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.