I think more and more that 'art' in combative or martial arts is probably the right word. It is and must be a creative, spontaneous process. The logical part of the brain, the one that tries to remember what you were taught or what you 'should' do is too slow. But so is the creative part, if it is bounded. If you come up with an idea but reject it because the idea isn't good enough, that is also too slow to work. Probably slower than relying on memory and certainly closer to a freeze.
With my family I sometimes do extemporaneous rhyme. Usually at the Fessic level (Princess Bride reference), just trying to think up every word that rhymes with one that catches my attention and maybe keep them in a sentence. It's not a sonnet by any means, but it is poetry-without-thought. Reciting poetry takes a hesitation, and you must have the right poetry memorized for the occasion. Spontaneously composing good poetry is hard... and it rarely is or sounds spontaneous. It takes time.
You can get better at it, but the key is practicing spontaneity, not studying poetry.
Am I the only one that sees the correlation here with survival fighting?
Kids do poetry naturally. Show them rhyme and alliteration and rhythm and they will have fun. They will play with words and make up songs. (When my daughter was five years old and very angry at the entire adult world she made up a lovely and disturbing ballad called, "I Ran Away From Home and Got Raised by Some Cougars." No adults survived the whole song.) They don't start losing talent until someone tells them there is such a thing and that there are good and bad rhymes and that (and this is subtle but it is always there) they will be judged. That's when kids quit making up their own songs. That's when they tell themselves that they aren't fill-in-the-blank. Talented. Smart. Creative.
This ties in so hugely with the 'Permission' aspect of self-defense.
Some, a very few, don't care what other people think. It's very hard to truly fall into that camp without being an ass. (Damn, I went judgmental.) A slightly larger number realize that no one can judge us unless we let them. You can tell me that you think something I did was incorrect, but if it worked your judgment doesn't mean a lot to me.
Training for spontaneity isn't hard. And you will come up with things that are better than anything you were taught, since they will come from who you are. And it can be faster than responding from any other complex part of your brain.
We go around and around about what can really be taught. Appropriate and graded ruthlessness. The instinct to attack when under attack. Unfreezing. The will to recover and fight when you are pretty much finished. Taking pain and even injury as a data point, ignoring the emotional element... and spontaneity.
Realistically, I know that most high-end operators are identified in selection, not forged in training. Some of these abilities I have seen trained and most grow to some extent over time, but always by being in the company of a group who showed the traits.
But, in martial arts, there may be a problem with the student population. Kids lose their creativity when they realize they will be judged. It's a defense mechanism. But it is one of many possible defense mechanisms.
Another is to memorize well and seek out a group where the standards are clear. To work hard at conforming to what the teacher wants. To be an obedient student.
I think that will work better at a recital than playing the dozens.
A contrast- where these kinds of thinking lead:
In "Meditations on Violence" I wrote: "... if you are scheduled to fight a world champion heavyweight boxer on Thursday, you shoot him on Tuesday."
As opposed to, "If I had a fight to the death next week I would practice my forms every day."