Saturday, January 30, 2010
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
A recent project got me thinking about group dynamics. In college, the Group Dynamics course offered by the College of Liberal arts (don’t remember if it was under the Psychology or the Sociology Department) was largely worthless—unreliable observations tied together with dubious theory presented in a way that was not useful.
The course with the exact same title presented by the Forestry Department was outstanding- but they expected to graduate men and women who would be leading groups ranging from US Forest Service offices to fire crews.
We were taught (and I have seen again and again over the years) that there are two basic types of groups: Goal-Oriented and Longevity-Oriented.
Goal-Oriented teams exist to accomplish a mission. Your status with the team is based entirely on your contribution to getting the job done. Hard work, intelligence and creativity are valued and rewarded. There is no need for office parties or company picnics*. It is not a social club and when the mission is accomplished, the members drift off. This last is hard for some people to understand- in bad times, a good team can be tighter than family and then, when the bad times are over, go on to separate lives.
Longevity-Oriented groups exist to perpetuate the group. Status is based on rank and service to the group. Hard work and intelligence may be rewarded, but only so long as they don’t make others feel stupid. Creativity almost always threatens the status quo, and is almost always discouraged in a Longevity-Oriented group. Social ritual, whether hazing and initiations** or policy and protocol are the lifeblood of the LO group.
A pure group type is very rare. Even an extreme GO team, unless they are assembled for a single mission, will have to deal with training, logistics and the day-to-day issues of work between missions. Even the most bureaucratic LO team still (I hope) has some kind of job to do, some mission. They will also occasionally have crises that will require at minimum a few mission-oriented thinkers.
Larger organizations will have mixed departments. A GO tactical team will often work for an agency that is primarily run by LO administrations. The GO elements have a job to do, perhaps the primary job of the agency. The LO elements arrange for funding and coordination with other agencies and all of the little social details that are so critical to success and survival in both the government and corporate wilds. Both the GO and LO elements tend to think they are carrying the whole agency.
Something taxpayers should pay attention to: when they identify a problem and through ballot or protest demand a fix, they are expecting a GO response. They want the problem fixed. Due to the vagaries of funding, bureaucracy and labor law the solution will be constructed and run on LO principles. A Longevity-Orientated group is not benefited by accomplishing the mission and ceasing to exist. They are benefited by being able to show incremental progress.
Lastly, there are GO and LO individuals, though LO should actually be changed to Relationship-Oriented when talking about individuals. Generally, they will be happier in the group that matches their personalities. Yet the groups need a mix. LO groups need Goal-Oriented staff to deal with the basic job and to respond to any emergencies that arise. Goal Oriented groups get a lot of benefit from having a few Relationship-Oriented people. No matter how into the mission, a good team still has egos and feeling. I was always careful to have a couple of ROs on my Tactical Team and I never regretted it.
It’s that diversity thing.
*No need, but sometimes they hold good ones. Particularly barbecues in my experience.
**Interesting point- an initiation in an LO group serves the dual purposes of reminding the new member that they are very low status and giving them a shared experience, usually embarrassing and/or painful for common ground to talk. A GO group often has a test. In emergency response groups, the tests can be exhausting, dangerous and difficult. In more cerebral GO teams, such as tech innovation, the tests can be demanding. The purpose is to weed out those who might fail before they jeopardize the mission. It is not embarrassing, making recruits shy rarely improves mission success. It is also expected that bonding and shared stories will arise from action, not from the test.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Four hours at the DMV yesterday. Sigh. Got some good people-watching in, though.
One couple came in with three kids, one a babe in arms and two young boys. Black hair, dark eyes, olive skin… this station serves a relatively heavily Hispanic neighborhood but the vibe wasn’t quite right.
I glanced at the woman’s shoes and there it was—an Arabic family. I eavesdropped shamelessly. I wasn’t sure about the accent at first, a couple of hundred words in Iraqi Arabic hardly qualifies me as a linguist, but I caught part of a slang term, “shaku maku” and I was pretty sure.
The man was dressed in beige 5.11 pants, the unofficial uniform of the contractors working over there. I was wearing a pair myself…
Translating is a difficult, dangerous job in that part of the world. There are many factions (it isn’t just two sides, not by a long shot) who would delight in identifying and killing a high-value target. Like a translator or a translator’s child. Or threatening the children to force the translator to bomb his employers.
It’s a hard job and dangerous and done by brave men and women. Thing is, it becomes even more dangerous when the employers leave. Memories are long, sometimes, and people become more violent as it becomes safer to be violent. There is a special visa available for some of these men and women. The bureaucracy is huge and tedious and frustrating, but some make it through…
This was one of those families, come to a safer place where they had more possibilities beyond what was decreed by gender or sect or tribe or family connections. They looked happy- a few hours in the DMV must seem swift and simple compared to trying to push even simple things through certain middle-eastern bureaucracies…
I wanted to say thanks. Though I didn’t know him, men like him had been instrumental to the good that we did over there. I owe a lot to many maturjim… but a stranger guessing so much of a dangerous history would have scared him, and rightly so. So he and his family get my best wishes from a distance.
Monday, January 18, 2010
Friday, January 15, 2010
Another super-obvious training epiphany.
One of the key concepts in survival fighting is to always fight to the goal. You do not do the same things to escape that you do to neutralize a threat. You do not defend yourself the same way that you defend someone else. Sometimes drawing attention is a more achievable goal than prevailing in the moment… and other times you don’t want attention. Goals (and parameters) dictate strategy, which dictate tactics, which dictate technique.
So one of the basic training items is to change the goal. Groundfighting? Person A wins by submission, but person B wins if he gets to his feet. Fighting out of a corner can be practiced primarily to get skill at fighting in restricted space or the goal can be changed to get time and space to run.
The minor epiphany is that in self-defense training, the goal change only applies to one person. Noticed this the other day practicing response- bad guy (BG) attacks, good guy (GG) takes him out as normal. When GG was supposed to fight to the door, the student playing the BG subtly changed attacks to prevent escape.
You see things in training that profoundly affect real life.
BGs, in real life, are going to do what they are going to do. They have their own goals, strategies and tactics. The victim’s defensive strategies are both unknown and largely the BG doesn’t care. His tactics have been honed and he is used to the victim being too frozen to respond at all.
So it becomes an interplay of known and unknown strategies. That’s just a cool insight, another way to look at conflict.
For training, however, it becomes critical to ensure that the uke, the student playing the BG, is performing his role as a BG, with his agenda, as if completely unaware of what tori (GG) intends. That keeps some of the training artifacts from creeping in.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Saturday, January 09, 2010
- If the roleplayers don't act like real threats, the student gains little valuable from scenario training. They don't learn how to spot a potential threat or do a threat assessment or scale force.
- If the facilitator is constantly trying to 'trick' the student by not having the bad guys act realistically or setting up ambushes from people deliberately scripted to appear 'safe' it can create either a learned helplessness** in the student or a student who over-reacts to everything. It decreases the student's potential for survival.
- If the roleplayers don't respond realistically, if they stay on their script despite what the student does, the student misses polishing other skills, like defusing and avoidance. It goes back quickly to learned helplessness.
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
Going down to the core, trying to winnow what is from attribution. Then trying to put it into words.
How artificial, exactly, are social conventions? The monkey dance and all the posturing and ritual of day-to-day interactions between humans seem amazingly contrived, sometimes pointless. Often silly. That doesn't mean they are unnatural.
They feel unnatural to me, but that is because of a baseline established long ago. I know when I feel most me. In a situation that will require extreme physicality and allows no mistakes; where the body and mind have to be simultaneously utterly free and utterly disciplined is the best of me. Those times bring out the best not of who I am but of what I am.
Nowhere in there do I find the faintest echo of social concerns. No angst. No fear of looking silly. “What would so-and-so think of me know?” would be a suicidal distraction and has no place in that mindset.
There are emotions at that level. But they are very few, less nuanced, and they feel more pure than the many, many things our social brains consider emotional.
There is joy: it is a pure, soul-singing state of elation at the beauty of the world, or the connection felt with all things, or the grace of survival. Beyond words. My mother once told me that a religious fanatic is what happens when a person only feels this once.
There is fear: Not “False Evidence Appearing Real” but the supercharged, battery-taste-in-the-mouth animal awareness of impending and inevitable death. Can’t even really write around this without changing it into ‘fear of’ or tacking some philosophy on it. It’s not even fear of death, because death is too abstract a concept for this mind. It is just a feeling, another soul-singing but at a different pitch.
Maybe there is lust. There is a deep level, but since lust centers around another human I don’t think I’ve ever felt it without some social attributions impinging.
That’s all, perhaps. Anger doesn’t make the list. Personalize a fear and decide to do something about it and you have anger, a purely social thing. The simple (in theory) and very effective (in practice) trick of learning “don’t take it personally” wouldn’t work so well if anger was pure.
Not love. When joy is felt it is often misinterpreted as “universal love”… and romantic love is one of the few social emotions that approaches that pleasure and intensity, so the attribution is sort of understandable… but love, whether romantic or social or agape or patriotism are profoundly social and profoundly constructed. The notion of romantic love was invented and even today hasn’t spread to all cultures.
Not anxiety, obviously. Nor despair. Certainly not indignation or jealousy.Assuming I’ve written this non-word concept well enough to be understood: Are there other pure emotions?
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
Telling comments on the last post. I apologize for bringing you all into a conversation in the middle.
Here’s the deal: certain forms of violence hit humans, particularly men, at a very deep level. When Robert E. Lee says, “It is well that war is so terrible or we would grow to love it too much,” or a French survivor of the German occupation after WWII says that it was horrible and she never wants anything like that to happen again BUT she has never felt really alive since…
We need to look at that. Not pretend it doesn’t happen. Not arbitrarily decide that since it sounds icky to us, anyone who says that kind of thing must be crazy or deluded or wrong. It’s an important data point. If peace is important to you, you will never do anything about it by ignoring the aspects of violence that you want to disbelieve.
If humans are important to you, you do a great disservice to yourself by ignoring or denigrating things that don’t fit your worldview. No matter who you are, your experience with the world is very limited. Approaching disagreements with curiosity almost always works better than doing so defensively.
Do I love war? No idea. The time I spent in a war zone was pretty mild. I dislike the idea of war, but seen both good and bad results from it. I won’t pretend to have an opinion without a lot more input.
Now that that is out of the way-
Monkeys don’t hunt elephants. That’s important. Personally, I don’t see a lot that I like in chimp social dynamics, either. Those two thoughts are related.
It hasn’t been an exhaustive study for me, but almost everything negative in human society can be found in chimps- betrayal, punishing the different, bullies, even ritual murder. The chimp idea of altruism and self-sacrifice is to spend a few hours picking lice or share a bit of food. Monkeys don’t hunt elephants.
Humans do hunt elephants. With primitive stone tools we hunted a lot of big animals, some to extinction in North America. Canoes of men armed with stone tipped spears would go after whale in the Pacific Northwest, challenging some of the biggest animals alive in some of the cruelest conditions.
These are the things I see in humans that I don’t see in chimps and (don’t always see in humans, for that matter). But when I do see them, I see humans at their best.
Teamwork in dangerous conditions for the common good. Self-sacrifice up to and including death for people you are not even related to. The ability to set ego aside and follow someone else’s plan. Innovation towards a common goal. Team planning. Respect based on merit. Reward based on need (not all humans do this, but many do and did- children eat first from a hunt; potlatch; “Sergeants eat last.”)
There are other things too- the hunt and war drove technology, and tool use made human life what it is today. It is a straight line from the first obsidian or flint hide-scraper to the laptop I’m typing on now.
Hunting may have driven the development of language. Gathering doesn’t take a lot of words and farming only a little more and neither require speed and precision of information.
These are all very human things. These things we do better than chimps. These are things that got us to the moon and one day, hopefully, will take us to the stars.
Not many people hunt anymore and those that do have a huge technological advantage. It no longer requires the teamwork and careful planning of hunting a mastodon with spears. Few hunters are at risk except from each other.
Hunting is still important. You can talk all you want about the circle of life and man’s place in nature and ecology and Gaia but until and unless you have killed your own food (and wild food if you consider yourself a back-to-nature type) you’re just blowing smoke out your ass. It’s all platitudes. Hunting is still important for that, but it’s not like it used to be, far less a community necessity. It no longer drives technology.
People doing dangerous jobs in dangerous environments are the ones who still need and most often show these things that I consider hallmark human virtues.
I think this is part of the attraction of war- it’s certainly not the smells or the deafening noise or the terror. It’s not the snuffing out of irreplaceable individuals or the possibility of being snuffed out yourself. It is a place, one of the few places left, where the unique human traits of the hunt, the ones that have driven everything extraordinary that humans ever did, are valued over the monkey traits of maintaining the status quo and catering to feelings.
The best of humans comes out, but also the worst of monkey society: fear leading to acting out; violence used in ego or status defense instead of survival or to accomplish a mission; turf wars over information or credit that cost lives; ‘othering’- cultivating a racism or classism to make it easier for the monkey to kill*…
(Simultaneously, this is all bullshit to an extent. The people I hang out with are professionals, the ones who have made a conscious, experienced decision to deal with bad things. I don't spend time with the others, if I can avoid it. Hence there is a lot of sampling bias here. Were there professionals making what I cavalierly describe as human-level decisions in the Rwanda genocides?
Even if you don't spend time with people who are reacting like monkeys, even the best have chosen, or been born into, a side through social forces.)
* That’s another parallel, the high-end, most professional and effective soldiers and officers that I know work hard to understand the enemy culture and have profound respect for what they face, just as humans long ago often worshipped (that word is somewhat of an anachronism, maybe ‘reverenced’?) the animals that they hunted. Othering propaganda is necessary to get the monkey emotions involved.
Sunday, January 03, 2010
Saturday, January 02, 2010
Training and application are context specific. That’s not really news, or at least it shouldn’t be. Sometimes common sense is context-specific as well. We tend to forget that.
A friend, months ago, made the statement that “…never and at no time and in no way have the major hip throws been used in combat. You will never find anyone in a combat zone who will voluntarily turn his back on the enemy. They are purely sport techniques.”
He’s a smart man and not one to throw around words like ‘always’ and ‘never.’ He couldn’t find a record of someone having done a full-entry hip throw in combat and, combined with the common sense that it would be a bad idea, he felt comfortable making the pronouncement.
I wanted to argue- because the word ‘never’ pushes my buttons. I thought about it for some time and couldn’t recall a specific example. I’ve used a lot of sweeps and leverage take-downs at work, but can’t recall a true hip throw. I know a few guys who have used the wrestling version of o-goshi, but without seeing the specific incidents, I don’t know whether they turned their backs entirely or not.
Reviewed the older kata that I knew and half-entry hip throws are common, but not the full entry. I didn’t have anything to argue with. Maybe it was a never and I just need to quit whining when my panties are in a twist.
Then last night I was brawling with my son. And I hip threw him, full entry. But I never turned my back on him.
The thing is, we forget stuff- people don’t kill the way they spar. In any kind of close quarters battle, emphasis on the battle, I’ll do anything I can to get behind you. So will most people who have trained in a place where blindsiding is encouraged. It’s way easier to beat people up (or kill, or subdue) from behind.
My son has been training with me. He snaked past and got to my back. He wanted the facemask leading to the choke, I think, but he executed it a little too sloppy, so I threw him.
There are two, maybe four important thoughts here:
1) Gifts, one of the universal principles: The threat, by action or position, gives you the body you will be acting on. He supplies the openings, he supplies his own vulnerabilities. If you go in with a scripted plan it will only work if the threat, by pure chance, offers you the right position and momentum. One of the most important skills is the ability to see, recognize and exploit the gifts.
2) Bad guys don’t attack in the same way and for the same reasons you might be preparing for. There was a class long ago (I won’t name the style, but within the style they were very good competitors) where the contestants would deliberately turn their backs on their opponents because striking the back didn’t count and might even get the other guy disqualified. Maybe your training flaws don’t seem so extreme—but neither an enraged housewife in a domestic or an ex-con uses a knife anything like an arnisador does. Training for flowing cuts with full mobility is just as irrelevant to the problem at hand as training to turn your back.
3) Some of the things that don’t make sense start to make sense when dealing with assaults. Common sense informed by dojo training or armchair visualization is context specific. Your conclusions (and hence your training methodologies) may be a complete mismatch for how a bad guy attacks.
4) Some of the hardest parts of training and competition are handed to you in real life—there is a serious art and science to making the 180 degree spin to a full hip throw in a judo tournament, but the bad guy may start in that position, close in, tight and from behind.
The guest entry I wrote for Kris Wilder's Striking Post Blog is now up.
I lost contact with Jason Pittman a few years ago. He's a good friend and a good fighter. When we met, he was in charge of security at a very active trauma center. He was getting more fights in the Emergency Room than I was in a jail. He wandered off to pursue his dream of competing in Mixed Martial Arts and I went to Iraq and we kind of lost contact.
Jason’s back, and coaching at 503 West Coast Jiu Jitsu, a new facility. The space looks great, the crew (instructors and students both) have a great energy.
I’m really happy for you, JP!