I am asked if I could go back and alter my training based on what I know now, years later, what would I change? I'm sure everyone has gotten this question at one point in time or another.
Bottom line: I do not wish anything to be different in my past. The problems I faced were challenging because I missed some crucial understanding which did not allow me to see the answer at the time. So in this sense, there are no questions and no answers. There is only confusion which prevents us from seeing things as they are.
In the small fashion that I can help people see things a little more as they truly are, rather than as confusion skews ... The shock, surprise and error I have experienced in my life permits me to help people mitigate and diminish the impact of shock, surprise and error in their lives.
In light of this, how do I coach others differently than how I was once coached?
Win/Lose Ethic vs. Performance Ethic
I seem to hear the position everywhere. We should teach children so that everyone wins and no one loses. This ultra-PC hyperbole demonstrates disastrous results in behavior. The problem comes from a misunderstanding of the saying, it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. Most educational systems fixate on the first half of this sentence, rather than upon the critical second half of this insight.
As a result, most people experience a strong positive emotional attachment to winning and strong negative attachment to losing. Enter combat sports (an activity brimming with emotional volatility) and you have a major problem. People perceive combat sports to be simulated combat and as a result competition depresses a biological trigger: the Survival Arousal Syndrome, which I have discussed across several articles in CST Magazine and exhaustively discuss in Body-Flow: Freedom from Fear-Reactivity.
Coupling strong aversive fear of losing and strong attractive attachment to winning with the chaotic emotional climate of sport fighting and you have turmoil so dramatic it's no wonder only a few ever achieve greatness. But it need not be this way!
Optimal Performance Requires Emotional Detachment
Combat sports were intended to diminish emotional attachment. Furthermore, great performance requires emotional detachment! In other words, I was coached that to win I had to "desire" it more than my opponent; I had to be more strongly attached to winning and more strongly repulsed by (negatively attached to) losing. This is both oxymoronic and problematic. In combat sports, if you want to be great, you need to be detached from winning and losing.
So where should one place one's focus? Focus upon the conclusion of the old cliche: how you play the game. I tell athletes continually that it is not good enough to merely win. No one remembers the conservative athlete who played the safe game. People remember the athlete who strives valiantly, dares greatly, demonstrates unique surprises against overwhelming odds, even if the athlete loses.
But in combat sports you're taught to be conservative: stick to the high percentage moves, go for the single point, stall as long as possible. Why? Because combat sports are perceived to be a method of applying combat skills (and this couldn't be farther from the truth.) As a result, athletes associate winning with surviving a combative encounter and losing with dying. Strong emotional attachments form as a result of this erroneous association, attachments which impede with great performance the means, the method.
How You Play The Game!
I coach others (in a manner I was not coached) to focus upon performance rather than upon the winning/losing paradigm. Do not dare the dishonor of winning at the expense of poor performance. Better to lose well than perform poorly, is my maxim.
How can I say this? Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm highly competitive. I crave it. I love it, even in business ... and when I no longer have challenging opponents, I either change fields to find competition, or create phantom opponents with whom I may continue to better myself.
But competition is still only a means, whereas it is taught as the end-all. Competition is only a means of physical preparation. But before I discuss that further we need to clear the confusion caused by a schism in the current martial art industry.
Sport Fighting vs. Reality Combat
People arenâ€™t privy to Performance Ethic over Winning/Losing because the industry has entrenched itself into two disparate camps:
- Sport Fighting
- Reality Combat Systems
I discuss this exhaustively on Flow-Fighting: Mental Toughness for Combat Sports and Martial Arts, but the argument can be summed up as follows, with each camp holding respective "beliefs" about themselves and the members of the opposing camp.
|Reality Combat||Sport Fighting|
|Combat techniques against vital targets are too harmful and deadly for competition. Sport techniques are not prudent for street fighting.||Sport Fighting techniques are proven by trial against uncooperative opponents. Reality Combat systems provide cooperative technique rehearsal, and lack an outlet to determine effectiveness under stress against resistant opponents.|
|Sport Fighting is Unarmed (weaponry, that is), Singular (opponent), and Protected (environment); whereas a combat reality is Armed, Plural and Hazardous.||If one cannot face a single unarmed opponent when attack is known, then weapon wielding, multiple opponents when surprised is impossible.|
|Sport Fighting promotes 'gentlemanly' protection of the 'opponent' and as a result does not foster the necessary counter-aggressive attitude required for facing a pernicious assailant who means to inflict grave bodily harm or death.||Reality Combat does not integrate the training of physical toughness, and therefore when faced with hostile resistance cannot access 'techniques' during a crisis.|
|Sport Fighting does not include de-escalation skills, pre-incident awareness, and post-incident debriefing preparation necessary for street assault.||Reality Combat does not take into account the necessity and an integrated platform of physical attributes through conditioning.|
Both these positions are wrong, because they are distinguished AGAINST one another, rather than integrated with one another. Both camps CAN and SHOULD be integrated. The question is HOW!
Firstly, let's see what's wrong with these positions.
The argument that sport fighting techniques are more effective combat techniques because they are tested in sport is like saying high-performance NASCAR machines are more effective in demolition derbies because they are tested in races. You may know what it's like to maneuver with the engine screaming, but only within the confines of specific rules. And more importantly, although you may have witnessed a collision few times in your career, they were "accidents" whereas in a demolition ... they're the goal.
The argument that the lethality and specificity of reality combat techniques more effectively prepare you for a suddenly violent street attack is like saying you can shoot a cannon out of a canoe. Unless deliberately engaged in some form of competition, your physical platform for launching such methods sinks under the intensely blinding emotional inertia of a fully resistant opponent.
The problem is one of perception, requiring one to reframe the notion of combat sports competition. If I can have an athlete understand this point, his access to greatness accelerates exponentially.
Sport Fighting = Combat SPP
The most effective and the most sustainable form of combat specific physical preparedness (SPP) is combat sport. This realization sheds a completely new realization on the nature and purpose of combat sports.
In any form of conditioning, winning is not the primary objective. For instance, it is the performance not the completion of the repetition in lifting which is the primary objective. It's the form, the quality of movement, which remains the primary performance goal. Never sacrifice form to complete a rep.
Avoid going near the nerve, to failure, so that you continue to progress in quality, diminish recovery time and improve satisfaction. The same is true of competition as part of a complete philosophy of martial arts as is expressed below in my diagram from Flow-Fighting: the Performance Diagnostic Trinity (pictured right).
I coach people now, that competition (like training and practice) is just a vehicle, not the end in itself. That said, combat sport is the most sustainable and most effective means of combat specific conditioning without question (though I am the first to admit that not all combat sports are created equal. Some are more effective forms of Combat SPP).
Can you imagine encountering an athlete in any combat sport who perceived it only as a means of improving himself, and the better he performed against you ... with you ... the better he became? Can you imagine his emotional detachment, his lack of Fear-Reactivity, due to the absence of the fear of losing?
Can you imagine being the type of athlete who strode confidently onto any mat, in any ring, because regardless of outcome you would be better? You would be totally FREE! You would be free to perform unfettered by the encumbering burden of expectations, doubts, hesitation and anxieties.
This is what I hope to bring to others, which I had to take the long, hard road discovering. Hopefully I can help people get untangled by the underbrush I encountered and find their own Path.
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