Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Descent

Following on from my previous post and the discussions that concluded it, I'm staying on a similar track with this one and I want to talk about how pressure can affect us when we face danger and how we can deal with that pressure by making simple decisions right now, that will increase our chances of survival.

When faced with the stress of a life-threatening engagement, we don't rise to the occasion, we descend to our level of training.

I think this is very important for everyone involved in a discipline such as our own or even martial arts to consider - and I wanted to share it with everyone that reads my blog.

If you don't think your training is thorough in preparing you to save your life and escape from dangerous scenarios then perhaps there are some things in this entry that might help you - and if you do think that your training is thorough enough then I really would appreciate your input so please leave a comment after reading this.

As some of you will know, my current understanding and practice of Parkour is different to some other people's and I really see Parkour as being much more than simply the movements we see in so many videos... I believe Parkour is about being strong in every sense of the word and being able to survive when the going gets tough which is why my studies extend beyond that of learning how to move efficiently.

To quote my friend Thomas Couetdic,

I believe that Parkour, however wide it may be, is not a discipline in itself, but a piece of a bigger thing. If you follow the idea of Parkour (at least as it was when i got into it) to the extreme (being able to save your skin from any dangerous situation), then you should not only train to jump, run, climb, etc... You should also be learning about survival techniques, escape techniques, fighting, and things like this.

You can read some more of Thomas' thoughts here but it is this 'extreme' mentioned above that I am following and interested in discussing in this post.

Most of the time we train in comfortable environments, perhaps with friends, not really in any more danger than we put ourselves in. In these circumstances we can put all of our focus and attention in to our techniques and movements without having to worry about any other danger such as coping with the chemical changes in the body that occur when we are faced with danger.

When we are faced with the stress of a life-threatening situation, our body's natural defenses are engaged and frankly most of us, myself included, are not prepared for this.

Here in the Western world, we have become a generation of protected individuals; protected by law enforcement, CCTV, prison systems, physical deterrences and satellites. It's easy to become complacent under these circumstances but all of today's and tomorrow's technology cannot (yet?) change human nature. There will always be murder, theft, rape and crime in general, not to mention natural disasters - and this is why I find it's important to always be aware of our surroundings and to prepare for dangerous situations. But the likelihood of us preparing for these things are slim until we've experienced them for ourselves. It is not until we have become a victim ourselves that we realise that we are not as protected as we think and I think we need to make more of an individual effort to train ourselves more thoroughly.

All of our modern-day advantages become truly useless when we are faced with danger. We even forget all about our family and friends (unless they are directly involved) and what might scare you is that we also forget a significant portion of our training in a crisis.

When we have plenty of time to think and plan and calculate, we are capable of amazing things during our training sessions. We can use our experience and physical ability to decide on the best course of action to tackle a new obstacle but this generally takes some time to take everything in to account and plan the new jump. But what if we remove that period of time from the equation?

If we were being chased by a crazy man with an axe who was trying to kill us, our best chance of survival would be to put a worthy obstacle between ourselves and the man, be that a large wall, a drop that he would struggle to take without breaking a leg or a massive arm jump over a ravine. The bottom line is, an experienced traceur would have the best chance of survival if they could employ their training and experience effectively.

However, the techniques that we are still trying to perfect, the ones we haven't done thousands of times before are immediately considered unreliable by the brain and therefore are not instinctual in our escape process, we can't naturally do them without thinking about it.

Now if we were chased by this psycho in a place we knew, a place we trained at every week and a place we were comfortable moving in then the chances are we would escape. We already know the distances, surfaces, loose bricks and paths to escape and all we would have to do is feed off of the adrenaline to heighten our senses and try to stay calm to some extent to allow our training to be useful.

Now I think we would all agree that these chances are significantly reduced in an unfamiliar environment but there are things we can do to overall improve our chances of survival in these new circumstances, besides regularly drilling the usual techniques in new areas.

So how can we replicate these conditions to prepare for these situations? It is very difficult but it seems possible to some extent since some martial arts, such as Krav Maga, attempt to prepare the student of their combat system more effectively by simulating more realistic situations than a dojo, such as sparring in a darkened room with flashing lights and deafening music. This simulates a nightclub, where there is obviously the potential for danger and gives the student experience in defending themselves in a situation where it is likely to be necessary.

We can't force the body to release adrenaline when we know it is only our friend chasing us when we play tag, but things like this can help you learn how to stay calm under pressure and to act when there is someone behind you putting pressure on you.

Here is an example of a good training session you could have to prepare for a potentially life-threatening situation:

Get a friend to get a big black permanent marker pen and get him to chase you, trying to draw on you... this might sound really funny and I laughed when I thought of it, but this is fairly effective training for escaping someone with a knife, a situation where you couldn't afford to be hit even once. At the end of the game, if you have any ink on you then your peruser could have potentially stabbed or slashed you in that location.
You might think this will be easy for the pursuer since he only has to hit you once but think of the advantages you have! Unless they can do a one-armed climbup, which probably results in less than 2% of the entire world population, then a simple medium sized wall pass would be sufficient in slowing down your friend as they will have to put the pen in their pocket or attempt to struggle over whilst still holding the pen.
The great thing is, the majority of the population are not trained for overcoming obstacles so if you can escape your traceur friend, you can easily escape a random thug.

With this simple experiment we can experience how a knife gives a pursuer at least one major and immediate disadvantage during a chase. It is experience like this that can give us the confidence to remain calm in a real life-threatening situation as we know first-hand the likely benefits you are going to have as you flee. It is all well and good to simply read these things but go out and try it so you experience it rather than imagine it.

Without this type of training and others like it, I believe we are severely limiting ourselves and lying to ourselves that our training is thoroughly preparing us for the day we may have to save our lives.

'We descend to our level of training' is the key to my earlier statement since our brain's will disregard anything that it considers unreliable and untested. Any 'maybes' will be considered not worth trying and we will be left with a very watered down version of our level.

By training in more realistic scenarios we can succeed in turning more 'maybes' in to facts, that the brain will have confidence employing if/when the time comes to put it in to action.

There is another problem that lies in the brain having too many options! You may have perhaps 5 different techniques that you consider effective in passing an average height hand-rail so how can you pick one in a crisis over another? Can you do that quickly if you haven't already thought about the possible consequences? Are you certain that you will just be able to adapt to the situation and pick a technique at the time?

What if you can't..?

Many hand-to-hand combat experts have recommended learning as many combat techniques as possible to prepare for every eventuality - but many of the same experts also recommend spending time deciding on simply 3-4 different techniques that you are certain you can execute with adequate power, speed and confidence to end the confrontation... so that you're not faced with the 3,000 techniques you learnt in the dojo running through your mind and trying to pick one in the heat of the moment.

I think it is in times of safety that we must consider these things logically so that we don't have to suddenly make the decision under pressure. Don't give the brain so many options as this causes it to panic - give it solid, concrete decisions and training based on previous logical thought so that it can lose all doubt in your ability to successfully employ this technique to save your life. Your brain has enough jobs to do during a crisis as it's trying to manage chemicals, muscles, oxygen intake etc. Give it one less thing to worry about, today.

Decide now which ONE pass you can use most effectively when faced with the average hand-rail so that when the time comes you're not faced with such thoughts as, "SHALL I CAT? SPEED? JUMP OVER?!" as you approach the obstacle.

These decisions today, might just save your life tomorrow, as you descend to your level of training.



Lorenz Yves Josep said...

I like your writings a lot and can also relate to them.

In connection with this post and the thoughts written down in it; being sure what to do, being able to react under difficult circumstances etc, i would like to introduce an idea i had and shared with a few closer friends here in Germany. It will be executed in about one month, fugative:

4 (or 6) people will gather together and form 2 teams of 2 (or 3) people. We will take with us some water, some food and mobile phones for safety.
Then we will go to the forrest to chase each other (one team being the catchers one the people running away). Sure the first day will be easy and probably a lot of fun. The night will be scary and by the second day we will all be very hungry, thirsty and stressed. Then in the 2nd and final night; what can we still do then when our bodies lack of water and food our mental is destroyed from the stress of the previous hours. I guess we will really
'descend to our level of training' find out what is REALLY usefull and important. What needs work on. What we really can do and what we can do when properly warmed up and feeling comfortable.
I don't think it is likely to have a propper food or water supply if you are in an emergency situation. I don't know what will happen or if it is a good idea but i am sure time will tell. I think(hope) we will put ourselves into an artificial emergency situation.
If you like i can write what happened as another comment under this post.



Yariko said...

Again, just great post from you. Gotta try that tag-game with pen with friends someday.

Actually nothing else to say right now. Keep training!


Leicester Parkour Association said...

Good post man. I like it alot.

I love lorenz' ideas, we should try it with the others guys Blane :P

Thomas Videbaek said...

Very good post Blane. probs man..! :)
I'm also working on the perspective of the more extreme situations..
Like Lorenz's tag game (which I think
is a brilliant idea) we have come up with another thing.. :)

Sleeping in a tree.. lol
Sounds funny, but I think it will be a challenge because you have to tie yourself up with the branch, so you won't fall.. :)

I Like your writings Blane.. :)

If you want, check my training blog.

Kagebushi said...

Hi there, i`d like to share my experience with you on this topic. Last year during the summer, 4 people - me, my traceur friend, the experienced guide (who is a close friend of mine, he leads rescue mission during the winter) and his friend (who we didn`t know O_o), went on for 15 days in the Rila mountain (Bulgaria)with 20kg + backpacks. We started with 6h per day walking in the mountain, all the the harsh conditions where there, rain, heat, wind, mist, cold, etc etc. The 1st 2 days was very hard for the body to adapt, backpacks where heavy (damn some beast keeps pulling me back), my back hurts, my legs where tired very hard to control my body and the backpack on that terrain and keep up with the guides pace (i witnessed a display of willpower and years of training) Our guide had the heaviest of all backpacks, you can`t lift it with one arm, because he had more equipment (not to mention we where not as prepared as we should`ve been). After those 2 days, we did over 8h of walking, control is good the backpack started to become a part of me i can feel it and even do some small precision jumps with it. Day 5, everyone was in very good shape the mountain conditions didn`t bother us at all, backpack was light i can do cap leaps with it. Alot of energy even tho we where stopping only to eat, we had to move on, when you`re in the mountain you aither go or you don`t it`s very simple. Consider the food, wasn`t anything special and we had to take alot to keep us up until our final day. Unfortunately the guy we didn`t know, the guides` friend got his legs injured on a snowy slope, he slipped and shoot himself down 120meters and crushed his legs in the rocks, a very scary slide (he`s fine now, nothing serious). At the end ofday 5 we had to pull back with an injured person took us 3 days to get out of there (usualy taking 1 day or so). To make a long story - short, try more than 2 days, because of the adaption period, for 2 days you can just touch to the extreme extend and you have to go back. Try something simple but extend the duration so you can have a better base to compare the achievements - walking in the mountain for X days, sleeping in a tent eating things like yellow cheese, fish, nuts, honey, dry fruit etc, and moving through difficult terrain with heavy equipment is no big traceur challenge most of you will say, no obstacle is the same in the mountains or woods (unlike the city). You can build up strenght and confidence and put your training to the limit and most important you can test yourself, because out there you`re alone and you can trust only in yourself no one is going to carry your backpack for you ^_^ (well we did carry the injured guy and his backpack simply because we didn`t have a choice). Put yourself in a situation where you don`t have a choice, you aither do it or you die. Mountains are perfect, but i strongly suggest if you do anything like this, get an experienced guide. Not to mention the stuff you can learn from him. This year the goal is to finish what we started last year + 5 days at location for training.

Soilwork said...

Hey bro', wassup?

I really loved this post, once it's really hard to find "tracers" which really care about real life situations, where we obviously can't predict what's coming next.

bit more than a year ago i got myself into thoughts about what is Parkour, like for real. Reading what everybody says as parkour definition, like in Parkour.NET index: "Parkour is an art to help you pass any obstacle.", and then it made me think, what is an obstacle? a man chasing you isn't an obstacle? if you run like hell, and there's a really big wall you can't climb and no way out, this thug wouldn't he be the biggest obstacle ever? Then i started learning to fight focusing real situations.

But i think there are different visions when you join in Parkour, and most of people are really lost in what they want. Obviously I'm no body to tell people for which reasons they shall practice parkour, but there are often these visions: Fun, Sport, Freedom (sometimes i really hate this one).
we barely find are those who wants to prepare them to real situations and be able to survive to any kind of hypothetical situations in real life, again, that we can experience tomorrow, or never.

Parkour has a really bad reputation among martial arts in my city, so when i started training, the 'master' asked my in funny ways "haha aren't you going to start jumping around here huh?" so when the classes ended, i started explaining him that Parkour isn't about jump, or obstacles, but about situations. If you think on parkour crossing obstacles, you will see kids jumping around and playing, if you think about situation you will include stress on your training, unexpected things, and try to increase your reflex and reaction time, this is a real life training. One month after, when the "dojo" closed it's door, we started staying one hour training what we called "real situation fighting" obviously using loves and helmets but trying to learn how to be more effective in a fight when you don't have RULES.

I really liked this stuff about the chasing with a marker, it sounds pretty real, like when cops train using paint ball bullets, and next training me and a friend agreed using this like a train.

For those who read this and like to experiment new things i'd like to suggest:

To figure out how you're stress will affect your chase or something, you can build an obstacle course, a pretty intense one, full of hard things to do. So you make 10x100m full speed sprint, and then without ANY REST try to make the course, you will find yourself pretty tired, and your heart rate so high, you will barely be able to think about what and how you are going to climb the wall next you, what pass you will use, and where is the best brick to place your foot. of course it isn't like real life stress, but you will be able to see how you lose your skills.

i almost wrote an article in your post, but this subject is REALLY interesting, in i lost myself in writings.

thanks for posting.
See you bro'

4564984680464 said...

(just before I write my comment, out of curiosity have you had any martial arts or similar training)

Anyway, I really enjoyed this piece. Its something I think about quite a lot. Unfortunately I have had a few life threatening experiences that didn't always go as planned (as discussed). I had to get a little used to the adrenaline effect as my friend ended up with 17 stitches in his face after being stamped upon.

I liked the pen idea. And much of this seems to utilize psychology. This is something I am very interested in and I would say that their are most likely ways to condition certain movements or groups of movements to the adrenaline filled state. This will be an interesting thing for me to think about.

Again nice article.

cauĂȘ said...

wow, i'll try to put that in practice, really good idea.
thank you for the excellent work on this blog.

by the way, a friend of mine just translated this post to portuguese and posted into our blog. hope you don't mind !

Callum said...

Lorenz' idea sounds awesome.

You already know what I think about the post.

See you tomorrow!

Mark Toorock said...

Excellent! The SPEAR system teaches this exact rpincipal, having one move for self defense that comes up over and over so as not to be faced by choices of 3,000 techniques when it counts ...

Anonymous said...

it wasn't me who had that idea. it was yves idea just to get it right. the closer planning was done by yves josep and me. it will be in abou 2 weeks and i am very excited. i will be in cambrdige 2 weeks starting at 21st of july. i will tell you then how it was and which experciences we got. would be great if you two joe and callum would also come with blane to cambridge.


Unique said...

Love this post I believe in every word you said. I'm glad there is someone guiding traceurs in the right direction. Check out my blog sometime.

TjDubs said...

Great post, it's very refreshing to read this and feel like your telling me in your own way things that I definately think about on my own. I't been hard to find like minded individuals, but I've been seeking that ability to survive. That's really what it all boils down to; mastery of myself and my enviroment. Like you said, this transends some occasional bit of training simply for pleasure. It is a way of life, to focus on survival, combat, etc. in any situation at any random time. I hope more folks assimilate this mentality, and be aware. This is an age of complacencey, even amongst folks who 'look good' doing whatever it is they do...chances are they haven't trained nearly hard enough to be able to do that technique saftely and gracefully.

Your a smart cookie, and so are you whoever you are for reading Blane's work.

Leicester Parkour Association said...

Lorenz - I'll be there along with Blane in Cambridge on the 21st. See you soon :)

Something from Nothing said...

Hey mate, Brad Moss here.

Another great post.

One thing I feel seems to be missing, although, quite rightly you talk about "You should also be learning about survival techniques, escape techniques, fighting, and things like this."

I believe one thing that should be included with this is teamwork. We do indeed need to be strong in ourselves, however, working in a team, at least in relation to Parkour and what I percieve it to be is very important. We train with others, we learn from others, and sometimes, they are situations even if playing or setting an challenge in which another person could make it possible when it wasn't before.

The jam guys were teaching in liverpool this weekend (would have been great to see you there). Had a great session on Saturday as the weather turned out good, we had coaches chasing people through tree areas having to find efficient,practical andsafe ways through the given environements.

It was great to see, Shaun Wood (from Australia) and Danny I was moving amazingly, even some of the younger guys as well had an amazing ability to do so. The Sunday rained and rained and rained so we sepent time on the constructions we made throwing a frisbee around, moving around carefully on wet serfaces and if the frisbee hit the ground you had to get it without touching the floor.

It went miles away and we had old oil barrels so the obvious thing was to roll and walk along them to get to where we needed to get to, after that, we were working out how to get onto the top of the barrel while standing on the side, playing with body weight and leverage, many of us managed to flick then up from the sides and from to the top back down to the sides.

During that day I said to myself and to others... these are the important practices in Parkour.

Working together, and understanding interactive and changing environments, we were playing with those barrels, but we were developing and understanding what we had, learning from each other and using our body wisdom, both learnt and inherent, developing another area to be strong and capable within.

I'll leave it at that, I'll have a good old chat with you at the Trace trip.

Take care.


Anonymous said...

Not a bad post Blane - very similar thoughts to what I was speaking to Brad Moss back a while back... Except my whole theme was to become a "strong human" - where parkour is part of a larger discipline alongside MN style training/philosophy.

Another thing you could read up on... "Aliveness" in martial arts. An example of non alive training would be someone drilling the same defence in a chess game over and over. He/she could do this a million times yet his/her chess game would not improve. The same goes for 99.9% of martial arts classes - these set self defence methods drilled over and over... anything short of sparring is next to useless.

This can be applied to parkour... instead of drilling the same movement or sequence of movements over and over... individuals must actively train "aliveness"... or perhaps more specific to parkour "adaptiveness" (haha 99.9% sure thats not a real word but I am sure you understand what I mean). Traceurs have to actively train the ability to adapt... and this tag game you described is one of many methods that would be useful in teaching an indvidual this.

Just some thoughts and again a great post.


Anonymous said...

Hi Blane. I think your post is usefull but I have a slight different idea (way of thinking acctualy). Although, my idea of parkour is similar to yours and I believe many people share this idea I think that training that you speak of comes much later in one's training. I'm training for about a year and I believe that before I get to train for real life situations I must have a really solid basis (I think we can all agree that to get a basis you need several years). I believe that not so experienced tracer should just train "for the movement" without thinking about "simulation of real thing" type of training. What are your thoughts about this, when do you think should this training be introduced? Thanks in advance,
P.S.: it's good to see a constant progress in your parkour Blane:-)

Anonymous said...

Beautifully said!

I would write some nice long commentary here, but I think I'll save it for now and write something about it later on my blog, because once I get started with something I want to talk about, I can go on forever :-)

- Nick

Luc said...

I believe that in the face of a life-threatening situation, one does "rise to the occassion", in the sense that one may perform a feat that is otherwise beyond one's capabilities in a non-stressed state.

I will give you an example from my own experience:
I live in rural British Columbia, home to a sizeable number of black bears. They're not always dangerous, but if one should come across a mother bear with her cubs, it's bad news, as she will kill anything that she judges to be a danger to her cubs.
One spring day 4 years ago I was out hiking up the mountain by my place when that exact scenario happened to me. My heart blasted like a cannon, my adrenal glands burst open, and reserves of strength and quickness that could never possibly be touched save for in a situation like that propelled me up the nearest scrawny fir tree, a skinny piper about 20ft. high. The bear kept me clinging white-knuckled up there for what seemed like hours but in reality was probably closer to 20 minutes. When she finally decided I wasn't a threat anymore and left, I waited until she had been gone for a good measure of time, then leapt down to the ground and bolted down the hill at max speed.
Running down the hill was a second rush, and though my heart was again pounding and I was coursing with adrenaline, it different from the first in that I was more cognizant of what I was doing moment-to-moment, and conscious of the fear of the bear being behind the next bush. The first rush had been so fast, I hadn't even thought, it was as if my brain had been bypassed and primitive survival mechanisms had briefly assumed control.

Anyway, to get to the point, I'm sure that there's no way in hell that, at the time, I would have been able to climb that scrawny, knotty, piper of a tree as fast as I did without being faced with such a situation.
Train as I might, I will never be able to replicate the abilities that I would have in such a situation. Training will definitely increase my capabilities in any situation, but there will always be that extra level that will be forever out of my reach save for in the face of extreme circumstances.