Monday, February 28, 2011


(not to be confused with CPR, PMS or RIP)

What horses are really good at is knowing what happens before what happens, happens. In fact, they’re masters at it. Sometimes, it’s amazing.

Here’s an example. To “direct rein” means to pull on the rein on the side toward which you would like the horse to turn.  To “neck rein” means you move the rein on the opposite side so it just touches the horse’s neck. Everyone uses "direct rein" first because it’s an “obvious” continuation of leading a horse on the ground: where the lead rope pulls, the horse follows.
To make the transition to “neck reining,” you start by laying the opposite rein on the horse’s neck a fraction of a second before applying the direct rein.
What the horse quickly figures out is that the neck rein is what happens before the direct rein that happens, happens. Anticipating the direct rein, the horse responds to the indirect rein. Once he does that, you can discard the direct rein and just neck rein. Voila!

Knowing what happens before what happens, happens, we like to call “early pattern-recognition" (or E.P.R., when we want to sound arcane and very scientific).

Here’s another example of what we mean. Those of you who are students of other martial arts may have heard this story in another incarnation. It goes like this:
Once there was a young man who wanted to become a great swordsman. To this end he went about challenging various fencing masters to contests of skill. When he found one he could not beat, he stayed with that master and studied with him until he could beat him. Then, he’d move on to another. And another…

Finally, he challenged the elderly “master of all masters” to a contest.

They met at the appointed hour and ground.

No sooner had they come “en guard,” than the old Maitre d’Armes stepped back and said, “If you attack by cut to my head, I’ll counter with a side step and thrust to your heart.”

This stunned the younger man, and struck him as a very odd coincidence indeed, because attacking by a cut to the head was exactly what he’d been thinking of doing.

Again they stood to their guards.

Immediately, the old man stepped back and said, “If you thrust at my wrist, I’ll prise du fer and counter with a thrust to your face.”

Once again, this stunned the younger man, and struck him as a very odd coincidence indeed, because attacking with a thrust to the swordmaster’s wrist was exactly what he’d been thinking of doing.

And so it went.

Each time they came on guard, the Maitre would step back and politely say, “If you do A, I’ll counter with B…”

After a short time, the younger man was so completely unnerved, that he lay down his sword and begged the Master to accept him as a student.

There’s quite a bit to this story. Part of it has to do with how your subconscious mind immediately and indiscriminently acts to obey the conscious mind (SEE: Psycho-cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, the godfather of sport psychology).
Another part has to do with ways of knowing, in particular the cognitive vis a vis the intuitive.
But for the moment, the important element of the story is that the master knew what happened before what happened, happened.  He knew what his opponent was going to do before his opponent did it – perhaps even before his opponent knew it, himself.

That is, the Master was able to recognize in his opponent’s subtle body language and expression, his opponent’s intent. The wiley old gent was reading “cues” (or, as poker-players call them, “tells” ).  Boxers call it “telegraphing” a punch.
These combat cues are, to a greater or lesser degree, subtle but unavoidable and largely invisible to the person making them.  Indeed, we spend a fair amount of time making them visible to ourselves so that we can either eliminate them, insofar as can be done, or to USE them for misdirection. (“All combat is based on deception”. –Sun-tze)

The best cues are those that are integral to the intended action, ie, the intended action cannot be executed without first doing the “cue” action.
Cutting blows are a good example.
All cuts, to be effective, must first gather up energy and then release energy. One prepares or “winds up” the cut, and then delivers or executes the blow. It cannot be done in any other way.  Therefore, the wind-up is what happens before what happens (the cut) happens.
However, the wind-up itself can be broken down into small segments and the sooner you recognize the characteristic sine qua non of that preparatory action, the earlier you can respond.
That’s what we mean by early pattern recognition.

Another example:
A guy goes for the gun under his coat at his right hip. This action has a universally recognized crouch. It isn’t anything else. Nobody reaches into a pocket that way. Nobody goes for a wallet that way. Nobody scratches a mosquito bite that way. So when you see that action start, you respond in whatever way you’re going to respond: duck, dodge, run, or try to beat him to the draw. You don’t have to wait until the fellow draws his gun and aims it at your nose and pulls the trigger before you say, “Hmm. He wants to shoot me.”   Better to recognize the pattern earlier than later.

Perhaps more than anything else, early pattern recognition – sometimes incredibly early --is the mark of a master. It’s the fighter’s best stock in trade.  If your training doesn’t cultivate this capacity, I recommend you change your training so that it does.


  1. Very interesting post.
    So, how do you cultivate EPR in your training?

  2. Good question.
    See our latest post.