Rest is highly under-rated. Most people do not allow themselves adequate rest between different types of training to maximize the benefits of such training and give the body enough time to recover. Failure to allow appropriate recovery is the equivalent of taking a step back for every two steps forward. This isn’t just about taking time off from training or mixing lower intensity sessions or having varied workouts. The amount (and quality) of sleep you take has an impact on your mental and physical performance, memory retention and therefore progress.
This isn’t so much about flexibility as mobility. Daily routines that encourage and increase your joint mobility and maintain or increase your ability to reach or turn will reduce the likelihood of injury in more intensive training. You do not need to ‘warm up’ to do this. You are already at body temperature, your muscles aren’t going to get warmer. Gradually extend and increase your range of motion in supported exercises. When was the last time you saw a Yoga class do star jumps on the spot for fifteen minutes before starting their routines?
This is a no brainer. We all like to treat ourselves and most of us should have a pretty good idea of what is good for us and what isn’t (despite frequently contradictory isolated studies being taken out of context to attract interest in the mainstream media). Ultimately a nutritionally varied diet that doesn’t upset your stomach and helps you maintain or achieve the weight you want is what you should aim for. If you want your body to recover and be ready for training you have to give it adequate fuel. Saying that you are trying to ‘lose fat’ and then cutting the fat or carbs in your diet so much that you don’t recover properly after training, or suffer mental fatigue, or feel too tired to train is counter-productive.
Visualisation isn’t actually what I mean. Good practitioners can visualise what a technique or tactic looks like and see themselves doing it. More experienced practitioners who have spent time internalising their training can feel a technique without doing it, replicating in their mind not only the sight but the tactile sensation and feedback of the movements. Greater awareness of what you are doing leads to better practice and more reliable skills. If you’ve not done this before it will be hard to begin with. Many people initially cannot visualise something without physically replicating the movement, but when this happens to me I take it as confirmation that I don’t know it as well as I should. Moving from closed eye video representation to adding in tactile feedback (foot pressure, muscle sensations etc.) requires both more paired practice and attention to detail (shutting your eyes in paired training once engaged tactilely and ‘strike-safe’ can help as can focusing on sensory feedback in forms).
If only I had the time, or the energy!
You do have the time, because most of us have unrealistic expectations of what personal practice can be and should be.
Although they can overlap, a training session that develops strength, a training session that works your aerobic fitness (and requires ‘fitness clothing’ and makes you sweat) and a training session that develops core skill sets (balance, mobility, sound biomechanics, coordination etc.) do not have to be the same thing. At full speed most ‘full’ kata only take 10 to 40 seconds to practice, at slow speed you are only talking one to two minutes for a high quality repetition, and quality repetition makes a huge difference. You don’t have the space? Don’t do the full kata, or practice alternative stepping and weight transference to enable you to do a full form. You have no space? You’re sitting on a train? See item 4! Rehearse in your mind what the moves feel like – research shows that mental rehearsal can be as powerful for imprinting good biomechanics as physical rehearsal. It is something done by most top-level sport competitors in multiple disciplines, so why not follow their example?
You don’t have the energy?
Again I’d say that is both an issue of perception of how much energy is required, and what your body is acclimatized to do. A hard training session after a normal working day is both a mental and physical challenge for most people (especially parents) compared to relaxing at home. It’s a wonder that many people make it to training, but then those that do find that socialising with people in a different environment (or simply setting a moment aside at home), doing something that takes the mind away from all other distractions, can be incredibly relaxing and beneficial.
The more you do, the more you become capable of doing. The trick is to stretch yourself gradually, stretching rather than breaking the comfort zone. Those of us who use Leisure Centres are familiar with the January and February perfume of deep heat that accompanies the upsurge in attendance from people who have set themselves challenging New Year resolutions. The aroma only last two months because most people do not set SMART targets for their progress: they aim too high too soon and lose both the mental resolve and the physical recovery to continue. Increase what you do gradually, follow the other five shortcuts, and you will have the energy.
Is this really as obvious as I think it is?
It’s a well-known mantra to tell people to consume more fluids, but how many of us really do it?
You are a bag of water, you are continually losing water, and you need to replenish it at safe levels on a regular basis in order to function efficiently. Simple lack of adequate hydration can have as profound an impact on your concentration, reaction time and vision as tiredness or mild intoxication.
Hydration affects your quality of life. You don’t have to drink pints of water and you don’t have to overspend on flashy prefabricated isotonic drinks or sugar-laden juices. Your food choices can affect how much you need to drink as a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables will contain good levels of moisture, but a healthy person will need to replenish fluids on a regular basis.
Is this all too obvious? Then ask yourself honestly, how many of these do you really adhere to?
Thanks to Dan White for the mobility exercise image. I do not own the rights to the food or bed images.
The thing was, we were dealing with an inmate who wanted to hurt himself. Lighten up for even an instant on pressure and he would start slamming his own head into the floor. Lose a grip on his wrist and he would try to gouge his own eyes.
In most situations-- self-defense, combatives, whatever-- you have a goal. Get to safety. Get the bad guy in cuffs. Whatever. In almost every case, the threat's goal is irrelevant to your goal. If the threat wants to play with me as a toy or see what someone looks like as they die or get enough cash for the next hit of meth or heroin or crack, that really doesn't affect my goal to get home in one piece.
Get this: most of the time your goal is NOT to deny the threat's goal. Most of the time your goal (go home safe or threat goes to jail) are antagonistic to the threat's goal purely as a side effect.
But, rarely, your goal is to deny the threat's goal. Your focus shifts from winning to denying the threat his idea of a win.
This is strategically dangerous. One of the golden rules of tactics is to never play the threat's game. But when you are trying to deny the threat his definition of the win, you've already ceded most of your strategy. There is no pro-active way to work from this paradigm. When your goal is denying the threat's goal, you have already let the threat define the goal. The threat controls the battlefield and has the advantage.
In long-term conflicts, "denying the opposition" has a more profound side-effect. Once you define yourself by your enemy, you can never win. Labor/management. Israel/Palestine. To defeat your enemy would cause your raison d'être to die. And thus, you.
Note for a future post: positive versus negative, in definition and goals.
We all have biases-- biases in the way that we perceive, process, think, plan... You probably know some of your physical habits (when you cross your arms, is the right or the left on the outside? Are you left or right eye dominant? Which shoe goes on first?) but not all of them. You probably know even fewer of your mental habits. And even fewer of your perceptual habits (hint-- I bet if you examine the last several big meetings of strangers the handful of people you remember will have certain things in common.)
The bullshit never goes away. Humans know surprisingly little. We have a lot of stuff in our heads, but the things we know to a certainty is a very small subset. And many of those are useful, but incorrect. The sun doesn't actually rise in the East, the sun is stationary and the earth spins...and that's not true either, because the sun isn't stationary, nor is the galaxy.
I'm never certain how much bullshit has crept in. I can't be. If I only taught the things I'm 100% scientifically certain of, all of my knowledge could be summed up with "1+1=2 as long as you limit it to inanimate objects; and things with a higher number on the Mohs scale will scratch things with a lower number."
When I teach a technique, I can be fairly confidant because I've used it. But really? Take a throat strike. I've used it exactly once. Spectacularly successful. Would absolutely use it again in the same situation... but if I read a "scientific survey" trying to extrapolate from a sample of one I'd laugh my ass off.
"No Bullshit" isn't a state. It's a scale. And a process. And that makes it one of the virtues.
We tend to have a binary way of looking at the world. Is a thing good or bad? Hard or soft? Right or wrong? I find that immature. Most things are scales, not states. Not good or bad, but better or worse. End state thinking leaves no room for improvement. "Excellent" can be improved on, "perfect" can't.
If you did a move well, you can get better. If you did the same move right, you can't.
Calling something a virtue recognizes that if it is a scale, it can also be a process. Virtuous people are not the ones being good, they are the ones striving to be better. Every day. "No bullshit" as a virtue is a commitment to challenging your own assumptions, back-tracking your beliefs to first sources. It isn't the contentious skepticism of trying to prove people wrong to score points, but to cut away all of your personal wrongness to continuously build a stronger foundation.
This will be (probably) the last of the MovNat AARs. Talking about training methodology.
I've written about Toby before. And here. And here. And teaching in general here. That's Toby Cowern of Tread Lightly Survival.
Wilderness survival, assault survival and movement have a lot in common. They are simultaneously complex and simple. Specifically the problems can be mind-bogglingly complex, but the solutions, in order to work, have to be simple. All three subjects are perfectly suited to the way people naturally think and move. All three subjects are almost in direct opposition to the way people are socially conditioned and taught to think and move. All three subjects wire to and work from the part of our brain that functions at primal levels with deep joy and deep pain. Almost all of civilization is specifically targeted to make these three subjects alien: We have grocery stores and central heating to avoid using wilderness survival skills; police and laws and eradicated predatory animals so we don't need assault survival and; cars and forklifts so we don't have to move and carry.
Just as there are principles in survival, and in movement, there are principles in teaching. My favorite teachers (and Vic moved onto the list) get that.
Good teaching is principles-based, and we've covered some of that in the last post.
A good teacher doesn't tell you what to think, but shows you how to think. Toby's "non-prescriptive" answers. Vic would ask the right questions, like "Where is the tension in your body? Is that helping or holding you back?" Or pointing out that if you want to move north, having your legs or feet moving west probably isn't helping.
It's about the student, not the instructor. The only reason I have any real assessment of Vic's physicality is because he attended a VioDy. At the MovNat seminar he demonstrated very little and his assistants demonstrated the minimum necessary to get you started, then the participants played. The ability of the instructor was irrelevant, the class was all about increasing the ability of the student.
At the instructor level, knowledge is insufficient. You need understanding. There was one technique in MovNat (part of the broad jump) that didn't jive with my previous training. When I asked why, the instructor (Stefano) was able to explain the reason behind the difference-- the environment in which my previous training was the right answer, why it would be right, when it would still be better than the MovNat way and the reason behind the MovNat difference. When instructors have just memorized technique, they don't have the tools to explain and are left with mere dogma. With understanding you can pass on the rules, and the exceptions, to the students.
Very little about right/wrong. Lots about better. Tied to the above point. I don't think I heard anyone being told they were doing anything wrong, but a lot of, "Try this, I think it will work better." There are lots of good teaching reasons to stay away from criticism.
And, tying into both of the last two points, there was no appeal to authority. It was all experiential. Never did Vic have to tell us something worked. When an instructor candidate pointed out a detail of your alignment or structure, there was an immediate, visible improvement. You only have to tell people something worked if it didn't actually work.
Vic was also cool with variation. I was one of the minority that had better balance with shoes on than off, and carrying a weight at chest level than at waist level. Extraordinary instructors are cool with not trying to force the statistical average onto the outliers.
Just as there is a natural movement for a human body, there is also a natural learning. Humans, like all animals, learn best through play. There's some stuff you have to talk about, and some stuff you want to play with in the gym, the studio or the lab. But playing, ideally in the real environment, is what locks in a skill. I led this post off with pointing out that some of the things closest to our evolutionary path are complex problems that require simple solutions. Play is the way we cut that Gordion knot.
There's going to be a core set of principles in any physical endeavor. One of the really gratifying things about the MovNat seminar was not just how principles-based it was but how much the principles mirrored the ones I understand.
The lists will never be exactly the same. Time doesn't function the same in a fight as it does running or climbing. Balance and gravity have other levels when you are simultaneously a bipedal creature and half of a quadrupedal creature.
Something isn't eligible for my list of principles unless it 1) fits my definition 2) applies to striking, grappling and weapons and, 3) there are no exceptions. The MovNat class with Vic pointed out that some of them applied to all movement. And that was pretty cool.
Caveat. What I am about to write comes from my perspective having taken a class once. Don't take this as anything officially MovNat-y.
Structure, momentum, balance and gravity. Four key principles and they all interact.
Life is a constant battle with gravity. Gravity is a force, and sometimes the enemy, and almost always a tool. If you need to resist gravity, resist it with bone, not muscle. That's one of the essential applications of structure. Muscle gets tired. Bone doesn't. I use structure for unbalancing and immobilizations and takedowns and... Vic used it for lifting, carrying, catching, traversing, climbing. Just that I saw. In two days.
Exploiting momentum is one of the key principles, especially when you are outmatched in size and strength. I tend to use it to make people miss and hurt themselves and fall down, but also to increase my own power. "Motion defeats strength" to quote Jimerfield sensei. Vic used it to keep motion going with less effort, to extend a jump and to slow one down and in a climbing thing--
I used to embarrass my kids when I'd take them to the playground and climb around more than they did. One of my tricks was to go to the swings. The big ones where steel poles making an inverted V on the ends to support the main beam that the swings hang from. I'd put one hand on each of the V supports and climb to the top just by swinging side to side and letting my hands move up. It was a way to climb with almost no muscle-- just structure and the momentum of the swing, which relied on gravity. Hadn't thought of that as principles until Stefano demonstrated almost the same technique for traversing.
Balance. In a lot of ways, balance is just the interplay of structure and gravity. In judo we spent a lot of time playing with the science of keeping our own balance while stealing the opponents. But there are times to lose your balance as well, times when falling serves you. Sutemi waza, for instance. Or falling on a locked elbow (someone else's). Balance is not just a principle, but a skill, and Vic had some balance games I'll be playing with for a while.
Gravity is a tool. The iconic application is the drop-step. Done properly it is a speed, power and range multiplier that doesn't telegraph. It's one of the first things I teach. Turned out to be one of the first things Vic taught as well, but as a way to effortlessly and quickly fall into a run. Or a sprint, depending on how much you commit. And a way to control your speed, without working to move your legs faster or thinking about lengthening your stride.
Still playing with thoughts from the class. Will be for awhile. Probably talk about teaching methodology next.
And, pro-tip, if you have the right partner and the right kind of post-workout smile you can get a full body tiger balm massage out of it. Awesome.
*To be fair, one of my principles is a soundbite philosophical generality, but I use it because it allows me to file a bunch of different related principles-- ranging, action/reaction speed, manipulating perception and realities of timing and distance, working in negative space, etc. all under the label "Control Space and Time."
One of the most prevalent myths I’ve noticed over the years in the martial arts community is efficacy of hitting men in the groin as a one-stop solution to the problem of physical violence.
There is no doubt that strikes to that area can be effective. But a number of people teaching them as part of a self defence curriculum seem rely on them far too much. Like any target on the body, depending on numerous factors, they can range from being fight stoppers to unnoticed insignificant body shots.
In terms of targets, with regard to men, these are the groin itself and the testicles.
- Frontal groin impact can cause severe pain if the muscles there are relaxed or weak and the bladder is full (and might perhaps cause rupturing of the bladder), but this is by no means certain. Of more use perhaps is the unbalancing effect that groin shots can have on the angle of the subject’s pelvis, creating opportunities for escape or further strikes. While I cannot speak from personal experience (and it isn’t a question I ask or get asked regularly), the same impact on women may well traumatise the female reproductive system and cause pain.
- While most men have probably experienced pain in the testicles at some point in time due to impact, compression or movement, none of these can be guaranteed by a direct hit at any angle.
To a large degree the effectiveness of groin strikes relies on pain compliance. Factors involved here are the angle and force of impact in terms of whether it affects the target to elicit a normal pain response, and whether the chemistry of the body at the time is such that it recognises and responds in a useful fashion to that stimulus.
There is no doubt that are lots of possible ways to attack the groin. The Enter the Dojo show regularly parodies the over reliance of some on this target and Master Ken has demonstrated 100 ways to attack the groin.
Hitting the groin effectively outside of prearranged combinations is not always easy. If people are actively resisting each other and are hands-on, often the angle of the body is such that the groin is further back than the rest of the torso making it less accessible. Overly tight or loose cut clothing can often impede upward strikes towards the testicles. A further factor is that you get good at what you train for: obviously it may seem to be a ‘natural’ target, but you’ll tend to be better at hitting the things you practice targeting. That’s not to say that groin/testicle shots can’t happen. I have seen numerous accidental ‘hard’ groin shots in training to people without cups and effects have ranged from them being unnoticed, unbalancing knock backs (creating an opportunity for follow ups) or fight stoppers.
A large factor in this has often been how intense the training was – the less intense, the more mentally and physically relaxed the recipient, the more effective the strike. Those who were fully committed to attacking the striker often did not notice they had been hit. It is the unexpected nature of the impact as much as the impact itself that can frame the response. On a number of occasions I have been unaware of being caught until an hour or so after training when I have literally doubled over while sitting at a table as if I had just been hit; the body had been sending pain signals but adrenaline related chemical factors had inhibited their recognition.
Do groin strikes have their place in a self defence curriculum?
Of course they do.
As with every other strike we should be prepared for failure and have a redundancy trained in place for when they do not work. We do not expect every hit to the head to result in a knockout (although such strikes can be devastating and should always be context appropriate), nor do we expect every knock to the leg to cause a person to fall to the ground desisting in attack or pursuit. Groin strikes can be part of a repertoire, they can be effective, but they are not a guaranteed escape plan and to paint them as such is simply bollocks.
I'm aging. And coming off of almost five years of serious leg injuries. Aerobic fitness, weight and functional power are not where I like them to be. Below my comfort zone. Legs healed to the point starting in January I could do something about it. Big headway in a short time, but still a long way to go.
Never been into the fitness community. Don't actually get into communities, period really. Went from doing ranch/homesteading work in adolescence combined with high school sports--Football, basketball and track. Then to the college judo team. Then military. That was a long string of years of good coaches and hard work. Good enough that I got the physical fitness award at both BCT and the Academy.
I have friends into fitness, particularly Myron Cossitt, Kasey Keckeisen, Matt Bellet and the Querencia crew. And I can't even follow their conversations when they get going.
At last year's VioDy Prime, one of the attendees was some French dude named Vic. Vic Verdier. Cool guy. Great physical skills, awareness, and insight. Myron was fan-boying a little on Vic (Myron does that.) After the VioDy seminar, I got an email from Vic casually asking if I'd like to attend one of his seminars. Turns out Vic is a big deal in the fitness community. MovNat.
So last weekend this middle-aged crippled up old jail guard went out to play.
It was a blast. Perfect level of intensity. If you don't hate your physical trainer a bit at the end of a session you need a new physical trainer. Next post will be about principles and cross-overs.
The movements were super basic. Fundamental. At one point we were learning a technique to lift a heavy, odd-shaped item to a shoulder carry and I was puzzled... why would this have to be taught? And I looked around the room. Almost all young (younger than me at least). Almost if not all urbanites, and I realized that probably no one else in the room had spent their childhoods lifting and carrying ninety-pound feed sacks. Or bucking alfalfa bales onto a truck.
Lifting, carrying, climbing, running, crawling, throwing-- all core, fundamental parts of being human. I'm a little weirded out they have to be taught, but some of my kid's friends have never climbed a tree.
Don't think "super-basic" or "fundamental" are in any way downplaying the value. Or the skill of the instructors. Or the thought behind the program itself. MovNat is either an introduction to or a reminder of who you are as a human animal. Some of us, maybe all of us, need that.
Vic, Stefano and Craig stressed good body mechanics. More emphasis on doing things right than doing things hard. Because there was a concurrent instructor-candidate class, each of us got a private coach as well (Thanks, Kim and Sadie!). Because of the emphasis, I was able to attend with a plethora of old injuries and, though every damn thing is sore, none of the old stuff reinjured. That's rare.
Upshot? Practical. Fun. Intense. Found some weaknesses to work on, some new diagnostic tools. It was a good weekend.
I use Maslow's pyramid in a lot of my books and classes. Not because it's great science, there are holes in it you can drive a truck through. I use it partially because it has great predictive power, but mostly because it is so common and universally accepted (which is not the same as 'understood') that it's easy to piggy-back useful information on it. In other words, using Maslow, you can take a person who has only ever experienced social conflict and in a few minutes get them to accept and understand the existence and even the patterns of asocial violence.
We don't work through the levels. Babies are born at the esteem level in all but the most dysfunctional families. Our ancestors took care of the two lower levels long ago. Thus, most people in the industrialized world have no frame of reference for the survival and security levels. So much so that the skills that belong there have become hobbies.
If you have a choice, it's not self-defense, it's fighting.
If you have a choice, it's not wilderness survival, it's primitive camping.
If you have a choice, it's not hunger, it's fasting.
The thought: Is it possible to have a genuine* experience of the level you inhabit without experiencing the lower levels?
Taking care of the *asterisk now. Genuine is a a problematic word. Of course anything you are experiencing you are experiencing. It's by definition genuine, as real as it is. I mean more that there is a gap between what is experienced and what could be experienced. An understanding gap. That it is different than it is perceived. (Note-- when I say the blog is where I go to think out loud, this is what it means. Words are not how I naturally think and the translation process can be ugly.)
People who have never dropped below the belonging level tend to either think that membership in a group is important without thinking why, or think it is unimportant. (This is separate from the instinctive tribal drive, I'm talking about the reasons, rationalizations and cognitive process.)
I was raised in a family of self-sufficient, back to the land, grow/hunt your own food yadda yadda yadda. I value groups because raising enough food to feed a family was a metric fuckton of manual labor. I liked being a bookworm and a dreamer, but I realized that those were self-centered, selfish preferences-- something I could indulge in during free time, but if that was all I was, someone would have to take up the slack of weeding and packing water and feeding stock and milking and chopping wood.
Same with teams. We had CERT because there were things you could do with a team efficiently and with little injury that would have been either suicidal or murderous to do alone. I still occasionally have dreams about a military service that ended 24 years ago. The bonding when you are dealing with deep Maslow problems is intense.
So I value interdependence and cooperation because of experience. It's not a knee-jerk reaction I must justify after the fact, so I see the downsides as well. Nor can I listen to the song, "I Walk Alone" without laughing a little on the inside.
If you've never experienced the survival level, there are things you can't understand (and another thought, this isn't monolithic. Look at these three examples.) If you've never been truly hungry, you can't really grasp how important food growth and distribution is or the idea that "all philosophy is based on bellies." If you've never had anyone try to kill you, physical defense skills are a fun hobby. If you've never been drowned or frozen, you'll never really grasp your own mortality, or how small you really are.
If you've never mastered the security level your basic needs are controlled by someone else. You are owned.
If you've never had to break into a group, just passed from (and this is poor kid's fantasy, I have zero experience in this world) country club family to prep school to your dad's fraternity at Yale and on to the political career assigned for you, you've never learned why other people's feeling are important or how to be considerate. You'll know the forms of politeness, because those are tribal status markers...but you'll never understand that courtesy is central to predators living together.
And without all these and putting them into play and getting competent at them, you can simulate self actualization. You can be an artist or devote yourself to causes. But the depth of understanding will be missing. Causes are chosen by the social impact on your friends. You measure your own art by the reaction provoked in others or the price you can charge for it. (Which are valid ways to evaluate art, but not self-actualized ways to evaluate your own art.)
Just a thought, and a thought I have to be careful of. Most of most best friends have depth of experience (which is the polite way to say "profoundly shitty lives"). It becomes easy to conflate 'people I like better' with 'better people,' And that's a dangerous trap.
Also just finished one of the best books in a long time, Tom Wainwright's Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel.
It was a kick. Taking the Freakonomics approach and applying it to the world of cartels. Why violence is rampant in Mexico but has dies down in El Salvador. Why tattoos keep labor costs low. The etiquette for leaving feedback when you buy heroine on the dark web. Franchising, subcontracting and offshoring in the world of illicit drugs.
But if someone changes behavior only around the people who simply say, “I know your game” then he knows his game as well. Deliberate and conscious.
I recently read Junger's book, "Tribe." It hit a lot of my buttons-- not well thought out or researched, explanations just asserted even when there were far simpler possible explanations. He had a theme and a bias and stuck to them... but it got me thinking.
We live in an amazingly interdependent society. How many of you butcher your own food? Make your own clothes? Do both? Raise the cotton or wool to make the clothes? You're reading this on a machine you didn't make. Maybe, if you are really good, you assembled your own PC, but you damn sure didn't make it. Amazingly interdependent... but not really.
Societies have always been interdependent. You can think of the best survivalist societies you know-- the Kalahari Bushmen or the Lippan Apache or whatever and in all of those societies of super-survivalists, the greatest punishment was to be ostracized. Because as good as they are, no one survives for very long alone.
What's missing now is not the interdependence, it's the awareness. One side is easy to see-- the iconoclast rebel who declares himself free while typing on a keyboard (that some corporation produced) and sucking down corn chips and Mt. Dew (ditto) in his mom's basement (do I need to say ditto again?)
It's physically impossible to tweet "I'm off the grid."
Junger wrote about the other side. All of us, on some level, want to feel the interdependence. We want to feel the connection. Corny as it sounds, we want to serve.
A few of us have been trying to figure out why it seems that individual power--agency-- is so systematically denigrated in modern society.
I think there is an assumption that agency is a contrary force or contrary attitude to interdependence. It’s not. In what I consider a natural society— tribal hunter gatherers— increasing one's own agency was important for the good of the tribe. You wanted to be the bravest warrior or the most cunning hunter or the wisest healer. Change that, not ‘or’. Ideally ‘and’. So it was all about increasing agency or personal power, but for the good of the tribe.
You can look at the collectivist movements (socialism, communism, fascism) as attempts to force a tribal level of interdependence from the top down. It takes massive control because the tribes are artificial and we have enough radical ideas and different points of view that people can find their own tribes and can easily switch tribes. In order for it to work, people would need a monolithic set of values. Hence force. And failure. But those movements appeal mightily to the people looking for that sense of connection.
As wisdom (one type of power) increases, so does a recognition of interdependence as a fact. Individualists recognize that agency is not a contradiction to cooperative society. It is required if we want society to continue to improve.
At the same time, we aren't insects. We will never all have the same values or the same priorities. Nor should we. Wisdom is to let people disagree. Even more than focussing on increasing our own agency for the good of the tribe, we focus on increasing the agency of others. Accepting other people’s differences _and_ their power.
Our society tries to draw a distinction between the passive and the active-- and to include passivity in the definition of "good" (but that's a post for another day). That has resulted in the infantilaztion of adults. Screw that. Be strong. Let others be strong. Cherish their strength and your own.
Either way, it probably wound up on my shelf because the publisher used the same stock photo for the title that my publisher did for a book I wrote, "Force Decisions." Funny, right? And also a cautionary tale about using stock photos, probably. But it was a good book. A good read and probably the best layman's introduction I've found for some of the neuroscience behind decision making and fear.
There were a lot of crossovers between Sharps book and other stuff I like, and that's always gratifying. He presented academic theories that were very close corollaries of Gordon Graham's "discretionary time." And ConCom's Monkey and Lizard. Good stuff.
There was also a tool in the book. "Feature Intensive Analysis." He didn't describe the actual process, it was more of a, 'people have a tendency to gestalt, but when you have time you will make fewer mistakes if you analyze the features of the problem.' So I let the concept sit and played with it for a bit.
Underlying background concept. Labeling, or "ist-ing" is one of the reliable signs that your monkey brain is in control. We call people names to put them in a tribe we don't have to listen to. If I call you an asshole, or any descriptor that puts you in a group, whether your political, religious or national affiliations or... it puts you outside my tribe, Which means (to my monkey brain) I don't have to listen to you. It protects me 100% from the possibility that your arguments might have merit. We all do this.
Sharps used the term gestalt as a related concept. A gestalt, traditionally, is when you see the totality of a concept. A car is thousands of little parts and each car is different, but the gestalt of "car" exists in our head as a unified thing. Professor Sharps pointed out, that just as labeling is a tool to prevent you from analysis, so is a gestalt. Whether you use the ConCom word of labeling or Sharps' interpretation of gestalt, it is a way to not think. And people are lazy. We have a definite tendency to avoid the laziness of hard thinking.
Shading into politics, one of the things that has been annoying me is the "all good or all bad" soundbite nature of most of the things I see discussed asserted. I realized these are gestalts. If I call you a "fascist" (or asshole, most people don't distinguish) I don't have to think, I'm done.
So I decided to take a stab at my own feature intensive analysis of my gestalts in politics. On one axis (sorry, talking about fascists here, forgive the pun) a list of my political labels-- communist, democrat (party), fascist, libertarian, republican (party), socialist...*
On the other axis, traits that I consider important. The features. I tried to be careful with the source of the features. For instance, I didn't use the modern academic definition of fascism but Mussolini's definition. I used Marx directly for the features of communism. For the stuff that wasn't in the literature, I used personal observation when available. If I didn't have literature or personal observation, I gave that feature a null value. If literature contradicted, I gave a null value. If observation and literature contradicted, I went with observation. For instance if a group insisted that they were for personal freedom and peace, but called for everyone who disagreed with them to be executed and planted bombed (I've just read both 'Prairie Fire' and 'Underground') they got marks for "being okay with using violence to silence their opposition."
I may not have used the FI Analysis the way Sharps intended, since I was back-engineering from a vague description of effects. But I liked it. I found it useful. It did confirm some of my gestalts, some of my impressions of how closely related some of the political labels were. But if it had been just confirming what I already believed, I'd be pretty skeptical. Like everyone else, there's a part of me that likes pre-existing beliefs validated. That's not what happened. I found a few quite unexpected similarities and differences.
And before anyone asks, no. I am not going to share the specific analysis here. 1) I didn't do it for you, I was testing a test for (to an extent) objectively testing my own instincts and, 2) There are few things more likely to put you, as a reader, in your monkey brain than to show you that your favorite affiliation is actually 80% similar to your most hated.
*Not right/left or liberal/conservative, I consider those to be a different taxonomy. I could do an FI analysis those traits, but it would be an apples-to-oranges comparison with the affiliations listed.
In all of my books and videos there are deliberate differences between my kata and my paired application (oyo) that has resulted from my analysis (bunkai).
“Practicing a kata is one thing, engaging in a real fight is another.”
Gichin Funakoshi, Twenty Precepts
Karate kata are generally taught and trained as a solo platform. Through their stances they hint at suggested weight distribution and methods of movements that can support the upper and lower body techniques of which they are made, and indeed at the oyo (if any) of the form that its teacher had in mind from their own bunkai.
I say ‘if any’ because changes in kata may be made to obfuscate purpose, allow greater speed in transitional movement for aesthetic purposes, or provide a greater athletic challenge. Furthermore changes may come about through the copying of the movements of older karateka who have themselves changed their form to reflect how they wish to move and exercise their more mature bodies, or through ignorance of potential oyo or flaws in their approach.
This is not meant as a criticism of any one system; the onus is on all of us to examine what we do and ensure that in application we use the most appropriate posture rather than sticking with something higher or deeper as the case may be.
But whether moving slow or fast in the kata, there is a significant difference between executing controlled techniques into thin air compared with endeavouring to make maximum impact on a target, or moving against the resistance of another person while grappling. This is a subject about which I have written in greater detail in Volume Four of my Pinan Flow System series of books.
The postures and techniques found in the majority of movements in kata are not designed to exactly replicate the biomechanical structure for optimum application, but instead their purpose is varied and can be:
- to protect karateka from unbalancing, instability and injury by limiting the power of movement against no resistance,
- to balance the ‘hollow body’ that forms good biomechanical structure for striking and grappling with exercise that inverts that posture to ensure balanced muscle development for good health,
- to indicate either a single tactic or through generalisation (lack of specificity) give an altered movement that acts as a coat hanger reference point for multiple similar or overlapping tactics,
- to highlight a principal of movement on which a number of tactics are based,
- to provide an important physical exercise that underpins and strengthens the muscles required for many tactics.
In many kata there are straight rear leg postures or very high stances. These are not necessarily wrong, but a product of their context. A straight leg can be an exaggerated example of thrust, codified into ‘good form’ for aesthetic purposes and to limit forward momentum against thin air which risks injuring the knee joint. In similar vein, thin air fighting puts balance and weight bearing limits on power generation through the movement and positioning of the knee and hip.
Unlike the postures often utilised throughout the majority of kata, when grappling with a training partner, attacking, preparing to attack or bracing during an attack, the back should not be held at a perfect right angle to the ground.
No matter how good your stance or footwork, having an ‘upright’ or classically ‘arched’ back while resisting physical force from another person is biomechanically unsound. The greater the level of force you are resisting, the more necessary it is to brace appropriately to take the load so as not to place undue stress on your back or compromise your balance, so the greater the angle of your back (and depth of stance and thus angle of shin) required. There is a difference between lifting an object and exerting or resisting force along other planes of movement.
The postures of kata protect and develop the body in solo training. They are the other side of the coin that balances the effect of the postures of paired training. Karate is soft and hard, relaxation and tension, grappling and striking, slow and fast, expansion and contraction.
For health and flexibility, form cannot always mirror function. To provide greater depth of application from a limited sequence of movements, form cannot always mirror function.
The kata is a map, but the map is not the territory.
And there are other subjects that dance on the edge of deep buttons: How often is domestic violence a one-way street? What about cultures that have wildly different ideas about consent?
One came up recently. One of the common reactions to an accusation of abuse is denial and normalization. A child accuses an uncle of molestation or rape and suddenly mom and dad, the fierce protectors start saying, "Oh, I'm sure that couldn't have happened. Uncle Fester would never do anything like that. Little Kelly must be exaggerating again."
On top of the act of violence, the victim has to deal with the betrayal of a social network that pulls away. Protectors who deny, essentially calling the victim a liar, add to the damage.
I get why professionals doubt. We have due process and "innocent until proven guilty" for very good reasons. But Anna asked why so many victims in families are left out in the cold. Denied.
My take? People are stupid and talk a lot of shit. But only in the abstract. They are loud-mouthed in their machismo and silent in their cowardice. So the person who has watched innumerable news reports about child molesters and always said, "If anyone did that to my kid, I'd kill 'em." Well, that person now has to put up or shut up. Faced with the actual prospect of doing what they said they would do and the sure and certain knowledge that they'd go to prison for actually doing it, they become silent cowards.
But they can't bear to think of themselves that way. They can't be cowards. The event must not have happened. Because if it did happen, they definitely would kill that somabitch. And they aren't killing, and they refuse to recognize their cowardice. To prevent cognitive dissonance, they are left with denial.
It comes up too, in personal self-defense. A lot of critical decisions, actually. Draw your lines. Know your go buttons. But think of them all in terms of the consequences as well. Promising to avenge your daughter may satisfy your indignation, but promising to go to prison for her is the reality. Is it worth it? If not, keep your mouth shut.
Have a plan. Know where your lines are. Know what you will do when they are crossed. Know the price you may have to pay (on every level: social, legal, emotional, medical...) And keep your mouth shut. If you hit the line and can't find the guts to execute your plan, at least you won't be outed as the liar and coward you are. And if you do hit the line and execute the plan, well, words are discoverable and can come up in court. They can also give a heads-up to the target. Either way, silence serves you better.
And last point-- If you have been outed as a liar and coward (like all the people who said they'd leave the country if the election went a certain way) don't deny it. Resolve the dissonance. You might learn something.
Another reason the new book hit me so hard was that the process (my life process for the last several years) has violated my own epistemology. My society has a common belief about where knowledge comes from. There are nuances, of course, and people have varying loyalties to their own thought processes, including their epistemologies, but the general belief seems to be:
We have a large pool of all known things, called Science. There are special people, called scientists, who add to that pool. They study the known Science, and ask themselves questions, and design experiments to answer those questions*. As those questions are answered, the body of science grows, and as it grows, the pool of known things becomes greater.
I know that's absolutely not how it works. The asterisk marks the place where laymen completely misunderstand the scientific method. * In real science, the scientists hypothesize answers to the questions and design experiments to prove those answers wrong, to test the limits of those answers. Science doesn't prove, ever, it disproves. It is not a fact finder but a bullshit detector.
And most of the big gains in science have worked exactly the opposite. Almost never does big growth come from building on past knowledge. The big growth comes serendipitously, from noticing something that science can't yet account for and figuring it out. Darwin noticed that there were no rabbits in perfect rabbit country in South America. Every school kid learns about the accidental discovery of penicillin. Einstein had to think outside the box to work out relativity, and maybe that was made easier because experimental science did it's job and disproved the widely-accepted idea of aether.
I was raised in a society that takes the mythologized idea of science as its primary epistemology. Unless I am careful, that's my default. That idea has a powerful but subconscious sub effect. The model is Darwinian. Whether or not you believe in evolution, on some level you believe in Darwinian selection. It is nearly impossible for a thinking person not to believe so obvious a concept.
Short and simple: In any given population, whether a species or a body of beliefs or a design or an advertising campaign, there exists a range of differences. The differences that are more successful propagate faster than the ones that are less successful, and each succeeding generation is more like the successful generation before it.
The model is a perfect example of circular logic: Whatever the next generation looks like determines what the environment was selecting for. This is only a problem if you're self-centered. If you get miffed because what you value is not what was selected for. An excellent engineering design can be trumped by a superior ad campaign. The economic environment in which ideas compete to survive is ruled by pocketbooks, which in turn are ruled by emotions. An excellent business model that serves many consumers well can be regulated out of existence by government agencies who want to flex power (ours is a mercantilist, not a capitalist, system.)
Circular logic, in this case, doesn't make it wrong. We directly experience selection in every aspect of our lives.
Because of the Darwinian sub-aspect to our epistemology, we have a subconscious default that our current practices are the best available. Every society and most individuals have had a reflexive view that their ideals of right and wrong are universals, but this is something different. Republics are assumed to be better than aristocracies because they evolved from and therefor must have been superior to, those aristocracies. Our teaching methods evolved from older methods, and therefor must have been superior to those older methods. QED.
Except, not. Because of the circularity of the Darwinian logic, that statement will always be logically valid. But it is begging the question: superior with regards to the challenge of what environment? Artificial selection is always faster than natural selection. I have no idea how many tens of thousands of years for natural selection it took to drift wolves from coyotes. But it took a fraction of that time to create chihuahuas from wolves. Are chihuahuas better than wolves? Not stronger, not smarter, but they are absolutely more successful. By Darwin's rules, the chihuahua is superior to the wolf. Because man hunted one and bred the other? Man is just as much a part of the environment as climate.
Most instructors, including me, have extensive experience with the public school system and with martial arts training. Another cognitive bias enters here. When you have devoted a significant chunk of time and effort to something, you have to start telling yourself it's because it's the best. You see it in martial artists all the time, and in people who have taken a profession they disagree with and debaters who are assigned a side they disagree with but in the course of forming arguments convince themselves of their position.
Is our public education system effective? In terms of access, yes. In no other way that I see. Any service provided by the government will always be a lowest-common-denominator solution. It will be run by bureaucrats for the sake of it's own bureaucracy. Paperwork will always be more important than people. Compliance with standards will always trump mission. In the school system, private schools who have to compete (for students and money) will consistently produce better achievers than a system that has no competition and whose clients are compelled to attend. Despite the fact that the US spends more money on public education per student than any other country, our public schools are regularly out-performed by private schools, charter schools and even home schoolers who are essentially amateurs at education. Basically, anyone who cares about the students, or simply wants to be better than other teachers, outperforms the lowest common denominator. Big surprise.
Upshot? Our current educational system is a Darwinian survivor, but not by competing for making a smarter or more critical or more self-reliant kid. Exactly the opposite.
And martial arts training. The rote training, kata, forms, all of that, get a lot of flack from martial sports and combatives. When things are predictable, you can script them. When unpredictable, attempting to script is worse than useless. I've looked at some martial arts training classes and thought, "This is exactly how I would train my enemy to fight."
And maybe that's what happened. If the Japanese had conquered the Americas in WWII and the occupying army ordered you to teach them American catch wrestling... how would you teach an enemy occupying army you hated? Especially working through shitty translators?
Though I can intellectually see the flaws, these are the models I was raised with.
And thus my hesitations on writing a book about teaching. I want to have a bunch of scientific papers to back my my observations that it works better. (One of my first readers is a professional educator, and he showed me the research was out there-- Thanks, Quint.) I want it to build off of the traditions of training in my culture. I want it to be a visible evolution. In short, like a little whiny special snowflake, I want to do something really really cool but with absolutely no exposure to any ego risk. And that's too bad for me.
In lots of ways, this teaching method is a devolution, turning back the clock.
Is teaching about the student? the material? you? your career? If the answer is anything but the student, this book isn't for you.
Are you willing to let your students be better than you, and become better faster?
Can you handle the fact that this is about chaos, and changing the questions as much as finding the answers? Do you get that that means your students can change the rules on you whenever it suits their needs? And that means they will beat you. If you need things controlled and measurable, you aren't teaching survival, but obedience.
The smallest, weakest student you have ever had is a natural predator. She may not be able to fight you, but she can kill you. Easily. Do you have the courage to teach those tools and show that mindset to a super-predator?
If someone you loved was going into harms way in the immediate future, how would you give them the best chance possible?
There is a difference between training (for development and/or testing of skills) and utilizing those skills outside of your training, whether in a competitive format, in scenario training or in an unsolicited violent situation.
What we do in training is a game. That is true whether you are competing in any of the top-level martial arts competitions or whether you are engaging in the most realistic self defence training possible. It may be a game focused on a very serious purpose, it may be incredibly tough, but it is a game nonetheless and it has rules and conventions in place to enable it to be played in a manner that not only allows for progressive skill development but also can be done safely. It is important that we all accept this in order to gain the maximum benefit from our training.
So what do I mean by ‘playing the game’?
When you train with someone else it is in your interests to ensure that they, like you, are developing their skill sets and improving. A training partner that cannot progress limits your potential because it means that the training you do with them will be limited and less fulfilling for both you and them.
It is obvious that there are times when you should resist your partners movements, and they yours, but doing so at the expense of learning or practicing the optimum biomechanics for a movement is not necessarily one of them. You have to play the game and increase resistance gradually. In similar vein being a completely limp training partner can be a step too far and again limit the development of the necessary skill sets, which is a waste of both people’s time. It is in your interests (both in terms of training safety and your own skill development) to have a skilled adaptable and alert training partner, and you bear a measure of responsibility for that as well as both your partner and the class instructor.
Training is a game for more than one person, and any drill – be it attacking, taking a throw, or holding a pad has as much educational value and potential for the receiver (observing patterns of movement, learning telegraphs, feeling for flaws or potential escapes, learning why a hold works to better employ or escape it, psychological conditioning) as it does for the one practicing.
Almost all my drills are games and they involve making pulled contact to elicit movement; as a result they require give and take. It’s important to know when to go with a drill or how to resist to allow someone to practice and refine a skill set and when to seize opportunities to turn the tables, to take an escape if the opportunity is there, to teach both parties about their strengths and weakness and keep themselves ‘on their toes’.
If I hit someone in training, but pull the contact, I expect that person to move as if they have been hit and simulate some degree of effect, whether that be the full effect (going down) or partial (turning the head or body, buckling the legs, or momentarily relaxing). If they don’t do this then my follow up response is nonsensical – my training partner is not playing the game, they aren’t giving me realistic stimuli and thus they are inhibiting the development of appropriate responses.
This is akin to a person holding pads for a head shot but putting all their force into their arm so it is as if the person’s head is a stone cliff face. Heads move. Certainly some people have such strong necks that their heads don’t move so much, but they are few and far between (and an experienced person might relax their neck with a shot to an alternative target first). For a person developing their head shots, and learning the biomechanics of power delivery, the game needs to be played. The pad needs to give, the resistance has to be measured. If you engaging in mobile pad training and you never let your training partner hit the pads, you aren’t doing anything for their confidence or skill development. You may think you are proving that you are faster but you’re actually proving something else about yourself.
Whenever you are training you need to keep in mind both context and purpose. What are you training for and what is the purpose of the exercise you are doing. It is a game. Playing to win every time is not necessarily a winning strategy.
The last post (just below this one) back in November I talked a bit about thresholds.
The threshold über-basics. These are levels of experience, completely separate from training. There are likely many more levels I've never experienced. Just as training is no substitute for experience, experience alone is no substitute for training-- it's entirely possible to be an unconsciously competent but shitty driver. The levels:
No experience. You can't even know what you don't know. You can have a lot of information and tools. You can be an excellent instructor of those tools.
1 Encounter. Mentioned in previous post. Tend to be focused on a single answer and teaching tends to be more for personal therapy than the benefit of the students.
Conscious incompetence. Somewhere, and following Ken Murray's lead on this it's around 3-5 real force incidents, the shock becomes less overwhelming and you start trying to apply your skills. Side effect, you realize how little your really know.
Conscious competence. You still have to think, but you're starting to get good at it.
Unconscious competence. You deal with the problem without consciously thinking about it. Tend to make poor teachers, because they don't consciously recall what they do, and a lot of technical nuance has become complete mental gestalts.
Split mind. I've only heard one other person talk about this, but you let your body/hindbrain deal with the primary problem unconsciously and divert your conscious mind to something useful. In my case, it was almost always composing the report.
This might seem exotic applied to self-defense, but it mirrors most people's experience learning to drive (manual transmission, at least) pretty well.
After the weapon defense seminar in Manhattan, a friend asked why I don't teach it more often, and I pulled out the line that it would be stupid to train under a judo coach that only had five matches.
That's only part of what's going on. My reluctance stems exactly from the threshold model. The techniques themselves are clean. Designed around the attacks that happen. Efficient. Gross motor. I know the key points and failure points. Are they answers? In Knife defense? You gotta be kidding. But they are better than zero percent chances, which is the best I can offer when it comes to knife defense.
If I'd never had anyone try to stab me or only one person, I'd probably be eager to teach this stuff. Unconscious incompetence and confidence often go together. But on knife stuff I am solidly at conscious incompetence. Emphasis on the conscious. I'm completely aware and very focused on how much I don't know. How many of those five encounters depended on luck and maybe instinct...and knowing that luck can't be taught.
If I'd had a few more people try (and was lucky enough to be intact) I'd have the confidence to share.
Hmmm. Two posts in a row working out my cognitive biases. Pattern?
Nonexistent reasons include writer's block and lack of time. I don't get writer's block. There are times, probably most of the time, when I don't feel like writing. Some of the reasons for the feelings will come in the rational and irrational lists below. But just because I don't feel like it doesn't mean I can't do it. Writing is like any other job-- you show up, you do the work. And honestly, I think my uninspired writing is technically better and far more readable than when I'm in the zone. In the zone I'm writing to myself and use all kinds of shorthand and personal language that doesn't translate to anyone else.
And time. I don't always have hours to write, but I always have minutes. And if I ever start using the time excuse, I just have to monitor the minutes and hours I spend doing unproductive things, but that would be embarrassing.
Writing on other stuff. Time writing here is not time spent writing for Conflict Manager Magazine or working on the next book. And the next book (On Principles-based instruction) took a ridiculous amount of effort in the rewrite.
Too personal/too public. A lot of the most interesting things I am observing now are people. Instructors, students, classes. And, frankly, I sometimes see some weird and disturbing shit I'd like to think about out loud on the blog... but I don't want to deal with the e-mails of "Dude, were you talking about me?" Most people talk others down to build themselves up. Even if that's not my intention, I refuse to follow the pattern. It was okay when I was doing the blog as an anonymous jail guard, now that it's part of my living, it would violate my ethics.
I do have a backlog of good ideas, but it might take a year or two for time to create anonymity.
On the line between rational and irrational.
Swiss cheese brain. It might be the concussions, or age, or simply volume, but I'm worried about repeating myself, turning into the old guy in the corner telling the same stories over and over again.
Relevance. I've influenced enough people who are coming into their own as instructors and writers that there is a very visible next generation. I also don't want to be the old guy struggling to stay relevant when his first-hand perspective is a decade out of date.
These are the deep ones. The things actually affecting my performance are all known cognitive biases. But they still work.
Imposter syndrome. Everyone I know who is really good at what they do has a voice in the back of his or her head telling them that they suck. The book that kicked my ass over the last year is about how to teach, which is something I've only been doing full time for eight years. Who the fuck am I to write on that subject? One of the first readers (those are the people kind enough to critique the first draft) gave me a list of educational reference books to back up my points, but my reaction was, "how would I dare to write if I wasn't already familiar with the literature..."
Blockheads. One of the recognized cognitive biases is the human tendency to assign more weight to bad outcomes than good ones. I taught roughly 900 people last year, and I remember the three who just couldn't get it. Occasionally, you'll see it in a comment here, where someone writes, "What about..." And I want to reply, "You mean the thing I addressed directly in the very first paragraph?"
Tribalism.The election season hit me hard. Not the politics itself. On social media I watched friends, people who I consider thoughtful, advocate violence as an acceptable response to words. Declare that people who disagreed with their own opinions should be exterminated. Characterize their sides acts of violence as "free expression" and the other side's violent words as "vicious oppression." I saw the Orwellian doublethink hard and it was coming from the bottom up, not the top down.
That was what I wanted to write about most and there's really no way to talk about it. Once tribalism is triggered, people are out of their neocortex anyway. The people who are staying rational don't need to hear logical breakdowns, they have their own. The ones who most need to hear it are incapable, and convinced that their opinions are already based in logic and "truth." (Pro tip, if you ever catch yourself screaming that you're being rational, you aren't being rational.)
It sucked bad enough that I wanted to fall back to my own immediate tribe, and not even all the members of that.
Tribalism is true, but it's under irrational. Because that bullshit has nothing to do with what I write about here. Different parts of my life. But it made a damn good excuse to write and delete.
To kick or not to kick, that is the question.
This debate comes up regularly on martial arts forums and such discussions tend to produce variations on a number of regular characters:
- The person who is convinced that whatever he or she does in class will work.
- The person who sees kicking as a low percentage strategy but advocates low kicks if kicks are used at all.
- The person who has used kicks ‘in real fights’ and therefore believes that they are a high percentage effective strategy, especially high kicks.
- The person who has used kicks in competitive fighting and therefore believes they can do so in self defence.
- The person who has no opinion but just wants information.
- The troll.
So who’s right?
When it comes to applying martial arts techniques in self defence, context and training methods determine the results. We get good at what we train for.
If you don’t train kicks regularly then the likelihood of being able to use them in a self defence situation decreases considerably.
Whether you can use kicks bears no relation to what someone else has reputedly done in self defence or in the ring, it depends not only on how much you train them, but how you train them.
If the opportunity to kick comes in the form of relative positioning and pressure that is familiar to you, then you are likely to be able to employ that skillset. Everything comes down to how you train and to a large extent how many of the six things you should do in physical training for self defence are present in your approach.
A few years ago I put together a video showing all the kicks and attempted kicks used by participants from a range of different martial disciplines in my Sim Day scenario training. The clips came from hundreds of simulations, but featured very few kicks indeed (although knees were very successfully employed).
This was in part due to the enclosed environment, but primarily because most people had no experience in trying to kick at that range or under those conditions. Although we don’t kick in many of our regular drills, of the participants my personal karate students (and a very experienced LEO who is also a Ju Jutsu instructor) kicked the most because the environment and range was familiar.
Since then I have seen more kicks employed successfully because the kickers are returnees to the Sim Days and are not only more comfortable with the environment and range but have also made little tweaks to their own training based on the lessons from previous sessions.
So can you kick in self defence?
Only you and your training can decide that.
Disclaimer. This is an analogy. Like all analogies it generalises.
Kata, for most of us, is fixed. It is a set construct that we learn and rehearse. It does not vary very much. Over time different instructors have figuratively taken the same block of ice and carved away at some of the edges, added on smaller blocks, broken it down into lots of blocks and reassembled it in a different way, or taken chipped off elements from lots of different blocks to form a new block for others to replicate. In this manner we have lots of stylistic variations on the same kata and new kata have been created. Because it has been frozen (fixed) and joined in different places at different times its crystals are generally not aligned and it is filled with air bubbles; the block is opaque.
Training regularly is said to polish technique. Training regularly in a kata does indeed polish the structure, it polishes the surface of the ice. You get to know the contours and positions, you can form them in your minds eye and they become ingrained. Polishing the ice has value for understanding the shape of the form. But form is not the same as function. Form is a dance that teaches important positions, movements and develops strength and balance – a combative dance but a dance nonetheless. Polishing the ice brings the satisfaction of the development of those attributes, it takes a lot of effort and brings clarity to the surface, but as with a lot of ice the interior remains opaque and hidden. The dancer cannot utilise the form outside of the choreography; to deal with the unpredictable they are forced to utilise other methods. Their kumite and/or self defence bears no resemblance to their kata.
As a state of matter, ice is limited. It is strong, incredibly strong, but not adaptable. It can be cut to fit shapes, but then is limited to those shapes. It is limited to predictable fixed scenarios.
There is a welcome increase in the interest in learning the applications of kata in karate at present. This interest itself is nothing new, but I would argue that for many years the explanations given to students were so ridiculous and ill-informed that they drove away from karate those of a practical and independently minded nature who were not prepared to overlook the deficit and simply continue to develop the attributes gained by polishing ice.
More than ever it is possible for karateka to easily find videos and books on karate application, and while there is exceptionally good stuff out there, it still isn’t all that common and it is often surrounded by the bad and the ugly. Even amongst the good, I see a lot of demonstrated applications produced by well meaning people that I regard as ice. They have simply chopped up the kata into smaller blocks and arranged each for static attacks. There is no evidence of adaptability, there is no provision for failure, a way of moving between applications is not taught. They have simply created more blocks of cloudy ice. It is simply a smaller dance routine. They have the shape of the form but cannot see through its substance.
To get inside the kata you have to do more than break it into blocks. You have to heat it up through training. You have to work those blocks through unpredictable and dynamic training until they completely break down and merge together into one transparent mass of water. Good application is like water. It moves freely, it fills and exploits spaces, and it continuously adapts. The tiny air bubbles and ill aligned crystals that made the ice opaque disappear, and the meaning and potential become clear. Applications should be fluid, they should be adaptable, and we should be able to flow like water from one to the next, nor be limited to one kata.
Once we have our water, our kata becomes something different. A medium through which we swim in our paired or multiple person training. We benefit from and utilise its substance, but it no longer constrains us with the rigidity of blocks of ice. Having heated it this way through our training, we can allow it to cool in a controlled manner into ice for our solo practice, and because we can control how slowly it cools and freezes in layers, we control its opacity. It is ice to polish once more in solo practice, but now it is transparent, and now we can see through it.
Kata may be ice. But be like water my friend.