Thursday, October 14, 2010

Non-Prescriptive

The survival class with Toby was, as usual, pretty damn cool. Good people, a nice place, self-selected new challenges...

At one point, while listening in on the introductory fire-starting class, one of the relative beginners started asking "What if?" questions.

Toby replied, "I don't want to be prescriptive." Given the vagaries of humidity and wind and available fuel, there are no primitive fire starting techniques that always work. Anything he told the student and the student memorized would be wrong in certain conditions. His goal and teaching method is to explain the principles that underlie fire: Fuel, air and heat; Heat moves upward; greater surface area for weight is easier to ignite, all else equal; small lights large; fuel and especially tinder quality...

Sound familiar?

There are limits, but survival is survival. Whether under sudden assault or soaked by a sneaker wave in a cool climate miles from help or warmth, survival only comes up where the normal expectations have already failed. If this situation was a normal social conflict where normal social tactics worked, it wouldn't be a rape or murder attempt. The fact that you are in an extreme situation pretty much dictates that the rules of the non-extreme world have failed or, at least, are in abeyance.

Techniques are prescriptive, and so they often fail. Sometimes they work spectacularly, but whether they work or fail is usually a matter of luck. Your prescripted technique works when it happens to hit the right problem. But we don't get to choose what kind of bad things will happen to us.

If you understand the principles, you can adapt. And the principles for much of violence, from how and why it happens to the physics of knocking someone down, are things we have dealt with on some level all of our lives. Sometimes it seems that training deliberately divorces what we do every day, our natural movement, from what we do in training. It implies that movement in a fight must in some way be 'special' and that almost always reads as 'unnatural' and often in practice is stilted, stiff, weak and jerky.

Even when prescriptions work, like in medicine (arguably...sometimes) they are based on diagnostics. If you can't understand the problem, you are unlikely to make the right choices. Survival, again- hypothermia is loss of heat. Fire, food and warm liquids generate heat. Conduction, convection, radiation, evaporation, respiration and elimination lose heat. When you know the problem and recognize you are in the situation, you can derive what to do.
Assault survival- if you recognize the situation, especially early, you have options... but if you misjudge the type of assault, especially the social/asocial distinction, your choices will backfire. And if you don't know the principles of assault dynamics, you put a 50% element of luck on top of whatever built-in possibilities of failure your solution has.

Non-prescriptive. Thanks, Toby. It's a nice way to think about it. Every so often things get clearer for what I am teaching. Diagnostics and principles are the core.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I’m sure its been said before, but it just occurred to me. People always want to know the answers in life, when what they should be seeking is an understanding.
I love seeing the common denominators Rory. Your writing seems to beckon these often. Truths we all attempt to describe, some better than others, but which apply to most everything. We have only to look for and test these out for the acquisition of knowledge to accelerate.

-Billy G.

Kai Jones said...

The ability to tolerate an ambiguous situation is a quality of maturity.

Mac said...

"But we don't get to choose what kind of bad things will happen to us." Here, I would have to disagree. Humans have a hard-wired system that creates awareness of when "hell's comin' to frogtown." It's called intuition. But intuition is normally time-constrained - maybe a second, minute, hour, day or even a week. But structured within the intuitive sense, within the 'big A' awareness itself is the ability to 'see it coming' perhaps years in advance. Of course, nothing is always, never don't not exist and s**t can happen. But awareness is NOT time-strained. Think quantum non-locality. It's just that the farther we get from survival-as-common-denominator, the less we pay attention to intuition, the less important it becomes. We fall out of practice, literally allowing s**t to happen. For training purposes this means a good instructor must try and recharge the intuitive senses and then train up the individual's skill set to be able to act on this 'precognition.' Example, Rory's 'reception line drill.' Will the person shake your hand or stab you?

Rory said...

Bill- That's a nice distinction UNDERSTANDING is qualitatively different and more adaptable than knowing.

Kai- Hi!

Mac- in the micro I agree with you, we are often complicit in our own disasters. In the macro, when we decide to start training it may be years before anything happens, or just days. We expected our first call out to be a cell extraction, not a riot. People who train for a knife-wielding mugger might get a hate crime perpetrated by a group with baseball bats. If you get exactly what you trained for it's probably because you went out looking for it.

Kai Jones said...

I think this post is useful in this context.

Psychologists have something they call affordances (Gibson, 1977, 1986), which are features of the environment which seem to ‘present themselves’ as available for certain actions. Chairs afford being sat on, hammers afford hitting things with. The term captures an observation that there is something very obviously action-orientated about perception. We don’t just see the world, we see the world full of possibilities. And this means that the affordances in the environment aren’t just there, they are there because we have some potential to act (Stoffregen, 2003). If you are frail and afraid of falling then a handrail will look very different from if you are a skateboarder, or a freerunner. Psychology typically divides the jobs the mind does up into parcels : ‘perception’, (then) ‘decision making’, (then) ‘action’. But if you take the idea of affordances seriously it gives lie to this neat division. Affordances exist because action (the ‘last’ stage) affects perception (the ‘first’ stage).

So if you don't experience yourself as able to act, you won't see the possibilities in your environment.

Mac said...

David Brin's 'The Practice Effect'

Kai Jones said...

In Brin's novel the practice you do affects your tools instead of you.

Maija said...

Kai - thanks for posting that link. Fascinating.
Openness, imagination, and thinking 'outside the box' all seem to play a part in successful problem solving, especially of unfamiliar situations - hugely useful when combined with real, physical, kinesthetic activity, such as rock climbing, where there is an instantaneous feedback loop as to whether the solution worked or not.

Kai Jones said...

Affordances being shaped by your identity as an actor certainly intersects well with Rory's focus on giving yourself permission.

Maija said...

Indeed.
The point I wanted to add was that I believe there is a huge benefit gained from linking concepts and ideas with personal, PHYSICAL experience - something ACTUAL and tangible - whether these new ways of 'seeing' influence mental, emotional, physical, or identity states.

Drew said...

For starting a fire in the rain I prescribe pain, cold fingers and a face full of smoke!