Many experienced martial artists believe that, of all the different categories of training partners, absolute beginners are the most dangerous. To outsiders, this sounds like a paradox. Shouldn’t those with the least martial arts training be the least dangerous?
It is not truly a paradox, only a misconception. And not all white belts are dangerous, obviously. But those that are, if only on the mat, are so for the following reasons.
Their goal is always to win. They don’t yet understand the difference between trying to win, and trying to cultivate the skills that one uses to win. Real fights are chaotic affairs, and chaos is not a proper breeding ground for skill development; thus, training in respectable martial arts consists of a series of games, first introducing support structures (e.g. rules and conventions), then dismantling them one step at a time.
The need for, or value in this approach is not obvious–and it is not always explained at the outset. So some white belts never appreciate the context of their practice. Others consider themselves above the “organized despair” of the “traditional mess,” and when a rule stands between them and a sparring victory, they break it without hesitation. The conventions and rules of training, they reason, are “unrealistic in a real fight.”
Recognizing the tremendous importance of timing, Japanese martial artists classify their responses into three types:
- Go no sen refers to a late reaction, initiated after the attacker’s movement has begun. Late reactions are unreliable, relying on extraordinary motor speed for their successful application.
- Sen no sen describes a response launched roughly in time with its attack. While obviously superior to go no sen, some practitioners consider this an intermediate level of skill.
- The ultimate timing, sen-sen no sen, responds to an attack that has yet to be launched, one that has only just formed within the opponent’s mind. An expert in sen-sen no sen might use this timing to guide his assailant into a futile and vulnerable position, or launch a preemptive strike.
Martial legends aside, how does science explain this seemingly paranormal ability? Is it possible that high-level martial artists have used precognition and other psychic abilities to enhance their effectiveness? Or are they all just very quick?
It seems my critics are right: I am a little slower than average.
Patrick Parker (of Mokuren Dojo) and I were discussing the feasibility of intelligent responses to physical attack. Patrick asked:
What exactly do you have to do to get the faster intelligence that Chris says we need? Well, really we can’t. From my understanding of the neuromuscular machine I don’t really think that you can make the brain/spine/muscle machine work faster than it already does. There is hardwired into us about a ¾ second delay (if not more) in the OODA loop.
A search for evidence supporting or refuting this unavoidable delay, led me to the Human Benchmark reaction time test.