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.