Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Limited Time

Swamped right now. Barely been near a computer for the last week and will be heading off for vacation (anybody in Victoria BC?) for a week soon.

Have also been asked to condense an 8 hour DT class into a two hour class for the media. Sigh.

I'll try to post if I get access- already have some things on the back burner. Maybe talking about evil. Or why people poke bears and then get surprised when they are bitten. The difference between teaching good students and bad. The difference between a poor student and a bad one.


Be careful, all y'all.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

More on Heart and Freezing

These are works in process, more questions than answers, so take them for what they are worth. In the last post I talked about heart or spirit as the ability to act and the fact that it is a quality easier detected in its absence than in its presence. We know when people run or freeze or frenzy... we rarely know why they didn't. If anywhere, heart is in those 'whys'.

But everyone freezes. Do a search for "Half-Second Freeze" and look at the post of that name (the new program doesn't seem to allow me to link to a single archived post). I still freeze sometimes. One of the things I teach is how to break out of a freeze 'cause I've done it so often in so many different circumstances. Everyone freezes if the circumstances are right and even the most hardened veteran still harbors a fear he will freeze again, and maybe next time just a little too long.

Maybe if we look at the ways we freeze?

The OO bounce. Search for the posts on the OODA loop, especially 'OODA Introduction' and 'OODA Insights'. If information/stimulus/action is coming too fast to grasp it, if you never finish Orienting before another action that is Observed happens, you brain freezes. This is reliable as hell... except through training, luck or conditioning I have a habit of shutting down stimulus that overwhelms me. The fact that you are in an OO freeze becomes an Observation itself with a programmed Decision and Action. It works but... there is no guarantee that multiple sources of stimulus or novel types of stimulus won't overwhelm it. So, in a limited way, you might be able to train this one.

Novelty. The inability to Orient at all. If you see something and can't tell what it is, you can't Orient so you can't Decide so you don't Act. This alone accounts for the reason why veterans freeze less than rookies and recover sooner... but there is no one who has 'seen it all', there's too much 'all' out there, so everyone is vulnerable. Combat non-sequitors are another level of this- present something so unusual that the Orient stage takes more time and you buy a little freeze. Feinting on another level does the same thing, the person must Orient to whether the attack is real or a distraction. Training and experience work for this one, but only to an extent. There are things so big and bad (or just weird) that you won't be ready for them. Boxing match does not equal soccer riot does not equal firefight.

Lack of Confidence. A big one but vague. If you don't believe you can prevail, you probably won't try. Losing can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most insiduous are the people who were taught as children that failure was inevitable so trying was stupid. Many people are dealing with that lesson, and losing to it, well into their adult life. I almost wish this one wern't so easy to alter. There is almost no correlation between confidence and actual ability. I want to believe "train the skills and trust the skills" but I know damn well that a cult leader personality can turn a mouse into a fighter much faster than I can.. and much, much faster than they can learn the skills to be successful fighters. High confidence and low skills never ends well.

Permission. Read the post on "The Big Three". Simply, most people have never worked out what they are willing to do and when and why. They have glitches and inhibitions and issues that they are not aware of. Who ever says there are no rules in a street fight is an idiot. There are layers and layers of unconscious rules, some social and some genetic, that I am just beginning to unravel. Until you have identified and faced your unconscious rule sets you will have freezes that you are not aware of. Can this be trained? Perhaps in some deep psychological counseling way. A good instructor may notice some glitches in training and bring it out in to the light. That may be enough to fix them and it may not. Some permission glitches are ugly: the bank manager in the last post didn't want to be rude. Compare that to "Betrayed by the Angel" where the author was brutally raped ...partially because she didn't want to be rude. Experience again can break part of the permission freeze. For some people things like killing or fighting that were very hard the first time become easier the second, third fourth... time. NOT (IMO) because they have changed their internal rules. It just gets easier. I think the ones who suffer the most never address the rules (and it is the rules, again in my opinion, that are a big part of the pain). The ones who examine their rules and permissions- "this is normally bad but under these circumstances it was necessary, just and good." Recover better. Maybe.

The Looking Glass. This is related to Permission, probably a subset of it, but worth looking at. There's a post on this, too "Through the Looking Glass". Simply, we all have skills in conflict management that have worked for us all our lives. But there are situations and types of violence where those skills and rules don't apply. Nothing you learned about managing dinner table arguments with your fractious family will help you in an ambush. Nothing you learned about protesting corruption will help you in a gang stomping. Those are social skills that rely on something resembling a society. When those rules go out the window, almost all of those skills are counter productive. There is no win/win solution or teaming strategy in a torture/murder/rape- trying only identifies you as a compliant 'good' victim. The Looking Glass freeze comes from the inability to tell when you have crossed the line and are no longer working under the rules or even in the world that you are used to. This is the "Why is this happening to me?" freeze. The "What do they want" and "But I haven't done anything wrong!" freezes. Training? I think you can teach about this one. Once aware, it's not that hard to recognize. Permission to act then becomes a separate issue. How to act becomes a third.

These are off the top of my head. I'm sure there are more.

To the issue of 'heart' it seems more and more that is a fuzzy word, not an absolute and maybe not a quality at all. There are certainly limits to it.

More to think about.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


He's tall and lanky. Crack skinny. Almost toothless. Homeless couture and homeless smell sitting in a plush chair in the bank lobby. The bank manager is bringing him coffee. The other bank workers are staying well away, avoiding theis man who might well be crazy and dangerous. They expect the manager to 'deal with it'. In this context it means that they expect the manager to make the person leave.

He is not a customer, barely a citizen. He is playing on reluctance of most polite, civilized people to say ugly truths, make demands, be rude.

The manager plays right into it: being polite, bringing the man coffee, hoping that the intruder's 'sixth sense' will kick in and he will understand that he is not welcome. The manager doesn't understand that the old con is perfectly aware he is not welcome, he just doesn't care. He will milk it for coffee and a chance to rest out of the wind. The fact that he is making richer people with more social sense than he has feel scared is just a bonus. It makes the game fun.

When the manager finally gets up the nerve and asks him to leave, (maybe orders, later, but he will try polite first) and threatens to call the cops (much later) the old con will pretend to be hurt and indignant. He will twist the knife all he can to bring a lasting guilt and self-doubt to this pseudo-authority figure. That will be partly for fun but it is also calculated: the evil men of the world know that if you make people feel guilty for taking a stand, there will be fewer to take a stand every year. It is one small, constant step in creating a culture of willing victims.

Don't get me wrong, I know this con, recognize him, and the in ocean of evil he is a very small fish. Not brave enough to be physically dangerous most of the time, not smart enough to do much damage, not foresighted enough to see much beyond the next rock.

So he sits there with his coffee, talking non-stop to the manager who pretends to listen. His filthy shoes are propped on the glistening coffee table with the pink inmate socks (stolen when he was released from his last custody) clearly visible around his ankles.

Spirit, Mind and Body

It would seem that mind and body would be enough, wouldn't it? There are your physical actions and your decisions- what more need be said? You hear about spirit a lot in martial arts and in the military and even in sports. Some talk vaguely about training or forging spirit but no one seems to have a hard definition.

Mind and body aren't enough to explain it. Spirit may be vague, but it is there. It is one of those things you see in negative space, see in a strange action or the absence of an expected action. Like astronomers finding a planet they can't see by the wobble in one they can.

The simple fact is that if mind and body were enough to explain human behavior in combat, people would do the right thing. At least they would do the sensible thing. But after you have watched videos or experienced yourself a moment when you know that if you do not act and act now you will surely die and you were unable to move, mind and body alone don't explain that. Hence we talk about spirit.

It may be many things or one thing or a combination of things. Body includes the chemical responses to fear that affect cognition and the brain. Spirit may be as simple as a quality of the grey area, neither body or mind but how they effect each other. In this case a strong spirit may be as simple as a weak chemical flow or a neural insensitivity. Strong spirit may be a side effect of greater separation between mind and body.

(Aside: I've often wondered about pain. If I can run with a broken fibula and another person is crying and can't stand am I dealing with the pain better? Or just feeling it less? Is 'toughness' a mental strength or a sensitory weakness?)

Is it the matter of pre-conscious social conditioning? Is it voices in the head from early childhood telling you not to hit and how good children behave?

Do people have different resistances to new things? Lonnie Athens talks about stepping off the blue print, that no matter how often or hard you have trained, you are subconsciously aware that none of that was real and this, the real deal, is. Hence the hesitation and that all people to some extent, are reluctant to push their envelope. Is this reluctance variable? Everyone is afraid to do X but some people find the fear different or less inhibiting? Or some find acting easier than others (sounds similar but actually very different, a 'brakes weak' versus 'engine strong' comparison).

Do different people find training more real than others? Does blind faith in your system increase your ability to take chances with it? Can spirit just be (or just be mimicked by) an ability to ignore facts and trust what you have been told? I find that thought disturbing.

How much of spirit is inate, how much conditioning? How do genetics and experience interact?

When three people stand when thousands run, perhaps one read too many King Arthur stories as a child; one was afraid people would talk; and one was too adrenalized to know that the others had run and didn't have enough brain working to think of it himself. From the outside, all would look like courage (not exactly the same as spirit but one of the signs) even though the reasons and internal states were very different.

It would be interesting to see what each of us have done to forge our spirits and determine which of the possible conditions we were subconsciously trying to affect. Maybe see how well it worked and where, when and how it didn't. Hmmmmm.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Here's a question: Can heart be trained?

Some of the answers are sure and glib, but leave me unconvinced. Heart can be faked...

What do I mean by heart?

We always watch rookies, because until the first big fight there is no way to know who will run to it, who will run away and who will freeze. Size and gender don't seem to matter. Military training and a wall full of martial arts trophies don't seem to matter. Most freeze and the good ones force themselves to engage in their first fight. A few scatter. A very, very few jump in.

It's not the same as the ability to hold the line. The military trains and we know very well that the fear of being seen as a coward, the herd instinct, the need to belong is what keeps people in the fight under fire. They will hold together... but when they break and run, they will all run together too. The real heart is shown in those very few who stood when the rest of the herd ran. The few great leaders that rallied a broken unit who had lost and were running. Whether he was a good general or not, George Washington did this when the colonial army was lost. Maybe not a good general- but a great leader.

It's also not the ability to return violence with violence. If you are raised in a dangerous environment you can be conditioned to respond hard and fast to scary things. These are the street fighters or combat vets who hear a noise and attack immediately and all-out. A handful do it with an amazing ferocity, but for most it is a fear reflex often uncontrolled or even blind. How many can face incoming fire and stand and aim, precisely, efficiently?

And this is not the same, either: spraying automatic weapons fire into the general area of a threat is a fear reaction and not at all the same as looking in the eyes as you close in, knowing only one will walk away.

Can it be trained? (Should it, for that matter?)

From the comic book ads of yesteryear to modern seminars, the promise really hasn't changed that much, "Fear No Man!"

I've seen heart grow. The rookie who freezes and forces himself to act and does it again and again, starts to act as the default, stays calm with experience and can become a hell of an operator. But I've never seen a training that can make someone brave or dedicated. I have seen training that can get them to panic in a more useful direction, running through the threat rather than away... but only the people selling it pretend it's not panic.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Sometimes, when you practice an old art a detail will jump out at you and it slowly sinks in... this was used for killing people. We have separated that killing so far from martial arts that it is almost an alien concept, but what does martial mean? Dedicated to Mars, the God of War.

The early practitioners, in a time when there were no such thing as "Peace Officers" and people with strength did take what they wanted at will, lived and tested and remembered and used these skills in ways that are sometimes hard for us to envision. When we do see it, or at least when I see it, it is almost always in the details.

Why are men's shirts buttoned left over right, just like a gi? Because the hilt of a weapon tends to hang up on the draw if you do it otherwise. Found out that little detail practicing left-handed draws.

In a Filipino system learning a knife form there was a peculiar hand position with the free hand, it made no sense in sparring and seemed pointless in drills... someone had learned the hard way that it kept the blood from splashing in your eyes.

In our old jujutsu kata one of the assassination forms has confusing witnesses built into the technique. The old bastards that came up with this stuff weren't playing a game. They knew killing the enemy was only part of it- you also had to get away.

Is the karate low chamber with the off hand for power? A grip? Or just because that was where fishermen carried a knife?

Just a few little things, and I don't see or hear it in the grandiose explanations of instructors or the fervid fantasies of enthusiastic practitioners... it is in the small movements that don't make sense until blood begins to flow. Walking styles for slippery footing. Ways to hold the head to increase peripheral vision. Left hip forward on the draw. Stepping well out of the range of the 'dead' opponent before re-sheathing. Shortening the grip on the weapon...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Three Layers

This started as a simple idea, then another idea and then a third idea that tied them together. Really, this should be three posts, but the connection seems very powerful and important right now.

1) HEROES Our agency is getting a lot of flack right now. Some from the media, some from our own members, some from the public. In any big group, people will make mistakes over time. In any high stress situation, people will make mistakes... the people who make money by focusing on the mistakes and screaming for change will never know what we do every day.

Our people are exhausted. After a five-year hiring freeze, we are very short handed. There is a lot of overtime and a lot of money to be made in overtime, but the people who do it regularly are exhausted. Some are working three or even five extra shifts a week. Every week. Others are given no choice- the operation requires a certain number of bodies and when no one volunteers, somebody has to be ordered to stay. The public outcry, however, is about OT expenses and sick time abuse. I'll be honest, when I've had 34 hours of sleep in the last seven days I've been tempted to call in sick just to sleep, and I have burned a vacation day for eight hours of sleep and it felt like a vacation... and I do relatively little overtime.

We've cut our beds drastically from the past. That doesn't mean we have fewer criminals... when jail beds are cut crime goes up because punishment is less likely. What this means for us is that we have a higher concentration of more dangerous people in custody, the ones who are less likely to be dangerous are the ones left out on the streets. More dangerous people supervised by an exhausted skeleton crew... Yes, staff is assaulted more frequently and more seriously than ever. No one hears about that.

They don''t hear about the officers who talk down severe psych inmates in crisis every day.
They don't hear about the officer who walks into a tense situation (between inmate and inmate or even inmate and officer) and gets everyone to calm down and talk.
They rarely hear about the officers in a situation where deadly force could be used who risk their own lives to handle it at a lower level.

This blog is called Chiron because, like the centaur, I am aware that I do not train men or women or officers. I train heroes. Every day I am surrounded by people who deal with dark, dangerous and depressing situations so that no one else has to. Men and women who deal with life and death decisions in split seconds with only partial information. Men and women who are castigated by the people they protect for any perceived departure from perfection. They hold their heads high.

Remember the song, "The Impossible Dream"? Here is a line:

"And the world will be better for this: That one man, scorned and covered with scars, still strove with his last ounce of courage..."
That's who I work with. Scorned and covered with scars...

2) YOU ARE WHAT YOU SEE People respond to the world as if the world was like them. When reporters or citizens assume or declare that anyone in power must be corrupt, it is because they believe or fear or know that given that power they would use it for their own ends. When someone warns you that no one can be trusted, watch out. When someone treats strangers as trustworthy or takes risks, they are often safe to take risks with.

This is mirroring, and it is reliable. We assume, until proven otherwise, people see what we see and evaluate the information in much the same way- one of the reasons why some people are offended by others who disagree on subjects like politics. If we come to different conclusions from similar information and (the assumption) we process it the same, the only way we can have different conclusions is if you are stupid... You see this all the time, yes?

The other side effect is that people tend to hang with people who are much like them. If you are aware that all of your friends are jerks, I hate to be the one to tell you, but so are you. When you look around at your friends and feel lucky to be in such awesome and inspirational company, you are doing well. Your friends are looking at you the same way. When someone on the outside says, "No one is that honorable, they're covering deep, dark secrets," that person has only told you about himself.

3) See the tie in? Maybe it is a chicken-and-the-egg (layers in the post title. Get it?) thing. I am surrounded every day by heroes. How could I NOT step up when I am needed? How could I not do the right thing? My life is largely spent trying to be worthy of the people I see all around me. Not just the officers- their day to day heroism is expected. We get paid for it and we deliver. But even inmates some of whom I've written about here who have struggled to cope with trauma from early childhood or Vietnam; criminals who have tried; people who have dealt with levels of mental illness that might have crushed anyone else in despair but they kept fighting and trying and surviving, maybe not even understanding why. And my friends, who have been strong and honorable and faithful, have met challenges and disasters and just kept going. Friends and family who bring light to the world no matter how dark it gets...
How could I not strive to live up to what is all around me?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Deer in the Headlights

Complex things are simple, once you learn to deal with what they really are. Fighting is simple. You already know how to move, you've been doing it your whole life. You already know how to read people to ascertain their intent and motivation and strengths and weaknesses- you do it in conversation a hundred times a day. But if you focus on the trivia, obsess with the things that are different, you can paralyze yourself to complete inaction.

It's like people. People are pretty much all the same (even in their need to believe they are unique) and pretty simple creatures to boot (including in their need to believe that they are complex). There are some that are more different than others, schizophrenics for example, but people are pretty much all the same. If you work with what we have in common, you can get amazing things done. If you obsess on the differences, the paralyzation can be disastrous. This could be another post in itself- the great political and social divides between cosmetic differences. Enough.

We were trying to get a new instructor up to speed. There's a weird way that cops become instructors for other cops. They ask to be. You kind of expect that if someone wants to be a firearms instructor they have some experienmce with shooting or a DT instructor has some training or experience in fighting, but that's not always the case. Sometimes the people that ask just want to teach. Or are padding a resume. Or just want a break from the regular job. Or think it will be easy overtime...

The second step is where the instructors get selected. Sometimes it is formal, but in many agencies it isn't. When informal, one of two things happen. If things are going well and the agency is healthy, the instructor candidate gets the nod based on the needs of the agency. For instance I prefer small, female DT instructors. A 240 pound gorilla making a technique work doesn't really mean all that much, but when a 140 pounder shows that she can roll a gorilla or hold one down that gives confidence in the technique.

In an unhealthy agency the person making decision might be afraid to say "no" especially to a ruthless (but unqualified and ill-suited) resume padder; or might be inclined to say 'yes' to an unqualified and ill-suited friend. Or pick someone based on ease of working with instead of actual teaching ability.

In healthy and unhealthy agencies, once you get a core of good instructors they sometimes forget to bring new blood into the instructor cadre. Teaching cops how to put people down is not always physically easy. It's much less fun as you get older and fewer of your joints are original stock.

Long preface, but essentially we had a handful of experienced instructors and one rank beginner who had to get up to speed on teaching the DT curriculum for this cycle.

The information I give the instructors isn't the same as the students get. The instructors need to know "why" the students need to know "how". Sometimes you need to have the "why" down cold to explain the "how".

So the instructors get the overview- violence dynamics; how assaults happen; adrenaline effects; how to break out of the freeze; three critical stages of the physical fight; the OODA loop; tying everything back to use of force policy and law.

On the mat they needed to know the drills, but also the reason behind the drills, how to use the drills for coaching and what to look for. One experienced instructor from another discipline immediately latched on to the flaw in the drill (every drill has a flaw- if you are training to hurt people without hurting them, there is a safety flaw built in) and questioned it until he agreed that it was corrected elsewhere and addressed directly and the least damaging flaw we could use.

It's a lot of material, but it is dead simple and works specifically off of the student's natural actions and reactions. There's a lot here but not a lot to understand. Been afraid before? That's not new. Answered a phone or shook hands? Those movements aren't new. Tripped and been tripped? Not new.

The new instructor was overwhelmed. The blank stare of a deer caught in the headlights. Trying so hard to memorize every detail. Disconcerted by the way the others (with far more fighting experience) were casually clicking- "Right, I've seen that. That's good."

For the new instructor it was new information being crammed in. For the veterans it was new categories that allowed them to dump some trivia and classify what they already knew into a tighter, faster package. The exact same information to a new guy was complicated and complicating. For the veterans, it was simplifying.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


Finishing up my degree in psychology I had to look into the publishing policies of the APA. They disturbed me at the time, and they still do. My opinion has usually been that science is a search for truth and that truth is rarely comfortable. I don't need to get into the details. Suffice it to say that sometimes things change between editions of the DSM and sometimes those changes are not based on research.

There are some old classifications that I really like because they make quick useful distinctions. One example is neurosis, psychosis and schizophrenia. The first two no longer exist as discrete diagnoses and the third has become very specific. Everybody has problems or unusual habits. When the habits were only noticed by you and didn't effect the rest of your life, you were healthy. When they did effect your life, it was a neurosis. When it started affecting other people's lifes it was a psychosis and when you were no longer playing in the community sandbox, when the world you responded to wasn't the same as everyone else sees, it was schizophrenia. Scientifically robust? Maybe not. Useful shorthand? Definitely.

Setting up the latest training for crisis communication with the mentally ill I had to look up some stuff in the DSM-IV and saw something that really disturbed me- the sociopath has been tacked on as an alternate name for the Anti-Social Personality Disorder. In earlier editions, there was a distinction and there was a physiological test to show the distinction, a negative GSR (galvanic skin response). GSR is part of the "lie detector test"- your skin's conductivity to electricity changes under stress. Lying is stressful. A true sociopath didn't even have a GSR response to pain. Pain was not stressful.

Personally, I see the difference in action and it is an important and a qualitative difference. It is not quantitative, it is not a matter of a sociopath being more antisocial that an APD. An APD cares more about himself than you. We all do this, but the APD takes it to extremes, and there are gradations of it. An APD who decides that what he wants is more important than what you want will take your stuff and feel no guilt. An APD who feels that what he wants is more important than your life is more severe and will rob and kill. An APD who feels not being bored is more important than your life will kill you for fun. More extreme yet.

The true sociopath doesn't think any of this (you, me, the world) is real. I'm split on whether they think of themselves as real. They are essentially playing the biggest, most complex video game ever.

If you've played video games (I'm thinking GTA: San Andreas here) they are fun, exciting, you might get a little trickle of adrenaline- but there is no remorse, not even to your own characters death. Slaughtering is a technical skill, not an act of will or desperation. To live life this way can be powerful, even liberating- but it is very alien.

Probably the only saving grace is that the world is so complex that there are many ways to win, so few sociopaths become serial killers by deciding that the points are in the body count. Instead they may shoot for business or political success... or suspecting that there is an emptiness inside try to fill it with the artificial emotion of drugs and destroy themselves.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Impact arts- karate, wing tsun, TKD and the like have a serious disadvantage in live scenario training. In real life, you hit someone hard or hit someone a lot and they either stop what they are doing or they don't, but you know. In live scenarios with the emphasis on safety you can't hit for real. Even in baton training, the practice baton is light and padded and the threat can take more harder hits than he could hope to survive if they were delivered with a flashlight or a piece of hickory.

Grappling and locking arts have less of a disadvantage. A guy is pinned or he isn't, locked or he isn't and there isn't much difference in the end state between real life and playing. (There are differences leading up to the end state, trust me, but a threat choked unconscious looks almost exactly like a competitor choked unconscious).

What this means, in training, is that the students see grappling (using real technique) stop the fight and they rarely, if ever, see striking (using pulled or padded or otherwise safe techniques) stop the fight.

It also means that strikers rarely get to unload. When they do unload, they don't know what to expect.

To an extent, that's realistic. You can line ten people up and hit them in the head as hard as you can (taking your own broken hand out of the equation) maybe two will lose consciousness; six might go "ow" and/or fall down; one will hit you back without thinking and one will look at you and smile. The effects of striking are really idiosyncratic and unpredictable- which is why if somebody is worth hitting, they are probably worth hitting a lot.

I've used armor to offset this a little. This goes back to the last thread on the knife thing. Every so often you run across a pure striker with a lot of faith and they do very, very well. They power in continuous damaging strikes, usually with a nice loud kiai. They ignore the weapon, don't try to block, defend or grab and they do very well. The constant attack tends to freeze the guy with the knife, defeating the mind first (and thanks, Mac, for being the first to figure this out).

Even armor doesn't do it though, it's not quite enough to make things safe. Armor is impact reduction, but the person wearing armor has to be able to defend himself. He must be sufficiently more skilled than the striker to protect his joints, especially his neck; take take some pretty unorthodox falls; and still allow the student to impact.

There's also a mental switch and levels of unloading. My dream day used to be playing the bad guy for cell extraction practice with my tactical team. Five to eight skilled fighters, fully armored. I could unload, but not all the way. Ribs and noses still broke, hands bounced off walls and other helmets... the dream needed to be toned down. It was unloading, but not completely slipping the leash.

When my students go after me in armor, I get the same feeling. They are unloading, and some think they are giving me everything they have, but there is a whole other level they don't touch. It reverses, I have a student (big and skilled preferably) put on the armor for me to unload and everyone gets hesitant. Wearing armor is the sign that there will be an ass beating. That probably sounds like punishment, but it isn't.

This is hard to explain. Contrast:
Students practicing non-contact.
Students striking, me in armor- tap, tap, set hard with a grunt of effort, another hard strike, a follow-up medium, get distance, tap
Me striking- close range, hard; drop step for one strike, leg scoop for the next; multiple directions to make it hard to set, unbalancing to combine and offset with the strikes... It's overwhelming and it is supposed to be: speed + power + multidirectional + integrated throwing, striking and locking + kicks closer than most have trained, multiple striking surfaces (fist, elbow, hand, wrist, inner elbow, shoulder, hip, knee, head, feet).

The students know how to do this, they've seen me do it, they've practiced each piece of it... but they hold back. Their unloading isn't the same as my unloading. And my unloading on a student isn't nearly the same level as my unloading on the team and a far cry from slipping the leash when I think my life is in danger.

But they seem to think it is all they have.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Why I Don't Pretend to Teach Knife Defense

This is the title of a seminar that I've done a couple of times over the last few years and I recently read someone describing 'safe and efficient' knife disarms. It made me a little ill and a little scared that some people believe in this, believe it enough to teach it and can find students naive enough to swallow it.

The class starts with some pictures I've collected of knife wounds, empasizing that one set was from a prison shank, just a piece of metal that had been scraped on a floor, not some custom fighting knife sharpened to a razor edge. The most gruesome was a single cut from a kitchen knife. Gives them a very basic idea of what the hell they are talking about. What the stakes are if they choos to gamble in this arena.

Then I ask for someone with no experience or training with a knife. I take the volunteer aside, hand her the training knife and whisper, "Keep the knife moving, get it in to them any way you can. Cut anything they stick out, if someone grabs your hand switch hands and keep stabbing and slashing. Got it?"

I then turn back to the students and say, "This person now has less than thirty seconds of knife training. Who in here teaches knife defense?"

At this point, with the put up or shut up time, there are no volunteers. I pick somebody.
The first time I did this drill (for those who don't recognize it, it is Tony Blauer's Manson Drill) the volunteer was a sixteen-year old female green belt in Uech-ryu karate with no knife training. The expert (and, honestly, the Uechi guys didn't need to be picked, they did volunteer- they have consistantly been both braver and humbler than most martial artists, in my experience) was a sixth-dan and 20 year veteran police officer. He only got hit twelve times. ( We count the stabs and usually end it at twenty, which is just a few seconds).

In a big diverse group, it quickly becomes clear that almost nothing works against a fast moving, aggressive knife. The guys who have spent years with knives get slaughtered just as fast as people who have never tried it before- faster, if they really believe it works- they practically jump on the blade.

Then we talk about how knives are actually used. I demonstrate some prison shanking techniques and some mexican gang assassination techniques and the one Japanese tanto kata I know and they all have a lot in common- very close, from surprise and using the other hand to freeze the target before the knife come into view. Are those the attacks you train against? If not, too bad, because those are the attacks that happen. This brings up one of the big rules: Knives aren't used for winning fights. Knives are used for killing people.

Then the Reception Line drill. One student is picked out and I joyfully announce that he or she has been elected governor. It is now time for the inaugural ball. You first duty is to shake hands with all the people lining up to congratulate you- contributors, friends, political allies and rivals. You have to be nice, friendly. By the way, your security detail has information someone plans to kill you. Have a nice party.

The governor then faces away and one of the other students gets the knife. All the students are given instructions. Be happy, be friendly, shake hands, hug, then mill around behind the governor. The assassin can attack at any time- while shaking hands, later, after everyone else is done, while the governor is getting a hug...

The students cycle through the governor role. At least once, time permitting, there is no assassination attempt and the whole class gets to take a good hard look at how stilted and weird the body language of someone who is afraid can be... good education.

But in the end, the critique is almost always the same. No one yelled for help. No one ran. No one yelled, "He's got a knife!" No one used the mirrors all around or the weapons lying everywhere (we usually do this at a MA seminar, remember)... in the end, people were trying to come up with martial arts solutions to survival problems. As much as we want to pretend otherwise, that is rarely a good fit.

At this point someone usually gets frustrated (which is fair, they've been there for almost an hour getting told nothing works and they've wasted sometimes years of training- not exactly the message but what many choose to hear) and asks what I would do.

I tell them what has worked for me in the past, and caution them that if five real-life knife defenses seems like a lot it isn't- no one in there would put up with a judo coach who had only had five matches. Then I show them my highest percentage shot (in either scenario, it doesn't matter). Sometimes I get stabbed up to three times, often I don't... then I let it sink in that what worked was fighting minds.

This is frustrating- by only hinting it feels like I'm jerking you around, but the nature of fighting minds instead of bodies is that it quits working if the person has time to think about it. Hopefully, this is a drill I'll do with some of you in the future. Don't want to spoil it by letting you think.