Tuesday, June 26, 2012

In The Street

It was 3:00 A.M. and the end of a very long night for me. My shift at the bar where I worked as a bouncer had begun 12 hours earlier, but it seemed as if an eternity had passed since. During the course of my time on duty I, along with my partner, had broken up several altercations between drunken customers; thwarted the attempts of numerous minors to enter the bars premise on fake ID’s and had even helped a police officer arrest a very belligerent young man who was selling cocaine in the bathroom. As we placed him in the back of the squad car he screamed police brutality, a charge with no shred of evidence to it what so ever. Fully realizing this the young man began slamming his face into the back of the driver’s seat in an attempt to create his own evidence. The arresting officer and I just stood there shaking our heads as we waited for the paddy wagon to come take our psychotic friend downtown. We both agreed a rubber room would be to his liking.
Later as I stood at the front door watching our patrons stumble out into the cold morning air the thing I wanted most was to go home and climb into bed. I was tired from the long hours, sore from having been slammed into a wall by some drunken Rambo wannabe and just in an over all bad mood due to our cliental who were a mixture of middle- aged men out cheating on their wives, drug dealers conducting business as usual, college kids whose sole ambition was to get blind drunk, and a group of bikers who regularly dropped by to grab a beer and a bite to eat. Ironically, it was the bikers who proved to be the most- well behaved of the lot.
Standing beside me was Brian, one of the bartenders, a tall lanky kid whose expression barely hid his contempt for those he had served that night. His apron was covered with ketchup and grease stains and his boots were soaked from all the soapy water that was used to disinfect the kitchen floor. Like me, he too had, had a long night and just as the last customer was exiting the door Brian, shouted; “Fight, Mike there’s a fight out there.” Without delay I rushed through the bars big oaken doors and sure enough right in front of me were two middle aged men, both filled with whiskey, fighting over the company of a young lady who was very delighted that her presence warranted such drama.
After pausing to make sure no weapons were involved, I circled around the man standing on the lower end of the sloped sidewalk then steered him away from the other combatant. However by doing so I became the focus of his anger, which was soon turned upon me along with a barrage of punches. He was not a trained fighter but that didn’t matter because with his powerful haymakers it would only take one to land and then I would be in trouble. In an awkward manner I blocked some of the incoming blows and ducked others, each one sounding like a dump truck had passed by my head. Finally an opening came and I lunged forward pushing hard into his stomach with both my hands, causing him to double over and fall backwards. After hitting the sidewalk the desire to fight left him, as did much of his dinner. He tried getting up, but only managed to roll over on all fours and vomit. Seeing this I quickly turned about, and there stood the other sport coat clad assailant who was drawing way back with his right hand to hit me.
In the exact moment that he drew back his fist everything went into slow motion and as if in a vision I knew where, when and how his punch would be thrown. The mans eyes were filled with anger when he lashed out at me but the second before his fist crashed into my face I ever so slightly stepped to one side of him. One moment I was there and the next I was not. It was one of the most beautiful slipping actions you have ever seen. Earl Flynn could have not done any better and my opponent’s punch thundered by me out into empty space. “On guard” I felt like shouting but at that precise instant the rule of Murphy and his dastardly law came into play.
Just like the other man, who was now on his hands and knees dry heaving, the fellow whose punch I had side stepped was not a trained fighter. Therefore when his fist went sailing out into nowhere the force behind it made him loose his balance. And because this happened on a sloping sidewalk, one covered in ice and snow he fell right on top of me. I tried desperately to get out of his way but it proved impossible due to the snow and ice beneath me. There was a crash, a curse, and then we both went rolling down the sidewalk locked in one another’s arms. During our decent my opponent made several attempts to gouge me in the eyes and gab hold of my hair. I on the other hand was praying; “please Jesus don’t let him have neither gun nor knife”.
Finally our long protracted roll ended at the curbside where we found ourselves sprawled out in the snow, ice and slush. My attacker had ended up on top of me so I punched him hard on the jaw  then managed to roll over onto his chest in what is known today as the “mount position”. Here I was finally able to choke him by using the lapels of his coat. Yet, before I could render him unconscious, a crushing weight fell upon my back and from somewhere behind me I heard the bar manager screaming: “break it up, break it up”. It was during all the confusion of my “encounter” that the manager, a big man who weighed close to 300lbs ran out and sat astride my back. Beneath me lay my drunken opponent who not only had to contend with me but the managers extra 300 pounds as well. He gasped for breath, groaned, and then finally screamed aloud “Oh God get them off me”. Except, for my pride and dirty clothes I was uninjured, but my opponent was taken to the hospital for several fractured ribs, thanks in part to the managers decision to squash the affair instead of letting it play out. What had begun for me as a very chaotic event, one, which I’d gained some control over, quickly ended up as a scene right out of the keystone cops.
Whenever a martial artist asks me about street fighting and what may or may not be the best tactics I always tell them this story because throughout the years it’s served as a good example of just how chaotic and uncontrollable a street altercation can be. A street fight/self-defense situation never turns out to be how you expect or want them too be. Yet this often is over looked at times in our training. The following explores some of these areas.

The Illusion of Ease: A common belief in many dojo’s today is that trained fighters can defeat an untrained assilants easily.. This even includes an unarmed practitioner pitted against an armed one. The latest phase in this “illusion of ease” is one I saw while browsing in a local bookstore. As I sipped my coffee I came across a martial arts book that showed various means to defend against attackers who were armed in a manner of different ways. Some of the explanations were well founded but one in particular that caught my interest was the segment on how to disarm an opponent armed with a hand grenade. It involved a long intricate process that showed how you grabbed the grenade from your opponent’s hand, threw them to the ground and then placed the grenade beneath them all the while you dove to safety. Of course this wouldn’t work unless your, Rambo, John Wayne, Walker Texas Ranger or any of the other action hero’s who we see on the silver screen. In this presentation of grenade defense running away was never considered as an option, which by the way would have been my first choice.
This illusion of ease is also given with many who teach the ever- popular “pressure point” attacks.. While this can prove to be a very valid aspect of the martial artists training what many forget is if your opponent is drunk, mad, on drugs or are all three combined, then their threshold for pain has risen greatly! A simple touch, tap or grab is not going to achieve the desired results. A strong uppercut to the jaw, or a stomp to the knee, yes, but a finger lightly placed upon the temple or wrist will not. Fighting is a very physically demanding endeavor one where time is measured in split seconds not minutes. When it comes to street fighting and street self defense there is no illusion, it’s tough, demanding and at times down right dangerous stuff.

Weapons: In keeping with our hand grenade scenario the issue of confronting an armed opponent should always be kept in mind. If you can defend against an armed opponent then more than likely your chances against an unarmed one will be good. However what we often fail to understand is that; whenever a weapon is used, then your chances for survival diminish as much as 90 percent depending upon the skill at which the attacker can use their weapon. Should a knife be used your chances may decrease as much as 50 to 70 percent. If it is a firearm and your opponent is at a range of say 10 to 15 feet then your chances for survival may decrease as much as 80 to 90 percent. These are depressing facts but they need to be kept in mind if your object is to plan an effective strategy against an armed opponent. All factors need to be considered because you may have only one opportunity to exploit an opening. Weapons are not something to be taken lightly. You can take a punch to the face or stomach, but when it comes to a gunshot or stab wound the effects can be fatal. Also in teaching weapons defense we sometimes forget that running is a very valid and effective option. Even the most skilled warriors in times past knew when and when not to engage in battle. The call of retreat has been heard more than once in the fighting arts long history. This is a lesson we should not overlook especially in this day and age of automatic firearms.

Your training has to fit the fight: Far to often you will see the practitioner trying to make the fight fit their training instead of vice a versa. This is very common- with practitioners who often spend much time trying to figure out just how kata movements can be applied to an engagement. The movement or movements will be viewed from all angles most of which are beneficial to the defender. What can be lost in this analysis is that the opponent used during the exercise is often a very willing one who wants the definition to work just as much as the defender does. There fore the chaotic reality of a combative situation can and is overlooked. In actuality most fights/self defense situations occur at the most inconvenient times and places. More often than not you won’t execute those predetermined responses found within your form or kata just as you have practiced them so often in the dojo. Instead you may be forced to utilize catch as catch can techniques, which may or may not resemble those you have practiced. In addition to this is the fact that your own surge of adrenaline will hinder your motor skills leaving you with being able to execute only the most elementary of techniques. This is why many combative systems like military bayonet training utilize techniques that are based on a KISS system. Keep It Simple Stupid. They realize that in the heat of battle anything beyond a simple thrusting, chopping, or kicking action may be out of the question.

All fights are different: Experience can play a big role in how you perform in a street altercation. However all fights are different, no two are alike. If you find yourself defending against the attack of a seasoned rapist or mugger then the nature or the engagement will be of a life or death nature. One in which your intent will be to seriously injure or maybe even kill your attacker. Yet, on the other had if your involved in a dispute with your drunken uncle over a football game then breaking his knee may not be the proper response. A come along wrist twist or submission hold yes, but breaking his leg over who did or didn’t score a touch down is a bit much. This leads us to the legality of self- defense. The nature of your attackers threat will determine to a large degree how you respond. For instance if a pickpocket takes your wallet; should you chase them down and then break their back, you may end up spending more time in jail for attempted murder than they do for stealing your wallet. Remember the dynamics of each situation will determine how you respond to it.

Conclusion: Can today’s martial arts training, be of value in dealing with self-defense scenarios? The answer is yes it can, provided that we stop to analyze our training and take time to understand what we may or may not encounter on the street. Probably two of the greatest weapons the study of a fighting art provides us with are a developed sense of awareness that teaches us to be not only in tune, with ourselves but also our surroundings and the ability to develop physical responses to dangerous situations. Both of, which can help us greatly in dealing with potentially dangerous situations should we be forced too. However when I consider some of my past “street experiences”; even with all the knowledge made available today and with all the instructors out there teaching great self-defense, I’m still a firm believer in: The fight you can walk away from is the best one of all.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fight, Flight or Freeze:Trained and Untrained Responses

Fight, Flight or Freeze: Trained and Untrained Responses

School is out for the summer and it is a normal day, like any other. The sun is shinning, birds are singing in the trees and you’re working part time at the local grocery store, bagging groceries to pay tuition. As you carefully place a carton of eggs into the bottom of a brown paper bag your mind drifts back to last night’s karate class.  “Kata, kata, kata and more kata, but at least I passed my black-belt test,” you think.
 A loud crash brings your attention back to the present moment and in the adjacent checkout line you watch a small-framed man deliberately turn over a shopping cart and at the top of his lungs yell, “I ain’t paying that amount. Its too much I tell you, too much.”  People begin whispering and you feel the need to do something like take him to the ground, throw a roundhouse kick to his head or at least restrain him in a wrist lock, but you can’t. Your body has turned to stone, there’s a slight trembling in your legs and your mouth has become dry as cotton. Thoughts flood your mind and the urge to run grows stronger, yet simultaneously you feel an overwhelming sensation to act. “What should I do? What should I do?” You wonder.
The man turns over another shopping cart, time moves in slow motion and your slight tremble has become an uncontrollable shake and just when chaos reigns you see the bagger everyone calls Pops walk over and address the man in a calm, leisurely voice. “What’s Pops doing?” You think. “He’s a retired cop and at least 60, he’ll get killed.” Pops, however, continues addressing the man in a reassuring tone and when two sheriff’s deputies enter the store, Pops nonchalantly motions with his eyes and they walk up behind the man and handcuff him.  
After the man has been taken to jail you try understanding what took place, but haven’t the faintest idea why you reacted the way you did. Nor can you explain the sudden fatigue that has overcome you and why the desire to go home and fall asleep is so strong. You continue bagging groceries and from the corner of your eye you notice Pops who is smiling and carrying on without a care in the world. “How can he be so cool?” You wonder.
When humans perceive danger a physiological response triggered by the sympathetic nervous system occurs that tells us whether we should fight the threat, run from it or else play dead. Commonly known as fight, flight or freeze this syndrome is experienced by soldiers in Afghanistan today just as it was the Ancient Greeks 2000 years ago.  Dating back to the Paleolithic era fight, flight or freeze is a survival mechanism passed from generation to generation and is one of the most common, yet least understood behaviors of the human race.
When danger is perceived via the senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, hear, taste) a three step process occurs. First there is the sign of danger, the point in time when something indicates there is a clear and present threat to your safety.  For instance you’re hiking in the woods and a grizzly bear suddenly appears out of nowhere. That is a danger sign.
Next is the signifier stage, the instance when your brain recognizes the danger. Or in layman’s terms you see the bear (sign) then instantly realize it is a bear and that you are in danger. This is when adrenaline floods your body, endorphins- which serve as natural pain killers- are released, blood pressure increases, muscles tense and your breathing grows faster and more shallow.
Once you’re fully aware of imminent danger the response stage occurs, that point in time when the human survival mechanism kicks in and the decision to fight, flight or freeze is made. Hopefully since it is a grizzly bear you will freeze, instead of trying to fight or run from it.
Drawn out the process would look as follows:
 Sign +Signifier +Response = Fight- Flight- or Freeze.
Symptoms associated with the Fight, Flight or Freeze syndrome include:
1.                          A dramatic rise in adrenaline and endorphin levels. This enables us to fight harder, run faster, and endure high levels of pain. There is also a dramatic rise in cortisol, a hormone that converts glycogen into blood sugar thereby providing the brain and body with energy.
2.                          Loss of fine motor skills. This happens because of the rise in adrenaline, endorphin and cortisol and is one reason why mortal combat techniques are based upon simple, yet effective actions such as chopping or thrusting.
3.                          Blood circulation moves from the outer extremities to more centrally located arteries and organs to reduce the effects of being wounded. Hence the reason why people experience cold chills when facing danger.
4.                          Heightened awareness, the perception of time slowing and tunnel vision. This is our body’s way of eliminating peripheral distractions so that we can focus on the danger at hand.
5.                          Dry mouth, loss of bowel and bladder control, uncontrollable laughter, heavy sweating and a high pulse rate. One or more of these may occur and are generated by the adrenaline rush and high stress levels.
6.                          A sudden fatigue or drowsiness after the threat has diminished which is known as an adrenaline dump and is your body’s way of recuperating.                                                 
As stated earlier the sign-signifier-fight, flight or freeze syndrome dates back to the Paleolithic era, yet even then there were trained and untrained individuals who responded differently. For instance the seasoned hunter who stalked game day in and day out was very accustomed too fight, flight or freeze and even grew to enjoy the sensation, whereas his village dwelling counterpart experienced sensory overload when facing danger.  Today, this same rule of thumb applies to those who experience fight, flight or freeze regularly and those who don’t.
          For someone trained in violence, such as a bouncer, law enforcement officer, or soldier, the danger signs are easily recognizable: a hidden hand, bulging pocket, hunter’s glare, empty-street or new footprints in a jungle trail all have meaning, hence the transition from sign to signifier to response is a smooth one.
 More importantly is those schooled in violence understand there are proper levels of force for each threat encountered. For instance police officers draw their weapons only as a last resort; bouncers rarely strike customers unless the situation warrants it and soldiers avoid firing on unarmed civilians at all costs.
          However for the inexperienced person the danger signs often go unrecognized, hence they are surprised by the intensity of a confrontation, or else ambushed by an attacker. Such mental dullness leads to panic, confusion, chaos and sensory overload, along with an inappropriate response that can have fatal consequences for both victim and attacker alike. Case in point whereas the bouncer might simply toss an unruly drunk out of the bar while experiencing the fight response, the inexperienced person would pull their pistol and shoot the drunk because they’re too frightened to consider the use of non-lethal force.   
In regards to the flight response the same applies. Whereas the soldier during the heat of battle would drag his wounded comrade to safety, the untrained person would run and leave their injured friend to the mercy of a marauding gang. Or when faced with overwhelming odds the soldier would freeze and avoid detection while the untrained person would run thereby announcing their presence. Below is a graph illustrating trained and untrained responses.

                           Trained Verses Untrained Responses
Trained                                              Untrained
Stalking/predatory actions                Actions motivated by ego
Precise actions                                  Uncoordinated movements
Calm mindset                                    Hyper, unfocused, overreacts
Trained                                                  Untrained
Orderly Retreat                                       Unrestrained running
Situational awareness                             Unaware of surroundings
Mental alertness                                      Panicked state          

Trained                                                Untrained      
Hunter’s Crouch                                  Paralyzation
Heightened Awareness                          Denial
Weapon at the ready                             Submissive, Empathetic      
Trained and conditioned responses, sometimes take months even years to develop. Special Forces operatives usually undergo a year of extensive training before ever seeing combat. The same applies for LEO officers, firefighters, paramedics and even bouncers. Furthermore time spent patrolling the streets, or on the battlefield, heightens their sense of awareness which in turn allows them to experience the fight, flight or freeze syndrome in a calm and detached state, unlike the ordinary civilian and herein lies the problem with recreational martial arts practice and self-defense programs.
Recreational martial artists are often led to believe they are learning how to fight, but sadly the dojo bears little resemblance to the mean streets of most metropolitan cities. And even in schools devoted exclusively to self-defense students may never experience the fight, flight or freeze syndrome because while physically practicing realistic techniques on a subconscious level, they feel safe because of the familiarity of their surroundings.
 Worse yet is those who teach one day seminars to unsuspecting persons all the while guaranteeing complete protection from any and all threats.  This can and does happen frequently in large corporations, government agencies and private companies when a well intentioned person desires to improve work safety, yet knows little about realistic self-protection. Hence a martial arts instructor is paid to lead a self-defense seminar and the corporate staff comes away with a false sense of security and a handful of knowledge that may prove more dangerous than useful. For instance on several occasions I have personally witnessed self-defense instructors advocate striking the thorax as a first response in addition to the advice “just keep moving forward, you’ll work through the fight or flight as you go.” Or as is the case in many instances, good information will be provided by a qualified instructor, but forgotten because those attending the seminar will fail to make what they have learned part of their daily work habits. Hence when trouble does arise the individual feels they should react, but cannot since they have no conditoned responses to draw upon. This can and does lead to a greater state of flight or freeze than that found in persons who have no training because once false confidence has been shattered panic follows shortly thereafter.*
How you react to danger on the street, battlefield or at home will begin first and foremost with the sign, signifier, fight, flight or freeze syndrome.  Moreover the battle will be won or lost inside of your mind and body long before the first shot, or punch, is fired or thrown. Past experiences, training and conditioning, mental alertness, physical conditioning, personal phobias, time and place will all determine your response. More importantly though, there is no quick and easy answer for dealing with fight, flight or freeze. Either you condition yourself to work through it, or you don’t. It is always present because of our genetics and those who understand its effects have a far better chance of survival, than those who don’t.
* The Martial Arts industry is noted for slick sales pitches.  Whereas ten years ago Taebo was the rage today it is realty based self-defense.  Therefore criteria for picking a legitimate self-defense instructor should include: LEO experience, a military background, security experience, credible references, a professional demeanor and most of a mature and responsible person.

About the Author:  Michael Rosenbaum is a former paratrooper and the author Kata and The Transmission of Knowledge in Traditional Martial Arts. This article originally appeared on his blog: Michael Rosenbaum’s Martial Moments

Copyright 2012 by Michael Rosenbaum


Monday, June 11, 2012

Unseen Dangers

Unseen Dangers

“It’s the things you don’t see that kill you.”  My cousin Del-Ray told me that more than once and I believed him because if anyone knew it was Del-Ray.

          Del-Ray grew up mean and crazy in a run down trailer park near Clinch Mountain. He was skinny as a rail and always hungry and had a tussled patch of red hair atop his head that never stayed combed and he loved to fight. As a kid he’d eat dirt and play with snakes. He even had a pet copperhead until the snake bit him. That’s when Del-Ray crushed its head with a rock and just before going to the hospital said. “There’s more where that one came from and if they don’t behave, I’ll kill them too.”

 Del-Ray would fight kids twice his size and if they beat him he would show up the next day with a tire iron swiped from his daddy’s tool box. If Del-Ray couldn’t whip you one way, he’d damn sure whip you another.  It was all plain and simple to him. You used any trick or weapon available to win the fight. “Fairness is for dummies” said Del-Ray. Many is the time I have see him smile and shake someone’s hand then in the next instance cut them with his pocket knife.

There wasn’t anyone or anything the boy was scared of. Once in high school, a football lineman threatened Del-Ray and before anyone could stop the fight Del grabbed a broken coke bottle from a trash can and sliced open the boy’s face from chin to ear. Del-Ray did six months in juvenile detention for assault, but he didn’t care. “Sum-Beech shouldn’t have threatened me” was all Del-Ray had to say about it and that was the end of story. Del-Ray was never wrong and he never tried reasoning with anyone.  For him a disagreement and a fight were one in the same.

“Del-Ray what on god’s earth are you doing wearing that bottle opener around your neck?” Del grinned. We were drinking beer and listening to the jukebox and I’d just come home from the Navy and Del was helping me celebrate. “Cause I like it, like I like you little cousin” he said.  Later that night Del started a fight with a biker and after the biker hit him square between the eyes Del got off the floor and used the opener’s sharp end to cut off the biker’s ear. ‘So that’s why he’s wearing a bottle opener’ I thought. Del-Ray was full of surprises.

Del-Ray always went armed, even if he didn’t carry a gun. Everything was a weapon in Del-Ray’s mind, especially sharp instruments like pencils, forks, kitchen knives and screwdrivers. And heaven forbid if he laid his hands on a pool cue, or a piece of lumber because then things really got nasty.

I remember one weekend we were shooting pool at the Indian Rock lounge out on highway 11-W. Del-Ray was hustling these two guys from Morristown and was doing pretty good, too. Heck, Del must have won close to a hundred dollars when one of the guys wised up to what was happening and told Del that he wasn’t paying him a dime, much less the fifty dollars he owed. Del-Ray said nothing. He just grinned real big and with one swipe of his pool cue knocked the boy out cold.  Then Del-Ray beat up the other one for good measure. Del-Ray never got his money, but he did spend a year in jail.

Funny thing about Del-Ray was that going to jail never bothered him. It was sort of like old home week, you know the place and time where he caught up with most of his friends. I’d always visit Del when he was incarcerated and he’d be grinning and joking and smiling and telling me everything he was going to do when he got out and how good things were inside. Then he’d get out of jail and for a month or so behave, but it was never long before he started drinking and fighting again.

Del-Ray was a good carpenter and that’s how he earned a living. He could build anything from a house to a barn to a bridge. Carpentry came natural to him and through the week he worked sun up to sundown, but come payday you wouldn’t see Del-Ray until he’d spent his entire check on beer and whiskey. He’d stay drunk for days on end and when the money was gone Del-Ray would sober up and go back to work. That’s just how he was. Like me, or leave me was Del-Ray’s attitude towards life. Most of us tried liking him. It was much safer that way.

             “Never let’em see the punch coming” Del-Ray told me and more than once I saw him apologize to someone, turn to leave, then spin around real fast and catch the unsuspecting person with a haymaker. Del-Ray made sucker punching into an art form.

          One time, in this little roadside honky-tonk, Del-Ray sucker punched this college boy who called Johnny Paycheck a dumb redneck.  The following night the college boy showed up again only with three friends who intended to repay Del-Ray for what he had done.  Four against one is pretty good odds, but it was Del-Ray they were fighting and he just went plumb crazy that night. He cut two of the boys with a pocket knife, bit one’s ear off and damn near killed the other one with a pool cue. That little escapade landed Del-Ray in the penitentiary for two years, eleven months and twenty-nine days. When the judge read his sentence Del-Ray just grinned.

          After Del-Ray got out of prison he came home and started working as a carpenter. For almost a year he stayed out of trouble then one payday he returned to his errant ways. Del-Ray had spent the night drinking in a bar out on highway 32 and was driving home the following morning in his old pickup truck when a Honda civic cut in front of him and he spilled beer all over his lap.

          Del-Ray went ballistic and started shouting and cussing and flipping the Honda driver off. Then Del sped up, ran the Honda into the ditch, slammed on the brakes and jumped out of his truck. Witnesses said Del-Ray stood in the middle of the highway cussing a blue streak before walking back to the Honda and trying to drag the driver from his car. That was Del-Ray’s fatal mistake. You see, the Honda driver was this middle-aged school teacher who had a firearms permit and when Del-Ray reached into the car the teacher placed his Smith&Wesson 38 special against Del-Ray’s forehead and pulled the trigger. There was a loud pop, the back of Del-Ray’s head exploded into a crimson sheet of blood and brains and he crumpled to the pavement dead.

          The judge ruled self-defense, which it was, and as I stood looking down into the coffin at Del-Ray’s lifeless body I whispered. “You were right Del-Ray it’s the things you don’t see that kill you.”

          Copyright 2012 by Michael Rosenbaum

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Hundreds of years before Bruce Lee gained notoriety on the silver screen eclecticism played an integral role in the martial arts. Indeed, the classical fighting arts development and evolution were spurred on by combat and eclecticism, two components that fit hand in glove. Combat presented a need and the warrior/fighter cared little about how that need was filled so long as the solution worked during mortal combat.
          Eclecticism happened in many ways. Person to person eclecticism occurred when two fighters with differing skills exchanged ideas. This was a common occurrence in both Eastern and Western fighting arts. Legendary karate-ka Gichin Funakoshi studied with numerous well-known Okinawan karate-ka before moving to Japan and also felt that formalized styles were detrimental to karate. Likewise the annals of Chinese martial arts are filled with the exploits of fighters who traveled far and wide in search of knowledge.
          Trade also helped spread eclecticism. In both Eastern and Western cultures the importation and exportation of goods has been conducted between countries and continents for many centuries. For instance Okinawa was a port of call for many foreign ships and because of this, Chinese, Indonesian, Sumatran, Japanese and Siamese influences are found in Okinawan karate. Similarly Spanish rapier and dagger systems greatly influenced the Filipino martial arts. Mark Wiley wrote about Filipino eclecticism, “Through rebellion and repression the ancient Filipino martial arts of kali were thus altered. This, coupled with the tremendous influence of Spanish culture, prompted the evolution of eskrima. It was the Spanish rapier and dagger systems that had the greatest influence on its transformation from kali.” (Wiley, p.49, Filipino Martial Culture)
          Eclecticism has two components: Functional and Recreational. Functional eclecticism is the assimilation of differing techniques, tactics and weapons for the purpose of enhancing combative performance. Recreational eclecticism is the assimilation of differing techniques, weapons and tactics for competition, artistic need, cultural studies, recreational pursuit, spiritual enlightenment and self-defense.

Some examples of functional eclecticism would be:
·        Full contact fighters who assimilate techniques and tactics not common to their style of fighting to enhance performance in the ring. This includes boxers, MMA practitioners, Kick-boxers, wrestlers and judo-ka.
·        Law Enforcement Officers. LEO eclecticism includes unarmed techniques, combat shooting and the latest technology for fighting crime. Sometimes LEOs draw from the military while on other occasion’s different agencies and departments will exchange information, weapons and tactics.
·        Military personnel.   As with the LEO, military eclecticism covers a broad spectrum. This includes technology based tactics and weaponry in addition to empty- handed methods. The sole purpose being to enhance the soldier’s performance on the battlefield in addition to ensuring their safety.
·        Civilian Self-defense. This form of eclecticism draws from many sources to develop a coherent and effective means of protection. LEO tactics may be included as well as Asian fighting arts techniques. Western styles of full-contact fighting are also included along with upcoming tactics popular in the Reality Based Self-defense community.

Recreational Eclecticism examples are:
·        Traditional cross training. This involves practitioners who cross-train in traditional systems to enhance their chosen style of karate, kung-fu, etc.  For instance the karate-ka who trains judo to learn more about grappling, or the judo-ka who practices karate to enhance their striking skills.
·        Kata collecting.  This is when kata from other styles are learned because they have artistic, historic, or physical appeal. Functional performance may or may not be of concern. Some examples are: the Tai Chi practitioner who knows several versions of the long and short forms, or the karate practitioner who practices kata from several styles of karate, in addition to those of his or her chosen style.
·        System collecting. This is the practice of numerous fighting arts because of their historical or cultural appeal. For instance the person who holds black belts in Aikido, Kendo, Karate, Judo, simultaneously. This approach to eclecticism often produces a well rounded fighter, although within a traditional setting.
·        Spiritual. The combining of various esoteric and meditative practices (zazen, qi-gong, chants, visualization, talismans, etc) into a standardized teaching practiced for spiritual enlightenment.
·        Free range fighters. These are practitioners who totally disregard stylistic boundaries during their training. An example being the fighter who assimilates techniques, tactics and weapons from differing cultural styles into a coherent training regimen. All knowledge is deemed useful and the similarities common throughout the fighting arts are of more importance than style or system by these individuals.
Unlike functional eclecticism, recreational eclecticism has relatively few checks and balances because more often than not it is never tested in the ring, street or mortal combat.  This often leads to the assimilation of techniques and tactics wholly unsuited for one another.  For instance the person who establishes their own school of sword fighting based on a hodge-podge of techniques drawn from modern and classical styles of fencing. Since sword fighting is no longer used in mortal combat this is easily done, however from a purely functional viewpoint it would be considered suicide, at best.
 The same applies to the practitioner who studies one style of fighting for a short period of time before moving on to another, then another. This approach often leads to more confusion than understanding, though sadly it is a common practice. Therefore it should be understood that before embarking upon the eclectic journey 3- 5 years should be spent developing the basics under a competent instructor’s tutelage. Otherwise the person has no base to build upon and no rule of thumb to compare by.
Eclecticism is the foundation upon which all fighting arts rest. Combat presents a demand and a fighter or warrior, who is constantly searching for knowledge, fills that demand by developing an effective method of fighting based on the numerous styles they have studied.  This, in turn, solidifies the eclectic process into a set style or system from which the cycle repeats itself.   
Today due to the rampant commercialization of martial arts, looming shadow of international organizations, shunning of historical data and the over whelming appeal of the kyu-dan ranking structure, eclecticism has fallen by the wayside, or is considered taboo. Moreover since the introduction of karate to Japan and the transmission of Asian fighting arts to the West, group loyalty has taken precedence over the individual’s needs. Preservation is a noble endeavor because it allows us a view into the past. However, where functional fighting and personal empowerment are concerned, eclecticism is the traditional path.

Copyright 2012 by Michael Rosenbaum