People who’ve sparred a lot in combat sports or in their weapons training become good at things I call “micro-movements”, which are rarely taught and legitimately hard-to-teach. Why they’re not taught, predominantly, is because they’re different for every person and experience-driven. (Other contributing factors: the club doesn’t spar or spar often, and the instructor doesn’t know how to impart that particular info due to the previous sentence) Whatever the reason, they are instinctive and good fighters do them innately/experientially They’re things you figure out on your own (learned, not “taught”) that are subtle and minute but can change the outcome – instinctive and innate. They’re NOT skills like “evading”, “trapping”, or “countering” but the minutiae that facilitate those skillsets. For example – foot placement/replacement, subtle weight shifts, fades, angling, feinting/feigned body commitment or vulnerability, pulls/pushes, pivots, small barely-seen body movements, all the way to feinting and baiting.
They’re NOT techniques but things learned WHILE fighting, the small elements that we discover repeatedly over time during the honing of those “tools” during testing and application against active and dynamic resistance. People who just do relatively static TMA, I’ve found personally, don’t have these and often aren’t even aware of them. Boxers, grapplers, fencers, all have them as they seldom do anything other than pound fundamentals and train pressure, AND how to fine-tune those fundamentals under pressure. Small nuances that exceptional and experienced fighters do, is what sets them apart. (We see it repeatedly in combat sports with those who excel) And when something is innate and instinctive, it’s immediately more “recallable” and accessible.
Had a nice conversation with a young mother in Germany. From her perspective, primary schools and kindergartens are becoming more violent and the teachers do nothing. If a victim reports an act of bullying, the victim either gets in trouble or is called a tattletale and shamed for reporting.
Are schools actually more violent?
Two reasons why what you hear may not be what is there:
The first is that reporting on violence does not equal violence. The first time I tracked this, there was a period (and, sorry, can’t be more specific. I’m an old man who’s had a lot of concussions, so it’s better not to trust my memory) anyway, during this period, violent crime dropped by 10%, while reporting on violent crime rose 300%. So people experienced a 10% drop in violence but were exposed to a tripling in the violence they heard about. People felt that crime was skyrocketing and that contributed greatly to the tough-on-crime legislation that followed.
Same with bullying. My kids experienced significantly less physical (and I think verbal) violence and bullying than was common in my time. Bullying has always been endemic, but when reporting on bullying became a fad it sounded like the bullying itself had skyrocketed.
The second factor is that where we set the bar for violence has shifted. The mom I talked to said her son is attacked every other day. Bruises? No. Bloody noses? No. If a push or a threat is considered violence now and it wasn’t when I was a kid, it will look like violence is rising because we throw more things under the label. So caveat lector.
There is a third spoiler, and one that people who use government statistics have to be very wary of. Bureaucracies have become increasingly sophisticated. Many have learned that you can affect the statistics directly. The zero-tolerance policies in US schools mean that the victim who reports an act of violence is also punished for partaking in a violent act. Punish the reporters and the crime won’t get reported. Voila, reported acts of bullying have dropped to almost zero.
Want to eliminate reported rape? Send the victims to jail if they report. Then no one will report and, according to the bureaucracies’ paperwork, the crime will no longer exist.*
Bullying has always existed. It exists in animals. Bullying is not the strong preying on the weak, it is the strong showing their power by toying with the weak. The reason it always happens is because kids, as a rule, have very little power, so when they find some, they revel in it. Affecting the world and expressing power are the same thing. And it feels good. Creating art, or building a bookshelf or finishing an article all feel good and all affect the world. And the same with breaking things. When a kid learns that he can make another child cry, that is power. And it feels good. A lot of socialization is teaching kids not to use that power.
Fighting and bullying.
Fighting first. Being raised rural and blue-collar, fighting was just something boys did. We learned it was fun, we learned that it hurt. It also had consequences. Every family was a little different but there were types of fights you would be praised for (defending your younger sibling from being picked on) and others you would get in trouble for (being a bully and losing***.)
So you learned, over time, what was worth fighting for and how to regulate damage.
Bullying. The strong pick on the weak. But the strongest up through high school were always the adults, the teachers. Stronger, bigger, more experienced (because most of my instructors had also been raised in an environment where fighting was an acceptable, normal skill) the teachers would win. If they saw a fight going too far, they would grab whoever was winning by the scruff of the neck and throw him (usually a him) across the room.
It was a rare expression of adult power, but it had a message: No matter how big or tough you were, there was someone bigger and tougher. Anything you did to your victims could be done to you.
And in that was a huge lesson. Maturity, being adult, was about having power and not using it. At least not using it to dominate others. And there was a smaller lesson as well: There are times when it is fully appropriate to use force, like when stopping people from victimizing others.
This process eventually, for most, grew into a healthy socialization about power and violence. It wasn’t perfect, of course. Diversity means that a one-size-fits-all answer will always be wrong. But this approach had evolved over millennia and worked pretty well
Two expressions from this era: “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” “How do you think you would feel if I did to you what you did to him?” Encapsulated that socialization process. This system actually builds empathy.
The ability to manipulate time is the ultimate super power. The benefits of time travel are obvious. So too is having the capability to slow time down and dodge bullets Matrix style. If you can control time, you will always be faster than your opponent. This advantage would virtually guarantee your victory in a physical contest. But let’s face it, you can’t control time. But you can optimize the manner in which you use time.
You can optimize the use of time through efficient brain processing which allows you to move and think as fast and smoothly as possible. Just like a computer with a faster microprocessor, you can get more done and quicker.
Your brain can be thought of as having two systems. System I is the fast processing part of brain that doesn’t think on a cognitive level. It processes movement, touch, and balance and is based, in part, around your Cerebellum. System II is the slow processing part of your brain that thinks, strategizes and is based around your Prefrontal Cortex. Most complex tasks such as human physical performance and competitions require both System I and System II utilization. The trick is to deconstruct these tasks so they are accomplished in the most efficient manner by your utilization of System I and System II.
As an analogy, imagine you have two friends Flash and Geeky. Flash moves very fast, but he can only do certain tasks and follow known patterns. Geeky on the other hand, moves slow, but his actions are creative and strategic. Your job is to locate a needle in a haystack. One method would be to divide the haystack in half and have Flash and Geeky sift through their respective piles. A more effective method would be to have Geeky devise a clever searching strategy that both he and Flash could implement.
When it comes to optimizing your overall task processing, your System II devises a plan of action that your System I is able to execute for certain aspects of the task.
Let’s examine juggling three balls as a complex task to be accomplished. If you pick up three balls and attempt to juggle without prior experience, you will fail. You will not know how to get started other than to throw the balls up in the air. No pattern will emerge. There is nothing instinctive about the standard three ball juggling pattern.
As an aside, you can learn to juggle two balls in one hand by doing nothing other than practicing. That is because it is intuitively obvious how to do it. You just need practice. Rock climbing is the same. Put someone in front of a rock face (not too hard) and he or she can just start climbing. She may be technically weak, but she can get started. The same goes for fighting. Emotions aside, anyone can physically fight without training. He or she may fight poorly, but he can do it.
In order to juggle, your System II must discover and learn the three ball juggling pattern. Once you intellectually understand the pattern, you still must implement it on a physical level. You will throw the balls up in the air as before, and they will still fall to the ground. It will appear to you that you have no time to throw, catch, throw, and repeat the pattern. You will feel rushed and overwhelmed. The problem is that your System II processing is too slow to be able to juggle three balls. And your System I has not had enough pattern training/repetitions/practice to take over primary processing control. Therefore, if you are like most people, you decide that juggling is too hard to learn and you quit.
But if you are determined to persist, you need a strategy for success. In the beginning, you need to slow down and reduce the inputs to your System II to a manageable level. You start with one ball. Your System II can handle one ball with ease. You have plenty of time to throw and catch back and forth. You add a second ball. Now it seems that you have less time to respond. The balls seem to move faster (they don’t). Two balls results as many throws and catches (inputs) as your System II can handle.
The more you practice, the more your System I will become involved in the processing. As System I builds proficiency and takes over processing from System II, you will feel as if you have more time. You throw and catch without thinking about the movements. They just happen. It seems as if the balls slow down. Eventually, you will notice that you have time to throw a third ball into the pattern. But once the 3rd ball is in play, you will feel rushed again.
At this point, your System I doesn’t know how to process the three ball pattern. Your System II must guide the pattern which slows down the overall processing. Hence, your feeling of having no time. The more you practice, the more System I processes and the less System II processes. With enough training and repetitions, you will be able to juggle three balls and feel as through you have plenty of time. When System I is primarily processing, System II is available to focus on other tasks such as observation of your surroundings, talking, planning future movements/tricks and so forth.
Now imagine that the processing doesn’t involve juggling. The task to be performed is hand-to-hand/stick/knife/gun fighting. The overall concept is the same. The more pattern movements processed by System I, the more time you feel is available for higher level System II cognitive tasks. Time seems to have slowed down for you (It hasn’t). But you have optimized your brain processing and resulting performance.
When competing directly against another person(s), you want to reverse to happen to him or her. You want to degrade his performance. You want him to feel as if time has sped up, and that he has no time to think or act. You want his System II processing to be overwhelmed. You want him to feel like you did when you first tried to juggle three balls. To want him to give up.
Your goal is to force him out of fast System I processing into slow System II processing. You can accomplish this goal in multiple ways. Here are a few:
You change the movement pattern to an area that the other person’s System I is unable to handle, but your System I is able to handle.
You put your opponent in an emotional state that interferes with his System I processing ability.
You force him to “think” by making him uncertain, hesitant, or fearful. You want his System II to second guess his System I, thus degrading his overall efficiency.
The bottom line is that accomplishing complex tasks effectively requires prior brain training and maintaining optimal brain processing in real time. While you can’t manipulate the actual passing of time, you can still use time to your advantage.
In this article we examine why we need to train the mind as well as the body, better people than us have written extensively on the theory and practice and between us we have used over their works to inform our training methodology. Marc MacYoung and Rory Miller in particular but many others contributed to my learning and how we help people train at the Academy of Self Defence.
Whether we class ourselves as teaching a martial art, self defence, RBSD or whatever we call our stuff, we think that teaching the practical skills and techniques is the easy bit, that does not mean everyone teaches well. The vast majority of ‘instructors’ in this diverse and entirely unregulated ‘industry’ of ours have little or no training in how to teach. Most have worked their way through the ranks, put in the time on the mat, some have not, and, being generous here, most do what they do with good intentions. Some, luckily a minority, are either con artists, deluded or both.
Possession of the relevant techniques and skills of what is being taught, good coaching skills should be a no brainer and a sound theoretical underpinning of what you are teaching are the three main elements that instructors need. The top these up with bags of confidence and excellent communication skills and away you go. With these five things together you can teach the techniques, the skill, the art but how effectively can we train the mind.
Let me digress slightly, over the years we have had a quite a few discussions with students, instructors and especially between the 2 of us. Most people (students) understood that we could teach simple but effective techniques that they could learn, drill and repeat in comfort and increasingly under pressure but they questioned whether they could actually bring them to ‘do it’ to somebody even if it was somebody attacking them. The honest answer is of course that we cannot know whether they could or not. It is not an answer many want to hear. More importantly it is less an answer anybody wants to give, not if your income relies on getting them signed up as student. That is a killer of a dilemma and for many it is the elephant in the room, everybody knows it is there but they are all willingly blind.₂
Here is another killer, no pun intended. Learning martial art is no walk in the park, we speak from experience, but it should be underpinned by a wider skill set. We do not need to go out and take degree after degree course in order to develop this but an attitude that celebrates and indulges us in continuing professional development is essential. We will never be fully formed as humans, there is too much ‘knowledge’ out there to ingest and digest but we can strive to learn a little more everyday.
So how did learning the techniques and drilling them over and over creates the neural networks that make future use possible, so actually training is the keystone in the process, without it we cannot build further. Our students are not empty vessels, they have their own fully developed values and beliefs, inculcated over many years and these include, for the normal person, beliefs related to harming and damaging other human beings, beliefs that tell us it is wrong, a taboo. Our students are not signing up to have their values and beliefs reprogrammed, they want to be able to prevent being hurt. well it is a long job to help them achieve this and whether we know it or not we will be using operant conditioning.
Now the person who manages to assist ordinary decent people develop a mental attitude that will instil in them the mental ability to dish out some actual or grievous bodily harm, albeit in self defence, in a fun, sweet and cuddly way will probably mint it. Or set their students up for injury or death.
For a small example just watch the following video.
Time for a new acronym, EAR, this stands for Encourage, Assist and Reward. In the clip Jack receives two instructions, being told to roll over plus the motion made with the reward, over a period of time he is persistently encouraged with an even tone, exactly the same stimulus each time, he is assisted then rewarded, he desires the reward, he realises that if he rolls over when asked he gets the reward, clever Jack. Our students are more sophisticated animals but the process is the same, within our training we need to introduce stimuli that represent a threat, the student is encouraged to respond with power and aggression to repel or downgrade the threat quickly, this done they receive praise, the reward they desire, EAR. We are encouraging them to develop their controlled aggression. For a more violent example please take a look at the following.
We have all heard many anecdotes of the effect of just hearing the command ‘fix bayonets’ has had in diminishing an enemies will to fight on, it is the primitive fear of being impaled on cold steel. Killing someone with a bayonet is not neat and never very pretty and incredibly hard to do, from a psychological perspective, but replace the dummies for our focus or Thai pads and the training process is the same, we too use operant conditioning, (I notice it is a war face and not a killing face, on camera).
Militaries the world over have invested money beyond imagination into working out how to make normal people into killers₃, not irreversibly but as and when needed, in battle. Much of that research is underpinned by psychological and sociological factors and we can take it and use the same underlying principles. Of course we are not going to scream and use profanities at our students, of course not, we are going to scream and use profanities with them as they use force, use violence to defeat or repel the attacker. If we are to empower them to quickly turn a state of normality to one completely abnormal to them, like training the young soldiers to kill manually up close, we need to build on the new neural networks created by learning and drilling technique. Once the drill is hardwired hardware it is possible to create yet more neural networks connected to them, repeated training loads the supporting software. we make the actions that make up our responses to attack habits. Predators have habits, attackers have habits, we have habits, we can create new habits₄ lets look at the psychological training of the military.
The example used explains the need for close analysis of the situation and identification of component factors and the relationships between them. So removing the food vendors, left field if ever you saw it, removed the threat.₅
We argue it is good practice to analyse our students and our training, identify the component parts and the relationships that exist between them. Maybe we need to analyse the drills, the equipment and environment in which we train. Is the threat quietly menacing or threatening verbally, is the threat approaching in interview style or is it an ambush, are you on lovely mats with well-lit and dry surroundings or are you in a burnt out, dim shell of a building or a deserted car park. Are we training both the mind and the body? We argue we need to Encourage, Assist and reward our students as they progress from automatic repetition to a thought out series of actions based on what the threat is and not what an instructor said the threat would be.
Think about it, we all train mostly in safe, well-lit dojo and gyms, it is not where our students will be attacked. Maybe we need to not only think outside the box but train outside it too. Maybe we need to experiment, to play around with how and where we do things, please let me know how you work to train the mind as well as the body not just to learn the drills and techniques but to apply them with controlled aggression. Last point, to EAR you also have to hear.
We look forward to hearing from you, comments, criticisms and your thoughts all welcome. For now it is back into the trenches for us and until then, fix bayonets and remember…….
Marc and Rory have both produced huge volumes of excellent work in books, video, in training sessions and on their websites, go help yourself.
2 ‘Violence of Mind: Training and Preparation for Extreme Violence’ by Varg Freeborn.
3 ‘On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society’ by Dave Grossman.
4 ‘The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We do and How to Change’ by Charles Duhigg.
5 ‘Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Programme can Save Your Life’ by Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley.