Lies, damned lies, and averages

You've heard the expression, "There's three kinds of untruths - lies, damned lies, and statistics."
Today I wanted to discuss an important phenomenon that sort of falls in that third, most despised category - that of averaging.  But I'm not talking about numerical averaging like a grade point average or a pitcher's ERA.  I'm talking about a terrible sort of averaging that goes on with motor control 'programs' in your body/mind.
When there are two common ways to accomplish a goal, or when there are two actions that are nearly identical but have critical (life-threateniing) differences, unless you are careful to choose one and always be absolutely ruthless with yourself in practice that you do that one motor control program in that given instance, occasionally you'll get distracted or confused or hurried and your brain can sort of 'average' the two programs, creating some potentially non-viable bastard non-solution.
We saw two absolutely perfect examples this weekend.
When doing a forward roll, there are two common landing positions - one with the top leg behind the bottom leg and one with the top leg in front of the bottom leg.  We teach the top-leg-behind form exclusively, and we have pretty good reasons, but honestly I'm not sure that the other form is all that bad (if you land that way 100% of the time).  It seems that where people really get in trouble is when they don't pay attention to their landing and sometimes they land one way and sometimes land the other way.  These folks are habituating two different forms of the same solution, but occasionally (far to often) you'll get confused or distracted, and you'll land almost exactly halfway between these two positions.  That is, with one leg atop the other.  This usually has disasterous results with the top leg hammering the bottom ankle, knee, and/or legs crushing testcles.  I don't know that it matters which of these two falling positions you choose, but you had better choose one and pay attention to it all the time.  (We recommend the top-leg-behind version for several other reasons.)
The other example is one of our instructors who has done an extensive amount of both pistol shooting and tactical knife work.  When drawing either a pistol or tactical folder, the hands come together in front of the chest, but the hands are doing different actions/grips depending upon the activity.  Well, this instructor apparently suffered a momentary lapse of attention, and drew his folder (which automatically opens when drawn from the pocket), brought his hands together in front of his chest as if grasping a pistol, and cut his own thumb severely.  One tourniquet and six stitches later he is mostly okay (kinda grumpy), but he has provided us with another perfect glimpse of this damnable motor averaging. 
This second example I don't have a good solution for because I don't have any experience with pistols and fairly little with tactical folders, but the gurus that I listen to have one rule that tends to cut down (get it "cut" ;-) on self-mutilation.  Always, always, always keep the blade closer to the opponent than your other hand.  In other words, never put your free hand between your blade and the opponent.  I might add, on a personal note, that I don't especially like the Emerson self-opening 'wave' knives for that reason - sometimes I like to take my knife out of my pocket without it opening ;-)
But anyway, this isn't intended as me griping about him and his choices or practices.  That accident could happen to anyone who works with blades.  The point is, I advise that all my readers watch out for situations where this motor control averaging phenomenon can come into play, and create rules of practice (like top-leg-behind, or free hand behind blade) that you always, always, always abide by in practice.

Patrick Parker

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