Sunday, June 22, 2014

Realistic Training VS Choreographed Movements

Lately there has been a stream of videos popping up on the internet showing realistic violent events,  warning against choreographed martial arts movements. These videos are certainly eye opening for those who have never been in a real altercation, but at the same time they are possibly misleading to how effective martial arts actually is in a real combat situation. Being a person who is an experienced martial artist and has used it in life threatening situations dozens of times throughout the course of my life, I felt it necessary to say a word or two on this topic that might help people understand how to use and train their martial arts effectively.

First let me remind you that the generations before us were not idiots. They lived in a time of continual war against countless odds, which lead to the development of martial arts. Because they were in a warring period, there are many obvious factors that they didn't need to explain, that people today may not be aware of. All of the movements that were passed along basically represent a simple alphabet that we can learn in order to become more literate in a scenario of violence. So all of the movements from every style have proven to be effective or they would not exist today. Whether you are worried about knife counters, spear counters or gun disarms, these movements have all been successful at one point.

Let's use the alphabet as a cross reference for these choreographed movements to develop a better understanding of how to train. If you want to be able to write, the first thing you have to do is memorize the 26 different letters that make up the English language. Do you remember writing over and over again when you were in kindergarten? You did it so many times, that you don't even remember doing it anymore, but it was a crucial part of even being able to read this article. That is the first step to combat. Memorize how to disarm, disable or distract the opponent in the ways that have been proven effective.

But memorizing these letters won't teach you how to write. The next step is you must learn how to form words. In training this means you must make scenarios that practice the movements from different angles, multiple opponents, surprise attacks etc. Then you must utilize grammar which is also a rhythmic pattern that shows you how to move between the moves. The most important part of martial arts is not the movement, but the movement before and after the movement. After you have learned grammar you can go into basic essays, articles, books etc. The whole idea is to teach you how to move freely with the movements that are proven to work. If you attempt to strip letters out of the alphabet, you are not making it more effective, but more ineffective. Of course I will use a different vocabulary than my friends because I have words I am more comfortable with, but all energy uses the same alphabet.

Now let me use another example that may help you put things in perspective. Imagine if you memorized all of the moves on a chessboard. Let's say you memorize every move that Bobby Fisher has done. With the power of the internet, access to these moves are easier than finding good martial arts information. If you memorize all of the great chess moves will you be a chess master? Of course not. If you lose does that mean these moves are ineffective? Also not true. Even by having these proven movements as your aid, you will be crushed by even an amateur chess player.

You can see the problem is not in the movement itself, but in your relationship to the movement. If you play against an opponent, he will not want you to succeed. So you will have to wait and set up the best opportunity to make those moves effective. You can't choose when to use what move. The moment chooses the movement and you need to be paying attention. The more of a vocabulary you have, the more opportunities you will be able to see how to diffuse an attack. This is becoming combat literate. Most people lose fights not because they are untrained, but because they either over or underestimate their opponent.

In the end everything comes down to one human vs. another human. You may have different cars, but it really comes down to the ability of the driver. There are many great martial artist that don't understand the nature or energy of a fight and so they will lose. There are also many great fighters who don't have the patience to learn martial arts and they will not be defeated physically, but mentally.

I could go on and give thousands of examples on this issue, but the truth is actually very simple. You only need effective practice and time. Effective practice means that you have a partner who is continually trying to hit you in a weak point. It doesn't have to be fast at first, but it does have to really try to touch you. The first step is preventing someone from actually contacting you. Then as the movement becomes better you can increase speed, aggressiveness etc. Yet you do not have to go as fast or as hard as you think you do in order to be effective if you have done the movements hundreds of times. If you become injured during practice, you will ultimately become even less effective. You don't always have to drive a car at full speed to know how to drive.

The mind recognizes patterns, just the same way you can recognize what I am writing at the moment. You don't need the alphabet anymore because you can see whole worlds. When you practice a movement, the body saves it in your muscle memory and it will happen automatically as long as you stay alert and relaxed. Claiming a memorized movement doesn't work is like saying the shapes of a letter won't teach you to read.

In Bagua we have two-person patterns that we practice all the time and honestly I wasn't a big fan of them. I have always liked to break the movements up for the realist fights with people of different styles or weapons. However through the years for demonstration purposes and passing it along to the next generation, I've become quiet fluent in these memorized patterns. One day when I was attacked at a night club. I was drinking and it was dark, but as soon as it happened, I parried just like I had done a thousand times with my master. I was just as surprised as the attacker as I knock him unconscious.

Then I came to realize what I had already known, that the mind has a tendency to over analyze situations through the accumulation of fear. If someone is trying to punch you in the face and you continue to block it for 2 hours a day then it will become second nature. The brain doesn't understand the difference between practice and fighting. So make sure that your practice is alive. If you day dream for a minute your partner should jab you in the nose. It doesn't have to be hard, but it has to be there.

Of course the more complex a movement is the longer it has to be done before you can use it effectively. Here is the part that you may not want to hear, but it must be said. How good was your English when you were 5 years old? I'm sure you could say some ideas and express yourself pretty well, but if it was a conversation about politics you would be left clueless. When you were ten years old, you could say and write much more. But the truth is that most people learn their native language for 15 years before they become fluent.  That is 15 years of using your language for most hours of the day. How good do you think your language ability would be if you only spoke 2 hours a day for 3 days a week?

So even if your teacher has 30 years experience and has been in hundreds of fights he will only be able to pass along the seeds of what he has learned. The memorized motions of what helped him avoid danger. Those seeds at first will seem fruitless because they have lacked the experience and nutrients that they need to flourish. It's not that the movement doesn't work. It's that you don't work. Or you haven't learned how to work yet. We live in a society that wants results right away. But it took you years of language to even learn how to complain about the martial arts. Why would you assume that five years of training would make you effective for all situations? Some teachers are better than others and there are many different programs that will enhance your abilities quicker, but nothing and no one can put in the time for you. It is like downloading a program that will change your software after at least a decade of commitment.

So I would suggest that first you make sure your training is like the X-men. If you only know one move, you should be able to do it even if you are hanging upside from a tree. Get comfortable enough that you won't be able to freak out. But your training also has to be fun in order to practice it long enough to be effective. If your goal is to practice martial arts for 50 years because you "might" get in a fight, you will never make it to the next year. Fighting is a very small piece of the pie of endless deliciousness that I call kung fu.

Also if you are ever faced with danger, please go with option number one and run. If you have time to see it coming, you generally have time to flee. But if you don't see it coming, then the only tool you got is muscle memory anyway. Lastly, always be aware of the most important factor among all of these tiny factors. Only God decides life or death. No matter what you know how to do or not do, God is calling all the shots. So always stay prayed up before you go anywhere. Samson killed 1000 people with the jawbone of an ass cause it still wasn't his time. But he was killed from the result of being deceived by a beautiful woman because it was his time. You could spend every day practicing for the ultimate fight  and slip on a banana peel and break your neck. That's just life. So don't go out living with any kind of fear in your heart. Know that you are empowered by the One who created power. Now just enjoy watering all of the fruit in your life. 

1 comment:

Myles MacVane said...

Great article, but a few mistakes: 1. We all learn how to speak before we even start practicing our abc's; 2. Samson may have used the jawbone of an ox, or maybe it was the jawbone of an ass, but it certainly was not the jawbone of an "axe," which is a man-made tool for chopping wood; 3. As I recall the story, Samson wasn't killed by the "assistance of a woman," for she had cut his hair, which gave him his strength, short, which deprived him of his strength, and which led to his enslavement in chains. It was only after the period of time that his hair re-grew to its former length, that he regained his strength and was able to push a part the pillars of the building, which caused it to fall, killing both his oppressors and himself. (In a certain sense, Samson my have been the first Rastafarian, or at least, an inspiration for the belief that adult males should not cut their hair.)