Monday, November 5, 2012

Acknowledging Hits

Interesting conversation going on regarding how to frame a set of rules for competitive sword sparring. In this case Bolognese style, which looks like great fun but I profess to know nothing about.

This post is inspired by the discussion about rules for competition, not as a critique about this particular set (that actually seems quite sensible), as I know nothing about their system, but more as a springboard to put forward my point of view on rules and sparring in general.

I for one am not a fan of rules .... the more you have the less realism and smart adaptation you get ... I mean you get adaptation ... but to the rules, and as the rules are there generally for safety, and dueling really is not a safe sport, the adaptions become silly, and purely focused on the rule-defined-win, which is often very far away from anything approaching realism.

For me, the first question, before any format is drawn up, should be - Why include free form sparring in the system at all?

My answer would be - Because what you train in a more formal/playful setting, should work, and be put to good use in a combative setting also. If it does not manifest, or does not work, the material should be revisited and perhaps revised. Sparring is a place to test this.

Sword sparring, in my opinion, should be integral to the learning process, the goal of which is to understand as closely as possible, the weapon you are using and the context you are using it in. Ideally, should some time machine or teleporter be invented that could throw you into a time and a place where you really needed to 'do your thing', the training should have given you as strong a chance as possible to prevail.
If this is the goal .... and for some it may not be (and of course there is also the debate as to the actual parameters of the skills we practice ..... but if it IS the goal) then the only rule I would want to instill in any free sparring scenario, is the acknowledgement of hits.
OK .... I also like The Dog Brothers - 'Be friends at the end of the day, and have both participants leave with the same IQ that they started with', AND 'Only you are responsible for you' ......
The safety requirements should be taken care of through the design of the training weapons used, and the protective equipment worn, which should be kept relevant to context, again to prevent stupid decision making.

But back to acknowledging hits ....
If you read the Facebook conversation linked to from this blog post, you will see a few different points of view on this.
Here is mine, and the reasons why I think it is a worthy skill, and an important part of sparring.

First off - Some strikes are more incapacitating than others, and I think it obviously valuable to practice fighting through hits, so I do not equate acknowledgement of a hit with stopping the play. It's perfectly possible to acknowledge with no break in play ... and if this is not possible, it means your forebrain needs more training to keep up, as it is what strategizes and makes the smart decisions, and SHOULD be on line and paying attention.

Some commented in the discussion that in the heat of the moment, you can't be expected to notice these hits, and leaving it up to the player can cause grief when they do not acknowledge being hit.
I understand this point, but would counter with the idea that the very practice of noticing should be part and parcel of the play.
IF, and I say again IF, the idea is to protect yourself and prevail with as little injury to your person as possible, the hits against you are hugely important to notice, acknowledge and work to try and avoid next time. I think that leaving the noticing to an external source ONLY hands over responsibility that should be yours and yours alone. By all means have an external observer as an extra set of eyes, or as a corroborating witness, but do not rely on them to stop the game or call the hits.
Acknowledge them, NOT so you can stop and run away/give up/roll over ... but because you want to avoid them in the future.

Another issue that came up in the discussion is what is disparagingly known as 'knife dancing' in some circles - This is when both parties dance about out of range and neither wants to enter. The feeling was that focusing on the taking of hits would prevent entries and 'real action'. Well, good. That's probably realistic. Who the hell in their right mind would want to engage an armed enemy if they did not need to?

Which brings me to ......
If you want to create a reason to engage, figure out a goal that is separate from 'winning' against the opponent. Perhaps there is an object that both sides try to get and take out of the arena? Or perhaps one is guarding the object and the other needs to get past them. Perhaps one has friends coming and one needs to escape before they show up?
Focusing too much on defeating the opponent is often a flawed goal. This "Monkey Dance" with lethal weapons is a mixed up set of circumstances, and the lethality of the weapons should dictate that this is a fight for survival NOT for dominance.
Learning how to do it better, and gaining this ability to prevail and get away, is far more sensible than the old Filipino story that describes the aftermath of a standard challenge match  ..... One goes to the hospital .... and the other goes to the morgue.


Jake said...

Interesting stuff. I haven't read the discussion, but the issue reminds me of one that pops up in Muay Thai as well. We do a lot of light, play sparring, and I find myself reminding students not to develop tactics based on the fact that we are going light. That leg kick may not have hurt now, but it might really hurt if the other guy tries to put it on you.

(This used to come up occasionally when I did Uechi-ryu as well,but that was usually in the form of "in a real fight, that punch would have done X." Which was often bullshit.

This is one of the great advantages of grappling. If you throw someone, it's pretty clear.

In Muay Thai, the reason for the engagement is a lot clearer/easier. If you're in the ring, you ought to want to engage. Yes, it's a monkey dance, but you agreed to the dance, so go do it.

Not the same level of risk as with a sword, of course.

I guess I find it gratifying to know this problem exists in other places.

Elrik Jundis said...

Given that we are writing about weapons sparing safety is a key issue. Thus there are always safety rules (assumed or directly stated). I would ask what are the unspoken/spoken guidelines for keeping "random flow" safe?

In Escrima Serrada "Flow Sparing" aka "Counter for Counter' the "basic rules" are 1)Hits are only directed to the head, torso or legs. 2) Attack and defense are separate so a give and take can follow 3) Range (using the dog brother terminology of 7 ranges) Medio hits (see rule 1).

As one get's better and more proficient with the basics then they can move to other ranges, targets, changing the give and take, etc - at that point that would be considered Advance sparing concepts for Counter to Counter. But the focus is still on flowing and in developing both practitioners. This is one form of the formal, fun play I think you were alluding to.

In sparing, which I didn't really start to explore until 10 years into FMA - the focus (at least from the individual practitioners view point can be limited to developing their skill set alone). Rules/Agreements, safety equipment plus a Ref/intermediary/first aid expert allowed me to let go and open up in new ways. Especially when I am not overly worried/focused on keeping my training partner safe etc. Also I think in this day and age it's a waste of sparing time to not video tape and review fights. There is so much to learn and very quickly I might add.

Also at least to my experiences Corto is the only system that has a "Flow" that engages ranges and footwork so dynamically. At this point DBMA at least has drills that develop skills for movement and crossing ranges. But at least on the public tapes they are not yet exploring "Random Flow" like Sonny's students.

When I started to spare I luckily had access to a number of folks who were both "damn" good competitors in various rules of FMA sport fighting but who also looked at how those "sport" techniques related to "real world" FMA. One thing I realized was that different rules and equipment changed interactions and "obviously" led to developing differing skill sets and attributes. There are traditionally many rules sets for sparing - various kinds of "safe" free sparing was more common that "death matches".

Another big eye opener for me was seeing how those students who had chosen to put more time into Corto Cadena advanced much faster in various sparing games (where there was painful incentive to not get hit). Non-blade oriented fighters are more likely to not care about putting their focus on counting or even noticing when they get hit. Where as I almost always tried to treat the weapon as a blade and was keenly aware of if and when I got hit.

Maija said...

Thanks for the comment Elrik.
I think one of the misconceptions about Random Flow training is that it IS sparring .... I see Flow as a format for exploration, so safety is implied as it is most often your ego getting the beating, more than your body :-)
I remember Sonny talking about training as a kid in the PI and doing it the old school way of getting hit until you found a way to avoid it.
I think he probably started teaching that way in the States too, but came to realize that people would either stop coming, or that the pain itself was building in flinch responses that were counter productive to gaining skills.

Flow can segue pretty easily into sparring depending on who you are flowing with and how the mood is that day. I personally think that both people should be playing at the edge of their skills and comfort zone on a regular basis, and this ability to calibrate is a hugely important skill for improving one's 'expression' and 'HATA' skills.
Also, you gotta put the speed and the intent into the play every so often, even if you restrain the power a little, to see how it changes the game.
Everything I learn should work against someone that does NOT want it to work on them, after all ....:-)
And yes, thoroughly agree with videoing progress, you learn so much from watching yourself, stuff you would not believe by just being told it.
And as far as not getting hit ... I can't remember when evasion was NOT part of the focus for the day .... like Sonny would say 'that's where the Art is' ...