On having good form

Sometimes, the best encouragement you can get in a martial-arts class is silence.

Once a month my school, which normally teaches a combination of wing chun kung fu and Philippine blade/stick fighting, gets a visit from Sifu Jerry Devone, who teaches pure traditional Wing Chun at a level a bit higher than our Sifu Dale Yeager.

Sifu Jerry is a nice guy, but it’s not difficult to find videos of him almost casually destroying other kung fu players in ring fights. He shows the same soft/hard combination as an instructor – never yells at anyone, but demands precision and perfection and often gets it, even from unpromising students.

Tonight he told the four senior students (including Cathy and myself) to line up facing him and do the Siu Nim Tao form with him watching for defects. From some instructors this would be a terrifying prospect, with anticipation of a humiliating ass-chewing to follow. While Sifu Dale wouldn’t exactly humiliate someone who screwed up, he might make snarky theatrical jokes about bad performance in a half-laughing-with, half-laughing-at manner. Neither of these is Sifu Jerry’s style – he’d just quietly correct in a way that would make you grimly determined to get it right next time.

Still, I felt rather stressed. I know the motions of Siu Nim Tao – it’s not a complex form, and it doesn’t require anything I’m bad at like high kicking – but it’s subtle. There are fine details in it, and the devil is in those details, and in getting the overall flow and timing right.

You have some subtle stylistic choices about how to do forms, and one of them is power vs. grace. At the power extreme you do it in crisp, hard motions that deliver power in each movement. At the grace extreme you do it as a continuous flow with beautiful motions and smooth, inevitable transitions. The failure more of power is to be abrupt, herky-jerky and disconnected; the failure mode of grace is to be pretty, limp, and pointless.

What’s tricky is that there is variation among instructors among what power-to-grace ratio they actually want. It’s not even a constant; instructors may want slow and graceful one day, to isolate a motion they want to improve you on, but fast and powerful the next day to emphasize a combat application.

I wasn’t really worried about grossly screwing up a move, I was worried about doing Siu Nim Tao with good energy and style – and I was especially worried that the way I find natural to do it, which is definitely on the power side, might not be right. Or, anyway, not what Sifu Jerry wanted.

I suppressed my misgivings and did my Siu Nim Tao – crisp, snappy, a little fast, real power in the punches and cocked-wrist strikes and the one blade-hand move near the end meant to break up a wrist-grab. We all went through it, three or four times, with Sifu Jerry strolling back and forth in front of the line watching us narrowly.

Five or six minutes later, three of the four students had received minor corrections of their form. Amazingly, none of them was me!.

I got it right! While I managed to refrain from grinning like a fool, I felt almost absurdly triumphant. Especially when Sifu gave a mini-lecture on doing the form moves with definition, like you’re using them in a fight. That lecture wasn’t meant for me – I might make other kinds of mistakes, but I hadn’t fluffed that one and it’s unlikely I will.

Of such quiet victories, built up over years, are expertise and confidence made.

49 thoughts on “On having good form

  1. Congratulations. No wonder you dislike flattery: you’re used to silent approval. :-)

    > the way I find natural to do it … is definitely on the power side

    I’m curious: where in the power-grace spectrum would you situate Mrs. Raymond’s style? (Assuming the question doesn’t bother her, that is.)

    > I managed to refrain from grinning like a fool

    Do martial-arts teachers tend to be strictly against such behavior?

    • >I’m curious: where in the power-grace spectrum would you situate Mrs. Raymond’s style?

      Middling, not as much towards the power end as me.

      >Do martial-arts teachers tend to be strictly against such behavior [grinning like a fool]?

      Not necessarily, but in that context it would have been undignified.

  2. Over the years I’ve studied a few martial arts and only ONCE had an instructor raise his voice in anger or correction with a student, and that was because the kid (he was 14 or 15) couldn’t keep his hair out of his face and kept “forgetting” to bring any sort of restraint to keep it that way.

    Kids mom showed up to give the instructor what-for about said butt chew. Old man had a complete empty box of phuqs, and therefore gave her none. I knew the kids father from another venue (IIRC divorced parents), and frankly none of them were worth warm spit.

    With children it might be necessary to raise one’s voice (as an instructor). With adults, well, maybe, but I’ve never seen where it did any good–at least outside the military.

  3. If Sifu Jerry is at the level you indicate, I suspect he didn’t want a particular spot on the scale between power and grace: he wanted the one that was correct for the student he was teaching. The proper style is the one that works best for the student and allows them to operate at maximum effectiveness. You’ve been at this long enough to know what works for you, and Sifu Jerry recognized it.
    ______
    Dennis

  4. I did something similar once, but in my case, it was so bad the witnesses blocked it out of their memories so thoroughly I effectively became invisible.

  5. Hi ESR,

    I am following your blog for a fairly long time now, but I acquired a perspective to understand your martial arts posts only this year when I started boxing and then gravitated to kick-boxing, because of belts giving more of a structure to it. People here tend to rank martial arts based on how seriously they take full force sparring and more or less real fightlike competitions. Boxing or BJJ ranks very high. Karate ranks pretty much the lowest. TKD, sorta middle to mid high. And Wing Chun and kung fu in general ranks low. They have this opinion that WC practitioners tend to see it as a “dirty street art” and thus use it as an excuse to not compete and not spar seriously, because they keep learning such “dirty” moves that cannot be sparred in a way that respects the safety of the partner. Which results in them not becoming true fighters because they no experience at all what it is like to get punched in the face hard and yet still go on. That is the general opinion near here. One evidence they give me for this is that Wing Chun and generally kung fu generally lacks protective equipment like boxing gloves, so how could even people spar and compete with full force safely? One truly famous WC guy here is Philipp Bayer – and yes, since they don’t use protective equipment, every video of him is just showing _playing_, not delivering full force punches or kicks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-79wKTDDI4

    And then of course I noticed you have an entirely different approach on this blog. You take competition and sparring seriously. Just… not with protective equipment and not with full force, hence.

    I wonder if there are multiple sub-traditions in WC. One tradition does not spar much at all (“it is too dangerous street dirty fighting!”), one spars but like Bayer, just playing, no force, and one does don the boxing gloves and spar with full force. After all this is precisely what Bruce Lee learned from western boxing. He said somewhere a boxer with a years experience would KO a kung fu artist with ten. The difference is, largely, force.

    As for the meat of your article, it is funny because the boxing and kick-boxing I do is far less “artistic” and still I think they push me too much towards form. Frankly I would like to “freely brawl” more and care a bit less about drilling in perfect legwork. I am fairly sure that I would overally gain more by training my reflexes or pain threshold in more “free brawling” than practicing form forever and yet I am still slow and kinda soft. I guess at this point one should just call it a combat sport, not a martial art.

    Which really leads to saying the terminology is outdating and confusing. Take MMA. It is called MMA yet it is the least artistic and most brawly or combat sportsy of them all.

    Yet another idea. Ever thought about inventing a martial art that comes from the easiest, most natural movements, because in a self defense situation they are the easiest to remember? Such as hooks?

    Sorry +1 idea do you think fighting with weapons like sticks or swords is entirely learned or humanity could have evolved circuits for it, just as we have evolved circuits for throwing stones? If yes, what would be the closest way to fence to “natural”, “evolved” armed fighting techniques?

    • >I wonder if there are multiple sub-traditions in WC.

      Definitely there are. One major split is between modified and traditional wing chun. Another is the range of variation you get everywhere between schools that are more oriented towards practical combat and those that are less so. I think my needs are well served by a traditional wing chun school with a “hard” combat orientation, which I have found.

      Sifu Jerry does “don the boxing gloves and spar with full force”, at championship level, and he’s training us to fight like him. Sifu Dale is an LEO who trains SEALS and FBI agents; he teaches wing chun as a brutally practical tool.

      That said, I know my kuntao school does not do enough full-on sparring and stress inoculation because I train with another school that that does more (Polaris, the historical fencers I do a week-long intensive with once a year). I have raised this issue with Sifu Dale and he admits we need more of this but says the school isn’t ready yet; he needs to train more instructors before we’ll be able to ramp up to that level. Unspoken but obvious to both of us is that I will probably be helping lead that transition once I’ve had instructor training, which is not far in the future now.

      >Ever thought about inventing a martial art that comes from the easiest, most natural movements, because in a self defense situation they are the easiest to remember? Such as hooks?

      It wouldn’t work, at least not for men. The “natural” fighting style of male humans is ineffective; as Desmond Morris noted in his excellent book Manwatching it actually seems to be designed to produce minimal injuries in semi-ritualized status fights. Female humans, on the other hand, fight very viciously when they fight at all.

      >do you think fighting with weapons like sticks or swords is entirely learned or humanity could have evolved circuits for it,

      We do have some evolved circuitry that is highly relevant – the ability to extend the body’s kinesthetic map into tools and weapons. Thus, we can feel our way with the tip of a screwdriver or a sword as though it were an extension of our fingers.

      >If yes, what would be the closest way to fence to “natural”, “evolved” armed fighting techniques?

      I’m going to say cut-and-thrust sword, a body of technique which looked pretty damn similar all over the world for thousands of years until it was (very recently) obsolesced by pure thrusting swords.

  6. @William @ESR

    >Over the years I’ve studied a few martial arts and only ONCE had an instructor raise his voice in anger or correction with a studen

    I think these experiences of yours come from sticking to the Asian styles which are always fairly big on formality and respect.

    Western styles… not so. A typical boxing gym kind of oscillates between the trainer barking orders military style and the students pulling his leg a bit when he eases up – it is far closer to the basic “alpha male” dynamic than any kind of formality. So raising the voice is somewhat necessary because the dynamic is so informal that some young adult dudes often forget who is boss. I mean, there is usually music during trainings, at least in our gym and it is often some kind of a gangsta-rap or metal, as it tends to push adrenaline, so that is really not a very formal athmosphere and thus insubordination can easily happen.

    The kind of WAKO kick-boxing I do was explicitly made by merging boxing with karate kicks and both origins are still showing, such as lining up and bowing Japanese style, with a bit of formality, then 5 minutes later cracking jokes on the trainer in relaxed Western boxer style, like when tells us to do splits and someone says we forgot how, please show it (he is a fat grandpa, so no chance). This usually results in funny guy doing a faceplant, due to a smartly executed leg sweep.

  7. Hmmmmm. One of the biggest lessons in learning to shoot well is to be smooth, not fast: do everything smoothly, with a minimum of wasted effort, and if yo do that, speed will follow. This is especially important in disciplines like IPSC and IDPA. One of the best shooters at an IPSC match I went to had THINK SMOOTH embroidered on his range bag.

    Compare and contrast?

  8. Good BJJ instructors are similar there. They’ll demand good form but always remain cognizant of individual leverages and the like.

  9. >’inventing a martial art that comes from the easiest, most natural movements’
    >’It wouldn’t work… from Desmond Morris’ Manwatching

    Flung-poo-fu? With tree-climbing katas to focus on the dantian? As Feldenkreiss said, the point about the dantian is that it is a point on the body full of poo. The Iron Fist comic could have a new supporting character- Master Poo Chi, -none can withstand his- oh, here’s that cute nurse with my meds.

  10. ” as Desmond Morris noted in his excellent book Manwatching it actually seems to be designed to produce minimal injuries in semi-ritualized status fights. Female humans, on the other hand, fight very viciously when they fight at all.”

    Which makes perfect evolutionary sense. In the EAA, a typical make human would have fought status combats more frequently than inter-tribe battles.

    If a woman is fighting, it’s last-ditch effort to protect herself and her offspring.

  11. > The proper style is the one that works best for the student and allows them to operate at maximum effectiveness.

    The proper style is the one that works best for the *SITUATION*. It is the students job to be able to operate as effectively.

    RE: “True fighters”

    Anyone who thinks MMA is “true fighting” hasn’t spent time in a biker/military/dive bar. I don’t need to beat your ass, I just need to wrap you up long enough for my buddy to get done pissing and get out here where he can break a pool que over your head. Or get the knife out while you’re misdirected. Or get you to back off just far enough to get the gun to clear cover.

    As mentioned here several days/months/years ago my wife attended *one* WC class in San Francisco. There the kind, loving, accepting post-feminists beat her badly enough that she never wanted to go back to *any* WC school again.

    Stress testing/pain innoculation is important, but it doesn’t have to be two (or more) people in a ring beating on each other like drums. It can come in lots of ways.

    Bruises and broken bones (mostly) heal. Kidneys, well you got two. Ligaments tear, cartilage can come loose, eyes and eardrums can be popped. None of them heal well, but all are viable targets *IN THE RIGHT CIRCUMSTANCE*.

    As mentioned before, I don’t take MA to kill people, that’s what guns, explosives, knives and bumpers are for. I take MA for the stuff in the middle.

    And frankly if you’re taking MA to be a “true fighter” you’re an idiot. Fighting is painful, and there’s always a chance you’ll lose. Which, with the wrong sociopath, could lead to permanent degradation of your facilties.

    Ring fighting (MMA etc.) is a bit of an exception to this, but even then getting repeatedly punched in the head is not good for it.

  12. @William

    I don’t know whether your “true fighters” comment was aimed at me or not. But my attitude to it is kind of less usual, yet to me logical – I use it a psychotherapy. I have hardly any interest in actual self-defense: I practically never get into actually dangerous situations. But since I was a bullied boy and all my life I felt inadequate and unmasculine and fought with self-worth issues I aim to adopt the mind, the psyche of a fighter, in the sense that developing courage, self-respect and all the other virile virtues. For this reason, the primary thing is not even how well I fight in what situations. The primary thing is actually the opposite – I want to get punched in my face, hard, and learn to not flinch, not get scared, learn to deal with it, learning to be the kind of guy who can deal with hardship bravely. This is the psychotherapy of it. Taking punches is far more impotant to this kind of courage and self confidence boosting than handing them out. When I was 8 or 10 the primary problem was not losing fights to bullies but not even daring to hit back, then hating myself for not daring to hit back. So the primary goal here is to be able to operate efficiently under duress and pain which is a useful skill in itself but my primary motivation is that I hope it fixes the self-respect and masculinity/courage issue. A bit late to fix this at almost 40 but whatever. I used to think simply lifting weights will fix this – after all it boosts testosterone. Yet somehow it didn’t. I felt like a fake – having a dangerous looking body, yet it is just looks for I was timid inside.

    It is an interesting question if the same psychotherapeutic effect could be achieved differently, far quicker. I was pondering other courage-testing challenges like kayaking down wild rivers. Finally I decided that my deeply buried lack of self-respect is all about cowardice shown to specifically human foes at 8 or 10, so showing courage to natural obstacles probably would not help there.

    And I am half angry there is no psychological literature to it at all, despite the fact that it happens to, I am sure, at least 5% of boys. Strange how psychologists, psychiatrists, who write those books, have a way of ignoring very common problems.

  13. To my above comment: I have an impression that many guys in my gym are coming from the same angle. This is why they respect only full force sparring – because they want to learn how not to shit their pants from it, to use it perhaps as a similar psychotherapy to heal the self-respect scars of former cowardice. But also on the practical level – if your training does not contain something that genuinely feels dangerous, if you ever get into a real life dangerous situation, be that empty handed, with a bumper or a gun, you will probably just freeze. I shot guns in a range maybe twice before I realized it is no use – I have no way to simulate that blood curdling fear that I would feel from someone pointing a gun on me, so it came accross as kind of pointless. No matter how good I become at putting holes into paper in a real life situation I would probably freeze and get a nervous breakdown. However, as for empty handed brawls, a full force sparring can simulate at least partially the fear in that and thus inoculate me to it.

  14. >Ever thought about inventing a martial art that comes from the easiest, most natural movements, because in a self defense situation they are the easiest to remember?

    It wouldn’t work, at least not for men…. Female humans, on the other hand, fight very viciously when they fight at all.

    And in fact, something like this already exists and is taught as women’s self-defence! The focus is on combining stress inoculation with moves like “knee him in the balls hard enough to pop them” and subtler psychological manoeuvres.

    Here’s an article about it, and here’s the horse’s mouth.

    • >And in fact, something like this already exists and is taught as women’s self-defence!

      Mention these courses around my sifu and you will get a rant, none of it positive. This is a guy who trains cops and knows a lot about criminal psychology (he does interrogations) and street violence. He considers most “women’s self-defense” courses to be teaching absurdly ineffective techniques that are more likely to just piss off an angry male than deter him.

      I don’t have a formed opinion of my own about this because I don’t have anything like sifu’s knowledge base. Until I do, I wouldn’t bet on him being wrong.

  15. “Mention these [women’s self-defense] courses around my sifu and you will get a rant, none of it positive. This is a guy who trains cops and knows a lot about criminal psychology (he does interrogations) and street violence. He considers most “women’s self-defense” courses to be teaching absurdly ineffective techniques that are more likely to just piss off an angry male than deter him.”

    What does he think of arts such as Krav Maga? Is he of the opinion that only complex arts such as the one he teaches can be effective? (If so, he’s basically saying that the typical woman cannot protect herself with the amount of effort and motivation that is reasonable.)

    What do you think would be said if he and Mr. Stuart were to discuss the topic?

    • >What does he think of arts such as Krav Maga?

      I think he respects Krav Maga, though he is fond of pointing out that the Sayeret train in wing chun.

      >(If so, he’s basically saying that the typical woman cannot protect herself with the amount of effort and motivation that is reasonable.)

      If Sifu Dale thinks a typical woman cannot protect herself empty-hand against a male attacker, I would say he is undoubtedly correct. The 150% average difference in upper-body strength is huge; she needs either weapons or rather intensive training to have a prayer. The case is especially dire if the male is a criminal who is hardened and specialized to violence.

      What I don’t know is if these “women’s self-defense” courses teach anything effective in less extreme situations, such as (say) sexual assault by a intoxicated male who has not been hardened by prison time. Sifu’s opinion is clearly that they don’t. I don’t know enough about what they typically teach to argue the point with him.

      My advice to anyone, male or female, who thinks they’re at significant risk of felony assault, is: carry a gun and train to use it. Even with a quarter century of martial-arts training and unusual strength and toughness on my side, I carry a gun. Going hand-to-hand against an assailant with unknown capabilities is shit-stupid if you have any choice in the matter; the utility of empty-hand training is as a least bad option when you can’t do anything else.

  16. > …though he is fond of pointing out that the Sayeret train in wing chun.

    Almost every martial art out there asserts that Special Operations Units, or at least *a* SpecOps unit trains in their art. Which is at least minimally true–Spec Ops units will train in *anything* looking for useful edge. Doesn’t mean that it makes up any significant portion of their official training, and it doesn’t mean that what they take away from that training is what you and I would get.

    I train in the Bujinkan, and Jack Hoban, who also trains in that art, was a SME for the creation of the Marine Corps Martial Arts program. I’ve seen the Marines playing. What they are doing is *significantly* different from what we teach and learn.

    Mostly because we’re not 19 year old kids with lots of T, little sense, free health care and the ability to go on light duty at full pay.

  17. @ESR

    >Mention these courses around my sifu and you will get a rant, none of it positive.

    Ask him what he thinks of stepping aside, turning in, and delivering a front kick (feet soles or heel) into the _side_ of the opponents knee.

    Kick-boxers found it the hard way – practicing leg sweeping and occasionally fscking it up by mistake – that the human knee is extremely vulnerable to forces from the side. Even a light kick renders an opponent limping, and then the victim can just jog away.

  18. @ESR

    >I’m going to say cut-and-thrust sword

    This is why I asked it – a Marozzo type spada da lato feels really natural in the hand.

    However it does not really add up to me historically. Swords were always expensive weapons for the nobility, and fare late comers, as they tended to be brittle and thus required advanced metallurgy. When you have crappy iron or bronze, spears it is, and bows, and they were actually the most used weapons by non-noble majorities all through world history. Even hunter-gatherers.

    This is why I wonder. For a hominid, whacking at something with a shorter tree branch is not that effective. Using a longer branch that happened to break so that it has a point as a spear is supposed to be far more effective. Reach, and concentration of force into one point.

  19. Ahh, I aimed for “concise” but hit “slightly unclear” instead; I’ll hide less of my point behind the links!

    >And in fact, something like this already exists and is taught as women’s self-defence!

    Mention these courses around my sifu and you will get a rant, none of it positive…. He considers most “women’s self-defense” courses to be teaching absurdly ineffective techniques…

    I actually meant to draw attention to a specific group in the category of “women’s self-defence”; it’s called Impact. The people behind it agree with your sifu’s assessment of most WSD courses, and have made a point of getting advice from cops and ex-felons; I think they’d be more likely than most to pass muster with Dale.

    OTOH: Digging deeper, Impact appears to be a closely-related offshoot of the “Model Mugging” program of one Matt Thomas, which seems to be well-known enough that Dale may be familiar with it, and may be including it in his rants.

    Empirical results for both these programs seem very good, but I don’t know enough about criminology or statistics to evaluate them skeptically.

  20. This is an interesting time to discuss this topic, not long after four guys took down an armed terrorist on a European train

  21. Cathy, with all due respect it was six men who attacked that remnant of a coupling between a dog and a pig.

    The first was one of the last men in France with testosterone who noticed something wrong and went forward. As much as I am not impressed by Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys, there was a man who should have many, many children. He got shot for his efforts, but he made them. It looks like he will survive. Good on him.

    Another Frenchman , who wishes to remain anonymous, attempted to tackle him.

    That’s when the 2 American Servicemen, the College Student set on him. The British IT dude got the assist on that one.

    So yeah, 6 men. Not guys, Taking on someone holding a rifle with just your bare hands takes guts.

  22. Oh, which leads to “Damn French, always starting fights that the British and Americans have to come finish for them.”

    Intended purely as a joke mind you.

  23. I think you’re dead wrong about the way men vs women fight in modern Western culture. Women do indeed fight with more hatred, which usually just means grabbing on to each others hair with a death grip and hammerfirsting each other til they’re in tears. Watch trashy youtube videos long enough. This happens nearly every time.

    Men on the other hand, tend to watch combat sports relationally and grow a much better idea of what to emulate in a fight. They don’t always pull it off, but most men will keep their hands up, try to put their body into strait punches, use their hips if they wrestle and choke effectively.

    • >Men on the other hand, tend to watch combat sports relationally and grow a much better idea of what to emulate in a fight.

      Security-camera videos of street scuffles show differently. Most men, and almost all men when intoxicated or highly adrenalized, revert to an instinctive style that features big looping hook punches, pounding the top of an opponent’s head and shoulders, rushing and grappling, and no kicking or soft-tissue strikes at all. It is difficult to actually injure anyone this way. The exceptions are trained martial artists.

      A significant part of the reason is that when heart rate goes above 110 beats per minute, the fine motor control required for effective striking starts to go to hell. This is why a major goal of martial arts training is to teach you to stay chill (not hyperadrenalize) during a fight.

  24. A good source of videos displaying real violence: http://edpoint.tumblr.com/

    Warning: the videos posted there occasionally show real people dying in really painful ways. People getting shot, people getting stabbed. Welcome to the real world outside your suburbs.

    I disagree with:
    > that when heart rate goes above 110 beats per minute, the fine motor control required
    > for effective striking starts to go to hell.

    I don’t think it’s an issue of “fine motor control” as such–that is the ability to type, or to thread a needle, and yeah, it IS gone at higher levels of adrenaline or whatever, but punching (even those punches to pressure points and nerve clusters) is a gross motor skill, it’s about target selection and gross aim. I suspect that goes away in many of the sorts of fights you’re talking about because (a) Judgement Juice and (b) fear locking up the mind[1].

    I think that in many of those cases the pugilists don’t know how to fight well, but instinctively know how to cover up well. On the rare occasion they meet someone who is well trained (defined as the training is so deep that the alcohol can’t wash it away) they get their clocks cleaned.

    [1]

    “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

    • >I don’t think it’s an issue of “fine motor control” as such–that is the ability to type, or to thread a needle, and yeah, it IS gone at higher levels of adrenaline or whatever, but punching (even those punches to pressure points and nerve clusters) is a gross motor skill

      Other than a definitional quibble about what constitutes “fine” vs. “gross” I don’t think we substantially disagree – I wasn’t thinking of fine as in threading a needle. The point is that at high levels of adrenalization precise targeting goes out the window. Rory Miller goes deep into the physiology in his excellent book Meditations on Violence.

  25. @ESR is it possible you picked up worrying about heart rate and fine motoric control from your firearms training or authors who focus on training riflemen, where it is obviously crucial, and it may be crucial about fencing as well, and it carried over too much into your thinking about bare handed fighting? Your experience is far more extensive than mine, but it seems to me it is a far less fine and far more brute thing than fencing or guns. When I put a side kick into a heavy as fsck sandbag and it does a pendulum move into like 40 degree from vertical… should I really worry at exactly what spot such a kick meets a human opponent? Methinks they are off balance anyway, possibly falling over if surprise is on my side, and that is a good way to start a combo. But again, I am not too experienced yet. Also, my 105kg weight is and nearly meter long legs are anything but typical.

    • >@ESR is it possible you picked up worrying about heart rate and fine motoric control from your firearms training or authors who focus on training riflemen, where it is obviously crucial, and it may be crucial about fencing as well, and it carried over too much into your thinking about bare handed fighting?

      I don’t think so. Most of what I have to say about this is nearly direct quotes from Rory Miller’s Meditations on Violence, written by a man with far more direct experience of violent confrontation with criminals and others than I will ever have. Some of the rest of it is from my wing chun sifu, also an LEO with practical street-level experience.

      It is, however, reinforced by other sources such as Morris’s Manwatching and a lot of my own viewing of security-cam videos of brawls and street violence. From Miller I got the detailed physiology of how adrenalization compromises hand-to-hand fighting skill by degrading the precision of motor control and (at higher levels) inducing tunnel vision. From Morris I learned how comically ineffective “instinctive” fighting is, a lesson which he taught with still shots in his book but is amply borne out by a volume of video footage of actual streetfights that he could barely have imagined having available in the 1970s.

      So no, these lessons are not only relevant to riflery or fencing. You speak of slamming a sidekick into a heavy bag as a case where you don’t have to worry about fine targeting and you are right about that as far as it goes, but freight-train moves like that are seldom effective in real fighting because they’re too slow. In the time it takes you to set up that kick, a skilled and chilled fighter will simply step offline and fuck you up with a short punch or a kick to your center of gravity. Even I could do that, and I’m neither very mobile nor particularly fast.

      This is also, by the way, why not being able to kick at all well does almost nothing to compromise my effectiveness. Kicks are slow – arts that invest in them heavily have generally wandered away from combat effectiveness into a sport or fitness/conditioning orientation. Conversely, if you look at modern arts that are designed exclusively for combat effectiveness like krav maga or systema you will see only very limited use of kicks, and nothing like the over-committed freight-train TKD-style side kick. Combat-effective kicking is low, fast, and targeted to disablers like breaking a kneecap. It emphasizes immediate return to a stable stance so you don’t get caught on the hop.

      Similarly for big haymaker punches that aren’t carefully targeted. Wing chun has particularly good doctrine for handling this sort of thing – you get inside them and block at a point of mechanical advantage, then stick to that limb and use it to control the opponent, passing around to his blind side. Anybody who tried a haymaker on me would probably feel my fist in his kidneys before he properly realized his blow hadn’t landed. And again, I’m neither very mobile nor especially fast – it’s all about working the geometry and making efficient movements that get inside the opponent’s OODA loop.

  26. @Petro

    One observation on the meta level. From my outside view, as I am a EastEuro, WestEuros tend to underestimate the intelligence or education of Americans, Americans tend to underestimate the testosterone of WestEuros. The reason is largely that Americans use intelligence for practical purposes and not to show off, and testosterone sometimes too (like in this case) but far more often to show off, while WestEuros use intelligence and education to show off and testosterone to for practical purposes, not to show off. For example in martial arts the tireurs of Savate are AFAIK the only ones in the West who kick each other wearing shoes, and don’t really mind much that it hurts: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savate#/media/File:EliteA2013_@L.Gehant.jpg

    Smart thing, too, I spent three weeks limping when a careless front kick resulted in the underside of my little toe hitting my partners elbow – I’d rather take a shoe in my stomach! I am a huge fan of using all kinds of protective equipment in order to be allowed to play hard and completely forgot nothing protects my toes from the underside…

    However, on the object level, it is somewhat supporting your estimation that Mark Mooligan is actually an American expat who acquired French citizenship. He probably gave up his birth one as I heard US tax rules for expats don’t really follow the generic international standard just-pay-where-you-live-ok-thanks-bye rule https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Thalys_attack

  27. @Petro

    Pugilist and adrenaline: I downloaded a USMC close combat manual. Basically they are saying grappling > punching > kicking. Well, I never liked grappling much, but if it is true, for people who don’t know much about grappling techniques, which is the vast majority, it is pretty much a pure strenght thing where the strength boost of adrenaline may help more than the loss of fine motoric control hurts. Basic untrained instinctive wrestling is largely about using the whole body in a vertical, force exerted from feet to upwards pushing move, trying to lift the foe off from the ground, and then throwing him away.

  28. > Combat-effective kicking is low, fast, and targeted to disablers like breaking a kneecap.
    > It emphasizes immediate return to a stable stance so you don’t get caught on the hop.

    A senior instructor in the Bujinkan once said something to the effect of “Yes, we do kick to the head. We just knock them down first”.

    This gurl (dude, she’s 16) http://www.teamusa.org/Athletes/GO/Madelynn-GormanShore trains at the studio my instructor rents time at. She can snap a kick to your face faster than you’d think possible.

    But she’s the .1%. She’s also f*king scary when she’s getting into the zone for competition. Absolutely zero phuqs are given about anything but the fight.

    Purely for amusement: http://gfycat.com/EagerMadeupHarpseal

    @Shenpen:
    > WestEuros tend to underestimate the intelligence or education of Americans,

    That is because our media likes to make it look like have the country are idiots.

    > Americans tend to underestimate the testosterone of WestEuros.

    You may misunderstand my/our meaning. My perception is that most of Europe has emasculated itself when it comes physical violence. Not athletes, only fools care much about that[1], but when it comes to the ability to defend ones tribe and homeland, or to project force. Some will say that that is because Europe is “past wars”. Well, then Europe is about to cease to exist because Asia, Africa and South and Central America are certain full of countries willing to start wars of conquest or extermination, and the US is certainly willing to fight back.

    That’s what I mean by low-T–the psychological and philosophical unwillingness to get aggressive.

    And there are good reasons why the political elites that run Europe would try to build that sort of culture–WWI and WWII really f*ked you guys up, and avowing violence would seem to be a solution to that. But nature doesn’t like it when you quit like that. She moves in and takes your toys away.

    [1] Although frank the behavior of some of your football (soccer) players SHOULD BE embarrassing. Yeah, our football players wear pads (compared to Aussie rules football, or Rugby), but they don’t fall down when a gnat farts in their general direction.

  29. @ esr

    Thanks for your replies. Ready for more questions? :-P

    1. What does the term “freight-train moves” mean?
    2. Are you sure Desmond Morris can be trusted? There’s a chapter in Catwatching which sounds like he believes that evolution is purposeful and/or that animals hold atavistic memories. The chapter is titled “Why Do Cats Hiss?” (or something equivalent), in case you want to borrow a copy and see if I misunderstood him. (Or maybe you do own the book; you like cats, after all. ;-))
    3. This one may be snoopy; so if you answer “Go to hell!”, I’ll understand: you say you’re not “able to kick at all well”; yet you’ve earned a black belt in Taekwondo, which – IIUC – is heavy on kicks. How did you make up for your kicking difficulties? Sounds like an exercise in adaptability and problem-solving one could learn from, even beyond the realm of martial arts.

    • >1. What does the term “freight-train moves” mean?

      Total commitment, brute force, full power – coming on like a freight train, crushing and unstoppable if you’re not out of the way. There are some power-oriented Japanese styles that are colloquially referred to as “freight-train karate”.

      >2. Are you sure Desmond Morris can be trusted?

      That is truly odd. No, I’ve never read Catwatching. But his argument about instinctive fighting is very straightforward and supported with empirical evidence.

      >How did you make up for your kicking difficulties?

      A combination of very hard work and substituting other moves for things that were simply impossible. For example, replacing spinning back kicks with a spinning back fist. It helped that the TKD school I was in was much less exclusively kicking-centered that many traditional TKD schools are; unlike them, we were fighting 50% with our hands anyway.

  30. > How did you make up for your kicking difficulties?

    At most schools that aren’t “McDojos” the instructors understand that folks often have limitations. Some need to be accepted and trained around, some need to be pushed. Most are a combination of the two.

    This is important to look for in a school–it means that the instructor wants to you succeed as much or more than he wants you to pay him.

  31. @Petro

    I think what you wrote is actually a demonstration of, not a counter-argument to what I wrote about “using testosterone for practical purposes, not showing off”. It means avoiding all the conflicts that are unnecessary, and quite frankly there were hardly any in the past decades (after the colonial wars, like Angola) that were necessary. So maybe you could try to see it as a two dimensional coordinate system, one is courage, and the other is necessity or interests. Afghanistan is, for example, entirely unnecessary and there are no serious interests there – not even oil. Iraq has oil, but just drilling in the Adria is going to be cheaper unless the green fools manage to prevent it. Anyway so there these two dimensions, and yes when I see Der Spiegel bitching about wasting soldiers on Afghanistan, it is hard to tell whether it is the lack of a high courage or testosterone dimension i.e. simple wimpishness, or the lack of a high necessity / interest dimensions: there is nothing in Afghanistan that makes it actually worthwhile to sacrifice Western lives for. As a counter-example, if you look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Serval you see the willingness to project force or generally to sacrifice lives for a worthwhile goal and thus higher on the testosterone / courage scale. I still don’t see the benefit in it, but perhaps this can be chalked up as a humanitarian intervention. Or target practice.

    Overally, there is simply very little in the world currently that would offer a good cost / benefit ratio of a war. Such cool headed calculations, lack of an emotional drive to show ’em, is what I called “using testosterone for practical purposes, not showing off”.

    No, Europe’s real crisis is currently huge immigration waves, not looming wars. And it is a different kind of challenge. Not one of courage, one could mow them down to a man or just let them drown and they could hardly fight back. It is a challenge of values and perception. Should one try to be ethical humanitarian or should one try to protect one’s basic interest and cultural identity? Where is a sweet ethical spot between minimal amount of pain caused and maximal amount of migrants going somewhere else? Shoot with rubber bullets? Pull an Abbott and give them boats to somewhere else? And what if the fucking manipulative leftist TV crews find one, just one refugee child who broke a leg somehow and is now crying in premier plan on TV? The emotions of the people are incredibly easy to manipulate, lefties do it all the time, and this a perception challenge that has to be managed somehow: TV-driven emotions are incredibly not utilitarian, one person spectacularly suffering on TV has more of an impact than any far bigger problems that don’t look impressive on TV. These all are not really testosterone challenges. It is vales, choices, practicality, perception, and getting lefties to shut up somehow.

  32. @William perhaps I am going to a third type, it is a non-profit sports club and thus cheap and not driven by money, but one instructor for 20-30 people, with 1.5 hour classes set up as 30 min warm up / calisthenics / strength training, 10 min stretching, 20 min form drill, 20 min partner practice or sparring, 10 min warm down / calisthenics / strength, basically means individual instruction is not really practically possible beyond 30 to 60 seconds per training per person. What you consider good dojos have different schedules?

  33. >>No, Europe’s real crisis is currently huge immigration waves, not looming wars. And it is a different kind of challenge. Not one of courage, one could mow them down to a man or just let them drown and they could hardly fight back. It is a challenge of values and perception.

    And that is why you (Europe) is utterly fucked. Your blind spots and misconceptions are of fatal severity.

    If you don’t think your incoming (and already received) immigration waves are a form of war, then you won’t survive. Look at Calais.

    And if you don’t think there is any relation between courage, and standing up for your values and culture…. Then you will not have the first now when it’s needed and the latter two will soon be gone.

    Note the absolute lack of courage shown by anyone, to counter or oppose the Leftist media propaganda/brainwashing/suicidalist meme machine.

  34. > I think what you wrote is actually a demonstration of, not a counter-argument to what I
    > wrote about “using testosterone for practical purposes, not showing off”. It means
    > avoiding all the conflicts that are unnecessary, and quite frankly there were hardly
    > any in the past decades (after the colonial wars, like Angola) that were necessary.

    It’s not about getting in the fight, it’s about being *willing* to. There is an argument (that frankly I’m not competent to evaluate fully, but it fits what has happened there) that German/Continental philosophy wound up in the “There is no good/evil or right/wrong in the absolute sense” and thus (a) no limits on their appetites, and (b) nothing to stand for.

    I have said this before, and it’s as true today as it was 15 years ago when I first said it. There is evil in this world, and there are places in this world consumed with evil. I will be the *first* motherfucker out the ass end of a C17 if you put together a plan, permission, and financing to fix it. Note that this position *assumes* fixability (and a logistics train, and people better than I am to help with the fighting).

    The entire middle east is a caldron of hell and torture. Iraq was a (bad) shot at fixing that, but we could have. And yes, I went there. Not as a fighter–there are younger and better, they do their job I helped on the IT side. And there were Europeans there. Albanians and Brits (that I remember. Diggers too.) but not in the numbers you see in America.

    A friend of mine trained with a Canadian soldier at one point. The guy–a pretty high speed soldier–told his kid that he was a *baker* because Canada looks down on it’s military so much.

    Once there’s nothing worth fighting for, you’re a slave.

    If I were unencumbered by a wife and young child, and were physically fit enough I’d be trying to figure out how to get over to Kurdistan to help them build a free(er) country.

    > Overally, there is simply very little in the world currently that would offer a
    > good cost / benefit ratio of a war. Such cool headed calculations, lack of an

    War is almost always the most expensive way to solve a problem, but we’re not allowed to use cheaper methods (assassination as an example is much cheaper, but is looked on with horror by the Elites and the Media. Of course they rarely do the dying.)

    Afghanistan had to be fought (at least initially) because it was a base out of which a toxic ideology was flowing. It was a brutal regime that provided safe haven and training to terrorists.

    Now, I would have done it different (says the guy who rarely reads war histories, never studied at hte war college and never got above sergeant in the military), I’d have tumbled the Taliban, broken the country into tribal based autonomous zones who sent representatives to a central council, then I’d have gotten that government the same sort of “permission” that Turkey has to produce opium for morphine, and split the profits up amongst the tribes on the basis of how well they (a) treated their women, (b) stopped illicit heroin smuggling, and (c) got along with their neighbors.

    But you can only do this if you’re willing to kick someone’s teeth in. Europe proved in the Balkans that not only does it not have the balls to go to war anymore, but it doesn’t even have the balls to enforce peace.

    > No, Europe’s real crisis is currently huge immigration waves, not looming wars.

    That is the looming war. It’s 4th Generation war, war on all fronts on all channels.

    I don’t know (sorry, don’t recall) what country you live in, but women are getting raped in France because they’re on the street. People are decapitated in Britain on the street in broad daylight. Just because some f*kwit politician hasn’t asked parliment/congress/whatever for a declaration of war doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

    > And it is a different kind of challenge. Not one of courage,

    It absolutely is one of courage. It takes real balls to stand up to the Social Justice Warriors and those among the enemy ranks and say “No, you will NOT bring that shit here. If you want to come here, work hard, make a living, and argue rationally for your beliefs in the public square on the same footing with everyone else, be welcome. If you want to insist on special privileges because your god says YOU get them, if you want to bring violence and fear, if you want to enslave our men and women, then we’re going to kill you. You want war to the knife, you’re getting the hilt.

    If you don’t start fighting for your culture it’ll be gone in a generation or two. If you start now you might be able to hold on to it three or four.

    > one could mow them down to a man or just let them drown and they could hardly
    > fight back.

    Really? You’d seriously best re-think that. Islam means to take over the world, they’ve SAID SO, and given their actions I’m willing to take them at face value.

    Including the bit about seeking to destroy Israel and the US.

    > It is a challenge of values and perception. Should one try to be ethical
    > humanitarian or should one try to protect one’s basic interest and cultural identity?

    Give the nature of Islam and of most of the Islam countries being an ethical humanitarian IS preserving western culture and identity.

  35. > perhaps I am going to a third type,

    That was my poor phrasing. There aer “McDojos” which are to Martial Arts what McDonalds is to dining. And there’s basically everything else. Everything else is that the instructor or instructors believe in what they are teaching, and aren’t in it ONLY for the money.

    > it is a non-profit sports club and thus cheap and not driven by money, but one
    > instructor for 20-30 people, with 1.5 hour classes set up as 30 min warm up /
    > calisthenics / strength training, 10 min stretching, 20 min form drill, 20 min
    > partner practice or sparring, 10 min warm down / calisthenics / strength, basically
    > means individual instruction is not really practically possible beyond 30 to 60
    > seconds per training per person. What you consider good dojos have different schedules?

    I am not a boxer, so I have no idea how that works. In the schools I’ve trained in often the students *train* together to lift each other up, so while an instructor might have 10 or 30 students in the room, he’s also got 5 or 8 “senior” students who should be working as much with teh junior students as with each other.

    And it really depends on the “scope” of the school. Many schools have a limited (set) number of Kata/techniques and focus on those. Other schools have more adaptive styles, or (as in the school I train in) have may different styles built around the same movements but done with different “attitudes” (one has a very different approach to Drunk Aunt Mary at the family holiday dinner than to a handful of muggers behind a bar, so it’s VERY useful to train restraint/joint lock techniques as well as curb stomping someone’s face.).

    The guy I train with only has “students” because it’s the best way he can train what *HE* wants to learn. By studying a set of techniques with someone senior to him, then coming to work with me and a few others he is forced to be able to learn it well enough to teach and to get the repetitions. This means that quite often there are only 1 or 2 students.

    It’s a lot like a programming language. Which one you pick depends on your problem domain. Some languages are more expressive, some are better suited to solving specific problems.

  36. @ESR perhaps one meta level higher we can agree that freight train moves require an element of surprise, such as an opponent who has been staggered and dizzied by a previous combo, and is not able to pay much attention for 0.2 to 0.4 seconds? Your point is, then, that it does not really happen to an advanced fighter?

    But the interesting thing is that the element of surprise is the sine qua non of all conflict, from bar brawls to world wars, from boardgaming to business competition. (This is why card games, from powker to Magic, are so cool: putting a card from your hand to the table is the simplest, easiest simulation of a surprise attempt. (This is why I want to design a card game based on espionage, intrigue and secret services stuff. The form would really fit the function.))

    So, how do advanced fighters surprise each other? In very small ways?

    Beyond theory, there is also empirical testing. The closest thing to that is MMA – it has few rules, they mostly just outlaw the most dangerous moves, and that results in disadvantaging strikers to grapplers anyway, so it is never too easy for a striker. And what are the results of such tests? When you have the time, please take a look at this long article: https://dynastyclothingstore.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/where-are-the-chinese-fighters-why-mma-has-not-flourished-in-chinese-society-long-read-with-videos/

    • >Your point is, then, that it does not really happen to an advanced fighter?

      No, sometimes it does. But you can’t build an effective fighting style around moves that will only work when the opponent is dazed and staggered, because you can’t count on him being in that state when you need him to be.

      Thus, combat-effective styles use relatively short moves that sacrifice some of the power in a full wind-up in order to avoid overcommitting and being super vulnerable if the opponent gets inside your OODA loop.

  37. @William

    OK, then there is a third dimension: testosterone, interests, and the third is morality i.e. fighting evil. Try not to confuse these. Specifically, I would draw your attention to the difference between “fighting for your own interests, and let the rest of the world burn” vs. “fighting evil”.

    There are two current schools in Europe. One is the Leftist one, Continental philosophy and all that, that tries to justify evil. You can guess my opinion about this.

    There is another school, but it does not have a name. It largely takes after Switzerland. The Swiss have always maxed out the testosterone scale: whenever they were actually threatened, invaded, they fought ferociously. They had a standing order during WW2 that if an invasion happens and if the government surrenders, consider the government illegal and go on fighting. So the Swiss tradition never lacked nuts. However, it lacked this morality scale, such as fighting evil. The basic idea was to let the world burn if it wants, let anyone be evil anywhere, as long as it happens outside their borders. This attitude, is at its core, right-wing in the classical, isolationist sense – it lacks any Gnostic concept of good vs. evil, it only knows national interests and independence. This, while does not have a name and few people talk about this openly, seems to be the more conservative or right-wing type of attitude in Europe. This is very close in spirit to the Paleocon anti-war movement, Pat Buchanan etc.

    As for the immigration problem, it is simply a bit more complex than that. There are Christians in the Middle East. They are the first one to flee from ISIS, as they get treated more than horribly. So, yeah, let’s assume EU border guards start firing on unarmed people climbing over border fences. A hundred dead. Including children. The media finds out they are largely Syrian Christians. Everybody, from the lefties to the Christian conservatives becomes super pissed at that point. The Vatican and even the most conservative priests condemn it just as loud as the liberal New York Times and the UN. What next? My point is, determination should follow after there is a smart strategy first, and that is precisely what I don’t see yet – nobody seems to have any really smart idea how to approach this. Smart, means, at least a part of the masses and a part of the influential people should agree with it. I.e. if one pisses off liberals, at least one doesn’t piss off Christians. Because without anyone with weight supporting you nothing can be achieved.

  38. If you want to find excuses to do nothing, they are always available.

    The problem is larger, deeper, and going on longer than a few people fleeing ISIS. Just as one example, the government of Sweden has been at war with the people of Sweden, and traditional Swedish culture and values, for decades. The gov’t has been engaged in an attempt to fire the people and elect a new one since the 1970’s. This project is finally starting to show tangible results. Tangible *opposition* has yet to emerge.

    I’ll try a different approach. You talk about courage, and you also talk about wishing that someone could do something about the pervasive Leftist media. You never connect the two. Nobody silences, or even opposes your Leftist media, because no one has the courage to. Because doing so would mean sacrificing your employability, your social status, your reputation, and possibly your safety.

  39. It would be easy if you could get enough regular people (you know, the kind of people who work for a living, pay their taxes and raise their children to be citizens not feral savages) willing to say what they really think. But it might be too late for that there, the people are too cowed by their elite ‘betters’ (or simply too used to polite deference as a virtue) and have been for quite a while (see Sweden).

    But if you wanted to try it would require basically political organization and a willingness to be depicted by the media as worse than, well anything you can think of that’s legendary for being *bad*. A solution that might provide a happy ending would more or less require a number of good people to essentially martyr themselves, as leaders.

    We have several grass-roots organizations here of the type you would need, that are large and to some degree powerful. But possibly not powerful enough, we’ll have to see.

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