Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Survival -List

A few years ago, friends of family or family of friends (names, locations etc. withheld) attempted to recruit me for their survivalist cell. On paper, I'm a pretty good candidate- military combat medic; some experience growing and killing food for myself and my family, some formal training in herbal medicine; tracking; survival training; tactical team leader. Most importantly, I've done it before.
That was also the problem: I've done it before.
Some of you won't remember, but in the seventies the world was supposed to end any second. We needed to stop all pollution because the emissions (now called greenhouse gasses) were bringing on an Ice Age. The same math which today shows that there must be alien life was used to prove that nuclear war was mathematically inevitable by 1995.  There was absolutely no chance that there would be any oil left by 2000 and unless we could achieve ZPG (Zero Population Growth) immediately, mass famine would destroy civilization.  All of that without even bringing into the equation the inevitable economic collapse promised by euro-dollars and the lack of any standard (gold or silver) for currency.  Oh, and "stagflation" with both unemployment and inflation in double digits.
My parents bought into this and I was raised on eighty acres in the desert with a creek.  Seven miles to the nearest town, forty to the nearest town with more than 500 people.  Graduating class of six.  We were very nearly self-sufficient for food, water and shelter.
So being raised from the time you are small being told the world was going to end and seeing it not happen on a daily basis makes me a little skeptical of survivalism as a philosophy.  Reading enough history to know how commonly people chose to believe the end was at hand over the centuries just added to the skepticism.
I like survivalists.  I have more in common with them than I do with whiny, needy people.  I will always think of J.J. Rowlands (read "Cache Lake Country" if you ever get a chance) as the real naturalist and Thoreau as the whiny, rich kid poseur.  And besides, if things ever get really bad, we will need people who kept the old skills alive.  When a hurricane or a flood hits there should be one person on each block who kept their first aid training current and stockpiled some food and medical supplies.
Being actively recruited got me thinking about what if's, and one late night with some friends and some beer we started The List of all the people that would show up at our door if there were a major disaster. (I may not be a survivalist, but habits die hard and we're pretty well set up.)
The List had names and what each person would bring to the table.  Medical skills. Gardening. Pilot. Carpenter. Electrician. Some just said simply, "Hard worker" or "loyal".
A few were labeled WLBS.
"What does that mean?" M asked, poking at the sheet.
"Worthless Lazy..." I started
"They have no value? We'd turn them away?"
"Ummm, no.  The 's' stands for sausage.  Everyone has value."
We all contribute in our own way.

Monday, January 28, 2008


It seems that sometimes when much is going on, there is less time to write about it. As far as the need to write, to get stuff out of my system, I never feel that when in the midst of things. It is after, when the stupid little monkey mind starts whining for meaning and connection that sometimes the need to write wells up.

How big a risk are you willing to take? How big of stakes and for what? Ever notice that the stakes you gamble for (whether money in cards, your life climbing or security with a career change) are never the reasons you take the risk (the rush for the true gambler, the moment of purity for the climber, to get something new or get away from something old in the career change). So separate the stakes from the reason- people usually get into fights because of ego not survival... and strangely, in self defense, things sometimes fail because self image beats survival: people who know what they need to do can't, because they aren't that kind of person. Rationally, sitting in your comfortable den, you know that should never happen, but it does. Quite frequently. Even to people who don't believe it could happen.

Discretionary time- one of the big differences between an amateur and a professional in any Emergency Services job, is the ability to recognize when action is unnecessary. The classic is EMTs: rookies run to the scene, veterans look for the fallen power lines. Generally, if you aren't taking damage, you think. If you are taking damage, you move. The ability to recognize when you have discretionary time is a powerful skill. Working with a true pro, he sometimes seem to slow everything down by pure force of will, but it's not that- he or she just recognizes when you can slow down and takes full advantage of the time. (Thanks to Gordon Graham for the concept many years ago. I don't think he planned on anybody in his audience using it in the middle of a fight, but it works.)

Speaking of famous people and people who should be: Mauricio Machuco in Montreal. Amazing man, experienced fighter. Everything you could want in a brother or when you need backup right now. He's working on applying the dynamics of Steven Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Successful People" to survival fighting. Eerie, sometimes, how universal 'effective' can be.

Always watch for failure. When you see some one fail and can see the mistake, especially if it is obvious and the stakes are high... Forget it. I'm mincing words here, trying to be nice and non-specific. Let's try it again: When somebody screws up and dies and the reason is obvious (he should have fired; he should have searched better; he should have practiced the draw while sitting in the car; he should have expected...) there's a damn good chance it was obvious to him, too. There's a damn good chance that he was just as well or better trained than you. Just as smart or smarter... on and on. You have to be aware that shit in the moment is not like watching it on video. It does something, many things, to your brain. Be ready for that, as ready as you can.

We built a big snow man, almost seven feet tall and had a snowball fight and let the dogs run in the goat pasture. Across the gully, the trees were covered in snow and shrouded by light mist. The kids are out sledding now.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Hitting The Ground Running

Forty minutes into the first shift on line and I'm putting cuffs on a big guy. By the end of the day: fights averted, mental health issues addressed; officer issues addressed... and paperwork, but that's okay, too.

It's been two active days since the transition from desk jockey back to officer and it feels nice, useful. More laughter- who the hell would want to smuggle a pair of scuzzy, stained jail panties out as a gift for his wife? Wouldn't that be a lot of explaining? More pathos- a 23 year old addict with veins so bad the hospital had to put the catheter in her external jugular for the antibiotics that she needs to fight the necrosis from the infected needle sticks. More honor- 'nuff said.

Large, clearly angry inmate striding purposefully (not quite charging or running) towards the officer and I step in...
You're outweighed by at least forty pounds, Grasshopper. The threat is exhibiting intent (yelling, fists clenched, jaw muscle clenching); has the means (fists, feet, size); and the opportunity (is in reach) to a clearly ominous level, which authorizes at least serious force on our continuum. There are 74 other inmates and one officer in the immediate area. You are required to engage. What do you do?

I just shook my head slightly, murmured and pointed to the side. He turned in line with the point like it was his idea and I stepped in close and said, "Let's go, I'll cuff you outside." I am good at this.

There's soooo much in that. Eye contact and eye focus. Body language. Proximics. Amount of facing (full on, angled...). Gestures. Rate, tone, pitch and volume of any verbals (half the time I don't even use words). Does it work? Almost all the time, when you see it coming, which may be why for physical stuff my emphasis is on the ones I don't see coming. It's reliable enough (not some recipe of movement and words, just the skill of connection and communication) that I've talked inmates and arrestees in full-blown excited delirium into letting me cuff them.

But it does have the potential to go bad, and if it does it will be very close and very fast and, whether I should have been surprised or not it damn well will be a surprise.

I thought I would be a little rusty.
It's good to be home.

Monday, January 21, 2008


A really pressing need to get away, be alone, let some of the dreck and contradiction and just slime of living in society seep away. So no one knows precisely where I am. The electronic leashes of cell phones and pagers are plugged and far away.

The trip took an odd twist early, being pulled to old significant places. A walking place in a certain park (first trembling kiss by moonlight with K). Dorms, each one bringing a name and face out of shadows of memory. Dancing and eating places that no longer exist. A giant flag.

I turned away from one door where I knew I would be welcome, but my own sense of past was getting overwhelming.

So for two days, old places. Old memories. This is really strange for me. I live in the present. For the most part the past is an advisor, a teacher. It's rare even for me to remember almost anything specifically. I can, I just don't bother any more than I watch movies a second time or re-read books unless I have something to clarify.

I took pictures of the cliff where Jake saved my stupid ass. Other stuff. Climbed just a little. Worked with the boken in surf up to my waist. Slept under a nearly full moon in a rare (for this region) hard freeze.

Still not done, still cleaning out. Just feeling things shift.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Time: the First half second

It's about time for a short series on the things that people just don't get when they are talking, thinking, training or analyzing acts of violence. One of the biggest is time. First some background:

There are different types of fights, different approaches and different dynamics- but not really a lot of them. The dominance display sometimes goes to a fight. Not usually, unless you let your ego get involved. I call that one the Monkey Dance and it is common, predictable and seemingly genetically imprinted to be safe. On the rare occassions someone dies in a Monkey Dance it is by falling and hitting their head.
There's also a display of solidarity, the Group Monkey Dance. There are two levels of this. Both suck, but one can be brutal and pitiless beyond what too many people are ready to accept in their comfortable, safe worlds. The high level GMD is the one type of attack that scares me most, because it is the one that I have least experience dealing with and the one that I have trouble even imagining a high percentage response. I know two strategies to survive them, I've used one of those... but I have no evidence that my survival had more to do with what I did than it had to do with what the bad guys didn't do.
The third is the predatory assault. This is the one I think of when I am writing about survival and self defense. This is the one that I plan and train for. The other two are largely preventable or avoidable (NOT the same thing, not even close). A good ambush is generally preventable but rarely specifically preventable (and that is the third very important concept so far. If you don't grasp the difference, remind me.) Yeah, there are variations- the charm and blitz predators use different approaches; process and resource predators have different goals and follow somewhat different dynamics after the initial assault. Hustlers trying to use predator dynamics rely on display instead of effect, and there is a vulnerability there that can be exploited, but exploiting it comes with its own special danger.
So just to be clear, we are talking about ambushes. Sudden assaults.

In a Monkey Dance, sparring or dueling it starts at a very mental and perceptual level. What is the threat doing? How is he positioned? What can I do? Then someone decides to do it. If you make good decisions fast, you can usually establish dominance early. The threat may get the first move and will be a big step ahead, but much of your intelligence gathering is done- you can recover.

The assault is different. You get hit first. What do you do?
"Well, that depends..."
You get hit again.
"How is he hitting me?"
You get hit again.
"What can I do?"
You get hit again.

If what you do depends in any way on what he does, you will take more damage while exploring options.
If you need any data beyond the fact that you are taking damage in order to make a decision, you will take more damage while you gather it.
If any aspect of this is a cognitive process, you will likely never close your OODA loop. In other words you will take damage and probably never act.

This is fast. A decent fighter can hit you eight to ten times a second. Most street fighters aren't particularly skilled in the nuances of short power generation- they will only hit about six times a second because they are putting weight and power into it.

Do those numbers seem high? If so, it is probably a sparring artifact, where the two contestants maintain a balance between offense and defense, distance and time. In an assault the predator relies (with iincredible reliability) on the speed of the attack freezing the victim. He has probably never heard of the OODA loop, but he uses the dynamics. And it works. Also, if the numbers seem high, get out a stop watch and try it. Completely untrained people hit at least four times a second. I seriously doubt the skill of any striking artist who can't do eight. I've hit thirteen. One of Loren Christensen's students peaked at seventeen.

This is what I usually refer to as the OC stage of the attack. The person attacked has to be trained for immediate action regardless of the nature of the attack. What kind of immediate action? It really doesn't matter. Turning and running could work. I'm partially to irimi. One guy I knew could reliably kick the knee from almost any position. Palm heel to the face is good. But it must be immediate, must bypass the cognitive process.

This training for immediate action is a separate thing from fighting skill. Decisiveness, what USM Jones calls "Initiative" or "violence of action" is a skill all its own. It is probably the premier skill if you expect to survive an ambush. If you do not survive this stage, you will not be able to access whatever killer you skill you have gained in your training. What you will do is sit in a depression a week later and lament what you could have done, all the options that you see with the perspective of time. If you are very unlucky, you might even have an instructor that will reinforce this, claim that he would have seen what to do. Don't be fooled. This ability for immediate reaction is a separate thing.

Ask yourself honestly if you train for it.

Dueling and Monkey Dance based styles don't need this within their world-view. So sometimes it's just new information. I can think of one person (Hey, Tony!) who has made a great career out of helping people with this new information. But sometimes (and in my opinion this is criminal) I've seen instructors deny that it exists and a few practitioners stick their heads deep in the sand with the old saw, "You can't train for that so why bother?" But people do train for it, and use it with decent success.

A general (Patton? McArthur?) once said, "A decent plan now, violently executed is better than a great plan too late." In an assault, even in a military ambush, a half second can be too late.

This is a trainable skill. It's a critical skill. What will you decide to do?

Thursday, January 17, 2008


  Probably in the last ten years I've had the opportunity to be at the center of three things that have been done extraordinarily well.  One was the tactical team, one was the changes in training over the last four years, and one was the Mental Health Team.  All of these things had stuff in common.
The need for a Tactical Team was pretty obvious.  The original team was nearly completely unarmed and expected to handle riots, cell extractions and even hostage rescue pretty much hand to hand.  You needed the best to pull that off.  But the original plan on the drawing board was terrible.  Someone had decided it would be unfair and possibly even discriminatory to limit the team members to people in good shape who can fight.  That first concept quietly died and the real team was selected very carefully.
        The training changes followed a definite and obvious need, at least from the perspective of staff.  When a quarter of your staff are getting assaulted and roughly 10% hospitalized a year, they need better preparation.
With a huge budget crisis in mental health, large numbers of people who really needed extensive help were going to be released to the street.  A handful of people predicted this and prepared, knowing that some of these people who should be in institutions or Halfway Houses were going to wind up first on the streets and then in jail.

These are the things that we have done well, better than anyone in the nation, in my opinion.  All three had certain things in common: they were envisioned, designed and executed by SMEs and the SMEs were empowered to make it work.

An SME is a Subject Matter Expert.  The original tactical team were chosen not just for their fighting ability, but for their control, professionalism and cool under stress.  They designed the team, the training and were given a free hand to plan and execute operations.  The end result was a team that has talked more people out than they've fought and even in situations where lethal force was clearly justified they managed to handle the majority with no injury whatsoever.  It was their team, and they were empowered to design a team that they could be proud of.

Same with training: look for the people who know both how to finish a force situation; how to communicate; how to teach.  Get the ones who know what the officers need, know the policy inside and out, and let them design the course.  It hasn't been perfect, of course, but staff assaults dropped by 30% in 2007 from the year we started this paradigm.

And the Mental Health Team.  Wow.  Interdisciplinary? Yeah, IMO our best counselors, best medical staff and best officers, both in the modules and working from Classification.  The results have been extraordinary.  A truly therapeutic environment but just as- possibly more- secure than the regular jail. Continuation of care on the outside.  One of the safest and quietest places in the jail.  The original officers were hand-picked for this.  It was new and no one knew if it would work or how dangerous it would be to have 65 severely mentally ill people, all with criminal convictions or pending charges in an open dorm.

These all confirmed something that every leader knows: If you pick your good people and let them do their jobs, they will exceed your expectations, sometimes in ways that you can't imagine.

Each of these groups had another thing in common: A real leader with a real vision.  There would have been no Tactical Team without Ron, and he went through the fires of bureaucratic hell to make it happen.  It probably damaged his career severely at the time but he was willing to sacrifice that to keep people safe.  There would have been no change in training without Jose.  He pushed it (and sometimes just got it done) against people resistant to any change who sometimes act like they pretend the dangerous side of the job doesn't exist.  Even when he was exhausted and frazzled, he did the right thing.  The Mental Health Team would never have happened without Cathy.  It was the right thing to do and she never had and never would back down from doing the right thing.

There is one other thing they have in common.  They are all in danger.  Something about success, something about SME's seems to draw (not fire, what is the opposite of fire? inertia?).  If people make a job look easy, people looking for an easy job lobby to be included.  Once people feel a little safer, they start complaining that what made it safe is too hard or too burdensome.  In a way, I hope that is it, or simple regression to the mean.  I hope it's not simply that people who work hard to be good, to be SME's, trigger a jealousy in the mediocre and the mediocre, as the majority, exert their power.  I hope I don't live in a world that punishes excellence for the crime of excellence.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Too Many Words

As part of a project I am trying to put together a manual for agency instructors on this new way of teaching.  Most of it draws from a previously unpublished piece about 'principles.' I started writing that years ago, trying to put into words why some stuff worked, why other stuff didn't. 
The big mystery was how I pulled stuff off that bigger, stronger people couldn't. 'Principles' was trying to lay down the core ideas of efficiency- what it is and how to make it work.
In the course of the last several years reading, training, fighting, I've observed a lot of things, put together some clues.  I think about conflict in a way that only a handful of people seem to share.  But the way we think is useful and so in addition to the Principles there is now a section on Concepts.
'Concepts' is just a list of the stuff that I/we* think are critical to understanding what goes on in a fight.

But I wonder, right now if I am going off on a familiar and useless path.  How much does it really help?  I believe it does, I believe that if you understand predator dynamics you can prevent things that you otherwise couldn't.  I believe that you need to recognize a freeze before you can break out...
But I've read an awful lot of theoretical stuff and wondered, "That's interesting, but will it make any difference to know that when something slams into the back of my head?"

Maybe, like technique, the Concepts need to be absorbed and stripped down to their essentials. I do this most of the time: not thinking of concepts or principles but acting in accordance with them.  So that ability exists.  Can it be taught?
Sometimes I feel that words get in the way of understanding, that if you learn all of the concepts you learn the names and can discuss them and that lets you think that you know them and that lets you feel comfortable enough to just stop, keeping them in your brain but never internalizing them into your bone and muscle and tendon.
So here is the insecurity and self-doubt of a teacher. Can I really take the things from my head and get them to you deeply enough?  Will I ever know?

*I seem to do most of the conceptualizing all the writing, but then I kick it back to a few people, notably Mac, for a check on what I have missed or misunderstood.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Sometimes it's not what you think it is. You spend years training, researching, planning, visualizing and then sometimes the rubber hits the road and it is so not what you expected.  My first jail fight I was expecting the battle of my life with a vicious, killer, hopped-up gangbanger.  When go time came, it felt like he was made of cheese, completely without muscle.  I had to ramp way back to make sure he didn't get injured.  I had been playing very hard for a long time with college level athletes.

One of the comments on another post mentioned Aldo Nadi's duel. Nadi was a jerk, but he was the finest fencer in the world at the time (it's arguable, but most of Bruce Lee's concepts and strategy of JKD appeared to be directly cribbed from Nadi's book "On Fencing".) In that book he describes his one duel.  It reads with the fuzzy clarity of someone who expected to die, remembering every detail.  He knew that what he did, fencing, was not what he was about to do- dueling.
He was aware of the difference. Probably too aware, because the technical difference was minimal. He was almost frozen and he had to get over that- which he did- in order to access his skills.

I expected the fight to be hairier than anything I had ever experienced.  Nadi expected the duel to be so vastly different from his training as to be alien.

George Mattson of Uechi-ryu tells a story in this article about a run-in after hours at a bar in an interesting part of town. At the time, he had a little less than twenty years of training in karate.  I've met George and he is a superb martial artists, a superb teacher and I've watched how he handles the Uechi crew- subtly, respectfully, without throwing his rank around.  He is clearly a strategist of high order. At the time he had been running the bar, including handling the frequent problem child.  Lots of training and far from his first fight.  George was way beyond where most people are when they start selling self-defense systems or street-fighter certificates.
To paraphrase the story, after hours a group started stealing the bar sign.  George ran out- more balls than brains- and clobbered the biggest.  The bad guy went down, blood everywhere.  Then he got up and said, "You want to fight?  Let's see what you got."
This is the looking glass moment.  You've trained for besting a martial athlete.  You've visualized taking on a knife-wielding psycho. Then what you get is someone who enjoys this. Win or lose, the worst beating you've ever received or handed out is several notches below what he does for fun.  A trip to the ER for some stitches and a cast has all the emotional weight of a hangover- just the price of a little fun.
George got out of there- high order strategist, remember? But he still thinks about it.  The smile still haunts him.

The looking glass moment.  You get to something that you've prepared for as well and intelligently as you can and it's not what you thought it was. What do you do?
There are two things I want to say here:
Broadly, expectations can be the problem. Be prepared to let them go. You may not even believe you have preconceptions, but you do.  If something ever happens and your first thought is, "That can't be right," ditch the thought.  It happened, deal with it.  Quickly.  I've tried to say this a lot of ways- a survivor can come from any training background if he recognizes when he has entered unmapped territory and lets go of the map. And someone from any training can be killed by the training if they cling to the training in spite of the reality.

Narrowly, about George's experience.  If you take your training as serious business and you train hard and play hard, imagine mixing it up with someone who takes your best shot and laughs because it is sooo much fun.  It's been years since he met anybody good enough to hit like that! Yeeeha!
I've been in that mindset, and it's hard to stop.  You see the look in their eyes when they slam you and they see your grin and they actually start to think that you're not human, not like the people they practice on.
There's another mindset too, where it is just a job: "Son, I get paid whether you go to the hospital or not.  Make a choice." Martial artists have years of ego built into their training and to fight someone who has no ego about it is chilling and strangely comforting. At the peak, when I was averaging two a week, I spent a lot of time in this mindset.  It had a cost, but it was even effective on the manic fight lovers.

There's too much information here to parse it all and I apologize for presenting it with such poor organization.
Boil it down: Here are a few mindsets you might not be aware of. Most people can't really comprehend them until they meet one.  If you do, you may lose all confidence and your blood will feel like ice.  If you can't get out, fight anyway.  The skill is still there, you just need to get over the freeze and access it.  But don't expect to get out unscathed.  You can achieve these mindsets: the first if you push yourself and actually take punishment as a hobby (but you will pay for it later- numbness, arthritis, blurry vision, etc.).  The second only (to my experience, so far) by exposure to the point that you burn your adrenal glands out, and that has a cost, too.

Most importantly, whatever you have experienced, you haven't experienced everything. When something new comes up, don't waste time trying to cram it into a pigeon hole.  Let go and see it for what it is.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Living in Interesting Times

There was a short space years ago, assigned to a relatively small unit of about ten officers and only me and my friend were not going through a divorce.  In the space of about four months, that was an 80% divorce rate.  Not having the social graces of an average rock, I started asking people, "Did you marry the wrong person or did you just fail to make it work?"  How's that for sensitivity?
Most wanted to talk anyway, so it worked out and I did learn a lot. Mostly about how people saw problems, where they placed blame, what they felt were their limits of control over their world... what Kai calls agency.
(aside- I just figured out how to link.  I used to wonder what the 'frog with sunglasses' icon was on the dashboard.  My lovely wife explained that it was a globe and a pair of chain links. I'm a goof.)
I think I learned more about C and myself, the two who weren't getting divorced.  We saw the world as manageable challenges.  We both have extreme, maybe outrageous beliefs in ourselves and our ability to shape and adapt to our world.  We both thrive on taking any situation but particularly a very bad one and making it better.
Reading Epictetus again and he keeps repeating that you deal with the part of your universe that you can control (you) and don't whine about the rest.  Fix it if you want it fixed.  Being able to control one variable and being conscious of what you can and can't affect is great power...
There's something in that which allows you to turn big setbacks into long term gains.  There is momentum in every fall.  There is a lesson in every injustice.  Even betrayals bring freedom.

2008 promises to be a banner year.

Saturday, January 05, 2008


One of the things that is far more rare (and thus precious) than it should be is the ability to get to the edge of what you know and stop there.  I don't mean quit exploring.  I don't mean stop pushing boundaries and I don't mean stop thinking or learning.  I mean the simple ability to say, "I know this, but I don't know that."  The ability to recognize when you are guessing.  To recognize when you are extrapolating and the related ability to know that extrapolation will only take you so far.

People get just as territorial over their mental maps as they do over their possessions, homes or status.  Some of the strongest, angry opinions I have ever heard have been on subjects like politics or religion where the actual amount of personal information is miniscule.  Religions are unnecessary for people who have looked into the face of god.  When you don't know what information was given, you can't accurately judge decisions that arose from the information. (check out Fooled By Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb for an interesting, tiny insight: almost never have the people in the moment accurately judged what would prove important.  The great world-shaking stories of previous centuries are forgotten while what clearly was important with a few decades of perspective was often unnoticed at the time).

This is so common that I've come to expect it.

Yesterday I was very pleasantly surprised.  Steve Perry knows a lot.  Writing, of course.  Martial arts. Local politics. Surveillance. Guns. The SF community. Music.  Medicine. Pretty much everything except for hot tub repair... He goes on the short list of people who would be handy to have around if civilization collapsed. And... humble is the wrong word and I'm pretty sure he would laugh if I wrote it.  He makes a clear distinction between his facts and his opinions; between his data points and the conclusions he has drawn.  Steve can point out the difference even in himself, and that's a rare trait.

Not to imply that his opinions were wrong- his extrapolations are very careful and his insights draw from a long list of diverse experience.  And he likes being challenged, another very rare and precious trait.

He also will keep me on my toes about precise language usage. Wish I'd known him before the book went to the publisher.

It was the first really good day in some time.  Thanks, old man.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Nod to Dave

Dave Chesser at shared an experience that's worth looking at.  Not for what happened, there are too few details, but for what everyone chose to see:

I had this debate with a Special Forces guy when I was a mental health counselor in the Army. I was telling him of a fellow enlisted counselor that I worked with who had done an amazing thing with our aikido-based takedown training. One day a disgruntled patient had walked into the clinic and pulled a gun on the receptionist. The soldier/counselor I worked with had taken control of the gun, threw the patient to the ground and subdued him with no shots fired and no one got hurt. The only other training this soldier had was some high school wrestling.  

I related this incident to the Spec Ops guy and he just laughed. That wasn’t REAL martial arts, he said, and intimated that my friend was lucky he and other people weren’t dead. He then went on to describe the Special Forces training he received, and it became clear to me that martial arts to him meant snapping sentries’ necks and killing others in the quickest fashion possible. With a clear intent to kill, he felt this enraged patient deserved the same himself, and not to use that level of force was to put others at risk.

I quickly realized that he and I were training for completely different contexts.

I like this because too many people assume that for some reason SF or SWAT or whatever training is in some way "more real" than... what?  Reality is reality.  The counselor pulled it off in real time for real stakes with damn little room for error.  That's real.

And we have a guy arguing from training (anything in the above to indicate the SF guy had ever been deployed?  Ever been on a mission that screwed up so badly that he had to go unarmed against an armed man?) that the experience was somehow invalid.  He made good points, making points is easy- but he is arguing with success in an environment where he may have been killed using his tactics (and probably would have been sued, successful or not) and there is no way to know.  No way to know if the counselor could pull it off a second time, no way to know if the SF guy could have pulled it off once.

That uncertainty terrifies humans.  When arguments arise out of this (and, for the record, I don't think Steve and I are having an argument or even debating, we are looking for the bridge between our experiences) it is because people are whistling in the dark, hiding behind talismans from this fear.  

You can never know.  You can believe, you can trust.  You can have an edge.  But you can't know, and you can't even know how big your edge is- or if this is the one fight in a thousand where your edge is a vulnerability.

...he just laughed. That wasn’t REAL martial arts, he said... this burns me, a little.  He implies that REAL would be better, but what could be a better outcome?  He also equates REAL with his "realistic" training, and that training as more real than real.  I sometimes wish that when people catch themselves in a contradiction like this that their brains would implode.  Maybe it would happen if they could only see it.

Dave deals with it with his characteristic wisdom: I quickly realized that he and I were training for completely different contexts. In anything, context is critical, sometimes context is more critical than the event: If a 200 pound guy picks you up, slams you into the ground and begins strangling you, you shoot him.  Clearly self-defense... unless it is a judo randori, in which case it is murder.

I believe that the SF soldier cripples himself when he chooses to believe that his training is more real than real.

I believe his instructors at some point told him that he was training for the "real thing" and that helped to close his mind. (Caveat- I see this as intensified in martial arts where often students are taught one definition of a win, e.g. KO, submission, ippon; work in one environment; and under one set of rules and extrapolate this snap shot to the vast world of violence. Military/LEOs sometimes expand these, but rarely enough. They usually deal with only a slightly larger picture.)

I believe deciding to train to only a certain set of problems (I don't live in a high crime area so I can skip the nasty stuff) is a form of denial.  A small woman who wants to survive a home invasion attack may need a level of ruthlessness and ferocious technique that would make the SF guy faint.

Here's that uncertainty terror again: You don't get to pick which bad things will happen in your life.  Deciding that you are prepared for what is essentially unknowable is talisman thinking.

Last- the greatest skill a martial artist can develop and the greatest gift an instructor can give a student is permission to see and respond to what is actually happening.  Permission to break any 'always' or 'never' when it is clearly not working. Permission to respond lethally or to not fight at all as required and the judgment to tell, in the moment which is required.