Wednesday, August 07, 2013

In Reply

Lots of comments on the last post and some of them require more thoughtful answers than I can do in a short space.

Preamble, though:  there is a reason why SD and martial arts are so ripe for misinformation.

One, of course, is that so little of it is tested by so few people.  Of the few who test it, very few will have multiple encounters.  Outside of certain professions, if you have had to fight off bad guys a lot, you need to make some lifestyle changes.  Outside of those professions it would take an extraordinary level of stupidity to get into enough situations to make someone an 'expert streetfighter.'

Related to that (we can call it problem 1a) is that the experience garnered will be in a very specific venue.  Most of a bouncer's experience is with one threat profile (drunk idiot) and two scenarios (breaking up fights or being challenged.)

Problem 1b would be the fact that after a certain number of encounters your internal wiring appears to change and desperate chaos becomes something else.  A lot of us wind up teaching what we would do and can't really remember the first few encounters where it all seemed so fast and chaotic and the brain wasn't working

Second, martial arts is an endeavor that hits really hard at one of the core questions many people share: If things got really bad, who would I be?  Training gives people the illusion of an answer to that question.  It's not an answer-- we've all seen tournament champions choke-- but it feels like one.

And that leads to 2a: When you feel you have an answer but deep down you know it is an illusion, you are almost driven to put all of your mental resources into justifying it.  And so almost every practitioner has long involved rationalizations why their system/training method/teacher or whatever is the best.

It gets really, really tribal very quickly.

Budo Bum wanted to know about wiring to the wrong part of the brain.  Cognition is the slowest part of the brain.  It hesitates.  The more you think in words, the slower your reaction time.  We've all experienced it.  Which means that teaching in words and targeting reason tends to be ineffective in emergencies.  Note- I'm not saying give up logic and reason.  They work very well.  Unreasonable things are unreasonable because they don't work.  But the part of the mind that processes things in that way can't keep up with chaotic action, so use reason in your system and designing your lesson plans, but target a different part of the brain in the actual teaching.

My best practice right now is to concentrate training on conditioning, (not physical conditioning, but operant conditioning) that wires a stimulus/response; or on play with the goal of making effective movement just feel natural.  The human brain appears to be wired to learn faster at play than by rote AND a properly designed game has operant conditioning built into it.

Chiyung disagrees that inbreeding is bad.  Inbreeding happens in every insular art. I have a good attack so you come up with a response to that attack and I come up with a response to your response and you... within three iterations you have created something that only works within your school and for your reasons.  Case in point is the turtle in judo.  Turtling is a defensive position where you are down on your hands and knees, forehead pressed to the ground and your own fingers inside your collar to prevent chokes.  We used to spend a lot of time on breaking the turtle... but the turtle itself could only arise in a venue where you weren't allowed to simply boot the guy to death.

Inbreeding is the perfect word for this, because from the outside we can see the hemophilia and cleft palates and harelips and mental health issues... but from the inside the practitioners (of inbreeding) call it refinement.  Same in pharaonic dynasties as in some martial arts.

Chiyung brought up a lot of stuff and I don't want to pick on him, but I couldn't have made up a series of naive arguments this good.

"It is the warrior who makes the art."  The individual, absolutely.  I have seen natural winners take completely worthless systems and use them effectively.  And I know two instructors in my own favorite system who can't fight worth a damn.  But warrior?  My thoughts on that are here. Have you, working as a team, destroyed a group of other, breathing, human beings?  Have you buried friends?  Have you unwillingly accepted an order to risk your life and done it anyway, to the best of your ability, because other people would die if you weren't willing to sacrifice yourself?  Unless you have done ALL, not some, of those things, you aren't a warrior.  And training in a martial art makes you a warrior to the exact extent that watch a Steven Seagal movie makes you a Navy SEAL.  No more, no less.  And for the record, I don't claim the warrior label.

"I only need to get punched in the face once to know it is painful."  Nope, you don't even need to get punched once to know that.  But here's the deal-- how many does it take before you know you can shrug it off and keep fighting?  How long before you can differentiate between pain and damage and press through pain and adapt to damage?  Because if you can't do that, you can't fight.  You can only play at fighting.

"Do I need to knock someone out to know if I can? I don't believe so because science shows that concussive force to the heard (sic) would probably cause a knockout blow."

Fighting is really idiosyncratic.  The fact that someone believes that concussion=knockout is a sure sign of serious misinformation.  I've had five concussions that I clearly remember (pun) but I had to report seven for a medical in 86' and at least one of the ones I remember was after that... so I've had at least eight severe concussions.  And only lost consciousness from one event.  And only for a second.  Science understands concussions well; unconsciousness less well.  And because science understands something, does that mean you can do it?  Science knows how to go to the moon.

Malc asked about training the difference between dueling and assault.  (Good to see you typing here, BTW) He rightly understands that the hardest part is getting past our social conditioning and wondered if that could only be done by physical drills.

That's the hardest part and in a lot of ways the big question.  Every aspect of physical self-defense violates social taboos.  Every touch in a self-defense situation is a bad touch.  One of the things that sometimes makes martial arts ineffective is an attempt  to play at self-defense while keeping everyone safely within their social boundaries-- and so you get blackbelts who are uncomfortable with close contact.  Does that make any sense at all?

Even the physical drills for this must concentrate on the mental aspects.  Grabbing faces is physically easy but for most people psychologically hard.

My soundbite right now is that SD training has a progression: First, you have to make an emotionally safe place to do physically dangerous things.  Then you have to make a physically safe place to do emotionally dangerous things.

The second thing is that the mechanics of a physical assault are entirely different than the mechanics of a duel or sparring match.  So a lot of training (for assault survival) goes into conditioning immediate action to a stimulus and after the first half-second fighting by touch instead of sight.  There are a lot more drills that help.  There's a reason why I'm partial to blindfolded infighting.

And another prizewinner from Malc-- what constitutes experience?  It's all experience.  Experience in a dojo is experience in a dojo.  Experience in a ring is experience in a ring.  Experience working the door or as a soldier or as a cop is all what it is.  But it isn't any more than it is.  So if you Monkey Dance with people every Friday night at the bar, you can have a lot of experience and be really good at that... but have absolutely nothing to teach a person who is being dragged to a secondary crime scene.

As for flipping the switch, I don't know a training method that provides the real thing.  The training method that mimics it though (and that is often good enough) is a conditioned response to get you through the first half second.

Chiyung again: "It's a false assumption that you have to train with a hot stove to know how to be able to touch it."
Correct.  But you have to touch a hot stove to know if what you have learned is correct.  That is one of the big dangers with martial arts being ripe for myth.  This statement is factually correct, and also serves as a perfect foil so that your students don't test and question.  If your students accept this one statement, you can teach them utter crap and they will never, ever figure it out.  That's the danger.

Chiyung also seems to believe that hard conditioning is a myth.  There are some things you can't condition.  You can't make your belly impervious to blades and concussions make you more susceptible to later concussions. Can't toughen the brain.  But you can toughen bone and muscle.  More importantly, pain is almost entirely imaginary and exposure to pain makes it easier to deal with.  And people who sit back and imagine pain don't do nearly as well with it as people who have pushed through before.

Wrap up.  I know this has been long.  More important than the martial mistakes-- what do you tell yourself to pretend that they aren't mistakes?  What is the narrative that allows you to do something you know is wrong?  And how do you justify passing it along to your students?

Charles hit it on the head when he said (paraphrase) that the people who most need to challenge themselves, to question, are the ones least likely to do it.  Dunning Kruger isn't just a phenomenon, it is the mechanism.


Malcolm Rivers said...

thanks, rory that gives me a lot to think about.

last question (i think) for the time being. When training counter assault how does speed factor in when finishing the fight? e.g. if in training I respond at full speed (using appropriate protective equipment) would it ingrain bad habits to slow down after the initial response so that i'm training to see and hit available targets?

Rory said...

I'm going to hit that one sideways, Malc. What about training by touch? faster than sight and fewer mistakes...

Malcolm Rivers said...

great point, touch would be much more useful under realistic conditions; low light, blood in the eyes, and is more reliable than sight. I suppose I should go check out the chiron manuals so I'm not asking questions that you've answered already elsewhere (if that's what I'm doing, my apologies.) touch would definitely be better than sight but what I'm concerned about is the change in speed.

full disclosure: i'm much more of a striker than anything else (for whatever that's worth) so the angle i'm approaching from is being concerned with training that ingrains bad habits (ineffective targeting, poor power mechanics, etc.)

The way I see it, training the counter assault slowly could give an unrealistic perception of timing (assaults happen faster) but given the constraints of armored practice, there's only so much you can do at realistic speeds without putting your partners or yourself at risk, hence the idea of practicing reacting with realistic speed to the assault initially and then following up slowly to focus on power generation, efficiency and the like. good point about touch being more effective though, that hadn't really crossed my mind

Flinthart said...

"The human brain appears to be wired to learn faster at play than by rote"

About the only useful fact I took away from undergrad psychology was the observation that the young of all mammal species exhibit play behaviour -- and that in all mammal species except one, that play behaviour is the single most important learning pathway towards acquiring adult survival skills. Kittens sneak and pounce. Puppies run and play-fight.

I don't have to tell you which species is stupid enough to make the education of their offspring a form of work. But once you know that mammals are hardwired to learn through play, a whole lot of things become much clearer.

Good post. Thanks.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Indeed we are stupid to make it work. There are obviously things we do need to improve through deliberate practice as well, the trick is to make things feel like fun and play even when they are deliberate...

Louie said...

Do you see martial training value in jumping unprepared into new, non-martial activities? For example, someone who has never liked dancing or taken a lesson in his life, to go to a club or walk into a medium-level dance class? Just to see how well he adapts to a completely new set of rules?

I ask because I completely agree with your statement that violence is such a huge area of study that you can only possibly gain expertise in very small sections of it. This seems like one way of making sure your skills are more general purpose rather than overtrained for one specific goal.

Rory said...

Malc- It's not perfect (no simulation can be) so I tend to practice the counter assault at high speed and then do a separate, more controlled lesson on the follow up. Armor can get you around some of this, but Dracula's Cape for attacks from the front/flank and the counter-assault to attacks from behind can blow through most armor.

Flintheart and EHCG- yes. Be deliberate in planning the games, but let the games be games. I think one of the reasons few do this is that the instructor must give up the sense of control. If you allow play, your students _will_ discover things you never considered and they _will_ eventually outgrow you. And if you are teaching for ego, you can't let that happen.

We've turned learning into work, IMO, because education is far more about control than learning. And all but a few people are terrified of real creativity.

Louie- Leave martial arts completely out of it. Is there any downside whatsoever to doing new things? Especially playing with new ways to move? Anything that helps you see, feel, think or move in a different way makes your world bigger.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

As you have said about hierarchies, I also see it with people coming to teaching and developing skills with an open or closed mind and MM has on shared spaces.
It can also be tricky because most people have forgotten that play is for learning and not just fun. Structuring the play so they don't just play a game for it's own sake.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little unsure of what you're trying to achieve with the warrior point.

It seems like your position is "you think x means y, but it means z". Your definition certainly isn't bad, but Chiyung isn't using "warrior" it in some idiosyncratic way, so what is the purpose of saying "you're using this word wrong"?

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

In my experience, we are dealing with a subject that most people have little or no experience of. SO much of how we try to communicate it, is through words, which by nature are incomplete shorthand models for what they define. It becomes much more difficult when words are used in the wrong context or out of what they actually mean.

Steve Perry said...

So the eternal question: Through human history and, I suspect, pre-history, there have been people in danger who stepped up and somehow got the job done.

Some of them were untrained and probably just able to let go of shit that got in their way; some of them were trained, we see all kinds of instances of it, and the kind of training is the question, isn't it? Does whacking somebody with a wooden sword offer any use to doing it with sharp steel?

Other than shrugging it off as, well-you-can't-teach-it, or telling folks that, you know, you won't be ready no matter how much you train, so better to doubt yourself than feel confident, what can you do as a teacher? The only thing I can see from this mindset is the drill has to be the same as the reality, and you have to do it a lot to hardwire it in.

Recall that kid who waltzed into the Beaverton City Hall and fought six cops, multiple pepper sprays and seven hits from tasers, whilst stealing a pistol and capping one off before they finally controlled him? My notion is that if he had some kind of training that was ingrained enough to stick when the drugs kicked in, he would have been way more dangerous that he was.

Maybe you can't teach attitude, but you can teach learned-reflexes. Do it enough, it kicks in. You see motorcycle guys dive and roll when bike go down; pole-vaulters throw back flips when the pole breaks, and guys on fire dropping and rolling.

What is the Way ... ?

The Budo Bum said...

Rory, thanks for the fuller explanation. I can only agree. For the same reasons I prefer classical 2-man kata style practice to sparring. Whether folks call it kata or pattern practice or some other fancy name, it trains the fundamental lessons into the brain beyond the level of cognition.

Chiuying said...

"The individual, absolutely. I have seen natural winners take completely worthless systems and use them effectively. And I know two instructors in my own favorite system who can't fight worth a damn. But warrior? My thoughts on that are here. Have you, working as a team, destroyed a group of other, breathing, human beings? Have you buried friends? Have you unwillingly accepted an order to risk your life and done it anyway, to the best of your ability, because other people would die if you weren't willing to sacrifice yourself? Unless you have done ALL, not some, of those things, you aren't a warrior. And training in a martial art makes you a warrior to the exact extent that watch a Steven Seagal movie makes you a Navy SEAL. No more, no less. And for the record, I don't claim the warrior label."
Whoa low blow! I used the word warrior very innocently and please pick on me because I am naive and for the record I am not a troll. The play at fighting is what is being done anyways because no amount of hard training will ever be like the reality of violence so what's the point. Damaging your body and boasting about the injuries you have during training so you can prepare yourself to be damaged by the felon like some MA do is a joke. Training should make you stronger not weaker. My point about knocking out someone was more about damaging your training partner. You can't train full force for a obvious reasons but do you need to? And Why?
"That is one of the big dangers with martial arts being ripe for myth. This statement is factually correct, and also serves as a perfect foil so that your students don't test and question. If your students accept this one statement, you can teach them utter crap and they will never, ever figure it out. That's the danger."
The danger is that martial artists are people and people lie and cheat. 200+ yrs of history for some arts that survived countless wars and it has to be tested? The application should be modified but the techniques to break the human body are flawless. The problem is they've been bastardized over time. I still can't get over the fact that a NJ mom was able to survive a vicious violent attack with no training that would have broken many seasoned MA. By the way anecdotal or personal evidence doesnt help much to support a point. I have read both your books and enjoyed them. Very helpful thx.

Chiuying said...

The other point about inbreeding I also disagree with because its not a problem with the art it's how it's taught and how the student interprets the lesson. If the student understands to not be a slave to the art but its master (from Wong sheung Leung) you won't fall into that trap. Basically the techniques should teach the principles and concepts of the art. The principles and concepts are universal and you see the same themes across all martial arts. Sometimes you see it taught or sometimes the instructor does it unconsciously because they understand the basics at such a deep level. Some arts teach these principles and concepts from day one. Simplicity, directness and economy of motion is seen over and over in most arts.

Rory said...

Chiuying- Sometimes I write sparsley and assume people will draw conclusions. re warrior. If one mythologizes the practitioner, is there any chance that the practice itself isn't mythologized?
Your other important question you answered yourself-- "people lie and cheat" + "200+ years of history" and "survived countless wars". What are the odds that none of the people in your instructor lineage lied about that? That's what _you_ said people do. Unarmed arts have played a pivotal role in exactly one war that I am aware of, and that role was to make sure that there was a profound loss to a much smaller but armed force.

"The techniques to break the human body are flawless" No, they aren't and this is huge. I write about it here:
And other places. Bullets to the head aren't reliable. Angulating an elbow almost 30 degrees out of true had no effect on one threat I had to cuff. I've continued to play with a knee snapped completely backwards. This is for you and your safety. If you believe in the words 'always' and 'never' someone is feeding you a load of crap that will get you killed if, gods forbid, you ever have to rely on it.
Your brain is your first line of defense. Please, please apply it to what you think you know and to your training methods.
Chiuying-- I have absolutely no interest in whether you ever agree with me, but I don't want your training to get you hurt.

Chiuying said...

Lol. Too late for the training getting me hurt. I am sure I have some brain damage for the mount of blows I've taken to the head. Thx for the advice i mean that seriously. Damn I missed your seminar but you probably would have thrown me out for being too argumentative. Overall I enjoy your blogs because you definitely think out of the box but I think it's a slippery slope because there is nothing I am aware of too satisfy your high expectations for unarmed arts. My point about breaking the human body was more about how much pressure joints can take or choking someone out. Breaking someone mentally is very difficult as you know. The other point is if hand combat was so inferior why has it lasted so long and you see basically the same techniques across cultures? And almost every art I know has both armed and unarmed combat. I read your blog on confidence and you probably could write another book on that. Funny, I had a conversation about that with my instructor and a traing buddy who had problems sparing a boxer who was about 260. I told him to punch him in the throat. No one can tough out a rear choke though. The problem is getting it on...........Nuff said.