Thursday, February 26, 2009

"Evolving Your Brain" some interesting and inspiring science with an unneccessary spin

My review of "Evolving Your Brain: The Science of Changing Your Mind", (author Joe Dispenza).

Interesting neuroscience, inspiring message, and some old philosophy in new clothes

Overall I enjoyed reading this book, although I did find it somewhat misleading regarding the scientific "paradigm" it offers and the minority philosophical points underlying it, and I was disappointed that there was not more practical applications of the author's interesting model.

My take on this book was almost the opposite of many of the other reviewers here who were either so impressed by the fact that someone would try to sue use science to support "free will" or so dismayed by the amount neuroscience in this book. Neither of those things seems that impressive to me. There *is* a lot of neuroscience here, and much of it is better than average (for a popular non-technical book anyway), but there is also some crude and I think poorly thought out philosophy as well. And the ironic thing for me was that the principles the author espouses for change are pretty mundane and don't really require either the neuroscience or the "consciousness precedes matter" philosophy.

The reasonable principles include such straightforward suggestions as envisioning your end point to organize action, using deliberate shifts of attention to change direction, using rehearsal to change habits, identifying destructive habits of thought, take responsibility for change, and make well-being a priority. Great ideas, but they don't really need the intro to neurosci or quantum physics in my opinion.

Brain science would have been more appropriate if the author had gone into more details about how we make decisions, showing how to influence the thinking process (e.g. see The Owner's Manual for the Brain: Everyday Applications from Mind-Brain Research 3rd Edition, (Howard)), but he avoids *that* sort of research, probably because it would dilute the philosophical message of "free will" that the author seems very concerned with promoting. If there are causal influences on thought, then it doesn't seem so free afterall, the opposite of the rhetorical message of this book.

The author does a pretty good job most of the time selecting and deriving pertinent lessons from neuroscience data and he gives some optimistic and realistic applications for how we can and do change ourselves sometimes. Where there is practical advice given, most of it seems very good to me, which is why I like this book overall and gave it a fairly good rating as inspirational self-help that tries hard to be scientific. As such it may for many people turn out to be a nice corrective to the scientific pessimism they find from many old school medical and psychological experts who are overly deterministic in their prognoses. I guess that's why so many reviewers seem so taken with this book, it does have an element of hope in it dressed in science, and we are more used to getting skepticism or pessimism in scientific treatments.

The author and I both seem to agree that we *can* change ourselves and influence our healing processes deliberately to some degree by rewiring our own nervous system in places, and we both also respect and commit ourselves to scientific causal models. We also both seem to be "compatibilists," people who beleive that our sense of free will and scientific determinism can be adequately reconciled. That far, I liked this book. We may disagree on the limits of self-change in practice in some specific spots, but I think the basic concept of self-healing and self-change is sound and welcome.

However the author also seems to have struggled with the philosophical problem of "top-down causation" at some point and I don't agree with or like the resolution he came up with. The whole concept from the start begins with the idea that thoughts trigger all sorts of physical things that have lasting effects. The author spends a lot of time in the book giving detailed examples of this. I have no problem with that, although it should be mentioned that this is not something new, it has been pretty well documented for decades by other authors, e.g. The Healer Within: The New Medicine of Mind and Body (Locke) and Psychobiology of Mind-Body Healing: New Concepts of Therapeutic Hypnosis (Rossi).

The problem with this particular book that I didn't have with those others is: where did the thought itself come from and what is its manifestation in the brain? That's where the author mostly just hand waves the brain mechanisms and defers to the ancient archaic version of "free will" as something that floats free of physical reality through some obscure unspecified quantum mechanical rationale. Why does he need this stretch to point out that we can change ourselves? I don't think he does.

The way thoughts themselves arise is one of the most important and interesting aspects of brain science, and still largely a mystery. The author's good but selective review of neuroscience mentions "free will" a lot but never all the wonderful data that has been accumulated regarding how we make decisions or where our perceptions and misperceptions of "free will" come from. Free will, in the sense that it actually exists and is worth seeking, is not something that escapes the brain and then reprograms it as the author claims, it is a result of that same remarkable brain, even if not entirely understood. At least that is a more interesting and promising line scientifically than hand waving about quantum weirdness and how "thoughts" as disembodied entities cause things to happen in the body. From my perspective, the illusion that makes us feel as if thought has to be non-physical is addressed well in: The Illusion of Conscious Will (Wegner) and Freedom Evolves (Dennett).

This "new paradigm" of the author is actually more philosophy and pop science speculation than hard science I think. It isn't terrible by any means, or impossible, and he isn't alone in considering it, but it is not really a new scientific model at all in any interesting experimental sense. It has been around for a while and has had a small, marginal, but dedicated following outside of mainstream science (and more broadly in popular media).

The author applies the problematic "consciousness is prior to matter" philosophical stance and then at the end of the book he throws in the traditional idiosyncratic interpretation of quantum physics to make the point more "scientific." To be fair, this view is reasonable philosophically and more to the point, I suppose may help non-scientists better appreciate human potential for change, which seems to be the author's primary overriding goal. But personally I think it is a technically completely unneccessary and misleading way to resolve the issue raised by top-down causation. For details on the philsophical issues, Jaegwon Kim's books are particularly helpful, such as: Mind in a Physical World: An Essay on the Mind-Body Problem and Mental Causation (Kim).

"Top-down causation," is the problem of how the mind, as a product of the brain, can then turn around and influence the body. I would say that this is a problem of how some aspects of brain function can influence others. The author instead joins those modern day Cartesians who evade the scientific problem with philosophy by making "thought" something outside of the physical world that causes things to happen in the physical world. Yes, I agree with the author that whatever a thought is in the brain does cause other things to happen in the body, but I disagree with him that it requires a weird non-physicalist take on consciousness and quantum mechanics to achieve this in principle. I particularly don't like that he claims this is some sort of new scientific paradigm. It is an old philosophical idea. There's a nice account of the difference between this intuitive view and the scientific worldview in: The Problem of the Soul: Two Visions of Mind and How to Reconcile Them (Flanagan).

This idea is certainly considered seriously by some philosophers, especially those who feel it is impossible to solve "hard problems" like qualia with physical explanations. But there is very little science here that applies to these ideas unless you really stretch and squint an awful lot at a few marginal experiments that could just as well be interpreted in other ways.

More importantly, the book doesn't really have as much in the way of practical ideas as I would have liked. The "science of changing your mind" should actually have a lot in it about changing your mind, rather than just explaining why it should be possible to change your mind.

So I don't think this was pioneering science because of its unneccessary odd digressions of philosophy and quantum physics, and I don't think it is a good how-to book, but I think the author makes a good case from neuroscience for the possibility of changing ourselves. I did find some value in the author's general model of how we change, but that would have made a better article than a book.

If the author had taken his model of change and neuroscience references and applied them to many practical examples rather than using them to promote an idiosyncratic underlying theory, this would have been a superb book in my opinion.

As it is, it is a better than average "alternative science" book. A worthwhile spiritual and also practical message combined with a mixture of real scientific and also very idiosyncratic models.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Volumetrics: Practical application of the obesity research

The top of the diet book list: More Taste, More Filling, Less Calories

My review of "The Volumetrics Weight Control Plan" by Barbara Rolls, PH.D. and Robert A. Barnett, HarperCollins, 2000.

There are thousands of diet books out there promoting approaches with varying combinations of common sense, science, experience, and novelty in their approach to weight control. They each have their advocates. I think Volumetrics is at the very top of the list of approaches for a number of reasons.

First is credibility. Barbara Rolls is not a personal trainer or a celebrity or "nutritionist" in the generic sense or someone who read a handful of studies and observed a handful of clients to derive her conclusions, she is a leading nutrition and health researcher. She knows the trends and patterns in the research, she knows which approaches have been reliable and which have not in the long run and with the widest base of people. Her foundation in the science of weight control is as solid as anyone writing about nutrition, and much better than 99.9% of the authors.

Second is flexibility. Volumetrics is not a concept based on sensory-specific boredom or food restriction, common and very popular approaches which generally are self-defeating. Volumetrics is instead based on understanding our own feelings of satisfaction with food so that we can feel satisfied while meeting our health goals rather than depriving ourselves. There are a number of effective tactics in Volumetrics for eating in a way that is satisfying and does not restrict food yet does restrict calories and therefore control weight. These tactics are not all or nothing, you can apply the ones you need to the degree that you need without following rigid rules and dietary restrictions. The tactics are organized in modular fashion. You can apply these principles when you go out to eat or order take-out or prepare your own favorites or you can make your own Volumetric meals from scratch, or any combination of these. Most of the time you are not avoiding foods at all, you are actually adding new ones in to help satisfy hunger so you don't need as much of the ones you crave in order to feel satisfied.

Third is variety. Unlike most programs, Volumetrics takes advantage of our natural inclination to eat a variety of foods in order to get the wide variety of nutrients that we need for optimal health. Most programs recognize that variety triggers us to eat more, so they discourage it and encourage boredom but we eventually get bored of nutritional boredom. Volumetrics instead encourages variety but provides a variety of choices that help rather than hurt weight control goals.

The central concepts are probably not going to be new to anyone who reads diet books. The presentation of their scientific basis and the reason why they work in terms of modern obesity research models is the strength of this book, and having this rationale is what allows the principles to be applied more flexibly. If you understand the *why* of the food choices, you can improvise flexibly in your own application of the program, and that's what Volumetrics gives you.

The key principle is satiety. Research indicates that in the long run we tend to eat until we are satisfied and we know we are satisfied in two ways. First, a complex collection of physiological signals from various parts of the body combine to produce the experience of satiety itself. Then we also learn what behaviors and foods lead to the experience of satiety for us. The Volumetrics approach centers around learning how to effectively produce the experience of satiety with what we eat and how to retrain our expectations for what we need to eat to be satisfied. That's it, the rest is details.

The main detail is the concept of energy density. Another important consistent research result is that people tend to eat the same amount by weight because of how we've learned to satisfy our hunger. The key result that makes the Volumetrics approach workable is that we can trigger the same signals that a particular weight of food produces with an equal volume of more satisfying, less energy-dense food. By deliberately creating the right sensory experience and fullness with foods that have less caloric energy, we learn to satisfy our hunger with less calories and so lose weight while eating more healthy and less calories.

The important point is that this is not about just eating salads and soups all the time, it is about strategically getting good nutrition by knowing the relative energy density of foods and eating more of the low energy density foods we really enjoy, and then more strictly portion control the higher energy density ones we have been craving and have been obstacles to our health goals. The emphasis on satiety in low-density foods controls the cravings for the high-density ones, making this possible.

This probably sounds a lot like common sense, and I think much of it is. However the details and their scientific rationale are what really make the program in this book stand out and make it workable and flexible. Volumetrics explains the specific problems with various other approaches like high protein/low carb and presents a broadly workable and scientifically based alternative that give you good lifelong nutritional habits rather than a tricky way to lose weight for a few weeks. I've been gradually incorporating these principles into my own life for several years and have been very happy with both their sustainability and their effectiveness. I think this program is going to be they key to weight control for a lot of people.

Given that the treatment of weight control in this book is so good, let's look at the few limitations.

First, since it is written from the perspective of health, there is really no treatment of performance or athletic nutrition, so athletes interested in weight control may be able to use these principles but they will not be able to rely on this book for their complete nutritional program.

Second, a related limitation is that the treatment regarding exercise is rather weak compared to the treatment of nutrition. Guidelines for walking and moderate activity are emphasized particularly for weight maintenance where they are most effective, rather than weight loss. The Volumetric approach is consistent with the trainer's dictum "you can't out-train a bad diet." Only a competitive endurance athlete and few extremes of that sort can hope to move so much that they burn off an energy-dense diet. So the principles of weight loss emphasize calorie restriction and satiety rather than exercise. As Volumetrics explains, exercise becomes important in three ways for weight *maintenance* (rather than loss) however: (1) strength training builds lean mass which raises resting metabolism, so we don't need to restrict calories as much, and (2) activity itself is more successful at maintaining weight than losing it, once we have eating patterns that maintain a nearly stable weight, and (3) a good exercise program is extremely effective at increasing our sense of self-efficacy, which leads to compliance and success in other habits as well. The limitation is that the book offers no help in what makes a good exercise program effective in these ways. It is not a book about exercise. High intensity exercise is mentioned as possibly even more useful for people who can tolerate it. I think this aspect is very important and should have been discussed a bit more. However it is a large book with a lot of details on its core principles, and exercise is really just a secondary concern to the authors.

Third, there is really very little discussion of popular principles that just aren't effective or those that possibly might be useful. The authors explain that most diets succeed in the short term because of various kinds of boredom and appetite suppression rather than because they are sound eating patterns. And they explain why adequate protein is important but more than that is not particularly helpful in the long run for weight control. But all of the rest of the tactics are left pretty much untouched. It would have been useful for some of the more intriguing ones to have been addressed, such as intermittent fasting.

Fourth, the thoroughness of the book will also be its downfall for some less patient readers used to reading web pages rather than books. This is a real book, not a pamphlet. It doesn't give you a condensed program in abstract form in the first few pages, you have to read the book and digest its lessons in order to get its full education and apply them effectively and flexibly. That's the whole point of the program, at least from my perspective, that deeper knowledge of the principles will help you with lifelong better eating.

All in all, I'd say this is the best single book on general principles of lifelong nutrition for weight control, it is detailed, comprehensive, and authoritative, and the program is practical, flexible, and sustainable. I'd venture so far as to say that other programs probably succeed or fail largely on how well they apply the sound principles behind Volumetrics.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hypnosis and Synesthesia

Hypnosis and Synesthesia

New Scientist ran a recent review article by David Robson that might be of interest to those exploring the nature of hypnosis. It is on the experimental investigation of synesthesia effects using hypnosis. Feb 14-20 2009 issue. Research is reviewed narrowing down the genetic origin of synesthesia, but then research is also reviewed showing that similar sensory cross-over effects can be reproduced with suggestion. The percentage of people who showed a particular cross-over effect under the hypnosis condition was roughly the same as that of people diagnosed with synesthesia, and significantly different from non-hypnosis controls.

This is interesting but not neccessarily something all that new. It doesn't say as much about the nature of hypnosis as a different state of consciousness as Robson's article seems to assume because it is also suspected that synesthesia effects are actually fairly common, and that the diagnostic criteria reveal a matter of degree more than kind. So as in T.X. Barber's famous line of "non-trance" experiments, suggestion rather than hypnosis per se could well be what brings out the cross-over effects. Missing from the hypnosis synesthesia experiment seems to be a non-trance task-motivated or expectancy control, their controls were simply "asked to imagine." The difference between being "asked to imagine" and being motivated or expectant to see results is very different, and this was one of Barber's central contributions to hypnosis research.

On the incidence of synesthesia effects, also see Alison Motluk's article from New Scientist last year: "Do we all have some synaesthetic ability?"

Synesthesia and suggestion both turn out to be fascinating windows into the mind!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Story Behind the Landmarks in the History of Life

The Story Behind the Landmarks in the History of Life

A review of Sean Carroll's book "Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origin of Species" 2009, Houghton Mifflin.

This is one of those “stories behind the science” books that gives you a sense of the sort of explorations that lay behind the famous discoveries that shaped modern biology. The primary focus is on the paleontologists who made various critical fossil finds and whose scientific obsessions led the efforts to uncover the history of life. Other books have covered the stories behind the genetics and the development of evolutionary theory itself better, but this one is particularly strong on the stories of key fossil hunters and their unique fascination with deep history and what it tells us.

The thing that makes this book worthwhile is that it is not just a travelogue of fossil discoveries, it makes a good and often successful effort to tie the work of each of the paleontologists into its implications for the history of life as well as making each find an interesting discovery for the reader.

It’s a very different experience learning the principles of biology in a classroom and reading the story of biology from the eyes of the naturalists discovering it firsthand.

On the other hand, the author doesn’t always tie specific finds back to their specific implications for biology. There is story and there is explanation, and the two are hard to balance. Story sometimes gets the better of explanation in this book. Although he is often careful to give simple explanations of concepts when introducing them, in a book of this type the author can’t help implicitly assuming a fair amount of knowledge that some lay readers might not have. I’m not sure I’d recommend this book as a primer on evolutionary biology, but then it wasn’t intended to be anything of the sort and that’s part of its charm.

What better way to celebrate Darwin’s bicentennial this year than to learn about how his ideas helped inspire generations of scientist-detectives to learn about the fascinating history of living things on our planet. The story is intriguing throughout, but by the time Carroll gets to the story of discoveries close to our own species, it has become a story you just can’t put down and which is really just beginning to be told.

The Sexual Selection Theory of Art: A Review of Dennis Dutton's "The Art Instinct"

The Sexual Selection Theory of Art: A Review of Dennis Dutton's "The Art Instinct"

Why have human beings always enjoyed making and experiencing art throughout history and in all areas of the world? This book is a bold claim about the nature of human beings. The claim is that the things we enjoy doing and the things we appreciate about each other were shaped largely by our history as a species rather than by what we learn from each other during our own life time.

This may not seem too bold to those unfamiliar with the academic climate of modern social sciences and humanities. In academia, particularly in social sciences and humanities, it is virtually heretical to claim any significant role at all for "nature" in human behavior. Although biologists in general agree that human nature is the result of an interaction of the expression of genes and their environment, the philosophy underlying the arts and social sciences heavily emphasizes the role of learning and enculturation in shaping us.

Still, even among biologists, Dutton's version of the claim is somewhat controversial. Dutton doesn't just say that human beings are the result of an evolutionary history. He doesn't just say that our brain and other organs are shaped by that history. Those claims are uncontroversial in biology. Dutton's particular boldness is that he claims that our nervous system specifically was shaped during the Pleistocene period of our history to favor certain qualities in potential mates, and that this shaping is the reason we have art.

The reason this claim is controversial even within biology has to do with two kinds of problem. The claim is rooted in a relatively recent subfield of biology known as evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary biologists are split about the potential of evolutionary psychology to explain human behavior. Some, proponents of evolutionary psychology, believe that the only way we can fully trace the workings of the human mind is to find what specific sorts of problems it evolved to solve.

Others are skeptical on principle. Some just think the whole endeavor is wrongheaded. The late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould argued that the human mind was more like a collection of byproducts of adaptations than adaptations. The philosopher Jerry Fodor argues that while modularity of the sort assumed by Dutton's chosen form of evolutionary psychology is clearly the rule in lower level neural processes like perception, it is unlikely in principle to play a role in higher mental processes.

Still others agree with the principles behind evolutionary psychology but don't think we can do it practically because the evidence we would need is too elusive and too easily obscured . They often cite the unfortunate tendency to explain everything glibly in terms of hypothetical Pleistocene adaptations. This tendency has been noted about evolutionary biology in general, but in other areas of evolutionary biology the methodological issues are more readily addressed. When we try to explain the roots of human behaviors, the issues become more complex.

Teasing out the evolutionary history of adaptations can be surprisingly tricky even for things with seemingly straightforward functions like feathers and eyes. When we look at mind and complex behaviors, the issues get extremely thorny.

Perhaps the best review of the empirical issues around evolutionary psychology are found in David Buller's book "Adapting Minds." [[ASIN:0262524600 Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature (Bradford Books)]] Buller summarizes the core arguments: (1) EP requires a specific stable environment that we adapted to over time, and the evidence for this is based entirely on time span, rather than having found such an environment, (2) a primary tool of adaptation analysis, the comparison of species which share a common ancestor, is rendered problematic by our lack of knowledge other hominid species any closer than chimps, (3) rapid evolutionary change since the Pleistocene is potentially relevant, and points out the difficulties distinguishing adaptations of the Pleistocene from those far more ancient, and (4) most of the EP experimental programs are open to interpretation regarding how their data relates back to evidence for adaptations.

Dutton's argument is well made but not compelling because it is by nature very speculative. However he does do a good job addressing the major objections in a way that lets you see the potential for his theory. The argument is particularly difficult, and Dutton's efforts particularly admirable, because he not only has to address the scientific issues regarding evolutionary psychology, but also the climate of opinion in the arts and social sciences that opposes the whole notion of explaining human preferences and experience in biological rather than cultural terms. Against this background of broad skepticism, Denis Dutton is particularly well suited to make the case for the bold use of evolutionary psychology because he is more familiar than most people with humanities as well as having a good understanding of biology.

Dutton has to jump through several rather big hoops. Since he is arguing specifically about our universal appreciation of art as something to be explained, he has to first establish that art is indeed a distinct universal domain that can be studied. This is a challenge already because the modernist philosophy underlying art does not view it as a single domain that is universal to human beings. Dutton addresses this in two parts: first arguing that art can be defined usefully in terms of a dozen or so related cluster criteria, and then arguing that these are more likely the result of natural selection than they are byproducts. Next he has to establish that art is not only universal to humankind but also that something universal to our species actually requires an evolutionary explanation.

In the most generally interesting parts of the book, Dutton raises common controversies about art in order to show how he would address them. In the most technically interesting parts of the book, Dutton compares and contrasts the competing theories: (1) it is purely cultural with no relation to natural selection, (2) it helps bind people into groups for collective action, (3) it is the result of byproducts of evolutionary adaptation, (4) it is the result of sexual selection.

Ultimately Dutton settles on a sexual selection explanation, similar to Geoffrey Miller's treatment in "The Mating Mind," [[ASIN:038549517X The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature]] but more focused on art in particular. In this theory, we came to appreciate certain abilities in each other as a way to find better mates, and these various abilities cluster around certain common themes like skill, novelty, specific focus, expressive individuality, intellectual challenge, emotional saturation, and imaginative experience.

If you appreciate Dutton's intriguing cluster criteria for art and you accept at least in principle the concept that we may have evolved preferences shaped through sexual selection, it is easy to find Dutton's argument exciting in spite of its speculative status. This is very good popular science writing: a bold theory, a well made argument, and a lot of interesting examples.

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of such a bold theory, but at least one good reason to consider it: it is wonderfully elegant.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The "Peek-A-Boo" Tactic in Modern Martial Arts

The Peek-A-Boo Tactic in Modern Martial Arts

Update Dec 2, 2011: Lee Morrison at Urban Combatives recently expanded on the idea of the Peek-A-Boo as a distinct tactic by combining it with some other more or less instinctive positions commonly used by well known instructors such as Tony Blauer's "SPEAR" and calling the positions collectively "default positions." Interesting idea and worth reading I think. I was leading up to something like this in the article here but never got around to following up, but I think Lee did a better job than the one I would have done.

The Peek-A-Boo as a Distinct Tactic

There's a very widely used and very effective tactic in modern martial arts that is used for the two critical purposes of: (1) defending from a wide range of attacks and (2) bridging from boxing range into close range striking and grappling.

It is notable in that the best known Asian traditions mostly use tactics where you stand upright, hands down or outstretched, grabbing or trapping limbs and striking while moving into close range. In Western boxing, the hands are usually held in front of the chin and beside the jaw.

The "peek-a-boo" tactic differs in that the fighter places both hands on his head (or sometimes at brow level), blocking with his forearms and elbows, and then in some variations may use this defense as part of a guarded rush to force the opponent back and engage them at close range. The position may appear momentarily in some form in boxing and Asian martial arts while covering up, but it becomes a distinct "Peek-A-Boo Tactic" when it is heavily relied on for its own unique characteristics.

A number of styles seem to treat this tactic as if they originated it, but it is likely that it was developed in parallel because relies on some of our gross defensive instincts, such as hunching over and pulling our body away from attack and raising our shoulders and arms to cover our face. That's probably why it is so highly favored in "reality-based" martial arts training, it requires little formal training and little fine motor skill to use effectively under a wide range of conditions.

The Peek-A-Boo in Boxing

The first place I know of that this tactic was used with dramatic effectiveness was in boxing. The legendary Cus D'Amato trained two world champion boxers in it: Floyd Patterson and Mike Tyson. Both used it to great effect at times. Wikipedia has a useful description of the Peek-A-Boo tactic as used in boxing:

"Peek a boo boxing utilizes relaxed hands with the forearms in front of the face and the fist at nose-eye level, as opposed to the orthodox style where the hands are at chin level with the left hand slightly in front of the chin and the right hand next to the chin. Other unique features includes side to side head movements, bobbing, weaving and blind siding your opponent. The number system e.g. 3-2-3-Body-head-body or 3-3-2 Body-Body-head is drilled with the stationary dummy and on the bag until the fighter is able to punch by rapid combinations with what Cus calls "bad intentions". The style allows swift neck movements as well quick duckings and the bad returning damage, usually by rising uppercuts or even rising hooks."

The Peek-A-Boo in Martial Arts

The use of the tactic in martial arts follows this pattern as well, but expands on it. The hands are kept high (often actually being placed on the top of the head when defending), moving from side to side continually but also moving the hands continually to faciliate quick blocking reactions. Martial artists are concerned with attacks from a wider range of angles than boxers and allows a wider range of counter-attacks, so the Peek-A-Boo in martial arts has to make more use of active blocking to cut off the angles and counter-attack.

"Jailhouse Rock"

You find this tactic featured in some martial arts of African origin and it is featured prominently in "Jailhouse Rock," an art of recent origin which a number of sources have testified to finding in modern prisons. The link to Jailhouse Rock is probably not coincidental. One version of the story of Floyd Patterson says that it was Patterson's use of the tactic he learned in Coxsacki prison that led to Cus D'Amato developing it for boxing. This story can only be partially true at best, however, since D'Amato had already taught a similar kind of defense to fighters before working with Patterson. In any case, whether boxing learned the tactic from prison, or prison from boxing, the tactic appears in similar forms in boxing and in penal fighting. There are many ways that the two could influence each other back and forth because of the unfortunate fact that many professional boxers have done prison time.

In this scan from John S. Soet's book Martial Arts Around the World, the aggressive use of elbows from a loose Peek-A-Boo defense is shown as an illustration of Jailhouse Rock.

Other Appearances

The tactic is found in a number of other modern systems as well. Defensive Tactics instructor Steve Tarani teaches a stationary version of the tactic for fast emergency defense and calls it the QuickShield (a name he trademarked). It is found in informal versions in self-defense arts such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, where it is used very briefly as a temporary defense and as a way to get into close range more safely rather than as a formal defensive system. I don't know if they use it in the Israeli arts, but I'd be very surprised if it didn't appear there somewhere. The heavily Indonesian flavored Jeet Kune Do of Dan Inosanto makes good use of this tactic and similar ones. The tactic has recently been featured in the fighting scenes of several movies. There is an interesting variation sometimes seen where one hand takes on the Peek-A-Boo posture on the head and the other hand braces against that elbow.

Mel Gibson is shown below doing a variation of the Peek-A-Boo.

More formally, the tactic is featured very prominently in several fighting systems as well. It is particularly apparent in the "Crazy Monkey Defense," and the Keysi Fighting Method. In the Keysi system, a particularly versatile form of the Peek-A-Boo is called the Pensador or "Thinking Man" and is used in a very aggressive way very similar to the boxing application.

Crazy Monkey

The folks at Crazy Monkey Defense (Rodney King and friends) say that they invented the Peek-A-Boo tactic from watching monkeys while on safari. They use in primarily in a defensive boxing context, by keeping hands constantly in motion so as to use forearms for rapid blocking without giving up the defensive shield. Their use of Peek-A-Boo differs slightly from D'Amato's mainly in that they are initially teaching it purely as a defensive system and use blocking motions with the arms (as shown in the jab defense example below) rather than bobbing and weaving. This probably makes the defensive shield easier for beginners to utilize effectively, while at least temporarily giving up on the potentially aggressive use of the tactic.

Keysi Fighting Method

The Keysi Fighting Method was created by Justo Dieguez and Andy Norman in the 1950's and they say it originated in the "Spanish Gypsy streets." It heavily emphasizes a form of the Peek-A-Boo as a unique sort of aggressive defense in order to get into close range and set up close range strikes. In the Keysi system, the shield position is maintained continually and used to set up strikes and guarded rushes at close range. The Keysi method demonstrates the unique versatility of the Peek-A-Boo for both offense and defense when used in a more general martial arts application. The founders of the art also train in Jeet Kune Do with Dan Inosanto, which probably helps explain why it shares a lot of similarity in places with Kali, Silat, and other Indonesian martial arts. The Keysi method has received a lot of attention due to being featured in several popular Hollywood films such as Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and MI-3.

The central concept in the Keysi method is the Pendador ("Thinking Man") which is the name they give the mobile, aggressive use of their particular version of the Peek-A-Boo position, with hands overlapping on the head. Many other concepts involve the use of that position to set up close range attacks.

Trinity Block: T.J. Kennedy's Hybrid Fighting Method

Raw Combat Sweden: Using arm attacks