Most traditional martial artists arrive at a point in their training when they realize violence “ain’t what it used to be”. Sure, humans are essentially unchanged. We still have two hands, two feet, a brain, and a mouth which we can use to get ourselves into trouble…but quite a bit has changed beyond that. Nowadays we have to concern ourselves with easily concealable weapons like folding knives, guns, mace, Tazers, etc. Not only that, but we operate inside of a civilized society with rules and consequences for violence.
Certainly our old styles are too antiquated to handle that sort of environment?
In some ways…yes…but don’t run off and burn your belt just yet. The old ways may need tweaking in order to compensate for modern law and tools of violence, but that doesn’t mean we need to throw them out entirely. In fact, in some ways old styles may be even better suited to the reality of modern civilian violence than many military and mixed martial arts.
Psychological Insight with Rory Miller
I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Rory Miller and consuming a large amount of his published material. He has quickly become one of my favorite voices in understanding violence and finding ways to cope with it in modern society. He has an understanding of traditional martial arts and decades of experience in detentions and law enforcement. As a result he can dig down as deep as you want into psychology and law but still explain it in a digestible way.
If you’d like to kickstart a Rory Miller library of your own I would recommend these two DVDs:
|Facing Violence||Logic of Violence|
In “Logic of Violence”, Rory explores the different kinds of predators that an individual may face. In addition, he discusses the most probable victims for each of those predators and how they go about determining the best places to hunt, who they hunt for, and how citizens can understand which predators may be targeting them.
At one point, he breaks down the different predator types like so:
In order to understand the fundamental point of this blog post (ways in which old style training is optimal for modern violence), we need to investigate Rory’s structure a little closer.
You’ll notice in the chart above that predators are broken into two fundamental groups: asocial and social. Asocial predators are the ones with no desire to look good in front of others. They want something from you (your money, your body, your watch, etc) and the violence they inflict is to that end. They may simply enjoy the process of killing or raping and thus the action is the goal.
Social predators are very much concerned with how their actions are perceived and who perceives them. The monkey dance for example is often exhibited when two males compete over ego, a female, or territory. An educational beatdown may occur if a stranger or group member breaks the perceived rules of a particular group (think biker gang).
I won’t belabor the different predators here, but if you want to understand each type be sure to check out Rory’s work linked above.
The most interesting thing about the predator types is how different they may act. Asocial predators, for example, do not want an audience. They want to finish their task as quickly as possible. They also want the weakest, most lucrative targets they can get with little thought of ego (beating up an old lady and stealing her car won’t get the crook street cred but it will result in a financial gain).
A monkey dancing jerk on the other hand wants as many people as possible to witness his show of strength and dominance. As such he will puff his chest out, make declarations, and be sure to prove a point while fighting someone he deems worth the effort (a social predator would be more likely to challenge another fit male rather than an old man).
With that understood, let’s look at the habits of martial arts training and why old methods are well designed to deal with these predatory situations.
The Ironic Ego Build for Fit Athletes
One of Rory’s favorite quotes is as follows: “A lot of martial arts involve fighters teaching fighters how to fight fighters.” Once you break that down and wade through the meaning, it makes a lot of sense. Take a peek into many hardknock schools and you’ll likely see lots of fit, tone, big individuals that you wouldn’t want to tangle with. These schools are supposedly teaching students how to survive encounters on the street. They talk about defending against muggers and knife wielding murderers. But here’s the twist – most of the individuals training are NOT the primary target for resource and process predators.
If you were a mugger and you were watching for people to attack, would you choose the bulky, 6’0″ guy wearing the “tap, snap, or nap” T-shirt? No. So many of the fantasies regarding street self defense are misplaced.
As we discussed in the predator chart above, fit men are at risk mostly from social attacks, either from a single challenger or a group that wants to beat him down. Now if we take a trained martial artist and add in an inflated ego and bloodlust thanks to constant aggressive training he becomes even more of a target. The means and methods of his “self defense” have, in fact, heightened the probability of him getting attacked.
Here is where old style training kicks in. As opposed to the more modern mindset of “strike first, strike hard, no mercy sir”, the old method was steeped in ritual and process to promote humility. Students were (and still are in some places) inclined to clean the dojo floor, dust around photos of old masters, bow into and out of the dojo, etc etc. This process feels belabored and humiliating to a lot of modern artists, and certainly it has been abused by many instructors. However, what these habits tried to instill was the idea that a puffed up ego would not get a student ahead in the dojo. With ego deflation as part of the training, the student was more inclined to keep that ego controlled when in “real life” environments.
There is an old saying that the stalk with the most rice bows the lowest. Similarly, it was considered a great sign of individual character when a martial arts master went unnoticed in a room, and many masters would do everything in their power to divert attention away from themselves. Do these qualities not sound more fitting to survive social violence encounters, the kind likely to befall modern civilians who are fit and able?
The Ideal Training When Victimization Rises
We discussed how a great many martial artists are strong and capable individuals, making them non-ideal targets for process and resource predators. But then, who would be ideal? Women perhaps due to less inherent physical strength (even well trained women if they catch the eye of a determined predator)…but who else? What about children? The elderly?
Have you ever seen old boxers walking around? Not only are their bodies battered but often their minds as well. Every now and then we hear a great story about an old time boxer fending off some punk kids, but all too often the extreme punishment of the sport takes it’s toll during middle age and later in life. Same goes for many football players, pro wrestlers, and pro fighters. They were athletes training at the top of their game, but now they are lucky to move around without assistance.
On the other hand, there are seniors in old style martial arts like karate that can move with alarming speed and fluidity:
Of course karate and other hard styles can go overboard and instill too much bodily abuse, but the essence of longevity is there for students to explore.
The key to old style training is the combination of self defense capabilities with body awareness, wellness, diet, and moderation. A good, balanced program will feature challenging elements like body conditioning and sparring but spell them with bouts of kata training, meditation, and kihon (basics). This diversity allows the practitioner to become skillful in his/her prime years but continue training passed that time. In fact, the solo training becomes even more important for maintaining fitness.
Underestimated even in many of today’s modern schools is the old emphasis on wellness and diet. The idea of keeping the inside of the body fit used to be as important as the outside. Of course, it’s harder to sell diet and wellness as part of a business model and modern students hardly consider it any business of the Sensei. However, when observed carefully, these old ways allow for training well into old age. As we established, old age is the exact time when even fit males start to become targets for resource and process predators. In his book “Karatedo: My Way of Life”, Funakoshi recounts multiple self defense encounters he had later in life. It wasn’t dynamic fighting that saved him but good common sense techniques like using implements (an umbrella for example) and simple but effective techniques (groin strikes).
If Funakoshi was unable to move efficiently in his autumn years he would have become just another victim despite decades of hard training.
Simple and Reliable Concepts
In his video and written material Rory does very little explanation of the techniques he likes to use. Instead he prefers the viewer/reader to apply what they already do in a functional context. However, one stipulation he does suggest is that techniques should be simple, robust (can go wrong but still be salvageable), redundant (work on almost anything), and congruent with your mindset (works with your ideal distance and body type). One of his favorites is a two hand “augmented” technique that looks like this:
In Okinawan Karate we refer to this technique as “meotode” or “mefutode”. It is one of the most fundamental positions we adopt and is featured prominently in our kata. Watch Seisan below for an obvious example of this technique in action:
The fantastic thing about this body posture is that it meets all of Rory’s common sense requirements for a good self defense method. It closes off the most vulnerable parts of the body, works with the natural body flinch reflex, can be used with open or closed hand, keeps all body weapons in play, and builds upon itself in redundancy so that if an initial movement fails it has a followup coming directly after. Best of all, there are routines to drill it so that it becomes muscle memory.
The funny thing is, it isn’t a glamorous fighting method. It probably won’t win any tournament competitions and wouldn’t be ideal in a professional bout. However, in a real self defense situation when the body is tight, adrenaline is high, and the mind is resetting down to what it has trained the most…this technique is a winner and it can be found in old karate, kung fu, and others.
Defense First Mindset
“Karate Ni Sente Nashi” is a phrase that adorns the walls of many dojo. It means “There is no First Attack in Karate”. Some people like to interpret that literally in that a block is always thrown before a strike. However, I tend to interpret it more philosophically. The main idea behind the phrase is that the mind does not act aggressively toward others without provocation. If a kareteka senses danger he/she may choose to take the initiative but it was only due to the fact that all other options for resolution seem to have failed.
This is an important concept to study as it coincides with the modern legal paradigm of I.M.O.P. IMOP means “intent, means, opportunity, preclusion” and are the four major ingredients that make up a self defense encounter. If an attacker has the intent to do harm, the means to do it (physical power, weapon, etc), and the opportunity (same room, same street, etc) then the situation is close to self defense. However, the final piece, preclusion, is just as important. Preclusion means the victim did everything in their power to remove themselves (and loved ones if applicable) from the situation before resorting to violence.
By keeping “Karate Ni Sente Nashi” in mind during day-to-day living a martial artist will inevitably attempt to forego the ego of violence and instead seek a way to resolve/remove the situation. If the individual can properly recount the events and the steps taken to avoid the encounter he/she has a significant advantage defending their case in a court of law.
It may sound like I am a little down on modern styles, but actually my goal is to suggest the value of both. Modern styles tend to speak more openly about the law and the importance of diversifying training (scenario drills, groundwork, etc). I also believe traditional styles are unsurpassed in terms of adopting an attitude toward training that is geared toward longevity, humility, and overall wellness.
By listening to Rory Miller, an astute observer of violence and the human condition, we hear echoed thoughts from styles developed generations ago. I am encouraged that we can continue to learn and grow in a manner that accepts the reality of danger while optimizing our ability to cope with it. Let’s keep our minds open to wisdom from the past and ears open to wisdom in our modern world.
This is the fifth article in Reader Week II. Author Adam Cave is a nidan in Taekwondo and sandan in RyuTe. He is the lead instructor at Raleigh RyuTe Karate and authors a blog called Solo Keiko. In this article Adam discusses the potential hazards with constantly collecting more material, and how specialization can lead to more effective technique.
Freedom From Choice: The Dangers of “More” in Martial Arts
I recently watched a TED Talk lecture on youtube by Barry Schwartz. In his book “The Paradox of Choice,” the author takes on the concept of freedom in Western Civilization. According to Schwartz, we define freedom as having unlimited personal choices. The paradox is that the vast numbers of choices we now face every day have a tendency to cause self-paralysis and limit both our freedom and our happiness.
These are big ideas and the video is well worth watching. But what does it all have to do with martial arts? To my mind, everything. Start with the thousands of martial arts styles being practiced today world wide (hundreds, possibly, in your own community). From the hugely popular to the esoteric, from classical to traditional to modern and hybrids, there is no shortage of ways to defend ourselves. Internal, external, hard, soft, Eastern, Western: the list keeps growing; a clear case of globalization at work.
Now consider the hundreds of techniques found in every methodology. There are innumerable kata, training exercises, and drills to help us learn. Each style has multiple instructors who focus on differing aspects of their art. With this many choices and this much material, where do you begin? To make matters worse, as a peaceful member of society, not seeking out conflict, you may never know if you chose right. At least you won’t know until it is far too late to change (This article assumes that you, like me, want your martial arts to provide you with at least some improved self-defense skills).
It is high time we start questioning whether all this choice and all this material is making us better or worse martial artists. The cynic in me sees it all as marketing strategies to gain and keep dojos full. Business-minded instructors, lacking depth of knowledge, go out and “acquire” new material that their students have not yet seen. But I am sure there are also many teachers who truly believe that real self-defense requires a broad base of knowledge.
One of the most common mantras in martial arts is that techniques have to be practiced repeatedly until they can be done without thinking or they will never work in real life. I completely agree. But, to train any movement that much, requires a great deal of time and, if you are constantly learning new material, you will never have enough. Each technique becomes part of a long list that can be recalled but rarely can be done well without thinking about it first.
Although this may be a harder sell, the better option is, literally, less options.
Advice on Getting Less
Begin by choosing one art to study. Commit yourself to the strategies and techniques of that art. This may still be a mountain of material but at least it all falls under the same umbrella. To make matters simpler, continuously look for one, overriding logic in every move you do. This will help you see the similarities between movements and techniques that otherwise, might appear quite different. In a fully developed art, the movement of the hands, body, and feet should all be coordinated and flow easily together. If you train to make a core set of fundamental skills second nature, you will actually be able to use a broader range of techniques as long as they are all built on those same fundamentals. Eventually, what to others may appear as many differing techniques, to you should all seem like subtle variations on the same thing. This is the type of skill set that you can count on in a fight because you won’t have to think about it. Instead of being paralyzed by too many choices, you will move freely and instinctively using techniques that you have real confidence in.
As an avid lover of all martial arts, I don’t want to kill anyone’s enthusiasm for learning new things. Some amount of variety is necessary to keep us motivated. The key will always be how well we can integrate that material into our core discipline.
In the end, what we do to protect ourselves is deeply personal and it will not matter how it looks or who it impresses as long as it works. The thousands of martial arts represent the work of thousands of individual people, each developing personal methods of self-defense that worked for them. Ironically, they all had the same threat in mind; a fellow human with two arms and two legs and possibly a weapon held in one of two hands. More choices will not help you beat this opponent. Deeper knowledge, of even a few techniques, will be a much stronger asset.
This is the fourth article in Reader Week II. Author Mark Anthony Ly is the owner of the Combat Tactic Group and is a kinesiology specialist. In this post, Mark discusses the idea of understanding the relationship between magnitude and power and how martial artists can use them to increase their striking effectiveness.
Martial Arts Tools of Impact: Magnitude And Power
What can magnitude and power help you with? The ability to classify whatever actions you take to either effectively take out the opponent or subdue them. Actions are usually classified under two terminologies; magnitude and power.
The formula to effectively take out your opponent is: magnitude x power.
The medial line is the central axis of a figure, dividing the body vertically into equal right and left halves. In medical terminology, it is referred to as the midsagittal plane.
The centerline theory helps illustrate magnitude much more efficiently. Any strikes in the centerline theory would effectively take out your opponent with the least amount of power and that is the ultimate goal for any streetfighter. To put things in perspective striking the eyes does not require much power at all. Nor does striking the groin and sternum.
Magnitude is the principle of understanding where to effectively hit to yield the greatest amount of pain on the opponent with the least amount of effort.
Although it may frustrate many trained martial artist that a single aspect like striking the groin can ultimately bring any man down, these are universal laws that we all have to adhere to.
However, to say that a untrained person in the state of ignorance can inflict a sub-sequential amount of damage to that of a trained person is to say that a inexperienced driver can outrace a seasoned F1 driver.
We will observe that this is simply not always the case.
Understand that the F1 driver is better in all aspects than the inexperienced driver, we can all agree on that. However, the F1 driver adheres to the same principles that the inexperienced driver does too. They both need gas for their car. They both need power steering fluid, brake fluid, and tire pressures at optimal level, etc. And it is exactly these principles of magnitude that we are hacking.
The inexperienced driver cannot match the F1 driver in an professional competition because surely he will lose. However, in a streetrace, there are no rules. Everything is fair game. And the way many people see it, when it comes to any encounter outside of rules, they believe that the opponent are following the same set of rules as they are. This is simply not the case.
Take this scenario for example. Two people take to the ground in a streetfight, one of them is a BJJ expert trying to secure the arm for an armbar, meanwhile the other just doesn’t give a shit and just securely locks onto the BJJ expert making sure he can’t escape and gnaws away at him until he has a piece of flesh in his mouth like he’s chewing steak. Who do you think is winning that fight?
It becomes a game-changer when the opponent does things completely unorthodox than what we’re use to. Therefore, we must prepare for these things.
HOWEVER, without the proper preparation, the inexperienced individual cannot and will not be able to successfully utilize the laws of magnitude in their favor.
It is simply unreasonable for me to say that an individual with no martial arts experience at all can successfully win against an average professional in the ring.
However, it is perfectly reasonable for me to say that an individual with 20% of the right training by utilizing and effectively executing the laws of magnitude, can and will take out the average professional in a streetfight.
This is not to say that the 20% of the work is easily achieved. It most definitely is not.
In essence however, the laws of magnitude go hand in hand with Pareto’s Law, where 20% of the work yields 80% of the results.
WHAT ARE THE 20% OF THINGS THAT I SPEAK OF?
Even though 20% of the work can yield 80% of the results, it is not suffice to say that 20% of the work is achieved over night. If we take a look at Bruce Lee’s notes in the Tao Of Jeet Kune Do, even he mentions the two targets that he would go for in a streetfight, the eyes and the groin. The 20% of the work that is addressed here will take time, possibly months under the right supervision, perhaps even years. It is not an overnight thing that you can simply learn.
We must hack away the unessentials to produce the 20% of work that we truly need. However, magnitude has a very defined set of targets already. Straight down the anterior view (front view of the body) of the centerline theory we have the:
Mental Protuberance (Chin)
Larynx (Adam’s Apple)
Jugular (Suprasternal) Notch
Now, on the posterior view (back view of the body) of the centerline theory we have the:
Cervical Vertebra (C1 & C2 to C7)
Thoracic Vertebrae (T1 to T12)
Lumbar Vertebrae (L1 to L5)
As you can imagine, target points such as these require very little if any power to execute to effectively take out your opponent. These are nerve destructing, immobilizing, and even paralyzing target points where power and strength are not required and are not necessary. And because every human body adheres to the laws of magnitude, means that no matter the size, height, and width of the opponent, they will feel pain. If not, damage can increase until they are injured. Magnitude effectively inflicts the most amount of damage with the least amount of force. This allows smaller sized individuals to take out bigger sized individuals in a streetfight where there are no rules. If you think of Pareto’s law, the 80% of the damage, is inflicted by 20% of the effort.
The law of physics states that power is equal to Force times Velocity; P=Fv. In this second part, power is the other way of inflicting blind numbing pain to your opponent.
A person that can punch powerfully could and will hurt you. But consistently powerful strikes aren’t always quite ideal.
Consistently hitting powerfully in every single strike will quickly tire you out. And in a streetfight, this is not good. Don’t get me wrong though, hitting powerfully does have it’s benefits.
Imagine a viciously strong roundhouse kick to your thighs, I can bet after the adrenal glands are done pumping the adrenaline, you’ll be feeling your muscle tissues the entire week.
Now with all of this in mind and adhering to the formula of magnitude x power. We can still effectively do damage if all we have is power and no magnitude and vice versa. For example, if a 250lb male swung with all his force and struck your Cephalic vein (the vein that runs down your shoulders to biceps) like a gunt from several Filipino systems, you can bet your ass that you won’t be using that arm to punch anytime soon.
To understand this a bit more thoroughly, you can still take out your opponent if all you have on the equation is power.
However the most ideal, effective, and efficient way to take out, immobilize, and end any opponent is through the use of Magnitude AND Power.
How To Hit And Kick Stronger, Faster, and Better
This idea that we must work our muscles in order to hit stronger and faster is not necessarily true.
Muscles themselves have no proper guide to follow through for power. However, the manner in which they are utilized and used for effectiveness comes from our nervous system.
Knowing this, each time you perform a somewhat shitty ‘move’ or feel uncoordinated when you punch or kick, it’s mos tlikely that your nervous system is not yet tuned in to the motion of the punch and or kick.
Athletes that complain their punches and kicks are slow suffer from the nervous system essentially sending the wrong impulses to the wrong muscles. More often than not, the nervous system sends it either a bit too early, or a bit too late. Other times, the nervous system sends an improper set of orders.
A well executed punch and kick is a direct result of a coordinated and trained nervous system to the point where one can instinctually do it without a thought. Think of it as second nature. You can easily brush your teeth without looking because your nervous system has already cultivated the motion of your hands. If done on a religious-like cycle, it not only registers the motion in your system but allows you to do it faster the next time.
The movement in the punch and kick has been trained to the point where the nervous system sends impulses to the muscles to contract at the exact second it is needed, and stops the second it is not. By training our nervous systems to undergo the motions, the muscles are able to recruit, contract, and uncontract at the exact milliseconds that it is needed to enable proper use of speed and force. This is scientifically supported here:
“An initial [contraction] was timed with the initiation of motion presumably to enhance stiffness and stability through the body before motion. This appeared to create an inertial mass in the large “core” for limb muscles to “pry” against to initiate limb motion. Then, some muscles underwent a relaxation phase as speed of limb motion increased. A second peak was observed upon contact with the opponent … this would increase stiffness through the body linkage, resulting in a higher effective mass behind the strike and likely a higher strike force.” Read more of cited here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20072065
Alright, our nervous system is important, how am I suppose to train that?
Through series of training, smarter not harder, you can increase the strength, power, and speed of your punches and kicks.
Isokinetic muscle contractions (IMC) have been used by peak-leveled athletes all around the world (including Bruce Lee) for increase speed, power, and recovery. IMC allows the nervous system to run through the full range of motions in the delivery of punches/kicks and register each exact muscular contraction and uncontraction. The benefits of IMC is the vast amounts of nerves being registered throughout the entire full range of motion in the punches and kicks; allowing muscle strength and contractions to speed up and get stronger.
“10 repetitions of either low or high velocity isokinetic contractions [. . .] resulted in full recovery or potentiation of most measures [. . .] The potentiation effect predominantly occurred following the [workout stimulus] which might be attributed to a greater agonist-antagonist torque balance and less metabolic stress associated with the shorter duration higher velocity contractions.” Read more of cited here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21467597?report=abstract
“Results reveal that [isokinetic muscular contractions] significantly increased participants’ vertical jump, drop jump, 30-m sprint performance, instantaneous force, peak power, and SSC efficiency (p < 0.05). Additionally, their change rate abilities were substantially superior to those of traditional resistance training (p < 0.05) [. . .] The findings suggest that jump performance, speed, and muscle power significantly improved after 10 weeks of [isokinetic muscle contractions] at high movement frequency.” Read more of cited here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22890495
“Acute or chronic increases in physical activity result in structural, metabolic, hormonal, neural, and molecular adaptations that increase the level of force or power that can be sustained by a muscle. These adaptations depend on the type, intensity, and volume of the exercise stimulus, but recent studies have highlighted the role of high intensity, short-duration exercise as a time-efficient method to achieve both anaerobic and aerobic/endurance type adaptations. The factors that determine the fatigue profile of a muscle during intense exercise include muscle fiber composition, neuromuscular characteristics, high energy metabolite stores, buffering capacity, ionic regulation, capillarization, and mitochondrial density. Muscle fiber-type transformation during exercise training is usually toward the intermediate type IIA at the expense of both type I and IIx myosin heavy-chain isoforms. High-intensity training results in increases of both glycolytic and oxidative enzymes, muscle capillarization, improved phosphocreatine resynthesis and regulation of K(+), H(+), and lactate ions.” Read more of cited here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22629249