A week ago I held another of my Sim Days for a mixture of my students and guests.
Although every karate lesson I teach revolves around pre-empting or responding to HAOV (habitual acts of violence), attacks taken out of any context, no matter how dynamic, alive or sustained, are one dimensional. It is in my Sim Days where my students experience the broader context of the tactical, ethical and legal repercussions of aggression and violence through simulating how they might respond to events in multiple scenarios, whether on their own, with peers, and with children (or adults).
These are training events that comprise elements that test a participant’s response, but also give them training in more optimal approaches and multiple opportunities to learn from what they and others have experienced throughout the day. The core-learning element of the day is not the experience of the short scenarios themselves, but the unpressurised frame by frame group discussions on the video footage of the same that takes place throughout the day. It is always gratifying to see how well trainees respond to this and how much they take forward to future scenarios.
As an instructor, I have an obligation to study the footage to see what I can learn to help maximise the performance of my students. Identifying mistakes or less desirable behaviour means that I must question what I’m teaching and how I’m teaching in order to help each individual progress.
I accept that what I’m looking at in my training days is artificial. There are many different compromises I have to make to ensure that the training is safe. It is however, as many participants with direct professional or personal experience of real violent events have attested, as close to the reality of the pressures of conflict management as is safe to create.
Training safety does present limitations. There are a number of things that cannot be done because of the injuries that might ensue. There are areas of the body that are not attacked, and obviously all contact to the head must be pulled because of the high risk of concussion in multiple person events when many are role-playing. While participants are clearly acting under the influence of adrenaline, they obviously do not have the full pressure of the consequences of a real event, which could elicit more extreme tactics. Nonetheless, when reviewing and learning from a person’s actions I hold the following maxim to be true: if you cannot do it in training then it is foolish to assume that you will be able to do it outside training.
So what has prompted this particular blog post?
On the last Sim Day I had the highest ratio of junior to seniors I’ve ever had. 1:1.
I like having younger participants on the training days since people do respond differently as both bystanders and participants when the threat is to or from a younger member of society, especially if they are behaving as if they are acting in loco parentis for a friend’s child. Furthermore, statistically in England the 16-24 age group has the highest risk of being a victim of violent crime and accounts for the largest proportion of offences.
On this occasion I had a group of three 13 year olds and two 14 year olds; all boys training alongside five adults. They all had between 65 – 120 hours of training. I felt that this was a great age to try this training experience as they are at a time where confidence in their ability does not necessarily account for the advantage that size, weight and strength gives fully grown adults. At the same time they were strong enough (in numbers) to pose a threat to the adults, while being young enough to elicit protective parental responses from them too.
Throughout the day I noticed the majority of the younger students having difficulty hitting the head. Now they were aware that contact to the head needed to be pulled, and had actually practiced punching both each other and the adults in this manner (the adults were all veterans of a number of these events and had long dropped any qualms on making contact and had the experience to calibre contact appropriately).
This is not uncommon. It has been my experience that a lot of people have difficulty switching from hitting an inanimate object like a pad to making contact against a person. The aversion to hitting the head or face is particularly common. This aversion is generally reduced by practice, just as the ability to shrug off direct verbal abuse is improved through practice, but it is a trait worth noting.
As attacks to the head are among the most common HAOV, my students naturally spend a lot of time delivering them and defending against them. They regularly practice striking pads in simulated head shots and they deliver these in appropriately skilled fashion for their age and time training. Despite this, the combination of the pressure of the event and a natural disinclination to hit the face meant that most of them struggled in their first few scenarios, especially in ‘leading’ with a strike to the head (as opposed to following through if necessary), and thus for safety I should assume that outside of training the same hesitation could occur.
I am not overly concerned by what I witnessed because I already have strategies in place to give my students alternatives. Many of my drills (including some of my pre-emptive drills) initiate with elbow point or forearm strikes to the body (acknowledging both the aversion to striking the head, the proximity of most violent encounters, and the potential short and long term injuries and consequences of the action) such as a slightly modified version of morote uchi uke, and knee strikes to the leg and body play a prominent role in the training I deliver. Throughout the day I saw my students effectively utilising these body shots with far greater ease than any shots to the head.
So what will I take away from this? Will I stop teaching head shots? No. Will I continue to teach body shots? Yes. What I will do is put a greater weighting on body pre-empts in my classes to ensure that from the start of their training journey my students have something that is more likely to fit within any initial limitations that they set themselves.