Monday, February 06, 2017

Thresholds and Knife Defense

A while ago I got drafted to teach a weapons defense workshop. It's not something I teach often. I've written about the format here (it has changed in the intervening years).

The last post (just below this one) back in November I talked a bit about thresholds.
The threshold ├╝ber-basics. These are levels of experience, completely separate from training. There are likely many more levels I've never experienced. Just as training is no substitute for experience, experience alone is no substitute for training-- it's entirely possible to be an unconsciously competent but shitty driver.  The levels:
 No experience. You can't even know what you don't know. You can have a lot of information and tools. You can be an excellent instructor of those tools.
1 Encounter. Mentioned in previous post. Tend to be focused on a single answer and teaching tends to be more for personal therapy than the benefit of the students.
Conscious incompetence. Somewhere, and following Ken Murray's lead on this it's around 3-5 real force incidents, the shock becomes less overwhelming and you start trying to apply your skills. Side effect, you realize how little your really know.
Conscious competence. You still have to think, but you're starting to get good at it.
Unconscious competence. You deal with the problem without consciously thinking about it. Tend to make poor teachers, because they don't consciously recall what they do, and a lot of technical nuance has become complete mental gestalts.
Split mind. I've only heard one other person talk about this, but you let your body/hindbrain deal with the primary problem unconsciously and divert your conscious mind to something useful. In my case, it was almost always composing the report.

This might seem exotic applied to self-defense, but it mirrors most people's experience learning to drive (manual transmission, at least) pretty well.

After the weapon defense seminar in Manhattan, a friend asked why I don't teach it more often, and I pulled out the line that it would be stupid to train under a judo coach that only had five matches.

That's only part of what's going on. My reluctance stems exactly from the threshold model. The techniques themselves are clean. Designed around the attacks that happen. Efficient. Gross motor. I know the key points and failure points. Are they answers? In Knife defense? You gotta be kidding. But they are better than zero percent chances, which is the best I can offer when it comes to knife defense.

If I'd never had anyone try to stab me or only one person, I'd probably be eager to teach this stuff. Unconscious incompetence and confidence often go together. But on knife stuff I am solidly at conscious incompetence. Emphasis on the conscious. I'm completely aware and very focused on how much I don't know. How many of those five encounters depended on luck and maybe instinct...and knowing that luck can't be taught.

If I'd had a few more people try (and was lucky enough to be intact) I'd have the confidence to share.

Hmmm. Two posts in a row working out my cognitive biases. Pattern?


Charles James said...

Welcome back, makes my head hurt tho with all this stuff.

Still Gravity said...

Great post. Good that you are back at sharing your ideas.

Unknown said...

Very thoughtful and honest. I liked the Governor scenario as a medium for studying fear and self assessment and might weave that in to my own courses, perhaps in a shorter form. My consistent frustration is that few defences address the tricky point of retraction. Tricky but key. You see posed photos showing wonderful locks and strikes. I would never attempt them and only know of a few martial artists that could get away with it.

I was recently at a knife defence seminar in NY run by a very senior and well respected martial artist. We practiced some great defences which we really enjoyable. After the seminar he asked me what I thought. I said that as enjoyable as the seminar was that the defences didn't address retraction where the risk of getting cut is extremely high. Also there were no verbals. He asked what I meant and I said give me the knife, I will tell you exactly where I will stab you (tanto) and you can use any technique you want to stop me. I bet him a 100 dollars he would get cut. He accepted the challenge. I stood in front of him and did nothing for a few seconds. Then I shouted at him and swore like a seasoned docker, as I launched the attack. He froze and by the time he recovered I had bull dogged him about 10 times. Just street stuff really. Fair play to him, he said that he would rethink his courses just as I have done over the years. He kept his money !

Like you I have so far survived attacks with a flick knife, broken glass decanter, machete in Kingston Jamaica using a bit of skill and a great deal of luck. I feel that I am lucky to be alive and that the knife or edged weapon is the most dangerous weapon we face. Fairbairn's research on arterial targets for knife fighting should take away any bravado about facing a knife.This is why the KEWAP courses developed by Steve Timperley are so important emphasising prevention. I just wish more schools would take them up. Thanks for sharing and hope that my comments are helpful. Best wishes, Roger.

Josh Kruschke said...


Russ said...

Old thread, but.... only five matches? That's probably about four or five more than most people who teach knife defense in martial arts classes! Which means if people aren't learning from you, they're learning from somebody with zero or one matches.