Sunday, July 29, 2012

Myth-Directions and the Middle Path

Once again I will be sharing and expressing some views on Self Protection, Martial Art, and Combat Sport and on subjects related to the same that have recently surfaced on the "interweb" and caught my attention. In my usual fashion I will list what I see as potential problems then offer some alternatives and solutions.

Conceptualizing Concepts

Many systems, coaches, instructors and arts boast that they don't teach techniques but rather they teach "concepts". Their reasoning is usually that techniques are rigid and dogmatic or unrealistic while concepts are flexible and can be applied more easily under stress. There is one major problem with this; the definition of the word concept: Something conceived in the mind, and abstract or generic idea.

Basically a concept only exists in the mind and, unless you know some Jedi stuff I'm not aware of, a concept will not stop a knife from puncturing your heart or a rapist from taking what he wants.
Teaching concepts to folks who need Self Protection is like you showing up to a mechanic for car trouble and him just pontificating about the modern combustion engine and sending you on your way.

I know that Coaches and Instructors that use what they call a "Concept(s) Based Approach" are not maliciously misleading the public. They may simply be misinformed or misunderstand the meaning of the word. However there are shady characters out there that use the word concept as a gimmick in marketing to a culture less prone to participate in conventional training for self defense.

Principle-ly Speaking

Another term being misrepresented in our community is principles. As in "I teach principles of combat/defense/self-preservation/etc". A principle is a fundamental law or assumption, facts of nature. Self Protection is of such chaotic nature that the only laws we can be certain of in combat are the laws of physics which affect our entire universe. Anything beyond that is mere speculation.

So here is what the innocently misinformed coaches probably mean when they are talking about concepts, and what all conscientious instructors should be actually teaching and talking about instead of concepts...

Strategically Speaking About Directive Doctrine

What most people that advocate "concepts and principles",which we have shown to be quite vague and virtually useless, are really advocating or should be advocating is a self -protection or combat Doctrine, Directive and / or Strategy. Let's break these down.

Doctrine and Directive are closely related and are the basis of Strategy. Doctrine are a set of beliefs, for example, belief in your right to thrive in a healthy and happy environment and to use physical force if necessary to protect that right. This is a Doctrine. I am by no means saying this should be your Doctrine as only an individual can determine that, this is just an example of one.

A Directive starts giving substance to that Doctrine by specifically guiding your thoughts and actions towards a goal. Directives are affected by personal and professional commitments. For example, a person who when, by himself, as a citizen, may be able to reasonably justify running away from certain kinds of danger, may have a different directive when he becomes a police officer and even a different one still if they become a soldier. A Directive is a set of "instructions"  and "permissions" that you give yourself about how much and how far you are willing to go to achieve specific self protection outcomes.You can only reach directives after careful introspection. Also in order to determine Doctrine and Directives  we must "Know our enemy". We must figure out with which type of violence our personal and / or professional lives will put us in contact. This violence could be social, asocial, domestic, applied professional, received professional, or military, some or all of the above. In any case we must determine a hierarchy of what we are likely to face and create directives accordingly. Most people have not spent the time determining a personal and or professional directive and this may cause hesitation under stress.

A Strategy is a set of broad brush plans in place to deal with the violence we may encounter. For example we may have in place a Strategy of  Alertness, Prevention and Avoidance in order to thwart harm that has not yet reached us and a strategy of Survival, Reversal, Engagement and Escape in cases where the contact phase of an assault has already started.

What is really interesting about Doctrine, Directive, and Strategy is that they all occur in our mind. We can discuss them and help our students formulate them but they are still internal.

Tactful About Tactics

And now we get to the meat of the matter, Tactics. About fifteen years ago I remember finding a definition for tactics in a dictionary that I have not been able to find since. What is interesting is that the definition came to lesser use because most of the time  people using the word where referring to military, fighting or combat "tactics".
To this day I prefer the neutral definition I found so long ago: Tactics- the Efficient use of movement, a procedure or method of working using expert movement.

Tactics, when trained and executed properly, are the physical manifestation of our Doctrine, Directives, and Strategy. If we have a doctrine that advocates escape but training that emphasizes tactics that keep us engaged with an opponent to continually deliver damage, we should clearly see that our tactics and strategy or directives are in conflict. Time to introspect and see which needs modifying.

In conclusion to this section.  Talk to your students less about "Concepts and Principles" and more about developing Doctrine, Directive, Strategy and Tactics. Also when you do this make sure that you are helping the student explore and develop his own, not just imposing yours. Because you and your student will have different Attributes, a subject that I will address in a future blog :-)

War on Warriors

There is entirely too much use of the word Warrior. Lately people have been identifying themselves or others with this word automatically imbuing it, and themselves, with all kinds of positive traits. Read the following definitions carefully and you will see that the term warrior can only be used to truly describe a very small percentage of people and that description does NOT automatically mean that said person is inherently good, noble or honorable. I have interlaced the definitions with all the relevant and critical meanings so that the reader may do some mental subtraction as the meaning of the word becomes narrower.

Warrior:  one engaged {involved in activity} or experienced {made skillful or wise through participation} in warfare {military [relating to soldiers or war] operations between enemies}.

Nothing in the definitions above indicates tenaciousness, kindliness, virtue, or any of the numerous other positive traits that are being associated with the term. Those positive traits belong to such humans that choose to develop them and are just qualities of being a good human being not qualities of a warrior.

You can be a good warrior or a terrible one. You can be a noble warrior or an evil one. Stop using the term as a badge of honor, specially if you didnt earn it.

Trademarking Truth About Mucho Macho

Some instructors and coaches, some famous, some not so much, include in their teaching engagements or interactions with students or potential clients, a session at the beginning or end of training that goes something like this: (Standby for cartoonish depiction in 3, 2, 1...)

Statement 1 Out loud or to self- "I can kick anybody's ass here!" 

Statement 2 usually out loud- "Who wants to try to kick my ass?"

Incident 1 Instructor Soundly Kicks ASS of Student who plunked down hard earned cash to learn from him using techniques that he has mastered through years of repetition against half-hearted attacks initiated by said psychologically off-balance student.

Result 1 student who has his ass handed to him, and most of audience, are appropriately impressed and will forever be followers of that "guru".

Result 2 Intelligent people will question validity of social experiment they just witnessed.

Result 3 Student in audience that is daughter, mother, sister is scarred for life knowing that they cant ever hope to defend themselves from a guy like that.

Result 4 Cop in audience scratches his head thinking "What a dick!"

Result 5 Ambulance is called for student injury...or instructor.

The sad part is that I have seen this scenario unveil in various forms. Folks have told me of private lessons that went like that with some World renowned teachers. I have witnessed famous trainers challenge students questions by basically challenging them to a fight or putting them in dangerous but unrealistic scenarios in which said instructors had the cards stacked in their favor.
I have seen instructors sell their system by lining up students and defeating them under rules and circumstances that said students would never find themselves in.

The simple truth is this, your ability to "kick someone's ass" only proves one thing, you kicked that person's ass. It does not mean that your system is the best or that the person should train like you to achieve the same results. 
Love your martial art, combat sport, or self protection method enough so that you continue to practice, develop and evolve but not so much that you are blinded to other avenues and answers that, although they may not be the best for you, they may be useful to those you are trying to help.

If you truly are confident that the skills you have to share will work for yourself and your students, then putting them in a scenario that may cause potential injury and really has no educational value is, at best ignorant and unprofessional, at worst a silly display of macho ego, potentially dangerous and well...unprofessional. 

Be responsible to your students by challenging myths, especially your own, the truth almost always lies somewhere in the middle of extremes. So endeth this rant :-)

Tony Torres

Copyright Tony Torres

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