Motor Skills
By Hal Herndon
Chief Instructor,
Georgia Mountain Krav Maga

December 28, 2018, Georgia, USA

Motor Skills-----“Rules” always have exceptions….no exception!

An article in “Scienting” defines motor skills as follows:

Motor skills involve the function of muscle movements in the entire body. There are two groups of motor skills. Gross motor skills direct performance of large muscle groups, and fine motor skills control precision of muscle movements in the body.

Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills maneuver large muscle groups coordinating functions for sitting, standing, walking, running, keeping balance and changing positions, according to Anna Maria Wilms Floet, MD, on eMedicine. Throwing a ball, riding a bike, playing sports, lifting and sitting upright are brief descriptions of large motor movements. Gross motor skills depend upon muscle tone, the contraction of muscles and their strength for positioning movements.

Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills coordinate precise, small movements involving the hands, wrists, feet, toes, lips and tongue. Features of fine motor control include handwriting, drawing, grasping objects, cutting and controlling a computer mouse. Experts agree that one of the most significant fine motor achievements is picking up a small object with the index finger and thumb referred to as the pincher grip, which usually occurs between 8 and 12 months of age.

From a personal standpoint, although I have been thinking about this off and on for a long time, a conversation with one of our advanced students, Leslie Moore (an IKI black belt and 6th Dan in TaiJitsu) stimulated this post. His background and mine are similar in many respects although the styles are somewhat different. However our mutual understanding of both sides of this situation gave me a little more confidence to share the thought process.

So……., regarding self defense, how do these figure into the scenarios?

In Krav Maga circles we tend to say that fine motor skills won’t work in a real confrontation so we teach and work with techniques and concepts based primarily on gross motor skills which actually do work under extreme stress (i.e., life threatening situations).

Many people experienced in real world conflicts and/or in professions that require them to face determined aggressors who would just as soon kill them as not tend to agree with this philosophy. A good bit of research and discussion on the subject tends to reinforce it.

Give this as a basis for thought, I have done a bit of ‘on line’ research trying to not only determine whether or not fine motor skills will actually work in a life or death situation.

The bottom line here is a definite “yes”….(With, of course, a pretty significant caveat):

So here is the “kicker”…..The vast majority of people who train in or study self defense of any kind are not able to train on anything like a full time basis, e.g., 4 to 6 hours a day, several days a week for many years. Even those of us who have achieved high ranks in a style rarely have that opportunity.

Most people considering this sort of thing have actual jobs, families, maybe school to attend and what we often refer to as “lives” outside of training. That being said, full blown and more or less full time conditioning and training is not really an option.

Because of this and due to the fact that if you are attacked for real, the chances of you being at your physical and mental best are slim to say the least, we need to rely on gross motor skills….Why? Because that is all we will be able to use. It has been proven over and over again that under life threatening conditions our mind tends to essentially shut down and revert to the “reptilian” state or the “fight or flight” mode where we simply cannot think rationally. To make matters worse, in these situations we do not have time to think but rather we must act.

The actions we initiate will almost always be those which are natural and instinctive and as such, fine motor skills evaporate into the stratosphere. It has been proven over and over again that gross motor skills, if easy to learn and implement, if practiced enough to become instinct under pressure, will get you out of a serious problem a vast percentage of the time and that fine motor skills, given the same time and degree of training will more than likely fail.

So does this really answer the question?

It does not!

It is unquestionably true (to me and many others who have trained in more than one martial art) that IF you train regularly, train hard and train continuously WITH resistance (i.e., not always with a cooperative partner), fine motor skills CAN work under extreme pressure. Again, the vast majority of us cannot or are not willing to spend the time, effort and money to train long enough and hard enough to get to this point.

Is there a “middle ground”?

There is!

Given good training with easy to learn gross motor skill techniques, working primarily on the concepts or principles that allow them to work under pressure will typically enable your first move (pre-emptive, action or reaction) to get you some degree of control. (Lots of elements here but the concept is important). So at this point (you are faced with an aggressor, have tried to diffuse and failed at that and you have made your initial “move” or ‘escape’ or “whatever” which, if nothing else is not what the aggressor expected so for a split second or so you have at least some of the upper hand).

If, at this time or at any time in the conflict your brain starts to function more rationally and you can actually think, THEN you can set up a scenario that will allow you to use

fine motor skills. Sometimes the opportunity to use a fine motor skill technique just presents itself “out of nowhere”. There are too many examples of this to go into here.

In our training we introduce students to a number of relatively easy joint locks and other things that can be very bad for the opponent but which require an immense amount of training to be able to initiate under pressure in a dynamic conflict. However, by having seen and done the techniques more than just a few times, the student might recognize the opportunity to easily implement it and stop the conflict right there. The caveat here is that once you start on one of these (or frankly any technique) and it begins to either fail or become difficult to complete you absolutely must instantly do something else. Chasing a technique that is not working “right now” can be suicidal.

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