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Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture
Telegraphing and self defense

Thought i'd play devil's advocate on this after seeing Iain's most recent video on telegraphing. I agree with the video and think it makes some great points, however, I think there are other dimensions of "tells" that can be neglected in self defense.

In the main I agree that the kind of "telegraphing" that martial artists often worry about has little to do with self defense, however, I believe assigning tells no importance at all mayb be throwing the baby out with the bathwater a little. This is of course just based on my own experience, but here goes:

While I love and agree with the "martial map" concept, on the subject of 'tells', I think seeing them as discretely oppositional categories might be missing some importance nuances. There are places where self-defense, martial arts, and combat sport overlap and inform one another, and in this case, there are some reason to care about the overall body mechanics of "tells" in self defense. A lack of tells is not just about the kind of "chess game" reading and extended timing that goes on in sport sparring, it is also about explosiveness, and an ability to immediately trip up an opponents OODA loop, or lack thereof.

Unlike long range sport sparring, how you get off on someone initially matters quite a bit in self defense, and a lot of this depends on how you;ve been taught to move. We all know that in self-defense, finding oneself in a significantly inferior position right off the bat is a much worse proposition than being able to right the situation quickly, as the longer the encounter goes with us doing anything '"defensive", the worse off we are. resonably subtle differences such has how you use your shoulders, how you use your hips, and how directly you move forward can make a huge difference here, in my experience. it may not be quite the same animal as a "tell" in sparring, but I would argue the ability to have tight enough technique to overwhelm in some of the ways Iain talks about is in fact, a kind of work on "tells". 

For example, if you are a Shorin stylist and make heavy use of hip-shifting (not all systems do), the -way- in which you do it will determine it's effectiveness as you jump into a chaotic situation. If you have been trained to pull back and load punches, you will be tactile-ly (is that a word lol), and visually "behind" someone who is coming at you with equal intensity.

If you want to play with this, it can be easily drilled: Put on body armor or gloves, decide on which targets you will allow (going all out with this kind of drill might need headgear), decide on hand positions to start from - fence, "the jack benny" etc.stand close enough that no one needs to step in and *go* the way you would for self defense training, stop when one person establishes a fairly dominant position, if you want to drill this concept. I have found that people who have worked on the subtleties of attacking more efficiently than the other person (position of centerline, hikite, head position, etc.) can comes out on top,  due in part to a lack of visual and tactile "tells" in a small space of secoinds...or at least, they are what I would consider tells..."gaps" in movement and technique that gaurantee the other person is going be able to "pile on" his stuff faster than you if you have not addressed them. I have found the same thing to be true in self defense, the first few seconds of most exchanges tend to matter greatly. Someone who can truly attack effectively and prevent someone from getting to the "decide" bit of the OODA loop is in a better position than someone who cannot.

One could argue that these are not  "tells" in the sense of combat sport, but if these things are not tells  ( for example lack of indepdent arm movement, efficiency or lack thereof in hiklite or hip movement, and also tactile "tells" such as overusing the shoulders or struggling when in grappling contact), they are certainly somewhat important. So my question is, if things like this are not tells, what category do they belong in?

To be clear, I am addressing a set of physical skills that make it more difficult for a person to stop your attack (using both visual and tactile cues), and make you chances of overwhelming someone better. Certainly, I do not think they are everything, but I am convinced they matter in self defense enough to not be thrown out with the bathwater.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Zach Zinn wrote:
A lack of tells is not just about the kind of "chess game" reading and extended timing that goes on in sport sparring, it is also about explosiveness, and an ability to immediately trip up an opponents OODA loop, or lack thereof.

I believe the opposite. What most would label as a “tell” can increase explosiveness massively. As human beings, our bodies are built to throw. No species can throw as powerfully as us. Letting the muscles stretch a little before contracting will result in the most explosive motion. This “plyometric” action is faster and more explosive, but it is a little bigger. This can be an issue for consensual violence (due to the opponent having the space and time to react), but is not for non-consensual violence for the reasons outlined in the video:

https://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/content/thoughts-telegraphing-strikes

We only need look at how pro-fighters seek to knock each other out. When engaged in the “duelling phase” the movements are much tighter. When they enter the final “knockout phase” they open up a little – utilising the most natural way our bodies generate explosive force – because that is the most effective way to move at that time. For self-defence, when it has got physical, we are in the “knockout phase” from the get-go. It makes every punch count and it overwhelms the enemy.

Zach Zinn wrote:
Unlike long range sport sparring, how you get off on someone initially matters quite a bit in self defense, and a lot of this depends on how you;ve been taught to move.

It does, but that would be the pre-emptive shot and I was clear in the video that telegraphing does matter there (and deception too). On that we agree.

When it’s “kicked off”, we need to move in a way that gives maximum impact and maximum rate of fire. Motion that most efficiently achieves those goals is what we need at that point … and that will include things that could be labelled as “tells” if the same motion was used at a distance in a consensual exchange.

Zach Zinn wrote:
”gaps" in movement and technique that gaurantee the other person is going be able to "pile on" his stuff faster than you if you have not addressed them.

I’m not talking about gaps. There will be no gaps. I’m talking about motion that delivers the highest rate of fire. I was very clear on that (see 2:31 onward in the video).

The type of motion I mean will be way faster than the “stunted” motion someone may employ to avoid tells (i.e. we make efficient use of the hips, and the repeated stretching and contraction of the muscles). The techniques will overlap so even while one is finishing the next is already on the way. We are talking about relentless, explosive motion with multiple hits every second. It’s totally fluid too. No gaps at all.

Zach Zinn wrote:
To be clear, I am addressing a set of physical skills that make it more difficult for a person to stop your attack (using both visual and tactile cues), and make you chances of overwhelming someone better. Certainly, I do not think they are everything, but I am convinced they matter in self defense enough to not be thrown out with the bathwater.

We are probably talking at crossed purposes. In distance fighting, movement is often made smaller to avoid giving any cues. Using the same motion in close-range non-consensual is a bad idea because it is slower and weaker.

When we seek to maximise power and rate of fire, we need to rapidly transfer bodyweight and efficiently overlap the techniques. Viewed through the wrong lens, it may look like the motion includes “tells” ... but no one will doubt the increased speed and power. Because the enemy has not got the time or distance to react, it is inappropriate to reduce the rate of fire and power over a misplaced concern about tells. It’s antithetical to our aim.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the OODA loop model when it comes to interpersonal combat. It works well for fighter pilots (what it was designed for), but I feel it’s an overly complex way to address the issue. I get the point though and agree with the need to overwhelm the enemy. What I’m talking about is a type of motion that is perfect for achieving that. The same motion would not be idea for consensual fighting at a distance, but it is perfect for what it is designed for.

“Good technique” should be the same as “effective technique”. What is most effective in one context, may not be most effective in another context. What is “good” changes. Many martial artists miss this vial point and assume one “good” is a universal “good”.

For long-range consensual fighting “good technique” will have no tells. For close-range, non-consensual violence we need motion that permits the fastest possible delivery of the hardest possible shots.

“Good technique” for long-range consensual fighting will not be good in close-range, non-consensual violence because it is slower and weaker.

“Good technique” for close-range, non-consensual violence will not be good in long-range consensual fighting because, what was permitting he most explosive and rapid contractions, will now become a “tell”.

You seem to think I advocating something that would slow you down or introduce gaps? I’m advocating the opposite. The motion will be hit harder, much faster and much more fluidly. As I say, I think we are talking at crossed purposes. I nevertheless, hope that adds a little clarity with regards to my thinking and objectives.

All the best,

Iain

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Naw, I don't think you're advocating anything like that Iain, just thoughit it would be an intersting conversation. I feel that "tells" do in fact matter in self defense, we are probably pretty much in agreement on most of where they matter - pre emptively, but I guess I conceptualize it more as the same concept manifesting in different categories, i.e, sport and self defense, rather than a concept wihich mostly doesn't matter in self defense - which seemed to me the gist of the video.  Of course once contact is made and we are "going" visual tells become unimportant, for the reasons you mention,  the visual field itself becomes far less important at closer range.

I like the OODA loop concept, I have no idea if it is being used correctly in a martial arts context, but  taking away someone's ability to make decisions seems key to me, and though the window is small in self defense for visual cues to matter, I feel it is an important window, so to speak.

Quote:
The type of motion I mean will be way faster than the “stunted” motion someone may employ to avoid tells (i.e. we make efficient use of the hips, and the repeated stretching and contraction of the muscles). The techniques will overlap so even while one is finishing the next is already on the way. We are talking about relentless, explosive motion with multiple hits every second. It’s totally fluid too. No gaps at all.

Hmm, it seems to me that different arts emphasize different things in this department, with some commonalities of course. For instance, styles like Wing Chun and Goju employ different stance mechanics and centerline postion than Shurite styles, even in the thick of it.. probably for the reasons we are talking about here, I do not think these are only pre emptive tendencies either.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Zach,

Zach Zinn wrote:
I like the OODA loop concept, I have no idea if it is being used correctly in a martial arts context, but  taking away someone's ability to make decisions seems key to me …

Totally agree that taking away the ability to think is key, but I don’t think the OODA loop model is a good way of explaining those issues for interpersonal conflict.

I think is adds in needless complication and potential confusion, for which we gain little. The loop reflects a cognitive process (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) that I don’t recognise as actually being in play during conflict.  As I say, I get it for fighter pilots. I’m not so sure it is a good model for personal combat because the model infers a chain of events, and a cognitive process, that does not really apply.

We don’t dispassionately observe because we will be bombarded with information; a great deal of which will be tactical and not visual too. Because the OODA loop was designed for fighter pilots it does not cover the tactile. “Observe”, in its everyday usage, infers dispassionately seeing something of note. I therefore think it’s not an ideal word to use due to the barrage of information, much of it nonvisual, that we will be experiencing. We are also experiencing all that information while we are Orientating and Acting. It’s not done as precursor.

You could argue there are many overlapping loops at play which would see all parts happening in any given moment, but the fact the OODA loop model focuses on one loop makes it problematic again. It does infer a chain of events that does not occur in the way described. It’s all mushed together.

The “decide” bit is also problematic because that infers a conscious decision. We human being don’t think well in such situations; and even if we did, we would not have the time to think it though and then make a decision. It’s far more likely that we react to a stimulus … and with prior training we would seek to make these unconscious reactions effective and tactically sound (the goal of training being to impart good habits). I feel talk of a loop, that also involves decision making, takes away from the incredible speed with which these things happen. Lots of other issues too. It’s not a model I care for as a result.

I know I’m in a minority here though because the OODA loop is now firmly part of modern self-defence and martial arts parlance. But I’m “out of the loop” on that (see what I did there :-).

Zach Zinn wrote:
… and though the window is small in self defense for visual cues to matter, I feel it is an important window, so to speak. .

I totally agree when it comes to pre-emption. But even then we will be using dialogue and deception. You can use language to mask lining the enemy up, and to make them believe no such shot is coming. So, there are wider tactical consideration that will help ensure that the initial shot lands unexpectedly. It’s not just avoiding physical “tells”. Also, what could be a “tell” will not be if effectively masked with dialogue i.e. moving my hand out to the side for a slap on the “why” of the “why can’t we talk about this?” action trigger in a way that mirrors normal body language.

It also true that the mechanics of power generation vary from system to system. I think the point of convergence would be the shared objective to hit as hard and as fast as possible once beyond pre-emption. I think it is also an empirical given that neither we nor the enemy have the distance or time to react to any subtle “tells” when it has all kicked off. Prioritising the elimination of “tells” over speed and power would therefore seem to be an error in that context; irrespective of the method we feel best delivers that speed and power. If we can get more power and more speed, then we should take it.

It does not seem like we are far apart on this topic. At most, it seems we are falling on different sides of the razor edge of some nuanced points. Interesting though! The thread is being out plenty of interesting stuff though and I’m grateful for that. Thank you!

All the best,

Iain

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Quote:
I think is adds in needless complication and potential confusion, for which we gain little. The loop reflects a cognitive process (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) that I don’t recognise as actually being in play during conflict.  As I say, I get it for fighter pilots. I’m not so sure it is a good model for personal combat because the model infers a chain of events, and a cognitive process, that does not really apply.

Victims of violence may not be involved in a detailed cognitive process, but I would argue that violent actors do involve themselves in such a process, at least prior to exeuting it. Many people familiar with applying non-consensual violence most definitely use a "script" of sorts, and blowing up the script is (from my point of view) a big part of the meat and potatoes of self defense...and that includes de escalation, etc. So, in that regard the OODA loop may be an imprecise analogy, but it fits what we are trying to do better than any other easy, portable concept i've come into contact with. Do you have an alternate suggestion?

Quote:
It also true that the mechanics of power generation vary from system to system. I think the point of convergence would be the shared objective to hit as hard and as fast as possible once beyond pre-emption. I think it is also an empirical given that neither we nor the enemy have the distance or time to react to any subtle “tells” when it has all kicked off. Prioritising the elimination of “tells” over speed and power would therefore seem to be an error in that context; irrespective of the method we feel best delivers that speed and power. If we can get more power and more speed, then we should take it.

Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I see that your definition of the word "tell" is simply more specific than mine, we are pretty much on the same page.

Quote:
I totally agree when it comes to pre-emption. But even then we will be using dialogue and deception.

See, I definitely consider learning deception (and keep in mind my main teacher is Kris, so that may reflect my biases) to be, among other things, an absence of "tells" that can mess up pre emption, I don't make a real disctinction there, but I also haven't done sport Karate in 20 years, so it might be that I am simply neglecting it's meaning there.

Quote:
It does not seem like we are far apart on this topic. At most, it seems we are falling on different sides of the razor edge of some nuanced points. Interesting though! The thread is being out plenty of interesting stuff though and I’m grateful for that. Thank you!

Same here, I always get alot out of these conversations, I think this one even gave me some ideas for drills!

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Zach,

Zach Zinn wrote:
So, in that regard the OODA loop may be an imprecise analogy, but it fits what we are trying to do better than any other easy, portable concept i've come into contact with. Do you have an alternate suggestion?

My view is that the OODA loop model (when applied to interpersonal conflict) is something we need to explain in order to “explain” things most people already understand. As discussed, it is my view that is not a good explanation. Additionally, I don’t think any such model is necessary. I don’t think we need a model to communicate the ideas of overwhelming, distracting, impact having a discombobulating effect, etc. These are not complex concepts and hence I don’t feel we need to add in another layer and then spend time explaining the “explanation”. I’ve therefore never given any thought to an alternative to OODA because I don’t think one is needed. There are some alternatives out there, but I’ve never seen the need to adopt one.

Zach Zinn wrote:
Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I see that your definition of the word "tell" is simply more specific than mine, we are pretty much on the same page.

That does seem to be the case. I was referring exclusively to the subtle motions that could lead to an action being countered when two martial artists of the same style duel at a distance. People therefore seek to eliminate those motions (quite rightly) in that context … BUT those same motions can increase the rate of fire and power in the alternative context of civilian self-protection where they will not “tell” the enemy a technique is coming primarily due to the lack of time and distance.

Zach Zinn wrote:
See, I definitely consider learning deception (and keep in mind my main teacher is Kris, so that may reflect my biases) to be, among other things, an absence of "tells" that can mess up pre emption, I don't make a real distinction there, but I also haven't done sport Karate in 20 years, so it might be that I am simply neglecting it's meaning there.

I can see how a lack of effective deception can be described a “tell” in that context. You’re right that I was using the word in the way it is used in combat sports though.  

Thanks for this!

All the best,

Iain