Lately I’ve been studying two works by Rory Miller, a highly experienced martial artist and corrections officer. I say ‘study’ because simply reading the material wouldn’t result in any long term benefit. Miller takes decades of experience inside law enforcement and applies it to the civilian world. The information is important enough to warrant the kind of serious focus one might expend in the dojo.
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It is a traditional martial artist’s responsibility to differentiate between the timeless aspects of an art and the timely. The human body has not changed significantly since the beginning of recorded history. As such, the brilliant individuals that developed effective classical arts should still be heeded carefully. Of course, the tools and environment in which man lives has been changing constantly. Therefore, it requires an adaptive mindset to adjust and improve with the times.
Think of it this way – gunpowder may be old, but efficient and concealable hand guns certainly are not. Furthermore, law enforcement ‘back in the day’ was often as complex as chopping off a limb or tossing someone in a dungeon for X amount of years. Nowadays, law enforcement is a little more subtle.
Training and Teaching with the Law in Mind
It’s often said (accurately) that martial arts training should consist of simple, repeatable tactics that can work under high levels of stress. As such, clouding the mind with complicated thoughts of lawsuits and use-of-force specifics may end up leading to tragedy. On the other hand, in the modern world even the most obvious cases of self defense can lead to extensive jail time, loss of job, and utter disaster for individuals and families.
It turns out martial arts for life protection is a little more complicated than we all would hope.
Even more thought provoking than training with the law in mind is teaching with the law in mind. After all, instructors only see their students for a few hours each week. Is it up to the sensei to focus on technique and leave the law study outside the dojo? Is it even ethical to try to define the moral line where self defense should be used as opposed to staying hands off for legal purposes?
Addressing Tough Force Questions
Balancing the law and effective self defense can be extremely difficult. Most of the time martial artists have to come to a personal conclusion about when and where they will use force, and to what extent (control, pain, damage, death). Unfortunately, coming to a personal conclusion is not necessarily the same as coming to an informed conclusion. That’s where Rory Miller comes in. He provides a foundation of information that helps demystify legal factors of force and gives the reader tools to quickly navigate murky situations, even when the best possible outcome is the death of another human.
These two books, “Force Decisions” and “Scaling Force“, are not necessarily a pair. By that I mean they can be read separately with no sense of lacking. However, I found reading them in close succession to be informative and useful.
“Force Decisions” is set up in the following manner:
* Training – Explaining how police officers are trained and what they are taught when it comes to force on the job.
* Checks and Balances – Describing what happens to an officer if his/her behavior is called into question.
* Experience – Exploring how on-the-job incidences come to inform and enhance an officer’s ability to use appropriate force.
* About You – Explaining how to take the lessons from law enforcement and apply them to citizen life.
Throughout the book the author provides a series of ‘hard truths’ which help readers understand the conundrums they may encounter when thinking about force seriously.
“Scaling Force” is more focused yet also more extensive. In “Force Decisions” Rory Miller touches upon the levels of force officers have at their disposal and the circumstances in which they might use it. “Scaling Force” takes that concept of a force continuum and explores each and every phase in detail, adding the thoughts and experiences of Lawrence Kane as well.
“Scaling Force” is set up in the following manner:
* Intro to Violence – Describing common scenarios and mental states in which violence occurs.
* Level 1 Presence – Using authority, body language, etc to de-escalate and control.
* Level 2 Voice – Using tone, volume, etc to dominate or dictate a conversation.
* Level 3 Touch – Using non-damaging physical contact to calm, direct, or distract.
* Level 4 Control – Using technique to restrain or control a violent situation.
* Level 5 Less Lethal – Using strikes, bone breaks, sprains, etc to eliminate a violent threat.
* Level 6 Lethal – Using lethal force to eliminate a deadly threat.
One of the most important concepts stressed in the book is the lack of clarity or linearity in which the force continuum is used. Activating the right level at the right moment is a combination of situational awareness, training, and wisdom (ie knowledge applied in real life to optimal effect). If that sounds difficult, trust that it is. One might be tempted to forget all this and just go with the old saying: ‘I’d rather be judged by twelve than buried by six’…but with resources available like these books relying solely on that mindset is lazy rather than courageous.
Most of the time I like to keep my posts practical and useful, but sometimes you have to swing for the fences and ask the big questions. There aren't too many bigger than this:
Who are the most substantial influencers in the martial arts universe; the movers and shakers that, without them, the martial landscape would be much different today?
The big disclaimer for this video is that it is a highly subjective topic. There is no possible way my list could be considered definitive. In fact, in a few years I might even disagree with myself! Nevertheless, it is a fun experiment trying to appreciate the real roots of our collective martial culture.
Is your brain churning already in regards to whom you might include on "The Top Ten Most Influential Martial Artists of ALL TIME"? Well, let's find out if you and I agree or disagree. To the list!
If the video doesn't pop up when you click it, just visit the youtube page here.
I really hope you enjoyed watching this little romp through history and present day development. If you feel that your style or system was excluded unfairly I do apologize – there were so many to consider and so few slots available. If it makes you feel any better, I didn't even include the founder of my own style. So I at least ATTEMPTED some objectivity.
When you stop for a moment and really consider the lasting impact of individuals like this it makes you appreciate the complexity of martial development. Without the efforts of just a handful of special people what we know and accept today as martial arts could be completely different.
Consider now the seriousness of your training and your value in preserving martial culture for generations to come. Who might bloggers include on a list like this 100 years from now when they sit down to write on their futuristic brain-implant-computers? Will you be on their list? .
One day a student saw his Sensei punching a wooden post that had been thrust into the ground. The student inquired: "Sensei, what is it you're punching?"
The student walked over and began striking the board gingerly. He had noticed months earlier that his instructor's hands were rough around the knuckles and that his punching power was far greater than his slight frame belied. Could this simple board be the key to his power? The student had to wonder.
"Now I want you to practice on this slowly and lightly at first. In time we'll increase the impact, but I must be certain you're technique is correct."
For a month the student struck the board deligently, feeling it bend and snap back into place. He was growing more comfortable all the time. Sadly his trip to visit his Sensei was brief and soon he flew back to his home town. Motivated and confident, the student set out to construct his own makiwara. His Sensei had given him a few tips on construction, so he felt ready.
Wandering the aisles of the local hardware store, the student noticed a similar looking board in both length and width. However, next to it was a sturdy and thick piece of oak. Certainly, the student concluded, that if the thin board had succesfully developed his Sensei's striking power that a thicker and more durable board would elicit even better results!
He bought the thick oak and planted it firmly in his backyard. Later, finding the outdoor makiwara a bit inconvenient, he decided to secure a thin foam pad to his concrete basement walls and strike that instead.
Unfortunately the student's Sensei never visited his home dojo and failed to inquire about the specifics of his makiwara practice. Perhaps such an intervention could have helped avoid the severe damage and arthritis the student would experience in later years.
More is a Tempting Proposition
The previous story is entirely fictional, however it might as well be true considering the amount of martial artists who have suffered in a similar way. Makiwara training is not inherently dangerous and can be executed safely. However, it is easily abused for the sake of quicker or more significant short term results.
The fictional student saw what his instructor had done and came to a natural conclusion that if he were to do more/harder/longer he would experience better results. This is a tempting mindset but can be very dangerous.
The classical martial arts were developed over decades (sometimes centuries) of careful analysis and adjustment. As times changed so did the specific needs of practitioners, so the arts continued to grow and evolve. Good classical arts, ones that helped practitioners defend themselves without damaging them in the process, eventually developed. Unfortunately, no matter how far back in time you look, the struggle of patience vs results and ego has always existed and tugged on exponents.
More Examples of More
Excessive makiwara training isn't the only way we as practitioners can upset proper training balance. Consider the following hypothetical scenarios:
- A teacher decides to enlogate stances so as to develop the leg muscles of students. The next generation decides that if long stances are good, even longer stances must be better. So long in fact that perhaps each student's belt should touch the ground when settling into stance.
- A student notices a fine flow that his teacher executes during freestyle practice. The student decides that flowing technique is clearly the best and sets out to eliminate all hard, impactful and linear technique.
- A practitioner attends a seminar with a known vital point fighting expert. Amazed by the effectiveness of the vital point techniques, he shifts his entire study and marketing efforts to the propogation of vital points. He decides that there must be even more to it and creates a tangled web of fact and fiction surrounding the "energy" of the arts.
- A skilled kata exponent discovers the existence of tuite and the reailty that kata can contain more than just striking. She then decides that the true application of each kata is an elaborate series of joint locks and grappling maneuvers and focuses purely on these ideas.
- After a few years of study a student realizes that his teacher has studied both a hard Japanese art and a modern style of boxing. He decides that since cross training two styles is beneficial he would study five styles, combine them, and name his own art.
These are fictional situations like the story told above, but some of them may sound familiar and ring true to your experience.
Awareness as the Solution
The trick to managing "more" is realizing that it can exist in your school and in between your ears. It has the power to affect any of us (myself included). When coming up through the ranks of Okinawa Kenpo, I was inundated with a wide variety of empty hand and kobudo kata. At certain points I distinctly remember focusing on the next set of kata I needed for testing to the exclusion of all other matters. In order to progress through kyu ranks and acquire the more "advanced" kata I fell victim to "more".
Eventually I realized what I was doing and was able to pull myself out of that collector's cycle. Even now I frequently ask myself: Where is my focus? Have I become too obsessed with a single aspect of training?
More vs Specialization
An important distinction is that "more" is not the same thing as training deligently or finding a specialty. For example, if a teacher were to decide that body conditioning was important to her and thus her students, it's logical and understandable for her to incorporate frequent conditioning drills. But if she obsesses over drills and methods that sacrifice mobility, technique, and even personal health all for the sake of increasing body hardness then she would have committed an error of disharmony in training.
When observing your art and your methods of training it's important to consider both diminishing returns and off-balance practice methods. Sometimes in your established art you'll come to notice things that help you early on but eventually become a hinderance. At those times you can explore ways to improve your technique without forgetting the value those initial methods brought.
A teacher's job is even harder, as the temptation to change things can be strong. Well meaning instructors often wish to increase the speed of student development or cut to the "no nonsense, nitty gritty harcore stuff" that took them years to figure out. Of course, they are unwittingly discarding things of high value that can ultimately result in not just a well balanced martial artist, but a deligent and humble person as well.
Good classical training is diverse and not readily understood at a glance. It challenges each student to obey faithfully and keep the system true to its roots while at the same time thinking independently and finding balance. Such a mental and physical struggle as in one of the most subtle yet lasting benefits of the old ways.