Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ed Gruberman

Every so often I get really tempted to create a complete alternative on-line persona. FB page, pictures, history, maybe a blog. Join a bunch of BBSs.

The persona would be a grumpy old man, not really experienced in martial arts but with a lot of questions. I would name this person "Ed Gruberman." For those who don't know, here's a link to the song, "Boot to the Head" by the Frantics. Ed Gruberman plays a leading role.

I won't do it. I don't have time. I barely have time to be myself, much less somebody else. I've had to give up BBSs, don't write here as much as I could or should... blah, blah, blah. Yeah. Whining. Sorry. I guess it's good to whine about being too busy doing things I enjoy.

Anyway, I have rules about how I interact. It boils down to: As much as possible, I want to deal with people who are thinking clearly. Which means it rarely serves my purposes to evoke an emotional reaction. I do sometimes, and I say what I believe and I step on toes... but I try never to do that just to do it. Martial arts is really close to a religion for many people. It fulfills some huge identity needs. It can also feed delusion. Hit that directly and people stop listening, stop thinking...and I don't learn nothing.

Doing it this way, I learn a lot. But my evil streak doesn't get fed. Ed could fix that.

"Really? I'm amazed! A Pan-Am medalist in an odd odd numbered year? I didn't even know that was possible!"

"I've been crunching the numbers and if an event had, say, one thousand gold medalists and five hundred silver medalists, doesn't that mean that five hundred of the divisions had only one contestant? Are you bragging about that?"

Stuff like that. But it serves no purpose to be mean just to be mean. But sometimes I want to.
More important, if I'm really concerned, as I say I am, with getting people to think for themselves, I don't serve my own purposes by shutting brains down...and invoking emotion does exactly that.

Monday, March 26, 2012


Someone sent me a link to a video. I don't want to hurt people's feelings, so I won't share it. It purports to be an examination of fantasy versus reality in knife defense. In the video, fantasy is slow and easy, reality is hard and vicious.

Which I agree with. "Harder, faster, closer and more of a surprise" to quote myself.

But... of all the attacks on the video the only one that has ever happened to me is one of the ones listed as 'fantasy'. It was a pair of scissors, not a knife, but otherwise, the fantasy attack happened just like that and what worked was not the same but related to the fantasy defense.

Humans mistake intensity for truth. Fast, hard and sweaty automatically feels more real than slow and safe. It's for damn good reasons, since most of ours and our ancestors' most important survival lessons happened up close, unexpected and fast. And there is value in it, at least to me, since I find those seconds make me feel more alive than the hours spent on the reports afterwards.

But doing a fantasy harder makes it more intense. It doesn't make it less of a fantasy.

Don't get smug if you practice low key and think that I've validated your methods. Different levels of intensity are entirely different experiences and if you haven't experienced fast, hard and chaotic training there are worlds of things that you are completely unprepared for.

If you are practicing fantasy without intensity you have the double-whammy of training improperly for something that doesn't exist in the first place. At least the guys in the video, though they may not have spent a lot of time studying how bad guys use knives, are training to be ready for intensity. That's half the battle, give or take.

To an extent. I am worried that if the fantasy is too bad, the solutions completely inapplicable to the real world, intense training will ingrain the bad stuff harder than casual training. I know that bad scenario training can ruin otherwise good people, either by teaching them that everything is a shoot scenario or, the other side, conditioning them to believe that everything they do is wrong and so the best thing is to be passive (trained helplessness).

Done in San Diego. Flying home in a few hours. Colorado April 7th, then a private in Portland for Mo Duk Pai. Then Canada (Montreal and the Toronto area). Then Europe and Israel. Gonna be a busy few months.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tribal Stuff

Watched my lovely wife invade another woman's space last night. It was in the meat section at the grocery store. A woman was looking at steaks, K wanted to look at steaks. One of K's cool traits is that she is cool with everybody and doesn't really get why all people don't just be nice to each other and fix the world. That has the side effect that sometimes she violates boundaries without knowing it. The boundaries are imaginary and so she doesn't see them.

The woman was long done choosing her package of steak, but she couldn't leave. Even though it wasn't her store. Even though her business was done. A stranger had come within within her personal space. The stranger was approximately equal in age, status and gender. To leave would be to cede territory, to lose, to lose face and status.

None of it was real. All of it was limbic system, monkey stuff. But she could not leave. I pulled K away and whispered to her what was going on. As soon as K left the territory the woman postured once and then left herself.

I want to emphasize that she couldn't do the sensible thing while the limbic system was involved. Couldn't, unless something in the equation changed.

This goes on all the time. It's also something underlying the selection bias in the "Rarefied Reality Checks" post. I wasn't trying to find an answer. Wasn't trying to establish who was 'right' between myself and the other instructor. Nor was I seeking possibilities. Trust me, I can think of plenty of logical possibilities that can explain differences in observed results. I was just dealing with new evidence.

Not all the territories we defend are physical. And we defend territories instinctively and emotionally, not logically. We can make up all kinds of rational-sounding justifications for our beliefs or actions, but it is no more sensible and no more conscious than the lady who couldn't leave the meat counter.

Defending and rejecting theories can be done rationally.
"This is what I see, this is what I think it means and this is how we can use it."
"Not so sure. I think the underlying factor is X, not Y."
"Okay. That's possible. If you're right, when we remove X from the situation, nothing will happen."

Or, more concrete:
"Every time we go out, we get in fights. I think we should quit going to bars."
"Not so sure. I think every time we go anyplace with Mikey we get in fights."
"Maybe, so lets ditch Mikey and see what happens."

Silly example, but you get the idea.
Rejecting theories, accepting theories and testing theories can be rational. Rejecting evidence, not so much. There are bad sources out there. There are an awful lot of people that literally cannot distinguish between opinion, conclusion, and fact. Or, for that matter, observable events and their own internal reaction to those observable events. But that aside...

If you catch yourself rejecting evidence, rejecting observation, ask yourself what territory you are defending that is more important than the truth. You probably won't be able to answer honestly, our tribal programming goes deep. But give it a try.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Right Words

I like listening to Mike. He's old school, a hard-working man as well as a thinker. He sometimes puts words together in ways that resonate. Yesterday, he was trying to describe his amazing wife and he hesitated: "I want to say she's stoic, but it's more like, she's tolerant."

Stoic and tolerance as closely related subjects? It didn't compute at first, because 'tolerance' as a word, has picked up some specific connotations. Tolerance of other's beliefs. Tolerance of other's actions. It has the obvious overtones of condescension. 'We are tolerant' means 'we allow' which assumes (at a level so deep that we don't even have to question it) where the power lies. It is one of the fuzzy lies, something the uber-powerful mouth to convince themselves that they are good and the world is equal. It drips with the inherent rights of the powerful. And those who use it most, who insist on it, would never admit this.

There's also the logical hole that if you try to set up a creed that all beliefs have equal value, that creed in and of itself becomes the ultimate value and is its own contradiction.

Because of these two things, tolerance has, in common parlance been associated with one-way interactions (what I say is free speech and should be tolerated, if you disagree you are oppressing me) fuzzy-headed activism and whining.

Doesn't mean this is what tolerance is, this is how I assess the people who I have heard use the word like a weapon.

Stoicism, on the other hand, is a philosophical approach based on accepting life as it is, with all the hardship and suffering inherent in that. Dealing with truth even when unpleasant. Because of the kind of people I see associated with stoicism and tolerance, it didn't compute. Not at first.

But when Mike thoughtfully stumbled over the word choice, things clicked. Stoicism is tolerance. Tolerance of pain, tolerance of disagreement. Tolerance and understanding that all of us will be wrong and tolerance of the pain of admitting when it is us. In the instant he was talking about (the ability to go into a nasty, damp moldy crawlspace with rat poison and Black Widow spiders to get a job done without complaining or stalling or whining) stoicism and tolerance were perfectly in alignment.

Not that different at all. Maybe the same, as long as truth rather than comfort is the cardinal value.

The second example was a perfect example of Conflict Communications principles as well as the difficulty. One of the students from the seminar Saturday has had problems with her boss. They are both highly intelligent and highly competitive people and have a history of blocking each other and cross-talking.

She had an issue and decided just to solve the problem, not to engage in the social dynamics we call the monkey games. The second she made that decision, a part of her brain started arguing, telling her how much status and power she would lose if she didn't get her way...
"Do I want to get my way?" she asked herself, "Or do I want to win?"

She made the decision and got exactly what she wanted with no resistance and even an unaccustomed "Thanks" from the boss. But even then, her limbic system kept trying to tell her that she had lost something, lost some status. Even though everyone saw a win, even though things improved and even though, since she was the one able to alter a pattern to make things better, she clearly showed her leadership. The monkey hates change, including improvement.

That was a subtle distinction, though- get your way or win. Not as much the same thing as we might think.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Rarefied Reality Checks

Tired. Two days, a total of nineteen hours of classes. Introduction to Violence and Conflict Communications. Then today, a beautiful hike and great talk with Scott Phillips, followed by another long walk and playing with the crew at Soja studios in White Crane Silat. Eerie (or maybe not) how much parts of it looked like Uechi.

That's catch-up. Here's what I want to write about: I had a long and wonderful conversation with a local (to the Bay Area) self-defense instructor a few days ago. She was intelligent and insightful and the conversation was wide-ranging and fun. I would link if A) she had a website and I knew what it was and B) I had her permission...

But I don't have her permission, because I didn't ask... and I didn't ask because this has taken a couple of days to percolate. Didn't think of it at the time.

I have no way to measure my own experience.

In Rory's world, groin strikes and nose strikes have negligible reliability. Of the dozens of times that I have taken full-on, well targeted groin strikes, they have only stopped me from fighting twice. One time that didn't stop me I remember quite clearly that I felt it about three minutes later, and it was the 'let me crawl into a corner and cry and puke a little' type of pain... but for three minutes, nothing. Using it on other people, not so sure. Simple fact was that under our policies, I didn't want to write a report about a groin strike. So I used it way more in training than in real life. That said, I found the flinch you draw when you fake a groin strike more reliable than one that made contact.

Nose strikes? Zero percent reliability. Even with a broken nose, I've never been stopped by a nose hit and I've never seen anyone else (outside of training) stopped, either.

But... this person is a good SD instructor with a long slate of students. In her world (and, granted, it is only about a half dozen of each) groin strikes and nose strikes are 100% reliable. She has had about six of her hundreds of students attacked by men and when they delivered a groin strike it was over. Done. She has not heard from a single student that the technique has failed.

Another group have used nose strikes. Again, no failures.

This is important. No one is wrong. I have my experience, and the experience of my officers and students. So does she. And we saw different things. No one is wrong.

So, questions.

I was dealing with hardened criminals willing to attack an officer. As a women's self defense (WSD) instructor, she was dealing with criminals who targeted women. Does the target selection (officer versus woman) indicate enough about the perpetrator to explain this discrepancy? Were the ones attacking me what some people would call 'highly motivated'?

Like a lot of people I am self-referencing and between fights and intense training I have taken a lot of damage. At a very deep level, I believe if something doesn't work on me it doesn't work at all. Is this valid? Is there any way to know how and why I've kept fighting and whether that is something to be expected or something unusual?

Should one always train for the worst case scenario? I was able, at different times, to test things against PCP freaks or experienced ring fighters or giving up 200 or more pounds. That became my criteria for reliability. I love that. I have very, very deep reasons to trust my stuff... but does the bar have to be set that high? If I had told those dozen women, "Don't bother with groin strikes or nose punches, they don't work" would they have been victims?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Teaching, Training and Conditioning

I may be going off into my own private language of non-standard usage, so bear with me.

I see distinct differences between teaching, training and conditioning, with different uses and pitfalls for each.

Teaching is passing information from brain to brain. I can tell you that 'colors are how our eyes perceive different wavelengths of light,' or I can teach you the formula to convert celsius to fahrenheit. Teaching can be entirely cerebral.

It can go wrong in a lot of ways. There isn't always an automatic reality check, for one thing. I can give you the formula to convert to celsius, but if you calculate incorrectly it doesn't mean anything. A wrong number at the pure teaching level is just a squiggle on a piece of paper that doesn't look like the squiggle the instructor wanted. I can tell you that the earth is round or the earth is flat, and outside of a handful of professions, whichever you believe will not affect your life or anyone else's in any way.

Because there is no reality check, there is no inherent difference between good and bad information when it is taught. As long as it stays at this level, you can get a child to believe almost anything. Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are teachings. Most of what we think we know, most of what we have been taught, may be no more true. Because most of the things taught are not tested.

And this becomes dangerously bad, because we then believe these things we were taught are important. Sometimes worth killing over. You can be taught, as an obvious example, that your religion is objective truth, all other religions are lies created by an evil Adversary and killing over this is a duty...

You can feel very sure about your beliefs at this level, but you cannot be sure...any more than a child's insistence in the Easter Bunny makes him hop.

Teaching, though, allows us to transmit a huge amount of information, and to think through connections that would take lifetimes to try out in the real world. It allows us to imagine possibilities and juggle symbols. And teaching compounds over time. The questions that inspired Aristotle's "Metaphysics" have been outgrown.

Validity does not imply truth, however, only internal consistency. And bullshit can compound like any other information.

Training is guided practice in how to do stuff. I can tell you the celsius formula, but you have to put pen to paper for a while to become proficient at it. I can tell you what to do if you are ever attacked by a right over hand punch from a taller person... but if it is only taught, not trained, you will think and not act and you will eat that slow, clumsy punch.

Sometimes training has a touchstone to reality and sometimes it doesn't. This is crucial to understand. Training always has a touchstone (unless you are really doing it wrong) to something. You train to move a body by moving a body. You train to swing a stick by swinging a stick. If the touchstone is or simulates reality closely, no problem. You hit a guy hard enough, he goes down...

It goes to shit when the touchstone doesn't mirror reality. You hit a guy lightly or miss him entirely and he goes down because he is 'supposed' to... Or you spend your hours training against the way the instructor imagines bad guys attack instead of the way that they do attack.

It can also go bad when the metrics are wrong. When you measure success (one form of touchstone) by a poor standard. How a technique looks is not a tenth as relevant as how it feels on the receiving end, but if 'proper form' is measured against a picture you will get, and I have seen, instructors who pick themselves up and say, "You didn't do that right." Or, to dust off an old memory, I once choked a wrestling champion unconscious. When he came to, he explained to me that he had "won on points" before he lost consciousness.

Training is critical, though, in teaching us how and when to move. And when done right, it gets us used to the conditions we will face.

Conditioning affects a deeper part of the brain. It is how animals learn. In many ways, it is how we truly learn. We are creatures of sense and motion, constantly watching the world, constantly affecting the world. A part of our brain, the one that learned stove-hot, is always watching what we do and the effects it has.

Do this and things get better, do that and things get worse. X hurts, Y feels good? Do Y. A flatworm, with a single neuron works this way. Under immense stress, we might freeze, thinking about what has been taught. We probably, for the first several incidents won't remember our training. We will respond with our conditioning.

"You will fight the way you train" is a lie, and I am just as guilty of mouthing it as any other instructor. You will respond to any high-stress, low-time stimulus the way you have been conditioned.

Conditioning is natural and has an automatic correlation to reality. Your form is good and you see the center of the target disappear in a ragged hole. Your form is poor and your shots don't connect, dissatisfying and embarrassing.

But conditioning can go wrong even under good intentions. If you yell at the poor shot, increasing the embarrassment, do you empower the conditioning? Or do you instead condition the student to avoid the situation altogether, to avoid you? Conversely, if the students always win in scenarios have you 'programmed for success'? Or conditioned the hindbrain to know that results are always good and effort and judgment are wasted resources?

Under bad intentions...
We have all seen the instructor who makes an example of any student who does well. Training to win but conditioning to lose. The hindbrain remembers, and learns/knows that losing is a safer strategy than winning. That's screwed up, and the ultimate example of training to fail.

Conditioning can be complicated as well. Even simple organisms will move towards pleasure and away from pain, but a child can be conditioned to some mighty strange definitions of pleasure and pain. Confuse the two in just the right way and a child can be groomed into an eager and permanent victim. In individual cases it is not automatic that rewards are as we expect.

Three avenues to make your students better- teaching, training and conditioning. All have uses, all have potential pitfalls. The most important thing, IMO, is that the approaches be congruent. That what you teach and train and condition all work via the same tactics to the same goals.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Pleasantly Tired

I'm pleasantly tired. The group here in Granada Hills is the smallest seminar I've taught, ever. But we are having a blast. It's following the pattern of a regular seminar, but with the intensity of private lessons. We're playing hard.

Also jumped into a new project. I thought it would be huge, but so far it has been relatively painless. It also will result, almost for sure, in a new e-book in a month. Maybe less at this rate.

There's a unique group of people that I sometimes hang with. A very wide, very diverse range of interests, histories, skills and insights. A bunch are contributing stories. I volunteered to edit. Might have a few stories in as well.

So far: Unintended consequences of a fight; a brawl in a GI bar in Korea; the value of getting your ass kicked...even how to survive as a psych patient in a secure facility. That article is unique and powerful.

I think this anthology is going to be killer, and it will benefit some people I care about.

I'll keep you posted.