Enter the Bear Pit
This has been a busy week with a 12-year-old guest who has just left to go home, we have been swimming, cycling, bouldering and canoeing amongst other things, Andrjez has also been to Ju Jitsu for three sessions and training in the woods too, until the torrential downpour. It is a long time since I have done this summer holiday thing, my youngest is twenty and they have all long since flown the nest. Andrjez is my stepdaughter stepson, yes it is a complicated family, we have known him since he was one year old and love him lots, It was my Ju Jitsu training that got him to start in Scarborough and it was fun watching him train as he is now a green belt, a green belt I have just spotted on the back of a chair!!! As you may expect there are similarities and differences in our techniques so we played around with them a bit, what he liked best was some of the pad work we did, kids love it, they like to be able to hit things and focus pad work is right up their street. It is vital, in my opinion, that if ever they are to defend themselves in a confrontation they can hit and hit hard.
I know this is a bit of a key subject of mine but in order to do violence to somebody, however, nasty and threatening they are, takes good training and stacks of repetition. Operant conditioning works and part of that conditioning is to be prepared for the bear pit that is violence in the real world. When you step into the bear pit you can forget most of your fancy syllabus and will need to, quite literally get down and dirty to win. I read a few Charlie Higson novels this year, I recommend them all, and one of the characters, a mostly reformed football hooligan and hard man, Dennis Pike, captured this in great style.
“When he was young all he’d wanted to be was a tough guy. And he’d become one. A feared and respected man. A man who had worked out that the bloke who wins the fight isn’t the one with the better punch, the one with the black belt and the most experience. No, the guy who wins the fight is the guy who’s prepared to go the furthest. The guy who’s prepared to be the meanest, most degraded, most soulless c**t in the universe.” The thoughts of Dennis Pike in ‘Full Whack’ by Charlie Higson, Abacus 1996. Read it, it is a great novel.
At a moment in history when we are celebrating our sporting traditions, where, whilst it is the taking part that counts, but the winning that matters, we can exult in our sporting traditions and ethos. Britain, the home of the sportsman and sportswoman, with its emphasis on fair play and good conduct is the natural home of these olympics we are told and most of us truly believe it. Because most of us believe the hype and propaganda not only around the games but around what our country is and stands for. We are bombarded with messages about how great is Britain that we begin to unquestionably accept it, it is a multimedia onslaught of patriotism this year that sweeps most before it. The Diamond Jubilee, the European Football Championships, the olympics etc. Before you thing I am bitter and twisted I enjoyed the footy though England were disappointing as ever, I am watching and enjoying bits of the olympics and I went abroad for the jubilee stuff, not bothered as I am a republican, but one who dreads President Blair or Cameron. So for all the flag waving and cheering why is Dennis Pike, fictional character important. The answer is because he exists in reality many times over.
There is a direct parallel between how people behave in real life and the olympics, think about it. Take banking for example, we all grew up thinking of bankers as calm, reliable, trustworthy members of the community like Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army not the risk taking, shiftless thieves who have plunged whole nations economies into terrible recession and caused untold pain to millions. There will be stand up gents serving their customers to the best of their abilities for sure, that is what the banks pu on display, behind the scene are the scammers, thieves and reckless gamblers who are not afraid to rig a market or two. And do not think governments are against this, they are not, they use corrupt banks to secretly fund black ops and illicit operations, putting in our money in the same banks the drug cartels and arms dealers use to wash funds. This is depressing stuff up to now, lets lighten our selves up if you have the time watch this recent video that reminds us of when bankers were good.
Welcome back, interesting stuff and what we were mostly made of, but even the there were rogues. So back to Dennis and Peabody, what is the relationship? Well it brings me back to the olympics, and in particular the Judo, Boxing, Taekwondo, fencing and archery, the martial arts. All incredibly rule driven. Does this remind me of your martial art? Well then that is no different from me, as you know I practice traditional Ju Jitsu and love it, it has a clear syllabus and rules. Nothing wrong with that until you come up against the Dennis Pike’s of this world. So now it is time for a confession, I was Dennis Pike, I built a reputation, I did very unpleasant things to people, I fought and gained a reputation as a feared and respected man. In doing so I knew nothing of the ‘rules’ martial artists abided by, had I known of them then I would have scorned them. If it came to a fight in the street I would scorn them now. I fought in the gutter, I will, still, fight in the gutter if necessary. I have been it some very nasty fights and some like this and worse.
I will not in this forum go into the detail of some of my violence experiences but it was damn extreme at times. I do not do this stuff now I but you know it is in you and if the situation arises I know I could easily revert to type. If you end up in the bear pit the real problem is the bear knows the pit intimately, it is conditioned to fight there, it is prepared to be the meanest, most degraded, most soulless c**t in the universe, are you? Are you prepared to face this and how will your kata, forms, sport based sparring and defences against rubber knives help you when you face a snarling bear? OK the above is fiction but I have seen similar in reality many times, Dennis Pike lives, he operates in packs and he operates alone, he has many shapes and forms and none are pleasant.
However, as a martial artists we try to rise above this because of the standards and rules we set ourselves. That is the crux of he issue, that we are setting ourselves standards and rules, as humans we love rules and abiding by them. So when we immerse ourselves in martial arts, internalizing all the rules as we do so and then teach to those same such now internalised rules and behaviours to our students we gradually detach ourselves and them more and more from the reality of violence. So a chasm evolves that we cannot see. This chasm is in fact more than just a chasm, it is in fact a fault line, like two tectonic plates grinding against each other there will be a critical moment. When real life violence meets martial artist, when we find ourselves in the pit, that is the test not our gradings..
Now I am not saying the martial artist is disadvantaged, clearly it can go either way depending on a whole host of variables. However, the point I want to make is that good martial arts instructors should combine the parallels of fighting within their style and fighting in the real world. Great clubs and instructors will do this even though the art side is often questioned, (value it as an art), when compared to the ‘art’ of dirty street fighting. This is not possible for the nice, respectable and upstanding instructor who has never had a real fight in his nor her life, they have little idea what they are talking about, most of their observations, wherever they are from are that observations. Sometimes this can be useful other times it will not. You will not know what it is like to face the bear in the pit unless you do it. So if the instructor has no experience of so how can they firstly contextualise their art and secondly teach self defence/actual fight skill convincingly?
The obvious answer is to be honest and stick to what you know and are good at, if you need to broaden out what you do then get help. I have been blessed with meeting some fantastic people in the martial arts/self defence/combatives world who never hesitate to share knowledge and experience. If you are a straight up decent person who has kept out of trouble all their lives make that a virtue, you are the better role model especially to the young, after all they should be avoiding violence not looking forward to it. If our training is leading young people towards the bear pit then we are failing as their guides. Good martial arts training has immense value for all and particularly for the young as it instills good values and practices in participants. We need to reach out to a wider audience but at the same time consider the reality of the street. They may meet a Dennis Pike, they need to prepare for this, we do some great aggression drills and are experimenting with more new ones, they are great fun for young and older students. Have a look at the following clip.
Research is so easy now, you can easily exploit the potential of the internet and find lots of interesting examples. So instead of your one to one sparring get some multiple attacker drills built-in, take breaks from chasing the belts and build in some aggression training, use focus pads, Thai pads, body armour, get some helmets and get some head butts in there. You will have so much fun and be more prepared if a bear pit appears in front of you.