Friday, 11 February 2011

Reality Based Systems - whose reality?

If you were to stretch the whole of martial arts out along a continuum so that at one end you had the purely ‘jutsu’ systems (very applied ‘fighting’ systems) and at the other end you had the purely ‘do’ systems (spiritual, self perfecting/actualising systems), then the system of karate that I am learning would probably be about in the middle of that continuum. We spread some tendrils towards the ‘jutsu’ end with our goshin waza techniques and exploration of bunkai; and we spread a few tendrils towards the ‘do’ end with an emphasis on perfecting kihon technique and pushing ourselves to our physical limits to improve mental strength and spirit.

However there is a plethora of new systems developed in recent times that would firmly and proudly put themselves at the ‘jutsu’ end of the scale – they call themselves Reality Based Systems.

Now, I don’t doubt for one minute that many of these systems are highly effective, taught by skilled and experienced instructors and ‘do what they say on the tin’, which seems to be a common phrase in reality martial arts. However, I do have one doubt about them – I’m very dubious about their interpretation of ‘reality’.

Bearing in mind that these systems are targeted at ‘ordinary citizens’; apparently the perils they tell us we all face on a daily basis in our ‘reality’ are: bombings, armed robberies, drive-by shootings, carjacking, gang violence, sniper attacks, multiple attackers, knife attacks, gang rapes….. the list goes on. Okay, these things happen in a modern society but they are not everyday scenarios and they do not accurately represent reality for the vast majority of ‘ordinary citizens’.

As you go about your daily life you are much more likely to encounter a bit of road rage, an argumentative or threatening customer/client, an opportunistic bag snatcher, a belligerent drunk, an intimidating beggar, a potential distraction burglar or for some people, a ‘domestic violence’ situation. These types of events are much more a part of reality for people than the former list, and even then they are not encountered every day.

These ‘reality based’ systems are often designed and run by ex-military people, people who seem to think they have a better handle on reality than the ‘ordinary citizens’ they are instructing. But modern society is not a theatre of war. Modern society may have its criminal element and is occasionally (though rarely) subject to an act of terrorism, most people will never be involved in this or even witness it in their entire lives.

The definition of reality is: “the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or may be thought to be.” This is actual reality but of course there is also ‘consensus reality’. Consensus reality is “when two or more individuals agree upon the interpretation and experience of a particular event. This being common to a few individuals or a larger group, then becomes the "truth" as seen and agreed upon by a certain set of people. Thus one particular group may have a certain set of agreed-upon truths, while another group might have a different set. This allows different communities and societies to have very different notions of reality and truth about the external world.”

I would advocate that ex-military people who have seen active service will have a very different notion of reality and truth about the external world than ordinary civilians whose daily self-protection needs are very different. Thus ‘Reality based systems’, or at least the more militaristic ones are only really of any value to people working in situations with a similar consensus reality i.e the military, law enforcement and the security services. They are of very limited practical value to us ordinary citizens. One website I looked at promoting reality based self-defence boasted that it was, “Born in Battle, Christened in Combat” and promised that: “The Self Defense Training System is everything there is to know about man-on-man violence. Once you complete your training you will be an extremely dangerous person, feared and respected by all.” Is this really what ordinary people need? Do I really need to learn ‘counter-terrorism’ techniques or how to avoid a sniper?

I just think that some of these reality systems create a ‘fantasy reality’ that they then design a program to defend against and teach it to a high standard. The whole thing is very internally consistent but it doesn’t represent the actual reality that most people live in. Even reality based systems aimed at women focus on dealing with violent confrontations such as stranger rape or knife attacks. Though these may represent 'common crimes' at a society level, on an individual level a womans life time risk of being raped or attacked by a knifeman is very low, particularly if she learns about avoidance and awareness. However, her chances of feeling threatened by an irrate customer/colleague/boss/neighbour/partner are much more common - how many reality systems deal with this?

No doubt there are many self-defence courses and systems out there that do teach useful, everyday self-protection techniques based on avoidance, common sense and conflict resolution. They probably don’t call themselves ‘reality based’ but actually represent a much more common civilian reality than so called ‘reality systems’ do.

I just wish these macho ‘reality’ based systems would re-brand themselves as ‘situation based’, or ‘contextually based’ self-defence systems and stop marketing themselves to ordinary civilians as they simply do not address their true needs but instead create a fear of violent confrontation when none is warranted. This type of training may be suitable for people working in law-enforcement, security or the military but in my opinion they are not much use to anyone else.

Okay, I’m off my soap box now and awaiting the fall out…….

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11 comments:

Charles James said...

These ‘reality based’ systems are often designed and run by ex-military people, people who seem to think they have a better handle on reality than the ‘ordinary citizens’ they are instructing.

I have an opinion! Could have guessed right? I am former military. I am a Marine. Here is my recommendation, when they say ex-military and profess special operations, etc. go on-line and google military records request form, fill it out, send it in, and you will get a watered down version of that persons "real" military service. I will bet that you will find their records do not reflect their actual "promotional" marketing data.

I am a Marine BUT I was in Motor Transport. I could sell myself as this hard charging fighting machine and you know what? No one who has no knowledge that this can be verified by inquiry to the government agency that maintains, stores and provides military records to anyone and everyone who makes request.

In my system, Isshinryu, there is a military guy who professes he has done this and that yet when one of the other practitioners who is doing research on our systems first generation students received his records found that this person had never done what was claimed. Interesting...

I would advocate that ex-military people who have seen active service will have a very different notion of reality and truth about the external world than ordinary civilians whose daily self-protection needs are very different.

Yes, it took me some time to adjust my way of teaching when I left the Marines and started with a combination of military and family and civilian civil service workers, etc. When you teach you find that what may have worked before will not work in this type of change. You change or your dojo dies.

I just wish these macho ‘reality’ based systems would re-brand themselves as ‘situation based’, or ‘contextually based’ self-defence systems and stop marketing themselves to ordinary civilians as they simply do not address their true needs but instead create a fear of violent confrontation when none is warranted.

Never happen much to my chagrin. This is because these guys are in it for the money. As you so adequately wrote the marketing will be a for sure sign it is profit motivated. You are hitting the nail right on the head.

This type of training may be suitable for people working in law-enforcement, security or the military but in my opinion they are not much use to anyone else.

Not! Military is military; police are police; security is security; all of these have vastly different needs and requirements. The difficulty of self defense is there are no "one system fits all" training. It is very complex but I may not be the best source on this yet I can refer folks to the two most qualified persons in this arena.

Thanks so much for such great articles, I really enjoy them immensely.

SenseiMattKlein said...

Hi Sue, I just came here from John Zimmer's myselfdefenseblog, where he has covered this subject from a different angle. There is a huge demand in today's society for "instant gratification". You will become a fighting machine in a weekend, and walk the streets without fear--all without sparring, breathing hard, sweating, or God forbid, bleeding. Apparently, people pay big money for this false sense of security. Your post "hit the nail on the head", as Charles, above, stated.

Felicia said...

Hey there, Sue :-) I have similar issues with one aspect you touched on: reality-based self-defense specifically for women. Beating the guy in the padded suit to a pulp is not reality in any sense of the word, especially since statistically (as you pointed out) most women are attacked by people that they know. Of course mugger/rapist jumping out from the bushes scenarios happen, but not nearly as often as programs like that would have the average Jane believe.

I agree with Mr. James when it comes to the buck-making aspect of things. "Come and begin a path that will take you years and years to perfect!" is not quite as appealing as "Be feared by any man for $29.95!" Societally, we are not much into delayed gratification. We want it, like, yesterday - with as little effort as possible to get it.

With that being said, I have studied a bit of Krav Maga. For me, it was intense in a cardio way, which made it a great supplement to martial arts training I was doing already. The one thing I cme away with was that knee strikes are cool and extremely effective :-)

Great post! Thanks for stepping onto that soap box. I ain't mad at cha :-)

Journeyman said...

How dare you suggest that every woman out there won't be attacked with a knife??? And right in the middle of my knife survival series...:) Just kidding, of course.

Thought provoking post, and an important one in my opinion.

I agree with most of what you've said. Sadly, as mentioned in your comments, the 'reality' craze is big business at the moment. I was recently reading an article on learning Navy SEAL, or Green Beret or Commando techniques in one weekend. Guaranteed to transform you blah blah blah. I actually believe the instructors were qualified, but the point being the 3 day course was in the neighborhood of $5000.00 U.S. currency (sorry, don't know the conversion) Big business.

Mr. James makes an interesting point as well. We tend to do a lot of research on finding a good Sensei but we take reality instructors at face value, often forking over months or years of dojo dues in one shot.

I've started assisting my Sensei in women's self defense seminars. The bulk of our material is about awareness, avoidance and realistic techniques for every day occurrences. Some examples are how to deal with a person who puts their hands on your butt while dancing, or leans you into a dark corner, that sort of thing. Other topics are realizing when someone you trust has stepped over the line, watching your drinks, staying together with pals, having keys ready, walking wide around corners etc.

I do think it's important to teach some techniques for more serious attacks, but the main goal is to avoid and get away without injuries.

As for Felicia's comments, knees sure are great. The padded suits do have some value, in my opinion, the benefit typically greater the less training someone has. For the meeker individual, it can be empowering and may provide confidence to fight back in a situation if needed. Some people have never hit anything. It is not the be all and end all, though, it's only one piece of a bigger pie.

Sue, while I agree with you that serious violence is actually quite rare, I have seen an increase in armed assaults (usually knives). It's a disturbing trend. I feel it would be irresponsible to leave out at least a few realistic techniques to deal with worst case scenarios. Then again, that's coming from my reality...

John W. Zimmer said...

Hi Sue,

Very good points about one man's reality vs another's.

It is kind of funny but between age 21 & 23 I was getting into one fight a week and several almost fights. When I stopped working as a bouncer and started applying a bit of common sense to where I hung out, I had only two almost fights to this day (30 years later).

My beef with reality based martial arts is they either say outright or imply the more traditional approach does not truly prepare one for an actual confrontation.

If I've learned one thing about fighting over the years is we all have the same tools and their are only so many ways to put an attack or counter attack together. There is no secret stuff or a little known "touch of death" that one can pull out of one's bag of tricks...

You only have your training to pull you through. Any good school - traditional or non-traditional will do the trick.

I like ‘situation based’ as it is more accurate I think.

John Coles said...

Don't step down of your soapbox. Stand loud and proud. I can sense your frustration, which I also share. I'll add to your military with security/doormen. I've know one individual who bases his perception of reality on his expeirence in security/doorman (as do others who publish certain books). A very different reality, and a very different type of violence.
I once had a very intelligent and throughtful student who suggested we always talk about an 'attacker' but never identify the attacker. He suggested research to put a face to the most likely threat. Given that statistics show that a significant proportion of attacks (physical, sexual, and fatal) are perpetrated by partners, dates, relatives, and/or friends, I'm not quite sure how a women's self defence course would go when you explain that in all likelihood you are teaching them to defend themselves against their partner, date, relatives, and/or friends. Just another contribution to the reality debate you are waging from your soapbox.

Spirit Defence www.spiritdefence.com.au said...

I had a conversation the other day about this re gun defenses. I reasoned that spending the amount of time it would take to successfully pull off such a high risk technique was a waste of time that could be spent training other scenarios (in Australia, at least). Of course, gun defences are sexy.

With a limited amount of training time each week, training is better focussed on high percentage situations and techniques - both of which are different for everyone.

The other issue is unrelated to techniques that relate to specific scenarios, but more to training methods. We only have so many ways to hit someone - but there are many many different ways to train those techniques. For me, reality training is ensuring that I can identify techniques that work for me and train them against a resisting partner.

I really really like the point that many attacks are not at all physical - and we need to have strategies to deal with these situation as well. I think most martial arts with a good instructor can provide that.

Great post Sue.

cheers,
Ash
http://spiritdefence.blogspot.com/

Ninjutsu Techniques said...

For everyday hostile encounters, most of the time you're going to have fairly "docile" encounters. So yeah, police might benefit, but probably 95% or more of the time things won't be like this.

SueC said...

Charles, thanks for the ex-military persons perception. I take your point that the needs of military, law-enforcement and security people are probably very different to each other.

Matt, I read John's post too. It's really shocking how much some of these courses charge - a definite case of "let the buyer beware!"

Felicia, knee kicks - I agree. I discovered by accident that hook kicks to the thigh work well too! My husband was holding a pad for me whilst I practised spinning hook kicks in class, I missed the pad, kicked his leg and he dropped like a stone! He couldn't train for a few days after and hobbled around the house. I've been forgiven though, in fact I think he was secretly proud of me!

Journeyman, oops! Actually I'm enjoying your knife series it's very informative. In fact I would put knife defences on a list of things to teach at a self defence course as well as escapes from wrist grabs and bear hugs as these are the most common ways in which women are attacked. Your women's self defence course sounds very 'reality based' in the true sense of the word - a very worthwhile thing for you to be involved in so hats off!

John Z, you're clearly living proof that avoidance techniques can keep you out of trouble! I'm pretty sure that many violent confrontations and attacks would be avoided if people applied a little common-sense to where they went and what they did.

John C, Your student definitely had a lot of foresight. We often talk about 'attackers' as if all attackers are the same - it makes a lot of difference to how you would react depending on who was attacking you - your own partner or a complete stranger. I'm pretty sure a different approach to defence is needed depending on who is attacking you.

Ash, I think putting things into perspective and then prioritising self defence scenarios according to probability is essential so that you can divide your time proportionately in order to train most for the most common scenarios. I think people should spend much more time working on how to prevent situations escalating into violence - but like you said, this isn't seen as 'sexy'.

Ninja, "docile encounters" I like that phrase!

Marie said...

"Once you complete your training you will be an extremely dangerous person, feared and respected by all."

This line filled me with a cold chill! I would think anyone going into a martial art with the sole intention of becoming a "dangerous person" is missing the point by a scarily wide margin!

I think these website and training formats are aimed at a certain demographic. Impressionable young men (less so woman I would think) who think the best way to be a man is to be able to rip someone's head off and that the way to get there is through some get-scary-quick scheme.

Scary and I think maybe a reflection of some of the not so nice areas of modern society where violence becomes more common place.

xMx

SueC said...

Marie, I couldn't agree with your comments more. Well said!

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