Rory Miller wrote the following as the lead-in to the Monkey Dance.
“What you lookin’ at?” barks a young man. He’s about your size, about your age. You don’t think you were looking at anything in particular. You also know the smart thing to do is to give a little apology and go back to your beer.
But you’re a young man yourself. Before you even realize it, you are looking dead in his eyes and saying, “Who wants to know?”
“You trying to be smart?”
“What if I am?” You aren’t sure who stood up first but both of you are standing now. His skin is getting red. He’s flexing his shoulders, looking bigger. You can’t see yourself and you don’t even think about it, but you are doing the same thing. More words are exchanged, some pretty colorful profanities and both of you step closer and closer. The veins in his neck and forehead are bulging and his jaw muscles are clenching whenever he isn’t insulting you.
You throw a quick glance at the other patrons. Everyone is watching but no one is doing a thing.
He gets closer, too close, and you push him away, hard.
He responds with a looping overhand punch. In a moment you are a tangle, rolling on the floor and throwing wild punches until somebody pulls you apart. (CofV8: The Monkey Dance –

Be_Nice-DaltonHe also wrote…
“Social violence includes ritualized jockeying for territory or status. It also includes acts to prove or increase group solidarity (a powerful side-effect of hunting as a team) and violence to enforce the rules and mores of the group. Asocial violence does not target the victim as a person, but as a resource. Asocial violence is the domain of the predator and the humanity of his victim does not enter into the equation.” (Facing Violence)
“The MD [Monkey Dance] is not a game you play. It is genetically programmed and unless you possess wisdom and exert will, the game plays you.” (Facing Violence)

While his intention is geared toward violence, there are similarities to other settings as well. A recent sparring class gave rise to some thoughts that have been repeated over and over throughout my training and teaching in the martial arts. I think, if you look, you’ll find a Monkey Dance within some of the partner training used in the martial arts.

When a person starts their martial arts training, there are a wide range of reasons behind it. Many have no real thought about being involved in a life threatening situation. Regardless, the development of the three brains begins. The Human brain gets to overrule the Lizard brain from the start. Intentionally walking into a place where people could do great damage to you doesn’t set well with the Lizard brain’s desire for self preservation. Most attribute the nervous excitement of their first classes to being anxious to train for whatever reason brought them there in the first place. They don’t recognize the potential of great violence but their Lizard brain does and wants to get out of there. The struggle between the Human brain and the Lizard brain will be a partial determining factor for whether they come back for the next class or not. Hopefully, the Human brain perseveres.

DSCN5754Sparring has always been my weak point. I have never been one of the better athletes, so putting myself in a position where speed and power are desired qualities was intimidating. Having senior students who were younger (and faster and stronger) than I was a challenge to the Lizard brain. The other aspects of training help temper my thoughts and soon the psychological aspects started to show themselves and the Human brain won out. Now, this doesn’t happen for everyone. Those who never had a thought about personal protection could become terrified and have the Lizard brain take control…while telling themselves that there are other “reasons” for quitting their training.

The Monkey brain can also have its way during these sparring sessions. It is not uncommon to see someone get hit, whether by accident or intent, begin to feel that it was uncalled for or cheap. The Monkey brain can start to rise and provide a little extra energy in their fight. A common thread runs here and leads to the “if that’s how you want to play” concept. Now another questionable technique is thrown and the training turns into a one upmanship game until someone gets hurt. This does have a tendency to be more with the young males, though.

Black Belt sparring
Black Belt sparring

If the student sticks around long enough, the Human brain has more of a chance to take control and develop actions based on the situation. The poorly landed technique gets discussed instead of becoming a cause for retaliation. Principles and concepts start to sink in deeper. They find uses in daily life beyond the personal protection applications. A common illustration is driving your car better. You start applying the martial arts principles to how your drive (i.e. how fast, when to change lanes, where cars are on entry ramps or ahead/behind you, when to set up getting to your exit). All of these can be seen within training, particularly sparring.

Make sure that you are taking advantage of every opportunity to manage your three brains!

Author: Master Robert Frankovich

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