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Mountain Man Rabbit Stew
Step one: Catch a rabbit
                                        A recipe from an 1850s
                                         Mountain Man cookbook

Why WIMs aren't all bad

On This Page:
Complicating factors | Legitimate Questions vs. "What if's" | Countering the Counter |

In what I teach, rule #1 is don't get hit. The formula for this is pretty simple, (Move and shield). Simple doesn't necessarily mean easy. Making sure you meet this criteria when someone is trying to eat your face ... well, it can be a little more difficult.(1) But that's the purpose of training to make sure you can meet the move and shield criteria in a pinch.

This is why a recipe for stew is often heard on the training floor. The term "Mountain Man Rabbit Stew" is both a reminder and short-hand for 'Before you move onto step two, make sure you've taken care of step one. If what you're doing isn't working, odds are the problem is you didn't do step one." (See why Mountain Man Rabbit Stew is easier to say?)

Often when a three step technique fails, it 's because someone tried to start with step two or three. In doing so they forgot to take care of step one, in this case, 'don't get hit.' It's hard to do your cool kung fu/karate/silat/MMA moves when someone is beating your face in. (Oh yeah, and that's the difference between sparring and an assault.)

The sad thing is is how often I have to go back and teach rule #1 to  supposedly advanced martial artists. People who have been training in systems for five, ten and even fifteen years  STILL insist on blocking attacks with their faces because they don't move and shield. Why? Because they were never taught to over come the 'hey diddle, diddle' reaction.

Simply stated, what they were taught is lacking key components that would make it work. The reasons why and the exact nuts and bolts of what's missing is talked about elsewhere. What this page is about is spotting the difference between a What if Monkey and someone seeing a legitimate hole in what your teaching and asking about it.

Complicating factors
Unfortunately, because of the amount of nonsense that is taught as so-called self-defense, much less as martial arts, many instructors leave themselves open to legitimate " What if it doesn't work" questions.

The truth is much of what is being taught, won't work as advertised.

This failure to perform is the result of flawed physics and a poor understanding of what it takes for a move to be effective. You can't teach what you don't know. We're not talking about the constant bickering about how to do a move "right," that is so common between systems. Nor are we talking about who has the "True Art" within systems. We're talking about what standards must a move meet in order to be effective.

What are the nuts-and-bolts components; the these-have-to-be-there-in-order-for-the-move-to-work elements? This concept supersedes the argument of what is the "right" or "wrong" way techniques are done and brings it into the far more pragmatic Does the technique work as advertised?

If it doesn't, then there is a problem.

In an attempt to obfuscate this failure to perform, outlandish stories and ridiculous explanations are often concocted. Quite often these stories are such that one cannot easily check the veracity of them. For example, flying side kicks. When asked what is the purpose of such a kick, you will commonly be told the "kicking a mounted warrior off his horse" explanation. This asinine explanation is accepted as gospel by hundreds of thousands of fledgling martial artists in belt-factories around the world.

First of as absurd as this claim is, how many people are going to volunteer to get kicked off a horse with a flying side kick to see if it works? This is of course assuming you can find a horse to get kicked off of. However, short of going to a ranch and trying to drop kick a cowboy, you can do the math. Figuring that an average horse is 15 hands (four inches to a hand) that would put the horse's withers at about five feet, from the ground. Add an additional two feet in order to kick the rider in the chest to create enough leverage to clear him from the saddle. Now since a seated rider is pretty stable due to a thing called stirrups, in order to knock him off his seat you must push his mass beyond where the stirrup is located. That means you cannot strike him from below and at an upward angle and reliably knock him from his saddle. While it is possible to lift him from the saddle at this angle using a polearm, a kicker would run into the horse's body before achieving this lift. Therefore the kicker must be high enough to not only kick the rider off, but he must be flying horizontally to avoid the horse. So figure, the kicker must -- in correct form -- leap so his feet are seven feet in the air. A leap that would put his head at well over ten feet.

Impressive since the world High Jump record is only a little over eight feet and that was set in the late 20th century by Javier Sotomayor.

But, according to what many MA instructors would have you believe, such leaps were common place on the battlefield. And in full armour (otherwise what are you doing on a battlefield?) and somehow able to avoid that sharp pointy thing that the warrior had in his hand. As such you routinely see young athletic dojo rats jumping and kicking to impress the girls ... errr... we mean practicing this ancient technique of warfare. Believing whole heartedly that it could also be used in a modern context.

However, if you begin to investigate the number of times people have actually used such a kick in a self-defense situation, you will discover the failure rate far, far outstrips the success rate. In fact, attempting to use such a move in violent confrontation usually ends up with the kicker injured because his opponent counters. In the end, we are left with the obvious conclusion that high jumping kicks are "flash" moves designed to dazzle onlookers; they are not, despite claims, legitimate self-defense or traditional moves.

Although that is an extreme example, it does serve to illustrate the point. From the WIMs' point of view they think they are trying to sort through this kind of disinformation. It is sad to say, but instructor misconduct is largely responsible for the existence of WIMs. The instructors who are most culpable are the ones who refuse to admit limitations in their knowledge. The very ones who teach incomplete and flawed physical techniques and obfuscate their failure (2). This is the bad information that the WIMs fear.

Having said this, most examples of moves failing to perform are far less dramatic or obvious than a high flying side kick. However, if you stop to think, you will find countless examples of moves not working for what they are supposedly for. Take almost any kata and see if the explanations for what a move is is credible. Does the move work as advertised? Or are there component parts missing that would make the move work?

Hint: If you have to add extra steps, twists and tweaks to make it work, then parts are missing. Everything should be in the kata already -- including the nuts and bolts that make it work. There is no hidden bunkai, there are no advanced teaching that you must receive before the move works. The move either works or it doesn't. If it doesn't then someone has mistaken basics for fundamentals.

Quite often instructors who do not understand what is missing from what they are teaching -- and who themselves have bought the silly stories -- become irritated with questioning about "what if it doesn't work." Most of the time these instructors have found elements that allow them to patch the move so it does work -- at least for them. The most common patches are muscle, speed and little tricks that they do, but don't mention in teaching. Unfortunately, without these small tweaks and cheats, the move will not work for other people.

Again, this is the breeding ground for WIMs. They have legitimate concern about a move they are being shown not working. In the case of moves not working (or taking too long), questioning a moves effectiveness is not only a legitimate action, but a necessary one.

However, any extreme is bad. The problem is when the agenda of the WIM obscures their ability to recognize legitimate information. When someone wants the information to fit what they want it to be instead of what works is when they cross the line and become chattering What-If-Monkeys.

Legitimate Questions vs. "What if's" The question now becomes how do you tell the difference between legitimate questions about a move's effectiveness and What If's

The answer is one will be satisfied when you explain the move in the context of fundamentals.

By this we mean, if what is being taught does meet the standards of effective movement, those standards can be easily and concisely explained. Not just what you do, but why it works. And that explanation will be consistent within the laws of physics and physiology.

What makes it work is not attitude, not ferocity, not experience, not how hard you do it, nor is it the "system." What makes a move work is physics and physiology. For example, we teach in order for any takedown to work two fundamental criteria must be met.

    1) You must disrupt his balance/structure 2) You must counter his attempts to regain said.

Putting those into a nutshell, you knock him over and keep him from getting his feet back under him. Then gravity takes over. How hard you keep him from getting his feet under him determines if it is a takedown or a throw. (A takedown takes his structure and he falls, a throw catapults him). As simple as these fundamentals may sound, the myriad ways that they can manifest are almost infinite. Once you know this two part formula, it doesn't matter which technique you use -- as long as you meet the two requirements.

Having said this, let us also add: If you do not achieve these two steps your takedown/throw will not work. This puts you in a very bad position because you are entirely too close and you have not removed his ability to attack you. These are the very circumstances that the WIMs fret about the most. They are in his striking range and their best shot just failed.

They're worrying about "what if it fails." We're concerned with "WHY did it fail?"

If you critically examine any failed attempt to do a takedown, you will find the failure to perform will be in one or both of the two criteria we mentioned earlier. You either didn't disrupt his structure or you didn't keep him from getting his feet back under him again (this includes grabbing onto you, and by doing that getting "your feet" under him). A third variation arising from this is him dragging you over with him, but that is usually a by-product of him grabbing onto you trying to keep from falling over. Technically speaking he did go down, you just went with him. So while it technically worked, if you fall over with him, tactically it failed.

Now the challenge is to determine if the lack stems from
1) The technique itself,
2) How the person performed or
3) If the opponent countered.

Let us, just for the sake of argument, assume that the technique does have all the component parts. (This BTW, is a giant leap of faith, since most training has lost important component parts that make it work). But even then, there is something you need to think about. A technique is not a guarantee. More specifically a technique is a means to manifest certain principles. But, just because you "perform" a technique, does not mean you will automatically manifest the principles.

This is the difference between "goal oriented thinking" and "process oriented thinking." As a gross simplification a process oriented person is more concerned with doing the process "right" than whether or not it works. If you've ever worked with someone who is more concerned with following 'correct' procedures than resolving the problem, you've encountered this kind of thinking. Such a person assumes that if the procedures are followed to the letter, the goals will, by extension, occur. This same thing can happen in the martial arts. In this case, the person believes that the technique will automatically manifest the principles.


It is incumbent on you to make sure that both the principles and the goals of those principles manifest through out the technique. They don't just happen because you are doing the technique, you make sure they happen through the execution of the technique. This is a simple but profound shift in thinking. Thinking that will make your MA/SD/DT application far more effective. Why? Because thinking the technique is the source of manifestation is a huge root cause of patching -- a process that commonly causes technique failure.

All of this is pretty esoteric and theoretical. So let's give you a nuts and bolts example. Remember the two standards a takedown/throw must meet? Break balance and keep him from getting it back? Applying this idea to any technique you can begin to see how each component part can achieve these standards. When these goals are achieved, the different stages of the technique build on the last and make the next easier to achieve. If anywhere in the process the 'powerchain' is broken then even though you are doing the technique, he will be able to re-establish his structure and base. From that moment on, unless you "patch" with speed or power, he will be able to resist you.

Unfortunately, a lot of training has become process oriented instead of goal oriented. And in doing so, important components have been lost that make for effective power delivery. This is why the techniques fail in application. They have the form, but not what makes them go. They literally have become cars with no engines. And yet, countless people who perform these flawed techniques insist that they will work.

This gives WIMs no end of ammunition to ask "what if it doesn't work?"

Let's skip ahead to the third reason why a technique can fail. That is that your opponent counters. Simply stated, this means that the conditions that made a particular technique the best choice have changed. A good analogy is that you went in with a wrench and suddenly discover that you need a hammer. Unfortunately, too many people, instead of dropping the original technique and shifting to another (dropping the wrench and picking up a hammer) attempt to force the technique (hammer with a wrench).

The simple answer to being countered is you counter his counter. You came up with a firing solution once, you can do it again. You are not locked into having to finish a technique that is no longer applicable.

Unfortunately, process oriented thinking often results in techniques that don't work until the very last. Instead of a series of small successes that build up to a big one, such an approach will not work until the very end. And if it doesn't then the outcome will be a catastrophic failure. This kind of thinking about techniques makes you especially vulnerable to being countered. This again give WIMs good reason to ask "What if it doesn't work?"

We'll address countering his counter more in a minute, but right now let's look at the second possibility of why techniques fail, that being the individual didn't perform it correctly. This is the absolute last thing the WIMs want to hear.

With this second possibly, it is easy to see how it is incumbent on the person performing in such a way that the standards ARE met. Remember, we are not talking about doing the move "right," we are talking about the standards of the move being met. There is a significant difference between the two ways of thinking. Right means you do it according to how you were taught, effective means it works (3).

This brings us to another serious issue. In their constant search for the "ultimate fighting system," collection of techniques, reality based training, finding the "best" training system and constant focus on getting to the advanced techniques of a style, WIMs usually fail to ingrain the components that make for effective power generation. In failing to do this, they guarantee the move won't work. In this case "what if it doesn't work" becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If I may indulge in an analogy to explain what I am talking about, if you go into a pool hall during the day, you will often see pool sharks (people who play for money), practicing the same shot over and over again. They will sink the ball and set up the exact same shot and do it again. While this is tedious, what they are doing is ingraining the neural pathways and physical control to win at pool. This daytime training is critical if they want to win at night, when there is money on the table and when the pressure is on. In contrast, the WIM is constantly looking for a trick shot that will allow him to win. His practice tends to revolve around perfecting his trick shots that will -- supposedly -- clear the table, instead of ingraining the neural pathways and control to clear the table one shot at a time.The pool shark knows that it isn't a trick shot, it's having the skills ingrained to run the table that is going to make sure he wins.

When this inconvenient truth is brought up, WIMs usually respond with all kinds of excuses as to why they failed to perform the component parts of the move. Most often these fall into one of two categories.
1) they can't be expected to perform effectively under adrenal stress
2) that they will be fighting some unstoppable street juggernaut that they must deliver fifteen lethal strikes to before he'll even slow down.

They're blaming these and the technique -- instead of the fact that they are squealing and hitting like girls -- for their failure. Yes there is decay of skill during adrenal stress. That is why you have to ingrain the neural pathways and understanding of a move. You do this so you can still do it during a violent encounter. Maybe you won't be able to do it as well under stress, but the core components WILL be there.

As an aside, WIMs don't realize that by using these excuses they undermine their own argument. If they cannot be expected to perform fundamental, but effective actions under the stress of a fight, how are they supposed to perform that ultimate trick shot that they are looking for?

Let's go back to the two things that must be present for a takedown to work, break his structure, keep him from getting it back. When the standards are met, the question of "What if it doesn't work?" becomes meaningless. That is because if the move doesn't work then the law of gravity has just gone out the window. And -- to put it mildly -- if that happens, you got bigger problems on your hands than the guy you were fighting.

This brings us back to the WIMs. When faced with something that is as incontrovertible as "gravity works" they are forced to confront the sad fact that if a move doesn't work, it isn't because gravity failed. It's because they didn't meet the priorities that were needed to in order for whatever it is to work.

It is at this moment the WIMs reveal their true colors, instead of focusing on doing everything in their power to achieve these standards, they start trying to find ways to still succeed without doing the work. How can they, without meeting the operational requirements, still make it work? In short, How can they still win if they don't do that?

The answer is they can't.

But that won't stop them from asking. The reason it won't stop them from asking is that inside their pointy little heads they already have what they think is the answer. An answer that they feel, nay believe in their little hearts, is the "REAL" answer. Now what this answer that they want confirmation for is depends on the WIM, some think it is physical strength, others think it is ferocity, still others believe it is finding the "ultimate fighting system" and learning that. A prime example of this is grapplers. Someone who believes that ground fighting is the final solution will always be looking for painting a scenario where they have to take it to the ground.

They suspect that it is that one Thing, that if they know it, if they master it, is the key to unlocking and mastering fighting. That's the trick shot they are looking for. They want it to be about this one thing that they believe is the Rosetta Stone of fighting. And they want you to confirm that suspicion. And until you do, they will keep on asking "What if it doesn't work."

Countering the Counter We said we'd come back to this. A third option is that when you try to meet the standards of a takedown, the individual counters. Lions and tigers and bears...oh my!

Let me tell you a story. A number of years ago I met a man whose job it was to plot the death of millions of people every hour, on the hour. He was in the Navy and assigned to a missile submarine. It was his job to calculate the firing solution that would nuke Moscow and punch it into the missile computers. Because of the changing location of the submarine, every hour he had to recalculate and reprogram the computers.

What is important to realize is that, despite changing locations, the factors that went into the firing solution didn't change. The formula remained the same. What changed were the conditions of the problem; the values of the numbers that were used.

We bring this idea up to show you that when someone counters your technique, it doesn't necessarily mean that the move failed. Just as often it means that the conditions have changed. What has changed is his location. Usually in the form of repositioning his body so he can resist the force you are currently generating. Your opponent hasn't grown an extra leg, he hasn't sprouted wings -- the same factors still apply. But you are facing a new set of conditions.

Under these circumstances then the obvious answer "Do the Math" The same factors are still there, but you have to come up with a different firing solution because of the change of his location/pose/position. He moved to counter you? You're going to have to move to counter his counter.

Let's use the fundamentals of an effective takedown as an example. If you disrupt someone's balance and he manages to get his feet under him again, the way he is usually going to do it is to put his foot out in such a way that will allow him to resist the force that you were applying to him. That means stop pushing in that direction and start pushing in another direction that he cannot resist.

The reason most people choke at this point is that they went in thinking that they only have to do the math once. NO! It's like making your bed, you have to do it over and over again. You are not a missile silo buried deep in a fixed location. You are that sub, moving around and unlike Moscow, your opponent is also moving as well. Now you have a moving target that you have to nuke. Not impossible, but it requires constant recalculation of your firing solution because he is trying to keep you from getting him.

So what if he counters? If he does, you just redo the math to figure out what you have to do to finish the job. Believe it or not, this time it is going to be easier. The reason is By definition a back up plan is not as good as the first plan! (4) Odds are seriously against the "emergency structure" that your opponent is trying to establish being as strong as the original you just busted. Remember, he's trying to keep from falling. From him in that position you just do a fast calculation and meet the same goals, disrupt his structure/balance and keep him from countering. You just keep throwing these problems at him. In order to keep from falling has to maintain a 100% success rate of countering. He blows it once, and gravity takes him.

But...but...what if he counters in a strong way and can keep on attacking?

Want to know what the experienced fighter's answer is?

Whale now then thar Billy Bob, yew dun treed yerself a bad'un. An yew got a hell'auffa fight on yewr hands. An' if yew don get yer ass kicked, at tha very least, yew better expect ta be spittin' sum teeth 'Cause et's gonna git butt ugly.

The problem with fighting is occasionally you run into someone who is better at it than you are. (And if you've relied on patching, you also run the risk of running across someone who is bigger, stronger or faster than you) That isn't that the technique failed, it's because he's a better fighter. And if you step into the arena you have to accept that this is the risk you run. Did you think that fighting would ever stop being dangerous? If you're looking for something that will make that so, take up needle point.

But, you know what? Before you go worrying about what you need to fight a super ninja, why don't we focus on making sure you can win against the average asshole first? (5) He's the guy you are more likely to run into...and if you can't even handle him because you aren't meeting the standards of effective movement, how do you think you are going to win against the guy who does know what he is doing?

Now I am not saying that trained fighters don't exist out there. They do. And they are a handful if you end up having to fight them. But, before you even think of going after them you had better have your ducks in a row about making sure what you are doing works. Because you can bet your life, he does.

In addition, an experienced fighter will counter a move differently than someone who is just trying to stay upright. Spotting that difference in the nature of the counters is critical. Both however, will attempt to counter. Rely on that, expect that...because if you don't, you're going to be in a mess. Namely that you are going to be standing real close to someone who wants to hurt you and you haven't removed his ability to do that. In that case, it doesn't matter whether it is an average asshole or a super-ninja, the fight is on. And remember, 50% of the people fighting lose.

Return to top

1) Not because it is so complex of an idea, but because our default attack/defend pattern is 'hey diddle, diddle straight up the middle.' In fact, our default 'attack and defend' is like two trains on the same tracks. What most people call a fight, is more like a train wreck. While that can work with empty-handed fights, it sucks when you're facing a knife. Return to Text

2)What is even worse however is the tendency of such instructors to use one of two common dodges when what they are teaching doesn't work. First is to blame the student for "doing it wrong." Sorry folks, a one winged airplane will not fly even if the student does build it exactly to spec. A subroutine of this strategy is to tell the student he must practice it until it does work. By the time the student has practiced it a thousand times, he has so much invested in the move that he has convinced himself that the move has to work. And to some degree the move will begin to move with extensive practice. Realistically what happens in the process, the student will figure out his own "patches." These are the tricks that will allow the student to jury-rig the move so it will sometimes work for him. The other common dodge is that there are moves that only work when you are advanced enough (like the excuse we heard about a student who was severely cut by a knife attacker "You have to be a black belt to be able to defend yourself against knives") Return to Text

3) All too often in the dojo-wars and constant bickering over who "owns the true art" people are so busy fighting over which is the "right" way to do a technique (i.e. you hold your hand here and in this position or here and in this position) that they fail to meet the standard that it must work in real life. The analogy that comes to mind are two kids who are fighting so hard over a toy that they break it. We have seen on too many occasions where while two camps claim to have the right way to do a move, neither move works. Usually because both only have certain components that are correct, but have lost the components that the other camp retains. They are literally arguing over which "half" of the technique is the right way to do it. As such both versions fail to meet standards of operational effectiveness because they lack the effective components of the other. Return to Text

4)A point that those physical-phitness-phreaks in the MA/RBSD world need to understand. These guys tend to be the real WIMs, because they rely on their physical condition to carry the day for them. Therefore instead of focusing on getting the job done right, they are expecting it to turn into a wrestling match. Something that they are ready for because they are in such good shape. Among everyone, these guys techniques tend to be the worst and most sloppy because, Hey why bother learning how to do it right? It's just going to turn into a muscle match. What this attitude fails to take into consideration is that muscle is never as effective as good and appropriate technique. Return to Text

5) This is a term I use as a training guideline. Many martial artists train under-train: thinking that they are going to be fighting an accountant (i.e. someone who will run away after one or two blows). Way too often self-proclaimed RBSD fighters/knife fighters/ultimate martial arts practitioners over-train: expecting they will be fighting Uber-bad guys. It's almost like they are training to be the hero of a bad movie for when they fight the Evil Overlord's muscle bound right-hand man (the guy who is always nigh unstoppable). Any extreme is bad. I came up with that term Average Asshole as a base line for the kind of person who uses violence to get what he wants. Such a person tends to be younger, in some kind of physical employment, rather selfish and not afraid of a little pain in order to get what he wants. He's not a particularly good fighter, but he does have experience with violence and is willing to commit to it. When I tell people who are not in violent professions to train to handle the average asshole I am telling them this is the kind of guy who will jump out of his car at a stop light. Before you think you are going to be fighting the minions of the Evil Overlord, you better have something up your sleeve that will handle this kind of guy. Return to Text

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