There is an old adage in martial arts:
“Those who have attained mastery of an art will reveal it in their every action”
While I certainly don’t consider myself a master - what is ‘mastery’, anyways? You can find some thoughts on that here - I do train a lot and have had the privilege of training with some of the finest practitioners in the world. More importantly, I have an overactive imagination and an extremely curious and analytical mind, which is both a blessing and a curse. The result of this is that I hardly ever sleep because my brain doesn’t stop turning. And this means I spend most nights up thinking about random things, which inevitably end up circling back to martial arts. And being obsessed with training, to me everything circles back to martial arts. Martial arts are the way that I relate to everything in my life – my relationships, my career, my community, my views and thoughts, as well as many random other things. If you are the same, you may find this interesting…
I am a big proponent of the ‘what if’ questions that come up in training. We all know them. Here are some common examples:
- What if the other guy is too strong?
- What if this doesn’t work?
- What if I need to fight an armed gang of 500-pound, 7-foot behemoths with my hands tied behind my back?
My favourite answer, and one that used to frustrate me more than anything else years ago, was my Sensei’s most common one:
'The answer to any ‘what if’ question is ‘do something else’'.
Wise words indeed!
A recent seminar with the very wise Hock Hoccheim has brought up another important ‘what if’ question, one which is often neglected. Even worse, it is one that is often unfairly shunned as a distasteful answer to 'what if' questions. The question is:
‘What if the opponent is stunned?’
In most modern self-defence systems there is an emphasis on using simple, effective and easy techniques to deal with attacks. Things like throws or complicated locks are generally frowned upon as being ‘non-realistic’ or hard to pull off on a resisting opponent. Which is often true.
However, one thing many people forget is that even in old traditional styles – Jujutsu, Aikido, Silat, etc. – the lock or throw is usually preceded with striking the opponent hard enough to produce some form of compliance or stun which will enable the next move to be executed easily (or at least more easily).
The same can be seen with regards to mechanical restraints such as handcuffs. It is often necessary to turn a non-compliant person into a compliant one before applying the cuffs in order to prevent injuries to both the officer and the person in custody. And again the same is applicable to conflict on a larger scale. War is seldom won by waging a frontal attack against a stronger enemy. Instead, some distraction or incapacitation often takes place prior, in order to enable or support that attack.
With this in mind, it is possible to separate techniques into two groups – ones that work on a non-compliant opponent, and ones that don’t.
Some may think of these categories as 'realistic' and 'non-realistic'. I think it's more of a matter of 'before' and 'after'. How does one make work a techinque that is meant for a compliant opponent? Simple! by making the non-compliant opponent compliant. And how does one achieve that? Well, that's all up to you.
Where this gets tangled is when we look at the legal aspects of applying techniques from these groups.
Those techniques that work on non-compliant opponents - for example, punching someone really hard in the face to stun them so you can apply locks or takedowns - are considered to be a higher level of force than those that do not. As such, they should be used second rather than first in order to demonstrate that one has escalated the use of force according to the law and only when there was no other choice. The problem with that approach, however, is that unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way.
And so, we go back to a ‘chicken or the egg’-type discussion of what is effective and what can and can’t, should and shouldn't be done under ‘real’ conditions…
To me this goes back to the original answer of the ‘what if’ question – do something else! If the technique does not work, then maybe you simply haven’t put your opponent into a position or situation where it will. The next time you think about ‘what if’, at least also ask yourself ‘what if the opponent is diminished?'
Stay tuned, stay safe.