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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Untrained Mind

It is interesting to me how sometimes those with absolutely zero martial arts training can see things that those with extensive martial arts training miss.

Case in point: while at friends party on New Year’s Eve, I became embroiled in a conversation with a former Tae Kwon Do instructor. This guy had spent twenty-five years devoted to his art, and clearly had gotten very good at it. He knew a litany of various techniques, had clearly put a lot of thought into his art, and no doubt was a good teacher in his time.

What was interesting to me, however, was how he still completely, utterly, and totally thought of martial arts, and self-defense in particular, as a purely physical activity. That, if you just did enough drills of the “proper” technique, that it would eventually become totally encoded in muscle memory, and you would just do it automatically, devoid of any kind of thought.

The problem, of course, is that that isn’t true. No fight, whether it’s a duel or an assault takes place in a vacuum. Fights happen in a context.

I was trying to elucidate this point, with a moderate amount of success (it was late, I was tired, he was drunk), when he inadvertently brought someone in to make my point for me. He turned to a random partygoer and asked, “So, what would you do if someone came up and grabbed you from behind?”

And she, without missing a beat said, “Well, it depends. If I’m at an event with a bunch of friends, I probably look over my shoulder to see who it is. If I’m in dark alley by myself, I’ll stomp on the guy’s foot and start screaming.”

Was she right about the second part? Who knows? What is interesting, however, is that she instinctively came to a lesson that most martial artists forget about, or never learn. Which is, to borrow Tony Blauer’s phrasing, that the Scenario Dictates The Response. It’s a fact many martial artists forget, and I believe it’s the major reason why most martial arts do a lousy, lousy, job of preparing their students to defend themselves. They approach violence in a vacuum, as though all fights take place in gis, on hardwood floors or tatami mats.

And hey, I was there once too. It wasn’t until I met guys like Van Canna Sensei, Tony Blauer, and similar groups that I started to see the holes that most martial arts have in their self-defense curricula. Nor am I, by any means, perfect. In all things, but especially when it comes to dealing with real violence, there’s still plenty for me to learn.

But a lot of martial artists tend to dismiss the untrained person as having little to contribute to training, but for self-defense, looking at the untrained mind might be the best place to start.

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