Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Worth It?

Teo asked to play this morning, to work on anything. Dealer's choice.

So I said, "How would you take me out?" From that position, that range, relative body configurations... Teo is an intelligent young man (not really young, anymore. He is a father now and all grown up but in my mind he will always be the kid from ten years ago that we tried to tease into asking a waitress out). He moved to take a better position, guarded against a counter-attack that wasn't coming and used a technique that might, might have rattled me.

I know one of his instructors and I know damn well that Teo knows how to finish a human. We talked.

"But in sparring, no one ever just lets stuff come in and if I did really get aggressive, he'd just get aggressive back."

He put a finger on one of my deep problems with sparring and I want to think it out here. First and foremost, I've always loved sparring (of almost any type, not so much into pitty-pat) but it has been bothering me for awhile.

What has been bothering me is the sheer artificiality of it. On one level, MMA sparring is "as close as you can get to real" and "the only way to pressure test techniques." I see where those arguments are coming from but still...

If anyone squares off, if any threat gives me any indication that something is coming, I can walk away. Or talk it down. Or, if that's not going to work, access a force option that turns the whole situation into something that doesn't resemble a fight in any way.

The serious bad guys don't fight. They take you out. They stack everything in their favor: surprise, position, number and weapons (depending on the goal) and finish it. The last thing they want is a fight. Serious bad guys don't fight, they take you out.

And so do successful good guys.

In order for sparring as a fight simulation to even happen, you have to behave stupidly. You choose not to leave or talk or gather resources. Then you have to allow it to become a very particular and tactically silly kind of fight, where you stick to the same options and parameters the threat has chosen. It's a stupid way. One of the basic tactical rules that not only every tactical operator but even every serious sport competitor knows is: Don't play the other guy's game. Sparring specializes there.

And there are good reasons for it. If you want to test and measure and improve the same skills as the threat, it's one of the best, fastest ways to get better... but where does getting really, really good at the tactics of a bad strategy fit?

Bad guys take you out. From surprise. First hit. With a size and strength advantage or, if they can't manage that and really, really need what you've got, with weapons and numbers. They deliberately choose people who won't or can't fight. There's no value to complicated strategy or feinting.

This is an internal discussion. Not a conclusion. I love sparring, but I do it for what it is, know what it is and I'm very, very clear on what it is NOT. Those aren't the skills I'll need if an old acquaintance from the jail decides to even a score or enhance a rep. Those skills are different, qualitatively different.

And don't go tribal on me, either. Saying sparring is artificial is NOT saying that kata is better or realer or some variant. All the training methods are what they are and no more.

Live training is vital, but training stupid tactics live is not just ingraining stupid tactics. People mistake intensity for truth. The more contact and speed, the more real it feels, the more it feels like truth. Not only does it ingrain stupid, it ingrains it hard.

We need live, hard, contact training. But smart. Working from real distance, from positions of disadvantage, outmatched in size and strength. We need to find a safe but live way to practice taking a threat out instead of fighting. We do practice those skills and I know a lot of you do as well. But every so often a good martial artist or even a good fighter is given a problem of force, survival and decisiveness and instinctively tries to turn it into a contest.

It makes me wonder if the training method does more harm than good. Still pondering.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Training tools help, maybe; heavy bags, heavy sandbags to practice powerslams and suplexes, medicine ball to practice alternating knee drops*. People get the range right slamming shins and elbows into the banana bag, have no problem powerslamming the sandbag hard enough to split the canvas, drill the medicine ball with their knees harder than they'd ever do to a training partner.

Barbells. Squats and milk took me from skinny to big and weak to strong.

Paintball; Capture the Flag seems a damn sight more useful than range time or hill sprints in isolation; urban Olympic biathlon, sorta.

Rolling; don't have to worry as much about your partner - or yourself - as you do when you bang.


*Oh yeah; if you take a knee ride guys who don't know what to do push your knee with both hands. Switch to over-the-shoulder reverse knee ride; great position and he usually bridges to escape so your shin slides to his throat.

Rob Lyman said...

What are your thoughts on ConSim as usually practiced by cops?

Josh Leeger said...

Seems like a matter of specificity. Sparring is specific to sparring. It is essentially (or should be treated as) skills-work. Kata's (or any "forms") are skills-work with a different focus/intention. "Simulations" are specific to simulations.

All of them can help to accommodate the person's response in an actual situation ("knowing" how to deal with increased HR/adrenaline, how to move reflexively, etc.), but there are no guarantees.

Luo Dexiu said (in two separate seminars) something that stuck with me ever since - "If you want to learn bagua, study bagua. If you want to learn how to (street-)fight, you need to do other things. I can teach you that, too. But that's not bagua."

As you say, the rules are different. The timing is different. It's all different - and it all depends on which "reality" you're in.

Sadly, many teachers don't teach this. The biggest case in point I can recall is a Sayoc guy in Boston who took his skills out on a guy in a street-fight outside a bar. He went to prison for manslaughter.

Josh Leeger said...

1

Kathryn Scannell said...

My first reaction to someone like you saying "how would you take me out" is to say "cheat any way I could think of". I think that translates to what you've been saying - you don't try to fight fiar, you stack the deck so you can win. We have a ton of cultural conditioning to overcome that all says a fight should be "fair", that there are rules.

I'm not a martial arts practitioner, so I may be way out in left field, but I wonder if sparring may actually reinforce that attitude. My impression is that most dojos have a lot of rules for safety reasons.

Jim said...

The definition of sparring I use is "a method of practicing the learned techniques against the pressure of an opponent." We know that, under pressure, the mind goes blank. Sparring is one way to induce some pressures to enable you to practice under pressure. Other ways include scenario training, and drills. Each has different pressures.

It's a tool. It's one of several, and there are several forms of sparring I use. Some are very simple, slow, and all about flowing through the actions of the opponent. Others are about getting hit, and learning to get past that. And still others are about seeing what you can do against your opponent.

You've said that every form of training must have a flaw, or we'd have no more training partners. Sparring has it's flaws. It's a game. You've agreed to rules to avoid sending each other to the hospital. You're squaring off and agreeing when to start.

We all should use different tools -- and the proper tools, for the proper purpose. A hammer is great for driving nails and pounding, but it sucks for making finely detailed cuts or removing screws. The heavy bag is a great tool to really feel generating power -- but it stands still. Forms or kata and line-style drilling lets you practice the motions and body mechanics, but you lack the spontaneity of a real opponent. (And some "explanations" of kata are kind of wonky, too...) Sparring lets you experience some pressure -- but it starts from an artificial point (unless you find yourself in a lot of duels...). Scenario training can be very good, very realistic - but it's hard to do right, and by it's nature, scenario training can fall into scripting errors.

Joshkie said...

Rory -

Maybe your trying to fit something in a framework that is no longer applicable? The old Ryu's are a long way away from to days "sport" fighting. They require to total different and alien mind sets.

Something I learned in the Navy is train like it's the real thing, and if all you know is sparing then that is what you will do in a real fight. When you need to be fighting for your life, you will be playing a game.

This not a skills issue, but a mental issue.

Josh

P.S. If this is where you are headed with the two new plastic mind exercises/drills, I can understand your hesitation.

Joshkie said...

P.P.S. I'm not even sure if the old school combatives is the propper framework to start from. The mind set is dealing with life and death, but mostly with in respect to the battlefield. Rory what you are trying to deal with is very specific set of circumstances, and I think needs to be delt a such.

My 2 cents.

tv said...

Can redsuit training work and train FoF effectively for "real" h2h? If so, how?

Rory said...

Anon- Working different training methods helps fill the holes in others... but if you hit differently on a bag then on a training partner, you are likely to revert to the partner training, not the bag training when presented with a bad guy. It's the more similar stimulus.
Rob and TV- Good ConSim is a godsend, but bad instructors or role players can be worse than not doing it. TV- start with a book called "Training at the Speed of Life" and if you want my thoughts follow that up with the section in the Drills manual. BUT get :"Training at the Speed of Life" first.
Josh and Jim-I get you and I use different levels of sparring for different things. What do you think of the key word in the post, though, the artificiality?
Joshkie: I'm not doing anything right now, I'm thinking this through. And definitely about combatives not being the perfect source either.
Kathryn- exactly. When it comes to survival I don't believe there is such a thing as cheating.

tv said...

i ordered the book

Thanks for your reply Rory.



PS: Smell - Facing Violence - I get it.

Oldman said...

Rory,
I have enjoyed your work very much. This is the first time I have stumbled onto your blog and I'm enjoying it as well. I appreciate getting to ponder question along with you.

wayward foodie said...

Re: the artificiality of sparring...

Yeah, any sparring in a particular skill is fighting against a "mirror" in a sense.

That was one of the fun(ny?) things about the early UFC (before they made "MMA" into a martial art) - guys from different disciplines slugging it out. And Royce Gracie stunning everyone with the most boring wins ever seen...

Is sparring worthwhile? I think so. Mixed-skills, same-skills, "surprise" attacks (remember Cato in The Pink Panther movies?)...they all lend to a perception of action. But that perception also has to be guided by a Sensei - one who has seen more...

Anonymous said...

If anyone squares off, if any threat gives me any indication that something is coming, I can walk away. Or talk it down. Or, if that's not going to work, access a force option that turns the whole situation into something that doesn't resemble a fight in any way.

Those are the times you don't need fighting skill.

The serious bad guys don't fight. They take you out. They stack everything in their favor: surprise, position, number and weapons (depending on the goal) and finish it. The last thing they want is a fight. Serious bad guys don't fight, they take you out.

Sure; even really good takedowns won't help when you get shot from ambush.

In order for sparring as a fight simulation to even happen, you have to behave stupidly. You choose not to leave or talk or gather resources.

Well, or you choose to talk and it doesn't work. Or you choose to leave and he hits you.

Then you have to allow it to become a very particular and tactically silly kind of fight, where you stick to the same options and parameters the threat has chosen. It's a stupid way.

Life would be simpler if after identifying threats one killed them efficiently; maybe not better, though, hey?

One of the basic tactical rules that not only every tactical operator but even every serious sport competitor knows is: Don't play the other guy's game. Sparring specializes there.

Well; play yours and don't play his, to paraphrase Sun Tzu.

And there are good reasons for it. If you want to test and measure and improve the same skills as the threat, it's one of the best, fastest ways to get better... but where does getting really, really good at the tactics of a bad strategy fit?

Depends on what you want. Civilian SD, play paintball and concealed carry. Hospital orderly, clinch or the crazy guy gets to fight the 90 pound cancer patient instead, you know?

Bad guys take you out. From surprise. First hit. With a size and strength advantage or, if they can't manage that and really, really need what you've got, with weapons and numbers. They deliberately choose people who won't or can't fight. There's no value to complicated strategy or feinting.

Getting shot in the head from behind isn't nearly as useful as rolling, IMHO. ;-)

This is an internal discussion. Not a conclusion. I love sparring, but I do it for what it is, know what it is and I'm very, very clear on what it is NOT. Those aren't the skills I'll need if an old acquaintance from the jail decides to even a score or enhance a rep. Those skills are different, qualitatively different.

And don't go tribal on me, either. Saying sparring is artificial is NOT saying that kata is better or realer or some variant. All the training methods are what they are and no more.

Live training is vital, but training stupid tactics live is not just ingraining stupid tactics. People mistake intensity for truth. The more contact and speed, the more real it feels, the more it feels like truth. Not only does it ingrain stupid, it ingrains it hard.

We need live, hard, contact training. But smart. Working from real distance, from positions of disadvantage, outmatched in size and strength.

Rolling provides all that, right? I lose pretty regularly.

We need to find a safe but live way to practice taking a threat out instead of fighting.

Paintball?

We do practice those skills and I know a lot of you do as well. But every so often a good martial artist or even a good fighter is given a problem of force, survival and decisiveness and instinctively tries to turn it into a contest.

Flying triangle works pretty well; even when you don't get the triangle you get guard; lotta guys just can't fight on the ground.

It makes me wonder if the training method does more harm than good. Still pondering.

Jim said...

Re: artificiality...

Sparring is artificial. It's a method of practice, and all practice (outside of law and medicine!) is artificial.

Reality: You square up in front of me, I'm not taking a stance, I'm escalating. You've told me you're ready to fight, so I'm going to win if we go to it. Or I'm going to walk away if it's practical and appropriate. I'm not going to bow, step back into a stance and proceed to feel you out, etc. If it's on -- it's going to be fast & hard. That's part of why I've been reluctant of late to compete in sparring... I'll play with students or others... but I haven't really been "flipping the switch."

But I think I'm kind of simply repeating the original post here. Let me try to take it further focusing on artificiality. Sparring is, like I said, by it's nature artificial. Even a true duel is artificial; two combatants meet at an appointed time & place and do "combat" or "battle" on the "field of honor" according to agreed rules and weapons, etc. So... is the artificiality of sparring so foreign to real fighting that it's useless as training?

I don't think so. It serves a purpose. It forces you to react to your opponent's actions. It let's you practice the OODA loop under pressure without scripting. And it's a tool for practicing what happens AFTER the initial attack, if the fight is still going on. Sure, hopefully, our initial trained instinctive response will end the fight. And gunshots put bad guys down right away... So while some of the set up is artificial, it can be maybe a reasonable facsimile of "the fight" that might happen. And it does expose you to keeping going on after you're hit or hurt (if you do some contact...)

Anonymous said...

06/17/11

Remaining mindful of purpose and context defines how artificial the meaning of something is. Within that are principals, which are the truths that help us navigate between changing contexts.

Everybody can adhere to and defend well their own assigned meanings and values applied to something if held true to their purpose, and under the specific context they were created for. Provided however, that principals are respected. Because something as simple as broadening the purpose, substituting or jumping between levels of context and you start having to make the argument that truth is relative. It is not. Meaning is conceptual. Truth is corrective.

Sparring will always be artificial something and real something else. On the other hand, something like physically damaging someone is in any degree a truth. When and how that is performed ...what it means depends entirely on the context. A heart surgeon performing a transpalntis is still cutting out a heart. A pervert's petting is still a gentle touch.

Clarification and consensus is found in the common denominators that meaning and value are structured around. The meaning may vary widely or be negotiable. We define that in our collective sharing. Forget the principals though and you get lost in your own conceptual maze. And, that is probably bad, as there is no magic exit door to the world from the place we wander around inside our heads.

Sorry for the deep thought haymaker on a Friday, but there it is. I think it makes sense...

-Billy G.

Rory said...

Thanks, everyone (including the private e-mails). Pieces of tactical training may not match good strategy, but some tactics are required for when strategy fails. On another level, I think the best way to say it is that there is too much baby in sparring to throw out the bath water. Just have to be mindful of the when.

Steven Surgeoner said...

Rory

I'm reading your book "Meditations on Violence" at the moment, inspired to buy it after hearing you on "Martial Secrets".

Just wanted to say thanks for the clarity.

All the best.

Richard Sackville said...

"Live training is vital, but training stupid tactics live is not just ingraining stupid tactics. People mistake intensity for truth. The more contact and speed, the more real it feels, the more it feels like truth. Not only does it ingrain stupid, it ingrains it hard."

Absolute Gold dust.

Regards

Richard