Do the Wrong Thing Right

To any action in combat there are typically multiple responses that can functionally deal with that action, i.e., parry it, avoid it, strike into it, etc. The choice of responding action is generally dictated by overall strategy or tactical needs. There are times when you want to strike into an oncoming attack, step away from it, or parry it directly. Each of these responses accomplishes the first priority of a defense– keeping you safe– however, they will each lead to a different outcome and place for the next stages of the fight. Simple enough.

One Question, Many Answers

When it comes to drilling a specific response some tactical exercises will not preclude the ability of other options to be applied. This means there is room in a drill where you’re trying to integrate a new skill to find yourself unintentionally applying an existing old skill instead. This is an artifact of good combat conditioning. You’re implementing skills on a non-thinking level, which is the goal of conditioning. However it’s important to have a diverse tool kit, so that’s why you drill other options. This leads to the drilling faux-pas I want to address: the abort.

Bailing while Drilling

An “abort” often occurs when you catch yourself applying old skill “A” when you intended to do new skill “B”, and you stop yourself mid-action. I often see students do this and abort the “wrong” parry only to be struck, or they abort the “wrong” attack and thus fail to hit their partner.
The risk of this behaviour is that you bring over-thinking into your practice. Combat really is about doing what’s functional versus doing what’s “right”. Mistakes happen all the time in combat and often what distinguishes the victor from the vanquished is the ability to keep going and recover from mistakes in real time.

Doing That Other Correct Answer

So when you are training a new skill allow room to make mistakes and recover from them without interrupting the drill flow. If you want to train an alternate way of defending yourself, make sure that your drill considers what happens after the defense. In this way you can reward the new behaviour by setting up a situation where the “right” action allows step two to occur. Yet also make sure that if the wrong choice is made that you drill in a secure recovery. You may not be able to proceed to step two but you should force yourself to at least have to exit safely to reattempt step one.
Also be sure to deal directly with aborts. In our defense example, you need to go in explicitly understanding that the first priority is to “not get hit” and that the added strategic benefit of the new technique is the second priority. If you fail at priority one, your drilling partner should make sure you know it.
Enjoy your training!

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