Saturday, April 05, 2008

Mr. Rubber, Meet Mr. Road

Before I came to this job, I'd studied a fair number of things in a fair number of styles. I'd sparred a lot and loved it and excelled at it: everything from non-contact kumite to full; boxing; kick boxing; grappling (mostly under judo rules); no rules (with and without weapons)...

(One caveat- I have never trained both full contact and no holds barred at the same time. I have serious doubts about anyone who claims that they have. To put it in perspective when I was training true 'no holds barred' in classical jujutsu at light contact I averaged one broken bone and two dislocations a year. There is no way I could have gone a week with anyone who was decent without suffering- or inflicting- a crippling injury.)

Many years ago I asked a karate instructor why we practiced kata and kihon when we didn’t use any of the moves in sparring. It wasn’t anything like 'fighting'. He didn’t have a good answer.
Four years later after wrestling with a street fighter under a roulette table in a casino I drew a shaky breath and said, “Shit, that wasn’t anything like sparring!”

The casino security gig lasted a little over a year before I went back to college. I learned a little about criminals, a lot about intimidation and presence and talking people down. There were only a handful of major fights. The big lesson was that someone who really knew what he was doing could pull off things that a hot young martial artist couldn’t make work.

College and military after that, and then the Job. Corrections. Direct supervision- constant face to face contact with the inmates. No weapons, always outnumbered and expected to maintain control. I went six months without my first fight, and then had three in a week.

This last post in the series is kind of a cheat, because most of this blog is really about those lessons. The things I learned and am still learning. The things I thought I knew that didn’t hold up. The things I still hear all the time that are the martial equivalents of talismans and wishful thinking- or equally incorrect the dire predictions and certainties.

Some of those:
• I had always believed that there was always a way to avoid force. I hadn’t been na├»ve, I knew that there wasn’t always time to find the way, but I believed it existed. It wasn’t until I met two kinds of people that this faded.
• The people who should be on the front lines of training information were largely ignorant of some of the basic elements of survival fighting.
• I’ve been the rookie who almost got killed because I tried to rely on “academy approved” technique. I did what I had to do to win and learned a lot about skill and cognition under stress.
• Sometimes people die, no matter how hard you try to not hurt them.
• There are physiological and psychological conditions that negate everything you know about what X will do to a human.
• Dynamic and live trainings are a far cry from chaos.
• What you don’t know can hurt you.
• What you think you know that is wrong is worse.
• Doing things efficiently is easier than doing them inefficiently and efficiency is situational.
• Fight to the goal- this means you have to be taught to see various goals, pick the right one and work towards that. Fighting to run is different than fighting to stay and you can’t do both.
• People are rarely beaten. They give up.
• The more levels (tactical, physical, social, psychological…) you can work on the better you are.
• A short fuse can do more damage by surprise than skill (one of the most dangerous people I know is not dangerous because of his skill, but because the triggers that will explode him into violence are so easy to hit that he would explode long before I was even considering the threat.)
• The lessons from a raid or entry do not translate into self-defense and counter-assault.
• The lessons from dueling don’t apply to either (this is a hard one, because people, including me, become so enamored of their fighting skill… but it is nothing like surviving an assault, so totally unrelated that it is hard to put into words.)
• There are rules in a street fight, subconscious rules that can trip you up if you don’t see them and you can exploit if you do.

This entire post is a cheat, as my lovely wife pointed out. Each of these lessons has one (or dozens) of stories behind them. It is unfair to encapsulate it as bullet points in a single post, to treat it like a 'thing that is true'. But this isn’t about the bullet points, this is about the process: the person I was when I began this journey; the martial artist I was trained and forged into; and now the officer that the environment produced. The collision of three worlds, in a way.

I’ve seen a lot of different fights and a lot of different types of sparring, but it all boils down to that insight shaking and out of breath under a roulette table.


Dave Chesser said...

Your wife is right. :)

I would especially be interested in the story behind this one:
"Sometimes people die, no matter how hard you try to not hurt them."

But I realize that might be a painful one to recount.

toby said...

I'd say you have your list of next ~20 topics or so to write entries on. :)
I'd love to hear more about your last lesson - the one about rules in street fights that either catch you or that you can take advantage of.