Monday, June 29, 2009

I'm Being the Bad Guy

I feel like a blue meanie.  Normally, I like initiative.  Normally, I think I'm pretty good at finding the common ground and getting dialogue and change.  Not this time. This time I just want to cut my losses and move on.

The problem child came to me through at least two other people who tried to work with him and failed.  First impressions are pretty positive- intelligent, friendly, tries to be helpful.  Over the weeks it has become abundantly clear that every last one of those virtues can be perverted into a vice.  Super intelligent guy... but absolutely incapable of accepting that he has no knowledge of the specialized field we work in. None. Nada. Zip.  Since he can't accept that, he just keeps trying to help.  Like by telling the specialists how to do the job.  Or explaining to others what is going on when he doesn't have a clue himself.

Very, very friendly... which means he has no boundaries, and that doesn't work when you are surrounded by criminals, officers and soldiers. He is completely incapable of understanding when he is getting on someone's nerves even when he is explicitly told.  If you say, "You're getting on my last nerve. Get out of here and leave me alone."  He won't- he will sulk and whine and demand attention.  That was the last straw with the last team he worked with.

And helpful?  He's pleased and honored to make command decisions for you and tell everyone else what you've decided. Without asking you. Just to be helpful.

My usual tactic with this is to be very explicit about what I am doing, what I am saying and why.  Communication is about passing information.  The information is important, the method or my feelings or your feelings are secondary... but your feeling will affect how you listen, so they become a part of the question.  Basically, I use a completely different communication style with a young, eager, up-and-coming junior leader than I do with an old political player who is jealous of his position and worried that someone might know something he doesn't.

I explained the reasoning behind this, pointed out how much progress I've made in some dead zones.  My little friend says, "No. You complicate things too much. You should just talk the way that makes you comfortable."
"But they won't listen."
"Doesn't matter as long as it is easier for you." Which, of course, means easier for him.  Better to fail easily than to win if it takes effort. The pay is the same either way.

I had to give the 'expectations speech'- a list of behaviors expected and lines not to cross and the consequences.  I'm hoping he will listen, but I would place a large bet that he will alternate between sulking and sucking up for several weeks.

On the good side, he's inspired me to write an article on how to utilize an interpreter.

555th post, according to my dashboard.

55th review on Amazon and the latest is by Bob Orlando.  My head swelleth somewhat.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Stuttering at the Finish Line

I hate everything I write.  Not usually, just now. 
That a sure sign I'm getting to the end of the piece.  It's partially the writing- each identifiable part of the language is leaping at me:  "See spot run." Hits me as VERB(predicate)-SUBJECT- VERB(accusative)... GODDAMN IT! WHERE'S the OBJECT of the sentence? An implied 'You'??!!? Damnit!
It's also physical. The bench I like to write on which has always been just fine was too short yesterday. The keyboard wobbled. Other things suddenly seem important.  I should be beyond playing games with myself and in some things I am. Writing isn't one of them.  What I do will affect a few people. What I write could affect many.  If you write (or paint or perform music or even fight) for others, you are putting your soul out there.  Out to be judged. Possibly to be hammered.  Almost always by people who have never taken a similar risk.

It's not a big deal.  I'm a big boy and if I'm not pretty comfortable with what I have to say I keep my mouth shut. My unconscious is less mature and has its own reasons. When "Meditations" came out it affected my life. Mostly in positive ways but in a few very negative ones.  The monkey part of my brain cringes at the negative. Whatever.

It's go time. A last little push, feedback from some first readers, then re-write and possibly co-opt some research help (it sucks being this far away from my library).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

It's Just Life

Last week was dust storms. Yesterday was so clear that the mountain and the shrubs on the mountain looked like they were cut with razors for a drama backdrop.  Today, at noon, the sun was almost directly overhead in an inverted bowl of impossibly clean blue.  All around, 360 degrees, exactly two fingers above the mountains that surround this valley, were scattered white clouds in  a ring.

It was so beautiful that it looked fake, impossible. As if it was all a show for my benefit.  Don't look for the man behind the curtain.  You might see him. Or there may be nothing but howling wind and void.  Still... today was a beauty that no artist would dare put in a painting for fear of being called "too symmetrical" and "unnatural".

Last night was sad songs and missing people I love.  Yesterday was funny- looking for some "yellow vipers" that "jumped right over my head" in a storage area.  Snakes in that storage area? If I was a snake I'd hide out there.  I was more skeptical of the jumping story. On the other hand, I've seen an ostrich in a sweater around here, so who am I to judge?

I evidently got an offer so ribald and improper that my translator refused to translate, just turned bright pink and stumbled all over himself. I need a new translator if I'm missing out on the funny stuff.

And, adding to the list of frisbee and skipping rocks, I may have introduced another pastime to the region- shooting rubberbands.  Strange to meet a man who has worked in an office most of his adult life and had not only never shot a rubberband but never seen it done.  I wonder what is missing in my home environment that would be just as obvious to him if the roles were reversed and he was the stranger.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Estate Sale

We got our challenge coins today, shiny little bits of metal to commemorate the mission.  Something we will always be able to hold onto and say, "Yeah, I was there."

Al put it in perspective: "When they hold my estate sale there's going to be a shoe box full of this stuff and the bidding will start at two bucks. For the whole box."

Yeah. Think about that. Everyplace I try to take it brings up other things.  Mostly wise, few very comfortable.

But I get a sly smile thinking about a grandkid packing the box and saying, "Mom, what is this? Where the hell did grandpa get all this stuff?" And then sitting back and listening to stories, feeling the weight of the coins or the rings or the stones...

Anyway- Happy Father's day to those who have earned it. Love your kids today.
And Happy Solstice.  Enjoy a long, sweaty, healthy summer.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Working Professional

Steve just posted something.  It might not appear directly relevant to the stuff I discuss here, maybe, but something in it resonated and it is running parallel to a lot of things that go on here.

"I'm a working pro, I've been involved in half a dozen major universes, doing TV, books, comics, game tie-ins, all like that, I've never spilled the beans before and it would be professional suicide to do so now. Why would you think I would?"

That.  Right there.  I am a working professional.  I get paid to deal with bad guys or to teach other people how to deal with them in high-risk environments.  There is a small chance on any given day that a citizen will get ambushed or targeted by predators. I put myself in that environment. For money.

A working professional in  Steve's profession knows about 'the bible'.  I know about P&P.  P&Ps change and are just as different as bibles; force laws change state by state by country by ROE. 

Steve gets impatient when a newbie writer who has a few Creative Writing classes and some time in a critique group under his belt starts telling the old man how to do it, or telling Steve that he's wrong.  Or that the leader of his writer's group has sold a couple of stories so the newbies opinion is just as valid as Steve's.  Too many aspiring writers take the classes and do the critiques groups and never have careers.

Same same.   Your years in a class or the people that you know who have won competitions or the fact that one of your fellow students or instructors has prevailed in an assault won't impress me.  I could make a list to parallel Steve's above- I've worked booking, max and psych, been ambushed and conducted tactical operations; survived attacks with knives and faced down shotguns, gone hands on in facilities, on the street in homes and in war zones ...  I made a conscious decision to quit counting my Uses of Force at three hundred and that was over ten years ago.

Professional writers don't think about writing the way amateurs do.  Maybe that goes for everything that clearly has hobbyists and professionals.  You do anything long enough, well enough, you start learning things that a hobbyist can't know- which editors hate stories that begin with dialogue; which religions and ethnic groups don't flinch when they see a knife.

And you can write, as Steve did, long pieces that are obvious to you but new and valuable information even for people who consider themselves 'writers'.  Also, as a working professional, you have a better insight into when someone is being stupid... and sometimes it buys you a plane ticket to Hollywood or a chance to statistically show that something your officers need is good, safe and cost-effective.  At least you get funny stories, even if only the other professionals really understand them.

Thanks, Steve, for showing connections. That is always good.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hurt Me!

Bullshitting after class one day with some of the students, one of them (hey, Bryan!) said, "I knew I found the right place on the first day when I walked in and you were yelling at one of the women, 'Don't just stand there! Hurt me!'"

It seems that I say that a lot more than I should have to. 

We pretty it up and get into some deep denial, but martial arts is about hurting people. Breaking them.  We can tack on a philosophy or pretend that we are kicking people in the head to access some inner peaceful monk, but that's a shitload of rationalization and mental gymnastics.

Then for safety reasons and social reasons and most insidious of all to protect the illusions of rank and mastery and proficiency, everyone practices NOT hurting each other.  Some practice so well that after years of training in a martial art, they are better at not hurting people than they are hurting them.

That often winds up as the first big hurdle with new students. Hurt me.

I'm not stupid about it and we don't go out to tear each other's heads off continuously, but they have to know. Not just how it feels to let go, but what they must feel first in order to let go.  So I put on armor (and/or position pads or telephone books) and let them unload.  Hurt me!

This kind of training has its own objective feedback.  You know you have a deeply damaged student when he or she hits the padded bad guy and looks back to the instructor to see if it was 'right'. Possibly the classic example of 'making sensei happy'. Right is knocking the wind out of me or knocking me back or, even better, knocking me flat on my back.  It's right there, objective, undeniable.

It's not hard. Power generation, power stealing and structure combine even at low levels of proficiency and a small woman can break bones. If she lets herself.  You get her to unload just once so perfect that she sees the look and hears the rapid suck of wind and right then, you ask "That was fun, wasn't it?"  Because it is. Especially for people who have too much social pressure to be victims or who have come to believe that they lack power, to see it, to feel their own power opens up possibilities.

Another thing, and I say it a lot, "You know how to hit. You've been practicing. Now forget all that and just hurt me.  Don't think about your form, just think about knocking me on my ass." One little mental tweak and almost all hit much, much harder.  With the bonus that this brand-new mental tweak is miles closer to where their mindset needs to be if they ever have to hurt someone.

Good day today.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Doing Nothing

One day off this week. Spending 10 hours in 110 degree weather mostly in armor- somehow yesterday didn't feel like a day off.

So today, nothing. Playing chess on the computer, reading, watching mindless videos. No work outs. No Arabic calligraphy practice or language tapes.  Haven't swung the boken around or written anything substantial. Just this and some correspondence.  Tried to nap, but I'm not that good at sleeping any time.

Short walks. Seeing how friend's books are selling on amazon.  There is ice today and I regret that gin and tonic can't be found here (actually, I know where to find the gin, but whether I call it 'tonic' or 'quinine' the mixer is unavailable).  Picked up some margarine at the PX on our long trip yesterday.  It's weird. Like drinking water out of a glass I had not realized how long it has been or what a simple luxury it can be.

Relaxing is good, a day doing nothing occasionally is good for the soul.  I think I might be able to do it for two days, maybe three, before I started to go a little crazy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Because I can...

Just after sunset in Northern Iraq, Kurdistan, and my belly is full and the stars are out...

You don’t want what’s in my head. You may think you do. You don’t. I know some things. Things about me, about the world. Things that normally get called some pretty high falutin’ names. 
 Martial artists, especially, think that they want this stuff. Some have spent years training wondering “Could I really…” and “What would it be like if…”  
They think I know. A few think I can tell them. I wouldn’t even if I could.  What I know for and about me might never be true for you.   And it would be only words.   One of the things I know is that the words don’t matter.
So I go the cheap route.   I tell stories.  I drill skills.  Try to show a few people how to learn, how to think.  That’s easy, really.  The physical is easy.  I try to tell them what they don’t know- that the parts that are easy are the small stuff.  You’ll never be good enough not to die. Everybody dies.  
If you know, you will never be sure. Sure is for the uninitiated.

Played with someone today- he's possibly the best instructor I have seen in the country. A damn good man, a good fighter (and the way I rank that it means something very specific.  He has survived... stuff) In close quarters unarmed stuff he was like a toy, a puppet.  That's artificial, we were cognizant of not hurting each other and weapons were off the table, though we both had them in easy reach.... still.

Outweighed by over a hundred pounds and the threat gets the first move at close range and I don't even have to fight, just steal his balance so that he can't move in any direction without setting himself to faceplant on concrete. I'm not fighting anymore, just physically making others incapable of fighting.

I want to spar with Mac.  That means I am on some kind of threshold.  I feel that Dave Sumner is still the best fighter I have ever studied with (sorry, Rener; sorry Mr. Lewis) but Mac can stop action and say, "About eight moves ago, when you did X, your eyes changed. What were you feeling? What were you thinking?"  He teaches more and at a deeper level than anyone I know.  One of the few, maybe the only one who can directly teach spirit and awareness.

Hisssssss everyone teaches spirit! But they don't. Most can't even see it. Or when they do they go piddling in their little pants and run away. Mac can not only see it, but make you see it- good and bad.  You can't improve what you can't sense.

Speaking of seeing what you are seeking and piddling in your pants and running away... but that's not a story for public consumption...

There is nothing special here.  I am an ordinary, average guy (OAG).  When I was younger I was far faster than average and somewhat smarter than average and that gave me an edge, but that is all.  Partially through curiosity, partially something else (it changed as I aged) I just started doing things.  They happened to be the things that other people sometimes dream about.  They were the kind of things that caught my imagination when I devoured Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jules Verne and H. Rider Haggard.  I learned a lot and it triggered more curiosity and I went deeper and learned more... but in the end I am an OAG who has done some things... and can no longer stomach reading fiction. 

The 'something else' that changed:  Late at night, driving through Bend I heard a scream and bailed out of the car searching on foot to find what was the matter, who was in danger.  My cousin in the car was shocked. Everyone thinks about doing something but he considered it pathological that I actually did.  People think about it. Some, maybe most, fantasize about it.  But if no one does anything, there will be far too many innocent women and children bleeding.  My cousin made it clear that  it was cool to dream about (watch it in movies, read it in books, lull yourself to sleep fantasizing) but in the eyes of the normal world it was crazy and stupid to actually do anything.  That sickened me, but if it was left to the crazy to do what needed to be done, I'd be as crazy as I needed to be. 

It's all words.  Anything I write is academic.  In the morning (it's  about 2000 here) I'll strap on a gun and go to work.  Then I'll take the gun off for the real work.  That will be real.

Monday, June 08, 2009


When I first read "On Killing" by Dave Grossman, I was deeply impressed.  Here was a guy who admitted that he had no actual experience whatsoever, that he was 'just' an academic- and he proceeded to tackle some of the hardest problems in human behavior: how people act and react in combat.  In an academic fashion.  Very cool.

It's hard to research because you can't experiment on this: taking a matched random sample and putting half in a control group where they take a test and the other half get attacked with axes... that's just not gonna pass the ethics committee.  Self-reporting is notoriously unreliable as a research tool. Even more so considering what stress hormones do to perception, memory and cognition.  Then there is really weird stuff, enough of it documented reliably, (filmed or witnessed by others or put together by the forensic guys afterwards) that a lot of what we 'know' about action and reaction, limits of human strength and endurance are revealed as assumptions that don't always apply.

The book was good enough that I started collecting the sources in his bibliography.  I was pretty disappointed with some of them.  One in particular was written after WWII by an REMF.  After the infantry had taken and secured an area he would go in and question the natives for intelligence.  Somehow, probably at cocktail parties after the war, he convinced his friends and himself that he was a warrior par excellence.  He had been there. He had done that.  I have a pretty good guess what the infantry thought of him.

In the introduction he asked the real question.  He was talking to a French woman after the liberation, after the war. She said the war had been horrible.  But she also said that she had never felt as alive since.  In that was the real question- why do we do this? I'm not asking what makes humans fight.  I can think of dozens of things worth fighting for and I pity the shallow excuse for a human that has nothing in his life worthy of that.  I'm asking why other things pale in comparison.

I've jumped out of planes. Vision quested.  Made love with exotic, beautiful and skilled women. Fallen off cliffs. Created fire.  Flown a paraglider. Bottomed caves. Spent weeks alone and days away from all sign of people.  Been close enough to touch a moose and touched a deer.  Been present at birth. Saved a life.  Sipped fine scotch on the shoulder of a mountain under the aurora borealis. Snorkeled with sea turtles and scuba'd with spotted eagle rays.  Felt the grace of infinite beauty after nearly drowning...

None of those were quite the same as successfully taking down someone trying to kill me.  Some of them were very intense, just as intense, but not the same. (Aside- when people tell you there are many paths to the top of the mountain, be skeptical.  There are many different mountains.)

Why is the human animal programmed to feel this intensity?  And do we somehowknow (some of us? All of us? None of us?) about this edge before we ever experience it?  Is that what really drives the propensity for boys to play with toy guns?

I don't know, and the REMF* who wrote the book got the question and ran from it.  IMO.

I don't have a lot to say here. I know the question better than the answer. There's just one things that's easy to confuse- after the incident or after a series of incidents, there is (for everybody? Some people? Just me?) an incredible ordering of and insight into priorities.  In other words, you start to recognize a lot of bullshit, especially your own.  The attachments.  That's cool, but it is separate from the battlejoy. That is its own thing.

* Not being obtuse here- I'm about 14,ooo miles away from my library and the title I remember got thousands of hits.  I would name the book and author if I was sure to get it right.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Fear No Man!

Here's a link for you:
Llap-goch, the secret deadly welsh art of self-defense.

When I first ran across this about twenty years ago it was attributed to the Monty Python crowd but I could never confirm that and it doesn't look like the right media for them.  Did the Flying Circus ever do anything with print.

When you're done laughing, think harder- about promises you have been made or (horrors) made yourself.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Double Imaginary Bell Curves

People think weird.  They have an emotional/social/mythic ideal that is sometimes more real to them than reality.  Much of it is naive (using the world in the social science sense as uninformed).  The myth thing plays heavily in martial arts and self-defense: we have an image in our minds of what a martial artist or self-defense expert looks like and the image is often from central casting.

That runs dead on into a 'bell curve' image of what violence is like and a matching 'bell curve' image of what you need to prevail.  Those ideas are terribly wrong- flat out wrong and potentially fatally incorrect.

Most people don't hang out in war zones or work in jails.  Some take this to mean that my level of violence will be higher than theirs.  True. My baseline will be higher.  But my awareness of where I am and what I am doing, the tools and commo and teamwork are designed to match that level.  I'm not worried about the stuff I'm prepared for.  Like everyone else, if I get killed it will be by the stuff way off the baseline.

This applies to training hugely and it applies in both directions- fit martial athletes, the image that pops into our heads when we think of martial artists or self defense experts are the least likely to be victimized, least likely to need the skills they train... and when they are killed it is by something outside their baselines, trusting their kick-boxing skills until the gun they didn't see tears a hole through their innards.

Fit twenty year-olds don't need a lot of skill to be a handful in a fight. Give them the confidence to go in and permission to cut loose and they can do some damage.  Pile skill and experience on top of that (and be careful that you don't unwittingly remove the permission to cut loose) and you have a very dangerous person.  These are the people least likely to need self-defense skills.

The people who need them, the ones most likely to be victimized are the timid, the unathletic, the unaware... exactly the group least likely to seek out training.

"I'm good enough for what I'm likely to run into," he said, "I don't need to train for your environment."

It's not true and it is terrifyingly blind... yet it is true.  He is likely to run into exactly nothing in his life.  He is adequately prepared for that.  But violence comes in something closer to a hockey stick distribution than a bell curve.  It probably won't hit this kid. But if it does he will likely need skills and ferocity well beyond what I've needed.

There's an assumption in there- I give him enough credit to believe that he will walk away from the ones he can walk away from and that he won't go out of his way to create a violent situation.  Most of the low level stuff, the Monkey Dance stuff takes two to play.  So he's also prepared for that, for the stuff he could walk away from.

The result of false bell curves, naive beliefs:
  • The people who most need the training are the least likely to seek it
  • The people most likely to seek it, the athletes, are the ones most able to make a bad system work
  • People train for things that don't happen or for the most avoidable
  • They use an imagined rarity as an excuse to limit their own preparation
This shouldn't bother me. Most people train to bolster their fantasy life far more than they train for survival.  I understand that.

One more- when someone says, "I don't let negative energy into my life, I don't have to worry about this stuff."  They are using false reasoning. It will seem true more often than not because in this society and this time most people's lives will never be touched by extreme violence.  It is one of those things that is safe to believe until it isn't.  Then it becomes catastrophically untrue.  Or the converse, "Thinking about violence causes violence."  Not true, obviously, though experiencing violence will damn well make you think about it a lot.  It is an excuse to stay in a mental comfort zone. Nothing more.

Complete aside.  Kami's story is out!!!!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Growth and Perspective

I wrote about this years ago on some martial arts bulletin board, but it deserves another look, mostly because I've take another step.  Strange how the step you are on seems like the highest sometimes...

Martial artists go through specific stages in their careers and they stop at the stage that fulfills their needs.

The novice gets into the style, they learn to move, learn whatever the style has initially to offer, get into the basic techniques. Everyone goes through this stage. Some stop here. I think we all know someone who has gone to green belt in five styles.

Collectors- This is the stage where people hunt for new techniques, new ideas. They seriously crosstrain, go to seminars. There are belt collectors and kata collectors and trick collectors. They obsess with expanding their "tool kit", their repertoire.  Not all collect the easy, small things- some are driven to amass upper belts and teaching certificates.   There are different reasons to be a collector- an insatiable curiosity; a true love of the depth and complexity of the arts are good reasons. Insecurity and a gnawing need to fill imaginary holes with imaginary skills are some of the bad ones (IMO).   The ones at this level are usually considered serious martial artists.  A fair amount of the famous names in martial arts are right here.

A few go beyond that, though. I call them the strippers.  Sometimes a collector learns through bitter experience that it is hard to find a tool in a big, cluttered, tool box.  Sometimes they get exposed to the idea that there is this thing called practicality that is separate from coolness.  Some take a look at the roots of what they study, the history and find that it was meant to be simple and effective and somehow that has been twisted into complicated and flashy. A few realize (often because they are entering a career where it is no longer a subject of fantasy) that violence is harsh, with high stakes and its own rules and they need something simple enough to be quick and adaptable enough to give them an edge in situations that they never imagined.

The strippers are driven to streamline their stuff. Simplify, simplify, simplify.  At the same time, they need to understand a couple of things. They need to understand the problem they are training for and also the underlying principles-  what makes things work? To be fast, the principles must be practiced and internalized.  Internalize the principles and the techniques are irrelevant. (Not that they don't exist or won't be used, but they cease to take up space in your head and arise naturally from the situation.)

Some strippers focus on a handful of high percentage techniques.                                       Many, at this level become obsessed with mindset.

People at different stages will see martial arts and self-defense differently. The stripper stage, especially when it is triggered by real survival concerns, becomes a 'means to an end'.  Unlike a collector, they do not see themselves as martial artists and MA as part of an identity they value, they see their combative skills as a tool that may allow them to survive long enough to protect their true identity, the one that breathes.

A collector sees an infinite series of possibilities. The stripper may see them too, but he is focused on the goal and chooses the fastest, safest way to achieve it.

Strippers happen, but they are relatively rare. In the martial arts, at least.  Lots of martial arts are based on 'systems' sometimes with capitals 'THE SYSTEM" and it's not generally welcome when a good practitioner starts taking a system apart and putting it back together smaller and tighter.  Stripping is something it is easier to do alone (out of context, this entire post should be hilarious- strippers tossing toolboxes and doing their things alone...) so many of the strippers become ex-martial artists.  Still fighters, but on their own, different.

That's a little expanded, but pretty close to what I wrote all those years ago.  I had the humility at the time to say that these were the stages I had seen and there might be more.  But it was a false humility, because I hadn't seen (more accurately, if I had seen one I didn't recognize it) who was clearly doing things beyond the stripper stage. I thought I was on the top step.

Here it is, the next step, and maybe here it isn't.  It may be one of those things where you pass a threshold and there are many ways to deal with it.  There may be only one way to the door, but many options on the other side.  One more caveat- it is very hard to accurately see yourself or to see where you are...

Given that caveat, I've been applying that stripper methodology to almost everything. I'm still learning a lot, playing around in cultures and skills...  but it all boils down. What are the principles?  How true can life be? How much bullshit can be jettisoned?  It's an interesting place to be.  Odds are the next stage will be something very cool.