The essential karate book by Graeme Lund is a working text that I wish had existed 25 years ago. Just under A4 size it is one of the best laid out and clearly presented karate books that I have ever seen, with great line drawings and bright colour pictures illustrating techniques. It is filled with clear examples of the basic techniques, supporting exercises, terminology and physiology as well as a useful guide to refereeing matches, making it a suitable library addition for both beginner and black belt alike.
Karate is of course a generic term that describes a diverse range of martial arts, so to a large degree this book would be a disappointment to many karateka. This is a book about WKF Karate, which means that it will appeal to the adherents of some karate traditions while raising the hackles of others, but we can hardly blame Graeme Lund for that. This is a book devoted to the exercise of karate as a potential Olympic sport.
The book comes with a DVD filled with demonstrations of basic techniques and this is its weakest point. The book is cutting edge in its picture clarity, which only highlights the poor quality of the accompanying short DVD that can only be described as having the picture quality of a 1980s pirate movie combined with echoing sound. Until a new DVD is issued my advice would be to read the book but ignore the DVD.
For those who are beginning a WKF approved form of karate this is an incredibly useful book. In one place it combines a skeleton history of karate, demonstrations and explanations of basic training uses of karate techniques, information on competitions and refereeing, a two way glossary of English and Japanese terminology, a useful section on core conditioning exercises and traditional karate information such as information on the body’s striking surfaces and vital points.
I’m not a WKF competition aficionado but I do like this book. I’ve an extensive library, but this book pulls together in one place some things that otherwise I’d have to search through several books to find. What sets it apart from almost every other book on my shelves is the remarkable quality of the images, which at the current book price ($12.49 US hardback) is unusual.
“I accept chaos, I'm not sure whether it accepts me.”Bob Dylan
Visit some dojos and you might come away believing that combat is a disciplined, controlled and orderly activity. Students move in unison, cooperate almost completely with one another, and they champion the concept that martial arts is all about self-discovery and self-development. Watch a self-defense demonstration and you might see sequences of movements that, like dominoes arranged in a pattern, fall into place perfectly.
I have a much different view. I have witnessed real violence, and I have on a few occasions witnessed violence up close and personal. It is most certainly not controlled or orderly. It is messy, and nasty, and fast, and ugly.
Complex and Dynamic
I have often said that fighting is chaotic, and it logically follows that we should prepare to deal with this chaos by introducing more chaotic elements into our training.
But in the world of science, and particularly in the field of mathematics, the term chaos has a very specific and precise definition. I think it is important to understand this and other concepts so that we may better design our system of personal protection.
First, let's talk about the concept of a system. In science and mathematics--the language of science--a system is some concrete or abstract area or field of study.
We as martial artists and personal protection specialists focus our attention on the very concrete area of physical aggression, and the movements one takes to evade, neutralize and counterattack aggressive actions. Thus we could say that we study, analyze and try to better understand the system of violent aggressive behavior, and we work towards developing a comprehensive system of personal protection tactics that allows us to survive a violent encounter.
We study observable behaviors, actions and responses, and we also trouble-shoot variables that might occur as these violent interactions take place.
At any point in time during a violent interaction, that is at a specific state, there are certain conditions and variables at play. I have often referred to what I call the six phases of a physical attack, and these may be valuable in illustrating this concept: (1) Preparation; (2) Approach; (3) Delivery; (4) Execution; (5) Follow Thru; and (6) Recovery.
A stop-action photograph for example could help us detect slightly different actions that subtly distinguish one phase from another. Take a boxer's jab for example. A jab normally begins from a boxer's on guard position (the preparation), then it requires a step (the approach), a forward movement of the hand and arm (the delivery), the full extension and snap of the fist (the execution and the follow thru), and the quick return to an on guard position (the recovery). Obviously in real-time the steps or phases are seamless, and they flow together in continuous action.
One could look closely at any number of physical actions--from a golf swing, to a tennis forehand, to a double leg take-down in wrestling--and observe most if not all of these same six phases in action.
If we are to study a system of hostile aggression in order to develop a system of self defense, a thorough understanding of the concept of a system is key.
A simple system has a limited number of parts or steps, and there a few variables at play. For example one could argue that throwing a frisbee or spinning a hula hoop--let's call these simple systems--are relatively simple actions with few variables and a small number of steps.
A system of dealing with violent aggressive behavior however is most definitely not in this category. It is, in contrast, a complex and dynamic system that is made up of a large number of simple steps, parts or actions with specific functional roles and which interact with each other to accomplish some greater functionality.
A complex system has built-in redundancy so that it can survive the removal of one or a small number of parts. But it is, at the same time, efficient so that adding more and more parts does not necessarily add value or improve the functionality of the system.
A complex system is generally represented as being impacted by time (phase space). A chess game for example has a beginning or opening phase, a middle phase, and an end game. Different tactics are at play, and different strategies may be utilized, at each of the various phases. This may be referred to as a trajectory--the way the system unfolds or evolves over time. In fact it is this fact of change-over-time that defines a system as dynamic.
The Value of Prediction
Let's take a quick side trip, shall we?
I previously mentioned chess not by accident. Chess, at first glance, may seem like a simple game with a specific number of pieces with a limited number of rules, but it is truly complex. As Andrew Latham says "chess is actually very much a game of prediction..." although a human player can memorize openings and endgame patterns, ultimately chess is not about determining the perfect moves so much as predicting which moves will lead to better positions. This is the fundamental difference between tactics and strategy - tactics involve rote calculation with perfect information, while strategy is almost entirely predictive, making guesses based on foundational principles, human experience, and intuition as to which plans will yield the most promising positions, that is, those positions that have the best chance of yielding a win."
Uber statistician Nate Silver, whose approach to collecting and analyzing data, what is known as 'probabilistic thinking,' says in his book The Signal and the Noise--Why So Many Predictions Fail-But Some Don't, that chess is a perfect analogy about complex, dynamic systems and predictive analysis.
At the beginning of a chess game, he says, there are 20 potential movements with white's opening, and 20 potential movements with black's responses. This means there are 4,000 possible sequences after the first turn. After the second turn there are 71,852 possible sequences, and after the third an amazing 9,132,484 possibilities. If that blows your mind, consider this: The number of possibilities in an entire game of chess, says Diego Rasskin-Gutman, is greater than the number of atoms in the universe.
Let that sink in for a moment.
If we compare the game of chess to a physical altercation and personal protection encounter, as many people have done, just imagine the number of possibilities in that there are significantly more options than a chess game. Trying to make an accurate prediction of an outcome would be almost impossible since there is simply so much uncertainty.
Nate Silver says that there is an on-going tension between risk and uncertainty when trying to flawlessly predict outcomes. In such areas as the long-range forecasting of weather patterns, trying to figure out the stock market, and making accurate and actionable earthquake predictions, there is always lots and lots and lots of data--some of which, says Silver, is nothing but noise.
A Today excerpt of Silver's book tells us that "stone-age strengths have become information-age weaknesses. Human beings do not have very many natural defenses. We are not all that fast, and we are not all that strong. We do not have claws or fangs or body armor. We cannot spit venom. We cannot camouflage ourselves. And we cannot fly. Instead, we survive by means of our wits. Our minds are quick. We are wired to detect patterns and respond to opportunities and threats without much hesitation."
What all this means is that we're very good at generalizing--"finding patterns in random noise." Maybe that's why we see the face of Christ in a grilled cheese sandwich or why we see a structure in the shape of a human face in pictures of Mars.
Silver says that the signal is the truth, the nugget of important information that we're looking for, but all the rest, the noise, is what distracts us from the signal.
Back to Chaos
A dynamic system has specific initial conditions. That chess board we imagined for example begins with the pieces set up in a very specific order. A dynamic system will change over time, and we can better predict the outcome, or generate a solution, if we clearly understand this initial state and the rules of the game. But if we feed "solutions back into the rule as a new initial condition" (Rickles, Hawe and Shiell), we generate chaos.
Chaotic systems are non-linear in that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Small changes, or interventions during the process, can have large outcomes (or vice versa) down the road.
Another feature of any system is the presence (or absence) of predictability. A deterministic system or process is one in which the trajectories of the past and the future can be concluded from its present state. If we drop the plate that we purchased at the crafts fair we can generally predict that it will break into dozens of pieces. We also know that before it was a plate it was made up of raw materials in the potter's hands. We can accurately predict both trajectories.
A semi-deterministic system on the other hand is one in which the future trajectory can be predicted, but not the past. However in an indeterministic system one cannot even predict the future trajectory, because the change or evolution is random.
Cannon balls, clocks and the movement of the planets in our solar system are said to be deterministic systems. "We ought to regard the present state of the universe," said Laplace, "as the effect of its antecedent state and as the cause of the state that is to follow." There is a sense of inevitability in a deterministic system. Put on a DVD of "Enter The Dragon", for example, and the movie plays out the same way each time.
I was recently reading about Joe De Sena, creator of the Spartan obstacle-course races and a direct competitor of the Tough Mudder events. Because of his philosophy that "we all need adversity to grow," racers are subject to his whims. He just might arbitrarily extend a race as competitors get close to the finish line. How indeterministic is that!
"Chaos is the generation of complicated...seemingly random behaviour from the iteration of a simple rule. This complicatedness is not complex in the sense of complex systems science, but rather it is chaotic in a very precise mathematical sense. Complexity is the generation of rich, collective dynamical behaviour from simple interactions between large numbers of subunits. Chaotic systems are not necessarily complex, and complex systems are not necessarily chaotic," (Rickles, Hawe and Shiell).
Both complex and chaotic systems are sensitive to initial conditions; however, they follow different trajectories over time, thus impacting one's ability to make predictions.
So What Does All This Mean?
Predictability and probability are important factors in a system of personal protection. There are elements of chaos in the system of physical aggression that we study, and equally in any system we develop to defend against potential violence, and trying to predict what an attacker may do may be impossible. Working towards determining and planning for each step of the action seems like an exercise in futility (just remember what Diego Rasskin-Gutman said about the number of possibilities in an entire game of chess being greater than the number of atoms in the universe).
It is this which seems out of place in the nice, orderly martial arts academies where carefully rehearsed, thoroughly choreographed routines of sequential movements are practiced and memorized by rote.
(1); (2); (3)