Monday, March 14, 2016

Going with the Flow

Ip Man (2008)
Tonight at Krav Maga practice I experienced a sensation I hadn't felt in a long time. It happened at the end of class when we were performing what some call a "summary drill." Such drills try to incorporate several elements of the class in one exercise, usually with added complexity or stress. This is often accomplished by involving multiple attackers versus tired students.

The drill we ran tonight was simple but effective. Two students each held focus mitts. The third student squared off versus one of the focus mitt holders. That holder called out combinations for the striker, involving hand, elbow, knee, foot, and other options. At just about any time the striker performed the combination, the other focus mitt holder jumped in. He or she jostled the striker, then called out new combinations. Alternatively the second mitt holder swung at the striker, forcing a defensive reaction. Similarly the first focus mitt holder also swung at the striker, forcing yet another defensive reaction. The two focus mitt holders tried to "stay on" the striker, keeping him or her busy the entire drill.

So what did I feel during the drill? The best word for it is "flow." For me, it's the feeling of executing a technique, in this case defense, without thinking about it. During this drill, I felt "flow" when the focus mitt holders were swinging at me. I was pretty busy striking, and trying to avoid other students doing the same drill (who are moving around in class). I tried to keep an eye on the third mitt holder, as well as the instructor, who could randomly smack me if she chose. Suddenly I caught a swing out of the corner of my eye, and I was repeatedly able to dodge it and counter-attack. I found myself executing a move-parry-trap-move-counter combination we practiced during Friday Fight Night a few days ago.

The first time I remember feeling that exhilaration caused by executing technique without thinking, repeatedly, happened freshman or sophomore year at the Air Force Academy. We all took a "self defense" class. One of the capstone exercises was called "walking the neighborhood." I remember walking into the gym, joining a group of two dozen or more fellow students and instructors. They had been told to interact with me, asking the time, and so on. Several, however, had been told to attack me in various ways. I remember interacting with a few people, then someone asked me the time. When I pretended to check my watch, the opponent grabbed my wrist. I had to free myself and take actions to disable the opponent. While I did that, someone grabbed my shirt from the opposite side, and I had to deal with that person. While that was happening, I remember hearing the sound of a third person running toward me. Suddenly someone jumped on my back, and I executed some kind of judo throw and follow-up technique.

In those moments I remember having no time to think about what I was supposed to do. It just happened so fast, and I was thrilled to have executed all the defenses cleanly. I felt that "flow" from getting the job done as I had been taught. That is the sort of feeling I felt tonight when practicing with the multiple students in our Krav Maga summary drill. I certainly didn't perform at the level of Ip Man versus the ten karatekas, but I thought that scene from the first Ip Man movie captured some of the chaos of facing multiple opponents!

I think the key to this sort of training is the smart use of multiple attackers, plus a certain level of fatigue. When you are free to concentrate on one opponent, and breathe easy, you have more time to think about how to handle attacks. When you can be overwhelmed and surprised, and you are "too tired to think," all that is left could be the muscle memory developed while training.

Is this similar to any of your experiences? How do you cultivate this process in your training?

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