Category Archives: self defense

More on Affordances

A major focus of mine in both Movement Science and fighting/self-protection skills training is the concept of affordances. Below is an excerpt from the book that first introduced me to the concept, which contains a great introduction to the concept as it applies to fighting skills:

“The theory was put forth in the 1960s by an unorthodox psychologist names James Jerome Gibson at Cornell University. Gibson, who died in 1979, said animals and people view their environments not in terms of objectively defined shapes and volumes but in terms of their own behavioral potential. In other words, you immediately apprehend what you see in terms of how you think you can interact with that you see. You see affordances. Affordances make possible and facilitate certain actions. So, handles afford grasping. Stairs afford stepping. Knobs afford turning. Doors afford passage. Hammers afford smashing…

Martial artists see a different set of affordances than people untrained in hand-to-hand combat. Lapels and shoulder fabric are gripping points that afford all sorts of leverage. Elbows and wrists afford a variety of locks and twists. Highly trained martial artists see these affordances directly, as inherent parts of the concept of the body, just as an accomplished pianist sees not just individual keys but whole interrelated harmonic complexes brimming with possible melodies that can be extracted from it’s wholes, not as individual finger and hand movements (Blakeslee & Blakeslee, 2007).”

Blakeslee, S., & Blakeslee, M. (2007). The Body Has a Mind of it’s Own. New York: Random House, p. 106-108.

4/28 VA Class: Get up For the Down Strike

One of our VA students exploring the utility of the elbows at close range to strike upwards and/or cover, then strike downwards into the throat or clavicles on the return. The collar tie can come out of the strike or cover, or from the other arm, and gives her the ability to create a force couple between elbow and target.

4/21 VA class: Fun With Shoulder Locks

Last Saturday’s class featured an introduction to kneeling shoulder locks. After class, I was going through some of the pictures taken for review purposes, and noticed this uncanny (but unintentional) resemblance to Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam.” During semi-open randori, both students threw their partner in the same direction, and applied the lock at the same time, resulting in the visual pun. Next weekend, we’ll try for da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” out of juji gatame.

Video Link: 1947 “Judo Jymnastics”

One from the vaults:

Just another good reminder of two things:

-there really isn’t much new under the sun when it comes to fighting techniques and “mixed martial arts”

-although there is some camp involved in the demonstrations,  proper leverage against a joint’s weak angles can go a long way- and it’s good to have some contingencies in store if a go-to technique fails.

Coincidentally, the guy looks a lot like one of the assistants from Jack Dempsey’s 1942 combatives manual, “Fight Tough,” and I love her liberal use of the heels…

Training Tip: Don’t Just Train to React to Visual Information

One of the greatest programing challenges for instructors and coaches of fight and self defense athletes is coming up with training ideas for the recovery or injury prevention periods of the training cycle.

Here’s a suggestion; use the time to practice established skills in new ways. Mastery of athletic skills requires the ability to adapt them to a variety of environments and conditions. Many established skills can be regressed allowing safe, low-intensity practice in ways that would have been unproductive, or needlessly difficult during the initial skill acquisition phases of training.

Many fight athletes— especially those who have not practiced sports that emphasize attending to non-visual information in their youth have some difficulty reacting quickly and appropriately to auditory, proprioceptive, and tactile information.

Quick and appropriate responses to non-visual information can substantially improve performance and reduce the risk for injuries. Including training to enhance reactivity to non-visual information can substantially enhance skill mastery while contributing to performance.

Ideally this type of training involves progressions from very simple and not particularly reactive, to complex and substantially reactive— while allowing the student time to experience the differences in performance represented by each step along the way.

Two very basic grappling skills that we practice at FSRI are mount escapes and guard sweeps. Because these are simple, yet crucial skills that when practiced slowly and carefully represent a low risk for injury, and because most of our students have significant experience practicing them they are great candidates for this sort of training.

These can each be rehearsed a few times as “dead” drills requiring no reactivity whatsoever. After that the person affecting the escape closes their eyes and performs the drills as before. Once they are in the superior position, they reopen their eyes. This is done slowly without much intensity.

Excessive coaching here is not productive. Their partners and their coaches watch the environment for hazards and intervene only where there may be a danger to the participants. The intension is to allow the participants to experience the drills in new ways.

Next coaches should introduce some small degree of reactivity. The partner in the mount position (for example) can change their weight, or post with a particular limb in a way that requires the person practicing the escape to find an appropriate response. This is also practiced far below performance speeds or intensities.

Finally the environment can be manipulated through a variety of means. A simple one involves blindfolding the person practicing the escapes and placing them in unusual locations on the training floor-such as near a padded wall then asking them to perform the drills. Small pillows can also be randomly placed around the mat and the person practicing the escapes can be coached to scoot around and avoid them as they practice.

Valleys can be created in the wrestling mats by placing pillows or cushions under it in places. This can be especially relevant for people interested in practicing escapes from attacks that might occur on compliant surfaces such as beds, car seats, or couches.

Being “stuck” in a valley can be an especially difficult challenge so coaches should watch this one carefully as frustration may result in the intensity escalating beyond what is appropriate for blinded training during the recovery phase. Coaches should avoid making the engagements too difficult in this phase. Slight elevations in the mats can significantly change the experience of the drills. Remember that the goal is to enhance spatial and positional awareness and improve reactivity to non-visual information at this stage, not to needless frustrate students or increase the risk of injury.

Basic Thoracic Spine Injury Prevention for Fighting Arts & Combat Sports

The actions of fighting arts (including combatives and self-defense systems) and combat sports place regular high stresses on the spinal column. I’ve previously mentioned the anterior-posterior compressive and shear forces that affect the lumbar spine, but not the transverse rotational (torsional) and lateral compressive forces that actions like punching, kicking, throwing and falling places on the thoracic spine. Basic fighting postures, such as a standing guard or striking can encourage thoracic kyphosis and lateral asymmetry.  Left unchecked, torso actions can become plagued by dominant muscular patterns of imbalance to one side or the other, as a result of a favored limb or ingrained movement compensations due to faulty stabilization or movement system activity. Over time these muscular imbalances  can lead to vertebral facet degradation and arthritis, disk herniations and ruptures, nerve entrapment and bone spurs (typically in the direction of excessive muscular tension), all of which translate to reduced performance.

Curvature of a healthy spinal column. Note the lateral symmetry.

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Random Training Notes 18

Regarding historical or traditional training practices:

Within physical culture, old practices or concepts aren’t necessarily good or better than modern ones just because they’ve been around awhile. There is belief in martial arts circles, especially in “traditional” groups, that something which has been passed down for decades is unquestionably valuable, or even superior to modern evidence-based understandings. A common defense is “do you think technique x would still be around it if it wasn’t battle tested?” Another is “look at practitioner x- if it worked for him, and he had no fancy research.”

The plain and unglamorous truth is that sometimes techniques or training practices got passed down simply because no one knew any better, or it fulfilled a cultural function (particularly in Confucian-influenced societies)  or because they maintained a certain personal prestige or power structure within a group. A technique may have never actually been used in a fight;  a conditioning activity may routinely cause joint damage that actually weakens a student over time, but the status of the originator serves to enshrine it. Old can be good; old is not automatically good.