Monday, December 29, 2008

Waste Not, Want Not

Going over the fiction I wrote for nano and I have to cut two pieces. They just don't really fit.
So, hey, I'll post them here. Just some introspection from the main character:

Bad guys.  The best definition that I ever heard was, “My team are the good guys.  The other team is the bad guys.”  It’s simple and sometimes you need a simple way to look at the world.  I usually prefer the law enforcement term “threat.”  It’s dehumanizing without a value judgment.  It’s immature to require your enemy to be less than you.  I can kill someone who I profoundly respect.  The reason that they need to be killed has nothing to do with who they are, it has everything to do with what they are doing.

So I like the term threat.  I am stopping what they are doing, the ability to do harm that they represent.  Stopping the person is incidental.



Get this. People do not commit suicide because of the shitty stuff that happened in their lives. They commit suicide from thinking about it too much.  Being alone? Generally bad, unless you stay really busy.  Alcohol and opiates? Bad time for depressants.  Uppers, a little coke or meth? You start to think that you need them to have a normal amount of energy and in a little bit that becomes both true and not, because you wouldn’t know a normal level of energy if it bit you.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Danger and Fear

Martial arts, combatives training, is part of my risk management strategy. I have spent the better part of the last two decades in close proximity with people who regularly use violence and intimidation as tools to get what they want. Most of this time has been spent unarmed and out-numbered.  I need to manage a certain level of physical danger.

Every skill I acquire, every new technique or idea hits a very clear filter: will it make me safer? Will it increase my chances of getting out of a bad situation intact? I honor tradition, but I don't really care about it- a single family in Japan has kept a tradition alive for over 350 years that has been the core skill of my close-quarters survival. They have my deepest respect and gratitude, but it was the effectiveness, not the age or lineage that earned my respect. Get it? Same with wisdom and athletics and anything else.  They are cool, but not what I need from my training.

The thing is, in my risk management strategy I am managing danger. I get paid to do stuff where stupid people, people who don't pay attention and people who are simply unlucky get hurt.  This shit can be dangerous. I work my ass off to minimize that, predicting and preventing every contingency I can... but any martial skill I develop is for the sole purpose of not being the one zipped into the body bag or waking up in the emergency room.

Most martial artists are not managing danger- they are managing fear and that is an entirely different thing.

Steve Barnes, in his wonderful introduction to "Meditations on Violence" writes:
"... legions of young men swamped martial arts schools all over the world, seeking to be strong, to be brave,  to be capable-- to, in other words, deal with their fear that they would not be able."

I think I could write pages about fear. I don't respond to it the way most people do, though I used to. Most people acknowledge fear as a bad thing and will do a lot to alleviate the discomfort.  I don't usually bother.

Fear isn't real for me. That doesn't mean I don't feel it or that I like it. It simply means that I've had joints popped and small bones broken and an eye gouged and concussions and compared to those, fear isn't real. I have a definite need to avoid the damage, avoid the danger. Fear is just white noise in the background and sometimes a tool.

For most people, fear is a stimulus, a negative stimulus, and they will do what they can to alleviate that negative stimulus. Any animal would do the same. But since fear is mental, it can be alleviated mentally.

You need to be able to do things to mitigate danger.
You only need to think you can do things to alleviate fear.

Compare a blackbelt that took two years to earn in a non-contact system and a blackbelt that took eight years where you had to fight five blackbelts full contact in succession and beat half of them... they alleviate fear just the same. They don't mitigate danger the same.
Note this- danger can only mitigated. There will always be danger and no matter how hard your training is, how realistic, if you are confidant you can handle whatever you will face, it has become a talisman, just as delusional as an easy blackbelt.

Confidence is the result of fear alleviation. It can never be known as over-confidence unless it is tested and failed. If one stays away from danger, the talisman, the confidence, the alleviation of fear are all good things.  If a strategy for dealing with fear alone runs into danger... it's probably just as well that the hindbrain steps in and shuts things down.

A danger management strategy shouldn't lead to confidence.  The more you know about danger, the fewer answers there are. Words like 'always' and 'never' have a way of disappearing from your vocabulary. Confidence is a short step, at most, from complacency, and complacency is the number one killer in danger zones.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Elements of Risk Management

First, "Five Dragons" got it. D was the 500th post on the blog, DI the 501st. I was starting to worry that no one would get it until DIV, which would have shattered my illusions about your general brilliance.

This is a lead-up to something I want to write later, so there may be a few things that seem unconnected. Bear with me, my subject (violence) is pretty complicated.

When we first created the Tactical Team, Ron (who had the vision) was very explicit about the team's purpose. It wasn't just to win fights or wear cool uniforms or feel special or even to maintain or regain control. The team was intended from the beginning as a tool of risk management. Risk management, simply, is handling bad events. Bad stuff happens. They are called bad stuff because the consequences are painful or expensive. Sorry if that seems too simplistic, but this is one of the areas, like much of violence, where people complicate the simple stuff and simplify the complicated stuff.

It's not called risk prevention. It's not called risk mitigation and it's not called risk stomping. You manage risk. The first step to managing risk is predicting all you can. If something is predictable, it is preventable, as Gordon Graham likes to say. This means understanding as much as you can about how things go bad. Learning your vulnerabilities. Knowing your environment. Studying how things have gone bad in the past. If you don't know what to look for (or refuse to look) you can't see bad stuff coming. If you can't see it coming, you can't prevent it.

And here's the first semi-unrelated but crucially germane tie-in: I constantly hear martial artists talk about "the tool box" and acquiring 'tools' or skills. I almost never hear them talk in  any informed way about how violence happens. They try to acquire a complete set of mechanic's tools without the diagnostic skills to tell a blown transmission from a flat tire. All the tools in the world are useless if you can't tell when you need them or which ones to use.

An example. Gordon breaks things down into "High Risk/Low Frequency" "Low Risk/Low Frequency" "High Risk/High Frequency" and "Low Risk/High Frequency".  If something is not risky (and that can be a relative term) if it's not dangerous, there isn't usually a need to spend a lot of your training time on it (we're talking survival skills training here).

So the LR/LF and the LR/HF aren't serious risk management problems. It's also true for HR/HF stuff. If there is something particularly dangerous that you do every day, you probably don't need to train on it much. The fact that you have been doing it daily for a while is a good indicator that you know how to handle it.

That means leaves the rare nasty stuff. That is where you really need good, solid training. Training is necessary when experience is rare and stakes are high.  This is, or should be, intuitively obvious. Yet if you break down most martial arts training, the time is spent on relatively LR/HF stuff: Monkey Dances and dueling. Stuff you can walk away from if you keep your ego in check. Those are extremely low risk on the continuum of violence.

(Unfortunately when many instructors drift into HR stuff- weapon defense, multiple opponents and ambush survival- the lack of experience really, really shows. Often it is fantasy and sometimes suicidal.)

So- Prediction. Prevention. Train for the dangerous.

Then mitigation. Sometimes you get blindsided or overwhelmed. No matter how bad you are at risk management, there is one common denominator: if you get nailed it will be by something you didn't see coming, unless you are stupid, ego driven and on some level a willing participant. If you are not skilled at risk prediction and prevention, the trouble you get may be relatively obvious and easy. If you are skilled...

Laurence Gonzales in "Deep Survival" makes the observation that given enough time, bad stuff will happen and systems will fail. The more that is predicted and prevented, the rarer it will be, but it will still happen. One of the side effects of skill in this arena is that when it goes bad, it will be pretty damn weird.  It makes for great stories if you live.

Mitigation boils down to prioritize your losses and what you will protect. Think the 3 P's in order: People, Process, Property.  In a major disaster it means that you get everyone out safely before you even think of saving knowledge (e.g. computers, secret documents) and only after those are protected do you even consider saving stuff. In personal encounters with violence, you do whatever you have to do to get (yourself and/or others) out alive. That is more important than pride, more important than preserving your reputation. Those imaginary things are far more important than your wallet or your car.

Training for violence then: Prediction. Prevention. Train for the most dangerous. Keep clear priorities so that you can adapt when the first steps fail. Practice all those steps, especially adapting.

It's not as hard as some people make it sound. And it's fun.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Do The Math
Here's an example- closed fist strikes to the head.  I know, personally, five people who have been sent to the hospital for broken hands after closed-fist strikes to the head. A total of nine incidents (two of them were not fast learners).  One of them had been a trained amateur boxer. How many people have I known who needed medical treatment after receiving a closed fist strike to the head? None. Zero. Zip. Nada.

Falling and hitting their heads? Yep. Being directed into a wall or piece of furniture? Sure. Head butting? Both accidental and deliberate. Even slaps (I didn't go to the hospital but should have, dizzy and puking for almost three days) C did, with a ruptured eardrum as well as a mild concussion.

So is it a good technique/system whatever if you are far more likely to be injured by using it than the bad guy? (BTW, two of those people have permanent disability.)

Another example, "In the old days a good day just meant everybody made it home alive." Trouble is I know exactly how many people died doing that job. Then there is the math- if good is better than average and good means no deaths and nothing more, than an average day involved deaths. He was probably trying to sound tough to the rookies, but he just wound up sounding ignorant to anyone who had either done the job or could do simple math.

It's a beautiful day here- windy and sandy with a sky that looks like polished steel.
< onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}" href="">First picture upload!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I was going to explain enlightenment- you know, "abiding non-dual awareness" today. Maybe later.

Instead, Chris called me out on sophistries.  Told him we should save it for a long talk over a beer, but he just couldn't let it go. It's sad, really. ;)

To recap: It started with my assertion that to mindfully learn to crush throats is incompatible with compassion; that learning violence to increase your peaceful nature is an oxymoron.

Chris pointed out that compassion extends not just to the threat but to the people you are protecting.

I said that sounded like a sophistry, and a good subject for a long conversation- with beer,

Ta-dum... Chris said a sophistry would be pointing out that compassion means "suffering with"... and here we are.

This really should be a long, rambling talk with lots of time to make sure that we all agree on the common ground and take care to see when meanings diverge blah, blah, blah. Nope. This is a blog, so it's going to be a monologue. 
First using words they way they are defined is not sophistry, it is simple communication. So there!  Glad that's out of the way. On to the meat:

People do what they are going to do.  When they do it, they usually have a very definite reason.  Simultaneously, they also have a lot of excuses and beliefs and 'shoulds' and accepted perspectives and bullshit running around in their heads. None of these are the actual reason for the action, but we/they often believe they are.

If you are going to take the bad guy out to protect yourself or your family, that's a perfectly good reason. You don't need any more than that.  But if you have trained under some myth of a "compassionate warrior" one of those bullshit stories running around in your head will be that what you just did (broke a bone, snapped a joint, concussed a brain) must, in some way, have been an act of compassion.  You can just look at the guy laying on the ground screaming, puking and bleeding and have a pretty good idea the compassion wasn't for him... so you convince yourself that compassion for the people you saved is just as valid and you can hold on to your compassionate warrior badge.

Chris is right to point out that compassion means "suffering with" (I would have held it at just 'feeling with' but he's right).  You can't suffer with everybody. The best example is the way some teachers, counselors, medics or just friends can really be there with you in the dark times.  I have never seen anyone exhibit that level of compassion to more than one person at a time. Part of the power lies in the focused personal attention that it requires. When someone tries to feel for everybody and everything, it is indistinguishable from angst (which I privately call 'emo whining bullshit paralysis'). 
This deep attention is also critical in combat. I don't always have to be completely in the (head, heart, spirit, motion, whatever it is, all about him) of the threat, I can also (and prefer to be) completely within myself, totally in my action.

So, in the moment of delivering damage, you aren't thinking about the people you are saving. If you aren't thinking about them, you certainly aren't 'suffering with' them.  This is why it smelled like a sophistry to me- it sounded like the words someone would tell themselves to keep a label.

Protecting people is reason enough. You don't need to pretend that you were doing it with a certain type of emotional involvement or for a separate reason that you have been told is "the warrior ideal." (Not you, Chris- see the next paragraph to know what you stepped in).

A level deeper- someone wrote recently that training for fighting was exactly the same as training for enlightenment.  That turned my stomach (and it was probably why I threw in the original line.)  I have my own definition and understanding of enlightenment. It is not warm or fuzzy or particularly comfortable. Taking my understanding off the table and going with the  enlightenment-lite (ala Yoda or Kwai Chang Cain) of mindful awareness and compassion...

If you are studying combatives, martial arts, what have you, you are learning to break a person. Let's up the graphics a little: You are practicing techniques to make a human being scream in pain. To stop them from breathing until their brain cells start to die. To make organs bleed and limbs snap so that they never work again. You are studying the art of manufacturing cripples and corpses.  This is not compassionate. Pretending that caring for others counts as compassion against this is just whistling in the dark.  This is why they are incompatible with enlightenment-lite: in order to pretend you are studying violence compassionately or for compassionate reasons, you must choose to not think about this truth- you give up mindful awareness.

(For my definition of enlightenment it doesn't work either because you can't artificially learn truth. IME.)

But, it can give you the confidence to walk into the places where the deep truths are a heartbeat away. It can become a step, it can't be the entire journey.

Enough on that. I owe Chris a beer if I'm ever in his neck of the woods.
I also owe Bobbe a Chimay (is that the really nasty, sweet trappist beer?) for the best review of the book ever.  Sorry about page 90.
Also Scott (or coffee, if you don't do beer) next time I'm in San Francisco just for the line "He talks to us as if we were a bunch of girls sitting around in our nighties at a pajama party."

Lastly, a beer (or coffee, or scotch, whatever. Something.) for the first person who figures out the title of this post. (Payable when I am in the winner's city or he/she is in mine).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Domination, Weak Personalities and Weirdos

This all started with violence and dominance and good comments that were just a bit off but all seemed to be connected at a level I couldn't quite access.  Here's a try, just thinking out loud.

First thought: Violence is about dominance. Dominance (a very big thing with many levels) is the primary; violence a tool to achieve it.  There are so many ways to dominate others that are lacking in violence or only offer the faintest hint of threat- but they still are an attempt to force someone to submit, to show not just respect but acquiescence. The passive-aggressive co-worker who stalls production or grumbles just out of hearing is just as coercive as any other kind of bully, only too insecure to expose himself to the risks attendant with just saying his heart. There is no such thing as a peaceful protest- just under the surface is the threat that this mass, these numbers could turn into a mob if they do not get what they want, and skillful protest organizers know that their power comes from fear and they use it.  It is a very dark thing to watch people march and scream for peace and love.  "Political correctness"- threats of litigation and disciplinary action under the guise of compassion and tolerance.  And what is this tolerance where any ethnicity (or creed or gender or orientation or...) is encouraged but only one opinion is allowed?  The essence of the entitlement mindset is "I should have the power to do anything I want, that's freedom, but you should be prevented from responding in any negative way because that is oppression." Reverse it and obviously the math doesn't work.  It can be a very free-hearted, smiling evil. 

This dominance is dark stuff and subtle and pervasive.  For some people it is darkly addictive, too.  To make someone else do what you want is power. Whether the coercion comes from whining or claiming a victim status or passive aggressive bullshit or naked violence it is power.

We all sense this in some levels. It's possible that one of the attractions of martial arts is that it might promise a way to navigate this mess.

Someone once said (George Mattson?) that people join martial arts schools for self-defense but they stay for other reasons.  It may be a notch deeper than that.  With it's hierarchy of ranks and traditions and rituals for dealing with dangerous physical action (how do you hand a sword to a warrior?) It seems perfect for making the subtle, shadowy dominance game distinct.

Does it work that way?  Not so much.  If you really want to learn how to navigate the world of dominance hierarchies I suggest you join a highschool football team.  The very hierarchy and obvious aspects of dominance in a dojo simplifies the picture, much like the violence in a dojo is simplified to be understandable.  Here's the first connection, Mike's question about the weak personalities that are drawn to the MA (and don't get your panties in a twist. Not everyone who does MA is weak and there are many good reasons to study, so obviously I'm not talking about you.) (Steve, you were right when you said no one ever recognizes themselves when you write them into books. Weird.)

Just at a physical level, and there are some of these, you get people who want to learn to be tough guys, but do it in a way that doesn't hurt.  Looking at it from this desire to understand dominance, I think there are many, many more who want to face fear without feeling any. They want to learn to deal with danger in a perfectly safe environment.  They want to take on the dominance voluntarily so that there is no coercion in it.

Many martial arts attract people who want to have their cake and eat it. People who believe that they can learn to deal with violence without ever feeling pain or fear; or that they can learn the deepest secrets of life in one of the most artificial environments on earth (taught by a guy wearing the underwear of another continent and century). And, compassionately, do it all without hurting anybody else, either.

Worg wrote about the weirdos in martial arts, some of whom develop high levels of skill. My first reaction was that we don't know each other's definition of skill, but that's not necessary. That idea goes right here. All of those things in the paragraph above are considered simply immature to people who have to work for a living.  Things come with prices. Things are attached to other things.  Most people (fortunately) have never had to think that surviving an attack probably involves dealing with pain and fear, but if it comes up it seems obvious enough.

This 'specialized immaturity' is drawn to martial arts.  It's cool for a number of reasons- most people know relatively little about martial training and they assume (or simply never thought about it) that the practitioner is in to pain and danger much deeper than most really are.  It is one of the few places where this kind of immaturity can get recognition and even subservience from others- have you ever seen a martial artist who you personally know couldn't fight a gifted fourteen-year old preen when someone said, "You're a blackbelt? Man, that's awesome. A guy would have to be crazy to fuck with you."
It's also self-reinforcing. As long as everyone in the little MA community plays along (and they aren't playing, they really believe they are doing something great) you earn the respect of your peers, too.  So, Worg, it's one of the few environments where this mindset actually has the opportunity to develop serious skill.  It's not always the skill they think they are developing, but it's okay.
There's more going on in some cases. At high levels or in obscure or imaginary arts, the practitioner can just make up what 'good' is.  The hierarchy master/student thing has led to pretty serious brainwashing in some cases- literally where the techniques only work on students of the person demonstrating them. That's sad.  Funny from the outside, but sad, too.

Still haven't quite pulled this all together.  More to think on later.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Teaching, Perhaps

Thinking about teaching and martial arts and fighting and what I really believe.

Martial artists are among the worst teachers because most have so much untested ego vested in it.  I read something interesting lately that compared martial arts to the S&M/B&D scene.  The difference being that people into bondage and stuff are aware of what they are doing to each other and have safeguards built in.  They tend to be very explicit about boundaries.  They deal with the power dynamic right up front.

There is an often unrecognized power dynamic in martial arts. The sensei/student relationship, especially with some of the weak egos who are drawn to martial arts (more analysis of that on request) is ripe with dominance. Everyone recognizes this. Where else in America would it be socially acceptable for one person to call another 'Master'?  But there are some more subtle threads in this as well.  Conflict is about dominance. Sometimes for one participant it is about survival, but even there the threat is trying to dominate. Don't read a value judgment into that. I like numbers and surprise and scary-looking equipment because if I can dominate psychologically there will be no need to dominate physically, and physical domination is where people get hurt.

In a martial arts class, stripping away the window dressing, you have one alpha male (who may be an alpha only in that one context) attempting to teach others how to be alphas.  You should be able to see the problems with that and predict some of the outcomes: the teacher who wants tournament winners but savagely 'demonstrates' on students who are doing well against him; instructors blindly imitating what they think a 'wise warrior' or 'man of knowledge' would look, act and talk like; the pretending to spiritual secrets when physical skills start to fade...

If you are an alpha teaching someone to be an alpha, you cannot keep your position and be successful as a teacher both. The math doesn't work. That may have something to do with the arcane hierarchies that are invented.

Fighting is also hard to teach.  It is about breaking people.  You can dodge that as much as you want, but the essence of a martial art is how to do damage to another human body. The problem is that if you actually break people, you run out of students.  You have to teach fake stuff and you have to teach a lot of fake stuff to safely acquire the real stuff.  Then you have to keep the real and the fake stuff separate in the student’s heads. Then they need to be able to access the right stuff, the real stuff, when they need it completely disregarding the fake stuff that they learned it with.  That is not an easy thing to teach.  Really, really hard in fact.

It is even harder if the instructor doesn't really have a clear idea of what he is teaching- obedience and respect (what I think most parents really want when they sign up little kids for lessons) are exactly the wrong mindsets to instill if you don't want your children victimized.  Mindfully learning to crush a throat is incompatible with compassion- no matter how hard you visualize or how deep your meditation on your skills, if the first time you break someone's bone or make them scream it bothers you, you weren't honestly mindful- practicing violence to acquire a peaceful nature requires a willful blindness. Practicing violence to be safe enough so that you and others can live peacefully is an entirely different matter.

To top it off, and this is entirely from my point of view at this stage in life, most instructors don't teach right.  Not necessarily poorly. I mean that they are neither teaching what they think they are teaching or what the student is expecting.

Some teach like it is a product:  "I have a skill, I must give you that skill.  That is teaching."  I don’t see it that way any more.  That mindset winds up in one of two similar places.                                                       Either:

1) A rigid precision where a perfect technique looks and feels a specific way. Hell, I don’t move the same way or even think the same way in different fights.  What makes a good punch a good punch is a huge mash of power generation and distancing and target prep and conformation that you only have partial control over.  Rigid precision is neat because you can work for decades on minute details and always feel like you are progressing.  It’s just that applying it to fighting is like measuring something with a micrometer that you need to bulldoze. It is sharpening a sledgehammer.

2) Trying to clone the instructor.  You will never be me.  You will never fight or think the way that I do.  Sorry, but that’s the way it is.  My duty as an instructor is to get you to fight better than I do. To survive and win in situations that I might not and I really don't give a damn if you look like me when you are doing it. If I try to clone myself in you and you don't have my strength or speed or will, I am dooming you to fail. It's a flawed platform.  Unless you are extraordinary in your own right it won’t work (an extraordinary student can make great progress despite a shitty instructor).

To me, the teaching process isn’t a commodity.  I have little to give you.  Learning is growth.  Teaching is guiding growth.  That is all.  I need to work with the student as they are and lead them to the place that they want to go (ah, the place they want to go? Or the place they think they want to go? Or the place they need to go- usually three different things.) Even if they have a talent I lack, as an instructor and strategist I should be able to teach them how to exploit it and build on it.

This works at the apprentice level or with private students.  I love doing it with seminars because it just becomes a big “here’s something to think about and play with for a year or two” and benefits everybody.  The dynamic can be awesome.  But what I like to teach could never be a system without becoming a product.  Once it is systematized there are things inside and outside the system.  There becomes a right and wrong way.  Not, like in real life, grades of effectiveness from, “Damn, that was sweet!” to “So, I bet you’re feeling pretty stupid right now.” (That's the verbal scale, the physical ranges more from 'nothing happened' to ...some pretty horrible stuff. A coffin for yourself is not the worst possible outcome.)

Most of the people I work with are serious martial artists and most have some deep damage (sometimes damage they have been trained to think of as strength) from that.  Healing is growth and can be learning.  It’s very organic. 

It’s also not for everybody. Sometimes the expectation of what the relationship should be really gets in the way. If you really want Master Po or (who was the guy in the Karate Kid?) you probably won't be happy with a smart ass in boots who keeps telling you 'you already know how to move' and 'sailing through the air is fun!' and 'what were you feeling when you did that?'

Deep learning is growth. It's not about increasing information- what you know- so much as changing who you are. Sometimes, often, you can't even articulate what you've learned. It bypasses a lot of that verbal level of your mind. A student and I sat down with a notebook once after class- she’d mentioned that she always brought a notebook and never wrote in it because there weren’t any words.  Sitting down and looking for the words it was over two pages. 

That’s not the kind of teaching that people are usually used to or like- but the part of your mind that thinks in words is somewhere between useless and counterproductive in a fight.  It’s not you anyway, it is just some words in your head.

So, I’m not teaching here.  There are a couple of people I roll around with.  Growth may happen. It’s all good.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


As long as I am in an airport, waiting for a connection and with time to kill, it looks like a good day for a double- not martial arts or crime, just stuff. Feel free to skip it.

My lovely wife scheduled almost every minute of my free time for the R&R so an amazing amount got done- there was even a little rest and relaxation.

Orycon was critical. Exhausted, (only saved from jet lag by my secret method of not sleeping at all before I fly) and booked.  Mark and Kai- two of my favorite humans; the Steves, both of whom extended some human understanding at a great time. Jim and Andy were far more mellow than usual and let me play fourth in one of their endless debates. Carol and the third Steve, thanks for keeping K sane. Mary can teach you more just sitting in her vicinity than some professors. New people like Bart. Many more names I will forget or never learned or...

Coffee with Mac and visits with Mike. R&S and that branch of the tribe made it up to visit. Kris set aside a class and Lawrence dodged meetings to snatch a few hours of talk (and both gave great advice on the big question- what next?). Colleen- shukran.

A short trip into the old workplace brought out some friends I have sorely missed- and Kurt made sergeant too. Good choice.

There are more I missed. Most of my friends have very busy lives, sometimes interesting bordering on hellish, which is part of why I like them. Next time.

Velvet Hammer

There are two things I love about PDX, the Portland airport. One is the free wifi. The other is Coffee People.  Coffee People used to be a chain of coffee kiosks in Portland that made things like Black Tiger and the Depth Charge. My favorite was The Velvet Hammer, a rich espresso cinnamon mocha.  They did milkshakes, too, some with gritty powdered espresso beans. Very nice.

Despite the fact that Coffee People's product was better in every way to a certain chain that shall remain nameless but has the initials STARBUCKS, they pretty much died out. Except at the airport.

A really good coffee can take some of the sting out of saying goodbye. A little, anyway.

I think these long (deployments? missions? aah- absences) absences would be easier if I didn't love my family. That's probably obvious, but it doesn't work out that way.  The people who have the hardest time with the separation live with this fear and mistrust of what their spouse or children might be doing.  In that sense, it is much easier for me. I miss my family, but I don't worry about them much. The usual worries that bad things might happen, but no worries that they might instigate badness. It's not in them.

But still, I miss them. Some of it is the greedy missing of not having someone to hold at night or children to pounce or people to share stories with. Some of the miss is deeper. My children are turning into extraordinary people very quickly right now.  I am jealous of every second that I miss.  My wife is making great strides personally and professionally.  That's part of the rub and part of the depth of our love- I also like them an awful lot. If there was no blood or marriage tie, no years of shared experience I would still be fascinated and work to be friends with this incredible little group of people.

That's pretty cool, but it makes it hard to leave.

Even though it wasn't hard to leave. Leaving is moving and as long as I'm moving it's pretty easy just to do what needs to be done and I don't really feel the musing and maudlin emotions that hit me later.  Like now, sitting in an airport.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


Again thanks to Steve-

"Sound suspiciously like you are saying not only is the map not the territory, the territory is not the territory, either ..."

Not at all, but this is huge.  If we needed examples we could draw them from tracking or martial arts or social contacts or anything, but this is really simple and doesn't need that.  No one sees everything.  The world is too big and each instant of time is almost infinitely complex. Even if you could process the whole range of colors, sounds and smells simultaneously, you still couldn't see behind your head or hear the noises beyond human range.

In the same place, different people look at different things.  Two very good observers can see the same event and point out entirely different suites of critical information. How they observe, their styles, are often habits and can be trained. This is good.

The territory is the territory. An obstacle is an obstacle, but whether your first inclination is to look for a way over, around, under or through is largely a matter of how you look at the territory.  

There is value in learning different ways to look because some problems are easier to solve from a different perspective than your regular one. I was a very visual learner.  That is still there, it is still a tool, but there are situations, particularly close-quarters fights where kinesthetic thinking -touch- is superior. Faster, more sure. I can tell you how to move someone to the weak side of their base and draw diagrams and demonstrate, but once you feel it as sort of a 'gravity hole' it is obvious and everywhere. 

There is a side effect/bad thing that gets thrown in here and it is something that I write about a lot.  In this post I am talking about accurate observers and tools for them.  Be very aware that some people (I think most, in certain circumstances) are not observing when they think they are. They are treating their plans and preconceptions and templates as data. They believe so strongly that X is the way things happen that they will respond as if X were happening when Y is.  This isn't limited to "you guys" or amateurs or martial artists.  Everyone brings something to the table- sometimes it is experience and some times it is knowledge separate from experience and sometimes it is folklore masquerading as knowledge.  The only defense against this is to let it go as soon as you realize you are wrong.

E.G. If you knew X was going to happen and it didn't, let go of that belief and find a way to survive. You can reconcile shit later.

Otherwise, though, experience and knowledge add to the process.  They are how you choose what needs to be looked at and how you interpret what you see. Some people work hard on being exposed to enough different things to help with interpretation.  That's great.  I've seen far fewer who practice different ways to see.  There are huge gains to be made when you learn to see things that are invisible to you now.