Thursday, January 10, 2008


Sometimes it's not what you think it is. You spend years training, researching, planning, visualizing and then sometimes the rubber hits the road and it is so not what you expected.  My first jail fight I was expecting the battle of my life with a vicious, killer, hopped-up gangbanger.  When go time came, it felt like he was made of cheese, completely without muscle.  I had to ramp way back to make sure he didn't get injured.  I had been playing very hard for a long time with college level athletes.

One of the comments on another post mentioned Aldo Nadi's duel. Nadi was a jerk, but he was the finest fencer in the world at the time (it's arguable, but most of Bruce Lee's concepts and strategy of JKD appeared to be directly cribbed from Nadi's book "On Fencing".) In that book he describes his one duel.  It reads with the fuzzy clarity of someone who expected to die, remembering every detail.  He knew that what he did, fencing, was not what he was about to do- dueling.
He was aware of the difference. Probably too aware, because the technical difference was minimal. He was almost frozen and he had to get over that- which he did- in order to access his skills.

I expected the fight to be hairier than anything I had ever experienced.  Nadi expected the duel to be so vastly different from his training as to be alien.

George Mattson of Uechi-ryu tells a story in this article about a run-in after hours at a bar in an interesting part of town. At the time, he had a little less than twenty years of training in karate.  I've met George and he is a superb martial artists, a superb teacher and I've watched how he handles the Uechi crew- subtly, respectfully, without throwing his rank around.  He is clearly a strategist of high order. At the time he had been running the bar, including handling the frequent problem child.  Lots of training and far from his first fight.  George was way beyond where most people are when they start selling self-defense systems or street-fighter certificates.
To paraphrase the story, after hours a group started stealing the bar sign.  George ran out- more balls than brains- and clobbered the biggest.  The bad guy went down, blood everywhere.  Then he got up and said, "You want to fight?  Let's see what you got."
This is the looking glass moment.  You've trained for besting a martial athlete.  You've visualized taking on a knife-wielding psycho. Then what you get is someone who enjoys this. Win or lose, the worst beating you've ever received or handed out is several notches below what he does for fun.  A trip to the ER for some stitches and a cast has all the emotional weight of a hangover- just the price of a little fun.
George got out of there- high order strategist, remember? But he still thinks about it.  The smile still haunts him.

The looking glass moment.  You get to something that you've prepared for as well and intelligently as you can and it's not what you thought it was. What do you do?
There are two things I want to say here:
Broadly, expectations can be the problem. Be prepared to let them go. You may not even believe you have preconceptions, but you do.  If something ever happens and your first thought is, "That can't be right," ditch the thought.  It happened, deal with it.  Quickly.  I've tried to say this a lot of ways- a survivor can come from any training background if he recognizes when he has entered unmapped territory and lets go of the map. And someone from any training can be killed by the training if they cling to the training in spite of the reality.

Narrowly, about George's experience.  If you take your training as serious business and you train hard and play hard, imagine mixing it up with someone who takes your best shot and laughs because it is sooo much fun.  It's been years since he met anybody good enough to hit like that! Yeeeha!
I've been in that mindset, and it's hard to stop.  You see the look in their eyes when they slam you and they see your grin and they actually start to think that you're not human, not like the people they practice on.
There's another mindset too, where it is just a job: "Son, I get paid whether you go to the hospital or not.  Make a choice." Martial artists have years of ego built into their training and to fight someone who has no ego about it is chilling and strangely comforting. At the peak, when I was averaging two a week, I spent a lot of time in this mindset.  It had a cost, but it was even effective on the manic fight lovers.

There's too much information here to parse it all and I apologize for presenting it with such poor organization.
Boil it down: Here are a few mindsets you might not be aware of. Most people can't really comprehend them until they meet one.  If you do, you may lose all confidence and your blood will feel like ice.  If you can't get out, fight anyway.  The skill is still there, you just need to get over the freeze and access it.  But don't expect to get out unscathed.  You can achieve these mindsets: the first if you push yourself and actually take punishment as a hobby (but you will pay for it later- numbness, arthritis, blurry vision, etc.).  The second only (to my experience, so far) by exposure to the point that you burn your adrenal glands out, and that has a cost, too.

Most importantly, whatever you have experienced, you haven't experienced everything. When something new comes up, don't waste time trying to cram it into a pigeon hole.  Let go and see it for what it is.


Anonymous said...

He was aware of the difference. Probably too aware, because the technical difference was minimal.

Rory, Thanks for that insight.


Steve Perry said...

Before we had a chance to sit down and talk, I'd probably have reacted differently to this post; having had that opportunity and getting a feel for what you mean versus what you can say on the page, I am wont to agree with it.

Expectation has been my biggest demon for a long time. HIdes out there just beyond the fire's light in the darkness, changing its disguise, getting ready to make another pass at me, and every now and again, fools me one more time.

That said, the question becomes, how do you shift on the fly when thinking is too slow? I have my patterns -- all martial artists do -- and they are designed to bring me home alive. Unlike Chuck, Steve has no problem with running -- assuming, as we discussed, that such is possible, physically and morally. (Leaving the grandsons there for the mugger isn't going to happen.)

It would seem to me that in the heat of altercation, realizing what you are doing isn't working is going to be based on mental processes that can't keep up.

Or as we like to say in our class, if you think, you stink.

Go and see, I can understand. Don't carry a pre-determined idea of exactly what you are going to do, yeah. But general principles of movement are at the heart of every kind of training we do.

How do you get around that?

Rory said...

I don't think you get around basic principles of movement or even try. I DO believe that many people confuse techniques or patterns with principles- to bring it back to an earlier post, using good principles is moving well. Using flawless technique is moving right.
I can hit relatively hard with my balance broken backward, spine twisted and striking hand in contact. Not as hard as with a solid base and perfect distance and all that, but noticeable. Because the principles of power generation don't change. But if someone has been taught that power requires a solid base, specific distance, a certain mix of relaxation they waste time trying to gather what they don't have instead of use what they have... as if a math teacher has taught that you need certain numbers in order to add. Addition doesn't change, it's a principle.

Too many words. Two answers to two questions.
1) Shifting on the fly is a skill in itself. You expose yourself to chaos or let yourself get overwhelmed or do things completely new or do old things in a new way; you let yourself make mistakes and you recover from the mistakes and enjoy and debrief the recovery.
1a) You pay attention to the moment when you recognize that what you thought was happening wasn't- then change things as early as possible. Our earlier discussion went private as soon as I realized that what I thought we were talking about was wrong. Some of the best Uses of Force prevention has been when someone realized that what they thought the threat was ready to fight for (e.g. to stay out of jail) wasn't (really so that his friends wouldn't think he was weak.) There is a huge amount of freedom and power in recognizing when you are dealing with assumption and the world has moved on . I bet you can think of some major political arenas where the fight we got into wasn't the fight expected.
2) At some point in your training you have to start stripping everything down. Footwork is basic, but it is not principles. What are the principles? What does all footwork have in common? When you strip things down until you are dealing with almost pure principle you have a very small, very versatile package. When you see an instructor do something cool and you ask him to show you and he has no idea what he just did, that is the mechanism- he was thinking on a principles level and didn't perceive and doesn't remember it on a technique level.

Too many words, but I hope that was useful.

Steve Perry said...

I think I get it, and I agree with the idea of principles rule rather than tools. (And I realize that everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.)

Our solution, which is based on the notion that what we do is grounded in position rather than specific weapons, is to try and change the battle from reaction to action. I stuck up a note about this on my blog, I won't inflict it on you here.

I think we are saying the same thing in different ways, but, I've been wrong before. Back in '68, I recall, maybe a time or two since ...