Sunday, February 01, 2009

Living and Learning

In the last couple of days I've read some opinions on blogs comparing martial arts and military combat training. Very old stuff, soI'm not feeling compelled to source it. One mentioned that BCT (Basic Combat Training) was more about instilling confidence than skills. Another said that the weeks of combat training could not compare to the depths the average martial artist would reach in his or her years of training.

Both of these comments came from serious martial artists. Neither, as far as I know, has been involved in the military.  Obviously, I feel different. Here's why:

If time in training matters (and sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't- 100 hours doing bullshit does not outweigh 1 hour doing something worthwhile.) I'm not sure the argument would hold. A regular MA (not a fanatic like all of you probably are) goes to  two classes a week and, from the ones I've checked out over the last two years, the classes last for 90 minutes. 

ASIDE- There will be a lot of generalizations in here. For everything I bring up, from training hours to how systems develop to what is put in or left out of a system, I am aware of exceptions. So, if you feel compelled to point out how whatever I said doesn't apply to you, just be aware that you are writing it to feel special, not to enlighten me.

It used to be two hours, when I was a pup.  So, assuming no missing but no extra work either, this mythical average martial artist gets 156 hours of training a year. My BCT ran eight weeks. For six days a week we would get up at 0400 and, if we were lucky, hit the racks at 2200. Was all that time training? Damn near. You could argue that PT (Physical Training) are not skills, but I think the conditioning time from a martial arts class would be a bigger percentage. Meals? You learned how to eat quickt... but for arguments sake, we'll take the 45 minutes to an hour a day that we were allowed for eating out of the equation.

So, a MA gets about 156 hours of training a year. A recruit gets damn close to 816 hours of training in eight weeks. Even if my times are generous. (Marines get more.)

But that's really not the big deal.  MA instructors teach the same things, generally, that they were taught. If it's good enough for the 18th century, it's good enough for you.  It is enough to validate a system if your instructor or instructor's instructor successfully used it. Simple fact is that nothing pushed to the edge is always successful. That's how you know where the edge is.  There will be failures in dealing with violence and chaos. If there are no failures either someone is lying or it is not being used. Live with it.  
The military specifically uses failures to re-evaluate training. Every branch of the US military has a "Lessons Learned" or equivalent program. The troops coming out of BASIC now are getting skills that were learned by and/or reserved to elite forces in Vietnam. My training dates from just before the first Persian Gulf war and it is clearly outdated.  New recruit training, such as the CLS (Combat Life Saver) course is light years beyond anything we had and has (much to my sorrow as an old 91B) made the Combat Medic MOS obsolete. BCT is always changing but the changes are carefully based on necessity, not ego or fantasy or untested theory.

In martial arts, time is spent on warm-ups, basics, forms, sparring. That's not too different. It seems like it, maybe, because so much of MA time is spent on unarmed, one on one, non-lethal conflict. That makes it easy to specialize and focus.  A recruit's basics, forms and sparring include communication, small unit tactics, riflery and weapon maintenance, first aid, chain of command, operational security, and the law and rules of modern warfare. Plus a bunch of things that I may be forgetting.

BCT is a global approach to violence. Too many martial artists learn how to punch, but never learn when to punch. They don't get lessons on identifying an enemy or the legal parameters of force.

More than that- there are some very old systems that put a lot of stock into what I sometimes call the 'trivia of combat'.  It's important stuff and sometimes it is those little details that can tell a combat art from a fantasy. How do warriors walk in enemy territory? That's okuden in some Japanese arts. Basic marching order for soldiers.  Kuatso/Kwappo the 'lost' healing arts of jujutsu... I have a jujutsu manual from the 1940's that states categorically that there was no point in including them anymore because western first aid (1940s level!) was superior.  Bringing up eating- how do you eat in a war zone?  Set up meals? Schedule a rotation?  Probably a very esoteric aspect of koryu, but something you did and learned in BCT without even noticing it was a lesson.

'Eating Dirt'- one of the the articles I read extolled the value of "eating dirt": not learning anything useful but simply proving yourself through repetition and exhaustion. I found that insulting, frankly- the kind of bullshit that someone makes up to brainwash students before they give them whatever dribbles of real information that they actually have.  But there is value in exhaustion. Because sometimes you won't win by technique or power. Sometimes you will win by outlasting. By eating dirt on a level that most  of the MAs who extol the value would piddle in their little pants to actually have to endure. Six consecutive 18 hour days of training trumps any 8 hour black belt test that I've ever heard of. I notice that the guys who have been in BCT don't brag about their 'grueling' belt tests like others tend to.  Other, advanced training, like Ranger School or SERE takes this to a whole other level, but we're just talking about Basic, here. Nothing but basic.

Here's where MAs tend to get full of themselves- The hours spent on UAC (unarmed combat) in MA clearly trump the hours spent on it in BCT. But this is the deal- UAC is one of the things least likely to help a soldier. Just like in civilian life, dealing with predators, awareness trumps fighting skill and weapons trump unarmed skill.  Weapons are superior. They are better tools for stopping a human than a fist or a takedown. That's why we have them.  For the recruit, spending the hours on UAC that a MA does would simply be a waste of time. It would be confidence building in a useless and largely ineffective venue. Confidence building and nothing more.  They can get their confidence in other places.

Honestly, UAC is one of the things least likely to affect your safety as a civilian, too. If that's not self-evident let me know and I'll write about it another time.

Okay, so I'm a little bit of a cheer-leader, I'll admit that. When I was in I thought that the men and women I served with were special. They were intelligent (for the most part) dedicated, hard working... they were smarter, stronger and more honest than the whiny little rat bastards who delighted in talking them down.  This new crop is better in every way than my generation. I have the opportunity to watch them interact with a native populace that in any other time or venue would be denigrated and insulted. Not here. I can count the pejoratives I have heard in six months on three fingers and none of those were from soldiers. They exhibit respect and restraint and honor that the politicians who control them don't even dream of. At the same time, they are more technically and tactically proficient than we were.

I can stand here in this dry and sandy place and look at kids half my age and feel honored to be here with them.


Molly said...

Wow - it is a bit cheerleadery - but poignant, and beautiful in your poetic thug way. Love you - and those kids half your age are probably honored to have you stand with them.

Anonymous said...

Rory, I do not support this war-the one in Iraq, especially...

But I do envy you your experience there.

On the issue of basic combat training-I went through it twice, first the roughest the Army offers, Infantry Combat training at Fort Benning, and Marine boot camp at MCRD San Diego.

This gives me an unusual, if not unique outlook. I also messed around in a very half-assed way with martial arts...

So, some differences...

1) Hard to be half-assed in military training. They own you, 24/7, in ways no martial artist will experience.

2) The focus is different. Both MA and military training resocialize you, to overcome training NOT to hurt people. The military training is to overcome social training against killing. In World War II, it was found that only about one in four soldiers would even fire a weapon in combat, due to the constraints against murder. Today military trainers have firing rates over 95 percent. Operant conditioning, works wonders. MA in general are not teaching people to reflexively take human life, and that is a difference.
3) The average product of BCT is a fit, reasonably disciplined individual who is willing and trained to fight. History shows that the American soldier and Marine are both highly effective on the battlefield, even though the American people are not by nature militaristic.
4) In general I agree with Rory on the effectiveness of military training in general in producing a graduate with the skill sets and attitudes necessary to survive and be effective.
5) There is a tendency to romanticize training of all kinds. The difference between military and MA training is great, and the main difference is perhaps simply in the goal-one is to enroll new recruits into an organization larger then them, to make a soft civilian hard enough to be willing to suffer and die and kill and skilled enough to be worthwhile as a member of the team...

The other is to provide personal growth and basic self defense. The outcome sought is different and the methods different as well.

6) Army and Marine Ethos are different, and that difference is reflected in their different methods of enrollment. A person is a soldier in the Army. You ARE a Marine. Subtle, yet the Marines get more mileage out of their ethos.

Keep safe, Rory.


Wim Demeere said...

"Six consecutive 18 hour days of training trumps any 8 hour black belt test that I've ever heard of. "

Yes! When I did the Paladin Press podcast interview, they asked me about my instructor's test. I tried to specifically point out what you said here above.

MAists sometimes think they're light years above the rest in this regard. A couple of days of basic training would probably cure them of that way of thinking.


Scorpius Poeticus said...

Just found your Blog, coming to the end of " Meditations....", as recommended by Dr Kevin. Have a fine Wing Chun teacher here in the UK, who reinforces my appreciation and understanding of violence as a basic form of communication between our sense of self and our relationship to the world around us. Violence reminds me of physical Latin, the blunt basis of much language. But most of us are too complicated to understand it, only the most simplest minds inhabit the wise.

Kind regards I look forward to reading your Blog.

John the poet aka Scorpius Poeticus

Steve Perry said...

You know the old story about the researcher studying a terrible, disfiguring disease? He caught it. Looked in the mirror one morning, then said, "Hey, but you know, it doesn't look so bad on me ..."

Anonymous said...

Not only infantry, but even action movie stars train harder than the average martial artist! It is not unusual for them to train 4+ hours every day, for months, just to present a convincing character.

After all that, they understand the limits of their skill. So the movie stars are humbler than martial artists too. ;)

Unknown said...

You are a better man than me to bother responding to such arrogant idiocy peddled by 'soft handed' boys.