Technical Lock And Why You Need To Avoid It

self defense trainingRecently, I was reading a book called Mastery by a guy called Robert Greene, who’s other books include The 48 Laws Of Power and The 33 Strategies Of War (all excellent, thought provoking books and must reads, in my opinion). In the mastery book, I read the following paragraph:

“In many fields we can see and diagnose the same mental disease, which we shall call technical lock. What this means is the following: in order to learn a subject or skill, particularly one that is complex, we must immerse ourselves in many details, techniques, and procedures that are standard for solving problems. If we are not careful, however, we become locked into seeing every problem in the same way, using the same techniques and strategies that became so imprinted in us. It is always simpler to follow such a route. In the process we lose sight of the bigger picture, the purpose of what we are doing, how each problem we face is different and requires a different approach. We adopt a kind of tunnel vision.”

That paragraph really resonated with me, because the concept of technical lock is one which I was already aware of to some extent– I just didn’t have a name for it, nor any clear definition of it. Now, thanks to Robert Greene, I do.

This concept of technical lock obviously applies very strongly to self protection, and I’ll explain why.


Training For Results

Self protection and Combatives training is, or should be, predicated on the notion of extreme practicality. It’s the type of training that is meant for the real world and real physical altercations. The training has to therefore be as realistic as possible, while still retaining an element of safety for its practitioners.

Your approach to self protection training should be ruthless in nature, training only what is practical, efficient and effective; and forgetting about anything that is impractical, too complicated to pull off under pressure or anything that is just plain silly and unworkable in a street context.

In short, self protection training needs to be about results. Yes, there are many side benefits to training, but the biggest reason for doing it should be to affect real results which are reflected in your improved ability to manage violent confrontation.

To be even more concise: what you do must work, or at least have a high chance of working (remember…no guarantees).

So when it comes to self protection/combatives training, your overall goal–your main focus–should be on doing stuff that works, stuff that produces real measurable or observable results. That should be your driving force, your raison d’être, and it should be at the forefront of your mind at all times.

Trouble is though, sometimes we forget that this is our main purpose, that this is all that matters or otherwise what’s the point of training at all. We loose sight of the bigger picture and our focus becomes myopic. We begin to concentrate too much on the little details and the finer points, sometimes to the point of obsession.

Or we turn into collectors, collecting techniques and entire styles and systems in order to satisfy some urge that we have, an urge that makes us want more and more, that makes us feel like there is always something better somewhere else, that what we have isn’t enough, or what we have is inferior or lacking in some imaginary way.

You can see this type of behaviour on display throughout the traditional martial arts. It’s rife with technique collectors. I used to be one myself until I wised up. You just don’t need ten different shoulder throws for self defence. Spending your time collecting one technique after another makes you a collector. It doesn’t make you someone who trains for self defence.

Obsessing over the finer points of a technique is also very common practice, often in SD circles as much as in martial arts. It’s human nature to get lost in the minutiae of things. It’s one of the gifts we have as human beings, but like all such gifts it can have its downside as well.

I’m not saying that the details of a particular technique should be overlooked. On the contrary, I believe it’s important to know a technique inside out, and to look at it from all angles over time.

But, if you are going to zoom in on things, make sure you remember to zoom out again.

Everything you do has to be set in context first. Putting a technique into proper context first will save you a lot of time down the road. There is no point in obsessing over the details of a technique that isn’t going to bloody work anyway! Yet I see people doing this all the time. Why spend your time on something that isn’t going to work under pressure?

I’ll give you an example: wrist locks. These techniques are still widely practiced by traditional and non-traditional practitioners alike. I myself have spent countless hours over the years in Jujitsu practice, practicing and debating the finer points of wristlocks like they really mattered, which they don’t in self defence terms.

And yes you could possibly make one of these techniques work in the right circumstances. Hell, you can make anything work in the right circumstances. But when are the circumstances ever fucking right?! It makes no sense to spend time on such low percentage techniques, never mind debate their finer points.

Yet people do though. And why? Because they have lost sight of the reason why they are training. Fair enough, if that is what you want to do– if self defence is not your main goal. But if self defence is your main goal, then there is no excuse for entertaining these kinds of techniques.


Getting Lost In The Details

Even if you have been careful to put everything in context, and you’ve made sure the overall technique has a high chance of working under pressure, and that it makes sense in terms of efficiency and tactical application, you can still manage to get lost in the minutiae again.

When your focus is so narrow, you end up spending inordinate amounts of time on small details, details that maybe don’t matter as much as you think in the grand scheme of things. Like I say, look closely and examine the details, but remember to pull back and see the bigger picture again.

Whatever kind of details you are looking at, they should always be put in context to see how they fit into the bigger picture. Certain details can sometimes seem monumentally important when you look at them, but add a bit of distance and put those same details into perspective and they tend not to seem that important after all.

Becoming mired in details can also make your training seem stale and unsatisfying. It’s like you are stuck inside a bubble with nowhere to go, nothing to do but wallow in the minutiae that floats all around you like plankton in the sea. Wallowing in anything for too long can make it stale (just ask the dead baby in my bathtub…starting to smell up there). The only solution is to burst the bubble and take a good look around you again. Take in some fresh air and bask in the glory of the bigger picture for a while before subjecting yourself to that bubble again.

Having a bigger picture outlook will help keep you on track in your training. It’s the results that matter, not how you get those results.

So what if you don’t move a certain way when you strike. Are you getting good results from your strike? Would spending so much time trying to move a slightly different way really give you better results? Is it worth your time? These are questions you should ask yourself when you find yourself getting caught up in the details. Asking such questions will help you see the bigger picture again and help you put things into their proper perspective.

technical lock

Despite the hard man image of most martial arts and self protection practitioners, most of us are just geeks who love to obsess over and discuss every little tiny detail. Having a passion for something can do that to you. It’s nice to be a geek sometimes, but other times you have to lock the geek in the cupboard (because he’s a geek and he deserves it) and allow the cold, hard realist to take a look at things for a while, just to make sure the geek hasn’t transformed the landscape into a complete fantasy land.

Just be aware of technical lock. If you zoom in, zoom back out again. Give yourself a reality check and remember why you are training.

Give your friends a reality check as well, and share this with them on Facebook.


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