Friday, July 3, 2009

What Works For You?

Experts and wonks of all stripes... whataya gonna do? Whether it's in regard to exercise and nutrition, politics, religion, pick a subject, there are always those that preach THEE One True perspective. No relativity or context or considered possibilities, just the proper conclusion that any right-thinking individual would come to. Of course, I wouldn't claim I'm entirely immune from that syndrome any more than I would claim I can, or would want to, transcend my humanity. So bringing this back to the issue of self defense/combatives training, everyone's system is Thee system that is efficient, unbeatable and so on. But while there is overlap regarding issues of sport combat (Mixed Martial Arts, boxing, hockey) and street-oriented self-defense, individual needs and capabilities are part of what should define one's approach to training and tactics: Not everyone is a big burly guy always going up against another BBG (new acronym for you all). It is not feasible, or necessary for many folks to do hours of ground training or physically tough/abusive training. But again there is always some good news here as well, in the same way that it was finally generally acknowledged some time ago that you don't have to do grueling physical training to be in good physical (just regular "good enough" physical work), neither do you have to be in "caged fighting shape" to help your odds to a good degree regarding self defense. A small body of technique, some cognitive training to recognize offensive opportunity and defensive need, and an attitude of being able to do what needs to be done are the most essential requirements.

Desert Island Repertory

It's a natural thing that martial artists would be interested in acquiring more and more knowledge and skills. That's not problematic as long as one doesn't loose sight of what's essential.

The concept of "Desert Island Books" or "Desert Island Records" is interesting: If you were to be stranded on a desert island, but could take ten books, and to be generous, also ten records, which would you choose? It's a good idea to do the same thing with our martial arts training, as it's much easier to talk about many things than to narrow it down. So that's always what I suggest to students at a certain point of training; what offensive and defensive maneuvers and tactics do you feel most important to cultivate and maintain? Jab variations are essential, but a spinning back-fist is not (to me), for example. A car will function just fine without cladding, but not without all four wheels. If you are an experienced martial artist, see what you would choose to put on a single sheet of paper that would be your Desert Island Repertory.

Superior Laziness

Many people, if not of the Young Dude species, when entertaining the thought of doing martial art training, may be put off by the assumption of extreme physical demands relative to flexibility, endurance, strength and so on. They may also be put off by the thought of hard contact sparring. The good news is that, while any of the aforementioned kinds of training can be beneficial when properly done, they are not all usually needed at anywhere near maximal development. Endurance is important, but not "combat sport" endurance: most street fights are short, and while the adrenaline dump involved in a fight can be exhausting, there is not going to be a "round two" to worry about. As for flexibility, if you can get your foot up to average knee or thigh height comfortably, that's quite good enough. And strength, sure it's valuable, but if someone wanted to just be in decent to good general shape, that's fine as long as they understand that they need to be smarter and more efficient (read "nastier," e.g., jab the throat if possible rather than the nose) than the opponent. This is not just an optimistic theory, as it has actually panned out that way for a number of guys I know that did not have to endure hard contact sparring and are not exactly the greatest of physical specimens. The main point of all of this is that whatever shape someone is in, self-defense is a feasible possibility within their limitations.

Progressive Flow

It seems to me that the best martial training progressions are based around what could be called “progressive flow.” What I mean by that is that as soon as a thing is learned, another thing to contrast or compliment it is learned and then put into a drill format so that cognition is developed to distinguish between them. For example, if a parry is learned as a jab counter, then a parry (or any appropriate defense) against a cross should be learned soon after that, so that the trainer can feed a random series of jabs and crosses to the trainee who learns to see what’s coming. At the point that defending against jabs and crosses doesn’t seem overwhelming to the defender, then we might add defenses against the lead or rear hook which would make at least sixteen two-count combinations to learn to perceive (e.g. jab, cross; jab, lead hook; jab, rear hook etc.). Then we might add kick or take-down defenses and so on. So the point is that a body of responses is progressively broadened so that the trainee is able to handle more and more possibilities. This (and here comes the trash-talk/critique) is in contrast to some systems that teach technique or pattern memorization and no flow or sparring training, or technique memorization and then sparring with no progressive bridge, which would be the equivalent of learning to memorize some phrases in a language and then be expected to speak that language functionally. And under stressful conditions. Some people might make that work, but it is not an efficient way to go about learning.

Self-Defense or Self-Development?

On occasion when talking with someone, usually a person outside of martial arts, I get the question regarding martial training, “What is more important to you, self-development or self-defense?” To me, it’s the same as asking “What’s more important to health; inhaling or exhaling?” After all, the self-development value of self-defense training is in what you learn about yourself, and if the combative training isn’t realistic, then the issues that follow from it are questionable. If the training brings up issues to deal with (emotional fear, physical fear, determination, anger) and demands problem solving (e.g. why isn’t this tactic working for me; is there a more efficient way to accomplish a goal), then there is a good chance for personal growth unless one is just too plugged up to be open to it.