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.
Few things are as critical yet as glossed over as footwork. With proper footwork the body can be moved in an efficient way while maintaining balance, creating driving power for strikes, providing hip availability for throws, and more.
Kata attempts to teach us about footwork, but it's easy to get caught up with what the hands are doing and simply bring the feet along for the ride. In fact, the effectiveness of bunkai can be made or broken depending on how the body orients to the opponent. Discovering some of the more effective applications in kata requires careful attention to body movement.
Ultimately there are only a few ways for the body to get from A to B, but an infinite amount of subtle ways to improve that process. One important concept in karate is known as "diamond stepping", which allows for removal of target, aggression, defense, momentum swing, and balance. In total it allows a practitioner to use virtually all the tools available to a karateka during a combative engagement. Interestingly, this very same concept shows up in other styles as well, going as far back as the Bubishi itself.
Diamond Stepping in Action
The following video shows how you can integrate the diamond step concept into your training. It will also demonstrate a series of techniques from different styles, including Okinawa Kenpo, Aikijujutsu, Motobu Udundi, Kobudo, and more. The goal is to demonstrate how a fundamentally sound concept can be pervasive throughout many different styles. As a bonus, at the end of the video I practice some freestyle randori type of techniques, allowing students to attack me in an unscripted way and seeing what kind of defenses come out of it.
Recently I had a chance to chat with Adam over at Low Tech Combat. He asked me some great questions surrounding traditional martial arts and their suitability for self defense training. Check out the interview here.
Low Tech Combat is a great site focused on applicable, scientific means of self defense proven through study and case scenarios. I’ve always enjoyed Adam’s work there and was pleased to represent some of the traditional side. Although I hardly speak for everyone, I felt like it was a good chance to discuss the differences between classical and traditional training, and how valuable each can be to real self defense.