Philosophy. Nothing about survival or self-protection or self-defense or whatever you want to call it is difficult or unnatural. This is exactly the problem we were evolved to solve. Not being a victim is part of our deepest wiring. Mind, body and spirit have all the tools. This is not about forging warriors, this is about rehabilitating predators.
I can corroborate that eight ways from Sunday, as my dad used to say. Talk to any cop or bouncer who has ever had to fight an untrained woman for real and ask if they want to repeat the experience. Read Strong on Defense and look at what the survivors did and the mindset they tapped into.
That's for me. But the students have to hear it too, and further, they have to be told a really ugly truth: Almost all of society is set up to perpetually brainwash them so that they never remember their own power.
The physical part isn't hard. It's breaking that damn social conditioning. Seriously, have you ever seen anyone keep fighting after a cupped-hand slap to the ear? And how long does it take to master that? I've heard of one who kept going after a throat chop. Other strikes are far less reliable, but there is a solid core of 'A' techniques. And even if there wasn't, there are these handy things called "tools". Breaking people is not hard. Our ancestors solved that problem before they were even human.
Rephrase. It's not physically hard. But the social conditioning gets in the way. Almost every officer I've debriefed who got hurt knew exactly what he needed to do, but somehow couldn't make himself act. And that's not even taking into account fear, surprise, or the fact that the bad guy will do his best to psychologically control the victims so they don't fight back.
That is the hard part.
Understanding that most teaching methods work the wrong parts of the brain. Memory, rote, names and labels and techniques mean jack shit in chaos. Technique-based training is the easiest-- for the teacher. And for administrators who need "measurable." But it is possibly the worst possible way to teach people about chaos. Teaching, training, conditioning and play. Four ways to get things into a student's mind and body. Each has a time and place, but each is also useless in other areas.
(And that might be a nice article-- designing drills. Knowing the purpose; knowing which of the four methods are appropriate; checking for pollution e.g. thinking you're using operant conditioning but critiquing turns it into training; and means testing to see if it worked.)
Understanding the problem, obviously. If you don't know attacks, you can't teach SD. Just like you can't teach medicine if you don't know disease and injury. Want to know one of my red flags? If someone shows me what they do and it's clearly based on sparring timing, distance and orientation, then they're just fantasizing.
The partners need training as well. The attacks have to be attacks. You have to be able to project the physical and emotional intensity of grabbing a woman by the throat and slamming her into the wall. Those are the physics she must learn to deal with. That is a taste of the emotional environment in which she will have to deal with those physics. You have a responsibility to be a good bad guy for your partner.
And training tip of the week (or subtle student manipulation, if you want to look at it like that): "You must give your partners good attacks. I know that you're good people and it's hard for you. But if you attack them weak, or slow, or gently, you are literally endangering their lives. Do you want your partner to get hurt because you were so self-conscious you couldn't help her prepare?"
What's subtle about it? The reps of acting ferocious combined with the idea that you are being ferocious for the benefit of someone else will likely also make it easier to slip the leash if you need to for real.
Clear goals. Martial artists try to adapt martial arts to self-defense and usually think of the physical part as just fighting very hard. And fighting has almost nothing to do with it.
Avoidance is best, obviously. Not being chosen as a target, not being isolated if you do get chosen, not allowing yourself to be psychologically controlled. If it goes hands on, well... who would you take out? And how? Shoving down an old lady on a walker and going through her purse? Slamming a drunk tourist's head into the pipe above the urinal? There's almost nothing in the "fight" paradigm for the kinds of attacks that happen. It's a qualitatively different problem. Using the medicine analogy, it's like using a four-week antibiotics regimen for a severed femoral artery. Pre-hospital trauma care is a different skill than fighting disease.
If you know the problem, you can clarify the goals. When it must go hands on, the only sensible options are escape, disable, or control-- and control pretty much only applies to people who have a duty to act and take people into custody. The body mechanics, as well as the mindsets, are very dissimilar between those three. And all are different from fighting. And, for martial artists, that's the second biggest challenge. For most people, the big challenge is getting them to slip the leash and go hands on at all. For martial artists, it's fighting their urge to stand and fight. To get to their preferred distance and orientation and have a duel.
Clarifying the goal, working the body mechanics of escape, for instance, makes the skills pretty easy to get down. But the emotional, social and mental parts are still hard.
Everybody does it. I've done it. You've probably done it too. Even if you haven't done it yourself, you've probably seen it done.
You know what I'm talking about...the dreaded martial arts self defense demonstration.
In case you've just emerged from your hermit's cave and don't have a clue what I'm talking about, I'll describe it for you:
One guy, let's call him "Our Hero", stands facing 2 or more bad guys. The bad guys move in usually with a single a punch, a solitary kick, or an exaggerated grab. In Aikido, 9 times out of 10, it's a karate chop.
Our hero then responds with the three P's: poise, power and precision.
The bad guys usually just stand there like a statue, getting pommeled and beaten until finally the coup de grâce finishes them off. Sometimes they will move in one at a time, but occasionally they'll enter en masse and our hero has to add some balletic turns and spins.
All of this is done in a school auditorium or at a strip mall.
These demonstrations are pre-planned, pre-arranged, and highly choreographed. When we watch pro wrestling we always complain about the lack of realism, calling it fake, but when we watch a self defense demo doing essentially the same durned thing we respond with applause.
Let me just say, I hate this crap. It is unrealistic. It doesn't show the necessity of running and moving. It doesn't bring in the necessary elements of cheating and dirty fighting. Bad guys don't wait their turn. The attack is probably not even going to be coming from the front, or what I call the Full Monty (full frontal attack). Bad guys don't follow our rules and are not interested in etiquette or fair play. Attacks are ambushes. Attacks are sucker punches. Attacks have the element of surprise. Attacks give the tactical advantage to the bad guys. They are unexpected, unprovoked, and unwarranted.
The neat, precise self defense demo may be beautiful to watch, but that's sort of my point...real world violence is anything but. It's ugly. It's messy. It's noisy. It's bloody, chaotic and sweaty.
It's the CSI dissection, done in a clean, germ-free science lab. It's all too sterile.
Watch a real fight, and you'll see what I'm talking about.
My recommendation? Forget these types of demos. Don't include them in your curriculum. Don't even encourage them in your belt/rank testing. Forget rote memory. Let go of the concept of precision. Don't worry about how it looks--focus on whether it works. Do what more and more people are doing, heck, what Bruce Lee recommended way back in the 60s...put on lots and lots of padding and safety equipment and make it real.
Embrace the chaos.
Wes sent me a box of incredibly foul tasting Chinese herbs. No way to tell if they're helping for sure (I'd have to get the same injury again and not take the herbs and compare healing rates) but the PT says he's having trouble keeping up with my progress.
Weird thing with each new exercise-- it takes a moment of concentration the first time I do anything. Like a leg curl. There's a specific place in the back of my knee I had to remind how to move. Or maybe the zombie parts (doc said there was too much damage to replace with my own parts, so I had to use pieces of dead people) needed to get used to taking orders again. Once it was activated, no further problem.
The new repairs are fragile. I'm not supposed to test them. Not even supposed to ride a real bike for another three weeks or try to jog for three more months. That's frustrating, but it makes sense. And the bad things about knees is that you only really find the limits by breaking them. I guess that goes for a lot of things.
Near injury today-- The good leg slipped on the stairs and I reflexively kept myself from falling, by taking all of my falling weight on the bad knee. No pops or snaps or wet ripping noises, but the knee is letting me know it's not happy.
And the surgery is forcing me to rethink some things. Things I've put off thinking about.
Humans have expiration dates. Sometimes I feel like I'm well past mine. But there's some information I want to see spread while I'm still capable of demonstrating it (and can have fun brawling with the people who get it down.) The infighting stuff, mostly. Then the focus will have to switch to mental stuff-- commo, awareness, teaching...
I'm not useless, yet.
On the plus side, I'm getting a lot of writing done. The first draft of "Concepts" is finally finished and out to first readers.
Some stuff coming up that's exciting. Bad time to be injured, but the second iteration of the CRGI Instructor Development Course will be presented in London, Ontario next weekend. A class purely on how to teach emergency skills to adults.
And May 16-24 a 40-hour core dump in Edmonton, Alberta. It's something I've been wanting to do for awhile.
Information on both of those is here:
And in June, I'll be team teaching with Tony Blauer. It will be the first time we've met in person. The Convergent Evolution seminar. Some information is here:
"Here is the April 2015 issue of Police Magazine
Randy the business Sensei will be pleased to see the product placement of the One on One Control Tactics - O3CTlogo in a national publication. Also if you look close you can see a flag for Allegiance Fitness in the back ground. And I'm sure Rory Miller will recognize the Chiron Training weapon retention being demonstrated. #represent"
The shout-out is appreciated. And the CDT program (Chiron Defensive Tactics) is a good jumping-off point to something else.
The weapon retention part is good. I want to say it's the best out there and there's nothing else like it, but that's probably not true anymore. Enough people have been exposed to the idea, and been pleased with it, that it has and will spread. And there's always convergent evolution-- many different ways to get to something that works, and many of the things that work will be very similar.
The thing that's important in my head right now, though, is an aspect of permission. Under what circumstances do people and organizations give themselves permission to change? Refusal to adapt is a death knell. But change, especially organizational change, is hard. ConCom explains why... but there's still a lot of work to do in how to change despite the difficulty.
Incremental improvement, building off of previous foundation is change, but it is very limited. As Dabrowski pointed out (Hat tip to Ann Craig) big personal growth involves a dissolution, a complete destruction and rebuilding of the person you were before. Big growth in a system would require dismantling the system and starting over.
You can get better by continuing to build on your foundation, with diminishing returns, but you have to dismantle them to get paradigm shifting change. And, of course, this level of change is seen as ego or identity destruction and is fought fiercely. ( I know I'm having a good thinking morning when I reheat the coffee four times and keep forgetting to drink it.)
So-- what gave MCSO the internal permission to give us the permission to change our weapon retention? I don't know the absolute answer, but I do know some of the pieces.
- We cared. The people who needed this weren't some abstract "customer" they were people we worked with and cared about. Friends and colleagues. I think this is important personally, but it was true before change was allowed, so it wasn't the key.
- We had a different demographic. Thirty or forty years ago, a big part of officer selection was simply size. (And who you knew.) They wanted big men and that was mostly what they hired. If you're teaching (like many military-based systems) 18-20 year-old men in the best shape of their lives, full of ego and testosterone, you can teach them almost any crap and they will make it work. Times change. In trying to make the profession gender and age neutral, there was a definite shift in physical abilities of the average officer. More importantly, there was a much wider range of physical abilities. You could no longer teach crap and expect a former high school linebacker to rely on strength to make it work. But that's not the reason either, because one of the things a modern bureaucracy requires is slavish lip-service to the patently untrue ideal that "all people are the same."
- The techniques taught at the academy and by my agency simply didn't work. That right there should have been enough... but it wasn't. What they were teaching was measurable: the stereotypical eight-step wristlock takedown to prone cuffing never worked, but it gave you eight easily measurable steps on which to pass or fail a student.
- People got hurt when things didn't work. Again, that should have been reason enough. But it wasn't. Not until we had a year with so many injuries that people got alarmed. Really alarmed, as in the union was looking into it. Understand that injuries came out of a different budget, it was state workman's comp. But lawsuits came out of the agency's budget. ---And another thing. When things are rare, like shootings, it is often easier to categorize failure as a "fluke" rather than entertain the possibility that you are doing things systematically wrong. Lots of people rationalize away problems until it is too late.
- I think this was the key. It was the stupidest, most minor of details. We were teaching the academy-approved weapon retention curriculum for a gun grab from behind-- use your weapon hand to pin the weapon in the holster and turn to your non-weapon side to move the gun out of reach... and realized that the turn gave up the third level of retention for our modern type III holsters. We had not changed or seriously looked at our training methods on this subject since before we switched to semis. What we were teaching was actively wrong for the equipment we carried.
Just one example, and I know it's incomplete. But if you want to break new ground you need to reject old ground. Not out of ego. As a rule you don't change things that work, especially if you're doing it just so you can be in charge.
And there's a method to deconstructing the old practices so that what you build is stronger. It's not, or shouldn't be, just a childish rejection out of pique or spite.
This is already getting too long. Do you or does your organization need to change? If so, what will be required to give that kind of permission?
And the to-do list is somewhere between ambitious and overwhelming. Especially the writing section. And it's imperative to fight the paralysis that comes with having an excess of worthy goals. Things to do, things to do...
So let's make this quick.
Very few things are zero sum games. Outside of artificially imposed stuff (like the rules in a game. There are only sixteen chess pieces per side, only so many pieces of property in Monopoly) the only truly non-zero sums I can think of are space (literally the surface of the earth) and chemical elements, like Fe, iron. And exposed to human creativity, even those can be tweaked. There are only so many acres in Manhattan, but a skyscraper vastly increases the useable acreage by thinking in three dimensions. Money may have been a zero-sum game when we were on the gold or silver standard (although even then, it was never limited to one metal) but it certainly isn't now, and wealth never has been zero-sum.
Power, absolutely is not zero-sum. Increasing your intelligence does not decrease mine. Becoming more creative will not make me less creative. Your reps in the gym do not prevent me from doing my own reps (ooooh, though-- waiting in line for a squat rack is a zero-sum game. Limited resource of a specific object...until you apply human creativity and go outside and lift rocks.)
Power does have the effect of making other people who want to use power to coerce think. Coercion over powerless people has zero consequences. Coercion over powerful people is always risky. And thus evil people want to be surrounded by all the weak people possible. And they will claim that others getting strong is weakening them.
And look at the mechanics of that one very carefully. Because te other side is to claim that weakening the strong somehow, magically, strengthens the weak.
From a conversation with Anna Valdisseri when we talked in Sheffield. (I like the way she thinks, that's one of my highest compliments.) She had a unique way of looking at it. As best I can paraphrase:
Humans live in groups. We're social animals. When we see ourselves as pack animals we know that becoming more powerful as individuals makes the pack stronger. It's better for everyone. When we see ourselves as herd animals, we want all the other members to be weak because it increases our chances. If everyone is weak, the wolf will get someone else.
When something bad happens and hits the news, is your instinct to learn more and train harder so that you have options if it should ever happen around you? I started carrying regularly after the Luby's shooting in Texas because I realized I could not have contributed unarmed. If your instinct is to randomly disempower the people around you when bad things happen, that's a herd mentality.
Actually wrote this three weeks ago but stumbled on an internal monkey brain problem in the middle. Took a while to work it out.
This whole line of thought got launched because Dr. Tammy Yard-McCracken started a dialogue about power dynamics in teaching-- and the can of worms got a whole lot bigger than either of us expected. I really don't know where that project is going. It could be a book or a class or something unexpected. But so far, just in the questions, the collaboration looks promising.
Power isn't an endstate. There are no weak or strong people, just people at different places on a given continuum. And power is not linear. I am stronger than K, but she is smarter and more artistic than I am. R has more money, but J has more skills. Q can access a deep level of viciousness, but W can access an equally deep level of empathy. Power is not a scale but a net of ever-interconnecting methods of affecting the world. And in each strand of the net, you have attributes and skills that both affect the strength.
But in the end, it is about ability to affect the world and, at least equally and maybe more: an ability to have choice in how much the world affects you.
And so when I say "strong" or "weak" in this case, it has nothing to do with where you are on this scale. It has everything to do with which direction you are moving in. Because you are either getting better, or you are getting worse. If you don't get stronger, you will stagnate and get weaker. You can't rest on this. And that "can't' isn't meant as an admonition, but as a simple statement of fact.
If you are getting better, you are strong. Maybe not as strong as you want or you could be. Certainly not the strongest in the world. But the very act of seeking to be better, to be able to affect the world more, is strength.
And, conversely, if you are not striving to be better, you have accepted entropy and you are weak. Doesn't matter if you have the genetics to be a world power lifter. Doesn't matter if you inherited wealth and political power. Doesn't matter what you tell yourself so that you can sleep at night. If you aren't striving to be better you are, by my definition weak. Sorry.
And there's another dynamic here, because power is only a small part of it. You are already powerful. You have a brain bigger than our ancient ancestors. If you have a decent diet you are likely much bigger. You have better communication skills. You have access to information your ancestors could never dream. And your ancestors conquered the world. With half of your gifts, with nothing much beyond rudimentary communication skills and opposable thumbs, your ancestors became the apex predator of this planet. Do you get that? You are fucking mighty.
That is your birthright. That is who you are. And no animal naturally weakens itself. Tigers never starve themselves to look better to other tigers. Snakes don't slither over coals to show their bravery.
So the second dimension is not just power, but comfort with power. If you have a working brain and a decent amount of mobility, anyone on this planet could assassinate anyone else. I may be stronger than K, but she is comfortable enough with the strength and skill that she has that she has no doubt she could make me pay. People who are comfortable with power have to be respected.
There's a huge amount here that Tammy and I are slowly working on-- the ethical element, toxic relationships to power, whether power can be given or must be taken-- a ton of stuff. But I think the bones lie in these two things:
Power is about growth or stagnation.
Comfort with power is required to use it.
The blog is my place for thinking out loud. That was easier when it was the anonymous meanderings of some random jail guard poking at internal stuff. The biggest mystery and challenge in my life right now is the business end. I want to get good at it because I hate being bad at anything. And I must do it without compromising my principles. So far, no problem.
This will be kind of random. I may not publish it (I already have several posts written that I'll never publish-- some too dark, some too personal). I may take each paragraph and expand it into a post. I don't know yet.
In this discussion, there is a cross-over to another project I'm working on. We have all been systematically lied to. There is a belief that is so common it is considered axiomatic, but I believe it started as a deliberate lie with a deliberate purpose:
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."-- Lord Acton (titled, landed, seat in parliament...)
What better way to keep good people powerless than to tell them they will become bad people if they gain power? And it has the effect of a self-fulfilling prophecy because once the edict is taken to heart, only people who are already bad seek power. So we see corrupt people in positions of power and assume that the power made them that way.
It's a lie. A systematic lie woven into the fabric of society for the express purpose of keeping good people from ever being strong enough to challenge those in power. If you believe this (and I did for years, an assumption so deep I never even considered challenging it) you have been brainwashed. And the brainwashing has made you a servant to your enemy.
This is coming up in the discussion. Mac made a comment on the last post that earning a living and getting good enough to teach are both full time endeavors, and that made it hard to do both. The math doesn't work for that. You have to make a living anyway, why does a career at the Sheriff's Office not make it just as hard to do both? When we have arguments we can show to be mathematically false, what are we really arguing for? I think we are driven to preserve our own brainwashing.
And, aside-- I do need to make a living, and I really only had two marketable skills when I came back from Iraq. But money is not how I keep score. I started teaching JJ because there was no one nearby who could play the games I wanted to play at the level I wanted to play them. I was creating my own playmates. My current goal: Weak people annoy me. They whine and complain and play bullshit little political games (and the loud blustery ones, whatever they tell themselves, are in the weak camp as well.) If I can't find enough strong people, it's up to me to make them. And that's probably more than you wanted to know about my inner motivations.
I'm doing everything wrong and it's working.
No advertising. Only social media is FB and that's still a personal page. I don't send out e-mail blasts. For that matter, I just have a few regional e-mail lists and people have to ask to be put on it. I don't list the agencies or special groups I've worked for. For the first three years I charged for a whole weekend what a few others in this field charge per person for a weekend. (Not quite true anymore-- it would be for the cost of about two people.) And there are very few openings left on my schedule this year, and it was almost full before I even opened it...
That implies there are some universal principles that work, that go deeper than just common business wisdom. Not sure what they are, but I have a pretty good idea what works for me.
Training in the martial arts can be a serious business.
- Physical Fitness
- Personal Discipline
- Improved Concentration
- Self Defence
Listing the most common reasons why adults and children join or study a martial art, they all appear to be serious. Despite all the rewards that they bring, training in the martial arts can be difficult, demanding, frustrating and even painful. The rewards themselves are bestowed so incrementally that they are often unnoticed by the practitioner and this can have a detrimental effect on motivation.
The crux of the matter is that if we aren’t enjoying the training then it is hard to stay motivated to continue. The destination will not be reached if the route isn’t travelled, and the act of travelling itself has to be fun. It really is the journey and not the destination that is important.
Skill development requires repetition. It’s easy for that to become routine and boring and I am sure that like many other instructors I have lost students in the past because I failed to utilise enough variety to disguise that repetition in ways that maintained the sense of excitement and fun.
We expect training to stretch us, to be demanding, to be tiring. Even when it is all those things we should also normally expect to leave training with a smile on our face, but not the smile of someone who feels pleased through the self -denial of a diet or having eaten something ‘healthy’ rather than a treat they wanted. We should leave with the smile of a person that has had fun, because no matter how worthy the ‘end goals’ it is the enjoyment of a class that will draw us back to each new lesson and ensure our progress.
There are many different approaches that can help to keep each lesson fresh and fun:
- training at different speeds
- trying different combinations
- setting different challenges
- playing stimulus games to improve tactile, visual or auditory response time
- applying techniques in different ways
- pairing with different people
- mixing up the order of the class
- identifying and reinforcing strengths.
There are many reasons why I train and teach, there are SMART goals that I have set myself and my students, but the thing that draws me to each class is that I want to enjoy myself and have fun.
The destination keeps changing, but I’m here for the fun of the journey.
It offends me that there are some extraordinary martial arts masters (and master is a word I do not use lightly) who, in their old age, are living in poverty or on the edge. Pioneers in bringing thriving traditional systems to the states or Europe, people who started the entire Reality-Based Self defense movement. And they're living in shitholes, not even surviving on a pension because they were too busy following their passion to create a pension in the first place. It offends me. Maybe you know some of the people I'm talking about, maybe you don't, and maybe you know a few I've never met. But whether you know it or not, no matter what your lineage is, there is probably someone living in a crappy trailer park that you owe a huge debt to.
Part of what bothers me is that in many cases, it was preventable. It shouldn't have happened. A tragedy is when the flaws in the hero of a story spawn an inevitable demise. So it is here, and in almost all cases, the flaw was pride. And I'm subject to it just as much and in exactly the same way.
If you came up through the traditional Japanese arts as I did, you were probably pounded with the antipathy between the samurai class and the merchant class. Are you from that culture or that era? Hell no. But you probably absorbed the ethic that "fighters are above money." It will be compounded if you were raised poor in America, since one of the mechanisms society applies to keep people poor and powerless is to tell them the lies that only bad people make money and that power corrupts. (What better way to keep good people powerless than to tell them that gaining power will turn them into bad people?)
Caught in this belief, many of the best fighters and teachers deliberately work to be failures at the business side to preserve an ethic designed to keep them weak. In doing so, they serve their own enemies and ensure their own defeat.
Fighters are one thing. When you are ready to become a teacher you should be at least a step beyond that. You must be, at minimum, a strategist. Would any good strategist deliberately refuse to learn the way a new battlefield works? Would a good swordsman faced with guns not learn about guns? He would only refuse if he was stupid, or too proud.
And that's the first reframe, and probably the most critical. Use the pride: If the merchants are a lower class, are you going to lose at their game? Hell no. But in order to win, you have to learn the new rules. So what are you? A mere fighter who can't see beyond a single opponent? Or a true strategist?
All alone in the moonlight
I can smile at the old days"from the musical Cats
A friend of mine recently called, and it wasn't long before we started reminiscing about some of our training days back when the world was much younger.
On most Saturday mornings for a several years in the 70s my friends and I would get together and fight. When it was warm we would go to Shelby Park in East Nashville, and if the weather was bad we would train at the gym at Two Rivers Baptist Church just across the river in Donelson.
Everybody fought, mostly full contact.
Some days we would box. Other days we would kickbox. The rules would change from week to week, or even during the same training session. We might allow clinching and grappling, or we might include leg kicks. Sometimes we would just wrestle or do a form of sloppy judo. We might limit the techniques that could be used, so that one guy could only use his hands, while other could only kick. Most of the time our rounds lasted 3 minutes. But we sometimes went long, maybe 5 minutes or so. Other times we would do 1 minute rounds or even 30 second rounds. Breaks might last a minute, but usually we only rested for 15 to 30 seconds between rounds. Occasionally we would add rules that made us do active resting, so it was not uncommon to do jumping jacks or push ups or crunches between rounds.
We made up scenario training that we thought was fun, but was actually fairly cutting edge and ahead of its time. For example "Freshman" fighting was where one guy stayed in the middle and fought fresh, rested opponents every minute or so. We also would put one guy in a corner and have him fight his way out against two or three others who were intent on keeping him wedged in.
We did "Ring of Fire" where one guy was in the middle of a circle and attackers would move in one by one at a signal unbeknownst to the victim. We also did "You and Whose Army" where a guy would have to face a line of attackers who came in like the bull on the old Schlitz Malt Liquor ads.
In all of the rounds, hundreds of rounds, countless rounds that we fought we had one special rule: If someone trips, slips and falls, the fight did not stop. In fact, the fighting merely intensified. This, to us, simulated a real street fight where there were no rules and no refs.
Near the end of every training session we would usually do some weapons work. This might be stick fighting, knife fighting with knives made from wood, staff fighting or sword fighting using bokken we bought from an import shop at 100 Oaks Mall. Sometimes we would go stick versus knife, or staff versus stick.
We always finished with specific self-defense scenario training that focused on realistic attacks. We hated prearranged, choreographed training, but we did design certain standard attack/response scenarios that we believed were likely to occur. We figured we needed to sear these techniques into our brains and bodies so that they became automatic responses. We did not really know the term "muscle memory," but we understood the concept and capitalized on the process.
Our training gear was limited. This was due to two factors: We were poor, and we were stupid. We usually had boxing gloves, and most of us were able to get shin guards from a local sporting goods store that was located in downtown Nashville near the high school where I had attended, Hume Fogg Technical.
We bought lacrosse gloves which we used for weapons training, and some of us had football padding. We usually had at least two sets of head gear, wiping out the other guys sweat, but even without the safety gear we fought anyway.
What I loved was the fact that although we trained hard we rarely got mad at each other. We shook hands before and after each match up. We respected each other and gave good, objective feedback at the end of each training session. In fact, we might even interrupt a match if we saw something particular noteworthy. If someone brought in something new that they stole from a book, or if someone stumbled on a cool, effective technique, we would all work on that skill and troubleshoot how to incorporate it into various scenarios.
Training indoors was good, but what we really dug was fighting outside. At Shelby Park there were flat areas, uneven woodsy areas, and plenty of hills. I remember one session where we fought on the side of a particularly steep hill. It was exhausting but really a ton of fun. There was a Cedar log clubhouse in the park back in those days, and if there was no church or family picnic going on, we would go inside and fight on the stairs or in the tight confines of the corners of the rooms.
We were lucky. We rarely got hurt. Sure, we had bloody noses and busted lips. Sometimes a jammed finger or badly bruised thighs or sharp, painful shin impact. But we would just follow standard coaching procedure and "walk it off." It was not uncommon to see somebody with a cone of tissue stuffed into a bleeding nostril.
Of all the training I've done over almost five decades of martial arts and combatives training, I must say these were my favorite training experiences.
I miss getting up and driving to go over and get my buddies.
I miss warming up and stretching and doing a little roadwork to loosen the muscles.
I miss the camaraderie and the joking and the playful teasing when we screwed up. I miss touching gloves before the violence started.
I miss stealing ice from the church kitchen to make a compress for a sprained elbow. I miss insisting on two guys shaking hands when things were starting to get heated up and tempers were starting to get out of control.
I miss coming home with a nice mouse on my cheek or the beginnings of a black eye.
I do not really miss getting kicked in the nuts or getting hit on the knuckle with stick.
If doing is learning, then I learned a LOT. Of all of the great seminars I've participated in, with some of the world's leading instructors, I must say that I probably learned more from just fighting with my pals.