Meditations of Violence

Yes, dear reader, it seems I am the last kid (blogger) on the block to read Meditations on Violence, A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence, by Sgt. Rory Miller. Many of my fellow bloggers have recommended it but it wasn't until I got hold of it myself that I understood why.

Sgt. Rory is a good writer. He understand his audience really well. His audience is made up mostly of tough-guy martial artists who train a lot, and not so tough-guy martial artists who also train a lot. He talks to us as if we were a bunch of girls sitting around in our nighties at a pajama party. In walks Sgt. Rory with his big boots, body armor, sim-guns, SWAT team-prison guard experience, with talk of predators and the monkey dance. With bravado and humor, he kindly offers to set us straight.

This book makes you meditate on violence. I particularly like his discussion of what happens to your body when you are attacked--What he calls the hormone cocktail. He says we lose dexterity and coordination and not just the ability the think or plan but the ability to see, hear and feel. Our sense of time becomes distorted and we can even freeze up.

Reading this book makes us think hard on the value of our martial arts training. Different types of training serve wildly different purposes. Of course this is obvious, we don't do muscle building to get good at push-hands, we don't cultivate weakness to win wrestling competitions, and we don't practice butterfly kicks unless we have an appetite for showing off. But no doubt, readers will find justifications for doing the practices they already enjoy--Even though he blind sides you with smart quips like this one:
Experience, in my opinion, could not give rise to a new martial art. Given the idiosyncratic nature and the improbability of surviving enough high-end encounters, it would be hard to come up with guiding principles or even a core of reliable techniques. I am painfully aware that things that worked in one instant have failed utterly in others.

There we have it, from the tough guy of all tough guys, the professionals' professional, the marital arts trainers' trainer! Martial arts can not have been created by people with real life fighting experience. Go ahead, bite down on this bullet, I know it hurts.

Still he unwittingly makes a great case for Chinese internal martial arts training. For the sake of argument, let's pretend that the main reason internal martial arts were created was for fighting (an idea my regular readers know I find ridiculous).

In a fight for our lives we fall under the influence of adrenaline and we become very strong. Mark one down for cultivating weakness! Don't waste your time cultivating strength, in a real fight you'll be really, really strong-- automatically...autonomicly.

You will also lose your sensitivity to pain, so external conditioning, training to take blows, is also a waste of time. Sgt. Rory doesn't totally reject conditioning. He says that training surprise impacts, on your face particularly, can help to keep you from going into shock in a situation where you are completely surprised. Familiarity with the feeling of being hit will make it easier to see through the hormonal fog.

Speaking of fog, he gives some statistics on police firing their pistols while they are under attack. Basically, they miss most of time at very close range because they are shaking and they can't see:
...Under the stress hormones, peripheral vision is lost and there is physical "tunnel vision." Depth perception is lost or altered, resulting in officers remembering a threat five feet away as down a forty-foot corridor. Auditory exclusion occurs--you may not hear gunfire, or people shouting your name or sirens.

Blood is pooled in the internal organs, drawn away from the limbs. Your legs and arms may feel weak and cold and clumsy. You may not be able to feel your fingers and you will not be able to use "fine motor skills," the precision grips and strikes necessary for some styles such as Aikido.

The "dis" of Aikido here is totally unnecessary since all styles have these kind of techniques, probably invented for dealing with drunks. But what a great case he makes for internal styles like Baguazhang and Taijiquan!

Internal arts don't rely on focused use of the eyes, in fact my bagua training is full of exercises designed to get you to use your eyes in unusual ways. I would even argue that the different bagua Palm Changes can invoke different experiences of time, distortions if you will. If you are constantly spinning around or turning your head, you can get by without your peripheral vision.

Internal arts are based on the principle that coordination will be impossible in a real fight. That's why we only move from the dantian! (As I noted above, I don't believe fighting is the only reason we move the way we do, or even the primary reason...but it makes a great argument doesn't it?) In bagua and taiji we don't tense up our muscles, all movement is centralized in a single impulse. We use one unbroken spiral as our only technique.

Jumping rope? Waste of time too. It's fun training for sparing games, but in a real surprise attack two things are likely. One, you freeze and stop breathing like you are a frightened animal "playing dead." And two, the hormone cocktail will give incredible speed and stamina--don't bother training those either!

Lest I leave you thinking everything he says is pro-internal arts, I should point out the obvious. Any technique requiring sensitivity will likely be useless in a fight to the death. So is push-hands, which is all about sensitivity, really useless? Maybe it is. But he also makes the case that training to attack from a place of total stillness is great practice for teaching yourself how to get "un-frozen" when you are utterly petrified. Good Stuff!!!

note: I just I just Googled "Meditation on Violence" and I got Maya Deren's 1948 12 minute film by the same title, a classic if you haven't seen it yet.