Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I expect this post will come off as esoteric and unfocused and confused-- but that's okay. I'm looking for answers to messy situations so I'd be a fool to expect clean answers.

"Pocket structure" has been coming up a lot. A little preamble:

1) You only get to use your killer self-defense skills when you are losing. If you are winning at the outset, you're probably the bad guy.

2) 'Losing' generally means that you are already hurt or injured, your structure is likely compromised, you may not be able to see, and the threat is in a position of his choice.

3) Threats aren't stupid (at least about this.) If he had any inkling that you might turn things around, he would have picked someone else. So expect him to be bigger and stronger. And it probably won't be his first rodeo.

4) None of the above applies to Monkey Dancing.

It's obvious that you need to work this scenario. You need to learn to hit hard from compromised structure and to deliver power to things that would normally be dead zones. Last post mentioned in passing a way to throw a good elbow to your rear flank.

Part of this is pocket structure. I think most martial artists have an idea of what structure is. It is the bone-to-bone connection between target and the ground. It doesn't generate power, but the better the structure, the less power is lost. Almost anyone can hit hard enough to do damage, but when you see the 240 pound power lifter who can't hit as hard as the 160 pound woman who has a little boxing training, structure is at least part of the reason.

Pocket structure practice is just putting yourself in bad structural position, like bent over with the threat pressing your head down and one side against a wall, and finding where you can align joints to still deliver power. This is one of the esoteric parts, hard to put into words: you find the arches instead of the lines that most people rely on with good range and you also tendon-hook to the back of the joints (that's what it feels like to me) instead of lining up the bones. That's pocket structure.

There are also pockets for power generation. You can use the Dempsey hip-twitch while lying flat on your back, mounted, and get almost your full power into a hook punch. It's just a matter of lifting your off hip an inch or two and then snapping it into the ground with your punch. It's creating a pocket of space so that you can generate power.

Pockets for mobility as well. I'm not nearly as flexible as I used to be, so it sucks when I try to demonstrate this, but Dave Sumner, my jujutsu sensei, had a full power high kick that he could use from the clinch without losing eye contact. It was a lead leg rear kick, so it hit like a mule. The key was clearing the off hip back and away to leave room for the chamber. A mobility pocket.

This, of course, got me thinking about pockets of time. One of the huge keys to defeating bigger and stronger people is to use time and information better than they do. Information first, since it doesn't directly (as far as I see right now) relate to pockets:

If you are outmatched physically, you must be significantly better at reading the situation than the other guy. If you are being blitzed, one of your few chances is to be able to read exactly what is really happening and how to use it. Someone grabs you from behind to slam your face into the pipe above the urinal you must be able to read where every bone in his body is and his current momentum and any shift in center of gravity that presages momentum change. You must be able to do this instantly. You have to know where every corner and hard object and reflective surface and slippery place you can use is located. All instantly.

You see why I consider blindfolded fighting to be a fundamental skill.

Back to pockets. You also need to be able to find or create pockets of time that you can use. Threat smashes your head into the pipe and pulls back to do it again... that instant, from contact through pull-back to centering to forward slam, is a tiny pocket of time where you are not taking damage and if you have the nerve and the skill, you can use it all.

Maybe. And this hits the essence of the teaching problem. I know this is possible. This is how I've done it and others have done it. When the math looks bad (Ralph jumped by an ambush artist, 20 years younger, stronger, faster) the ability to create and exploit time, to know what is really happening is the difference between walking away and not.

But can it be trained? I can show all the pieces. Let people play with and see how it works. Develop the skills and attributes. But when the shit hits the fan, it seems some people act and some don't. Most act with experience, but is that learning or just natural selection of a sort? Those that don't act either get injured or find another line of work.

If you are smarter, cooler, more aware and more efficient it makes up for a lot of size and strength. Those are the attributes you need to utilize most of the pocket concepts. But how many people can stay cool under assault? Or can you train it such that it is just a natural and obvious way to think and move?

Leaving for Florida tomorrow. Hope to meet some of you in person there.


Scott said...

Caveat: I'm talking about the One Unarmed Tough Guy problem here; weapons and multiples get solved by knife or gun.

I read this many years ago and integrated it into my bjj practice:

I like bjj partly because there are 3 unarmed ranges - freefighting, clinch, ground - and pulling guard lets me skip the first two, where the other guy is likely better (else he wouldn't have attacked, right?) Pulling guard's easy, triangling guys who haven't practiced against triangles is easy... if I want to be a nice guy I can likely pull guard, sweep, pass guard and lie on him in scarf hold for a couple of minutes while he exhausts himself trying to bench and bridge me off him, even if he could beat the shit out of me toe to toe. I believe sprinting is the primary unarmed civilian self-defense skill. Violence professionals, of course, don't have that option.

I agree with you that some people can train for it and some can't. BJJ women's classes were instructive here; guard's a rape position, horrifying for a scared woman who's taking up self-defense. Practicing with other women is far less scary. After months of practice with women some graduate to open class, rolling with guys; probably small clean polite guys at first....

Hertao said...

I think the best way to survive when you're "losing" is to change the game, which can give you both time and make "pockets" available. I like what Scott said in that regard, but I'm not crazy about pulling guard since you won't know for sure if there's another opponent, and unseen weapon, if the surface is good for that, etc.

If you're under attack and your opponent is standing, a drop or "level change" (which pulling guard is a form of) is a great way to change the game. Very few opponent's on the street are going to expect you to drop out of sight. They're likely to be concentrating on your head or upper body, and the drop is surprising. It's also pretty natural when you're under fire.

I like to get people used to this by having them get blasted, then drop and throw two hard low shots followed by a high open hand hook, and then follow up as necessary. Another great option is to drop with a lunge, and rise (clinching) with a step through. Normally this puts you at the opponent's back, or at least under his arm where you can quickly get his back.

The drop creates a "pocket" since you move to a zone that's not under heavy fire, where you're free to blast away yourself. Once you've taken advantage of that pocket you can then rise out of the drop with a serious've changed the game. There are very few situations where the drop doesn't work to create a pocket, in my experience. You can also drop and "take off" to create some distance, but my preference is to blast out of it.

Charles James said...

Rory Miller asked: ... how many people can stay cool under assault?

In my studies and view, few. As I have read and observed, rarely, even professionals are unable to stay cool under assault but they can mitigate the effects of the stress, i.e. the adrenaline dump and its effects. I don't believe many can stay cool even if they are able to train in a somewhat realistic manner. It comes down to my view, a personal one not based on any real experience, that until you actually get hit by an assault, a predatory one of considerable ruthlessness, you just can't know. It may be that we, as a human condition, live in a world where we will most likely never encounter this type of assault - hopefully.

I also believe this is a major issue for martial artists who mostly have no clue to the experience of a predatory ruthless assault. It is one experience you can read about, you can try to imagine it but psychologically speaking the mind has no references until you experience the assault.

Rory Miller asked: ... can you train it such that it is just a natural and obvious way to think and move?

Yes, I believe you can - only to an extent. It still falls into my first response above that until you experience it you just won't know and as other experts have written/spoken even then you don't know how it will go if you experience another one.

Randy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Randy said...

One of the important components that this involves is what I refer to as affordance recognition. Briefly, affordances are perception-action couples of recognizing what something in the environment offers to us, either positive or negative; and what features of the environment as susceptible for manipulation by our bodies.

We all do it all day long. Some people are especially good at it, the "MacGyver" types who can use items for purposes that they might not have been intended for, but can physically perform. So with fighting, affordance recognition skills are highly important for scenarios that don't allow the benefit of visual recognition. For example, someone shoving me into a wall from behind is providing me with information about their height, where they are in relationship to me, and to other features in the environment. The hand on my collar tells me that an arm is right behind it, and a shoulder behind that, with ribs and a belly below on the same general line, and a thigh and knee below that. Recognizing these relationships allows you to begin manipulating affordance between your most accesible weapon (changing according to position) and the attacker's available structures.

In addition to tactile sensation-heavy drills and training scenarios, affordance recognition "games" are an important part of developing these skills. For example, spending time exploring the affordances of my elbow point to my partner's body before some rougher free drills can help to develop it. From standing and front facing, the side of your face offers smash an elbow-into-me-ability; after being forced down by the shoukders, suddenly your knees and inner thigh offer stab the elbow-point-into-me-ability, or uppercut me-in-the-balls-ability.

Possibilities that an instructor might not mention can be explored and built upon, and very quickly one can learn to apply an affordance to similar but different scenarios that may arise. The suggestion of exploring these affordances from poor positions and awkward positions is one of the most important things for people to experience- otherwise they get habituated to only manipulating affordances which are familiar and comfortable, while affordances for non-optimal situations go unexplored. Fighting is usually in non-optimal conditions- so the decision of where to spend bulk of training time is obvious.

Isegoria said...

Rory, I haven't trained with you, but from your writing I keep getting the impression that your personal style stems from your early experience with judo, which doesn't train people to take a punch to the face but does inoculate them against being manhandled, being twisted into odd positions, being stuck underneath someone, etc.

Certainly my own BJJ training fundamentally changed my style, which had been built on the shaky base of point-sparring and then rebuilt on a base of (kick)boxing.

I keep wondering if that's why you "get" concepts that other (good) martial artists struggle to put into practice.

Wim said...

Most of what you're talking about here, in the stuff I train in, pushing hands is supposed to teach you. IMO and IME, it can deliver this and also work under stress. To what degree depends on so many factors there's no longer a coherent answer to the question.

It does seem to take a long time before you can get there though. Unless you start real young and have access to some good teachers. Hence the whole family style thing.

My 2 cents,


Lise Steenerson said...

No, not everyone has it in him/her to react quickly and properly.

Yes, I believe it can be learned.

I say find the biggest, baddest guy in your class, you know the one that scares the crap out of you, and pair up with him. Great way to get that stress inoculation and know what it feels like to be overpowered. This will teach you more about yourself than years of pairing up with the small non threatening whimpy kid

Molly said...

"Information first, since it doesn't directly (as far as I see right now) relate to pockets:"

I know nothing about violence or martial arts - but wouldn't a "fake" or "feint" create a pocket of information - giving you space of information that they do not have?

Rory said...

Scott- Thanks for the article. Next time I'm in Austin, let's talk. I think there's a concept, (goals backwards versus resource forward planning) that will really help.

David- Same comment. I've been reading your e-book on the plane. Any big change, in speed, elevation, even in talk can create a pocket. Good point.

Charles- That's the hit. The best chance for the weak to win is to be smarter, everyone gets stupid and stubborn under adrenaline... the obvious best practice is to control the when around your own adrenaline. Bad guys do it consistently, victims rarely have the opportunity...

Randy- Very cool, but I think you can get the concept across much easier. I just use 'gifts'. E.G. "You almost never go in and make a lock or a takedown in a real fight. You get them when you find the gift the threat presents." Looking for the gift. learning to see is probably, IMO, the most critical skill.

Matt- Very probably. There are things that are deep learning in internal martial arts that you pick up much faster and IME can use better with just a little exposure to grappling. There's also a short list of comments that are really easy to explain to grapplers ("You grab his neck and make your hand sticky") that are really tough to explain to people who haven't grappled. Wish I could find the words sometimes.

Wim- I agree that there are really useful tools in traditional stuff. I'm not convinced that it needs to take a long time. Fab Siena, in Tokyo (gotta love a French guy who teaches Chinese arts in Japan) can teach Fah Jing effectively in about 20 minutes. I wish we would apply the same ruthless efficiency that fight with to examining our teaching methodology.

Lise- Good advice. Every chance you get, play with what scares you.

Molly- Brilliant. BTW, may have some free time this evening for the family. Call if you get a chance.

Wim said...


We talked about this before and I guess we're gonna have to agree to disagree.
Re. Fajin, it just means discharging energy. Though it's used a lot in the "internal" arts (hate that name), the concept isn't exclusive to those arts. Pretty much every art uses some sort of Fajin method. Which is my point: you can teach it in 20 min, sure. But that'll be only one version of it; there are plenty more. And who's to say which one you're learning? Us tai chi folks disagree about everything amongst each other. :-)
The same goes for levels of expertise with it. All of which, IMO, takes time and practice. Just because you know how something works, doesn't mean you can do it consistently in every single movement.

Again, YMMV and no disrespect meant.

Back to lurking in the shadows. :-)


Rory said...

You never have to lurk, Wim. If we agreed about everything, one of us would be redundant. I only learn valuable stuff from people who see things differently than I do.

I do believe that if you truly understand almost anything, you can teach it quickly. And I believe that those things that take 'decades to master' are indications that the instructor can do it but doesn't understand it and it takes a long time to work it out on your own...

But I'm also aware that just because I believe something doesn't make it true AND that this verges on a circular argument. So no worries. Absolute respect returned...and if I can't handle disagreement and being wrong, I'm too stupid to learn and have no business teaching.

Jim said...

I'd disagree that if you truly understand something, you should be able to teach it quickly.

Sometimes, I think you need the predicates in place to teach something. Those may not come quickly... Once you have the predicates stacked, you should be able to teach it quickly.

Or maybe what I'm trying to say is that you can present something quickly & effectively -- but the student has to be ready to learn it.

Not exactly sure that what I'm trying to say is coming through. I'm an FTO; there are things you just can't teach a rook until he's been on the street a little bit. We used to have an in-service class called "Criminal Patrol Tactics." I called it the "DOH!" class because you spent about half the class going "DOH! I missed that!" thinking back to your own stops or contacts. The thing is -- I could present that material to a rook straight out of the academy, and it'd be meaningless. They don't have a catalog of "normal" encounters and events to compare it to.

Sorry if this is rambling a little; I know what I'm trying to say, just not quite how to get there.

Josh K. said...

Rory, Wim,

What is the goal? Is it to be effective or a master?

If your goal is to master the skill, then Wim is right.

If your goal is to be effective, then Rory is right.

And nothing precludes working both goal in succession. Working first to become effective then as time allows working to become more efficient at it.

My 2 cents,

Anonymous said...

Did anyone train with a phone in their hand? I saw an actual attack on a small woman on video where she dropped the phone in her hand. The victim did not think of using it as a weapon against an unarmed large man.

Operant conditioning is great for self-defense. Use the natural reflexes unleashed by fear. I was once attacked from behind while seated in a wooden chair in a darkened hallway. I rose to my feet while whirling around and at the same time with the whirling motion grabbed/threw the chair and smacked it across my attacker's shins. Don't ask me how that happened. It was completed in one motion.