Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Insidious Effect of Training Methods and Combat Effectiveness Pt 2

Greg Downey is a lecturer in Anthropology at Macquarie University and is the author of an amazing article on the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) entitled 'Producing Pain: Techniques and Technologies in No-Holds-Barred Fighting.' Unfortunately this article is hidden away in an academic journal (Social Studies of Science 37/2 April 2007 201-226) and would not normally be read by those involved in the martial arts/combatives.

I originally found this article when researching the subject of pain. In the previously conceived book on the science behind the tactics and techniques of the martial arts, I wanted to include a couple of paragraphs in the chapter on joint-locking techniques (kansetsu waza) to explain why pain is experienced when a joint is moved towards, but not necessarily beyond, the limits of its range of movement. A couple of paragraphs became an entire chapter as the research revealed an amazing body of knowledge which has been developed in the past 10 years or so. This information will be included in one of the books planned to be written following the tentatively titled Throwing Techniques and Takedown Techniques of ALL Martial Arts which I am currently working on. The Producing Pain article includes a large section on pain and pain tolerance as it relates to UFC competitors and which is a perfect example of the theory and concepts of pain as applied to martial arts which I intend to write about.

Another major part of the article is the description of how the violence is shaped in the UFC. How the tactics and techniques are shaped by the rules of the tournaments. The UFC was never 'no-holds-barred' and the rules shaped the tactics and techniques of the competitors, just as they do in sparring or randori and competition where there are also rules.

Downey explains that
prohibitions on eye-gouging, 'fish-hooking', and biting made grappling at short range a safer strategic choice than it might have been in a completely unregulated melee. The smooth surface and padded mats meant that falling to the ground was not inherently dangerous; some critics pointed out that in uncontrolled conditions, the ground might have broken glass or gravel, or simply be so hard that dropping to it could injure a person. Knowing confidently that a second assailant would never join the fight also made lying down less risky. (2007: 206)
Some critics considered the first UFC fights 'unrealistic' because of the prohibition on groin strikes and suggested this prohibition tipped the scales away from strikers in favour of grapplers. The event organisers lifted the prohibition but the competitors simply took to wearing metal groin guards as worn by Thai kick-boxers which meant the rule was not decisive. One competitor adopted the tactic of repeatedly striking the opponent's groin guard in an attempt to move it to one side. The event organisers decided it wasn't good viewing watching someone repeatedly attack an opponent's groin so they reinstituted the prohibition on groin strikes.

In the early UFC tournaments, 'passive, conservative fighting styles often prevailed over thrilling, aggressive ones' (2007: 209).
The UFC instituted fixed time limits in 1995 to prevent fights from lasting longer than expected (especially after the Severn-Gracie match ran over its broadcast time, and SEG was forced to give refunds to all pay-per-view customers). One danger of time limits, however, was that matches might go the distance without a clear winner. ... Judges had to decide inconclusive fights within the new time limits, sparking controversy when fans disagreed. Judges decisions tended to favour contestants who 'acted aggressive', as their instructions explicitly specify, in part to enforce the fighting strategies favoured by audiences. Those fighters who spent more time on top pummeling a downed adversary, even if they achieved no obvious advantage, often won decisions because striking looked more impressive than working for a sudden, fight-ending submission hold. Time limits forced fighters to chase victory with more active tactics and to impress judges with their 'aggressiveness', as defined by the audience, shifting the dynamics of the interaction. (2007: 210-211)
Organisers deliberately used the rules to produce a type of violence which was attractive to the audience. The wearing of gis (martial arts uniform) were prohibited to make grappling a less attractive strategy. It's more difficult to grasp 'sweat-slickered bare skin' which made it easier to wiggle free when grappling. Fighters also used to use their own gis to gain an advantage when grappling.
By outlawing gis, UFC management intentionally deprived grapplers of a significant tactical resources to increase the relative effectiveness of striking skills. Forcing competitors to fight nearly naked then, ... was a conscious structuring of encounters to skew the fights' dynamics for audience consumption. (2007: 211)
Downey explains that the prohibition on gis and the introduction of rounds led one of the founders, Rorian Gracie, to sell his share in the partnership that was the owner of the UFC as the changes mitigated against his families patient grappling strategies.

Rules were changed so the referee could separate fighters and 'stand them up' for 'inactivity'. This meant that
instead of playing to win, a held fighter might instead struggle simply to last until the end of a round with its mandatory break of any holds. Rounds and 'standups' broke effective grappling holds - inactivity was actually evidence of their efficacy - and forced fighters who wanted to grapple to rush repeatedly from outside an adversary's range to close contact, which makes them most vulnerable to being struck. (2007: 211)
Originally competitors fought with bare hands, however, light gloves came to be widely used and eventually required in the UFC.
Although grappling gloves are lighter and smaller than normal boxing gloves, so that they do not add weight or increase the striking surface of the fist, they do allow tight wrapping, which can brace the wrists and diminishes the chance of a broken metacarpal or other bone in the hand by effectively fusing bones together for mutual support. Not surprisingly, Clyde Gentry (2001: 155) reports that the percentage of fights that ended in knockouts increased when gloves were mandated. Gloves, introduced to appease critics, actually made punching more effective - pleasing many spectators - and probably more dangerous to the participants' heads (although not to their hands). Gloves did not just make punching more effective; they changed the way the body could be employed so that fighters could freely punch. (2007: 215)
Downey explains that 'the tailoring of fighting styles to UFC rules extends to strategies for doing particular types of damage to an adversary' (2007: 216). Fighters target their competitors brow where the bone is close to the skin in order to open up a cut which can end the fight by ringside doctors.

Downey's article contains more examples of how the UFC rules and technology (fighting ring (Octogon), gloves, clothing, etc) shaped the fighting style of what is now known as mixed martial arts. It is a very good example of how sparring and competition can shape the tactics and techniques of a fighting style. Tactics and technique which may not be appropriate if the fighting style is intended to be used in 'real' combat where rules do not apply. Many people talk up the benefits of sparring and competition as a training method, however, they tend to ignore, or are ignorant of, the limitations of these training methods and the possible effects they may have on the combat effectiveness of their fighting style.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Insidious Effects of Training Methods and Combat Effectiveness Pt 1

Marc Tedeschi, in his 1,136 door-stopper Hapkido: Traditions, Philosophy, Technique, raises the issue of the focus on combat effectiveness with respect to chokes/strangulation techniques (shime waza):

It is important to realise that some chokes used in competition (eg judo) were specifically modified for sport use. Rules often limit technique or encourage methods of application that would be inherently risky in self defence. For example, when applying a rear naked choke in judo, your head is often placed to the side of an opponent's head, to secure a stronger hold and restrict head motion. In a real fight, this places your face within striking distance, allowing an opponent to poke your eyes or back punch to the face. This response is not legal in judo competition, hence not a concern. If you originally trained to choke in competition martial arts, you may need to modify certain aspects of your technique (2000: 428)

The logic is impeccable. Tedeschi then provides descriptions and illustrations of 26 chokes from 12 different positions including 'front standing (upright), front standing (bent over), side standing, ... front kneeling, ... front-top mount (supine attacker) ... and front reclining.' One of the chokes from a front standing (upright) position is a 'front double lapel choke' which is seen demonstrated in the youtube clip below.

There is no doubt the technique will render your opponent unconscious, as demonstrated in the video clip. However, while you are using both hands in applying the technique, whether you are standing or on the ground either on top of or under your opponent, what is the opponent doing with their hands? Their hands which are free to do whatever they like to any part of your anatomy for as long as they remain conscious. When applying strangulation techniques from the front of the opponent, standing or on the ground, all the anatomical targets on the front of your head, neck, and body are open to be attacked by your opponent. Both your hands are being employed in the execution of the technique and are therefore unavailable to defend against the opponent's assault against your eyes, face, throat, groin, and body.

Renzo Gracie and Royler Gracie, in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Theory and Technique, refer to this technique as front collar choke. They advise to pull the opponent down to your chest which 'prevents him from defending the choke ... [and] in addition, in a street fight, he prevents his opponent from punching him as the strangle is being applied' (2001: 51). Does pulling the opponent's head to your chest as you're applying the technique prevent them from attacking your eyes or groin with their hands which are free to do whatever they like for as long as it takes for them to be rendered unconscious? No.

This technique is called nami juji jime (normal cross strangle) or gyaku juji jime (reverse cross choke) in judo. It is taught in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and many other jujutsu styles. It is taught in mixed martial arts. It is taught in hapkido and I've seen it taught in various percussion based martial arts. And most concerningly of all, it is seen in military close combat manuals.

The guillotine choke is another choke which is applied from the front of the opponent. It is a very popular technique these days due to its use by Brazilian jiu-jitsu and the mixed martial arts. An illustration of the technique while standing taken from a US military close combat manual is presented below.

Am I alone in seeing the risk posed to the groin particularly, but also possibly to the face and eyes while applying the technique? A risk which continues unabated until the choke renders the opponent unconscious. It is suggested a strangulation technique targeting the carotid artery can render a person unconscious if both carotid arteries on either side of the neck are occluded continuously for 10 seconds. You have to apply sufficient force to both sides of the neck continuously for at least 10 seconds while they are struggling and attacking your groin and/or eyes.

As Tedeschi explained above, tactics and techniques which are risky in real combat or self defence situation may be developed and adopted when techniques are prohibited in training and/or competition. Gracie and Gracie explain that eye gouges and groin attacks are prohibited in the sparring training which dominates Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Eye gouges and groin attacks are prohibited in judo randori and competition, as they are in mixed martial arts competitions. They are not prohibited in real combat nor in a real self defence situation. Any strangulation technique when applied from the front is inherently risky when attacks to the eyes and groin are not prohibited. I find it amazing how many martial arts, and military close combat systems as we've seen, who emphasise their focus on the combat imperative include strangulation techniques from the front, whether standing or on the ground. These techniques are effective in training when attacks to the eyes and groin are prohibited, but this should not be the measure of their combat effectiveness.

Gracie and Gracie, when describing the reduction in combat effectiveness of Jigoro Kano's judo because of the prohibition of techniques in his randori, explain that his student's didn't train the use of these prohibited technique nor to defend against these techniques. Gracie and Gracie include defences against the guillotine choke, but none of these defences involve attacks to the groin or eyes.

All training methods to prepare a person for combat have limitations. It is the nature of the beast. Where problems can occur is when these limitations are not understood and/or appreciated. When the training method becomes the measure of combat effectiveness as is often the case when sparring is employed as the principal training method in preparing a person for combat. Tactics and techniques can be developed which are inherently risky when placed in a 'real-life' situation where there is no prohibition on the tactics and techniques which may be employed by all parties involved in the combat.

This case study is used to illustrate the insidious effect training methods can have on the development and adoption of tactics and techniques to be used in combat. It can be seen to be another example of Karl Friday's 300-year old debate which shows no sign of resolution in the foreseeable future which I referred to in a previous blog on training methods and combat effectiveness. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a kata training proponent when it appears I might be taking aim at sparring/randori. The possible pitfalls of kata training are well known and well publicised. However, the possible pitfalls of sparring/randori (which is widely promoted as being the superior method for preparing a person for combat) are not so well known and not so well publicised. My point is that if the focus shifts from combat effectiveness to effectiveness in training, tactics and techniques may be developed which expose the student to risk if relied upon when defending themselves.

The next couple of blogs will examine other situations where the training methods have influenced the development of tactics and techniques and which do not necessarily reflect the combat imperative.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Training Methods and Combat Effecitveness Pt 2

In the previous Training Methods and Combat Effectiveness Pt 1 blog, I referred to Karl Friday's reference to the '300-year old debate' concerning the best training method of preparing a person for combat.

Firstly a comment on Friday's Legacies of the Sword. I originally picked up a copy in a book store in Rotterdam when travelling with Jan de Jong one year teaching seminars throughout Western Europe. It was mostly text and seemed academic so I wasn't initially interested in purchasing it. De Jong's daughter convinced me to buy it as we hadn't seen it available in Australia, and she was used to her father buying martial arts books when ever possible. It wasn't until many years later I read it, and I was amazed. The theories I'd developed concerning the development of jujutsu - here was a professional academic providing support for my theories. Here was a professional academic who is also versed in the martial arts writing seriously about the martial arts. The analysis of various aspects of Kashima-Shinryu which is used as a case study to understand and study the Japanese martial arts can also be used to study and understand all martial arts. It is truly an amazing book and one which should be part of the foundation of any serious martial artists library.

Friday summarises the arguments associated with both sides of the 300-year old debate:

Proponents of sparring and competitions that developed concomitantly argued that pattern practice [(kata)] alone cannot develop the seriousness of purpose, the courage, decisiveness, aggressiveness, and forbearance vital to true mastery of combat. Such skills, they said, can be fostered only by contesting with an equally serious opponent, not by dancing through kata. Pattern practice, moreover, forces students to pull their blows and slow them down, so they neverdevelop their speed and striking power. Competition, it was argued, is also needed to teach students how to read and respond to an opponent who is actually trying to strike them.

Kata purists, on the other hand, retorted that competitive sparring does not produce the same state of mind as real combat and is not, therefore, any more realistic a method of training than pattern practice. Sparring also inevitably requires rules and modifications of equipment that move trainees even further away from the conditions of duels and/or the battlefield. Moreover, sparring distracts students from the mastery of kata and encourages them to develop their own moves and techniques before they have fully absorbed those of the ryuha [(marital arts discipline or school)].

This is a pretty good summary of the respective arguments and I cannot disagree with either side. One point though, Friday's comment regarding the pulling of blows is equally applicable to competition as the detractors of the non-contact or semi-contact karate and taekwondo competitions often raise.

Hunter B. Armstrong, Director of the International Hoplology Society, argues strongly in favour of kata as the better means of preparing a person for combat in 'The Koryu Bujutsu Experience' in Koryu Bujutsu: Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan (edited by Diane Skoss). He makes a couple of additional points which can be added to Friday's arguments. Firstly, while arguing in favour of kata he also argues against the solo katas of modern budo:
The aim of classical training was and is not simply the learning of movement techniques, but the development of combative behaviours that prepare one for implementing simple-but-learned-movement techniques in the face of the overwhelmingly traumatic stress of combat. No amount of solo training or single movement training will do that.
He also raises the issue of the effect of protective gear in training:

Training armour itself is a limiting factor and imposes changes upon the patterns of movement (angles and targeting), and more importantly, the psychological components of combat - the feeling of safety while training cannot prepare the individual for the psychological stress from the danger/threat inherent in mortal combat.

Again, all valid points . The comment regarding armour is particularly relevant today with improved technology resulting in increased usage of protective armour in training. Many train with full body armour today in order to engage in 'full power' training.

Gracie and Gracie's arguments in favour of sparring discussed in the previous blog is a 21st century extension of the 300-year old argument which Friday suggests has no resolution in sight for the foreseeable future. Gracie and Gracie's arguments concerning the reduction in combat effectiveness of Kano's judo due to the prohibition of 'too many' techniques in his randori is an argument from the kata advocates. My pointing out the Gracie and Gracie's argument concerning the combat effectiveness of Kano's judo is equally applicable to their Brazilian jiu-jitsu as they also prohibit certain 'dangerous' techniques in their randori is using the arguments of the kata side.

Even though it may have appeared I was advocating one method over another in the previous blog, or maybe even in this one, that is not the case. My issue is the explicit understanding and recognition of both the strengths and weaknesses of the training methods adopted. By understanding the issues of both sides of the arguments, the appropriate questions can be asked. There are different answers but the important thing is that the questions are asked. If only the strengths are focused on and the weaknesses ignored, Armstrong's reference to changes upon the patterns of movement, that is upon the tactics and techniques of a martial art, are at high risk of materialising. A couple of common instances of this will be presented in the next blog.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Training Methods & Combat Effectiveness Pt 1

Renzo Gracie and Royler Gracie (G&G), in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Theory and Technique, make the following insightful observation:
Kano was not a great innovator in technique; most of what he knew in terms of technique was taken from old jujutsu schools. His great innovation lay in the way he taught and trained his students in those techniques. (8)
Competitive advantage is a phrase used in business to refer to a situation where one business has some advantage over and outperforms its competitors. Different martial arts, different styles of the same martial art, and different schools of the same martial art are often established because their founders believe they have some competitive/combative advantage over their 'competitors.' According to G&G, and rightly so, Kano's competitive/combative advantage was largely attributable to the use of randori (free exercise or sparring) as the preferred training method in preparing a person for combat:
The idea was for the students to train 'live' with each other, each trying as hard as he could to apply technique on the other. By this means students could become familiar with the feeling of applying technique on a live, resisting human being. This, as you can imagine, is far more difficult than applying technique on a cooperating training partner in some choreographed kata. Such live training develops far greater physical and mental agility and speed in the student and prepares them well for the tiring and unpredictable movements of real combat. In order for randori to be possible, Kano saw that the dangerous elements of jujutsu would have to be removed. One cannot engage in daily sparring sessions with full power strikes, hair pulling, and eye gouging! To prevent unacceptable attrition through injury, Kano removed strikes and 'foul' tactics from randori. (8)
G&G refer to the 'paradox of randori' in that a martial art can be made more combat effective by the removal of 'dangerous' techniques. They suggest that

what Kano realised is that the effectiveness of a martial art is not determined solely by its repertoire of techniques, but also by the training method by which it instills those techniques into the students. ... Kano saw that a fighter who constantly trained at full power on a resisting opponent in live combat with 'safe' techniques would be more combat effective than a fighter who always trained with 'deadly' techniques on a cooperating partner with no power. (9)

The Gracie/Brazilian jiu-jitsu's (BJJ) competitive/combative advantage lies in, according to G&G, their extension and modification of the techniques, training methodology, and strategy of Japanese jujutsu and judo. They suggest 'Kano took out too much of the dangerous elements of fighting and grappling training' (11). These dangerous techniques which were prohibited by Kano in randori, they explain, are
very effective combat techniques. By removing them students lose a good deal of combat effectiveness. Also if they encounter someone who does use them, their lack of familiarity with the techniques will make them very vulnerable. By adding these techniques to randori training the Gracies made their art much more combat effective. Live sparring had much more combative feel to it with the removal of these restrictions on technique. (11)
Firstly, the arguments put forward by G&G reflect what Karl Friday (Legacies of the Sword) refers to as the 300 year old debate over the better training method for preparing a person for combat - kata or sparring and competition. A debate which he suggests, despite G&G and likeminded individuals' arguments, has no prospect of resolution in the near future. Secondly, Kano's reasons for restricting dangerous techniques in randori - reducing the risk of unacceptable attrition through injury - is a valid concern. You can't very well train a person for combat if they are injured all the time. G&G suggest the Gracie's added the dangerous techniques back to randori. So how do they manage the risk of unacceptable attrition through injury? When discussing the BJJ training methods, G&G explain that
a very large percentage of training time in Brazilian jiu-jitsu is taken up with live sparring. ... Because the more extreme elements of a real fight (such as biting, eye gouging, hair pulling, and striking) are removed from training, you can partake in such live sparring on a daily basis without fear of constant injury and damage. (20)
So, they also prohibit certain dangerous techniques. They have to. And for the very same reasons Kano had to. Doesn't G&G's argument concerning the reduction of combat effectiveness when dangerous techniques are prohibited hold for their BJJ as well. Yes! It has to! You cannot fault the logic of G&G. If certain techniques are prohibited in training then the student does not get to train to use nor to defend against these techniques. The argument becomes one of degree. BJJ is more combat effective than judo because less techniques are prohibited in randori. However, certain techniques are still prohibited in BJJ which has the potential of having a negative effect on the combat effectiveness of their students.

What did Kano do about training the dangerous but very effective combat techniques? He trained them in kata where there are no restrictions on the types of techniques which can by trained. What does G&G/BJJ do about the training the dangerous but very effective combat techniques? It would appear they do not train them at all and they advise their students to simply 'adapt':
The resulting familiarity with applying your techniques full power against a person doing everything in his power to defeat you is a great advantage in a real fight. Of course you have to adapt to the obvious differences that will emerge in a real fight. The opponent will probably be trying to punch, kick, scratch, gouge, and bite you. However, the familiarity with active resistance will make the transition relatively easy. (26)
It has to be understood that any and all training methods have their limitations. There are always tradeoffs. Where problems emerge in terms of combat effectiveness is when these limitations and tradeoffs are not understood and/or appreciated. When the focus is purely on the strengths of a particular training method with no mind given to its inherent weaknesses. When the combat imperative is not the sole focus. The danger then becomes that tactics and techniques may be developed and shaped to meet other demands which may not be effective or may pose unacceptable risks in real combat.

The next couple of blogs will focus on martial arts training methods. Next weeks will provide some examples of tactics and techniques which have been developed based on training methods which potentially pose unacceptable risks in real combat. Tactics and techniques which are taught by many martial arts who refer to their focus on combat effectiveness as their point of differentiation and the source of their competitive/combative advantage.