Monday, September 1, 2008

I'll never remember all this stuff.

In our martial arts school we practice various basic techniques, hyung (forms/patters/kata), fighting drills, and a series of self defense extractions called Ho Sin Sul. These are essentially, counter measures to use if someone should grab you at the wrist, arm, or shoulder from a variety of positions.

Counting the ones we teach our gup-level students (below black belt), and the ones the first, second, and third degree Dan members need to know, there are 53 total techniques to learn and practice. We also test our second degree and up belts to ensure they can defend themselves against multiple attackers in a fight and/or a grappling scenario. Few practitioners ever learn all of the techniques, much less master them.

Many times, I've seen a student demonstrating their defensive prowess only to be caught staring off into the abyss with a look of total neurological gridlock. We generally inform them that they are now dead, the attacker has won, they will not collect $200 or get to Free Parking. The defensive response must be immediate, without hesitation, and very decisive. It is literally true, that he who hesitates is lost, broke, missing, or dead.

Two events happened recently that brought the real lesson of all of this practice to the forefront. First, I was practicing with another master a technique where the attacker grabs both of your wrists with his two hands. Each of his hands has a hold of each of your wrists. We have approximately nine different extractions from this attack, most involving some sort of hand/foot/body coordination that will not only get you out of the grab but inflict pain and restraint on the attacker.

The master I was working with paused momentarily (a very bad thing in a real situation) in an attempt to remember which techniques she had already practiced and remember what 'number' we were up to. Rather than allow the delay to grow any longer, she stepped toward me and executed a middle punch to my solar plexus. Excellent! Even though this is not one of the nine 'prescribed' solutions, it was short, simple, effective and utilized all of the proper fundamentals. More on this below.

At a world tournament, one of the black belt competitors was having an unusually tough time in the sparring ring; not able to score any points. I'm not sure if he eventually won or lost, but after the match he threw his head-gear in (shall we say) dissatisfaction over his own performance. His master walked up behind him and gave a slight slap to the back of the fighter's head as if to say, "What are you doing? That's not the way we act."

The fighter, still upset, immediately turned to his master and gave a little push as if to say, "leave me alone." The master grabbed the fighter's lapels, and as quick as you can imagine, pulled him in and did a head-butt right to the fighter's nose. The fighter was stunned, a little bloody, and more or less subdued. Again, this particular technique is not taught in this particular way, but it was short, simple, and effective. Some of you may be turned off by the visceral, physical communication style the master used. I'll comment on that in a future blog.

In both of these example the master(s) employed a technique that is not taught in the way they performed it. That's OK. Even though there may be too many wrist extractions, or hyung moves, or fighting drills, or two-on-one techniques for you to remember - you gain valuable skills by practicing and remembering as many as you can. Just do not get hung up on... "If I'm grabbed on my right side I have to do a certain, specific technique." No, actually you don't - you only have to defend yourself by any means necessary. Whether you do a classic number 4 (whatever that is), is not material.

I'm not suggesting that you omit the effort to remember the various skill-building techniques as they are taught - quite the reverse. Learn and commit to memory and instantaneous recall, as many as you can. Just don't expect that you will actually perform them as you do in the sedate, well-controlled environment of the training hall. More important than the intricate moves of each solution are the concepts of leverage, human physics, speed, fluidity, confidence, weight, thrust, and focus on task. However your body begins the defense, go with it - as if you meant exactly that move, and don't stop until you are free or the assailant is dispatched.

By all means, try to get non-practitioners to role play attacking you. Don't ever, ever, hurt them. You are better than that. The point is that your training room partners learn too quickly how they are supposed to 'die' for you - thus diminishing the value of your training. Novices don't know they're supposed to hang on until you break their arm, so they quickly 'just let go' when you flinch. Often this wreaks havoc with the prescribed solution.

So, if you're finding that there are too many things to remember, take heart. With practice and repetition, you will remember it all. But what's more important is that you understand why these techniques work - and that you train your body to move in ways that provide you with the leverage, angle, balance, and surprise over your attacker.

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