Friday, October 29, 2010

Steve's Street Cred

Steve posted on his blog and I got contacted, blah, blah, blah... Steve and I thought it would be good to use it as a jumping off point for some thoughts. The italic stuff will be mine, the regular text is Steve's original post.

Right off, this isn't a debate or an argument. Like any two people, Steve and I see things differently. We also guess about what the other sees, feels or means. There is a lot of potential for learning in the gap between what the guy outside and the guy inside the skin see.

A bit more on the violence thing. Most of you here will assume that when I post such things about the reality guys, I am talking about Rory Miller and Mac and the other hardcore dudes like that.

You're right. I am. But it's not meant to be derogatory when I offer it.
And I know this. Steve understands and respects differences in perspective. I don't think he could write convincingly if he didn't

A couple thoughts to clarify things ...

I like Rory, and I believe what he teaches is valid and valuable. I've reviewed all his books, given them raves.
This is mutual...except for the valid and valuable, since Steve writes fiction after all... (joke).

I also believe that what he teaches is mostly geared for, and aimed at, people who are apt to find themselves in scuffles regularly. It's from and for people whodeliberately put themselves in harm's way. Soldiers, cops, bouncers, folks who go forward knowing things are about to get active.

No. Not at all. And this is a huge disconnect. The hard-core operators know this stuff. According to e-mails, what they really get from my work is 1) a feeling that someone else 'gets it'. Even within the operator world, it can get pretty isolated. You can be a qualified operator and never be activated. You can be activated and never see trouble...and some people, through luck or inclination or whatever see a lot, and it makes them think. there's comfort when you find other people are thinking the same things.
2) I seem to put things into words that they know on a gut level, and that's comforting too and
3) The words make it easier to teach to rookies.
But pretty much by definition, if I blow someone's mind, they weren't an operator.

As Rory has been all those things and has not-walked-but-run into the room as the shit hit the fan, I might be excused for thinking that's where he likes to play. I think he gets bored if somebody is not shooting at him -- and barely missing.

He has specialized knowledge, worth diamonds to people who need it. As he points out, he does violence for money.

That's a long way from where most of us live. It colors one's world.
Absolutely. I'm not sure if this is the place to express it, but there is no way to get the cumulative experience of violence while living a peaceful life. It does color my world. But the people who won't experience it more than once or twice in their lives will never get the underlying factors, will never even get the adrenaline under control enough to see what happens in so few encounters. Someone who has had sex a hundred times just understands it better than someone who has only had sex once. And way better than someone who has only fantasized about it. It doesn't mean that the lessons can only be understood by gigolos and hookers.

We want him on the wall. We need him on the wall. But on one level, I get the sense that he mostly wants to swap stuff with the other guys on the wall. (You might can add serious martial artists to the teaching pool, in that they are willing to pug in practice, and thus aren't completely against the idea of thumping or sticking somebody, should the need arise. People who could never hurt a fellow human being even in defense of their own lives don't seem to be good candidates for reality fighting.)
Absolutely true... for me. Because I get my learning from other guys who have been there. I really can't learn anything useful from someone who has only imagined my world. So, absolutely, I prefer to spend time with operators. Experienced martial artists, not so much. This may be my perspective but many of the 'experienced' are so choked with delusion that it is almost detrimental to talk to them. Back to the sex analogy, collecting belts or collecting porn aren't that much difference. Thirty years of memorizing centerfolds still isn't having sex. (man, I am going to get so many hits for this post off of perverts doing google searches). There are some exceptions, pure martial artists who can improve my body mechanics, but they are damn few.

When he's talking to guys like me, chair-sitters old enough to be his father, or people who hike a long detour to avoid the mean streets, he has to dial it down. We need to know about it, to be sure. We might need some of it someday, and it'll be worth diamonds if we do. But "might" and "surely will" are two different horses.
This is another disconnect, cause when things go bad it gets binary very fast. If you have basic common sense, you probably won't need it, but if you do (home invasion, workplace shooting, Bonding GMD) you will need it all, and probably at a level greater than I do. For me it is a surely. For civilians, it is a possibly... but if the civilian needs it the stakes and the obstacles will both be astronomical. There is no middle ground here.

Big attitude change from "this might happen" to "whenthis happens 'cause it's gonna."
And that creates an incentive to train smarter, (or, if you want to look at it this way) allows civilians to train stupid and it won't matter a lick...until it kills one or two.

Here's where I keep coming down to it: I can't tell you what it's like to be a soldier, cop, or bouncer, because I've never been one.

I think it's hard for Rory to tell you what it's like to be a civilian, because he's never been one.
Sounds cool, but nope. One of the neat things about our society is that there are no castes. Every cop has been a citizen. Every soldier has at least been a high school student. I was the shy science nerd. Mac was the hippie studying library science at Maharishi Mahesh University. We all, at one point, had our first fights. My training was world-class...and I was largely unprepared. What I do with my teaching, is to try to let people in on the stuff that I didn't get from martial training. The holes that left me unprepared. It is a huge list.
So my classes aren't mostly composed of cops and soldiers. There are a few and I think it has more to do with camaraderie than anything. But the majority are what you call serious martial artists who are just coming to terms with the fact that they know almost nothing about violence. They have spent decades honing a tool to be used if they are ever faced with violence, and they don't know what an assault looks like, or how to see one coming or what the opponents and attacks they will have to defend against even look like. How do criminals get you alone? How is a knife really used? How does a predator find out where to set up his ambush? What's the fastest way to tell a dominance game from a predatory interview? How do criminals get you to lower your guard? What does it feel like to kill or cripple another human? Why do so many people freeze and what can you do? What does adrenaline really do and how do you compensate for it?

So many questions and most people go their whole martial career and never ask them. That's what I do. Cops know this stuff.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Long Ago, in a Galaxy...

When I started in martial arts, there were lots of hints about mystical bullshit. When you got to your blackbelt level you would gain powers that weren't quite like the ones on TV, but really close. So I was told (often, it was one of my obsessions) that all expert martial artists learned to heal as well as destroy... but the people making that claim had somehow never got around to learning that part of it.
There were secret strikes that could only be divulged after your character was tested, but no matter how tested you were it wasn't quite time...and then you might happen to overhear the person withholding the information ask his instructor, and you might even hear him get the same run around. The mystical knowledge wasn't there.

But people want it and they want it bad. People really like magic. And if enough people want something, someone will supply it for money or sycophants or just for ego. And the cool thing about supplying magic is that the people buying it will do all the heavy work, suspending disbelief.

So I was attracted to instructors who not only could do things, but could explain it. If the instructor had amazing skills and his students sucked, he either couldn't teach or was deliberately withholding...and if the instructor sucked and the students thought he was amazing, it was a religion, not a self-defense class.

Brent Yamamoto and Kris Wilder, under the tutelage of Hiroo Ito, are doing some amazing stuff. Stuff that harkens back to the legends I heard as a wee beginner. It's not mystical. It is structure and slaving (in the engineering sense) small motions to big muscles. Applying bone rather than muscle. They are doing the things that the internal stylists talk about, but because they are learning and not parroting, they can apply them moving and even fighting, something I have seen rarely in internal stylists.

And they can teach. Their students are picking it up. Applying it.
My reductionist side wants to take it down even further, but that can wait.
For now, I know two men in the Seattle area, NW Martial Arts in Bothell and West Seattle Karate, who are teaching some of the things that the instructors in the eighties pretended to know.

Billings, Montana this Saturday. I'll be going through Spokane Thursday night if anyone wants to meet on the route.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Little Contest

NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, begins in ten days. The challenge is to complete a book of at least 50,000 words in thirty days.
My writer's group will all be on board, and so I will as well, with the caveat that I don't (generally) write fiction.

So I'm kicking it out to you. We'll make it a contest. You suggest in the comments what you want me to write about next. I'll pick a winner and give myself thirty days to write the first draft of that book. If it falls into a category that my regular publisher will be interested in and it holds up... the person who suggested the subject and title will get a signed copy. If it doesn't fit that category, I'll do it as an e-book and e-mail a copy to the winner.

So, since there's a chance that multiple people might want the same subject, you have to suggest a subject, a title (especially since I suck at titles) and leave enough information in the post that I can contact you (or at least give you a shout out) so I know where to send the results.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

New Thing

With immense thanks to Steve Perry, I uploaded my first e-book last night at Smashwords.

It's the (much expanded) lessons from the Savvy Authors/RWA class on Violence for Writers from a few months ago. The formatting and uploading were surprisingly easy. The first cover design rocked, but unfortunately I don't have rights to two of the pictures (a friend-of-a-friend's picture from the al-Sadr Hotel bombing in Baghdad and one of a particularly bloody cell extraction)... but my lovely and talented wife came through with a nice cover.

If I get the time, I'll have to add it to my regular website and maybe put a paypal button right here for direct access.

Off to Seattle in a few hours for the two day seminar there. There's still room if anyone is interested. Details are at the usual place.

As Kai kindly pointed out, here's the link to the specific book:

You can read about a third of it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I'm going to write the post now and set it to show up tomorrow. I do have a lot to write about the East Coast, but the blog is for me and there is other stuff echoing in my head right now.

Lunch today with an old friend and a new friend. I spent most of it catching up with Sean, listening to the changes at the old agency; the mistakes and politics and much of it, it seemed, was about broken people. Some good news, as always. Good people shine in shitty situations... but others seem to enjoy making shitty situations worse and murkier.

Then I stopped by the range to see another old friend. I should have expected it, but there were many old friends there. I caught them on a break so we were able to talk for a few minutes. The nostalgia hit hard driving home. These are extraordinary men* doing a dangerous, difficult and thankless job. They are the best of everything it is to be a man: intelligent, dedicated, trustworthy, courageous. MR will have his doctorate soon, may have it already, and teaches at a local college... at the same time he has been a father figure to new officers, a tactical operator and a fighter. Each of them is a story like that.

I know these men as efficient fighters; cold, level-headed planners; and good, friendly people. Dedicated family men. Those who have been thrust into the position are leaders. Not managers, but true leaders. Every last one of them has risked serious injury again and again to help others, and often the people they were helping are the kind of people that most civilians pretend not to see when they ask for lose change, or get outraged when they hear of their crimes.

I miss it. I miss the job and most of all I miss these people. If brother was a matter of choice, MP and SC would be my brothers. I hope my son grows up to be the kind of man that BW projects so effortlessly. If I were to be stuck in a room for years with one voice to talk to, it would be MR.

*Just so happened everyone there was male... trust me, the ladies who do this job can more than hold their own in every way.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Pieces of what follows will be from memory, so please forgive if the quotes are not exact.

RJ Nash, in "Condition Black" notes that the most common attack (male on female) is for the man to merely display a weapon, make a threat, and put his hand on the victim's upper arm and lead her away. It sounds so docile, so unlikely. Who would go along with a mere threat? Why wouldn't she simply...

Teja Van Wicklen, of Devi Protective Offense consistently finds the words to make things real: "It's not like screaming and bullying. Guys don't get that. He can hurt her and she knows it, but he says, 'I know you're afraid. Don't worry. Just don't fight me and I won't hurt you. I promise.' And she chooses to believe him even though she knows it's a lie-- an unsolicited promise is always a lie-- but she doesn't see another way."

Teja makes it personal, makes it real. I teach it dry, academic: Predators want you in your social brain. As long as you are being social, thinking you can control or at least influence the outcome by social skills (talking, bargaining, appeasement, flattery...) the predator knows you are both safe and completely predictable. If you are in your thinking, human brain, you might be smarter than the threat. If you are in your reptilian survival brain, there is no limit to the harm you might do. If your attacker can keep you in your social/monkey brain he knows that he is safe.

When I teach that the first hit after you break out of a freeze is done at half power, it is an observation. No one hits hard in their first strike of their first fight, not when they are surprised. For some unknown reason, it is almost always a tentative, half-power, powder puff. Almost more a signal of intent than a strike. I tell students that and caution them against it.

Teja talks of the consequences: "She tries to fight, but that first hit is half power, like you say, more struggling than fighting and he hits her back, hard. She's never felt pain like that and she is afraid to try again... and he says, again, 'Just don't fight me and I won't hurt you.' She has to believe it because it seems like the only chance she has is to believe he is telling the truth."

There are aspects of problems that I can never fully understand. We are all wired differently, all have different experiences. Teja is fast becoming my Subject Matter Expert for women's self-defense issues. Partially because she sees it so clearly but even more because she can explain it in a way that gets through.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Few Tired Notes

I'm tired. My voice is shot. It's been a long not-quite-three weeks.
Basil Kemble came through with the venue like a champ and turned out to be a very cool young man. A lot of history and insight in a relatively low number of years. He'll be one to watch in the future.

This trip has been a journey on a lot of levels. New friends. New places. Finding commonalities with instructors who I really admire. Finding some new ways to put things into words, thought and action. This-- learning and exploring-- is what life should be, at least for me.

Some of it is a blur. In a sleep deprived haze on a train I wrote almost three pages of notes on the first two weeks. I could write as much on the last two days as well. Almost as much, anyway. Far too much for a single post..and as usual, I forgot to even take my camera out of the bag for the seminar today.

As always, so much we didn't get to...but so much that we did. I think a lot of people got a taste of the things I rate as important: how violence breaks down; that efficiency is the point of training; that they can measure their own efficiency; a little bit of what is in this world...

But no one got more than a taste. The big question, the one I will never have an answer to, is what will they do with the taste? I saw a few learn something, be impressed by the increase (in power or efficiency or tactical use) of a thing, and then go right back to moving just as they had done before. Most adapted, but some didn't and that always comes down to the teacher. How do I reach him? How do I explain to her?

I can argue that the student has responsibility for what they learn, I tell them to take that responsibility and own it... but when I am the teacher the responsibility is on me. Not because this is true, but because it is the only part of the equation I can control...

But what will they do with their taste? Hopefully research and learn more. Question. Healthy doubt. Move for effect instead of approval. Never separate judgment from application: "Just because this will work, does that mean it is the smart thing to do?" Will they keep the precious distinction between knowing how to fight and knowing when to fight?

Jack Hoban was a treat. It was a privilege to join his class in New Jersey. I loved what he said about filling space and seeing space; that technique was the absolute least important aspect of fighting-- many things.

But he taught something that blew me away. Ethics is integral to combat. It's a big section of the next book since if you train without regard for your personal internal beliefs, you will freeze. Force law and policy is the study of the ethics of violence.
A few times in my life in a major fight, I've focused energy as a care taker, tried not to hurt the threat, tried to talk him down in the midst of a struggle. Give him a face saving way to end things without injury. In the middle of a fight it has always felt extremely high-risk. I don't like the bad guy to have time to think. But it has worked very well. For me.

It never occurred to me to try to teach it. Too high-risk, and when it worked I was never really sure why. Jack Hoban teaches it. That in the midst of a fight, you can do what is best for both of you. I thought, for a jail-guard thug, I was relatively compassionate. I'm not even in the ballpark of what Jack is doing.

Cool. New levels. New paths. New mountains.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Better Half

Once upon a time something very bad was (possibly) going to happen. I called home and asked for my gear bag. Ten minutes later, K dropped the bag off at a potentially unsafe place. She didn’t ask questions. Didn’t ask for reassurance. She never tried to make anything about her. “Call me when it’s over,” she said. Nothing else.

The perfect operator’s wife.

I realized today… during all the cool stuff: the hours, days, weeks and months of training; the fights and tactical ops; the time spent in Iraq and Ecuador… K made it all possible.

Somehow, the house keeps going. The first week I was enroute to Baghdad, the truck broke down, the pump went out that supplies water from the well, the dryer died. All handled. Kids and animals, acreage and small farm, livestock, the rambling house with all the books. K keeps it going. The kids are strong and smart and beautiful. Not my doing, I wasn’t here enough.

It suddenly hit me today that I only know half of the story of my own life. For every thing that I have done or experienced, someone was always taking care of the other half.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rarefied Air

One of the most disturbing moments in the martial arts is when you suddenly realize that your instructors may not know what they are talking about. It’s not just in the martial arts, I see it other places too… and it’s also not just in my specialized field of real violence.

Probably the first suspicion, years ago, was in my first dabble with karate. It was a very strict traditional system taught by a junior shodan and an extremely cute brown belt at my University. At one point I asked about stances. The instructor said that they clearly weren’t for fighting, they were strengthening and conditioning exercises for your legs.

That made no sense whatsoever. Static conditioning is NOT good training for dynamic action. I didn’t have the words at the time, but I had this horrible feeling that he was just guessing.

The second instant was when I asked why we spent time on kihon and kata when sparring looked nothing like either. I’ve written about that before.

In other fields… recently, looking at marketing for Conflict Communications we’ve had some offers of help. Marc and I are both painfully aware that we aren’t salesmen and have no inkling of the process (there is a definite protocol to approaching certain groups.) It became painfully apparent that many of the ‘experts’ offering help had no more knowledge than we did. Often, all it takes to be a consultant is enough knowledge to make the clients feel inadequate, not necessarily enough knowledge to do the job. Lesson learned.

Then there are many things where the learning curve is extremely finite. You can stare at you navel for eternity, but skill acquisition and knowledge acquisition is time limited.

Do you stop learning then? Of course not. Maybe a better way to say it is that there is a limit to how much you can be spoon-fed. Taking in received wisdom, even from a reliable source (and those are rare in many subjects) becomes mutual navel-gazing quickly. Worse, it can become addictive.

Another conversation with Toby: “I took my first survival class when I was twelve and my last at fourteen. I already knew what I could be taught in a class. I had to go out and test it and think through it on my own.”

Toby also shared his system: go out and test. Try it out. Think it through, brainstorm. If you don’t have enough of a foundation, you pull back and research. If you can’t find an answer by research, then you look for a mentor.


Subtle difference between a teacher and a mentor, and I appreciate that Toby used that word.

People who have gone to the deep water or climbed the ‘path to the mountain’ have always been rare. Few communicate well. We make up our own individual languages for what we have seen and felt. It’s not a community with a common language that you can be raised in. And even the wisest don’t really know all that much.

It’s a big world, people. If I knew a thousand times more than all of you put together I would still be ignorant of almost everything in the entire universe… and each of you would know about things I don’t know.

Deep water or shallow, no one gets wet exactly the same.

Many paths up the mountain? There are many paths up many mountains. And someone else’s knowledge is at best hearsay to you. Learn for awhile, then play.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


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.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

24 and Counting

In the last twenty-four hours, I've:

Gone for a long walk in a strange city.
Driven one of the ugliest cars ever (Scion).
Practiced wakizashi versus katana--live steel-- while completely hammered.
And explained practical maai better than usual.
Rolled with an Israeli bodyguard.
Got exposed to a new fitness system that seems made for grappling and shooting.
Compared entry tactics with a former AT specialist.

All in all, the way a day should go...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Student, Teacher, Explorer

"I don't know why he's taken me under his wing. He has lots of senior students, but for some reason he's really connected with me. I'm getting things they aren't."

Bear with me here. Said in different tones by and about different people, this could be a big red flag... but this was a special case and it got me thinking. Just speculation coming up, a possible way of looking at the world and training.

There are students and teachers. That can be a job description or a personality type. Either can be limitless horizons or can lock you in a box. In martial arts, it is far more likely to lock you in a box.

It doesn't have to be this way. I'm pretty sure it's not supposed to be this way, but it seems to wind up here far more often.

In martial arts, the student personality is weirdly passive. They train, which is good. Some follow fads and some latch onto instructors and follow them, but in either case following is the operant word. They collect techniques, they worry about moving right and when they get under pressure or get tested, they try to do what sensei would approve, not necessarily what would work.

If your hackles go up and you say, "Not me" or think that I am painting with too broad a brush, think about this: I've spent more study hours in martial arts than I would need for an MD. Far more than I would need for a business degree. The people who get MDs and business degrees spend countless hours studying real disease and real business. Outside of cops, in all the seminars this year when I asked if anyone had spent a single day in their years of martial arts training studying how real criminals really attack, one hand went up. One.

Memorizing assault statistics (the percentage of rapes conducted by strangers; robberies in daylight versus dark) is not research. It is trivia. They call it trivia for a reason, it is trivial. How an attacker holds a knife, range and terrain considerations, developing distance with or prior to assault...

So students follow a lead and in too many the parts of the brain that should be going, "This doesn't make sense, if I was a bad guy I would never attack this way," somehow turns off, and martial training in its way becomes as mentally passive as watching television.

And there are teachers. Some people start martial arts from their first day in teacher mode. They want to understand and explain. That's good. It's very good, usually. (Some do it for ego. They want to be in a place where people call them 'master' or some other silly title.) But most do it for love...and like many people that love a thing, they don't want it banged up. In a physical object that makes sense, sometimes. You don't want to break a Faberge egg.
On the other hand, martial arts should be about as far as you can get from a Faberge egg and you can't really understand something without taking it apart. Much less something physical and visceral and about conflict and contention... you can't understand it to any depth without road-testing.

But to this particular teacher personality, being sure is the hallmark of a good teacher and any test risks doubt seeping in...

That creates a need for a critical third type in martial arts. The explorer. This is what the instructor mentioned above sees in my friend. Toby will listen, he will learn and absorb...and then he will test it. Sometimes at great personal risk, sometimes just with common sense and doubt. The skills he picks up will not just be learned-- they will be put in situations where they will succeed or fail or expand. (That is a huge problem with preserving arts: sometimes in the road test you find out not that they were less than you feared but they were bigger than you imagined, and that means that you never understood them at all. Humbling.)

Toby's teacher, like many extraordinary (as opposed to merely good) teachers, spent most of his training life as an explorer. Not just learning everything he could, but risking and testing and sometimes failing. What comes out of failure is often more compact, useful and truer than what went in.

So he sees Toby and he shares more, because the student and teacher personalities don't get it. They don't understand the awesome power and freedom of doubt. They think that training is about answers and proficiency and safety, and the explorers see it as about clarity. Answers are dependent on questions. Proficiency can (read "Deep Survival") hamper adaptability. In a world with a 100% death rate safety is and always has been a complete illusion.

The explorers get a lot of shit, but they are the ones who will carry a living thing into the next generation.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Big Scenario Training Post

This should probably be a book, honestly. Maybe an e-book. I'll keep you posted.

Scenarios are an attempt at what Tony Blauer calls the constant search for the best fake stuff out there. All training is fake. If you are learning to send people to the hospital and people don't GO to the hospital, every rep of skill is combined with a rep of a bad safety habit. That's just the way it is.

At the most primitive level, scenario training involves bad guys in armor and a cluttered/realistic environment. The armor lets the student unload. The environment either lets the student be creative or points out that they aren't creative and their brain is stuck. But that's primitive, because it still deals with the problem as if it were one of physical skills.

So here are some points:

1) Scenario training always has a purpose. This is an explicit purpose, and one chosen in advance. To face a common or deep fear. To force a student to keep fighting. To help them see a developing situation. To test their legal judgment or tactical awareness. To find the little part that still thinks this fighting like a comic book-- that little part will get them killed.

2) The best purposes are tailored to the student. If I know you can fight, I will test whether you can tell when to fight. Whether you have the capacity to run when it is prudent. Whether you realize that crashing out of a ring of threats to escape is a qualitatively different skill than defeating a threat. If you have given me a clue that you have doubts about your ability to injure, I will put you in a scenario where you have to unload...and I will describe, probably graphically, what you strikes would have done had I not been wearing armor.

3) It takes good role-players. Through a mask, the role-players must be able to show the difference between an inexperienced and hyper-adrenalized mugger and an old con who has done a hundred robberies. The students should be able to glance at you (in full armor) and get a vibe that you are young or old, male or female or whatever you need to project.

4) The role-players have to be sensitive as well. Not in the "I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings" sense. Screw that. Part of being a bad guy is taking delight in hurting people at their most emotionally vulnerable points. By sensitivity I mean something that's a little hard to explain without an example. Sunday, one of the students, Robert, just kept moving while I was trying to incite a riot. I could tell by my own feelings that there wasn't enough of a hook there for a bad guy to work himself into the right kind of frenzy. If I had been insensitive I might have escalated it where a real threat wouldn't, and inadvertently punished Robert for a good tactic. That's bad training. Good tactics should be rewarded.

5) You have to guard against 'weirdness creep'. There are a handful of things that are likely to happen. I keep a list of 25 good scenarios with me. For the students, these are cool and new. I've done each of them dozens of times. Role players get bored. So what do role players do? They have to fight the tendency to make the situations more 'interesting' read: weird. If I didn't guard against this, we'd have scenarios with trained ocelots and laser-guided sharks.

6) The debriefing after each scenario is a special skill. The student should do most of the talking, not the instructor (DO NOT use a group of students to show off your own tactical intelligence. Primarily, because it is useless for the student. Secondarily, because no matter how many times you have trained the scenario, when the shit hits the fan for real, you might do no better than anyone else. Accept it. Grow up.) Thanks to Peter Breton, who sent an awesome e-mail about his own scenario, I'll be looking at these from both a tactical (including legal) and a strategic level, something I've usually glossed over in the past.

7) Don't do too many scenarios. Like the first black belt test, only the first scenario really shows you what the adrenaline will do. If you put someone through four or five, the last few are run like a game. The novelty wears off. A peer jury helps a lot. Having friends who you have to convince that you did the right thing puts some social pressure (and the attendant neurohormone cascade) on the student. But it still turns into a game. My ideal rhythm is one scenario in the morning probing for weaknesses and a scenario targeted at those weaknesses in the afternoon.

8) Knowing it is a scenario makes people do unnatural things. Confronted by a Monkey Dancer in a bar, leaving is sensible. People leave in a scenario who don't leave in real life (and people step in who wouldn't in real life). That is stuff for the debrief.

Above all, be safe and learn stuff.

Monday, October 04, 2010


Boston is special.
The second day of the seminar went really well, and each time I learn more about how to present scenarios. That would be a whole huge post, maybe a book. Lots of scenario trainers work a scenario to test or draw out martial skills. That's a very different, limited animal than scenarios that test judgment and global awareness.

Anyway, the scenarios were a blast in a nightclub with a full bar and pool tables and restrooms with diamond plate on the walls (that can leave a mark). We had the privilege of Jamie, an experienced bar manager, explaining how he read the line when checking IDs at the door, mirroring timing and the flow of adrenaline... good stuff. Excellent fighters from Chris Dammann and David Weiss' crew, who took the drills and ran with them, increasing intensity and making stuff their own. Exactly the way it should be.

Bill Giovannucci's hero genes came out. That man needs to be a bodyguard when he grows up.

It's been a great weekend-- nargilah and cannolli and brawling and talk; philosophy and tactics and teaching. Pushed some buttons, which is important in scenario training, and found a few more of my own.

Then, to top it off, randomly ran into Dave Castoldi while looking to get some equipment. Wound up practicing knife defenses with one of the Grand Old Men of Small Circle Jujitsu in a store... that was pretty damn cool.
Added Kasey's blog to the bar on the side. He's the complete package, with dan ranks in traditional, classical and sport arts as well as street experience (enforcement and SWAT). Plus, he's a blast to have a cigar with.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Big Mess

I like messy. That's good, because messy is the natural environment of life. We don't become humans in pristine test tubes but in liquid-filled icky wombs. Some people learn facts in well-ordered classrooms, but it pales besides the applications that they learn in the wind and weather and interference of the real world.

Life is messy. Conflict and violence are supremely messy-- and I'm okay with that. When you try to learn how to deal with violence (the essence of messy chaos) in the pristine setting of a training hall, you're missing the point. You (or your instructors) limit the chaos so that the solutions are cleaner and clearer so that you will feel more certain and safer. That's wrong. Hugely wrong on many levels, because the heart of violence is in the mess.

If we have seen, time and again, some of the world's most well trained martial artists in a real fight rolling on the floor throwing wild punches, where is the value in pretending that doesn't happen? What about getting really good at rolling on the floor and throwing wild punches? If you are going to go all cave man anyway, why not become the Michelangelo of cavemen?

Which isn't to say that there is anything wrong with martial traditions or techniques. Most work just fine... but only for the person who has adapted to the chaos and fear and adrenaline. If you are in denial about those, not only will you fail in accessing your awesome martial arts skillz... but you won't even succeed in fighting like a coordinated chimp.

But in that chaos, if you accept it and then embrace it, are an infinite number of tools and opportunities. The world is a big place and full of many things. Almost all of those things are gifts if you learn to see them and use them. The cluttered floors and cramped spaces of the real world are obstacles and shields and striking surfaces, if you embrace them. They are hazards if you ignore them. The wild attack pattern, whether of a drunk or someone trained differently, are easy to misdirect if you use them... and pathetic excuses for getting your ass kicked ("He attacked me wrong!") if you do not.

Even failure: once upon a time I was demonstrating a headlock escape on Andre Scott. Dre was a bodybuilder, enormously strong, an effective and well-respected sergeant...and the technique was totally ineffective. What I had been taught didn't work with a body-builder who 'posed' and turned his head away. So I had to look at what was right there, and what was obvious in the mess was faster and more efficient that the trained technique.

IF you can work with chaos, IF you can work with variables, IF you can see what is in front of your face and adapt to it, you can do amazing things.

If not, if you insist that the world conform to your sterile training, you will likely fail.

Messy is fun. Embrace the mess.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Living Room

Sitting in the Living Room, a restaurant/bar in Boston. It's on the edge where the North End meets the waterfront. It's dead quiet this time of day, rocking at night. A good place to sit on a couch, drink coffee, and get some work done.

David sent me the galleys for "Facing Violence". Almost done today. Some quibbles with words and punctuation, realizing how much more I know about some of this stuff (especially legal articulation) than made it into the book... That's fine, in a way. Makes the seminars more valuable.

I very much like the section on avoidance and de-escalation, particularly dealing with dangerous ground and cultures or subcultures where you don't know the rules. One of the people who read an early draft shared the other day that the section turned out invaluable in a certain country in Africa where he was working. Book won't be out for seven months and it may have already saved a life. I'm pretty pumped. I did my happy finger dance.

Later tonight, meeting friends at a Narghila bar in the University District. All-day classes tomorrow and Sunday. The scenario day looks full. Right on the edge of too many. Hoping we don't get walk-ons, because I hate turning people away. Note to self: Scenario days shouldn't have the location posted.

Still plenty of space for tomorrow, however, the 'easy' day. Several are repeats as well, so I'll work in more of the advanced stuff I'd planned for Sunday. It should work out well.

K had a brilliant idea. Her belly-dancing classes have usually been set up as a limited days/weeks/hours class for a specific period and a specific purpose, e.g. a Monday and Wednesday nights from 1900-2000 for eight weeks (16 hours) to learn Algerian Tribal Dance Basics. Something like that.

It works around a lot of the issues I have with long-term training. It makes it easy to be modular: Eight hours for Conflict Communications. Four hours for violence dynamics. Menu of building-block classes at one hour per item. Specific immersion classes.

The idea deserves more thought, but it's something I could see doing as a regular thing. Take advantage of the good parts of dojo training while avoiding many of the problems.

Needs more thought.