Saturday, August 03, 2013

Martial Mistakes

The list won't be exhaustive, and I wish all of the things on here were simple and had simple solutions.  Most martial arts training isn't effective for SD purposes.  Some of it is on the teaching end, and some of that is on the learning end, and some is in the culture.

That last sentence might take a long time to sink in, so examples:  Teaching by rote wires the reactions to the wrong part of the brain for use in a fight.  Bad teaching.  The most exciting aspect of training feels the most realistic, even if it requires the most artificiality to maintain safety.  The student will take away the wrong lesson.  Bad learning.  And a hierarchical cult of obedience is exactly what an exploitive predator dreams about.  Sometimes the culture farms victims.

The dueling paradigm.  Other than for fun or sport or balancing things within a social group, people don't square off.  Because it's dumb.  If you had to take out the biggest, scariest martial athlete you can imagine, how would you do it?  Exactly.  From behind with a weapon.  And maybe friends.

This has a lot of implications for MA/SD.  The paradigm sets you up to expect distance, time and warning, none of which will exist unless you are monkey dancing.  People who are successful at dueling or sparring believe (sometimes, I hope rarely) that the skills will transfer to ambush survival...and they don't.

Unarmed.  With the exceptions of corrections, hospital security, and secure mental facilities, almost no profession goes hands-on unarmed.  Because it is stupid.  If you know things are going to go bad, you get a weapon.  And friends.  And intel.  And surprise.  Crime, by the way, is another profession that uses weapons.  And this goes back to the dueling/sparring paradigm.  To get good at unarmed dueling is to develop skill at a very bad strategy, a strategy which has the sole purpose of stroking your ego.  Don't quit playing.  I love to play.  But don't make it something it's not.  If someone was trying to kill someone you loved would you tap them on the shoulder and step back so that they could face you at the appropriate distance?  Or would you hit them in the back of the neck with the best tool you could find?  Your choice, but one choice is stupid and that choice is the one you have likely practiced most.

Inbreeding.  You train together and you get used to dealing with each other.  When I taught at a dojo, my class were infighters.  They were really good at doing all the things that infighters do.  But nature of a class setting, they were spending all of their time practicing against other infighters, which is a pretty rare category.  Frankly, this is a slight problem for infighters and grapplers.  It takes very little to close range, especially at ambush distance.  But it can be a huge problem for strikers.

Bad metrics.  How do you measure if something works?  The military has a "Lessons Learned" program.  My team, and Search and Rescue and even the Reception crew when I was sergeant there used After-Action Debriefing protocols.  This will get you better continuously-- provided you have actions to debrief.  Without those actions, it is much harder.  I wonder what percentage of students of an SD instructor are attacked on average, how often...  but I feel the numbers are too low.

When people don't have a reality check they have this really stupid tendency to make up a reality check.  'Make up' and 'reality' rarely belong in the same thought.  I almost always pick on karate for this.  When I look at their kata and kihon, they have possibly the best body mechanics for infighting that I've seen... then they choose to test it at sparring range, where it sucks.  Or, worse, point contact range where it sucks AND it screws up everybody's sense of distance and time.

Scenarios can be solid gold to test some things, but only if the scenarios are incredibly realistic (ideally based on real events) and the role players are superb actors and the facilitator really knows his stuff, especially the debrief.  Without that it can ingrain incredibly bad habits.  Doing the instruct's fantasy at high speed is still doing fantasy.

The Safety/Effectiveness scale.  Fighting, especially recovery from ambush, is a very dangerous thing.  One of the biggest challenges is training people to fight without injuring them.  Straight up, if neither you nor your opponent are scared or need medical attention, it's not a fight.  It has nothing to do with fighting.  Trying to approximate the skills without the injuries is a very fine line.  Weapons arts have the advantage in that they can make the weapons safe.  Much harder to do with throws and neck twists.  MA tend to make the techniques safe...and more safe the higher speed the training.  And so the safety artifacts ingrain right along with the techniques.

Modality.  Related to metrics.  The measure of effectiveness is how much damage something does.  Do bones break?  Does the guy go down?  Again, less of a problem in grappling arts, but a hellish issue in striking arts.  When you can't actually do what you are supposed to do (collapse tracheas or cause concussions, say) the instructor's default seems to be whether it looked right.  Fighting is about touch, not about looks.  Pretty, crisp, geometrically clean can be seen.  Power and structure need to be felt.

There's tons more here, but this is a start.


Unknown said...

Out of curiosity, where are you going with this? Some of the statements are large generalities that I think may be interpreted as judgements that you intend to be more nuanced than you wrote (the bit about hierarchies), others are answered, at least partly, by previous writings (difficulty in the safety factor being built in - and you've written before about knowing the flaw in the drill). You end with "There's tons more here, but this is a start." A start to what? I know the title is "Martial Mistakes", and I know sometimes you just get your ideas out and then refine, but I'm curious if this is an 'identify and offer a solution' or is it refining into something else known - or maybe not consciously formed yet?

Josh Kruschke said...

It's a list.

The Budo Bum said...

I'm particularly curious about your comment "Teaching by rote wires the reactions to the wrong part of the brain for use in a fight." Which part of the brain is wired in rote teaching, and why is that the wrong part?

Rory said...

Wes- Not sure where I'm going. The blog is for thinking out loud. A lot of this I've touched on before, so sorry to get repetitive. That said, I feel myself transitioning-- focusing more on how to teach than on what I learned in the jail.

Budo Bum-
Neocortex, higher brain function. Just too slow for it to apply in a fight in most cases.

Unknown said...

Rory - thanks for the reply. That's a fascinating transition. The blog post has a lot of stuff in there as far as filling in nuanced points and implications for those that practice "traditional" martial arts and who are interested in self-defense as well as all sorts of iterations of those two themes. I actually think there's also several sides to that "how to teach". Not sure which how you're looking at and where your sights may be set. Hopefully we can get a chance to chat with a wee dram or three when your around Beantown in September?

The Budo Bum said...

Thank you. If wiring into the neocortex is too slow, what do you recommend? As it happens, I got involved in a discussion about this recently, and it's still going on. If you feel up to pointing towards references, I would really appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

Budo Bum,
Whatever part of the brain gets wired during operant conditioning (via contact-response training). Google tells me that this is pre-frontal (ie: not the fore brain/cognitive part).

Charles James said...

Articles like this one to dispel the misconceptions regarding karate are important. Except, the ones who really need to read this are the ones who will fool themselves into NOT reading this.

Rory said...

Wes-- Wee dram or three sounds great.

BB- In the intro to Ken Murray's "Training at the Speed of Life" he made the assertion that the Air Force set ace at five because their best research indicated that _nobody- remembered their training for the first 3-5 dogfights. I would set the number higher for unarmed. people survived the first few on luck and instinct. once you hit the magic threshold, you had luck, instinct and training. Conditioning comes out-- it can't not. Play makes what you do just a natural and obvious way to move... but training wires to a part of the brain that evidently can't be accessed without experience. That's my best reference for you.

Charles-- it's the way of the world and a cycle. The people who most need anything, say to work out, are the ones who don't do it and they get worse and more in need. Dunning Kruger.

Chiuying said...

I don't believe inbreeding is a problem because the idea is the better yor training partners the better you'll be and the group or school. It's the warrior that makes the art. If we use the analogy of the hot stove you only need to get burned once to know it works. I only need to get punched in the face once to know its painful. 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 would probably cause a knockout blow. There is no absolutes in MA or life for that matter. It's just probability and increasing the odds in your favour.

Malcolm Rivers said...

Rory, a couple questions:

a. how does this relate (if at all) to your post awhile back on training the differences between competition (dueling being a part of this, I assume)and assault mindset butchery? Is circumventing the ingrained social rules, and thereby the competitive aspect of the "fight",only achieved through physical training like the one step drill? Are there mental aspects or parts of the perspective that can be trained? if so, how?

b. how does one define experience? assuming that monkey dances are not part of experience, does one have to be engaged in life or death struggles against resource predators for training to become useful in your estimation?


Malcolm Rivers said...

As a follow up; you mentioned the ability to flip a switch in a surprise assault from shocked/terrified to controlled rage or the assault mindset. Could expand on what kind of training provides that, beyond trial and error in the field for those of us who do not work in fields where such things are a reasonable option?

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Chiuying - My observations and based upon what Rory has said here and before. When one trains in only one style/school/dojo one is facing one set of options, one becomes accustomed to them, and anything that comes from outside of the expectations of ones training will cause a Freeze espetially under high stress.
Yes knowing a punch hurts is fine but that knowledge isn’t everything. Taking the stove analogy. When one knows it will burn you either avoid touching the stove or if you have to touch it you find solutions, like wearing an oven glove. The problem IMO with much training implies that if you learn their style you will be able to touch a hot stove bare handed. Yet they train with an oven that is only warm! Warm isn’t hot :) I also may know I can knock someone out, but if I train with a partner am I modifying my techniques so I don't knock them out, I am conditioning that into my punches, then in a live situation my body falls back to what it has been conditioned to do. Adding in to that the stress response, that I am on receiving end of an ambush and I am getting hit by someone who is not a training partner who is taking care of me but is hitting as hard as they can, sets up a disconnect, from what I “know” from training.

Charles James said...

p.s. I would like to read more of your list, "martial mistakes." Do you plan on adding to this list?

Chiuying said...

I disagree. It's a false assumption that you have to train with a hot stove to know how to be able to touch it. If the stove is hot why are you training to touch it. Hard conditioning is a myth. The martial matrix feeds that myth and people flock to boxing, Thai boxing and wrestling or judo for example punishing their bodies to believe they will condition themselves to take the pain from the hot stove. it's a bunch of nonsense. It's your mind that prepares you. I just say a video of the home invasion in New Jersey where a mom was battered in front of her 3 yr old. Did she need to do hard conditioning to survive that physical abuse. She made up her mind she would not cry out in order to not scare her children.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

OK, I am not saying you have to train hard all the time, perhaps my continuation of your stove analogy wasn't helpful.

Ben Cerasi said...

AS a young martial artists. This triggered my tribal monkey. But 30 seconds later. I began to play with these ideas and see how I can apply them in my teaching. I still have no answers yet.

Women Self Defense Brooklyn said...

hey.........your statements so good about Martial Mistakes. actually i thought Thai boxing and wrestling or judo for example punishing their bodies to believe they will condition themselves to take the pain from the hot stove. it's a bunch of nonsense. thanks for sharing.

Ken Morrow said...

Good thoughts, but some context needs to be explored regarding this learning by rote critique.

Firstly, repetition may not be the mother of ALL learning, but she darned sure is the mother of MOST of it! If it isn't burnt into muscle memory and synaptic response structures by repetition, you SURELY won't use it under unanticipated extreme duress! But...historically...real SD experts assumed that about 10-15% of what you "trained" would translate to the crisis event. And that would be the lowest level stuff you have repeated the most. In karate dojos, I've heard it stated this way: In real combat, the average 1st degree black belt becomes a green belt and the typical 3rd degree black belt becomes a brown belt. I think that your statement actually drives toward the REASON behind this perception of reality.

Secondly, we know...scientifically...that guided imagery enhances the effectiveness of physical skills from sports medicine. This may be the best SAFE tool we have to try and drive this deep enough into the brain to overcome the attempt of the amygdala to hijack our nervous system which comes with our startle and panic responses. It also works well to suppress startle and panic responses. Essentially, we're talking about meditation - visualization of scenarios. KATA and KIHON are SUPPOSED TO BE moving forms of this meditation. 90% or more what happens in dojos today, however, is just doing the drills...going through the motions...and never progresses to an exercise in guided imagery, much less one in PROGRESSIVE (constantly changing) guided imagery (moving meditation).

Third, I think we all know that "there is no substitute for real-world experience." I think we darned well know this is particularly true regarding combat. you pointed out...the Grail Quest is making training both safe AND realistic! Even at the highest levels of attainment to date, the amount of exposure is directly proportional to severe injury or death.

In conclusion, we never give up the attainable good because perfection is illusive. We want to continue to pursue the Holy Grail, even though we never truly expect to capture it. Don't we? This is where we have to continue to innovate and evolve our craft. Sometimes, innovation and evolution require REVIVAL or RENAISSANCE - reformation, if you will. Quite often, we find what we need buried deep in the back of our closets gathering dust.

Gareth said...

Lots of opinion here, so I'm going ask for advice. I work as a pharmacist (so a job that doesn't come up against physical aggression as part of it), I live in an area of Wales in the UK where in general life the threat of violence is low. I avoid areas of town/bars/clubs where I know violence may occur. I am as vigilant as possible when I feel there could be a threat e.g. car parks. If I think it's going to kick of somewhere I leave.

I train in Shotokan karate and whilst we are quite traditional my instructor gears our training towards 'reality' rather than 'competition' although many of us still enjoy competing i.e. learning to make techniques effective rather than to score a point. I have in recent years tried to study more self-protection methods by going on courses, reading and trying to bring some of it into my training when I teach and when training personally.

So my question is: Can someone in my position (and if so how?) REALLY prepare for an event of sudden violence? I seem to have many of the things quoted above against me. I train with regular partners (albeit different sizes), in one style which tends to lean towards striking (although I try to bring in close-fighting etc) and we do have to be aware of damage-control to each other because we're going to work the next day! I use a heavy bag to try and develop power but to date have not hit someone with every thing I have to assess what damage it would do. As I've not (thankfully) had an incident of violence outside the dojo I don't know if I will freeze or what my particular freezes are.

So - any advice? For someone like me what can I do to try and prepare in some way for violence?