Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Slicing Time

There has been a story going around for years about a sparring match I had with an acquaintance, it even made it into a book. (life is funny that way)

I bring this up because I was told by a friend the other day that the story is still circulating.

Now the stories as told in books and on the web are in fact a very accurate accounts of what happened as viewed by a hypothetical outside observer, but they don't really address why events unfolded in the way that they did.

The story is basically this.

several, even many, years ago I was introduced, by a mutual friend to a fellow who had just started out on a career as a writer in the area of self defense. He was a a likeable kid, though he had a very cocky attitude, and tended to focus on himself a great deal, he made up for it by being witty and personable. He had come out with a book on knife fighting just before we met.

We talked over the course of a couple of months, meeting frequently at the house of our mutual friend. We obviously talked a lot about things martial as it was an interest for both of us. He was not familiar with Indonesian or Filipino martial arts and I had been offering my opinion that they had a lot to offer someone who had an interest in blade based fighting. His interest was definitely up, but he was a little dubious about what I was saying. It sort of went against what he had come up with in the way of theory.

So one day we decided that he needed to experience what I was talking about and see how it worked for himself.

Now you need to understand that this was an entirely friendly situation. It was not a "challenge" match or anything stupid like that, neither of us wanted to, or had any intention of, hurting the other. It was just a friendly sparring session to put the experience to the theory. No winner, no loser.

So we repaired to the back yard and played about for a bit. He discovered that I was accurate in what I had said. We sparred for a few minutes, from the outside what someone would have seen would have been something like this.

My acquaintance and I squared off and began our engagement. I slipped his traps, moved in close to him and made a few touches while redirecting his attacks. After a couple of minutes of this he stepped back and gave me a WTF!!! look, and I uttered the now famous line "Dude, you're fighting me like I was a big guy".

Well, I am 6'2" and weigh about 200 lb, and the other guy is quite a bit shorter than me so he was, I suppose, expecting me to play a distance fight. It may in fact have puzzled him a bit that I tend to like to play a close game. But that was not the reason that he was so disconcerted by the experience (and he was, by his own account).

Think about it for a moment, the guy was a fairly competent fighter, and being small he was used to working in close, the fact that I would move in and press him should have given him no more than a moment's pause. I never did tell him why he was so thrown off by our engagement, and he drew the wrong conclusion from it (even though his conclusion was accurate as far as it went)

Here is a "secret". The person who wins an encounter, whether it is a fight or sparring or a mugging is most often the person who recovers more quickly from surprise, shock and failure.

I was able to disconcert the guy and slip in on him because I was "slicing time" more thinly than then he was.

Now there is nothing mystical or anything about this. It is a matter of how much attention and flexibility a person can apply to conflict. How much a person can stay in the "moment" and not be pushed into thinking about the encounter.

Here is the inner workings of the encounter. First knowing that eventually we would play together, I had paid attention to everything the guy had told me about his training, (a fair amount of "street" a bit of military cqc, and a little wing chun) I watched him move and studied him as he taught some of his stuff. I paid a lot of attention to the patterns of chronic tension he held. So I went into the session knowing a lot more about him than he did about me.

To slice time thinly you have to stay in the moment of the encounter, you have to work within your breath, you have to let thinking give way to sensing. Then you can recover from being surprised by things not going as you want quickly. (I know that this sounds semi-mystical, but it is not)

This is usually not enough though, you have to get the other guy to do exactly the opposite. And that is what I did to my acquaintance to throw him off and disconcert him.

Good fighters tent to fight heuristically, that is they follow unconscious "rules of thumb" that they have developed through constant drilling of techniques. This is an effective strategy in that one can respond quickly to a threat. There is a down side to this though. The drills become habit, and if a habit is interrupted then the person has to "recalibrate", and this takes time. The more a person has to "recalibrate" the more thickly they slice time.

So, when we engaged, I gave him a strike that he reacted to with a lop sao, but I rolled the lop and touched him in the ribs. As he experienced his technique failing he had to "re-set" and this gave me a moment to press in closer and disrupt him even more. As he kept "failing" he did what most people do, he started "bracing", that is to say that he began holding his breath and locking his muscles. This of course slowed him down even more and allowed me to both press him, destabilize him and make more of his techniques fail. This of course leads to a downward spiral and he was spending more and more time thinking about how to respond to what I was doing. There was also an emotional component that worked in my favor. He had a lot of ego involvement in being a "fighter", and having his skills not work unbalanced him at the "self image" level. When that happens a person can spend a lot of time thinking about things.

Here is another secret. The moment you take time to think about things in a fight, you are likely to lose.

My acquaintance, like a lot of fighters, carried huge amounts of chronic tension in his body which came out when he was put under stress making him very inefficient. He made up for this by putting a lot more energy into his techniques and causing his breath to degenerate.

A good fighter, especially one who focuses on drilling limited skill sets usually never learns the trick of slicing time thinly. This is too bad as it is a limit that is never really overcome.

How do you overcome the limitation? Free your body and breath, balance drills with sparring with an uncooperative opponent, learn to let breath power movement, live at the level of constant suprise as often as you can so that you can learn to be comfortable with it.

What happened to my acquaintance? a few years later I introduced him to one of the very best Silat teachers in the US, and he began to study with him. If he stayed with him long enough to get past the basics he will have learned to overcome his limitations.

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