Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Martial Arts - Predicting the Future
This notion came up, and it's still sloshing around in my mental seas, so bear with me as I try to get it on an even keel ...
And enough of the storm-tossed boat allusions ...
It occurred to me, while doing some research in my collection of woo-woo mindscience books, that a good martial artist is working to do short-term looks into the future.
Before I get too far, the books of which I speak:
Gut Feelings, by Gerd Gigerenzer
blink, by Malcolm Gladwell
This is Your Brain on Music, by Daniel J. Levitin
The Body has a Mind of Its Own, by Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee
Emotions Revealed, by Paul Ekman
Chaos, by James Gleick.
There are a couple of others, but they have been lent out, and these are enough to get started.
These books deal with the brain and how it works and how it functions with the body in which it is housed. One of the topics that arises in more than one place is that sometimes, you know what is going to happen before it does. You can actually become conscious of an event at some level before it reaches your rational brain. Sounds weird, but it's been fiddled with enough so that it seems valid. Like watching PBS News Hour, where sometimes the lips are a quarter second ahead of the sound.
If you could harness this, along with the innate ability of the human mind to do major rapid-fire calculations of geometry and physics without knowing a single formula, coupled with efficient movements designed to deal with an incoming attack, you would have a most useful construct.
If you could add bullet-time? Even better.
You could seriously kick ass and take names.
One example they use in one of the books is how a baseball player in left field knows where to intercept a fly ball. If you set a computer to figure out trajectories -- the angle, speed, and parabola of the baseball, the effects of gravity, and where a stationary receiver is, how fast he can run, whether he starts motionless or already moving when the batter hits the ball, and where the fielder must be in order to intercept the ball before it hits the ground, it would burn a lot of processing power to get there. Just to set it up properly. Yet, a good baseball player has rules of thumb he doesn't even have to think about, and can do it unconsciously. He sees where the ball is going, and knows where he has to be to catch it. If he can get to the right spot before the ball arrives, he can snag it.
Picture a man who can throw a washer the size of a quarter up into the air, then fire a pistol at it and thread the hole with the bullet. The margin of error there is exceedingly tiny, yet there are men who can do it, but who couldn't tell you geometry from Jello.
They practice, they see what works, they leave out the stuff that doesn't work, and their brains do the moves needed automatically. If they had to think consciously about it, they'd never be able to pull it off.
Like the old saying about sculpting a horse -- you just carve away everything that doesn't look like a horse ...
So. Somebody paying attention can figure out how people move. We all live in the gravity well, we all have the same basic equipment, vis a vis arms and legs and torsos and such, and there are only so many ways to get from point A to point B efficiently. If you can learn how to deal with somebody coming at you efficiently, you can also learn how to deal with somebody not so good. (The old, What-if-I-just-go-beserker-on-your-ass-and-windmill-right-over-
you? argument. Or, to put it simply, if you can dodge somebody doing it right, you can dodge somebody doing it wrong. If your art is designed to do that.)
That is, it's okay for somebody to attack "wrong." If I'm trying to show you how to deal with a right punch and you throw a left, I should still be able to stop it, which is also a lesson, if a different one.
If an attack comes from somebody with the normal numbers of arms and legs, you work up what-if formulas based on size and distance and experience. There are some rules of thumb you can use so that your heuristic view will be more useful, and where you will find them is in your practice. You have to learn how fast you can move, your own reach, how far away somebody is and how many steps it will take to cover that distance, and how to trust your tools once you develop them.
We believe that position is key. Where you are matters more than how fast or strong you are. If you are ten feet away and come in, I should be able to get to a sweet spot to intercept you before you can. It'll take you a couple steps to cover the distance, while I can do it just by changing stances. I get to my place first.
Example: A big guy comes at you with a punch. It sounds goofy to say it, but in order to hit you, he has to get within his punching distance, which is based on his arm's length, the kind of punch he's offering, plus how he's holding his body, the angle of his torso, his extension and all. You need to get all that in a blink's time, and you can learn to do so.
If you block or slip or parry this punch, are you done? Most martial arts go with the notion that you aren't; that yon thug isn't going to go, "Oh, wow, that was cool! I quit!" So you have to figure that something else is incoming, and given the tools, angles, proximity, what that might be: Punch, kick, elbow, knee, grapple -- and what you can do about it.
If you have the skill, you can intuit what the next attack might be, based on his body set and balance, and again, it's a blink response. But you don't have to wait for him to throw it.
The philosophy of your art dictates the kind of responses. In ours, we believe that waiting for attacks puts you behind in time and space, and it is better to preëmpt the attack as soon as possible. Ideally before the first punch; failing that, before the next, which we believe is surely coming, albeit it might be a different tool. So a block that is also an attack -- cutting the incoming line with a punch that crosses it, for example -- helps you play catch-up. If you go to half-beats -- instead of one ... and ... two, but one-two! then you can not only catch up, but get ahead, which we believe is a better place to be. You turn the attacker into a defender, and by doing so, you control the fight -- he has to react to you or get slugged.
Not every art looks at it this way, and that doesn't make them wrong, just different.
If you have enough people coming at you, enough times, in various and unplanned ways, then you can develop an eye, and your wetware can calculate incoming and figure out a way to deal with it on the fly. If you learn efficient and effective patterns of simple moves than can be mixed and matched, then you can offer a useful response.
If you have to stop and think, Oops, punching coming, how am I gonna deal with that? you get smacked, it is just too slow. If your body has the moves and you don't get in its way, then the theory is that it will step up and do what needs to be done. You might not have a clue what that will be, and you might not recall exactly what it was you did afterward, but if, like the baseball player fielding the pop-up fly, or the shooter center-punching the washer, it works, then it doesn't really matter. Being able to deconstruct it might be useful, of course, especially if you want to pass it along, but being the guy who gets to go home under his own power, teeth intact, not needing major stitchery would seem to be reward enough ...