Thursday, September 09, 2010

Blast from the Past

David mentioned this in a recent comment. This is my first-ever online article, written at the request of Fabien Senna of Cyberkwoon. A lot of the thinking seems primitive and incomplete at this later date. Baby steps.


Are there really “no rules in a street fight”?

I think that this attitude is somewhat naïve. Of course there are rules of physics and biology that affect what is possible and effective. Any training that ignores that fact is clearly dangerous. But there are other rules, too- chemical, social and psychological rules that dictate much of combat. Most people are as unaware of these rules as they are of the grammatical rules of their native language- they are invisible, either innate or such a part of our upbringing that they are unquestioned.

Ffab asked me to lay out these rules as I know them. Here goes.

Let’s start with chemical, because it is easier and less subjective.

When subjected to a threat, such as real conflict, your body will release chemicals and these will affect your body and mind in certain specific ways.

Bruce Siddle has studied this phenomenon, and found that heart rate, measured in beats per minute, is a good barometer of the other effects. Note that this is a hormone induced increase in heart rate. BPM increases caused by other things, such as aerobic workouts will not have the same effect. Also be aware that a hormonal jump in heart rate can be almost instantaneous.

Here are the rules of chemical fear:

If you get scared enough that your heart rate goes over about 115 BPM, you will start to lose your fine motor skills. That means your precision grabs and locks are gone.

About 155 BPM, complex motor skills deteriorate- you lose your patterns, combinations, traps and sweeps.

About 175BPM, planning and thinking are severely compromised. You lose your near vision, peripheral vision and depth perception. Your hearing will deaden or be lost.

Above 175, if there is anything in your bladder, you will lose it. Most will freeze or curl up in a ball and wait for mommy to save them. Only the grossest of physical activity is possible- running and flailing.

In short, the more desperately you need your skills, the less you will be able to rely on them. If you ever hear or say or think, “If it was for real, I’d do better” know that it is a lie. When it is for real, you will do much, much worse than in practice. The belief that people improve under stress is a myth.

These stress levels can be induced in most people with nothing more than aggressive verbal threats.

The rest of the rules are both far more subjective and harder to say for certain whether they arise from biology, psychology or social forces.


Remember the saying: “When two tigers fight, one is killed and one is maimed”? That’s a lie. Like other mammals, when tigers, bears, dogs, etc battle their own species, they have a built-in ritual combat to prevent injury. Deer go antler-to-antler, not antler-to-ribs.

Humans are apes. Like most animals we have a built-in ritual combat to establish social dominance or defend territory. It is nearly always non-lethal.

The Monkey Dance is a ritual, with specific steps. The dance, I believe, is innate. The steps may be cultural. In my culture:

1) Eye contact, hard stare.

2) Verbal challenge: “What you lookin’ at?”

3) Close distance. Sometimes chest bumping.

4) Finger poke or two handed push to the chest.

5) Dominant hand roundhouse punch.

A Canadian friend informs me that step 4 in his neck of the woods is knocking the other person’s hat off. Like I said, steps may be cultural.

A few points-

-The Monkey Dance is almost always a male thing. I honestly don’t know the female equivalent either in humans or other animals.

-Most martial arts (and most adolescent combat fantasies) are based on this model. It is much easier to prevail in a scenario that is already genetically designed to be non-lethal.

-The Monkey Dance can almost always be circumvented by either lowering your eyes and apologizing or ignoring it entirely- keeping extremely relaxed body language and treating the verbal challenge as a serious, thoughtful question.

-If you start the dance, you will probably not be able to stop. You have 50 million years of conditioning to overcome. I usually tell my students that you don’t play the dance, the dance plays you.

-Most incidents are resolved by one of the parties backing down long before violence starts. As Grossman pointed out in “On Killing” even major battles are far more often won by display than by combat.

-A professional can finish an encounter quickly by jumping steps. In other words, if the threat is on any step below four and you take physical, decisive action, he will be unprepared. His mind expects all of the steps to be done before things get physical.


#1: You don’t know if you can do it ‘til you’ve done it. Despite all the posturing and talk, most normal humans could not kill another human. Maybe by pushing a button, certainly not up close and personal. Col. Grossman estimates that less than 2% of the population (whom he terms ‘aggressive sociopaths’) can kill without serious psychological repercussions, if at all,other than under extreme stress.

On a more personal level, one of the defining moments in a new officer’s career is the first big fight. There are three types of people: some run to the fight, some run away and some freeze. Despite any fantasy, bragging or even true confidence no one knows which category they are in until the first time. That’s why all old timers watch the new guy.

There is one more category- the one who can walk to the fight, but that seems to be a matter of experience.


In our culture, adults do not touch other adult’s faces. When it happens, it is a sign of great intimacy. Adults may, however, touch children’s heads and that makes it very powerful. Touching another adult’s face is a show of extreme dominance, showing that the toucher considers the recipient a child. Just tousling hair can cause extreme feelings of humiliation.

This has evolved in the prisons into a systematic attack- the “Bitch slap”. A slap to the face, properly executed, can be physically devastating. Even without proper technique it can be psychologically debilitating, shocking the victim into a child mentality, paralyzed and submissive.

This taboo is so strong that many people freeze when they strike another person in the face even in sparring. You may also.


Talking and attacking appear to be wired separately. What I mean is that I have never seen someone throw a sucker punch, no matter how subtle, while talking normally. Yelling, sucking in breath, suddenly silent, yes. Not talking. Right now, try to hold a normal conversation with your monitor. Talk about the weather. Throw a punch without a give-away in your voice. I can’t do it. Haven’t met anybody who can. New training goal.

Conversely, while the threat is talking is almost always a free shot. It seems to take a small amount of time to switch from conversation mode to defense mode.


Remember the Monkey Dance, dominance, non-lethal jazz? That all goes out the window when attacked by a group. You’re no longer a part of the contest to see who is the bigger monkey. The contest is between the members of the group and they will be competing on your body.


Though most martial arts train pretty well for the Monkey Dance, true predatory violence is another animal altogether. If a predator has targeted you, it is because he sees you as prey and he will stack everything in his favor. You will be smaller and weaker, injured or tired, distracted, unprepared. You will not see the first attack. You will not see the weapon. You will probably be injured before you are aware of being attacked. It will happen at a place and time of the predators choosing. Nothing will be in your favor. The initial assault will knock most people over the 175 BPM mark instantly, leaving only an uncontrolled, flailing berserk or a stumbling sprint as options.

Defending against the predatory attack, in my opinion, should be the aim of serious self-defense training. It is entirely different than training for the Monkey Dance. Not one instructor in fifty realizes that. You need to realize it.


ush said...

About twenty minutes ago I had some teenager's launch a firework at me when i walked past, but it didn't raise my heart rate or anything. They got the range right but the aim was slightly off he he

Anyway, question on this monkey dance in humans. If it does'nt descend into fisticuffs and both sides basically run out of the will to berate each other I've noticed the dance tends to end in some degree of mutual understanding with both parties being on good terms should they meet again.

cultural or inbuilt to us apes?

jks9199 said...

Step 4 in the Monkey Dance can, I think, be generalized into a diminuating or insulting attack; something that does no real harm, and simply invades the other participant's space and person. Be it knocking the hat off, poking the chest, pushing... It's something perhaps innately designed as being a "let's get it on!" last chance for someone to back out, acknowledge primacy, and still save a little face. The classic... "hold me back; I could've taken that guy, but..." crap.

Charles James said...

thanks for this!

David Kafri said...

Baby steps or not, it is still a good read.
I'll update the link in my blog and tell others in the Hebrew MA community about it, they all have the old link to (the late) Cyberkwoon.


Kenneth said...

Great insights on the monkey dance, i couldn't agree more on your views in Predatory Violence. If someone is serious in self-defense predatory attacks should be prioritized because the fancy kick that could win you a trophy might not work on a thug with a knife=)