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Iain Abernethy
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Martial Mistakes by Rory Miller

Rory Miller’s blog has to be one of best out there. I love the way he can clearly and succinctly communicate the realties of self-protection. He recently wrote a post called “Martial Mistakes” which beautifully sums up many of the issues we find ourselves repeatedly returning to here.

The link to the post is here and you should read the entire thing:

http://chirontraining.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/martial-mistakes.html

There were a couple of things that stood out as they have relevance to a number of our recent discussions.

The first one I want to highlight is Rory’s description of how martial artists frequently fail to get the difference between “duelling” and actual violence:

Rory Miller wrote:
The duelling paradigm.  Other than for fun or sport or balancing things within a social group, people don't square off.  Because it's dumb.  If you had to take out the biggest, scariest martial athlete you can imagine, how would you do it?  Exactly.  From behind with a weapon.  And maybe friends.

This has a lot of implications for MA/SD.  The paradigm sets you up to expect distance, time and warning, none of which will exist unless you are monkey dancing.  People who are successful at duelling or sparring believe (sometimes, I hope rarely) that the skills will transfer to ambush survival...and they don't.

That should sound very familiar to regular readers and contributors. There are those who only have experience of “dojo duelling” / competitive combat so they wrongly extrapolate that the physical side of self-protection must be the same or similar. Because they have no other frame of reference, trying to convince them that there are different types of violence – such that the solution for one type can be found desperately wanting when applied to another type – is often frustratingly difficult.

Here is another of Rory’s observations that we karate types will be particularly interested in:

Rory Miller wrote:
When people don't have a reality check they have this really stupid tendency to make up a reality check.  'Make up' and 'reality' rarely belong in the same thought.  I almost always pick on karate for this.  When I look at their kata and kihon, they have possibly the best body mechanics for infighting that I've seen... then they choose to test it at sparring range, where it sucks.  Or, worse, point contact range where it sucks AND it screws up everybody's sense of distance and time.


This paragraph is part of a wider observation with regards to “Bad Metrics”, but this extract really struck a cord with me as it gets to the heart of kata and the problems we have if people fail to grasp that kata were created to deal with close-in civilian conflict. It is why I coined the term “Kata-Based-Sparring” to differentiate between close-range live drills with relevance to the kata and physical self-defence, and long range “competition style sparring” where the methodology of kata does not apply.

These are very important issues and they are certainly worth repeating, but sometimes I feel like our efforts to get these things across to some is like banging our heads against a brick wall … so it’s nice when someone else says it for us :-)  Especially when that person is someone as experienced as Rory. It’s also worth remembering that Rory is not a karateka of any type. He is however honest and forthright and there are few who can understand and articulate the realities of self-protection as well as he does (read his books and blog!).

Anyhow, I hope this has wetted your appetite and be sure to read the full post. These are important things for us to reflect upon and I look forward to reading what other members of this forum think.

All the best,

Iain

PS The photo above is of Rory pointing a training gun at me as he explaied his thoughts on the use of hand guns and defences against them. This was in Seattle, USA a few years ago at an event where we were both teaching. One of the most enjoyable martial weekends I’ve had! As a side note, about a week later Marc MacYoung, who was also teaching that weekend, sent me a link to a news story of someone being shot in the same area.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Ha, I was at that Crossing the Pond  Martial Xpo, what a great time that was.

I love Rory's stuff. Sadly though, it's still all too common for people to look at it, and think he is speaking against live training, putting down martial sport, or to minimize what he is saying with usual kind of martial arts sectarianism. One of the biggest things i've learned from his seminars is just how much your wordlview and mentality colors the possiblities you can see in terms of martial arts, violence, etc.

I've had a conversation with an MMA person (actual low level competitior) about multiple opponents where he said he figured he could likely take out multiple opponents with chokes...goes to show that not everyone that does live training has a realistic idea of violence.

On the other hand, then you have what he talks about in TMA, complete disconnection from reality in  many places, in many cases people can be doing Kihon, Kata, etc. "correctly" in a mechanical sense but have completely lost the ability to contextualize it at all.

I'm glad there are folks like you, Rory, Kris, Marc etc. making reasoned arguments about training, because i'll tell ya, they don't seem to be the norm at all in the martial arts world! There's a real tendency from all areas of martial arts to try to make a kind of security blanket of it, especially when assumptions are challenged.

I've met and trained with many nice, talented Karateka who I have alot of respect for over the years i've been training, but I have to say it's been a small minority that were interested in looking critically at their training..or were willing to teach to that. Thankfully I stayed hooked up with those people. It sounds pessimistic, but sometimes I wonder if most that do Karate (or other arts for that matter) aren't just interested in a bit of exercise, and feel-good  sense of security, questionable though it may be. Sometimes I wonder if we aren't all in it for that at one tme or another.

R Olson
R Olson's picture

Quote:
These are very important issues and they are certainly worth repeating, but sometimes I feel like our efforts to get these things across to some is like banging our heads against a brick wall … so it’s nice when someone else says it for us

I never realized how bad it was until one day, while teaching, a few experienced practitioners gave me a look of bewilderment or surprise when I suggested that they adjust or change their basic block to fit the situation at hand. 

Kihon is a great tool for body mechanics, but most folks have a lot of difficulty understanding that it's a teaching tool, not the exact, real thing. If we could all fight just using kihon as is, we'd never have to practice anything else, much less need partners.  

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

R Olson wrote:
I never realized how bad it was until one day, while teaching, a few experienced practitioners gave me a look of bewilderment or surprise when I suggested that they adjust or change their basic block to fit the situation at hand.

That’s pretty common and it shows a lack of understanding of both practicality and the fundamentals for our art.

As Funakoshi said, “Always perform kata exactly. Combat is another matter.” When Genwa Nakasone provided his fleshed out “Funakoshi-approved” explanation of that precept he wrote this classic line: “Never be shackled by the rituals of kata, but instead move freely according to your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.”

The past masters totally understood the need to fit the situation at hand, but you’re totally right that many of today’s practitioners see it as something akin to blasphemy.

All the best,

Iain

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Zach Zinn wrote:
Ha, I was at that Crossing the Pond  Martial Xpo, what a great time that was.

Indeed you were! And indeed it was :-)

Zach Zinn wrote:
I love Rory's stuff. Sadly though, it's still all too common for people to look at it, and think he is speaking against live training, putting down martial sport, or to minimize what he is saying with usual kind of martial arts sectarianism.

Absolutely! I did a podcast on that topic because saying something does not work in a given context is not the same as saying it does not work. Sadly some stick to the idea that whatever they practise is the “ultimate solution to all problems”. Reality does not alter to fit people’s opinions though! ;-) You’d think people would acknowledge that the likes of Rory are not speaking from the position of a vested interest in a given form of training, but from hard-won experience.

Podcast link: http://iainabernethy.co.uk/content/context-context-context-podcast

Zach Zinn wrote:
One of the biggest things I’ve learned from his seminars is just how much your wordlview and mentality colors the possibilities you can see in terms of martial arts, violence, etc.

Very true! As the old saying goes, “If all you have is a hammer, then every problem is a nail”

Zach Zinn wrote:
I've had a conversation with an MMA person (actual low level competitor) about multiple opponents where he said he figured he could likely take out multiple opponents with chokes...goes to show that not everyone that does live training has a realistic idea of violence.

I’ve had similar discussions on and off line too. There is a failure to appreciate that what is most efficient in a one-on-one fight can be seriously found wanting for self-protection. It’s also common for people who are heavily invested in “fight training” to mistake self-protection to be the same as a “street fight” i.e. “I can fight with or without rules” whilst never realising that it’s not about “winning the street fight” but keeping yourself safe from harm.

The problem is different, the objective is different, and hence the tactics and choice in techniques are also radically different. It’s also important to note that – as I’ve heard Rory point out – there are rules in real situations in the form of laws. Approach self-protection like a “no rules street fight” and you may win the fight but lose your liberty.

Failing to understand that one-on-one tactics do not fare well in a multiple enemy situation means that a person could also easily find themselves winning the fight with the guy in front, while losing the fight they never knew they were in with the guy behind. Did a podcast on that too :-)

Multiple enemies: http://iainabernethy.co.uk/content/multiple-enemies-podcast

Zach Zinn wrote:
On the other hand, then you have what he talks about in TMA, complete disconnection from reality in  many places, in many cases people can be doing Kihon, Kata, etc. "correctly" in a mechanical sense but have completely lost the ability to contextualize it at all.

Yep! We introduce “artificial success criteria” such as purity of style or some other arbitrary dictate in stead of judging by effect. It becomes 100% “art” with 0% “martial”. Violence get’s “reinvented” to fit training instead of training addressing the reality of things. The art becomes infallible and anyone who dares to suggest otherwise is quickly condemned. Additionally, nothing is adequately tested and context is not understood, which is why I liked Rory’s remark that: “When I look at their kata and kihon, they have possibly the best body mechanics for infighting that I've seen... then they choose to test it at sparring range, where it sucks.”

Zach Zinn wrote:
I've met and trained with many nice, talented Karateka who I have a lot of respect for over the years I’ve been training, but I have to say it's been a small minority that were interested in looking critically at their training

Totally agree with that observation. If people knew they were going to be attacked with 100% certainty then the tendency for “admiring the emperor’s new clothes” would disappear over night. However, we are lucky enough to live in a world were the vast majority can live their lives free from imminent attack. And while that’s obviously great, not having training address the reality of self-defence, and hoping that such inadequate training will ever be tested, is unethical and wilfully delusional.

Zach Zinn wrote:
It sounds pessimistic, but sometimes I wonder if most that do Karate (or other arts for that matter) aren't just interested in a bit of exercise, and feel-good sense of security, questionable though it may be.

One of the great things about the martial arts is that they have so much to offer. I think exercise is very important for mental and physical health and the martial arts are a great vehicle for that. They are also great for a means of socialising and as a form of pure enjoyment. All good stuff in my view! However, the martial arts should both enhance our lives as well as giving us the skills to protect that good life. It’s no good though if instead of seeking what will actually work, we substitute a false sense of security (“fear management”) in its place.

Thanks for the post Zach! You’ve brought out a load of interesting issues there!

All the best,

Iain

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Don't wanna go off topic too bad, but  I thought i'd throw this out there as it's something related on my mind:

As a (compartively new) teacher myself, something I notice is that teaching "self defense" on any level is also about knowing who you are teaching, and kind of finding the places where they are limited and the places where they are less limited, finding out what is possible, and in which directions with a given student.

Often, even very good models assume a kind of standard for what people need to know for self defense, while this is good in a general way, I wonder if a big part of self defense is also a process of the student being able to figure out their own blind spots, i'm not sure it's something that can be done for them either..it certainly wasn't for me - it took other people to point them  out to me, and then I was able to explore them somewhat, and of course for everyone I think it's an ongoing process.

Does that make any sense? I'm beginning to think that other than just having a sort of standard model for self defense, there is also the subtler and much harder to categorize skill of figuring out a students own position in regards to something like self-defense, and working from there.

In that sense, I know from my own experiences one "martial mistake" I have made in the past is the assumption thast competency in self defense has the same metrics for everyone, including myself.

Anyway, one of the things that really made me re examine this kind of assumptions is Rory's "plastic mind" (can't give the best explanation for those reading, but they are a sort of "sparring as if you were someone else") drills, you get to see in a very tangible way how much capabilities are affected by completely non-physical things.

VIC
VIC's picture

It's all so simple to those who have never experienced extremes of violence.They have a cut and dried view of a situation where not only anything can happen to destroy their formalaic view and procedures of combat but very likely will.