Thursday, August 10, 2006

W. Hock Hochheim, the Interview Begins

W. Hock Hochheim

As we were unable to get our schedules to mesh for an interview, I emailed, at Hock's request, a number of questions. I will post his replies as I get them, and link back to this, the first in the series. Please check out his site and blog for more information, but suffice it to say that W. Hock Hochheim is a recognized authority and innovator in the field of modern combatives and defensive tactics, covering gun, stick, knife, and unarmed techniques, tactics, and strategies for the modern warrior - professional and amateur alike. To the interview.

TDA- What’s your take on the debate between sport-based or combat-oriented training? My contention is that the sport-orientation can lead to more success precisely because the stress of competition more closely mimics the anxiety and adrenaline of a fight than drilling more deadly techniques does. Do you agree?

This is a discussion point many talk about frequently. The key phrase in the statement are the words "more closely mimics." But frankly, many debates on the issue do not contain that exact phrase. In debates you will also the comparison -"same as". Some even argue, "better than." The exact semantics may vary, but the general message of "close/same/better" remains.

For starters you'll have to quickly define...
1) Sports-based competition (football? baseball? Rugby?)
2) Combat-oriented sports (Karate tournament? UFC? Hockey?)
3) Combat training (training to replicate the predicted combat situation)
4) Anxiety (nervousness, jitters, anxiousness. At times depression)
5) Adrenaline (chemicals excreted to fire up the body in serious emergency)

Big Picture, Small Picture
Okay, lets dare follow that logic to the extreme. If sports-based competitions were so close, near or even better? Why then should the US Marines bother with combat training at Paris Island? Why not just start a giant, Marine Corps, football league? Or have Delta Force partake in Kick boxing tournaments instead of war maneuvers with simulated ammo? That "combat sport competition is close-as, or as good as, or -superior" concepts just doesn't play out in the big picture.

What about the small picture? Inside your guts? Can you do anything for any adrenaline rush? Sports? Challenges? Thrills? Not for all all of us. Whether sports or combat, the personality and experience of the individual takes much into account. Let's just start there with individual people.

Personality and Experiences
Everyone's body callous and jitter switch is different. Individually for me, when normal life throws me a curve, like a road rage incident, or an unruly, knucklehead at the bar, or brusk counter-help at a restaurant, or a nutty relative, people ask me, “Hock, why are you so calm about this?” My answer is,

“Hey, I've been shot at. What else could be that bad?”

Most people in normal life do not have a standard to compare their problem of "cold broccoli" with. "Waiter! Waiter! Damnit! My damn Broccoli!" Most martial arts instructors, even reality-based, do not have continuum standards to compare with either. their guts. Their guts and doctrines have not faced the stampeding elephant.

Sadly, I myself simply do not care about being in a sports competition no matter the hoopla because they are just not the real thing. I would like to return to my blissful days of worshipping the New York Mets as a child. Or the Dallas Cowboys, but those days are over now. Fighting in a weekend sports fight doesn't excite me to juice up some real adrenaline. Hell, I've caught hit men and serial killers, being in and watching sport competitions just doesn't cook my soup. I just don't care enough to get too excited. I am not alone in this.

For example, many of my police friends participate in annual SWAT competitions. They train specifically for the events. They attend the events with the same social fervor of a bunch guys going to a bowling tournament. They like to win. They try to win. They want to win. It facilitates team-building. But they the know distinct difference between the event and a real hostage takedown.

Years ago in a short car trip with a group of new acquaintances, the male driver talked about his wife being an avid hunter. Over his shoulder, he asked me, Hock, do you hunt?" My thoughtless, quick response was, "Yes...people." Everyone laughed and I realized I'd made a funny. They all knew I was a detective and had tracked people across the country. But the moral of the story was hunting animals really bored me. After one hunts armed people, hunting a woodchuck or a damn dove, or a deer...just doesn't boil my potatoes. I have done all of the aforementioned as social events, really. Had fun. Ho-hum.

Shooters rage and cheer on about their police target competitions and "getting that trophy," and getting 100 points instead of 95 on the last run through. They talk about how much they like shooting competition because it gives them an adrenaline boost. Range contest shooters think that's adrenaline? Wha? Sweet Jesus! Have they got a surprise in store for them! I get almost zero adrenaline on a competition shoot or tournament when compared to my real moments of violent conflict in real life. I'd much rather be in a good, realistic, sims, shoot out scenario any day to touch my adrenaline. Range, target shooting is like ironing a shirt compared to combat.

Look, I am not saying cheering the Mets, sparring on Wednesday nights or shooting at a range or contest is wrong or misguided. Everyone has hobbies. Many military, police and citizens are already competitive by nature and can get overly excited over a game of cards. But when I do all these things, all I really get is frustrated because I can't cheat.

I can think of someone walking up to a piano recital and passing out onto the stage floor from nerves. People can psychologically work themselves into an adrenalized, frenzy over any event. A few weeks back I was a finalist in a book writing competition. At the banquet, I nervously awaited the results. I recalled having these jitters before and found it strange that though my life was not in danger, I was having some version of "butterflies." Some version. Which leads us to the next topic of versions. All nervousness and adrenaline is not equal. All nervousness does not equate to an adrenaline burst, it just equates to...being nervous.

Contest adrenaline is different than combat adrenaline
In the chemical becker on the lab table. Adrenaline chemicals all look the goopy same. But when it is pumped into play, the heart rate, the brain, the body and the situation all come into chaotic play. What manifests is a situation specific result. If you are a kick boxer, you might start kick boxing. If you are a footballer, you might tackle. If you are a trained mixed-weapon, reality combat guy, you'll be different still. The point being, despite the universality of the chemicals, the situation plays a part in how you feel in your gut and what you'll do.

I recall serving some warrants on armed felons one day, then later that night, coming up to the plate to bat on our police department softball team. I remember noting that I was more nervous about batting than I was making the earlier arrests. Plus, it really was a different kind of nervous.

Contest jitters are different than pre-raid jitters. Non-combat nerves, jitters, butterflies and adrenaline are different than the combat nerves, jitters, butterflies and adrenaline. Unless you have worked yourself into a alternative, psycho-frenzy making something less into something more. In which case, I would hate to predict what you would do in the real deal if a target match or a piano recital wipes you out. Pre-karate fight anxiety is different than those prepping a house raid in Tikrete. Get a grip on the real continuum of life. The real stampedes. The big picture.
Such abstractions like sports and recitals are better than nothing, but the best combat training must resemble the actual combat as closely as possible for a host of reasons, such as probability factors and muscle memory. Crisis rehearsal of the most realistic combat encounters is the highest form of training. There is always something better to try than settling-for a sports competition. I emphasize the term settling-for!

The suggestion by many is to experience a sheer adrenaline rush in a roller-coaster ride, sky-diving, a karate tournament or a pistol target match. But, know that thrill and sport adrenaline bursts are "settling-fors," because adrenaline is different for different things. Being shot at, flying in a para-sail and kicking a field goal are very different things.

Is your time well-spent? You have to ask yourself, is getting an abstract, unrelated dose of an adrenaline rush more important than learning proper, combat muscle memory, along with some adrenaline? In competitions you strive to win, within the rules. Those rules do not apply to real world combat. Instead, the abstract methods and strategies that evolve to win in a certain sport, become your muscle memory.

Sports advice and reality cross-training is a very hard split. Even just within the sport's world, cross-training is hard enough. A pro baseball player is a fine athlete, but he cannot succeed in pro football. His raw, athletic skills will carry him to a point, but specific skills must take over. Think about the amazing basketball star Michael Jordan. Despite his amazing skills, he pretty much sucked in baseball. Now, suddenly drop Michael Jordan in a firefight northern Afghanistan, or a Camden, New Jersey gang fight.

These topics are heard to delineate because as trainers and instructors we CONSTANTLY leap-frog in and around sports psychology and athletic performance trials and studies to prove a point or make statements on combat training. These sport borders can become hazy and confusing if you do not draw succinct lines and articulate your points. For example, the skill of running fast, or heart rate endurance are universally important. We rely on sports to train us in these areas. This does not mean we have to join the high school track team and win the state trophy. Nor do the pressures of a track meet really relate to run-and-gun movements, such as the "Mogadishu Mile."

Also, and this is very important, being nervous or having an increased heart rate before a shooting match or karate fight is not always connected to an official adrenaline release. You might just simply be nervous, not adrenalized.

Really Defining Combat-Oriented Sports
This is a tricky point we touched on earlier. I know Tae Kwon Do people that think their tournaments are combat-oriented. Some karate people, too. There's lot of combat in a boxing match. Some people think hard-stick dueling in the park on Sundays is all the adrenaline-related combat you need. Once you do it? "You'll fear no man ever again!" Lots of folks stand up and say their judo or kendo match helps develop their combat edge. Would you consider paintball a combat-oriented sport? Some brag on the power of mental visualization!

We once featured former SecState and General, Collin Powell in our old CQC Magazine and he told us of a "Combat Football" one of his Army commanders invented in South Korea to keep his soldiers tough. It was sort of near-to-no-rules football. Looked like Australian football, with punching and elbows. That was not to be mistaken for trench warfare.

The 21st century UFC is leaving more of its high school wrestling methodologies behind and becoming more and more of a practical source for training, yet is still riddled with rules and sport restrictions. An enlightened mind picks out the skill sets and makes real-world applications. (more on the UFC connection is another upcoming blog)

A teacher must know not to compare sports directly to goal-specific training on how to fight a rapist, a kidnapper, a killer or a terrorist. Really switched-on, Force-on-Force programs can also raise the adrenaline, train as rigorously as a UFC contestant, plus still teach proper, survival muscle memory. This is the apex of training, not combat sports. Combat sports can teach many subtle, dangerous things. The smarter the instructor, the better the reality course.

But really making this sport-to-reality transition? Really! Doing so completely turns a martial arts school upside-down at its very core. This idea is a complete, utter, sea-change in traditional, even nontraditional martial arts. This is met with reluctant, deep resistance, or financing problems. The physical building itself cannot resemble a martial arts school found in strip-center-America. The facility needs replica streets, bars, banks, homes and battlefields. The facility needs an obstacle course. It needs...well...the mock-ups that modern military training facilities have, not a football field, not an octagon fence, not a boxing ring. All those things we must...settle-for. (Unless that is what you know you want to do.)

In summary? The Couch To-Combat Continuum. Get off the Couch!
As far as true, modern, reality-based, training programs, striving to win sport fights and games are an abstract distraction and a dangerous and poor doctrine for reality training. Sure, I would rather see people get off the couch and be in - say - a karate tournament than do nothing and sit on the couch. This way, they at least touch upon these issues. Proper combat, survival doctrine works to improve reality with the best, Force-on-Force training. Combat sports is an abstraction. But, you do the best you can where you are and understand what 'settle-fors" mean in a bigger continuum of reality.

Trainers remained cursed with the hard fact that - It never gets real-real...until its really real. How do we do it? That is your challenge. The answer to the "versus" question? In the pursuits of reality-laced, adrenaline and training? Sports competition "settles-for," and is "in leau of" smarter, better, more efficient ways to train for reality. Anything is better than sitting on the couch. Do something. Chess is better than staring at the wall. Ballet is better than sitting. Its a continuum thing. Combat-oriented sports are better sports-sports like tennis or baseball.

NOTHING replaces replicating your predicted crime fighting or war fighting, with adding stress in the mix. Not abstract stress, but realistic stress, like using sims ammo and battling opponents in padded suits, for two examples.

When stuck somewhere within this couch-to-combat continuum, know what you are doing and why. Know you are settling for an abstraction. You usually make the best with what you have in your local neighborhood and your daily schedule.

Sports do not closely mimic, closely resemble. Sports are not "as-good-as, or same-as. They are not better. Sports settle for an abstract replacement. In almost all cases, the abstract is extreme and misleading.

"Vs." Addendum: Sports vs. Reality - tactically speaking?
If I am pressed to go fishing? Screw the rod and reel! Seems to me that throwing dynamite in the water is a smarter, quicker idea. Need quiet? Then there is that electricity trick...well, anyway...within this "vs." topic, I leave you with the wise words of a true hero and combat vet MSG. Paul Howe, survivor of several elephant stampedes (Somalia for just one), who advises the following on contest vs. reality training, and makes relative statements about sports and combat::

"Let's face it, competition is fun and if applied correctly, can help you in your marksmanship, weapon handling skills and confidence. With these attributes, also comes bad habits of moving too fast for the tactical situation. Who dictates the speed of the fight? The bad guy and how fast he falls, does. It might be a fast or slow process (the bad guy dying), but one should get in the habit of solving one problem at a time before moving to multiple threats.

You can shoot two rounds on paper or ping a piece of steel and move to the next target, but in reality, two rounds or the sound of steel being struck may not solve your problem. I remember servicing a bad guy one night at about 7 yards with night optics. I was trained to do double-taps throughout my military career. I punched him twice with two 5.56 rounds and stopped for a split second in my mind and on the trigger, looking for a response from the bad guy. The problem was that he was still standing with an AK-47. I hit him with two more rounds before he began to fall the ground. To my amazement, he stood back up before collapsing a second time. Lessons learned, shoot until they go down. Not one, not two, or three.

I now teach a four in the chest, one in the head failure drill with the rifle. Why four? It may take the human body that long to react to the amount of trauma you are inducing (5.56). At the time of this incident, we were using military green tip ammo and the energy transfer was minimal. Realizing we had a stopping power problem, we developed a drill that would work on any determined individual and made it part of our training package.

As a final point, I would be cautious on using competition shooters to drive the equipment and training in a department. While generally faster shooters, I have watched them err on the side of equipment that was great for competition, but took away from simplicity and the common goal."

NDT- Hock is also posting this on his blog for August. See links or the top of this post to get to it.

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