Egemen brought me along when he went to train yesterday with a high-ranked martial arts student who, because of the extreme sensitivity of martial arts diplomacy in Turkey, spoke to me only off-the-record and on background.
Egemen and Deep Throat began with a three-minute drill in which Egemen held the focus pads for Deep Throat and without warning told him to change styles while attacking them -- so, e.g., "Wing Tzun!" "Escrima!" "Muay Thai!"
Egemen let me give this a try afterwards. I realized immediately that I've got a very well-known martial-arts problem: focus pad dependency. The slight change in the nature of the drill, and the slight change in the way Egemen held the focus pads -- they weren't exactly in the place I'm used to seeing them -- left me repeatedly with the dread analysis-paralysis. ("Wait: Am I supposed to hit this with a chain punch? Or a jab? How do you kick them if they're there?)
This is a well-known danger of training with focus pads. Even if you tell yourself over and over, That's not a focus pad, that's a face, or a rib, or a kneecap, you're not really fooling yourself. You are, in fact, training yourself to kick a focus pad, not a face, a rib, or a kneecap. And you are also very deliberately (and for excellent reasons) teaching yourself not to really harm someone, to carefully avoid actually smashing your fist into your training partner's face.
I could see very clearly that if I ever really had to use this, my first instincts would be off. I would not have "hit his face" as my automatic reflex; I'd have "hit a focus pad about six inches away from his face" as my first reflex. I worry that the extra second of processing time it would take to correct for this would be a big problem.
I asked them both about this and they agreed: It's a real training hazard. Egemen said that this is why it's especially important to really mix things up in focus pad drills, for the teacher to keep doing things that students don't expect to see. He also stressed the importance of visualizing the real target while you train, imagining it as clearly as you can while thinking, "That's a nose, and this isn't a game; it's life-or-death."
I thought it might be worthwhile to go a step further and train with focus pads that had realistic-looking targets printed on them: faces, ribs, etc. Anything to get the reptilian part of the brain used to thinking of the face, not a square blue leather pad, as the place to aim. Egemen said that there are such things, and apparently they are another blessing for which we may thank the porn industry, because they're made of the same material as those lifelike sex dolls so popular with Cabinet ministers in the British government, who are forever being found strung by a pair of ladies' pantyhose from the ceilings of the antechambers of the House of Commons with an orange stuffed in their mouths and a cyberskin sex doll lying violated and reproachful by their feet.
I've sent away for a pair of trainer focus boxing gloves by mail order, but I just don't know if I have it in me to order the special porno focus mitts, too. I don't think I want to explain that purchase at the customs depot.
The customs depot is on the other side of Istanbul, and to pick up a package you must take the tram for an hour, walk half a mile through one of Istanbul's less picturesque neighborhoods, and wait in line at nine separate windows (I do not exaggerate). You must negotiate with fifty-odd chain-smoking, lugubrious, indolent customs officials, all of whom are determined to send you back to the window whence you came, or send you across the street to the official photocopy machine, which inevitably is broken. The trip takes about five hours in total, usually.
My mother sent me some yoga DVDs for my birthday a while ago and by the time I reached window six, I seriously considered just leaving them there. Almost nothing, save, perhaps, a life-saving kidney, is worth a trip to the customs depot. Even then, it would be a toss-up. I definitely don't want to go there for a pair of cyberskin silicone porno focus pads, no matter how realistic, natural and lifelike their orifices may be.
Besides, they'd probably get stolen before I even collected them.
I was, however, immensely gratified that Deep Throat* thought my reflexes seemed faster than they were the last time we'd trained together. I don't know if that's true -- I may have just been having an off-night the last time -- but it was nice to hear.
*Just in case Deep Throat is reading this, I should probably explain: Deep Throat is not a porno allusion. For once.