Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Context Is Everything - Part 2

Some time ago, I wrote about the dangers of taking a snippet of video or a drill you don't know out of context and evaluating the effectiveness of what you're seeing.

You can read it here:  Context is Everything

There's been some videos going around in the martial arts world online that makes me think we really need to revisit this topic.

Look, there's loads of video out there of folks doing martial arts that are obviously... um... problematic. PLENTY.  Empty Force. Yellow Bamboo. Ninjers. You know what I mean.

Sometimes, we just don't understand the context and are misinterpreting what we are seeing.

Often this is a demo. That is, what you're seeing is not intended to be something you're really proposing to do in a fight. It's more of a demonstration of athletic skill. I wrote this to help you tell the difference: 5 Ways to Tell if You're Watching a Demonstration (Versus an Actual Fight}.

There's also lots of video out there of martial arts drills where they are working a specific skill or concept that when taken out of context looks silly or useless but it isn't impractical in practice. These videos make the Martial Arts online community and people point and guffaw at them.  I've done it myself!

We have plenty of FMA drills out there that look like a waste of time. Here, take this one:

I chose this one because it's actually a sinawali pattern I've really fallen in love with lately and I've been playing it a lot.  Now, to look at it, what do you think the combative applications are?  Is what you see in this video useless in a fight?

I mean, nobody's going to walk up to you with two sticks, challenge you to a fight, and the two of you start doing sinawali. It just doesn't happen.

Unless, of course, you're the Green Arrow.  Then all bets are off.
 By the way, that's Double Sinawali high (all high strikes), aka "Heaven Six". We teach it to yellow belts.
So if nobody fights that way, why do we do sinawali drills? What is the point of training a scenario that literally will never happen in a million years?

Because sinawali is a crazy-efficient way to train a lot of different concepts and attributes that are useful in a fight. These include:
  • Targeting
  • Chambering
  • Proper extension of the weapon
  • Working both left and right hands (if you're doing the double stick version - if you're doing single hand, we get to practice switching hands in flow, for one)
  • Footwork
  • Range
  • Timing
  • Learning to think ahead a little bit
  • Learning to see high and low angled strikes and some built-in ways to respond
  • Spotting holes and places to interrupt
  • Developing the habit of not watching the weapon, but watching the person
  • Combination striking
There is a lot going on there that if you didn't know better, you'd think we're just playing pattycake with sticks for no good reason. I'm certain there's people in the world who see us doing this and laugh and say what a waste of time sinawali is.

And... they're wrong. WRONG.

Is there anything in that the list I wrote above of what we learn in playing sinawali useless in a fight?  You don't need to learn how to target properly, manage range, not to have good timing when dealing with an attack and in counter-attacking in order to fight well?


I asked my friend and BJJ player Mike Mahaffey if he knew of some drills in BJJ that look weird or silly to an outsider.  He offered me this video:

He tells me that not everyone plays this in BJJ and that to outsiders it looks a little weird. To me, it looks like somebody's trying to do a strange form of yoga.  But then he says this video explains the usefulness:

If you don't know BJJ, and you don't understand the context of the first video (the one with the solo drill), you might scoff and laugh and claim that drill is utterly useless in a fight. Until somebody who's trained this well uses it on you and kicks your ass.

Many martial arts styles have drills of this nature.  Drills to work a specific concept, or to train a specific attribute, or to deal with a specific isolated situation, or to work on something repeatedly that is outside of the typical "drunk comes at you with a haymaker in a bar" scenario.

If people aren't just sharing the video and pointing and laughing, they'll often look at a drill and say, "Yeah, but what if it's a completely different attack?  WHAT THEN?"

Wait, wait, you mean, what if it's a different attack than what I'm actually training in this very moment?

Well, gee, smart guy, what if it's three guys and not just one? What if they have a gun instead of a knife, stick, or sword? What if he's actually a real-life ninja and he's got ninja throwing stars?  What if we're just living in the Matrix and he's downloaded Kung Fu in an instant? What if a meteor falls out of the sky and squishes me?  What if aliens invade?  WHAT IF THE SUN EXPLODES?!?!  What then?!?!?

Because we only have that single drill, and we couldn't possibly have a ton of other drills that include a variety of scenarios and situations.*

Good job, sport!  Give yourself a gold star today!
As I said above, I'm guilty of doing this stuff myself. I'm not innocent here, and I need to do a better job of understanding the context before I giggle and share that latest "what the hell is going on here" video online.

I think you should give it a shot, too.

So what drills do you do that to outsiders look silly or useless? Did you ever change your mind about a drill that you thought was silly, but after you learned context, decided it was legit after all?  Do you have a good drill for that sun exploding thing?  Let me know in the comments!

* Regarding the meteor strike thing, I'd just step off the line, of course. Duh.