Friday, December 28, 2007

The Joy of the Lesson Plan

Teaching private students is fun and easy.  Provided they have good safety basics (they know how to take a fall and they don't panic at minor striking contact) you can usually get a good session rolling with a simple, "What do you need to work on today?"  It serves a couple of purposes beyond setting an agenda for the day.  It gets them thinking critically about why they are here, what they want and where their strengths and weaknesses lie.  More importantly, it pushes them to take control of their own training.  Taking control is critical.  In a predator assault, especially a sexual one, the predator wants the victim's submission and degradation.  It can set up a powerful disconnect if, in the class where you are supposed to be physically learning how to prevent or survive such an attack you are mentally expected to be subservient to a 'master'.
            The student isn't always in control, of course- but when I take control it can never be about my ego or proving who is in charge or who is smarter.  I drive the training when I have seen a problem like a need (something they suck at); a hole (a skill or danger they aren't even aware exists); a glitch (a psychological problem with a performing); a false belief (something they have been told is true that may not be, e.g. "a broken nose is a fight ender"); or a missed concept or opportunity (they know how to do a technique physically but don't realize that the skill translates to something wonderful, like Okinawan blocks infighting or aikido-style movement in the clinch).  Stuff like that.  This is why we have instructors, in my opinion- not because they are smarter or wiser or even more experienced- but because they have an ability to see things that we can't.  Sometimes because we've never been exposed to it (ask me about the 'horizontal line cats' experiment some time) but often because we are too close to the problem or have already decided something is a certain way and quit exploring it.

So with private students, they collaborate in the lesson plan and I rarely write one unless there has been a good time commitment, time to get to know the student and they have been very clear about their goals.

Teaching seminars is a hoot, too.  For the most part, you know why they asked you there: you have an expertise that they feel they lack.  What you usually don't know is how broad a range of skills the students will have, who can do what safely and whether they have even a basic grounding in what you will cover.  If the students don't even know the vocabulary (like giving a class on Use of Force law to certain martial artists) it can take a while.  But that's fun and challenging.  To design something that can be used by rank beginners, specialized experts and generalized experts and have them all walk away with something is a very good day.

Teaching cops, though, requires a lesson plan.  Pre-written, pre-approved.  Judged by some higher authority to be what all of the officers need (no matter how different the officers are). Some instructors go the easy route with a short list of skills to be memorized by rote, completely out of context with the day-to-day job.  I've seen the results of that kind of training.  I've called the ambulances for the officers who got it.
          I've bragged about this before, but my agency (largely due to Jose) realized that they had experienced instructors with hundreds of real fights who honestly cared about their fellow officers and knew how to teach and how to write.  They let us write what the officers needed.  Not what the academy said was "industry standard."  Not what an imaginary lawyer deemed to be "sufficient for liability reduction."  What they needed.
        It forced us, or allowed us, to look at training in a new way.  Something the officers, regardless of ability, experience, skill, previous knowledge, size or fitness could all use.  Something that would make everyone more survivable, from our best to our weakest.  And something that could be explained in a lesson plan.  That was, possibly, the hardest part. And I love it.
       The lesson plan has to be broad, deep, and logical.  Unfortunately, because it has the potential to be challenged in court, it can't be too flexible- we must be able to testify that all the officers were taught the same way.
     So here are two of my great joys of the lesson plan:
       1) Having a very intelligent, very caring supervisor ask, "What if...." and "What do I do if...."questions all day and be able to say, "We'll get to that in a few minutes," every time.  Every single thinking contingency was dealt with in a logical order.  It felt complete and solid.
        2) One of the instructors who understands this paradigm best is looking over a draft lesson plan and says, "What about 'fighting to the goal' do you... oh, there it is."  That really got to me because five years ago no one had even put in to words that survival fighting was different than struggling to put handcuffs on a squirming drunk.  We knew it was different, but we hadn't taught it as different.  Now we teach goals-strategy-tactic-technique.  It is one of the keys to being both flexible and decisive.  We have created a common language that has become so logical that one person can anticipate that an abstract concept needs to be in a basic lesson plan, and it is there.

It's a good feeling.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Another Perfect Morning

The snow falls in fat flakes outside, pushed into flurries like ghosts by a fitful east wind.  It looks like it will stick this morning, blanketing the deck, the rock garden, the acres of unconquered black berries, the tall firs just down slope.  It is a beautiful morning.

The perfect wife thinks that bacon-cheddar french fries and sausage will make a wonderful christmas breakfast.  She wears a silly santa hat and a tight pirate tank top with loose dragon pajama bottoms... perfectly her: sensuous and cute and deep.
The kids are good- they never did the game of waking up at 0400 and waking up the parents to eagerly tear into presents.  They like presents, but they are neither so greedy that they must have them now nor so insecure that they must see them to believe.  They choose to open them on christmas morning instead of christmas eve or the solstice because they enjoy the anticipation.  That's a patience and discipline I don't see in many children.
The family is mixed and that makes for a medley of tradition- grandparents on one side catholics from "the old country" in Eastern Europe.  Surviving grandparents on the other side quietly pagan- not overtly, very secret with many traditions lost, resulting in something more a relationship with the world and with presumed (and often scary and dangerous) forces.  The parent from the catholic side is Wiccan; the parent from the pagan side bases  spirituality on solitude and the Quest.
So the children grow up with a taste of each and christmas tries not to be confusing.  The solstice is the big night, with vigil and fires; Christmas Eve is the big night for one grandparent, with gifts and traditional meals.  The children choose Christmas morning, because it is the last day important to so many and the longest they can stretch out the festivities.  The only reason the season doesn't confuse them is because we have made it so clearly about each other, about family.  Friends too, but family.
The one who coordinates this all is Kami.  Without her I know I would drift away from this world, farther and farther to the edge of experience.  Not that I don't do that, but she makes me return, brings me back to the world of hearth fires and family dinners.  She has given two autistic children the feeling of security they need and the confidence to live beyond that security.  Every child needs "roots and wings" and these children more than most.  They have them.  I could never have given them roots, not sure I even understand the concept beyond the intellectual level.
So it is another perfect morning with good company and good coffee.  Mellow dogs and dignified cats and snow falling beyond the warmth of home.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Small Circle and ABT

When Wally Jay originally designed Small Circle Jujitsu he didn't see it as a system by itself but as something you could add to any system and make it deeper and more efficient.  The physical principles that he centered it on were present in almost every style but rarely overtly.  The "small circle" wrist action, for example, was a refinement in most of the striking arts I am aware of; a rare but effective defensive move in judo and a core element of using a slashing long bade, whether katana or fencing saber.  But only in the weapons arts was it commonly pointed out and, weapons arts being weapons arts, the interesting unarmed uses were not mentioned and probably unknown.

SCJJ was largely centered around finger locks- an effective tool missing from the arts that focused on striking; removed from the sport grappling arts (two big guys rolling and allowed to use small joints result in many breaks and arthritis in later years); and rare in the older battlefield styles (our style has only one).

Wally's vision (it's changed through time as more and more people got on the band wagon) was an openly incomplete system (and all systems are incomplete- to approach completeness they would have to cover at minimum threat identification, violence dynamics,strategy and tactics, talking, dealing with the emotionally disturbed and mentally ill, all ranges of unarmed combat, all common weapons -from clubs to long guns-, impromptu weapons, escape and evasion, small unit tactics... on and on.  And don't think I'm talking military operations, those are the same skills that will get you and your friends out of a bar fight with minimum damage.) The vision was the important and brilliant thing.
I see ABT going that way too.  Awareness Based Training is the paradigm that Mac and I have been using to teach our agency.  The gains have been huge, but it is definitely not a system of fighting, or martial arts or DTs or self defense.  It's more a way of teaching.
I keep trying to come up with analogies and comparisons.  It's less molding an officer than growing one; less 'forging a warrior' than releasing a predator to the wild.
There are concepts and principles that are critical to real situations.  Many of them are addressed in most martial arts but rarely overtly.  Some of them you can see in the old kata but the modern instructors don't recognize the implications or the uses of some of these details.
Principles are the physical things that make the technique work.  Range, for example, is covered by all styles.  Some are complicated (8 ranges), some simple (in range/out of range).  A few are sophisticated (which is much different than complicated).  Balance, leverage, two-way action, using gravity, exploiting momentum... I've identified 10 or so.  Again, these are present in most if not all styles but rarely brought to the student's conscious attention.
Concepts, some of the mental things, are even rarer.  Violence is a big animal and only teaching the physical aspects of fighting is like only teaching a surgeon organ repair.  The surgeon needs to know sterile technique and how to read a medical history and how to open, repair the organs, close and prescribe post-op care...
Aside- not all martial arts teachers are teaching about violence or about self-defense.  If people are playing for fun or training for competition or adjusting their chi or getting healthier or learning about another culture that is great, and far purer and better than someone who wants to kick ass trying to learn from someone with warrior fantasies.
But if you are teaching about violence and self-defense you must address the basics: Legal issues.  Each student's personal emotional capacity for violence. SSR and how the brain and body work under stress.  The OODA loop.  How attacks happen (if you don't know how people really use a weapon how can you possibly train for it?) How to deal with freezing. How to recover from mistakes and failure. How and when to change goals. Fighting to the actual goal (if you have only ever trained for ippon and now you have to carry your daughter past threats and out of the house, how do you adjust? Practice adaptability.) Dealing, win or lose, with the aftermath- physical, legal and emotional.
Pretending these things don't happen or won't come in to play is talisman thinking- pulling blankets over your head and hoping the magic words will keep the monsters in the closet.
Almost every system I've seen, especially the systems that arose in places and times where the level of violence was horrific by modern standards, deals with these concepts.  The much maligned x-block of traditional karate deals wonderfully with the range, power and surprise of a real close range ambush attack (How do attacks actually happen) and works with the SSR (how the body works under stress).  Instructors or generations of instructors look at how ineffective it is in sparring and drop it.
All this stuff is there, but the instructors as well as the students need to learn to see it

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Knife and Gun

My captain used to say, "For most people, carrying a gun is like a fifteen year old with a condom in his pocket.  He's not going to get a chance to use it and if he did he wouldn't know what to do, but it's cool to show his friends."
In a similar way, a person with a knife out scares me more than a person with a gun out.  Some of that is personal- in most of my knife experience, the threat was trying to kill.  In the very small number of gun encounters, I got the impression that the threat was sort of hiding behind the gun.
This goes to a lot of shooting.  I know a handful of very serious gun guys  (who consider me a knife guy) and a smaller number of very serious knife guys (who tend to consider me a gun guy).  In my estimation, the knife guys are more serious than the gun guys.
This, of course, falls to my definition of serious.
The serious gun guys I know practice with a cold, surgical precision.  "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast."  Dry fire every day.  Four count draw.  Weapons transition, long gun or SMG to sidearm.  Immediate action.  They practice turning corners at retention in the house.  Walking with a rocking motion of their feet.  The best (and civilians rarely have an opportunity for this) practice with ConSims in uncontrolled environment with all of Force policy and statute in effect, working their judgment in tandem with their skills.
The serious knife guys are a different level.  Stay close, here, because my definition of serious knife guy may not match anyone else's.  Knife is not a precision skill, not at the serious level.  It is a matter of intent and will.  Knives are close range and messy and the serious knife guys I know focus less on motion than on the context.  They prepare themselves for the smells; the transition when things go from technical to slippery; the feeling of parting tissues transmitted up the blade.  The screaming and struggling.  It's easy to play with a knife or a gun or any toy... but actually using a knife hits almost every social button, every uggh and disgust and "Oh, Hell No!" a human being has.  Just for the record, slaughtering and butchering animals is valuable (struggled with that word- it's not important in all ways, not critical- you won't learn a lot about knife work; and cutting through a skinned animal with a good set of boning and butcher knives isn't the same; gutting a bled-out deer is very different from the warm, slippery gush of a live disembowelment.  What you do learn is about yourself and a tiny, itty bit of how much a death can affect you.  You also learn how some things die very hard.)
Much of the difference is in the mechanism.  A gun is a joy of engineering.  It is a nifty machine that throws a rock in a straight line.  It is classically civilized.
A knife is anything portable and sufficiently thin to cut.  I've found eyeglass earpieces that were sharpened to scalpels (more for torture than assassination or combat) and plastic toothbrushes sharpened to puncture.  A knife is primitive- no matter the skill and technology that went into it, the knife is an exemplar of more primitive, less civilized times.
Part of the difference is in use.  In combat neither a knife nor a gun is used for winning fights.  Get over that. They are used for killing people.  That is a profound difference.  A handgun (as opposed to a rifle) is used defensively.  As one of the rookies put it, "My glock is just to buy time to get the shotgun."  Simplistic, but the sentiment is there.  A handgun is a compromise- portability and concealability for a profound drop in accuracy and power.  The handgun is something you pull when bad shit happens to you or you expect it to..
The knife (dueling systems aside) is used offensively, usually in a close-range ambush.  The threat appears to be walking past his target and suddenly grips the shoulder or arm with his off hand and pop-pop-pop-pop hammers staccato thrusts into the kidney or liver.
Neither of these examples are universal- handguns can be used offensively, but no professional does as a first choice.  If you are going on the offense, you get a rifle, AR, SMG or shotgun.  Knives can be used defensively, but usually increasing range is a better choice than working in the knife's required range- and when bad things happen in knife range, you can take a lot of damage while making the draw...

Today we had to demonstrate our weapons for a group of people who are frankly scared of us.  I was given a stupid but funny ninja t-shirt.  Said goodbye to an old team mate.  Watched as each of the rookies tried to impress me in their own ways, and thus showed where their insecurities were.  Let flashbangs go off at my feet in a vain attempt to convince decision makers that they were good tools, not scary bad things.  Taught a new generation the culture and ethos of the team.  Appreciated good friends (thanks Dre, Derrick, Mike, Jon).

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Reality and Denial

Teaching cops is different than teaching civilians.  One of the big differences is that in a regular martial arts class, your students want to be there.  When you  are teaching officers, that's not always true.  Sometimes they are ordered to be there.  Sometimes because they desperately need the training, sometimes because it is 'that time of year'... annual training.

Some of the students that are ordered to the training are extremely resistant to it, and that really puzzles and bothers me.  I don't teach fluff classes.  My classes fall solidly into the Survival Skills (Defensive Tactics, Confrontational Simulations); violence prevention (Advanced Communication, Crisis Communication with the Mentally Ill) or not getting sued (Use of Force) categories.  This is important stuff.  A failure in any of these areas could cost you your life, your job your income... it's potentially bad.

This isn't a safe job.  Things have gotten better, but when they tasked me to design the program, 10% of our officers were being hospitalized each year.  Yet in every group of people who don't want to attend training, at least one will say that they don't want to attend training because they don't need it.  They don't fight.  They've been doing this too long and that kind of stuff doesn't happen to experienced officers...

I've visited officers in the hospital who said stuff like that.  You don't get to pick whether you get attacked.  You don't get to pick whether you will have a bad day or not.  We see this all around us.  Good officers get taken hostage too.  Good officer get clocked (far more rarely than bad officers, but it still happens).  We see this, we see this all the time, and still a very small group says, "But not to me."

Watching them, they would get hurt a lot more if not for alert supervisors who assign them to safe places.  Why does stupidity about risk so often go hand-in-hand with the kind of blindness and complacency that makes one such a perfect victim?  The question answers itself.

Changing tires in the rain, the guy couldn't figure out how to use the rod to lower his spare tire from the undercarriage.  I crawled under (why was everyone else hesitant to lie on the wet ground?) and felt for the attachment point.  The square end of the rod he slid in was exactly the same size as the attachment. "You have to use the other end," I said, "this is too small to fit over the crank."

"Nope," he replied, "That can't be right.  The handle fits on this end.  That doesn't make sense."
So let's get this straight:  I'm right there.  I'm telling him why it's not working and what we need to make it work... and he rejects it because it doesn't make sense from his (completely separated) point of view.

He actually refused, twice, to turn the rod around.  After those two failures he acquiesced to try it my way (the way of the guy who was actually there) and in a few seconds, his spare tire was free.

Maybe that would make a good name for a style, translated into Japanese: The Way of the Guy Who is Actually There.  Actually there guy-do.  Kevin?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Nefarious Skullduggers

Been asked to put together a few class for a writer's conference coming up in two months. Planning the classes has been fun- working with PowerPoint, which is almost new, and trying to decide what writers will need versus my usual audiences of cops or martial artists.

The class on Use of Force policy will be easy. I could teach that in my sleep. They will learn almost exactly the way officers learn about how and when and why to use force. Even get into report writing a bit.

The one on violence will be easy, too. I don't think it will help writers as much as they think. Real violence tries to minimize many of the factors that make for entertaining writing. Things tend to be short and one-sided. I work very hard to keep them that way and so do the professional criminals that I know.  The goal, in real life, is to limit drama.  the opposite in arts and entertainment.

The class on weapons will be fun. With luck I'll be able to check out some of our more exotic toys, such as a six-shot 37mm grenade launcher. There are also slides of injuries (knife, gun and a particularly ugly one where blunt trauma ruptured the perineum) and a good analysis comparing skilled shooting at the range and how real officers do in particular shootings.

The one that is hardest to outline will be the class on criminals. I just know these guys too well. There are some categories that are useful- my three basic types of criminals; how different personality disorders gravitate to different types of behavior; and the nightmare threats- excited delirium, mass bad guys, trained teams, process predators.

But real people don't pigeon hole well. Yes, I know the drug dealing pimp with over thirty children and I know that he thinks that he is a good dad and defines being a good dad as giving them presents occasionally. I know people who have engaged in brutal murders, but I also saw them being weak little kids. I've watched people who have committed really heinous crimes try to coach other inmates on how to deal with their mental illnesses.

There is evil. A rapist/murderer with all sincerity explained to me once that while he did it, it wasn't wrong. When I had the duty of telling one young man that his brother had just died, he had a ready list of privileges he should be extended to go with that. I've read the journal of an incestuous rapist who didn't get it- if he couldn't do anything he wanted with an object, they wouldn't have called it "his"... in his mind that logic extended to "his" daughter. The act of raping a wound- on a baby. Yeah, there's some evil.

But no one is evil all the time. That takes a lot of energy. It's possible to be selfish almost all the time, though. There is much more stupidity and selfishness than there is evil, and some of the evil is just stupid.

I've got a feeling that this section will be a very rambling talk.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Tired and busy. I'll be teaching six classes in the next two weeks from a custom lesson plan just for these guys. Have spent the last two days re-writing old lesson plans and designing new ones. Won't talk about that, much.

Maybe a little. I have this little situation that can only be described as INTJ hell. The world actually does make sense and is really pretty simple. People desperately want to be complicated and they aren't. There are a lot of issues and as the scope of what you are exploring grows, the variables increase. More importantly the unknowns increase. This is why I don't have much of an opinion on political situations that I'm not personally involved in... I've been in situations where I was given a pretty full brief and then watched what was presented to the media, and what the media presented to the people and talked to some of the people who drew their conclusions from partial information. In essence, I'm too aware of how much I don't know to rabidly defend some opinion.

However, people imagine a complexity that they then create. This is INTJ hell: Something needs to happen. It is obvious what needs to happen... and someone with power but without information decides that the right thing would look bad. Or MIGHT look bad. Or could incur some liability. So the obvious right thing isn't done and real people get hurt to protect imaginary perception.

"Perception is reality"... but it isn't, not when you are the one who is really bleeding. Not when you are the widow or the orphan of the one sacrificed for appearances.

One officer did exactly what he was taught and was able to take down a knife-wielding psych who ambushed him without using deadly force. Dozens have told us it was the most useful program yet. A few (mostly rookies but one senior) have said it gave them a confidence that they could do the job.

I'm being asked to rewrite the class that made those stories possible.

It's possibly the most effective DT class we've ever had. But it's too violent, according to some. It looks that way on paper- at least to some... and "perception is reality" to some people. The ones not in a position to bleed. Have any of the people complaining been through the class? Has there been ANY increase in excessive force claims? Have officer hospitalizations gone down by a third?

That's what INTJs do- they design systems that work, and it is hell to change a working system, especially if the cost might be in the pain or blood of friends.

Maybe, maybe if I can make the changes with enough skill, the cost will be less. Maybe.

C'mon, Sisyphus. Time to push that rock up the hill. One more time, partner. Don't feel alone.

I'm very, very tired.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Supporting Illusion

We all do it. We have spent our entire lives creating a detailed mythic story of who we are. Nothing in this story is by chance. We never say, I got married because i was lonely and desperate and just happened to run into someone more lonely and desperate. Never. A good love is "fate". A bad relationship is a conspiracy of villainy or insanity.

We never stumble into a career because we desperately needed a job and this one of the thirty applications came through and it was good enough and besides I'm lazy and change is hard. Oh, no. If you love your career, your whole life has been leading up to it and you cherry-pick from your memory all the experiences that make that seem true. If it is a job you don't like it is either a stepping stone or, more likely, a cast of characters whose soul purpose on this earth is to enchain and challenge your inherent nobility and goodness.

People love drama and they create drama in their lives. They tell this story of who they are. Never underestimate the power of that story. People who won't lift a finger to save their own lives from imminent violence will fight and die so that people don't think bad things about them. People who are careful not to step on bugs have killed over rumors spread about them. It certain cultures, someone can be a coward, but don't you dare call him one. In jail I have heard inmates on the phone screaming at their mother: "Bitch you put some money on my books or swear to god I'll slash your face!", Men who would try to shank another inmate who insulted the same woman.

The biggest threat to this story are those inconvenient little things called facts. When someone's story is threatened by facts, watch the scramble. Facts can be denied, and often are. They can be labeled with 'opinion' or the "equivalent sources" fallacy (My favorite example: "It's unfair to claim that your experience is in some way more valid than my training." A martial artist at a seminar years ago.)

Watch the scramble. People will marshall resources and allies, redefine words, reject their own personal experience all to protect this story, this dream.

Same with supporting it, which is what got me started here. A friend was writing about the friction that MMA gets from the self-appointed "Practical self defense community". After all, MMA is only cross training. Picking the best things you can find from multiple sources. Is that any different than the so-called PSD community? Very valid point (most of my friends are pretty smart. Stupid people make me tired.)

That's not really the point, though... and the issue isn't what MMA is or isn't. The issue is, here and elsewhere, the "True Believer". It doesn't matter- the Gracies, MMA, WWII combatives, Koryu snobs: all have their kool-aide drinkers, the ones who have taken whatever it is as a core tenet of their story and defend it far beyond logic. They believe that this thing is IT, the ANSWER, the SILVER BULLET, because in the story they tell themselves, it is. Never likely to be in a fight for their lives, this piece of the story is tested over and over in fantasy before they go to sleep.

They will go to extreme lengths to defend the story. The Gracies swept the early UFCs (ignore that they wrote the rules, ignore the ruleset of a 'no rules' competition, ignore the difference between a bar fight and a match) so it must be the answer. MMA is the winning set of skills in the Octagon today, it must be the SILVER BULLET. WWII combatives and koryu have a bit in common- they were both used to kill real people in real battles, they must be IT!.

Each of these things are what they are. The Gracies I have played with have had the most superb body mechanics of any grapplers yet. I'll play with them whenever I get the chance (If I can afford it... damn, dudes!). But the mount isn't the worst case scenario, not even in my top ten and wearing gear does make a difference- sorry Rener. MMA guys play hard and with skill and relatively safely. They are always worth the time and you will learn more losing to Joey Lauzon than winning with many other people... but weapons and hard corners and multiple bad guys are part of my world. I am a koryu snob and love the WWII stuff- but both were designed for extremely fit professional soldiers and completely ignored the lower end of the force continuum- not something I can use most of the time.

Do you see it yet? When we speak of violence, we are talking about a very big animal. Almost infinitely complex, ranging from incoming artillery to squad tactics to snipers to assassins to redneck stompings and gang hamstringings and...there are an infinite number of ways to die. Adding patch after patch to all the ways you can imagine dying still leaves holes and can make a solution too unwieldy to apply.

The people who have dealt with violence are pretty consistent in their advice: You won't fit this beast in a box. You won't find a single answer to an infinite question.

"What's the answer, then? What is it? Where's my magic bullet?" the question echoes. There is no answer.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


George Ledyard is an aikido instructor in the Seattle area. I haven't met him, but he wrote something once that really resonated, something that most martial arts student need to hear. I don't have it in front of me and I definitely don't have Mr. Ledyard's gentle way with words, so this is my personal take on it.

This is for all of the students who are in awe of your instructors: Get over it. Get over yourself.

The best instructor in the world has the same number of arms and legs as you (more or less). A human body and human brain not too far off the charts. In most cases (barring the ancient or damaged student) there is nothing he can do that you can't do.

Do not use him as an excuse to aim low. Do not set him up in your head as an unapproachable paragon. Never say, "I'll never be as good as my sensei." It's an insult to you and it is an insult to his teaching.

It's time to stop trying to be good.

Don't be good enough.

Don't be damned good.

Decide to be amazing.

Exceed your teacher. Take what he gives you and bring it to new levels.

You can do this and if you really want to honor your teacher you must do this.

And then you must turn around and give your students permission to be better than you.

Be AMAZING. Good enough isn't.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Moving, Seeing, Training

Steve Perry asked the $64,000 dollar question today.  I've answered it or tried to answer it in many ways over the years.  Sometimes I seem to say that you can't prepare for the bad stuff, and yet I train and I train other people.  I also sometimes equate violence and martial arts as an apples and oranges thing... or even crop rotation versus hydrodynamics.

So, if there is one, what's the bottom line? (I think both Steves will get called out a bit on this one, but they're big boys.)

One of the most basic problems is in the realm of how martial artists are taught to move.  They are taught to move right.  They are taught to strike or throw or lock correctly.  This works in a controlled environment.
It's the same with basketball players: throwing free throws they can do it with precision and consistency that any sensei would applaud... but they can't deliver that kind of precision in a free-for all.  At some point each player has to transition from moving right to moving well, just getting the ball through the hoop from an unstable platform against resistance.

Most martial artists take it to exactly this level with sparring and think it is enough.  They forget (or don't know) that all live training has built-in flaws for safety.  At the best, the flaws become habits that can get you killed... at the worst, they become "the right way" to do the technique.  The part about safety flaws is an aside.  The meat is this:

Games are simple.  Life and violence are not.  If you take the basketball player who can really move well but suddenly the basket is defended by a rugby, soccer or lacrosse team, using their tactics, his moving well has to come to an entirely new level.  When he is not allowed to know what kind of team he will be playing against in advance, that's another level.  And in real life, sometimes putting the ball through the hoop isn't the way to score.  Sometimes it is and you don't know until you are there.

So most martial artists learn a collection of very specific ways to move.  It's like having a toolbox filled with pre-cut jigsaw puzzle pieces and jumping into a jigsaw puzzle and hoping to find a gap that happens to fit a piece you have.  It works sometimes, but people in real life actually say, "He attacked me wrong."

What the practitioner needs to do is to soak all of his puzzle pieces and mash it into a sort of paper mache that you can cram into an hole you can find.  It won't look pretty....

Steve (Perry) talks about ingraining technique until it becomes a natural way to move. That's key, but it needs to be checked because it is much easier to believe than to do.  When you bump into someone accidentally, do they get knocked back?  If not, you aren't naturally walking with power. When your wife turns around in the kitchen and she has a knife do you automatically close and shut down her arms?  If not, it's not instinctive yet.  Do you cover as naturally as you answer a phone or strike the solar plexus without targeting as unconsciously as you shake a hand? Do you automatically stand so that you can pop knees or exploit weak lines? Where are everyone's hands in a crowded room?  Do you monitor shadows and reflections without thinking about them?  Do you sometimes forget how to teach a technique because you can't remember another way to move?

Crossing hands with Steve Barnes he was very comfortable with close range chi sao style movement- pushing, trapping- but he had an instant of hesitation whenever I didn't do it 'right' breaking contact, say, or head butting.  Lawrence Gonzales in "Deep Survival" pointed out that one of the dangers of getting good at something is that you tended to stick with the script, responding to what happened the other hundred times instead of the different thing that is happening now.

Long training, especially with a system and instructor that you admire, sets you up for this.  You come to believe and expect and internalize his idea of what a fight will be like.  The concentration on doing things 'right' combines to instill a tunnel vision that what you are training for, the venue where the system has worked (and all good systems are designed for something and work very, very well in their natural venue) is the only reality out there.

Years before we met (and I don't really feel we've met yet, but we've chatted a few times) I sat in the back while Steve Perry discussed fighting with a bunch of SF fans and writers.  Steve said, "If you are ever in a knife fight you WILL get cut."  I started to raise my hand and my lovely wife elbowed me in the ribs and whispered, "Cookie!" which is our code word for "Don't be a monster."

Steve then said that no one ever, ever attacks overhand with the knife in a reverse grip... and my hand started to go up again.

Thing was, I've had five knife encounters (sort of, two could be considered assassination attempts and two were pre-empted, one pretty decisively.. not sure 'fight' is the right word) without a scratch.  Sean has had six without a scratch.  Brad had one with just scratches, literally, and he almost bit the dude's ear off.  Mauricio, on the other hand, has some scars that impress me, which takes some doing.

One of my attacks was the reverse overhand thing and one of the others might well have been if he'd ever got a chance to move.  It's actually pretty common.

Not putting Steve on the spot- this happens to almost everyone who trains and I've seen students swallow crap whole in cop classes and SWAT classes and HNT classes.  You start to confuse training with reality.  You've never been attacked that way in class and your instructor has a logical reason why no one would.. and you turn to your students and start using words like "never" and "always".

Which are dead give-aways.  Crap, I've had physics fail on me twice... but once was in my favor, so it balances so far.

Bigger than this "moving right" issue though, is thinking and perceiving.  If people could just see what was right in front of them, combative training would be completely unnecessary.  All humans already know how to move.  In any given situation there are obvious and effective options.  With no training at all, people are often blinded or frozen by their social conditioning.

Unfortunately training, particularly training in disciplined movement, instills these templates of what an attack looks like and the right way to move.  You wind up looking through the templates and comparing learning and experience instead of looking at what is right there.

This is easier to demonstrate than to explain.  You can go into a competition with your mental rolodex of armlocks and flip through them looking for a technique that matches what you see...or you can just see a straight arm and opportunity to apply force in two places.

When a martial artist is taught striking and grappling, they tend to do one at a time.  Instead of looking at their body and the threat's body and doing the efficient and effective thing they decide if they are in wrestle or strike mode and try to remember an appropriate technique.
One of my drills is to get the students up on the MOVEMENT/PAIN/DAMAGE/SHOCK paradigm and put them in a free play (sparring, continuous one-step, etc) with the caveat that at any instant they should be able to do any of the effects to the opponent.

The reverse POV, the technique paradigm:
 MOVE THREAT/STRIKE/TAKEDOWN/LOCK/PRESSURE POINT/STRANGLE at any given time and in almost any position, the student should be able to do all or almost all of them.  Too often training, instead of teaching the student to see more, blinders them into seeing less.

The ideal is simply to see the situation as it is.  All of your solutions are inherent in the situation.  As an organism, you see it complete and true... but as a trained, thinking person you perceive it through created filters.  Teachers teach the filters and students learn them: "You see that possibility?  Good, Grasshopper, you are now a yellow belt.  See two possibilities? Six? Aaah, blackbelt!"  But the default, the natural thing with open eyes is almost infinite possibilities.

So in most training they aren't learning to see they are learning to focus, which is a way of not seeing the extraneous- which, in this case, means all of the hundreds of things the instructor doesn't know how to exploit.

Sonia has trained with me a bit and she says good things about my teaching, but the truth is I haven't taught her one damn thing.  She'd learned to move and strike and throw and twist and slash and stab long before I ever met her.  All I've done was point at the things she missed seeing because she was too busy following scripts.

She had the aikido movement down but only used it at aikido distance- and it works much better at extremely close range once you learn to see the voids.  She knows how to force someone off balance but wouldn't remember it was an option in a fist fight.  She knows, intellectually, that it is easier to beat someone up from behind but she almost never attempted to get behind me in action- intellectual knowledge never expressing in motion.

So (and forgive the long post) I've met very few martial arts instructors who could really see and even fewer who gave their students permission to see.  What gets people killed aren't the moves or even the false confidence.  It's setting their brain- their perceptions, their expectations, their assumptions and their reactions for a limited interpretation of what they might face.

I can almost hear, "You can't train for everything."  Trying is the opposite of the right solution.  Humans are immensely adaptable, perceptive.  Our eyes don't quit seeing mountains because we've been watching the ocean (though we can be trained that only mountains matter or only oceans are real).  You practice seeing and you practice acting.

Easy, right?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

An Old Issue

Working on a presentation for a Writer's Conference and simultaneously teaching a class, I am hit once again with how absurdly ignorant people can be.  It's not their fault, but there is something about the subject of violence where people both completely miss the reality and CAN NOT accept that they are off.

The section of the presentation (on PowerPoint) opens with one of my range qualifications targets- not bad, if I say so myself, but I need to lock my left arm out more- and compares it with a real shooting.  They are nothing alike.  To boil it down a lot: 50% misses at 5-10 feet; only two hits anywhere near center mass and the fatal shot wasn't one of those.

It makes me tired, sometimes.  I showed the data to this kid and he immediately explained why it would never happen to him, why it makes no sense, that missing at that range would be harder than hitting... all those things.  Same as the people who watch the video of Kyle Dinkheller's murder and can't figure out why he didn't do what they are so sure in the comfort of the classroom they would have done.

They try their slick knife defenses against the Manson Drill and they fail utterly, but I know they go back to their dojos and teach what they always taught.  It makes me tired.  We want to believe that we will "fight the way we trained" and it is sort of true.  Sometimes.  Almost never the first time (unless it was a conditioned reflex and lasted a fraction of a second) and when it gets ugly it is this weird chaos and stew of stress hormones and instinct and some training... but the best officer involved shooting stats I've found can't find a good statistical relation between officer's performance in a real gunfight and their range scores.

But I know from experience that if you can survive some critical number of fights (10? 20?) you can use your training, and you can function in almost inhumanly efficient ways.  And I also know that once you achieve this level, something very slight can change and you are at ground zero again.

Here's an analogy that has been bouncing around in my head- when a martial artist plans what will work in an assault, he is about as accurate as a farmer trying to use his knowledge of crop rotation to build a boat.  The difference is that vast.

No one wants to hear that.


Steve P was polite enough to apologize for highjacking a thread in the comments section.  No problem and apologies are unnecessary.  The comments section, in my opinion, is for the readers to hash things out.  If I have something to say, I have the luxury of the blog.

That said, it got me thinking.  Read the comments for yourself, but I know Kai and have met Steve (and read some of his stuff).  Both are intelligent and insightful.  I count Kai, FWIW, as a dear friend and a role model.  When she speaks, I listen.  Attentively.

In this discussion, from the outside, it was easy to see where both were discussing not quite the same thing.  Both right, both insightful... but both disagreeing.  Kai saw the source of the disconnect first...
Okay- I'm acting like the director at a fencing match, repeating back moves.  Irrelevant.  This is what it made me think:

I like debate and generally won't put any rules on it, especially between my friends, but I have my own rules, and this is how and why I debate.

There are debates/arguments either to find the truth or to prove who is better at arguing.  These are not the same thing and nearly mutually exclusive.  I only play the second in fun and with friends who know what I am doing- and as part of the exercise am willing to switch sides.

When you are looking for truth, seek the common ground.  I actually pegged this working with schizophrenics.  If you argue about which parts of the world you see differently, both sides entrench and they get nowhere.  Start with what you can both see and move out gradually from there, when things start to diverge in small ways it is easier to see paths of logic and compare sources.

Don't get competitive.  The need to win can turn debate, which should be (IMO) a search for truth into a contest.  People cheat in a contest.  The reason I despise Socrates and admire Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus is that Socrates was using debate to make his drunk friends look stupid and the stoics were trying to teach people to live.

Listen.  If you follow any debate, watch for the point where the competitive one 'stays on message'- not dealing with what the other actually said, but answering only his own interpretation.  This is a subtle form of the "straw man", arguing against what you wished they had said instead of what they did say.  Listen.