Long good talk with Erik Kondo last week about improving navigation on CRGI and many other things. Stay tuned on that, there are a couple of ongoing projects I need to write about soon. In the process we were talking about identifying good practices and practitioners, and I was balking.
"My idea of good may not be someone else's. There's a lot of really good stuff out there, particularly in the traditional arts, that is just misunderstood or missed by the instructors." I said.
"Good's hard to identify," Erik agreed, "But you can spot bad in a heartbeat."
You have no idea how much I hate arguing with people who are smarter than me. But at least I learn a lot.
So when validating a technique, deciding whether it will work and whether to teach it, three things immediately come to mind. There may be a lot of other ways to suck, but these are usually easy to see and are definitely failures.
1) Time framing. Everything you do takes time. The less time it takes, the more efficient it is. The longer it takes to get to the same point the less efficient it is. If the technique taught requires more time than exists, you have a time framing problem.
You will never dodge a sword strike with a back handspring. If I throw a jab at your chin within range, you will never get a hand from your hip in time to intercept it. If you have an eight move defense and counter to a single move attack, your attacker is eight times more efficient than you are. You lose. Even if the initial attack and the counter take the same time (or the technique has a slight edge) it probably won't make up for the action/reaction gap. If you are reacting, the opponent will have completed a certain percentage of the motion (maybe the whole attack) before you Observe, Orient and Decide and initiate your reaction.
There are a number of things that influence this. Telegraphing is a big one. In many cases, you can look like you are very fast or even telepathic if you are good at reading telegraphs. Almost everyone has unnecessary preparatory moves before they begin the real action. Almost as prevalent and much more damaging to the student is poor distancing. You can get away with almost anything if you insist that the attack begins from a half-step out of range. If your technique relies on that half-step, it simply won't work.
2) Brainwashing. You can look all over the internet for the videos of the chi masters making their students go dizzy by pointing fingers or knocking people down without touching them. Here's the deal. There is a thing called "victim grooming" where a predator takes time and effort, usually with a child, and raises that child to believe that being a victim is normal and to actively seek out abuse. The students of these chi-masters (and a lot of others) have been subjected to the same process. They have been trained to respond as if magic works or suffer cognitive dissonance and some painful rethinking.
Probably shouldn't have started with chimeisters because it makes it easy to pretend the lower levels of this don't exist. But a lot of them do. Sometimes it is purely mental "I know this technique works because it only takes twelve pounds of pressure to break a knee..." No it doesn't. Your knee can take twelve pounds all day. Twelve pounds moving at 100mph is a completely different problem.
Sometimes it is physical. If your technique only works on your own students, it doesn't work. If you are more likely to be injured by a beginner than an experienced practitioner, your system may be deliberately creating inefficient fighters. That's the technical term for "losers." If you're demonstrating a technique and the student steps back to give you plenty of time, subtly points at which fist she is about to use... sigh. Groomed victim.
Lastly, demos and seminars and you. Really easy to see other people being brainwashed. Much harder to grasp your own suggestibility. Almost all people are suggestible to a degree. You've all seen that yawns are contagious. That's one example. Everyone thinks they are resistant to suggestion, but that belief has, apparently, no correlation to one's actual suggestibility. And when you go to a seminar, your suggestibility is heightened. You have already decided to go to the seminar expressly because there is something about this instructor you admire. That lowers your skepticism. (And don't think a skeptical attitude is a defense, I've read many stage magicians who consider self-declared skeptics the easiest to fool). You will be in a crowd of others who feel the same way, triggering the human herd instinct. Sometimes accentuated by insisting that people come dressed traditionally (much harder to break ranks when everyone looks/dresses the same.) And the really good ones have techniques to pick out the most suggestible (or at least weed out the most resistant) so that the early demos go so well it becomes even harder to question or complain.
If the instructor tells students what is supposed to happen, whether three touches on a meridian will make a KO or that when a hand appears going for the face the body has no choice but to throw itself (and, yes, before you ask, I have heard both of those) the explanation is part of the technique.
Bottom line, if the bad guy is responsible for making the technique work, the technique doesn't work.
3) Mechanical advantage. Any good technique must have a mechanical advantage. It must have an element of leverage, structure or vector that gives it an edge over things applied with more power. You can only do a good sweep if there is enough distance from the sweeping foot and the shoulder crash. You need the leverage. My wife could never outmuscle me pulling her into a hug, but she can use her pointy little elbows to make it really hurt, pitting my strength against her structure and winning. If a fist is coming in and you try to stop it straight on you would have to be far more powerful than the person throwing the punch... but a slap to the side has the vector to redirect a massive difference in power.
Ideally, a good technique will have advantages in all three-- good structure applied with maximized leverage along an advantageous vector. And there is no rule that says a bad guy can't be better at all three elements than you. That's life.
Bottom line- unless there is clear mechanical advantage in a technique, it will only work against a smaller, weaker opponent. It will only work for a bad guy.
No matter how tested something is or under what conditions it has been tested, all you know is that you haven't found the failure point yet. But the failure point is out there. So is your stuff valid? That depends how far you have tested your stuff. There is a point where it will cease to work. And the uncertainty increases when it is not tested. When there is no way to validate a thing, humans seek validation instead.
You can't be 100% sure of very much. 1+1=2 with high reliability when applied to rocks. It's less reliable when applied to rabbits. When you can't be sure (validity) people want to feel sure (validation).
How does one go about validation? They like be told by other people that they are good. There are a lot of rituals and trappings to it, but that's the essence. A black belt. Certificates and trophies. Creating "Councils of Masters" who cross-certify each other as "Masters." In the RBSD world, you have instructors who are combing academic abstracts looking for studies that appear to justify their own beliefs or discredit a competitor's. Everybody wants a guy in a white coat with a PhD after his name to validate their approach. The academic researcher takes the place of the shaman is this quest in this culture.
And that last, science, isn't bad. If you are scientifically literate (understand experimental design, the scientific method and the basics of statistical analysis as a start) and read the actual article, not just the abstract. And don't cherry-pick too hard.
But the rest aren't bad, either. Sort of. I want validation too. My validation comes from the respect of people that I respect. Hmmmm. Sort of. I respect almost everyone as a matter of courtesy. But when I look at my closest friends, I'm a little humbled to be accepted in their company. But it can be a fine line between a group of operators and former operators telling war stories and and a cross-certifying Master's Council. I'm fairly positive that each of those "masters" convince themselves that the others on the council are extraordinary and being allowed in is a compliment (even if one Hall of Fame award was offered to every member of a certain martial arts forum one year. Sigh.)
There are certificates that mean a lot to me because of who they came from and how they were earned. And I know there are, or used to be, certificates that came in a sheaf with a box of DVDs all pre-signed by the "master" so that you could fill them out and show potential students your hundreds of certifications.
And trophies-- you win an olympic judo medal or a UFC title and you are one tough son of a bitch, dedicated and skilled. Or you can just go to an event that has three times as many categories as competitors and come home with a pocketful of gold medals from events where you had no opposition. The good and worthless trophies look just the same on the wall.
It can look like the goal is to be strong enough not to need outside validation, to be so sure that you don't need other people telling you how good you are. But that doesn't work either, because some of the worst instructors I have seen had a profoundly over-developed ego. Someone who truly feels superior usually sucks (Dunning-Kruger) and are most likely to reject outside opinions yet most likely to need them.
Sometimes I think about offering a certification program in thinking for yourself. The catch being that if you want a certificate in autonomy from someone else, you don't get it. You don't get the certificate or the concept.
It wasn't a big thing, there was a single sentence about validity, but the concept of validity in self-defense instruction is a big one. Rocky.
I've seen a lot of things work and a lot of things fail. And thought -- a lot-- about why things succeed or fail. And those whys became my personal list of principles, and those principles became the framework for my teaching. And that was tested in the field. A lot. And... does that make what I do valid?
What does valid even mean?
Here's the deal. A few people have seen the elephant. But on one, no one, has seen the whole elephant. Soldier experience isn't cop experience. Cop experience isn't corrections experience. Corrections experience isn't bouncer experience. Bouncer experience isn't secure mental health custodial experience. And none of that is direct experience with domestic violence. None of that, hopefully, is experience with being targeted as a victim.
As a man, when I teach SD to women, there is an entire part of the equation (what it's like to be a woman) that I can never understand. But, you know what? I also can't truly understand what it's like to be a bigger, stronger man than I am. Or what it's like to have 30 years of kempo experience instead of jujutsu. I know enough about violent criminals to predict their behavior and pick apart their rationalizations in an interrogation, but I've never been one.
All any of us has is a piece of this. There are no experts. So is there validity? Sort of.
Validity is a function of logic, of syllogism, specifically. (And I'm a little out of my depth in the nuances of philosophy 101, but bear with me a bit). If A is B and B is C then A is C. If there are no holes in the logic chain, then it is valid. A is C. Is it true? Seriously, do you even have to ask? If A was C, then cat would be cct. All of the pieces have to be true for validity to resemble truth. As well as all of the assumptions, like what 'is' means.
In self-defense, one of the dangers is that people confuse validity for truth, and they often teach that things that should work do work, or that things that worked on sober, eager students in a class will work on drugged and enraged people in other places. People frequently rate logic or received wisdom over experience.
"As we all know, self-defense is exactly like math. If you do the same thing, you will get the same effect every time."-- A self-defense instructor who will remain nameless. Not a single person with any experience whatsoever and a marginally functioning brain believes this. Not one. Probabilities go up with higher levels of force, e.g. I have never heard of a .50 to the head failing...but a .45 to the head has.
This validity, this search for truth is, in my opinion, a side effect of the subject matter. We recognize that if we or our students are ever called on to use these skills it will be for high stakes. Any failures will be catastrophic. The combination of high stakes and limited experience (remember that three hundred encounters is probably less than five hours of experience) drives people to seek certainty elsewhere: Received wisdom from a 'master.' Thought experiments. Dojo experiments. Chains of logic where every step is a guess or an assumption.
You would be so much stronger as a fighter or a teacher if you could just get over the need to be sure. There is no right. As Tia said recently, there's just solutions with less suck than other solutions. That lets the goal change from being right to being better. The problem with thinking you're right is that you can't improve on 'right.' Accepting that there are no perfect answers, that tiny touch of humility, gives you the superpower of continuous improvement. You can never be perfect. You can never be right. Feeling sure is a dead giveaway that you don't actually know. But you can be better. Every day.
And validity is a slightly separate issue from validation, but that's a post for another day.
"I have only one purpose: to make man free, to urge him towards freedom, to help him to break away from all limitations, for that alone will give him eternal happiness, will give him the unconditioned realization of the self."
J. Krishnamurti, "Truth is a Pathless Land
I've shared an amazing, mind-opening parable by Jiddu Krishnamurti before, but I think it bears repeating. If you recall, Krishnamurti was very influential in the 60s and 70s, and the late Bruce Lee looked to Krishnamurti's writings for inspiration. JKD has many points in comparison to Krishnamurti's teachings, most of which are about freedom and individuality.
“You may remember the story of how the devil and a friend of his were walking down the street, when they saw ahead of them a man stoop down and pick up something from the ground, look at it, and put it away in his pocket. The friend said to the devil, “What did that man pick up?” “He picked up a piece of Truth,” said the devil. “That is a very bad business for you, then,” said his friend. “Oh, not at all,” the devil replied, “I am going to let him organize it."
In my five decades of martial arts and combatives training I have picked up pieces of the truth here and there. For a very brief period I considered organizing these pieces, putting them together in a systematic way, carefully arranging them into a tidy, neat package. Fortunately, I too read Krishnamurti, and I began to see things differently.
"Truth," Krishnamurti went on to say, "being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organize a belief."
So what I ended up with in my own walk was a disorderly collection of common-sense, no frills skills, skill-sets, training methodologies, concepts and principles. They are not in any particular order, but they seem to flow naturally from one to another and back again.
I still get contacted from time to time from people who would like to see this information laid out in a sequential, step-by-step, systematic manner. And it is tempting at times to consider it, but I'm afraid I'd just turn out like the devil's friend in Krishnamurti's wise tale, forever trying to organize the collection, labeling the various parts, arranging them, trying to piece together the jigsaw puzzle that cannot be solved.
So along the way I ended up with some oddball nuggets, some slivers and segments, some untidy tidbits of truth concerning self-preservation and coming face to face with aggression.
In this, my final blog article, I wanted to share some of these random truths.
1. Fighting is primal.
"So it was in him, then," wrote Zane Grey, "an inherited fighting instinct, a driving intensity to kill."
Fighting, like other actions promoting survival, is in our genes and part of our instinctive drive. According to Konrad Lorenz in his bestselling book "On Aggression," Julian Huxley "compared the human being to a ship commanded by many captains. All these commanders are on the bridge at the same time and each voices his opinion. In doing so they sometimes reach a wise compromise which provides a better solution to their problems than the single opinion of the cleverest among them; but sometimes they cannot agree and then the ship is without any rational leadership."
I contend that in the face of danger this counsel of commanders drops the compromise and listens to the single voice of survival. But while the primal urge to survive is there, we must intentionally gain knowledge and experience and skill to make survival possible, to make sure the odds are in our favor when the time comes to roll the dice.
If in our training we learn to follow what I call the A-B-C principle, Action Before Cognition, and respond instinctively, forcefully, and immediately to a threat, free from the paralysis of analysis, we become reacquainted with and reinforce this natural self-preservation instinct.
2. Some people are natural fighters, (but most are not).
Just listen to this description of Civil War soldier, Champ Ferguson: "He was a man of strong sense, and of the intense will and energy, which, in men of his stamp and mode of life, have such a tendency to develop into ferocity, when they are in the least injured or opposed. It is probable that, at the close of the war, he did not himself know how many men he had killed."
In the martial arts world these types of people simply love to fight. They seem to have no fear, will take on bigger and tougher opponents with glee, and must be taught to rein in their combative instinct less fellow students become injured.
Most of us, however, do not have this so-called killer instinct so close to the surface. It lies deep within, like a dormant volcano.
Most of us must be trained to unleash this beast.
3. Fancy, flashy, exotic looking movements are a waste of precious energy and much too risky to attempt in the heat of battle.
One simply cannot imagine an ancient ancestor, out hunting a giant mammoth to feed his tribe, who stops and twirls his spear in an elaborate manner before plunging it into the beast's neck. Or practicing cartwheels before letting loose an arrow in mortal combat with a hostile enemy.
Just yesterday, as I drove past a strip-mall martial arts academy, I saw the windows decorated with images of people performing high flying kicks. I went in and watched a martial arts demonstration featuring people jumping and kicking and leaping through the air. I saw unrealistic Hollywood-movie defenses against guns and knives and clubs. There were people breaking flaming bricks, performing techniques en masse in unison and precision, yelling menacingly, and executing deep, elaborate stances that were designed to replicate the movements of fierce animals.
This is art, plain and simple.
Martial ART is to combat what a mime's performance is to reality.
Watch a mime 'ice skate' or 'eat an apple' or 'walk against the wind.' If he's really good you can almost come to believe that what he's doing is real. But it's an exaggerated expression or depiction of the essence of reality. Superb form, of course, and extremely difficult to perform. But it's not reality.
We do not study the mime's movements in order to improve our own. We do not find truth in a mime's performance, we simply see an artful representation of tiny segment of life.
4. Use whatever works.
Aside from the rare, gifted athlete who can perform seemingly impossible moves, most of us should just stick to time-tested, battle-proven, no-nonsense, common-sense, practical, effective and efficient skills.
They are not nearly as exciting or crowd pleasing, but the truth of the matter is we are not performing to please the crowd. We are not preparing to face a master, we are training to fight monsters.
We should be pragmatic, using skills from whatever source we can find, regardless of style and devoid of aesthetics merely for the sake of aesthetics.
5. Fortunately most of us will never come face to face with the horrors of war, the terror of a vicious attack. But, just in case...
Peace and comfort is probably something we've grown used to, something we've come to expect. But this is not true for many people around the world who live in war-torn countries, harsh conditions, and who must deal with random and daily occurrences of violence.
Our ancestors, still very much in the food chain, faced the threat of predation daily. The comedian Louis CK wonders what it would be like for commuters today if cheetahs were always hanging around at the train station.
The truth is most of us will succumb to heart disease or some other ailment, so kill-or-be-killed training is simply (pardon the pun) overkill for our daily lives.
This is probably why most people who practice martial arts emphasize the ART over the MARTIAL. FORM over FUNCTION. ENTERTAINMENT over EFFECTIVENESS. RITUAL over REALITY. This is probably why kata is still so popular. It is something to obsess over--the precision, the minutiae, the tedious and trivial pursuit of stuff that doesn't really matter.
6. Real violence is nasty and brutish.
It is ugly and reprehensible. It is chaotic and unpredictable. It happens fast, and it's usually over quickly. It is not something to glory in or desire. It is not pleasant or poetic.
It's been interesting writing articles, researching history, philosophy, cognitive psychology and physics. It's been a joy playfully poking fun at the martial arts world. Now, it's time for me to put up my rock and roll shoes and read some fiction for a change.
What do we mean by block?
My old concise Oxford Dictionary offers 18 different meanings for ‘block’ as a noun and 6 for it as a verb, a number of which seem suited to the context in which the term is used in the martial arts:
- an obstruction; anything preventing progress or normal working,
- a blocking action,
- put obstacles in the way of,
- restrict the use of,
- intercept with one’s body (American football).
It’s not a bad term, but one I suggest is still more limiting than the actual karate uke techniques themselves.
In a lot of martial arts that use Japanese language terminology when two people train together they may be referred to as Tori, the person that successfully ‘does’ the technique, and Uke, the person that receives the technique. For at least the last fourteen years I have used the word ‘receiver’ to translate the word ‘uke’ when it refers to a technique (such as Age Uke, Ude Uke, Uchi Uke) as I feel it allows for the broad range of things that the movements can be than the more commonly used term ‘block’.
When is an uke technique not an uke technique?
Most uke techniques are made up of a number of gross motor movements, often with some fine motor additions at the end. The opinion of what is and what isn’t an uke technique will vary from person to person. How much of the movement, and what part of the movement, has to be done before we can say “I used this uke technique”?
As an example, here are descriptions of two different uke techniques. I recognise that they will be taught differently from style to style and from association to association (and my version may well be viewed as heretical or incorrect by some), but I will describe them as I do them if I were doing Shotokan Karate kihon as Shotokan is one of the karate styles that I teach.
Right Arm Age Uke: the left arm extends palm open and down to the front at head height with the right hand fist closed palm up at the hip. The right hand (fist closed and palm facing upwards) moves diagonally across the body from right to left (outside to inside) to approximately shoulder height, supported by a partial turn of the right hip forward. The right arm then moves a small amount from the inside to the outside while continuing to push upwards, the forearm rotating so that the back of the hand now faces the head and the uppermost surface of the forearm is clear of the top of the head. The elbow of the right arm is lower than the fist and the angle of the forearm is diagonal rather than horizontal. This final movement is supported by a further turn of the right hip forward of the left. The hips turn fluidly throughout the movement and the movement of the right arm should be fluid throughout. As the right arm moves the left hand retracts sharply to the hip, closing to a fist and rotating to a palm up position. This can be done with supporting stepping motions.
Right Arm Ude Uke: the left arm extends palm open and down to the front at head height and the right arm is pulled back level with the head, its elbow at approximately shoulder height with the forearm at a vertical right angle to the upper arm and rotated so that the closed right fist faces away from the head. The right forearm then rotates so that the palm of the closed fist faces forwards and the right elbow drops down and forwards sweeping across the body from the outside towards the inside, supported by the right hip orientating forwards of the left. As the right arm reaches its end point (which would have been the centerline of the chest had the hips not turned) the forearm rotates so that the palm of the closed fist faces towards the practitioner. As the right arm moves the left hand retracts sharply to the hip, closing to a fist and rotating to a palm up position. This can be done with supporting stepping motions.
In basic training and in kata the prior extension of the ‘non blocking’ arm is common to the majority of uke techniques. As such if I just do that I would not describe myself as having done an uke technique, I see it as a setup movement, albeit a very important one in a lot of practical applications (as is its retraction). From a personal standpoint if I just do the diagonal upwards movement in one direction described in my version of Age Uke, whether the outside to inside part or the inside to outside reversal, I would not say “I have done Age Uke”, but if I did both I would describe it as an Age Uke. In similar vein although many years ago I was taught in Jiyu Kumite to move and rotate my arm a few inches from its kamae position from the outside to the inside and that movement was also ‘Ude Uke’, for me (and this is an opinion not a fact) it does not utilise enough of the movement to go by that name and I see it purely as a closed hand parry. As such I wouldn’t call an open or closed handed high outside to inside parry Gedan Barai, though if it is then followed by the arm sliding along and across the parried limb to strike the attacker with a hammerfist I would. If the same following outward movement went upwards rather than downwards then I would not be adverse to describing it as an Age Uke.
Flinching, parrying, swatting, patting, diverting and slipping and uke techniques
There are a number of different reactions we make to attacks. The tongue in cheek descriptor I use for the different umbrella aspects that govern the actions or reactions of the ‘defender’ is the FEAR of the defender: their focus, experience, attitude and reaction time – all measured or competing against the EASE of the attack (environment, attitude, speed and entry angle). In broad terms though what we do in response to an attack will depend upon whether or when we see it, how long we have to react to it and how much experience we have dealing with it along with what we’ve trained to do.
The fastest most natural proactive things we can do in response to an attack we have not pre-empted are simple gross motor actions. Patting or parrying from one side to the other, pushing up or swatting down, or slipping straight under. These are all natural movements that most people will do if they have enough time unless confused by being specifically told to do something else. Where training comes in is that a trained person will
- spot the telegraphs of the attack sooner and begin to make appropriate movements,
- have improved reaction time from regular exposure to the stimuli,
- have superior supporting biomechanics to ensure a greater likelihood of success,
- have a superior ability to follow (or convert) their swat/parry/push/pat/slip with an appropriate ‘shutting down’ movement or combination.
Depending on the style (and the student) there are often points in training (particularly in the first few years) where an untrained person will avoid being struck with greater success and ease than a trained person because they are carrying less mental baggage about what they should be doing in support of the movement and that is particularly true if a person is trying to utilise a ‘complete’ uke technique in the manner I described above (with Age Uke and Ude Uke as examples) against an unpredictable attack at speed.
While flinching is a natural movement (and can to a degree biomechanically overlap with some of the examples given above) it differs from them in that it is an unconscious reflexive response. We all flinch, but we do so unconsciously when we do not have time to access a conscious response to protect ourselves. How we flinch will depend on how far away the stimuli is when we spot it, how fast it is, where it is headed, and the position of our hands and arms at the time. If you spot a punch heading towards your face at the last minute and your hands are down by your waist, they may begin to come up as if to cover the head, and the spinal reflex will kick in turning you down and away, and the face will scrunch and the eyes shut, but you will still get hit. If your hands were already in front of your face then your arms would probably have covered the head and you wouldn’t have been hit. If there were more time the arms (or the nearest arm) would have extended to push the threat away. If there were more time than that then you would most likely have accessed a conscious response and your unconscious brain would not have taken over. We cannot modify the flinch. We can reduce its likelihood through training and learning to spot and act on telegraphs earlier. We can also (if we’re sensible) practice recovering from flinch-like positions so that if we do flinch we are immediately able to respond rather than fall victim to follow up attacks. I’ve previously discussed how I view flinching and its relation to karate kata, sparring and techniques here.
Karate uke and applications
Uke can be used and trained for a number of different purposes, some of which are more effective in different environments and under different degrees of pressure than others. So far as I’m concerned whether an application of an uke is right or wrong comes down to the Ronseal test: does it do what it says on the tin?
Stepping backwards with a full Age Uke and Ude Uke (as described above) against a prearranged long-range straight punching torso or chin attack at speed works. I can’t question that, I’ve seen it done hundreds of times and I’ve done it hundreds of times. I’ve not seen it work in other environments, and I’ve seen it fail in other environments, but that doesn’t matter if that’s not your training intention. If you can reliably apply it to do what you want it to do then it passes the Ronseal test for you.
Uke make up the majority of karate kata techniques. It is my opinion (and this isn’t a new view by any means, it has been common in the karate world for a very long time) that they were not designed to be used against karate (or other MA) attacks in the manner in which they are generally trained in a number of karate systems, though that does not detract from their ability in such to bestow a number of positive combative and fitness benefits in the process.
I view uke techniques as ‘receiver’ techniques, they receive the other person’s attack. This means that they deflect, they intercept, they strike (potentially pre-emptively), they unbalance, they manipulate, they trap and they can even control.
In his ten precepts Anko Itosu wrote of Karate as being designed to defend oneself against a ruffian rather than engaging in challenge matches. As such in my own training I have chosen to orientate my study and application of uke techniques towards habitual acts of violence (HAOV). The recreation of HAOV in training and in the simulation of force on force individual and multiple person realistic self defence scenarios is something for which I am probably better known internationally than my karate articles and books. I consider myself very fortunate to have had a number of highly experienced martial artists from a broad range of martial arts disciplines as well as LEOs, military and security personnel, watch or participate in the training that I have run in this regard and endorse it. The applications I teach for uke techniques stem from the observations of what happens (and what works) in this form of training in addition to over a decade of the study of violent crime and associated supporting disciplines. Photographs for clarity of explanation in books and articles will illustrate my applications in a very static form (because they are for people learning the drills), but they are designed to be trained in the manner I describe here with progressive resistance, speed and unpredictability. Ultimately I believe in their effectiveness for self defence and would like to see those who learn them try them in situations such as illustrated in my training in the following video.
I’ve previously discussed the case for elements of grappling in karate here and I know that the conclusions I drew there are not unique. Karate is not purely a striking approach, nor is it purely a grappling approach, it is an approach that is orientated predominantly towards striking and striking is its preferred approach. To do this effectively against HAOV by necessity it contains techniques that are designed to navigate and extricate from the common ‘non percussive’ elements of fighting (such as grabbing and pulling, holding, barging, tackling attempted leg take downs etc) in order to strike, flee or control. In self defence situations the vast majority of conflict occurs at extremely close range and grabbing, clinching, pushing, barging and tackling are extremely common responses – even (and especially) amongst highly trained martial artists who have focused their training on maintaining distance. Long range stepping and attacking tend to occur most often when chasing a retreating person that has not been held, or on joining ‘another’ struggle to help a friend after dealing with an aggressor in a multiple person situation.
In my scenario simulations various patterns of behaviour emerge. I’m not referring to the HAOV of the role-playing aggressors, or the adrenal reactions of the surprised trainees who suddenly find themselves attacked while trying to defuse an argument, but in the patterns that successful counter tactics form. As part of the training the scenarios are videoed and the footage examined frame by frame to give feedback. What is consistently visible in the footage is that successful navigation and extraction of participants from the close quarter fighting comes through movements and stances that more closely resemble the strategies that are shown in karate kata, even amongst those participants who have no martial arts experience. In fact if I were to edit out the attacker from the video so that it appeared as if the defender were fighting thin air, then the resulting movements would look more akin to a kata than anything else seen in the martial arts. Those that have specifically trained to use the kata against HAOV on a regular basis do exceptionally well in such scenario training by using the kata practically. This pattern of both striking and ‘grappling’ (or anti-grappling if you prefer) on the part of both attacker and defender, and the resulting kata mirror, makes a further convincing case for both the need and presence of grappling and throwing in karate kata.
One of the most noticeable elements of karate kata is the relative paucity of ‘obvious’ striking techniques. In terms of overall quantity the majority of the kata are made up of uke receiving techniques combined with hikite pulling motions (and in some systems preparatory extended arm thrusting motions), then we have ‘obvious’ open and close handed thrusting / punching / striking motions and finally we have the emphasised kneeing or kicking techniques.
The idea that uke techniques are only ‘blocks’ and that their predominance in kata reflects the defensive nature of karate should be rejected for a number of reasons. Firstly, deflecting and blocking attacks is a largely instinctive action that does not require specialised movement, though as I outlined above training to deflect and parry attacks is not a waste of time. If you observe anyone shielding themselves against a committed attack outside of set prearranged sparring combinations, you will see them cover, parry, slap, duck or flinch (or any combination of those), and any time you see anything resembling part of a fixed uke technique it will be because the uke technique itself mimics natural movement. Secondly the best form of defence is offence, and that principle has been enshrined in martial writings across many cultures for centuries. A committed attack is not stopped by continuous deflection but by pattern disrupting behaviour that forces reaction and reorientation. Thirdly it is unlikely to be a coincidence that uke techniques function extremely well as striking, unbalancing, trapping and limb (and head) manipulation movements in stand up grappling. Finally it is incongruous that the majority of the movements being drilled in kata should be devoted to anything other than navigating the most common problems posed by violent incidents.
The requirement of good training to address the most common problems takes us back to the weighting of movements in the kata. When I look at the footage of the skilled and unskilled martial artists working to extricate themselves from close quarter force on force violent confrontations in the hundreds of scenario training simulations that I have run (whether on their own against a single assailant, against a group, or part of the chaos of multiple groups of people in an argument that has escalated to physical violence) the weighting of techniques and time is as follows in order of frequency:
- moving and manipulating others to gain a position from which to strike, control or escape (predominantly extracting oneself from multiple punches, grabs, high tackles and clinches),
- striking with the forearms, elbows or hands,
- kicking with the foot.
This distribution of movement mirrors the emphasis on techniques in the majority of karate kata, especially with the ability of most uke techniques to function as short close range strikes (often using the forearm) as well as stand up grappling (or grappling avoidance and escape) movements.
My approach to and interpretation of the application of uke techniques is neither new nor unique, and it is not the only valid approach. From my perspective though it is one that is underwritten by textual evidence from past generations of karateka and their antecedents, is orientated towards the purpose of karate as described by Anko Itosu, fits the uncomfortable realities of civilian self defence (as shown by CCTV footage, years of hospital emergency room data, decades of consistent violent crime surveys and reports, and accompanying psychological and physiological research into human behaviour), and is supported by the fact that entire uke techniques and indeed entire kata sequences can be applied realistically under pressure with other techniques (from the same kata) acting as effective redundancies in the event of less than optimal performance. A few photos in isolation (and possibly out of context without explanation) or a short video of a single application cannot convey its holistic integrity, appropriateness or effectiveness. If you really want to understand or judge my approach then you need to train with me.
“Here in the light a lazy mist is lifting
And the sands of time are slowly shifting"
Out of the Darkness, David Crosby-Graham Nash
"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
I have lived in or near the so-called 'Bible Belt' of the Southern part of the United States for most of my life. Those sweet people who live down in the South are real generous folks. They share just about everything down there--potato salad, pecan pie, sweet iced tea, and their faith in a fire-and-brimstone Old Testament God and His love-and-joy New Testament Son. It is not an uncommon experience for me as I travel the South to meet believers who feel obliged to witness to me. When they discover that I am an atheist they will often intensify their efforts and ratchet up their rhetoric. For some odd reason they will often become quite angry.
What they don't know, and what they don't bother to ask about, is that for a time in my youth I was involved with, and in fact that I was a leader in a national religious organization which taught what was referred to as 'THE TRUTH.'
This interdenominational organization sought to convert college and high school students to its fresh brand of fundamentalist Christianity during a time of political unrest and uncertainty.
It was a time when student anti-war demonstrations were an everyday occurrence, when people were still dying for the cause of equality, and when the white, conservative establishment had no clue about the emerging views and values of a diverse and dissatisfied counter culture.
Bumping Up Against Science
In those days I was indoctrinated to believe that science was evil and that faith was good; that science was a lie, but that the gospel was the truth.
This organization trained me and motivated me and encouraged me to go out and approach perfect strangers with a simple faith-based solution to all of their life's problems. They expected me to talk to others about their sadness, and loneliness, and emptiness, and despair. Should a scientific, rational objection--'resistance' we liked to call it--rear its ugly head, we were taught insurance-salesman-type techniques to negate and overcome resistance and to 'close the deal' of winning hearts and minds to what I now recognize as a mythology.
The youth culture of the Sixties had witnessed the horrifying assassinations of a beloved president, a deeply respected and inspirational civil rights leader, and the president's brother, a voice for freedom and justice. They had seen the bigotry and the terrible brutality of racially motivated church bombings, one of which took the lives of four innocent young girls in Alabama. They had watched flailing nightsticks used against protestors at the Chicago Democratic National Convention. They saw the Cuban missile standoff and the steady proliferation of nuclear warheads, bringing the symbolic Doomsday Clock mere minutes away from what could be a very real total annihilation.
They watched shocking images on the nightly news of the tragic war in Southeast Asia, they knew about the murders of peaceful demonstrators by members of the National Guard at the campus of Kent State, and they were aware of the corruption of senior government officials in the Watergate conspiracy.
The Jesus Movement
Amidst all of this upheaval the "Jesus Movement" of the late 60s and early 70s had no problem whatsoever gathering together growing numbers of scared and disillusioned teens who were hungry for hope, peace and love in a time of turmoil.
This religious movement was energized by a wave of youthful converts who saw a connection to the man Jesus, a bearded, sandal-wearing teacher who preached brotherly love. They saw themselves in this man, and they could empathize with a person, an outsider, who was persecuted for being different.
This was also around the time of a new national bestselling book, The Late Great Planet Earth, about the horrors of a coming apocalypse which would fill the earth with death and destruction on an epic scale. The clues in the biblical books of Daniel and Revelations just needed to be decoded to see the fulfillment of end-times prophecy being played out on the evening news and in the morning's headlines.
We did not look to science for solutions in those days, and instead we thought we knew The Truth--that the problems of the world were spiritual problems, solved by a return to the simple gospel of the early church.
The organization was not so much anti-science as it was science-free and blissfully ignorant of basic scientific facts.
On the rare occasion that we thought about science at all we perceived scientists as the ones who created the tools of destruction. Our view was that chemists and physicists created napalm, Agent Orange, nerve gas, and the atom bomb, and they polluted the water and the air, and threatened the environment with the help of giant mega corporations.
During that time my beliefs would occasionally brush up gently against science, and I would have to look the other way if scientific facts stood in my path.
Seeing the Light
Eventually as I got older and encountered tough, real-world problems in my own life, my spiritual life began to wane. Around that time I began to have a growing interest in the physical world around me. The things I had learned in studying scripture could not help with basic questions about the physical world or provide satisfactory answers to simple questions about the mind and human behavior, and so I started to turn to science and education for understanding.
You know how in the cartoons the character gets an idea, and we see the light bulb over his head? Well, mine was more of a dimmer switch, and it took me many years to pull my head out of the sand, to finally see the light and to shift my mind out of the darkness of ignorance.
For example I had begun to read that the world was old. Very old. And that the continents were adrift, moving at about the same pace as the growth of our fingernails. As so many curious people before me when I looked at a globe I couldn't help but see that the coasts of one continent seemed to fit jigsaw-like against the coast of another even though they were an ocean apart.
My Christian friends had no problem accepting that the earth was young and still had a new car smell, but this made no sense to me when I took the time to think about volcanoes, earthquakes and the forces of erosion. I wondered about fossils of dinosaurs buried deep in the ground. But dinosaur fossils were explained as either: (a) they were put there to test our faith, or (b) because they are buried in the ground they support a global flood.
I wondered about the origin of the moon on whose surface man had so recently left his footprints. I wondered how it was formed, when it was formed and how it affected life on earth.
I wondered about atomic energy and quantum mechanics, knowing full well that the explanation would blow my mind.
And I wondered how things worked and where things came from.
The Grand Canyon for example. Geologists explain that it was carved quickly, perhaps over a span of 5 million years--a mere blink of an eye geologically speaking.
But my fundamentalist friends believed that it happened only about 4,500 years ago--just 1,500 years after the beginning of 'Creation'--and that it was carved really really REALLY quickly, perhaps in a year's time, at a rate of a hundred thousand cubic meters per second, as a result of the 'Global Flood' from the Old Testament story about Noah.
Instead of accepting the scientific explanation of the Grand Canyon, I was encouraged to read a book by Dr. Henry Morris, one of the early founders of modern "creation science." I bought and read his book on Noah's ark and the gathering of all kinds of creatures to rescue man and beast from the destruction of global deluge. Although it's hard for me to believe now, but in the absence of any training in critical thinking and with only a very limited education in hard science, his views seemed quite reasonable to me at the time.
Science books and educational television shows explained that the universe is unimaginably vast, and constantly expanding at mind-boggling speed. The Andromeda Galaxy alone is 2.5 million light years away, and with light traveling approximately 5,878,000,000,000 miles in a year, the age of the universe is admittedly hard for mortal minds to comprehend. And yet fundamentalists whom I called my friends and leaders claimed that the universe was only a few thousand years old.
I was encouraged to ignore the views of astronomers and popular science spokespersons such as the brilliant Carl Sagan. I am embarrassed to say that for a time I listened to the persons in authority within that organization, and I accepted the consensus of the group that these atheistic scientists had an evil, anti-god agenda.
I regret those lost, dark years.
Because of their religious indoctrination, my friends had no clue how the process of natural selection worked. They had some simplistic notion that modern man supposedly evolved from monkeys. They were then unable to comprehend how there are still chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans in the modern world if we evolved from apes and monkeys.
These same friends wanted to turn back the clock to the time of the Scopes monkey trial in my home state of Tennessee. They wanted to remove the teaching of evolution from science classes and teach what they referred to as the Truth of Creationism, what has recently come to be known as the theory of "intelligent design."
Although anthropologists can point to a growing body of evidence that accurately traces the family tree of modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) to a common ancestor with modern primates, our closest cousins, my Christian friends refused to accept these rational, scientific explanations.
Even now fundamentalists--some of whom hold seats of power on local school boards, or in state government, or on science committees of the national government--disregard this evidence and want American school children to be taught that man was created in the image of his divine creator in his present form only a few thousand years ago.
They want to teach American school children that this first man and his mate disobeyed divine guidelines and doomed all of us to everlasting torment unless we accept the intervention and payment of an actual historic god-man sacrifice.
I can see how this mythology might have made sense in the Dark Ages. I can even see how this mythology could possibly make sense in the absence of scientific literacy.
Heck, it even made sense to me for awhile.
But I cannot understand how it continues to prevail in the 21st century when the science explaining man's origins is so clear, thorough, and convincing.
The Breakdown of Belief
Gödel, a mathematician and logician, concluded that in complex axiomatic systems, and especially with axioms that deal with the infinite, there may be statements that are true but unproveable, and thus some axiomatic systems are incomplete or inconsistent.
The folks at Duke University give us a semantic mental game that's been around for some time:
- The Law of Contradiction tells us that any given statement cannot be both true and false at the same time.
- The Law of Excluded Middle tells us that any given statement must be true or false.
- The following statement is false.
- The preceding statement is true.
There were essentially three primary rules:
- The axioms or statements of Truth within this system have been divinely revealed to us long ago and are contained within a book of divinely inspired writings which encompass rules about day-to-day behavior, regulations about the practice of certain proscribed rituals, and prophetic--albeit mysterious and paradoxical--statements issued forth from an actual, living, all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present being, and they are true, complete, non-negotiable, and good.
- Death is not the end of existence.
- Those individuals chosen by this divine being to accept the Truth and who willingly admit their separateness from this divine being due to an innate/inherited, hereditary curse or natural condition of wickedness as well as actions taken by the individual which do not follow the rules and regulations as presented in inspired writings, will spend an eternity in the presence of this divine being which can only be described as paradise.
- Those who are not chosen and who do not admit the guilt of their condition of separateness will be condemned to eternal torment and suffering and separation from all that is good and eternally pleasing.
- Faith or belief is required to know the Truth. Truth will not be revealed to those with insufficient faith or belief; however, a simple, child-like acceptance of the Truth will suffice.
- Many axiomatic systems demand payment or offering to please the divine being at the head of their system. This payment is generally in the form of sacrifice, that is propitiation or homage, and is quite frequently a burnt offering, that is an offering of burnt animal flesh.
- Those who realize their state of separateness from this divine being must accept by faith the blood sacrifice of an actual, historical god/man.
- This god/man came to earth to be a sacrificial offering for the sins of all men.
- Knowledge was given to man, the pinnacle of creation, and man is expected to use this knowledge to have dominion over the world and all of its creatures.
(2) If any of the axioms within this system appear to be confusing, contradictory or untrue, please refer to rule 1.
(3) All competing axiomatic systems which claim to be true are actually bad, false and not divinely revealed. Acceptance of competing axiomatic systems will lead to divine judgment which includes eternal torment and suffering and separation from all that is good and eternally pleasing. These competing axiomatic systems may have strong similarities about rules and regulations, with similar things being labeled as 'good' or 'bad', or 'acceptable' or 'prohibited'; however, this is where the comparison stops.
I not only actively participated in efforts to help others come to grips with these 'Truths,' I even helped train others to go and do likewise.
Because of these years of darkness and ignorance I find myself to be playing a constant game of catch-up. So much to learn, and so little time available.
When I am stopped by a smiling Southerner I just know it's going to turn ugly. The smiles will morph into snarls fairly quickly as I turn aside their tired, cliche-ridden, science-free attempts at persuasion and offer tough resistance to their sales pitch.
At some point amidst their diatribe I realize that their minds are closed. They have no grasp of the provisional nature of science and the need to use thorough observation, systematic analysis and rigorous experimentation to arrive at knowledge that is ever evolving. Their absolute adherence to and confidence in their faith has closed their minds from learning.
I do my best to try and explain, but I am often rebuffed.
If they would allow me to, I would paraphrase Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic Magazine:
"What separates science from all other human activities is its belief in the provisional nature of all conclusions. In science, knowledge is fluid and certainty fleeting. That is the heart of its limitation. It is also its greatest strength.
"I believe, but cannot prove...that reality exists and science is the best method for understanding it, there is no God, the universe is determined but we are free, morality evolved as an adaptive trait of humans and human communities, and that ultimately all of existence is explicable through science."
They will quote scripture, use outdated arguments based on faulty logic, and in a final touché they will tell me (sometimes shouting) that they will pray for me.
They do not realize that I have been inoculated and that I have built up an immunity.
And we all know, all of us, that we are our own greatest opponents. What is holding you back from your potential? You. No one else has the access, no one else has the strength. If you choose to believe otherwise ("I would be really successful except for .") it only means that your excuse-making machine is working fine. You can find people with much worse circumstances who became successful. I guarantee it.
So the question-- can you write your ultimate opponent? Can you turn the parts of you that hold you back into the kind of antagonist who exists to lose? And in doing so, can you create yourself into the architect of your own future? Is that what mastery is?
*As Maija explains it. She's worth checking out.
How do you use your feet?
A few weeks back I was reading an excellent blog post on ‘Old School Karate’ by Garry Parker of Columbus Dojo. He’d made a personal list of the things he did that he considered as facets of ‘old school’ karate. Obviously such a list is very personal: you can ask one hundred excellent and experienced karateka to list ten things and I imagine that while you’ll get a number of answers that crop up again and again, you won’t get one hundred identical answers, and it might be arrogant to say that any one of those answers was ‘wrong’.
One thing that was mentioned in his article (which you can read here) was the importance of learning to use the feet in karate. How we use the feet has immense importance for not only the feet themselves, but also affects how efficiently and effectively we use the ankles, calves, thighs, hips, pelvis… you get the idea. If the feet aren’t being used correctly then your ability to move, hold position, apply or receive power effectively is compromised, and so is your karate.
I train in two karate systems, one of which trains barefoot and one that wears footwear. As such I am very aware of the differences and similarities between the two approaches. Whether you train barefoot or in footwear it is important to recognise that they do create different dynamics. As an example here are two video captures of me stepping at speed barefoot and in trainers. In both the stepping foot hovers just above the ground as I step, but (without my being consciously aware of it) in trainers my heel automatically touches the ground first (just as it does in normal walking), a different movement to the flatter ‘ball first’ barefoot landing, even though in both my toes are slightly raised and then grip on landing.
While the actions of the supporting foot may be almost identical in both, often the stepping or kicking foot has a different ‘feel’ or position in footwear. Personally I think it’s important to be aware of the dynamics of each if you are possibly thinking that you might need to use your karate in footwear.
The positioning and ‘working’ of the feet is obvious when you are barefoot (if you know what to look for or if it is being highlighted by the teacher). What is less obvious is that the same things you do when barefoot are equally important to use the feet effectively when you are in footwear. How the foot is moved and grips within the shoe, just as when barefoot, has a knock on effect on the rest of your biomechanics. In fact I would argue that although hidden, correct use of the foot is even more important when shod than barefoot because of the sole between the foot and the ground. Even in heavy trainers I am always aware of the type of surface I am on (I can feel it through the shoe), and my feet are always relaxing and tensing in different ways to allow purchase or mobility.
As to which is old school? Using the feet properly is old school. Whether you do so barefoot or shod depends on location, preference, and practicality.
There’s a lot of detail in the feet. Whether you are barefoot or wearing footwear to train, those details should not be neglected. If you want to get a grip on your training, get a grip on your feet.
“Oh, I’ve seen that before.” YouTube and 10,000 hours. A little nudge and a little twist. How to use YouTube as a constructive tool. In failure is truth. Planting trees and how it teaches failure. And Lawrence rants on two idiots that did a fake child abduction. Yes, you read that correctly a fake child abduction filmed it and put it on YouTube
First there is a mountainThen there is no mountainThen there isDonovan
One does not simply climb a mountain.
I'm not talking about all the unique gear, the extreme conditioning and the specialized and dangerous training.
No, what I'm saying is that there is a process.
Here at the ABC (Always Be Climbing) Academy we understand that process better than most. We can proudly say that while mountain climbing can be risky, in our 9 years of operation we have never had a death or even a serious injury at our academy.
So what is our process, you ask. Here are the essential elements:
1. Each new member of the ABC Academy participates in group classes. Together, in unison, we work with imaginary gear, tie imaginary knots in imaginary rope, and perform carefully choreographed movements that prepare us for the imaginary climb. Why imaginary? Well, while actual mountains exist in the real world, they are all quite different. Some are rugged and craggy while others are smooth. Some are bare while others are covered in snow and ice. And, let's face it, mountains are often quite far away. Keep in mind that when George Mallory gave the answer "Because it's there," as to why he climbed the mountain, for most of us the mountain just isn't there. On the other hand the mountain in our minds, let's call this the ideal mountain, is the tallest, most difficult mountain in the world, perhaps in the universe. It is there ready for us at any time. It will be the mountain we are always preparing to climb.
2. During our training we will work with special scenarios and particular patterns of sequential movements. Here are just a few you will learn: "Leaping the precipice." "Scaling the cliff." "Traversing the wall." Each of these and many many others may be performed as a group or in solo performance. Each performance will be evaluated on form, emotional gravitas and physical skill. Some movements require poise and grace, while others are explosive and powerful. There are even special patterns that have been synchronized to carefully chosen music.
3. Meditation and visualization is critical. Being able to "see" each part of the mountain in our mind's eye means that our movements will be much more representational of reality. After all, we consider ourselves a reality-based academy.
4. Seminars and special training are also major features of the ABCA program. Several times each year we will bring in guest instructors who have proven time and again that climbing the ideal mountain requires years of preparation. Many of our guest instructors have gone on to become champions in climbing form competition, showing intensity and flawless style in choreographed routines. Just this past weekend the National Mixed Pairs Abseiling (Rappelling) Champion visited our school for 2 great days of training. Our students practiced the extremely difficult Australian rappel and the Tandem or Spider rappel (on flat surfaces of course).
5. Thorough evaluation and certification. As the old business mantra says "it's not over til the paperwork is complete." This is also true in climbing. Each phase of training is carefully graded using stringent standards of subjectivity. When the student can demonstrate knowledge and proficiency at a particular level, then and only then will he or she be allowed to move to the next phase. Each phase is identifiable by different colored climbing harnesses. Red harness and black harness students, our most advanced and elite group, normally trains separately from the green and blue harness crowd.
6. We honor the mountain goat and strive to exude the spirit of the goat in all that we do. Fearless, agile, strong, confident--these are the attributes we aim to incorporate into our training. We study the goat's movements, and we try our best to emulate each nuance of these magnificent creatures.
7. Safety First. We are sticklers for safety. We follow careful safety protocol in all that we do. When climbers in our advanced program work the 9 foot climbing wall, affectionately known at the Academy as "The Widow Maker," each climber will wear a safety harness with an instructor at the ready. It goes without saying that climbing helmets, gloves, and elbow and knee pads must also be worn during these intense training sessions.
8. It's not all serious, life-and-death training. We also try to have fun. Each quarter we host sleepovers, and each summer we conduct week long climbing camps so that our students can work out the kinks (pardon the pun). We watch movies, such as The Eiger Sanction, Cliffhanger or Vertical Limit. We have contests where we see who can throw the Monkey's Knot the farthest or who can hang the longest amount of time with only one hand (based on Tom Cruise's move from Mission Impossible 2).
If you've ever thought about the potential thrill of mountain climbing, rock climbing, or ice climbing, I urge you to stop by our Academy and let one of our experienced Climbing Instructors put you through an introductory course, which we call "Base Camp." It's absolutely free, and you might just learn a thing or two.
Remember: A. B. C. A-Always. B-Be. C-Climbing.
There are three very different things that tend to get called scenario training. Maybe more, but I can only think of three right now. They have almost nothing in common. They all have some value. They all have some weaknesses and problems.
The first I call "situationals." These are the short 'what if' questions. What if you're attacked at a urinal? How do you fight out of a crowd? Someone jumps you on the stairs, what do you do? They can be fun training, and intense. But intensity is something the instructor always has to worry about. Not because of danger (though brawling on stairs has obvious safety issues). Because anything that feels intense, any training that gives the student some adrenaline, will feel more real to the student than other forms of training. And if the situation or the solution has artificiality--and it will-- the student will still learn the lessons hard even if the lessons are wrong.
The value in situationals, if you are careful, is that it allows you to work some stuff out. To find some tools (like shoulder slams using the handrail on the stairs). The problem is that they will always be pieces. I firmly believe that most bear hug escapes come from this kind of brainstorming, and they fail miserably because the people envisioning the escapes somehow missed that bear hugs almost never come into play to immobilize, but to throw people into things and any escape must work with your feet in the air.
Situationals will almost always miss context.
They are also a hotbed for stylistic inbreeding. Inbreeding-- you have a good technique so I come up with a counter so you modify your technique so the counter doesn't work so I come up with a modified counter so it does work so you modify your technique again... in two or three iterations of this we are using techniques that don't exist outside our inbred little training hall and have counters that apply nowhere in the real world.
In situationals, you have to be sure that the people giving the problem (uke) are acting natural, not adapting to the solution. The best tactic I've found for fighting out of groups, for instance, is not to fight. It's a wedge and swimming motion that gets you out of the circle or through the mass quickly with relatively little damage. But it predicates either on a group trying to put the boot to you or a panicked crowd. When the group starts to prioritize immobilizing first, the swim is neutralized... but, with the exception of one team prison shanking, I haven't seen that in the wild.
The second type of scenario training I learned as "The Sharpness Exercise" (translated). Hogan's Alley, basically. You give the operator or team a reason to run a maze-- officer down at the end, 911 call from a kid hiding from intruders somewhere in the house... different things for different agencies in different parts of the world. As they run the maze, they will be presented with problems-- booby traps, ambushes, different threats requiring different levels of response, and innocent people as well.
Done well, Sharpness is a great exercise for adapting on the fly, for using your whole range of force options, and for practicing judgement and articulation. It takes a little more equipment and prep than situationals, but a lot less than full blown scenarios.
I've seen this exercise go very badly when the instructor was trying to make a point about how dangerous the world was. Everything was booby-trapped, every hostage you rescued was actually a bad guy with a concealed gun, the other guy in uniform was an imposter and assassin... I played for one of these at the academy years ago when I was young and stupid and couldn't tell intense training from good training. That Hogan's Alley made the officers so paranoid that they were useless on the job until after they got over it.
Full-blown scenario training is difficult and expensive. It requires armor. It requires an environment, either a real place or a modular training space. You want simunitions if you're teaching professionals. An absolute minimum of a three-man team (Facilitator, Safety Officer and at least one Role Player). The safety protocols must be detailed and must be enforced. It's not easy to do, even harder to do well.
On the plus side, scenarios are ideal for practicing judgment in tandem with skills. They allow you to test and work everything from tactics to emotional growth. They find holes and glitches like no other training. There's a big chapter on them in the Drills manual.
On the downside, they are very difficult to do well and safely. Safety runs from the hazards of a nearly full-contact fight (armor helps, but it's not perfect) to the environment (anything from rusty nails to a gaping hole where a staircase used to be) to pure negligence (about once a year someone gets lazy or complacent on the safety protocols and a live weapon shows up in a scenario.)
And, if the scenario designer, Role Player or Facilitator are ignorant or ego-driven, scenarios can ruin a student. If the training team decides to "be tricky" or "be challenging" that means "be artificial" and they will teach untruth and, under the adrenaline of a scenario ingrain that untruth hard. If they don't understand criminals, the student can't learn what works and what doesn't, only what works or doesn't when dealing with poor actors. If the RP or Facilitator need to win, to prove that they are better or tougher or more tactically sound than the student, they will, consciously or not, punish the student for any solution that is better than the one they envisioned.
Recently I found myself passing a few days under observation in the specialist surgery ward of one of the local hospitals due to an obstruction in my airway. While I was there one of the young nurses who had moved to the UK from Portugal came to talk to me about karate as she had seen my occupation on my notes and wanted to ask about training in Oxford. The problems the young lady faced were finding a club with a similar atmosphere and training regime to the Shotokan she had practiced in Portugal, and finding a way to train that could accommodate her varying shift patterns as a nurse.
I think both of these represent common issues for many martial artists, and in many respects her first ‘problem’ is probably more prevalent in the martial arts than in any other form of physical exercise.
The young nurse had trained to a 6 Kyu level in Shotokan in Portugal and was looking to continue in England. This should in theory not be a problem, after all Shotokan is one of the most popular and widespread karate systems in the world. The difficulty lay in finding the ‘right’ type of Shotokan.
I have trained with Shotokan karateka from eleven different associations in the UK that I know of, probably more besides at a few ‘big’ seminars back in the 1990s, and I’ve also been fortunate to train with American and European Shotokan karateka during my travels. Like any modern karateka of this age I’ve also been privileged to be able to see many more members of the same system (or indeed any system) share their training through video media on the internet. While there are many things that unite these karateka, it would also be fair to say that they are all different, in a myriad of subtle ways. A karate style so big and so widespread cannot be like a single set model of a car, absolutely standardized throughout the world (or even a single country). To continue the analogy, different ‘same style karate’ organisations have different interior trims, different in-car media platforms, different paint jobs, different brake and wheel types, different engine sizes running unleaded or diesel, and different fuel management settings programmed into the computer. There’s probably one that even has a Neil Diamond cassette tape in the glove compartment (you know who you are). Beneath all this they are still the same car, they are still ‘Shotokan’, but even then within different clubs in those associations the way you learn to drive that car (and how you are allowed to drive that car in class) will vary according to the instructor, as will whether different models are recognized as ‘the same’ and allowed to continue, or forced to change to their ‘default factory settings’.
It is a hard truth that every club (even within the same system) is going to be different. It is the sum not only of the style, but of the pedagogy of the instructor (team), the venue, and crucially the membership. The age and health diversity of the members, the mix of ages and sexes in class (or not), the aims of the students in training: all of these put yet another spin on the class. You cannot step into the same river twice: you have to accept that in training with someone else things will be different, but that different is not necessarily better or worse (for you) and the onus is on you to make the most of it. In moving from one area of the world to another it is rare that you will see something that looks ‘the same’ straight away, even in the same style of martial art: the important thing is to observe, choose something to try, and accept the potential offered by the change. As I have written in short blog posts about contact in training, six things you should do in your training and speed in training, variety and different training methods can all bring benefits.
Attending a new class can be daunting, whatever your grade, because those pesky belts can carry expectations. That can especially be true if work and family patterns mean that despite your enthusiasm and best intentions, actual attendance is irregular. The less you attend a class, or the larger the gap between lessons, the harder it can become to return. Self containing walls of comfort, fatigue and apathy are surprisingly easy to build.
Irregular training is the death knell of martial arts participation and progress, but it is not the same as infrequently attending class. As Gichin Funakoshi observed in his 20 precepts,
“Karate is like boiling water, if you do not heat it constantly, it will cool.”
- Not being able to get to class does not mean you cannot train.
- Not having the time to build a sweat doing karate (or any other martial art) does not mean you cannot train.
- Training is cumulative: regular short practices will maintain (and can improve) your technique (and flexibility, and concentration, and strength, and resolve to continue to attend class) if not your aerobic or anaerobic capacity.
- Short intensive bursts of non karate exercise for aerobic and anaerobic benefit can complement slow methodical karate training with results that are on a par with (or superior to) long ‘treadmill’ aerobic karate (or other martial arts) classes in a club.
Since I first began training in karate I have taken a rather literal leaf from Gichin Funakoshi’s precepts. I almost always do karate while I’m boiling the kettle, or if not boiling the kettle then while I’m keeping an eye on something that’s cooking.
This is an easy free time to train. I’ve trained in kitchens big enough to do entire forms, but actually all I really need is the space to stand in a stance and rotate my hips. Good quality training does not have to be complicated or require lots of space, or even lots of continuous time: repetition is the key. On the spot (whether for a minute or five or twenty between other little jobs) I can work on almost anything. Even if I can’t make someone else’s class, or set aside a full hour for training on my own at home, I can still manage anywhere from five to sixty minutes in a day in short stints if I really want, and it does all add up. This keeps the kettle boiling and the water hot. It is not a substitute for paired training or attending classes, but a complimentary way of maintaining and refining elements of your skillset so that when you do work with other people you get more from the experience.
Keeping training does not have to be hard if you take it one step at a time.
Humans don't think about what we think about. And even more rarely think about how we think. I was told long ago that breathing and walking were two things that everyone does but few do well because they breathe and walk without thinking about it. Unconscious skills don't get developed. I think I can add communication to that list and a bunch of other things.
And now time.
It's not special-- I think everyone who does emergency work thinks about time this way. So I didn't know it was rare.
Apparently, most people envisage time, if they think of it at all, as this medium in which things happen. We live our lives in time. We move through time. They think of time (or fail to think of it) the way fish think or fail to think about water.
For fighters, time is a resource, an extremely limited resource. Everything takes time, and time spent doing one thing (prepping equipment) cannot be spent doing something else (developing a tactical plan).
Time can be given, taken or stolen. It can be wasted. The scary man reaches under his jacket and you think he might be drawing a weapon but you want to be sure... You've given him time. And wasted your own. And put a cognitive mechanism in place ('I want to be sure' which means 'I want to be consciously sure') that guarantees you will use data inefficiently and waste more time at each step.
If I press, the threat has to make a decision, usually a hasty one. If I don't press, the threat will use his time-- to observe or plan or move or...--and how he uses that time will tell me who he is.
You can make people think that time exists when it does not. We frequently used a fake count down before a cell extraction.
The ability to understand and use discretionary time is the hallmark difference between a pro and a rookie. If there is time to think and plan and communicate, the pro does so, the rookie rushes. The pro spends the time wisely. When there is no longer time to think, when the door bangs open or something shiny flashes at your belly, the pro doesn't waste time thinking, he or she moves...and often the rookie tries to think or plan or get some detail of information, trying to spend time he doesn't have.
Infighters process time and space at another level. Close is fast. Time is distance and at that range you have damn little of either. In addition, anything you do potentially changes everything. A slight pressure with your knee can change the vector of an incoming strike and the location of the threat's head, for instance.
This is the part I'm struggling to describe. In a close brawl or doing infighting randori at a decent level of skill, time ceases to be linear. Something that objectively, on video, would be a sequence of action is all one thing. It feels like it happens in chunks. A lot of it is simultaneous, you can pop the knee while clotheslining the jawline, but the things that led there and the things that follow and anything the threat does or fails to do... those all seem part of a whole that teleported into existence as a complete object.
Sorry for the tortured metaphors. This is really hard to describe. And it gets worse, because the threat isn't part of the equation. Not at the time level. When it's go, you're both on it. And if you have to see what the threat does in order to decide what you will do, you're behind the curve and will never catch up, not at this range. He has his chunk of time and will do things with it. You have your chunk of time and will do things with it. But cognitively, for infighters, those chunks don't intersect.
There's also a common assumption about time. It's subconscious, but it really changes the affordances. When people fight, it's a form of communication. Basically a conversation with fists and boots. Many good fighters are taken out in an assault because they subconsciously follow the conversation pattern-- Fighter A does something and fighter B reacts and fighter A reacts... and in this pattern there are tiny pauses (a bad fighter waits for the pauses, a good fighter creates them) that signal whose turn it is.
This subconscious assumption of shared time isn't true. Reliably you can take someone out-- take 'em down, spin them prone and cuff them quickly and safely if you do it fast and decisively. Not because you're that good or the technique is that good. If you act without the expected pauses, people working under the shared time illusion are subconsciously waiting for you to signal their turn to respond. Reading this, that sounds esoteric and intellectual, but it's the best description I have of the difference between the force incidents that turned into fights and the ones (some of which were objectively more dangerous-- weapons, etc.) which just ended in a heartbeat.
But that shared time is illusion. We don't have time in a fight. I have time and you have time. If you are waiting for a pause, you aren't using your time and become meat. And your ability or choice to use your time and how you will use it can and should (maybe) be completely independent of what I do with my time. Unless, of course, you are manipulating my time.
Not sure I can really explain this. Grapplers have a completely different understanding of moving a body than strikers, and it's so subconscious it is really hard to explain simple things, like "make your hands sticky" to people who don't know the feel. It's kind of the same way with infighting and time.
I recently had an epiphany.
There I was in the cafeteria, waiting on my burrito supreme (the one that has the extra sour cream), when I noticed some of the fit, healthy looking guys from the gym.
As they walked past me I glanced at their trays. One guy had a small cup of soup, the other a tiny salad. Appetizer, I thought. First course, I hoped.
But then I saw them heading straight to the cashier, buying nothing else along the way. They didn't even look at the potato salad. No cookies. No burger. Not even banama puddin. Nada.
Then a thought hit me! I seriously hated these S.O.B.s.
Then the second thought hit me, they're lean because they eat lean.
So I decided that I too would strive to eat leaner. "Stay hungry", wasn't that the mantra of the young body building champion, Arnold Schwarzenegger?
The next day I packed my lunch. A handful of almonds. A few slices of lean, low-sodium lunch meat. Some celery for roughage. A cup of plain yogurt. A thermos of skim milk. A pear for dessert.
"I can do this!", I thought to myself, "I can just say no to bad foods and big servings!"
Trying to ignore the hunger pangs was the worst part of it. I sipped cups of hot water with a slice of lemon. I chugged bottled water every half hour or so and popped sugar free peppermint candy.
The first few days were the roughest. But by the end of the week it started to get easier.
The first time I had to cinch up my belt was glorious. And within a couple of weeks I even actually had to punch a new hole.
The other day I was back in the cafeteria, getting a small salad. A big guy from the gym was standing in line waiting on his sub sandwich. He looked at me and waved, and I'm pretty sure he glanced down at my tray.
It's a month, but that's not much time. Things that need to happen:
- Rehab the knee. Harder and better. And try not to injure it again.
- Rethink, plan and execute working out. Three (or is it four?) years of continuous leg injuries. "Nurse Ratchett" used her mad tui-na skills to pop the bone in my ankle back into place. The metatarsal break will never completely heal and I'm used to that so it's just the knee-- so now it's time to find a way to get the wind and muscle tone back up.
- Tied into above-- need to make some specific incremental changes in living. Not enough to do new things, I need to modify some deep-seated habits.
- Work on the property and the house. Over two months of neglect means about a year's worth of work. Make a daily dent.
- Work stuff-- book writing has to go on hold for a bit. Need to script (wrong word, my usual script for a three-hour video is a single page, nothing we've filmed is staged. More bullet points) "InFighting" and a "Scaling Force" tie-in to shoot in July.*
- Have to become a business man. Emotionally, this is the hard one. Lots of internal contradictions ( I like capitalism-- the free market concept has done more to make peace possible than anything else, at the same time like a lot of kids raised poor there is an instinct that money is dirty and only bad people make a lot.) Some contradictions with the world-- I really want to get to the point where I can teach for free, but it's been made abundantly clear this year that pricing too low (something I especially do when I believe in the mission) costs not only contracts but credibility.
- Part of the business is breaking down exactly what I do, what can be delegated, anything I'm doing in person that can be done another way.
- Work on getting the word out about the CRGI launch. Contact some potential guest contributors.
- Trivia. I'm about ten days behind on e-mail. Have to send a blurb on the essence of infighting out. Did a podcast interview and need to send a bio.
- Connect. Haven't had much time for friends and family. Want to make the time and at the same time, there is so much work to do. It's easy to let the soft obligations slide.
*Thoughts out loud about these. For infighting, I need to get together with my local crew and a few strangers to bang it out and decide what must be in it, what should be in it, and what can be left out. I'm leery of filming this. Pretty much by definition if you set up infighting so the camera can see it, you aren't doing it right. But David Silver's crew is pretty ingenious.For "Scaling Force" Lawrence can't make the filming and I want to cancel, but both Lawrence and David are insisting. What I want to cover is threat assessment:
- Am I in Danger?
- How much danger? And what force does that require?
- Test questions
Plus, I'm teaching an on-line class for writers starting in ten days.
The second half of a two part interview with Sensei Chuck Merriman. 10 questions, Balance and why it is sought. The translation of culture. The difference between Okinawa and Japan. Showing up for class, what it means and how it is done. Keeping your enemies close and your friends closer and why that is a good policy. Strides, defections, and more.
Infighting is close work. And fast. You have to do most of it by touch. And defense becomes about controlling space and structure, not intercepting attacks. You need drills to get this down, just like anything else. But the drill isn't the thing.
In order to teach or communicate, you have to break things down. Defense and offense. Foot and hand motion. For infighting: locks; takedowns; structure manipulations; spine manipulations; hand, foot, elbow, knee, head, forearm,shin, shoulder and hip strikes; crashing; gouging...maybe biting. Plus the general stuff of orientation and controlling pockets of space.
But no matter how good you are at defense, something will get in eventually. So in addition to protecting yourself, you must finish the threat. And for infighting especially, this is simultaneous, not a sequence. (Really struggling with how to write about the perception of time to fighters, BTW). Not protect and attack. Not even simultaneous block and strike. Your attacks are your defenses, your defenses are attacks. Not in the sense that you can hit someone upside the head with something you usually call a block. In the sense that the elbow driving into the left side of his neck prevents him from lifting his right foot for a knee strike.
So you have to learn defense and you have to practice defense and it seems easiest to do so in isolation. My dad made me practice shifting gears with the engine off before we tried any driving. That's the way we teach, the way we communicate. Because time is linear, maybe, or we can only use one word at a time. But none of this stuff is used in isolation, at least, not if you're any good.
But the very fact that the defense chapter is separate from the other chapters risks putting it in the student's head as a distinct category. Creating one of the mental boxes that makes most people so inefficient, uncoordinated. Not integrated.
This disconnect must be everywhere. We learn pieces of things and sequences that by their nature are parts of integrated wholes. And there must be a training for the integration. I have that for infighting, not worried... but how many other life skills are learned in pieces? And because it is the normal way to teach, it becomes the normal way to learn. But is it the only way? Or the best?