Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tactical not Technical

I was asked a question about how to transfer good footwork to sparring.

Most people have had the experience of learning stepping patterns in class, in solo forms, or as part of applications, but when things heat up ... It's all but lost. Start sparring, and all technique wooshes out of peoples brains as fast as you can say 'Monkey Dance'. 

But how to fix it?

The classic sparring scenario, which I have written about more than once, is two people facing off in protective gear. They might twirl their weapons, bounce up and down a bit, shuffle in and out on a line, get nervous - And then, one makes a break for it, entering with a quick strike, thus creating an opening which their opponent goes for, and both die either in a clash or on the retraction in a scrum.

There's plenty of examples of this dynamic on line, and as I only like posting good stuff from other people, I will leave you to find them for yourself.

Here however is a clip I do like, and for a very specific reason - It shows something important that needs to be noticed when considering the meaning of 'training for dueling'. And addresses what sparring should be more like.


This is what I see.

I know the guy in the suit is at the top of his system, and though I don't know the reasons for why these two guys are playing, I can tell that black-shirt guy is good too, but perhaps slightly lower skill level. There is of course the possibility that he does not want to embarrass suit guy by showing him up and winning, but let's assume that is not the case.

Suit guy is comfortable and confident, and though black-shirt guy obviously knows the style quite well, and is trying all kinds of stuff, he is not getting many hits (I think he tags an arm twice). Thing is, he's avoiding plenty too. There are very very few double deaths or examples of him entering recklessly to his doom. Each takes their time to assess openings and really spends time watching and looking for gaps.

Black-shirt guy tries to keep range and he plays as though he has an enormous respect for the lethality of the weapon in play. At this point suit guy changes things up by taking his jacket off to change the dynamic.

What I find interesting is that many people find this clip less satisfying than the clashing and the pokey stabby double death interactions you generally see. They say ... It's so slow. Nothing is happening. Boring. Why isn't there more attacking? It's not how it would be if it was real ....

So, sure, that's debatable, and obviously ... if you are outmatched and going to die anyway, then yes, take them with you. But what are you training for if all your test sparring is ending here?  We should not be training to die just to take someone out, and we should not be training to pick fights with the highly skilled.

You know what would have been a win here? Not picking the fight in the first place. That would have been the 'real' smart move. But not dying was smart too. Both were going to 'die' in this encounter, both knew it, and neither was willing to do so. That right there is what good training should give you.

But, but, but, you say, you should fight better people than you, to learn stuff. You have to put yourself in danger. Try things. Push yourself.

Yup you do.

And black shirt guy in this clip learned a bunch of stuff he can work on - He knows that his ability to create openings with suit guy is lacking, so he can work on ways to do that. He has to learn to move in different rhythms and with many qualities of movement. About being even more accurate about the edge of range .. and also that maybe he should wear a jacket too ...

Compare this to the double death brigade. Generally their whole game plan revolves around trusting to luck and speed, so what do they learn in comparison?

In all honesty? That they were not fast enough or lucky enough to win.

Add the weirdness of always sparring with apparent psychos with no concern for their own mortality, and the whole point of the training is ... what? Psychos may be 'real' in a self defense scenario, but in my experience, people that handle knives, and who face them, tend to be far more leery about getting cut than most students of the bladed arts I see on youtube.

It may seem more exciting to don the mask and throw yourself into the fray. More intense feels more real, right? But if you think about what you are learning from the experience, perhaps the 'less satisfying', slower, more mannered, clip, is in fact a far more useful training tool for upping skills?

Maybe you should stop looking for technical solutions to fix your problem, perhaps thinking tactically is better?

It will also help your footwork :-)


The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Randy referenced similar ideas in his latest post.
It has at last become something that more people are recognizing and the people out here who have been doing it, the anti taggers.
The hot harder faster brigade.
Of course everyone pays lips service to the the idea of what weapons can do to you, and maybe some even believe what they are saying, though in some ways I hope they don't because otherwise they are building some serious flaws into their own training and that of anyone who studies with them. The problem is that people like the intensity and and fun of the full out approach and then to paraphrase Rory, mistake intensity for truth, or perhaps claim the truth to justify it.
People faced with maiming and death are in general not going to risk it. Given what the potential for hand held weapons is, battles would have been blood baths if people attacked like they do in sparring and competition... but the weren't, until one side ran, then the killing happened, when it was safe, because the "fighting" had stopped.
It also make one wonder why people don't put 2 and 2 together, they whack away in their protective gear and then wonder why the technique is poor, or we don't see the actions from the sources appearing in sparring and competition!
Tying in with something Rory mentioned in his latest post, it isn't a zero sum game, so people will or should way up things to make sure we don't both loose.
I remember reading opinions from a WWII veteran, along the lines of the side that won an engagement wa not the side that got the things right, it was the side that made the lesser number of mistakes

Nick said...

Excellent post: of course part of what creates the "double death" is the fact that "winning" is usually defined as scoring a hit rather than not taking one, and also the notion of time limits borrowed from competitions, whether folks are actually competing or not. Again thanks for the post!

Rory said...

Just to consider, in a dueling system, if your footwork doesn't translate to sparring, it wasn't good footwork to begin with. Just a thought.

Mac said...

The bad guys don't care about footwork, deceptions, postures. Or even if you have a weapon. They may not even see it. They see you, they draw, and they kill, bingbamstab. No footwork, no tactics, no 'feeling you out,' no worries about iuchi. If you can perceive the threat early enough to get time/distance (position) to display an equal or greater weapon OR a greater intention (through paralanguage/posture) the attack will likely not happen. If you are within THEIR range, you only have one chance, one hit (one and done) driven directly, overwhelmingly and brutally into the teeth of their attack. I bring this up only because I have seen too many styles believe that their countless hours of duel training and their deep understanding of postures, positioning, movements, deceptions and the like will do them any good in a combat or self-defense scenario. Is there any way to connect the 'art' with the 'combat'? Might there be a way for your training and mind-set to be able to seamlessly and instantly translate from play to survival?

Maija said...

I think so, Mac, because it's about context and it's related 'goal'.
In a combat or self defense context, you choices are less, and often occur later in the 'options' time frame.
I might argue that the continuum, however, is the same. It runs from outright avoidance, through escape, evasive and script changing tactics, through psychological or physical determent, to actual necessity to incapacitate - Depending on intent and said time frame.

The footwork for 'taking someone out' comes from the intent

The footwork for evasiveness, again, comes from the intent.

(And here's where Rory's comment comes in - I would argue that the footwork follows the intent, so of course your system's footwork is going to suck if your intent does not match)

We all know how to avoid someone walking towards us on the sidewalk. We also know how to stutter step, skip, leap, shuffle, lurch, lunge, fall, and jump. We just don't connect it to what we are doing if our intent gets clouded.

Intent of a Monkey Dance is to dominate - very different footwork than staying alive.

And if the intent is to stay alive, what you need to do so will also dictate the footwork.

Do you need to cross the street? Run? Fall off line, spin and knock them over? Or perhaps just take that once only chance to save yourself by attacking into the 'teeth of the attack' ..or as Sonny would say 'take out the computer'?

There is no confusion in my mind if you understand the problem. The appropriate footwork should follow. What do they say? 'Form should follow function' .... Or perhaps in a martial arts context - 'The mind leads, the qi. The qi leads the body'

If you train to understand and see when your options are changing, see the 'shape' of things, surely then there should be no contradiction?

Mac said...

The value of learning footwork, made plain by our host - deceptive, evasive, linear, compressed, expansive, weaving, direct, etc., is, in my opinion, to teach the feet to be able to move reflexively and independently of the mind body, leaving them free to develop and carry out the tactics and techniques necessary to win/survive.

Some would say that time/distance changes the footwork from 'fancy' to direct. Understandable on face value - the closer the action, the higher up on the 'spectrum of action' (combat, self-defense, defensive tactics, etc.) the less time there is to 'run the (OODA) loop,' to make decisions, to live or die.

But even at face-to-face range, the 'Maija-motions' - the lie that just because the feet are moving one way, and in one rhythm, the hands will mirror; the cheat of the promise that the shoulders point to the direction of delivery and theft of the hips stealing your posture have (even more) value.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Also if "good" footwork is happening in one.situation but not in foreplay etc... To borrow from Rory... It would suggest that under stressors the lizard doesn't trust it?
Also, and nit saying it's the case here but I have seen it, is tat what comes.out under pressure can function while not "being" right by the way of the style.