Monday, May 17, 2010

Maps and Territories in the Martial Arts

There is a long-standing discussion in the martial arts world about "reality" training. The consensus among those who know more about such things than I is that full-power, full-speed training in striking arts is, at best, difficult to teach. This is easier in grappling arts to a degree, but we are talking about whacking with intent. Full-out versions of this, so the discussion goes, are iffy to train.

There's an understatement.

Turn two fit strikers loose on each other with an all-bets-are-off, have-at-it command, and what you get real fast is injury. In a ten-second bout this might not be serious enough to warrant a trip to the ER or the ICU, but if you have a typical hour-and-a-half training session with this as the operant mode, somebody needs to call somebody and have them standing by with the am-bu-lance -- because somebody else is surely going to get a serious ass-whippin'. Broken this, torn that, smashed these other.

If you expect to do full-out over time, however big your class starts out, it is going to shrink and disappear until there is only one, who can then play with himself.

Break your toys, you don't have them to use any more.

It's a well-duh! and anybody who has ever danced in a circle against another knows it.

There are all kinds of workarounds, great drills, but like the map, they aren't the territory. Still, to be sure, a good map can help you navigate the territory. (Light up Google Earth, and you can get a street view, and while it's not the same as the real deal, it will surely help you recognize the place when you get there.)

Before there was an internet, man-made orbital satellites, television, radio, alternating current or any kind of portable photography, people were still capable of generating useful maps. Look at the illo at the top of this column. That's from about four hundred years ago. Is it to the centimeter accurate and complete? Of course not, but it is close enough so you don't have any problem figuring out what you are looking at, isn't it?

Four hundred years, but that's nothing, really -- people have been beating each other up since before they fooled around shagging the Neanderthals. And passing along how to do both.

I'm always a bit amused by folks who say you can't teach things like this. Obviously somebody figured out ways to do it.

There are some clever drills to approximate the territory, but no matter how clever, they aren't the real deal. Go really slow and limit it to one thing? Punching slow and easy does help you build a basis for punching fast and, but sooner or later, you have to punch fast and hard.

Recall the Bruce Lee story, about when he was being challenged by a master kung fu guy. "Push me, right here," the master said. Lee punched him in the face and knocked him down. "I don't push, I punch," Lee supposedly said. Probably an apocryphal story, but it doesn't matter -- the principle is there. Do it slo-mo, blindfolded, in water up to your neck, it's all good, but it's all still a drill. You use the drills to build tools, but the drills aren't what you are aiming for.

Here's a typical step-by-step for teaching a martial art skill, and the rationale for it:

Cain attacks Abel. Cain is restricted to a) one attack or defense that must be offered b) slowly and with c) little power.

Abel is likewise restricted.

Cain punches to the nose. Abel blocks. Or parries. Or ducks. Or shoots in. Doesn't matter, the restrictions are there. No power, no speed. So if Abel misses the deflection, no problem.

After a time, Cain is allowed go faster and punch harder, eventually achieving full-power and speed. The risk is still there, but mitigated because Abel knows exactly what is coming, and he has learned the tool(s) to deal with it.

So then you up the ante. Two attacks, again slow and easy. Then maybe a counter when the attacks come. But still choreographed so there aren't any surprises.

Then, if you haven't bashed each other too much, more varied attacks and defenses, starting slow and scaling up. And eventually, you get used to seeing full-power, full-speed shots coming your way, but with the limiter still in place.

Drills, to get you used to the idea of punches coming.

Yes, you'll get hit anyway, but that's not always bad. Being able to take a shot and keep going is a useful trick. Being hit by your friend who will help you up afterward is better than being hit by somebody on the street who will stomp you while you are still down.

How do you deal with the surprise factor, once the limits are off? When Cain can throw anything he has, and Abel can, too?

There is the key, the crux, the real nitty-gritty, what it is all about. When the rubber hits the road, the shit the fan, the push comes to the shove, then what?

I like the Stonewall Jackson Dictum: Get there firstest with the mostest. Abel doesn't wait on Cain, he brings his own surprise out and delivers as soon as he determines intent.

Cain says, "I am gonna kick your -- "

Nope. Too late. Abel is gone -- over, under, around, or through, as needed.

From Abel's viewpoint it doesn't matter what Cain does. What Abel does is more important. Because by the time Cain gets ready, Abel is at home, having a beer, and thank you very much, brah, give my regards to the monkeys in the land of Nod. That's the name of the game.

The training notion here is this: If Abel has seen ten thousand punches flying at his face from every conceivable angle and knows and has practiced ways to prevent those from impacting, it's not the real deal, but it's maybe not such a leap to make that last hop from lots of practice to reality than from never-seen-it-before.

I mean, if my buddy punches me and I miss the deflection and he smashes my nose, that might not be real but it sure feels real. As anybody who has ever gotten decked in a ring or on a mat knows, it doesn't matter what somebody meant if they smack you hard enough to ring your chimes, it still hurts. If I can block a hard punch from this guy, maybe it might not be too far-fetched a notion to believe I can block a hard punch from a different guy?

If you have never seen a punch approaching your nose at speed, you will have the built-in defensive software -- freeze, run, or attack. But if you have practiced a response until it is almost reflexive, then it might be there when you call on it.

Might not be, but given my limited experience in different kinds of training, it has been there for me more often than not, so I'm good with it. It's about perception -- if I don't see a threat, nah, maybe nothing kicks in. If believe that it is? I think it wakes up the critter in the cave. If it is gonna be me or him goes down? Better that it is him. No question.

There are folks who disagree with this idea, and I can see how they might. Then again, until they come up with a better map? I'm using the one I got.


Bobbe Edmonds said...

I somehow sense that there is, perhaps, a story behind this lesson. A background, as it were.

Steve Perry said...

Well, there's always a story 'cause that's what I do, but no particular tale -- just something that came up while I was working out.

Ian SADLER said...

'If I don't see the threat'...

I guess that is the big thing.

As I understand M. LEE was a master at seeing the seed of motion and would react to that. Whether it be a drawn breath, and twitch in the stomach, whatever, while you were winding up for the haymaker, he was already attacking and using direct lines to cut response time.

We practice non-telegraphic drills to hone the skill of 'seeing the seed of motion' and 'reducing the telegraph'.

I guess also that the quality of zanshin maybe linked to this skill, or you could try achieve the sixth sense of O'Sensei Morihei Ueshiba.

He could sense the attack before it launched, the only time it failed was when he backed into a washing pole and hit his head. Apparently because the pole had no intent.

Scott said...

The white collar boxing fad a few years ago was instructive; serious gyms sold memberships to suits who did floor workouts. Most of them never sparred, but a lot of them got into great shape and actually looked good on the heavy bag, speed rope, speed bag, jitter bag, mirror.

There were two sets of fight anecdotes from these guys. If they mixed with someone at a nightclub or whatever, they did *great*.

If they stepped up and sparred with the guys in their gym who sparred regularly, they got their asses handed to them.

If you look at that in SD terms, though, floor workouts are very effective; how many Bad Guys are pro fighters?

Steve Perry said...

The rules change, depending on where you are, but there are always rules -- sometimes they are formal, sometimes not, but still understood.

If a guy in a bar takes a swing at you, you aren't supposed to open up on him with a subgun and take out the entire crowd -- that's generally frowned upon.

You don't get to blow up the freeway because somebody cut you off when you changed lanes.

In a ring, the guy who trains for that tends to beat the guy who doesn't -- if they both follow the rules. As I like to point out to the MMA crowd, if I can bring my gun or knives, my chances of winning go way up.

There's no one-size-fits all in martial arts. Some can be stretched from sport to street, some don't have much give.

My point in the posting was not so much which is better or why, but how do you train to achieve skill when you don't want to kill or cripple your training partners?

To me, some of the traditional methods do the trick for the basics of movement just fine. That same punch that Cain threw to flatten Abel thirty thousand years ago will work just as well today as it did then. Abel might have picked up some moves to deal with it, but if it lands?

New can be terrific, but it isn't necessarily better, and if it ain't broke, don't fix it .

Now, the legality of this and the societal rules have changed, and that has to be taken into consideration. But before you get too wrapped up in which bike path you need to take, you have to be able to ride a bike without falling down. If you can't do that, the choice of paths is moot.

Dan Moran said...

"If they stepped up and sparred with the guys in their gym who sparred regularly, they got their asses handed to them."

The great Casey Stengel once said, "In theory there's no difference between practice and theory, but in practice there is."

Short of getting in the ring with someone who wants to hurt you there's no way to learn what it feels like to get in the ring with someone who wants to hurt you.

Scott said...

"As I like to point out to the MMA crowd, if I can bring my gun or knives, my chances of winning go way up."

Well, if you can and they can't your chances go up. If both parties are armed I'd say your chances of both killing and dying go way up; not victory as I define it.

I dislike guns. I have some - Texas ;-) - but my EDC's an XL Cold Steel folding knife, 5" blade (legal in Texas); either a Vaquero or a tanto Voyager. Someone who assumed I was unarmed because I roll would be making a mistake.

The important part of SD is this: I'm a lifelong teetotaler who doesn't associate with drunks. I don't hang out in bars or nightclubs, I don't go to cocktail parties, et cetera. Boring guy, lark, desk job, lives in a nice neighborhood, superheavy lifter, knife in pocket... everything else put together is several times less important than staying away from the Demon.

Steve Perry said...

Scott --

My comment was in the context of specificity --
when the MMA guys give me crap about what I do, I point out that what i do involves knives, and is, in fact, based on the blade.

I can't roll with MMA guys in a ring. But -- even though they might have a knife, how much training do they do with it as part of what they learn?

Guy tells me, Yeah, I roll, but I can bring a knife, that makes us even on that front, plus I can roll, so I'm ahead.

I've spent every class for the last fifteen months working on knife attacks, defenses, and drills with the blade. You don't think that might give me an advantage over a guy with a knife who hasn't spent any class time working on it? Or an hour every couple of months?

It's context, is all.

Scott said...

"... how much training do they do with it as part of what they learn?"

At best maybe some fucking around with actionflex knives while rolling; nothing serious.

"Guy tells me, Yeah, I roll, but I can bring a knife, that makes us even on that front, plus I can roll, so I'm ahead. I've spent every class for the last fifteen months working on knife attacks, defenses, and drills with the blade. You don't think that might give me an advantage over a guy with a knife who hasn't spent any class time working on it? Or an hour every couple of months?"

Compared to a guy eating Cheetos on the couch? Hell yes it gives you an advantage! Compared to a guy who spent that time working striking, clinch, and ground? No; no I don't. You worked on the 'knife' part, he worked on the 'fight' part of the knife fight; I'd say advantage is his in clinch or ground and yours if you start in freefighting range with blades out. If he can clinch with you before you can pop your knife, that 18 months wasn't wasted, but it could've been better spent.

Take all this with a pinch of salt, of course; I've never seen Plinck silat, so I'm Sun Tzu's half-ignorant guy who is going to lose half the time.

Steve Perry said...

It's always about "if," isn't it?

MMA is a hard sport that has real fight applications, and I never said otherwise. On the other hand I've been told more than a few times by MMA guys that they always win against any traditional MA, anywhere, any time.

I've had them tell me it didn't matter if I had a knife and they didn't, they'd still choke me out.

If they want to believe that, I don't really mind, but such claims don't inspire me with their grasp of reality.

In a knife fight, people get cut, and I wouldn't expect to walk away unscathed. (Hands are for when your knife breaks; the knife is for when the gun runs out of bullets.)

I claim no expertise in my abilities -- there are guys in my class who are way better than I am with a knife.
But if I can play my game and not yours, the advantage is mine. L'acier bat la chair -- steel beats flesh. And while I could be entirely wrong, it does seem to me, using your own logic, that trained steel beats untrained steel ...

Scott said...

"I've had them tell me it didn't matter if I had a knife and they didn't, they'd still choke me out."

Jesus fuck.

There might be guys that good, I guess; I don't think so, though. 'Still choke you out', maybe someone at the top of the tree. 'didn't matter,' like won't get cut repeatedly, I don't believe it for a second. Morihei Ueshiba was allegedly that good, and upset people greatly for decades for that reason. Never even heard of anyone else that good, except of course the TKD guys who'll just kick it out of your hand, heh.