Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Alone Time

This is alone time. It might not seem like it to you. It’s crowded. It’s loud.
The table across from me are a bunch of overweight guys with glasses talking about being great fighters and women. A very few couples, I don’t think this is a date kind of place. I’m sitting in a corner, typing away, sipping something local and watching.
It’s alone time. No one knows me, no one has any reason to watch me. Typing on a laptop is unusual but non-threatening. To the few who notice at all, I’m a nondescript guy in a corner, typing. Probably some kind of struggling attorney, maybe a journalist. Those that peg the accent will take me as a tourist at first, but other things won’t add up and, again, the very few that think of me at all will assume I’m here on business.
I’m an extreme introvert. Which doesn’t mean I don’t like people. Not saying I do like people, just saying introvert means something else.
It means I find them exhausting.
But not this. Right here, right now, I am separate and watching, even in a crowd. I’m clocking potential threats and potential prey, noting patterns of movement and interaction. It’s the most restful time I’ve had in two weeks.
I love what I do, don’t get me wrong. If I didn’t love teaching, I would do something else. But three weeks, constantly on stage, constantly a center of attention... it drains me.
And so I steal an hour, maybe ninety minutes to be gloriously alone in a crowd. It will refresh me, and I will hit the stage again tomorrow with renewed vigor, fresh.

Written a few days ago, in a pub. Very refreshing and the last of the class is winding down. It's been intense, good, powerful. Tomorrow night, a train to Scotland. Friends and fine whisky. Then a long plane ride and a few hours in the arms of my one true love.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Easy Teaching is not Easy Learning

Going to be writing about teaching for a few posts, I suspect.

Traveling seminars are usually weekends, and it makes sense to batch them, like three UK weekends over 16 days (plus travel time, and maybe a day to reset the internal clock). But that leaves the weekdays as big sinks of unused time. Garry and Dan decided to remedy that this trip. Dan scheduled things at St. Andrew's and it seems some college students can handle an all-day seminar during regular class times (imagine my old man voice saying, "Kids these days!") Not a problem.

Garry's were evening classes, so working people could make them. Three hour slots in London, Gate's Head, Wirral, Doncaster and four hours (later today) in Coventry.

Most of my lesson plans center around eight hours. It's the minimum to get a taste of the pieces, in my opinion. Almost everything in those eight hours is centered on understanding the question (What will I face? What are the elements of attack?) and gathering information-- how to see and evaluate not only what the threat is doing but your own trained mechanical inefficiencies. A second eight hours can go into the mechanics of efficient brawling. But at three hours something must be left out, and it must be made clear how incomplete the training is AND that can be hard when the attendees have never had that type of information in that volume before. Things can feel more complete than they can possibly actually be.

Anyway, how to train is often on my mind. But given a new problem, you learn new things.

One thought right away, and this feeds back to my secret intention with the Joint Locks video:
The best way for teaching is almost never the best way for learning.

It's an endemic belief in bureaucracies that training must be consistent and measurable. It is far more important to be able to objectively evaluate a student in a skillset than whether that skillset works. That's how bureaucracies measure 'fair' and bedamned to those who wind up bleeding.

It's not just soulless organizations, either. It's a staple of martial arts instruction as well. Any kind of force skill will be applied in a chaotic situation. It will be messy. Everything affects every other thing. Your ability to play in the margins, to use the chaos and mess is a big part of your survival skill. But it's hard to train, and for the ego-bound instructors, the prospective of losing to a student (and if you teach them to think sideways, you will lose sometimes) is a huge threat. It's hard to teach, so many instructors teach the easy stuff, not the good stuff.

And the way of teaching. The easy way of teaching is to break things down into manageable chunks. If I can pick out the eight steps to that wristlock, I can teach those eight steps. I can tell whether the student is doing each of those eight steps correctly. I can correct the student, which makes me feel like a teacher. And in the end, the student only has to remember those eight steps (and we're all good at remembering sequences, right?) and apply them and everything will be fine...

But it won't, because the student will need to access the memory part of the brain, which is slow and nearly useless in a force incident. The student will hesitate because that's what being constantly corrected makes people do. The ritual of the eight steps, consciously or not, sets an expectation for a very specific set-up that the bad guy may not be willing to provide. And it's not eight steps to success but eight chances for failure, since if any of the steps fail, they all do.

Some of the keys, and I'm a long way from finding them all:

  • Getting the information in the right level of detail to actually use. Nothing to memorize, but not so vague as to be useless
  • Match the skill to the correct part of the brain. Fighting has to be noncognitive, so there's no point in getting intellectual about it. Get intellectual about perfecting your training, though.
  • Teaching in the right modality. And testing, too. Fighting is inherently kinesthetic, not visual. We knock people down, we don't impress people unconscious.
  • Make it fun. Force is an inherently unfun subject, but all animals learn through play, everyone moves more efficiently when relaxed, and people learn better and to a deeper level of the brain when they enjoy the process.
  • Play. Related to above, but there is no way to script a complex answer to an unknown problem. The only way to get good at any complex skill intended for a chaotic environment is to play. And there's a lot in this, because the game has to be very well designed to teach the right things, and the student must be carefully prepped not to read too much into it.
  • Whatever you teach must agree with the student's world. The wording on this is tough. Generally, assume that your students are intelligent adults with their own experience of the world. So if you say or teach something that contradicts their knowledge of the world, they will either doubt the rest of what you say (which is bad) or they will reject their own experience (which is much worse.)
Enough for now. Time to go to Coventry.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Not on Hold, Just... Busy

It's hard to write when you are either working or trying to sleep.
This is my life now (and this is not a complaint, but an explanation and apology to the regular readers):

Up relatively late. Most times I have to catch a plane, the plane seems to leave at 0600, which means I have to be at the airport between 0400-0430, which means awake at 0300 at the latest. So the late start is a blessing...

But after a delay for mechanical problems which misses a connection  and another delay on the made-up connection I find myself at the destination somewhere around 25 hours awake and eight hours off from my biological clock... screw it, too tired to do the math. Commit to staying awake until at least 2100 local time so that I don't screw up my sleep schedule too bad. In order to stay awake, no writing or reading. I'd fall asleep. Walk. See a few friends. Walk. Have a wee dram. Walk. Keep moving.

Back to the flat around 2100, as planned. To sleep. Snap awake after three hours. (The one actual side-effect of my history is that, until very recently, I couldn't sleep more than four hours at a time.) Up, stretch, read, sudoku. After two hours I can sleep. Sleep until almost noon. Cool.

Wander the town (I love walking In Edinburgh, but also Montreal, Athens, SF, many others) with a friend, see more friends, eat and back to the flat to sleep. Snap awake after four hours. Still exhausted but only doze fitfully after that.

Get up, get coffee, try to find wifi and contact home. No-go. Find food. Catch ride to venue. Teach for 8+ hours. Talk and socialize and answer questions for another two. Dinner with the group. Back to flat. Go for another long walk. Realize that on a Sunday, breakfast, wifi and coffee will be harder to find. Hit a grocery store so at least breakfast won't be a problem in the morning.

Get up. Ride was barely on time yesterday, so go down right on time only to find that he felt guilty about not being early and has been waiting. To venue. Eight hours of teaching, plus talks,  dinner, etc. Things wind up so late that, with a friendly native guide, I have to work out the bus system to get back to the flat.  Next morning is free, but have to teach evening classes, and in that morning break, finally get a chance to blog.

Classes. Up late answering questions. Up early either to teach or to travel. Repeat.

This is not a complaint. Raf gathered a fantastic group at Edinburgh. Dan and Maya let me teach and connect with some of the next generation at St. Andrew's. The last three days in Swindon have been incredibly high energy, with plenty of bruises and learning for all.  I finally got to meet Stuart Williams and the lovely Louise in person. A gorgeous woman in the Edinburgh airport (they do tastings at the Duty Free there) gave me a dram of Glenlivet Distiller's Reserve. Ruins and good food and great conversation... Going forward, Garry has set up a slate of people to meet. Hoping to see Iain and Al again and maybe meet Geoff.

It's an awesome life, but sometimes a bit too busy for writing.

Monday, March 31, 2014

E-Burgh AAR

Last classes of the Edinburgh leg of the UK tour will be tonight. Arrest and control and cell extractions for a small group of officers from another country, then an evening of infighting. Then off to St Andrews, which would be a big thing if I golfed, or so I'm told. But that will be a fun group, too. Then Swindon, a bunch of fairly short courses, and the scenario training in Sheffield.

Then not-quite-home. Seattle.

Every trip to Edinburgh has been a blast. Beautiful city, good for wandering. The classes are always a mix-- excellent martial artists and beginners; security and enforcement professionals and civilians; and almost always some academics. Everyone thinks, everyone sweats. Most people get bruises (everybody on the second hands-on day). And it always refines my teaching.


Introductory ConCom is tight. Massive information, but easily internalized. One weakness in myself. Probably a complex of old concussions and sleep deprivation (or maybe just because there are so many nuances) I always remember a few details after the class that could have made it better.
Two weaknesses/opportunities in the class itself:
1) There should be different versions and different teachers for different audiences. The jail and agency stories work, the principles are universal, but having an experienced business person telling business stories that illustrate the same points would work better for a business audience.
2) I should have a printed handbook to go with the class. Ideally just copies of the ConCom manual, which I currently can't do if I accept my publisher's offer for print rights.

Crisis Communication with EDPs. Good information, well received, but like anything complex and real, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. First responders will arrive at the scene with minimal information, so they need on-the-spot intelligence gathering and threat assessment skills, whereas the EDP's family member or custodian will have lots of information and direct experience, but probably not the tools or resources. And whether there is a duty to act affects everything as well as the goal and available time. So, first improvement was to address these issues up front. Next will be to expand the power point either for specialized audiences or to address specifically how these factors affect options and priorities. Also, the PowerPoint slides are too wordy and sometimes repetitive. I teach this less often so I haven't built memory triggers into the slides.

Introduction to Violence. Sounds strange, but one advantage of teaching in a foreign country (or to groups from multiple countries) is that I don't know the laws. Thus I can cut the Force Law portion down to almost nothing-- affirmative defense, elements of articulation. Which gives more time for other stuff. This was a one-day. The two-day gives me a lot more time flexibility. Getting people up to environmental fighting in one day without injuries is always challenging, and I prefer environmentals after some work on the ground and with momentum and walls. But it's fun and it works. The two biggest battles are:
1) Getting people to understand that fighting harder is not always fighting better. The serious injury rate in martial arts classes, even full-contact classes, is quite low. It's the only way to stay in business. So if school 'A' goes slow and light and one person in a hundred gets a broken bone or dislocated joint or serious concussion, and school 'B' goes ten times as hard and only one person in a hundred gets a broken bone or dislocated joint or serious concussion, then school 'A' is ten times as efficient as school 'B'.  It's just math. You do have to go fast and hard. People who only play light get a very specific set of bad habits. But people who only play hard get a different set of bad habits.
2) The stupid performance artifact belief that good motion means lots of motion. If you do some eight move spinning cartwheel of doom and KJ puts you down with a right cross, KJ is the better martial artist. KJ is the better fighter. Sometimes there is a two inch move with your knee or just a hip bump that will do more than your prettiest technique, but people usually don't see the opportunity and when it is pointed out and often say it doesn't feel right because it is 'too easy.'

People who use this stuff try to make it simpler. People who only train in it have a tendency to make it more complicated.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Out of the Box

Because my lovely wife worked on the cover and interior design, I got to read Kris and Lawrence's new book, Sensei, Mentor, Teacher, Coach, before it became available. It's a good book. Really good. And important. And I think it will be an uphill battle to make it successful.

Why? The material is original, important, comprehensive. The writing is good, like I expect from these two. Both of the authors are well known, best-sellers in the martial arts genre. On paper,  S-M-T-C should take off. But it will be a struggle.

Largely because, somewhere in our heads, we put people into boxes. Lawrence Kane and Kris Wilder? Karate guys. Martial arts authors. The people who look for their names are not looking for books on leadership. The people looking for books on leadership are not looking for those names. Even most of their fans don't know that before Kris decided to see how deeply he could simplify his life he was a professional consultant who worked on national political campaigns. Or that Lawrence, in his day job, sometimes herds $100 million+ contracts through a major bureaucracy.

These karate guys know leadership. And management. And the difference. They know that teaching is guiding growth through leadership. "Among the thousands of books on this subject I am amazed that Wilder and Kane have not only found a new approach, but one that makes a real difference."   That's what some guy named Anthony Wood wrote in the introduction. Some marine colonel-- who led the evacuation of Saigon. Just some guy.

It's a marketing puzzle. And I'm in a similar place with ConCom. Groundbreaking stuff, but it's not some former jailguard thug talking about violence and bad people. People who want communications books prefer to see a PhD or MSW after the name.

In the last month, all three of us have shattered our molds, and done some of our best work, in my opinion. But I think it's going to take something creative to get traction, to get attention in the right places. Stuff to think about.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

24 Hours

This post isn't about violence or self-defense, just purely about how cool the world is.
On the second of March we had a weather phenomenon called a "silver thaw." It has nothing to do with thawing, so don't ask me about the name. I'm sure it happens in other places, but I've only seen it here, in the gorge.  The rain hits, and it comes down as rain but the ground is cold and every single surface gets covered with ice. The roads are a sheath of ice. Every blade of grass is outlined in ice like a crystal.  It's hell to drive in, but it is gorgeous.
  The rail on the deck (this is what the roads were like):

The plants looked like this:

And the view from the deck was:
Twenty-four hours later it was 51 degrees fahrenheit and I was out in my shirt sleeves, digging in the garden.  The view from the deck:

Life is change. It's a big world and full of many things. Not just in space, but also in time.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Building a House

Conversation the other day about training paradigms. The person was advocating that things are learned best starting with basic technique, then building on that into a system. As near as I can remember one quote, "The first day, sensei showed us a punch. It wasn't quite right, but he told us to practice and pay attention to form and we would do it right when we needed it. It couldn't be right, of course, because if you punch with full power, you'll stress your elbows."

If you heard something like this (as I did from my first karate sensei) I want you to put on your big boy hat and think about, because almost every single element of that thought is palpably false.

Never practice doing things "not quite right." Not quite right is wrong, and if you do enough reps at doing things wrong, you will do things wrong in a fight. We all know this.  The best training in the world doesn't always come out, especially in your first fights-- but if your training does come out, you don't want it to be wrong.

There is no universe where doing things wrong long enough will magically morph into doing things right.

Correct form and not going full power are all artifacts of punching air. You need to punch a body. A moving body. You don't have to worry about your elbows. Wrists maybe, and shoulders if you have some of the snap power generations down... thing is, the feedback for really hitting a body is kinesthetic, not visual. Who cares if rotten food is pretty on the plate?

He tried to explain again with the house metaphor. You have to build a foundation. Then the walls, then the roof. Add the windows and doors and plumbing and electrical system. Only then will you have a house. The metaphore is that you practice your techniques with special attention to form (which, IMO, is confusing the paint job with the foundation) and then you build up through combinations to tactics to strategy and only then, when it is all complete, can you fight with it.

If this was the pattern of actual teaching, there might be some validity to the metaphor. But what you will see most often is the equivalent of handing someone a hammer and showing them how to swing it. After months or years of that they might be allowed to pound actual nails into random pieces of lumber. And they are told that enough reps of that combined with with making forts under the table with blankets (sparring) makes a complete house.

The principles-based approach is to understand what a house is. List what you need to understand (structural stability, insulation, air flow, heating and safety, light) to build one appropriate for your needs (emergency shelter to high rise). And then you play and experiment with the principles and the material you have on hand or can acquire.

None of us learned to talk the way we learned martial arts. We learned to talk through immersion. We played and sang and told stories and listened. We experimented with language-- The two-year-old's "No" stage is finding out how much he or she can control the world. We learned to speak with just a third of the principles-based model and we're all pretty good at it.

We learned to write from the foundational model, and after a minimum of twelve years of formal instruction under professional teachers, a lot of people still suck at it. And even the ones who don't suck have immense insecurities. In my opinion, most of the bad writing comes from the insecurities, by the way. Trying to be "a Writer" people become stilted and artificial trying to please some long-dead third grade teacher.

One of the commenters long ago (no way I could find the post before coffee, sorry) pointed out that all animals learn through play, and only humans were stupid enough to try to turn learning into a job.  I'll go further and say that the primary effect of that form of teaching is to make the students easy to control. It serves no other function efficiently.