Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Performance Under Stress

It's one thing to practice in your comfort zone. It's quite another to have to perform under stress.

Below is an excerpt from an excellent article by a well known martial artist whose honesty of his short comings and sincerity in overcoming them are striking. The full article may be read here.

Stephan’s note: today I interview Burton Richardson who has spent decades researching the training methods that make martial arts techniques practical, reliable, and functional.  His approach is very applicable to street self defence, but is equally valid for anyone wanting to compete.

Burton: What is that thing? Okay, I’ll give you the brief rundown.

Basically, I was at the Inosanto Academy late at night in mid-80s. One of the guys training there named Marc Denny.  Actually he was a student of mine, I taught him private lessons in Indonesian silat amongst other things. And he was one of the senior students at the Academy.

One night he came up to me and said, “Hey, you like actually stick sparring,” as I would actually go to tournaments and compete in stick fighting with the big head gear.You’d have this giant suit on so you’re protected, along with very, very thin light sticks, big gloves, the whole thing. We need protection and all the deal.

And Marc said, “This friend of mine he likes stick fighting.” He’s somebody he met recently. And he was “Do you want to spar with him?” “Of course, yeah, sure.”

So this guy comes down. His name is Eric Knauss and he’s a big, tall guy, strong. To make the long story short he takes a big, very big, heavy rattan stick and he goes “Do you mind if we use these?”

I’m like “Oh, that’s fine.” We put on the helmet. We only have fencing helmet and hand protection I think, maybe not even knee pads, just that. That’s all.

I figured because we had no protection that we were going to go really, really light especially because these sticks are so big and heavy because, gosh, you could kill somebody with those things. So we started and he just tried to take my head off.  Like swinging so incredibly hard trying to take my head off.

And I found out that night that all I was doing was to block his shots. I just had nothing going. Under that kind of pressure, that kind of fear of actually getting your knee blown out or arm broken or getting knocked out , I just didn’t have anything  there even though I was an instructor and supposedly really good at this art.

So that started a big evolution. And I just want to talk about that a little more later. But the idea was to go in and try it out. This guy, Eric, who is just an amazing stick fighter, after doing Filipino martial arts for years and years, his question – which was brilliant – was “What actually happens when guys really fight for real and hit as hard as they can especially with not much protection so you’re afraid of getting hit? What actually happens then?” So he went and tested it like a scientist.

I had been doing drills and drills and drills and cool techniques and impressing everybody and all that, but that type of training was more reality. So that helped really change my focus.

Stephan: So the elements of pressure and fear were added, that showed you that you needed to train in a different way, and that you needed to test it in a different way?

Burton: What happened after that first night, my mind was racing the whole drive home that night. It just did not compute. I have been doing Filipino martial arts for many, many years and I had a reputation as being a very, very good practitioner of it.

And you go from this environment where you think everything you know you can do – “You can do this. I can do everything.”

And then you get to this thing where like, “woah, I couldn’t do.” The only thing I could do is block and also when he tried to smash me in the knee I was able to move my leg out of the way; fortunately

I had done enough sparring where we just hit at the hand or hit at the leg. I had practiced that, moving my leg, so I had some good defense there. So luckily I didn’t get beaten up but I just was lost basically. I was just totally defensive and just had that “deer in the headlights” sort of feeling.

So over the years I found out that the first thing is that you have to be able to function under that kind of pressure.

Look at jiu-jitsu, which I love of course – I’m coming up on 20 years doing jiu-jitsu – it’s one thing to do jiu-jitsu.  But when you add striking, especially hard striking when the other guy is really trying to hit you hard and you don’t have protection, then it’s a whole other thing.  Now there’s not the fear of losing or getting your guard passed or getting submitted – there’s the fear of physical damage and that’s whole another level.

So full contact stick fighting really helped me to be calm under pressure.  I’ve got to say though that all the times I did that, and I did for many years, I never once wanted to go and do it. When someone said “Oh, Eric is coming tonight,” I was always like “Oh, God…”

But luckily, happily, whatever something inside me just compeled me I have to go and do it and I’m glad I did.

Stephan: But it’s funny because one of my defining memories was watching a couple of guys who have been doing a lot of traditional martial arts spar for contact for the first time with boxing gloves.

And the traditional martial arts stance lasted for about three seconds until the first guy got hit in the face. And within five seconds it degenerated to two guys standing with their hands down at their waists throwing these gigantic right-handed haymakers over and over.

They forgot using both hands. They forgot the “Leaping Monkey Fist Steals the Peaches” or whatever their cool moves were. It was just right hand to face with a straight arm, thrown like they were throwing a baseball from behind the guys body, and they were trading back and forth.

I had done a little bit full-contact sparring at that time. So I was sitting there finding this pretty amusing, but it showed that anybody under enough pressure goes back to the primal instincts. We’re not that much evolved from cavemen.

Burton: It is true.  You know Bruce Lee talked about the truth in combat. That’s the truth in combat. Once you get hit really hard, okay, now we’re talking about the truth in combat. And when we talk about discipline in the martial arts sometimes people have this separation. I think you’re a good example, Stephan, of somebody who doesn’t do this because you have the whole picture.

But there are a lot of people that separate it – “Oh, this fighting and that’s martial arts.” And sometimes people forget those attributes that we look for from traditional martial arts like discipline and such. But it’s so important to really look for that in actual reality-based, actual fighting.

For example, you get hit in the face like you’re talking about, everybody goes back to that haymaker thing until they have developed the discipline to respond well even when they are under that kind of pressure. That’s what it’s all about in our training: if we can develop ourselves to be calm under that kind of pressure, and we can actually implement a well-thought out game plan, and we can then take tha to our everyday life.

You can be calm everyday when everything is great.  When things start going wrong that’s when we have to draw from our martial arts training and all that pressure we’ve been under and say, “No, it’s best to just be calm and do the right thing here. Don’t go off the handle. Don’t start screaming or whatever.” I just think that’s probably the most important thing we can learn out of martial arts.

Stephan: I think that’s a really good point, Burton. I do want to move on to jiu-jitsu and grappling and MMA. But before I do that I want to play the devil’s advocate for a second with the dog brother style sparring where you’re wearing minimal protection and heavy sticks.

The argument has been made that it teaches you bad habits for when it comes to bladed weaponry.

 When I’ve done dog brothers style sparring you’re sometimes willing to take a shot or two if you know you can get a good one in or you can charge into the clinch.

The naysayers say, “Well, you’re just training yourself to get your arm chopped off” if we had machetes or swords or bladed weaponry. So how do you square that circle, and reconcile blades versus blunt weapons, and possibly developing bad patterns and bad habits when you’re going between those two weapon systems?

Burton: Right, exactly. So to me the key question is what are we training for?  If I’m training to go on a sword fight that’s one thing, but chances are that I’m not going to be in a sword against sword fight.  People also say “Well you’re never going to get into a stick fight” but I saw a stick fight in L.A one time.  Living in downtown in L.A. I saw two guys with sticks and they were swinging at each other with that caveman sort of thing. They’re both just swinging like crazy and if either one of them knew how to actually use a stick then they would have been fine.

One thing is that with the helmets on, there are certain techniques that do not work with that helmet, even if it’s a light helmet. You have to hit really hard and generate lots of power to knock somebody out when that helmet is on, whereas a quick jab without the helmet will still give you the stunning effect and then you can follow up. So anytime you add protective equipment it changes the way you can actually implement techniques. Like in MMA with the gloves… Put the gloves on and, wow, getting to the choke is a different thing. Guys can grab on your gloves.

I trained Chris Leben for three years. I was his head coach for three years. He just moved to San Diego and we worked against that all the time, getting that choke. I mean we would reach in and grab the gloves – if the referee doesn’t see it’s okay!  So the point being, when you add equipment it changes everything.

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