Saturday, March 08, 2008


David wrote:

"I really like what you're talking about, essentially maintaining a broad frame of reference (basically, what compassion is), but, how did/do you train to get there when violent situations rapidly narrow that frame? Is it just lots of practice?

Did you ever get emotionally traumatized from a violent encounter? Because that really locks a person into a certain magnification or frame of reference and keeps him from varying it, and I would imagine that then the reaction to any similar events would be the same again and again. How do you escape from that vicious cycle?

First, defining compassion as having a broad frame of reference is completely new to me and it works in many ways. Thanks for something to think about.

Second: "...violent situations rapidly narrow that frame." and "... locks the person into a certain magnification..." and "... the reaction to any similar events would be the same..." Are assumptions. that doesn't meant that they are wrong, but you really have to look at where they came from, whether they are true and whether, even if they generally happen, does that make them automatic? When I talk about how people tend to be off when discussing the subject of violence yet so positive they are right, it often gets down to basic assumptions that are seen as facts.

Some people react to stress by focusing too broadly- "why is this happening?" often on questions that don't really affect the situation. Sometimes extraneous thoughts float into your head. Sometimes you are so focused on trivia that it fills your whole mind. Alexis Arwohl writes of an officer who was reading the cases of his partners ejected brass in flight while in a shootout. That's a pretty tight view. One of my contentions is that people confuse what they remember and the words in their heads for thinking. Most cognition happens so fast and below the surface that humans usually make good decisions before they have ever said the questions in their heads. My best guess (I puzzled for years why their would be both tachypsychia and the blur state, why your brain would evolve two different mental strategies for dealing with similar stresses) is that these aren't mental states at all as much as memory conditions. In tachypsychia, the conscious brain is given some busy-work so that the real brain can take care of business; in the blur state it is put in a closet.

So the key for me is a broader understanding of consciousness. In even an ugly fast fight, my decisions are my responsibility. They are conscious, but they are not handled at the level of talking myself through the decision process. That would be too slow and would miss too many levels.
That might have made things more confusing.

You may or may not lock into the same pattern next time. It will depend largely on whether what you did the first time was successful. Just be aware that the hind brain may have a very different idea of success than you do. When you see someone who has been repeatedly victimized without fighting back, the logical brain may say, "that is stupid, look at the injuries, this is a bad idea..." the hindbrain only knows that survival followed non-resistance, ergo non-resistance is the only proven strategy for survival so far. The hindbrain is reluctant to attempt ANY new strategy when the stakes are that high.

Which brings up another aspect of this that can contradict everything else. Really, really panicked people; people really surprised; people with no experience with what is happening; people who had very firm expectations that are completely thrown out of the loop by events tend to fall back into pure hindbrain mode and they fight (or freeze or run) like animals. Their training goes out the window completely. (The firm expectations are the ones that scare me, the ones I call kool-aide drinkers. The more sure they are, the more vulnerable they are.) This is the piece that can be helped hugely by experience, but there are levels to it.

Anybody can be surprised, but recovering from surprise is a skill that can be conditioned. That helps with that part. Experience is the guardian against not being able to tell what is going on- just as a good MA instructor can spar and give advice to another student simultaneously, I've been fully engaged with a bad guy while watching the rookies for levels of emotion and sending them on chores e.g. "Go get a a pair of leg irons." But, when the circumstances change, experienced people can be nailed because they go with their experience instead of the changing situation. If every other time I've done this entry I got surprise and spun the bad guy but this time he saw it coming and jumped up and away... many experienced people will continue the move that they planned instead of changing to what they need.

The third level is to just accept that this is chaos and luck plays a role and to have no expectations. I believe good teachers foster this from day one by saying that there are no right answers, nothing works every time and constantly encouraging students to adapt, to recover from mistakes instead of starting over. Never set up as an ideal something that is unlikely in chaos (and that's not entirely true either- I've taken down crooks with perfect form- good stances are just good body mechanics, but the focus and energy was never on the form but on getting the job done. Doing well, not looking right.)

how did/do you train to get there is the real question. Experience is huge, of course. Training to the problem is important, which means training for real bad guys using real attacks in a real environment under real rules. How do ambushes happen? How do criminals set them up? What do you look for in advance? What do you do if you are surprised? How do you deal with clutter and enclosed places- not just avoiding but using the gifts. Are you training to do stuff that will land you in prison?

The third, which I believe can be taught but am also aware that I have a natural inclination this way, is to be comfortable with uncertainty. I've never felt I had answers or know what would happen if or what I will do when... I've never had any illusions that I was ready. That is a huge advantage because I don't have emotional attachment to a plan and can walk away the second it ceases to apply. I deal with how the threat attacks and not how he is supposed to attack. THIS ONE IS CRITICAL: If something happens that I don't believe is possible I deal with it as it is before I try to fix my mental map!!! The reason nonsequitors work in de-escalation, the reason that karate and jujutsu were so successful in the early years and the Gracie stuff later is that people would stop fighting to figure out what was happening. Fight first, re-write your reality map later.

I'll talk about emotional trauma later, but... one example.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"If something happens that I don't believe is possible I deal with it as it is before I try to fix my mental map!!!"

I think this speaks to my biggest problem, which is that all too often I encounter situations that I'm not prepared for, or that are too complex for a moment's mental processing, or something, and I always freeze up.

I don't have much of any contact with actual physical violence, but I'm mining your writings for application in "ordinary" life because I have so many encounters that contain violence in one form or another. Maybe not physical violence, but violence nonetheless. And I find that, for whatever reason, it's often very difficult to be flexible in choosing my frame of reference.

It seems to me that through your experience and training you've developed a deeply internal locus of control which allows you to maintain a sense of stability even when you don't know what external frame of reference to adopt. That's a rare level of self-trust to achieve. I guess only experience will pave that road for me.

Anyway, thanks for this. A lot to chew on.