Wednesday, May 30, 2012

No Universals

I got to talk to CC.  An instructor here.  Does stuff.  Don't worry about it. He was talking about the necessity of getting students to make eye contact when they fight.  I usually teach the necessity of breaking eye contact. Hmmmm.

It's not even a disagreement and this is one thing (among many) that you really must understand in order to teach self-defense.  And I need to look at it harder as well.  I don't just teach a homogenous group (officers) any more.  I teach different people, many different people and each have skills and weaknesses, strengths as well as training holes.

Generally, I need to teach people to break eye contact.  Generally, CC needs to teach people to make eye contact.

CC teaches a wide variety of people.  Rank beginner up to some pretty specialized groups.  Teaching beginners, you have to break down a lot of conditioning.  Years and decades of being told not to be rude. Don't swear, don't spit, don't use nasty words and don't touch people inappropriately.  Almost everything that falls under the umbrella of self-defense is rude.  Injuring people is very inappropriate physical contact.  Setting boundaries is yelling at strangers.  CC notices, "How can you hit someone if you can't even look him in the eye?"  Perfectly valid.  Very true.

My usual student profile is very different.  The people who train with me tend to be experienced martial artists who are just realizing how little they know of violence.  One of the biggest hurdles to get them through is to break them of the habit of trying to win a game.  Most are trying to dominate an opponent, not neutralize a threat.  They fight, and fighting is extremely inefficient.  Taking a threat down-- whether deadly force or handcuffing or shoving to escape-- can be extremely efficient.  Because you don't care, it is just a job.  I know I have written it before, but there is a qualitative difference between the way a farmer butchers a hog and the way the same farmer will fight a person.

  • You don't need to get angry
  • You have a reason, you don't need a justification (you don't need to feel that it is a 'bad hog')
  • You don't give it a chance
  • You never let it be a fight
  • You are not trying to teach the hog a lesson
  • It is not a form of communication
You can bypass all this stuff with humans, just like with animals-- and it doesn't have to be lethal.  Simply efficient.  But most can't because we are so wired to treat interpersonal violence as some form of dominance game or rules enforcement.  It becomes about messages.

Because it is about communication, it is inherently inefficient at simply removing the threat.  If you have trained hard for years at a system of fighting, it probably hurts your feelings and threatens your identity that I call it inefficient.  I'm sorry for that, but the message is no less true and no less important-- pick the scariest baddest martial artist in the world.  Could you beat him in a fight?  Probably not.  Could you incapacitate him in under a second (more, with set-up time)?  If you can't, that is a failure of either imagination or understanding, having your brain locked into the irrational belief that fighting and removing a threat are the same thing.  If they are on the same continuum, you may be missing some huge truths.

So for my student profile, breaking eye contact is a first step to making this transition.  For CC, making and maintaining eye contact is a first step to being able to fight.  For people who have fought for a long time, breaking eye contact is a first step to another level.

It's not just here, and I have to be careful.  When I am teaching to one student or one group of students, the message may be entirely wrong for a different group, and they may be in the same class.  The class last night, this morning and the one coming up in thirty minutes are 80% female.  A lot of the material, particularly on adrenaline effects, are different for men than for women.  Usually, I teach the male effects and then the female differences as a coda.  (And had a great example of it after scenarios earlier today.) For this population, I should do it the other way.  But it is hard to remember.

Different people need to be taught different things.  It is getting more and more obvious that in this field you must teach the student, not the subject matter.


Melisa said...

Yeah- when I do security/deescalation workshops I tell folks to consider different motivations for people's behavior (fear, frustration, manipulation, bullying, etc), vary body language and eye contact accordingly, and particularly with manipulation to avoid eye contact. It was a revelation to me the first time someone suggested to me to avoid eye contact and turn away/have a bored affect in certain interactions because I usually took the approach, "I have to be assertive, and that is self defense/how to have a boundary." (And I like responding in this way.) But breaking eye contact seems to be useful both as a form of communication ("I'm not threatened by you") and, as you say, as a way of getting oneself out of the mindset of "I have to negotiate with this person."

nry said...

Rory, why do you 'teach' to break eye contact? We get taught (koryu JJ) to maintain eye contact at all times and this is, as you say, a common theme with JJ as previous styles have pretty much taught the same thing so I'm curious why this teaching differs when looking at it from a self defence angle :)

The Strongest Karate said...

"It is getting more and more obvious that in this field you must teach the student, not the subject matter."

Couldn't agree more. This, I think, should be equally applied to all systems of fighting, not just Self Defense.

Malcolm McAtee said...

Interesting. I have a good friend who grew up in a rough part of England, and he was an expert in not engaging people. "Just BLANK em" he would say. Hard to describe exactly, but it was a veneer that really conveyed nothing. No eye contact, no disdain, no anger, no fear, etc.

I witnessed this once, and the guy who was trying to pick a fight with him kind of walked away, because he couldn't get him to engage.

Rory said...

Malcolm- I call that strategy 'not giving up hooks.' It works well.
NRY- That deserves a whole post but I am tired and pst due for some sleep.

Justthisguy said...

Heh. Just watch yer kitteh, and the difference between how he engages a rat and a fellow kitteh.

Funniest thing I ever saw my late cat do was go after a Cuban anole. He tried to use his rat technique, with rat psychology. Didn't work. The lizard just went for him, not having enough brains for psychology to work. He got the lizard, which was yummy, but you should have seen his non-plussed body language. Those lizards are really pretty inside, all pink and purple and yellow.

Josh K. said...

I think there are multiple thought interwoven here.
Are there any other reason to not focus on or maintain eye contact?
CC seem to me to be saing if you cant look a man in the eye you are not going to be able to engage him. He, I feel, filtered through Rory, sees on eye contact as a sign of a lack of confidence.
Others in the comments are foccusing on the nonverbal comunication part of eye contact; are you eyeballing me boy.
I'm paraphrasing here; Rory has mensioned, or was I reading into it, of you going unfocused, seeing the whole. That your peripheral register motion better. Or something like that.

The eyes might be the window to the soul, but hands kill. (I think I just stole that from someone; maybe you) The torso (center of gravity) leads in motion.

Josh K. said...

"…sees on eye contact as a sign of a lack of confidence."

Lets try this...
sees [no] eye contact as a sign of a lack of confidence [or a lack of will].


Anonymous said...

tell me if it's the same for you:

I usually maintain eye contact. when a situation escalates and I shift my gaze to other parts of his body (goes from shoulder to hands and belly, depends on what's higher) some of my buddies know that it means I'm gonna butcher him, by hook or by crook.

it's a process of "othering", looking at him as a piece of meat.

(and infering by your past job, you see DT application as a chore not as a communication/fight)


nry said...

Hope you got some good sleep!

Flinthart said...

As I have frequently said before - thank you. This time, this is the passage for which I'm grateful

" They fight, and fighting is extremely inefficient. "

I teach a little small-town class, and so often I get blank looks when I try to explain that what I'm trying to teach is definitely NOT fighting. And I get that same blank look from a lot of other martial artists. It's great to see you phrase the idea so neatly and succinctly.

Adrastia said...

Thank you Rory

I always appreciate your noticing things in yourself and your own experiences that need careful attention. Most teachers (of anything) repeatedly skip over their own assumptions especially about their students, until those assumptions become deep ruts in the road.

Your honesty about 'hard to remember' to reverse the content for teaching an 80% women class - its hard for me to accept that remembering that is hard for you, but I'm so glad to see that you noticed that you need to do that. I never teach SD for men for exactly that reason (I would need to re-engineer so much and I recognize how different the situations for men and women really are).

Case in point - the cultural-social significance making or not making
eye contact is HUGELY different for women generally. And within cultures is even more specific and potentially mis-leading and dnageroous. See Melisa's comment above. I learned this by listening very closely to what different women in different cultures and situations told me, at length, about the huge impact of making eye contact (or declining it) in the 'reality' they live inside daily.

and sadly, i've never heard or seen any MA/SD4W male instructor clearly articulate these powerful differences or help the women work out how to integrate this complexity into adding to their own safety.

please do more on this if you can, its much appreciated

Adrastia said...

Reading your post again, these points jumped out at me: and I read "women" for beginners, since mine are always women and girls and CC seems to also have more women in class

"Teaching beginners, you have to break down a lot of conditioning. Years and decades of being told not to be rude. Don't swear, don't spit, don't use nasty words and don't touch people inappropriately. Almost everything that falls under the umbrella of self-defense is rude. Injuring people is very inappropriate physical contact."

maybe whats helpful is to ask women and girls what happens to them - what reactions do they get from family, parents, friends, spouse, peers when they actually_do_ those rude behaviors in response to intrusive, testing behaviors. Its (semi) OK to do self defense 'rudeness' to a clearly attacking stranger. But its so seldom a clearly attacking stranger that we face.

"Setting boundaries is yelling at strangers." how I wish that were the case. It would be so much clearer to teach.

'CC notices, "How can you hit someone if you can't even look him in the eye?" Perfectly valid. Very true.' Best questions for instructors: who taught her to not look him in the eye? what happens (at first) if she does? For me, this process is painful for so many women and girls. Teaching the mechanics of the physical technique is the easier part.
What does CC do?

Kasey said...

It is getting more and more obvious that in this field you must teach the student, not the subject matter.


Justthisguy said...

I mind the fight between USS Chesapeake and HMS Shannon, which had a huge butcher's bill.

And why? Because there were plenty of Irishmen on both sides, who loved, and lived, to fight.

Our Rory is rational about his fightingness and puts it to good use. I would love to meet him at an SF con or something, but he lives at an opposite corner of the continent, I being in FL