Sunday, March 28, 2010


At the risk of inundating myself with e-mails:

There are seminars or potential seminars coming up in Austin TX, Rochester NY, and Portland, OR. I'm also going to try to arrange something for Boston and/or Montreal in early August.

If you are interested in being on a regional-specific contact list, e-mail me and be sure to include what areas/states you would be willing to travel to. If you're thinking about hosting something, let me know that as well.

Friday, March 26, 2010

It's All About Power

Sounds harsh, but there it is. In a predator/prey dynamic the ideal, for the predator, is for the prey to be powerless. Helpless. If the power shifts too far in any relationship it only avoids being abusive by the choice of the powerful. There is nothing the weak can do, no level of reason or pleading that can prevent those in power abusing the weak. Influence, maybe. Prevent? No.

From that perspective martial arts and self-defense training is all about pushing the power to the students. On every level. Physical fitness, of course. Technical skill, surely. But "Knowledge is power" as well, and so is awareness and understanding. If the goal is really self-defense, then the goal of instruction is to increase each and every student's power until they can not be pushed to the prey side of the predator prey dynamic. So that they are strong enough to have a choice. Always.

It's a fantasy. There is no "always." Regardless of who you are or how you train, there are levels of violence that can squash you like a bug on a windshield. There are confluences of timing and incidents and threats that can negate whatever advantages you bring to the table. there is no "safe", only safer. And that is knowledge, and in that knowledge is some power, if you can understand and use it.

It is only a fantasy of degree, though. I can't make you invincible. I can make you a harder target.

This is the way things should be... if the training is about the student. If you are not, as a student, getting stronger, smarter, faster and more aware each and every practice the training may not be about you. It might be about the style, if the emphasis is on rigid ideals of perfection. It might also be about the instructor, about he or she maintaining power. That will not serve you well.

In a vain attempt not to hurt anyone's feelings, I'm going to talk about myself here. Martially, I'm pretty competent. Ask around with people who have crossed hands with me to get an idea of what that means, since I'm too close to judge. But anyone I have trained for a year should present a serious physical threat to me. If we were to close without safety rules, I would be in serious danger.

If I can't get someone to that point in a year or at most two, I'm either 1) a shitty teacher; 2) don't understand what I know well enough to teach it or; 3) I'm holding the student back, denying them power (which they may need in the real world to keep breathing) to maintain my own power in the little bullshit world of the training hall.

That's a little different for sports-based arts. Competition allows for a very narrow but deep game. Something like chess. It's even somewhat different for traditional arts, in that the progression of teaching is set, and so there are some things that you gain in steps (necessary or not).

But if someone claims to be teaching you to fight or teaching you to defend yourself and you are helpless after 3 or five or ten years, there is something wrong. Something serious. If the tactics that so impressed you when you were young and naive still work (or, worse, you can't pull them off yourself yet)... give it some thought. If the rules get tighter as you get better, or if you are forbidden to win by any method than the ones you have been shown, it is not about empowering you. It is about something else.

Am I saying you should be as good as your instructor after two years? No. Insight, connections, integration and other things all increase with experience. I don't expect my students to be able to beat me after a year. But I would be ashamed if they could not hurt me. If they didn't have at minimum the power to make me pay for a victory. If I could still beat them easily.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Perfect Karma

If I were going to invent a religion...

Okay, huge caveat here: I am extremely enamored of my concept of free will and absolutely reject the idea that the world is pre-ordained. If there were no such thing as free will, I would create it if heaven and earth were to fall by the action. Enough hyperbole.

Imagine that the universe is not only preordained, but it is already a finished object. That time appears to flow from our dimension, but is solid and finished from the next one up. It could be a finished object or a giant computerized simulation. Doesn't matter.

What if there was a 'being' (spirit, essence, soul, whatever) for each thing in this simulation (would beings include only the sentient? Only the living? Only the discrete objects? Or each and every particle and quanta of energy? don't know.)?

What if destiny was that each and every essence would inhabit each and every thing. They could not change or influence the lives, but only experience them. So everyone would be the first human and the last human, a shark and a Yersina pestis germ. Everyone of us would be killers... and every one of us would also be victims. But not just any victims, our own victims.

It would make an interesting faith. A world of perfect justice, because everyone would experience everything. It has an ethical system built in because even though we can't change the scripts (and who is to say that the program can't be shifted?) the incentive for being good to others is that you will eventually, be those others.

Just a thought. I like my free will and I've known too many victims to be comfortable with an idea of abstract justice (though justice is a pretty abstract concept...) so if this new faith arose, I wouldn't be among the converts. But I think it could garner some.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Toning Down

I received an e-mail from someone I really respect as a friend, a martial artist, and a mentor. He advised me to teach less material at seminars. The e-mail was sparse, he is one of those people who often teaches with a single word, but he seemed to imply that trying to cover it all every time would hurt my longevity (business-wise, I assume) and it made it hard to describe what the seminar was about.

So I'm kicking it out to get some more thoughts. My gut feeling is that I don't teach enough, that nothing should be deliberately withheld. My feelings after teaching a seminar (as opposed to a workshop) is always a sense of frustration at all the important things we didn't have time for.

With some time on a plane and a notebook, I made a couple of lists and it's likely that my friend is right. The list are the things I have covered in different trainings, things that I think are useful and important. They all blend, as well and it's not so much the pieces as the combinations between the pieces that really matter. Take a look...

1-Count Seven Facets
Take-outs Ethics
Operant Conditioning Training Legal
3-way OC training Violence Dynamics
Woofing (light and heavy) Avoidance/E&E
Tony Blauer's Manson Drill De-Escalation
Tony's Night of the Living Dead Counter-ambush
Reception Line Recognize and break the freeze
Hood drill The Fight
Break Through Aftermath: Med, legal, psych
Clothespin Game Effects- 1 or many incidents
Roll-over (4 levels) 4 Elements
Targeting Drill SSR effects
Roleplay Environment
ConSim Force Law/Policy (cop version)
Frisk Fighting Big 3
Environmental Fighting Adrenaline loops (video)
Weapon Retention Nightmare opponents
Manhandling Types of Assaults (+video)
Leverage and leverage points Fighting to the goal
Lock flow Male and Female Adrenaline
Articulation Layered ranging
Initiative Pain
Baby Drill Chaos management
2 on 1 one-count 4 Basic truths
Pass-parry Flaw in the Drill
Core fighting Go Buttons
Crashing Perfect move
Spine controls Effects and Actions (MPDS)
Blindfold drills Social and Asocial violence
Face masking Safety Briefing
Shrugging/ Core defense

There are more, I'm sure. And it seems like a lot, but it all connects and sometimes the lecture is just a single sentence attached to a drill. There really isn't a lot to remember, a whole day seminar really usually only has 3-4 techniques. The rest is stuff that people just forget to see or avoid thinking about, but already know.

Any thoughts? I especially want to hear if you have been to one of the seminars. I'm still trying to learn how to do them better.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Record Snow

The locals tell me that the snow last night broke the annual record for Missouri. It's a cold, biting snow: like dry sleet crystals on your neck, wet on the ground. Eric says, "This feels like a winter Storm.

It's the first day of Spring. It has been snowing all day. Yesterday, I got taken for a ride in a buckboard wagon through an historic area. The buildings, the dates, the stories were interesting. More interesting was the emotion. Historical figures that I had always been taught were villains are often heroes in their home towns, and sometimes the stories that preceded their villainy were very dark. Listening to the stories from a man who learned them on his parent's knee, as "this is what happened to your grandmother, this is how your grandpappy died..." The stories will never be the same for him as for those educated by the victors.

Yesterday, up until mid afternoon, it was a warm, sunny day. Today, snow and ice. Tomorrow, Insh'allah, a flight home without any delays...

The seminar seemed to go well. I joke about this sometimes: after the South Coast Writer's Conference a few years ago, Jayel showed me the reviews of my classes. They were really good. My first reaction is that no one says anything critical to the only armed instructor... It's a joke, but the insecurity behind it is real. That's something for me to get over.

So, amend that, the seminar went very well. Lots and lots of concepts. Several skipped lunch to keep talking. The eight hour class stretched a bit over. After class, when I asked each student for the one thing they would take home the answers ranged hugely, which is good. Sometimes too many people just recall the last thing done. Different people were touched by different things, from early and late in the day; from the mental and physical aspects; things that were new and things that resonated with or vindicated their own training.

Still, as always, there was plenty left. I did half of the power generation this time, and that feels really unfinished. No groundwork. The space was actually too nice for real environmental fighting. No specific classes on pain, jointlocks or takedowns. Little on targeting.

One player came from Iowa, maybe eight hours away. In a snowstorm. Crazy. (Safe trip home, Matt. You're a good man.) A small group came in from Tulsa. Eric Parsons arranged a great seminar.

It was good people. And Kansas City Barbecue is pretty damn outstanding. People around here really know what to do with a dead animal.

So, other than stupidly slipping on the ice and somehow rebreaking an old injury in my foot, it's been a great day. Time to go home, though.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Echoes and Emotion

Echoes, today. I have an e-mail I haven’t answered in several months on the dark consequences of understanding things. This morning, writing about the roots of conflict, I felt one of my own emotional denials— using Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, even as I wrote that a serial predator could be working from the highest level of self-actualization, just expressing his true self—I wanted it to NOT be true. I wanted progress and growth to always imply nobility. I wanted to believe that becoming truer of necessity meant becoming better.

I’m a big boy. This isn’t a children’s story. Eventually, I’ll get over all the things I want to believe. As Avi Nardia says, I’d rather be a student of Reality than a master of Illusion.

Still… more echoes. Someone sent me an essay by Richard Grannon on Intent. I’ve run across Richard’s name before and like the way he thinks. In this essay he talks about modeling the behavior of some very bad people. Not modeling what made them bad, but modeling what makes them effective.

Most nice, generally good people are ineffective in extreme circumstances. People adapt to their environments. Being a good person is a good adaptation for a good environment. That’s cool. But when the environment becomes bad or dangerous, that’s a hard switch to throw sometimes.

Grannon advocates not only dissecting the very bad, the predators for clues on how to recognize them or how to prevent creating them, but also for studying and stealing effectiveness. Good guys generally do poorly in prisons, very bad people adapt pretty well. What are the differences in personality, thinking style, behavior? Can you put those in your toolbox? Not become bad, mind you. Just use the strengths.

There’s a knee-jerk reaction here, too. I want to be all good and believe that bad people are all bad, though I know more than enough hardened criminals to know this is not true. I want there to be a qualitative difference between the effectiveness of a good person and the effectiveness of an evil person. I know it’s not true—there are many ways to be effective, many tools and how those tools are used and to what ends determines good and evil. A surgeon is just as ruthless and skilled with his knife as any Rio slum assassin.

So it echoes, a little reverberation between what I know and what I want to believe, and I see it all around in little denials. Peace activists who refuse to see that violence works for many of the people who use it; martial artists who ignore even their own experience when it contradicts some ‘master’; anti-drug crusaders who ignore the advantages that each layer of the illegal industry brings to those who play… on and on.

It’s an act of will not to respond emotionally when your emotions are triggered. It is an act of trained sensitivity to recognize when that has happened. Intelligent people can bring huge resources to defend their delusions, enough that they can convince themselves that their delusions are purely logical.

More to work on.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


The seminar in Chehalis had an entirely different feel. Instead of a wide mix of different unarmed styles, the students were for the most part gun people with jujutsu backgrounds. It was a lot like being home.

Because of that, we were able to get to some stuff that I had to skip in Seattle-- blindfolded infighting, conceptual groundwork and power generation. Even a very short, sketchy class on how to design scenarios. On the other hand, they didn't get to see the ugly movies. It's always a balancing act.
It was a pleasure. Everyone moved well, a few moved extremely well. No one was afraid of contact. No one was completely blindsided by how bad bad could be.

I also found some things in my teaching I need to work on. Part of it is the seminar format, but the job is to work in the format, so I can't let it be my excuse. The first is the big emotional glitches. If someone is reluctant to hurt a person, it's hard to deal with in a few hours. With a long-term student relationship you can build up the trust so that they unload. That's harder to do in a seminar. It's also really strange in a way, that you have to get someone to trust you so that they can unload to hurt you. You have to convince them that you can take it, which, functionally, is the same as convincing them that it doesn't work, before they can apply force...

It makes my head spin. There are ways to evoke something visceral, but they are dangerous. Especially with a class composed of gun guys.

The second hard part is teaching people to relax, let go, and trust. It comes out with almost everybody when talking about the drop-step. Most martial artists have spent their careers treating balance as something sacred, something you never voluntarily forsake.

Once you get adept at it though, this falling on purpose, it is an un-telegraphed speed and power multiplier with very few equals. You just have to be willing to fall. And even people who enjoy being thrown aren't eager to fall. Maybe it's the loss of control.

Like many things, though, it can be incredibly effective if done on purpose and disastrous if done accidentally.

Afterwards, good talk with (dare I say?) a new friend. Plus a little knife sparring, which always makes me happy. No, nothing like real life (knife fighting is crazy-stupid-- there's killing and running, not fighting in the smart/sane world) but fun as an election year Saturday night in hell.

Good learning, good connections.

Monday, March 08, 2010


Emotion came up on the post about Fight To and Fighting From. It comes up a lot. In a duel or a sparring match we are not just fighting a practitioner or a style, but a mass of tactics and subconscious rules and emotions. We fight angry people and fearful people- cold rage to resigned terror; timidity to thrashing panic to rage. You can't separate the emotion from the person from the conflict. You can, I suppose. Tell me how it works for you.

We all get emotional about different things, to different degrees. We are comfortable with our level of emotion. What we feel and what we do with those feelings is natural and understandable. Someone feels a little more and they are a worrier or a whiner or a hater. Feel a little less and they are a robot, a cold fish, something alien. Not to be trusted. Cold blooded. Act out more and you're out of control, irrational. Act out less and you are repressed.

We are all our own gold standards for what is acceptable emotion.

So in a normal office, there will be a group of good people who get along... and one slimy, rumor-mongering deceptive manipulator. The manipulator will run roughshod over the nice people. His victims see him as evil. He sees nothing wrong with what he does. Then one day someone will step up and actually be assertive: "I know what you're doing. Knock it off." The manipulator deflates and walks away mumbling, "What an asshole." You see, in the manipulator's mind he never directly confronted anybody, so what he did wasn't aggressive or bad...

One level higher than you are willing to use strikes you as wrong. In the Conflict Communications course, we've identified six levels of this (hmmm, and six levels in the force continuum I usually use-- subtle influence, maybe?). For those who have spent time at the highest levels, where conflict is resolved with force, the conflicts that arise at the lower levels seem petty, almost unreal.

So it is easy for us to say, "Honey, just stand up to him. You'll be fine." And we don't appreciate that for people used to being good and getting along, stepping up just to the assertive level can feel like crossing boundaries, like doing something bad.

And when we say, with all sincerity, "I'm negotiating, son, right up until it is time to knock you on your ass," we don't understand how the casual acceptance of higher levels of force (that to us seem prudent and justified) sometimes horrify people who think that yelling or even standing up for yourself might be going too far.

"I understand that you are trying to hurt my feelings, young man. But no one has tried to kill me today, so I'm in a pretty good mood."

You know that stereotypical dream where you go to work or school and realize you are naked? Those quit happening the first time I thought, "Well, if it bothers anybody, that's their problem," and went about my day. There's nothing to be embarrassed about if you are still breathing and others had tried to stop that.

So for writers: angst is not terror.
This is for me, I know I'm not your target audience... but damn, people. Please. If your protagonist is in fear for her life, if she is looking into the eyes of a man who wants to beat, destroy, kill and humiliate her it is a different animal than dealing with a broken heart. Do not try to extrapolate from the embarrassing pimple you had in eighth grade to the terror of imminent annihilation. Do not try to recall your childhood heartbreak of flushing you goldfish down the toilet to write touchingly of a couple who just lost their baby. Please.

I know some will anyway. It might be okay for the readers who also have never been to the deep places. But the rest of us can tell.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Things Are Moving

First off, in five days (sorry for the late notice, if interested) there will be another seminar, Chehalis area this time. Information is here. Don of the FAS is taking head counts and giving directions.

MoV broke 70 reviews on Amazon and got my first bad one. That's cool. His argument appears to be that experience isn't transferrable so trying was inherently heretical... sigh.

Invited to fly out for three days to teach some private lessons in upstate New York. Didn't see that one coming.

Got to play with some people in Denver, as well as working on the new program. I think the thing that blows me away about this program (like describing the Monkey Dance in the book) is how obvious it is. Peter Hathaway Capstick once said that it is hard for people to grasp that sometimes when a wild elephant is too close, you can't see it. Your brain simply won't accept something that big as an animal. The students all said, at one point, "That explains..." everything that has been going on in a particular office for years; why no one gets along with a particular person; why good ideas get rejected; why management and the line don't trust each other...

And it is all useful.

Got the official (though verbal) offer on "7". Looking at a spring release next year. Wondering if I should have an agent negotiate this one. Anyone know a really good NF agent? Steve?

Over 30,000 words in on one of the collaborations, about 4,000 on the other. The plan is to have both rough drafts done in four months. Piece of cake.

Thanks for sifting through the trivia.