Thursday, July 08, 2010

Smart Martial Artists

A follow-up to the martial artist post a couple back, regarding what I consider a smart player.

There's an old saying amongst those who fly aeroplanes: "There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots." (I also like the hang-glider's saying: "Never fly any higher than you'd like to fall ...")

These sentiments go to pushing the envelope in ventures that already have more inherent risks than sitting in one's easy chair and reading the Sunday paper. Sure, you could die in an earthquake doing that. You could get hit by a bus while you are crossing the street. All life carries some risk, but some activities start with a better chance you'll die if you screw up. You can go base-jumping or solo cave-diving dozens of times without incident, but the odds are more likely that you'll croak doing those than a whole lot of other things. Climb Mt. Everest? Guide, oxygen, everything? One climber in twelve, by count, doesn't survive the trip. Lot of corpsesicles up there in the cold heights.

You like those odds? I don't. I expect most of the climbers who died didn't think they'd be the one of a dozen.

Walk into the local biker bar on Saturday night and allow loudly as how all the gentlemen therein are witless and engaged in incestuous relationships with their mothers? That blows right past "bold" into "plumb stupid" -- unless this is part of a fiendishly-clever plan to kill a particular biker and then somehow make your escape in the confusion. And if you were that clever, you'd probably have come up with a better way to off the guy and spend your remaining time among the living. Like plinking him from five hundred meters with a rifle.

As Rory Miller offers about matters of potentially-crippling or deadly mayhem: "If you can't be absent, run early and run often."-

Can I get an "Amen?" To me, this is just common sense. Nobody can whup up on you if you're not there.

I think a goodly part of martial arts usefulness lies in giving the player a sense of self confidence. Yes, yes, we can argue about reality versus fantasy, what you think you can do versus what you really can, but -- a lot of fights get started because the combatants feel the need to prove something, either to themselves or somebody else. This desire arises often from a feeling of insecurity. A fear that someone will think badly of them, that they will be viewed as cowardly. If you believe -- however rightly or wrongly -- that you can take out the biker bar, then a lot of that insecurity disappears. You don't feel the need to demonstrate something you believe, and it allows you to avoid the event. It's mental more than physical. I don't have anything to prove, and certainly not to this yahoo.

Thinking I can take you out isn't the same as being able to do it, of course, but it might be enough to let me walk away without giving it a go.

It came up in a discussion recently about the placebo effect -- Being brave or pretending to be brave can have the same effect, can't it? (And something else came out of that conversation I hadn't thought about before: Not really any way to do a double-blind study of the placebo effect per se, is there? What do you give somebody instead of a placebo to test it ... ?)

Back to the confidence thing. Having it helps you avoid the choice between walking tall or walking at all, if you aren't worried about being viewed as using a white feather to scratch the yellow streak down your spineless backside. Living well is the best revenge, and living at all beats the option most of the time.

I think the attitude is along the lines of, "Well, if we do this dance, somebody is gonna get seriously hurt. I'd hope it's you, but it might be me, and I'm applying Kenny Rogers from "The Gambler:" You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em/ know when walk away and know when to run ...

Yet -- no matter what any expert tells you, there will be times when running is simply not an option. Two off the top of my head: Somebody comes at you while you are strolling with granny and the toddlers. You can't run until you do something to slow the attacker down below Granny's cruising speed. The slower she is, the more you have to do.

Somebody is assaulting the little girl next door under the rhoddy in your front yard as you step outside to collect the mail? If you run from the first or ignore the second? Doesn't speak well of you, does it?

You might have enough good fortune to never have to deal with such choices. But if you do? Then what?

Is my self-confidence faulty? Maybe. Maybe vitamins don't really make me feel better, I only think I feel better. I'll take that, thank you.


Scott said...

"As Rory Miller offers about matters of potentially-crippling or deadly mayhem: "If you can't be absent, run early and run often."-

Can I get an "Amen?" To me, this is just common sense. Nobody can whup up on you if you're not there."

You might convince me of your sincerity if you spend more time on it - sprinting, parkour - than on silat. Otherwise, I perceive hypocrisy.

"Not really any way to do a double-blind study of the placebo effect per se, is there? What do you give somebody instead of a placebo to test it ... ?)"

Give two groups of headache sufferers sugar pills. Tell group A they're sugar pills and group B they're Excedrin.

Steve Perry said...

"You might convince me of your sincerity if you spend more time on it - sprinting, parkour - than on silat. Otherwise, I perceive hypocrisy."

Not in the least, Scott. You have car and house insurance, right? Maybe health insurance? You hope not to ever need them, but you get them just in case you do.

Stopping an attack that might lead to being stomped and maimed or killed? It only has to work once to pay for itself. And the knowledge that you can offers all kinds of psychological benefits.

I've been in silat for fifteen years and I haven't had to use it. Part of that is knowing I had something if I needed it. If I were itching to use it, why haven't I?

And what about granny and the toddlers?

I was never going to be a sprinter -- all slow-twitch muscles -- so the only way I was gonna outrun somebody was to get a long lead and go for the marathon. But a fast sprinter would run me down before I got far.

And I'm slower now than I was when I was young and fit. Parkour? Uh huh. See a lot of sixty-two year old guys north of two hundred pounds doing that?

A rock or a sharp stick -- or the modern equivalents -- are much more effective tools, and in a life-or-death situation, better choices. The silat has other reasons than just self-defense, many of which I've listed here over the years.

And the study still doesn't play. The placebo effect requires belief to work. If you know they are sugar pills, you invalidate the test.

Some guy said...

In a martial version of one of those sayings, a teacher in high school once told us "Never use a weapon you wouldn't want shoved up your a-" I'm not sure I buy it unilaterally, but it would explain why I've always avoided fencing.(And I think there's more solid sense in it than may first appear.)

Stan said...

I believe the mind-set of "run early, run often," is referring to moving through life without looking for, exasperating or instigating conflicts. Of course, the actual ability to break a 4 minute mile can also be very useful!
I do have to differ with you on one point, Steve. You said that you've studied Silat for 15-years, "without having to use it." I submit that is not actually possible. Anything that you have done for that long, with interest, intent and investment, has altered and affected the way you think, react and move.
I answered a similar question from a new student in this manner: I use my arts everyday. Because of that, I haven't had to lay a hand on anybody. (Outside of work, but that's a different story...)

Dan Gambiera said...

Sorry, Scott. No Amen for Rory. Any sane person avoids needless dangerous situations. The best fight is the one you don't get into. But there are times when running isn't prudent but craven, shameful and evil.

If I left my wife, niece or nephews to die so I could save myself I would be about as low and disgusting a piece of shit as ever walked the Earth.

If I let someone kill a guest in my home because protecting him or her would put me at risk that would be an offense worthy of damnation.

And if we had been blessed with children and I even contemplated letting one of them come to harm out of concern for my own safety, then things with too many legs that live at the bottom of ponds could teach me a thing or two about morals.

Dan Gambiera said...

And sometimes running is a really bad, suicidally stupid thing to do.

Men are almost always faster than women. I have a bad knee, flat feet, too many pounds and asthma. Running could mean just getting dragged down from behind, tired and without the advantage of surprise. Running makes no sense if you have nowhere safer to go. And if someone wants to hurt you personally, escape will only be temporary.

There are also dangers in running too soon. If it's come to hostile physical contact and you can't slow the attacker down enough to prevent pursuit you will have all the problems mentioned above squared and cubed.

It can put you at a serious disadvantage psychologically. If your only thought is "run" you will act like prey. Predators will react to that. If you are ready and willing to do whatever you have to to get out of there in one piece they will react to that as well. If you don't act like prey you are much less likely to be treated that way. The research going back forty fucking years demonstrates it pretty conclusively. Start with Wright and Rossi. Got to Bart and O'Brien. Take a detour to Kleck or Sayles.

And you've forgotten one of the most important parts. Everyone knows how to run. You don't have to spend hours and hours just to develop bare competence.

Deterrence and resistance are something else entirely. We don't all come pre-loaded with de-escalation techniques. Not everyone knows how to convince asshole that whatever he wants isn't worth what he'll have to pay for it or how to physically resist violence efficiently. That's why we practice them. They're not easy. We don't all know how to do them.

Stan said...

One of the problems of "running" as a solution for conflict, is loss of awareness.
If you find yourself "fleeing a threat," rather than "seeking a better battleground," you may miss opportunities to evade, surprise or even counter-attack the predator.

I don't know about everyone else, but my running range is relatively short and would not be my most effective survival tool. Hmmm, maybe I ought to work on that...


Scott said...

Steve, if you say amen to run early and often but don't practice running you're hypocritical. Sure, a knife and at least a ground game are also good ideas.

Slower and weaker and older probably also affect your silat....

If granny and/or the toddlers are with you then running's off the table, sure.

The placebo effect has nothing to do with what the researcher knows.

Dan, I didn't amen Rory, Steve did. And most of the flaws you cite with running can be ameliorated with practice; run hard 2-3 days a week and you'll get better at it; practice the easy parkour stuff (okay, no depth jumps), better still.

Steve Perry said...

Scott -

You need to look up the definitions of "hypocrite" and "double blind study."

Dan Gambiera said...

Steve, he also needs to look at the real research on the subject. Physical resistance to violent criminal attacks is the single most effective method of preventing a completed crime. Full stop.

Forty years of multi-disciplinary research with not one single credible counter-study.

Steve Perry said...

I didn't think the "run early, run often" line was meant to be a get-into-the-blocks-then-sprint kind of thing, but a seeking of safety -- if you are standing on the track and a train is coming, get off the track.

Literally running might be the way, but for some of us some of the time, it won't be.

As for the single most effective way to prevent completion of a crime, you haven't convinced me, nor will a slew of studies, that physical resistance beats not being there.

If the guy who got robbed at the ATM didn't go, then he doesn't get robbed there. Full stop.

Scott said...

Hypocrisy is the act of persistently professing beliefs, opinions, virtues, feelings, qualities, or standards that are inconsistent with one's actions. Hypocrisy is thus a kind of lie.

If you're testing placebo effect you're not going to be double-blind sure; single-blind randomized control trials are still perfectly straightforward.

Scott said...

Dan, physical resistance includes running away.

Stan said...

It also seems to me, gentlemen, that when we are discussing "actually running," we are, most likely, looking at a situation where we would need top speed, quickly, but for relatively short distances.
Unless, of course, we're staging a new production of "Deliverance," in which case running would probably NOT be the most useful tactic!
Again, with running as a tactic, it would be every bit as important to be "running toward" something, as "running away from" something.
Happy Monday, all!

Steve Perry said...

Scott --

Yep. So I quoted Rory, "If you can't be absent, run early and run often."

"Can I get an 'Amen?" is not the least hypocritical since it looms big in martial arts training to avoid real world fights if you can, and only bring out the metaphorical gloves when you have to.

I've said that high, wide, and repeatedly, here, and elsewhere: The smartest move is to be elsewhere when you can, and that's my advice, so I don't see how you are getting insincerity out of it.

In fifteen years of silat, I've had a couple of occasions where I might have pulled the stuff up and applied it directly, but I didn't, I choose to step off instead. Which means I'm practicing what I preach.

If you'll take another look at what I said about the placebo effect:

"Not really any way to do a double-blind study of the placebo effect per se, is there? What do you give somebody instead of a placebo to test it ... ?"

I didn't say the effect had anything to do with what the researcher knows. I said I didn't see how to do a double-blind study.

You said, "Give two groups of headache sufferers sugar pills. Tell group A they're sugar pills and group B they're Excedrin."

Since the effect works because of an expectation that it will, the group A shouldn't notice any help, and group B will probably show the normal curve for placebo -- assuming they believe that Excedrin will do the trick. If they have migraines and have taken Excedrin before and it didn't do any good, chances are it the effect will be smaller.

But that's not the point -- your experiment doesn't offer the double-blind, and it's just a variation on how they've been testing the placebo effect all along: Telling the patient he's getting medication that will work than then giving him a sugar pill.

One of the reasons for a double-blind is avoid unconscious bias and thereby influence by the tester upon the testee. If the doctor is a bad liar and the subject can suss out such things, then he might figure that the medicine he's getting is bogus, and that invalidates the effect -- placebo works because the patient believes he's getting the real stuff and his mind set makes him feel or even get better.

Belief is very powerful, which is why I brought it up.

Dan Gambiera said...

Sorry Scott, dead wrong again. The researchers were all, and I mean ALL careful to distinguish between flight and resistance.

Scott said...

Were they careful to distinguish between unarmed and armed resistance? Because googling around I'm just finding pro-gun arguments. I don't have a problem with that, but I do have a problem with conflating guns with unarmed fighting.

Steve Perry said...

Oh, yeah, I meant to note this earlier: Slower and weaker and older doesn't just affect your silat, it affects *everything ...*

One of the reasons that fighting smarter instead of harder becomes more and more necessary. Sooner or later, the iron you used could push becomes the iron you used could push -- doesn't mean you can't be strong for you age, but it's the nature of biological machine that it eventually wears out.

Learning skills based mostly on strength or speed works well until those things start to fade. Learning a skill that requires less strength and speed is apt to have a more useful half-life.

Irene said...

A couple other thoughts:
Any art that relies on speed and strength will fail you whenever you run into an opponent with greater speed or strength. Doesn't matter whether you're 25 or 85 when you run into him.

All good fighters, in addition to having good awareness, sensitivity to themselves, etc. are also strong and fast.

The three best silat players I have seen, ranging from mid-50s to 87 years old, don't appear to have lost any speed or strength at all.

Dan Gambiera said...

Scott, the question of armed versus unarmed has been studied in detail.

Armed self defense is by far the most effective way of stopping a criminal assault. Unarmed resistance is the next most effective. It's still far ahead of the next most effective strategy which is flight.

And before you bring it up, no, fighting back doesn't just make the attacker mad and get the defender hurt worse. When that was looked it in some depth it turned out the most serious injury almost always came before the resistance. That is, getting hurt got the defender to pull out the stops.

Irene said...

I believe the point is that if you successfully avoid the encounter, then the criminal assault does not occur, so it does not get included in the statistics of 'ways to stop criminal assault.'

I cannot see any way that 'not getting into a fight' is LESS effective at preserving your well-being than 'getting into a fight armed or unarmed.'

Dan Gambiera said...

Irene, I said at the very beginning that the fight you don't get into is the best one and that no sane person gets to that stage unless she absolutely has to. All the strategies from not being there, getting out of there before it happens, to talking your way out are better.

The question is what to do when those aren't enough. The people who say "Run" are partially right. It's a strategy that can work. The ones who say "Fight" are partially right. Being prepared to do these or other things as the situation requires and getting past the "It isn't happening" quickly enough to do something before things get out of your control is the only really important thing.

Most of the time defensive driving is good enough. But when something hits you the crumple zone stops looking like a waste of money. And the person who says "With anti-lock brakes and a good frame anyone who has airbags or spends time buckling seatbelts is a fool" is simply wrong.

Viro said...

I'll choose "absent." I'm too slow of a runner.

That being said, whenever I take the line in class, I always make it a point to "run away" once.

I usually do this with a smile because, without fail, whenever I do this, I have a quote from Blazing Saddles run through my head.

"For my next impression..."

Stan said...

"Jesse Owens!"