Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The "Myth of the Duel"...Knives and Otherwise.

Are all those stabbings and slashings around the world, all Zorro-like, face-off duels? No.

 The "myth of the knife duel" is about limiting yourself and/or over-training dueling methods while striving for situational, reality knife fighting. The myth of the duel is using fencing or sparring as the main model for self defense training. This is the definition of "the myth of the duel." The stand-off where each opponent has the same size stick, a knife or are empty-handed. Sparring like this is not the full answer, can confuse and mislead.

 We live in a mixed-weapon world. Such a misleading knife course that over-duels, is unlikely to understand the full, modern, "Weapon-Matrix" options, like gun versus knife for one example. Many criminal and military knife attacks are like football or rugby with a knife with sudden and vicious collisions, not prolonged fencing matches.

 But, if you specialize in a specific era dueling or historical training dueling, and/or understand where the duel truly fits in the big picture, then you are among the enlightened, educating and pursuing your interests and the interests of your friends and students. Dan Inosanto once told us in the 1980s that the real reason for knife sparring was for footwork. And it really is fantastic for footwork.

 Of course, just as a good knife course covers knife ground fighting, it must also cover a proper proportion of so-called "knife dueling," because knife dueling may, has and does occur inside an overall knife fights in war and crime. We duel/spar a bit at every knife level I teach. We do the Killshot Knife Fighting Module to cover the subject, all the time remembering that if there is space between knife fighters, there are often other wise options than the continuance of the knife versus knife duel. Such as the photo above and to the left suggests, pick up something else and fight with it.

 So, are all those stabbings and slashings around the world, all Zorro-like, face-off duels? Or, are they sudden, passionate charges (like football players with knives) that involve a sucker punch, with a thrown ashtray at the face. A knife in the back? A chair vs. a knife? A struggle on the ground? Two bad guys cornering one guy. A very small knife vs. a machete? Or worse, unarmed vs. the knife?

 The very term "knife duel," in many training systems today does fancify and mislead what is really homicide-like or an ugly, vicious bloodletting. The training for knife fighting, as done by so many martial systems today, is a prissy, unrealistic game of tag with rubber toys, mentally detached to the virtually unspeakable horrors of knife wounds, knife maiming and edged weapon killing.

 This dueling concept is often a mitigating concept in all forms of fight-training, not just with knives. Hand. Stick and gun too. Will you always fight an opponent with your 28-inch stick versus his 28-inch stick? For another example, you may be mentally brainwashed into the "empty hand-versus-empty hand duel." If you only train in common, storefront, martial arts and unarmed combatives you will most likely forget to pick up a handy weapon in your environment. Use something as a battering ram or a shield. Sometimes to throw. Always get the edge. Get something to fight with. Always cheat, be tricky and use what's around you. This is easy to pontificate by some instructors, but their actual working outlines and doctrines miss this whole, vital point. Remember, night after night, you are building muscle memory. 

 The myth of the duel is really a two-prong problem. The second part is when you duel, you are sparring. If you are training fighters for a sports event, then follow those rules. But, a reality trainer really needs to take a hard look at sparring and what it really produces in class. I often hear instructors proclaim "We spar everything out," as if everything is ever-so, "battle-tested" as a point of pride or a tough-guy, sales pitch. But I think many are confusing sparring in a matted dojo with the slime of a back alley.

 First, let's quickly establish the characters in our sparring study. The instructor runs the show. The trainer is the attacker. The trainee is one we are all hoping to improve. There is free-style sparring and combat scenario..."sparring." Sparring done with protective gear is useful but only to a point. The gear saves the attacker/trainer from the real fight-ending injury. If the fight-ending injury is ignored by the padded trainer, then the session is counter-productive. The trainee soon forgets the real fight-enders because they are ignored by his partner. The finishing moves then de-evolve from his list. Ignorant, padded attackers ignoring fight-ending moves is the single reason why so many sparring matches become wrestling matches on the ground, often ending in choke-outs/tap-outs. Where else can they go? How else can they end it, when all other simulated fight-stopper, attacks are ignored. Just "sparring things out," sounds cool, but does not maximize the goal. I am talking about the next, higher level, whether you are freestyle sparring or combat scenario sparring, you cannot afford to ignore, solid, fight-ending moves. Ignoring them is a like a cancer to your training doctrine.

 Through the decades I've frequently taken this fact as such simple, common-sense. I foolishly forgot how many instructors fail to grasp this child-like truth. How can they not? I am mortified with this vast, blind ignorance. Be it hand, stick or knife, standing or on the ground, each sparring session needs a coach/instructor to step in and remind the fighters when every serious simulated strike is ignored and what that strike may have actually done to an unpadded person. Sometimes the coach needs to step in and just declare a winner. Reward the proper moves. Reprimand the lame and weak ones.

 "Reality training requires good acting."

 Reality training requires good acting. It sounds like a dichotomy but it is absolutely not. If you shot a trainer in the head with a sims ammo round, the helmeted trainer should act like he was...shot in the face, not completely ignore the bullet! This would be an injustice to the trainee and a glitch in the training mission. The same is true with a knife stab, a stick hit or a solid elbow to the face. Actors/attackers should react conservatively, not ham up the injury, though at times opponents do get hurt this badly.

 We have kicked around a lot of subjects here from knife dueling on down to acting. The myth of the duel and sparring is very deep and appears in many aspects of training. It is a mythology that lots of martial trainers and students worship and...mishandle.

 Adios Amigos

W. Hock Hochheim