Monday, February 28, 2011

Articulation Wars Part II

Anonymous writes:

First, sorry for the anonymous, just don't have any of the id's that would allow me to leave my name and for what is likely a one off question, can't be bothered taking the time to create one.


"I pounce on that, talking back in Russian, introducing M, who speaks more than I do. The principal backs up. I close and reach out. He y-strikes me in the throat, starts to run,"

Okay, this may be one of those situations where the written word leaves open too much room for interpretation. Because when I read the above, all I thought was, 'A freaking throat strike as a preemptive when there has been no explicit threat you could prove?! So the guy goes down barely able to breath (won't always happen, just Devils advocate), the medics are called...Hell yeah you will need Art. You will need it coming out of your ass to justify what you just did!'

But, as I said, that was how I interpreted your description of the scenario, and I might be way, way off. Could you elaborate?

This is how I would articulate it from his point of view:
"I'd got held over at work on a really big project and almost missed the train, so it was really late and I was waiting all alone for the very last train. Three guys came down to the platform. They were laughing and talking. It looked like they'd been drinking but I couldn't tell until they got closer, then I could smell it.

They saw me and they started moving closer. That wasn't normal, there was a lot of room on the platform and I didn't know them. I wasn't too worried because of the security cameras. Then they got closer and started asking questions, like what I was doing there. I didn't want to talk, didn't want to engage in a conversation so I held up my hands and told them to leave me alone. Sometimes I say it in a foreign accent, cause it makes the panhandlers leave you alone, right?
But these guys acted all excited. They thought I was Russian and one of the guys said his friend was Polish and they really don't like Russians.

I still had my hands up and they got real close. I thought I might be able to talk my way out or run, but the other two spread out to each side. Then I realized the one in the middle had his face covered by his headwear and he wasn't afraid of the cameras. The guy in the middle who was doing all the talking and had his face hidden reached for me.

I stiff-armed him away and turned to run, but they'd backed me up right to the edge of the platform. I almost ran off right onto the rails. So I turned to run the other way which meant I had to run between them. The guy who said he was Polish got in my way and the one I stiff-armed jumped on my back. I tore away and got one kick in on the ring leader, but he just wrapped it up and took me down like some kind of UFC guy."

Question: Did you strike my client in the throat?
"I may have. It was three on one and I was scared and I had no place to run. I just tried to stiff-arm him away. I didn't mean to hit him in the throat and I don't think I did because he got back in the fight too quickly. He's the one that jumped on my back and took me down."

This is why articulation is critical.
One side says, "We were having a good time and trying to be nice to a stranger." If that is all that is said, it sounds pretty reasonable. Someone has to point out why it was unusual. As the bad guy, I pounced on the Russian-- it was a hook, a verbal mistake that could give me the justification to do what I had already decided to do.

The bad guys aren't going to say, "We spread out to make it hard for him to get to the exits without exposing his back." The good guys need to articulate it, explain why he couldn't safely get to the exits.

Generally, you justify a pre-emptive strike by explaining how using force early meant you would use less force. i can almost always solve problems at the pain-compliance or take-down level if I get a little surprise and move first. If I wait until the bad guy swings, someone is going to get injured. A pre-emptive move that prevents a likely injury or death is something that makes sense.

In this case, rather than minimizing the y-strike as a stiff-arm, you have to justify the deadly force: three guys, closing in, finding or manufacturing personal reasons to dislike you, not taking hints or instructions to back off... could you explain to a jury how that all added up to a likely mass stomping? And how the result of that stomping would have been deadly force in any case. Your death or serious physical injury, probably. By some miracle if you could fight off three, how many of them would be badly injured? Can you argue that one lethal pre-emptive strike prevented more deaths? That's the gold standard.

Part of this class, part of any Force class, has to include this concept:

"You will make these decisions in a fraction of a second on partial information. Some of these decisions will leave widows and orphans. You will make these decisions to fast for conscious thought and then you will be required to explain them as if they were the result of deliberate, conscious, rational judgement.

"You are good people, and if you are good people you will make a moral decision even subconsciously. If you have a will to survive, you will make a survival decision. If you are both, you will make a good decision.

The skill comes in explaining that good decision. Trust your ethics. Trust your will to survive. Trust your intuition. But practice explaining them."

There are exercises for training intuition and for bridging the gap between the conscious and subconscious mind and I really encourage everyone who makes force decisions to practice them.

One more note: I'm sorry if it seems manipulative or if this is more storytelling than reporting facts. You articulate your decision so that someone who wasn't there can understand and judge your decision. There will be an emotional element to someone trying to kill you, and the emotion will affect your decision and by rights it should be part of the story. There are little behavioral and communication clues that trigger your instincts and drive many fast critical decisions. They need to be moved up from subconscious to conscious in the explanation.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Begging The Question

I may have written about this before.
"Begging the question" is a debating fallacy, where you make a statement that has some assumptions in it. The assumptions are easy to miss and if you don't call the person on it the debate (or chain of logic) will go to a nice, logical conclusion...and be entirely based on a false premise. What this means in the world of self-defense is that it is easy to teach things that make sense, but don't work.

In "Meditations on Violence" I mentioned instructors who extolled the 'eyes of the tiger' basically saying that you would do very well in a fight if you could get into the predator mindset. That's a perfect example of begging the question. That mindset works very well... provided you can get there. How?

Practicing in any given mindset is not the skill (and as far as I can tell doesn't even help you) of getting to that mindset, especially under assault. Going full-bore offensive works tactically very often... but getting someone to do it for the first time as a conscious decision is like pulling teeth.

This goes on constantly, especially in a field with so many experts and so little field experience like self-defense. Watch for the word 'just': "If you get attacked from behind, just turn around." Could that little bit of wisdom have come from the mouth of anyone who has been attacked from behind? Even (one I am guilty of) "Just get off line". It is logical. It works. It is easy. There are techniques for it. And yet too many people, people who know better, can't ditch their social programming and wind up fighting eye-to-eye. Just because it is logical and it works, doesn't meant there isn't a deeper question being ignored.

An online VPPG challenge:
In a seminar setting, you don't know what levels of skills you will be dealing with and often (especially at mine) the floors are concrete. You don't know who knows how to breakfall, who doesn't and who thinks they know how to breakfall. Given that environment, can anybody come up with a safe way to practice takedowns, especially the momentum throws?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Articulation Wars

One of the most under-trained and critical skills in both self-defense and Defensive Tactics is articulation.  Explaining what you did and why.  Self-defense law isn't really that complex.  Most of it is common sense, really, and I've had very few people who had a real objection to the principles of the law.

It's not simple enough, however, to process cognitively when you are under attack.  Take a good class on self defense law.  Read your local statutes (and if you can't find them, current jury instructions).  If this is your job, read your policy and procedure at least twice a year.  Force law and policy is one of those things where knowing isn't good enough, you must understand.

Read to make sure it makes sense to you.  Read to find anywhere that your personal ethics don't jibe with the rules.  And absolutely read to see if you are training outside the rules.  There is always a possibility that anyone who uses force might end up in prison.  To deliberately train TO go to prison is stupid and completely avoidable.  Finding these glitches and working them out lays the groundwork for something else, something important.

Most people, if they have a will to survive and an ethical base, make very good force decisions.  The problem is that it is often easier to make a good decision than to explain a good decision. You will be expected, even required, to explain a subconscious, lightning-fast decision as if it was the product of extensive tactical and moral deliberation.

Most of your decisions will be good.  Most of your articulations will be crap.  Unless you not only learn but practice.

The scenario is a potential build-up to a 'bonding group monkey dance' (BGMD).  The principal (student) is a nice guy, intelligent.  I've seen his good tactical awareness and martial skills all weekend.  The goal of the scenario is to push to see if he recognizes the important decision points, to see whether he runs or fight and to have him explain his decisions to the peer jury.

We come on the scene as three young, slightly drunk men, talking and laughing.  Size him up.  He looks interesting, might be some fun.  We start talking, getting closer.  The principal maintains his distance, keeps his hands in an unobstrusive 'fence' position and tries to take himself out of our social dynamic by saying a few words in what sounds like Russian.

I pounce on that, talking back in Russian, introducing M, who speaks more than I do.  The principal backs up.  I close and reach out.  He y-strikes me in the throat, starts to run, returns, tries to run the other way, engages briefly with one of the others. I turn on him.  He launches a roundhouse kick into my ribs.  I take him down.

The safety calls the safety word and we stop.  We are on the ground, too close to obstructions.  It's a good point to end it anyway.

It is time for the principal to explain his actions tactically and legally-- especially a pre-emptive strike to the throat, something my lawyers are certain to characterize as deadly force.

Other than the running away and running back, which was almost certainly a subconscious response to 'this is training, I can't just leave' no decisions here were necessarily bad.  But the decisions needed to be explained in such a way that a jury, most of whom haven't been in a fight since junior high, can understand why there was no choice.  That sort of explaining is a skill.

Even led through the important points (Intent, Means, Opportunity, Preclusion; factors and circumstances that increased the danger) it was hard for the principal to put it into words.

We talked about it with the whole class:  Remember, WE were the bad guys here.  The three of us.  He was waiting for his train, minding his own business.  WE approached HIM.  WE closed the distance.  We had every intention of "having a little fun."  But turning to the peer jury a rambling, indecisive explanation made the actions look doubtful.  As Lawdog wrote; "A good report can't make a bad shoot into a good shoot, but a shitty report can turn a good shoot into a bad shoot." 

The nail in the coffin, this is what I, as the bad guy, would have told a jury:

"Me and my friends were just out having a good time, you know?  We were in a good mood, looking to catch the last train and we saw this dude just standing there so we thought we'd say 'hi' and the dude started talking in Russian, so I thought, "Cool, I know a little Russian and M is from that part of the world and speaks some so I said 'Hi' like, in Roosky, and the dude started acting really weird like with his hands up and acting all agitated so I put my hands up to try to calm him down and WHAM out of nowhere he chops me in the throat and I started gagging and couldn't breath.  Then he runs and I know he told you he was running away but it looked like he was running right at M and M is a little guy and doesn't see to well so I grabbed the dude from behind to pull him off and he kicked me some kind of karate kick so I think he was a really dangerous martial artist and the kick hurt so I just grabbed on to the leg and we fell down..."

I have extensive practice explaining this stuff, both in the dry, boring report form of a Use of Force Report: "The subject (6'2" 234 pounds) raised his clench fist and said "I'm going to kill you, motherfucker" I noticed that his lips were drawn back showing his teeth and he was sweating.  I stepped in quickly with my left foot and raised my right hand catching the arm he was threatening me with under the armpit and turning his body..."

And also in the emotional vein I have heard from so many bad guys justifying their actions.  By the time the peer jury heard my story (the observable things in the story were true) they were on my side.  Damn.

Doing things right is the first step.  You also need to explain them.  He should have won the articulation war.  He was in the right.  He was the good guy.  It was just a part that I had trained and he (and almost all martial artists) had not.

I'm not going to go into all the details of articulation here.  Don't have the time or the space.  But be aware that the hole exists and start thinking about it now.

Monday, February 21, 2011


I've blogged almost nothing this month. Not because it has been one of the times of great balance and contentment, my usual reason for not blogging. This has been busy and there is lots of stuff in my head.

Three seminars so far this month: an introductory one in Granada Hills, California; a two-day in the ice and snow of Rhode Island; and two days in Oakland and Berkley. I'm still recovering from that one, sitting in a cafe in San Francisco's Little Italy with a cannoli and a cappuccino.

Southern California was almost a blur: get in, meet people, play, hike for a day, teach for a day, go home. It was good, and I go to see a few people in person for the second time-- Ed and Toma--and met some happy people and good people and good martial artists and beginners looking to be good and... it was a nice time, made especially nice by Lee and Eli. Eli got called away for the first day, but one evening of talk and I like his heart. He takes care of problem kids and he is the perfect man to do it.

Lee was cool as well, and could take or give the appropriate intensity for any demo or drill. And she said stuff right (if a little understated, I doubt her beginner students can grasp the amount of information that she puts out in a few simple words, e.g. "Keep your hand in front of you.")

Home for a few days and then Rhode Island. Note to self: crossing time zones and a flight that leaves at o-dark-thirty means give yourself time to sleep before the first class. I have this weird feeling I forgot a bunch of stuff. And, BTW, so far RI is the only state where I could find neither statutes nor jury instructions about self-defense on-line.

Norm met me at the airport and had to listen to my sleep-deprived babble (which can get pretty dark) for far too long. He was very patient. Chris Thompson of Ocean State JKD, who set this up, and his collection of dogs put me up, so it was just like being at home. (BTW, Chris, do you have a website for me to link?)

Raffi Derderian kindly lent us his studio for the first day and we got to play with the basics, plus the three long-ass talks, "Context of Self Defense" "Force Law" and "Violence Dynamics". We had some good play and got to know each other a little. And I like Raffi. You throw him a new drill, something he is completely unfamiliar with and not only does he do it right but he manages to look pretty.

Then the fun day at, The Spot Underground. Environmental fighting. Dynamic fighting. Ground brawling. Mass drills. All the things that make fighting so damn fun and complex.

Then scenarios. We had a number of people who had been at previous seminars, especially in Boston and Quincy, MA. For the second time I let people (instructor levels who had been through my scenarios before) sit down and listen to how they are set up. All the safety stuff that goes on behind the scenes. The goals and potential goals. How to become a roleplayer. How to design scenarios. How to direct roleplayers. How to choose a targeted scenario for each student. A tiny taste of how to debrief.

It's not a complete course, nor is it intended to be. My certification in scenario training was extensive and I've figured out a lot of things on my own since then... but giving them a taste of how complex a good scenario is is important. Everyone who has tried a scenario wants to bring it back to their students. Most do it poorly.

The scenarios went well and everyone learned. That's huge with scenarios. When Stabby McShank acts in a way that he couldn't justify to a jury in his wildest dreams, it's not a loss. He finds out something about himself. He has to look at the consequences of reactions and beliefs he (all of us, really) internalized without critical thought. Great day. Especially great because the person who got the roughest scenario was possibly the most nervous, and her victory was explosive.

Debrief (which, in this case was simply hanging out with friends) at a hookah bar with Mike and Tia and Chris and Norm and Kate. Perfect end to a good day.

A few more days at home (but I did wade in the Atlantic Ocean before leaving) and then another early, early flight to SF. Where it turned out there was a Salsa convention going on in my hotel. Those girls party hard. And loudly. Next door. Four of them, I think.

San Francisco is always special. It was the first place that the Plastic Mind exercises felt right to share outside of a small group of students, and those have since caught on. One of the first places I talked about edgewalking and change and where the implications could go outside of some very good friends.

The format of the days was very similar, though every class is different, and for day 2 we once again had the East Bay Rats MC Clubhouse for rolling and brawling. It was a blast, and my ribs are bruised, wrist is tweaked and there will be a new scar on the inside of my mouth. (No one talks about those, I assume everyone gets them. Just curious but isn't everyone's mouth a little network of ridges from getting your mouth slammed into your own teeth?)

The big epiphany in Oakland was for me. It was a combination of playing sword flow drills with Maija and talking with Scott.

I've been struggling with what I am doing and why. Not with the validity or the mechanics, I've been struggling with the labeling and naming.

I suspect there will be more on this later. For some people, at their level, fighting is a physical skill. I give those students tools to improve their efficiency. It's up to them whether they choose to, but the tools are effective.

For some it is an intellectual skill, and these are the ones that need to know all of the context and what combat is really about. They get a huge amount of information.

There are sub-levels between these (this is a model, not a description) and between the next.

ButI'm finding that the people I have met over the last year who resonate with me, the ones I am searching for, the people that I get the most out of teaching are opening up to an emotional/experiential level. Not emotional in the sense of whether you will fight angry or scared or cold. And right here is where the language breaks down. There are a handful of people who are using an entirely different part of their brains to understand violence, and their arts and themselves at a different level. One that is difficult to truly put into words.

I will, of course, keep trying.

Other stuff I need to write about:

More on this emotional level
Perfect example of limbic system behavior between a tourist and a street kid
ConCom went over pretty big with the audience
Flipping the switch and what that means and people who don't know that part of the world

Looks like I'm back to blogging. Anyone want to play in Seattle next weekend?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Logic of Violence

Doing another on-line class for Savvy authors. One of the things I am trying to get through is that different people in different places and different times do violence for different reasons, and they do violence in different ways. This leads to a cultural, pervasive and internally consistent "logic of violence."

If you understand another culture or individual's logic, you can avoid violence or even manipulate it. If you don't, you can precipitate violence that would never have occurred in your own culture.

The exercise (which will be laid out in the Drills book, by the way) begins with choosing a neo-lithic base, either as a farming community or hunters.

Marginal societies live closer to hunger than most of us can imagine: a bad hailstorm or a wildfire can change the balance enough that many of the tribe will starve over winter. Most systems of preserving food were unreliable and climate specific, before modern refrigeration and canning (with the exception of distilling).

So, the first question- what does your society value and what can society not tolerate? Skills, from basket weaving to pottery to making arrowheads are critical. Farmers need endurance; hunters speed and strength. How do you encourage this in children, what do you reward?

And not tolerate: when people starve, do you tolerate those who don't work? Those who steal? And how do you punish them? Death? Banishment? Pain? Humiliation? Certainly not incarceration. Who would agree to feed a non-working prisoner when four hard workers starve each winter?

The class comes to consensus on these, and so long as they are reminded of certain things (like there isn't unlimited land or resources, other tribes live on your borders) you can see echoes of what the writers choose in history.

Then the hard decisions come: You are done. Out of resources. Your tribe will not survive this winter unless you violate borders or attack another tribe or subjugate a village.

You decide what you will do so that you do not see your children starve, and then you decide how to do it. Somewhere in the mix of the culture already established (fierce, long traveling hunters, peaceful people drifting through acorn lands, or tough farmers who will not yield, or....) and the need, they will pick a victim.

The decision is cold, what will get the most at the least risk. One of the options of potential territories to invade includes a tribe known for cannibalism. No one ever suggests attacking them.

That mix of who you are and who you choose to attack will drive a very logical analysis of how to attack. This is for food, not for honor. It can trigger revenge and if you lose too many people you will be helpless. The students will strategize and they will strategize well and safely. They are writers and peaceful people, but this logic isn't new to humans, not by millennia.

This, incidentally, is one of the things I hate about most fiction: our society has not been marginal for some time. When we fight it is usually non-lethal, fun and over matters of social status (the Monkey Dance) or pride or honor (dueling). That has it's own logic: a contest of skill and social aplomb, with an audience. Lethality of the process has steadily decreased over time as we have come to value life more. All of that is not only unheard of, but counter-productive when applied to the violence based on the logic of hunger. Authors who don't know the difference (and I'm not even sure my beloved George MacDonald Fraser really got this part) frequently do fight scenes that might not be bad, but are stupid...and for me that is worse.

Then the fun part of logic-- after teaching all of your children that it is a good thing to shoot arrows at a squirrel but a bad thing to shoot arrows at their siblings, the children are going to ask some questions when you bring home some grain and meat and clothing and weapons of another style, all still dripping blood.

You'll have to explain to the children. More, you will have to teach the children to do what you did (just in case, sure, until someone notices how much easier raiding is than farming and how slaves give you leisure time...). You will teach them how to do it and you will teach them to be okay with it...

Part of the logic of violence in any culture is why and when it is allowed...and why and when it is necessary. I hesitate to say that religions start here, with trying to excuse the first major violation of ethics... but I have a gut feeling that at the very least the stupid parts of religion start right here.

And once these excuses are in place, once the rules on when violence is demanded are established, what does it take to change them? We all have come from societies that at one time were hungry and we have things written into our laws morals that date from those times. How many of them have we kept even though we are no longer hungry?

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Aaaaah. I Needed That

The first part of the day was just walking, exploring.

Later I went away from the town, up into the desert hills. Took the path that was too steep and narrow for most. Set a goal in elevation gained and exceeded it.

Then I sat. Haze of Los Angeles smog to the Southeast. Chapparral, sage, all around. Small lizards. The occassional hawk flying above and helicopter flying below my little perch.

Sitting in the sun as lizards scurry by (western fence lizards, with blue on the sides of their underbellies) and insect eat salt from my sweat. One hour, two hours, three hours... the two liters of water is nearly gone, the trail down is a half-assed climb over weak sedimentary rock and shale, so you use the scrub for the stability it gives to the soil.

Run part of it, glissading in loose rock, fast but not as fast as when you were a kid. The knee twinges. It's okay. Slow walk back to the people place. It's all good.