Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Thoughts on Speed pt 3

[Editor's Note: Catch up with what you missed -  Part I available here; Part II available here.]

I love the speed of our combat. I love the space where my mind goes, where I can understand how we move, where I know the relation of how fast a person can move, and the distance they have to travel. For me this is the heart of combat. Getting in the zone, and understanding the chaos of the world around me. Intuiting the things that normally I don’t even recognize that I perceive, and achieving flow state.

For me, this is kind of the elephant in the room on the topic of speed. That's because I have avoided, blatantly, the topic of muscle memory. You might wonder why muscle memory is the elephant in the room when you're talking about the speed of mind in fighting, but let me explain.

If you ask someone you consider to be one of the best fighters in the game, what, or how they think while they are fighting, they might describe a certain level of tactics, like creating openings, or being aware of stance, or positioning, but often they will say that they don't really think. That they in fact just sort of let themselves go, that their body knows what to do separate of the mind.

So then you find yourself asking some questions like “How do I separate mind and body?!” or “How do I let my body go on auto-pilot?” or maybe just “wtf?” Well that's the problem, muscle memory is sort of this ominous concept, that public forums don't really describe well. Your muscles don't remember things. It's kind of a misnomer. Some would rather describe it as a memory for your muscles,  that is something I can get behind.

Everything you read on muscle memory will emphasize on quality before quantity. They recommend to start slow, and make sure your motions are correct, and that your body is learning the correct motion, rather than some weird motion that isn't useful for what you're doing. This is why muscle memory will come up most often in sports like Golf, and arts like playing the guitar, more often than say, football. This is also a problem in our sport, where the combat is not broken down into a series of labeled moves, where we don’t have “rabbit punches” or “snake stance”, we’re made up of a jumble of things that people have brought to the game through the years via trial and error, or outside experience. With some notable exceptions, of course, like the “arm block” for example.

So what can you do? Fighting at half speed is a great way to practice your shots and blocks and allow yourself to process what the other fighter's openings are, and allow them to process and exploit your own. As good as it is for me, I hate this exercise. It really is the way to go, plenty of martial arts have been practicing slowly for thousands of years, learn the perfect step the right way, so that when you need to take it quickly, you take it correctly. I get it. You probably do too. But as I said, speed is my drug, and I would much rather be moving at some quasi-imperceptible blur than moving at half speed.

Is there another way to go about it? I'd like to think so, but it's more theory than time tested practice, like fighting at half speed, so you'll have to give me a bit of faith. I'm going to talk about pattern recognition.  I like to think of a good volley as a series of actions or behaviors. What I mean by a volley is a series of parries and attacks that lead to a fight being more than just a single strike and done.

I like to think of a fighter's stance as foreshadowing to the strike that they are going to make. Huh? Fighting is like a rainbow. What? Limited and infinite. Each stance can vary from person to person, infinitely, but each stance also is within a limited predictable spectrum of stances based on the idea that the human body can only move in a semi-limited fashion. So just like the rainbow, which is a representation of an infinite amount of colors, we can break down each color, or stance, into a limited set of categories which are weak against specific attacks, and lead to strikes from certain directions, and to certain openings in your own stance.

When you enter into a fight, you should look at your opponent and discern what their stance's weaknesses are. Really look. What does the positioning of their feet tell you? Do they lead with their weapon hand, or their off hand? Are they right handed or left handed? Do they guard their head? Remember that stance. After the fight, ask yourself, what was their opening swing? Where did it go?  The more often you do this, the faster the answers will come to you. The more people you fight, the more you will be able to recognize the variations between them.

Why is this important? What you're doing, essentially, is setting up a stimulus for yourself, and your actions are conditioned responses. Similar to Pavlov's dogs, where they began to salivate at the sound of a bell, you want yourself to react to openings in your opponent's guard, and block opponent's attacks based on the first instinct of their appearance. You want Stance A, to tell you to attack B, and have their block C lead you to attack D. And you want to recognize the difference between fighter 1's stance A and fighter 2's stance A as easily as you can switch between two different fonts.

Now you're probably thinking to yourself something about predictability. “If I answer Stance A with attack B every time, my opponents will notice.” Or something like that. You're right, they will, two things. First of all; you're already predictable, you're just worried about being -too- predictable. Secondly, the more patterns you teach yourself, the more your stimuli will generalize, you'll find yourself recognizing stance F in the middle of attack B, and changing attack B into attack G on the fly.

If you think of your opponent's action as a question, and your action as the answer, then you can also look at it this way. If I ask you the question, “What is 2+2?” you will probably answer “4”, right? That's because generally speaking, that's the answer a person is looking for when you ask that question, however, 2+2 also = 5-1, and an infinite other answers equally as well, but 4 is the simplest, best answer, and that is the one you should be looking for in a fight. This is why crazy theatrical, spin moves usually don't work within our system, without some crazy amount of deception going on, to give yourself the opening that you need to pull it off. Just as with 2+2, with practice, and years of answering the question, if you learn to recognize patterns, and ask yourself the right questions, you'll see the answer you need to any question an opponent can ask.

Essentially, if you want to be faster, you need to practice more. You need to work hard, and exercise, and you need to think and strategise. The secret to speed, is practice. Go to practice. Fight as many different people as you can.

I hope you enjoyed this mini-series as an introduction to speed in our game, and as always I hope to see you on the field,


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