Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Thoughts on perception

From Wikipedia:

"Perception (from the Latin perceptio, percipio) is the process of attaining awareness or understanding of the environment by organizing and interpreting sensory information. All perception involves signals in the nervous system, which in turn result from physical stimulation of the sense organs. Perception is not the passive receipt of these signals, but can be shaped by learning, memory and expectation. Perception involves these "top-down" effects as well as the "bottom-up" process of processing sensory input. Perception depends on complex functions of the nervous system, but subjectively seems mostly effortless because this processing happens outside conscious awareness."

     It is interesting that the biggest hurdle in changing our perception of things lies in the fact that we are often unaware of what influences it in the first place.  As explained above,  perception occurs outside conscious thought yet it can be changed through training and experience. Our perception is the product of years of development in the physical, mental and emotional levels of our being; it is affected by our environment, both physical and social; the people who we interact with; our schooling and religion or lack thereof.  Some of these things we might have some actual knowledge of their origin; some have deep relations with our childhood that we have forgotten yet a sole memory surfaces ever slightly, making us wonder where it came from and why does it make us feel in such a way.

     If we are not cognizant of what makes the nuts and bolts of our perception, how can we change it to our benefit? This is a tough endeavor, especially since many of the things that make our view of what the world is and what happens in it are rooted in our ego (never mind Star Trek, the ego is the final frontier and the toughest one to overcome).  As such, we might think we want them changed, while inside we scream to be left alone.  No scarier thing to face than the death of the self... But back to the problem at hand, recognizing gaps in our perception and how to bridge them somehow.

     Ronald B. Adler on his book Looking Out, Looking In states there are four steps used in matching meaning with our experiences: selection, organization, interpretation and negotiation. Selection deals with what stimuli we choose to pay attention to or ignore; organization entails  arranging these in some way we can use; interpretation of our perceptions to make use of the stimuli received; and negotiation which involves our interactions with others and their own perceptions.  Many variables can have profound influence on any of these.

     Applied to the study of martial arts, now that we have compartmentalized  the makings of our perception it might be easier to identify areas where our previous knowledge and experience is lacking. For example, let's look at selection: how do we discern a true attack from a feint, which techniques work for us personally, etc.  What about interpretation? Understanding and properly recognizing precursors of violence are largely based on our training and experience (or lack thereof).  Many steps of the development of perception correlate and fluidly evolve and change, like being kicked in the face in sparring (stimuli) can make someone ignore previous training (selection) therefore breaking down previously thought of and practiced responses (organization) and alter how that person continues the fight (negotiation). The process of effecting changes to our perception can be a result of long study and life experience, or something sudden and unexpected.

   Awareness in battle

  My friend Dan Djurdjevic wrote a great article on Legend and the martial arts  that describes the type of influence perception can have in our understanding of what we are learning or hope to learn.  The stories of past masters and their incredible feats notwithstanding, the real abilities displayed by some teachers can be perceived as "magic" or "supernatural" due to our lack of knowledge regarding what is really happening.  A person who trains 30 + years at doing one thing will be able to do it so effortlessly that it might seem almost impossible to someone who has no idea what it took to achieve such skill.  As Michelangelo said once, "If people only knew how hard I work to gain my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all."

 Breaking concrete is one of those "magical" karate skills

     The martial arts in Japan have several methods to achieve clarity of perception, rooted in such terms as zanshin (combat awareness), mushin (no self mind) and fudoshin (immovable mind). All the methods to augment our capacities of perception and find these lofty states of being we sometimes try to emulate from our instructors, but without having put in the time to develop the experience and understanding necessary to really make them a part of us we end up with an incomplete picture, or worse still deluding ourselves into believing we have gained an understanding. Even teachers can be guilty of this, which does not bode well for the students who might follow...

 Zanshin, "remaining mind"

      During training as well as in everyday life it is important to maintain awareness (zanshin), and let any situation at hand develop while keeping an objective mind so as to best perceive as many factors involved as possible. Hard to do with all the things that threaten to disrupt our mental and emotional balance each day; but practice and study can go a long way to filter the stimuli we receive into a more cohesive and useful pattern of perception to aid rather than hamper us.

     Perception... it is all pervasive yet we go through life mostly oblivious to its grip on what we do, think and feel.  Let us not forget that during our waking moments anything could bring about a momentous change in how we perceive ourselves, others and the world around us, be it through providence or our own efforts.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Starting the year with a "gasp!" On chokes...

     One of the techniques we have been working on in jujutsu class is hadaka jime, or naked strangle (the naked designation used because it does not require the gi or uniform to apply it as other techniques do).  It is an ancient technique for sure, used in early Greece's pankration (competition combining boxing and wrestling, MMA of the classical times).  It is a staple of jujutsu and judo, made its appearance in WWI and WWII combatives manuals, and a modified version is taught in almost all law enforcement restraint systems as the Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint as a court defensible technique to subdue resisting suspects.


Early grappling & striking techniques of Judo

Pankration techniques

 Standing hadaka jime in Judo

Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint used by police officers

     What makes this hold so universally practiced?  Well, I would say that first and foremost, it works quite well when properly applied, causing unconsciousness in as little as 3-5 seconds when the carotid arteries are sealed, and a bit longer when the windpipe is compressed.  The carotid choke is especially useful against larger opponents, as it requires less strength to apply, although somewhat more refined skill to pull it off.  It can be used from the rear or front; standing, kneeling or on the ground.

Some variations of the naked strangle

     My own experience with the technique prior to jujutsu was as part of self defense technique sets in tae kwon do, and later on as a component of defensive tactics training.  After all, if something works so well it makes sense that others would assimilate it to their own ends.  Yet I can honestly state that until now I had not experienced the strangle as it was meant to be applied.
     So, what's different you ask? For starters, I always thought that if someone tried to apply the strangle to me I would have time to respond appropriately.  Guess what? While there is usually time to do something about the choke before it is completed, the time is definitely less than you might think... a lot less. What this means is that a lot of the preconceived notions you might have about what you can do are gravely mistaken. The entire sequence of grabbing the attacker's arm and throwing him/her over your shoulder might not work out so well if you are still gagging from their forearm striking your Adam's apple, quickly followed by blinking lights...

     A skilled person can have you cold in no time, even when you know the strangle is coming. How can this be? I've experienced this as a subtle manipulation of my incoming attack, where a firm pull on a limb, a nudge against the side of my hip, or some other seemingly unrelated body twist/push/pinch/etc. gets me moving inexorably towards the completion of the strangle by the instructor without him having to work too hard at getting there. Such sensitivity skill can only be acquired through close body contact work, much like chi sao and push hands.  Martial arts like tae kwon do and hard styles of karate do not spend a lot of time on this, as their strategic framework does not require them to do so (their main tactic to forcefully break down incoming attack structure followed by percussive blows to end a threat). Grappling systems, on the other hand, cannot accomplish their goal otherwise.  

     Another thing I learned: it is somewhat easier for a person with a slimmer or smaller build to effect a strangle (especially a carotid strangle) than a larger one.  One of my partners in class is a small frame woman about my age, 5'5" or so and maybe 100 lbs.  You'd be surprised how fast you can start fading out once those slim arms are in the right position around your neck!  A larger person might react forcibly against someone their size or larger if they feel the choke coming, but a smaller person's arm somewhat snakes along so quickly it might take a second or two to make the connection... a second or two is too long a time space when it comes to a choke IMO.  

     I definitely have a better understanding of the dangers of the strangle now, and thankfully have not soiled myself in the process of learning about it (although the void did come close a few times so far).  I would not say it's one of my favorite techniques (although I've had used it successfully twice on the street), and definitely would not recommend it in most self defense situations (where tying yourself around another person might not be advisable if there might be more than one attacker). Still, it is a common attack (if somewhat improperly executed most times) and what better way to defend against it than knowing how to apply it? 

Friday, January 6, 2012

The 6th dimensional paradigm of self defense: societal violence dynamics

A friend on the TFAF site commented on my blog post regarding the multi dimensional paradigms of self defense, specifically how the premise of the 6th paradigm seem incomplete and vague. Link to the blog post is below:


While I cannot speak for the author (but hope to contact him soon to get further explanation on his thoughts regarding this), I can make some observations based on my own understanding and experience... I think the author is trying to use a sociological model to explain how self defense situations are affected overall by deviance inherent in acts of violence. That is to say, in some instances a threat or violent act might seem justified under a specific set of beliefs held by a majority of people, whereas such beliefs would be untenable to others in a different social or cultural strata, whether the division be religious, racial, gender or ideological bias.

Thoughts, opinions? Feel free to comment!!

From Eric Kondo's The Multi Dimensional Paradigms of Self Defense, the 6th Paradigm

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Awesome blog on paradigms of self defense

This has to be one of the most comprehensive articles on a model to understand the various dimensions of self defense I have ever read. Written by Erik Kondo, the author cites many of my preferred authors on several aspects of self defense, from Col. Jeff Cooper to Rory Miller, Massad Ayoob and "Animal" MacYoung.


This makes a very nice framework for examining several aspects of self defense, from the physical application of martial arts and systems to legal ramifications on use of force as well as societal dynamics involved in violence both social and asocial.  I for one have always believed that while in the actual instant when violence is occurring there is very little time for analysis, all things leading to the moment when it happens should be deeply thought about a priori... Yet many people remain locked in their viewpoints due to lack of experience (or in some cases, too much experience), personal preferences or belief systems.  Putting our own beliefs and prejudices under clinical examination is easier said than done, but what is a greater loss to you: the death of a part of your ego, or the possibility of an actual physical death due to a hard headed refusal to be critical about your own understanding of whatever knowledge you might think you possess?

Absorb what is useful, eliminate the unessential... to do this we must maintain an open, objective mind. Otherwise, how can we know what to keep and what to discard?