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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Sharks and Lions

"A boxer is like a lion, the greatest predator on land. But you throw him in the shark tank and he's just another meal." 

I saw this quote on a Facebook post earlier today. It was attributed to Renzo Gracie. How accurate that is, I don't know.

It's true, but it bugs me.

Yes, if you throw a lion into the shark tank, the lion will die. Of course, the reverse is also true. Throw a shark into the lion cage, and the shark will suffocate while its skeleton collapses, unable to support its own weight. And then, hey, it's just another meal.

Dump shark and lion into the middle of an ice floe in the Arctic Circle, and they're both dead. The lion might last a little longer, but not much. 

A while back, I wrote about the idea that every fighting art is created by a particular group of people in a particular social, cultural, and historical context for use by those people in that context. I still believe that is true. I also believe that it means that the further you move an art away from those contexts, the further you diminish its functionality. Boxing works marvelously in the boxing ring. In the Muay Thai ring, less so. And so on, and so on, and so on.

The same goes for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. And Muay Thai. And Judo. And the PDR. And everything else. Move it away from the area where it was supposed to work, and it works less well.

Drop the lion in the shark tank, and it dies. Drop the shark in the lion cage, it dies.

In their own respective environments, each is a dangerous predator. Outside of them, each is not.

This does not make the shark superior to the lion, nor the lion to the shark.

If you want to travel on the Serengeti, you'd best know how to deal with a lion. If you plan to swim the Great Barrier Reef, you should learn how to avoid sharks.

If you're going to the Arctic Circle, sharks and lions aren't an issue. But polar bears might be.

Once you know the territory you want to venture into, take the appropriate measures. It's as simple as that.


Neil Bednar said...

If you see someone practicing firearms drills, you can always tell them "That shit won't work in the UFC octagon pal." LOL! Because it won't. Of course it's illegal so of course it won't, but it's a funny quip about the environmental and temporal and sociological relevance of fighting methods.

dragonriderone said...

Posted this on my Facebook. Thanks said...

Was it you who told me about the guy who asked an instructor what he would do against a sniper, 200 m away, in an open field?

Maija said...

Jake -
Do you see any 'meta system' (NOT talking about any particular martial arts system here, bigger than that) that connects all these disparate environments and contexts?

Jake said...

Neil - Well, yeah. And obviously, the reverse is true. Hitting a bag will not improve your accuracy on the range.

Dragonriderone -- Cool. Thank you!

Leagueofdeadfilms -- Heh. Yeah, that was me. I actually got almost the same question years later. But the set up of the sniper at 200 yards away, was pretty funny.

Maija -- I don't know if I do or not. That's going to take a bit to hash out, mentally and on paper.

Jake said...


An attempt at a more coherent answer.

I'm not sure if I see a "meta system" out there or not. And I think I'm wary of the idea, on a certain level.

At some point, I think the "meta system" for everything just becomes some combination of anatomy, psychology, physiology, and a bunch of other "ologies" applied to human beings. To go back to the animal examples--predators all around the world seem to share some common traits and behaviors. If you go back to first principles and move forward, you might find a meta system for all human conflict.

The PDR/SPEAR makes some effort at doing this, though its focus is entirely on modern self-defense. Rory's "Logic of Violence" seems to follow a similar pattern, though from a different angle/perspective (I've not done that course with Rory, so I'm hypothesizing a bit here).

I think some of my hesitation is tied into a concern that, at a certain point, I think ideas can get so abstracted that they aren't useful anymore. There's a lot of ideas in the martial arts that are great on paper, but don't hold up in combat. Or, even if they do hold up, you still have to be able to apply them.

So, even if there is a meta system out there, in order for it to have value, it'd still have to be narrowed down and applied to a specific set of contexts. You might have unlocked the principles that govern all human fighting, but you still have to make that accessible to a woman who wants to know how to deal with a rapist in an elevator. Or whatever.

Can I turn the question around? Do YOU see a meta system out there somewhere?

Maija said...

Jake - You got what I was getting at, though perhaps I would disagree that the 'ologies' are really that numerous.
I think there are finite parameters defining fighting systems ... and unless you need to start working out how to fight aliens, your adversary is probably human, and you are fighting on planet Earth :-)

So yeah, physiology, anatomy, psychology, and physics .... within context.
Context would be framed by goal, environment, culture. (I'm putting 'luck' within physics, and weapons type in environment/culture)

And I guess I think this is important, because it gives you a way to understand why you are doing what you are doing and perhaps how to improve it. How to look at traditional systems and work out what might be going on, and in self defense, what you, you personally, in this environment, might need to do to prevail.

All ideas need testing 'off the paper' of course ... or they are indeed meaningless, but the problem defines the solution, and the context and 'ologies' define the possibilities.

For me at least, seeing the 'why' behind the 'what' makes it all more accessible, and open to questioning and troubleshooting. It also gives a way to compartmentalize lions and sharks. Necessity is the mother of invention ... and there is no need to change something until it does not work any more.

Boxing technique and tactics work for boxing, and Muay Thai for Muay Thai ... but even within those parameters, there is room to evolve. The Bernard Hopkins clip where he talks about how he has managed to fight for so many years was fascinating, because it showed how he can still win at 48 years of age basically due to his ability to avoid taking damage.
He took the parameters of the game, and the ologies, and created a way to protect himself .. AND win, within them.

Also, I guess in my mind I would hope that if more folks stood back a bit, there might be more consideration for the parameters of what they practice, where it makes sense, and where it does not ... and be cool with that, without constantly comparing what they do to things that do not compare ....

Jake said...


I think you could throw some endocrinology in there too. Though maybe that's part of anatomy? kinesiology definitely belongs.

I absolutely agree if we could establish some kind of common language with those concepts, it would make these kinds of discussions a lot more fruitful. The trick is to get that knowledge out there, and then get people to have those discussions willingly. People's egos seem to be a big barrier in those discussions.

Can you share that Hopkins clip?

(A camp counselor of mine, years ago, told me that "Necessity is not the mother of invention. Necessity is the mother of improvisation." Never forgotten that one)

Maija said...

I think I found the clip on Ross Enamait's blog through your blog :-)

Anyway, here it is:

Jake said...

Ha. Well, that wouldn't be the first time I've lost track of something :-)