ago (I was in my 20s). We were doing Sanbon Kumite (3 step sparring). He threw the first Oi Tsuki and it was FAST and on target. If I hadn't stepped back, it would have taken my head off. I blocked and immediately stepped back for the 2nd punch which, at this point, I knew I had to either block or buy dentures. He, meanwhile, had shifted back to Hanmi and was just standing there, waiting. It turns out that, in Japan, they frequently practice this exercise one full-out attack at a time. And he gets to chose the timing. It's a different mindset.

Scott said...

Oh, I don't know. I've never been attacked by a fully committed attacker (unless you count my wife reaching across me for chocolate). Yes, "upping" various elements (weight, speed etc) of training is OK, but I don't know if I really WANT to be confident I can disarm a fully enraged attacker with a baseball bat. I think I'm going to hang on to my doubts.

Confidence is a little too close to fantasy for me.

Funny... actually. I teach my students just the opposite of what most schools teach.
I want my students to be weak, and know they are weak. I want my students to use only momentum and body mass (weight/gravity) to make their techniques effective.

I say, take out the strength, shorten the distance one has to build momentum (often invisible in the body) and then you can practice with a partner using body mass.

I've never seen much value in sparring outside of the monkey dance anyway.

Steve Perry said...

I'm not the guy to gainsay your experience -- you've dealt with a lot of folks coming at you from a bunch of angles, and you should know, but I will note that one of the reasons not to put your weight into an attack is what happens if you miss it.

Never been a proponent of the one-punch-one-kill school. Rather like carrying a single-shot horse pistol in .60 caliber. Great if you are the man who never misses. Maybe not as good as having a repeater a bit smaller in case you need a second shot.

(If I can't hit hard enough in balance to do the job, I don't see how being a quarter-second away from landing on my face is gonna do the trick any better. No, a short reverse punch is not going to carry the same power as a run-across-the-room haymaker, but it doesn't need to if it's well-placed. A .22 to the eye kills you as dead as the .40 to the heart. And the haymaker is going to take a while to wind up and deliver.)

A fully-committed attack, using a battle axe to the neck, is almost certainly going to be nasty -- and slower than one using a scalpel to the carotids. You can only get killed so dead, right?

Sure, a three-hundred-pound biker stoned to the gills is apt to blow right through your chicken-beak block with his hammer fist. We have a technique we like for this; it varies a bit from person to person but basically, it is: Get-the-hell-out-the-way.

There's an old eastern proverb -- if an elephant falls, you don't to hold him up from underneath.

I used to have a crossover sidekick I could knock down trees with; unfortunately, you could also *grow* trees waiting for it to get there. Great finishing technique, or against somebody looking the other way; not so great as a primary attack.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding it, but the way we train, the more committed an attack, the worse off the guy throwing it is going to be if we can do what we are trying to do.

Always that "if," of course, but part of the sensitivity notion is to try to judge what is coming in, and adjust our response accordingly. A jab doesn't get the same as a rushing tackle. You don't use a hammer to fix your heirloom pocket watch.

If you reach out and touch the point of my knife gently with your fingertip, you might get pinked. If you throw yourself onto the point of it with a committed attack, you are gonna get impaled.

You need almost no power for a sharp knife to work. Sharp and pointed steel beats flesh with the lightest of touches.

Against a zoned-out meth head with a knife, you might get away with your X-block. If he's a trained meth-head -- or maybe somebody who just looks like a doper, but isn't, I wouldn't count on it, and the problem is, you won't know for sure until it's too late if he does know what he's doing ...

Rory said...

Steve- Exactly, and you had to shift mindset completely. Complaisance is subtle.

Scott- We aren't that far off. I want my people to use strength, but not rely on it. When the threat is a behemoth who has spent the last nine years in prison pumping iron and just got released and re-arrested, physics is what will work. Mechanical and tactical efficiency. So we train what we call "old man technique" not using power. But I think it is critical to practice against fully committed threats. The feel, both physically and emotionally is so different that unfamiliarity can bring on a freeze.

The other thing, and this is critical- your physics/techniques/fundamentals, the core of what you will use to take down this enraged genetic freak have to be automatic. If you have to center or take four autogenic breaths or plan or even consciously evaluate, it's game over.

The other aspect goes into some of what Steve Perry is writing, but from the other side. The stuff that works against the baseball bat is not the same stuff that works against a skilled clinch or a probing attack or any of the dueling based stuff. It's not hard, technically, sparring is much more intricate. But if you spend your hours working against dueling, that's what you've done. The techniques for dealing with the committed attack may be in the system, but if you haven't practiced them, and practiced them against what life is likely to throw at you, they might as well not be there.

Steve- That's almost a book and there is a lot in there. The first thing I would look at is when you put weight in a technique, are you really that vulnerable? Only in certain techniques and when thrown from outside range anyway. Drop step can be done without sacrificing balance at all. That's one myth that lots of old instructors had some parlor tricks for.
Again, though, there is a time for hiken isatsu and a time for not, but this wasn't really about whether you (generic you) should be hitting all out. In an ambush, you're going to be hit for all the threat is worth, fast and hard. It's something you have to practice your technique against.

The trouble with playing a gentleman's game is that you forget that if you ever need it, you won't be fighting a gentleman. That's pithy and maybe snide, but more people pay lip service to practicing against bad guys than actually do it.

jks9199 said...

"The trouble with playing a gentleman's game is that you forget that if you ever need it, you won't be fighting a gentleman. That's pithy and maybe snide, but more people pay lip service to practicing against bad guys than actually do it."

I remember the first time I was in a fight as a cop. I was shocked and frozen by how stongly the bad guy was resisting; it wasn't like training. And I'd had hard training and good instructors both in the academy and the martial arts. I froze. Fortunately, I got knocked out of being frozen pretty quick.

Rory's given us 4 truths of violence; violence happens closer, faster, with more surprise and (most importantly for this discussion), with more power than you expect. When we spar and work with a partner in class, unless we really work hard to counter this, we unconsciously and unintentionally accept some rules. I'm not going to smash my training partner in the face as hard as I can -- and he or she isn't going to kick me in the groin hard enough to lift me off the ground.

When you can find someone with the skill and the willingness to train with real intensity, that you can trust (I recall one guy that would train that way, every time... and there's a reason his nickname started with "Crazy")... you can really move your training to a different level. There's a qualitative difference in someone fully committed to attacking (this isn't the same as over committing to a particular attack!) and hurting you and even hard, fierce full contact training.

Irish said...

Rory- just found this blog, and I think it is incredible. I also read "Meditations on Violence" and think it was a work of art. Very cool.

Keep it up. I truly enjoy your work.

Steve Perry said...

In the old days, so the tales go, a serious martial arts student would sometimes pick up and travel, stop at schools and challenge the local master. If he lost -- and presumably survived -- then he would bow and become a student there, then move on. If he won, he would either keep going, or stay and take over the defeated man's class.

So the tales go. I suspect it was seldom quite that simple -- this version assumes a cultural honor that may or may not have existed. If it did, fine. If not, one fine morning, the winner might wake up with a knife in his kidney.

Bare-knuckle prize fights a hundred and fifty years ago were sometimes hundred-round affairs, and because hitting somebody in the head repeatedly with a fist was as likely to break your hand as his skull, they didn't hit as hard as a guy with wrapped hand and sixteen-ounce gloves.

Where am I going with this?

If you train full-out all the time, pretty soon you won't have any toys left to play with. You'll either break them --or they will break you -- and you'll be sidelined. If you are a gunslinger and you don't care who dies, him or you, that's fine. If you aren't looking for ai-uchi, that's not so good.

Rory's admonition indicates he knows this full well.

We have some assumptions when we look up and see somebody coming at us with intent. The first is that we are training to notice, and that we'll have a chance to do something. Yes, you can get blindsided, and how you react to that is different from a duel, no disagreement. But this is an old argument and we have staked out our positions on it.

My spider sense might not tingle, but I should be paying attention when I'm out and about.

The second assumption we make is that the guy coming at us is going to be bigger, stronger, faster, trained, armed, and will have a friend lurking nearby.
(None of these may be true; however, if the guy is smaller, weaker, slower, untrained, bare-handed, and alone, then any of those are gifts. Take them if offered, but don't expect them.

If I see a guy with a knife heading my way, I am going to go with the notion he knows how to use it. If I'm wrong, it doesn't cost me anything. If he does know what he's doing and I assume he *doesn't,* that could lead to a bad mistake.

I know some guys in an art who say they train only with live blades. They do wave sharps at each other. But they don't really train with them, they wave them around. If they closed and stabbed or slashed, that school would go away in a hurry.

If, every time you stepped up to dance with a training partner you went all out, one of you is going away. It's only going to be a matter of when, not if.

Steve said...

I think that sparring or dueling can build some really bad habits vis-a-vis real street attacks. Especially today - I went to the Battle of Atlanta a couple of years ago and saw sparring that can only be described as a game of mutual tag.I contrasted that with the kumite in the late 60s and 70s. Texas tournament fighting was really just full contact kickboxing without the gloves. Oh, they said "moderate contact" but no one really paid attention to that unless someone lost a couple of teeth.
As far as penal gladiator schools...
I was standing in line at a movie theater when I heard a voice behind me say "Offcer Holley?".
I turned around and was looking at a large individual with no discernible neck that seemed vaguely familiar.
I must have looked puzzled because he said "It's me. Benny."
I then realized he was a skinny kid I'd put in prison for a series of burglaries. He'd been in 3 years. Apparently, he'd spent a large portion of that time eating and lifting. Fortunately, all he wanted to do was shake my hand. That could have been much, much worse. Can't they replace the weight equipment in there with something like, oh, I don't know, maybe badminton?

jks9199 said...

I agree that you can't ALWAYS train with maximum intensity. There are lots of reasons you can't, and they only start with running out of playmates (or getting hurt yourself).

It's something to be done at times... but not every time. It's a great tool to break through certain plateaus in training, for example. You build up to it; train through it, and then back off and go back to safer (saner?) practice.

Or at least that's my take on it!

Vaughn said...

Well, we seem to have difficulties making more than ten comments. It must be time for a new post. ;>

Scott said...

I've always been fond of testing my teachers with full force attacks.
So yeah, we (the generic we) are not that far away from each other. And I actually carry around a stack of yellow plastic baseballs bats in my trunk.
But there is also a real danger that when I (the generic I) am attacked by the fully committed big guy, I'm going to really hurt him. I've seen a few dislocated retinas in Martial Arts classes over the years from just such a desire to practice and prove. Not to mention broken arms, legs and dislocated shoulders.

Thanks to everyone for making the discussion so interesting, you guys are a hoot.

I appreciate the voices of experience that tell me I'm probably going to freeze the first few times I'm attacked, no matter how well I train. And still, I hope you all don't think "just dancing" is a waste of time.

Wim Demeere said...

Good post Rory.

IMO and IME, certain arts are mores focused on dealing with committed attacks instead of dueling than others. The tai chi I do works better the more somebody commits to his attack. But we do a bunch of training to deal with certain aspects of the dueling mind set. I call it "training for the skilled opponent". Eg. a guy who has experience and training at the same time: While his attacks are committed, they are not (or less) over-committed. That makes it a lot more difficult to use his attacks against him. And the bastard also know how to deal with you using physics against him.

It's not black and white though, we're not training to fight Superman. Only to prepare for something worse than a full-bore haymaker form a rowdy drunk.

I agree that what works on those committed attacks doesn't necessarily work against a dueling-type opponent. There's bound to be cross-over but the differences are where it's at IMHO.

My 2 cents,