Monday, October 11, 2010

Failure to engage

Talking to a friend over the weekend and he works as a police officer not far from where I live.  During our discussion we covered a lot of topics and it was great.  I look forward to the next time I get to hang out with that family.  They are all great people. 

One topic stuck out in my mind and it was something I can see relating to martial arts training.  Something I would like to see if there is any way to train someone out of the fear this event can create.  My buddy called it "failure to engage".  It happens mostly to rookies and in the Dojo I have seen it in white belts and first time instructors.  I have seen it happen in any situation where the person in question has to exert some sort of authority over someone else.  Especially where that authority is in the form of physical contact.

For example, the first time I stepped into a Karate class my instructor called me over a few days into the program and asked me to spar with her.  She took it very easy on me.  Being 16 I was hesitant to hit hard, not so much in being hit but there was a little fear of being hurt at the beginning.  (Some people never get over their fear of pain, but that is an article for another time.)  So, when asked to hit her or kick the instructor I was not comfortable at all.

Another examples comes from the first time I was asked to teach a class.  It is one thing to give a lecture in a classroom.  Entirely a different thing to give a lecture in an environment where the students are supposed to interact not only with you but each other.  That gave me some pause as well.

My last example is the one that sticks out to me personally.  When I worked as a bouncer, around the time I first started I had to ask people to follow the rules.  It was very strange to tell people what to do and have them immediately comply.  I am so used to my kids dragging their feet, or people at work looking at you with the "who are you and why are you telling me to do this"  attitude.

The example that my officer friend gave was during a potentially violent encounter a rookie is asked to take someone off their feet, for whatever reason, and they are hesitant to actually engage.  To put their hands on someone and drag them to the ground.  This "failure to engage" doesn't happen all the time but is more common than not. 

So how do we train people either in a law enforcement setting or in a martial arts setting to get rid of the fear that makes people fail to engage.  The officer said that most of the time you can tell people all the time about acting on their authority but they have to experience it.  Possibly even get hit a couple of times before they realize that it is time to act and not wait for the bad guys to get the first swing.

In a personal defense/civilian setting, job 1 is to run away.  To get away from the trouble if we can.  However, even in this instance we need to be able to engage.  We cannot wait for the bad guy to act.  If we see a threat and fear for our safety or the safety of others than we have a responsibility to act.  At that point it is time to demand people make room for you to get away.  If they don't than you get to use your training as a martial artist.

One tool I know works on things like this is visualization.  Close your eyes and visualize someone acting in a threatening manner.  When they do engage.  Immediately!  If it is a mistake you can still go before a judge or whomever and explain that you felt threatened and that you feared for your safety/life/or that of someone else.  Just remember, we must engage, sometimes in order to run away.