Thursday, May 14, 2009


I've gotten some response on the last post, some by private e-mail.  I need to reset the focus.  Some of the respondents were talking about the primacy of mindset and speculating on why it is so rarely taught.  That's important, but it wasn't the point at all.  This is about epistemology and identity and how people protect their mental images (self and world) subconsciously.

So the examples- "12 pounds of pressure" and "nose bone through the brain".  The point isn't the myths. The point was that with very few exceptions, what most people believe on either side of either issue, is largely hearsay.  Steve has actually looked at the skulls and talked to people with some expertise.  Several notches more valid than any source I have.

So, if you have an opinion on either of these, yes or no, what was your source?  Unless you have examined a skull or applied twelve pounds to your knee or lined up 100 people for precision teisho-zuhki practice at full force it is at best an opinion.  These were softball questions, easy stuff.

Then we get into things that, if you are a martial artist, you have seen again and again and again.  Things that if you examine have some pretty scary implications for what and how we teach.

Beginners are more dangerous than experts.  More people are hurt by beginners than by senior students.  There is a lot of scrambling to deny that one and the best 'reason' is control. First, control in this case doesn't equate exactly with functional precision.  When an expert throws a full power punch and doesn't hurt you he has done one of two things- he has either aborted the power or missed.  Pulling punches is missing, people!  So it is a precision of failure.  Perfect, flawless, failure.  Years and years spent training to do the opposite of what you need to do if you ever really use this stuff.  
You can argue that this is a dojo thing, that confidence makes the seniors more vulnerable in class but if it was 'for real' their years of polishing technique would surely prevail.  I don't think 'for real' goes that way. This is anecdotal, but most practitioners have a story about a senior rank in their school getting badly beaten.  That's interesting, for what it is worth... but every instructor I can think of has one and sometimes several stories about a student who was attacked (not went looking for trouble, not playing in a bar brawl, but ambushed) and did great with only one or two lessons.  There are issues with this epistemologically- anecdotal, the sheer number of beginners versus the relatively few seniors, the fact that blackbelts getting beat and beginners prevailing make cooler stories than the other way around.
Still, you dodge this observation at your peril.  No, you dodge it at your students peril. A certain percentage of everything is bullshit.  How many of your training hours are doing nothing more than polishing a turd?  And could that be the real reason that beginners are more likely to hurt you, because they still remember that it is about damage and haven't collected enough turds to polish?

Mindset.  This comment got the most responses, and it is pretty solid. We know what a huge difference mindset can make.  With even a little research, we know what some of the most effective mindsets are.  Those are almost categorically opposite of the mindsets espoused in most of the martial arts I have seen (if they even address the question at all).  Why?  Could it be like bushido and chivalry, codes that arose in times when the need for warriors was fading and society wanted some way to leash the dogs they needed just a short time before?  How much of training is less about empowering than about leashing?
This hits a lot of buttons, but some people don't even notice it when they slip into denial. I have a friend who is convinced that deep down he is a killer because once, when he was a child, he felt so much rage that he wanted to kill another kid. The uncontrollable feeling from long ago still holds him in awe. He has spent much of his life 'controlling his beast.'  I hear the story differently. Everyone feels that way, most never act on it.  Like most people he assumes that the greatest feeling he has ever felt must be as great as anyone has ever felt.  Real killers are the ones who kill with far less emotional charge than that, who respond with violence to minor annoyance, let alone a seething rage.  Many people feel this, "deep down I have a dark beast" and most who seek to control it are just putting a leash on a chihuahua. 

I have a personal belief that animals, including humans, do things for reasons. In humans, the reason is not always what the person believes it to be.  This loops back to fear management.  For most people it is not important whether their martial training will help them to survive. They think it is, of course, but it is about managing the fear. It is more important to believe themselves strong than to be strong.
I think this is the motivation behind normally observant, intelligent people not noticing this stuff or excusing it when it happens.  Probably also why these beliefs are so consistently reinforced- no one wants their world views rocked, especially when they have invested so much time and effort into the illusion.


Illogic said...

He, I did that once when I was a kid. It ended up with me trying to throw a much bigger kid by swinging him around, which ended with my taking a short flight instead.

It's happened a second time, though I was a lot older, maybe 13-14, and a boy in my class started kicking me on the leg over and over under the table.
I think it was more the fact that I felt he was mocking me in front of the whole class that was the worst really. Sure, it hurt like hell after a while, but still...
Anyway, I was holding a pen in my hand, and after a while I could see myself jumping over the table and stabbing him in his grinning face with it. It sorta looped in my head over and over as I sat there shaking with anger and almost with tears running down my cheeks.
Then the teacher noticed that something was wrong, and I think he sent me out of the room to calm down or something.
Probably the worst moment of my childhood if you ask me, but these days I find it more interesting than anything else really.

Just thought of it while reading about the "dark monster inside" and thought I'd share.

Jim Coles said...

Man, you really hit the nail on the head. I especially like your observation that the real killer is emotionally uninvolved -- his response is cold and uncaring.

Jeff Pratt said...

Wow, I really like you posts. I really appreciate anyone who can make me question my assumptions and take a new deeper look at what I am doing. (I am also forced to go out and research things so I can keep up with the people in the comments section.) Reading your book and posts is a thought provoking treat and I recommend both to my classmates at YMAA.


Swallowtail said...

Well darnit, I don't get a chance to try to find a way to argue a point in some wonderfully articulate manner. Instead, yeah, in my own unfortunate experiences dealing with violence whether my own or others, I have to agree that it's the emotional guy who isn't the creepy one, it's the one that doesn't get bothered by what he did, because more than likely he just doesn't see humans as people like him and there is no emotional involvement.

Sometimes it's good to not feel anything, you have to get it done to help yourself or resolve a situation as quickly and safely as possible and can't get encumbered by feelings of remorse, fear, or dread - I think we touched on that back at Orycon. Sure, you may fantasize about beating someone's head in, but that's the monkey brain in us thinking about it, not some dark-dark-warrior-spirit waiting to burst forth at any moment like some kind of angsty duncan mcloud.

It's useful to build up some wrath under some circumstances, but I think the thing with emotions and it's relationship with violence falls under the same definition of geomorphology; "Stuff in the water is good, except when it's not."

Master Plan said...

My mom was telling me she occasionally has dreams wherein she kills somebody, stabs them in the neck and eye with a pen for instance, said it was no big deal in the dream.
This is interesting to me because in cases where I've thought I might have to seriously injure someone (ie, a serious situation) it was very similar, know, a thing that might have to be done, not really very emotional.
By contrast I've felt that flash of "I'll kill you!" rage (as a child and adult) and I've felt that surge of emotion in practice partners's never seemed to make much of a difference. Sometimes it seems easier to handle somebody in that state. I DO think it provokes (can provoke, etc) and adrenal surge, but...I'm not convinced it has much utility value. Particularly if you feel this urge, give in to it, and...can't do anything effective at all.

Finally for the White Belt vs. Black Belt syndrome I think that's partially a dojo case, in that if you practice a style as a group you become habituated to that style, to that style of doing things, and since white belt, by definition, don't know that style they'll do things you are unprepared for. You know, "Nobody would ever do X", and then they do X and you walk right in to it because nobody does that are your school. Like if you started shooting for the legs at a boxing place. They are not expecting that, because it's not what they do, so they don't have a response. Or conversely punching folks in a Judo school, likely first thought, "Hey! You can't do that!", so they don't need a guard that protects their face like a boxer, so their hands are lower and they are more likely to be susceptible to being punched. Those are of course more extreme examples chosen to demonstrate contrast.

Then the control issue, I though it was a matter of choice. You could hit them, but you don't. It's not that you always practice that way, it's that you practice that way with the lower belts, in the dojo, during sparring.

Finally I'll speculate that the novices do better than "real" martial artists in real situations is perhaps a combination of fear and further habituation. If most MA schools do not prepare you for a real fight, and most of them replace scenario training with free sparring then you're being trained to free spar in a real fight. At the same time the more you spar and gain belt levels the more you'll feel you've got things "handled", less fear, to the point you might not even feel fear until it's too late. While a lower belt has a more healthy level of fear and because they know less the chance of an average plan, violently executed, is probably more viable for them. Similarly if you've thought you knew what was going on (sparring training, reduced fear response) and then find out you are wrong about that (punched really hard in the face, stabbed) I'd expect a much larger and more performance degrading stress response when that training fails.

If you've been trained and "know" what's going on, what do you do when you find out you are wrong? Are you pattern locked because you can't think outside the box?

Armchair speculatin' on a Friday

Anonymous said...

Great post!!
We all rely on "Expert opinion" the problem is in identifying the expert. Sometimes they can be very hard to find. As an example when I worked in a police unit that targeted gun crime I confidently told my wife that there was no gun crime in our area, based on the fact that there were very few arrests. She looked at me confused and then said that the ward she worked on ( she is a nurse) was full of gunshot victims.
Lies ,Lies and dam statistics

Scott said...

"It is more important to believe themselves strong than to be strong."
Which is something I discourage and why I named my blog: Weakness with a Twist. I want people to expect up front that they are going to have their world view rocked.
You make me feel like dancing... No one seems to want to admit that these traditions come from dance/theater/ritual. In dangerous times or places the "dance" becomes more realistic about combat, in times or places of safety, the "dances" are just fun.

You've made the point elsewhere that matched fighting, like boxing, trains a mind set that doesn't have much use outside the ring, and can make you worse. When we see martial arts as dance and theater we're immediately open to training different states of consciousness (using spinning, shaking, stillness, and changes in the way we see and hear), personalities even, and hopefully different types of permission.

Chinese Martial arts traditionally were always part of religion. In that religion people practiced animal sacrifice; Pigs, goats, Black Dogs, and even Oxen. It gets your own blood moving when you really put the blade in live flesh. In modern times people are embarrassed about this (and also we invented guns making such "training" less necessary).

Perhaps I am mistaken, but I teach my students to aim for a general target using their whole body, in slow motion. The gradual addition of momentum to this practice is predicated on the partner knowing what is coming and being able to get out of the way (often with a return strike). Because I don't allow students to "pull punches" or intentionally miss their target, actual strikes are not allowed on the face or torso. This is a mind set that is hard to train. Students want to poke, tap or slap their opponent to prove they "could" have hit them. They also try to block strikes that would have missed them.
After thinking about your post I worry that I'm training beginners not to poke out an eye, something they don't need training for--just permission.
What do think?

Rory said...

Scott- a direct question. I'm going to throw it back to you for clarification (mostly rhetorically, more to think about than to answer) because it really explains something about the last two posts.

"After thinking about your post I worry that I'm training beginners not to poke out an eye, something they don't need training for--just permission. "

The difference can be subtle. Training to poke out an eye is one thing.

Not training to poke out an eye can be a permission issue.

Training not to poke out an eye is a completely different animal. It actively denies permission.

So it depends, by forbidding face shots are you not training them, or training not to do them? This is really clear and really big in my head. Not sure the words are translating the power. Do you get it?

Scott said...

I think I get it. In my use of language (and forms) I'm teaching people to strike the face using palms, fingers, swipes, elbows etc...when we do touch it's with no force in order to mark the distance or practice the direction of force. But when we use full force it's important that the target has moved.
We also have soft hand slapping games to show people when they are open/vulnerable. In these games students give themselves permission to slap the face. The goal is that eventually the student can attack without creating openings.
Power testing is done against the opponent's arms and legs. If the opponent is thrown back or to the side simply from contact with the arms, it is assumed such a strike would cause damage, but it just seems too dangerious to test the power of a fully relaxed strike on vulnerable areas.
My friends who train boxing and sparing are always breaking ribs--and I think it trains them to hold back.