Spoiled By Choice

There is a funny thing that happens in martial arts.  At beginning levels all students seem to want to learn new techniques.  New techniques, all the time.  As an instructor, it’s sometimes a challenge to restrain yourself from indulging them.  There is that niggling insecurity (at least with me) that by showing new students things too slowly you’ll lose their attention.  This is a problem for more than a few reasons, the most immediate of which is that those students who get bored by the basics are probably not worth training unless they can be convinced to change their mind.

There is another important issue as well.  Assuming for a moment that you are a magical trainer that can impart perfect knowledge of a multitude of techniques on your students you’ll start to see an entirely counter intuitive rise in reaction time.  When building an arsenal of techniques, it’s often the person with the more limited choice who will react faster.  I have seen this pop up in training a couple of times, where I will be demonstrating an overly simple or perhaps even foolhardy attack as a way of building up to a more effective version, and will ask a student to defend against it in the way they feel is best.  The student will then stare blankly at the ever so slowly incoming attack and proceed to do exactly nothing as it comes in.  So why is this?

To figure it out let’s use a cooking metaphor.  Imagine you are making a pasta sauce and you look to your spice rack and thyme is the only thing there.  You’re probably going to instantly grab that and use it.  Imagine instead you have a hundred spices.  Admittedly the end result will probably be a much better sauce, but you’ll take a small but noticeable amount of extra time simply deciding what to use.

It’s the same with Martial Arts Technique.  If you have one response to an assault then that’s the one you’re going to use.  No decisions, no planning, just (assuming proper training) reaction.  If you have a large arsenal of possible moves, then you’re going to have to make a decision.  This act of making a choice can increase your reaction time ever so slightly.  In a defensive situation, an extra beat of less than a quarter second can be a lifetime too long.  This seems to be especially problematic with the techniques that would normally be considered the easiest to defend against.

Fiore De’i Liberi seemed aware of this, in particular regarding his knife plays.  He has, in general, one response for each angle of attack and then a number of follow up techniques for ending the fight.  To this end, I am personally drawn to martial techniques that provide a response to the greatest number of attacks.  As always, Fiore Provides.  Here we have his Posta Frontale.  This is a part of the key.  Finding a simple and effective technique that works for you.DSCF1542

Posta Frontale works very well against just about every conceivable attack angle.  As a point of interest, there is a guy who teaches something not unlike Fiore’s technique.  Tony Blauer, who teaches both civilians and police something he calls the S.P.E.A.R. Technique which is almost identical to what Fiore taught in the 14th century.  It’s pretty cool to see such pervasive techniques.  Anyway, I highly recommend you watch this video of Tony Blauer demonstrating an advanced version of his (and Fiore’s) technique:

2 thoughts on “Spoiled By Choice

  1. There’s actually quite a bit of psychological literature supporting the idea that having less information can bring about better outcomes than having full information across many domains. And here’s the surprising part: even given infinite time resources, less information can yield better outcomes! (check out Gerd Gigerenzer “Gut Feelings”). Getting back to martial arts, I think this simplicity principle explains the success of freestyle and greco wrestlers in the UFC. There are very few techniques and you practice them over and over and over and over….until your body can do it in its sleep and you are sensitive to every nuance of a particular situation when you apply the technique.

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