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The thoughts and viewpoints on this blog are my own and represent my skeptical, critical-thinking approach to martial arts, combative training, film, the field of cognitive science, and random subjects.
Updated: 6 min 18 sec ago

DON'T JUST STAND THERE

Tue, 2015-05-05 14:28
DON'T JUST STAND THEREDo Something
Everybody does it.  I've done it.  You've probably done it too.  Even if you haven't done it yourself, you've probably seen it done.

You know what I'm talking about...the dreaded martial arts self defense demonstration.

In case you've just emerged from your hermit's cave and don't have a clue what I'm talking about, I'll describe it for you:

One guy, let's call him "Our Hero", stands facing 2 or more bad guys.  The bad guys move in usually with a single a punch, a solitary kick, or an exaggerated grab.  In Aikido, 9 times out of 10, it's a karate chop.

Our hero then responds with the three P's:  poise, power and precision.

The bad guys usually just stand there like a statue, getting pommeled and beaten until finally the coup de grâce finishes them off.  Sometimes they will move in one at a time, but occasionally they'll enter en masse and our hero has to add some balletic turns and spins. 

All of this is done in a school auditorium or at a strip mall.

These demonstrations are pre-planned, pre-arranged, and highly choreographed.  When we watch pro wrestling we always complain about the lack of realism, calling it fake, but when we watch a self defense demo doing essentially the same durned thing we respond with applause.

Let me just say, I hate this crap.  It is unrealistic.  It doesn't show the necessity of running and moving.  It doesn't bring in the necessary elements of cheating and dirty fighting.  Bad guys don't wait their turn.  The attack is probably not even going to be coming from the front, or what I call the Full Monty (full frontal attack).  Bad guys don't follow our rules and are not interested in etiquette or fair play.  Attacks are ambushes.  Attacks are sucker punches.  Attacks have the element of surprise.  Attacks give the tactical advantage to the bad guys.  They are unexpected, unprovoked, and unwarranted.

The neat, precise self defense demo may be beautiful to watch, but that's sort of my point...real world violence is anything but.  It's ugly.  It's messy.  It's noisy.  It's bloody, chaotic and sweaty.

It's the CSI dissection, done in a clean, germ-free science lab.  It's all too sterile.

Watch a real fight, and you'll see what I'm talking about. 

My recommendation?  Forget these types of demos.  Don't include them in your curriculum.  Don't even encourage them in your belt/rank testing.  Forget rote memory.  Let go of the concept of precision.  Don't worry about how it looks--focus on whether it works.  Do what more and more people are doing, heck, what Bruce Lee recommended way back in the 60s...put on lots and lots of padding and safety equipment and make it real.

Embrace the chaos.



 



 

DO YOU REMEMBER?

Sat, 2015-03-07 16:23
DO YOU REMEMBER?A GLANCE BACK
"Memory
All alone in the moonlight
I can smile at the old days"
from the musical Cats


A friend of mine recently called, and it wasn't long before we started reminiscing about some of our training days back when the world was much younger.

On most Saturday mornings for a several years in the 70s my friends and I would get together and fight.  When it was warm we would go to Shelby Park in East Nashville, and if the weather was bad we would train at the gym at Two Rivers Baptist Church just across the river in Donelson.

Everybody fought, mostly full contact.

Some days we would box.  Other days we would kickbox.  The rules would change from week to week, or even during the same training session.  We might allow clinching and grappling, or we might include leg kicks.  Sometimes we would just wrestle or do a form of sloppy judo.  We might limit the techniques that could be used, so that one guy could only use his hands, while other could only kick.  Most of the time our rounds lasted 3 minutes.  But we sometimes went long, maybe 5 minutes or so.  Other times we would do 1 minute rounds or even 30 second rounds.  Breaks might last a minute, but usually we only rested for 15 to 30 seconds between rounds.  Occasionally we would add rules that made us do active resting, so it was not uncommon to do jumping jacks or push ups or crunches between rounds.

We made up scenario training that we thought was fun, but was actually fairly cutting edge and ahead of its time.  For example "Freshman" fighting was where one guy stayed in the middle and fought fresh, rested opponents every minute or so.  We also would put one guy in a corner and have him fight his way out against two or three others who were intent on keeping him wedged in.

We did "Ring of Fire" where one guy was in the middle of a circle and attackers would move in one by one at a signal unbeknownst to the victim.  We also did "You and Whose Army" where a guy would have to face a line of attackers who came in like the bull on the old Schlitz Malt Liquor ads.

In all of the rounds, hundreds of rounds, countless rounds that we fought we had one special rule:  If someone trips, slips and falls, the fight did not stop.  In fact, the fighting merely intensified.  This, to us, simulated a real street fight where there were no rules and no refs.

Near the end of every training session we would usually do some weapons work.  This might be stick fighting, knife fighting with knives made from wood, staff fighting or sword fighting using bokken we bought from an import shop at 100 Oaks Mall.  Sometimes we would go stick versus knife, or staff versus stick. 

We always finished with specific self-defense scenario training that focused on realistic attacks.  We hated prearranged, choreographed training, but we did design certain standard attack/response scenarios that we believed were likely to occur.  We figured we needed to sear these techniques into our brains and bodies so that they became automatic responses.  We did not really know the term "muscle memory," but we understood the concept and capitalized on the process.

Our training gear was limited.  This was due to two factors:  We were poor, and we were stupid.  We usually had boxing gloves, and most of us were able to get shin guards from a local sporting goods store that was located in downtown Nashville near the high school where I had attended, Hume Fogg Technical.

We bought lacrosse gloves which we used for weapons training, and some of us had football padding.  We usually had at least two sets of head gear, wiping out the other guys sweat, but even without the safety gear we fought anyway.

What I loved was the fact that although we trained hard we rarely got mad at each other.  We shook hands before and after each match up.  We respected each other and gave good, objective feedback at the end of each training session.  In fact, we might even interrupt a match if we saw something particular noteworthy.  If someone brought in something new that they stole from a book, or if someone stumbled on a cool, effective technique, we would all work on that skill and troubleshoot how to incorporate it into various scenarios.

Training indoors was good, but what we really dug was fighting outside.  At Shelby Park there were flat areas, uneven woodsy areas, and plenty of hills.  I remember one session where we fought on the side of a particularly steep hill.  It was exhausting but really a ton of fun.  There was a Cedar log clubhouse in the park back in those days, and if there was no church or family picnic going on, we would go inside and fight on the stairs or in the tight confines of the corners of the rooms. 

We were lucky.  We rarely got hurt.  Sure, we had bloody noses and busted lips.  Sometimes a jammed finger or badly bruised thighs or sharp, painful shin impact.  But we would just follow standard coaching procedure and "walk it off."  It was not uncommon to see somebody with a cone of tissue stuffed into a bleeding nostril.

Of all the training I've done over almost five decades of martial arts and combatives training, I must say these were my favorite training experiences.  

I miss getting up and driving to go over and get my buddies. 
I miss warming up and stretching and doing a little roadwork to loosen the muscles.  

I miss the camaraderie and the joking and the playful teasing when we screwed up.  I miss touching gloves before the violence started.

I miss stealing ice from the church kitchen to make a compress for a sprained elbow.  I miss insisting on two guys shaking hands when things were starting to get heated up and tempers were starting to get out of control.  

I miss coming home with a nice mouse on my cheek or the beginnings of a black eye.  

I do not really miss getting kicked in the nuts or getting hit on the knuckle with stick. 

If doing is learning, then I learned a LOT.  Of all of the great seminars I've participated in, with some of the world's leading instructors, I must say that I probably learned more from just fighting with my pals.








DON'T START BELIEVING

Mon, 2015-01-19 17:28
DON'T START BELIEVING
ADVENTURES IN SELF-DECEPTION
"Don't stop believing."Journey
"People are crazier than anybody."Ron Goin
I was chatting online not to long ago with a guy who believes in Reiki.  And not just any old Reiki mind you.  No, this guy believes in "remote" Reiki.  

Just to catch you up, Reiki is this type of new age-y "therapy" in which a Reiki practitioner (often called a "master") moves his or her hands near the client's body to manipulate "energy fields".  No physical contact is made.   It's all done in the air, inches away from the skin.  Reiki practitioners claim to be able to help with all kinds of health problems from basic relaxation all the way up to treating disease and injury.  

But in "remote" Reiki, they go the extra mile, literally--they claim that they can send energy manipulation across time and space.  

Let's say, for example, that you have a torn rotator cuff, but you live in, oh I dunno, let's say Siberia.  Well, a remote Reiki master could wave his hands in his rumpus room in Des Moines, and soon these vibrations will travel miles and miles, cross different time zones, and suddenly you'll have full range of motion.  

So, in my online chat I said something like, "Surely you must be joking, you don't really believe that, do you?" half expecting the guy to say "Yes I do, and don't call me Shirley."  

Instead the guy said he didn't just believe it, he KNEW it.  He even put "KNEW" in upper case.

He knows it works.  No evidence is needed, at least no evidence that would meet the modern definition of the word.  No double blind testing.  No statistics.  No peer-reviewed analysis.  He just knows.  Excuse me, he KNOWS.

In another conversation I had with a religious person, a guy told me something similar.  "Prayer works; prayer actually changes things," he said with absolute conviction.  "I KNOW it works.  I've personally experienced the benefits of prayer."  

(Note:  He didn't put "know" in upper case, 'cause he was talking, but he said it more emphatically than the rest of the conversation, so that counts).  

He told me that he no longer craved alcohol and cigarettes, and that he now goes to church regularly and reads scripture daily. I said something like, "But that doesn't really prove anything.  Lots of people just go cold turkey and give up stuff  all the time, and tons of people make conscious decisions to change their lives--and stop doing terrible things.  They head to the gym.  They go on diets.  They stop smoking.  They quit wearing those hideous hipster hats."

He was not swayed.  He had dropped anchor, and it was holding fast.  He sincerely believed the bumper sticker that reads, "God said it, I believe it, that settles it!"

This "knowledge", this faith, this act of believing with no evidence whatsoever, is an odd thing.  

David Schneider of Rice University said, "Huge numbers of our beliefs seem so grounded in reality or so much a part of our culture that it seems silly to question them and an empty academic exercise to seek their sources. On the other hand, most of us, at least when we are being thoughtful, recognize that other of our beliefs may have fragile contact indeed with any known larger reality. Furthermore people hold anomalous beliefs with as much conviction as we hold our unproblematic beliefs, and they often turn the tables on us by suggesting that we are the people who are out of touch with reality."

So, somebody believes some weird thing like ghosts, or alien abductions, or Sasquatch, or mind control via chemtrails, but when we question it, WE end up being the weird ones.

As readers of my blog know, I have said one or two (or 17) critical things about the martial arts; i.e., pressure point knockouts and chi manipulation.  I routinely suggest to my nuttier friends to IX-NAY on the I-CHAY.  

Most turn a deaf ear to my suggestions.  It's like they have a hearing problem that even a Reiki master couldn't heal.

So here's the deal.  We, you and me, us, all have weird beliefs.  Mark Twain knew this.  He wrote, "When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition.  I doubt if I could do it myself."

Fortunately, training in critical thinking and the rational process of inquiry can have an impact and begin to overcome some of the mental obstacles of superstition,
belief in the paranormal, and a whole host of personal biases. 

My own journey from faith-based acceptance to factual-based thinking took many years.  After years of ignorance I made a commitment to familiarize myself with the science I should have learned in school, and I read hundreds of books and articles.  Slowly the dimmer switch brought light to my cob-web covered, dusty attic of a brain.  I now no longer recognize the person I once was, and I find that the style of thinking about the world that I used to have is foreign and laughably embarrassing.

In his contribution to Edge's 2012 Annual Question, Nathan Myhrvold wrote about what he thinks of his favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation--the scientific method:  "Stories about different aspects of the world can be questioned skeptically, and tested with observations and experiments. If a story survives the tests then provisionally at least one can accept it as something more than a mere story; it is a theory that has real explanatory power. It will never be more than a provisional explanation—we can never let down our skeptical guard—but these provisional explanations can be very useful. We call this process of making and vetting stories the scientific method."

As Carl Sagan once said, "You can get into a habit of thought in which you enjoy making fun of all those other people who don't see things as clearly as you do.  We have to guard carefully against it."