Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Striking Deficit

I'm trying to brainstorm my way around a training artifact.
Proper striking can be effective. I've put people down and broken bones with techniques ranging from hook punches to slaps. On the other hand, they're really idiosyncratic. If anyone tells you that a specific strike will always have a specific effect, the person is lying. Or misinformed. In my personal experience, I've taken a crowbar to the back of the head with no injury whatsoever, and a slap to the back of the head that left me dizzy and puking for three days. I've been lifted in the air from a solid kick straight to the crotch and didn't feel it for well over a minute... and I've been flicked in the crotch and gone down.

Strikes are dangerous. Even if you don't notice that you have broken bones until after the fight, they are still broken and can take a long time to heal. That solid shot to the head might not hamper you at all, until a few hours later when the tissue swells and you pass out. Maybe die. Hours after you 'won.'

Because of all this, strikes require special safety restrictions in training. Maybe you put big pillows on your fist. Maybe you pull the strikes and practice missing. But something is done to make sure that the strikes in training don't do what strikes do...

Which has two bad effects. One is obvious, in that all the training to miss (whether you call it pulling or just use contact to a safe area like simulating hitting the groin by hitting the thigh) will influence you to miss in real life. Trust me-- you'll have other things to think about than trying to remember what you simulated in practice and substituting the 'reality' variation.

The other bad effect is that it increases the value of grappling techniques in sparring.
That's not in and of itself a bad thing. The ability to move, control, lock and strangle a human body are some of the most effective and reliable base skills. But when you are practicing, whether sparring or scenarios, and the strikes have to be controlled and the submissions can go to submission, you wind up with scenarios that always end with a lock or strangle.

Unless you stay alert, it can seem like locks and strangles work and strikes don't. The thing is that real strangles work far better than pretend strikes.

I haven't found a good solution for this. If you insist that people respond as if the strike was real... what the hell does that mean anyway? Not everyone folds when punched in the torso. To be truthful, not everyone even notices when they are punched in the gut. Headshots are notoriously idiosyncratic.

One of the cardinal rules is that you never train people to fail. Giving up should not be part of the drill. If you teach people that if they get hit in the head (or stabbed or shot or blinded) they are out of the fight, they tend to simply quit when the condition is reached. That's unacceptable.

At the same time, if you have trained to tactical advantage, you discard techniques that don't work. Consciously or subconsciously, students will tend to reject the strikes and focus on the submissions in an environment where only submissions seem to work. That creates a weakness as well.

Yet another problem is that because of the safety artifacts, a grappler will usually have a huge edge in applying techniques in a free-for-all. Many strikers, except with gloves, have never practiced getting kinetic energy into another moving, dodging, resisting body. Getting peak force in a strike requires control of motion and distance and those are things learned best hands on. The strikers who use gloves are almost required to use hand conformations that put their metacarpals at risk, so they can play harder, but what they play at often injures the striker more than the strikee once it ceases to be play.

This one's a poser.


Padua said...

I can't help thinking about Randori in Judo. You need to find techniques which can be used with full force that will be effective but won't damage uke too badly. You'll still be better off than the people who pull punches or use excess padding, etc. Like judo I guess you need to look for things that if applied full force to an untrained uke would be disabling. That will reduce your techniques but increase your effectiveness. I guess more dangerous stuff would need to be handled by some form of full speed kata. That's all I can really think of, I'm hardly an expert so please point out the faults in my argument.

Jake said...

I struggle with this one a lot. Especially when coaching Muay Thai. We don't actually spar balls-to-the-wall during most of our classes, which sometimes leads people to ignore shots they probably shouldn't be ignoring.

Except that, y'know, I've seen people get a shin full force in the face and not go down. So maybe they CAN ignore those shots.

In the last round of training I did at Blauer Tactical, one of the things Coach Torres had us do was to have the bad guy in any given scenario pick a number of strikes that would be required to render him/her "out". Of course, it was up to the roleplayer to decide whether or not a strike was "effective", and there were definitely a few times when the strike just decided that on it's own.

Just some random thoughts, interrupted by a huge gap.

Tiff said...

Interesting points. There were a lot of us at the Austin seminar that, during the slow-motion game, started with strikes and ended up in a lot of traps and clinches.

Torn between the two backgrounds, both deeply-rooted practices of mine, I've been struggling with the "which one will work better" question for years now. Just gave up and decided it wasn't a question of "better," but "appropriate" -- whatever the situation calls for.

Will continue to ponder this one.

Steve Perry said...

Don't see a cure here. Even soft armor has holes -- can't hit the bare spots. Can't, as you said, pad the hands and expect to hit that hard with 'em bare.

I'd think it would be easier to shift aim than force, since you do that all the time, depending on what's there, but you can't choose a full power shot to the throat or temple and keep the class going for long.

Ari said...

Proper slow motion training takes care of this, as strikes can fully penetrate vital areas without doing damage, as long as the receiver remains loose enough to move with the strike. See Guided Chaos contact flow. This does require brutal honesty from training partners, as strikes and grapples have to happen at equally reduced speeds. We do become adept at landing damaging strikes amidst the full chaos of real violence, as all the elements are there except the speed--which you get for free under adrenaline. In faster contact flow, which has other benefits, strikes must be pulled and/or limited to certain targets. That's one reason why most of our contact flow is done medium to slow speed. Save full-speed, full-power for chaotic gang attack drills with man dummies (I+I green man) manipulated by human attackers. Get loose and sensitive enough and grapples won't be such an issue, even at high speed, even against "grapplers."

Chris said...

I think the problem is solved, to the extent it can be solved, by focusing on creating the opportunity to land clean and uncontested blows. Rather than the literal "hit and miss" of unprincipled freestyle sparring, that is.

David said...

Building in safety always has it's drawbacks. The key is to identify those drawbacks and remove them when training another drill/scenario that has a different safety-drawback. In this way you will train all the required components at some point in your training. The way I've tried to solve this problem (hit as hard as you can as fast as you can) is with a RedMan suit. There are very very few holes here, so I allow my students to go all out on me during the scenario or drill until I scream the safety word. Trust me though, I am still trying to defend myself and a RedMan suit doesn't defuse all the power. The students only have on leather gardening gloves so they are not tempted to strike with a closed fist against a metal cage, but palm strikes to the face and head are pretty effective on me without cutting up the students' hands.
I could write pages about pros/cons on the redman suit usage (including cost!), but that's a different story.


Anonymous said...

This is an interesting topic I've been thinking about lately. If you wanted to train more than once or twice before ending up in the hospital (or morgue) it is necessary to work with at least some set of rules and/or safety built in somehow. I find it hard to get around that fact, although various clever methods can be employed which come close to achieving what you want in your training. Look at firearms practice- the real thing for self defense is firing at a real person who is firing at you. Real ammo, real guns, etc. Clearly this is not an option. So then how effective is target practice on even a moving target under stress? Anyway just some tidbits of thought to add.

Rory said...

Padua- That's part of the equation, but it's still incomplete. Old-style jujutsu uses kata to train certain very dangerous things to reflex, but it doesn't help improvising and often you need that. (BTW, partner, one blog entry? Tsk tsk. ;))

Jake- Tony summed it up nicely with "the quest for the most real fake stuff we can do..." And your point about taking full shots is dead on. If we train to ignore them, the striker misses something. If we train to ignore them, the strikee may develop a habit of going down...

Tiff- Appropriate is almost always a better word than best. Tactical adaptability (ju) is critical.

Steve and David- It is tough. And armor doesn't really protect completely even if it is the good stuff. I've ruptured an eardrum through the HighGear helmet and had a colleague get his knee snapped through a HitMan suit (both of which I find superior to the RedMan). It's not easy, especially with people who have trained to hit for penetration or neck damage.

Ari- speed is the safety flaw I incorporate most often for the reason that you site: it's very hard to go slo-mo in a real fight. But the skill to deliver speed and power on target in chaos can still be missed, and there are still ways people let themselves cheat in slow motion drills. It's definitely part of one of the answers.

Chris (and Anon, something ties)- Interesting thought, but creating opportunity isn't exploiting opportunity, any more than knowing how to take someone out means that you will have the will to face the incoming, close the distance and make your self act. As far as I know, the NYC study is the only one to compare accuracy on the range with accuracy in real shootings and it found NO correlation. That's disheartening, but it's also a clue. To something.

Thanks for the thoughts and insights. I don't think this problem is going to disappear any time soon.


jks9199 said...

Nope, not a problem that's going to go away soon, at least not until we can get magic healing boxes like Steve Perry writes about, or other ways to heal bone, organ, and brain quickly and fully.

I've done a couple of things -- and I keep trying other things. Slow motion lets you actually make contact with the target, and even extend into it, but it's still not really the same as hitting or being hit. Alternate targets (pectoral muscle instead of sternum or shoulder joint, for example) lets you go harder, but has the drawback of being another form of conditioning a miss. Same thing with delivering "past" the target, like throwing a punch to the chin that doesn't make contact but continues all the way across. Or pulling the punch and not making contact. Still conditioning a miss. Making light contact is another problem. During one of the first practical in the police academy where I had to go hands on with a guy in a Redman suit, I pushed the guy into a wall effectively (wall stun)... and pummeled his ribs. Except I was pulling every one of the punches...

I think the "answer" is what's been done for years in lots of different places, like boxing. You combine techniques. You do things that let you go full force like the heavy bag and pad work. (More on pads in a second.) You do other things that let you practice timing and rhythm and timing like speed bags and shadow boxing. You spar (or for reality needs, different forms of situation training) to develop reactions and practice putting it together -- but not going all out.

Pad work is something lots of people don't use the way they could. Watch boxers as they do pad work, and the coach is moving the pads, moving much like an opponent, even throwing some shots back to keep the person working the drill alert. It's a chance to really pound a target, in something more like a fighting situation, without eliminating a training partner. Same sort of thing as using blocking dummies, sleds & pads for football practice... Instead, most martial arts pad work consists of holding the pad up in an almost stationary setting.

Isegoria said...

Rory, I think you make an excellent point about how idiosyncratic strikes can be. (The same holds for gunshots, knife wounds, etc.) Even if most punches break no bones and do no lasting damage, enough of them do to make hardcore training too dangerous to sustain over many cumulative hours. Sooner or later, something bad happens.

On the other hand, if you never train with hard strikes, the rest of your training can drift away from the reality of what does or does not work in a real fight.

I suppose you can free-ride to some extent on other students of your art who do train with hard contact. Your own muay thai training may lack a certain something if you never spar hard, but at least the style stays true to what works in the ring.

I'm conflicted about your point that grappling becomes overvalued in training. I came to the same conclusion as a kid who studied kempo. In play-fighting, a bigger kid could easily maul me, and I wasn't about to break his nose or gouge his eye to demonstrate my (supposed) skills.

On the other hand, as someone who grapples regularly now, I find that people, if anything, overreact to strikes in casual training, because, when it's not really life or death, even a black eye or a bloody lip is a pretty big deal.

Anyway, what do you do about strikes being too dangerous to practice? I think you need a mixed strategy. If you simply pull all your punches, you train to pull your punches. If you always wear padded gloves, you train to punch in padded gloves. You can get around this by training against the focus mitts without gloves, sparring hard with gloves, and sparring with grappling and pulled punches. No one set of bad habits becomes fully ingrained.