Saturday, June 21, 2008

Deep and Narrow

Over on his blog, Steve VH brought up a subject that is near and dear to my heart, and I thought I'd take it out and play with it a little here.

In the dedication for The Musashi Flex, a novel that is centered around the creation of a dueling martial art, I wrote this: "And for the Eclectics, who have a point, but who also miss a larger one: Now and then, deep and narrow beats wide and shallow all to hell and gone, and you ignore this at your peril ..."

This was addressed generally, though there was a particular group, led by a well-known and supposedly bad-ass former streetfighter turned author, at which it was more specifically aimed. I won't mention his name here, but most of my martial arts readers know who he is. At one point, I was involved in a discussion with him and this fellow allowed flat-out as how monostyles did not work; that one needed to cross-train in many systems, and essentially, cherry-pick the best from each and discard the rest.

(He isn't the only guy to have made such claims. There are some other well-known and lowly-regarded "masters" whose rice bowls are filled selling this line: Hey, look here! I've taken this old.357 Magnum wheelgun, removed five of the bullets, and now it's a better weapon! Yeah. Right.)

I found it particular amusing that the BAFSTA to whom I refer who baldly stated that monostyles were worthless, spent a fair amount of money flying a well-known silat monostylist in to teach his group. And that this same fellow demonstrated no real skill when some of the students of the silat guy had a chance to move with him.

Talk the talk is not the same as walk the walk ...

The BAFSTA in question once told me that the silat guy he flew in was the deadliest fighter he'd ever seen, and that he wouldn't want to try him if he had a knife and the silat guy was bare. All those nasty, nasty elbows.

Um. I won't belabor the story, which is harder to follow without names, but the point is that the silat guy was narrow, but deep in his art, and that the bad-ass was wide and shallow, and that push come to shove, there was no question who would walk away, not in anybody's mind.

One of the problems with the eclectics approach is that they seem to believe that constantly re-inventing the wheel is both necessary and good.

They are wrong.

A punch to the temple does the same thing today it did ten thousand years ago. Human physiology hasn't changed, and while there are many broadly-educated fighters who have many more techniques from which to choose, five simple good ones are better than five hundred complicated ones. When push comes to shove for real, it's the simple stuff that will save your ass. When the hormones thrum, the fancy, tricky stuff goes away.

I also love it that while re-inventing things, they come up with "new" ideas that have been around forever. Here's one: Action is faster than reaction. If your gun is in the holster and the knifer is inside twenty feet, if he moves first, he can get to you before you can clear leather -- unless you are the reincarnation of John Wesley Hardin. If you just stand there and go for your piece, you can get sliced into hamburger.

Guy who moves first and hard has the edge. Guy who moves second is playing catch-up. Can this be overcome? Yeah -- you play a whole note and I respond with a triplet, I might get ahead. Simple. Not easy ...

People do need to be told stuff like action-beats-reaction, because some of them don't know it, but to claim you came up with the notion is, well, not so. There's an old Sundanese proverb, also quoted in the novel: "Batur arek uring enggeus." What this means is "When they get ready, we are already done."

If that isn't "Move first!" I don't know what is. And they knew it a long time ago.

I won't get into the purpose of martial arts and what they do and don't do generally -- read Rory's book, he offers a thoughtful, reasoned look at the subject. I will say, however, that because a thing is old, it isn't necessarily worthless. Look around and see which bottles of wine are the most expensive and considered the best by the experts in the field.

None of those wines were made yesterday ...


Steve Perry said...

Oh, and the exceptions to the KvG drill. The late Bill Jordan ("No Second Place Winner," still one of the best books out there on gunfighting) could draw a .357 revolver from his duty rig and hit a target with a double-action shot in under a third of a second. That's a hair slower than a blink. And he did this when he was about my age, and it *includes his reaction time* -- the light lit, *then* he drew.

Unless the knifer was quicker than Flojo out of the blocks, he wouldn't get the first step done before the bang.

Of course, Jordon was special. He could pick aspirin tablets off a table top without scratching the finish.

Most folks drawing from a duty or undercover rig are a lot slower, second, second-and-a-half. But just so you know -- the reincarnation of Jordan might be out there and going at him at a knife from distance could be bad ...

Irene said...

One thought:
It's much more difficult to shoot at another person than it is to shoot at a target or an aspirin tablet. The psychological resistance that most people have will slow them down a lot more than they might expect. I suppose this would also affect a knifer, but I do not know if the magnitude of slowdown is the same, more, or less. (Psychologically I could draw up an argument for any one.)

There are, of course, people who do not suffer from this effect.

Irene said...

Is it possible that studying many different styles allows you to eventually identify and abstract out the core underlying principles, which are the part that matters?

Steve Perry said...

Always a factor in a life-or-death situation, that hesitation. I was just pointing out with the Jordan comment that there are people who have abnormal abilities, and in his case, he was a career lawman who had a lot of quick and accuracy. Since you never know what the other guys knows until you get there, that might be a fatal lesson.

For me, being able to shoot that well would be better than not, regardless of the freeze-factor. I might screw up, but if I kept it together, surely that would be an edge. A sharper knife cuts deeper than a dull one.

"I can get to you with a blade before you can draw," is probably the case most of the time. Being wrong is bad if you are risking your ass on it.

As for the extracting core principles from an art, yeah, it certainly possible, but I think the people who can do it are few and far between.

A lot of what makes one art work gets in the way of another -- it took me years of training to get past my Okinawa-te reaction to incoming, which was always to step back and counter -- we never went in as a defensive response, and we tend to do that in silat -- so the programming conflicts. And while you could say that there is a time to go in and a time to back up, and that a wise fighter will adjust his or hers reactions to the situation as necessary, doing it one way for years tends to wear a groove that is hard to slip.

Look down at your front foot ...

That whole post about bowing was to show that repetition of unconscious movements can be insidious.

In the old country, working out every day for a few hours, I imagine that the silat players could learn the core of the style in a couple years, maybe less. Doing it as we do takes longer because we don't work it as much.

Somebody who takes five or six months, even a year or two of lessons, a couple times a week and then goes off to extract the essence? I don't see how they can do it -- they haven't been exposed to the essence long enough to get it.

There's one guy who has high rank in several styles and a wall full of certificates, who spent a couple years learning from DeThouars the Lesser -- a man we don't think is all that masterful himself. This guy claims he got the core principles, which he demonstrated in a couple of vids. He moves all wrong, his body mechanics aren't there, he has no real understanding of what the backup hand is supposed to do. He leaves either lowline or highline uncovered constantly. If you can't show those core principles, if you don't eve know them, you sure can't extract them.

To somebody who doesn't know better, what he does superficially looks like what we do. To us, it's like watching a sumo wrestler try to do ballet and stand en pointe. Not even close.

If you are Bruce Lee and you train four hours a day and study diverse arts, maybe you can come up with something useful. But even so, that doesn't mean you can pass it on. So far, nobody who has come out of JKD seems to be able to move like Lee did. Being a thirty-year-old jock in tip-top shape is great, but if you have to be that to do the art, that narrows its general usefulness ...

AF1 said...

"When push comes to shove for real, it's the simple stuff that will save your ass. When the hormones thrum, the fancy, tricky stuff goes away."

Isn't the "shallow" eclectic martial artist more likely to have a bunch of simple maneuvers?

While the "deep" traditional martial artist is the one who spends years honing the ability to pull of complex, tricky moves?

Steve Perry said...

Depends on the art, but in my experiences, generally, no. Eclectics like to learn a plethora of moves from which to pick and choose. Some of the traditional arts -- ours included -- hit the basic stuff over and over until we get it smooth.

If you have several useful simple moves, that's good, but if you have a systemic way of linking them together so you can use any or all of them, that's better. A move from karate, one from judo, a third from TDK may or may not flow one into the other. They might all be good, but they won't come from the same principles.

Three from Sera, using the same basic principles will work together, high, low. left, right, doesn't matter. That's what a system is. With silat, you get the cherry tree; cherry-picking, you get a handful of fruit, and if you do it badly, maybe just the cherry stones ...

Same with other arts based on principle, of course, not just silat.

Steve Perry said...

And, in the interests of full disclosure, I need to sya this: Just as there is nobody quite as anti-smoking as somebody who has quit, I speak here as a reformed eclectic ...

I studied several different styles of martial art before I came to silat. The longest of these was fairly intensively for three years, most of the others a year or two at most: Goju, Okinawa-te, Chan-gen kung fu, Oppugnate, aikido, kendo, Kajukenbo -- plus short stints in what was supposed to be "Northern Honan" style kung and odd techniques exchanged with guys from the White Crane system.

Seminars don't count, though I did a few of those along the way.

I had wide and shallow, and I enjoyed wading in that lake, but I wanted somewhere I could stretch out and swim without scraping my knuckles on the bottom of the pool ...

AF1 said...

"A move from karate, one from judo, a third from TDK may or may not flow one into the other. They might all be good, but they won't come from the same principles."

That is a good point, and one I've seen Stephen K. Hayes of ninjutsu fame make as well.

I currently dabble in mixed martial arts background. Which is probably considered eclectic.

And for us, pressure testing (via sparring and realistic drills) seems to be a good filter for which techniques to keep and which to discard.

Don't know how well this would translate to the "street" environment with stress and hormones going haywire.

But I feel pretty confident against an unarmed attacker.

Multiple attackers and weapons would be another story though. And I could see how learning to deal with those might lead to methods that don't flow well with MMA at all.

Steve Perry said...

I got no grief against MMA. They've been around a while, and the latest versions have plenty of merit. Guys tend to be in good shape, and they roll enough to learn what works for them and what doesn't. It has street applications, no doubt.

Against a good grappler or striker, you'll have trouble if you don't have some kind of answer.

My point is that you wouldn't take six months of lessons in, say, BJJ, then go off and start your own system and expect anybody would buy it that you really know what you are doing. If you grapple against a better grappler, chances are you lose. If you strike against a better striker, same deal.

It's not about "Silat is better than karate." or "Ju Jutsu is better than Judo." It's that whatever system you get into generally has more depth than one which takes a technique from here and another from there and cobbles them together (into something "completely new and different!")

steve-vh said...

"Multiple attackers and weapons would be another story though. And I could see how learning to deal with those might lead to methods that don't flow well with MMA at all."
I'd kinda have to disagree with that though I suppose it could depend on the person.
We have one guy in my son's MMA class who is a former gangbanger. Narrowly escaped serious time and realized with a kid and wife it was time to pursue a safer outlet. See, he was in the gang simply because he knew he would get to fight, loved it. He's really turned his life around.

He's quite adept at MMA and his reaction times, distancing, concept of strategy AND his control are exceptional. He's even pretty good with weapons and flat out states that all he's ever used before is 2x4s and bricks.
About the only fault I could see from his former days it a tendancy to take a brief beating knowing that he will get a chance to wail on you before long.

Steve Perry said...

In Texas Hold 'em poker there's a strategy wherein you "come over the top" with a really big bet, to try and keep your opponent from staying in and maybe getting a good card on the turn.

Since you never know but that you might run into VH's gangbanger who loves to fight, once push-shove commences, it is probably going to be to your advantage to come over the top and shut down the action as quickly as you can. Longer it goes on, the more chances are that something can go wrong.

In my pre-martial art days, the old adage was that the best fight were two-hitters: I hit you, you hit the ground ...

Terry said...

Hello Mr. Perry,
Might I know the BAFSTA you are speaking of ;p

Steve Perry said...

Well, Terry, given who you are, and what you know, plus where you live and all, I'd be surprised if you didn't know exactly him of whom I have spoken.

He is a man who, when I dealt with him, said he was open to reasonable discussion; thing was, anybody who disagreed at all with his party line and wouldn't back down had the door shut in their faces.

I got the feeling that what he said he knew was graven in stone; what anybody else claimed to know was, far as he was concerned, written on the wind.

Man could talk-the-talk until the cows came home. Folk with even beginning skill on our version of silat who saw or had a chance to move with him didn't think he could walk-the-walk, though.

What he says sound good, and at first, people could be forgiven for going along with it. Once they get to know him, however, if they still go along with it?
Not paying enough attention.

It amazes me when I see folks I respect pointing to this guy and touting him as the Real Deal. Maybe he was, back when Nixon was President. Not for a long time, though ...

Ted said...

Hi Steve:

Interesting discussion. I've also studied various arts since the early sixties, including a number that you mentioned for yourself, and currently hold dan ranking in Goju, though probably more for perserverence than skill.

One point that hasn't been brought up is that no art springs full blown into existance. Even Silat owes some of itself to other arts, such as Kuntao.

That being said, the difference between a polymath and diletante is the depth of study that goes into a subject.

Most "classic" arts are MMA--they have incorporated the things that work that are often found in other arts. Goju has take downs and locks that are right out of JuJitsu, and most JuJitsu systems have atemi waza that are very similar to the striking techniques in Karate and the like.

I think the bottom line is not so much what you know or extract from an art, but more how well you can apply the techniques.

Having put in my 2 cents (or 5 cents), stop doing so much silat, and do more writing:>)