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Friday, December 18, 2015

Tactical Robots

There are two connected lines of thought that I'm working with here. At least, I think they're connected.

The first line: Some martial artists/self-defense instructors sometimes talk as though they (and their students) are tactical robots. They never make mistakes, never have poor judgment, never do anything that would be unwise or tactically unsound in any way.

I call bullshit. Not only do I call bullshit, but I think that mindset actually sets people up for greater failure or struggles.

On why I call bullshit: we are not tactical robots, we are human beings. We get angry. We get sad. We get distracted. Coach Blauer shared a story about being surprised by a panhandler one day. As I remember the story, he then spent ten minutes berating himself for not having noticed the panhandler, during which time (as he pointed out in hindsight), he...wasn't paying attention to his surroundings.

Phil Hughes (may his memory be a blessing) shared a story with me once about a confrontation he had with a man in his wife's store. Long story short, the man became verbally abusive, and Phil found himself chest to chest with the man in what he recalled as the "stupidest possible tactical position". He got emtionally hijacked by someone insulting his wife.

Phil was one of Coach Blauer's highest ranking students, an experienced martial artist, and professional MMA fighter. You don't get much better credentials than Phil, but he made a mistake.

I've made my own mistakes too.

And here's the thing. We all do, and any system worth its salt has to recognize that. If your entire system falls apart because someone makes a mistake, it's not a great system.

The second line: "I'd never let a bad guy get that close" is a line you will hear in some segments of the community. Here's the problem: if you have a system of teaching awareness and avoidance skills that is so completely and totally reliable that you can always avoid danger...that's the whole system. You have no need of verbal or physical skills, because you can use your super-duper avoidance system to always avoid everything.

If you can't always avoid the situation, then saying "I'd NEVER [fill-in-the-blank]" doesn't make any sense. You have to acknowledge that your awareness skills might fail for one reason or another. If your awareness skills can't fail, and you're still practicing verbal and physical skills, there's some kind of disconnect. Because you've already got a foolproof system for avoiding fights.

If you try to maintain those two contradictory beliefs, there's going to be some massive, on-going dissonance within your system and practice.

I think this spirals out to other areas of practice too. I've seen people try to play the "I wouldn't let you counter me" card in physical drills, and that never works out well. Hell, it spirals over into teaching. As I think about it, this is the same issue I have with teachers who berate their students for missing a training session or skipping a workout. They don't acknowledge the student's humanity. They don't accept that stuff happens.

I'm not suggesting mistakes are good or should be ignored, but really, they happen. It's a part of life. A system that can't handle that isn't much of a system, as these things go.

Just some thoughts.

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