Mark Hatmaker Articles
MY EMPIRICAL DATA ATE YOUR DOGMA
If you are going to step inside a cage or a ring, which would you rather have: Advice based on tradition and opinion or, advice based on evidence? Let’s be honest as we answer this question, you are offering yourself up for definite bodily harm as everybody gets hit in a fight, good fighters just don’t get hit as much.
Do you want hearsay? Strategies and tactics uttered out of habit that have, perhaps, not had much practical thought placed behind them? Do you want to train or drill ideas that might be more related to a different environment than the one you are entering? This is your body you are putting on the line, wouldn’t it be wise to arm yourself with the best information available?
I’m going to gamble that your answer will have you err on the side of evidence over what might simply be dogma. If at any point in your training you confront a bit of evidence (evidence, not advice) that butts against what you have assumed to be correct all along, well, that’s terrific. You’ve learned something. Discard the under-performing tool and get to work incorporating the new tool. This sort of going with the evidence stance has nothing to do with personal likes or, dislikes, allegiances or alliances, respect or disrespect, it’s just a simple acknowledgment of truth.
All advice, from all sources is usually offered with good intentions as, for the most part, people are well-meaning but, if at any point the advice fails the evidentiary test then it’s gotta go bye-bye. Allow this quote from the late Michael Crichton to fuel this perspective: “Intentions are meaningless, all that matters are results.”
I bring up the need for non-dogmatic thinking because the sport of MMA has had a curious history. Unlike most other sports, some branches of MMA have come to us from avenues that allowed their sport/art to become cloaked in a bit of crypto-mysticism or, strict codes of unwavering lineage and/or tradition stopping just short of oaths of fealty reminiscent of medieval vassals and lords. These two stances stifle honest questioning and experimentation, the hallmarks of progress.
Other sports, operate in a train-drill-practice-scrimmage-play the game- learn what you did right or wrong-incorporate those results into your training- and then play again continuum. These sports are using the objective empirical method whether it is called that or not and, we all think that they are wise to do so. It’s not just the scientific method it’s good common sense.
We’ve all seen old films of early football or basketball games or, Olympic competition and we marvel at what was and respect these pioneers for their accomplishments. But, you can’t help but notice that games and individual events have evolved since the “old days.” Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe swam beautifully in the Olympics of yore but, how do you think they would stack up against the Michael Phelps of today (baked or not)? How would a 1930s era college football team fare against a team of today? These are subjective questions, I know, and we can quibble and offer, “Well, if they had access to the same training opportunities and the same resources as we have today” argument…but, that proves the point, doesn’t it?
They didn’t have these resources and or opportunities available to them. They were providing the data to foster the astonishing improvements and performances we see today. To paraphrase Isaac Newton, these athletes of yore are the giants upon whose shoulders we stand today.
No other sport would hamstring itself with blind obeisance to an outmoded tactic, strategy, or tool. When Jim Corbett began dissecting the Great John L. Sullivan with the “new technology” of the jab, traditionalists didn’t suppress the jab and insist that we go back to the old way, boxers the world over took a look at early film of Gentleman Jim and eagerly adopted the jab as their own.
In the 1968 Summer Olympics, Dick Fosbury took the Gold in the high jump with what has come to be known as the Fosbury Flop. Prior to Fosbury’s innovation, athletes had cleared the bar with techniques such as the straddle, the Western Roll, the Eastern Cut-Off, and the scissors-jump. Previous high-jumpers were landing either on sand or low matting and therefore had to be a bit more careful in their landing. The advent of deeper foam landing surfaces allowed for a bit more carefree technique on the landing and Fosbury’s flop evolved to exploit this change. Fosbury’s Flop wasn’t discounted or ignored; it was quickly adopted and incorporated by other athletes.
And that’s the way it should be, whether in sports, business, or, everyday life. Always evolving, always adapting, always paying attention. Always willing to slough off what pays low dividends in favor of that which pays high yields.
Let us clarify that high yield goal even further. We want high yields based on safe investments. We don’t want our training to echo the current economy where projected high yields were based on risky investment tools that ended up paying, well we know where that got us. We want our training to be safe vehicles that still pay high returns. We don’t want to be the gamblers with “a system” visiting the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas hoping for a bit of Lady Luck based on something we caught in the film 21.
No, we want to be the Bellagio itself. We want house odds at all times. You want to be the Bellagio that only offers game that it knows that it will win more often than not. As soon as the casino customers start pulling more than we do on an individual game then that game either has to be tweaked or it’s gotta go. Casinos stay solvent over the long haul; gamblers don’t. Be the Bellagio.
In our goal to be the Bellagio we’ve got to know what wins fights. We’ve got to know what gambits get us into trouble. We’ve got to quantify offense and defense in a qualitative manner that allows us to build hierarchies of utility. We’ve got to separate the wheat from the chaff and recognize that what might be “Black Jack” in one version of combat sports might just be “bust” in MMA. To shed this casino metaphor and move to the concrete let’s look to the Omaplata submission.
The Omaplata (coil lock or leg-wrap DWL to the wrestlers among us) is a high-percentage submission in jiu-jitsu competition and submission wrestling tournaments. How does it stack up in MMA? Well, out of the 640 fights examined for this study, the Omaplata was attempted 48 times and finished 0 times.
0 out of 48 attempts in 640 bouts. These bouts were comprised of the cream of the crop of competitors: fantastic jiu-jitsu players, excellent wrestlers, formidable kick-boxers. Athletes that, in all probability, had a better than average working knowledge of how to set up and utilize this submission that serves so well in other arenas and yet in MMA, we can now look at the numbers and see it as the under-performing investment tool that it is--at least in this arena and as it is being set-up as of this writing.
This is the sort of information that informs this primer. Just as we have statisticians in other sports informing strategy, tactics, and draft picks it is time we turn this empirical tool upon this sport that we love so dearly and allow the results to spur us forward. To allow us to evolve and with that evolution we can start seeing innovation ala Dick Fosbury and Jim Corbett that will give us new strategies and tactics to factor into our equations. Until then, we need to make sure that the equations we are working with now are accurate.
We human beings are mighty fortunate; we have countless tools to allow us to get more done faster. It seems each month the iPhone adds more apps to make life easier, computers improve performance exponentially and other fruits of technology seem to keep apace. These technological increases are often due to improvements in the dual arenas of memory and parallel processing. These tools are a boon to human productivity because they are capable of performing many tasks, often at the same time, that we mortals either cannot do on our own or, don’t have the time to do on our own. See, we can build these awesome machines (not me, personally—I’m utterly useless here) that perform so well, all the while being painfully aware that we cannot perform these tasks as well ourselves.
The bad news (well, bad if you don’t accept the limits of your own brain) is that we do not have an expandable memory interface or efficient parallel processing. What I mean by this is that our memory, as seemingly prodigious as it is, only works when we “work with it.” We can’t simply observe and/or practice a good jab, kick, choke, joint lock once or twice and expect it to be there when we call it up as you might the directions to a restaurant with an iPhone app. Nope, our memory is of the kind that needs maintenance and reinforcement to make information actually stick; it is for this reason that we should pick and choose our input wisely as human memory improvement is so time-consuming that we should opt for efficient, effective memories as opposed to storing any old thing that comes down the pike. We can adapt the computer axiom of Garbage In Garbage Out (GIGO) for our own studies; we can flip that to the positive side of GIGO—Genius In Genius Out and seek the best information we can manage to fill the hard drive in our heads.
Most of us are all too familiar with the shortcomings of our own memories but we often forget to include the shortcomings of our task processing systems. These days the cheapest of laptops can truly multi-task, they can surf the web with more than a few viewing windows open at the same time, steam music from iTunes, and keep track of your word document all at the same time (as is occurring at the writing of this sentence). This awesome multi-tasking capability is the result of parallel processing—a system that allows multiple tasks to be performed simultaneously. We humans just aren’t built that way—we are not parallel processors but serial processors who trick ourselves into thinking we are multi-tasking when we aren’t.
Take this example, you are driving and have your favorite tune blaring and you come to a busy intersection where you must wait for your opportune time to cross traffic. Researchers have found that when humans are placed in this very same situation that, more often than not, they turn the music down until they have traversed the intersection. Why should this be? You don’t need your eyes to hear music? You don’t need your ears to scan the traffic for an opportune moment to cross? Experiments with many different scenarios of human multi-tasking seem to find the same results—humans who are “multi-tasking” are actually making rapid sifts in attention back and forth between the two tasks (or God forbid, more than two tasks) they are currently engaged in—and doing neither one particularly well. (Just think to anytime someone is surfing the Net, texting, or reading while also claiming to be paying attention to your conversation—they ain’t).
Computers and other parallel processors don’t do this performance shifting, as I key in this sentence my music doesn't stop streaming, the web browser doesn’t stall—all continues operating beautifully whereas I, the lowly serial-processing human, must pay attention to this sentence before I can really “hear” what tune is playing (one of Green Day’s newest).
Now, let’s take this serial vs. parallel processing to the fight game. The most efficient manifestation of physical movement will be rapid serial processing as opposed to simultaneous action. What I mean by this is that we should trim all offensive/defensive tools down to their bare minimum and insure that we perform one task and then the next and then the next and so on. We should dump simultaneous strikes (eye gouges accompanied by a foot stomp, et cetera) not just because they are mechanically unsound but because study after study shows us that human beings do best with single tasks (eggs in one basket) as opposed to Jack of All Trades and Master of None approaches. Keep in mind this advice is for simultaneous movement and not parallel strategies—you can box to set up your takedown (and this is an excellent strategy, by the way) but boxing while hitting your takedown is inadvisable.
Wise combat arts coaches, whether aware of the human serial processing research or not, have long echoed this 1-2-3 approach. Boxing coaches urge their fighters to “stick and move” (jab and then move) not “stick while moving.” Knowledgeable grappling coaches exhort their students to “wrestle for position before submission” as opposed to fishing for the submission before position has been attained. In the area of street self-defense Tony Blauer sagely pronounced in regard to fighting multiple attackers: “You don’t fight five guys at the same time you fight five guys one at a time.”
In light of the best research into how the human mind works we would be wise to skip texting while driving, forgo reading our Kindles while talking with our families, skip throwing a jab while hitting a double-leg at the same time because as our serial processing minds make erratic shifts in attention to mimic parallel processing we wind up doing none of these tasks well. In the fight, as in life, let’s stick with the basics, stick and move, one thing at a time, stick and move. Our performances will be better for it.
Thanks everyone and have a great weekend,
MATTER OVER MIND
By Mark Hatmaker
We all want to be confident. We all want to be good performers. We would all like to “know we’ve got the right stuff” to get the job done. With that in mind, I want to ask just how important is the “winning mindset” and in asking that question there might be an even more important question---is there even such a thing as a “winning mindset”? Because if there’s not, no need to waste time with it.
Granted, these are easy questions to ask but hard to answer as the realm of what’s going on inside the skull is subjective. It seems that the “winning mindset” camp is one full of contradictions and unquantifiable buzzwords that make easy analysis of efficacy somewhat difficult (whether this difficulty is by design or simply a by-product of nebulous subject matter, I can’t say). Consider the following quotes from fight commentators regarding well-regarded champions on differing evenings of competition. I’ve not supplied who provided the quotes nor have I offered who is being referred to so that we can see just how nebulous this “mindset” area of interest is.
“He’s a calm competitor. He never gets riled and that’s why he’s so effective.”
“He’s a fiery competitor and that’s why he’s so tough to get a bead on.”
“This fighter knows how to stay inside himself so he doesn’t over-extend his energies.”
“He knows how to stretch and go that extra mile.”
“He’s supremely confident and that’s why he’s hard to beat.”
“He’s never over-confident and that’s what makes him who he is.”
“He knows the importance of winning.”
“He doesn’t worry about losing.”
“He knows how to pace himself.”
“He always gives 110%.”
“He knows how to hold back.”
“He leaves it all in the cage.”
“He never gives up.”
“He knows that sometimes it’s best to live to fight another day.”
“He’s calm”, “He’s fiery”, “He’s relaxed”, He’s driven”, “He’s patient”, He’s hungry.”
Quite the schizophrenic psychological profile of winners, huh? Are we to believe the above mess of contradictions is an indication that champion mindsets are indeed something different or, are champions simply just like every other human being possessing different attitudes, personality traits, levels of enthusiasm, and confidence across a wide range of stimuli?
When a champion is defeated and we hear the phrase the challenger “just wanted it more” do we really think that’s what just occurred inside the cage? Do we really think the champion is tired of the accolades? The winning purses? The endorsement deals? If we really think that it comes down to attitude over aptitude would we be satisfied with taking two competitors who made weight and sliding them into an MRI and having them think about winning and then skipping the fight and awarding the win to who wanted it more? If we do allow the two to go ahead and fight at the end of that fight is declaring that the winner “wanted it more” an accurate definition of why the victory occurred? If so, where do strength, skill, stamina, and luck factor into the equation?
If the wining mindset is so integral what do we think would happen in regard to a psychotic athlete who did very little training but simply “knew” that he was going to win? Where would you rather place your bet? On his opponent, the athlete who trained H-A-R-D and “hoped to do well”? Or, on the one who took the training lightly but had the “gut feeling” that “this day is his”?
The sure bet seems to be to place your money on aptitude over attitude. The winning mindset business is about the hyping of hopeful or wishful thinking, the stealing of a bit of your valuable training time to devote to mind games that demonstrate zero quantifiable effect in the actual arena. Hard work, discipline, patience, study, self-sacrifice, and other synonyms for the Nike slogan of “Just do it!” are far more valuable and time and again the true common denominators of champions. Not some nebulous mindset.
Lest you think I’m devaluing self-esteem here, on the contrary. Self-esteem that is spawned from honest effort, the accumulation of experience, knowledge, and long hard work is self-esteem backed with promise—concrete effort. Self-esteem based simply on “I know I can do this because I’m the best” seems a bit delusional and in some cases pathetic. Humans are goal directed organisms, we thrive in setting targets and getting from point A to point B: “I’m going to the store”, “I’m going to mow the yard”, “I’m going to train so-and-so hours per week.” And within that goal setting is the seed of dissatisfaction. A hint of “Hmm, things could be better.” “Something at the store will make my life better; my yard would look better mown” and “this many training hours will get me closer to honing this technique.”
This dissatisfaction is to some degree what drives elite competitors. It need not be dissatisfaction to the degree that you never enjoy your accomplishments but enough to keep you alert to what new benchmarks need to be attained, what aspects of your performance must be improved. By all means, pursue your training with engagement and the best attitude that you can muster but please do not accept that there is some magic set of positive affirmations or a cosmic pep talk that will suddenly imbue you with the strength to clean and jerk double your body weight or run through your opponents. The only formulas that matter are those that are grounded in hours and hours of old-fashioned, intelligently directed hard work. The results of that hard work seem to do what they do whether your “head is in the game” or not. When in doubt go Nike and leave the “winning mindset” fluff to the largest consumers of “winning mindset” material--the “winners” on Wall Street.
Thanks everyone and have a great weekend,
WHAT LITTLE GIRLS KNOW
Therapeutic Touch (TT) is a purported form of therapy devised by Dolores Krieger, Ph.D, R.N., in the 1970s. Krieger, also on the faculty of New York University’s Division of Nursing, laid out her thoughts on TT at length in her 1979 book Therapeutic Touch: How to Use Your Hands to Help and to Heal.
If the educational pedigree of Dolores Krieger and/or the name Therapeutic Touch leads you to envision images of scientifically trained healing professionals using some form of hands-on-therapy to assist ailing patients, well, you have made a natural assumption. Unfortunately, your assumption is incorrect. TT, as described by Krieger and her followers, is a type of “medicine” wherein the “practitioner” moves their hands over the patient without ever touching them. The “practitioner” instead “senses” the patient’s “energy fields”, “prana”, “chi”, “qi” or any other homonym for thoroughly debunked nonsense and then “re-directs” the “blocked energy” to “heal” the patients.
Not quite what you’d expect from educated professionals, huh? The next time you have an actual ailment, which would you rather encounter at the emergency room, an experienced professional certified in trauma medicine or, someone who waves their hands over your punctured spleen? I’ll drop the facetious tone for a moment and turn to the brilliant Emily Rosa.
Despite the seemingly obvious asinine nature of TT and numerous de-bunking efforts, it took the ingenious efforts of Emily Rosa to expose TT for the sham it is. At the age of 9 (9!), Emily constructed a test that would allow TT Practitioners to prove whether or not they could do what they claimed they could do. TT Practitioners claim they can sense an individual’s energy so; Emily fabricated a cardboard screen with two holes in the screen. The TT Practitioner would then place a hand through each hole in the screen. On the other side of the screen, unseen by the test subject, sat 9-year-old Emily Rosa. Emily would then hold one, both, or no hand at all over the hand(s) of the practitioner at the distance prescribed by the TT Practitioners themselves. The TT Practitioner without benefit of seeing the “patient” would then state in which of her own hands she felt the energy resonating. Brilliant experiment—keep in mind, if there is anything to TT they should be able to “sense” the energy coming off of Emily’s hand(s).
Emily tested 21 certified TT Practitioners, 10-20 times each and a score of 50% would be expected by chance alone. The TT Practitioners scored 44%---Ouch! That’s gotta hurt! Emily’s study was lauded by the American Medical Association, as well it should be. Hats off to Emily!
So why do I bring this study up in a combat arts context? Before I answer that, let me say that the nurses who utilized TT before the de-bunking, were educated professionals doing what they were trained to do and they pursued this farce with nothing but the best of intentions. Any and all participation in TT after the de-bunking is nothing short of irresponsible and potentially malicious as we are discussing patient’s health and pocket books. Again, prior to de-bunking, we have well-intentioned people being fooled by charlatans and/or mass conversion reaction. We’ve all been fooled, misguided, and simply out-and-out wrong in our lives, it’s what we do in the face of better evidence that defines our character.
OK, what can Emily Rosa tell us about combat arts? You’re probably way ahead of me—“energy fields”, “chi”, “qi” and other such buzzwords sound familiar? Massimo Polidoro and Luigi Garlaschelli are our Emily Rosas in this story. They became intrigued by the “no touch knockouts” promulgated by George Dillman and his cadre. Our two heroes in this story approached Leon Jay, one of the practitioners of the “no touch knockout” system. They found Jay to be polite, courteous and open to the testing process—sincere kudos to Mr. Jay.
The testing proceeded along these lines: Jay would demonstrate the “no touch KO” on his own students who responded in tremendous fashion by, well, being “no touch knocked out.” Then Jay attempted the same KO techniques on Garlaschelli and…nada. Can you imagine Mike Tyson’s left hook only working on boxers he knew but on no one else? Yeah, me neither.
Hmm? So what’s going on? Was the “no touch KO” debunked? Is Garlaschelli a qi-less human being impervious to bad ju-ju? What about the successful demonstration on Jay’s students prior to the non-student test? It worked on them so, why not again? And again is exactly what the experimenters tried—this time the student stood behind a dark bed sheet so that he could not see when Jay was directing the “no touch KO” his direction. The results? With no visual cue to work from, the student remained “untouched,” unharmed, and a bit confused.
Mr. Jay remained a gentleman after the test despite the negative results (again, kudos to him). George Dillman, on the other hand, when questioned about the experiment in an interview for National Geographic’s television series Is it Real? Had this to say: “The skeptic was a total non-believer. Plus…I don’t know if I should say that on film. But if the guy had his tongue in the wrong position in his mouth, that can also nullify it. Yeah. In fact you can nullify a lot of things, and you can nullify it if you raise your two big toes. If I say I am going to knock you out and you raise one toe, and push one toe down, I can’t knock you out. And then if I go to try again, you reverse it. If you keep doing this I won’t knock you out.”
Wha? So, let’s get this straight? If you don’t believe in knockouts you won’t be knocked out. If you put your tongue in the right spot you won’t be knocked out. If you alter the configuration of your toes you won’t be knocked out. Back to Mr. Tyson, do any of us think that our surviving his left hook has to do with whether or not we believe in its power or the positioning of our tongues and toes? Again, I think not.
TT Nurses and “no touch knockout” adherents are simply good people paying close attention to “experts.” Their own good nature and civility towards “expert” opinion led them down a non-existent path and these good people deserve compassion and understanding as we’ve all be duped at some point in our lives. But…those who knowingly promulgate this nonsense in the face of good evidence telling patients that TT is “therapy” and/or advising good people how to perhaps defend their lives one-day with “no touch knockouts” well, that is shameful irresponsible behavior.
We would be wise to emulate the wise among us even if the wisdom comes in the form of a 9-year-old girl. Thank you, Emily.
Thanks everyone and have a great weekend, Mark Hatmaker
CRIME IS A PRODUCT OF OPPORTUNITY
We’ve already established that predators of all species seek the path of least resistance when selecting prey. That rule hold true whether we are discussing victim selection or property selection. To further illustrate this point, place yourself in the predator role momentarily and answer the following questions honestly.
You decide to steal a car and are presented with two vehicles sitting side-by-side. One is locked and appears to have an alarm system activated, the other is unlocked and the keys are in the ignition.
Which do you choose?
You are walking through the mall and decide a little extra cash would be nice. You start scanning people in your immediate area and notice two women waiting at a counter, their backs are turned. One is holding her purse to her side, the clasp is closed, the other has her purse slung towards her back, the mouth of the purse is wide open with contents easily in view and easily accessible.
Which purse do you choose?
You decide that you would like to enter into a physical altercation with someone but want enough wiggle room so that it doesn’t look too deliberate, where and when do you look for such opportunities? Do you choose a bar with a bad reputation on a Friday night? Or, do you choose a Bible study class on Sunday morning?
You are a serial rapist, you stake out a parking lot looking for your next victim. You notice two young women enter the parking lot, one is walking head-up seemingly alert with her keys already in hand.
The other is multi-tasking, she stands at her car door fumbling in her purse for her keys, and seems to be texting at the same time.
Who do you choose?
Presuming one does not wish to be caught, the answers to the above are obvious; predators choose the easiest victim--the victim that provides optimum opportunity for success. Every habit you possess that increases the ease of acquisition for a predator means that you are edging into the opportunity column. Every precaution you take to reduce criminal opportunity well, you make your personal safety a likelihood.
The fact that crime is, by and large, a product of opportunity is great news. By understanding that certain habits create greater opportunity for loss of life or property, that certain environments are more conducive to these crimes, and that even certain times of day or night can work for or against us we can make choices that vastly improve our odds of ever having to use any of the actual tactical material in this book.
Even a cursory reading of the literature that studies criminal behavior in depth reveals that approximately 90% of criminal activity is of the opportunistic variety. That leaves a 10% area that’s out of our hands, the sort of crimes we encounter when we see shootings erupt in malls, or vehicles driven through restaurant windows before opening fire as we saw in Killen, Texas in 1991 that left 24 dead. To be frank, this 10% is the tough part to prepare for but, it can be done to some degree (as we will soon get to) but, that 90% that makes up the large majority of crime, we need to grasp the significance of that number.
If we take every step that we can comfortably make to reduce the opportunity earmarks then we have, in a sense, made 90% of the journey towards being a “master of self defense” without ever having to learn one single physical defense tool. We need to grasp just how empowering this 90% figure is and revel in the fact that a few simple acts of habit can render much of what follows in the physical defense section null and void. Nothing would make me happier than to see every single reader of this book alive and well and of the firm belief that the physical work was a complete waste of time because they exercise good opportunity reduction habits.
Opportunity reduction is key. Again, to flog that horse, crime is 90% a product of opportunity; reduce opportunities for crime and the self-defense has taken care of itself.
Thanks everyone and have a great weekend, Mark Hatmaker
THERE’S NO MIDDLE GROUND IN FIGHT OR FLIGHT
The amazing abilities your body exhibits while under stress are part of the parasympathetic nervous system; these abilities are often referred to in the layman’s term “the fight or flight response.” Notice that this parasympathetic choice is black and white, either/or. Flight or flight is not subject to subtlety, shades of gray, or abstruse gradations of reasoning. The parasympathetic fight or flight response is a binary call to action--it’s one or the other.
We need to swallow this lesson now as most of us are steeped in civilized society (as we have every right to be) and have adopted some cozy notions of security. Ideas such as the police will handle my threats if I’m ever confronted. Allow me to disabuse you of this idea, the police, while as efficient as they can be in most cases, they are like FEMA in worst case scenarios--too little, too late.
911 is a magnificent preventative tool if one has any foreknowledge of threat but if the threat is of complete surprise then 911 is too late. Even if you do manage to dial 911 just moments before your attack, how long will it take for emergency support of any kind to arrive? Do you just plan to sit and wait the predator attack out and hope that someone else will arrive in time to take responsibility for saving your life?
Law enforcement and other emergency personnel (firefighters, EMTs, et cetera) are known as first responders and it is a deserved reputation but, in actuality, you are the first responder. You as the victim are the first to react to whatever threat you have been confronted with. It is up to you to be energized with your fight or flight physiological boost and make the choice between the two that will best ensure your survival.
There is a choice to ensure yourself of pain (both physical and psychological) and quite possibly the loss of your life or that of a loved one and that is to make no choice at all. Being immersed in the world of civilized society can, for some, lead to a opossum-like state of vacillation when confronted with non-civilized situations. This inertia is quite understandable as we conduct the vast majority of our lives in a realm where conflict is not violent, disputes are solved via reasoning or discussion and, those we deal with respond in a reciprocal manner. We have cultivated the habit of civilized conduct and when confronted with behavior so far outside of our understanding we sometimes see a victim stuck in neutral trying to evaluate the situation in terms of civilized experience.
This sort of vacillation is a problem as we, the civilized prey animal, have no correlating experience with which to evaluate and handle the situation. What is occurring here, in mechanistic terms, is a sort of cognitive short-circuiting of the parasympathetic nervous system. The fight or flight response is an older system in brain development, we easily recognize fight or flight parasympathetic reaction in “lower” species. Our neo-cortex, which is responsible for all of the advances we have made in culture, society, science et cetera, is a relatively new development. When we encounter threat and subvert the older system (the parasympathetic) with the newer system (neo-cortex) we essentially lock up both systems leaving them both to spin their wheels and gain zero ground in protecting us from the threat at hand.
We need to inoculate ourselves against the possibility of this lock-up by making a conscious, cognitive choice now before any hint of threat appears on the horizon. We must resolve now that we will step out of the way and let the fight or flight response work its magic. We inoculate ourselves by understanding the processes at war within our craniums and make a decision to allow the civilized neo-cortex to fade away in time of primitive threat so that the primitive parasympathetic system can work at optimum capacity.
Deciding now to slough off the veneer of civilized conduct if/when things go primitive is of vital necessity in your quest for survival. You must reduce your cognitive options to two and only two--fight or flight. There is nothing else to choose except loss.
Thanks everyone and have a great weekend, Mark Hatmaker
PARRIES, ARMCHAIR QUARTERBACKS, & THE CAGED DEFENSE
We’ve all done it—you’re watching the game on the big screen and you see a pass come from waaaaayy back that the receiver just doesn’t see. You’re thinking how could he possibly miss that? Is he blind? I’m not even there and I saw it from the very beginning. Sometimes you’re watching a fight and you see a fighter holding his hands up but, perhaps, in a bit of an open guard and he just keeps getting peppered with punches, the jab in particular. From your viewpoint, right there in your living room, you’ve got no problem seeing the other fighter load up and launch so, what’s up with Mr. Jab-Eater? Is this guy, suffering from nerves? (Probably, a little bit and that’s a wise thing, too). Is he under-trained? Out-classed? Or, is he simply plain old slow?
Well, the answer can be a bit of any of the above but, some new research from the National Academy of the Sciences demonstrates that something else may account for why we armchair quarterbacks and sofa corner men have so much “better” perceptual speed than the pros we yell at onscreen. The study’s authors (Andrew E. Welchman, Judith M. Lam, and Heinrich H. Bulthoff) used Bayesian motion estimation to solve this puzzle and, the root of the problem, it seems, lies in our armchair perspective.
By that, I mean spectators have, by dint of being spectators, sideline seats—that is profile perspectives on the event in question (and from here on out we’ll assume the event is a fight). Whether observing fights on TV or, witnessing drills in the gym we spend far more time in profile to the action than we spend in the path of the action. Consciously or not, as the brain observes the action it is making estimations of the speed of the given projectile—fist, football, what have you. The profile perspective allows the observer to witness the entire arc of the projectile, a longer exposure to the motion and, thusly, calculate when a block, parry, catch can and should be timed. The brain then stores these presumptive calculations for later use in the event you are on the receiving end of the given projectile.
Now here’s where the problem arises. The study shows that when we are in the path of the projectile our spectator calculations that had benefit of the entire traveling arc are rendered inaccurate. How inaccurate? Well, the study shows, inaccurate enough to get you hit more often than not. This sentence from the study itself shows us just how dire this situation is: “Given the importance of sensing motion for obstacle avoidance, it is surprising that humans make errors, reporting that an object will miss them when it is on a collision course with their head.” This study now makes sense of why we are so terrific in “seeing it all” on the sidelines but less than stellar when we are the target.
OK, that’s the science, now; let’s look at just how these empirical results can impact our training. Given that we are horrible estimators of the speed of incoming objects we might just want to discard any defensive response that requires outside-in or, inside-out work and by that I mean parries of any and all sorts. Parries presume formidable reaction speed--parries are always reactive and never proactive as they must, by their nature, “respond” to stimuli. Parries presume precognition—yes, we presume that a strike will come in our direction but, we will never predict with certitude just when and/or what that strike might be. Parries presume the opposite of what the aforementioned scientific research demonstrates.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not quibbling with the short cuffing motions we see in professional boxing but, what I am referring to are the sweeping movements that assume that profile perspective speed is the same as bullseye perspective speed. But, even with this allowance for cuffing might there still be a safer alternative that hedges the bet for a nervous system as poorly adapted to judging incoming projectile speed as a human being’s? Probably so, and it’s a basic as it can get.
“Keep your hands up.” That is a common admonishment from boxing coaches past, present, and more than likely, on into the distant future. Keep you hands up is heard from trainers all over the world. Keep you hands up is, more often than not, lesson one in any contact oriented combat sport and if it isn’t lesson one or, at least lesson two, you might want to question that instructional tack. Now, even with this preponderance of good advice (Keep your hands up) we still see a large percentage of fighters discarding Lesson Numero Uno but, at least we now have an understanding of why that might be. Human beings are horrible estimators of certain events, that’s what keeps many of us playing the lottery despite horrible odds and, it seems to be what leads us to believe that we’ll “see that punch on it’s way in and do something about it,” evidence to the contrary be damned.
Keeping the hands up, shoulders hunched and tight, chin down, shortening the torso, forearms parallel and close—this “caged defensive” position forms a defensive shell that eliminates the need for parries. Keeping the hands up and head and body in the described alignment allows your positioning to form a defensive cage that places less vulnerable targets (forearms, shoulders, forehead, et cetera) in the path of incoming projectiles. If we do possess formidable reactive speed then cuffs and even parries launched from this cage position will have to travel much less distance to be effective but, if we build a solid defensive cage we forgo the need for much of the cuffing, parrying gambits. We cheat our defense towards the inherent weakness of poor predictive incoming speed and keep obstructions placed between us and the strike and only violate the integrity of the cage defense to launch our offense. An offense that is always scrupulous about returning to the cage after each and every strike.
By making ourselves aware of a glitch in our hardware (poor predictive incoming perspective speed) we can wetware update with the defensive cage and quickly get back to the job of going offensive. The more time we spend ignoring the facts and on trying to override a hardwired glitch the more training time we waste and the more jabs we will eat and the more the armchair corner-men will wonder how we could be so blind.
Thanks everyone and have a great weekend!
THE MYTH OF RANGES
There is a school of thought (actually many schools of thought) within the combat arts/sports that posits that a fight (any fight) can be examined and then deconstructed into specific range delineations. These ranges can, well, for lack of a better word, range from as few as four ranges to as many as ten ranges. Keep in mind; we are talking about unarmed confrontations in this range discussion. I’ll be honest, I cut some slack to the range-believers who err on the side of lower numbers but the higher we go the more it seems like intellectual hair-splitting or post-workout shoot the bull musings than reflections of reality.
Let’s define a couple of the more standard range ideas before we begin to look at what actually occurs in a fight. The more grounded range theories (the lower the number the better, remember) state that there are four ranges in a fight: Kicking, Punching, Trapping, and Grappling. These are fairly self-explanatory but for clarity’s sake and at the risk of boring you let’s define them all the same.
Kicking Range: You and your opponent can reach one another with a kick but not a punch. .
Punching Range: You and your opponent can reach each other with punches but are not yet within clinching or, grappling range. Trapping Range: You are and your opponent are close enough to use a series of hand immobilizations to launch inside striking attacks.
Grappling Range: Yes, it’s all self-explanatory at this point .
Some of the higher range-number systems include Long Punching Range (jabs and other straight punches), Close-Punching Range (Tight hooks and uppercuts), H-K-E Range (Head-butts, knees, and elbows); Grappling is separated into Upright and Ground Work. Some make allowances for the Grounded situation (one fighter is down the other is on his feet), some include Blind Spot as a range (simply maneuvering behind your opponent), and you may even come across the Psychological Range (which seems to me more of an attribute or, characteristic of the conflict than an actual distance measure).
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the allure of fine-tuning fight analysis to such a degree that we can disentangle the various violent threads and therefore have a more complete understanding of the game/sport/altercation in question. But…I ask you, are we simply adhering to arbitrary designations that bear little resemblance to reality? Is much of this range talk merely playing semantics with proxemics? And, perhaps most importantly, if there are indeed ranges does the study of them as separate entities do us more harm than good?
Let’s tackle the more sensible (by my way of thinking) four-range system first.
Range One-Kicking--yes kicking can and does occur in a fight but we do not simply see it at an outside range (there’s that word) where the longest limb supposedly holds sway. We see kicking in the middle of punching exchanges, we see short choppy kicks delivered inside the clinch, we see heel chops used by grapplers on the ground, and, of course we see devastating kicks delivered by both fighters in a “grounded” range. So, where exactly does the kicking range begin and end? If it can present itself anywhere is it really a range?
The same can be said for Range Two-Punching. Antagonists punch while on the ground, they punch inside the clinch, and yes they punch while in some semblance of the standard definition of “punching range.” We also see competitors in today’s MMA punching from waaaaayyyy outside with the “Superman Punch.” If the punch is as ubiquitous as the kick in the fight and presents itself across a wide variety of positions and situations is punching, in and of itself, really a range?
The Third Range—Trapping. I’ve got to be honest, I just don’t see it. Yes, we have all witnessed some beautifully executed trapping demonstrations, drills, and even trapping combative responses but, these all seem to occur inside the constructs of an agreement. By that I mean, “We will fight within this trapping range and we will both agree that trapping is to be our method.” Where the rule-set is expanded, as we see in MMA or even security tapes, trapping, at least thus far, just isn’t presenting itself unless we broaden the definition to include punch muffling, arm drags, and other hand-controls used by grapplers. With this dearth of demonstration of the standard definition of trapping within the fight an argument can possibly be made that this may not be a range at all even by the accepted definition of range.
The Fourth Range-Grappling, is often relegated to merely groundwork or work inside the clinch but, we see many a talented competitor take a fast shot from the outside which would seemingly be boxing or kicking ranges. Just as we see strikes within “grappling ranges” we see grappling within “striking ranges.”
As for elbows, and knees and other similar tools, at first glance you would think that they are merely inside range tools (can’t get away from that word) but, we have seen too many flying knees from way outside and several knees and elbows on the ground end the fight to confine these formidable weapons to one launching area. Again, if each and every tool that defines a so-called range presents itself across all or, a majority of the other ranges is the concept of ranges valid? A more pointed question might be is the range concept doing a disservice to training for some?
I think it might be a disservice in some instances. If one accepts the concept of ranges (whatever number you choose) as dogma one will have a tendency to train in a segmented compartmentalized fashion, a sort of “We do this here and we do this technique if the fight is here,” and so on. It might be a bit wiser to accept a fight (competitive or survival) for what it is, an amalgam of chaos as one fighter seeks to assert his or her strengths upon the other in whatever manner they can manage.
I think it is wise, indeed, to work each aspect that precedes range in most of these range theories; that is, yes, work your kicks, work your boxing, work your grappling, work your shooting, work whatever tools are most likely to contribute to your game or survival but, strive to lose the artificial construct of a range for each tool. By sloughing off these seemingly unsupported ranges of a fight and moving towards full-range integration (sorry about that word, again) we move closer to reality (or at least what exhibits itself most commonly as of this writing) and we just might unlock a bit more creativity in applying these formidable tools that have no need of a leash called “range.”
You want a quick and easy lesson in how to navigate in a world that contains predators? Well, turn on the TV and find Animal Planet or any channel featuring non-interference nature-documentary programming. We’re all familiar enough with the sort of programming I mean that the following example will be immediately familiar. Picture the arid plains of the African Serengeti during the dry season. The landscape is one of various shades of tans and deep browns. The sole watering hole in the area is trafficked by a wide array of species, both predator and prey, that one does not usually see in such close proximity if the need for water didn’t hold precedence.
Now, picture a herd of gazelle or springbok navigating towards the watering hole. We, the TV viewers, have been shown that there is a stalking lion in the area but the herd, not having paid their cable bill, are unaware of this fact. While unaware of the definite presence of a major predator they still do not make a blithe approach to the watering hole. Rather, you see a circuitous approach made in fits and starts as various leaders of the herd stop to sniff the air, or cock their ears towards an unfamiliar noise. Here, we see a prey species exercising preparatory caution.
It is only after the herd has deigned the area relatively safe do they commence quenching their thirsts. We, the privy viewer, observe the lion make her tentative stalk, edging ever closer towards the herd. We notice that she does not approach directly, out in the open announcing her presence but rather the “king of the jungle” approaches in a sly, furtive manner. This is another rule of predator-prey interaction at play: Although the lion has the advantage of strength/mass, fierce weaponry (teeth and claws) the predator still forgoes frontal assault and seeks to control the time and location of the attack as much as possible. Again, the predator gets to choose as many control parameters as it can manage whereas as the gazelle controls none.
When the lion makes its rush to attack we notice that the prey choices are invariably the same; predators choose from four classes of prey (victims).
1. The Young
2. The Old
3. The Infirm
4. The Inattentive
The lion is not looking for a fair fight. The lion is not looking for a challenge. The lion is behaving economically; she seeks the easiest vector to acquire her goals (in this case a meal for her and her cubs). The young, old, and/or infirm prey make goal acquisition a more likely prospect. The inattentive animal, while it may be fleet of hoof or able to fight back under the best of circumstances has placed itself on the list by dint of not being aware of its surroundings. Nature obeys this predator-prey relationship all up and down the food chain. We, as human animals are not exempt from these laws of nature.
It is in our best interests to remind ourselves now and again that we are, indeed, animals. Along with this fact of nature we must also remind ourselves that we are a member of an unusual species, one that can be both predator and prey. The civilized, law-abiding citizenry among us are prey animals. The criminal scum of the earth are the predators. Keeping the “laws of the jungle” in mind and their implications for prey species we need to remain vigilant to remain safe. Predators seek ease of acquisition and by exercising vigilance and removing as many factors as we can from the “Easy Prey” checklist we increase our chances of removing ourselves from the predator’s menu.
YOU’LL NEVER BE READY
I’ve got some bad news for us--we’ll never be ready. The predators of the world always have the upper-hand. They get to choose the when, the where, the how, the why, they get to choose everything. None of the victims recounted in the Predator Profiles woke up the morning of their horrific destiny and knew what was in store for them. If they did, I’m certain they would have done everything in their power to alter what was foreseen.
Just as they never knew, we will never know if or when we have similar experiences in store for us. The predators of the world, on the other hand, they always know. They always have the advantage. They have a plan. They know when they get up in the morning what they have in store for whatever innocents they have targeted. There may be unexpected developments in the course of executing that plan but , nevertheless, they are dealing with minor course corrections in their devious goals. We? Again, we will never know if/when it is coming.
Now, with that bit of cheery information you might be asking yourself what’s the point of all our training if we will never be prepared? Let’s liken preparation for surviving criminal assault to “preparing” for a car accident. Statistically speaking, chances are you have been involved in a car accident at some point in your driving life (hopefully a minor one). When you awoke that morning you had no idea it was going to occur. You didn’t get into the car taking special pains with your seat-belt, you didn’t go ahead and make sure your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and auto insurance information were easily handy. You didn’t re-read your original driver’s education manual (if you ever did) reviewing accident avoidance protocols. No, you were just going about your business and the accident happened catching you by surprise.
Now, assuming you kept your head and had some foresight, your seatbelt provided you with some protection, you had your information readily available, you knew what to do when the collision occurred. This preventive foresight still does not stop you from being surprised, injured, or even quell the adrenaline dump that such occasions elicit. According to the indelicate phrase, shit happens and that day shit just happened. We know that all drivers are unprepared for an accident in the foreknowledge sense but, let’s compare drivers who exercise preventive maintenance with those who do not.
Chances are, if you have been obeying traffic laws, keeping your speed in control, and paying attention to the environment you just might have been able to recognize that the accident was going to occur before it did. Often it is this “split-second” of danger recognition that allows you to brake, decrease speed, or veer to a less damaging collision vector. If you have utilized your safety belt you have (hopefully) mitigated your injuries. If you are organizationally squared away you will have your information ready for easy access and are also able to give 911 a quick call. A little bit of preparedness and obeisance to some simple habits makes this sort of behavior likely.
On the other hand, if you are a driver who has chosen to ignore what others have proposed as good sense and have decided to follow too closely, drive too fast, pay less than optimum attention to the environment (texting, shall we say?) then you have already increased your chances for losing your “split second” window of collision avoidance. If you have foregone your safety-belt for comfort’s sake you have dramatically increased your chances for injury. If you have decided to keep your information in two or more locations or, worse, have no idea if you even have such information, you have increased your own stress level by stacking unneeded confusion on top of an already taxed nervous system.
Neither the prepared driver or the unprepared driver knows if or when an accident will occur but…the odds easily favor the prepared driver. That’s what we are striving for with our training. We will never know if or when we may be confronted by criminal violence but by being a prepared driver we greatly increase our chances of surviving the collision.