Monday, July 28, 2008

Triune I

I like categorizing things in threes. Don't know why, just have for as long as I can remember. Others do too, so I'm not alone. Reading about something that I toy with writing about (The Triune Theory of Power) it got me thinking- about fighting, about Meditations, about where I am on this journey.

From a post last May:
I'm no expert. I'm a nearly crippled up middle aged man with some skill, some experience and some mean. But I'm consistently successful against people who are bigger, stronger, faster and/or more proficient than me.

That's the three-part issue. There are three things that make a good fighter: Physical ability or conditioning; technical skill; and the whole mental/spiritual component- the attitude.

When I started in MA, I was a farmboy. I was small and didn't think I was very strong, but I was used to chopping wood and milking cows and bucking bales of hay. The thing about ranch work is that you don't stop when you get your reps in or you feel tired, you stop when the work is done. Milking one stupid, stubborn cow I would go to total muscle failure in my hands and forearms again and again and again until she was out of milk. If rain was possible, you loaded hay until it was all in, no matter how many tons or how hot it was- At less than 110 pounds I was loading and stacking about 3 tons of hay an hour (110x55 pound bales an hour) throwing them up into the truck, jumping on the truck as it moved, stacking them, jumping down and throwing more up.

I was what my dad called "wiry". When I started in judo it was a help, but it wasn't enough. My instructors felt that weight classes had severely degraded the skills of judo, so I almost never randori'd with anyone my size, and there wasn't anybody smaller. I needed and developed technical skill to overcome physical disadvantage. You're bigger and stronger than me? Fine, then I'll be better than you! Hah!

So I've always been physical (I consider my own body my favorite toy and best tool, so I play constantly) but I became a technician. I had superbly skilled instructors and they drilled me on skill. They also taught me tactics and strategy, and those are a subset of technical skill for this discussion. Reading an opponent, finding a weakness and exploiting it or reading the flow of an engagement and guiding it so that it stays in your strong areas are skills. Dave Sumner was awesome at it, and it is one of the strengths of true jujutsu- striking, locking, gouging, throwing, grappling or weapons you could hold your own in any and use the one (or more) that your opponent wasn't skilled in. Or apply a technique in a range that most people didn't think was possible or... If you learned to see the problem broadly you could almost always hit it from a perspective that was alien to your opponent. The more you practiced seeing broadly, the harder it was to freeze you with novelty.

So two of three: physicality and skill.

But there is a third. Call it attitude or spirit or heart or whatever. It is powerful (read Sanford Strong's "Strong on Defense" where he describes situations where attitude, specifically a righteous rage, has allowed victims who were completely outmatched- bigger, stronger, armed predators with surprise- and not only survived but prevailed) and it is also vague (look for the posts on heart and where I try to list all the things that can make one freeze). You see its presence in everything from a mother protecting her young to the radar ping of two professionals. And you see it in the absence, when a skilled, athletic fighter is taken down by an untrained addict who was just meaner, more determined, less civilized.

In some people it is just a reaction to fear, to respond with focused violence. In others it is a disregard of fear and a professional need to get the job done. Sometimes it is anger, a beast inside. In other situations it is civilization or a lack of it, the presence or absence of a leash.

This third leg of the triangle is what has fascinated me lately. I've dealt with it, used it and seen it used, had its absence nearly paralyze me and dug for my own to force me to act. As I've worked on it specifically, it has become largely a tool or technique like any other. Making people feel safe and loved to prevent violence or making them feel afraid and uncertain to prevent violence. Attacking (or just affecting, really) spirits rather than bodies.

In the end, though, I don't think it is more important than the other two legs- it is just less trained, less understood. Because the level of conscious skill in it is so low, any gains can have powerful effects on the whole package. Because those effects are rarely understood or even consciously sensed by the opponent, the effect can seem mystical, bigger than it really was.

Then the fourth skill: the grand strategy of channeling conflict into a physical, technical or spiritual arena. Can you dig it?

Friday, July 25, 2008

"All Is Vanity"

At one time I was pretty sure I had my ego under control. I don't require or like a lot of attention. I don't have a need for credit if I do something good (though it does annoy me if the incident is minimized or someone else takes credit.) I'm happy to be an unknown, sitting in a corner and watching.

Until I taught my first seminar and started reading reviews on the internet. Not only do I have an ego, but I'm downright vain. The book has jacked that up a notch and so, purely to blow my own horn:

Amazon review page. 15x Five-stars so far.

Patrick Parker's three reviews on Mokuren Dojo: 1, 2, 3.

Jake's review on his blog. (And good luck in the upcoming fight, Jake. DO NOT psych yourself out with the waiting.)

Steve Perry, who I think was the first.

The Foreword Magazine review by Lawrence Kane.

The Uechi-ryu site has been discussing the book. The link is just information right from the publisher. The good talk is in the forums.

Yeah, I'll have to work to get my head through the door. Or find a time or place to sit down with some of the old guys (you know who you are) and get a good solid slap of what I don't know.

Thanks, to all of you.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Balances of Power

Knowledge is power, as they say, and information is knowledge. The problem, one among many, is discerning what you know from what you think you know. Telling the difference between facts and beliefs. Discriminating between information, disinformation and 'opinion presented as fact'.

Most people have a pretty stable comfort level for this. Most people assume that:
1) Other people need a reason to lie
2) People are about equal in their desire to share information
3) If information comes from multiple sources it is more likely to be solid

The first assumption falls apart in many of the environments that I spend time in. People who live extremely marginal lives, unprotected by society and surrounded by people they can't trust (most criminals) need a reason to tell the truth. Disinformation is habit. Giving people in power (not just might power, but also ego stroke power or emotional leverage power) what they want to hear is habit. Most of what you have read derived from interviews with criminals (or written by criminals themselves) have been self-serving lies. It just is. If that rankles and feels judgmental, that is a measure of your value system, and an indicator that you do not understand theirs. In that world, lying is neither right nor wrong, it is simply smart.

The second assumption falls down in some very important places and some very important ways. Sometimes the people with the most information are prohibited (by law, policy, or morality) from sharing that information. I am aware of a case of a fairly highly placed person in a certain local government publishing some pretty outrageous lies. The truth was well-documented, but was documented under a work-place disciplinary status. Completely forbidden to be shared. The lies went unanswered. In some venues, information has to be limited because leaks can cost lives. Simple as that. The people who could explain the best are afraid that even a slight, accidental slip could lead to disaster- and so they say nothing.

This absolutely doesn't work the other way, and I am appalled frequently by some of the ignorance freely spouted on subjects that I am familiar with. The more I see the silence of the involved versus the voluability of the voyeur the more grateful I am for the quiet professionals who do the jobs we never really hear about. If you assume an equal desire to share information, the noise from one side will seem truer than the silence from the other.

The third assumption... people confuse different sources with independent sources. Radioisotope decay AND estimated mutation rates and changes in DNA over time AND geological layering AND the fossil record all independently support the concept of evolution. Different mythologies (and nothing else) support the theory of creation. Some of the more interesting pseudoscientific political issues are worth a look: in a few of them (I'm thinking of a specific example for this) you will find hundreds of sources. Those sources will quote other sources, who will quote others... but in the end almost everything goes back to a single opinion- and this guy has been known to quote people quoting him to bolster his argument.

This is a hard one to winnow out unless you are willing to do a lot of research... but in many of the hot-button topics it has had a definite influence. I think because it mirrors what the people who choose a side already believe, and people do not distinguish well between facts and beliefs. Full circle.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


"I could be blogging this," I thought. Then I selfishly kept it to myself for a bit. Sipping a latte- a good latte, much better than starbucks- in a giant ballroom in a palace while typing on the next book.

The palace- murdering bastards or not, megalomaniacs do some really cool architecture. The Presidential Palace- marble and inlay, hammered gold door, murals on ceilings forty feet high and domed. Isher-style optical illusions that aren't illusions because they are done in three dimensions... very, very cool.

Sitting under the billiards pavillion next to the swimming pool. Drinking cold water and thinking, just thinking.

It was beautiful and there is meaning in that. There is meaning and many lessons in every contrast in this land, in history and its consequences, in what is and what could be. Things I can't write here other than to make broad generalizations because each supporting detail is a story and a human, the very specifics that I can't share.

Monday, July 14, 2008

"Respect the Mud"

"When the rainy season starts, respect the mud. They build four-storey buildings out of it that last for three thousand years. Don't think for a second you can just scrape it off your boots."

Had to share that one.

Got to box and submission wrestle with a pair of young soldiers. It was fun, and they had good heart, but they were playing. Good kids having fun and maybe learning a little.

This is a strange environment. There's a thing called "pinging the radar" sort of a modern version of zanshen. Certain types of people walk into certain places and recognize each other--they 'ping'. They give a slight nod and either say "Hi" (rarely) or choose to leave each other alone.

This is the richest radar environment I have ever seen. There are kids, sure, and a few wannabes, but this is the highest concentration of truly dangerous men that I have ever seen. Very polite, very professional. Not a speck (that I have seen) of hatred or racism or cultural disdain... just some supremely skilled, supremely fit warriors here to do a job. Lots of good guys, some who have gone partially native, friendly and smart. But they don't ping the radar the same way.

This will sound weird, but I have to be careful to put some yin in my aura when I am dealing with people. Americans are often oblivious to the radar. Not so here.

So, respect the mud and tune down the aura. Good lessons for the week.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Week


I've seen sunrise in Kuwait and the half moon over palms in Bagdhad. Drunk Turkish coffee in a small shop and chai made for us by staff. Heat- the sky seems almost white with the heat, not the clear blue I am used to from my deserts. Sand and dust everywhere. And doves in the trees. A formerly feral dog who looks like a large, blonde coyote and now hangs around the base and a skinny feral cat. I enjoy the heat and often eat outside. One of the other rookies thinks I am crazy.

I won't write much, if anything, about mission. The stakes are high for people here and even an inadvertant slip could give away an identity. Which is sad, because in just a week there have been so many stories. So many small precious moments that I am afraid I will forget. Someone once wrote that the ten best stories of all time were lost forever because they were told to patrons of an Irish pub and no one remembered them in the morning.

This is just another example of the envelope I have been pushing all my life. Just as things settle, as I start seeing the world as a normal place, feel an attachment to all other people I'm compelled to run off and learn more about some odd corner of the universe. To learn things that will once again make my friends in their civilized lives seem a little alien and separate. That's not a bad thing, I love them just as much and relish the difference. Besides, if I don't go play on the edge and bring back the stories, who will?

Still getting my routine down- work, workout, read, write, language, culture. I'd forgotten how much time I would feel compelled to spend staying in contact.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

What's Going On Here

Wow. For a second there I thought I would have to navigate the whole blog in Arabic.

Almost to the final destination. I've had a few short snoozes since 5 AM on the 4th of July. It's not as long as it sounds, I traveled over a significant number of time zones on the way. I could probably sleep now, but I would snap awake about 2300 local time and screw up my sleep cycle. That's why I don't get jet lag, I just stay awake until local bedtime. It works for me pretty consistantly.

I want to thank everybody for the comments and insights on the last post. That's what it is all about. Some of you feel it more than others- I don't know anything. At this stage training and experience are colliding so hard it seems that the world is composed of questions and exceptions. So this is the place I come to think about them. Sometimes it's a monologue and sometimes it's a discussion.

Sometimes, especially when I touch on the twilight zone stuff, it's a fishing expedition: who else has seen this, who has seen more, what the hell was it, what have I missed?

I haven't taught a regular class in years. The few people I work out with aren't students, just people exploring the places that I am exploring now. They choose me because they think I have something they want, and I choose them because I think they will help me clarify exactly what it is I have.

All right. That's enough egotistical navel gazing.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Does It Have To Be?

Steve Perry wrote yet another comment that deserves a lot of thought. He's right, and it's something I've wondered about myself: (See the August 5, 2005 post on New Ways- I can't tag from this machine) The essence- sometimes when you have done something for a long time, you forget the basics. You can do them, you just forget to explain them, or even point them out. Steve's instructor is really good (extraordinary by most measures) and gets a lot of experienced martial artists who need the shift in perspective that he offers. Ergo, most of his students would be considered very advanced in most schools and the basics are just assumed. When a new student shows up who doesn't know how to hold a stick or make a fist, it throws everything off-kilter. The instructor has to stop and switch gears.

Read the August 2005 post. The essence is that it takes a lot of practice, a lot of reps to get to some high-end skills. Every really good fighter that I know followed this route. But is it really necessary?

At this stage I sure don't know and don't really have an opinion on it. But here is a speculation, a possibility: What if you can skip that step?

Most people can move. Athletic people move well. Fighting is just moving. People already know what hurts and what can injure them. If it's not knowledge of those areas that makes a good survival fighter, maybe it is mental, attitude. Sanford Strong describes some of the survival mindsets that have gotten through truly hideous home invasion crimes. The attitude, the determination to "make this bastard PAY!" was a big factor, a huge factor in survival.

Isn't that natural? What if we are approaching this the wrong way and making a good survival fighter* is not about putting a mindset in but about taking one out? If it is not bequething a tool but removing a leash?

One example from my lovely wife: She is a wonderful dancer. A belly dancer, an exceptionally graceful woman. For years she couldn't and wouldn't dance. She was afraid she would dance poorly, that she "didn't know how." The second she decided to step on a dance floor, get into the music and have fun, she could dance. Classic ballet? Salsa? No. But she could move with power and grace to the music. She was dancing.

What if a huge gain in fighting skill could be made by simply deciding to 'let go'. That's the other thing that all extraordinary fighters (competition too) do. They let go. True, after they have spent the hours ingraining the skills... but is there any reason why the letting go can't come first? Would it allow them to learn skills without baggage?

Intriguing questions.

*Not the same as a competitor. Competition is a test of skill and will and technique and fitness and... Survival can be anything and everything

Layered Precision

It is possible to hit hard at lots of different ranges. The one-shot take out is rare, but it happens. When it happens, a lot of things have to come together in an instant.

Some strikes have a very specific range. Jack Dempsey described the natural power circle for a hook punch. The forearm extends off that line (increasing range) or flexes inside (decreasing) and the power bleeds away. Others are very versatile in range, or so it seems. Change the body alighnment of a jab and you get a "straight lead" which can be a very powerful, very long range strike. At very close range, the short jab can concuss handily with less than three inches of movement.

The thing is, though, that power isn't developed the same way for each of these ranges. To get brutal power in a short straight shot is a combination of structure and "bounce" (really hard to describe- and it sounds stupid, but let your body fall inside the skin and the skeleton bounce). The straight lead is structure and drop step. If you use the straight lead system of power generation, you get jack at super close range and not much at medium range.

Though the arm motion can look the same, power generation varies by range. This is why it is so hard to do serious damage with strikes in a real fight- you rarely are in complete control of the range. Clavicles and ribs can be broken fairly easily, but aren't broken often. In the same way, strikes to the brainstem (and the associated high-percentage areas) should be easy, but they don't happen very often.

Following this yet? To be a successful striker you need to put power in a specific place. That is much easier when the target holds still. The great strikers (I'm thinking sport, here) are not just putting the fist or foot in the right place when it is at the max on the power curve, they are also manipulating the opponent to be at the right place at the right time. personal precision plus the remote control precision on an opponent. That's cool.

The jujutsu solution, of course, is just to hold them in the right place.