Monday, October 3, 2011

Probable vs. possible

Probably the most frequent question I have been hearing over my years of practicing martial arts is something along the lines of “what if..?” Sometimes, the question comes from a person and in a manner that clearly indicates some background and legitimacy of raising it, while on some other occasions it only shows the cluelessness of the one who asks. However, sometimes even the people with considerable empirical background will ask about the situations that strike us as odd.

While personally I am not the one to rely heavily or even like statistics as the source of one’s information on any given topic, the fact remains that certain occurrences in the domain of fighting are more probable than some others. How does your training reflect this?

Obviously, some styles and systems are utterly not concerned about either the possibility or probability of some practical modern day self-defense situations, since those study some very traditional arts that were implemented in a very different time and very specific environment. We might argue that back then, those practiced methods were addressing the probable situations of the era, but still, it is essentially historical/ethnic/cultural study.

GM Caballero of De Campo 1-2-3
Krav maga

It looks like there are two main methods of tackling the problem. One is focusing on the most common types of encounters and formulating a relatively small and condensed format to deal with it. For example, in the world of FMA it would be De Campo 1-2-3 Orehenal, or in the contemporary “militarized” milieu Krav Maga.

On the other hand, one could try to come up with an all-encompassing system to try covering all the bases, so again we have Pekiti Tirsia or Russian Systema. Now, both approaches have value, but the critical point is the emphasis in training.

Grand Tuhon Gaje of Pekiti Tirsia


Namely, the instructor should have enough insight and honesty to tell his/her students what is the material, they are working on, meant to achieve. While the case of streamlined instruction may suffer from not including all possible types of combative scenarios, the instruction should then provide enough of the attribute work to at least offer some ability of improvisation. Contrary to that, the “complex” systems should acknowledge that some things are more probable than others and use the training time accordingly, i.e. invest more work in probabilities, while adding the remotely possible applications more as illustrations and kind of references.

In the latter case, some students might happen to enjoy more the aspects that are possible but unlikely to happen, so the instructor will have the obligation to make sure they have the basics under their belt, i.e. no neglecting what could be a live saver that same night.

Another thing that I have noticed as a weakness in the expansive systems (but not exclusive to them) is the failure to recognize the proper progression in training, which would facilitate the progress of the student. For example, they will work on speed and agility before addressing power and flexibility, or talk in detail on (counter)knife drills without first developing strong deployment skills or footwork.

Ultimately, the performance of a practitioner will depend on the quality of the instructor and, of course, their own intelligence and rational thinking on the material offered in training. Any training method, minimalistic or expansive, will produce both excellent and unsatisfactory exponents, but the fact remains that the probable MUST be stressed, while the possible needs to be at least mentioned and glanced at, in order to be recognized as a threat. After all, we all know that in MMA the fighter who does not know how to sprawl against a shoot or parry a jab is not going to last long, but then again, we have seen some spinning backfist knockouts as well, even against the top-class competitors.

Spinning backfist

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