March 14, 2014

It's a ...! Escape-less Stratagem!

Admiral Ackbar knows better.
Recently, I taught martial arts to a group of people who had never experienced martial arts. A small group - nice and lively - we made a good time of it, exploring a side they had never seen – the inside.

The first thing I said was something like this: You’ve probably seen martial arts in some respect -  either on TV or in movies or maybe someone you know has shown you a thing or two. What we learn is that martial arts are made up of a bunch of “things.” These things are called “techniques” and are commonly known to build off each other in order to make new things until the student of martial arts eventually knows all of these things, if that is even possible. You’ve most probably seen this. But today, we won’t be doing any of that. I won’t be showing you a single technique. The reason is simple: Techniques on their own don’t work. Techniques must always be powered, applied, and adapted to their cause. What we’ll look at today is how to do that.

And so we did: Movement and maneuvering gave everyone a context for a sense of “positioning” that could out-position their partner’s position. It was fun, people grasped the concept early and easily, and hopefully they were able to take home something they had not shown up with.

Now, one of the participants, known to the others, decided he would be “difficult.” He was working with his friend on some of these most basic aspects and not cooperating. So, I tried to assist. It intrigued me as to why anyone would feel the need to challenge the training so early. It’s like a child who intentionally flouts the rules of a game, only to expect a prize for doing so.

What he told me was he didn't want anything, “to work.” He felt like he should instinctively try to prevent things from working. And so, he used his strength to manhandle his partner into doing what he wanted. Naturally, this caused his partner to manhandle him. And their “training” became a wrestling match. I tried to help. He grabbed me with all his strength. He wanted me to, “prove it worked.”

Here is what I said: Martial arts are not about creating conflict, but alleviating it. The way that’s done is not by outright force, but by lack thereof. Martial arts, unlike martial sports, do not rely on forcing an opponent to do something they would never voluntarily do. Martial arts - and perhaps we could call these “warrior arts” – are refined to present an array of options under particular circumstances that no opponent can deny. This is to shape vulnerability and create advantage. It is the great difference.

I waited to see if any of that made sense or mattered to him.

It didn't.

And that's when he moved on me.

He wound up on the floor - his leg twisted unnaturally beneath him - with me placing him into an extraordinarily compromising position. There was some startled screaming involved, but he was okay. I didn't hurt him and I didn't get hurt. In fact, he wanted me to do it again. I told him we were both "lucky," and that I was not an amusement park ride. We all got back to training. Turns out it might have actually been a good thing for him. We shook hands later and I invited him to come back.

This guy was a decent fellow - albeit hard headed - and he wanted to make sure that this stuff "worked." He wanted it "proven" to him. But here's the problem: How would he ever know? Because whatever is "proven," he will remain unaware. As a newbie, he's in no position to understand the difference between someone overcoming him because they are bigger, stronger, or faster, or they truly have martial ability. This guy can't tell the difference. All he knows is he got his ass handed to him. That is the standard by which he's judging the moment. He doesn't know "good" technique, from "bad," because he hardly knows "technique."

There is so much screeching on the internet about "resistance" in training. Interesting. The term is often undefined. Do they mean "dueling?" An MMA match? This is unclear. There is a real difference between "resistance" and "obstinance." 

Resistance comes from the mere fact that we should be honest. My honesty is such that if you don't get out of the way, you are going to get cracked. If you provide me an opening, I'll take it, to show you, at the very least, you have an opening. If your movement fails against me, it fails - I will not give in simply because it's your turn. This means I'm not going to act like a moron and allow you take wild advantage of me or let you injure me. I will attack as would attack, not as some generic opponent might be expected to.

Honesty is its own best form of resistance. But this doesn't mean dueling. The training requires a natural back-and-forth-ness, in which we engage willingly with our partner. Otherwise it becomes very difficult to improve by habituating better habits because you are hardly given the chance to habit-form. 

This other element - obstinance - is just silly. It's silly because, in essence, it is to cease an attack and simply posture - whether this is a grab or punch, or whatever. The partner becomes like a statue that you are now to deal with. However, when you act against them, you also do this dumb thing. A thing that very well may not only cancel out your training, but may also be unethical.

When your partner has stopped attacking and is posturing, why would you attack them? To do so is to inadvertently switch roles - defender becomes attacker. Chances are you have already answered their attack - you moved to a new position, one of safety. So, why are you then closing the distance, collapsing the space between you, and RE-endangering yourself and them? Things after this point can go wildly outside the realm of what you are capable of and you can wind up in a wrestling match. (I fully recognize that real-life events may require the collapse of tactical space in patently unsafe ways. That doesn't make it a viable habit for training.)

You have already provided the best course of action - you escaped, placing yourself in a position where you cannot be endangered. Defense is no longer necessary. If they are simply hanging on to you, or blocking you, or whatever, then release yourself. Now, if they keep attacking you - collapsing the tactical space - then defense is merited.

These "prove it" moments can turn into a real problem for those who are trying to bring training to others and do so in a way that minimizes the kind of risk inherent in that delivery. 

"We'll settle this the old Navy way: First guy to die loses!"
President Thomas "Tug" Benson, HOT SHOTS! PART DEUX
Martial arts involves a lot of soul searching and it lasts for as long as it lasts. In the old days, you'd go to war or duel others, and if you died, your soul searching was over. Nowadays - war notwithstanding - dueling and dying is overrated. It's making a Warrior Creed "better life" that takes guts. So, we involve ourselves mainly with authenticating and justifying whether or not stuff works, whether we can make it work, and whether it is worth our while to try and do so. 

And when some stubborn fellow, looking from the outside in, steps up and says, "prove it works," they challenge us to re-answer questions we are always out to answer for ourselves: Whether or not it is proven to us. In reality, whether or not we prove to ourselves that, "we work."

This can cause serious trouble and can get us to do things that we would never voluntarily do. The worst part is we do it to ourselves. We wind up falling into this trap - a trap of martial arts, of manhood, of pride, of ego. And we fall for it, because, in some respect, we feel like the very best outcome is one of our own choosing. But that's not always the case. When a friend in college separated the shoulder of a guy who challenged him to a Jujutsu match, I popped it back into place, which was a mistake on my part. The separation was an accident, but with me as the "expert," this poor fellow could have made my life miserable for improperly assisting him had I botched it.

In these "prove it" moments, we should always ask ourselves, is this worth calling an ambulance over? Three things we must always bear in mind: Are you going to get hurt? Are you going to hurt them? And thirdly, are they going to get hurt? We may do everything right, as we have been trained, and someone may still get injured because of the situation or their dumb self. We should be extraordinarily careful under these conditions. In my opinion, there are very few people out there that can actually prove their point and not injure anyone. Injuring someone to prove your point is a non sequitur. Beating them up may shut them up, but they hardly learn a thing except the fact you're a dick. The point is to expose their tactical vulnerabilities: That you could take willful advantage of them and they unable to deny you.  

Answering to "prove it," must be dealt with in very discerning ways. We all decide for ourselves on a case-by-case basis whether or not these kinds of things are really worthwhile and justifiable. Sure, there's a part of us that wants to engage in those "old school" ways because they are cut and dry. Simple, not nuanced, when we hope there will be no question leftover. 

That is, until the next time.

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