Sunday, June 30, 2013

Traumatic Thoughts

I wanted to share my opinion on a subject that affects both the Combat Sport and the Self Protection arena. The issue of brain trauma. I have read plenty of articles, watched documentaries, and medical studies and I invite you to do the same. Do your research. The opinions here are based on personal observations and the information I have found. I will approach this from a couple of different angles in the hopes to present a smart picture of what head contact, and brain trauma can entail in training, competition, and self protection.


Watch the following clips focusing on head contact and their effect. On the recipients. Important: try not to analyze the circumstances or scenario, just focus on the number of collisions, frequency and severity of impact as well as end result. We will come back to this after you have read the rest of the blog.
2.   (The last fake demo doesn't count)
3. (mostly social hierarchical violence but some asocial criminal assaults as well)
4.  ( a few from combat sport)


First off, if you are either from a sports camp or self protection method and you say or think something like this. "We train full contact all out no holding back with head shots all the time ,every time because that makes us tougher competitors / its how it goes on the street!"; you are a moron! With the information available out there with reference to brain trauma. Anybody engaging in daily full contact sparring with full contact to head is just plain irresponsible.

Ill start with an example from the world of MMA.  Remember the Lion's Den? Remember Camp Miletich?  Both of those camps were ruling the roost in the early days of MMA. Both of those camps bragged and boasted about the "beastings" they would put potential new talent through to prove their toughness.  Both camps also bragged about their daily super hard sparring sessions often invoking the cool sounding but erroneous phrase "iron sharpens iron". The real truth is that iron dulls and ruins iron specially when swords collide. 
Have you heard Mikey Burnett speak lately? Jens Pulver? Shortly after the two camps reigned supreme the number of their fighters at the top dwindled and so did the performance level of those that remained. Now neither camp has any fighters doing well. 
Continuous all out sparring with heavy head contact not only has brain to motor function consequences, as stated in Antonio Damsio's work "Descartes Error", injury to the brain can also result in personality and behavioral problems. Both fighters mentioned above suffer such problems.
Granted really hard sparring may develop toughness, but A. Is that toughness necessary for the goals you want to accomplish? B. If it is necessary, is it really worth it at the cost of relationships, function and future skill? And C. Are you actually tougher if you are already broken but don't even know it?

The attribute we really want to develop is resilience, the ability to bounce back from mistakes, and bad situations. Continuous hard head contact sparring is not necessary to develop resilience.

Instead use a variable contact schedule when you plan your training. Our torso and legs can take a bit more punishment without ill effects so we can schedule harder contact there more frequently. Using light head contact on almost all your sparring sessions ( remembering its hard to keep track of changing contact levels in the same session). Once every other week maybe include moderate contact and  maybe once every 4 to 6 weeks have a short duration session that includes hard head contact with appropriate protection on a padded, protected floor to prevent incidental trauma if somebody does get knocked out.

Remember you can develop speed and power on equipment, sparring is designed to develop reflexes and timing. Thai Boxers (from Thailand) are some of the toughest and most resilient fighters out there.  They also have some of the busiest fight schedules of any combat athlete in the planet.  Their sparring is almost always light and timing focused. 

On your Light or Moderate sparring days you want to alternate how you are controlling the contact using fast but light penetration on some days and fuller penetration at slow speed on others.

All of the above applies if you are engaging in full contact scenario training as well. Training "realistically" is counter productive if in the process you are causing brain damage to your student. Don't make the mistake of thinking if your not going hard all the time you are not being real. 
 In a previous blog I explained how even in pro football, they keep there scrimmage to a lower level of intensity than the real game. Because they want to save the players for the actual event.
Our event is thriving in a fruitful and happy life, let the bad guy bring what he brings on that day if it ever comes, we should save our IQ and physical health when training with other good guys.


So if you haven't watched the clips, go watch them now, if you did, watch them again. Focus on watching the real ( both social violence and the asocial criminal assaults) fights.
What I have found after watching thousands of hours of these videos and others like them is a weird pattern of non patterns on the results end of the scale. I have seen this pattern in knife assaults and in gun fights. The "non" pattern is this; you observe some victims and / or combatants taking multiple hard, savage blows to the head, face and neck and come out with very little injury, maybe a case of slight dizziness or even a very mild concussion; and you see people die or go into a coma or receive severe brain damage from the impact of a single blow. Usually because they get knocked out and the additional impact of their head on the concrete floor or other surface.

The reason I bring this up is because the unpredictability of the damage we may receive, when somebody threatens me with an assault on the street I personally treat this as a "near deadly force scenario".  I am prepared if necessary and tactically sound to pre-emptively engage my attacker in order to escape the situation.  I use the term "near deadly force" because I would not escalate to, lets say, a firearm in a one on one confrontation unless I was sure that deadly force was coming. However I would definitely use my personal weapons on some very delicate targets very quickly in order to shut down the attack rapidly. 

I would do this regardless of which type of violence I am facing.  I would do it against some guy that wants to punch me to show his buddies how tough he is ( social hierarchical dick measuring violence)  or if I was cornered by a criminal in a dark alley (asocial resource seeking violence)

It is the unpredictability of the results that make this a critical issue for you to resolve BEFORE it happens. 
This is a decision you must make in advance and it is very personal. Whatever the decision you make, whether to engage as if deadly force is imminent, or as something else, you must make sure that the choice empowers and mobilizes  you and does not create hesitation.

Remember the bad guy does not care and, in some cases, does not know he's using potentially deadly force. Neither do you so prepare and. Respond accordingly.

Tony Torres
Copyright Tony Torres

1 comment:

  1. A great post Tony. We've had some concerns with head trauma, especially the cumulative effects, for some time and have changed our training habits as a result. The number of 'old timers' that I know personally who are experiencing cognitive and motor impairment can't be a coincidence.

    Lately there's been a lot of media coverage here Downunder relating to head trauma, concussion and long term ill effects for football players which can easily be extrapolated and inserted into our 'game'.