Four-Way Breakdown

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

There are at least four ways that survival fighting breaks down, Rory Miller says. The first is physical, the essence of combat — applying force and avoiding it from your opponent — but Miller does not spend much time writing or thinking about this:

The real reason is that I have rarely seen anyone with any training who was crushed in an assault because of a lack of physical skills. Almost all simply choked. They knew what to do, they couldn’t make themselves do it. So the physical side of it, in my opinion, is a critical skill to success, but does nothing to prevent catastrophic failure. That comes from elsewhere.

The second is cognitive — strategy and tactics, evaluation and planning:

Weapons common or rare? Expect multiple opponents or duels? Ambushes or matches? In each of these pairs, the one you emphasize (no one discounts one of them entirely, though people sometimes argue as if they do) will drive how you move and what you teach.

There is a big potential for failure here if the students are led to believe that the strategy and system they are learning is perfect, or even good, for all situations. Tactics and movements from an unarmed duel aren’t the same as an armored medieval battlefield or an ambush from behind at a urinal.

But it’s an easy fix, to an extent (and this is not a guarantee of success, nothing is): From day one students are taught to keep their eyes open, don’t count on anything, and be ready to adapt.

The third is emotional or spiritual:

Can you act when you can’t begin to predict the outcome? Maybe it’s a level of faith, maybe confidence, maybe ignorance and maybe those are all aspects of the same thing. Is your instinct when you are pressed or scared or someone screams to deal with it yourself? Or do you look around for someone else to deal with it? Or pretend it’s not happening? People have been brutally beaten and some have probably died curled into a little ball hoping mommy or the cops or the cavalry will come save them.

This is the source of a lot of catastrophic failure, and the source is strictly internal.

The fourth is also emotional — and social. Miller calls it the social screaming monkey level:

It is the social mind that wants to put everything in a social context — does this person trying to kill me hate me? Did I do something to deserve this? Why is this happening to me?

The thing about this is that tries to deal with a violent situation from the rules and point of view of a regular world that doesn’t countenance violence. It is just like trying to cling to the plane after you have already jumped. It’s too late for that. The monkey mind insists on trying to analyze a social solution to what has become a physical problem. Right here is where a lot of the freezing and the catastrophic failures happen.

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