It's hard to imagine now, but waaaaaay back in 1957, a small, beeping, spherical-shaped object scared the absolute heck out of Americans. Weighing only 184 pounds, a little less than a manhole cover, it was about the size of an inflatable beach ball. Nevertheless it caused considerable paranoia and panic as it hurtled across the nighttime sky.
The object that caused so much consternation was Sputnik I, the world's first artificial satellite. While it remained in orbit it circled the globe every 98 minutes, passing over America seven times a day.
It was launched by America's Cold War enemy at the time, the Soviet Union, and it appeared that the Soviets now had the upper hand in the arms race. Thus some people thought it just might drop "THE BOMB," as it was known back then, on their heads.
Of course nothing of the sort ever happened, but for awhile, the fear was tangible. But there was a silver lining amidst this troubling time. Because of the fear and foreboding stirred up by this little beeping object, there was a newly realized interest in technology. What was sorely needed was a reformed educational system that emphasized mathematics, science and engineering. More of a revolution than a mere reform, U.S. school children began learning physics and chemistry with a profound sense of playing catch-up, and the slide rule and the pocket protector became more and more ubiquitous.
Enter New Math
I'd wager that the name Nicolas Bourbaki is unfamiliar to 99% of Americans. Most of us couldn't pick out Bourbaki's face from a group photo. And yet Bourbaki was key in helping to formulate and systematize mathematics in a profoundly new, and perhaps frustrating, way.
Science historian Amir Aczel called Bourbaki "the greatest mathematician of the twentieth century," who changed how we thought about mathematics and as the person who "was responsible for the emergence of 'New Math' that swept through American education in the middle of the century." Aczel went on to say the Bourbaki helped to lay the foundation for modern mathematics with his towering, seminal work.
But here's what's so weird--the genius Bourbaki, author of dozens of books, didn't actually exist. Instead "Nicolas Bourbaki" was the nom de plume used by a secret society of mathematicians who attempted to reorganize, clarify, systematize, and modify what they perceived to be outdated practices in the teaching of mathematics. No one past the age of 50 was allowed to enter or stay in this society so as to prevent old, antiquated ways of the past from solidifying.
Was it a success? Depends, really, on who you ask. Straightdope.com, (one of my favorite sites, whose primary goal is to "fight ignorance"), says that the new math of the sixties was "disruptive, despised, and moderately beneficial." In fact, they say that it is still around although incognito.
Traditionally mathematics, especially at the primary school level, was taught by "telling" students what to do. Students would memorize multiplication tables and learn math concepts by rote. There was a lot of busy work where students would complete tasks dozens and dozens of times. No one, it seems, really took the time to instill a new way of thinking mathematically. And that's where new math came in. Hoping that students would begin thinking differently about the language of math and enjoy a sense of discovery, new math was more abstract than practical.
And, by and large, parents and students universally hated it.
I can relate. In my early years I was taught using new math learning concepts, and I struggled for years to absorb more than an elementary mathematical knowledge. My dad, who never even completed high school, could run circles around me in arithmetic and practical mathematics, and he could use a slide rule like nobody's business.
It wasn't until much later that I had a teacher who helped me to get past my math anxiety and who helped me to begin thinking in terms of mathematics as a form of symbolic language. In some ways I would say that this teacher actually applied new math principles to help me. Maybe it was a NEW new math approach. At any rate I slowly began to enjoy rather than dread numbers.
Enter Martial Arts
Phew. All of what I have said about math, new math, and a novel way of thinking and teaching brings me to one of my favorite subjects: Martial arts.
For most of my almost five decades of martial arts and combatives training I have long felt that the instruction of these skills is antiquated, rigid and stuck in the past. Similar to what the Bourbaki society did with mathematics, I have attempted to bring a new, fresh approach to learning the skills and skill-sets of fighting. That's why I created the P.U.M.A. (Practical Urban Martial Arts) method.
So, you ask, what the heck is P.U.M.A.? First of all P.U.M.A. is not a style. Instead it is a methodology, one that uses a rational, logical, progressive and common sense approach. The first word, "practical," pretty much says it all. Everything about what I teach makes the information as practical, useful, user friendly, efficient and effective as possible.
Some people don't like the next word, "urban," thinking that it leaves out those who live in the country or the suburbs or who might inexplicably find themselves needing to fight and survive in, say, a rain forest or on a glacier. Notice I am not using the word "urbane," which means polished or smooth and has a connotation of pretentiousness.
What, then, do I mean by urban? Well, let me tell you first about one of the most familiar street cons in New Orleans. There you are, staggering around after drinking your third slushy hurricane, when you are approached by a charming kid who offers to make what appears to be a simple, straightforward wager. He says he'll bet you $10 that he can tell you where you got your shoes. Knowing full well that you live nowhere near NOLA and that, in your drunken state you can't even remember where you live, much less bought your shoes, you take the bet. He then tells you that you got your shoes "on your feet on Bourbon street." Oh well, a bet's a bet, and you'll look like a schmuck if you don't part with the money.
So, when I use the word urban, I'm really talking about where you got your shoes. Since over half of the world's population now lives in urban areas, there's a good bet that this also applies to people who train in martial arts/combatives. We, most of us, live in villages, towns, cities or mega-city cosmopolitan areas. We go to school, go to work, shop and dine mostly in urban areas. That's all I mean when I use the word. We need to train for circumstances which we're likely to encounter, where we got our shoes so to speak, thus urban training.
Then there's the oft-repeated term "martial arts." Some people hate this word. They feel like it has too much in common with strip-mall dojos that are all about black-belt-clubs, demo teams, board breaking, striped belts, and a constant cycle of fee-based testing. And sure, much of the world now associates all martial arts with a loud, cringe-inducing "KEE YAH" shout and the universal code, a karate chop.
Arguably there has been a gradual shift over the last decade or so to respected, effective, highly-disciplined, multi-sourced fighting skills all under the "mixed martial arts" tent. So I think the term generally has a positive, even wildly popular, connotation.
Martial Arts' New Math
So P.U.M.A., or better still, the new and improved training methodology at the heart of P.U.M.A., is like the new math response to Sputnik I. As the information age now has top-notch skills available at the click of a mouse, it is important to have an approach to learning that goes beyond the mere acquisition and rote replication and memorization of information. What is needed is an understanding of the theory of personal aggression, a conceptual grasp of the principles of combatives, and a method of acquiring and adapting skills in order to modify behavior towards progressive objectives with lasting, measurable and experiential benefits.
How is this done? First of all, we follow the 3P approach to learning. Keep in mind that some skills are solitary in nature with self-development as one of the primary goals. Learning to paint, for example, or learning how to play the piano. Can one actually say they have learned everything there is to know about art or music by taking a few lessons? No. One could spend a lifetime, nay, multiple lifetimes (see the Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day") in learning all the intricacies and developing all of the knowledge and skill available. All most people want, non-professionals anyway, is a modicum of understanding and a competent skill level to be able to play a piano or paint a canvas for enjoyment without looking like a doofus. One may sign up for martial arts classes with this goal, self-development, in mind, and martial arts delivers.
Some skills are participatory in nature. Take tennis for example or billiards. These activities require skill; however, they are generally played with others. There are rule-based norms associated with these activities so that the individuals know what to expect. The skills and supplemental knowledge acquired to improve these skills are generally about improving one's performance. Competition, it is said, breeds competence. Martial arts can be approached this way, and again martial arts delivers.
A few skills are improvisational in nature. Often there is a sense of risk also associated with these skills. Take mountain climbing for example. One wouldn't dream of tackling a cliff face without adequate preparation, long hours of training and practice, and the right equipment. Even then the dangers are real and should not be approached with a trivial, devil-may-care attitude. It is my contention that combatives, the personal protection aspect of martial arts, in fact the heart and soul of ancient warfare arts, is also driven by improvisation and planted firmly in risk and potential danger.
In Part II I will share my philosophy of the training methodology that I have used to teach hundreds of soldiers and civilians over the last several decades.
Another one came up last week. I'd been asked to advice a young man on designing a defensive tactics program for a certain profession. Have to be a little obtuse here because there are programs that exist for this profession, but no one (and I mean no one) who actually works in that profession is happy with the current programs. The programs I have seen and heard about are classic "liability reduction" training, designed for the express purpose of keeping organizations from being sued, regardless of whether what is taught actually works.
I'd been thinking about it for weeks leading up to the meeting. These are people doing important things with small budgets, a lot of scrutiny, and very limited training time. And whatever program comes out of this, if one does, will have to be effective (or it's not worth my time) but also palatable to the administrations, the media and the public.
Snapped awake the morning of the meeting. When a problem is hard to solve, it's often because you are trying to solve the wrong problem, asking the wrong question or asking the right question in the wrong way. My contacts had been always talked about managing aggressive behavior, and all of their programs failed against assaultive behavior. Duh.
So the triple for this one:
- Managing aggressive behavior would be the tools, verbal prevention before, verbal and possible physical redirection during. Qualitatively different from...
- Managing assaultive behavior. Under attack, your solution won't be verbal. Always good to augment physical responses with verbal skills, both to direct the threat and for the benefit of witnesses. But when someone is trying to stab you, you don't have the time to try to calm his mindset. The third though...
- Managing destructive behavior. Including self-destructive, but the difference between Assaultive and destructive is the focus. No matter how violent someone is being, you have an entirely different suite of options if he's focused on someone or something else.
More came up in the brainstorming session-- Gordon Graham's discretionary time concept and how it applies. Training methodologies for improvising and adapting under pressure. Power dynamics that will have to modeled in the class before they can be mirrored in the mission. An ethical framework that ties a lot together. Gotta love curriculum development.----------------------------------------------------------------
Lots of stuff coming up:
InFighting in Edmonton this weekend (Mar 12-13)InFighting in London, ON next weekend.How to Run Scenarios at Kore Krav Maga in Ashburn, VA (April 9-10)VioDy West in Oakland (This will be a big one!) April 12-17 Plus Alaska and Pennsylvania.
Kata can pose interesting training conundrums.
Some kata are very evenly weighted on their use of both sides of the body for the majority of the form, while others can be very singular in their distribution of movement.
In general this does not bother most practitioners; after all for those that follow the line work model of training for their kihon, all seemingly core techniques are trained equally in both sides. The same is also generally true of kumite drills.
So is there any benefit in mirroring kata on occasion? Keeping the same order of techniques but stepping out on the opposite side to normal and continuing in the same vein throughout the whole form?
I believe there is.
Although I prefer to work my kihon through impact training drills with partners rather than line work, my kumite drills are formed directly from my bunkai for the core kata I practice. In theory therefore I am practicing a version of every movement from the kata on both sides. Surely there should be no need therefore for me to mirror my kata?
Reality is quite different.
In initial practice certain movements feel unnatural.
This applies less to common core movements such as Gedan Barai, Shuto Uke etc and more to those little hand and arm transitions or turns that are not always found in line work and yet form such an important part of good application. I can do these movements with a partner, but in solo training they feel forced, less comfortable, and that tells me that more practice is needed. The solo training has given me a form of feedback that my paired training has not: I am weaker on the other side.
The transmission of the kata on one side only does not mean that is the only way to practice it. It is not practical to teach the form on both sides on a regular basis. To do so would result in an undue focus on solo training time that is inappropriate in a combative discipline.
Switching sides in the kata in class is not an attempt to fill time, or to be perverse. It is a worthwhile exercise in highlighting where we are weaker, what we don’t know and what we cannot do. It is something that we should attempt to replicate in our own training rather than solely under the supervision of our instructor.
The mirror not only shows what is there but also reveals what is missing.
"Anything that happens, happens.Anything that, in happening, causes something else to happen, causes something else to happen.Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen again, happens again."Douglas Adams
As a combatives instructor I have used a familiar mantra for many years:
How you practice is how you'll perform. How you rehearse is how you'll react.
What this is saying is just common sense--one's training should be as close to the real thing as possible. It's the principle that reminds us to "begin with the end in mind."
I rarely encounter people who have a different viewpoint. In fact most will give a hearty 'amen' to the concept. And yet, I see it all the time where their training bears no resemblance whatsoever to what it is they want to achieve.
Quite often over the years I have used the concept of the flight simulator to explain the rehearsal/reaction principle. I call it the 'fight simulator' model of training.
Think of a modern flight simulator. It's an expensive, highly technical piece of equipment that allows a high fidelity of training, or a "verisimilitude of simulation and transfer effectiveness." (*)
In a state-of-the-art simulator a pilot practices take offs, landings, handling emergencies such as foul weather and equipment failures, and learns procedures, situation awareness, perceptual-motor skills, and how to deal with various physiological factors. The trainee is forced to adapt and make decisions in challenging and demanding scenarios which look, feel and react just like the real thing, and the level of difficulty can be increased as needed. In my courses I call this principle PIC or Progressively Introduced Chaos. In PIC, as the trainee becomes more skilled, the pressures keep pace.
Video games understand this concept, and each iteration of game play becomes more and more challenging, demanding a reduction in reaction time, bigger bosses, and an enhanced sense of danger.
In a feature about undefeated (and unknown) bare-knuckle fighting champion Bobby Gunn, Men's Journal Magazine (April 2016), quotes Gunn who is on his way to a no-frills, hardcore gym that smells like sweat. "It's a bad world, my friend," says Gunn. "Thank God for my upbringing, my hard times. You see how I shine when I have to shine?"
I think it often comes down to BEING versus DOING. A martial artist practices certain actions over and over. He or she fulfills the doing aspect of training. But it is the being aspect that is also important, perhaps the most critical. Being able to call into action learned skills in an unprovoked, unexpected emergency self protection scenario is ultimately what combatives training is all about.
Unfortunately too many instructors think of the martial arts as nothing but learning a series or a sequence of very difficult motor skills. They see themselves as golf pros who must create in their students the perfect swing. Or they are like a piano teacher who makes a student practice scales ad nauseam (literally, in Latin, "to the point of nausea").
What I am most definitely NOT saying is that skill training is unimportant. On the contrary, learning skills to maximize efficiency and efficacy, to remove extraneous motion, and to improve timing, accuracy, speed and power is critical. So, learning, practicing and perfecting a skill is important; however, there is an element of back-and-forth, call-and-response, extemporaneous improvisation that must also be considered.
Reality, ultimately, should be the most important consideration in training. In famed sci-fi writer Douglas Adam's novel "Mostly Harmless," there is a problem with a space craft's software. "Something, somewhere, had gone terribly wrong," he wrote. "At every level, vital instructions were missing, and the instructions about what to do in the event of discovering that vital instructions were missing, were also missing." Because of this glitch the space craft is not reacting correctly to a dangerous situation. What was needed was a major reboot, and a return to the original software.
If one's training rarely considers reality, then what is needed is a major reboot.
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.