Saturday, July 31, 2010

Old Lions

I was invited along to a dinner last night. Not a special event in the normal sense of things, just a group of four old friends who wanted to get together and talk about the old times.

I'm not a karate guy. Not a Uechi-ka. But whenever I am in Uechi territory, they make me feel like family. This dinner of four old friends included Art Rabesa, Jimmy Malone, Bob Bethony and Van Canna. Two of them cops, all of them old battlers from the early karate tournament circuit. Legendary in this circle (except for Jimmy, who may be more on the edge of myth than legend).

For some reason, I was invited to tag along. To listen to stories about fights in the US and Okinawa; in the ring and in bars. Old students and friends. Lots of talk about family. This is the thing about Uechi, at least with this group-- it is a family. With all the squabbling and some of the disfunction, but these men and women have a deep history with each other. They have married and had children and buried friends and they have done it together. Karate runs through all of the stories and all of the relationships.

It makes me feel, sometimes, like an orphan who has been invited to christmas dinner with a big, loving Italian family. A little out of place, a little in awe. Treated with an immense welcoming and open-hearted spirit and wondering "Why me?" I wasn't born to this. I am not of this. I appear to be the only one who cares. Here, I'm part of the family too.

I doubt if any of the old lions of Uechi who had dinner with me last night read blogs. That's cool. But it was very cool to be invited along.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

All of Us

Sitting on a plane today next to a very lovely young woman. Looked across the aisle and saw an elderly woman...and they were the same. Sort of. In the elderly woman I could see the bones and carriage of a young lady who had been a knockout.

That's all of us. Born so small, I used to delight in holding my daughter in one hand. So tiny and fragile. Not human, really, except in potential. Precious, but when you make the list of things that define human, (reason and speech and manipulating symbols and objects) newborns don't really fit the criteria. They are a unique animal.

Then, in a few years another discrete stage- exploring the world, stumbling. Occasionally frightened but more often filled with an awe-inspiring curiosity. Toddlers are funny, darling and cute as the dickens.

Then they become children. Real explorers. Full of dreams and possibility. Right here they can be grown into heroes or shamed into robotic, fearful sheep. If you let them run with the age, they will do and be miracles.

Next the angsty teen, pre-teen and post-teen stuff. Trying to figure out who they are and where they fit. With strong kids, this is fascinating. With weak kids or those with a sense of special entitlement I imagine it would be terrible to parent. Gratefully, I've been spared that.

Then the young adult. Full flower. The beauty of the young woman sitting next to me (my wife has much better legs, though. And shoulders. And skin...) The potential and strength in a young man. Little wisdom yet, but often intelligence. Not always, people can be damaged at any stage, but if they aren't too damaged, each stage has a special magic, a special beauty and a power.

The full adult, moving through the world with confidence. Caring for others, making things better. Righting wrongs and holding responsibilities. A force to be reckoned with.

The quiet years where the torch passes to others and you exist in knowledge (I'm not here yet, so this is speculation.) You watch the seeds of what you have done flourish in your community and family.

Then the slipping into darkness that frankly terrifies me. As eyes go and body and possibly mind...maybe it all seems for nothing. Maybe not. Maybe you forget things that should never be forgotten. What would Lawrence of Arabia have been like in a nursing home, suffering from dementia and incontinence?

Then death, pale skin and flesh of cold and clammy meat.

Then the meat rots.

And it is for all of us. The elderly lady has been the same as the lovely young lady, and still is in a way. We are or have been the same as the children we see discovering tadpoles for the first time. It's kind of beautiful.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Stuff Coming Up

Boston is coming up very soon.

The weekend before that (July 30 to Aug 1) George Mattson, grand old man of Uechi-ryu in the US will be holding his annual camp at Cape Cod. I'll be there to play with old friends. A huge mix of skills and insights will be available. It is something I always make when I can, not just for the considerable skill on display, but also for the family feeling of the Uechi community and watching how George deftly handles the personalities. he is, truly, a high-order strategist.

The Crossing the Pond seminar will be held the weekend of August 14-15 in Seattle and then repeated the weekend after that in Coventry, England. Your chance to meet some cool people. I want to meet Iain Abernethy. For some reason I appear to have been drafted into part of it. At least the Seattle show.

Mariusz is arranging a two day seminar in San Francisco for the weekend of September 11th. Details aren't up yet.

Andy is working on a bar brawl in Montreal for late September or October...

Rob is working on setting up a c Conflict Communications course in the Seattle are for October and Neal is working on repeating Seattle 1 and Seattle 2 as a back-to-back two day seminar (with an option of just sitting in for the section on self-defense law.)

Busy, but not quite busy enough.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Purposeful Mistakes

There are a lot of things that you can do on purpose to good effective that are disastrous if done accidentally. It's that mindfulness thing. Almost any rule (whether a law or common sense) can be broken advantageously. Most of the time, breaking rules have negative effects. Often for others, but for us as well.

Self-defense, for example, is an affirmative defense: "Yes, your honor, I committed an act that satisfies all of the elements of the crime (assault, aggravated assault, manslaughter) but it was justified because..."

Physical self-defense, counter-assault, is breaking the rule against doing harm to others.

That's a tangent.

Over on Patrick's blog, he writes about stiff-arming in judo. It is a beginner's mistake, but it is a really hard habit to break. It is a hard habit to break because it works.

It occurred to me this morning that when a beginner stiff arms and blocks a throw, it is a bad habit. Poor judo. When a skilled practitioner blocks the same throw in the same way it is "good structure."

What else does this apply to? It's subtle, the first thing that comes to mind is the manhandling drill. Being thrown around really messes with people, until they learn that it is all a gift and suddenly danger becomes opportunity. That's different, though, because usually what the beginners try doesn't work.

What are the things where beginners are effective, told to stop being effective because it is bad X or whatever, and then later are either taught to do it again under a different name or just notice that the senior practitioners do it?

I know of 'chi masters' in internal styles that state that they don't move and their students seem incapable of seeing them move... but they clearly do. There are weapons instructors who state emphatically that the hands (or weapon) must lead the feet, must move first. But those instructors never actually do that. Their hands and feet move together. The student has no hope of matching speed or coordination or power until they reject what the teacher says and do what he does.

It's curious. A fun thing to think about. I don't think it's deliberate, except in a few cases. The instructors aren't trying to hamper the students. In some cases it does make sense. The stiff arm in judo works very well defensively, but it gets in your own way offensively and hampers sensitivity. It works, but it really gets in the way of internalizing ju.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Training Camp Concept

Met some extraordinary people over the weekend and had a great training idea.
The people:
Tim, one of the most talented man at playing a bad guy safely ever. Very skilled at the FAST armored suit defense stuff, scenario design, debriefing, all that jazz.
Terry, relatively small, but for quite a while the highest paid bouncer in a hot region, and well paid for a damn good reason.
Clint, who has walked on the dark side pretty thoroughly. He prefers vampires to his acquaintances. His acquaintances are both scarier and real.

(There were others-- love ya, Law Dawg and if this flies and we put together one that includes Sims, you'll need to take some time off work to teach gun stuff...)

What Your Sensei Never Told You:
The law. The differences between sparring, brawling, fighting and killing. Real bad guys. Improvised weapons (Clint got me thinking about them at a new level and I teach environmental fighting). Stress decision making. Intuition training. Slamming and jamming. Chaos management. Hell, probably even relevant first aid and definitely justification and articulation.

Just a three day course, an exposure to high-end violence. Mental, physical, spiritual.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Oil and Water

A good day. I'm sweaty and filthy and sitting in a coffee shop south of Denver. Skipping out on a class I would love to see, but I don't have the equipment and I suck at spectating. Lesser temptation just to type.

One of the things about being well-trained in a good system and then filtering it through experience so it is tight and (possibly more important) I trust completely what my body will do is that I can't really learn a new good system and even have trouble with good drills.

I can learn and practice crap all day. I don't as a matter of principle, I hate to waste time... but crappy stuff doesn't compete with good stuff in my brain. It goes in the worthless box or the toy box. But when I see a new system with an extraordinary instructor and great drills, it is hard to practice. If the drills are real enough, I do my stuff. I trust my body to get me out alive. To override it at this stage is to practice staring into the sun. It is a discipline, but it will not serve me when I need my eyes.

First noticed this with Mac. Not just an extraordinary fighter who understands both martial arts and violence, but an extraordinary teacher and a good man. It would be an honor to learn from him. But his stuff is too good and doesn't blend. It is close, but I work about four inches closer. My techniques won't work with his strategies, and visa versa.

If I had started with Mac as an instructor, I would be effective and happy. If I was a hobbyist, collecting two systems (not necessarily in the sense of a martial style, but in the sense of a strategy/tactics/technique/mindset package) wouldn't be a problem. As long as I was in a life where I needed clean reflexive action, trying to integrate (or separately absorb) two systems would be very dangerous. I like crosstraining. I like playing with anybody and everybody, but I am very picky about what I absorb.

Today was another day of meeting good teachers in good systems. Danzan-ryu. Kuntao. Mayhem. Whatever Tristan was doing...

Two insights from today, among many:

From Tristan:
"I would never turn my back on an opponent."
"Then you have never fought multiple opponents."

From Bob:
"What it does is what it is." In one sentence he lays to rest the argument about what a particular move in a kata is.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Let's Talk About It...

Anecdotes are not evidence. I know this and yet...

Everyone who deals with certain extremes, every last person I know, has experienced things that don't make sense. People responding to a kill decision, before you have acted, as if they were stunned. Moving faster than it is possible for a human to move. Seeing bullets in the air. Feeling someone decide to take you.

We don't talk about them. Because we can't explain them. Maybe because we are afraid that no one else has ever experienced something similar...

But we all have. And we get together, sometimes annually, a group of very non-standard people and we drink too much...and we talk. What the hell? You tapped into the source of universal love and the ED freak suddenly curled up and started crying? How many bullets to the chest and he did what?

What would it change if we could collect these stories? I don't know if we could ever verify them (how often are cameras there when shit goes very bad?) and that makes it anecdotes, not evidence. I want to hear it myself, from people I trust after talking to people who have seen them in action... I've seen to many "masters" with brainwashed students and bullshit stories, I want something more.

Would it be folklore? Mythology? Would it be something we could find comfort in? "Someone else has seen that! I'm not crazy." Sure, the wannabes would twist it and repeat it back, but that's just the way of the world.

Would a book on the twilight zone of combat do more harm than good?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Window 2

There are differences in people and there are differences in problems.

Violence, for most people, it is a vague possibility. Easy to fantasize about, hard to imagine in any realistic detail. For a few it is a professional consideration. For some, it is an element of life, constantly possible.

Those types of responses may be universal. Maybe. Name a problem... say... a Russian invasion (since I seem to be in a 70's/80's mood). Especially after Red Dawn came out, there were a lot of people fantasizing about it. Mostly about glorious battle and grateful rescued maidens, probably. A few practiced a little marksmanship and went back to their routines. Not many made any real changes in their lives and possibly even fewer did a realistic assessment, say by reading intelligence on the threat or even studying Russian language or culture. (Da, ya govoryu nemnogo porooski).

For a few, it was a professional consideration and the military had some training and concrete plans. It wasn't the most likely thing and so didn't get obsessive training... but my National Guard unit had firing positions selected in the Coast Range.

And for some, they actually lived in the old Soviet environment. It wasn't pretty, especially if you had trouble keeping your ideas to yourself or, say, happened to be born Jewish.

The problem wasn't the same for all people.

With violence, I've been working with a lot of that first group recently. Too many martial artists (IMO, of course) are fascinated by the idea of violence and repulsed by the reality. Or would be repulsed, if they ever got close enough to see it.

So another window, maybe.

Violence is a vague thing that might happen. How would your training change if it was a concrete, inevitable thing? If you believed that sometime in the next year, you would be targeted at your weakest to be beaten, or killed? No one can help you.

Would that change the way that you think? The way that you train? Would you still trust sources blindly? When experts contradicted, would you go with the one you liked? Or would the stakes influence you to dig deeper?

This seems like it would work, but I know better. My preparation for Iraq was to read the Quran and a version of the Hadith and a number of books written by Iraqi natives or people in country as anthropologists. Plus the usual military sources. I had my own water filtering system, maps to get to a friendly border on foot, a collection of essential survival and evasion equipment that never left my side and had picked up some basic (unfortunately not local dialect) Arabic.

One of my compatriots preparation was to lay in a stock of jerky and figure out if he could get satellite TV.

When my mom was first diagnosed with cancer, she researched the subject obsessively. She could ask her doctors questions, get clarification when experts disagreed. She made informed decisions and she is still kicking along thirty years later. The old friend who said "God will provide" and passively did whatever her doctors told her is dead. So is the tough old man who relied on his own strength.

With violence, you learn. You might still die, but if you expect magic to save you or that you already happen to be the perfect combination to survive, just by luck... it might work for you. Roll your dice.

If it was going to happen, or if you chose to pretend it was going to happen and maybe change your training, would you? Or would you be one of the ones who trusted in forces outside yourself to make things work?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Windows 1

What would you be willing to do if you were afraid your children would starve?

I've been playing with ways to explain mindsets, trying to find the doorways.

"We're a different breed," RC said. What does that mean? I see it, the functionality in certain times of stress and the way that that has changed our perspective on almost everything else. We are what we are, and we recognize each other. We also recognize those who don't comprehend this world we have lived in. Not only don't grasp it, the way a fish can't understand a rosebush, but think that they are experts, because they have heard so many fishy descriptions.

That's not it either. There is a compulsion to study this "different breed". Little boys play with guns and people study martial arts for decades, but neither of those are indicators that they have the slightest insight into the world they are imagining. The errors, the sometimes incomprehensible misbeliefs are stunning...and as viciously defended as any religious dogma.

People work from who they are. I get that. They strive to understand other people by extrapolating from who they are to who the other must be. (And, not germane to the main point they sometimes do this with breathtaking ignorance not only of the other but of themselves.)

They extrapolate from what they have experienced (social pain or shame) to what they haven't (fear of ego destruction and annihilation). They decide that the problem they have never dealt with (surviving an assault or international politics) is like problems they have dealt with (like algebra). That the skills to put a bullet in someone's head are the same as the skills to put a key in a lock.

I've failed to get people to understand so many times in so many ways. I know, intellectually, that they want two incompatible things: to understand something outside their experience and simultaneously to have all of their preconceptions confirmed. But I keep thinking there might be a way to bring them to the window. So that they can see. Not just see what I see, but so that they can recognize that there are different windows.

"What would you do if your children were starving?" may be a little step. Maybe not. I'm not confident that people who have never been truly hungry, or people who play at fasting as a diversion or who have never smelled someone starving can really understand the question... but maybe they can.

Who would steal? Who would beg? Who would demand and threaten? Who would kill? Kill an animal? Kill a human? Prostitute yourself? Others? Children? If the situation were never going to get better and no one, ever, was going to help you-- you could only help yourself-- what would you do? What would you get used to? Would you get better at thieving and robbing? Get better at killing? Come to terms with it? Turn it, in your head, into the right and noble thing to do? Not a crime, but taking a necessary risk? Would it become a way of life? Business as usual?

Do you recognize a particular kind of criminal here? Looking at it from our weird stories of emotional pain and angst, the behaviors of addicts don't track...

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

One Step

The One-Step is the primary drill in most of my training. there are more, of course, and like any drills it has its flaws. No one goes to the hospital, so something about it is not right.

A few posts back, things are getting a little heated up. That's fine. everyone is making points and I'm learning a lot. But the one step is coming into it and the two people are talking past each other and that is largely my fault.

Jonas has been exposed to the drill several times where we've talked about what it is and isn't, what it's for, the advantages and disadvantages. Steve has been exposed to it once with almost no explanation. It is a safe way to play with strangers. It is a lot more.

It feels unnatural to go slow and limit yourself to one action. It really does. But if you are doing two or three actions to my one, what do you think I am doing? If you parry and side step and counter to my simple punch, in what mythical world do you have time for that before I pile on a second or third or even fourth punch?

Steve was right. The seminars are not about martial arts. They are about violence.

In most of them, so far, someone has stated that his block and counter should be counted as one motion, since he has trained it to reflex and that is what he will do under stress. So I take someone to the middle of the room (usually not the person-- if they are too arrogant to listen, their ego is usually to fragile to handle the demonstration. I do want them to see it.)

I take the subject to the center of the room (and I am careful-- it is always one of the most skilled there. To do this safely I need someone with excellent breakfalls who will not panic.) I then take him out. A fast flurry of face strikes, a takedown and the flurry continues on the ground.

All freeze. No one, so far, has even moved or offered any resistance. A few tried after they were down and I had relented. A few said afterwards what they thought about doing. No one moved.

It has little to do with the teacher student dynamic. That's there, undeniably. But the freeze comes from the OODA loop disruption. The strikes coming at the face are not damage-- I never actually contact-- they are information. Too much information too fast. It is paralyzing and it is doubly paralyzing if damage accompanies the strikes.

For that moment, in a class, with someone not hurting him or her at all, the expert martial artist is completely helpless.

Then I give the speech. That this is not about fighting. This is not about martial arts. This is about violence. If you dream, for even a second, that you can block and strike or do more than one thing to answer a flurry, you are dreaming. You do not know the difference between an attack and a feed. The feeds you have trained on over the years are like fairy tales. there are some good lessons in them, and they are entertaining... but they are fairy tales.

If you have made your block and counter or your trapping work against a flurry, it wasn't a flurry. Flat out, it was a feed.

If you want to stop someone who is intent on injuring you and he started first, you have to move with maximum efficiency. You have to make each action serve all of your goals: protect yourself,damage the threat, better your position, worsen his. Each move. Every time.

If you separate the pieces, you will be even slower. From the moment of assault, you need to be integrated. No hands and feet moving together. No blocking separate from striking...and not because the actions don't work (all though they will be suicidally slow if separated) but because the thought process is too slow.

One of the very basic uses of the one-step is to instill this value: what is the absolute most efficient thing that I can do in this second under this circumstance? That drives everything else.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

That's Amazing!

in some places, I swear, having a triple-digit IQ qualifies as a super power...which got me thinking. About this list:

(send no money now, 90 day free trial on all super powers! Change your life at no risk to you!)
  • Paying Attention to What You are Doing: this power makes you a force to be reckoned with, a model of efficiency. Something, especially on the highways and byway of our world, unique and effective.
  • Finishing the Hard Stuff First: Normal humans stand staring with jaws open as you walk away from a job well done while they are still twiddling their thumbs, making coffee and getting ready. You work out, as they get ready to think about working out.
  • Really Listening: For most people, a conversation is just a shallow attempt at getting their own ego stroked by people just as self-centered. With this super power you can gather information, learn things, make friends and be considered wise, intelligent and caring.
  • Get Off Your Ass and Do Stuff: We have superpowers to get stuff done, right? But even with superpowers, we actually have to get off our asses and do things. Act. This superpower not only allows you to get stuff done, the purpose of all superpowers, but by doing stuff you Learn things. You Get experienced. This superpower, over time gives you other superpowers! How is that fair?
  • Being Nice to People: A subtle superpower that allows you to make friends, alleviate suffering and even be proud of yourself.
  • Say What You Mean: one of the most dangerous superpowers, this two-edged sword can make any group you work with more efficient, but may make normals uncomfortable. It's complementary power, Mean What You Say, has surprising force.
Superpowers within the reach of everyone. Try one today!

Really, people. Right there. Give it a try. They're free.


Monday, July 05, 2010


I'm fond of saying, "If I teach this right, you won't learn anything new."  Part of empowering students is to help them realize how much they already know.  Physically, combat is observation and motion, things that everyone has been doing from the cradle.  Most of the mental/spiritual/emotional aspects are just as natural... what blocks them is our training and conditioning.  In that sense, training is not teaching you how to be an animal so much as helping you forget to be a human.  Unlearning.

(You have to be a little bit careful-- some students will take things that they know and jump to believing that they understand and can use it, and that may not be justified.  When I say empowering I am specifically saying increasing power, increasing competence.  You can easily increase confidence without competence.  That rarely ends well.)

After the last seminar, I got the usual batch of questions.  One struck me, because it implied that the person-- a good martial artist-- had learned footwork separate from hand motion and was having trouble integrating the two.

Outside the martial arts, this is rare.  A basketball player doesn't practice dribbling in place and then a specific running step for dribbling and then try to mesh them later with a specific canned rhythm.  Maybe swimmers do practice kicks in isolation from arm strokes.  Do they?  For how long?  In football (American football) slamming into people and running are parts of each other.  With a good coach, so are the vulnerabilities of balance in the other person's run.

Many beginning martial artists separate offense and defense, put them in different boxes in their heads.  Use them as distinct motions with distinct mindsets.  That's often bothered me.  But Jonas pointed out months ago that many learn an attack as a move, and then learn power generation separate from that motion BUT learn the power generation as specific to that attack.  So some never learn to attack with power and some learn to attack powerfully with part of their repertoire but not all and very few ever learn that power generation is a basic that applies in the same way across all of their techniques.

Swinging an axe (or a pick or sledge) the hand slide is pretty much the only thing that need to be taught.  There is foot work in it, and wave-action power generation that exploits gravity... and those don't need to be taught, because pretty much everybody does those naturally.  With an axe or a sledge, we all know how to use momentum, make the weight do our swing for us.  Turn the axe into a weapon and for some reason people complicate everything, break it down into tiny pieces, teach each of those pieces separately... and maybe forget a few of those pieces when it is time to use use the axe.

I'm starting to realize that people do this in martial training.  Maybe I'm overanalyzing, seeing bigger problems than exist.  But I do see people acting as if offense and defense, how they position and move their arms, footwork and how they control their centers of gravity are all separate things.  Things that they must think of individually, do separately, and somehow bring together in the moment.

None of these things are separate when we walk.  Or when we played tag as kids.  You don't think about them climbing or gardening...

I think this may be why so many martial artists, who should be paragons of graceful and efficient motion, move so awkwardly.  They break it down too far and then think about it too much.  It's just motion, something you have done from birth.  You can make it better and more efficient with hints, demonstration, experience.  

We all know how to shut a car door with our hips when we are carrying grocery bags.  It took me five years to truly understand something as a martial artist that I had been doing most of my adult life and that every mom I knew was a master at.  Five years to get to a place that I lived in in my non-martial life.

You don't have to explain structure when someone pushes a car.  All the wrong ways hurt.  I've seen untrained people flinch to something coming at their face with the kind of structured power that internal artists dream of.

When you get a chance, dump isolation for a few sessions.  Move as a unit.  Don't let yourself think about footwork or how your strikes should go.  Just hit the bag.  The wrong ways hurt and, if you've trained for any time, good movement should be internalized (and if internalized movement hurts, it may be bad movement, like the deliberate safety flaw of the pronated fist).  Your body knows how to move.  Let it instead of make it.

Thursday, July 01, 2010


In the last re-writes now, working far more closely with the editor than last time. I'm at that stage where I hate every word in the book. None of it makes sense, everything is juvenile, each comma is like fingernails on a chalkboard...

But it is done, for now. Until the indexing. But David, the publisher, wants to do that as a team effort after the galleys come out. Reprieve.

My choices of title, which included a big, red 7 dripping blood on the front cover or "The Book of Seven Rings" (because sometimes it is funny to tease people who take tradition too seriously) were soundly rejected. The title is official, now:

Facing Violence—
Preparing for the Unexpected
  • Ethically
  • Emotionally
  • Physically
  • Without Going to Prison
It seems tepid to me, but everyone else likes it, especially the marketing department and distributors, and they should know. Scheduled for release in May 2011. I'm a month ahead of schedule on the re-write, but that won't speed up the release. Forward by Barry Eisler. Should have some good jacket blurbs...

On to the next one. And the next. And the next.

Driving to Colorado the week of 12-16 July and returning 19-23. Anyone on the route want to set up a workshop or private lessons?