Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sticks the Landing!

Got an email query about martial arts, connected to the recent posts. Question was, How do you know for sure the things you have been studying will work if you need them?

And the answer is, of course, you don't know for sure.

Few things in life are an absolute lock. You can probably bet the farm that the sun will come up in the east tomorrow and not the west, if you could find somebody stupid enough to take that action. I am willing to allow that fresh water will freeze at zero Centigrade, and that Darwin's Theory of Evolution is closer to fact than not -- but unless you have a working crystal ball and have made your deal with the Devil, predicting the future accurately in the face of ordinary chaos is a hard row to hoe. Weather guys with billions in computer sensory gear and satellites and Doppler get tomorrow's forecast wrong half the time, and predicting it reliably two weeks out in most of the world's active weather regions? Yeah. Right.

Still, there are educated guesses, based on a bunch of things -- direct experience and observation; well-documented versions of those by others, stuff like that. And the more you play in an arena, the more likely it is that you will gather data that is useful.

Here's an easy example: You don't need to know much about gymnastics at all to see if the guy doing the double-full off the high bar sticks the landing. If he falls down, it's obvious.

To decide whether a tiny bobble on an inverted giant swing and high release is worth a tenth or a tenth-and-a-half might require some skill and practice as an observer. But even if you've only watched the sport on TV or seen a couple meets in person, you can quickly tell whether or not a routine nailed it dead on or somebody stepped out or lost her balance. You learn by listening to the ex-gymnast doing the color commentary pointing it out and associating that with what you see.

You don't have to be able to do the move to see it falter, any more than you have to be a world-class guitarist to hear a bad note if the player hits one. Being an educated watcher is enough to give you a certain amount of useful information.

My experience in martial arts is shallow, save for one, but it is wide. Having studied a bunch of things over forty-odd years, and having seen a lot of different players, some of them world-class, move, I've had some education in certain ways of motion. I can't do some of their moves, but I know good when I see it. I can compare and contrast, weigh this against that, and come up with a working observation or two.

Thus in my personal experience, both as a watcher and a doer, the art I'm in now offers principles that seem more effective and useful than the other arts in which I have been involved. And while it is true that I haven't walked the mean streets to kick ass and take names to sharpen my skills, I have used some of the arts that I view as less effective to make do. If I believe that silat, based on my own experience, is more useful for me, then the notion that it will work as well or better than the other arts I studied is not such a reach.

As Randy Newman said in the theme song for Monk: I could be wrong now ... but I don't think so!

This doesn't say anything about other folks who bring different experiences to the table. They know what they know. But without getting all existential about it -- who can know anything? -- I don't lay awake nights worrying that what skills I have.


Brett said...

If it's true that the only sure things are Death and Taxes, you can only be sure that it didn't work when you end up dead.

Master Plan said...

Hmm. That's one way to look at it. Another would be to identify what it is you expect to be doing with the martial art that it will need to "work".

Is it going to work to get off line and control the gun when you're held at gun point and for whatever reason feel you must act to prevent the situation from getting worse?

Or what about a stereotypical bar fight? Or somebody (statistically somebody you know) trying to rape you in close quarters while you are drunk?

Provided you've identified the situations which you believe to represent the most likely or highest level of tactical threat then you can either move on to having training partners practice with you in those scenarios or you can then move on to finding folks who have successfully survived such situations and gather their input, get training from them, and use what you learn there to further refine the scenario training from above.

Of course you'll never be able to practice all possible situations but there do seem to be not so many basic situations for physical defense which arise again and again.

As our host has pointed out none of this will actually insure that your shit WILL work when and if such a time comes to pass but it does allow you to take what you are learning outside of the dojo and see if it performs as desired\required in situ. Or simulated situ.

I mention this because most dojo work is based on practice not implementation (at least in my experiences) you want to work, your partner wants to work, there's a large degree of cooperation and reciprocity involved as well as various Rory Miller's various "safety flaws".

As a single example before shutting up let's take one-step material, I've seen these in a few arts. One person throws a hard, committed (but not over-committed) single attack and the other performs the indicated response (a block, a block\strike, an off-lining, whatever your style does) and then both parties reset and repeat, or exchange tori\uke roles. In this you can see if what you're doing works, you can try it against bigger folks, stronger folks, etc. You can add more attacks and responses, all the way up to two-person fighting sets (sambuts, two-man kata, what have you) and you can add more variation and complexity (what attack starts things, what the responses can be) and eventually you get (generally) sparring as the end result. This is all awesome stuff, very good to practice, shows if the principles are there, if they work (and if they work for you against the specific partner) and all of that.

None of that is the real deal. Scenario training isn't the real deal either, but it takes away certain abstractions and changes "victory" conditions in ways that bring things closer to what you're likely to meet up with if the "will it work?" question ever needs answering.

Steve Perry said...

That's always going to be the problem -- serious folks in the art are always looking for the panacea, and there isn't one.

All the training in all the world is no guarantee. You can see herds of elephants and deal with real violence a dozen, a hundred times, and that doesn't mean that the next time you'll be able to do it again -- that comes from folks who have done it, like Rory.

We all would like the guarantee. Anybody who promises it to you is trying to sell something.

Stipulated. But --

Now and then, a police officer wins a shootout or manages to arrest a violent and resisting felon, based on his or her training and experience. A civilian who has never used his dojoware on the street gets attacked and flattens his attacker. The little old man shopkeeper pulls his piece from under the counter and ices the armed robber.

It happens.

Yes, it's true that the national combat pistol champion might freeze when he sees an armed burglar in the hall. And he might drill the thief right between the eyes.

I believe that training to the point of being able to do it without thinking about it, of having punch-comes or the bear hug kick in some kind of response is better than not having any training.

So do most of the folks who show up here, else they wouldn't bother.

What we get into is how to train, which way is the "best" for which set of circumstances, and which ways are maybe not so good.

As you say, single-step exchanges that start slow and easy and move up in speed and intensity is a valid way to learn some principles. And isn't real.
I punch, and you are limited to one counter and response, then I go again, then you, is a safer way to learn. But if your art always offers multiple responses, i.e., I punch, and you punch thrice and throw in an elbow in return, then being limited to one shot takes away a lot of your tools.

If I grab you and you open a barrel of whup-ass that has some kind of focus in efficient motion, that's a different thing than one-step sparring.

Drills are drills, but the better ones have some basis in something has been, at some point, determined to be useful.

Like I've said, it's playing percentages. If a mugger steps out of the alley and throws a punch at Rory, maybe he'll just freeze and fall over, there's no guarantee. But that's not the way I'd bet it.

Brett said...

I guess I shouldn't have edited so much. My point was meant to be the same as you both pointed out. That we can train scenarios as "realistic" as possible but it when the real thing comes, it's always different and you may or may not perform like you trained. If your dead at the end you are sure it didn't work If you make it through, it worked that time and might, or might not, the next time.

I certainly feel better for having trained all these years and I'm pretty sure the confidence (false or not) and awareness it instills helps me to not be the easiest target in a given area. That alone is a huge benefit.

I was thinking as I read through the two responses, the best possible training you could do (if you want to be sure your stuff works) is have people hired to attack you on the street at random. Random skills, random levels of chemical stimulation, random times. That'd be a good way to find out. Sort of like the Flex players but with no rules. I don't think I'd like to play that game though. Even if you had the stuff, it would only take one bad day to wind up room temp and we all have bad days.

Until then, I enjoy my training so I think I'll stick with it, whether it's going to save me or not.

Master Plan said...

4096 character limit how I despise you!

I think the issue of not being able to know what the real situation is nor how you'll really end up responding is a red herring. If you can't know and you can't predict...why worry? You can still prepare and train and research...but worry about it? Counter-productive. I think it might even contribute to the freeze response in some cases, more stress adding to a stressful situation and resulting brain lock.

I think that some folks get tunnel vision with wanting their training to be foolproof, but the answer isn't, IMO, found in the training.

Freezing is the first issue. Responding by rote, instead of responding to what's actually happening is the second. Training only comes third.

Drills I think are great for learning a martial art. And if you're training to learn a martial art that's their value. They might even build skills which will be helpful in the event of interpersonal violence, but that's not their main thrust I don't think. They are mostly tools to allow you to practice and learn the martial art.

Which is great, I likes me some martial arts, but I don't think martial arts are violence, and so using martial arts to prepare for violence isn't the same as examining violence to see what you should be preparing for. Which is where I think scenario work can be helpful (still won't give you an insure victory tho).

I've read you don't rise to the level of your expectations but instead fall to the level of your preparation\training. Given that, how much are folks training for what they have made reasonable guesses to expect? How much are they just assuming that because the training is good that it will work?

Let's pick on the MMA boys. The double leg works great in the gym, every time, even against bigger guys. Try it in the street and bust your knee on the concrete. Was the training good? Maybe you still "win" the fight. Maybe you shoot, get the takedown and start to work towards the submission, that's what you've trained, then his friend hits you with the bat to the dome. That doesn't happen in MMA, so you didn't train for it, but the training was good.

So, does the training matter? Hell yes! But it's not the only thing that matters if you want to examine the question of: How will this work when something unusual and violent happens?

Right? Do you expect to get jumped on a rainy night in the parking lot carrying a bag of groceries with your grandma by your side? Ok, do you ever practice that scenario?

Steve Perry said...

Part of this for me goes to the notion that fighting isn't rocket science. That we have been hitting, clubbing, sticking (and in the last few hundred years, shooting) each other all over the world since forever.

At its most basic, successfully using a knife in a fight involves putting the pointed in into the other guy, and avoiding being smacked or stabbed yourself while you do it. If you have to learn a hundred and twelve ways to do this, you are probably overcomplicating it. Better three good moves than fifty so-so ones.

I believe that a handful of basic techniques -- punches, kicks, elbows, grapples, will do the job for most mano-a-mano unarmed situations most of the time. Past that, you are looking for something other than simple self-defense for most folks.

Learning to move more efficiently is a good thing, of course, it might give you an advantage, in the same way that a pulley or lever or wheel will make moving heavy loads easier. Useful tools.

If you have a hammer and are presented with a nail, it doesn't take Einstein to figure out the basic problem. It might be useful to have hit a lot of nails, in all kinds of weather, from various angles, into various kinds of wood, standing on ice or sand or concrete, to better be able to do it with the least amount of effort and maximum precision, but you can overthink things. It isn't brain surgery.

Where you draw the line and how is what makes your art different than somebody else's.

What I practice is often more general than specific, based on the idea that learning position, balance, and timing can be altered to fit different situations easier than learning a specific detailed scenario can be stretched the other way.

Different strokes and all.

Steve Perry said...

A few words about "rote."

While conscious thought certainly has its uses, if you look up to see punch-incoming, leisurely contemplation of the situation gets you a broken nose.

If you have learned sufficiently well a couple-three ways of dealing with the already-on-the-way punch incoming -- whether it's duck-and-cover or cut-the-line or scream loudly and do the Watusi, then the non-thinking response is possible.

What would I do if I saw a sudden punch heading for my nose? I don't know. But I remain convinced that training to do something without having to sort it out with a considered response is a better way to go. And that I'll do something.

Maybe not. Maybe I'll turn into Medusa seeing herself in the mirror. I don't know. Each day brings a new dawn, and you won't know until you get there how it will shine.

THis is an old argument and people stand on each side of it, but nobody's convinced me that my side is wrong, so I'm where I am.

Master Plan said...

Sorry, now I'm confused, which are the two sides and what is the argument?

Steve Perry said...

Two sides: Ah, that would be rote response as opposed to sorting out what is "actually" happening.

I don't see the conflict -- for me, the training is to respond faster than conscious thought and the punch coming in is what is actually happening. Freeze or not, that's the the issue -- it is that if you have to think, you will be too slow to response. The hand isn't quicker that the eye, but it is quicker than thought.

Master Plan said...

Ah, yes, that's not exactly what I'm getting at. What I've seen is folks in training scenarios under the adrenal load (ie, not reality) become unable to respond to feedback in the environment. If you as the armored assailant are telling them they need to fuck off right now, they will refuse to leave (can't hear you) and press towards an engagement. Or continue to use the same strike over and over when it's clearly ineffective. Or become so fixated on a single attacker they are oblivious to the second attacker until it's way too late (sometimes this happened even when the first attacker as "dead" and lying on their back).

There was that cop a few months back who shot some poor bastard at the BART station. Guy was on the ground, either cuffed or he just had two other cops sitting on him, and the one cop stands up, pulls his gun and shoots him. Apparently he'd gone to a Tazer training just a few days prior and operating on that training in a stressful situation grabbed the wrong gun. I've only got news reports on that one but that very much looked to be what happened.

Those are more what I'm meaning, having seen them, in black belts. Not all of them to be sure and perhaps their training (which I never saw) was the reason for that, but I don't really think so.

I've also seen (again in the padded suit) folks who will continue to strike a person who has verbally surrendered and stopped resisting. Which might be a "win" but it might get you in jail.

The issue is the stress of the real I think. Scenario based adrenal response conditioning isn't real anymore than trading one-steps on the mat, barefoot, in PJs, but it's a different kind of stressor.

Similarly I've seen well-trained folks who couldn't use that training in scenarios, or used it but were unable to do so effectively.

That's more what I'm getting at. Training a Martial Art doesn't generally address those issues and I think those issues are more important if folks want to obsess about the question of, "Will this shit really work if I need it?", but also issues that folks who (I think) really really obsess about that question often seem unwilling to even peek at a little bit between their fingers.

And of course to be clear I do not think you nor the rest of the Serak crew in guilty of such, just speaking to the nebulous idea of general practitioners of various arts (such as the ones I've seen some thru classes when I was wearing the suit).

Part of that idea of disconnecting from what is actually happening is that if you've never done a thing (dealt with serious intense personal verbal aggression for instance) then you probably ain't gonna be too good at it.

Rory talks about criminals liking to sucker punch you and use social pretenses to get close enough to do that. This seems pretty reasonable to me. So then there's the issue folks practice for that? Spotting the approach? Working when jumped suddenly at that range when you're not in your ready stance? What about if you are behind the curve and already take a couple to the face because you looked down at your watch to give the nice man in the suit the time of day? What about flipping the switch from walking around on a nice day and checking your watch to being in a seriously physically threatening violent altercation?

Some folks might be fine with that. They might pick it up real quick. They might get it right the first time. But if they never do it at do they know and...have they really trained for what's (likely) going to happen?

Steve Perry said...

I can't speak for all martial arts. I can't even speak for mine past my experience, but I do say that getting wound about your own axle in what-if land seems counterproductive.

Yes, you train in self defense for what you are most likely to run into, and that includes learning how to spot a bad guy getting close to you.

But the what-if I wake up in the middle of the night and the bad dude has shot me twice and stabbed me three times and has a bottle of sulfuric acid and a raygun in his hand? kind of thing is, for me, overthinking it.

Each of our attacks has a counter, and there's a counter to that, and we sometimes start out on our backs on the ground in a chokehold, so we have some variety in our training.

What they do in TKD or JKD or Shotokan class? Not my worry.

Master Plan said...

Sure, that's why I think folks should not in fact think about it too much but instead actually go try it out.

I remember reading in the Tao of Jeet Kun Do a long time ago Bruce's suggestion to practice what happens when you're attacked while sitting, or behind a table, or in bed. I thought, "yah that's a good idea!", but I never did actually practice it.

Again, if folks wonder if it will work I think they can effectively address that question w.o. getting in to actual violent encounters. The tools are there for it, pick the scenario you find most intriguing, define the victory conditions, and see what happens. It's not a threat to years of's just MORE fun!

The "worst" result would be that the training works just great and it's an unproductive exercise.

It's like saying, "Why bother sparring, I'm sure the forms work great!", sure, maybe, but...why not just find out by sparring? It's easy, it's fun.

Same deal here, scenario work is easy and fun, it doesn't have to require expensive classes and expensive protective gear and high level adrenal stress, it can just be more fun stuff to fuck around with and perhaps reveal something useful or address those with the concern of "Will it work?".


Steve Perry said...

I didn't say scenario training was useless -- I just don't believe that if you don't assiduously go that way it means you might as well not train.

It's another bell and whistle. We do it a lot in the combat shooting games, and it does make things more fun, but whole generations of soldiers, cops, and civilians grew up shooting at bullseye targets and were able to hit enemies or bad guys just fine. Grip and trigger control and sight picture are more important than whether the target looks realistic or not.

Stan said...

Two thoughts on this topic. The first is the "paralysis of analysis." This seems to happen when someone stresses about doing the "exact right thing" and he thinks, chooses, examines...all when the defecation is striking the rotating oscillator.

The second is the old, false, mantra that "practice makes perfect." BS!!! Practice makes Permanent! What you do in practice, and HOW you approach and do it, is PRECISELY how you will do it when your life depends on it. If you have always started with a right-cross punch, (or a front kick...or your best "Jesse Owens impression") you will use that. If you have trained with only "half"'re not going to magically develop the "wu chi," "fa-jing" or "emotional content" of a master.

Train as if your life depends on it. If it never DOES depend on it, so much the better!

Happy training, folki and thanks for the thoughts!

Master Plan said...

Hmm. Well I certainly didn't mean to imply that I thought you thought scenario training was useless, nor did I mean to imply that I thought the opposite, because..I don't think either of those things.

You said you got an email from somebody asking the question: How do you know if what you are doing will work for sure?

I don't know if they meant that like, "How do YOU know YOUR stuff will work...", or if they meant it like, "How can I determine if what I'm learning is really workable?", or something else.

You answered them (correctly IMO) by saying that you can't ever know *for sure* if it will work. Basically for reasons we both agree on, you ain't never gonna know what's gonna happen in the future.

I figure somebody who is asking that question could have been doing what they do for a while and have just started to wonder about that question, or they might be wanting a security blanket or magical talisman to reassure them that they are safe regardless, or it might be other things.

Given that you can't ever actually know, and even if you're involved in some serious shit you still can't predict the future, I do think there are ways to help either reassure folks, or help them adapt what they have learned to perhaps give them a better sense of, "Will it work?".

That is, you might not be able to prove for sure it WILL work for sure, but you can test to see if it won't work in a given situation.

So, for folks that do have the concern I think scenario training is a possible method they can use to get some better feedback.

I don't think however that scenario training at all replaces more traditional methods. After all if you're not training anything else...what are you going to do in the scenarios?

I think that preparing for the event does indeed produce tangible benefits for folks. So do a lot of other people, like the armed forces, cops, etc. Doesn't mean you will not perform well if you don't have it, just means, like any training, it works, to train folks.

I don't know if you've read On Killing, but there's that bit towards the start about rates of soldiers actually shooting their weapons and actually shooting them at the enemy. He compares old training methods (ranges, circular targets) to methods they adopted (I think) post-Korea and pre-Nam which produced very significant results and are a form of scenario training (in that they more accurately resemble the expected event).

I'm also not meaning to imply that you must "assiduously" engage in scenario training to either get any benefit from it nor to prepare for actual violence. Like I keep saying, I think it's fun to play around with, I think it's particularly fun if you've not done a lot of it before.

I don't however agree that it's just another bell and whistle, but that depends on what you mean by bell and whistle.