Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Inherent Conservativism of Combat

If conservativism is a word, which my spell-checker doubts.
Years ago, a guy (who had some dumb ideas anyway), was complaining about how hard it was to 'break into the police market' and how they didn't want to try anything new.

I tried to explain and it didn't go over very well, but here it is: when your life is on the line you want to do something that works. Not something that might work, something that will work. There is no such perfectly reliable thing, so the default is to do what worked last time.

Aside number one: This can be dangerous too, as pointed out in "Deep Survival:" well trained people some times die when they either don't recognize or refuse to acknowledge that the plan is failing.

Your hindbrain is wired that way, and so we get behavioral looping freezes and the ritualistic behavior that Konrad Lorenz showed in his early research in ethology. It almost perfectly mirrors the development of certain tics, behaviors and superstitions in humans.

This makes any change hard. Change coming from a theorist is far easier to dismiss than change coming from a fellow edge-walker, but both still tend to get dismissed.

Another aside (I feel a lot of them coming on today): Mike M was telling a story about WWII commandos who were taught the kidney thrust for sentry removal--just as many of us were-- and told it would put the enemy into shock so quickly that he wouldn't be able to scream. Mike said that after the operation, all of the sentries were found with their throats cut. The soldiers had not been able to kidney thrust. "It was too sexual." Errrrm, I'm gonna call bullshit on that one. There was a lot of Freud in the air back then. Try this: You're a hardened soldier. You get some outsider, probably an egghead, telling you to try this new thing because it hurts too bad to scream. Really? Hurts too bad to scream? And you want me to bet all of our lives on that? Maybe we'll stick with what we know...

The conservatism is compounded when it seems to attack someone's martial identity. The hindbrain (survival) and the midbrain (emotional/tribal) both coming together out of fear of change? That's gonna be brutal.

This is coming up for me now, and I find myself on the conservative side. Let me tell you the story...
Early in my CERT career, I was teaching an entry (irimi) as a counter-assault technique. It was something that I flinched to once when a boxer tried to take me out and I worked on it from there. It's pretty similar to Tony Blauer's Spear if you want a visual. One of the enforcement officers casually mentioned that he wished there was a way to get the same effect and keep a hand on his gun. I'd already noticed that some people flinch differently than I do (my flinch works great for the wedge) and had once used a technique when Stan tried to get me with a surprise chain-punch series...

So the Dracula's Cape counter assault was born. Turns out it's not new, the physical motions are in a couple of Okinawan kata. While I was still working out the efficiencies, one of our enforcement officers asked what I was doing. I told him. He practiced it once or twice. He was attacked the next day and flinched to the position, knocking out the threat. Two reps of practice. Knockout. Surprise conditions. Yeah, that goes in the 'A' technique box.

Got a message a few days ago that one of the seminar students, a very petite lady, used Dracula's Cape to take out a bad guy. One move, laid the guy out. 'A' technique for sure...

Edwin and I have been thinking about some inherent problems with both of my counter-assault irimis. They are straight up the middle. They leave a smaller person in a potentially vulnerable position. Sure, so far every time the bad guy has been too injured to take advantage, but what if, what if...

The ideal would be an 'outside entry' something that leaves the good guy (or girl) in the dead zone on the threat's flank. That's easy to do when you know which side the threat will attack with. Without that knowledge, it backfires a certain percentage of the time. Anything that requires cognition is too slow to be used as a counter-assault flinch. Off-lining will never do the damage of center-lining...

But I think I've figured something out, something that puts you in the dead zone; does only a little damage immediately but sets up a shitload more (but you can't easily condition a complex reflex) and still works regardless of left or right, high or low, strike or kick, circular or straight attack.

But it hasn't been tested. I'm no longer in a position where I can be confidant that I'll test it in the field sometime soon. If it fails, the price is high. We already have something that works and has worked spectacularly (ooooooh, but what if all of those cases were luck, what if, what if...)

Would this be an innovation? Or the first steps on the path of making shit up without knowing if it will work? I knew the answer when I was betting my own life on it. In a seminar setting, this would be betting someone else's life, some one who likely has no base for judging.

All this seems to go on subconsciously in other people. I get stuck thinking about it.

36 comments:

Jake said...

I don't think you're overthinking. Of course, I overthink all the time, so I may not be the best judge of character.

Though I will say this: those who DON'T "overthink" the way you are are the people who turn into teachers that just mindlessly share or regurgitate information with no real regard for the welfare of the student. So keep overthinking, because the moment you become completely, 100% sure of the perfection of what you're showing, it's probably a bad sign...

Have you tried this idea in scenario work or isolation drills? I know it's not the "real thing", but Tony Blauer got to the SPEAR mostly through drills and scenario work. And a lot of feedback from people actually using it.

I can't picture what you would be doing that works the way you're describing, but I freely confess that may be a blind spot in my own understanding of human physiology/lack of experience. I'd be curious to see what it is, at any rate.

Toby said...

Thank you Rory...Yet again, I find you post the answers to a lot of questions I did not even realise I was asking...

Mac said...

Outside takes time which is distance which is PAYING ATTENTION (dare I say awareness?); inside (up the old middle, inyerface takeyerspace) takes guts - or fear.

Jerry said...

interesting concepts.

Although not the focal point of your original post, I couldn't help getting interested in the technicalities.

I visualize the dracula cape as a kind of cross elbow guard followed by a kind of reverse forearm/hammerfist/shuto.


Is this essentially correct?

Years ago a tai chi teacher wrote something about first indentifying your own flinch response, and working from the assumption that you would do that anyway, take your training from there. That still makes a lot of sense.

Jason said...

Great post Rory. Now I want all the details of this "Dracula Cape." Hopefully it's in your book, which I'm eagerly awaiting.

Joshkie said...

Some times the best we can do is make an educated guess and hope for the best. This is better than throwing shit on a wall and seeing what sticks. At lest you're starting from the position that you want it to be efective and not just look cool. And it soud like this will be user specific anyway.

Charles James said...

Hi, Rory: Your spell check needed the slight change to spelling you see here: "Conservatism is a political and social term from the Latin verb conservare meaning to save or preserve. As the name suggests it usually indicates support for tradition and traditional values though the meaning has changed in different countries and time periods. ...

Thanks for the post, really great!

Steve Perry said...

Yep, my feeling when I heard Mike make that wouldn't-take-the-kidney-shot-'cause-it-reeks-of-homosexuality was ... maybe not ...

Sometimes, a knife is just a knife ...

Anonymous said...

Do you have people who come back and say, "I used Dracula's cape and it didn't work?". That would be step 1 in my opinion to finding out if it needs to be replaced. If it ain't broke...

Obviously if people are getting killed using Dracula's cape they don't come back and say anything. In which case you have to rely on the observations of survivors.

Just want to make sure and avoid confirmation bias as well.

Anonymous said...

Well a lot of cops don't do martial arts.....and as to being conservative you mentioned Tony Blauer he wasn't a cop .so listening to him is a huge leap of faith.although a lot of what he says I like. but it's not based on experience

zzrzinn said...

Isn't it possible to over think this kind of thing?

I'm personally convinced of the efficacy of draculas cape, but i'm not sure I require someone who has 'used it in the field' for validation, though that's certainly an added bonus.

Simple gross motor stuff like that is really easy to test, it isn't a tai otoshi or something that takes a fair deal of steup and training to do right, a small amount of of practice and you can "do" draculas cape, beginner or advanced.

If you have someone fire off real (as in not affectatious, commited attacks, and not just one type of attack) attacks and draculas cape works..then it works.

I'm just not sure simple tactics like that need a whole lot of proof, maybe it's different for a beginner who can't suss out whats plausible and what isn't, but as far as an entry I think something like draculas cape will make sense to anyone with a little experience.

Joshkie said...

And, as to this statement.

Rory - "All this seems to go on subconsciously in other people. I get stuck thinking about it."

This is what makes you great at what you do. How many people don't evaluate what they are doing and do the same stupid or ineffective things over an over, because they don
t take the time to even wonder why it is that they are failing.

Just a thought.

Jim said...

Rory -- I think there's a few of us willing to give something a shot if you come up with it.

Years back, I did building maintenance for a department store. This led me to dealing with various professional engineers. Interestingly enough, I could quickly recognize stuff developed or designed by engineers with real experience using the stuff or working in the area versus the bright ideas from college educated folks... Because those bright ideas often required things like an extra elbow joint to reach 'em. Someone who'd actually worked on the stuff would put access ports in places that you can reach the parts...

Same thing with bright ideas in DT. You're coming from a basis of real experience; when you come up with something, it's not a "this is a neat idea..." -- it's here's a problem, let's make a solution. And you're willing to doubt yourself...

As to developing reflexes to move outside... it takes lots of work but it can be done. I've spent literally decades working on it, and I still find myself stepping to the inside by reflex more often than I'd like... After all, it requires recognizing which side the attack is coming from before you move. That momentary assessment takes time, and when there's no time, you do the step you've drilled most... even if it's not ideal.

Scott P said...

1. Dude, you and me need to get together and fight.
2. I too have been thinking a lot about this. I don't have the benefit of LEO or CERT experience, but I have gone deep into tradition and that makes me conservative too.
3. Liuhe Xinyi puts that dracula move right at the center of training, we have a low version and a high version with alternating feet. (an aside: it seems to me that Blauer is missing the leg flinch)
4. There are two ways to get to the outside in my view. Flinch to a cross-hand position and open, or practice any of the side power techniques of Bagua, Taiji, or Liuhe Xinyi.

5. QUESTION?:
I understand that for someone with less than say 5 years of training, picking a position to flinch to is a good idea.
But I can fight from any position. For decades I've practiced at least 50 great attack/defense positions that I can move into and out of with power, smoothness, and efficiency. Why would I pick just one? Is there a reason for limiting the number? Why can't I just fight from what ever I happen to flinch to? Is there some reason to assume that a trained martial artist is going to have a lame flinch?

Joshkie said...

Scott P. -

Question#5:
The hole point of our discussions is effectiveness. If what you are doing works for you than do it. If it doesn't change. We are not saying any one move or style is better than the others. We are looking at this problem from our own experiences levels and saying is this effective or not. You seemed to have answered that question for yourself.

Josh :-)

Joshkie said...

Also I think conservatism can be summed up with the old adage " if it ant broke don't fix it," because everytime you tinker with something you have to decide if it's worth the risk of braking it or down grading it's effectiveness for what might only be a marginal gain.

Scott P said...

Josh,
No, I'm asking for an explanation from someone who has experience in a realm I don't. I have no idea if it works or not. I hope I'm never in the situation to find out.
My main experience with the flinch is from my wife's cold fingers...

Rory said...

Jake- Thanks. Testing will commence at the next VPPG.
Jerry- DC is simpler than what I picture from your description. Bill Glasheen posted some pictures years ago and you can probably find it with a search on the Uechi-ryu forums.
Anonymous 1: Not so far. It's a pretty robust technique. I'm concerned about confirmation bias as well.
Anonymous 2:When Tony was getting started he not only had a great head for this stuff, but he was checking it with some very qualified BTDT people, particularly Mauricio in Montreal, a man I'm honored to call a brother.
Zach- IT's also possible to underthink, or to just drink the kool-aide and don't think at all. The forces when people are trying to hurt you are so different than the forces of someone simulating hurting you that things can get really screwed up. Everything will be tested for the first time in the field. I prefer to do the testing because I'm pretty confident that I can recover from a catastrophic falure. I know what that is like. A beginner may not even recognize when things start to fail.

Maija said...

I keep thinking of the book "Blink", and how experience in whatever field, gives people, or perhaps more accurately, CAN give people, what seems like 'intuition' but could better be described as a gut feeling for a situation. "Seeing' is one way of saying it, and I would add there's a kinesthetic component too.
To use the analogy of motorcycle racing and design - there are a variety of components that come together to create a machine that goes as fast as possible, yet grips the ground, is maneuverable, and stops without wrecking.
I ride motorcycles, but not to any level of proficiency to ride a racing bike. My better half however does. Internally, even when not on a bike, through his understanding of dynamics and stresses, he can describe all the ways the frame changes shape in cornering, the role the of tire play, and way that the transmission works with the engine and suspension components to keep the machine on the ground, but with as little forward drag as possible etc etc. He can FEEL it, because he's done it to the level he has.
However, even at the very TOP of the game in racing - MotoGP, teams still tweak and change every single component on a bike, continuously, from race to race, depending on conditions, because there is STILL no one answer, and no perfect answer, or solution without drawbacks, that exists.
Does not mean they don't keep trying, and the constant feedback they get from the riders racing always feeds the next option ....
If ALL solutions have a flaw - then there is always room for inquiry ... but done best if you can FEEL/SEE the principles that you are working with, and trouble shoot with others (All others - highly skilled to completely clueless).
They may not work, but then everything CAN fail .... such is life, right? :-/

Rory said...

Jim- Great observations. On bright ideas, experience vs training and the fact that judgment takes time. We want an outside irimi that doesn't put you in a disadvantage if you go to the wrong side.

Scott: #1: Absolutely. I really want to feel how you generate power while moving. I've met very few internal guys who can keep their skills while moving. I believe you can and will bet you can explain why you can.
4: I'd like to see these. What I'm working is what I was taught as a y-block but done as a ram or shock block.
5: I think it's critical that beginners don't fight their reflexes, especially if there is a chance they will need them, so training should start with natural movement (natural to the student). As you train more, there are more positions that become natural, you can deal with a lot more, better flow, all of that...
...BUT, it wires a different part of your brain. One of the reasons that experienced martial artists tend to freeze more than a person who has only had one lesson (for every story I've heard about a brown or black belt getting stomped I have at least three verified of a student putting down a real attacker after her first lesson) is that a surprise attack causes a shift in brain mode. If your brain mode shifts to a place where you have lots of choices, it takes more time to pick. Time is damage.

Think of it as three stages. 1) Doodlydo, minding my own business and humming along.
2) Bam! Shit! What?!!
3) What ever fighting skills you bring to the table.

Bringing great, deep broad skills can hurt you in stage 2, because you will not be able to access the mind that you trained those skills in. When you get slapped, weren't expecting it, lights flashing in your eyes... that is a specific mindset. A few people have trained getting out of that mindset and fighting. The counter assaults work inside that mindset.

Now, all that said, I encourage people to practice one, but I've used at least four in real life, the wedge, DC, pass-parry and the low pass. I think that experience with surprise can give you the flexibility and options you write about in the second stage (blind and mindless). But being really, really good at the third stage is no help at all in the second and might be a detriment.

This probably makes more sense in person and with coffee.

jerry said...

Rory,

this came up from the uechi forums:

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v352/Glasheen7360/Uechi%20Camp%202004/UechiCampGlasheen01Aug2004030.jpg

So basically it's a drive in with an elbow lead?

jerry said...

or is it more of a step forward with a horizontal elbow strike. This seems much more in line with the concept of dracula covering himself..

Toby said...

There's a reasonable 'still' pic of you doing Dracula's cape on your SoCal flyer...
http://www.chirontraining.com/Site/SoCal-February.html

Anonymous said...

quote
"Anonymous 2:When Tony was getting started he not only had a great head for this stuff, but he was checking it with some very qualified BTDT people, particularly Mauricio in Montreal, a man I'm honored to call a brother."

Yeah that's not my point.What I'm saying is if you go with Blauer then you are not being conservative, you're being radical
.and if some of your stuff is radical then you are not beinmg conservative.see my point

Anon 2

Jake said...

@ Rory - Can't wait to read about it. The VPPG sounds like a lot of fun.

@ Scott - Can you expand on what you mean by a "leg flinch". I'm pretty well-versed in Blauer's system, and I don't think it's something we leave out, but I'm not sure what you're picturing. (If you want, email me at adptrainingATgmail)

Joshkie said...

Scott P. -

Cold Fingers..... Made me flinch just reading it.
:-)

Chase said...

Nice insights! Awareness is the key, i couldn't agree more.

Steve Perry said...

There's a restaurant I heard about -- I disremember exactly where, some place in in New England -- and the menu consists of one meal. Something like potatoes and roast and gravy and a vegetable.

That's it. No substitutions, no instructions to the chef, take it or leave it.

The place is apparently packed all the time.

I used to eat at a burger place in L.A. had the same idea. You could get a burger or a hot dog, both cooked with a chili sauce, and the only question was, "How many?" If you wanted it your way, you went to BK; at Tommy's it was their way or not at all.

Customers were lined up there at two in the morning.

Not having a lot of choice offers a comfort that too many choices might not.

Scott P said...

Thanks Rory, great answer.

Regarding the 3 stages:
Applications and sparring surely fall under #3.
I guess I would say that the internal practice I try to do is always dumb, unconditioned, weak, and uncoordinated. It tries to be #2 as a state of mind and in the sense that all movement is the same quality.
It is hard to prove, but I believe that the older tradition of Chinese martial arts taught forms without applications or sparring. Those additions were 20th Century attempts at modernity. My experienced teachers actually said, and said that their teacher's said, "If you are in a fight, just do the form." I think they meant that if you know the form well enough, just doing it will keep you out of #3.
---
It might just be wishful thinking on my part, and I know it sounds all Kungfu Panda and all, but I would say that I try to train everything back to the ONE. Fighting is one mental/physical state, no techniques, every action in movement or in stillness is the same.

Jake, I only know Blauer from his website and a few videos, it's quite possible I'm mistaken. My sense from the videos was that the flinch move he was teaching didn't have a stamping or kicking component in the single action. My intuitive feeling is that it should.

_________
Beginner's mind...I guess I'm just going to stick with not-knowing for a while--hit the road and look for a place that just serves one thing.

--keep rocking

Nick Lo said...

I wonder if "simplicity" rather than "conservatism" is really what you're talking about here? If you teach someone something new you aren't necessarily changing what they already know, but are more likely adding to it since they don't (at least immediately) give up something they know works. So is this more a case of keeping it simple v's the danger of the paradox of choice?

You mentioned one reason why there is benefit to a variety of approaches when you say: "I'd already noticed that some people flinch differently than I do" and when I read this I was immediately curious about your opinion on Tony Blauer's work, specifically his focus on a flinch into a "spear" but felt it would be unfair to ask for an opinion on someone else's work. However in your comments you suggest respect for his work and say "Now, all that said, I encourage people to practice one", which suggests your thinking is actually also in line with his focus although perhaps what is "one" to one person is different from another persons "one"?

At the root of my curiosity is really the same logic that you may use to answer the question: "What minimal weight training moves could most people be most productive with?", pullups, clean-and-press and pushup/bench, perhaps? So why is getting an answer to that question apparently so difficult in martial arts, specifically with regard to moves that may help against a threat. I've practiced several different martial arts and every one of them seemed to be based on learning numerous ways of attacking and countering practitioners of the same style.

I read more and more these days that it's important, therefore to practice a variety of styles to be "well rounded" but I cannot help thinking that having a head going, ok, haymaker coming in, argh, do I go into a turning hip throw or just tan sau and simultaneous strike, etc is worse than what a natural instinct would provide. Theoretically over time training should develop into instinct but how much time and what if it's the wrong training or instinct? You only have to spend a few minutes watching style A v's style B sparring matches on youtube to see how rapidly they degenerate into the same style of "scrapping" we've been doing since we were kids.

Anyway, it's great that individuals like yourself and Tony Blauer are providing this kind of information. In the meantime I'm focussing on improving my running since it's probably one of the most often quoted yet rarely discussed forms of "self defence"; the how-to-get-away (carrying family members if need be)! ;)

Kasey said...

Dracula's cape wasn't always proven. You flinched into it, it worked and you revised it. You showed the "unproven" revisions to others. They flinched into it and it worked for them - proven. This is not new, just further refinement. I never like the right up the middle aspect of Dracula's cape. When I teach it (and we may be talking about the same refinement) I teach it with a tenkan or circular step (hey I'm an Aikido guy go figure) To illistrate your end position is more akin to a dog humping the bad guy's leg then in the middle. Because of his attack if you are on the outside your elbow strikes his arm, neck or ribs depending on your height. If you get caught on the inside its pretty much the same as a standard Dracula except you are out side of bad guy's legs (dog humping) Sorry I got off topic and specific there my point is nothing is proven until it is proven. You are known for sound PROVEN principles that can be applied to many sitautions (principle based not prescriptive) so if Drac V 2.1 is based on those proven principles then it is a sound technique. If it looks cool thats just extra credit :)

Anonymous said...

There are some things arguably very wrong to do. But if the premise that 'anything that works was not wrong by definition' holds, and each individual themselves is such a strong variable ...then actually over thinking is tough to arrive at. As soon as it starts to smell like bullshit you made-up ...the inherent conservativism you refer to will push back anyway. Or, it will recognize something valuable (as somebody saw in your DC). Then its gets adopted.


People can stop whenever they are satisfied with the tools at hand. Its limiting but comfortable. Or, you can explore (your word Rory) through material to see what else you can figure out. Please do keep hashing it out on the floor, can't wait to see what it looks like by the time you get back around. Maybe something new ...maybe a much better something old ...in that case, maybe whatever old was supposed to be that has been forgotten. Any way its good stuff. Thks.

-Billy G.

Nick Lo said...

I'd wondered about your thoughts on Tony Blauer and his focus on flinching into a "spear". You seem to echo that focus with "Now, all that said, I encourage people to practice one" but then your comment "I'd already noticed that some people flinch differently than I do" would suggest that one persons "one" may be different to another persons "one".

Once you feel you have that "one" is perhaps where the conservatism kicks in? Reminds me of the scene in City Slickers where Jack Palance's character says "one thing, just one thing, you stick to that and everything else don't mean shit" - "That's great but what's the one thing?" - "That's what you gotta figure out".

Jake said...

@Steve -- I have been told that there was a study done (I cannot remember the name of it) that suggested that as the number of choices increased, people's overall happiness decreased. I haven't followed up to see if that's true or not.

@Scott -- The Tactical SPEAR (which isn't the only thing we ever teach, but it is the thing you've probably seen the most) doesn't have a stamping or kicking action, specifically, no. The motion does drive forward, and that results in a heavy step, but I don't think it includes the kind of action you're speaking of. I could be misunderstanding or visualizing the wrong thing. Whether it "should" or not, I dunno.

Jim said...

A thought on flinches...

People flinch in different ways. Retraining or developing a "trained flinch" takes a long time, a lot of effort, and can easily put you on the wrong side of an OODA loop until it's really, really ingrained and engraved.

I think I've seen about three instinctive flinches: forward, one or both hands upward; down, both hands up; back, both hands up and out. If you can recognize a person's instinctive flinch, you can then work on shaping that action, which is much easier than teaching a whole new motion.

Jeff said...

Rory, this rung a bell. There is a video of you doing Draculas cape and three other entries I bought some years ago. Think it was Summerfest 2004. Good stuff. Windy audio, and I am sure you looked younger then ; )

Jeff