Thursday, April 26, 2012


Still getting pressure to create some kind of certification system.  I'm resistant to it for a number of reasons.  First, certification lead to organizations and dogma and I haven't seen any of those end well.  
Sometime people focus on the messenger and forget the message.  
Sometimes the people who never understood in the first place come to control the organization.  
Almost always, the sense of tribal identity completely washes away the value of the information.

Second, and more important-- what I am trying to teach here is thinking for yourself.  The very fact someone wants outside validation would be a disqualifier for that.

Plus, I don't want people teaching my stuff.  I want them to teach their own stuff as well as they can.  If my information helps with that, great.

My original thought was more towards endorsement than certification.  A series of three pretty scrolls:

"In my opinion, (Name here) is not a complete idiot."
"In my opinion, (Name here) can really think."
"In my opinion, (Name here) gets it."

'Getting it' would be a pretty high accolade, but even 'not a complete idiot' would be rare...

But that's a little flippant.  I got reminded over the weekend (grrr) and had some time to think and write.  For two of the levels the certifications would read like this:

"I believe that (name here) understands and can teach the relevant observational, psychological, physical and legal skills to help students become safer.  He or she thoroughly understands my material and can implement it."

The next level:
"I trust (name) to improvise.  X understands AND explores. He or she will create new stuff better than mine (so I expect and demand).  Simultaneously and more importantly, I believe, (at this time and subject to change) that X is resistant to drinking his/her own koolaid.  That he or she will never be sure, never insist that there is 'one right way'; that X will encourage students to question, debate and test. X understands that the sole legitimate goal of all training is to make the student better-- stronger, smarter, more aware, etc.  That implicit in this is the expectation that the students equall and eventually exceed the instructor.  Otherwise, the instructor has failed."

Something like that.

Yeah, there is stuff I could teach, and will teach and enjoy teaching.  And I can see, I think it is inevitable, some kind of recognition for that.  But just as fighting has almost nothing to do with technique, teaching has almost nothing to do with system.  And all of the important things are more-or-less intangible.  'Can the person fight?' is one question.  'Can the person see what an individual student needs and bring it out?' is deeper and more vague, but infinitely more important.

ConCom in London, Ontario tomorrow at 1000, kicking off five full days of training.  I should be pretty wiped.

Friday, April 20, 2012


This is what I love about the writing life.  I'm sitting in a narghila lounge (hookah bar) in Montreal with coffee, orange shisha...and I'm working.

I have two hours free before I have to prep for the class tonight.  It will be easy.  ConCom isn't sweaty or equipment intensive.  Make sure I have a couple of different options for the PowerPoint in case there is a compatibility issue.  Have my laptop and a thumb drive and a disk.  All easy.

For the free time, it's just good times with friends.  Mauricio, like a hero, came through despite plane delays (didn't get in until well after midnight).  Andrew was waiting up and went on my morning wander with me.  Haven't seen Teo yet.  He'll be at the class tonight.

Wandering time, writing time, thinking time.

Projects in the works right now (and one I want help with):

YMAA wants to do a print version of the Drills Manual, and I want to expand it by about 50% from the e-version.  Deadline is end of the month.

The anthology.  Kami did a beautiful cover (you can see it here) but I'm still not happy with the title.  This book covers an amazingly broad range. A lot of it is about survival and violence, but it's too narrow to call it a martial arts or self-defense book.  It is kind of what you would get if a bunch of experienced people were just talking around a campfire.  I know that without reading it, the possibility of coming up with a good title is hard, and I don't want to turn the title search into a committee thing.  The cool thing with e-books is how fast you can do them well.  This could have gone from idea to publication in less than a month, but people kept offering to add good stuff.

As it stands now, I'm waiting for one more piece (Dr. Anderson on everything that we know works for PTSD).  Then a final format pass, then a proofread by someone else, then let each of the authors sign off on any changes.  Then it is done.  Upload to SmashWords and Kindle.  This is a gift for a friend to help pay medical bills.  Everyone contributed their work and time.

Alone, it would be less than two days of work.  Other people are involved, so I'm thinking two weeks.  Maybe more.

Here's the Table of Contents:

Editor’s Note

All Fighting is on Drugs by “MG, FAM”
Historical European Martial Arts by Bert Bruijnen
Stage Fighting is not Real Fighting by Michael Johnson
Let’s Talk Trauma by Eric Gaden
How to Read Your Opponent by Terry Trahan
The Independent, A Variation of the Alpha by Michael Johnson
Talking to Cops by Marc MacYoung
Everything We Know About PTSD by Dr. Drew Anderson

Do You Want to Win? Learn How to Lose by Dan Gilardi
Louis the Legionnaire by Wim Demeere
Teaching, Training and Conditioning by Rory Miller
There Are No Secrets by Kevin Menard
Breaking: Why We Fail, How We Can Succeed by Jesse J. Alcorta

Marc MacYoung Meets John Rain by Barry Eisler and Marc MacYoung

Guards and Rails by Lawrence Kane
The O Menace by Bert Bruijnen
Zero to Sixty by Alain Burrese
Sensei and the Hockey Dad by Lawrence Kane
A Little Social Violence Over Who Gets in the Last Word by DJ Dasko
Even in Small Town Louisiana by Michael Johnson

Bouncer Advice: What Your Sensei Didn’t Tell You by Clint Overland
How to Stay Out of Trouble as a Psych Ward Patient by “D. Osborne”
Martial Arts Cults by “Chop Ki”
Antarctic Martial Traditions by Jesse J. Alcorta
Kamioooka Prison by “Douglas Hill”
Checklist for Leaving an Abusive Relationship by “Jael”
Death, the Teacher by E. Rushton Gilbert
Hope Your Fantasy Stays One by “D. Weeks

Things I Know Now That I Wish I Knew Then by Kasey Keckeisen
Be Nice by Alain Burrese
Choosing to Leave a Cult by “Chop Ki”

Gambling With Your Life by Marc MacYoung
There is No Magic by Fred Ross
Learn the Old to Understand the New by Don Roley
Where The Journey Ends by Rory Miller

Any title title ideas jump out at you?

Otherwise, Montreal this weekend; London, Ontario next; Brampton the weekend after that. Then Scotland, England, Israel, Slovenia and Greece.  Coolness

Monday, April 16, 2012

How, What, Why

The VPPG Sunday went well and, as always, got me thinking. I'd hoped to have some time to sit and write and hammer stuff out, but life got busy and didn't cooperate. Today is just as busy (deadlines coming up) so this won't have the depth. Consider it a spring board to more of the gamut.

E's question at the VPPG was the perpetual one: how do we teach this. This, in this context is something that most of our group understands but it's hard to put into words. The emotional context of an assault. Howe to break the freeze and how to be efficient and how to adapt and, in essence, how to win when a bigger, stronger, experienced opponent got the first move at the time and place of his choice.

On paper that's not going to happen. It looks like an insurmountable problem. But every one of the core members of the group has done it, most of us multiple times. It's not a physical skill. Which doesn't mean that there is something wrong with physical skills or that you don't need physical skills. It's just that... not all the survivors are what you would call physically gifted. For some of us, our first ugly encounter was long before we had any formal training. This whatever this is that allowed us to survive wasn't a physical skill. How do you train it?

That's not quite the right question, it turns out. We've been hitting a wall maybe because we've been focusing on how to teach. The first step has to be defining what you are teaching. What comes before how.

The brainstorm on "What" was short. That was what I really wanted to sit down later and hammer on before life got in the way. My notes concentrate on 'seeing the real problem' and 'reframing.' There's more, though, and it could be a long list. But once that list is made, then 'How' will become much, much easier.

Then IV trumped the What. Because we also need the why. And the why drives the what and the why is different for every student. How many students really need what we do? Would it have a negative impact on the rest of their lives? That's a valid concern. We're all emotionally (mostly) healthy with good relationships and stuff. But that's certainly not true for all survivors.

And each student needs a different thing. I preach on adaptability, maybe because of near-ctastrophic failures from blindly following protocols. E focuses on a small set of highly drilled skills. Each student has a different victim profile, which drives what they need.

Why the student is there drives what they need to know. What they need to know drives how things must be taught. And some of the things on that list will require a little extra work to figure out how to teach.
BTW, either I'm losing it or I'm out of touch.
Force Decisions came out a couple of days ago and I didn't even know. Mac has a copy already. I don't.
The video for Facing Violence has a clip on Youtube and is shipping. No idea.
Now Toby posts on FB that I have an article posted at YMAA.

Glad people are telling me when my stuff comes out.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Gamut

What would complete self-defense entail? This is a partial, thinking-out-loud answer to an email I received a short time ago.

I can divide it a number of ways. Awareness, Initiative and Permission, certainly. the student needs to know all they can handle about threat assessment, types of violence, types of criminals, tactical implications of terrain, reading individuals, internal self-monitoring... just the Awareness piece is huge.

Initiative is not as complex, but simple doesn't mean easy. The student needs to be able to act decisively and powerfully through will. If you must be angry or must be afraid in order to fight, you might not fight at all. Most people freeze. Many women have a delayed adrenaline surge. If you cannot fight cold, you may not be able to fight at all. Working this out will take solid skills that you trust. Stuff that works under pressure. And then practice at doing things that you hate and fear with cold precision and cold power. Simple, not easy.

And Permission. Most of us aren't even aware of our social conditioning. What we can and cannot do isn't based on logic or even fantasy but on years of conditioning. And, until the conditioning makes you hesitate, you have no way of even knowing if it is there. Until you pull the trigger you do not and CANNOT know if that is one of your lines. You can wear all the tactical gear that you want and say all the right words and try to hang out with the bad-asses. Or you can just whistle in the dark. Same thing. To find your glitches you have to go into places where your glitches will come out. Work them out or train with respect to them. But ignorance will not help you.

That's a part of it.
They need to have certain physical skills. Which are those? Depends. Fitness gets a lot of talk as a primary self-defense attribute, and I get it... except if you were a predator, would you be stalking the six-foot two-hundred-pound gym rat? And if you did, wouldn't you wait until he was on crutches from some kind of injury.

So fitness will never hurt you. A good workout regimen will do great things to your life. Almost all of us are far more likely to face coronary artery disease than an armed bad guy. But the physical skills (as opposed to attributes) that you need must work when you have no fitness to back them up. When you are injured, or old.

Basic physical skills, just off the top of my head:
The ability to strike, push and pull hard
The ability to do so accurately
The ability to move a body

You can magnify those. Striking hard can be about fitness or structure or applied physics. Ideally all three. And different people need to concentrate in different areas. The weaker you are, the more important physics (using momentum and environmental hazards) becomes.

Accuracy can be developed by sight or by feel. It can range from what we usually think of as targeting to the ability to sense a threat's base, Center of Gravity and momentum with a touch.

And moving a body ranges from grappling and throwing to being able to create small spaces for striking or drawing a weapon. Or the geometry of multiple people.

There's tons more. Goal setting, strategy and tactics. Classes of techniques and how those vary in importance in different situations and to different people. Social manipulations that can affect everything from whether there will be an incident of violence to what the witnesses will remember...

Too much for a short post or even a book. More later, almost for sure.
Evidently, "Force Decisions" is out. I had no idea. I owe a couple of you copies. You know who you are.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Brain Worms

Long talk with Marc a couple of days ago. Wide ranging, as always. One of the subjects that came up was fear. There are lots of different flavors of fear and they change over time. More accurately, you change over time and with experience.

The pure adrenal, 'OMG I'm gonna die' fear doesn't stay the same. Part of it is that the words go away. You learn not that you aren't going to die or that you are going to die, but that being sure you are going to die has never been accurate. You get the adrenaline burst, but the voice in your head shuts up. You can think, and most times you can use the adrenaline.

Part of the stage of losing the words is that you don't think about an incident in terms of winning or losing. Those are labels and meaningless. You have a goal, you accomplish the goal. It's not a win because it is not a contest. It is a job. It's a good state to be in, very efficient, you have almost zero bullshit going on in your mind and clogging your reflexes.

But other things can step in. When I got named as a DT instructor, I found a new set of words creeping in. I still wasn't afraid of the incident, but I was starting to be afraid of failing in front of my students. That stage didn't last long, but it was definitely there. At another stage (and I noticed it more with climbing than with fighting) I realized I was worried about my kids growing up without a father. Caution increased.

Trepidation is a different set of fears as well. When I knew a situation was brewing, unless I had plans to make or equipment to assemble, sometimes there was too much time to think, and the adrenaline would start flowing with a lot of words. It would shut down when the moment became critical, but there were little worms gnawing in the back of my mind.

Little worms of all the possibilities if the threat was dedicated enough or sneaky enough; all the possible ways I might be misreading the situation; a checklist of all the people that stood to get hurt if I failed; what the gravestone would look like of a man who had lost...

All worms, all meaningless. Potentially freezing. Didn't happen, but it was always on the table and that was another of the worms... "What if you freeze? What if you just stand there frozen like an idiot and die without doing anything?"

And there were worms after the fact. Will there be a suit? Have I pissed off anybody in IA recently? Was there a better way?

My second ever blog post mentioned a worm. That after all the fights, all the experience, I still sometimes heard a voice in the back of my head saying everything was nothing but luck.

The worms don't go away. Not necessarily true. I have no way of knowing. The worms have not gone away for me. They have just shifted. All of the brain worms that used to pop up about danger and professionalism are now popping up about teaching. Twenty minutes before I start a class, a voice in my head says, "You won't be able to remember the lesson plan. Stage fright happens." During the class, "Everything you have to say is sooooooo obvious (and I really believe this) that there is no reason for anybody to be here..."

This probably sounds like a whine. It probably is. But it makes me wonder. I don't have brain worms about anything minor. Only things I truly care about-- writing, learning, teaching and loving (and that's a huge one. K is the best of all possible women and I continually expect her to wise up and choose someone more worthy). Is that universal? Does everyone get brain worms? And are they always about the important things? And what purpose do they serve?

Friday, April 06, 2012

Layers of Complexity

I normally don't engage in conversations on planes. Small talk doesn't interest me. With very few exceptions if I talk about what I do it makes the people around uncomfortable. And people make me tired. Today was a pleasant and awesome exception. I happened to sit next to a lady who on top of playing rugby dealt professionally with domestic violence issues.

Good conversation. Good learning. One of the insights--
There are things that we want to be simple that are very complex. We want domestic violence to have a good guy and a bad guy, a perpetrator and a victim. But it doesn't take much exposure to realize that DV is a 'game that the whole family can play' as MM sometimes says. The lady on the plane pointed out that in shelters, victims sometimes become abusers. Sometimes maintaining the level of crisis and drama is necessary--- they know how to function in that milieu.

It is not a simple play with a white hat and a black hat. It is a dynamic.

Further, it is a dynamic that happens in a broader social spectrum. How the people involved were raised alters how they will behave and what they consider acceptable. And the extended families will intercede, possibly to keep the dynamic going.

Lastly, our society's attitudes about what constitutes domestic violence or even violence change over time. They have changed vastly just in my lifetime. Up until 1985 it was perfectly legal in many states for a police officer to shoot someone just for running away. Marital rape was not against the law in any state until 1975. Fistfights were an accepted and expected part of growing up. I was told explicitly, by my mother, that if you didn't get a broken nose by the time you were twelve, you weren't a boy. (I got my first at six).

This is a matrix. A complicated dynamic in more than three dimensions. And, in my experience, the only way to get good at handling something this complex is to get in and experience as much as you can. Study, observe, read for extra viewpoints and insight but you have to get in there. It has to be handled intuitively if people are going to be saved. The best answer will change in each situation. In the white hat/black hat world you can imagine one-size-fits-all answers. Not here, and if you insist on hanging on to your myths because they are more comfortable to believe in, people will suffer.

And that adds the last dynamic we talked about: Most of the resources dealing with this are funneled through bureaucracies. Bureaucracies like measuring things. They like consistency. They generally don't deal well with fluid situations and many will never empower their employees to work on intuition. The insistence on a consistent message, and measurable results and 'fair and equitable treatment' (meaning treat all the same even if the method will only work for a few) almost demands a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all answer.

Which we all know will fail.