Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Doing Too Much

Another thought from the seminar:

Watching two young men work a drill in a combative seminar, they were sparring- playing with distance and defense and deception. The drill itself was supposed to be about explosive response to a sudden attack. It only took a few seconds to explain, at least for those purposes, but it got me thinking:

Why is sparring so different from fighting? And why is that so hard to grasp?

Part of the answer is easy to put into words, but it leads to some torturous paths: Sparring is a balancing act. You want to win and simultaneously prevent your opponent from winning. You want to hit and not be hit. It leads to a strategic balance, a sort of math between offense and defense. 50% of your energy and attention goes to offense and 50% goes to defense. An aggressive fighter may balance out more like 70/30. A sly counter-puncher may be 10/90. An experienced martial artist may test an opponent's aggression and then shift his own balance of offense and defense to match or exploit.

Fighting, real fighting, is not a balancing act. The defense in an ambush is inherent in the terrain and the time and the inattention of the victim. The resulting attack is 100% offense- maximum speed, surprise, power and repetition. Martial artists who train for the strategy of the balance between offense and defense are unprepared for this onslaught. They tend to freeze.

They have convinced themselves that their training is preparation for a fight and this situation is clearly a fight and their brain spins back over years of training and finds nothing it can relate to- the speed is wrong, the position is wrong, the pain and debilitation are unlike anything from training, the preparation is non-existant...

Everything in a real fight, everything in life for that matter, is a variable. People try to control variables. This is where it gets convoluted. The four classes of variables- the four factors in a fight- are YOU, the THREAT, the ENVIRONMENT and LUCK. In martial arts, people try to remove the variables of luck and the environment entirely. The training floor is always the same, obstacles are limited or non-existant. You know when and if you will be sparring and what you will be wearing. You warm up and stretch out (your core temperature is part of the environment, don't forget, as well as alcohol level, blood sugar, weariness and mood).

So in a real fight, 50% of the territory (luck and environment) are new territory for the martial artist.

The variables between you and the threat are also controlled in sparring. You know if weapons will be involved or multiple opponents. You know what defines a win and what your opponent is allowed to do.

Many of the big variables left- (strategy, timing...) are internal, imaginary and overly complicated compared to their equivalents in real life. This is a big danger, too: when a martial artist does try to incorporate luck and environment in their own training they often try to make it more complicated than it is (watch a striker try to teach grappling sometime) and at the same time try to limit the variables (this is where you get the technique versus technique or the scripted escape). Example: Martial artist teaching escape from grab from behind can get very fussy about where to grab, where to twist, how to bend... yet completely space that when someone grabs you from behind they immediately apply power to lift, yank or push you. They complicate the escape movements and ignore the variable that the attack is dynamic.

So sparring glosses over fifty percent of the variables you need to understand. Of the variables left- you and the threat- it overcomplicates them into a game of balanced offense and defense (and many more things, too: timing, for instance, is one of the most complicated aspects of sparring but in fighting is dead simple: you hit people when you can or when you have to.)

Compared to the predator who has only one thing to think about- taking you out- splitting your mind between offense and defense is doing too much with limited attention.

That's the easy part, and it's nothing new to people who have experienced an ambush... so why is it so hard for people who love to spar to grasp this?


Anonymous said...

Great Post! I could preach about this very subject but I will keep it short and answer the last question.
Most martial artists simply do not have the experience in street violence that is required to gain this wisdom. No where is there more bullshit than in martial arts. If you are not in LE or military, it truly is like looking for a needle in a haystack to find real insight. Not because there is not good info out there, but because it is covered up by so much crap. A real effort, dedication, discernment, courage and desire is required to seek out the real truth as opposed to posturing or egotistical ramblings. It is much easier to believe the lie of "I can spar, therefore I can defend" than it is to look reality in the eye, and start training over- or at least make a major course change. That is why the writing and musing of people like yourself is not only interesting, but vitally useful to those of us whom try our best to understand and prepare for something we have not yet seen.


Kai Jones said...

From the other side, this is why I have trouble sparring: it's way hard to make it pretend. All my responses (including hormonal, like adrenaline!) are set for real.

Anonymous said...

My name is Mike and I am a recovering sparaholic. Excellent post Rory, but I'm partial to training the way you describe anyway. I will say for a civilian to find people who can teach in a more realistic manner is like looking for a needle in a haystack.


Anonymous said...

I think it comes down to truth in advertising - today's martial artists should stop trying to be everything to everyone and advertise what they are skilled in. Part of the problem is in the westerners inclination toward complexity and constant change. Ever been to a traditional (very rare in the US these days) Japanese or Okinawan karate school? You will spend hours, days, months and years learning three blocks, three kicks and three punches. Westerners lose interest - focus - quite easily. So, martial 'arts' per se is not bad - it's the 'teachers' trying to teach the whole spectrum (combat-self defense-defensive tactics-sport-art-health/wellness-philosphy) where the confusion (and the money) lies. Combat is extremely simple, and quick, to teach physically, yet may take years to inculcate spiritually and emotionally. Philosophy is highly complex and takes years to understand and inculcate. Perhaps todays teachers could define themselves and their skills and then offer those in the spectrum area their potential student population most desires.