One Step Behind

November 3, 2022 Business lounge, Tel Aviv Airport


Training in Israel, keeping it real

Many systems are rooted in tradition. The Jews of Yemen used to end their daily prayers, even the official evening prayer, before sunset. Why? because Yemen, at the time one of the most primitive countries on the planet, did not have electricity, they did not have streetlights. As such it was dangerous to walk home at night. Thus, the tradition emerged to end all prayers before nightfall. 

This tradition continued in Israel until finally some realized that we must adapt to a new reality; In Israel people work during the day and often find it difficult to arrive at the synagogue at those hours. On the other hand, with cars and streetlights it is no longer dangerous to travel home after dark. 

We adapt. 

In the martial arts one of the key challenges is this adaptation. Martial arts are rooted in tradition, for many it borders on religion. This is not necessarily a bad thing; it all depends on one's objectives. Tradition has its place, ceremonies have their value, these are often crucial to our psychological wellbeing. All martial arts have value. Some develop social skills, some coordination, some help us overcome fear, some help us cope with anxiety, some build strength and some build fighting spirit. Some build sportsmanship, all of these are important. Our system is designed for one purpose only, practical self-defense, although there are also many outstanding side benefits, such as those listed above. 

The problem which I present here, the challenge, the issue that troubles me so often, is when non-reality systems present themselves as up-to-date practical self-defense systems. This is very dangerous and irresponsible. It took me many years to understand this issue as for a long time I fully bought into the system. I practiced traditional martial arts and truly believed that if I only trained long and hard enough I will be able to throw a mugger over my head in a Judo throw, or kick a gun out of an assailant's hand, or grab an arm in midair and twist the knife out an a man's hand and then flip him over. Yes, I believed all that, but then I saw the light. 

Most martial arts classes involve very little talking or discussion. Classes are mostly, or entirely, physical. We begin with stretching, conditioning, running etc., and then all the drills. Sadly, I have come to realize that this is missing the point, that this training is sorely lacking in reality training, that the students are not being prepared for the reality of violence. And yet this approach remains the most popular, and thus the most commercially successful.

So, I am like the prophet Jeremiah preaching and hoping that someone hears my lonely voice in the wilderness; these systems are inadequate. We need to deal first and foremost with the psychological elements of violence, surprise, we need to understand which techniques can work in such situations and which are highly unlikely to work (the vast majority of martial arts), we need to understand that we can't just live with old, outdated slogans. Even popular slogans like "Fight or Flight" I find to be incorrect, for most people the reaction is a total lack of processing. Their inner computer is not programmed to understand or recognize what is happening, it is entirely new data. 

The point I wish to focus on today is this: In real life violent encounters we are always One Step Behind. 

What does this mean?

Most training takes place from a standpoint of equals. Two guys line up and face each other, in a drill, in a sparring match. Or two students do a gun defense, face each other equally. None of this has anything to do with reality training. The fear, the surprise element, are totally lacking. Without addressing these issues, we have not even begun our training. 

In a real violent attack, the assailant/attacker always catches the victim by surprise; total surprise, partial surprise, whatever. This is a logical axiom; if you knew a guy was going to pull a gun on you, if you knew a guy was going to stab you, would you still be there waiting for it? Of course not. Here we are only dealing with situations of surprise. If you are a security guard and you sense an attack coming, of course you will take a preemptive action. In an unexpected attack we will always be one step behind. When we design our self-defense techniques, we must design them from this perspective.

Here is an economic analogy: If a consultant's specialty is rescuing firms that are in debt, he must begin from that point, i.e., they are already in debt, they are already in trouble. Thus, he begins one step backwards, he begins from the point of being one step behind. Here too we must begin from the understanding that when we are attacked, we are one step behind. Once we recognize this we can begin our training. If we train as if we are not one step behind, our training is false. 

Many call themselves Reality Training, this they express in wearing camouflage outfits, doing lots of heavy bag work, pushups, sweating a lot etc., but if they are not addressing the reality of the violence, it is of little value. Our defense must be suited to the situation, i.e., we are one step behind, we are fighting from a disadvantage. Once we understand this we are at least on the correct path. 

Reality, in all its manifestations, is scary. 

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