Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Fight Isn't Under the Glove ..


... it's under the hat.

Writing a fight sequence today, and as sometimes happens, to explain what the character was doing, I needed to clarify my own thinking.

The title of this entry goes to attitude, and to paraphrase Frank, one of the Fabulous Furry Freak brothers, "Attitude will get you through times of no skill better than skill will get you through times of no attitude."

At least in some venues in which "skill" is a volatile and relative term.

Speaking here as a long-time martial artist with not much in the way of skill, though perhaps a bit more than the average Joline on the street, my come-to-realize moment about this was some time back, and it can be broken down into simple statements:

1. Attitude triumphs skill alone.
2. Attitude and skill triumph attitude or skill.

Lemme explain my definitions a little:

When I say "attitude," I mean here the determined resolution to do whatever is necessary to be the guy who walks away from a fight, absolutely whatever.

"Skill" is the ability to move in efficient ways. These need not be complex, they can be very simple patterns --- basic punches or elbows, level changes, maybe some grappling attacks and defenses, kicks, weapons, like that. Mostly, these are tools the basics of which can be learned in days or weeks rather than years.

Here's a theoretical scenario: Bob is a ten-year student of Kickass-Fu. He knows all nineteen major, sixteen minor, and twelve variations of the Ultimate Grand Holistic form set. He has done them six thousand times, and is practiced against most of what he is apt to see flying at him.

Bob is also a proponent of the graduated force theory -- Avoid rather than check; check rather than injure; injure rather than maim; maim rather than kill -- like that.

Bob is not sure that he could kill somebody, and he would go a long way to avoid that choice. He is adept enough, he believes, that it won't ever come to that. Bob is, by all lights, a nice guy.

Larry, on the other hand, has never seen the inside of a dojo. He doesn't know a kung from a fu, and he's not a brawler, but he has been in a few knock-down drag-out slugfests in which he was the last guy standing and the other guy was out cold.

Larry is married, has two lovely young daughters and a beautiful wife, and more than anything in the world, he wants to live long enough to see his girls grow up and have happy lives. He would walk in front of a bus if that's what it took to protect them, and if the bus was bearing down on one of his children and he had a gun, he would shoot the driver dead to stop it, every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Both Bob and Larry are good-sized fellows in pretty good shape.

Do a split-screen: Both men are on their way home from the 7-Elevens in their neighborhoods with a six-pack and some snacks when a trio of strong-arm muggers steps out into their respective paths.

Bob is alone.

Larry has his little girls with him.

If you were forced to bet big money here on which guy you thought would make a better showing, which way would you go?

I've set it up so the choice should be easy. (Your card is the Queen of Hearts, right?)

Bob is skilled, but his internal governor has a top-end-setting. He doesn't want to kill these guys, so chances are he is going to be thinking about how best to take them out without stepping across that line. He might be good enough to do it.

His smartest choice is to turn around and haul ass.

Larry has his daughters with him. He can't run. He isn't going to be thinking about the welfare of somebody who is offering a threat to his children, or his unfinished job as father. Larry is going to let the Thing in the Cave loose and sure as pigeons shit on statues, he is going to drop the hammer.

I expect most of my readers can see this, because they -- especially if they have small children -- identify with it. This is attitude.

But here's a third guy. He's a combination of Bob and Larry. (Call him "Barry.")

Barry has spent years training in something -- not so important what, but it's an art that has basic and useful fighting skills -- punches, kicks, wrasslin' -- like that. And his attitude is every bit as determined as Larry's. Normally a peaceful man, he'd avoid trouble if he could, but when the muggers step out, Barry is hands-down my pick to mop up the pavement with the bad guys, because the formula as I see it is:

Skill + Attitude > Skill (or) Attitude.

Skill can be taught and learned. I'm not sure that attitude can be. In my heart of hearts, I suspect that if you don't have attitude, that training for skill might get you in as much trouble as it keeps you out of. That the best students for a fighting art bring the attitude with them, and are the ones to get the most benefit from training.

As Edwin allowed in a recent discussion, mean-old-bastards have an edge that nice guys don't ...

13 comments:

Formosa Neijia said...

"Larry has his daughters with him."

This is something about the "best defense is to run" argument that makes me want to scream! 90% of the time I go out, it's with the wife or wife and kids. I CAN'T just run. What are we going to do? Run fast and leave them behind?

I always train with a "defend the village" mindset. My job is stay and fight off whatever presents a danger while the OTHERS run. But not me.

Steve Perry said...

I had this discussion at some length with a self-styled streetfighting expert a while back, who, among his other inane and generally stupid comments, allowed as how you could always run!

If you are out walking with granny and you run away from a mugger, it's going to make for a really awkward family dinner:

Where's granny? Well, I thought she was right behind me ...

I tore a calf muscle a few years back. While it was healing, I had to use a cane, and moving fast was out of the question. A couple times during this period, I too my grandsons out to have dinner at the Chinese restaurant across from their house. One of the boys was five, the other a toddler and in a stroller.

Had a guy look at us funny once, and I shifted into a higher alert status.

Running, crippled, pushing a stroller? Yeah.

Even gimped up, the cane was nice and stout, and I had the usual assortment of legal sharp and bangy things upon my person. Running away if attacked was not an option.

Sometimes it just isn't.

John Hoey said...

The running defense seems to come up a lot when TMA & MMA people get to discussing stuff and particularly when weapons defense is discussed ( case in point http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=2055366765)
Having the hips & knees of an Inca mummy and a wife with balance issues running ain't all that for me so as GM Abner Pasa says "you're job is to get home, do whatever you have to to do your job"

steve-vh said...

My wife being a runner I'm frequently asked if I run as well. Yeah, I can make it about 2 blocks and I'm out (thanks to genetics and shin splints). So my glib response is always "I can't run so I had to learn to fight".

Same argument goes for competitive fighters. First time we put my son in the ring with sticks we knew immediately, he was definitly a fighter. You can teach someone to fight but you can't teach them to have the fighter's spirit.
Time and time and time again he has proven this in competition. He has routinely fought guys who have trained for years and drilled and drilled. But HE is willing to do what it takes to win and by sheer force of will and determination takes it where they aren't used to. I also think his "fight computer" works at a much higher RAM speed. He's not just working on reflex. He can tell you later what happened. see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aetD2ufq1rg fighter with black skinguards on the right.

But I wonder, switch the scenario. What if Bob had HIS children with him? Would he be able to switch mindsets and do differently? I'm betting there's a fifth gear he's never shifted to. Don't forget nature's programming coupled with skill.

Jay Gischer said...

While I think there is such a thing as a natural fighter, the attitude you speak of can be trained and developed. We do it. We call it "shin" after the Japanese word for spirit, but I think the meaning is ours, not Japanese.

Before that, though, we spend a long time training their skills so that they will have some control even when the Beast is let loose. So that they can turn it on and off at will.

We train it with a list of techniques that aren't shown widely. Not that they are such killer, but I think so that students only ever see them or practice them with the required level of spirit.

Steve Perry said...

This is where the sheep, wolf, and German Shepherd Dog usually comes up -- sometimes it's me bringing it to the table. Analogies are by their nature limited and approximate.

And it may be that since we still have pointed teeth, there is enough beast left in us all that it can be awakened by the right training. There's a great story about a Japanese laborer condemned to death. The executioner sent to take him out is a samurai and a master fighter and thinks it'll be a snap. The laborer isn't ready to die, and using his broom or shovel, attacks so fierce that the samurai started losing, and it wasn't until his fear kicked in that he was able to cut the laborer down.

But i've also been in a lot of martial arts classes over the years wherein some of the folks with a fair amount of training just didn't seem to have the wherewithal and you could see that duck-and-cover was the best they were going to be able to do, push come to shove.

Tricky.

AF1 said...

1. Attitude triumphs skill alone.

I think I disagree with this. For example, it doesn't matter how much attitude the average thug on the street has...he'll still get lit up by a skillful fighter.

I would agree that the combination of attitude and skill is what you want to shoot for, though.

Steve Perry said...

Depends on how you define "skillful." I know of of a guy who was a couple dans up the black belt scale in a pretty good fighting art who was stabbed to death by a kid who had no training at all.

I know other martial artists, and a pretty good boxer, who were technically much superior to guys who still cleaned their clocks.

If you have the skill, but any reservations about using it, an untrained attacker without any compunctions against pounding you into the ground has the advantage, since whoever lands the first solid attack wins the fight more often than not.

If you can't take a solid punch, recovering after it might take longer than you'll have.

Sean said...

"Larry is going to let the Thing in the Cave loose and sure as pigeons shit on statues, he is going to drop the hammer."

I am having a miserable week, and this line had soda shooting out of my nose.

Great discussion and post as usual, but your writing is awesome

Thanks Steve

Dan Moran said...

Run is great advice if you can do it. If you can't, better have other options. Pepper spray, taser, gun, martial arts -- my only actual objection to the martial arts is that they're not time effective at the level of risk/reward for most people who live in safe places. (I've boxed, studied tae kwon do many years back, had 2 of my sons in tae kwon do recently, probably putting them both back into judo sometime soon -- I'm not anti-martial arts in principal.)

But the equation goes something like the Drake Equation -- cost of X, likelihood of Y, span of time Z ...

I might carry a gun when I get older. I don't today -- I can sprint for a hundred yards and run flat-out for half a mile or so before my knees start throbbing, I weigh 220 and much of it's muscle, and I look like hard work; bad guys haven't bothered me much in my life.

But someday, quantum willing, I'll be an old guy. Even older than Steve Perry, I mean. And I'd rather trust to a hideaway gun to keep me safe than even the best martial arts training. (I've got kids at home and no gun these days. But when the kids are grown, there will be guns in my house again, and I might well carry concealed if I felt my safety required it.)

AF1 said...

"I know of of a guy who was a couple dans up the black belt scale in a pretty good fighting art who was stabbed to death by a kid who had no training at all."

Knives can tilt the advantage in a fight, certainly.

"I know other martial artists, and a pretty good boxer, who were technically much superior to guys who still cleaned their clocks."

It would be interesting to analyze the encounters to see why. Maybe the trained MA guys were just too used to playing by the rules, and ran up against a dirty street fighter.


"But someday, quantum willing, I'll be an old guy. Even older than Steve Perry, I mean."

Dang, that is old! Shading more to antediluvian even.

Steve Perry said...

The martial arts equation gets skewed if you throw in the one-time termination factor: If, say, you had to use the stuff once, at age thirty, and it saved your life and thus gave you another forty or fifty years, then amortizing the cost is maybe not quite the same as a cost/benefit ratio applied to your new golf clubs.

If you needed it at thirty and didn't have it and you got kilt, then the OTTF looms large ...

The NRA slogan -- better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

Still, I can agree with the idea of other modes, even though they also have their drawbacks.

With a gun, it tends to be restricted to life or death situations -- you don't pull it if you aren't willing to use it, and if you use it, you have to be able to justify the claim that it was life or death. Waving a gun to scare somebody might work. It only has to fail once to cause you a problem.

Pull back your jacket to flash your piece to frighten off a bad guy who wants to punch you in the nose is illegal most places -- brandishing a weapon -- and if you have a concealed carry license, they'll jerk it for that, along with the criminal charge.

Pepper spray and thug zappers, or tasers, are less likely to kill somebody, though you can't ever be sure, shit does happen. Still, the odds are in your favor.

And like guns or knives, they don't always work like they are supposed to, either.

With any tool not part of your own bad self, you have to do some basic training with it, and you have to have it with you and be willing to use it.

Still the Army's line -- "You're not an ape, use a tool!" has a certain merit. And serious martial artists today include weapons training as part of their tool kit.

Guy who is a hardcore martial artist who carries a gun, a couple of knives, and is handy with found objects is covering a lot of bases.

And generally, not somebody you want to fuck with.

Point I made earlier is that you don't really have to be an expert. You can learn some of the basic moves, such as in Judo or something like krav maga in short order and if you have the attitude, that will be enough for most people most of the time.

Guys like me left the self-defense rationalization way back down the road. I do it for a lot of reasons, not the least of which it because I like it.

Steve Perry said...

Oh, pepper spray. I know a guy who used to carry a little can of this in his front jeans' pocket. One day, driving along in this car, he moved wrong and the thing went off.

Didn't exactly cook his willie, but it was, I am told, uncomfortable. (There are some mucous membranes that peep out there, and first time he went to wee after that, he though he had the clap ...)