I wrote about DV as an example of taxonomies some time ago.
Antisocial Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder are both different, but they get to the same place, seeing people as tools or toys to be used. And the old saw that "there are many paths to the top of the mountain" ignores the fact that there are actually many mountains, with many different points of view and the path you choose will change how you see the view more than the elevation.
I do believe some people are born unable to see that other people are real. It's an emotional thing and there is a sliding scale to it. At the extreme end, this is like a video game and other people are just pixels. Slightly less intense, many criminals don't feel shame. They just don't get it (See Fleisher's Beggars and Thieves for some corroboration). About half of my friends feel "trust" as an emotion and the others see it as a decision, but with no feeling associated. Which leads me to believe that it is probably possible to scale people's emotional palette.
That was a bit of an aside.
I believe some people are born sociopaths, and essentially don't have the capacity to develop an emotional palette that includes compassion or empathy. I believe a larger number have the capacity but it was never developed-- Babies are born inherently selfish and egocentric and must be taught that other people have feelings just like them. If that teaching fails, the child will be heartless. Sociopath? Functionally, but a very different mechanism.
And one can be placed in an environment where heartlessness is the only effective survival strategy. Humans are adaptable, and even people who will not be heartless on their own behalf can become heartless if that is the only way to protect or feed their children. It's rare, fortunately, and almost all of society is set up to prevent this. And the older and more entrenched you might be in your early socialization, the harder it will be to actually act... but in an environment where ruthlessness is necessary to survival, the survivors will be ruthless.
So, rambling as that was, three ways to get to almost anything. And none of those three ways are separate, they all interact:
Nature, socialization and selection.
- If you have a genetic gift, you can be very fast.
- If you are raised in a society where speed is rewarded and slowness punished, your childhood games will be based on developing speed. You'll be faster than someone with similar genetics raised differently.
- And if all the slow kids die, the surviving kids will be fast.
For fighting or combat or making friends-- some have the right genetic mix of physical and mental attributes. Some learned. And some adapted because they had no choice.
For good things and bad things. That has a lot of implications for us as trainers, voters, people. It's not a single lens, not one size fits all. Do we want to train survivors? Selection doesn't do that, it weeds out the ones who need training most. Do we want to fix crime or any social problem? Eugenics, education and social welfare are three historic attempts to do that, each aimed at one of the three paths.
The Malta Karate Federation (MKF) recently invited Dr. John Titchen, Chief Instructor of the Practical Karate Association , to conduct a weekend seminar on Applied Karate. This seminar forms part of the MKF’s strategy to promote and improve training in all aspects of Karate amongst its members.
Sensei John delivered a remarkable seminar, leaving us with a deeper understanding of the 5 Shotokan Heian Kata. His knowledge on the subject is staggering, spanning some 25 years of training. His teaching method was structured and pleasant and kept all of us involved and interested throughout. It was a fantastic experience for all who took part.
The seminar was based on Sensei John’s trademark Heian/Pinan Flow System, which examines the practical, combative application of the 5 Heian Kata against common acts of violence from a close combat point of view, integrating traditional ballistic impact techniques with locks, throws and holds and combining these into numerous seamless flow drills to simulate real time unpredictable fights.
Interestingly, the Heian Flow Drills trained were not the traditional back and forth flow drills that go along fully predictable lines, but rather the seamless transition between ranges, and ballistic and grappling techniques, spinning in and out of different parts of the 5 Heian Kata “mesh”, depending on uke’s response. The emphasis in this kind of training is on “shutting down” the opponent as quickly as possible.
This Heian Perspective of Practical Karate compliments nicely the Tekki/Naihanchi Perspective being developed by the MKF in collaboration with Sensei Chris Denwood, of E.S.K.K® Martial Arts & Fitness , who also visits Malta from time to time as a guest instructor of the MKF. This area of training also ties nicely with the other valuable technical work delivered to us by Maestro Santo Torre and Maestro Giuseppe Bartolo , offering the MKF members a truly unique, complete karate package.
The seminar truly delivered what it claimed: “Dynamic and alive training drills that take kata practice and self defense skills to another level”.
The enthusiastic Maltese practitioners were left with a huge reservoir of practical and useful training material, which will be developed further over the coming months to help reinforce further the foundation laid for this area of practice within the MKF.
“Truly an amazing experience for us all by a gentleman Sensei who not only shared with us openly an integrated system of Heian applications to make our Karate more complete, but also taught us invaluable life lessons with his example, attitude and indomitable spirit. Thank You Sensei John.
Thank You also to the Executive Committee of the Malta Karate Federation for continuously supporting this aspect of training, in particular the President, Kenneth Abela, and Jesmond Schembri and Damian Vella Lenicker. Thanks also to my assistants in this venture Frank Vella, Charles Axiaq and Anthony Gauci.
Thanks also to all participants and their families for making this event a huge success.”
Sensei James Galea
Technical Director MKF
FROM RESTRAINT TO ORNATE
Many years ago I went to a Baskin Robbins with a friend. There we were staring down at their advertised 31 flavors, and with all the choices available it was just so hard to decide. My friend asked for sample after sample of various exotic flavors, some he had never tried before. Finally, after sampling several, he made his decision: Chocolate. "It's my favorite," he said when I just stared at him for wasting all that time.
Except for my friend at the ice cream shop, it as been my experience that people usually prefer fancy over plain.
Not everyone is a fan of fancy. The Amish, for example, are known for their plain clothing, unadorned carriages, and a simple way of living. Or consider the Shakers. Referred to as "Shaking Quakers" this early American communal sect of believers would literally tremble in ecstasy during worship services. They were also skilled craftsmen who made furniture that is still prized to this day. The Shakers believed in functionality, and they rarely added decoration, embellishment or elaborate details to their designs. They were austere and generally sought simplicity in their daily lives.
In design, embellishment is anything that adds interest to a piece. For example here are just a few examples of embellishment in the craft of sewing: Embroidery, applique, piping, trim, beads, fringe or lace. As a kid growing up in Nashville, Tennessee, I routinely saw this type of embellishment. I was a fan of honky tonk country music when I was little. I even learned how to play a few chords on a guitar, and my teacher was a stage musician on the world famous Grand Ol Opry. On Saturday evenings I watched a lineup of country music performers who appeared on television as a warmup for the Opry. A perfect example of embellishment were the jackets of Porter Wagoner. When the spotlight hit him, the audience was dazzled. His clothing had a gazillion rhinestones in the design of cacti, wagon wheels, guitars, and flowers. You may remember the song, "Rhinestone Cowboy," by Glen Campbell that in some ways referenced Wagoner. Or perhaps you recall the movie "Electric Horseman" starring Robert Redford in which he wore similar clothing.
Architecture also uses embellishment. Take the concept of the spandrel. In architecture a spandrel is a space between two arches or at the side of the top part of an arch.
It was often merely an empty and undecorated area, so someone had the nifty idea of filling that dead space with ornate design.
Once embellishment was introduced it became rare to encounter a plain spandrel.
It is my contention that martial arts now contain a plethora of embellishments, and that one rarely encounters plain, austere, and simple functionality anymore.
Here are just a few embellishments I have noticed:
Spinning, Tumpling and Turning--In a martial arts demonstration it seems that somebody's always turning and spinning. I've seen riders on the Tilt a Whirl less dizzy. Unless you're the Tazmanian Devil, ix-nay on the inning-spay.
Pausing--The martial artist will throw a technique and FREEZE right at the moment of impact. It's quite dramatic. It's also quite risky. It's like they're posing for the camera. Say cheese!
Leaping--Flying kicks are a big deal for some martial artists. Ask them what it's for, and they'll tell you it was how a horseman was knocked off of his horse. Ask them why they still do it in the 21st century, and they'll answer that it's tradition, for strength development, or to cover distance. The bad guys will be impressed--right before they cut you.
Crouching--In the Limbo dance, the goal is to see how low you can go. Apparently this is also the objective of some martial artists.
Deep, Wide Stances--How can you be mobile if you have ultra wide stances with locked out legs? The good news? If there's an earthquake they won't fall over.
Hand(s) on the Hip--It seems to me that the hands and arms ought to be up near the head to act as a potential shield and to be able to go on the offensive quickly. Silly me.
Twirling and Tossing--Give 'em a knife, or a stick, or a sword, and they're gonna start twirling it or tossing it all about. The way I see it is that they ought to be up front, leading the parade.
Symbolic Movements--There's almost always some movement that is subject to interpretation. It may even have a fancy name--Play the Lute," or "Stroke the Horse's Mane." I call it: "Seal Your Fate."
Rhythmic Pacing--Combat is fast and furious. It is chaotic and unpredictable. So, what do they do? They slow it down and take it step-by-step like some type of rhythmic dancing. Makes total sense.
Odd Hand Contortions--They may represent a snake, a leopard, an insect, a monkey, or a dragon. They are numerous and impractical. But think about this: When Moe punished Larry and Curly he didn't need a thousand and one techniques. He only used a hammer fist, a palm slap and the occasional eye poke. What's good enough for Moe is good enough for me.
Erect Posture--"Stand tall," my Mom used to tell me. "Suck in that gut," my drill sergeant used to shout at me. "Look 'em in the eye," the salesman would say. Maybe good for making an impression at a job interview or staring at your enemy from the castle gates, but dangerous close quarters combat.
Dangerous Footwork--This one is odd. They'll cross their feet, WHICH YOU SHOULD NEVER DO, or they'll do those odd cat stance thingees. Are they taking an Arthur Murray dance class or are they fighting?
Full Frontal Body Positioning--Wanna be an easy target? That's easy. Just stand there, motionless, directly facing the firing squad. Blindfolds are optional.
"Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle."Paulo Coelho
In the 90s I taught a variety of combat-intensive courses and seminars at various traditional martial arts schools. I offered classes in stick fighting, edged weapon defense, and close quarters fighting.
My sales pitch to academy owners usually went something like this:
I can offer you a concept called a school-within-a-school. My classes can be held in your academy during off-hours, and you will get a percentage of the money from these courses. Essentially, you will make money while I do all the work.
This will help you do 3 things:
- 1) Recruit new students who have a desire to learn to defend themselves. This may also help you reach a new demographic; especially women who need self-defense training.
- 2) Retain existing students who may be on the verge of calling it quits; a phenomenon so many instructors have recognized that they have even given it a name, "The Green Belt Exodus".
- 3) Recall former students who always enjoyed training but became disillusioned when they did not make progress in defensive skill.
The program was fairly successful. I held classes 6 days a week in a number of academies, and many of the classes were very well attended.
There was, however, one academy where I met strong resistance. I had met with the partners (let's call them Jim and Thomas), and gave my sales pitch. There was some discussion about the fees and the logistics, and I felt sure we were making progress. Jim seemed keen on giving it a try. Doubting Thomas, on the other hand, had a different opinion and suggested that my services were not needed.
"May I ask why?" I said.
"Well," said Thomas, "we already teach self-defense. Our students are well-equipped to handle themselves, and we don't need your fancy hand-to-hand combat course."
"I offer a wide variety of course work in practical skills, from boxing fundamentals, to clinch fighting, to combat grappling. I also offer seminars and classes in stick fighting, and staff fighting, just to name a few. Do you currently offer that type of variety?"
"Our students didn't sign on to learn those other things. We offer a COMPLETE martial arts program, which demands a focused approach to our curriculum. The students don't have time to play around with this Hollywood stuff."
"Let me ask you a couple of questions. Do all of your students stay with you until they reach black belt?"
"No, of course not. We have found that some students lack discipline and can't stay committed to our program. Some leave for other activities or stop training for a variety of reasons. Maybe 10% or fewer stay on long enough to get to the expert level."
"Wouldn't you love it if we could keep some of these students interested? Perhaps if we could pique their interest, they might stay on. Maybe the style you teach is not the right fit for all of the people who initially sign up."
"We're only interested in working with those who are dedicated to our style."
"May I beg your patience for a few minutes? Let's say, as an analogy, that you take your spouse to a restaurant for an anniversary dinner. You both set down, and the waiter brings you your food. Wouldn't it be strange for the waiter to presume he knows what you need? Wouldn't it make more sense for the waiter to show you a menu? That's really all I'm offering--a menu.
"Students now have a choice in what they want to focus on. This is a different generation than when you two started your training. There are a lot more options out there, especially with the incredible growth and excitement surrounding MMA.
"I sometimes refer to this as the reverse funnel approach. Think of your approach as the typical funnel, wide at the top, narrow at the bottom. In your school all students regardless of age, physical ability, or physical limitation all come in to the wide end, and you produce experts out of the narrow end. They all know the same information. They all perform the same techniques. Some better, some worse, but the same. In my approach we reverse the funnel. Students work on a narrow set of skills at first, but then it opens up to a wider and wider focus. Students emerge with skills that are suited to their unique abilities. We tailor make an approach that fits every student."
"We've seen those MMA gyms, and we most certainly do NOT want a bunch of tattooed cage fighters hanging around. And we believe that the student needs focus, single-minded, laser-like focus, in order to succeed. Getting the students working on all these different things produces sloppy, undisciplined technicians."
"That's not what I'm suggesting. I'm just saying that a martial arts academy that offers a variety, a selection, a choice, a menu could be more effective at reaching the needs of the general population. Let me offer another analogy. Think of NASCAR racing. Do you think there are drivers out there who have only focused on using the brake? Or accelerating? Or others who have focused all of their attention on steering? No, an effective racer has integrated skills. He takes all of his training and experience and knowledge and brings them to the reality of the racetrack.
"I'm saying that a modern martial artist has to integrate a whole plethora of skills and be ready to bring them to the reality of a hostile and often violent world. I get that you want dedication to your art. I think of a classical musician such as a concert pianist who must spend hour after hour practicing scales and working on a repertoire. Or a dancer in the Russian ballet who punishes her body to become an expert at performing Swan Lake.
"The truth is that type of artist comes along once in a generation. Most of the people who come into our academies are pursuing martial arts as a hobby, an activity, a distraction. They want to learn self-defense, according to surveys conducted throughout the country. Or maybe they want to get fit, or to learn self-discipline. Some may want to work on self-development, and learn to handle fear or a lack of confidence. Wouldn't it be great to offer choices to the majority of people who walk through the door?"
In the end this academy rejected my proposal. Out of respect I accepted their invitation to stick around and watch a class. What I saw was odd. Sparring that looked like a game of tag, interrupted whenever the action started getting too fast or too intense. One-step sparring that featured highly technical moves that would be dangerous to attempt in a real-world situation. Self-defense against knives that was laughably inept. Board breaking that proved nothing. Kata performances where the entire group moved, some clumsily, and others adroitly, step by step, robotically, in unison, through a set of antiquated, overly stylized movements.
There they go, I thought, down that funnel.
Spent five days in Wales with Murray. Five days with an old school British Officer, a Northern Rhodesia vet, a high-level martial artist. And he taught me how to make mayonnaise. And how to tell if an egg is raw or hard boiled. And the proper protocol for how, what and when an officer and a gentleman drinks*. And the elements of chip carving.
He walks with a cane. If confronted, the cane slips behind his back and every element of his face and body language looks like an old man shrinking back in fear, but that cane can come out from either hand, thrusting at at least six finishing targets or swinging.
His students are a little in awe of him. He has to protect his hip and back and he doesn't have the stamina of fifty years ago, so he finishes things very quickly, very efficiently. What he has lost in speed, he more than makes up for in timing. Where he probably used strength as a youth, he now uses precise targeting. At speed and under pressure, that's a product of both training and live-fire experience.
His creative energy is in decorative carving. In under three hours, he made a plaque based on a Welsh love spoon for me to take home to K. It's his meditation and the way he creates. And that's one thing: for the sake of sanity you need to do something creative. We all need to make palpable beautiful or functional things: Write. Paint. Build furniture. Restore cars. Garden. Something. There is an emptiness in your life that grows when you are passive.
We had a nice visit on a three-masted schooner, the Kathleen & May, the last running Welsh-built schooner. Murray's part of the trust restoring the Helen II a "nobby prawner" in Conwy. The sailing world is pretty small, and it was enough connection that the couple restoring the schooner took us on board and showed us around.
There aren't many people with certain backgrounds who are growing old successfully. Murray is one of them.
Create. Learn. Stay Dangerous.
*Gin and tonic is strictly for lunch. Whiskey and soda at 1800. Wine with dinner. Port with cheese after dinner. If a night cap is necessary, then brandy.
"But I don't like port," I said.
"That's not the point."
Have you ever walked down the street holding the hand of a small child, or noticed in passing another adult doing the same?
If the adult is not fully focused on the child, but on getting to their destination, they will tend to automatically adopt their normal stride. Alongside them, making many more shorter steps at higher speed, the child keeps the same pace, but working a lot harder to achieve the same aim.
I see this a lot in the martial arts. In this example we see an analogy with regard to the difference between more experienced practitioners and learners, between teachers and students, and the nature of goal setting for improvement.
What looks flowing and natural in experienced martial arts practitioners does not come naturally, even if the movements themselves are based on natural actions. They move freely because of the hours of practice that iron out the stilted steps of childhood into smooth transitions. Like a child growing up the less experienced student has to try much harder and make many more repetitions over a period of time in order to move in the same way as the adult.
The many small steps that a child must make to keep up with an adult is a reminder to those of us that teach that what seems easy now, and one simple unconscious movement, is actually made up of many more small steps for the beginner. To help them reach where we are now we must remember where we started and help them identify and make those early steps.
As students we look at other practitioners around us making those adult steps and we try to emulate them. It’s important for us to remember that to get to where they are we need to go through the small step process. We can try to hop, skip or jump the same distance they are walking, but it isn’t as efficient or as sustainable. Progress is predominantly achieved through the repetition of many small steps that, as we grow, become fewer and bigger, until they are no different to the ones we tried to mimic.
Training, just like life, is full of Big Steps and Little ‘Uns.
We gain confidence from our successes, but it is from our failures that we learn.
As students practice more and begin to increase the levels of speed and contact, they should come to understand that the failure of one drill is the opening for the employment of another.
In moving from static to dynamic training all that happens is an increase in speed and pressure, so naturally not everything works: failure is the reality with which martial artists (or self defence practitioners) must deal. When failure occurs, if it has happened before, it is predictable. If the trainee knows the strengths and weaknesses of their tactics, and so can recognise what failed and why, then that failure should be both predictable, familiar, and prepared for; they should not be fazed by the eventuality or slow to adapt. Knowledge dispels fear. If the failure has occurred before, if it is predictable, then it can either be prevented, or recognised and turned into a new opportunity by the application of another drill. It is when the drill or pressure level has never been taken to the point of failure, that the training becomes unpredictable and the trainee is most at risk of making a bad decision.
In training I often set up different combinations of what I call a failure cascade. In this instance both attacker and defender in training know that if the defender fails to successfully employ a full counter (and thus end the drill) then the attacker will switch to the most logical next attack, forcing the defender into a new drill. This could run a sequence of several positions, all with different potential ‘end points’. As an example a failed haymaker could switch into a collapsing headlock or clinch, but as trainees gain greater experience and pressure mounts the haymaker could drive into a tackle which if successful could end up in a ground fighting drill or any number of stand up drills depending on the speed and adaptability of the training pair. As the trainees have drills to deal with headlocks, different clinch-like positions, tackles and falling to the ground, putting these into a dynamic context allows for greater development.
To win with a single move is not the highest skill. Anyone can get lucky. You should train to be able to turn any failure, any position, into a new opportunity before your opponent recovers, train and experiment until nothing surprises you, and you automatically adapt and overcome. If you have not prepared for failure, if you do not have redundancies trained and ready, then you have prepared to fail.
This short article is based on a chapter in Volume Five of Pinan Flow System: karate kata application for beginner to black belt.
During the drive to the airport, Kasey and I were talking about teaching, and teaching teaching, and about people. In any field there are some people that just don't get "it." Whatever "it" is for that field. There are some people who shouldn't be cops. Sometimes because their emotionally vulnerability makes them unable to deal with manipulators, sometimes because their lack of compassion makes them blind... there are hundreds of personality traits that make someone a poor cop.
Some people will never be fighters. I'm not talking about strength or speed, but there are some people that have essential elements of heart that are simply missing.
And some people will never be teachers. There is something missing and they can't command the respect to be listened to. You can force a hundred students to attend, give a simple and important subject and none of the students will make the connection, none of them will listen, none of them will learn.
And in the real world, there appears to be almost an inverse correlation between ability and desire. Probably for reasons of insecurity, many of the people least fit to be cops or teachers want to be cops or teachers. They think the position will give them the respect they can't seem to get on their own. The people who can't fight want to be fighters, hoping the label will make their fear and insecurity go away.
Kasey and I were talking about teaching instructors, and how to deal with the person who desperately wanted the title and was willing to put in the time and do the work, but would never achieve the standard. What do you do? This isn't a bureaucracy. actual life and safety depend on the quality of a teacher in certain fields. At the same time, our internal ethics would demand that we treat all instructor candidates the same...
Fairness, or the actual lives of a generation of students?
That's a question I'm going to dodge, for now.
But here's the cool thing and one of the things I love about people. In certain circumstances, all of that is bullshit. Almost everything I am really good at is stuff that someone I had every right to believe told me I couldn't do.
Yes. Some people can't teach. And usually the honorable thing to do is to tell them that. And some will believe you and quit, and more will refuse to believe you and manage to get into a teaching position and suck for their entire career. And a few, a very few, a tiny number, will say, "Fuck you." And they will leave and on their own they will become extraordinary teachers. They will work their asses off to prove you wrong.
Some people can't fight. And usually the honorable thing to do is to tell them that. And some will believe you and quit, and more will refuse to believe you and manage to get into a force profession and suck for their entire career, and get other people and themselves hurt. And a few, a very few, a tiny number, will say, "Fuck you." And they will leave and on their own they will become extraordinary. They will work their asses off to prove you wrong.
I don't know what it is about that tiny number. I can't pick them out of a crowd. But that incredible diversity of human attitude is one of the things that makes people so damn cool.
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Isaac Newton, 1676.
Karateka across the world owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Okinawan and Japanese instructors who, in the first half of the Twentieth Century, laid the foundations for a little known minority martial art to become one of the most practised in the world today. This important role has naturally resulted in those that founded styles in that era, or who pioneered the teaching of karate outside of Japan, becoming highly revered. They are quite rightly seen as the giants on whose shoulders we stand.
We should be careful however not to be led astray. It is right to respect these karateka, we owe them a great debt of gratitude, but their words or approaches should not be blindly followed. In fact I believe that to do so is to squander their legacy. I will occasionally quote an ‘old master’, but I only do so if what they say has been borne out by my research or that of other people whose research methods and experience I can quantify and thus value.
Matsumura, Itosu, Funakoshi, Motobu, Kyan, Miyagi, Mabuni, Ohtsuka to name but a few… these names ring loudly in training halls across the world. Their thoughts on karate are still read and studied. But these men are not giants by today’s standards, in fact in the modern world they are pygmies compared to many of the teachers with whom you could study.
How can I say such a thing?
There are trainers teaching today who have
- Had far greater experience of genuinely life threatening violence or who (through research) have collated a wealth of data from people (whether civilian, law enforcement or military) who have had experience and thus been able to draw important and reliable conclusions on optimum approaches to physical and mental training.
- Have a far better understanding of human physiology and biomechanics (backed by decades of research that is available to all).
- Have had more hands-on experience with other martial artists and have studied under greater numbers of experienced and competent teachers.
- Have had access to, and instruction in, a greater number of non-karate styles (again from high quality instructors) to broaden their perspective and increase their depth of understanding in their own arts.
Whether you are looking for a trainer that specialises in Karate for self defence, Karate as a form of Physical fitness, Karate (kata) as a form of moving meditation or dance, or Karate as a competitive fighting sport, or combinations of those mediums, there are large numbers of trainers all round the world who quite simply out-class those ‘giants’ of the past. It would actually be a poor reflection on both karate and those early pioneers if that were not the case.
We should respect those that have gone before us. But do not put them on pedestals or treat everything they said or did as gospel truth. Many of them had less experience and knowledge than either you or the person you train with. Honour their memory by carrying karate forward as they did and pay them the courtesy of respecting the reality of their humanity and fallibility.
Three more: #9 Think. #10 Do. #11 Don't Overcommit.
Rule#2 was "It's okay to stop and think." This might feel like a repeat. I don't think so. The fact that it's "okay" doesn't mean you will actually do it... but there's more than that. Fighting, counter-assault, hand-to-hand-- whatever you want to call it-- is very much a thing of guts and nerve, visceral, not intellectual. And yet, you have a brain. Use it.
When you have time to think, you think. Absolutely. And the quality of your thinking process allows for an amazing level of possibility. One tiny, basic, obvious thing is "reframing"-- instead of coming up with an answer, can I change the question? Powerful. But even when you don't have time to cognitively weigh all options, that doesn't mean "Be stupid." Your hindbrain is actually a very smart survival mechanism that deals with far more nuance than we give it credit for.
Fight smart. Efficiently. Stay alert to options, escape possibilities, unexpected threats... that's incredibly effective, but realistically, the ability to do that-- to deal with a potentially deadly threat and partition part of your brain to do something else-- requires immense experience. I couldn't do it for maybe the first hundred force incidents. I doubt I even considered the possibility before it happened. The people I know that can do it can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. Terry is absolutely one of them.
But the possibility is there. Your brain is capable of this. The human animal is kind of awesome.
This one is huge. Here's the deal: If you never act you are worthless. You affect the world in no way. You are a waste of time, space and oxygen. It doesn't matter how smart you are or how cool you are or how noble your intentions. If those qualities are never expressed in action, you are nothing. You are worse than nothing. You are a barnacle that increases drag for everyone else.
No one is inherently special. No one deserves to be appreciated just because they happen to be born or they happen to be human. Your value as an entity is based entirely on your actual value to actual other entities. If you want to write fiction that you never share because it makes you happy, that's entirely cool. For you. But if that is ALL you do, you could be shot in the head today and it would not matter one iota to the world.
Right now, check yourself. Over 90% of the people reading this will be nodding in agreement because what I just wrote is simply freakin' obvious. If you are glitching, you need to take a good hard look at your life.
Terry's rules are for high-risk situations, but this one is about life. For the world, the inactive are worthless. But you know what? If you don't "do" if you aren't acting, you aren't really living anyway. This thing you are calling your life is just a pale imitation of the real thing.
Get off the damn couch. Turn off the laptop or the smart phone. Do. Live.
This is the one I want to argue with. But it's right except for where it's wrong. DON'T overcommit. But don't undercommit either.
There are two classic pieces of advice. Winston Churchill's: "I am addressing myself to the School - surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense."
And a very wise man I knew called Jake Rens: "When a smart man realizes he's in a hole, he quits digging."
Churchill saves it in the last four words, especially the last two. But it takes immense judgment, sometimes, to distinguish between good sense and fear.
Commitment is important. I think, in a dangerous situations one of the most common and almost universally doomed action is to do anything half-assed. Running is fine, but run with your whole heart. Half running or running and hesitating makes you an easy target. Fighting is dangerous, but fight with your whole heart. Half-fighting is not fighting at all, just struggling. And it doesn't save you, it just excites the bad guy.
Overcommitment. If you overcommit your balance, you are vulnerable. If you overcommit your emotions you are vulnerable... And this is the grr for me, because you can't drop step without vulnerability and overcommitment, and you can't truly love halfway.
The one universal with overcommitment appears to be this, in my opinion: Never double down on stupid. Don't reinforce failure. When you catch yourself doing the wrong thing, don't let your monkey brain con you into doing the wrong thing harder. Always be humble enough to admit when you've screwed it up and change. And adapt. And win.
Martial Arts training that has any validity from a self defence perspective must address the HAOV (Habitual Acts of Violence) that we are likely to face in a conflict management situation.[i] It is important for us to address realistic attacks rather than focus on martial arts, media or film-induced perceptions of violence. Due to its context, real violence rarely plays out in a similar fashion to any existing competitive rule-set, and training against well delivered martial arts techniques does not ensure good identification and preparation for, or success against, natural behaviours and wilder uncontrolled attacks.
There are a number of different terms in use in the martial arts and professional confrontation management communities to describe aggressive and violent behaviour patterns. The memorable term ‘Monkey Dance’, coined by Rory Miller, is now commonly used to describe pre-fight behaviours (where humans have much in common with other primates).[ii] Some trainers use the term PIA (Primary Initiation Attack) to describe the initial means of physical assault. In the martial arts community an umbrella term of HAPV (Habitual Acts of Physical Violence), has been used by karateka Patrick McCarthy, but I prefer the more widely used HAOV since it highlights the inclusion of certain actions that many would not regard as physical violence such as pre-fight physical posturing and verbal threats (what I might call Primate Posturing and Rory Miller calls Monkey Dancing). These are the point where avoidance training, the acknowledgement of flinch responses and your own personal protection strategies should come into play – before any physical violence begins.
What are HAOV?
The majority of the data on violent crime that I have studied over the last sixteen years comes from the British Crime Survey, the Scottish Crime Survey, Home Office reports on various Violent Crime Initiatives, Hospital Emergency Department reports on violent crime injuries, the Crime Survey in England and Wales, news reports, CCTV footage and data provided by the FBI on their website. The often unconscious behaviour patterns of participants in the high-adrenaline scenario simulation training that I have run for people from a broad range of backgrounds has corroborated a significant amount of that data and footage.
The weighting and predominance of HAOV does vary across the world. Cultural taboos, national pastimes and sports played all seem to play a role. While this may affect the likelihood of some attacks (such as the frequency of weapon use or ‘the most common attack’), there are a number of very common (unarmed) attacks that can be replicated to form the backbone of training against HAOV:
Personal space invasion, arm splaying, head leaning forwards, telegraphing arm withdrawal, pushes, swinging haymaker punches, unbalancing pushes or grabs followed immediately by swinging punches, pushing and pulling, wild wind-milling punches while charging forwards (often head down), head butts (with or without grabs), knees to the groin (often preceded by grabs), headlocks, hair-pulling, tackles to the waist or the shoulder or the legs, clothing and shoulder grabs, lashing kicks to the legs or groin, stamping or kicking people on the ground.
The above ‘list’ is a starting point for the most basic physical element of training. It is best combined with a study of patterns of violent crime to develop context appropriate decision making training.
Training Habitual Acts of Violence
HAOV can (and should) be placed into context, so in addition to drilling against individual techniques , much as we might practice slipping a jab or defending against any combination of martial arts moves, there are a range of different ways that training can be broadened.
Vernal and Visual Cues
Physical attacks preceded by visual and/or verbal context to train the observational skills, positioning and body language of students so they are better placed to defend or pre-empt as necessary. Not everyone is a natural at adding this ‘extra’ dynamic to the physical attack but it is possible to train some people to take on this role. You can find out more about building the attacker here.
Unlike competitive events a fair proportion of real violence begins and ends with a single attack, but it would be foolish to limit training to this. Training should also prepare students for determined sustained attacks. As with ‘free sparring’ this is a natural progression on from static drills to multiple combinations of HAOV.
We gain confidence from our successes, but it is from our failures that we learn.
As students practice more and begin to increase the levels of speed and contact, they should come to understand that the failure of one drill is the opening for the employment of another. In moving from static to dynamic training all that happens is an increase in speed and pressure, so naturally not everything works: failure is the reality with which martial artists must deal. When failure occurs, if it has happened before, it is predictable. If the trainee knows the strengths and weaknesses of their tactics, and so can recognise what failed and why, then that failure should be both predictable, familiar, and prepared for; they should not be fazed by the eventuality. Knowledge dispels fear. If the failure has occurred before, if it is predictable, then it can either be prevented, or recognised and turned into a new opportunity by the application of another drill. It is when the drill or pressure level has never been taken to the point of failure, that the training becomes unpredictable.
In training I often set up different combinations of what I call a failure cascade. In this instance both attacker and defender in training know that if the defender fails to successfully employ a full counter (and thus end the drill) then the attacker will switch to the most logical next attack, forcing the defender into a new drill. This could run a sequence of several positions, all with different potential ‘end points’. As an example to begin with a failed haymaker could switch into a collapsing headlock or clinch, but as trainees gain greater experience and pressure mounts the haymaker could drive into a tackle which if successful could end up in a ground fighting drill or any number of stand up drills depending on the speed and adaptability of the training pair.
To win with a single move is not the highest skill. Anyone can get lucky. You should train to be able to turn any failure, any position, into a new opportunity before your opponent recovers, train and experiment until nothing surprises you, and you automatically adapt and overcome. If you have not prepared for failure, if you do not have redundancies trained and ready, then you have prepared to fail.
Where possible, scenario training is a great way to bring elements of training together. You can find out more about building scenario training here.
An imbalance in training – drilling bad technique?
A number of years ago a good training friend of mine raised the question that if we were drilling against HAOV then logically (at least) one training partner is spending half that time using HAOV rather than the ‘superior’ techniques of their martial art. So can training against HAOV develop bad technique?
- Utilizing HAOV provides a better biomechanical understanding of the positions and ranges involved and the strengths and weaknesses of the techniques and tactics. Executing the techniques provides a far better insight than solely defending against the techniques.
- Any drilling against HAOV should be part of a broader training programme which will normally include pad work. Whether holding or hitting the pads trainees are executing the techniques of their chosen art (and observing them) and this (added to their defences against HAOV) means that they will always proportionally be spending more time on their own repertoire than on executing HAOV.
- HAOV are not necessarily ‘bad’ techniques. In some instances the difference between them and the tactics of normal ‘proven’ martial arts are minor or non-existent. The fact that they are both natural and generally very successful (especially against people unused to them whether they have had ‘training’ or not) means that having a good grounding in them as part of your practise isn’t a bad thing.
- HAOV can have benefits beyond ‘combat effectiveness’. If you are training for self defence then the majority of your movements should be executed in a protective power-generating posture which is sometimes known as ‘hollow body’. The wilder ‘haymaker’ type punches and pushes open up the body and serve as a great counterbalance to the ‘closed’ protective postures.
So, if you haven’t done so already, perhaps it’s time to add HAOV into your training drills.
[i]I adopted the term HAOV for my first published article on the topic in 2005 due to the training I have done with martial artists Rick Clark and Bill Burgar (who have both used the term in their books). Before that I had focused on researching violent crime and not used an acronym. I continue to use HAOV as in my experience it is now the most common term for the subject matter in the international Anglophone martial arts community. The term HAV is a recognised abbreviation for a medical condition, a form of aircraft and a form of media among other things. HAPV is normally associated with Hamster Polyoma Virus. As a result HAOV is useful for disambiguation. I interpret ‘habitual’ as ‘common and expected’ rather than ‘historical’.
[ii] R. Miller, Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence, (YMAA Publication Centre, 2008).
"You want a job son? I got one for ya. Basics is being locked, alone and unarmed, in a room with 32-190 violent criminals and maintaining order for eight hours. Yeah, yeah, the media tells you that most are non-violent drug offenders but the reality is that we're so crowded only PVs and person-to-person violent crimes are locked up. What'd ya say?"
No intelligent person goes for that job.
The thing is, though, that there are certain lessons that can only be learned by doing certain things. Dumb things. And the lessons are valuable. On an earlier post, "Agent Cbeppa" wrote:
I've been wondering about a seeming paradox for a while now.
You write a lot about how ordinary people who have had no experience with violence make up their own (largely false) stories and identities. When people go through a violent experience, they realise what is fact and what was fiction, which sounds like a handy thing to know about yourself.
Conversely, you also advise people to avoid violent situations as much as possible. It's the safest and most sensible thing to do.
Do you have any explanations that might clear this up for me? Or is there no right answer?
It's not a paradox so much as a side effect of life. Everything involves choices, and every choice you make now removes other choices. Every hour you spend plugged into practicing a language is an hour you can't spend practicing music. Spending six years studying biochemistry is six years not studying physics. I was very happy being single and am very happy being married-- but the happiness centers around different things. Every door you take leaves unopened doors in the background. That's just life. Even if you could have it all, you couldn't grasp a fraction of it.
With the violence stuff, you can choose a long life where your joints work fine and you have good vision in un-gouged eyes and fewer spasms from nerve damage and less arthritis and an ability to sleep through the night... or you can shatter some illusions about violence. You can't have both.
Of all the gods, only Odin was willing to maim himself for knowledge, and that's the choice here. All this-- call it insight or special knowledge or whatever-- comes at a price. I focus on the physical price because that's the easiest for others to see, but the real price? I can count on one hand the people I can really talk to. The books, the blogs, the articles... there's a compulsion to get the information out, but also the knowledge that most can't grasp it, there is simply no touchstone.
So Cbeppa, it's not a paradox, it's an either/or. I advise people to avoid violent situations as much as possible because that way leads to the kind of life that most can handle. But there is a different truth, and that truth, universally, feels more real to the ones who have followed it (probably just a side effect of adrenaline.)
There's one other reason to preach avoidance. Maybe you get new truths through engagement. Maybe your illusions get shattered and you can get new insights or even enlightenment. But only if you live, and hopefully unshattered. I talk about dealing with knives and luck, but if I had been a tiny bit less lucky, I wouldn't be here to talk about it. It's very cool to imagine going to the bad places and learning the cool lessons, but not everyone comes back and of those who do, many are too damaged or adrenalized to remember what happened. Seeking safety, by its nature, is safer than seeking the alternative.