Thursday, August 13, 2015

Concretes and Abstracts

Technique-based training is concrete. "He throws a straight punch and you outside block, side step and throw an inside knife-hand strike. Go do a thousand reps." It's easy to teach. He does X, you do Y. Reps. But I can think of zero actual fighters who find this valuable (except as a business model). To deal with chaos you need to train with chaos. And train is the wrong word. You need to play.
Partially because play is the way animals naturally learn, partially because, in a complex system working rote drills hampers more than helps.

Principles-based training involves understanding the principles and applying them in chaos. It's much harder to teach, because knowledge isn't enough, the instructor must have understanding. It's less measurable, less "objective" but infinitely more useful under stress.

Technique repetition may lead to knowledge. Actual experience leads to understanding. Play, if the games are done well, can give you a start on understanding, maybe some insight.

As understanding deepens, you are able to "batch" more and more things. To integrate techniques that seem disparate into single thoughts. As you do so, you process things faster, you become more efficient and decisive.

A technique-based practitioner may go into a fight with a rolodex of forty hand strikes and twenty kicks in his head. He'll try to use this unwieldy mental rolodex and probably get his ass kicked. Memory is simply too slow. Taught in a principles-based way, one level of abstraction up is to understand that striking is just power generation, targeting, and conformation. If you understand it, your rolodex of sixty has become a rolodex of three, with a vast reduction in reaction, action and decision time but an increase in flexibility and adaptability. That's if you understand it. The problem is that if you only know it, you're going into the fight with three mental rolodexes that have to be cross-indexed under pressure. That's bad.

As your understanding deepens, your integrating concepts become simpler and more efficient. In Meditations on Violence I wrote about meta-strategies. Many of the extraordinary fighters I know have complete battle systems that can be expressed in a single sentence. "Destroy the base." "Defang the snake." "Take the center."

Simpler and more efficient, but also, expressed in words, they will seem more abstract. Memorizing techniques is easy. Nice and concrete. Teaching power generation, targeting and conformation is a good size to chunk the information. It gives beginners efficient tools and increases flexibility in hours instead of months. But every so often I want to go really deep, experiment with teaching a workshop on "Structure and Void". I think it would be a really powerful integrating concept, a good framework to teach. But I fear it's too abstract for most people. It would probably only be useful to people with a good depth of understanding already. There are far fewer of those.


Mike said...

Thank you, Rory. I was thinking about exactly this topic this afternoon. The "rolodex" method of "learning" has always rubbed me the wrong way (and not just in SD or MA). It's much more helpful and efficient to learn high-leverage principles. Not that there's no room for details, little jewels that can be unearthed and pointed out by someone with loads of technical knowledge. Just that, in bootstrapping a mental pattern to the next level, principles trump rolodexes. Learning how to think is in many ways better than learning what to think.

Louie said...

I think Bruce Lee feared the man who practiced one kick ten thousand times because about a quarter of the way through, the guy probably got bored out of his skull. The last 7500 was just him playing around, finding ways to make the reps more fun.


Jim said...

Question: can you start purely with principles, or do you have to start first by giving some sort of technique based structure, so that students have a toolbox to work principles within?

In other words... Do you think you can dump all the basic technique stuff like "this is a straight punch; this is an uppercut; front kick" and just introduce ways to generate power (getting the body behind it, aligning the wrist and joints, etc.) and then go to work-play on applying them in motion -- or do you "practice the scales" (music analogy) and use those fundamental sets of techniques under varied situations..

Kim said...

After watching Rory's joint locks video, I've been trying to do more of this with everything I teach. I'm amazed at how much it helped me (with 13 years experience) as well as helped brand new beginners who had never seen a joint lock. Simplify rather than complicate.

Jim - I think you can practice the mechanics of some specific techniques in isolation, but I don't think they're necessary to get students to do things (unless you want them to do those specific techniques). I think that if you teach them a front kick then have them go play, they're going to try to find ways to use the front kick, rather than find what works. If you just help them adjust the mechanics of what they're doing to make it more effective, then it seems to come more naturally.

God's Bastard said...

I wonder how many SD teachers who bang on relentlessly about how "joint locks don't work" ought to more accurately say "I do not know how to teach joint locks in a useful fashion, so I have thrown them out the window".

Brandon said...

I've been thinking that most of the time when people say martial "art" or "system," the word they should really be using is list.

Josh Kruschke said...