Sunday, April 29, 2012

Above The Law

The following article is an expansion on one of the lecture topics that I cover during my Functional Edge System Behavioral Self Protection Coach certification courses. In nearly four decades of training, research and experience in Martial Art, Self Protection and Combat Sport, I have found that scientific studies have either helped me validate my observations and experience or have helped me discard less efficient methods of training. The following is therefore based on such personal experience in the field as a former military security team member, police officer and private military contractor as well as an instructor to all above and civilian clients. As I am introduced to newer research, I gladly dig in and see if it will further validate or negate my current observations. The lecture opens with this slide:

Decision Making Vs Performance
If Hick Was A Desk Jockey, Boyd Was A Pilot, Occam Was A Priest, And It Took Jerry Rice 11 Minutes A Week To Become Exceptional; What Does Any Of This Have To Do With Me?

This is my tongue in cheek take on some of the science, pseudo-science, and philosophy being regularly thrown around by self-defense instructors. At best they do this with good but ill-informed intentions; at worst they do it to sound lofty and intelligent or to sell more courses. After all if “9 out of 10 science papers say my system is right” then it is an easy hook to sell to a less informed public.

Don’t Be a Hick

Some trainers and systems of self-protection like to use Hick’s Law as a method to convey to trainees that it takes much longer to react or decide on a response to an attack if you train more than one response. Let’s breakdown why this is a faulted approach and then look at some other “Laws” and principles that are more relevant to combat.

The Hick-Hyman Law (the real name of Hick’s Law for you researchers) is based on experiments conducted with lamps and switches in the early ‘50’s to measure the response time between the lamp turning on and the subject hitting the corresponding switch. There was no stress introduced at any point in the decision making process save in one of the versions of the experiments where  subjects were asked to act as accurately as possible and in another to work as quickly as possible.

Sitting at a desk trying to work fast and / or accurately is hardly stressful and certainly does not come close to simulating combat.

What these trainers are really trying to say, or should be saying, is better represented by the words of a priest in the often misused and misquoted Occam’s Razor.

Shaving Time

The principle of Occam’s Razor has been misinterpreted so widely that it would take volumes to discuss them all but here are a couple of bad examples:

“When all other causes/explanations have been exhausted, the remaining explanation no matter how incredible or ridiculous must be the correct one”

“There must be only one solution to the problem.”

I have had people actually argue points with me by using the above interpretations and that is annoying.

The principle of Occam’s Razor, although not really a Law, has been called the Law of Parsimony (also Economy and Succinctness). It states that plurality must not be posited without necessity. Simply put, where three actions are sufficient to solve a problem a fourth one would be a waste. Where seven would be enough eight is too much etc. It does not in any way indicate that we must look for just one action to solve the problem, just that we minimize said number.
The variables and chaos of real violence make it impossible for human beings to use just one movement to effectively protect themselves. As responsible trainers, our goal should be to find protective and counter-offensive movements that apply to as many areas as possible, therefore minimizing the number of movements and the time required to become skillful in such movements.
Although having to learn several movements to protect ourselves may seem daunting at first, there some other Laws and Principles that will help us in training and fighting more efficiently.

Practice Makes…Habit!

The Power Law of Practice states reaction time and ability to access skill improves as we repeat a task. We practice a desired skill over and over and we will be able to use it faster. Other studies also indicate that said response may become automatic with enough repetition. We all know this to be true in our experience as trainers and students of martial art, self-defense and combat sport, but it’s good to know that research supports our experience.
Combat, however, does not happen in a lab or an office, unless you are attacked there; but what about the chaos, fear, and adrenaline of a real confrontation? Won’t that affect your ability to access skill?

High Performance

During the chaos and suddenness of violence our body/mind system is executing so many tasks simultaneously that it would be negligent of us to call it a decision making process. What our body/mind system is actually engaged in is a performance.  Much like athletes perform at an event, somebody defending themselves is in THE athletic performance of their life.

 Many reality-based self- protection systems use “adrenal response” and other terms in almost a negative way or as an obstacle to be overcome in order to be able to protect ourselves.  The real name for this state is the Neuroendocrine Response as it involves the arousal and interaction of our Central Nervous System and our Gland System.  These glands release hormones to regulate our body directly into our blood stream. Epinephrine, the real name for adrenaline, is only one of them. There is much more to this chemical cocktail but the important part is that this response does have our best interest in mind.

The Yerkes-Dodson Law states that our level of performance actually improves when we are aroused or excited to a certain extent, especially if it’s a physical or movement task. If however, there is too much arousal, then our performance declines.

Our task as trainers should be then, not to just throw our students into experiences that produce a neuroendocrine response; but to provide training that allows the student to manage the level of arousal so as to perform as close to their peak capabilities as possible.

Although rare, there are some events that can occur so quickly that the neuroendocrine response occurs after the incident is over. Some trainers call this type of incident an ambush. In cases like this our body/mind system is usually protected by our startle reflex and most of the time with success. There is also another process or ability that can be accessed in circumstances with proper training and that is to simply respond. Or.... Observe and Act.

In For a Loop?

USAF Col. John Boyd developed a somewhat useful if not overused/misused model named the OODA Loop. OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. His model was designed to help with military strategy and fighter pilots during air to air combat. It does have some applicability to self-protection in the case of some social and asocial violent events in which the defender can see a situation unfold during an extended timeline. This makes the OODA Loop worthy of some study however, for sudden violence,  and with proper training, we can “cut” the OODA Loop in half and simply Observe and Act.

In fact we already possess a subconscious version of this skill, the infamous startle-reflex. Our body/mind system Observes/Detects a dangerous stimulus then Acts with a Startle-Reflex that deflects, avoids, intercepts, or mitigates the incoming danger.

Researchers studying the Power Law of Practice determined that skill can become automatic when there is but one action or step between stimulus and access to the skill. Practicing to this extent makes it possible for humans to Observe and Act in response to an attack. This response is made easier if the tactics practiced follow movements that are associated with our protective instincts.

Contiguous States

Guthrie’s Law of Contiguity states that if a stimulus elicits a particular response, when that stimulus is repeated a similar response will follow. Having knowledge that humans move instinctively in certain ways should help us build an array of responses that can be accessed more easily by our students. Easier access equals greater success which leads to…

The Law of Effect

This gem states that if a response to a stimulus is successful, that response is more likely to occur again when the stimulus is re-introduced. Succinctly, if it works the first time the response is likely to be repeated.

 What this all Means to Me

In the methodology of the Functional Edge System, I have found the above laws and principles have validated or guided the training I provide in the following way:

We start by teaching protective responses that are based on successful instinctive motions that occur when humans attack other humans (Laws of Contiguity and Effect)

We use only two root motions, Extension and Compression, and five ancillary motions, pulling, tearing, hammering, kicking and biting, to create our student’s arsenal (Occam’s Razor/Parsimony)

Our drills are designed to gradually expose our students to stress in order to develop skill while managing the Neuroendocrine Response and eventually reaching a state where they can Observe and Act (Yerkes-Dodson Law, OODA Loop)

Training and drills are also structured in such a way that the students are well prepared for scenario training rather than using scenario training as a “gut check” or trial by fire.
(For more on this subject dubbed the 11 Minute Jerry Rice Concept see my column )

What This all Means to You

If you are a Self-Protection trainer, science can be a useful tool to guide, model, and validate your experiences, modify your training and coaching methods and improve your skill.  You should be willing to search for ways to improve your students’ skill constantly. You should also be willing to discard old methods upon discovery of better ones.

It is essential that you remember to understand the place of these scientific studies and the context in which to use them. For example when I’m teaching end user level Self-Protection courses, the science, laws and principles are transparent, if not invisible, to the students. We do not discuss any of the laws above or principles. I provide them with drills and experiences based on those laws and principles, and their skill at dealing with violence improves. If I am training a group of coaches or instructors then understanding how research supports, validates and guides our actions is necessary and broken down in detail. They are also encouraged to conduct further research in those fields when desire and time permits.

Most importantly you must remember that Self-Protection, Combat Sport and Martial Art are…well.. Art!  If what we are doing is producing the results we envision; our students are good citizens who possess real skill that will save their life or that of a loved one when faced with a violent encounter, Voila! We have created our masterpiece! In that case, who cares what science says J.

Tony Torres

Copyright  Tony Torres

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