Saturday, January 29, 2011

Slightly Swamped

The to-do list covers a good-sized white board. Two e-books out (The first two years of the blog collected, see the pretty little covers down the side). Working on the Drills manual, and K is getting the cover ready. The e-version of that should be ready soon.
Indexing "7" (Official, real title is "Facing Violence") somehow this little step got missed in the process. Also trying to storyboard a video for Facing Violence. Not seeing a way to do it in less than 3 volumes.
Seminars so far scheduled this year in: Rhode Island, San Francisco; Granada Hills; Seattle (2); Minnesota and Portland with possibles for Toronto, Montreal, Reno, Louisiana, Boston and Denver. Next month will be almost constant travel.

(BTW, if you want more information about these or to set one up in your area, e-mail me
Melissa sent me a link to CombatCon:

Doesn't look like they have any people from outside the world of entertainment. Hmmmmm.
May have finally put a handle on what I hope to teach and a way to teach it. I think Maija will be the guinea pig for this particular experiment... if I can find time to organize the thoughts in sufficient depth.
Need to get the Conflict Communication Power Points rewritten for a civilian audience. Shouldn't be hard and I should have more than enough time on planes to get it done.

Definitely time to hit the overdrive button. See you on the other side.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Dark Winter.

Winter of 2010/2011 is shaping up to be something dark.

Last night, at about 1700 Eastern time, Vicki died.  Pancreatic cancer.  A remarkably painful way to go.  She'd had warning and I hear she was at peace with it... still.  Vicki was one of the good people and one of the nice people.  A serious athlete, a serious karateka, I didn't believe her when she said she was a grandmother.

It's weird to think that I only met her in person twice.  Both times on Cape Cod, both times so busy, both of us, with teaching and learning and making friends.  I liked her.  She wasn't afraid to disagree or to learn, and she could disagree and accept, and that's rare.  On some subjects those are the only people you can really talk to.

So that is what I will remember of her: how comfortable everyone felt in her presence.

Tim died in December.  Cancer again.  He was 32, I think, or 33.  He didn't know about the cancer, just dropped dead, an aneurysm or embolism or some damn thing.  At autopsy his body was eaten up with cancer.  For years, probably, he had been shrugging off pain that would have destroyed a lesser man, assuming that all the aches and pains and twinges were just mild training injuries.

I only met Tim twice in person as well.  It seems like more.  The first, though he hardly knew me at all, he showed up at one of my seminars with his bulletman suit.  That was a great day.  Tim was a big part of making it great.

Months later, we got together at an invitational BBQ, and I had an awesome idea, a Dream Team of trainers.  Tim was a big part of that concept.
There was M, a well known person in the field who had been at the edge of all of our worlds and could talk through the differences in perception.
There was C, a former high-end bad guy working his ass off for the sake of his family to stay on the side of the angels.
T, quiet and unassuming, who was THE top bouncer in a rough market.  Rarely have I met someone I respected so much right off.
Me, of course.
And Tim.  Tim was in some ways the odd man out.  He wasn't just someone who had always been a good guy, he'd always been nice as well.  He wasn't a thug on either side of the law.  He was a well-respected martial artist, an excellent teacher and the best actor in a suit I've yet seen (and acting when your face is covered with a helmet is a neat trick.)

But even as odd-man out, he had earned all of our respect.  He went toe-to-toe with the reformed bad guy (and I may have forgotten to mention that C is of respectable size and shows off by bicep-curling vans).  He could play different criminal subtypes with great nuance.  He knew what scenario training was for and he let each participant make themselves better.  He understood the complexity of the subject and the non-prescriptive nature of open-ended training.
He not only earned our respect but in a few short meetings (two, in my case) he impressed us.

And now he's dead.  Vicki is dead.

Don't get your panties in a twist and try to be sympathetic.  Death doesn't have the same weight for me as it seems to for others.  Nothing has happened that won't happen to me in time.  It's not a big deal.

The regrets are simpler: Tim would have taken the RBSD movement to an entirely new level.  Vicki every day showed that grandmas can kick ass.  The world lost something.  That's okay, the world loses something every second.  It's still here.

The personal regrets-  that I'll never see the interactions of the full Dream Team. (I actually feel sorry for whoever we choose to replace Tim, it would feel like an understudy for Marlon Brando).  That I'll never again sit down with Vicki for a beer.  I'll never again put on my suit and brawl with Tim and see if the students break us up or not.  Never feel how hard Vicki can punch in a ground fight.

Good people.

Friday, January 21, 2011


One of the most robust (meaning least likely to change over time) personality traits is the "locus of control." This is one of the most fundamental assumptions about the world and it affects so much.

In a nutshell, a person with an internal locus of control believes that he or she controls his or her own life. An external focus of control believes that they are at the whim of forces much greater than themselves.

I can make a good argument for either case: Your genetics, the place, time and circumstances of your birth, and the luck of accidents or even who you meet in the course of your life make for a matrix of overwhelming forces....

Except you will be hard pressed to find a circumstance so bleak that someone hasn't excelled, or a circumstance so privileged where someone hasn't failed.

I find an internal locus of control useful. It's where I am anyway and maybe that's just making a virtue of necessity, but damn. With an internal locus of control you can change things. You have choice. You have, as Kai would say, agency.

Everyone has these, of course. Always do and always will. But people with a strong external locus of control can't seem to see it, and if something is invisible to you, you can't use it.

You can tell an internal locus of control because they tend to take personal responsibility for their failures. The more extreme the ILOC, the more things they feel responsible for (seriously, I should have seen the economic crash coming. All the signs were there but I went haring off to Iraq...) An external locus of control, not so much. "I never had a chance." "They would never let someone like me..." "The ball bounced wrong."

Years ago, I got into a minor debate with a friend. I'm still not sure I'm right, but my gut feeling is that you can't teach an ELOC any form of self-help. You can show them everything they need to do to get control of their own lives and they will agree, and then just look at you with a blank face, waiting for everything on the to-do list to magically happen.

I had a minor epiphany the other day that got me thinking about it. A friend thought I would or should be mad at something that happened. I had to fix it, but it was a pure accident. No malicious action from anyone. Because it was her accident, she thought I would be mad at her.

This is just speculation (though it looks solid, thinking back) but with ELOCs, feeling what they do is the result of other forces, not really distinguishes between chance and their won actions...does it work the other way. Is it not just that they don't feel blamed for failure, but they do feel blamed equally for failure and for chance?

Don't feel I'm explaining this well. What I saw, was someone who didn't feel responsible but expected blame. Do ELOCs feel that there is no connection between not just result and action but reward, punishment and chance? Does the world look arbitrary to them?

Or are they the world? Expecting to be punished if the world does something?

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I just uploaded all of the 2005 Blog entries on Smashwords as an e-book. Over the next couple of months I'll be doing it with all the years at least through 2009.

I won't take them down here, but I added a tiny bit of new content to sweeten the deal.

The link:

Kami, as usual, did a great cover (and she is available to do covers for those who are interested):

So, would there be interest in my one decent stab at a novel?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Heroes and Warriors

I’ve written my thought about what it means to be a warrior here, and it certainly annoyed some people. I’m going to take another stab at it, because there is something intrinsic that all the people worthy of the name have undergone and damn near zero percent of people claiming the name can even comprehend.

Warriors, soldiers, every last person worthy of the name has voluntarily put themselves in a position where they can be ordered to do something they know or believe will get them killed. And they do it. It’s not simply the risk of death. Any ass-hat that commutes to work can rightly claim that he risks death every day on the road. And there’s no selfish choice in it. You don’t get to pick only leaders you respect or to only obey orders you agree with.

That means a cherry lieutenant can give you an order to watch a street or hold a passage or take point and you will do it, even if it leaves you vulnerable. If the brand new team leader comes up with an entry plan and the plan is shit, you don’t get to say ‘no’ (there may or may not be a time for input). It becomes your responsibility to make the shitty plan work. To not die and not let others get killed, to the extent of your ability. But one person too arrogant to accept any plan except his own endangers everybody.  

If you have never been in that circumstance, not only have you not earned even the basic, apprentice level of the title ‘warrior’ but I doubt that you can really discuss it with any intelligence, understanding or even integrity. That’s my opinion.

Heroes, heroism and heroics came up recently. It was in the context of thinly-veiled tribalism: "My side is heroic, that side is evil."

As I listened, it struck me that the named ‘heroes’ risked being called bad names and missing out on huge commissions... and that’s about it.

My definition of hero is pretty simple- someone who risks his or her own life to help other people. Not risking inconvenience. Not risking hurt feelings. Risk your life. If, barring the occasional crazy and road accidents, people or circumstances don’t try to kill you, the heroism label is off the table.

And there is no heroism in fighting only for yourself. Survivors, whether of assault or cancer, are not heroic. They are alive, and that is worthy of admiration enough… but any biological entity, even a worm, will struggle to survive.

That one hits a personal button with me, because I have known many brave and tough survivors and I do admire them… but they had no choice in the fight. Immense choice in how they fought, but no choice in the fight.

To make an analogy, running into a burning building to save someone would be heroic. Running out of a burning building to avoid dying (like seeking treatment for a horrible disease) is simple common sense. Almost a biological imperative.

There is one more thing about 'hero' and why anyone actively seeking the label is unworthy of it.  My drill sergeant in basic training said, quite accurately, "You want to be a hero, son?  Let me tell you: 'hero' is a four-letter word for someone who gets all of his friends killed and then writes the report so he looks good."

I've known a handful of heroes.  I have yet to meet someone of worth who wanted to be in the position that might make him or her a hero.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

For Anonymous

Not all the comments make it to the comment section. I personally only ever delete obvious spam, but occasionally I get an e-mail notice and the comment isn't on the blog, so I assume the author deleted it.

A recent one wanted to share a criticism: that I focus mostly on ambush and he has felt it far more likely, for him, for things to get physical because he chose to intervene in a third-party situation.

First thing- I hope the comment wasn't withdrawn out of fear of my reaction to criticism. Sure, I may go off into a dark room and cry a little, but that won't come out on the blog. No one needs to know.

Second, I've adressed this once that I remember, heavily focused on how complicated a question this really is. You can read that one here.

Third, and this is the meat for this post-- yeah, I'm biased towards ambush survival, largely because that is where I see the biggest holes and the highest stakes and the least choices.

Not many people teach third party intervention. Even the stuff at our academy was weak to non-existent. That is a hole. But it's pretty clear that you aren't teaching it. I could ask any martial artist if they practiced third party defense and they would go over their last couple of classes and say either, "yeah" or, "no, not really."

That's cool. But ask a roomful of martial artists if they ever train against surviving an ambush or a sudden assault and, IME, most will assert positively that they practice it all the time...and almost every element of a sudden assault will be completely unfamiliar.

Few people practice third party interventions...but almost nobody pretends they do. People believe they are practicing assault survival frequently when they are not. I consider that a bigger and more insidious hole.

The stakes are very high in ambush survival. The true ambush is a pretty rare assault, but it is always, or almost always, very serious. For all the marbles.

They can be high in third party interventions, but not always. The fact that you are there to intervene means that the act happened with an audience. The presence of an audience is an indicator of social violence. Social violence rarely results in lethal force. There are exceptions. The status seeking show, certain forms of the group monkey dance (betrayal or an insecure leader/group) can both be hideously brutal forms of social violence...and there is always the possibility that a predator missed you in his witness scan.

Intervening there are a plethora of choices. You don't need to get involved. You don't need to act immediately-- you can get help and attention and marshall resources. You can go in at a number of different levels (the presence of a witness alone may make a predator scurry off.) YOU get to pick your angle of approach and position.

Under an ambush... nope. It's on. Any choices or even information gathering take time and time is damage. the bad guy picked time and position and place and distance, not you. All the lower levels of force are off the table...

So, yeah. I concentrate on the ambush. I can teach the other stuff, and sometimes I enjoy it. You can really use the threat's adrenalized state and make some cool stuff happen.

But, unless you are embarrassing yourself (and you didn't) there's no reason to delete comments. Not on my account, anyway.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Damn Big Hole

SWAT teams were first formed about the time that a lot of people entering law enforcement had combat experience in Vietnam.  They had special training and experience and things were getting pretty violent in some parts of America.  It made sense to exploit the training.  But being a cop is not the same as being a soldier and there was about twenty years or more of adapting the military tools to the civilian environment.

CERTs (Corrections Emergency Response Teams) were relatively new when we started ours and you could see the same process.  Just as SWAT tried to adapt military tactics and technology, we were trying to adapt SWAT tactics and technology.  The environments are vastly different.  We actually sped our evolution up massively by using a few simple tools.  One was to really look at the problem: what were our goals, our environment, our likely,unlikely and possible scenarios?  Under what kind of conditions would we execute our missions?

Lawrence Kane and I are working on a book, an introduction to the force continuum as it applies to self-defense.  More principles-based than technique based.  Non-prescriptive.  The kind of stuff I like.

Deadly force has to cover weapons.  There are unarmed deadly force techniques but, realistically, there are damn few that work when they can be justified.  Long and short of it, in order to justify deadly force you have to be losing and overwhelmed.  So when you boil down the stuff that works to the stuff that might work when you are surprised, off balance, your structure is compromised and you might be concussed, the unarmed list gets considerably smaller.

Lawrence has been to a number of civilian shooting schools that teach self defense with a handgun, judicious deadly force, stuff like that.  I was trained as a tactical shooter for an entry team.  That's a pretty broad range of training, right?

No.  It's the same problem as converting military to SWAT to CERT.  The situations simply are not the same.  Range training, tactical ops, surviving a gunfight are all important pieces, but they are skipping the one piece that civilians most need for self-defense: How to turn it into a gunfight.

Who practices and has techniques for drawing when you are being battered, slammed into walls or lifted and tossed into a van?  Who has practiced shooting someone who is lying on top of you, punching or choking or stabbing without the bad guy recognizing the action?  And without shooting yourself?  Remember penetration, bone fragments, concussion wave and burns from your own muzzle blast...

Is this a damn big hole in current training?  Or is someone teaching this that has managed to stay off my radar?

Do I really have time to design yet another course?

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Seeking a Work-Around

Criminals are very good at getting you act in ways that go against your self-interest.  Whether it is the archetypal pimp at the bus station offer help to the innocent girl he intends to turn out or the inmate manipulating new jail staff or the sophisticated serial rapist who wants to get his victim alone but make it seem like each step was her idea.

There are tactics for it, and I usually direct people to Gavin DeBecker's "The Gift of Fear" for a pretty good list.

A lot of the tactics are based on social instincts, that gut-level deep-brain tribalism that is so common and seems so necessary to humans.

But people, not just predators or victims, everybody, uses the same tactics on themselves when their identity is threatened.  We all have things we believe, and some of those things are more important than others.  Some are so deep that they impinge on our identity.  Those will be defended, and they will be defended despite all logic, even by extremely intelligent people.

Because of what I try to do with martial arts and self-defense, I'm getting a little obsessed with trying to find a work-around.  Realistically, it's not important.  Violent crime is at an all time low and for almost everyone it is safe to believe any damn thing that makes you happy.

Two conversations today, talks where intelligent people lied and math (not fake philosophical math but simple "2x4 is less than 2x8, you realize that, right?" ) was dismissed, and historical documents didn't count.  But the most important thing is realizing, whether in criminals or martial artists or debate, that there is an identifier.  When the other side gets labeled.  When the person says "You are a _________" or "You sound just like___________"  Right there the tribal mind is engaged.  You are no longer reasoning with a human but trying to reason with a monkey (Did I just label right there?  Is this my neo-cortex still firing or did my mid-brain just kick in, convincing me that I am the smartest of all the monkeys?).

With patience and by pretending to not notice dominance games or accepting a label as 'other' I have sometimes given people the space and time to let the monkey brain die down and get back to tangible problems.  But rarely, if ever, when the problem was tied directly to their identity.

I can identify when it happens and have a pretty good idea of how and why... but I don't know if there is a simple strategy.  Maybe not.  More to think on.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Self Esteem and Insecurity

Two ideas here that I feel might form a matrix. They might explain a lot. I’ve already mentioned that increasing self-esteem increases violence in violent people. Somewhere in the soup of reasons and justifications that leads to violence, the simple belief “I am more worthy than you” plays a part. It not only makes sense, it’s demonstrable.

In the upcoming book (available for pre-order, BTW) I talk about 'othering'. The more different you can convince yourself an enemy is, the easier it is to hurt or kill. That’s the basis of war propaganda. It is also important to note that in people raised tribally (my tribe are real people, everyone else is not) not only are the levels of violence between tribes sometimes horrific, but there seems to be no PTSD associated with such violence (See “Machete Season”).

Raise the self-esteem and you raise the perceived value and increase the perceived differences between people. Is it any wonder that it makes violent people more violent?

There is another factor, though. In Conflict Communications, one of the things that we noticed is that insecurity, especially in leaders, also correlates with violence. It’s one of those stupid monkey things: a leader is in a leadership position. When he starts losing respect or personal authority, he becomes more aggressive. Maybe he just gets louder. Maybe he beats one of his lieutenants to death at a dinner party (Al Capone, anyone?)

It is almost universal- it is almost like the monkey brain demands it- even though, from the audience point of view, it is a loser. You get a boss screaming and acting out you KNOW he is on the way down. We call this ‘losing it’ for a reason.

Despite the fact that we know acting out decreases our audience's belief in our authority, we still do it. Why? Because the emotional brain doesn’t distinguish between signs of submission. You’re doing a good job and people follow your orders and say, “Yes sir!” and salute, your monkey brain feels secure. You act like an ass and people start scurrying and not meeting your eyes and saying, “Yes sir!”… your monkey brain feels secure.

So here’s the interaction between self-esteem and insecurity if I am reading this right—and why some of the modern philosophies will backfire.

If you raise the self-esteem based on nothing, whether ‘everyone passes’ or ‘everyone’s a winner’ when you take away the possibility of failure to “program for success” you do succeed in raising self esteem. But every last person involved, knows that the self-esteem isn’t based on anything. It is inherently insecure. Insecure but high self-esteem is a recipe for violence.

The policies are well intentioned. And they are cheap. Telling kids they’re awesome is fast and costs nothing. Teaching them to become awesome takes time and effort. And there will be some failures.

Maybe it’s time for a change in language. How about self esteem based on actual accomplishment should be labeled self-respect?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

"What is this thing you call..."

Started this post on the way back from Tim's funeral. Time to end it now.

It will be three days on the road in a few hours. Everyone is sleep-deprived, not because of travel but because every time we settle down, we start talking and we don't stop.

Edwin put something into words. He studies systems, among other things, and is very good about making sure we define terms. So what is self-defense?

I like T. Rose's definition: "Self defense is not having your life changed for you." It implies a lot of things, like that there can be emotional and identity damage as well as physical harm. That on many levels we are not defending ourselves from physical damage and thus few people call a seat belt self-defense but everyone recognizes boundary setting as a basic self-defense skill.

But that is totally wrong. Our self changes all the time and has all of our lives.
We are, I hope, constantly learning. But all new knowledge changes you slightly. I type shittier when I'm tired and really don't care much about humans when I'm dehydrated. Puberty changed you far more than a near-death experience will. This thing we call 'self' doesn't have a solid existence. It is, at best, a fluidity.

One of the frustrating things with naive martial artists is that when you boil it down, they want to be able to survive something completely outside of their experience, an incident where all of their preconceptions about human behavior and what they will do if and when will be shattered. They don't only want to survive the ohnomoment, but they expect that they will survive it with all of their illusions intact. All of their beliefs confirmed. That at the end of it, they will be who they always imagined they would be.

Sure. That happens. (Do I need a sarcasm icon?) And the even weirder part is that no matter how many times people say it won't be like that or that the things they fantasize at the best are more like driving a garbage truck than riding a white horse (at the worse they toy with blindness and paralysis and death and colostomy bags and the sure and certain knowledge of failure)... it doesn't matter. Their eyes still get shiny. They still cling to comforting lies.

But it's not just comforting lies about their skills. Who we are is rarely more than a comforting lie. There's a meditation exercise where you think of who you are and then take things away and ask if you are still you. Blind? Crippled? Loss of family or status? How much intelligence loss? Memory? (that's the one for me, I don't think I would be me under extreme dementia, but then I look at all the events of my life that I have already forgotten and wonder...) Your dignity? Happiness? If the gods decided on a bet to torment you so that you never had a happy moment again, it would still be you being miserable. If your pain was taken away?

So where is the 'self' in self-defense?

The ego is just as much of the self as the body, maybe more. Yet like everyone else, I caution against fighting for ego. Probably because it is just an illusion anyway. Maybe. Maybe because all of the changes of life can be managed, can be recovered, if you are alive to do it. You die with your self-image intact, then that self-image fades to nothing as the oxygen leaves your brain. You survive with your self-image shattered and you have the opportunity to build a new one.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Up Until ...

Up until 1985, it was completely legal for an officer to shoot a suspect merely for running away.  Going clear back to English Common Law, running from authority was evidence of wrong doing, and sufficient evidence to justify deadly force.

I didn't live through the sea-change brought about by Tennessee v. Garner.  I started in 1991 and by then it was merely common sense: You don't shoot a fleeing suspect in the back just because he is fleeing.  Not unless you have damn good reason to believe that he will kill someone else if you don't shoot.

(My favorite example, BTW, is the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" where a drunk Jimmy Stewart wrecks his car and then runs from the officer and the officer takes a pot shot.  For some reason no one even blinks when they see that in such a sweet family film.)

"Mississippi Burning" is one of my favorite movies because it works on so many levels.  It is about justice and injustice and changes in national perception and mood.  It is about understanding the culture around you, whether ally or enemy.  It is about getting the job done when the stakes are high enough... (and a side thought here, re-watching it the other night: the tactics that broke the case, in the movie, are the same tactics -though cruder and more vicious- than the worst of the tactics America has been accused of in hunting terrorists.  To some eyes, one application is heroic, the other a despicable abuse of power.  Do you see them as different?  Which one heroic, which despicable?  Or the same, as I do... and if you see them the same are both heroic, both wrong or something else?)

To the main point- it occurred to me that many of the injustices that spawned the civil rights movement were perfectly legal.  In many states force, including deadly force, was legal if an officer met any resistance.  When that is the background, there aren't a lot of rules.

Times have changed.  Officers work under case law and precedent and generally quite detailed policy.  Before 1985, was "Judicious Use of Force" even an academy subject?  Now it is the one thing that never gets cut in annual refresher training, no matter how tight the budget.  It is something officers spend many hours on, and most (I believe) have it down cold.

When there is an officer-involved shooting, the usual suspects come out of the woodwork to decry the incident and scream for more training and demand justice... Hmmm.  The part that gets me is this even happens in things that look like good, even sterling shoots.  It occurred to me today that outside of Law Enforcement, how many activists and civilians have even heard of Tennessee v. Garner?  How many, especially of the big name activists, are just doing a schtick that they perfected in their glory days of the 60s and 70s?

I don't expect them to know the difference between a good shoot and a bad one or to be up on the arcane nuances of force law.  If they are going to make a career out of squeaking about it, sure, I'd prefer if they knew what they were talking about... but that's a lot to ask.

This has been on my mind lately.  I wrote a book a year ago, a Citizen's Guide to Police Use of Force.  It will be perceived and maybe attacked as an apologist for the system, but that's not really the intent.  The intent is that when these debates come up, regular citizens will have an easy-to-read reference that details the standards that police are held to and why, as well as the practicalities of actually applying standards in chaotic situations.

I was reluctant to offer Citizen's Guide.  I really think that the people who need it most are incapable of setting their prejudices aside and so it would be meaningless.  Also, parts of it are pretty personal.  Tiff is the one who added enough weight to the balance to get the book to a publisher.  The publisher wants it.

What I would really like is to have one of the 'usual suspects' write the foreword.  Someone who reflexively agitates against the police whenever something happens.  Someone with an anti-establishment following.  But also someone who can read past preconceptions and see this for what it is: A piece of an ongoing debate.  A side that is almost never represented by anyone who just knows the 'why' and lays it out there.  

Anyone have access to an open-minded demagogue?