Sunday, November 25, 2007

Getting Specific

Been having an interesting exchange of ideas regarding amateurs versus professionals, and what constitutes reason -- whether it is a weak way of dealing with adversity or not -- on Rory and Steve Barnes's blogs. (Links in the list on this page.)

A few years ago, while doing research on "muscle memory," I contacted Professor K. Anders Ericsson, who was then in the psychology department at Florida State U, and considered an expert in the field of cognitive and perceptual motor-skills. We exchanged some email, and he sent me copies of some of his articles; other books containing his materials, I was able to find, and as a result, I garnered a fair amount about how people learn how to move in various disciplines.

The upshots were these: A) It takes a fair amount of practice to get really good at anything, and B) the more specific you are in your training, the better it works when you go out and do the real thing.

You move like you train. You want to be a great basketball player, you don't spend most of your practice time swimming. Yeah, it'll help you get fit generally, but it won't work the specific skills you need for round ball.

Well, duh ...

Science is like that, though; it takes those things that everybody knows and tests them to see if what everybody knows is true or not. Sometimes, common knowledge is dead-0n. Sometimes, it's dead-wrong.

Insofar as martial arts are concerned, the obvious connection is simple: If you want to use the stuff on the street, then you need to get closer in your training to what you might actually run into on the street. Traditional martial arts don't always do this. If you have to put on your gi, or your sarong, slip into your cup, take off your shoes, and then bow to your opponent, and if you do all your training on a nice padded mat, you might not be able to take all your skills with you when you are in street clothes, on concrete or uneven ground, and your opponent doesn't show proper respect to the dojo and then you before he attacks.

If you work out in what you are apt to wear out in public most of the time, and if the surface is sometimes this, other times that, then it's more likely that the moves you can do will be there when you reach for them. No guarantee, but more likely.

Scenario training is even better. You set up situations you might expect to run into, and practice those, amidst distractions -- noise, lights, like that. If you shoot IPSC or IDPA, you are still plinking targets, but they are generally scenario-based -- that target is a hostage, shoot it, you lose; this one over here wears body armor, you have to make a head shot or it doesn't count; the whole situation is in a store or bank or school, and you have to be mindful of your position, cover, concealment.

Another way is to use real people, but with paintball or airsoft guns. A training blade with a marking edge -- chalk or ink or even lipstick -- shows you right away where you would have gotten cut had the knife been sharp.

And don't kid yourself, adrenaline makes a difference. Stuff you can do easily when you are relaxed sometimes just goes away when your heart is going like a punk drummer on crank and epinepherine is coming out your pores. I saw video once of a state trooper in a shootout with a guy he stopped: both emptied their weapons --- and both missed each other from fifteen feet away.

What will serve you generally is not always what you need for specifics. If you are a street cop or a corrections officer, your skills will have to be of a somewhat different order than if you are a civilian. LEO's have different constraints, and its generally considered bad form if you shoot somebody, or break open a skull on every shift. Pretty much, you have to be better at it in such situations: It's much easier to protect yourself if you don't care what happens to your attacker than if you have to bring him in alive and relatively whole.

If you are a master of kickass-fu, your three-year-old jumping on your crotch feet-first is more likely to damage you than somebody your size who wants to take a poke at you. You don't want to hurt the child, and the less damage you allow yourself to inflict, the harder it is to control an attack without risk to yourself. An elbow to the temple is safer for the thrower than a wristlock come-along.

Dealing with a drunk who wants to take a swing at you in a bar is not the same as dealing with a convicted murderer serving life who is in a cell who doesn't want to come out. The skill-set you need is different.

Then again, the murderer is probably less likely to have a gun or a serious knife in his cell than the drunk in the bar, even if his attitude is apt to be nastier. (Never know but that the drunk in the bar is a convicted murderer who just made parole, is breaking it, and isn't planning on going back inside, no matter what ...)

This is the basic conundrum with martial arts, and why the better ones offer way to escalate or dial down a response -- you sometimes won't know what you are dealing with until it happens. Best to assume the worst, be prepared for that, and then if it is less, survive and be happy. Assume the best and you are wrong? It can be fatal.

Guy wants to take my head off in line at the bank? I assume he at least has a knife he can get to. If I'm wrong, no big deal. If I don't consider it and he does have a blade? That would be bad.

Point of all this is that if you fight like you train, then you should train for how you believe you will need to fight, push comes to shove. That is where your time is best spent. Me, I don't plan on spending any time in an MMA ring. Nor much time on the mean streets and lowlife bars, nor as an officer in Sing Sing, so I'm not going to work those scenarios all that much.

Attacked with leashed dogs in one hand, walking along a suburban street at noon? Somebody coming through the window while I'm at my word processor? Those I need to know how to deal with ...


Dave Huss said...

Hi Steve,
I am a thinking that I need to practice that sitting at the word processor defence. Problem is, it will probably be my kid trying to smack me in the head with a plastic lightsabre. Don't have a specific counter designed for that one....

steve-vh said...

Been spending some time crosstraining (and training of) a Commando Krav Maga instructor. They have some very good scenario stuff they work.
The most interesting so far was, they train knife defense at 6AM in the local park. Why? Well you're apt to be a bit more groggy...

AlanL said...

Tsmall children are dangerous, sure enough. I thought my several years of fencing at school, thirty years ago, would be enough to protect my knuckles when I got the balsa wood sword and my four year old had the pine one. As it turned out I was mistaken (those several years didn't include much saber)

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, my kids are -- mostly -- past that stage, being married and with children of their own. When the grandkids come to visit, I keep the baby gate closed.

Between swords, canes, and assorted knives, there is plenty of hardware in the office for mad UPS men who might kick in the front door to run amok ...

Krav Maga seems to be a good art for folks looking for self-defense. Truth is, most of what you are going to use in a dust-up is apt to be the basics, and from what I've seen, they drill those pretty well.

At six a.m., I'm more likely to shoot somebody. Too much work to use a knife ...

Me, I'm not so interested in self-defense per se, since I think I have enough tools for that, most of the time. I'm interested in learning a system to mastery. Won't live that long, but, hey, it's a target for which I can aim.

Dan Moran said...

"Somebody coming through the window while I'm at my word processor?"

I must know a dozen guys that's happened to....

More seriously ... why do you want to learn a martial art system to mastery? I have to say, I've just never gotten that. I boxed when I was younger -- had an idea I might make money at it. The third time I got knocked out, I quit, and aside from fooling around with buddies have never gone near it again.

Getting hit hurts. Want to be Bad, I do understand that -- but I'm pretty sure you are Bad, by now. Beyond that, the payoff baffles me.

Steve Perry said...

Pretty simple, Dan -- same reason anybody wants to learn anything to the point of mastery. I don't climb mountains, so going up the biggest or steepest ones doesn't do it for me. I don't play golf, so trying for sub-par isn't my thing. I gave up tennis a long time ago.

The martial dances attract me.

Yeah, it started out as a way to keep from being bullied, but it got past that at some point and became an end in itself. Yoga was designed originally, as I understand it, to give the monks enough stamina to still in meditation for long periods. Eventually, yoga became something in and of itself. Not a means to a goal, but the goal.

If you are the kind of guy who would, time permitting, play basketball for a couple hours every day, to get as good at it as you could, while still having fun, then it ought to be easy for you to see -- substitute "pentjak silat" for "basketball," there you go.

And aren't you the guy who aches all day after a weekend session of round ball? Joints killing you?

Pain is pain. You are willing to pay some for what you want, if you really want it enough.

When I was younger, I dabbled in six or seven arts, getting various colored belts, including a brown and a black one, but I never stayed with one for more than three years, and most of them, much less. None of them held my attention past that.

When I came across silat, it called to me. It's fairly simple, but not easy, and I want to master the patterns of moment to that placee when I can transcend them. At the top end, the really good players start looking more and more alike.

Not so much about being bad -- a gun nullifies the best unarmed martial art -- but about being disciplined and adept in a place a lot of people don't want to go.

As above, so below, and this kind of stuff extends into all corners your life. I would not be half as confident in front of an audience if I hadn't spent so much time in martial arts. Once you *know* something about yourself, you don't feel a need to prove it. If you are sure you can deck the asshole ragging on for whatever, it saves you from having to do it, so you both benefit.

And if does take a swing? Probably you'll have something to answer with ...

Dan Moran said...

All right, I know I sound like an idiot now -- is this stuff really fun? The time I've spent around martial artists, they've always seemed awfully grim and serious to me.

Maybe I am an idiot -- this is a working theory, this week. Certainly basketball is fun, to the degree I'll stagger around the next day happily, as the cost of doing business. If that's where you're coming at Silat, I get that. I've just never seen that, from the outside looking in.

Boxing sure as hell isn't fun.

Steve Perry said...

Well, the big difference is this: In boxing, you know you are going to get hit, a lot, that's how the game is played. Every match, every round, it's leather to the head or body, and you can't duck 'em all.

It's a contact sport. There rules, refs, judges, you wear protective gear, and the goal is to win the match, either by out-boxing our out-punching the other guy, which means hitting him as often as possible.

Boxing is, in essence, a duel.

The goal in street fight is to walk away with all your teeth intact and suffering as little injury or discomfort as possible.

Often the participants won't know each other, won't have any idea of what the other guy knows or doesn't know, and there is nobody standing by if somebody fouls the other guy by kicking him in the nuts and then breaking a barstool over his head.

It's not a duel, it's usually a sneak attack.

If I'm doing my thing right in a silat class, I don't get hit at all. If I learn it right, I can take it with me when I go home. That's the goal.

And since, in practice, we don't want to break our toys, we don't deliver our hits at full power. (Padded gloves actually made boxing more dangerous. Without the padding, you don't punch as hard -- much more likely to break your hand. People got cut more, but in the barehanded days, matches could run fifty, a hundred rounds. A taped hand in sixteen-ounce gloves can break, but mostly, you can hit harder with less risk to your own fist.)

If you KO your opponent in a boxing match, that's a big win.

In martial arts sparring, if you get hurt, it's usually an accident. You are trying to learn; *winning* the round doesn't matter.

A twelve-round boxing match involves more than half an hour of bobbing and weaving and punching, and chances are you will be hit solidly dozens of times.

The average street fight lasts under a minute.
If I can block or parry an attack and deliver my response properly, I'm home drinking a beer before the end of round one.

Silat is not a sport. It's maybe not being maimed or killed because you have the tools to prevent it.

What's not to like?

Steve Perry said...

Oh, yeah, to finish the thought:

It is fun. For me. We laugh in class, joke around, and you have to figure that, me pushing fourteen years of doing this particular style, if I wasn't having a good time, why would I bother?

And ask anybody, I'm an amiable fellow, hardly ever serious, with enough smile lines to wrinkle a bus full of teenagers.

Dan Moran said...

OK, fun is fun. Just out of curiosity, how often do you work out, and how often do you walk out of the studio with bruises?

Dan Moran said...

And yeah, you're sure right about the gloves. I've never been hit as hard by a bare fist as I have been by guys wearing gloves. Gloves protect the hands, not the people getting hit. When I started boxing I got hit once so hard I ended up in the chairs -- didn't know how to move and didn't keep my hands up when I started to get tired. But that punch was from a guy about my height and weight -- 170 lbs, about, we were both light heavyweights. I've been hit by bigger men than that, but not that hard, ever.

Steve Perry said...

Currently, our class meets but once a week, for a couple hours. Me, I try to do some basic stuff -- forms, combinations, working the bag, like that -- every day. Probably average forty-five minutes most days, counting warm-up and -down.

I don't count the rope climb or chins or weights as part of the silat workout.

Bruises? Depends on what we are covering, but they are part and parcel of banging arms and thumping and bumping. Some classes, none. Others, some nice ones.

Usually don't notice them until later, and we have a nice goop we rub into them that clears them up pretty quick.

I've had only one injury I'd consider serious, and that was a non-contact thing. We were in a cold garage, I wasn't warmed up properly, and I tore a calf muscle when I shoved off suddenly.

Part of getting up there age-wise is that you need to pay more attention to such things, and that one was my fault.

We do wear mouth-guards when we spar, and sometimes grappling gloves. For some techniques, we put on boxing gloves and throw hard shots at the other guy's chest, but these are pretty circumscribed.

You do need to know how it feels to get hit, in case it ever happens, so you realize you can keep going.

Overall, I'd say we don't get hurt any worse than somebody in a hard-played pick-up basketball game, and certainly less than guys hard-playing touch footbal. Last time I recall doing that, I had to get my lip stitched.

During the summer in the sandpit, grappling, I sometimes get sand in my eyes. I don't care much for that.

Way I figure it, getting bruised in class might teach you enough to keep from getting your head bashed in out there in crazyland. As insurance goes, it's not that spendy.

Besides, real men don't spend all their time in front of word processors -- they need to work up a sweat and bang around some.