Monday, September 21, 2009

JKD Trapping

While my posts up to this point have been primarily about self-defense in general, this will be a reprint from a very technically oriented book I have finished the rough draft for. The first section will still be relevant to martial arts in general.

The following is from my book in progress on "Jeet Kune Do Trapping Hands."

Before talking about jeet kune do, we need to acknowledge that all martial arts derive their viewpoint from, and represent a model of combat. This model includes beliefs about: 1) what we are likely to encounter, combatively, 2) what would constitute efficient responses, and 3) theories of training methods. A model is something that is either arrived at through experience and thought, or passed down through tradition. Since most of us are not self-taught from scratch (and are unlikely to have experienced all of the possibilities presented in any given tradition under actual fighting conditions), it is usually a combination of both, to varying degrees. Bruce Lee was aware that all models have limitations, which is why he never believed in a "final understanding". Clearly, much of the evolution of martial arts is the result of people's personal conscious or unconscious re-interpretation of tradition. Most commonly, a given model is based on many specifics of what ideally should be an expression of that system, but to a much lesser degree on a clear presentation of what we are likely to encounter, other than actions that support that system's assumptions. That is, rarely is there an examination, except in the sketchiest terms, of just what comprises the most deeply ingrained human combative instincts (1). Instead, the natural human tendency is to project the concepts of one's system onto the outside world without empirically examining whether or not there may be a gap between a particular system's point of view (represented by its training) and how untrained people might react.

For example, some of those involved in mixed martial arts (essentially kickboxing combined with grappling, the "No Holds Barred" view) assume that because mixed martial arts are popular, that the average person is now a skilled mixed martial arts fighter. This is a faulty model however, because to this day, the odds are that the great majority of people we are likely to be confronted by are untrained in martial arts (unless we are challenging other martial artists). The odds are that those that have trained at all have generally trained in garden variety strip-mall black belt factories and not for very long. The most common offensive and defensive performance instincts now in one-to-one fights are the same instincts as ages ago: wild telegraphed punches (usually hooking), hands dropping after and between strikes, relatively few kicks, grabbing and pushing (in offense and defense), inefficient defense when any, no sense of distance or footwork, and an inability to keep defense and offense in the same mental frame (2). Here, the mixed martial artist's perspective has legitimacy; fights easily get messy, close, and go to the ground. But this perspective is also geared towards people with similar skill levels (none, to very good) wherein people tend to neutralize each other or don't have any efficiency at kicking, punching and close ranges. However, in general street context where it's instinctive for adversaries (trained or untrained) to try to obstruct strikes, "stand-up" tactics, including trapping, can indeed be very workable for those that put in the development time. To say, as some have critiqued, that something is intrinsically wrong with trapping because it may not work every time in all situations is like saying a screwdriver isn't useful because you can't saw wood with it. It is a very good idea to be prepared for a skilled fighter, but if one only works within a martial arts class context (even contact sparring oriented), and doesn't examine the most common human combative instincts then they will be training to overlook many workable possibilities. The same idea applies regarding our defense: some think that if we can deal with a training partner's clean, quick movement, then we will easily be able to deal with an opponent's sloppy "improper" movement, but the principle of specificity holds that the way we train and what we train for will dominate our reactions. One of the oft repeated stories from Bruce Lee's Los Angeles Chinatown school involves a sloppy beginner giving a much more experienced fighter a hard time because of the beginner's unpredictable form.

This raises the issue of models of training methods. Various schools of thought regarding training methods run the gamut from emphasizing solo forms (kata, kune), to pre-set technique, to response drills, to sparring with narrow or broad limits. Extremes at either end of the spectrum are problematic; a curriculum with all pre-set technique will not develop our ability to make choices with timing and distance spontaneously, and a curriculum that only emphasizes all-out sparring will develop a lack in important areas outside of combat-sport-oriented kickboxing and grappling skills. That is, in circles that feel most training must be as non-cooperative and aggressive as possible, the problem is, besides the fact that training partners familiarity with each other greatly changes the range of reactions, that while important and useful, it is still not entirely realistic; realistic would mean actually attacking the eyes and throat, breaking limbs, and doing as much damage as necessary to stop an attack. Since this is an obviously absurd way to practice, there clearly has to be a balance between the degree of cooperation and non-cooperation in training (3). This easily leads to the conclusion that it is important that a significant part of training is spent with one of the partners semi-cooperatively playing the "slob," someone with committed aggression but poor technique (4).

Two additional issues arise when considering what approach to martial art to take: 1) how labor intensive different skills are to develop, and 2) how that relates to a continuum of probability regarding the likely severity of combat. The first issue simply put, is that some skills require much more effort to make functional than others. We have to ask ourselves if the effort required is worth the payoff, or if there may be easier ways to get the desired result. Methods such as trapping, joint locking and grappling require much more work to functionalize than basic kickboxing tools. Developing a decent non-telegraphic finger jab is more important than developing a complex wrestling hold or trapping skill. This is why JKD trapping is considered to be a skill learned after the development of kicking and striking foundation skills. Not everyone is interested in martial arts being a major part of their lifestyle, and yet they may want to have an idea as to how to deal with confrontation realistically. A desire to have some essential understanding of fighting with limited time expended is neither naïve nor uncommon, although devoted martial artists often insist that "if you are not constantly preparing for life-or-death conflict, then you are not preparing realistically". The truth is that many civilian confrontations are stopped simply with the proper attitude, and situations that require contact can often be stopped with a simple jab to let an opponent know that we are willing to engage him, and with authority (5). There are indeed people that may try to seriously harm or kill you for any variety of reasons, but that is not the average case. The average burglar is not looking for a difficult house to break into, and the average mugger or jerk looking to victimize someone is not looking for a difficult subject. In any event, in all-out confrontations, the will to survive often matters more than technique.

As to the odds within trapping itself, given average human reactions, a scenario where a simple trap could be successfully executed is common. A second trap, whether immediately or after several strikes, could happen just as easily as needing to go to a defense or some other tactic. As should be emphasized, the skill of trapping lies in how to set it up and flow with what comes. Within the trapping curriculum, there is trapping to deal with unskilled brawlers and there is trapping to deal with martial artists. At each step of the way there has to be a drilling process to get a reflexive feel for the time and place for any given technique, otherwise it is dead memorization. And while some of the trapping material may at first glance seem complex, it should be a central part of understanding that any complexity arises out of the needs of the moment and not out of an attempt to execute a predetermined sequence in the hopes that an opponent will give us all the "right" responses. For example, often when sparring or drilling, we may respond in some appropriate way that involved a complex set of responses, but if we taught what we just did as a pre-set technique, it could be difficult to execute because it would be out of context, out of the flow which includes not just physical position, but momentum, pressure and where the attention is, among other elements. However, we would not have been able to respond as we did had we not practiced the various possibilities and then worked towards the free but precise use of those possibilities. To put it another way, if we were to go to art school and start to study color theory as part of the curriculum, we would be presented with the color spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet), and someone in the class might ask the instructor why he's showing all these bright colors when he wants to paint "realistic" scenes and he doesn't see any of those bright colors out in the dingy city, not realizing that he needs to understand all of those colors before being able to artfully express the full range of possibilities from the bright to the bleak. Any curriculum starts with a formal arrangement. It is up to the instructor to guide the students towards an intuitive functional understanding of that material beyond the curriculum. And as well, ultimately the student has to "own" the material and be responsible for what he or she can make work. We could own a Ferrari, but that doesn't mean we know how to drive like a pro.

1) Hoplology, the study of human combative behavior is greatly recommended in regard to investigating what comprises instinctive human fighting. Visit the web site.
2) Although culture influences combative behavior (e.g. kicking in a one-to-one fight back in the 1960's would have been considered cowardly or cheating), human emotion, bio-mechanics and cognition are the dominant factors in how fighting plays out. Even world class athletes don't generally translate their skill into fighting ability; when basketball player Kobe Bryant reacted to getting jabbed during a confrontation at a game, he put his hands up and then telegraphed his strike so obviously that his cooler opponent jabbed him again! Sports brawls among professional athletes look like any other kind of brawl. It is a challenge to keep form under pressure, whatever system we study.
3) For that matter, if we are to train "realistically", then since according to a number of sources the majority of street attacks involve weapons (knives, clubs etc.), then the primary emphasis in training would rightly be weapons training, and against more than one opponent.
4) There is a tendency to train only against one's own system rather than be able to fit in with a broad variety of possible fighting styles.
5) I have had a number of students stop potential fights by putting their hand out to stop the aggressor from chest bumping. This simple act of generalship, who controls the basic nature of the fight, interrupted the expectations of the aggressors enough to make them think twice and back off.

Copyright 2009 Steve Grody