Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I Know You Think You Understand What You Thought I Meant ...

On Rory's blog, a spirited and interesting discussion on real violence on the street, versus martial arts. I feel I should speak to it here, rather than to continue to clog his comment column.

First, Rory is, according to a couple of martial artists I know, deadlier than box full of angry puff adders. Real world experience, even though he has a background in classical martial arts back along the line.

The gist of what he's been saying, as I read it, is that most martial arts don't work in real time, and that, in fact, they can do you more harm than good if your expectations don't match your actual ability.

I understand something of this, being that ole debbil Expectation has been dogging me most of my life.

Still, and all, while Rory's abilities to kick ass and take names from the dead guy's wallet later aren't in question here, his explanation of why what he does works, and why what I do probably won't? It leaves something to be desired.

Martial arts cover a wide spectrum these days, ranging from pure sport, spiritual paths, to stuff not so far from the jungle as to have gotten smoothed out.

Martial arts -- literally, the arts of war -- mostly came originally from folks who had occasion to use them to save their asses. In the case of a technique that worked, you kept it and passed it along. If it didn't and you got killed because it didn't, that one didn't get taught -- not by you, at least.

So, if an art was designed to go mano a mano on a street or a battlefield and you used it thus and it kept you alive, then it would seem to have a basis in real function.

Of course, the further away a teacher or student are from the guy who used it thus, the more apt it is to be watered-down, if for no other reason than getting altered in translation so that its real meaning gets fuzzed, or lost entirely.

Thou shall not kill is not the same as Thou shall not murder.

Me, I study under a guy who has had to use the stuff, and I'm one teacher away from his teacher, who used it a lot, including knives. Plus this art is the old-style, no-sport stuff that came out of the bushes and hasn't gotten particularly civilized compared to some that have been around a long time and had some of the sharper edges rounded off.

Yeah, I like it, and it certainly seems useful. And while it's theoretical for me, it isn't for the guy showing to me. I've never been to India, but that doesn't mean it isn't there.

Rory is saying that pure rote-learning can get you into trouble, and I buy that. That being able to react to a situation fluidly and without "right" moves that might get you tripped up crosswise is better than punch-comes-block-left-counter-punch-right. I'm okay with that, too.

That in real life, shit happens, and things don't always go neatly and cleanly, and when the wolf shows up, it's not the trained poodle puppy you've been wrasslin' with.

Still with him.

But: He hasn't explained in a way I can see, that, if experience is the the only real teacher, how somebody can pass along what he knows -- or how somebody can learn anything useful. Or what makes his moves work when mine seem doomed to fail, since in the end, we are working with the same basic architecture. Yeah, he might be driving a new Mercedes and me a rattletrap Chevy, but the basic transportation function surely seems the same. My ride might not get me there as quickly or in the same style, but it does have wheels and an engine.

I argue that physics are what they are; that bipeds at the bottom of the gravity well all have similar limitations, and so learning to move efficiently is better than not. (He also says that physics has failed him a couple times, and that one I'm having a little trouble buying; if not physics, then we are talking magic, and that's a whole other game.)

I'd be interested in some of the martially-educated taking a look at the recent threads and telling me where I am in error. Naturally, I don't believe that I am, but I have been wrong before and thought I wasn't, and the search for Truth must be ongoing. I'd rather find that than be smug in my belief that I already have it ...


Rory said...

I think you're reading more into it than I am trying to say.

Experience is not the only real teacher, but it will show you holes that nothing else will. It will also, if you have been very unlucky in your choice of teachers, show you that some of the things you thought were pivotal or foundational are in fact holes themselves... I don't know enough about your style, but I can show you some in Arnis, Judo and Karate where flaws have become "good technique" over just a few generations of abstraction.

I love your car analogy and it might be pivotal. I don't have a mercedes. I have an old beat up pickup. There is a very real possibility that any good martial artist has a better engine, better performance and better suspension than me... but the ones that get killed are the ones looking at the dashboard instead of the road. (they will also get in trouble if they are thinking 'race' and I am thinking 'crash'. ;))

The physics thing- I can only report what I've seen. I once threw a guy with a good high shoulder throw and he changed direction in mid air. Don't know how, don't know why... it's just a data point, but it violates the conservation of momentum law as I understand it.

The second was a guy went to punch my partner and I took two long side steps, shoved my partner out of the way and caught the fist in midair... two steps, a shove and a catch faster than a short hook and he moved first.

So, it's only two, nothing consistent, not enough to be useful or give a clue to some kind of magic, but it sure knocked my certainty hard.

Dan Moran said...

I probably shouldn't touch this, because all the martial artists are going to jump up and down on me .....

I've been shot at three times, but never by anyone standing particularly close to me. I've had one knife fight, which I won by running over my guy with my shopping cart (I was homeless at the time) and running away as fast as my very-fast 17 year old legs could take me. I've had one genuine melee where my life was probably saved by a racist white big rig driver who did his level best to run down the Mexicans who were planning to kill me and my friends, crashed his truck into the Pup'N'Taco I was working at, and jumped out crowbar in hand screaming "Come on baby!" The Mexican boys fled and about two minutes later the police arrived -- one of them approached me with his hand on his gun and made me put down the claw hammer I was holding in a death grip ...

I've had about 30 fights in my life, and that is counting school fights but not counting boxing. I'm about 50/50 in them. The worst I ever got hurt I was put into the hospital for two days. The worst I ever hurt anyone else, I really couldn't tell you except I don't think I ever hospitalized anyone. Almost all my fights were in my teens and early 20s -- I haven't had a physical altercation with anyone since my mid-20s, about 20 years ago.

What I really think is that nobody knows anything when you get down the edges and it's all a crap shoot and martial artists as a group are prone to worrying about this shit too much. Almost every fight I ever had was the result of behaving stupidly or being in the wrong place at the wrong time (which is another form of behaving stupidly.) I stopped acting stupidly, et voila -- no fights, roughly 20 years now.

Most people can't fight. Most bad guys can't fight. Most martial artists can't fight. Today, mid-40s, put me in a gym with any karate guy or silat guy or what have you, I'm going to break his nose or kick him in the knee or the nuts or bite him in the throat or on the ear and almost all those guys are going to freak and lose whatever they've been taught. (And the ones who don't are going to hurt me.) How do you teach a response to real danger? The only way, the only way, is by experiencing it. And getting through it in one piece, getting the shakes out of your knees and past the awful fear and adrenaline, and finding you have tools that work. Workshopping that stuff helps; I've been through a couple street combat workshops with girlsfriends who I thought needed it. Helped them, I believe. But what did I get from those workshops? The awareness that I didn't want to fight 6-1/2 foot tall men with my bare hands, and really, I knew that already, and the cracked ribs didn't help me remember it any better.

It's edge conditions. Makes for interesting arguments, but there's no winning argument at the end of the day. The very fact that a bunch of really well trained, extremely well informed martial artists are fighting about this stuff makes the point. There's fuzz at the edge.

Steve Perry said...

It's what makes a horse-race, ain't it?

And I don't disagree with most of what you said -- when the shit hits the fan, it's hard to predict where it will land.

And Barnes's comment about every country training its soldiers cuts both ways. A certain percentage of them won't shoot when the time comes. Some of them will. You train them with the ideas that the training might kick in and cause more of them to shoot, and that the ones who do might do it more accurately because they know which end the bullet comes out of.

No such thing as a perfect martial art for all seasons. And part of the process needs to speak to goals and strategy as well as tactics. The goal is to keep your teeth intact. The strategy is to run or fight. The tactics are Nike express or shoot-stick-hit-kick-grab. Or pray.

Many martial arts skip over the goal and strategy. They concentrate on the push-has-come-to-shove aspect. If it does, then you gotta have that. Me, I'd rather not get to that, and I work to avoid it.

Thing is, you buy insurance for that chance that you will need it. If you have earthquake riders on your house and a quake levels the place just once in your lifetime, it pays for itself in spades.

Everybody worries about something. You probably can't get quake insurance where you live, but you probably do have car insurance, and maybe life insurance. How come?

You have a key ring, don't you? Ever lock your house or your car? Why is that?

Every day, somebody's car gets stolen, somebody's house gets burgled, and somebody gets assaulted. Maybe it won't be you, but you lock the house, or car, if you want the kids to call in when they are out and about on their own, that's considered prudent.

Me, I consider self-defense training prudent.

Few guarantees in life, and being stocked up on all this training doesn't mean it will be there when you need it, but if you don't have it, it sure won't be there.

If I need to drive a nail in a hurry and I have a hammer, maybe I'll forget how to use the hammer. If I don't have the hammer, it's going to be a lot harder.

No offense, Dan, but most of the serious silat guys I know -- and you kinda have to be serious to stay with it -- would eat your lunch and have room left over for a tub of Haagen Dazs. First time I saw it demonstrated, I had thirty years of assorted martial arts training and thought I was pretty good and I realized the guy showing it could dust my broom wiithout raising his heartbeat.

Different strokes. Martial arts are, in my mind, more useful to me than basketball, but I don't begrudge you going to play hoops, whatever your reasons.

Dan Moran said...

I don't know what the percentage is of martial artists who would wipe the floor with me is -- certainly much larger than in the general population. But I'll say this: give me a bare-handed street thug in his 20s who's genuinely fought for his life before, and any well-trained martial artist who hasn't, my money's on the thug, head to head.

I'm not anti-martial arts, though I know I sometimes come off that way. Sometimes I'm a little impatient with the life-or-death attitude some martial artists bring to it -- the diminishing returns argument I've frequently made. Pure bang for the buck, for the average person, there's more efficient ways to keep yourself safe than to spend decades in any martial discinpline. But there are some guys out there who are living and dying with this stuff -- I'll shut up and stay shut up in their presence; nothing I have to say is relevant to them. If Deadly Man #1 says that training in X fashion helps, I won't argue. What I will say ... is that somebody else out there, Deadly Man #2, with equal life and death experience, disagrees with that person, on the edges of it all.

As far as martial arts as a hobby, God bless. If you're enjoying yourself (I have my suspicions about a lot of the martial artists I've met over the years, on that score) -- but you sure seem like a straight shooter, and I have zero reason to doubt you when you say it's fun. Fun is its own explanation, I hope I haven't given the impression to anyone I look down on how they choose to enjoy themselves. De gustibus non est disputandum, etc.

And finally -- sure. Many things are more useful than basketball. Silat is certainly on the list. :-)

Steve Perry said...

Sure, there are plenty of MA fanatics, but there are guys who will argue to the death about Shaq or Wilt, Michael or Kobe, too. I knew a guy once got into a fist fight over Ted Williams versus Joltin' Joe ...

I'm fond of saying that the fight isn't under the glove, it's under that hat, and all things being equal, attitude will get you through some times that training alone won't.

But: For my money, attitude and training beats attitude alone. And, of course, all things are seldom equal. The fight is under both the glove and the hat.

You can really want to be a great basketball player, but you won't get there if you don't put in the time on the court.

As a shrimpy little kid I didn't get in a lot of fights, and when I did, I generally gave as good as I got. But I walked in fear of it and fear, as we know, is the mind-killer.

Dealing with that and getting past it, developing a self-confidence that borders on a swagger, that was, for me, the real benefit of all that marital dancing about. And the one time I really needed the stuff, I had it, so far as I am concerned, past that it's all gravy.

Dan Gambiera said...

"Experience is a good school, yet fools will learn from no other." -- Ben Franklin

I can think of any number of other fields where you could say the same thing - Medical practice from first aid to midwifery to surgery, driving a car, riding a horse, live performance, incident response, line cooking or anything else that combines knowing what you're doing with real-time stress.

Someone who has just done and keeps going with what works won't do nearly as well as someone with experience, practice and soild training under someone who knows what he's doing and how to transmit it. Someone with good training and no experience is an unknown quantity. Someone with experience but no instruction will be as good as what has worked for him and what he's learned strictly from trial and error. But at least he is used to performing under pressure.

You can teach someone to perform under pressure. The percentage who wouldn't shoot in WWII was very high. But when they changed the training methods for Vietnam it dropped to something like 5%. The soldiers reacted as they were trained under pressure. There was a very high cost, but that's another matter. There are no guarantees, but there isn't for anything in life.

Let's take a couple examples here.

Ring Lardner recounted the time he went on the county fair circuit with the then-obscure Jack Dempsey. At one of the first fairs he fought the local tough guy. The man was breaking horseshoes, bending iron bars and had the scars of many battles. He was bigger and stronger than the Mannassa Mauler. Dempsey said "Watch him walk into my left."

The bell rang.

The gorilla charged out into a sharp jab, a cross and it was all over.

Clearly, training - Dempsey was a great believer in it - made a difference in a fight between two fighters.

Then there was Aldo Nadi. The guy was a 24 karat, board certified prick. But he was a spectacular fencer. He ended up in an actual duel with a guy who was older, not in great shape and hadn't done any training to speak of. When the duel started Nadi had a case of nerves and was lost and didn't perform well. But he managed to recover and remember what he'd been taught. By his own description he lost it a little. But what he practiced was what he did, and he took the guy apart once he got his feet under him.

If he hadn't he would have lost. But he happened to, so he won.

Now let's take someone who doesn't have training or experience. He'll be in trouble against anyone with skills of any sort. If he trains with a good teacher and applies himself he'll certainly have a better chance with some sort of practiced response that can take over when the higher faculties get turned off. How much? That's a more complicated question. The only way to know is to find out.

Guru Plinck says "Attitude without technique beats technique without attitude." I think this is the core of what Dan and Rory are getting at. But technique plus attitude makes you a lot more dangerous, and good training can get you closer than you were before you had either.

A big part is being willing to fight. Let's pretend for a moment that I've dragged out the papers and journal articles :) It comes down to this. The most important thing in self protection is being able and willing to fight when there's a fight. If you're even used to taking a moderate hit and have some sort of better-than-nothing reaction to it you've benefitted from training.

I'll grant you one this. "I want to go home with all my body parts" is a lot different than "We will fight until one of us is dead" or even "We will fight until one of us is dead, runs away or submits". But what sort of fight are you preparing for? Different ones require different preparation. A soldier needs different skills than a police officer, a MMA competitor or a mugger.

There's also the question of who is being trained. T3h D34dl33 Str33t(tm) will certainly select out a bunch of tough SOBs. But only at the cost of ruining a bunch more. There are others who can be brought to a place where they will prevail but wouldn't survive the "dump them in to sink or swim" method. They may well be capable of getting there, but they need preparation. And a lot of them have no interest in doing crime, doing time or being slime. So getting in a lot of fights just to get used to hurting people isn't an option. They weren't born going a hundred miles an hour. They need to learn. A good instructor can take them out of the parking lot and get them to highway driving.

I'm going to call shenanigans on "Physics didn't work." I'm willing to bet whatever you want that what you perceived, Rory, and what actually happened were not exactly the same. By your own admission it was under stress in a chaotic situation.

Steve Perry said...

Perception is a tricky beast. I was working on a wall of glass in a house once, half a dozen widows set close together.It was hot, I was wearing shorts, no shirt, no shoes. I was trying to get a stripped screw on the bottom of a frame out, and using a pry bar. The bar slipped, I torqued the frame, and the window shattered.

From what I recall, I teleported across the room, ten feet away before the glass stopped falling. I have no memory of having moved at all. One second, I was crouched under the window, the next, I was elsewhere.

I always figured that's what zanshin movement was. Sword in the sheath -- blink -- sword in hand.

There a neurological function wherein you see and can react to something before your brain consciously registers it, and that's what I figure must have happened -- my eyes got a head start on my brain, and I started moving before I thought I did.

Might be that's what happened on the shove and punch intercept. Time-dilation is fairly common in the tachypsychia effect. My one encounter with a knife, I recall two things vividly: The knife looked like a can opener, and the man waving it moved in slow-motion. I had all the time in the world to kick him and grab his arm and twist. He dropped the weapon -- a tactical folder, not a can opener -- fell, hit the floor, rolled up and ran off, none the worse for wear.

My right shoe was ten feet down the subway platform, having come off when I kicked.

I still have the knife -- framed and on my office bookshelf.

No major accomplishment, I was pretty sure he was stoned, so much so he probably saw three of me and couldn't figure out which one to stick, if that had been his intent. He wanted my wallet and since I looked like a tourist, he probably didn't expect any trouble.

Changing direction in mid-air, that could be a perception trick, too. The eye is easy to fool, there are myriad optical illusions that do that even when you know the gimmick.

Of course, I won't rule out magic entirely, I've seen some strange things I couldn't explain, but even so, I'm comfortable relying on physics in general when it comes to human body kinesthetics. You can learn those.

Magic is tougher to learn ...

Dan Moran said...

Wilt over Shaq, 10-8. Michael over Kobe, 10-9, unless Kobe wins another ring, after which I'd call it even.

Top bball players ever...

Bill Russell
Tim Duncan
Jerry West

... Joltin Joe ... and I can understand fighting over it.

Steve Perry said...

I agree with your rating and list, Dan. I'd add two: Pistol Pete Maravich and Bob Cousy.

Probably before your time ...

Dan Moran said...

Pretty much anyone prior to ~1972 or so, I don't have a good sense of as a player from direct observation. Bill Russell I know through tape, and not a lot of tape at that -- I can't remember ever seeing him play for real. Cousy, ditto. I do remember Wilt and West because I saw them a bunch. During the Lakers Agonistes period (to use Kareem's great phrase) -- I was too young to take away more than that the Celtics were evil. It was a good lesson for a young kid, admittedly, and one all children should have. Certainly my kids know it, and the Celtics have sucked their whole lives up to this year. But I'm a good Dad: when I say "The Celtics..." they yell "Suck!" (And when I say "X is a false prophet," they yell "Death to X!" -- good Dad, like I say. Life skills stuff.)

Maravich I remember seeing. He was a brilliant offensive machine, but like most players of his era, didn't play defense. I don't know if he could play D or not -- just that he didn't. The only guy on my list who didn't play D was Larry Bird, and he won 3 rings.

Had a long argument once with a guy whose belief was that individual players didn't matter that much in a team sport like basketball -- that the greatest players who never won rings would compete just fine with the greatest players who did -- I asked him if he really though a lineup of:

Magic/Oscar Robertson

Could lose 4 out of 7 games to a lineup of:

Ewing/Mutumbo/Kevin Garnett
Baylor/Gervin/Grant Hill
Stockton/Steve Nash/Jason Kidd

The striking difference between those two sets of players is the D -- the only Matador (to borrow a word) in the first group is Bird. In the second group -- Barkley, Webber, Gervin, Wilkins, Maravich, and Nash all played lousy D.

Guys from the first bunch who made First Team all-NBA defense?

Russell, Chamberlain, Kareem, Duncan, McHale, Jordan, Kobe, and West.

On the second squad?

Garnett, Mutumbo, Malone, Kidd -- and the way the Celtics are playing right now, I might have to take Garnett off that second squad after this season. The only first-team All-NBA defender with no chance to win a ring? Malone, retired. Mutumbo, Kidd, and Garnett are all still playing.

Steve Perry said...

My basketball experiences were small -- I was a shrimp until I was in high school, I couldn't ride the big rides at Disneyland because I wasn't as tall as the sign.

In three years, I shot up like a weed -- at fourteen, I was 5' tall and weighed a hundred pounds.

At seventeen, I was 6'1' and weighed 185, and between fourteen and seventeen, I couldn't fall in a gym without hitting all four walls on the way to the floor. No coordination at all.

Cousy and Maravich were both local --When I was in college, working at a toy store, I once put up a swing set at Cousy's house, so I felt a connection. And was a little guy, barely over six feet tall.

My brother's second wife was the daughter of the LSU basketball coach before Pete's daddy, Press, got the job, and I saw the kid play. You're right, no defense, but if there'd been a three-point line, the Pistol would have average fifty or sixty points a game, every game -- he could shoot from anywhere and nobody could ever stop him.

The Tigers' strategy was to get the ball to Pete, and it worked. He turned the program around. Did well in the NBA until he got hurt, and more remarkable because he was born missing a major coronary artery, which was what finally killed him.

Never saw anybody handle a ball as well, not even Meadowlark Lemon ...

Dan Gambiera said...

For sheer physical mastery of basketball Jordan stands alone.

But for wisdom and insight about the game there isn't anyone in the same class as Russell. He invented basketball as we know it.