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.