A lesson from Socrates

June 01, 2004

Through teaching countless seminars around the world to practitioners of almost every style, I have found a simple method that gets everyone on the same page for training. It is easy to become so absorbed into your particular style of martial art that you have a hard time approaching training objectively. I should know because it happened to me. I was so into my particular systems of martial arts that I passed up opportunities to train with Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructors, wrestlers, and judo players for years. I couldn’t see the benefit of other methods of training if it wasn’t the same as mine. I looked out at other styles through the prejudicial lens of my own styles. But, if we can look inward, within ourselves, we will find that we all tend to agree on the truths that lead us to training correctly. Again, this isn’t about stylistic differences, this is about principles that we can all agree on. Once we acknowledge these, we are free to adapt our personal styles to a more complete method of training. So, how do we find out what we really believe? By asking a good series of questions. This is what Socrates did to allow his students to go beyond cultural programming and look for truth. Answer the following questions and see where it leads you. Remember that we are discussing the best way to defend ourselves and loved ones in a violent street attack. * For street self-defense, is the primary purpose of our training artistic expression or fighting effectiveness? * Should we gear our training mainly toward the rules of competition or toward the absence of rules in street self-defense? * Is it better to just stick to the techniques that were passed down in our particular style or to be open to use any techniques that work? * What is the best way to know whether or not a technique works? Should we take the word of our instructor or should you actually test the technique yourself? * If you test a technique for yourself, should the test be done in a highly controlled environment without resistance from your partner or should the test resemble a real street situation? (With appropriate safety measures.) After these questions, most everyone agrees that if we train for self-defense, effectiveness should be our primary concern. We should train for a street environment, using whichever techniques work best. We know the techniques work because we put on the protective equipment and test the techniques and tactics under near street fight conditions. Basically, everyone agrees on this. Let’s see what else we can agree upon. Whenever we talk about self-defense we tend to make assumptions. Many of these assumptions are about the attacker. We assume he will stand in a certain pose. We can assume that he will throw a certain punch in the “correct” manner. Let’s step away from our preconceived notions and look within for the truth about real attackers. * Should we assume that the attacker is passive or aggressive? * Is it better to assume that he is skilled or unskilled? * Is it better to assume that he is weak or strong? * Timid or determined? * Will he be compliant or will he resist our efforts 100%? * Should we assume that will stop when he feels pain or should we assume that he will feel no pain? * Should we assume that we can dictate which range the fight starts in or should we consider that an attacker can start the fight in any range? Everyone agrees that attackers are aggressive. That’s an easy one. Have you ever heard of a passive attacker? “Please sir, if you don’t mind, I would like to beat you within an inch of your life and take your money if it isn’t any bother to you.” Not going to happen. We all agree that it is better to assume that the attacker is skilled, strong, determined, totally resisting, and feeling no pain. We also agree that an attacker can sneak up on you and strike, grab, or tackle you to the ground when you aren’t ready. When we understand this, we better understand why we must train in all the ranges. Now that we are clear that we are going to train realistically to defend against a real tough attacker, let’s ask some good questions about how we are going to practice. * Is the possible number of techniques available in the entire scope of martial arts limited or unlimited? (This sometimes takes some discussion, but if you put the basics in combination you have a nearly unlimited number of techniques available to you.) * When we train, do we have an unlimited amount of time or is our training time limited? * If time is limited, and we want to be effective in a self-defense situation, should we prioritize the most effective training methods and techniques? * If a real attacker resists 100%, should we practice against a passive opponent or against a partner who resists our techniques? * Can you become a good swimmer without actually getting into the water to practice swimming? * Can you become a good basketball player without spending a lot of time playing against other players who are trying to block your passes and shots? * Can you become a good fighter without spending a lot of time fighting against someone who is fighting back? Almost everyone gets to the last question and understands the phrase that is plastered all over this book: “If you want to learn how to fight, you must practice fighting against someone who is fighting back.” We still get a few here and there who have been so brainwashed that they believe that doing forms in the air will make you a great fighter. That is like a person who shoots imaginary baskets with an imaginary ball believing that he could play in the NBA. It is so simple that it is easy to miss. I often say that the path to fighting skill is very narrow, and that one can easily be led astray. The truth is that we only have a certain amount of training time, so if you want to become a skillful fighter, you need to make the most of that limited time and train the most useful techniques in a realistic manner. That means against a resisting opponent. Not always at 100% intensity, usually at around 70% or less for safety. The great thing is that training with resistance in all the ranges is great fun when you do it right. After you become competent in the basics, there are thousands of more advanced techniques and combinations that are available so you can continue to expand and grow and enjoy the process. But when faced with an attacker intent on doing you or your loved ones harm, you will only get to apply one technique at a time, so we must make sure those basics are very strong. The way you practice under pressure is the way you are going to perform under pressure, so practice with resistance in all the ranges. It is great fun and very satisfying. © Burton Richardson published in Inside Kung Fu Magazine June 2004

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