Saturday, December 24, 2011

Assumptions and Biases

We all have biases and assumptions as instructors. So does your instructor. We can't help it. We see the world a certain way and certain things have worked for us. The things that worked (for us, in our environment) are where we concentrate our teaching.

An athletic martial artist who has worked as a bouncer will believe and teach that you see things coming and your physical attributes are key.

An instructor who has survived a rape attempt may well believe that the key is unbridled ferocity, slipping the leash. If they won despite disadvantages in strength, size and position they will believe and teach that strength, size and position are secondary to mindset. If they could not even think of a technique in the moment, they will likely teach that technique is irrelevant.

So here are my biases and assumptions, to the extent that I see them (the thing with blindspots is that you can't see them, so there are many I will miss.)

  1. Unarmed arts only exist for emergencies you didn't see coming. If you can predict it and plan it and force is unavoidable, it is stupid to go in without a weapon. For that matter, without getting every advantage you can.
  2. Which means that the basic environment of an unarmed encounter is the position of disadvantage. Bad structure, positioning, footing, injured, overwhelmed and behind the curve.
  3. Almost always, the ones you see coming you can ward off by positioning or verbal de-escalation. As such I've often and (so far) successfully, put myself in positions that weren't tactically optimal in order to talk stuff down (strategically preferable).
  4. I don't think conflict is a physical problem most of the time (see number 3) and even when it is a physical problem, there are minds and social rules and the world involved. The more of those elements you can manipulate skillfully, the better off you are. Sometimes you play the cards, sometimes you play the person and sometimes you play the table.
  5. I expect the threat to have the advantage in size and strength or to be crazy (mental instability or drugs). Because almost all of them were one or the other. Potentially sampling error... but I think it makes sense, since you'd have to be crazy to routinely attack bigger and stronger people.
  6. I believe in the primacy of infighting. This is the prejudice that is most likely to be incompatible with a student's nature. Classical JJ is an infighting system-- weapons were assumed and there was no safe way to finish it at long range. Early I learned that people freak out more when someone tries to close, and that shaped my personality. Thus, by nature and training, I'm an infighter. I tend to reject techniques that keep distance and most of the techniques I prefer (and therefor teach) put you at clinch range. If that's not a good range for you, I'm unlikely to be a good teacher.
  7. I tend not to injure people. That was the preferred outcome on my job-- maximum control with minimum injury. That's shaped a lot in that I have very few strikes I consider reliable. Marc consistently gives me a bad time because I don't always treat potentially deadly threats as seriously as he thinks I should.
  8. Weapons: I'm completely cool with improvised weapons and using obstacles, etc. But for the first ten years of my career, we were not allowed to carry anything. When OC was finally authorized, I just never thought about it. OTOH, my weapon training was completely offensive, centered around hostage rescue tactics with a team. My mindset is completely different when I pack versus when I don't.
  9. I have very weak social instincts. This means that I don't tend to get emotional or competitive when I fight...and I don't really understand why other people do. It's good in that the lack of anger never makes me want to overstep bounds, but some of my basic things- the range, positioning, not bothering to make eye contact, smelling, face contact-- are sometimes hard for others. Many people have to force themselves to grab a face, for instance, whereas grabbing a collar or neck is (emotionally) easier. Just rarely as effective.
There are more, I'm sure. Do this analysis for yourself, your style and your instructor. It all adds up to each of us are training for a generally narrow range of conflict. Including me. Be aware.

Hope you all had a good Solstice.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Illusions of Speed, Illusions of Power

At some point some of you have met someone who was fast and looked slow. Someone who always seemed to be at the right place, at the right time; someone who never gave you a chance to respond, and yet the person looked relaxed, almost lackadaisical.

I was watching someone a few weeks ago who looked fast. The young gentleman was fast enough that most of his training partners froze. But there was nothing smooth about his actions. It was fast, staccato, choppy. Then it hit me. Choppy looks fast.

Strobe lights tend to freeze people because each visual snapshot shows a discrete amount of motion without the "in between" and our brain fills in that the motion is unbelievably fast. But it isn't. No one moves faster under a strobe light. Everyone looks faster. You can simulate that by using jerky, choppy motions. If you do, not only are the motions not faster than being smooth, they aren't as powerful, either. The quick stops apply brakes to the technique.

Check me on this, but my impression (never really looked for it specifically) is that the jerky 'fast hands' stuff tends to be far more prevalent in non-contact stuff. Largely because non-contact is scored by what looked like impact. Real impact is different.

It does have some advantages. Discrete motions act as discrete observations in the OODA loop and you probably more easily get the OO bounce type of freeze. On that level, the appearance of speed may be better for fighting minds than actual speed. But it isn't nearly as good for fighting bodies. The other thing, maybe the big thing, is that it is okay if you are fighting other people's minds, but if you buy into the illusions, you may be fighting the threat's mind but on some level defeating your own. Coming to believe what in the end is only a trick. A useful trick, but...

Similar stuff with power. What we are conditioned to believe feels strong doesn't necessarily deliver power. From the time we were little kids and dad said, "Show me your muscles" and we flexed our bicep we have the idea drummed into us that strength is about size (big muscles) and rigidity (hard muscles) and static.

It gets compounded with the dynamics of social violence. Most of the conflict we have seen is social and almost all of the violence-- Monkey Dances. And Monkey Dances are about communication and messages. The message is 'look how big and strong I am' and so the person tends to square up (wrong base for power generation, all targets exposed) and turn red (turning pale is the survival response) and go up on the toes to look bigger (sacrificing from the base both balance and power) and to flex and tense all the muscles, looking bigger (and making actions slower and weaker).

We all know, and have been taught and trained that power comes from motion, that loose is quicker and hits harder than stiff, that structure doesn't require muscular rigidity... blah, blah, blah. We know this. But our conditioning says something else.

So we all have a tendency, when afraid or feeling challenged, to tense up. To look big. To concentrate on the illusions of strength instead of what we know about power. If the illusion over-rides reality, you will get generations of people trained to rigidity. You will even get people who can mouth the words (often in a fake Chinese accent) "Life is supple, the only rigidity is in death." Who then turn around and not only move rigidly but fail to think in their rigidity.

And they are completely blown away the first time they see someone demonstrate a ballistic strike. Or a body slam. Or even a good jab.

There is a saying that slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Sort of. But smooth can look slow, even when it is too fast to react to...and jerky will always look fast even if it is not. Relax. Smooth your motions down. If all you need are illusions, it doesn't matter. If you need the real thing, it may not look like you are conditioned to believe.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Training and Conditioning

Mentioned early, but it deserves some more talk.
I don't mean conditioning in the fitness sense. I mean it in the Behaviorist Psychology sense. It is a subconscious way to learn and we learn the lessons much more deeply than through regular teaching. We also condition faster than we learn.

My mother had been told by her mother that a baby couldn't hold a hard-boiled egg long enough to be injured. She conditioned me to the word "hot" through pain. One time and she could tell me something was hot, even before I could talk, and I would be very careful about touching it. On the other hand, that may be why I don't like eggs very much.

Conditioning is like that. Most of it is accidental. It happens so fast, so subtly, that we don't see it. We rarely exploit it. And some of our best teaching is completely undermined by concurrent conditioning.

My firearms training included hours of dry fire. Jeff believed in form first; that you got your fundamentals before you burned ammo. That was hours of four-count draw, presssssss, pressssss, low ready and scan, muzzle to muzzle, then 360. Reset weapon. Go to retention. Holster. All smooth.

There was one bad habit in the sequence. It was important, because it gave us the trigger pull. If we didn't reset the weapon we wouldn't get that feel. But later, I caught myself starting to reset the weapon in a venue where it was kind of important not to waste ammo by ejecting it onto the ground. I had conditioned the bad habits while learning the skills.

Very closely related to the story every range master tells about officers found dead with expended brass in their pockets because cleaning up the range was just a part of shooting.

We condition lots of small things all the time. With weapons training you can often modify the weapon to preserve the skills safely. Unarmed, that's harder to do. We wind up modifying the skills themselves. We pull punches or respond to taps as if a surrender signal was reliable. we pull up on throws and tell ourselves it is to increase the control for the follow-up when it is really about helping the opponent NOT get injured.

Conditioning is always there. If you practice a technique and reset (something I am guilty of with the counter-ambush material) you condition stopping based on what you did, as opposed to the effect it had.

We condition big things too, and this is something endemic in martial training. If the instructor is so ego driven that he must be the top dog in everything, he may be teaching students to win... but when a student tags the instructor and gets punished for it, the student is simultaneously learning to win and being conditioned to lose. When the student gauges the effectiveness of a technique by what the instructor says versus what the technique does, the student has been conditioned to require outside validation. Conditioned to not believe his or her own senses.

I've written about kids classes before and how the automatic obedience and "yes sir!" that is touted as discipline and respect is also exactly what a predator would want in a victim: conditioned obedience.

Habitual ways of doing things seem to get to the same part of the brain as conditioning. That's what makes a good drill good, and what makes repetition valuable. But repetition of crap is deeply habitual crap. And when the underlying skill you are training for is breaking people, crap has to be there to preserve partners.

Habits and conditioning.

More later, probably. Split up writing over three days and I sometimes lose my train of thought.

Monday, December 12, 2011


There are three ways to look at fighting (millions, of course, but three in this set) that are different, and those differences drive almost every aspect of the encounter. It's very clear, but sometimes people get confused and try to solve problems of one situation from another point of view. That fails.

I hate the word 'fight' because it implies a contest. 'Assault' doesn't work all the time as a word, nor does 'combat' so I'm going to default and use fight, but don't lock up on it.

Take the other guy out of the equation. There are three ways that you can go into a fight: You can go in on the offense, go in as a mutual fight, or be on the receiving end-- defensive.

Going offensive is not the same as being an aggressive boxer. It is a quantum difference. When you are intending to use force offensively, you have a goal. There is something or someone you want, some event that must happen. You do everything in your power to minimize risk. It is a job. Same as mining. You have a goal, you want to be safe.

So, offensively: you gather your intelligence, you choose time and place, you stack every factor you can control in your favor (weapons, armor, numbers, surprise) and you act, ideally never giving the victim a chance to respond in any way.

Good guys and bad guys do this. It is the essence of a military raid or a simple robbery. It is just the smartest, safest way to accomplish your mission.

So what skills do you need? Stealth. Clean hits. Almost any precision skill works here, very well. Emotionally there are differences, but whatever you train, if you have the complete drop, you can shoot like the range or strike like you were only hitting a bag.

Mutual fights have no surprise. Take that back- one of the essences of strategy is creating little pockets of surprise and some people go into a Monkey Dance believing the other guy won't really hit-- but generally, not only do you see these coming but both parties, on some level, have agreed.

They are very social. Consciously (sport) or subconsciously (Monkey Dance) they have rules. They almost always have an audience. Mutual fights are not about resources or survival, they are about communication: "I am a bigger monkey than you" "I deserve respect" "That's my woman" Stuff like that.

An aside- I like sport. Sports MA tend to be (IME) the least delusional of all martial artists (including RBSD) because they know exactly what they are doing and why. Most of us went into sports and competition to find out who we were and what we had.

In a lot of ways, mutual fighting is a testing ground and much of what it tests is attributional. Strength, speed, endurance, will. Many of which an offensive attack is designed to neutralize.

So what are the skills? You need the skills that you are testing. Boxers need boxing skills and judokas need judo. Then you need the attributes and then you need the ability to read an opponent and lead him and do all those things that add up to mat sense or tactical thinking.

A defensive fight is what happens when you are on the receiving end of an offensive fight. The bad guy has set everything up to his advantage. Whatever attributes you have trained (strength, speed, endurance) he has either found a way to neutralize or will simply (if he has the option) choose someone else. An unexpected blitz where your movement is restricted, probably coming from a zone where you have little practice or experience delivering power; with structure compromised...

What skills do you need here? The precision skills that work for an attacker won't be an option for you. If you can turn it into something that resembles a mutual fight, that's cool... but how? You can't handwave past that.

Most of the big chances to make things better come well before the attack. Use of terrain, reflections and shadows. Trying not to be surprised enough to ever be completely defensive. But that has limited utility, since these skills come into play when prevention skills have failed.

The skills I think are important? Having been inured to pain and the particular kind of chaos that comes with a blitz attack. Good training in a mutual combat-based system can help with that. Practice working against bigger, stronger people. Awareness and use of the environment and skill at exploiting momentum are probably two of the biggest. An indomitable will that goes to active rage instead of passive fear is critical, and I'm not sure if that one can truly be trained at all.

I see the lessons of these three as largely separate. Even though in any given assault one is offensive and the other defensive, the skills and strategies of the offensive actor wouldn't help the defensive. Nor will the defensive skill at recovery help the attacker. The type of tactical thinking needed in a mutual fight is counterproductive in both the offense and the defense. In the offense, it is unnecessary and the restraint required to balance offense and defense and feint actually impairs hard, efficient forward action. From a defensive position, trying to get 'set' trying to get into the position and distance where mutual fights start takes time and time is damage.

Some times I think I write the same things over and over in different ways.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Thought Process

Was asked last night about techniques for gun disarms. Not my thing. I've trained them extensively, have a few I trust, but I've never done it for real. Even if I had, how many would it take to be sure? Too many.

But there is a thought process to working things through. Maybe valid, maybe not. It's the one I use.

Bad guy first. How and why would someone threaten you with a gun? Robbery? Intimidate you to a secondary crime scene for something that requires time and privacy? Each of those has very different needs, different geometries and intents.

Under what circumstances would it serves the threat's interest to threaten but not just kill? Does the fact that there isn't just a loud bang tell you something? Is that information you can use?

When and where would this happen? You can't predict perfectly, but sometimes I get the feeling that one of the most common types of armed robberies happen in convenience stores, across a counter. How many practice disarms across a counter? Is there a good technique for that? I can't think of one I'd trust.

There are distances that make a disarm completely impractical, and anyone who has been taught to hold a weapon at retention at certain ranges will be damnably difficult to disarm.

Which all adds up to, "How fricking narrow is the window of opportunity for this technique?"

Then re-examine the question. Because disarming is not the goal. Not getting shot is the goal. Whether that means getting to cover, disarming, creating distance or shutting down the brainstem (none of which are completely reliable) isn't dependent on what you are good at. They prioritize on which will be fastest.

Then, and only then, if disarms are the option, it has to be based on the geometry. That's just biomechanics and any martial artist who has played with another body should be able to see what has the best chance to work. Which motion works with the threat's joints (e.g. it is almost always easier to shove the weapon towards the threat than to pull it away from you). Which motion will get the barrel off your body fastest (I've seen and despised techniques where you pan your own face). That's just a matter of seeing.

Doing drills, almost anything works, provided you do it with full commitment and no telegraph. Action beats reaction very, very consistently. But if you haven't practiced untelegraphed explosive movement... not good.

And this is the part where I rant about technique. I don't like technique dependency. Whether it was the complicated, multi-step locks and handcuffings we were taught at the academy or simple disarms.... grrr.

Here's the thing. I can reliably make the very first action just like I want. Whether that is a drop step pass-parry or slapping a wrist doesn't matter. But people don't react or flinch or anything the same. Anyone who says, "If you do 'X' the threat will do 'Y'" hasn't fought people on meth. Calling a four-step move one action doesn't magically turn it into one. The first action, if you can do it explosively, will work. Everything after that depends on your adaptability. Which depends on your ability to apply principles.

Saturday, December 03, 2011


This came up at a class last night and it keeps coming up.
Last night was a homogenous group, almost everyone instructor level in the same school with, I believe, one guest. So there were a lot of questions that usually get a little debate where everyone tended to agree. Honestly, I don't care that much about right or wrong or who wins a debate. Partially because this violence things is an awfully big animal and right or wrong changes depending on what aspect you are dealing with. Mostly I don't care because you can win all the debates in the world and still be left bleeding and dying when you take your certainty into the bad places.

But the process of debate is important. If you listen. Most don't, just pouncing on the word or phrase that they can use as an opening and not hearing anything else. If you really listen, you question and you learn. It's one of the reasons I value mixed groups and people who question and argue and doubt. Celebrate diversity.

Humility. I am wrong most of the time. So are you. In a universe as complex as this one, the odds of anything we believe happening to be true are very slim. And, as a very wise man wrote, you can't make a good decision about anything you care about. You might luck into one, but anything you care about triggers your limbic system, not your neocortex. If you care you are not using your brain. And that sucks, but denial doesn't change it.

And a corollary-- Have you noticed that the more one knows about something, the less sure one is? And that rabid certainty seems more common in things it is impossible to know? The interested dilettante can explain geopolitics with great confidence and solve all the world's problems... the seasoned diplomat says, "It's not that simple. There may be no good answers."

Humility. I am the least important part of anything I teach. If I could remove myself from the process entirely, I would. It is about the student first, about the subject matter second. Anything in the teaching process that centers on me doesn't serve the student. There are tools. I have talked myself through some very shitty stuff with an internal monologue that starts, "What would Dave say right now?" If it helps and they have time, it's okay. But I want my students strong enough in themselves that they look to themselves to solve problems. I'm happy being an advisor, but not someone they feel a need to please.

We talked last night about all the times when we are teaching one thing and conditioning another. If you are doing multi-man, you may be teaching people how to fight multiple opponents... but because you need to control the contact, you are conditioning them not to hit. The instructor who makes an example out of a student who taps the instructor clearly taught good skills... but by making an example conditions the student to be afraid to win.

Embrace the fact that even the communication between two people is not simple enough to be sure. You are sending a million messages all the time without realizing it, and some will have profound effects, positive and negative, on those who watch and listen. You can improve, all the time, but only if you watch for it, only if you practice and see your intent, your message and the results.

The instructor's ego is one of the most dangerous opponents the student will ever face. Sometimes it is obvious. Martial arts has a hierarchy and a power dynamic and in too many places competency is not tested and compassion is assumed. It is a sweet spot for bullies and predators. Where else can you hurt people and they pay you and say, "Thank you, Master." What bully wouldn't get off on that?

Sometimes it's a notch more subtle: making examples, having your students give you 'feeds' so you can show off things you could never do at speed, changing rules and expectations to keep your students 'off balance' and your own power secure.

And sometimes it is just good intentions gone very wrong: The scenario trainer who wants the students to solve the problem the way the trainer would. The tournament champion who thinks what has worked for him will work for a scared tiny person with no experience or warning. The bouncer/SD instructor who thinks that everything he learned from a hundred fights with drunk college kids will cross over to date-rape defense.

Everyone is different. Every situation is different. That diversity thing again. Have the humility to let your students adapt. To cheat to win to excel. To be better than you and, even if you are stronger and faster and more skilled, give them permission (and maybe practice) at finding a way when your strengths might have trapped you.

The class last night was good. Good practitioners and instructors who asked the right questions and really got me thinking. Thanks for setting it up, Clifton. And for hosting, Kykle and Shannon. Good times.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Coming Up For Air

For what it's worth, I have been doing a lot of writing. Just not here. So this will be a catch up: cool stuff, whining, bitching and rants.

Opened my 2012 seminar schedule and got a lot of action. Still working on scheduling since many people don't want to commit to hard dates. It actually makes it easier in that the few who picked gave me anchor points to work the others around.

It looks like January is still open; February will have confirmed private lessons (and maybe an open ConCom) in West L.A.; and a weekend in Port Townsend WA; with an as yet unconfirmed return to Granada Hills; March will be Oakland and San Diego; April/May in Canada; June will be a big month with Israel, Slovenia, the UK and Greece; July and August are clear, but there are two groups I like to hit that time of year, one on Cape Cod, one in Denver; September has fuzzy dates for Minnesota and Granada Hills; October Marseilles; November and December currently clear. Colorado Springs, Montana, upstate NY and New Jersey said yes but without dates.

A lot of openings left, but a lot of time filled as well.

"Force Decisions" and the video version of "Facing Violence" are in the new YMAA catalog, scheduled for release in April and May. Both are new territory. First video, and I know nothing about the video world. I rarely even watch them. "Force Decisions" is about how officers decide when and how to use force. Given the emotion right now, I'm not sure anyone is even interested in knowing the rules. They seem to just want to pick a bad guy and once a side is chosen, all bets are off. So I expect the book to get a lot of flack...and from both sides, since I think many force instructors have considered writing the same book and I'm sure the product won't match what they think it should be. We'll see.

Also, the editing process for FD was pretty hellish.

Tim's manuscript is basically done, just waiting for some more testimonials. (Thanks, David T and LD).

Did two on-line courses for writers in November. One on police force policy; one on weapons and wounds. I think the weapons and wounds might make a good addition to a second edition of Violence: A Writer's Guide. If I ever get the time.

Spent a day in Seattle shooting pictures with Lawrence Kane for the collaboration "Scaling Force" also due out next year.

Sent Kasey Keckeisen the notes from the UofF classes I did for his Ramsey Co. guys in September He made a very nice PowerPoint out of it and now the ChironTraining UofF is officially part of their training. Kind of cool.

(And that got me thinking-- how rare is it for Use of Force to be taught with all the background and concepts? It's the only way I've trained, so running into an agency where 'Factors and Circumstances' hadn't been an explicit part of training was unexpected. Which is the normal baseline? To just read the department policy and state law and send 'em out? Or to go into the cases and reasoning and have them practice articulation?)

The handbook on talking down EDPs is also, basically, done. Got the perfect guy to do a foreword, then a last editing pass and it should be available.

Doc Coray was in town for a long weekend and we got to brawl a bit and sample some microbrews. Next week, TVW will be in town to talk about some projects and see the PNW. She also sent me a draft CD of her audio program for Mommy and Me Self-Defense. Can't recall seeing many recorded books on martial or SD subjects, except for Gavin DeBecker. Considering how much I preferred books to music when I was commuting, I think publishers are missing a big opportunity.

And working on installing a floor upstairs. And Lee wants me to work on an instructor's curriculum. And I need to rewire the stairway light. And somehow get the tool out of the chimney that I dropped. Maybe fix the porch...

Back to the salt mines.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sea Change

Sampling error is a big problem whenever you try to figure out what is going on. You surround yourself with people and, at some point, you start attracting people who see the world in certain ways. What follows may simply be the result of sampling error. But I don't think so.

The martial arts world is changing, and the change is fast and the changes are big.
It's coming from a lot of different sources.

The obvious:
There is more information accessible than ever before. You want to argue endlessly about the lineage of some obscure family system, go right ahead. But if you keep doing it, the argument is the point, because we know someone who knows someone who has a cell phone who is right in the freaking village. If the founders's actual physical grandson thinks the argument is pointless...
Anyway, the combination of cell phones and "six degrees of separation"... which is actually closer to 4.7 degrees.

That's not even counting the internet, which has immeasurably increased the possibility of like-minded people getting together. Guess how many people who comment here are cops (or former) and martial artists of long standing with an introspective streak and a desire to understand and explain. Think there are more than a handful of those in any given area? And that's just one obscure blog. It cuts both ways, of course. People looking for new information and to be challenged can find that. People who want their personal flavor of koolaid praised and defended can find that as well.

The prevalence of video. You can actually see how bad stuff happens. No more excuses when you practice defenses against attacks that don't happen.

The rise of MMA. I don't think it's reality fighting or even a good laboratory for what I'm interested in. At some point, two guys of the same size planning to meet with several months notice at an appointed place and time without weapons and voluntarily using the same range of techniques became the benchmark for "reality fighting." That's a big WTF, as far as applicability to self-defense goes. But MMA and particularly the early UFC had a huge impact. It both made people think and question, which was valuable. And it made it unacceptable to hide behind tradition or received wisdom. Put up or shut up. Which was invaluable.

The RBSD...fad? Hard to tell if it is a fad. There is at least as much fantasy in the RBSD world as in the traditional. There are little battles about how real reality is. Is a bouncer's reality real? "I don't hide behind no badge." Is a cop's reality real? "We arrived on the scene..."

Does a RBSD system derived from military arts (designed around young men in peak physical condition and with ROE not related to self-defense law) automatically transfer to the needs of an undersized drunk college girl who badly misread the character of a guy she just met?

But just like MMA, RBSD is getting people thinking.

Teaching methodology, everything from adult learning models to Olympic coaching methods are changing the martial world. There may be a few dojo still practicing exercises known to destroy knees, but they are dying out.

But the biggest change, I think, is in the practitioners. Kris Wilder has been digging into body mechanics that I can only describe as Okinawan internal arts. That would be impressive enough and thirty years ago it would have been (hell, it was) a closely guarded secret. It's impressive that he is studying and teaching it. More impressive is that it isn't enough, not for Kris. He reasons that if the body mechanics are that good, they are universal...and he tests and refines them in judo competition.

When Jake Steinmann heard conflicting information from two sources he respected, he didn't feel a need to choose a side and get defensive. He felt a responsibility not to get his students killed and went to bang it out.

Teja Van Wicklen was a rough, tough martial artist... and then she found, eight months into a rough pregnancy, that none of her twenty years of training applied when she was truly and completely vulnerable. Another instructor might have ignored the truth or drunk some more koolaid or done something to feel better about the situation. Teja realized she needed to rethink the entire process from the ground up.

Jeff Burger... damn. Train with him if you can. Too long a story to go into here.

Testing. Challenging. Looking at real problems. Most importantly, I think, for the first time in martial arts (and this will ruffle a few feathers) we have a significant percentage of serious practitioners who are thinking for themselves. Not taking the word of a 'master'. Not pretending that techniques that failed worked. Noticing that sometimes, "We've always done it this way" has a direct correlation to "Every senior practitioner has had knee surgery."

It's not always cool. Along with the people who are hammering out the new things I hear a lot from people who are quitting. One who put his life on hold to train in Japan for a decade and a half doesn't want to deal with the politics, with the tribal vitriol of people who have never been and done and feel threatened by one who has. One talented instructor hit his funk, "I don't think what I'm teaching is what I think it is. I thought it was self-defense. I thought I was teaching fighting..."

Good people are considering walking away from something they love. That means they can see something big, so big that it frightens them. The rest of us... I don't think we see it as big. We see problems we can change and fix and as we talk and connect, it gathers momentum.

I don't think the martial arts of 2030 will look anything like the arts of 1990. The change we are looking at is big. Deep water stuff.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Offensive, Defensive, Active and Reactive

Something that has been bugging me for some years and may have cracked it.
You can train not to telegraph, in fact that is critical if you want to have any success in anything involving combatives. But telegraphing is a common problem.

It's always puzzled me that attacks are telegraphed and defenses aren't, even when they are the exact same motion. See something coming at your eyes and you swat it away. The motion may look like a palm strike or a push block. No telegraph. Just a flinch. Decide to make the exact same motion as an attack to the ear or the jaw hinge and, boom. The telegraph is there.

That's bothered me for a while. Offenses are telegraphed, defenses aren't. Even when they are the exact same motion. I wondered if that could be harnessed, if the motions of attack could be instilled to follow whatever neural pathways made defenses so instantaneous and explosive.

There was some personal evidence. I used to have a paradigm for beginners learning to hit. They would start with the form and learn to hit. Then they would decide to hit harder and put more effort into it (and that never really works, the physics for a shot put are the physics of a push, not a strike.) Then most learn to 'throw' the strike, letting it go out loose and fast instead of forcing it to go out in a way that feels strong but is too tight.

And then, for some, the strike would just teleport. The fist would be out and then back at guard instantly, with no conscious thought. No telegraph, with that level. It just happened and usually it was sort of a surprise. It would be a good hit, and it would land before I even consciously saw the opening.

Talking this out with my daughter I realized I was dividing the techniques incorrectly. It wasn't that offenses are telegraphed and defenses aren't, it was that action is telegraphed and reaction is not.

You don't decide to avoid getting hit in the face. It's one of those things that would have really hampered species survival if it took too much thinking. It wouldn't be fast enough. And it's not just instinctive or basic things. Rookies in a war zone don't always hit the dirt when they hear incoming... but once the sound is associated with the result, it becomes an instantaneous, faster-than-conscious thought reaction. No telegraph. Once when I was about sixteen I heard the buzz of a rattlesnake much too close. When I looked down, the .38 revolver was in my hand. No memory, no thought and pure reaction (with very little training or practice in drawing, by the way, but that's another mystery.)

But choosing to draw a weapon, or punch or close or engage or do the dishes... all of those involve a thought process, and act of will, the conscious brain making the unconscious brain (you know, one subset of which is the one that fires particular neurons to nerves to particular muscles that the conscious mind can't even identify) make stuff happen. There are layers in it.

And it can be taught. Rather, it can be conditioned. The teleportation level of striking comes after lots of hard work in live training (and thus too many of the people who get this good have also ingrained pulling.) The brutal speed and effectiveness of the counter-assault/counter-ambush techniques are conditioned response. Clearly offensive in nature, but we teach them as reactive (flinch-based) and protective.

Just one of the mysteries, maybe solved. Maybe I should start a list of all the things I haven't figured out yet.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Speaking For The Dead

Four major writing projects I want to finish this month. The hardest is Tim Bown's manuscript.
It's frustrating, and sometimes I feel the anger-- and always the responsibility.

Tim was an extraordinary man. I don't use the word lightly. He was a traditional karateka with a big, popular, successful dojo. All the hallmarks of a McDojo. But it wasn't. He loved teaching and he loved karate and he even loved teaching kids. And he was good at it. Then he could go to the Animal List barbecue and earn the respect and the friendship of cops and thugs, traditionalists and non-traditionalists. He could hang with any of the groups without needing to become what and who we were. He was just Tim, and that was cool enough.

I had hopes and plans for Tim. He was a Bulletman, one of the instructors certified under Bill Kipp. The first time we met was for my second seminar in Seattle. He showed up with his armor. He helped coach and safety and played the bad guy. He was an excellent instructor, a good fighter, as egoless as you need to be to wear the suit. He also could act, no mean feat when your face is covered and you are wearing padded armor. Lastly, he understood the problems at the level I was trying to teach and was perfectly comfortable with the layers of violence dynamics and criminal personalities and force law and tactical and strategic judgment.

I had plans for Tim. I think he would have taken civilian scenario training to the next level.

Then he up and died. 32 or 33 years old. Three-year-old daughter. Just decided to go where the rubber meets the road and had begun his job with the Canadian Border Service. Dropped dead. Turns out his body was eaten up with cancer. Maybe for years he had been shrugging off tiredness and pain that might have crippled someone else as "maybe a little overtraining." None of us caught it. Didn't notice anything.

Turns out he wrote a book before he died and had been hoping to get it published. I volunteered to edit it.

It's hard. The book, "Leading the Way: Maximizing Your Potential as a Martial Arts Instructor" is many things. It's a book. It's a message in a bottle from a time and person who has passed. It's a memorial probably more than anything. And it's good.

But it's also a first book and written by a friend. I catch myself wanting to call Tim up. Places I disagree, places I think he said too much or too little. Places where he wrote about the writing, a beginner thing. But he's not here to fix or clarify or even argue. And I'm here to preserve his voice.

Most of the hard stuff is done. Changed very little. Need to do some fact checking, make sure everything is formatted consistently. Put in links and set it up for SmashWords. Add some testimonials... the only hard thing left is writing the foreword.

Friday, November 04, 2011

More on Peace

Anon1 and Josh both wrote some comments on Peace and Rehabilitation that deserve more space than the comments section.

Josh wrote:
"Do you think though that there are states of affairs -- call it "peace" or what you will -- that are stable situations worth working towards? If there are, what are some of the more important elements?"

My gut reaction is "No." I don't think stability is healthy. I also don't think it is sustainable or occurs in nature. Evolution doesn't stop; and societies continue to change. If change could be stopped and a society or group could be held in stasis, the best outcome I see is an entropy death and the total annihilation of art and creativity, because creativity will always threaten and eventually destroy the status quo. Not talking just art, either. Creativity in science and technology and commerce and agriculture have all far more profoundly improved the lives of average people than any changes in painting or music or literature.

Because people, like all organisms, seek homeostasis this natural change in life is profoundly threatening. That constant tug of war between a changing world and a desire for stability drives a lot of things. Including movements that purport to be about 'making a better world' but appear to concentrate efforts on stopping some of the forces that are directly responsible for the leaps in life expectancy and comfort that we have experienced since the industrial age.

And the last part, with any sort of stability, call it peace or whatever... I don't think you can create an unnatural state without coercion. I think any effective peace movement must, by it's nature, become totalitarian. It can't embrace diversity, since diversity would mean tolerating people who enjoy harming others or see force as an easy means to an end... so in order to get everyone to live in peace, you must first eradicate all the people who don't share that ideal.

But people are creative, and once the majority of people have forgotten the power of force the first person to figure it out will be, effectively, superhuman

I called Anon1 on the difficulty of defining peace except as an absence of conflict.
He wrote:
OK - Peace is the context in which the growth of relationship, culture, and civilization can occur.
That definition isn't static, and it goes back as far as Thucydides...
I don't recall Thucydides ever saying that... but for what it's worth, I'm okay with non-static definitions to an extent, as long as it's not a fudge factor built into the definition. But this definition doesn't hold up at all. I've seen too many relationships, good and bad, forged in open conflict; read too many poems written by soldiers; have a pretty good idea that the laptop I am writing on would never have been invented without the double influences of the Cold War and an essentially adversarial free market.

I'm trying to think of an era of peace. Tokugawa shogunate, maybe? Enforced caste systems with a ruthless totalitarian information system to enforce it? Graveyards are peaceful.

...peace isn't the *absence* of war; it's something *other* than war.
Does this mean (sincere question, not a debating trick) that peace can exist within a war? That this other-than-war peace can exist in a firefight? If you are talking about an internal feeling... maybe. But it is something that could be given to everyone who wants it chemically* while everyone else could play merry hell with violence and I'm pretty sure that's not what anyone else means when they say 'peace.'

More, and this gets close, IMO, to the meat of the disagreement here:
...violence wasn't the only real thing. It was one of the tools you used to achieve a "real" thing.

Part of what disturbs me about your notion that peace is simply the absence of violence ... is that it means that violence is the *only* "real" thing. That not only is violence/peace binary, but that violence is the #1, and peace the #0.

Why? Why not the other way round? Even if things are binary (and I don't think they are), couldn't violence as logically be the void when peace is absent? Why is violence primary?

The world is full of real things. Goals are real things, but so are tools. So in Clausewitz's definition, war and politics are both real. Violence is far from the only real thing. And there are lots of intangible things that I consider real, like love and compassion. But a sociopath's lack of compassion is really hard to define without accepting compassion as a baseline. Vacuum is it's own thing, but only as long as matter exists. Remove all matter and there is nothing but nothing.

Violence is the primary because it is the active force. I can show you videos of violence. I can show you videos of compassion and generosity and kindness and a thousand other active and real things. To show you a video of peace, would I show you an empty piece of space? Or a graveyard? Not a plant growing, those little devils are constantly strangling and shading each other to starvation...
So, not:
I suspect you'd say because you know violence is "real." You've experienced it.
And love and a bunch of other things... but the thing that marked the peaceful moments was a lack of conflict.

It's light and darkness (not in the metaphorical or value sense). Light is photons hitting things; dark is photons not hitting things. We can talk into we're blue in the face and convince ourselves that 'dark' is its own, real, separate thing; that darkness is a thing totally separate from light and photons or argue (and even decide to agree) that the absence of photons is the primary state. And photons are the zero.

But I wouldn't buy it.

So I'm still not seeing any definition of peace other than as an absence of conflict.

I also want to apologize. Nature of the medium is that Anon1 and Josh and I couldn't get together and talk before I wrote, which means that this is unfairly one-sided. So don't take it as a debate. Some smart people got me thinking. This is what I thought. Nothing more.

*When I went in for knee surgery I wanted to watch, so we did an epidural. Just before the surgeon started the nurse injected something into the port in my IV line saying, "This will take the edge off." No idea what it was, but even when blood splattered over the TV screen and the surgeon said, "Shit! We measured it wrong!" I didn't care. Sure felt peaceful. Wouldn't want to live that way.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


It was always abstract. From almost the first moment we met, in a dingy basement apartment off-campus, discussing the probable nutrient value of the fat fly circling the chili, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with K. I wanted to grow old with her. It was always so abstract.

And now we are doing it. Growing old. Not just older.

She has always been graceful, and she is aging with the same grace as she moves, serene in herself the way that she calms others with her presence. Her hair has been silver for a long time, the premature gray I would expect from living with me. She has never tried to color or hide it, seemed unaware at the ethereal beauty that another woman might attempt to mask.

She is so unafraid.

Last night, for the first time, I noticed the translucent skin that I see as a sign of aging. Very fine webs of lines around her eyes and mouth and neck almost under the skin. And I found it beautiful and fascinating. One more thing about this beautiful woman that takes my breath away.

I never thought to grow old, never dreamed to be lucky enough to do so as a pair. Amazing.

And I know, Steve and George, we aren't that old. But I'm close enough to taste it and with K it doesn't seem the slightest bit bleak.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Peace and Rehabilitation

In a couple of weeks I'll be doing a lot of panels for a local writer's conference. The usual stuff-- violence and bad guys. But they also put me on a panel on 'Peace'. I've been on that one before, with some of the same people. It puzzles me.

Peace is an interesting ideal, depending on how you define it. Like a lot of ideals, it's squishy enough that you can have other ideals directly opposed to your stated ends and throw enough words into the justification to miss the point.

The thing that gets me about peace activists is that peace is not a thing. It is the absence of another thing. Depending on how you define it, the absence of war or violence or conflict. Depending on how you define those, 'peace' ranges from a difficult improbability to an absurd impossibility. In any case where you are looking at an absence, you must look at the thing you want to remove.

You can't effectively work for peace without taking a good hard look at war or violence or conflict (or all three, depending on your definition). And not a knee-jerk, disapproving look, either. A good hard look at why, if something is so bad, it is so prevalent. Why, if something must be fixed, it is so endemic in the natural world.

It is exactly like any other group attempting to censor or ban any other thing. Prohibition was an ideal, largely put forward by self-righteous teetotalers. People talk about violence, it seems to me, the way that they talked about sex in the fifties. They don't. Most talk around it. If you have anything to say from experience, you are marginalized.

It kills dialogue. More to the point, it kills progress. Medicine advances as we learn more about disease. We solve problems by studying problems, not by meditating on an imaginary, problem-free end state. I guess, in a way, that is the defining difference between a peace-maker and a peace activist.

Couple of caveats. We all do this. If you consider yourself on any side of a line: conservative/liberal; atheist/christian/pagan; Cougars/Huskies; RBSD/traditional... and you cannot explain, with compassion and understanding ,why the other side may very well be right; if you've always been sure; if you've never felt that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that you could be entirely wrong... then you are doing this. You are holding a belief (and rationalizing and reinforcing it) not because you are right, but because of a tribal identity. You are doing the same thing that you denigrate people on the other side for doing.

Also, this is not about peace or peace activists. I actually want to talk about criminals and rehabilitation. Not really about crime, but that may come up. That was all just a long preamble.

So let's get crime out of the way first. Not enough people look at it right. Crime fighting is an ideal, just like peace. And we won't make progress until we take a good hard look at why crime is prevalent. Which means acknowledging that it works. It satisfies needs. It's not just that there is little opportunity for honest employment in certain areas. There are damn few jobs, much less entry-level jobs, where you can make thousands of dollars a week, get automatic deference and an instant family.

Crime fighting is an attempt, instead of lowering the rewards of the criminal lifestyle, to raise the risks. Catch 'em, book 'em, hard time. You have to take a look, a hard look at whether that is a risk or even a punishment in this subculture... or just the way rugby players think about the occasional injury. I don't think surveys will help... but I recall the young man about to be transported to prison for the first time at the tender age of eighteen. He was excited. In his family, doing time in prison was the rite of passage to manhood. Jail didn't count.

And this is where we get to criminals. We look at them from our point of view and our world. Most of the things that make a career criminal would be and are profoundly dysfunctional in polite society. So we look at our world and us and the criminal and try to 'fix' what is 'broken'.

There is nothing broken. For the most part (possible mental illness and stuff aside) the serious criminal is not incomplete. There is no pathology. He is perfectly adapted for his world. The things that we think of as normal and good, the things we try to instill when we rehabilitate, might be profoundly dangerous behaviors when he goes back to his old haunts and sees his old friends.

We pretend we are fixing a person, but in reality we are trying to reshape him into a person that makes us more comfortable. Altering a human for our purposes, not his. In the process making him more likely to die in his natural environment and he damn well knows it.

The few people I know who have truly rehabilitated themselves, started by deciding they wanted to live in the non-criminal world. That's rare. If you become an adult in almost any environment, that becomes your comfort zone. That world makes sense. You know the rules. The eighteen-year-old mentioned above knew the rules for prison far better than he would ever know the rules for college.

Despite the fact the stakes are higher in the criminal culture than in college, he felt safer (we all do) in the place where he knew the rules. Where he could blend in and knew how to behave.

Same as if someone insisted on teaching you the proper way to dine and converse based on diplomatic functions. It's not going to help you and will hurt you at your bowling league's nacho feed.

There is another factor in rehabilitating successful criminals that is hard to get over. They know they were raised in a dangerous environment. They believe, with justification, that many of the people trying to fix them would have died in that environment.

Tell me truly, have you ever changed anyone who already thought that he was smarter and better than you?

Raised in an environment where reading and manipulating people are far more valuable skills than getting along, the average criminal is better at reading and manipulating the people trying to 'help' or 'fix' than all but the best therapists. When you have consistently conned PhDs and psychiatrists, the best that civilized training can produce, it's natural to feel superior.

And this ties back to violence and peace-- it is hard to convince someone who sees violence as a tool that the peaceful way is better when he knows that he can have you, the product of a peaceful (and in his eyes weak) world on your knees begging to give him what he wants. He can't help but see that as the weak trying to make everyone else weak to feel safer. Rabbits trying to talk coyotes into giving up their teeth.

There are definite drawbacks to the criminal life. Many die young. Those that don't have no one to care for them as they age, except the prison system. There are profound drawbacks to the lifestyle. The criminal just doesn't look at the drawbacks-- in the exact same way that none of us look at ours.

Monday, October 24, 2011

In Search of Clarity

I'm working on the manual for talking down EDPs (Emotionally Disturbed Persons) and I pretty much have to do a section on what to do when it goes bad. This will be an e-book, since it is far too short for print publishing. Since it's an e-book I want to avoid pictures. They really mess up the formatting.

Is this description of a figure-four leg lock and seal position handcuffing clear?

The figure-four leg lock is also useful. Any technique used on the knee joint, especially if it relies on pain, will have a risk of injury. To apply the technique you place the threat’s left ankle directly in the hollow of his right knee (if I have to tell you the directions can be reversed, you probably aren’t bright enough to be literate anyway). The right knee is then flexed (bent) which both traps the left ankle and puts pressure on the knee such that it can be snapped.

The farther towards the toes you apply pressure, the better leverage you have. Many threat will be able to simply kick you off if you don’t apply good leverage. Almost all will be able to kick you off if you try to cross the legs at the ankles instead of putting the ankle directly in the knee joint.

You do not need to control this hold with your hands. In the example above (right knee locked, left ankle trapped) I kneel with my left knee outside of the threat’s butt, the threats right foot in the crease of my thigh and my right ankle hooked behind the threat’s trapped left ankle.

I learned the hook trick because the only person I’ve ever had escape from the figure four was a very small, wiry and quite dangerous mentally ill female who had a thing for stabbing people. She just did what looked like a military low crawl and pulled herself out of the lock.

This is an excellent unhandcuffing technique and a very good hands-free control hold. If the threat will not give up the hands for cuffing, if they ‘turtle,’ you can reach under their face (fingers flat to prevent biting, just like feeding a horse) and use the pressure point under the nose at the base of the bone to extend the spine. They will put their hands on the ground to support their own weight and you can simply yank one of the support hands back for cuffing.

After experiencing this, most NTs will voluntarily give up the remaining hand. You may have to do it twice for EDPs.

'NT' in the above paragraph means 'neurotypical' short hand for not an EDP. It's explained elsewhere in the handbook.

Clear enough to do?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Never Seen Florida

I've been here for two days and I still haven't seen any of. It's easy to joke with K: "Been to some of the coolest cities in the world but they all look like sweaty gyms."

Red-eye flight. Meet Rick Brumby, who is a thoroughly cool guy. Check into the hotel. Explore the grounds. Shower. Try to nap. Get up, go to the local police academy to teach Conflict Communications. Nargilah and late dinner with Dan G. Back to the hotel. Try to sleep. Up too early. Go to the business center to make copies. Meet Rick in the lobby. Return to the training center. Teach an introduction to violence. Teach part two of ConCom. Dinner. Hotel.

Too tired to write, but I don't want to sleep just yet.

Anyway, been in Florida for two days, haven't seen anything yet. Maybe tomorrow, or maybe I'll find a quiet place and write and drink coffee.

Working on the "Crisis Communication with the Mentally Ill" book. It will be too short for print, so expect an e-book fairly soon (finally). This one's disjointed, more a series of tactics than a coherent strategy. That's okay, I guess. Can't see all patterns at all times for all things. But it should help a lot of people.

The hotel has over three acres under glass with an a alligator lagoon and a small schooner. There is an artificial thunderstorm playing above my head right now. They tried to make the atrium like wild Florida, but air-conditioned and without mosquitos.

Good mix of martial artists today. Most had extensive experience. Lot's of sweat. Well, a little anyway. George Mattson showed up, and I did give him grief about his pink polo shirt... but he is one of the Old Dragons and it is an honor just to be in his presence. I also got to meet Phil Peplinski, who founded the original "Come Get You Some" website. He also really doesn't mind tangling it up and going for eyes. I'm not really sure what a cockle is, but it warmed the cockles of my heart.

The class ran long and just blended it in with the 'Violence' module of ConCom, and that worked pretty well. The information is pretty seamless. That feels good, it means that there is a skeleton underlying the words. It also means that there is a curriculum in here somewhere.

Have been getting pressure to set up a curriculum and create an instructor's class for this. Looking at a two-year date. I have quibbles and hesitations. The essence is teaching to think for yourself. The second that becomes dogmatic you have failed catastrophically. It is also teaching people to stand up, alone, in fear... something I feel is countert-intuitive to a world of Instructors and Senior Instructors and certifications...

But you know, being afraid of failure is one crappy excuse. It's also about facing fears, so that's something I just have to do. More later.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I expect this post will come off as esoteric and unfocused and confused-- but that's okay. I'm looking for answers to messy situations so I'd be a fool to expect clean answers.

"Pocket structure" has been coming up a lot. A little preamble:

1) You only get to use your killer self-defense skills when you are losing. If you are winning at the outset, you're probably the bad guy.

2) 'Losing' generally means that you are already hurt or injured, your structure is likely compromised, you may not be able to see, and the threat is in a position of his choice.

3) Threats aren't stupid (at least about this.) If he had any inkling that you might turn things around, he would have picked someone else. So expect him to be bigger and stronger. And it probably won't be his first rodeo.

4) None of the above applies to Monkey Dancing.

It's obvious that you need to work this scenario. You need to learn to hit hard from compromised structure and to deliver power to things that would normally be dead zones. Last post mentioned in passing a way to throw a good elbow to your rear flank.

Part of this is pocket structure. I think most martial artists have an idea of what structure is. It is the bone-to-bone connection between target and the ground. It doesn't generate power, but the better the structure, the less power is lost. Almost anyone can hit hard enough to do damage, but when you see the 240 pound power lifter who can't hit as hard as the 160 pound woman who has a little boxing training, structure is at least part of the reason.

Pocket structure practice is just putting yourself in bad structural position, like bent over with the threat pressing your head down and one side against a wall, and finding where you can align joints to still deliver power. This is one of the esoteric parts, hard to put into words: you find the arches instead of the lines that most people rely on with good range and you also tendon-hook to the back of the joints (that's what it feels like to me) instead of lining up the bones. That's pocket structure.

There are also pockets for power generation. You can use the Dempsey hip-twitch while lying flat on your back, mounted, and get almost your full power into a hook punch. It's just a matter of lifting your off hip an inch or two and then snapping it into the ground with your punch. It's creating a pocket of space so that you can generate power.

Pockets for mobility as well. I'm not nearly as flexible as I used to be, so it sucks when I try to demonstrate this, but Dave Sumner, my jujutsu sensei, had a full power high kick that he could use from the clinch without losing eye contact. It was a lead leg rear kick, so it hit like a mule. The key was clearing the off hip back and away to leave room for the chamber. A mobility pocket.

This, of course, got me thinking about pockets of time. One of the huge keys to defeating bigger and stronger people is to use time and information better than they do. Information first, since it doesn't directly (as far as I see right now) relate to pockets:

If you are outmatched physically, you must be significantly better at reading the situation than the other guy. If you are being blitzed, one of your few chances is to be able to read exactly what is really happening and how to use it. Someone grabs you from behind to slam your face into the pipe above the urinal you must be able to read where every bone in his body is and his current momentum and any shift in center of gravity that presages momentum change. You must be able to do this instantly. You have to know where every corner and hard object and reflective surface and slippery place you can use is located. All instantly.

You see why I consider blindfolded fighting to be a fundamental skill.

Back to pockets. You also need to be able to find or create pockets of time that you can use. Threat smashes your head into the pipe and pulls back to do it again... that instant, from contact through pull-back to centering to forward slam, is a tiny pocket of time where you are not taking damage and if you have the nerve and the skill, you can use it all.

Maybe. And this hits the essence of the teaching problem. I know this is possible. This is how I've done it and others have done it. When the math looks bad (Ralph jumped by an ambush artist, 20 years younger, stronger, faster) the ability to create and exploit time, to know what is really happening is the difference between walking away and not.

But can it be trained? I can show all the pieces. Let people play with and see how it works. Develop the skills and attributes. But when the shit hits the fan, it seems some people act and some don't. Most act with experience, but is that learning or just natural selection of a sort? Those that don't act either get injured or find another line of work.

If you are smarter, cooler, more aware and more efficient it makes up for a lot of size and strength. Those are the attributes you need to utilize most of the pocket concepts. But how many people can stay cool under assault? Or can you train it such that it is just a natural and obvious way to think and move?

Leaving for Florida tomorrow. Hope to meet some of you in person there.

Friday, October 14, 2011


Since you asked...

Read this first, if you haven't already. It's the basics of how I teach power generation. The drop-step falls under the category of power stealing. It is very simple. It is also counter-intuitive and violates a lot of what martial artists are taught from day one.

The drop-step is as simple as falling. Ernie described it pretty well in the comments of the last post, but I glitched on some of the words, so here's my take.

Stand with your feet a little over shoulder-width apart. Lift one of your feet. You will fall. You will fall quick and hard with absolutely no telegraph. Most of you, especially trained martial artists, won't be able to do it.

We've all been taught from our first class to never, ever lose our balance. And so before we 'fall' we subtly shift our weight to one side before lifting the foot on the other side. That creates a telegraph and, because the Center of Gravity is now just barely out of the base, changes a violent fall to a slow topple.

If you can just lift the foot, nothing else, trusting to get it back under you before you land on your face, you will move with great speed, power, and no telegraph. That's freaking useful.

My training trick (because I'd been taught to always keep balance too) was to try to touch my left knee with my right foot as quick as I could. Or reverse the left/right. All same.

It's not a step. It's not a leap or a lunge. The effect you want is of a table that suddenly has two legs removed. Just fall.

You can add lunge dynamics to it, and that is one of the reason that fencers are so freaking fast. But the lunging leg adds after the fall. Other than the natural bend in the knees, you don't load the lunging leg. That's the telegraph and it slows you down. That lunging leg can also steer you a little.

Steering might be important because the natural direction of the drop-step is along your strong line, the line you get if you draw a line between your feet. You want that strong line pointing in a useful direction (towards the threat for impact damage, obliquely towards the threat for damage + position.)

You can also, for the record, go straight down by lifting both of your legs. There are times where that is very useful. The stupid-looking move of drawing fists to hips and dropping into horse stance is one of the few motions that can generate a lot of power (concentrated on an elbow thrust) to the rear flank dead zone.

All of your normal power generation, hip action or hip twitch, whip action, dead hand, ballistic, structured ballistic... whatever you do, can usually be stacked with a drop step for a big increase in power. When you hit, though (and this is another thing that contradicts some training) you want your attacking weapon to hit the bad guy just before your foot catches you. If the foot hits first or at the same time, that's a certain amount of kinetic energy going into the floor instead of the bad guy. In efficient. I think the emphasis on simultaneous impact of foot and hand is a side-effect of the influence of fencing. Pointy swords require very little kinetic energy to do damage.

Ernie's drill is good and I use it as well. Take a stance perpendicular (hips, feet and shoulders square) to a training partner. Have him throw linear strikes at your face. Fall out of the way. Gradually speed up. Once you are consistently falling out of the way, change the angle so that you are falling 45 degrees towards the threat, but still getting off line before the punch lands. Add a mirror block for insurance but do not rely on the block.

And if your training partner starts tracking your fall, have him target and shut his eyes before he punches.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Values in Sparring

This is a preview/think-out-loud for the print edition of "Drills" that should be out in 2012. The publisher wants added material, so that it can compete with the e-book version. That's fine. I'm going to add a section on sparring. Different types, different purposes.

The thing that hits me again and again about lots of drills is that what we are learning (or simply ingraining, creating a habit without any awareness) is rarely what we think we are learning. That's huge for instructors, too-- You may not be teaching what you think you are. There's a video out of some instructors 'woofing,' screaming horrible, rude things in student's (largely women) faces. The instructors are certain they are conditioning women to the emotional context of an attack. But the women are practicing, rep after rep, letting a threatening individual invade their space, take a position of physical and psychological dominance, and the women practice doing nothing.

Sparring, at any level, is a special case. Humans mistake intensity for truth. Things that trigger bigger reactions- fear or anger or exultation- simply feel more real than than the drudgery of day to day. In almost any given martial art, sparring is the most intense training methodology and feels 'more real' than any other exercise. Humans rarely question such a natural feeling. Most have never had their roulette table moment.

That means that any bad habits learned by sparring are learned deeply. And there must be bad habits. The essence of martial arts is the manufacture of cripples and corpses. If you have never crippled or killed anyone in training either what you do doesn't work or, more likely, you have also learned flaws with every drill. Those flaws are critical in any live training. Never forget that you are practicing at least as many reps of not hurting people as you are of hurting people.

Sparring is not a fight simulation. Maybe most types of sparring are intended that way and certainly people believe that they are, but the math doesn't work. At some point two oiled-up guys in speedos of the same weight getting together face to face without weapons at an appointed place (without obstacles) and time to work under an agreed set of restrictions somehow became 'reality fighting.' It's not, and if you feel a need to defend it as "as real as it gets" take a deep breath and think for a second.

So lets start there. MMA contact sparring/competition. It covers a lot of skills and it is pretty damn effective at what it does-- which is prepare you for MMA competition. I don't think that's it's real purpose, though. The real purpose is deeper than that. There has been a long evolution of coming up with the best venue for testing ourselves. Boxing and wrestling always tested the essence of manhood-- strength and speed and endurance and toughness and smarts. By making it broader, MMA added an incredibly valuable level of mental flexibility. MMA deepened how far you can go with strategy. At higher levels all contact sports are strategy sports. MMA took that to a new level. If you want to find out who you really are, MMA is the way.

There is lots in there that applies to self-defense. Same with any of the contact martial sports. People who get hit regularly have a huge advantage over people that don't (until the concussions start to add up.) People who actually hit moving targets are way ahead of people who hit air. The fact that it hurts... damn, people, fighting hurts. It shouldn't be a revelation to anyone. And pain is a great motivator to train harder.

It's good training, but it predicates on bad strategy-- equal people, weapons, techniques, location, no surprise. All that jazz. If this is your gig, be sure to spend some time working solutions when you give the opponent 50 pounds of weight advantage and your back. It can be done, it has been done. But if (again) you have this urge to come up with excuses about why it is impossible, you've confused the game (MMA) with the solution.

Similar stuff goes for all the heavy contact stuff. Boxers are formidable fighters because they are used to taking and giving hits. There is something fundamentally fucked up in martial arts if being 'used to taking and giving hits' is special. That's the natural environment of a fight, people. That said, there is also something fundamentally screwed up about a fighting style that has its own fracture. When boxers do use their skills in real life far too often their hands are shattered. Outside of the safety equipment (tape and gloves) the essential weapon of boxing is more likely to hospitalize or cripple the guy using it than the guy it is used on. That's a whoops. What does boxing develop? Courage, and that is huge.

Moving and controlling a body is one of the core skills of fighting. You will learn this in a grappling art (especially one with throws) better than anywhere else. It is huge and important. It makes everything else easier ("Position before submission!") Good grapplers/throwers will also teach you much of what you need to know to handle bigger and stronger people, especially if they are old-school enough to practice without weight classes. Definitely spend some time here... but it is not fighting. In a fight, moving and controlling a body is intended for another purpose, like escape or disabling. In order to get really good at grappling, people often forget the context-- bad guys and weapons and obstacles and "Why am I here?"

As a general rule, if your grappling changes a lot when the other guy has a knife, you were probably a little too caught up in the game side. Or, to phrase it another way: If you grapple differently when the threat has a knife you were probably doing it wrong when he didn't.

And then straight non- or controlled-contact kumite. This was the big epiphany in Minnesota, at least as regards sparring. Marc has a drill he calls the 3-2-1. I will probably misrepresent it here. For the pure version, work with him. But my understanding (or misunderstanding) is damn useful, so here it is:

There are ranges and positions where someone can stand and hit you without any telegraph. The threat has to be in range (drop-step exception) and have their limbs in certain positions. This is a code red thing, or what Marc calls "1". The bad guy can hit you in one motion.

For the most part that's not true. Even in range, most positions require you to shift your center of gravity (CoG) before delivering power (again, there is an exception for the drop step. I love the drop step). Marc calls this a "two". It will take two motions, a precursor and the attack itself, to do you any harm.

"Three" means the threat has to change his foot position (and the drop step, in certain positions turns all three to a one... very cool) as well as shift CoG.

I spent a lot of time in close proximity to very bad people. More than a few commented on how relaxed I was. It's powerful. Relaxation can be disconcerting, it makes the criminal think that you know something he doesn't. This was why I could do that. Not only could I tell if the bad guy could reach me, I knew, in advance, exactly what he would have to do or where he would have to shift his center in order to attack. I knew when I was safe and I knew exactly what to watch for should the threat try to move.

These are critical skills in point sparring. Minor, maybe, and nothing like what I though I was learning (timing and strategy and ...) But killer skills in the real world.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It Was Sort of Awesome

Just got back from the Secret Giant Violence-Prone Play Group. Very cool.

First, the concept behind the VPPG:
KJ and I started ours a year or two ago. The original notice is here:

I've had a few people ask about joining who aren't from around here, which won't work really well. Here's the deal, and the format. Nothing is written in stone, so if you decide to form one, do it your way.

There comes a point in everyone's life/career where they should start running out of instructors, or at least start running into questions that the available people can't answer. It happens in every science, and that is how science keeps growing. Everyone, if you've been doing martial arts for a while, should have a 'mystery': "What are the principles behind X?" "What are my options if..." "Does technique Y or drill Q really help? What is it really teaching/ingraining?" "How do I teach ____?"

Stuff like that, and even more. If you don't have questions you might be in your comfort zone. Or brainwashed. Or maybe dead. If all of your questions can be answered by your available resources, you need to get out more. That's my opinion.

So the idea behind the original VPPG was to get together people we respect from the widest variety of backgrounds possible. Not a lot of people-- any group that is willing to play at that level will be pretty small. We get together when schedule allows (rarely, right now, since two of the other key members have regular jobs and I'm traveling most weekends).

The format goes like this, "Kevin, what are you working on?"
"Well, I've been trying to figure out how to..."
Then we all brainstorm it.
Then we go bang. Pressure test. Scenario. What-if. Levels of contact matter because there are some things that can only be evaluated at certain levels of contact... so it has to be a group that we trust for everything from judgment to contact to first-aid skills.

When we are all good and sweaty, and maybe have some insights or (gasp!) answers, we go back to the circle and the next person kicks out a question.

Question, brainstorm, bang. That simple.

R&M (we never really discussed how secret the secret VPPG last weekend would be, so I won't use names) asked me months ago if I could set up a perfect VPPG, who would I want?

Two very different reality instructors. Two top eclectic practitioners. Two weapons guys. Two super-traditional.*

M offered a venue, R pressured me to set a date...and with about two months lead time, I sent out invitations. The group of eight I envisioned was a group of five. Which isn't bad for the phenomenally busy people that were invited.

Two days and nights in a remote piece of northern California. Hikes, shooting, brawling and brainstorming. It was sort of awesome. I got to play a little and talk extensively with someone I've admired for a long time. Got to look at the thought process behind his teaching (for almost everyone, how and why they teach is far more valuable to me than what they teach.)

Played flow. Brainstormed operator problems, and having operators and martial artists there made for an interesting synergy because each worked really hard to make sure the other side understood the underlying problems. Got called on some of my own bullshit, "You say it's a bad habit to practice moving straight back and yet you love fencing. Isn't that pretty linear?" Touche.

I think everyone left with pages of notes, plans, new ideas. Some got answers and I think everyone found a blindspot or two.

So my legs are sore, face sunburned, and a new scratch is scabbing nicely. Very nice.

*Which is another blindspot. I have access to some pretty extraordinary sport MAs and it never occurred to me to add two of them. Hmmmmm.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Obsolete Technique

Used to be, back in the day, (imagine a reedy, old-man voice) we sometimes had to go in on combative inmates without weapons or armor.

For whatever reason, you had to pull a guy out of his cell. Used to be for any disciplinary reason: he was tearing things up or making so much noise the other inmates couldn't sleep. Nowadays, we would just let them vent. In order to be a Threat, a person must have Intent, Means and Opportunity to hurt you. Going into the cell would give Opportunity, the third element. We would be responsible for making him a danger. So only self-harm (for which there is always Opportunity) really justifies entering.

So the tactical problem, back in the day, was that you would have to go into a concrete cell through a standard (except for the steel reinforcing-- standard sized) doorway. On an inmate who can see you clearly, is completely prepared for you, may have weapons, sometimes made armor out of blankets and occasionally soaped the floor. Commonly in a boxing stance just inside the door.

Even in Corrections, at least in our system, this is an obsolete problem. But before the Team and pinning shields, when no one was allowed to carry OC (pepper spray) or Tasers, it both common and dangerous. An unarmed or semi-unarmed classic 'funnel of death' problem. Only one person could go through the door at a time...

It's obsolete even for Corrections. Enforcement always had force options available, so this never was an issue. For citizens, there is no intelligent reason to close the distance on someone who is prepared to fight you. That makes it a remarkably useless technique, but technique isn't the point. It's all the nuances that made it work that apply to everything.

What follows is the first actual technique I came up with as a DT instructor. Sgt. Gatzke presented the problem.

It's simple, really. Hands up, non-threatening, you approach while talking. As you get to the Critical Distance Line you drop-step hard and fast, forward and very slightly off-line to his lead side, pass/parry the lead hand and voila, you are at his flank or behind him, out of the danger zone and with a plethora of options.

Approaching, hands up and non-threatening. Hands are in some version of the Fence (as described by Al Peasland who learned it from Geoff Thompson). Lots of people screw this up. If you look angry or tense, like you are ready to fight, not only will the threat have a better chance of clocking you when you make your move, the tension will slow you down. You must carry yourself like you believe talking will defuse the situation.

The second killer little detail is that you must walk unnaturally. Humans are direct-register animals, like cats. When the left foot goes forward, the right hand goes forward. In this instance, your right side moves together. Done fluidly enough, I've never had a threat notice.

As you get to the critical distance line. You must be able to read exactly when the Threat can reach you. Most of the ones I've used this on seemed to have boxing backgrounds and I needed to know exactly when I was coming in range for the jab. You had to be able to read when any shift in feet or center of gravity altered the critical distance line or loaded a different limb.

You must time it so that you will cross the Critical Distance Line with the mirror side. If the Threat is in a left lead, you must cross the CDL with your right hand and foot. That makes the distance for your drop-step and parry as short as possible. Short distance makes for better speed.

And you must be smooth. If you try to adjust your footing on the way in, the walk will be unnatural and the Threat will know something is up. You can't stutter-step or skip to get to the CDL with the right foot forward.

While talking. Sort of. You also want to judge the distance and speed of approach such that when you cross the CDL, the Threat is talking. Not critical, I've made this work on a number of Threats who were stone silent and watchful. But if you can get him talking there will be an additional delay, just a fraction of a second, before he figures out what is going on. For that matter, look at everything going on in this technique and see how much of it is about shaving fractions of seconds. Talking guys have slower reflexes.

Drop-step. A good drop-step is an incredible power and speed multiplier. Unless you can throw yourself to your feet from a push-up one handed, you fall harder than your arms can hit. Because gravity is always on, there is no delay and no natural telegraph. Unless you screw it up with hesitation movements or weird breathing or something, you will be moving before the threat sees, and probably finished moving before he can react.

The drop step is slightly off line. You don't want to fall into him or into his punch. You fall (and can add a fencer's lunge for more distance but DO NOT sacrifice the drop step and surprise by loading the lunge) to just outside his lead foot. The angle takes you off line of jabs and crosses. The drop tends to protect you from high hooks and roundhouse punches. Low hook you would have seen coming from his hand position at the start.

The drop step has to be practiced, by the way, and I've seen some very odd things called drop steps.

Pass/parry his lead hand. I learned it as the mirror block decades ago. Hard to describe in print. Basically, both open hands make part of a circle. The lead (right hand for this example) has the palm to the left and comes from belly button to ear, ending with the back of the hand right near the left ear. The left hand, palm facing right, follows from the other rim of the circular action.

You don't block. Ideally, your drop-step was just enough out of line that the punch, if it happens, missed with no contact. The mirror block is just a form of insurance, with the added benefit that that the left hand will come in contact with the leverage point at the distal end of the humerus. Especially if you have practiced forearm rolls, you will have the leverage and power to completely turn even a much larger man.

Oh, and trained karate guys tend to screw this up because they point their fingers up like a shuto block, which costs them four inches compared to the far more comfortable technique known as a handshake.

This all puts you in his dead zone, that special place on the rear flank where it is very difficult for him to apply power. You have force options ranging from a simple off-balancing push (or an ear-splitting scream I guess, if you want a very low force option) through spine controls, joint locks, damaging and crippling strikes all the way up to lethal force.

Again, don't nut up on the technique. It's obsolete anyway. Just as in breaking two fighters apart there is a lot more to think about than just the technique. How people walk naturally and how to exploit that. The need to train your eye for reading range and balance shifts. Application of gravity for speed. How communication affects reaction time. Lots of stuff.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Minnesota Mini-Debrief

First of all, it was a great week. Eight days of training, 10-12 hour days except for one (that was just eight). Except for ConCom, this was the first time Kasey, Marc and I have watched each other teach our material.

Even ConCom we split and did solo. Marc and I have done a few ConCom classes each over the last year and we usually talk afterwards. It's become really apparent that we get different questions from our students. Questions coming up are a sign that something is being missed. If one instructor is getting the questions, there is something in the presentation that is less clear... so it was a good chance to watch each other talk and see what and why.

Couple of things deserve whole posts:
True value in sparring (found it!) More convinced than ever that a lot of training paradigms are crappy for what we think they are and really, really good at developing abilities we aren't even aware of.

Pre- and post-internet language and instruction. Touched on this before, but a few things have to come together to get useful insight in certain areas. Not a lot of people in any given area have a complete package. Even fewer, before the internet, wrote anything down. That's created a network of private languages and theories for similar observation. Interestingly, it's also created an etiquette that feels natural to the people raised with it.

The ConCom issues are big, even and maybe especially in teaching. Saw excellent examples of that.

Symbiotic adversaries. Take two longevity-oriented groups who have their identities based on being enemies. Neither side can ever 'win' without losing. Neither can let the other win. Even when they agree, they must highlight the differences...

Do some things need to be taught? Or is just playing with the ideas better?

And maybe a technique post, an obsolete thing that I teach because of everything that goes into making it work.

There was more. Kasey could apply the body mechanics of sword to take-downs in a tactical entry because body mechanics don't change. We used different words but all three of us talked about structure and motion and core, smooth versus staccato or explosive, damage versus pushing or unbalancing. 'Gifts' became common shorthand. My esoteric sounding 'big wave' body mechanics are exactly the same as Marc's "It's just exactly like puking, bro." Make the connections.

DTs taught in coordination with force law and local policies. Knives the way bad guys learn them. Brainstorming each class of violence from the point of view of the perpetrator. We even got some range time. Five inch pattern at seven yards. I am way out of practice.