Saturday, November 27, 2010


This is going to be complex.
One of the tenets of Conflict Communications is that people belong in groups.  We are all members of at least one and usually many groups.  Whether that is a tribe, a school, a tradition, a family, a club, a profession or something else.  People don't survive well on their own-- either physically or psychologically.

Groups have rules.  You can call them mores (pronounced moray, like the eel) if you want to go all anthropological/sociological.  A group without rules isn't a group. NOT because rules are the bedrock of social control but because rules are the bedrock of identity.  Dietary laws may or may not have had survival value in the past.  The fact that they continue even when they do not is a sign that their primary value is one of identification.

There is no identification value in common sense.  Any society that survives will value, for instance, trust within the group and productivity.  No society will survive that doesn't value self-preservation (and this is one to look at because what someone says they value or what a group honors, like martyrdom, doesn't actually happen all that often.  The words and the music of many cultures are not truly in accord.)

This means the identity value is in the silly stuff-- the stories and myths and ritual.  A Christian is not defined as someone who is meek and kind to others and honors his parents.  A Christian is defined by the belief that a man-god got nailed to a Roman torture/execution device and quit being dead three days after being buried.  

You can follow every law and rule and live with what people might call perfect Christian ideals, but if you don't believe that piece, you can't be a member of that group.

So every group has mores that are arbitrary if not down-right weird, because those are where the group identity rises.

And this is where the edge-walkers come in.  I can't speak for everyone, but one of the things about almost dying is the way it clarifies things.  Lots of things are bullshit and once you see that, once you see the value of breathing when someone has tried hard to stop you AND you see the inevitability of the end-state of not breathing, your identity doesn't come from labels and rituals.  Maybe, in the end, your identity doesn't even need to be.

So loving your neighbor makes sense, because there is only so much time to get loving in... but heaven doesn't matter.  Heaven is not good or bad or true or untrue.  Heaven DOES NOT MATTER.  The rituals and the myths do not matter.  If I like you, what do I care about the patch on your shoulder or which party you vote for or where your ancestors came from?  If your waiken has forbidden you from eating birds, other than some menu switching, your myths don't affect my friendship (or dislike) for you.

When the edge-walker gets to this understanding, he is neither fish nor fowl.  He does fit into a tribe, in his own mind.  He values what he values- the good works and the people themselves.  He does the right thing.  He will give his life to protect these people, myths and all, and will not feel slighted or ashamed to do it.  He is one of them, on a deeper level than they can probably feel because it is not a matter of ritual and the random chance of birth.  The edge-walker chooses.

But he will no longer be accepted as one of them.  Without the rituals and the myths, the trappings, he cannot be identified.  "Because he serves us and will die for us does not mean that he is one of us."  He hears it rarely, but sees it again and again.  This is the separation, one of the most unexpected and disturbing things if you spend too much time on the edge.


Nanowrimo did not eat my life.  I'm sort of looking for an excuse, but I can't even say I've been busy.  I tend to blog more on the road than when I'm at home.  Must like it here or something...

The book was effectively done at 38k words two weeks ago.  The challenge for Nano is write 50,000 and I'm not sure the book can support that and I don't want to cheat and  write on a second book for the word count... so I'm still expanding with just under four days.  7000 words to go, which is well within reach for one day when I knowwhat needs to go on paper.

Anyway, without further ado, here is the list of chapters thus far:


Evaluating Drills

OS: The One-Step Series

OS1: The One-Step

OS2: Four Option One-Step

OS3: The Baby Drill

OS4: Slow Man Drills

OS5: Dance Floor Melee

OS6: Frisk Fighting

OS7: Environmental Fighting

OS8 The Brawl 

B: Blindfolded Drills

B1: Blindfolded Defense

B2: Blindfolded Targeting

B3: Core Fighting

B4: Blindfolded Infighting

D: Dynamic Fighting

D1:Dynamic Fighting

D2: Sumo

D3: The Hole Against the Wall

D4: Moving in the Clinch

D5: French Randori

F: Fundamentals

F1: Maai With Weapons

F2: Offlining

F3: The Targeting Drill

F4: The Lock Flow Drill

F5: Initiative

F6: Advanced Ukemi

F7: Pushing

GM: Ground Movement

GM1: Roll-over Drill Phase 1

GM2: Roll-over Drill Phase 2

GM3: Roll-over Drill Phase 3

GM4: Roll-over Drill Phase 4

GM5: The Wax On, Wax Off of Groundfighting

GM6: One Up, One Down

GM7: Blindfolded Grappling

PM: The Plastic Mind Exercises

PM1: Animal Styles

PM2: Fighting the Elements

PM3: The Other 

IW: Internal Work

IW1: Centering

IW2: Eating Frogs

IW3: The Game of the Stones

IW4: Lists

IW5: Slaughtering and Butchering

IW6: Ethics and Glitches

IW7: To Save My Children

IW8: The Predator Mind

IW9: The Articulation Exercise

C: Combat Drills

C1: Takeouts

C2: Multiman

C3: Break Through

C4: Bull in the Ring

C5: The Reception Line

C6: Scenario Training

WW: World Work

WW1: The Clothespin Game

WW2: Ten New Things

WW3: Stalking

WW4: Escape and Evasion

WW5: Counting Coup

WW6: Dog Handling

WW7: Global Awareness Exercises

WW8: Legal Articulation

WW9: World Building Exercise

 Should probably add an afterword and I'm toying with an exercise to evaluate training to finish up, but this is the skeleton of the work.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Re-Thinking, Maybe

I’ve written before that martial arts can never be a way of life, not for me. Then I started working on the damn book of drills and maybe I’m seeing it differently.

Of the nine sections, three are almost entirely mental: Internal Work, the Plastic Mind Exercises and Working with the World. What does this mean?

Some catch it intuitively. I think that Maija and Edwin and Kasey know what I am doing even when I am struggling with defining and understanding it.

Here’s what I know:

I live in a world, a big world full of many things. Much of the world is dangerous and almost all of the world is beautiful. You can’t separate the beauty from the danger. You live in the world and, as humans, we can separate from the world… but we can’t separate from and effectively function in the world.

Martial arts or self-defense or what-have-you may or may not be something you do for the dangerous parts of the world. It might just be fun. But at very minimum, in my mind, it must be something that you do with and in the world. Otherwise it is fantasy and separation. At best masturbation. At the worst, unpleasant sweaty addictive masturbation that you believe is exactly the same as real sex.

So it’s critical when learning this (whatever this is that I teach) that you play in and with the world. That you study the world. And because you are part of it, that you study yourself. Not the imaginary self that is constant and true and good. The fluid self that changes when you are hungry. The one that you become when you are afraid or elated. The self bleeding on the edge of consciousness and the self in the cold dark places.

Learn to see. Learn your own mental plasticity and how much you can control that: how much you can choose, moment to moment, who you wish to be.

Touch the world, taste it, smell it. If you ever need to break somebody, it will be one of the most real moments of your life.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

How to Read a Book

Asher writes (intermittently, lately) about teaching.  In a recent conversation, I asked him to do a series on how to learn, how to be a student.  Maybe it will bear fruit...

An example:  Once, and only once in my life, did I get a short class on how to read a book.  It wasn't about reading for pleasure, but about maximizing comprehension and retention.

Read the introduction and the table of contents first, then the glossary.  Read the endnotes (all, if they are organized at the end of the book; chapter at a time if they are organized that way.)  If there is a chapter summary or 'discussion questions' at the end of the chapter, read those next.  Skim each chapter noting pictures, reading captions and noticing all words in bold.  Read the sidebars.

Then you begin reading the book.

There is a classic teaching style: tell the students what they are about to learn, teach the material, then tell them what they just learned.  By telling the students what they are about to get, they have a huge head-start on internally organizing the material and identifying what is important.  This system does the same thing with a textbook.

When I was taught this, there was an immediate improvement in understanding, retention and test scores.  And it pissed me off:  Why wasn't this taught in grade school?  Why in the hell did I have to wait for college for a five minute class that improved the quality of my academic life so dramatically?

I want to go in different ways with the rest of this post:

  • What I think all students should be taught as young as possible: How money really works; advanced first aid; preventative medicine; the scientific method, experimental design and enough statistics to know when they are being manipulated... much much more.
  • Other tricks and tips for learning, such as the most basic rule: If you don't know, ask someone who does.
  • Throw away comments or short snatches of information that changed life drastically.
  • There are things like breathing and walking and living that almost everyone does and very few people do at a conscious level... very few learn to do them really well.  What goes into learning to live well?
Maybe later.  Maybe not.

Off to work on the drill manual.

I'm working on the calendar for 2011.  If you want a seminar, workshop or private lessons, contact me.  If you're on my e-mail list, expect something soon.

I did a short talk on Anti-terrorism for a local college Thursday.  Definitely not my specialty.  The good news: I actually have a huge amount of data. The bad news: Almost all of it is under confidentiality agreements and I couldn't use most of my primary sources.

Talks coming up Monday and Tuesday at another local college: one on investigative interviewing, the other on roots of conflict.

Teaching another Savvy Authors on-line course starting November 29th.  This one is on Use of Force policy.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Suspension of Disbelief

One of my close friends is a writer, martial artist, and is exploring some aspects of teaching. After the con we were discussing, as we are wont to do, martial arts, self-defense and teaching methods. I told her of a recent experience where I had declined to do a drill because it had no tactical use. It would only be ingraining a bad habit.

She said, "Beginning training requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief."

Suspension of disbelief is a term authors use. When you read a novel or watch a movie, you have to participate. Not everything will be correct. If the characters in the Lord of the Rings trilogy had had 3 digits of IQ, it would have been a twenty minute movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jet Li fight scenes don't follow the normal rules of physics or physiology. Most horror movies wouldn't work without a cast stupid enough to go into the basement alone and too stupid to turn on the light...

Part of the audience's job is to actively ignore the small problems. When the plot holes become too big or the characters too stupid or (my pet peeve) when the plot hinges on the stupidity of characters presented as intelligent (The remake of "The Thomas Crown Affair") the suspension of disbelief is said to be shattered.

Obviously, every member of the audience will have a different threshold.

Check me on this, because it seems intuitively obvious to me and I can't find a counter-example, which either means I'm right or it is too much a part of my identity and is one of my blindspots:

Suspension of disbelief has no place in a valid teaching.

There are some things you will be taught that you can't test right away. Engineers learn the math it takes to build a bridge long before they ever build one. But no place in that learning process will they look at the teacher and say, "This doesn't make sense" and the teacher won't be able to explain why it makes sense and exactly how it works.

If you have to suspend disbelief, if the instructor has to say, "Because it's better this way" and can't say how or (a martial arts classic) you are told that something that simply doesn't work (like hand blocking an attack from a much larger person) will magically start to work after a few years, one of two things is happening:

1) The instructor has no idea what he is doing. He is simply parroting things he has been told but doesn't understand himself.
2) Or what you are learning is fiction.

Suspension of disbelief has a legitimate function in fiction. If you are required to suspend disbelief, you are dealing with fiction.

Like I said, check me on this. My gut says if I have to pretend things make sense, they don't make sense. I am being lied to.

And yeah, I see other aspects of our society where I can apply this rule.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Science Fiction cons, specifically.
Cons are not, obviously, my natural environment. Raised mostly without a television. Don't read fiction (much-- a few special requests from close friends). Not particularly interested in dressing up in costumes and my life is interesting enough that pretending to be a dead guy (vampire or zombie) really wouldn't be an upgrade.

But my lovely wife writes and serves on the group that sets up our local convention, Orycon. So I go and, by dint of being published and knowing a little about things that often make their way into fiction (violence and bad guys) I wind up on panels. It's also fun because I get to see friends (Steve and Kai post here sometimes; Bart is always a treat and a few others...) and meet people.

Secretly, I enjoy being the grumpy guy who doesn't read fiction. Perspective.

I have friends here, but I never feel like I fit in. Very much an outsider. That changed a little this time, and that was a big insight: For the last couple of years, Bart and I have been having fun, talking about shared experiences-- two outsiders. This year, Bart brought a special friend and I found a critical mass effect. Two of us are two outsiders... three of us and I started to feel like a separate group. Started looking at the 'others' a little harder, a little less sympathetically. I am far more polite as an outsider on my own than as a member of an outgroup... Good to know, good to feel.

The 'put into words' award: Sometimes you find the line between person and monster when you cross the line. That never makes it right, but crossing the line once is recoverable.

Experimented with a way to teach and explore violence, letting groups of people imagine/create societies to solve problems...and in the process they discovered ritual murder and raiding; war cultures and war for cultures where that is not natural; brainstormed ways to deal with those who become good at war; and decided how to deal with those who broke the social rules...mostly without losing the person as a resource.

Had a very powerful cognitive dissonance at one point: There is a panel about writing across identity lines. Authors are often nervous about writing different cultures, races, genders and classes. They are afraid of getting it wrong, whether wrong is defined as stereotyping or unrealistic details. The people on the panel were good, sincere and experienced. I think I was on the panel as someone who had spent time blending and coexisting with other cultures.

The moderator cautioned newbie writers to actually talk to people of the group they wanted to describe, "If you don't, you are working from things you have only read, which might be second or third hand from other people who have only read about the problem."

Hit me at two levels, the first is that I think this is what has happened in most fiction with fight scenes and crime and motivations and a dozen other things. Very few writers have ever sat down with a bookie in Little Italy...almost all have seen The Godfather, and other movies derived from The Godfather.

The second is that almost every reference mentioned by the panelists was (with only one exception I remember), fiction. Hmmm.

Good time, met some good people. Some time with good old friends. Lunch with Steve Perry. Dinner with Mike Shepherd Moscoe. Kai, Mark, Sonia, Bart, Nisi and some new friends. A few people seen in passing: Mary Rosenblum, Leah, CS Cole...

Very tired.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Old School

I was listening to a song today. It was a bit of a spoof, maybe but the music is good, the vocals are outstanding (Frankie Laine) and some of the words. the song was the theme to Blazing Saddles, and the words that got me:

He rode a blazing saddle
He wore a shiny star
His job to offer battle
To bad men near and far

There was a time when people generally recognized that there was good and bad in the world. People were raised with enough of a grounding that most agreed on the basic behaviors that constituted good or bad. And it wasn't enough to try to understand or sympathize. Bad had to be fought. Wherever bad men did bad things the only hope has always been a good man or good woman who will stand up and stop them. Offer battle. The bad guy may back down, but force or the credible threat of force is the only thing that has ever stopped someone bent on violence.

I have my personal definition of bad and evil. A bad guy will hurt someone to get what he wants. Evil will hurt someone even if there is nothing to gain. It's simple, but it works for me... until you get into the whiny bullshit that hurt feelings are the same as being injured or that someone not giving you stuff is the same as someone taking your stuff away.

But there I go, being old school again.

Monday, November 08, 2010

First Ever Guest Post

Bad Billy G, Bill Giovannucci sent an e-mail with something he'd considered as a reply to an old post. I think it stands alone.
Bill teaches Uechi-ryu karate in Quincy, MA. He's also a nice guy. And laid me out with a football tackle in an Active Shooter scenario a month ago.

Bill Writes:

I’ve always thought most people were crazy, myself included. I don’t think its because normal is relative, but because 'Normal' is obviously not true. It does not exist anywhere else but in our shared descriptions of the world. People will often define their own reality as truth. Entire cultures are constructed around shared ideals, but they are not automatically true, just
a way to convey meaning. Why it happens in people is explicable in psychology I suppose. I’m not sharp there. What is happening though, is a flaw in the reasoning process. Beliefs take hold without ever involving other views and active world experience. We know people can literally think ourselves into believing anything is true.

Our job everyday is to make sense of the world. We are immersed in it with others like us, but each trapped in our own little head. It’s scary. It is not comforting to be acutely aware of that all the time. We seek to assign meaning, to understand and organize all the information in order to connect and perceive ourselves, our world. We eventually learn to trust our created meanings because it is too much work to constantly evaluate the accuracy and nuances of our perceptions. We fool ourselves into thinking we've figured it out all the time.

Two posts ago Rory got me thinking deeply about perspective in this way. That was a popular post. I think the only way to acquire new knowledge is to make sure you never really believe you know everything about anything ...I think Socrates. In this, the things you are certain of are convictions. They will always be passing your active tests because you have chosen to observe your active experience in the physical world. Principles, because they can be recognized as commonalities, repeated and tested are key to granting advantage to your knowledge base. It is dangerous to believe in something if you do not fully recognize its working
principles. But, the more you can find them the more intuitive you become. It will be easier to understand new stuff, to recognize what is valuable to your Way. You know if it is something to take or discard. You won’t be as inclined to hang onto things you don’t need because you know you will be able find them again easily. Perceptions get sharper.

Learning humility probably helps. We don't value or employ that gift nearly enough. People with a healthy degree of true humility tend to have accurate personal realities and other ambitions than claiming righteousness. They keep from losing heir way, unlike those a bit lost inside themselves without real perspective. Other folks misunderstand, or maybe choose to accept personal and shared ideals as true and never perceive contradictions as even relevant.

There are theoretical ‘levels of understanding’. I forget them exactly. We switch between these as we process. If you watch, it is noticeable and noteworthy that most people never operate beyond a certain level of understanding about who and what they are within multiple layers of context. We cannot avoid it because we need immediate usefulness of casual thought. It is easier than the effort it takes to get out there and think of everything from every possible perspective all the time. And, if we do know to do it, it is still work to construct a belief system based on both reason AND active experience. Also, as with physical skills, it is essential to maintain your perspective to be sure it is has not become irrelevant.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

On the Table

Maija wins the contest.  I am almost 20,000 words into a drill and exercise manual.  I hate it already, but that is just my normal reaction to my own writing.  It's covering some interesting material, I think, and has more mental exercises than many martial artists may have been exposed to.

Gearing up for Orycon next weekend.  It should be fun, and I'll be on at least one panel with Steve, which is always a blast.  I also have two early morning Fight Club solo presentations and I'm working out a new (experimental) way to get people without a lot of history or experience to visualize different forms of violence.  Motivation, context and goo.

Great news-- One of my LAs (translator) from Northern Iraq has received his special visa.  I'm his sponsor, so Dlshad will be coming to live with us possibly by the end of the month.  I'm excited, but we have to rush on converting K's office to a guest room.

Will be starting to put together the seminar schedule for 2011 by the end of the month, basically contacting people who have expressed interest and seeing who wants to lock in a date.  I expect to do a lot of traveling next year... (BTW, if any readers are interested, contact me.)

Friday, November 05, 2010

Johari Window

This came up earlier. I don't know if the Johari window is still taught in introductory psych courses. It's a fairly simple concept.

Imagine a square. In that square is everything there is to know about you.
Imagine a horizontal bar in that square. Above the bar are the things you know about yourself. below that bar are the things you don't know about yourself. There are a million things you don't know about yourself. Some are obvious: how you will act under pressure you have never experienced; things you have never learned to see. Some bring up some deep denial: all the things you think are cool but annoy others; all the times you are playing to an imaginary audience as you interact in life.
Imagine a vertical line in the square. All the things on the left are the things that others know about you. All the things on the right of the line are the things that they do not know. You deeper dreams and fantasies and history and...

It is important to realize that others know things about you that you do not. Who you think we see and who we actually see are not the same and often the person on the outside sees more accurately. the one on the outside doesn't see the voices in our heads making excuses and creating false explanations and rationalizations. They just see what we do.

So the window divides into four quarters, the relative size of each section different for each person:

The things that only we know about ourselves.
The things that everyone knows.
The things that others know and we do not.
The things that no one knows.

On that level, the quest in life is the same: to open the window and see as much about ourselves as possible. We can't see our own blindspots and it is only through friends (or sometimes enemies) that tell us what they see that we get anywhere on our quest.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Loving and Caring

I've looked for this story off an on for years.  It was right on the edge of the internet age, something I read in the local paper.  It disturbed me much at the time and still does.

Police were called to an apartment somewhere in the metro Portland area.  Neighbors had noticed a smell.  In the apartment they found a baby, maybe two years old, wearing a disposable diaper packed with waste.  Bowls of milk and stale peanut butter sandwiches were on the floor.

The mother, it seems, was afraid her new boyfriend would leave her if he found out she had a child.  So she didn't tell him and when they went away for a weekend or a week, she would put out bowls of milk and plates of sandwiches.  And put on a clean diaper.

She was indignant that she was charged with child neglect, even more indignant at people who said she didn't love her baby.  As near as I can remember she said, "Of course I love my baby.  Anyone who has seen us together will see that!"

I'm going to make a value judgment here: Immature people confuse their feelings with the world.  And feel that the feelings are more important than the physical world.  You feel a swelling chest and your throat gets dry when you see your main squeeze.  Must be true love, so it's okay if you slap her around occasionally. Bullshit.

Feeling good doesn't make an action good.  People who feel pretty damn good about themselves (anti-social and narcissistic personality disorders, for example) leave trails of broken hearts or broken bodies behind them.

It hit me hard in New York City.  Everyone I talked to loved the The City.  They gushed about it.  They told me all the ways it was wonderful.  

Not once did I see a single person, except for me, pick up some trash.  It may be wonderful, but it was filthy, with people throwing bales of advertising leaflets to the wind and puking in the streets.  A lot of people expressing love, no one showing simple caring.  Is it really love if it never involves lifting a finger to help?  Or is it the natural self-centerdness of people who can feel their emotions and decide the feeling is enough.  "I feel love, so I don't need to express it."

Thoughts tangle here-- people who have never volunteered to help in a major disaster but need therapy for that disaster, even though they weren't there and knew no one who was.  People who express a rage about a group or political party, but they express a rage about the other's rage that they only imagine, sublimely showing that they are, at a very deep level, what they claim the other to be.  Is it their righteousness that makes their animosity and bigotry acceptable in their own minds?  Or do they simply not see it?  People who want to be loved and appreciated and feel oppressed when asked what they have ever done that is worthy of appreciation...

Dark thoughts, perhaps.

Self esteem, self love, increases violence in people who are already violent.  Of course, the counter argument is that high self-esteem that increases violence isn't self-esteem at all but narcissism. Tomayto, tomahto.

Monday, November 01, 2010

November 2010

This is looking to be the quietest month in some time.

I'll be at Orycon 32 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Portland, OR November 12-14, mostly doing panels for writers but with some play time.  I'm going to experiment with a new format for getting people who live largely in their heads to envision different types of violence and play with the physical aspects.

There will be another Savvy Authors class on-line, this one on Police Force Policies.  It will draw heavily from a book under consideration at my publisher right now.

Other than that, I'm free.  Which means some relaxing home time.  It also means I'm more available than ever for private lessons and local workshops.  I like doing nothing, but I really prefer doing something.
Enough with the business end.  This is the kind of stuff I think about on long drives:

Poetry involves tweaking grammar and convention so that the lines have patterns.  The patterns reflect or complement each other.  This is meter, and it is one of the artistic pleasures of reading poetry.

Rhyming is arranging the poem so that the last syllable(s) of the words in each line or in a specific pattern of lines sound the same.  Alliteration is starting each word with the same sound.

Do people born deaf catch these aspects when they read poetry?  When someone's native language is sign, is there an equivalent art like choosing words where the right hand is in a particular position or location at the end of a line (visual rhyming?) Or tweaking the grammar so that there is a rhythmic visual pattern (meter)?

I don't know anyone who was born unable to hear... and I would love to ask these questions.  That would be a fascinating conversation.