Friday, October 30, 2015

Those that think they practice

In karate, there's always a tendency to separate one's dojo from those other dojo that don't practice right. The mcdojo and the dojo, the modern and traditional, Japanese and Okinawan. All of them feel they are practicing the "correct" way. One big distinction I find is those that think they practice bunkai and those that don't. Take note that all of these schools usually accuse each other of basically being McDojo.

Those that don't practice bunkai are sometimes called Punch, Kick, Block, or PKB. It's pretty self explanatory in that they believe everything in kata is either a punch, a kick or it's a block to a punch or kick. It's just as ludicrous as most other explanations. These schools usually have as many kata or more as others and they practice all of them for rank testing. They usually call themselves traditional, just like every martial arts school in existence. Why they believe they'd need 20 different kata making up what they believe to be very different scenarios for what's essentially three techniques I'm not sure. This is usually the type of school that the "real" traditional schools hold their nose and point at. "They don't get it," the others say. I don't agree to this interpretation of karate either, but at least it's more consistent. Their training methods are clearly only focused on punching, kicking and blocking and while it doesn't match up to the kata, you can still be pretty effective with just punching, kicking and blocking.

The karate schools that usually poo poo the above type of school are the ones that think they practice bunkai. What's the difference between these schools? Almost nothing. They practice several different kata, usually around 20, and all their drills are focused on punching, kicking and blocking. The only real difference is their acknowledgement of different interpretations, sort of. This type of school will fawn over bunkai wizards, go to seminars and camps, and the grand master may at one time or another show the super secret meaning of one portion of the kata. Do they ever practice these interpretations? Almost never. The basic punches, kicks and blocks are the same as the above school. Even if a school recognizes a block as something better and greater, they still teach it the wrong way. The drills are still defenses against karate attacks and any different applications either don't work or are practiced so sporadically that they are of no use. Bunkai is usually just used as proof that karate works and that the kata aren't just meaningless dances. "See karate works because that other guy practices it that way. Now more air punching and high kicks," they say.

It's even worse when these schools save their garbage for the "advanced" ranks. They have to keep you coming through the door somehow. I've never understood the logic of spending four to five years teaching people the wrong thing, or in this case "the basics," just to turn around and basically say that what they've taught you isn't the real thing. You'll spend the next few years trying to train out all the bad habits you picked up. The high block you've been practicing at the wrong distance and for the wrong reason is really a limb clear and a strike, good luck retraining yourself.

The real amazing thing is that people are usually so brainwashed by this point that they don't even question it. If the same thing was done with any other subject, you'd just laugh.

Imagine if you were taught math the same way. You spend five years practicing how to write the numbers. They even teach you arithmetic, but 2+2=5 and 1x0= 10. Upon perfecting the "basics," you graduate to advanced arithmetic where you keep practicing as before except sometimes 2+2=4 and 1x0=0, but only sometimes. What would you learn? Basically nothing.

If a school is going to teach the application of kata, it should be done as the student learns, starting with fundamental concepts and building on them in a way that the student can use them creatively. All drills and exercises should tie back into those fundamentals and one should not have to learn one way and then unlearn it to learn the correct way.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Thirteen Fist Method

I've often been somewhat tempted to call what I practice Seisan Kenpo, instead of karate. It's pretty clear that I don't agree with most of the training methodology of karate overall. Mainly the study of many kata over the in depth study of just a few. Rather than having additive qualities, studying many kata in my opinion has a dilutive effect on ability. There is an argument that one can freeze because they don't know what to do and that one can freeze because they know too many ways to do something. I believe through practice and study that a single kata is a complete system. If one knows more than a few, the number of techniques one can study becomes rather hard to handle. I'm a big fan of the concept of "one and a thousand." One principle that leads to many different variations, but all one needs to know is the principle. I'm getting off topic.

I feel like there is enough precedent for name changing that I could do this with some confidence. Patrick McCarthy calls his stuff Kenpo, though it's old-school karate. Gichin Funakoshi himself changed the names of the kata, because he felt they were not relevant enough to keep, though this has strong political and cultural influences behind it. One could also argue that karate itself is the study of many kata and not just one kata. I know there are those that consider it essential that one be familiar with all the kata of karate to be a complete karateka. I also just like the sound of it. Seisan Kenpo or translated the Thirteen Fist Method, which sounds like a forbidden kung fu style, though 13 is a lucky number in many eastern cultures meaning something to the affect of infinite growth.

There's a few reasons why I most likely will not do this. First, I don't want to be the Grand Poo Bah of my own martial art. I am not the creator of Seisan merely a student of it, and I don't hold to the idea that one needs an instructor to practice karate. In a purely Zen slant of practice, one only needs a kata and some time and off they go to quiet their mind. I don't much like the idea of paying for that. It's almost like a tax on prayer. For practical application, I feel one needs at least a partner and preferably a group of people, so they are exposed to different training environments and tactics, but a dedicated partner is all they need. The second reason is Ed Parker's American Kenpo Karate. I've seen a few of his videos and like his personal presentation of it, but I don't much care for the offspring of his system. It's just a little too much fancy hand movement without a lot of depth. Fast hands don't make a martial artist. It helps, but it's not the defining characteristic. Third, my chief ambition is to influence karate. I want to make it acceptable for those who want to break free from the ritualism and caste structure of the dojo to practice and be acknowledged for their abilities and not the belt around their waist. Sadly if you don't have lineage, study, practice and logic counts for very little.

I'm not trying to destroy traditional karate. I believe that there are some good things about that kind of structure. I only wish to promote a freer interpretation of karate. If I have to change the name to do it I will, but I'm pretty sure people would just say "did you make that up?"

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Silent Evidence and the effectiveness of martial arts

I've been listening to Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan, and in it he brings up some very interesting points about how we perceive evidence and our world. The book itself is about events that have far reaching implications and effects and how we can't predict them, but since I'm a martial arts and more specifically a karate nut, I see karate in everything.

One idea is that of silent evidence. I'll try and paraphrase the example given in the book. In the book a philosopher is shown tablets bearing the portraits of those that prayed to be saved from a shipwreck and lived. This is given as evidence that praying will save you from death by shipwreck. The philosopher asks "Where are the portraits of those that prayed and drowned?" So the idea is that the refuting evidence isn't around anymore to speak for itself.

Before I get into how this relates to the martial arts, I'm going to define what I mean as effective. When I say effective, I do not mean a martial art's effectiveness for fighting duels or the sporting arena. It can obviously be used for fighting with the effectiveness at about 50 percent. In a UFC bout, both participants are basically martial artists and there is one winner and one loser, so 50 percent, or a 100 percent success rate depending on how you look at it. I'm talking about effectiveness for self defense. This means keeping yourself safe from harm, or not dying.

Now you can almost always find evidence that (insert martial art) is good for self defense because Joe Martial Artist survived a violent mugging by using his super kung fu technique. I recently heard one of these stories except it was a street fight not a mugging, but it could have turned out really bad. You can find articles fitting this theme taped to most dojo walls. But, the idea of silent evidence tells us that the instances where Joe Martial Artist pulls out his super kung fu technique and gets stabbed to death will merely show up in the crime roll of our local newspaper as Joe Smith stabbed to death in robbery.

This means that we might never know whether any specific martial art, or martial arts in general, are effective or useful in a self defense situation.

This seems rather doom and gloom as if I'm bashing all martial arts. Well I am and I'm not at the same time. I feel that we should base the effectiveness of martial arts in the same way that we base the effectiveness of firearms. Mainly physics, and anatomy and physiology.

We know that a bullet has the capacity to kill someone especially if they are shot in the right place. The brain or heart. The kinetic energy of the bullet give it the power to damage. Martial arts should be viewed in the same way and just as seriously. With the correct movement a technique will generate the most physical force, or the force required, to damage anatomical weak points of the body or inhibit physiology. We can say with certainty that this has a very good probability of happening. What needs to be thought of as a gamble is the application of these techniques. We must therefore ruthlessly pursue those techniques that give us the best opportunity for minimal effort.

Martial arts for self defense should be viewed as a hedge against a bet that someone forces upon us.

Personally I think karate has an advantage in this regard because of the ambiguity of kata. It means we can do away with interpretations we find to be less optimal and adopt interpretations that are more optimal as we practice without changing the patterns of movement. Then all we have to do is retrain our frame of reference instead of retraining the movement patterns themselves. This allows for evolution, growth and creativity.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Social Violence

This is  a link to Marc MacYoung's website on violence, the martial arts and all sorts of good stuff. If you want a crash course in the different types of violence than this is the place to go, so I'm setting up a link on this post.

Please read it. It's frustrating to talk to people, who think that beating up a couple of fat drunks means that their skills work in a life and death struggle.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Does it work? It depends.

I read a comment on a YouTube video recently that went along the lines that traditional karateka knew for a fact that their techniques worked.

I always cringe a little when I hear things like this, or if I'm asked "what would you do if x happened?"

Unfortunately people have the mistaken belief due to marketing and hype that the martial arts, fighting, combat, self defense, etc is like learning how to fix a car. You read the instruction manual, you turn the screws, you replace the parts and you become a mechanic. Obviously there's more to it, but cars for the most part are static objects. They don't learn, lie, trick or adapt. They just wear down. Humans on the other hand are a completely different story. In the matter of activities where two humans interact things basically work until they don't and there isn't much you can do about it.

The number of variables is just too big. The variables of the environment, situations, the state of yourself and the other person or persons, not to mention the laws that govern the area you are in. Shooting someone in self defense in a dark alley is a little different than shooting someone in self defense in the middle of a crowded courtroom especially if you're not a cop. They'll praise you right before slapping the handcuffs on you. A good deed generally doesn't wash out a bad one in the United States.

This is sometimes difficult to understand, because we all started going to the dojo to become kung fu killers, mostly. Don't lie. You were thinking about it. I know I was. Generally techniques do work when the variables are right and the correct principles are applied. The difference between a slap and a palm heel is the application of principles not aesthetics.

So does traditional karate work? Yes and no, it depends. It depends on knowing the style's principles of movement, the strategies of each kata that you practice if you plan on using it's techniques, ingraining those principles and techniques in a non-prescriptive way and then practicing the application of all of those factors on a resisting opponent that knows exactly what you're trying to do and actively trying to thwart it.

Sadly I can count on one hand the number of traditional dojo that I know do this. Sadly they were none of the dojo I've practiced at.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Marketing, half truthes and being young and dumb

Karate fills a special little niche of hate in the heart of many martial artists. I think it's a combination of easy target, confusion, ignorance and the none functioning. It's not that all karate fits these requirements, but there sure is a heck of a lot of it that does. To paraphrase Marc MacYoung, "Do you practice the 97% of karate that is useless or the 3% that can break you in half like a twig?" According to him, the only thing that karate people have in common is that they'll answer yes to this question. I guess we can take comfort in the solidarity of our mass delusion.

I really think the problem is marketing. Old and new marketing and personally I put most of the blame squarely on Gichin Funakoshi. I'll talk about him later, but I'm still wading through all the bullshit in Karate-do Kyohan.

Karate has been marketed for a very long time as a one-size fits all kind of deal. It's supposed to turn you into the pinnacle of courtesy, patience, virtue, blah, blah, blah, etc. All of this while turning you into an unstoppable killing machine. Basically people think you can get the technique by focusing on the spiritual or rather the jutsu from the Do. Do to me is The Way, capitalized because it's a proper noun not a suffix. This means Zen. While one can be a side effect of the other, this is an accident and not the intent. Let's look at art as an example. If one chooses to paint for the sole purpose of personal enjoyment than they may become a great artist. It's usually beneficial to enjoy the activity that you're trying to get better at, but if your paintings keep turning out like your 3rd grade nephew's fridge art it doesn't matter. It's just for fun. There is no need to pursue, technique, theory, science, trial and error, history or experimentation to get better. Now on the other hand if you want to become a great artist let's say through painting landscapes, it may develop spiritual and therapeutic aspects, but the main goal is to get better. You will practice, study, experiment, consume history, learn new techniques and practice some more.

The problem comes when one thinks they are practicing the techniques, when they are really practicing The Way. Practicing technique means preparation. The training is for things to come. Practicing The Way means being in the moment, fulfilling the practice and the goal at the same time. Turning the wrench to turn the wrench, not to secure the bolt. Painting to paint, rather than painting to become great. The Way does not require understanding, but technique does. Many zen exercises are just repeating a mundane task over and over and over and over again until you are able to detach and see the world for what it is because your filter is currently busy performing that mundane task.

So what's this have to do with marketing. Well if we look at the time period of the popularization of karate, basically the time periods just before WWII and afterwards there are several factors that need to be addressed to understand why a person might twist the facts a bit.

One is the youth, both the soldiers of Imperial Japan and the orphans of the aftermath of the war. If you're trying to channel their aggression and their energy you want something that is highly physical, might calm them down a bit and something that won't seriously injure them. Young men get into trouble, mostly because they're stupid. Trust me I used to be one. The last thing you want is for a young soldier to get pissed and break another young soldier because they got mad, or give an orphan a dangerous instrument that he'll unleash on the unsuspecting public. So you take some martial arts, strip out all the dangerous stuff and put the emphasis on courtesy, virtue, humility, self esteem and all this good stuff that's good for society, but you don't tell them this is what you're doing. You don't get students especially the young rowdy ones you want to control by calling it a spiritual exercise you say it's the most bad ass, unstoppable, killing system ever devised by man and because they want respect, status and strength, they're not even going to question you about whether what they're doing is real or not because they don't care. They think they're going to become unstoppable killing machines. You'll even have all these wonderful stories about great martial artists who used their skills to seriously mess people up.

It's great marketing, a great business model and it keeps people coming back. It's why it's still here. It's why traditional karate doesn't line up with the stories. It's why Funakoshi himself in his autobiography says that karate is not the same as how he was taught it in his youth.

Luckily there are people now scratching their heads and thinking "Wait a minute. How could karate have survived the hundreds of years of secrecy before it's popularity if it's the same as what we do now, because what we do now doesn't work and people that have to stake their lives on their skills generally don't survive long if their moves don't work."

Now the caveat is that if you're practicing it for the Do, for personal enjoyment or spiritual reasons than you can do it any damn way you please, because it doesn't matter and you shouldn't stop. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

There will be videos, at some time... maybe

Much of the stuff I'd like to talk about and explain requires video. The written word, as much as I love it, just isn't the best vehicle for this kind of stuff. It's like trying to teach someone how to walk through text.

Unfortunately one of the many drawbacks of being frugal and an independent practitioner is that you have to use what you have and take what you can get. Finding training partners and willing participants can be a challenge. Especially since I have to find them, convince them and usually teach them. All of this has to happen while leaving their ego intact to a certain degree. This is especially true if they're a karateka, because my general idea is that most of what people do is a complete waste of both time and money, under certain circumstances.

So my wonderful wife and training partner/ student will be assisting me at some point in making these videos. But I don't plan on demonstrating on her, I plan for her to demonstrate on me. I have about five inches and 70 pounds on her, so me demonstrating a technique on her doesn't really prove that much. I personally feel that techniques exist so that they can be used on someone bigger and stronger than you. Basically if it doesn't work on someone bigger and stronger than you, it's not the technique, it's just you being bigger and stronger.

She is definitely capable of breaking me if she felt so inclined, but getting her confidence to a satisfactory level to demonstrate is a different issue.

So hopefully, some time in the near future, there will be wonderful videos of her dropping me like a bag of rocks.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sick and Loathing

I've spent the last three days hacking, coughing, sneezing, sleeping, hacking, coughing, aching and pining.

I don't like being sick. Not only because I feel bad, but I've seemed to have programmed my brain over the last few years to only be happy if I'm doing something. I've had to work myself into a semi state of exhaustion in order to relax and not fidget like a kid about to get his first haircut, and I've been couch locked the last few days looking off into my backyard at the wonderful practice space I've made for myself. It's not fun. The only things that seem happy about the arrangement are the cats, which have claimed me as their personal space heater since the house has started getting cooler. I can't really say cold, since 60 degrees Fahrenheit would be a warm spring day to our neighbors to the north, but when you've been living in the South East for the last eleven years 60 feels like someone stuck you in a freezer.

I guess I do get more time to harass people on the internet.

I've been trying to take the advice of Kris Wilder and Lawrence Kane, I listen to their podcast, but don't know them personally. Basically using the advice to try and recover rather than push yourself, so I've been reading books and watched a few MMA matches. I had to turn it off though, because sometimes I don't have the patience to watch them.

Watching those at the top of the rankings is usually a pleasure. It's not an accident that they're in the top five. They're a technician at work. But those other matches, all the other ones are usually like watching someone do transmission work with a hammer. Just keep hitting away despite the result hoping that it will work.

Don't get me wrong. I have a ton of respect for anyone who steps into a ring like that. It takes a lot of guts to not only risk pain and physical injury, but also face the fear of having your internal fantasy shattered along with it. Kudos.

Hopefully within the next day or two, I'll be able to run around like my normal happy self.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Power comes from your feet

In close range combat you don't have the time to speed things up to put more power into your strikes. You might just have a foot or even a few inches. Luckily boxing someone's ears is devastating and you don't need that much power. I digress. The point is that close range power has more to do with your lower body than your upper body. It's somewhat amusing when people thing that slighting changing the motion of their arms means that they are somehow not using arm strength for their techniques. Why are my arms so tired? It's because you're not using your mass and you get your mass moving by moving your lower body.

Gravity is your friend and hopefully soon I'll have some videos showing you how much of a friend it is. Basically by dropping weights on stuff and showing how devastating a little  bit of weight moving a short distance can be.

Have you ever noticed that there's lots of kata where you drop into a stance. Literally drop like a bag of rocks down from a higher stance to a lower stance, it's because gravity is your friend. Ever had a little cousin, niece or nephew who only weighs 60lbs or even smaller suddenly decide they want to be picked up so they jump on you and nearly knock you off your feet? This is what I'm talking about. Do you try and push a car by planting your feet and pushing just with your arms? No, you take a low stance, hmm I wonder if that's relevant, and you lean into it to put all of your mass behind it. It's the very same concept. You just use the structural support of your skeleton to keep yourself from collapsing, move just a tiny bit faster and presto, you can blast through someone twice your weight if you remain efficient in your movements.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Garden dojo

I recently had to have a tree on my property cut down. Leaving me with a pile of mulch large enough for me to bury my car in it. I spent a few days replacing all of the old mulch in my garden, but still had a giant pile left. I could have given it away, but I like using everything, so I set out to make a nice practice space in my backyard.

I started out by leveling a 15x15 portion of yard and framed it with rough wood to make a square and then filled it in with the mulch. All of this by hand with just a shovel, some buckets and about a week worth of time. It was a very long slow process. It was worth it though. I not only have a nice area for practicing kata, but the mulch provides a good cushion for throwing techniques, so I can get tossed on the ground all I want and be relatively unhurt.

Besides the cost of cutting down the tree, which had to go anyway due to the threat of it falling over on my house, it cost me nothing except time and effort. This will not be a permanent solution, because it will decay and I'm too cheap to go out and buy the stuff to preserve it. It  just means in a couple of years I'll need to replace it with something a little more permanent. Maybe ground up rubber if I ever have the money, which would be unlikely.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What is karate?

It's a surprisingly hard question. It should be rather easy to answer. I guess the simplest and most realistic would be that it's a martial art that was developed in Okinawa. It's not even fair to call it Okinawa, Japan, because the development of karate was taking place long before the island chain was ever fully adopted into the Japanese empire.

There are plenty of people that are willing to tell you what karate is, if you pay them. They even claim that they'll be able to tell you how to do it.

Karate becomes rather abstract rather quickly once people start talking about it. There are so many ways to define what it is and what it isn't, and each explanation is nearly as valid as all the others because the creators are rather silent on the subject. If everything is valid, invalid, wrong or right than what karate is and isn't is of no real consequence.

I'm not exactly sure karate was ever supposed to not be abstract. Even the name karate is rather abstract. It seems simple. Stupid simple, but it gets rather complicated when you realize that the name is political, sneaky and not as clear as we might think. Kara means empty, te means hand. What's complicated about that. Well it get's complicated when you have books titled Ryukyu Kempo Karate Jutsu. Kempo means fist method, so empty handed fighting, so the title translated means as we understand the terms today as the Okinawan empty handed fighting method empty hand techniques. It makes more sense if we use kara in the original context meaning the Tang dynasty of China and Te referring to the indigenous Okinawan martial art. Karate being the synthesis of the two. So than it reads the Okinawa fighting method of the Chinese/Okinawan techniques. It can also be translated as the Ryukyu fist method of emptiness and Okinawan techniques. In karate do kyhon Gichin Funakoshi explains that the empty part of karate has some philisophical merit to it.

Karate teachers of old, before WWII, never seemed to explain anything to their students and never allowed them to ask questions. I thought this was strange at first, but I think they might have been on to something.

I think this abstractness can be both good and bad. It's bad because people tend to make stuff up to fill the holes in their knowledge. They don't know what something is, so instead of asking or better yet trying to figure out what it is, they just guess and leave it at that. I think the whole point of it is to figure out what it is on your own, without teachers. The teachers show you the proper mechanics, but you figure out how to use it. Like walking or riding a bike. You can't explain to someone how to ride a bike. You can tell them the steps, but until someone balances themselves and push the pedals there's no amount of instruction, drills or practice that is going to get them riding a bike until they just try and ride a bike. The more I learn about karate the more I feel it is the same. You can explain a move, but understanding is dependent on each individual person. The teacher's job is to foster an environment in which that person can come to understanding on their own.

I guess if something comes from within, it is futile to look for the answer without.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Reactive Drill Fallacy

When watching demonstrations of bunkai, one usually sees a reactive drill. Actually most of the time when someone is demonstrating any type of martial or fighting technique it is reactive. The most common example is the defense against the punch. Someone tries to punch you, and you skillfully block, counter and then pummel. This is the usual order of these demonstrations. But this is wrong for a couple reasons.

The first problem is one of time. Action is faster than reaction. It takes more time to react to a person than the person who is acting upon you.

According to Rory Miller, a former corrections officer, tactical unit leader and all around intelligent guy, explains that you usually go through four steps to do basically any task. You need to observe, orient, decide and then act in order to do anything that isn't hardwired into you by operant conditioning.

First you must observe what is happening to you, orient to what is happening to you, decide what you're going to do about it and then act upon that decision. The other guy, the guy punching you, has already gone through the observe, orient and decide phases of this process and is already on the act portion by the time you start observing. The result is you get blasted in the face. If the punch is a complete surprise attack, the odds of you being fast enough to do something about it is very, very, very low. You basically need to know that it's coming before the punch is thrown, which is the second problem.

If you know that someone is going to punch you, why would you stand there and let them try? You should either do something to prevent them from punching or remove yourself from the vicinity by running away. Playing chicken with the person's fist is rather counter productive. If you react in time, you've only stopped that one attack, if you don't than you get injured, neither outcome prevents the person from attacking again.

You might be asking "If this is true, why do these applications work in the dojo and in the sporting arena?"

The reason is the same as the second example. You know it's coming. Most drills start out with someone saying something like "Defense against a high punch." You know what's coming, so you've observed, you've mentally prepared yourself for the attack so you've oriented to the situation, you're going to block, therefore you've decided. The only thing left to do is act. The situation becomes act versus act. Nevertheless, this is still wrong because in a truly defensive situation if you know it's coming you either escape or if escape isn't an option you preempt the attack and then escape. Very few drills start out with someone saying "Attack in a completely random and unpredictable fashion."

The same is true for the sporting arena. You might not know when your opponent is going to punch, but you have a pretty good idea that they will at some point punch. Your brain is already in red alert status, and you are reacting more to the telegraph or the tell than you are to the punch. If the person doesn't have a telegraph or tell than you get creamed. If you throw up the wrong block you might get creamed still. How many times have you seen someone throw up a hand by their head in response to a high kick only to have the energy transferred through the hand and into their skull despite the quick reaction time.

Within the insular environment of the dojo or gym, these reactive type drills seem like a good idea. People punch, I don't want to get punched, therefore I need a defense-against-the-punch technique. This ignores the circumstances of a self defense situation. The most important variable of a conflict that makes it self defense is that you didn't provoke or know the attack was coming. If you knew the attack was coming and didn't take steps to keep yourself safe by escape than it isn't self defense.

There is somewhat of a caveat to this, which is the defense against strangles, grabs and locks. While you are technically reacting to the above techniques, you are reacting to them after the fact. You are assuming that you did get surprised by the technique otherwise you never would have let the person get in position for them. They are rather counter measures or reversals to misfortune rather than the prevention of misfortune.

Unfortunately this is exactly how we get taught "defensive" techniques in many dojo and gyms.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Internal Fantasies

We're all guilty of this to varying degrees. We have a story about ourselves that we tell to ourselves and we are always the hero. We are always victorious. We suffer no consequences, and any wrong doing is justified through our own internal logic. This is a fantasy, obviously, but people try to protect this fantasy by insulating themselves from anything that can challenge it.

Dojo culture helps to protect people's fantasies. It's an insular self-fulfilling environment that can usually be more church than school. Even those that do question certain teachings or training practices still willingly go along with those unrealistic practices because it's part of the system, tradition or more importantly they want that next belt or grade. I've done this in the past myself.

I think the internal fantasy is what keeps people from progressing. They don't want to think that they will get hurt or beat up if the time came. They also don't really want to know if they've been wasting their time and money. They want to believe all the fairy tales they've been told and turn a blind eye to any opposing evidence or logic. They want their fantasy.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Rep Wall

Every movement has a repetition wall. This is the threshold where movements no longer require directed thought in order to be performed. This is not to be confused with skill, application or practicality. It just means you don't have to walk yourself through the steps of the movement.

A good analogy is touch typing that method of typing that you most likely learned in a typing class in school. The home row and all that good stuff. At first one must use focused mental energy to hit the right keys without looking, but after diligent practice and almost by magic you start looking less and less at the keyboard and just start thinking words and they appear on the screen. It is the same way with kata though there are more moving parts and a lot more for your attention.

There is no hard and fast rule for how many reps this will actually take. It could take very little time or it could take a great deal of time. It takes as long as it takes for those neural pathways to develop. One should not dwell on performing a certain amount of repetitions, but rather they should focus on the correctness of each movement. In this case correctness is not aesthetics or keeping style purity, but rather making sure to move according to the principles of power generation, optimal skeletal structure and the correct angles of attack. It's more important that you produce the correct neural pathways than trying to develop bad ones as quickly as possible.

It's important that one crosses this threshold before diving too deep into application. This is especially true for those that are reverse engineering their own kata. Crossing this line frees up the brain to start analyzing the movements to see what they're telling them. To go back to the typing analogy, it's very hard to write a short story if you're always hunting and pecking. You might forget what you were going to write before you get a chance to write it. Without this one cannot begin to experiment. Experimentation allows one to start abusing the system to find the weak points and thereby find the strong points. Remember the confirmation bias. We must try and prove it wrong or at least find the weak points.

To make things easier, one can only work on crossing the rep wall for one kata instead of trying to cross this line with all of their kata. It's much easier to reach if you keep the number of movements small.

Doing this is the first step in transcending kata.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Kata bunkai and confirmation bias

"In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias (or confirmatory bias) is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions, leading to statistical errors."

This is the definition of the confirmation bias according to Science Daily, and it's the biggest mistake I see in kata interpretation.

The very foundation of the scientific method is to try and prove your conclusions wrong, not to try and prove them right. According to Nassim Taleb in his book The Black Swan, you can have a thousand days of positive results and never prove yourself correct, but you only need one day of negative results to prove yourself wrong. I'm paraphrasing, but the gist is basically that it's easier to know that something is definitely wrong than definitely right.

I see people make this mistake with kata bunkai. It's the easiest thing in the world to string together movements and call them bunkai if you never actually test them. Most of the time the reason these interpretations are wrong is because people have two hands, and they usually don't wait patiently for you to apply your super technique to one arm and do nothing with the other.

The point is there might not be any "correct" bunkai, but there definitely is incorrect bunkai.

A good technique should: protect you from harm, give you better positioning, disadvantage the opponent, prevent the opponent from attacking and most favorably end the conflict. This includes escape, evasion and deescalation.

At the very least the technique should protect you from harm and give you better positioning.

So the next time you're trying to decipher some kata movements, remember that you should try and prove them wrong, not try and prove them right.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Know the Law!

Nothing disgusts me more than watching some idiot demonstrate a technique that they claim is self defense. It usually goes something like this.

"You look at someone's girlfriend or accidentally splash him with water and the guy comes after you and wants to kill you. You block the first punch, throw him to the ground, break his elbow and then stomp his face in and walk away."

They always create this fantasy that leaves you with no option but to use force and usually lethal force. The above example is lethal force and in most places this situation would be called murder.

Yes that's right, murder.

This isn't television people. It's not a game. It's real life with real consequences. For some reason people believe that if you aren't using a gun than you're not using lethal force. Not true.

You need to know the law, federal, state and local.

Once you know the law, you'll find that many martial arts techniques are more for combat and assassination than self defense.