Saturday, June 01, 2019

What Bruce Lee Taught Us by Badger Johnson

What BL taught us.

Development of short power, with the one and three inch punch. Studied Jack Dempsey and his drop-shift. Knew that the key element of patterns was incorporating the body energy or ground-path and not just arm strength, though didn’t say explicitly. However, also discovered a method of bringing short power just by over development of the forearm muscles and the wrist tilt punch.

Went beyond aphorisms, and flowery sayings, though he did include many from Krishnamurti and Zen sayings. Basically he was one of the first to relate deeper thoughts to personal combat. Others offered thoughts about military goals and tactics or mass combat, like Musashi’s Book of Five Rings and Sun Tzu’s Art of War, but not specifically personal combat.

Emphasized suddenness over sheer strength. Kinetic energy = 1/2 mv² - meaning the mass is much less significant than the velocity.

How to make weak things stronger especially those which are weak even on strong men. Upper back muscles, obliques, forearms, neck, abs, calves. He specifically worked on the bridge arm muscles allowing him to keep his arm raised and not pushed down.

Helped us understand how to analyze what’s important rather than what is showy, though didn’t say how explicitly. Emphasized the individual finding their best methods and abilities.

That hardening a body part is not the apex of MA. Better to harden a body system, such as wrist and forearm power.

It was fairly obvious that he was trying to think outside the box and to see outside the box.

Helps show us the path to self-coaching. Prompted people to analyze their own strengths and weaknesses, and to understand their limitations.

Mentally and physically explained how the build up was like a pyramid, with a base layer and a diamond-like pinnacle. Each level required the build up of the previous level, ending in a sharp point, beyond what might be possible without base building.

Adding nutrition and weight training and cross training even more than it was emphasized before.

How to find the best in other systems and then incorporate into your system.

He was not successful in getting across the ‘my forte may not be your forte’ - people just wanted to copy him.

Rather than tell us outright his secrets he dropped hints which made it worth looking deeper. Sometimes it’s better to hint than to just tell everything. IF you tell everything people undervalue it.

Concepts like ‘Fighting Without Fighting’, ‘Absorb What Is Useful’, ‘Having No Limitation As Limitation’, and other Zen-like sayings were incorporated into the body of knowledge for people to look more deeply into, giving the method more profound implications, and not just a gymnastic routine. (see the essay about the concept of Fighting Without Fighting)

Some sayings such as ‘Empty Your Cup’ are well-known but were not necessarily applied to combat. ”Obey the principles without being bound by them.” is also a good one, showing that to become great one must follow the principles, then, at the top levels of skill, ultimately break them. Interestingly some of his sayings change as one grows in mastery. ‘Hacking Away at the Non-essential’ may have a different meaning to beginners than to those with higher skill.

While others were saying to look for hidden meaning in fixed patterns he said ‘The truth is outside all fixed patterns’.

One thing that it’s important to do is not just to repeat his sayings but delve into the meaning, origin and deeper levels of the concept.

He figured out how to incorporate things like non-telegraphic action, non-intention movement into his fighting style, and using the ‘fast close’, make them actually work in practice. How do you do non-intention? You catch yourself doing a non-intention move and then reverse engineer it, and break it down for study. You can’t ‘intend’ to do non-intention. Once you have non-intention capability, you can then begin to predict or anticipate others’ movements before they themselves realize they’re doing them. This is one of the basis for ‘Attack by Drawing’ tactics.

He brought several fencing concepts into combat, among them, the ‘Five Ways of Attack’. He should have said “there may be more ways of attack than just five but you have to find them”. (see the essay on ‘the expansion of the five ways of attack’)

He taught that there were concepts such as “fitting in” to the opponent’s moves, not just opposing them. He emphasized the need for various types of broken rhythm, timing and tempo. You don’t use broken rhythm you break the opponent’s rhythm.

Not normally mentioned was that he had the concept of stage presentation or stage magic, or setting up the opponent to fail and himself to succeed. He used this whenever possible to give him a better than even chance to effect his moves and concepts. Such things even work in actual conflict, for example putting the Sun at your back and putting the glare into the opponent’s vision.

In movies, went from the endless superficial blocking and parrying to dynamic short fights.

Concept of how to go from zero to sixty in aggression or the use of a kill word and use of self-hypnosis to access the subconscious.

Realized that hardening body parts is worthless without a delivery system. You may have a hand grenade but if you can’t deliver it to the target it’s not worth much.

May have realized, though didn’t say directly, that aliveness, i.e. footwork, timing, resistance and energy were important aspects to have and to train. He did talk about all of them though didn’t give an overall concept.

He realized that for him his talent may have been in fighting but it’s not a very good way (at the time) to make a living so he went into films, instead. The lesson here is that being obsessed with fighting or combat or self-defense is kind of a ‘trap’. You can only sustain your edge or prowess or alertness for a short time. A fighter’s life-span is limited. Using a ‘firing solution’ (striking or engaging) is one of the last best options one should use to resolve conflict.

A few things he had not yet developed:

1. Grappling flow and ground fighting flow - his grappling method was more of a collection of tricks than an understanding of rolling and guard and mount.

2. Mobile kicking - he didn’t have a complete concept for ‘mobile kicking’ which is using ‘unweighting’ and a high chamber position to bridge the gap. There is a sequence in Return of the Dragon where he bridges the gap using a short skip step against Bob Wall. But he doesn’t conceptualize this in his writings. Though he only gains a few inches with that kick it uses the principle of dynamic chambering and unweighting to close the gap and land the technique. I don't believe he understood it as a 'concept' since he had not incorporated it into his other kicks and was still doing the step up and chamber which is intrinsically slower.

Real-time of the 4 kicks in this scene

Slow motion on the initiation of the 1st, 2nd and 4th kicks

3. Transitions - may have had entering to trapping to grappling but not so much a concept of grip fighting, pummeling and sprawl. He had not fully incorporated the various methods of wrestling take-downs.

4. Did he have an understanding of or a method of testing for durability, or resistance to punishment? We don’t know if BL had a good chin or was fragile. He had small bones and a small frame.

Please check out Badger Johnson's other essays:

Friday, May 17, 2019

Against One Who Scares Us by Badger Johnson

The Predator Who Scares Us

One of the more interesting comments made by a person in the original Usenet group rec.martial.arts, allegedly female MA-ist is this, regarding use of self-defense methods and tools:

…against the person who scares me…

All too often we see demonstrations by compliant people, sometimes by a person with a partner who is female or much smaller than they are, or just another student in their class.

Sparring vs fighting for your life
While sparring, in a class we are just playing a game with a fellow student, exchanging moves, almost taking turns.

Though in tournaments it’s different, generally you are matched with someone of similar if not equal skill, and you are trying to ‘score points’. Of course, modern MMA and sub-grappling tournaments the action is faster, somewhat more dangerous. Participants have higher skill and to the layperson seem quite above their ability.

Who Actually Needs Self-defense Training?
Let’s talk about actual self-defense. We sometimes see very large, burly, 6’3”+ people giving a demo, and giving opinions on what to do. But in truth, the people who need self-defense are smaller, female, younger, the elderly, or even the partially disabled.

A technique should be comprised of “non-attribute-based methods”, which a less physically endowed can use. In some cases it should be admitted that for a 5’5” female (or smaller person) to attempt to use a physical move in hand-to-hand is not going to be successful. In that case the smaller female needs to have a force multiplier, such as a weapon or even a firearm, or perhaps a partner who might also be armed.

Compliant Demonstration Partners
When a demo is shown it should not be done with a compliant partner, but, if possible with a person who is actually a threat against the person showing the technique. Now, this is not always possible as there are some very large and muscular persons who lead martial arts schools (such as Mas Oyama, Bruce Lee or Rickson Gracie). In that event the demo is going to be misleading. Those adepts can make the simplest move effective. Compared to them every opponent is essentially unskilled. Thus following their example, what is sometimes called the ‘Founder Problem’, is sometimes less helpful for the normal person.

Attributes and abilities
Let’s look at attributes and abilities. Sometimes people talk about being able to use martial arts or self-defense moves against another person who they might claim is untrained in them. But it does not address the skills that an actual predator may possess. A true predator is someone who has significant experience using force and persuasion on another person and has a long history of success. Experience, you could say, is the ultimate teacher.

The Untrained, But High Attribute Athlete
If you consider a person who is untrained in martial arts but who is a professional athlete in another sport, for example a running back in a pro-football league, who routinely goes up against other players who are wearing pads and helmets, essentially body armor, and who are using steroids or other performance enhancing substances, you get a real sense as to just how ineffective a physical move might be against such a person who is physically attacking someone.

Could the typical martial artist (non-professional) use a grab release or a throw against such a person who was determined to defeat them? Why don’t people we see doing demos bring in such a person to show their moves against? Why wouldn’t Wing Chun players get a college level grappler to come in and let them show their ‘anti-grappling’ moves? Generally the answer is the don’t understand the scope and depth of the problem or the weakness in their approach, so they treat it somewhat lightly.

It’s because the basis of almost all traditional martial arts and most self-defense instructors relies on a somewhat compliant opponent to make their moves work. Imagine a typical demo where the instructor has a 6’5” pro football running back as their demo partner who is trying to win a bet for $100 or who is told the instructor harmed their child (as motivation), trying to show the typical ‘stick your arm out and I’ll do five moves and hit you’ sequence. They wouldn’t dare.

Watching Demonstrations Closely
So the next time you watch a demo, think about how it might work (or not) against a person who really scares the person demonstrating it. Don’t let someone show a 5’5” female being attacked by a 6’2” partner and the female throwing the partner around - it’s a fantasy. Without such fantasies, one might say that trying to use hand-to-hand techniques in self-defense is basically a high risk, low benefit approach. Against a serious self defense threat one needs a disparity of force (such as a weapon, particularly a firearm) or a partner who is trained to assure a positive outcome.

Don’t be fooled by subtly compliant demos showing small people beating large people in a ‘sparring’ match. Even if the smaller person is using non-attribute-based methods, you can assume the opponent is unlikely to be highly motivated, and maybe even over-awed by the person’s reputation. Challenge your instructor to base their methods against a motivated person who scares them.

Professional Athletes vs Amateur Players
Above all remember that amateur athletes playing pick-up ball can’t hope to beat a pro athlete, and martial arts should always be considered a hobby, not a first option against a real threat. Always seek to deescalate, defuse, escape, evade, partner up, and if allowable by law, be armed. Even being armed is not very reliable unless you are partnered up, which is why law enforcement was traditionally done with a partner who could stand back outside of the reactive range and provide cover and back up.

Final Thoughts
Against a predator that scares you, the method should be a layered defense in the home, partnering in the field, and awareness of legal ramifications should a firing solution be required.

In Summary
  1. Find ways to understand your opponent, and how not to underestimate the threat.
  2. Always partner up. If you don’t have one enlist one. Remember predators also work with a partner.
  3. You can’t do it alone, even if heavily armed. This is why traditionally LE works as a team. One in the red zone, one outside seeing clearly.
  4. Use a layered defense - don’t rely on a single option.
  5. Don’t overestimate the effectiveness of single self-defense moves, or collections of tricks.
  6. Learn how to break down demonstrated moves - watch the opponent not the demonstrator.
  7. Appreciate the necessity for having energy, timing, and motion or footwork in your approach to self-defense.
  8. Stress-test your approach and methods, using internal methods - target practice, and external methods simmunition or paintball gaming
  9. Evaluate your weak points and the vulnerable areas in day-to-day practices, particularly parking lots, driving and after-dark activities.
  10. From time-to-time, tear down your methods and build them back up to refresh outdated methods.
  11. Remember that high attribute methods degrade over time.
  12. Train with your partner using internal and external methods. Develop emergency cues for action.

Please check out Badger Johnson's other essays:


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