Long good talk with Erik Kondo last week about improving navigation on CRGI and many other things. Stay tuned on that, there are a couple of ongoing projects I need to write about soon. In the process we were talking about identifying good practices and practitioners, and I was balking.
“My idea of good may not be someone else’s. There’s a lot of really good stuff out there, particularly in the traditional arts, that is just misunderstood or missed by the instructors.” I said.
“Good’s hard to identify,” Erik agreed, “But you can spot bad in a heartbeat.”
You have no idea how much I hate arguing with people who are smarter than me. But at least I learn a lot.
So when validating a technique, deciding whether it will work and whether to teach it, three things immediately come to mind. There may be a lot of other ways to suck, but these are usually easy to see and are definitely failures.
1) Time framing. Everything you do takes time. The less time it takes, the more efficient it is. The longer it takes to get to the same point the less efficient it is. If the technique taught requires more time than exists, you have a time framing problem.
You will never dodge a sword strike with a back handspring. If I throw a jab at your chin within range, you will never get a hand from your hip in time to intercept it. If you have an eight move defense and counter to a single move attack, your attacker is eight times more efficient than you are. You lose. Even if the initial attack and the counter take the same time (or the technique has a slight edge) it probably won’t make up for the action/reaction gap. If you are reacting, the opponent will have completed a certain percentage of the motion (maybe the whole attack) before you Observe, Orient and Decide and initiate your reaction.
There are a number of things that influence this. Telegraphing is a big one. In many cases, you can look like you are very fast or even telepathic if you are good at reading telegraphs. Almost everyone has unnecessary preparatory moves before they begin the real action. Almost as prevalent and much more damaging to the student is poor distancing. You can get away with almost anything if you insist that the attack begins from a half-step out of range. If your technique relies on that half-step, it simply won’t work.
2) Brainwashing. You can look all over the internet for the videos of the chi masters making their students go dizzy by pointing fingers or knocking people down without touching them. Here’s the deal. There is a thing called “victim grooming” where a predator takes time and effort, usually with a child, and raises that child to believe that being a victim is normal and to actively seek out abuse. The students of these chi-masters (and a lot of others) have been subjected to the same process. They have been trained to respond as if magic works or suffer cognitive dissonance and some painful rethinking.
Probably shouldn’t have started with chimeisters because it makes it easy to pretend the lower levels of this don’t exist. But a lot of them do. Sometimes it is purely mental “I know this technique works because it only takes twelve pounds of pressure to break a knee…” No it doesn’t. Your knee can take twelve pounds all day. Twelve pounds moving at 100mph is a completely different problem.
Sometimes it is physical. If your technique only works on your own students, it doesn’t work. If you are more likely to be injured by a beginner than an experienced practitioner, your system may be deliberately creating inefficient fighters. That’s the technical term for “losers.” If you’re demonstrating a technique and the student steps back to give you plenty of time, subtly points at which fist she is about to use… sigh. Groomed victim.
Lastly, demos and seminars and you. Really easy to see other people being brainwashed. Much harder to grasp your own suggestibility. Almost all people are suggestible to a degree. You’ve all seen that yawns are contagious. That’s one example. Everyone thinks they are resistant to suggestion, but that belief has, apparently, no correlation to one’s actual suggestibility. And when you go to a seminar, your suggestibility is heightened. You have already decided to go to the seminar expressly because there is something about this instructor you admire. That lowers your skepticism. (And don’t think a skeptical attitude is a defense, I’ve read many stage magicians who consider self-declared skeptics the easiest to fool). You will be in a crowd of others who feel the same way, triggering the human herd instinct. Sometimes accentuated by insisting that people come dressed traditionally (much harder to break ranks when everyone looks/dresses the same.) And the really good ones have techniques to pick out the most suggestible (or at least weed out the most resistant) so that the early demos go so well it becomes even harder to question or complain.
If the instructor tells students what is supposed to happen, whether three touches on a meridian will make a KO or that when a hand appears going for the face the body has no choice but to throw itself (and, yes, before you ask, I have heard both of those) the explanation is part of the technique.
Bottom line, if the bad guy is responsible for making the technique work, the technique doesn’t work.
3) Mechanical advantage. Any good technique must have a mechanical advantage. It must have an element of leverage, structure or vector that gives it an edge over things applied with more power. You can only do a good sweep if there is enough distance from the sweeping foot and the shoulder crash. You need the leverage. My wife could never outmuscle me pulling her into a hug, but she can use her pointy little elbows to make it really hurt, pitting my strength against her structure and winning. If a fist is coming in and you try to stop it straight on you would have to be far more powerful than the person throwing the punch… but a slap to the side has the vector to redirect a massive difference in power.
Ideally, a good technique will have advantages in all three– good structure applied with maximized leverage along an advantageous vector. And there is no rule that says a bad guy can’t be better at all three elements than you. That’s life.
Bottom line- unless there is clear mechanical advantage in a technique, it will only work against a smaller, weaker opponent. It will only work for a bad guy.