Monday, May 21, 2012

Rules vs Policies

In my experience, people can often be categorized into two groups when they're training: those seeking "Golden Rules" of fighting and those who want policies for surviving a violent crisis. The first group of people are the same ones who will throw a slow-motion punch at your face and ask you what you'll do. If your answer is longer than 4 words, you'll probably lose their attention. I often call this "martial ADD". I'm not saying that attention disorders are anything to be laughed at, but some students can't seem to focus enough to learn how to think for themselves. As an instructor that can be frustrating. The second group of people typically have a hard time taking anyone at their word and need to understand why something is taught. In my opinion, this is the healthiest attitude to have when learning anything, especially self defense.

When people are looking for the "Golden Rule" of fighting, they want to be relieved of the responsibility of having to think for themselves. Sadly, there is no universal answer to winning a fight. Training to defend yourself against the unpredictable dangers of the world is one of the scariest and most challenging journeys you can take. If there was an easy answer, someone would have found it and everyone would be a black belt. Rules are  for sports and games. This way, everyone is on the same level and know what they can and can't do. My favorite example are poker players. I have a fair amount of experience playing poker and I've noticed that online poker players and those who play in person are very different. It always reminds me of the difference between sport fighting and combat. Online players tend to have a pre-conceived set of rules for every scenario. Lacking the human psychology of the game, poker is much more like a video game to these players, sitting at their computer for hours and often playing several games at once. These players at a table are often easy to read. They might lack the "poker face" needed to trick players and hide what they're holding. At a table, you manipulate your opponent into doing what you want while they think it was their idea. Two very different skill sets. This is just like fighting and training. There are, of course, always a "right" and "wrong" reaction, but when you lose control of the situation you've got to be able to adapt. Train to stay calm and roll with the punches. Don't panic when the scenario doesn't follow any "rules", because they're just an illusion constructed for your comfort.

A policy is something that you can question. Concepts, principles and theories are logical solutions to a problem that have been tested under pressure. We present these policies with explanations of what the consequences are if they're not followed. This was explained to me very clearly in my first year playing rugby. My fist coach explained to me that there are no rules in rugby, only laws. Not the same thing. Laws can be interpreted by the referee to judge if there was any advantage gained by bending them. If there isn't, no need to stop the game. If you punch someone in the nose, fail to recover the ball and your victim steps on your on. This might be an extreme example but the point remains: question what you learn and everything will make more sense. Now I know why punching the guy who picked up the ball was a bad idea. If consequences aren't presented, we're just all training to omit free thought and train to be robots, ready to malfunction as soon as we lose control of an uncontrollable situation. This "do what I say" training method will doom us to failure. You can question your teachings in a respectable manner. Anytime a student has questioned something I taught (very rare occasion, of course!), it made two things clear for me as their instructor: they're listening and I wasn't clear enough on this particular point. I often encourage students to do the opposite of what I'm saying so that they don't just have to take my word for it. My sensei, Kevin Secours, often makes us warm-up with the "wrong" reaction to train our psyche to feel why this isn't working. We're often brought to the point of structural failure to ingrain the opposite response. In my experience in live combatives, this has been extremely helpful. We can't train "rules" this way because we need to remain cognitive and sharpen our judgement.

As with many lessons in my years of training, this method of learning has served me well in every aspect of my life. Life is easier if you're acting out of free will and not because you're following rules that you don't quite understand. Rules create a fear of consequence mentality, whereas policies explain the alternatives and make it clear why they are undesirable. Critical thinking and proper judgement are the keys to real freedom. You'll feel more confident all the time. Question everything, fear nothing.

Jordan Bill
Fight or Die

Monday, May 14, 2012

5 Stages of Guilt

In training, there is always a chance that someone is going to get injured. This is the unfortunate truth that no one likes to think about too much. Personally, when I get injured, I can accept that as being an unfortunate part of the the job. What I can't handle too well is when a training partner gets injured. No matter what the circumstances are, there's always a certain level of guilt that comes when you've been involved with someone getting hurt. This happened to me recently and, since others experience this sometimes as well, I thought I would discuss it here. I was grappling with a fellow instructor and training partner of 15 years and it ended with him getting hurt. I insist that I forced too hard on his ankle and he politely maintains that he should have tapped earlier. Either way, there was an accident and I was involve and I don't like that one bit. So I know from experience of having to hurt people through fighting and security work that I would have an emotional roller coaster ahead of me. There are generally 5 stages we go through when feeling guilty about something and I knew I would experience them all. Over the course of 48 hours, I decided to document the process.

Stage 1: Denial
The obvious first reaction is denial. As soon as it's clear that someone's hurt, you want that to not be the case anymore. The closest thing to going back in time and fixing the problem is to try and convince yourself that the injury isn't as bad as you thought. In my most recent and unfortunate case, I heard a crack in my friend's ankle and let go immediately, asking him if he was ok. He kept his composure and told me he was fine, so I immediately started to tell myself that I imagined the whole thing. That wouldn't last of course as it became evident that an injury just happened.

Stage 2: Anger
When denial doesn't work and we realize that this situation isn't going away, we often need to find something to blame. For me, I was instantly furious with myself. I was mad that after all these years of training I could still let an accident happen. I should be experienced enough to know when to let go and never should have been generating enough force to even come close to hurting someone. These are all true, of course, and became my main focus for a full 24 hours afterwards.

Stage 3: Bargaining
Denial leads into anger and, when that doesn't help, we try to "cut a deal" with ourselves. This is usually some kind of promise to ourselves to accomplish 2 things: to make sure we don't repeat the unfortunate incident and to make our guilt go away. I spent the whole next day going through various "deals" with myself. I started with "I'm never sparring again" to "I'm only going to train my defense from now on" and then I ended up promising myself that I would take some time to focus on teaching the newer students and less time on fighting for the sake of my ego.

Step 4: Depression
When all the previous stages fail to yield results, the first step to accepting the truth of the situation is depression. To be clear, the stage is referred to as depression, but it isn't always that extreme. I was, and still am, sad about the whole incident. I feel awful that a friend got hurt and that is a totally normal reaction. In my experience, this is often the longest of the stages, rivaled occasionally with stage 2.

Stage 5: Acceptance
After taking some time to meditate on the situation, a certain level of acceptance can be reached. I'm still mad at myself for letting an injury happen, I still want to shift my focus in training for the next while and I'm still upset that my friend is hurt but I know we've both been through this over the years and we'll both be alright. I've had to cope with being responsible for people's injuries before, mostly from working in private security, and the duration of each stage can vary. Sometimes the guilt goes away in a few hours and in some cases it takes months. Acceptance, when reached, is the only permanent stage. Unfortunately, it's a tough road to get there and isn't always reached.

My best advice for anyone going through this is to meditate. Get yourself through the stages by tackling your feelings head-on. Avoidance will just make the guilt worse. Dealing with an injury is an experience that most martial artists have to go through, so being the one who inflicted that on a friend is never easy to accept. You will beat yourself up for it, the injured person will often insist that it's not your fault and friends will offer kind words but, unfortunately, none of that will work. Take the time to acknowledge how you feel.

Wishing my friend a fast and healthy recovery. I'll be nagging you frequently for progress updates. Heal up, brother!

Jordan Bill
Fight or Die