Category Archives: Fighting

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.

Linked Article: Before Reaching War Zones, Troops Risk Concussions

Considering that concussion risks are compounded by repeated injuries, and that the risks of concussions can include slower reactions, impaired cognition, and even changes in mood this should be something that concerns non-military self defense athletes as well.

A new military study suggests that some soldiers suffer mild traumatic brain injuries even before they go to war. These concussions, as they’re also called, can come from taking “combatives” classes that teach hand-to-hand fighting during the soldiers’ training…

The study looks, in part, at soldiers at sprawling Fort Hood, Texas, one of the Army’s main centers for basic training. The preliminary findings, which NPR and ProPublica have obtained, suggest that a soldier got a concussion in those classes every other day, on average, over nine months.

“The more hits your brain takes, the less likely it will be that you will have a full recovery,” said Dr. Alex Dromerick, director of neuroscience research at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C. Dromerick, who has studied brain injuries with the military, didn’t work on this new study on concussions. But he says that based on our description of the findings, they raise a troubling scenario.

Click here to read the article.

Specificity of Conditioning in Fight Activities: Basic Concepts & Application

Specificity of training is the basis on which all modern physical training rests. Briefly, to produce a desired physiological adaptation, a training program must place sufficient stress on the physiological systems in question (Willmore & Costill, 2004). In training environments this is commonly referred to as Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands (SAID).  Adaptations to training are limited to the physiological system overloaded by the program. This includes neuromotor, morphological, hormonal and metabolic elements. Fighting activities (encompassing both combat sports and fighting/self protection scenarios) present a unique programming challenge, requiring a range of adaptations to all systems.

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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.

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.

DIY Electric Training Knife

FSRI students are familiar with a variety of close-range weapons evasion, control and aggressive response drills. A wooden dowel or flimsy plastic knife is typically used for simulating knives and edged weapons, as well as a variety of wiffle-ball bats and foam sticks. Although these proxies provide a good margin for safety they can encourage a few counter productive habits, particularly among newer students or people new to our methods. These include:

  • grabbing at the “edge” end of the weapon
  • allowing the “edge” of the weapon to rest on their body while attempting to control the attacker’s arms
  • wielding the weapon like a 1930’s movie villain, ie, making threatening  gestures or non-threatening attacks, and not providing serious and committed attacks

A second set of problems is created by the nature of training itself. Knife attacks seldom happen in the ways that entertainment has conditioned us to expect. So training scenarios in which an attacker brandishes a knife from a body length away, and then artfully parries and ripostes his way in to the attack might be fun (or the dreadfully standard lunge-punch with knife from 6 feet out), but aren’t good preparation for the reality of concealed weapons and ambushes. Over the years I’ve developed a number of scenario based drills in which one partner carries a concealed “knife”, which may or may not be known to the other partner. During a verbal escalation scenario, randori or sparring, the weapon may be drawn at random and used. The defending partner usually ends up receiving multiple simulated stabs and slashes before he or she even knows the weapon was pulled, especially in close grappling encounters. It can be an eye-opener, but even with the random nature of these drills it is still very easy for the defender to slip into a complacent attitude towards the possibility of the concealed weapon, or to ignore the contact as they try to apply some cool technique. A few important elements are missing from such drills: fear and urgency. Fear is not an element that should be present in much of training, but it is useful to explore in affective training and for scenarios that attempt to include an element of surprise. In a training setting, fear usually manifests as apprehension.

A few companies make low-voltage training knives that can deliver a jolt to the partner on the receiving end, adding a measure of apprehension to a drill. The sting it delivers is also very, very useful feedback about where the training knife made contact with one’s body and how many times. Unfortunately, these commercially available models are prohibitively expensive, running into the hundreds of dollars. They just aren’t cost-effective for smaller groups, or for groups that may end up breaking them during intense training (this is why we can’t have anything nice). Fortunately, there are other options.

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Knee Osteoarthritis in the Fighting Arts and Combat Sports

Among athletes, knee injury is a predisposing factor towards the development of knee osteoarthritis (OA). (Molloy & Molloy, 2011). Other joints may be at risk for overuse injuries and OA, but it is the knees in particular that seem to occupy a special place in the realm of chronic injuries.  Recognizing the risks of an activity allows for the development of injury-prevention programs specific to it’s demands and conditions. Although many martial artists don’t identify themselves as athletes, the demands of training are inherently athletic and the effects of training on the body are no different from those of athletic training.

Fighting arts and sports pose inherent risks to joint health, particularly acute or chronic injuries associated with the knees. A case by case analysis of the training activities and priorities of the various combat sports and so-called martial arts  would be necessary to discuss the risk of a certain format or style, but several mechanisms of injury are common to many:

  • rapid and asymmetrical loading and unloading of joints during throws, tackles, sweeps, etc.
  • bounding, cutting and darting movements, often under external load or force
  • impact trauma from falls, kicks, sweeps
  • compressive, shearing, tension and torsional trauma from joint manipulations

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