Monday, November 07, 2016

Back to One

There's something I've written about, thresholds, and it's not quite right. Experience with violence rewires you. The person who has survived a violent encounter is not the same person as they were before the violent encounter. Five encounters later, there's another definite change. Then another and another and another. Six discrete stages is as far as I know.

It tracks for other things and it generally tracks for other people. One of the issues with writing from personal experience is that you can't really know whether something you notice is idiosyncratic to you. One stupid example-- I tend to remember high-stress incidents in mirror image. I'd go over a force report and everything in there was exactly what happened, except everything I wrote that I did with my right side, e.g. "I then knelt on the side of XXXXX's head with my right knee to immobilize him against the ground." I'd actually done with my left knee.

How idiosyncratic is that? Without the combination of force incidents + report writing + report review I wouldn't even know. Same with the idea of experience thresholds rewiring your brain. Internal change is usually imperceptible unless you have a mechanism to bring it out. Or a combination of alertness and luck.

That's a digression.

Kathy Jackson over at The Cornered Cat is one of my "Honorable enemies." She's a good friend who has no hesitation in telling me when she thinks I'm wrong.

One of my threshold observations was that people who has prevailed in a single violent encounter were consistently the worst teachers. These were the ones that felt there was only one right answer, whether it was rage or fitness or speed or power or... the one thing that had worked was the only thing that could work. And, because all thinking humans know that's not true, these instructors had a constant cognitive dissonance they needed to resolve. As a result, the students they attracted were not students at all, but just pawns in their self-therapy.

Kathy pointed out two instructors who were superb, but each had one violent encounter. Which made me dig a little deeper.  She was right. But those two instructors had not prevailed by any stretch of the imagination. They had survived on luck or the intervention of others.

One of the other things that rewires your brain is to be absolutely sure that you will die in the next few minutes while being absolutely sure that there is nothing you can do to change the equation. Situations of complete helplessness exist, and I think almost everything we do as societies and individuals is geared, at least in part, to deny this truth.

These two instructors had hit that rock-bottom of helplessness and were allowed to live. And it has driven them to become the best they can be. They have the constant bullshit filter of their own experience and a drive to push their limits. They're extraordinary instructors.

Recently, Kathy pointed out another pattern. The experienced, effective, skilled operator who has that feeling of total helplessness late in their career.

(remind me to write later about how much fear and cognitive dissonance there is at the heart of this)

Simple truth is that no matter how alert, fit, skilled, experienced, equipped... name any combination you want... there is something out there that can crush you like a bug on a windshield. The incidents are rare, so most will never face them. And if you do face them and die, which is common, you don't have to work out the emotional issues afterwards. But when you hit complete helplessness and live, that can really mess you up.

We train to be harder to kill. That's cool. It's cool right until we become invested in the identity. When we start to believe that we can handle anything. Confidence is fine, but when it is not paired with humility and the sure and certain knowledge that the world is bigger than you and can bring you down, it creates a vulnerability.

So the tough guy (and I want to write swaggering, but not always) who has convinced himself he is the best of the best gets rolled. Nothing he had was enough. Maybe he wakes up in the hospital fully aware that the only reason he's not in the morgue is pure dumb luck, or the whim of violent strangers.

The pattern? Generally he goes out on one more mission to prove he can still "get back on the horse" and then he transfers from operations into teaching. He fantasizes extensively about what might have worked in that one encounter and when he thinks he has something that might have worked, he insists it would have worked. And he teaches that, obsessively. Not the hundreds of other things that did work in real life before the one incident. The fantasy that makes him feel less vulnerable.

Like the instructor with only one encounter, it's not really teaching. It's self-guided therapy. And the students are just pawns in that therapy.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Constant Forward Pressure

There are things about fighting that are very difficult to learn without fighting. There are things about an assault that are difficult, maybe impossible, to learn without being on both ends of an assault. Martial arts training is largely about trying to preserve and pass on skills without the side-effects of using the skills. You want to learn to punch without the arthritis from old fractures in the delicate bones of your hand. To learn how to survive an attack without the accumulated concussions and microconcussions that are a natural result of knowing what "surviving an attack" even means.

When we sanitize fighting and try to make it safe we lose a lot of information. In hierarchical systems, if information is lost to one generation of instructors, the system tends to resist the information when it is rediscovered.

Some of those little bits of wisdom are so obvious it feels weird to talk or write about them. This is one.

Hitting changes stuff. Not just 'hitting a body feels different than hitting a heavy bag or punching air.' Every time you hit or are hit for real, something changes. Something in the structure of the person receiving the hit is disrupted. If you get hit hard enough in the face to twist you neck, it will change your shoulder alignment and the distribution of balance between your feet. If you take a heavy rising body blow it can break your connection with the ground.

Every incoming impact affects you, and every impact you deliver affects the threat.

In order to hit well you need power, targeting, timing, and empty space to move through.
Power is usually based on structure and a connection with the ground OR whip action and speed.
Targets must be in range and available. If you can't reach it you can't hurt it.
I'll skip timing. Timing in fighting is a complicated art form, in assault (either doing or receiving) timing is dead simple.
Empty space is something an infighter must manage.

Every solid impact affects at least one of those things. It can disrupt structure and connection with the ground and interrupt the looseness required for whip power. Changing structure changes range and the body's orientation to available targets. Attacks change your perception of time and thus alter your timing.

The essence of defense is to disrupt the other person's offense-- by denying targets or disrupting, power, targeting, timing or range. "The best defense is a good offense" is a literal truth when you are working with impact.

On the receiving end it is a double-whammy and almost impossible to understand or get skilled at without experience. Incoming attacks at power mess you up physically, as described, but also mentally. Fast hard attacks disrupt your OODA loop and tend to overwhelm people into a passive, child-like mode. The determination to keep control of your own mind and to adapt to the physical disruption-- there are exercises which can show you pieces of it (Infighting randori is the best I know, followed closely by full blown scenarios...) but the real thing can't be replicated safely.

I first heard "constant forward pressure" as a wing chun strategy. This is my understanding of it today: Every attack disrupts. Each contact does damage; disrupts the threat's targeting, timing and distancing; and sets up the next shot. (I tend to fight by touch instead of sight, so indexing and pivoting the attacking limb off the point of impact are big for me.)

Constant forward pressure lets your offense handle your defense. It sounds like an armchair strategy, but it is an obvious natural truth when you are hitting and getting hit hard.



Sunday, July 17, 2016

Overlay

Working on a model. A lot of things have puzzled me for the last several years, especially things that look, to me, like people fighting against their own self-interest; people blind to the disconnect between their own peaceful words and violent actions; people arguing and even rioting against their own civil rights (WTF, people?); demands to add power to already failed initiatives and institutions...

The people that see the problems I see tend to have certain things in common. And the people who don't see the disconnects also tend to have things in common. I think the disconnects fall on a common fault line, though. So let's see if I can dig this out here.

There is a natural world. In that natural world, things follow the laws of physics and the laws of biology. If you want a rock on top of a hill, energy must be expended to get it there. Most things you eat comes from the destruction of another living creature. Want a burger? A sweet, docile, brown-eyed cow must be killed, chopped up into it's constituent parts and some of those parts ground into piles of once-living flesh. Want a beer to grow with that? Barley must be chopped and carefully rotted.

There is an economics to the laws of biology/ecology. It's not exactly a zero-sum game, but energy must be exerted to get benefits. You must expend the energy to move to shelter. To get food. To not be killed by creatures that want you for food.

This reality underlies everything. Bellies need to be fed, in order to feed bellies, something must be destroyed and some person must initiate that destruction. Meat doesn't come from grocery stores, it comes from ranchers and slaughterhouses.

That reality is stark, and people are very uncomfortable with it. Extremely darwinian. There will be winners and losers and extinctions.

Nobody likes extinctions and they dislike people losing (in an abstract way) and hate being losers themselves, and so they set up or empower someone else to set up a system that overlays and attempts to control the natural world. You can't control the natural world, but you can influence the effects.

But by creating this second ecosystem that overlays the natural one, you create a second way to play the game. If I can't feed my family, I can invoke the rules and someone else will feed them. If I'm not a good enough businessman to prosper, I can apply for grants or get a bailout or donate to a congressman who might write rules that hamper my competitor.

Technology has out paced population. We don't live in a scarcity economy and almost no one has any direct connection to something as primal as procuring food. We have machines powerful enough that it takes a remarkably small number of people to deal with the real world-- to butcher the animals and move the heavy rocks and build the roads and...

So for most people, the artificial overlay of rules (written and unwritten; intended and unintended...) have always been more powerful than the real world. And the people who manipulate the artificial world (politicians and bankers, for instance) have always been more powerful than the ones who work in the real world (industrialists, for instance*). Thus, the artificial world feels more real, and in day-to-day life, has more impact than the real world of hunger, cold and injury.

That's background. Here's the deal.
No matter how detailed, intense, powerful or all-controlling the artificial world becomes, the natural world never goes away. And every so often, in a natural disaster or a spree shooting, the natural world intrudes. For people who see the artificial world as the real world, the answer is obvious: We need more rules. In modern society, the response to fear has become micromanagement. Which works so well in the business world, right? Sigh.

But hurricanes and spree-shooters don't follow human rules, that's what makes them what they are. They follow physics or the laws of biology. Society's rules are just magical incantations and they only work on believers.

Universally (so far, I'm sure there are exceptions) the people that see the problems I see have lived close to the edge. They have been hungry with no one there to help, they have had people try to hurt or kill them and been profoundly alone. Which means they come overwhelmingly from the poor and rural demographics. Conversely, the ones who believe you can create a written answer to a physical problem have spent their lives in a rich, privileged and artificial world.

Both the worlds exist. Both affect our future. We need to recognize them both and recognize when a problem is beyond the reach of the artificial world's tools. IME, the people who have been exposed to the real world have no problem recognizing the artificial. They may get significantly self-righteous that their world view is the real or good one (long look in mirror here... I'm back) but unless they are completely off the grid, they know damn well about the overlay. Does anyone truly believe  that hard work and reliability is the fast-track to promotion in a big organization? Or that brilliantly arguing your professor into a corner will improve your grade?

But it is possible to live entirely in the artificial world and to believe that it is the only world. That writing rules somehow, magically, controls events. And for the most part, this isn't only a safe bet but a good one. The artificial overlay is the most powerful of the two worlds right now in day-to-day life. Right up until it fails.


*When you reflexively think about "evil corporations" are you thinking about the ones who provide your laptop, phone, car and food? Or the ones who exist just to manipulate interest and debt? I'd argue that they are very different.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Take a Breath

There's a lot happening in the world right now. More than you know, but probably less than you fear. Take a breath. Tension, fear and anger all make you stupid. And the resultant stupidity is a tool for someone else. Don't be a tool.

People learn through story. News outlets make money through advertising. People are tribal.
News sells stories, not data. They don't just tell you what happened, but try to tell you why, and what it means for you, and have a cast of characters and sometimes a moral... It's not a conspiracy or deceitful. People bond to stories and "just the facts" reporting would lose all of their audience to something more entertaining.

In broadcast TV, radio and newspapers, the media sells you. They work to deliver a certain number of viewers to their advertisers. To be a successful business, TV news has to keep you glued to the TV through the commercials. In order to do that they need a compelling story. Or just to make you angry and afraid. It works doubly well, because angry and afraid people are easily manipulated, and that's what advertisers want. Who does your fear and anger serve?

Story and tribe. In the modern world, tribes are abstractions based on story. The narrative trumps the truth and it must trump the truth because not standing with the tribe is unthinkable. So when a cornerstone of the narrative is shown to be false, the tribe doubles down. They alter facts to fit narrative. They invent entire incidents to keep the emotional bonds tight.

A concept I stumbled upon recently, I'd credit it if I remembered who I heard/read it from: When you are offended by a social injustice, if you want to fix it, don't bother looking at who suffers. Look at who profits.

Works for other things than social injustice. Who profits from your fear and anger?

Another concept, one of my guiding principles for civilians caught in high-casualty situations: Don't make things worse. Don't increase the chaos. It's related to the golden rule of dealing with EDPs (Emotionally Disturbed Persons) to wit, Don't do anything that increases the EDPs adrenaline.

Anger and fear are contagious. They feed off each other. The infect others. They spread. And they make things worse. I know some of you have taken your fear or your anger as parts of your identity and don't want to let it go. Let it go anyway. From that mindset not only are you part of the problem, you are serving someone else.  Someone who profits from rage and chaos.

Friday, July 08, 2016

A Hint From the IDC

IDC is Instructor Development Course. It's not a standard "Master Instructor" or "Train-the-Trainer" course in that IDC is about teaching regardless of subject. Master Instructor and Train-the-Trainer courses are usually certifying people to teach a something specific. CRGI's IDC centers around self-defense instruction because that's our common language but we're definitely not teaching a system. IDC is about the "how" of instruction, not the "what." Which probably only makes sense to me.

Garry and I taught an IDC last week. We had an extra day (one day more than last time, two or three days less than we need) so we went deeper into the business stuff and curriculum development.

Here's a thought for curriculum development, a quick and dirty thought experiment.
If 1) someone you loved was 2) going into harm's way and 3) this person was completely innocent and 4) you had five minutes on the phone to tell them how to be safer, what would you say?

That's your most important thing. It tells something about how you prioritize. I think awareness is the most important skill, but five minutes isn't even enough to make sure we have a common vocabulary. I think the most important physical skill is surviving the unexpected ambush, but that takes more time and I can't do it in words. I have something for a short advice. So should you.

If you had two hours hands on, what would you teach?

That's your core. The things every students should get as soon as possible.

If you had more time, what would you add? What is your most essential four hours of information? Eight? Sixteen? Forty?

As you write this out (you will write it out, right?) be careful to note where you get redundant or start to add things that aren't strictly necessary. That's where you start transitioning from a survival skill to an art form. Still nice, but a different thing.

As you get more time you can go deeper into subjects, and with more time you can change the order. For instance, I think the most important thing for most students is to get grounded in violence dynamics, but that's not the first thing I do in a one or two day seminar. It works better if the ice is broken by physical play, they've already had the context talk which sets the need and several references to hunting versus fighting have been filtered in. Early things prime the pump for important things later.

Counter assault is the most important physical skill, but it goes faster if the students understand drop step and structure a bit, so power generation comes first.

You get the idea. As a self-defense instructor, what's your core?

Saturday, July 02, 2016

This is Life Stuff

Just finished teaching an Instructor Development Course with Garry Smith of the Academy of Self-Defence in Sheffield. Not planning on debriefing the class here. But there was some very big things that came up.

The course was a deep introduction to teaching: what it is, what it means, the breathtaking responsibility. In the end, teaching is the re-engineering of another human being. Think what that implies. A student will come to you and when that person moves on, he or she will move on as an entirely different person. If they do not, you have failed utterly as a teacher.

We can never give the student what they want. Humans want homeostasis and comfort and, in the end, they want to learn without changing-- which is impossible. They want, in a self-defense class, to learn about fear and danger yet never become uncomfortable. The essence of teaching is that it is transformative. True teaching is incompatible with homeostasis, with comfort zones.

During the course, what I kept picking up from student comments and questions was that everything blended. When you organize your concept of SD there will be Building Blocks, Principles and Concepts. But teaching, also, is composed of Building Block skills, based on Principles and understood by Concepts that change with experience. And so is business (we covered primarily teaching, curriculum design, critical thinking and business in the course.) In the end, consciously or not, you will live your life the same way.


Because living is learning. Unless you are working very hard to maintain your comfort zones, living is learning. Life is change. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Suit

Had to put on the suit this morning.

Last night, decided to check in on FaceBook and just happened to see an update on a memorial page and backtracked and... yeah. The memorial that was postponed? This morning. So I put on the suit.

2016 has been a year already. We all (if you've spent time in this world) have the list. As we get older, it accelerates. The people we know get older, and the old die, eventually. The list grows.

Ron was a good man. He was the training sergeant when I was hired on. At different times he was my sergeant and my lieutenant and my Chief Deputy. He envisioned and formed the CERT team and I was on that from our first call-out. Of all the administrators, he was the one we trusted. It was a simple question, really-- given the choice between an underling dying and your career, what would you choose? Ron was one of the few that we really felt would sacrifice his career to save a life. I know that sounds simple and obvious, but spend a little time in any government agency and see how rare it is.

Lots of stories, but they belong to us. And they'll be shared between us, when the time is right. NPNBW, brothers.

The service was well done, but my radar wouldn't turn off. I noticed the significant negatives. Who didn't show. What was not said.

I hate funerals. I've been to too many, but that's a stupid thing to say since one would be too many. At the same time, memorials bring us together, people who are usually too busy to get together, to just say "hi" find the incentive when someone dies. And I appreciate reconnecting, but hate the reason.

The suit symbolizes that. I've been fortunate enough to work jobs where suits were a rarity and when a suit would normally be required, there was a Class A uniform. So the suit, to me, mean a funeral.

At least I couldn't smell any lilies.