Monday, April 25, 2011

Depth and Breadth

Something I will have to hammer at the Logic of Violence seminar in Seattle is to remember depth and breadth.  Overall, the class will use the methodology of disaster planning and apply it to self-defense.  That's cool, but one of the things martial artists tend to do is to look at problems very narrowly:

A fist is coming at my face-- what do I do?
The knife is arcing towards my belly-- what do I do?

By looking at this one slice of time, you miss the thousands of better options that surround it.  Sure, martial arts are primarily physical skills.  In many (I think most) schools, thinking and strategy rarely get more than lip-service. Tactics taught are usually limited to sparring.

Self-defense and survival are very different animals: primarily mental skills, secondarily emotional and only physical when you really screw up or have a very bad, unlucky day.

So you need to look at the problem broadly, in time.  This is why situational awareness is so important... but that is another subject that rarely gets more than lip-service.  Situational awareness is just a phrase and unless you are taught, specifically, what to be aware of it is an empty phrase.  You need to learn violence dynamics from victim selection and terrain to predator tactics.  You need to be able to tell a dominance display from a pre-assault indicator and know precisely when a dominance display becomes dangerous.  You need to know how the motivations behind an assault differ from those behind a show, because those will dictate effective and ineffective de-escalation.

Broadly.  The earlier you can see something coming, the more options you have.  The more you know about interpreting what you see, the more precisely you can deal with it.  This is, or should be, common sense and it should be integral whenever anyone claims to teach self-defense.

When a predator scans for a likely victim and works to separate her from others, there are stages where she can not be noticed in the scan; stages where she can handle things through social control by remote; where she can make the predator doubt that he has read the situation correctly; stages where she might be able to directly discourage... but if she isn't taught to recognize these or doesn't know what to do, she is left with a desperate fight with a bigger, stronger and possibly armed person who has taken every tactical advantage.

Some do win from there, but very few unscathed.

There is another blindspot that I call the depth of the problem.  Things freeze people.  They go into denial.  "This isn't happening" or they let their identity interfere with their needs, "I know I should fight, but that would be rude."  These mental errors have happened too often and been too well documented to safely ignore.  The physical aspects of self defense are relatively easy-- or they would be if the mental aspects didn't interfere.

And there is a separate but intertwined emotional aspect: fighting when you are afraid or angry you rarely fight well.  An experienced predator with the right victim can shock the victim into a feeling of complete helplessness.  It is an incredible act of will and incredibly difficult thing to fight when you are sure there is no hope, no chance.  When you know that you have already lost and any resistance will be torturously punished.

Some predators are good at putting people into that mindset.  Abusers actively train victims to be afraid to do or try anything... but some few fight and prevail.  As I said, an incredible act of will.

If you teach self-defense, be careful not to compress time.  Long before the bear hug escape or the snap kick to the knee there was likely a better, surer, safer option.  And remember that no matter who you train, in the really dark moment when he or she absolutely needs the skills, they will not be the eager student you know.  They will be a chosen victim, possibly already injured, dominated and without a feeling of hope.

Teach them to fight from there.


Charles James said...

This is good, thanks for sharing!

Josh Kruschke said...

This might be simplistic a response.

Try to see the whole, not focus on the parts.

You have said much the samething before. I guess this is part of what reframing is rearranging pieces (words, ideas and principles) to see if we get a better or clearer understanding of the picture/puzzle.


Lise Steenerson said...

Fabulous post Rory!!!
I am going to share this. People need to read and understand

zzrzinn said...

Hopefully this will make sense, I always like what you say, but I have some question..hopefully they make sense.

I don't get how you can functionally teach this kind of more global thinking in a "martial arts" class, and then turn around and teach worse case scenario techniques, which is what much of the physical skills actually are.

I guess what I wonder is HOW you can actually build in that kind of understanding to your average duration martial arts class, in a way that isn't in dischord with the fact that you ARE teaching mostly stuff that happens when all the other options are gone.

I get the advice, and like most of what you put out there it's clearly very practical and deeply insightful..i'm just not sure how "martial artists" (i.e. those who do martial arts, but don't have your extensive experience with violence) can put that into practice in a practical way.

"and remember that no matter who you train, in the really dark moment when he or she absolutely needs the skills, they will not be the eager student you know."

That's the thing though, if you try to teach all this stuff that saves you long before the physical confrontation, and then most of what you do is train for that physical confrontation, it seems to create a real sort of cognitive dissonance in people.

They should get it, but they don't..something just seems off to them.

Rory said...

The computer ate my original answer. Rat Bastard.

Zach- This might be one of the areas where language gets weird. If the image in your head of a martial art is a place where people simulate committing stylized violence, then it is probably incompatible with taking a good hard look at the world... but if it is stylized simulation, is it really martial? Is it more art or pastime?

Do people do both? Sure, some. But some stuff won't survive the transition. You can play children's games until you are old, but you can't preserve a child's feelings about those games. You can train while ignoring the world, but once you cease to ignore, you won't feel the same way about your training.

It comes up, too, in your description of the worst case. I don't see many that really train for that. Instead they redefine the worst case scenario as a really skilled Monkey Dance... which is nowhere near the worst case and also exceedingly unlikely, requiring a superbly skilled and completely insecure fighter to happen.

I guess I'm saying it depends on what you want to cling to.

zzrzinn said...

Thanks for the reply Rory, i'll think on it some, lots to ponder there.

"If the image in your head of a martial art is a place where people simulate committing stylized violence"...

No, that's the definition I wish to avoid, I don't have a concrete definition of martial arts..but the above is definitely a version of it I try to avoid!

". You can train while ignoring the world, but once you cease to ignore, you won't feel the same way about your training"

Very nice, i'm writing that down somewhere to think about later.