Saturday, December 28, 2013

Shout Out

David Silver at YMAA just sent the preview DVD of the Jointlocks video.  Damn.  I think we knocked it out of the park.

Don't want to get into the video too much.  It's important, I think, because it takes one of the building blocks of martial arts (locks) which are reputed to be difficult and complicated and shows how you can get untrained people improvising under stress in an hour. If the world goes the way I want, there will be viewers, experts in their own specialties, who will go, "Shit! We're teaching X wrong!  I can teach it ten times as fast if I think about it differently!"

 We train to fight ruthlessly and efficiently.  Why not teach with equal efficiency?

But that's not what this post was about. There are some good people in the video, people who I miss.

Bill Giovannucci.  Haven't seen Billy G. in a while.  Missed him on my last two floats through Boston. On the rare occasions when he comments here, I recognize his posts immediately because of the depth. He's smart, though he hides it behind a rough and tumble Boston accent.  He's skilled. You'll see that on the DVD, especially when you realize that his art is about hitting not locking...and  speaking of hitting, he gave me one of the best smashes of my life.  An extraordinary brother, and missed.

Teja Van Wicklen of Devi Protective Offense. A cool kid.  If you look close, during the lock flow drill, she can't help but to throw in some brutal, sneaky strikes.

Chris Thompson who now runs Just Train in Rhode Island.  Skilled, smart, with a vision.  He's one of the next generation of martial artists, the ones who will change everything for the better.  Both a thorough (physical skills) badass and a supremely nice and thoughtful guy.

Mike Migs, who I get together with in Boston when I can.  Clear thinker.  Smooth and effective martial artist.  And we can talk about stuff that would horrify most of the world.  While giggling.

Tia Rummler is one of my 'handlers' in Boston.  My wife trusts her to make sure that I eat real food and get enough sleep and don't pick fights with neighborhoods.  She is also the one who introduced me to storytelling as a way to sharpen your intuition about people.

Alexander Bandazian and Eric Testern were the two I barely knew when we filmed, but both had a great attitude, good skills.  Maybe we'll see each other again and have a narghila at Habibi's.

Dr. Lisa Coaray is one of my other handlers, and the one who arranges Toby's seminars in New England.  Smart, tough, and totally and continuously underestimating how awesome she is... you'll see her on TV soon.  No kidding.

Jeff Burger is the man in Boston.  Good friend, smart as hell, and one of the people I would most hate to have seriously gunning for me.  If you're in the area and you want someone who really knows, look up Jeff.

Erik Kondo offered to let us use his place.  "Not Me! Self Defense" has a headquarters in Massachusetts that includes a danger room, and he let us use it.  Erik (along with Billy G. Jeff Burger, and Jake Steinmann) are part of my East Coast Brain Trust, the people I go to for insights and reality checks.

Anyway, I saw the video and was impressed (and I really, really hate watching instructional videos, so that says a lot) but I was mostly homesick for old friends.

So, old friends, snuggle up by the fire with someone you care about and have a wee dram in my memory. And I'll do the same for you.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Malc asked about first steps in acquiring the skills to be independent.  First steps, always, are to make a list of what those skills are.  What do you need to be independent?  If you are really interested in this, stop reading now, make your own list, then come back.  What follows is my 'first thoughts' list.

The big four for survival are shelter, water, fire and food.  They are in that order for survival because exposure, generally, will kill you quickest and preserving heat is more efficient in the short term than manufacturing heat. Thirst kills you second quickest.  Fire is a tool and, among other things, can make water and food safer. (There is a debate in the survival community about whether fire is more important than water since unboiled water may not be safe).  Most of us can go much longer without food than we realize.

These four have very different levels for different situations and time scales.  Pure wilderness survival, dropped into a pristine wilderness with few or no tools requires one set of skills, and unless you have a time machine you will really have to work to find that situation.  Surviving if your car goes off a road in a blizzard or if the power and water gets shut off to your apartment (blackout and riots, yay!) are different.  Weathering a storm for a few days is different than trying to recreate civilization from scratch (time machine or portal, again).

The principles of shelter, water, fire and food (SWFF) are universal, but sometimes it can be hard to find someone who can teach the principles without their perspective creating blindspots (e.g. so into nature that they won't use litter for natural tools or so into he-man survival that they don't admit sometimes you wait for help.)

Aside-- One of the most important exercises is to live at this subsistence level for a time.  For however long it takes you to be confident you could last forever.  Then you realize how little you really need, and the people (I'm thinking advertisers, but also peer group) who make a living from creating hungers lose power.

And time frame-- wildcrafting food and medicine can take days, but growing it can take months.  A garden, even a little one, eases you dependency.  If it's more than a few days, waste management becomes a critical skill as well.

So, shelter, water, fire, food.  And waste management.
I'd add medicine and defense as critical skills.  Readers of this blog probably have their own ideas of defense, but I'll add this: For any likely disaster (say you live in an earthquake or tsunami zone) you should have a 'defend in place' plan and a GOOD (Get Out of Dodge) plan.  The GOOD plan must include where you are going. Never run away, always run towards. And you must have a plan (and skills) for defending in place and a plan (and skills) for defending on the move.

For medicine, advanced first aid is a minimum.  Go for EMT. There are some excellent home health and medicine books, including Werner's "Where There is no Doctor" and Sehnert's "How to be your own Doctor (Sometimes)".  There are limits-- you won't handle a burst appendix by yourself-- but independence like most things is a path more than a destination.  It's percentage points.

At a more generic level-- literacy.  Including scientific literacy and forensic debate.  If you want to know how you are being manipulated you have to understand what science _is_ (the scientific method, not just technology) how statistics works, and the common logical fallacies.

Statistics and trig are, IMO, the two most useful maths.  Some geometry.

Critical thinking is huge, but like breathing and walking, everyone thinks they're already natural masters and most can't be objective for shit.

With more room and time, I'd love to matrix this out.  For instance, take shelter. At the basic level of skill, it's building a debris hut or burrow. At the basic level of understanding it's knowing that if power is lost you move your whole family to one small room so that the body heat will keep the living space comfortably warm.  At the journeyman level, you are learning to repair or build all the things that make a modern house and at the master level, you can build your own home to your own specs...but can be happy living in a debris hut.

Okay, sources.
For survival skills I've played with Tom Brown's School and the Maine Primitive Skills School. Good skills, but they definitely come with a philosophy that may not be your cup of tea.

My favorite is Toby Cowern.  He's smart, he teaches you how to think instead of telling you what to do.  His skills cover wilderness (which he practices north of the Arctic Circle) to urban, disaster and even some combat.  He only gets to the United States about twice a year, but he's experimenting with on-line and video courses. 

Local colleges will have EMT training and there is always the Red Cross.  If you're rural, you might be able to volunteer for a local Fire Department and get some good training and experience.  Not just in fire suppression and First Aid-- the ICS (Incident Command System, how I was taught to plan operations) was pioneered by FDs.

There are more resources out there than ever before.  One more.  FEMA has created Community Emergency Response Teams and I hear the training is good:

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Fingerprints and Scars

A friend, the brilliant, funny, Wendy Wagner, recently wrote a post on growing up poor:

I want to riff on that here.
How you grow up leaves traces, whether you call them scars or fingerprints.  My parents were working poor, and some of my earliest memories are listening to my parents argue about whether or not we'd have money for food.  They always waited until late at night, until they were sure we were asleep... but we never were.

When dad decided to go into business for himself, things tightened up again.  And when he decided to liquidate and move to the middle of nowhere to prepare for the end of the world... let's just say there weren't a lot of jobs.  Just enough to keep our heads above water, most of the time.  And because we were expecting nuclear war or economic collapse or the ice age or the population bomb (just some of the apocalypses that were promised to us in the 1970's) we were also living with no electricity or running water, growing or hunting most of our own food.

Just as Wendy writes, that left fingerprints, but the way it marked our lives was very, very different.  She was honest about her pain.  Mine was minor-- kids will notice if all of your sweaters are homemade, and if your pants came from the discount rack and the legs aren't quite the same color.  If you bathe once a week (36 extra buckets of water to pack from the creek on bath day) they notice. The only spending money I had was from returning my dad's beer bottles to the store, and I could always feel the proprietor snickering over how much dad drank.  My only source of income, until I learned how to polish stones, is tied with deep embarrassment, and that colors my attitude to money to this day. 

But I always had the desert and the cliffs to run to, to be alone.

I think the biggest factor in how Wendy and I processed our childhood was in our attitude towards assistance:
Wendy: Some memories of my childhood are indelible: the wonderful texture of the paper they used to print food stamps on, back when food stamps came in little coupon books and each increment was printed in its own color. The taste of government cheese, salty and waxy and melty and gooier than any cheese I’ve eaten since.

My dad told us we were on our own.  No one would help us and we wouldn't accept it if they offered.  "You get hungry, you go kill something." I remember waking up from delirious fever dreams, a 106 temperature and looking at the ice forming on the boltheads on the inside of the camping trailer we lived in.

If we were hungry, we hunted, fished or went and slaughtered a chicken.  I never got into hunting or fishing for fun.  It was food.  When I found a wart (only time in my life) I knew a doctor was out of the question-- I pulled it out with a pair of pliers.  My mom had told me that warts have roots and seeds, and I was afraid if I cut it, I'd leave the roots.

I was able to go to college because my older brother, in the Air Force, and my grandmother both died.  The wills left enough money to clear some debt and pay for one year of college.  Where Wendy writes about her insecurity in fitting in, I knew I didn't fit and it was defiance bordering on arrogance: This place had ten times the wild food of the desert where I was raised. I learned how to butterfly a gash when I was thirteen.  You can't starve me, I don't need your doctors and you can't beat me in a way I'll stay down-- you think I need you?  Yeah, I was a dick, and it was just as much insecurity as anything Wendy experienced.  But I never had a feeling of dependence... and I would look at all the other kids in college, kids who seemed rich to me, and I would listen to all their needs and desires, all the stuff they felt they couldn't live without and, yeah, I felt contempt.   A huge amount of contempt.

I found growing up poor, and especially working to create a middle class life, powerful.  I think without that experience, it's likely I would have been lazy, complacent, self-satisfied.  I feel that necessity made me stronger, tougher, more resourceful.  It was a bad environment to be delusional in, and honed an ability to see what the real problem was, and that lack of food always trumps social bullshit.  I like who I am, and have few regrets.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Your Nature

It's in your nature to fight.  It is in your nature to be strong.  It is in your nature not to be a victim. We are the products of 4 billion years of bloody evolution, where the victims were eaten. Everyone dies, we aren't immortal, but we don't die easily.  Not naturally.

Fighting, self-defense, whatever you want to call it, is one of the most natural things in the world.  Competence at it is your birthright.  We do a disservice, I think, when we teach it as if it is complicated, as if it is something that needs to be learned.  Not that you can't improve, learn and train.  It is complex and nuanced to be good... but it is not complicated.  That's a thought for another time.

But in the end, this is not about "forging warriors."  This is about rehabilitating a predator so that it can take its natural place in the world.  This is your nature.

Not fighting, the fear (not of fighting, fighting hurts, it is wise to fear it) of trying and learning, the insecurity is not nature. It is conditioning.

We are a large population of effective predators.  Individually, not impressive.  But teamwork is a power multiplier like no other and we are, often, better than wolves at working together.  But unlike wolves, we're shitty at getting along.  IMO, our teamwork was learned behavior, for wolves it is their nature.  Without the genes to get along, we created rules, and we instilled those rules into our children from the first day.  That's conditioning.

So when your student can't pull the trigger or can't grab a face, that student is not fighting his nature, he is fighting his conditioning.

There are two immediate implications of this, at least in my mind.

I walk in peace with you because I respect your strength.  I see your nature, even if you have been blinded by your conditioning.  The Hindu greeting "Namaste" I have been told translates: "The divinity in me recognizes the divinity in you" (seems unlikely, that's a pretty small word for two nouns, a verb and two locations). We walk in peace, you and I, because the animal in me recognizes and respects the animal in you. Negotiation and cooperation are preferred to testing who is the wilder.

The second: I understand that people need to be trained from a very young age to get along.  But training makes it a choice and conditioning removes choices.  And it seems that more and more effort is going into making people more and more passive.  Who wanted you to be a victim so badly that they convinced you passivity was normal?  Who feared your animal nature so much?

Take your power.

This grew out of a conversation yesterday with Kathy Jackson, the Cornered Cat.  Kathy's a great instructor and great people.  She has the magic power of making me think.

We were attending a weapon retention program designed by Don Stahlnecker of the Firearms Academy of Seattle.  Good stuff.  Best civilian program I've seen. (LEO weapon retention focuses more on holster retention, since officers open carry).

Friday, December 13, 2013

Perception Controls Possibility

What you see controls how you think.  And how you think controls what you can see. Lots of people are shopping for the holidays right now and I can bet that someplace in the world a busy executive, a teenager and a retired cop are all walking through the same mall... but they aren't walking in the same world.

What you see completely controls what you can do.  You can't solve a problem you can't see.  You can't implement a solution you can't imagine.  And it's not just what you see, it's how you see it.

A chair is for sitting in.  If all you see is a chair, the only affordance in that chair is sitting (and lounging and snuggling… but all chair stuff). If you see it as a shape, you have the additional affordances of all the things you can do with flat surfaces.  See it another way and it is a flotation device; or a ladder; or a collection of fabric, wood and metal that can be deconstructed…

The more you perceive, the bigger the world and your possibilities increase.  The more you look for things, the less you see.  Narrowing your focus narrows your mind.  We all know the one-trick-pony-professional-victim who can construe any statement as proof of oppression. Looked at one way, they're annoying as hell.  They are just as or even more into oppressing others as the people they rail against.  Looked at a little different, they are sad little people looking so hard for ugly--creating it if they can't find it-- that they will never see beauty.

The first drill I ever learned for this was from a survival class in '81 or '82.  The drill was to come up with twenty uses for a spoon that had nothing to do with scooping or eating.  It was hard at first. I think it took most of the hour for most of us to make or lists.  Now I sometimes pick random items and it's rare for it to take more than five minutes to come up with twenty things.

This even applies to abstract things and to people.  Being able to come up with a hundred different answers to a question is cool.  Coming up with a hundred different ways to interpret or alter the question is an order of magnitude more powerful.  Want to be rich? I live in a house that's warm and dry; I can get cold drinks from the fridge and hot water falling from the sky (a shower) on demand. My food today came from at least two continents and originated in at least three.  No Roman emperor had this luxury.  I am typing this on a machine that no government in the world could have obtained 35 years ago.  I am richer in material things than the the entire US government was a century ago.  My life is awash in things unobtainable.

That's just material riches.  At what point in history did it become possible to read both Lao Tzu and Marcus Aurelius? 

That was abstractions.  What about people? How you label a person controls what you perceive and controls your affordances, your possibilities.  If K was my wife it creates a relationship that comes with roles and scripts.  She is undoubtedly my wife.  She is also the best thing the universe has ever created and somehow I am allowed to be in her presence. 'Wife' means certain comforts and annoyances. 'The best thing in the universe' makes it easy to be madly in love for a quarter of a century.

Is someone your enemy?  Or a human being who believes you are part of his wealth of problems? Is that your student? Or a companion on this journey?

And yourself.  What labels do you put on yourself that artificially control your behavior?  Are they necessary?  Do you have to be you? (The answer is 'no' by the way, but people get very uncomfortable with the fact that they are constantly changing.)

In the interaction, sometimes conflict comes up because of incompatible labels.  I see most protesters as whiny, entitled punks. They see themselves as champions of the underdog du jour.  If you are having trouble with your significant other, quit seeing her as your wife or girlfriend for awhile and find out how she labels herself.  Try working from there.

The ideal is to just see, without the labeling.  That's hard.  But it maximizes possibility.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Golden Oldie: Want to Start Your Own System?

Years ago, I was a regular on the Budoseek BBS.  Good people, good knowledge, but when I was in Iraq I found I didn't have time for on-line forums, and when I got home I found I didn't miss them.  Signal-to-noise ratio and time investment...

I wrote this there years ago:

I've already made my feelings pretty clear about people awarding themselves incredible rank and starting their own style. In general I consider it an ego trip- someone who can't be the big fish creating his own puddle. I was challenged recently to describe what would convince me that a self-awarded rank was legitimate. Here are my initial thoughts.

1) If your style has any tournament component you should have been and/or trained at least one national champion. More, if the tournament circle is small.

2) If it is called a combat style, it must be tested, and that is hard. Perhaps 100+ uses of unnassisted, weaponless uses of force as either a cop, corrections officer or bouncer. Alternatively, a history of cops, etc who have previous experience with martial arts seeking you out and staying with you for more than one year. Many people hold seminars for LEO's then claim that they teach DT's while the officers that attended the class under orders feel nothing but contempt.

3)Designate and document all the skills your students must master from the lowest rank to the highest. If any of the high ranks are honorary, award yourself the highest real rank. If your style is worthwhile, as students mature and take over the ryu they will vote you the honorary rank, just like Kano.

4)Figure out how long it would take for a good student to achieve the rank you award yourself and be sure you have studied at least twice that long. If it would take a student longer to get to where you are than it took you, the style stunts students, it does not teach them.

5)Obviously, the art must have significant, preferably profound differences from all other arts you have studied.

6)If you are breaking off from another organization you must maintain loyalty to those that taught you- you owe them much. If that is impossible your maturity level may be too low for instructor status, much less master. At the very least maintain dignity.

7)If you are breaking away you must be better at both the art and teaching than anyone else in the old organization, especially if the technical differences are minor.

8)Please, if you choose to use a foreign language to describe or rank your art at least make the effort to use a real word and translate it correctly. Then live up to the terms you use. For instance, if you choose to call yourself an ancestral style at least have one parent to child transmission of leadership in your history.

It's been years, but I think the sentiment holds up.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Not Invisible

While I was distracted from the blog, I wasn't idle.  It might be a good time to post some links.  Interviews and the like.
An interview with Aaron and Beau fro Exist Anew (and you know I gave then shit about their name before the interview started).  Fun, and if I ever decide to publish the manual on enlightenment for non-wusses, the last bit will be a preview.
Kris caught me a half asleep.  And he'd left a couple of messages which I'd interpreted to mean there was something wrong.  Had completely forgotten that he wanted to do an interview when I had a break from traveling.

Gila Hayes, of the Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network (a great resource for anyone interested in SD, btw) did a review of the Logic of Violence DVD:

Did an "Advanced People Watching" course at the Lloyd Center Mall and Kathy Jackson (the Cornered Cat and one of my favorite people-- my go to for the crossover between WSD and the firearms world) did a write-up:

Interviewed by Matthew Apsokardu in June:

And Matt linked to an interview that David Silver did last year.  Evidently, saying I hate people because they are stupid pretty much defines my worldview:

Sam Harris asked my opinion on a couple of questions that somehow turned into a roundtable interview on SD and the law.  In my opinion, the best piece was left out of the final edit.  One of the examples that came up, the FaceBook common wisdom (as is often the case) had nothing to do with actual facts... it struck me as a good point to check your sources, especially if they seem to make your point too well.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Holding on to the Edge of the Pool

Verner wrote:
Sometimes I wonder, why do we bother with martial arts anyway? For sport and fun, OK, but for combat? Why would you want to learn an art that worked for someone else sometime in the past, possibly under different circumstances, legally, ethically etc... Not to mention all the useless shit you have to buy (gi, belt, hakama you never use utside the dojo) While combat is complex, it's not complicated. There are just systems trying to distrupt or destroy other systems. Combat is governed by anatomy and physics. Those do not change. Why is combat an art, not science? Maybe because carrying the legacy of the samurai/ninja/viking/whatever has much appeal to the monkey?

Complex versus complicated is something I desperately want to riff on.  Later.

Why are people driven to study something that worked in the past?  Possibly because the other option is to study something that didn't work in the past.  Something that has never worked.

Which would you prefer: "According to the old legends, Sir Hackemup used these tools and these tactics to survive against insurmountable odds at the Battle of Last Man Standing."
Or: "We had a committee meeting with the University's Departments of Physics, Medicine, Kinesiology, and biology departments and we're pretty sure the best way to survive a close quarters ambush is to..."

There's no right or wrong answer to that (though I personally love it when scientists and historians agree.

My wife and I were talking about doing some minor home surgery.  I was, really.  K has a very non-scientific attitude about such things.
"We have professionals with the proper equipment right here in town," she said, "Why would you even consider doing such a thing yourself?"
"Because if we didn't have access to professionals, I'd have to do it myself and it's only practice if you don't need to."

Here's the deal with self-defense in a mostly civilized world and it's the same deal as trying to keep soldiers sharp in periods of extended peace, or keeping survival skills up when you are warm and comfortable... anything that you want to improve, you know must adapt, and yet you will not have a chance to test. Like home surgery.

I can tell you how to build a fusion generator, or how to fix a car, or how to amputate a leg, or how to defend yourself from rabid ferrets.  But if neither of us have actually done it, we have no way to know if the instructions are effective or utter fantasy.  And if I have done it for real and you haven't, we can have confidence that the instructions will work and absolutely no idea if they will work for you or if you can pull them off when you need to.

Self-defense is:
1) a high risk endeavor
2) with a very limited amount of actual knowledge (unethical to design proper academic experiments on fear and danger; statistically insignificant number of accurately reported incidents; witnesses under stress are notoriously unreliable)
3) that will never be personally tested by most students or instructors (and even fewer will have enough real encounters to get past the adrenaline effects and see accurately)
4) that people on a very deep almost Freudian level tend to tie their personalities around (how many people self-identify as 'warriors' who have never put their lives on the line, much less under orders?)

Reasons 1 and 4 are the drives.  People want to know.  They want to know they are good. They want to know they are safe.  They want to know they have it.  Reason 3 is why that desire will never be satisfied. #2 is the reason there will never be a certain answer.

When people have this big a need that can't be satisfied except at extreme personal risk, they seek outside validation.  Lineage.  Or pseudoscience. Or scientific studies that if you squint a little look like they might validate what you want to believe.

They want to swim in the deep water, but they need some kind of reassurance.  They hold onto the side of the pool.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Knowing Full Well

This may be the longest stretch of not writing on the blog since it started.  Mea culpa. That doesn't mean I haven't been writing.  Eleven lessons and counting on a class that starts today (one more day to sign up) on Real Villains for a writer's group.

The class will be a challenge.  Like in a lot of fringe areas of life, the 'common wisdom' is ridiculously wrong; what most people 'know' are politically-driven platitudes; and these incredibly un- or ill-informed beliefs are passionately defended.  There's some information that would rock their world that I can't directly share because of confidentiality issues and NDAs... but they will get a close look.  Hope they're ready.

The basic distinction between infatuation and love is that with infatuation, you have to explain that every pimple is really a beauty mark and in love, you can see the blemishes without your feelings changing.  Those infatuated must actively stay blind, because they fear what they will feel if they see the truth.

You see this in martial arts, of course.  I've seen an instructor with a scripted knife defense that would have cut his own throat with a real blade...and their students blindly repeating the technique.  Seen an instructor explain that falling over by flinching was inevitable and physics, though he could only make it work on his own students.  Seen people who were toyed with convincing themselves they won. Watched countless martial artists deny their personal experience and accept a ridiculous truth... "Attacks always come from two long steps away" "No one can hit hard enough to hurt you at close range" "Anyone who uses a knife will become tool dependent and forget that they can use their other hand and feet so it's okay to tie up all your weapons on one of his"...and so on.

My circle of friends are probably not the people you'd invite over for tea and crumpets. Some are what R calls, "Our kind of broken." I like them, that's why they're my friends.  But I like them knowing full well who and what they are. Not all are bad asses, and not all the ones who think they are really are.  Some have knowledge that far outpaces their understanding or skill.  All are trustworthy, if you know their parameters.

And some of them don't like each other.  "How can you put up with...?"

It's easy.  None of my friends are perfect, and so I can love them anyway, flaws and all.

But I hit a wall on this, sometimes, in training.  What do you do with good skills that come from horseshit?  Most of the time it's not a problem-- generally, if you find an art with 2000 years of history that was invented from pure imagination in the last half century, the art tends to not be all that useful anyway.  It's easy to walk away.

But what about effective arts taught by frauds?  Or what if it is the second or third generation away from the fraud who conned them and the present generation of instructors don't even know it's a fraud?

And (ran into this recently and am still puzzling over it) a group breaks away from their founder because of integrity issues but continues to teach not just the effective technique but also the bullshit philosophy of the founder?

Example-- most of the "Zen" I have seen written about in the US isn't just about the heretical offshoot of the heretical offshoot of Buddhism, but the misinformed, 1970's hippy idealized imaginings of what zen was supposed to be.  If someone wrapped effective stuff in this imaginary trappings...

The INTJ part of me doesn't care.  As long as the parts I need work, the fairy tales people tell themselves don't matter to me.  But part of me cares, for two reasons.  One is that too many people swallow the fantasy with the substance.  Two- if someone can study X for a lifetime and somehow avoid noticing that everything around it is based on historical lies, how can I trust them on the base issues either?

Knowing full well who and what they are, I can usually take the useful and leave the useless.  But it bothers me.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Learning, Responsibility, and Power

I want to run with Pax's comment from the last post:
"From my place at the front of the room I have complete responsibility to speak clearly and with fearless honesty. I accept full responsibility for communicating with my students and for seeing to it that the message does get through. 

But that 100% responsibility on my shoulders does not lighten the student's responsibility at all. 

The student has a responsibility to actively participate in the learning process, which can include making the instructor explain unclear ideas, or challenging questionable concepts, or asking how to integrate apparent contradictions. No matter how dedicated the instructor, in the long run, self-education is the only kind of education there is..."

Here's the way I see it.  I will assume 100% responsibility.  If I am the teacher it is 100% my responsibility to be understood.  And if I am the student, it is 100% my responsibility to understand.  These percentages and the concepts of teaching and learning, the relationship of teacher to student are not exact realities.  A huge amount of every interaction you have with other people is being created in your head. Humans don't deal, almost ever, with objective reality.  We ascribe meanings from our own histories, and interpretations from our own internal connections to everything we hear and everything we see.

You can and do control this process. A fairly large amount of it you can control mindfully, consciously.  And some you can only influence.  Can I learn anything perfectly, 100%?  Of course not.  And are there teachers that can affect how much I learn?  Absolutely.  So is shouldering 100% responsibility even possible?

But here's the thing.  If I delegate responsibility, if I say I'll meet the teacher halfway, I now become dependent.  If the teacher only gives 25% I will fail.  I will be waiting at the halfway point and he will be waiting at the quarter point and we will never meet.  If I commit to making the journey all the way, with or without the teacher, I will get there.  I will get there very fast with a good teacher and slow with a shitty teacher, but I will get there.

And there is both what Kai would call 'agency' in this and power.  Agency is your autonomy.  As described above, anything you delegate, any responsibility you shirk creates a dependency. It removes choices from your hands.  If you don't procure your own food, you don't get to decide what to eat.  If you can't procure your own food, you have given up 100% of your agency and other people get to decide whether you eat.

It's a mental trick, assuming 100% responsibility, but there is power in it. Agency is control is power is choices.  Like the concept of "100% responsibility" there is no absolute power.  You cannot prevent bad things from happening and most aspects of your life are influenced profoundly by other people you cannot control... but that makes it more, not less important to assume control.  The less power you have the more you need to use it wisely, the more foolish and dangerous it is to give some away.

One last note, for the self-defense world.  I occasionally hear that "Women should not be taught to be cautious, men should be taught not to rape." I agree with the last part. But the entire thing is phrased as a false sort, as if there are only two options. Moreover, the first part of the statement... for someone to not be taught anything is to assume you have the right to remove or deny someone power.  Never let anyone take your power, no matter how well-meaning they might be.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Articulation III


It is not the student's responsibility to understand you.  It is your responsibility to make yourself understood. It is rare in martial arts or self-defense that junior instructors are given any training in how to teach.  You earn your black belt (sometimes not even that) and you step into a teaching role.

(Part of this is an artifact of the dan/kyu ranking system.  As I understand it, Kano had instructors wear black belts and students, white.  Later instructor-candidates wore the brown.  That's an aside, maybe.)

So we have people often simply teaching the way they were taught, or teaching things that they may know but they do not understand.

Teaching the way they were taught.  In many of the so-called traditional arts, the first people to bring the art to the west had been members of an occupying army, being taught by former enemies, often through poor translators, and taught to large groups.  None of this was the same way that the same instructors taught their friends or families.  But because it was the only way they had seen it taught, it became the way to teach.

Knowing but not understanding.  This is huge.  There are many things that I was technically proficient at that I did not understand until the rubber met the road. The jujutsu etiquette of the two-man kata seemed like an anachronism until I realized that the way you hand a wakizashi to uke were mirrors of the "action open, safety on" protocol of handing a firearm over.  Etiquette between dangerous, armed people is almost universal.

Without understanding, you can pass on a certain technical proficiency which might fail or be incomplete in the real world.

Whatever you teach must make sense and it must be true.  Stories about ancient monks and platitudes and statements of certainty will resonate with many students.  They will attract a certain following and they will appeal to the koolaid drinkers, the ones looking to feel safe, not to be safer.  People love stories.  Many students will willfully suspend their critical faculties because you wear a black belt.  That is no excuse.  In martial arts and especially if you claim to teach self-defense, the price of error is blood.  The luxury of an instructor is that it will not be your blood.  That makes bullshit more reprehensible, not less.  It adds an element of cowardice to it.

This third and last installment of the Articulation series might seem incomplete.  Fewer examples, less advice on right and wrong.  Know this: Teaching, like any form of communication is a skill.  If you have taken up the responsibility to teach, you have also taken the responsibility to teach well.  If that means breaking out of the box of tradition, so be it.  If that means going deeper, so be it.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Articulation Part II

How you tell a thing is at least as important as what you tell.

Preface-- I am not an attorney.  I am a Use of Force instructor.  Don't construe this as legal advice.

It might surprise you, but I don't teach SD legalities as a decision making course.  Truth is, things are likely to happen very fast, in a fog of adrenaline, and with limited visibility and information.  That said, almost everyone makes good, legal decisions.  For the most part, self-defense laws (like any laws) are simply a codification of standard morality.  You were raised in this culture.  If you aren't a pathological asshole, your instincts will be in line with the law.

I only see three places (overzealous prosecutors aside) where normal people get in trouble with claiming self-defence:

  • A monkey dance, where two usually stupid and drunk young men insist a mutual fight was self defense because the other guy started it. (one stared, so he started it, the other said something so he started it, one pushed so he started it, the other swung so he started it...)
  • The incident is over, the threat either down or fleeing, and you want to teach him a lesson.
  • You have been trained to do something, like cut the throat on a downed threat, as part of the technique.  You could be on the hook criminally and civilly, your instructor might be facing civil liability.
You don't want to hurt anybody unless you have to, right?  You don't want to hurt them more than you need to, right?  You don't want to kill anybody unless it is the only way to save an innocent life, right?  If you answered yes to all three, congratulations.  Your instincts are in line with the law.

But here's the problem-- you can do the right thing and tell the story badly.
Imagine a cliche victim of spousal abuse.  Tiny, terrorized.  He's threatened to kill her and recently put his handgun against her head and laughed.  He's big, strong and unpredictably violent.  Over dinner, he played a round of russian roulette with her head and when she asked about the children he said if she lost the game he'd just kill the children, too, and leave town...
So that night, while he is in a drunken stupor, she shoots him.
As SD, this is beyond iffy.  Why didn't she leave?  Why didn't she get the authorities involved?
If she said, "I couldn't run.  I've tried before and he always found me.  I was in the hospital for four days last time.  And he said if I ever called the cops, he'd just post bail and take it out on one of the kids.  He was bigger and stronger and I was terrified but it was the only chance I had, the only chance the kids had."
However if she said, "I wasn't going to put up with his shit anymore.  So I crept up on him while the fat pig was snoring and put one in his brain. Bastard had it coming."  What reaction would the jury have?

Get this: Both of these accounts fit the (imaginary) facts of the case.  They are 'true' in that sense.  A bigger, stronger, violent man with resources to get out of jail and no qualms about hurting children is a bastard who has it coming.

One of the things you must understand is that criminals practice lying to cops. Have you ever, in your life, practiced telling the truth to the cops?  If not, what are the odds you will be good at it?  Too often a skillful lie will trump a clumsy truth.  That's one of the reasons you want an attorney.  Their job is to present the story properly.

Aside-- Don't take story to mean fiction.  Never lie.  For both moral and practical reasons, lying doesn't serve you.  When I say story, I mean that people are wired to understand things in narrative form, and they get nuance of meaning from word choice.  The Jack Webb "just the facts. ma'am" is great for investigation, but if you're describing the most terrifying minute of your life in cold and robotic terms, you sound non-human. And people, whether they be cops, investigators, prosecutors or a jury are never just evaluating your actions.  Consciously or not, they are evaluating you.

There are elements of a self-defense claim. You have to explain the source of your fear, why you couldn't leave, why a lesser force would have failed. Most importantly, how every bad decision that led to the moment was made by the bad guy.  Again, instinctively you will have done almost all of this.  But, especially under the wash of adrenaline, you might not have been aware of it or remember it now.  The part of your brain that thinks in words is a very tiny part of your thinking power, but the whole brain is very good at what it does.  Trust your own brain.

There are exercises to work on consciously explaining and understanding subconscious decisions.  I've written about it before, and this is getting long.

That's what you say.  There are two more elements (at least) to a good self-defense claim.  When do you say it?  Who says it?

When?  Any good attorney will give you advice to not talk to the police at all.  Good advice but very hard to pull off without looking very guilty, and the officers will play on that appearance of guilt to get you to talk.  Especially hard because people tend to babble under stress and you will be under stress.  And babbling implies what you think it does. Much of what you say will not be accurate.

There are four basic times when you will be asked for your story:

  • Cops at the scene will ask what happened. There are different options.  Say nothing.  Or point out witnesses, evidence and no more.  Or say that you aren't calming down and want to see a doctor. Or say that one of your friends is a lawyer and he told you to call him if police were involved in anything and that's what you should do or... Mine?  I'll say, "Gentleman, you're doing your job and I want to help but I've heard horror stories about what can  happen in civil cases.  I'll cooperate fully as soon as my attorney gets here."
  • If the incident resulted in death or serious injury, detectives will want to question you. Demand an attorney. Make no statements until he or she arrives.
  • The meeting with your attorney.  Get a good attorney.  Tell the attorney everything.
  • This doesn't count as one of the four, but there may be depositions and motion hearings and all the things you pay your attorney to guide.
  • The trial

Who tells the story?  When possible, I prefer the witnesses or the video to tell the story.  Adrenaline can distort your memory and probably did distort your perception, and anything you missed might be characterized as a lie to challenge your credibility. Within this story you, with the help of your attorney, you can add commentary ("That was when I realized he'd cut off my only escape.")

When that's not an option (a skilled predator will do his best to make sure there are no witnesses or video) it's up to you.  With your attorney's guidance. In a jury trial, whether to take the stand yourself is a tactical decision.  If you don't present well, if you get flustered, if you come across as too cold or are easy to provoke, it's probably best NOT to take the stand.

Again, you can be 100% right, have all the facts on your side, and torpedo yourself with a poor articulation.  Articulation is a learnable, trainable skill.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Articulation Part I

How you tell a thing is at least as important as what you tell.  You can be  100% right, and tell the story in such a way that it alienates the jury, or the media, or your prospective customers.

Case in  point:
A group I am a member of put out this video for comment.  Most of the comments, as you would expect from a group of brawlers, were negative.  Simple fact is that even the best sport or martial application you have seen doesn't rise to the level of complexity and ferocity of real violence.

But the video was not wrong.  It was dead on.  But the explanations, the articulations, were substandard.

To hammer the main point: You can be completely right, and if you explain poorly, it won't matter. The jury will find you guilty or the BTDT crowd will find a reason to dismiss you.

So in the first segment, Mr. Kesting talks about RBSD and the advice to 1) never go to the ground in a street fight; 2) what if the bad guy has friends; and 3) what about weapons?

He sidesteps these, but these are critically important.  More important, they don't distract from his main point.

Multiple opponents? Standing or on the ground, multiple opponents suck.  I'll tell you right now that my plan in a big riot was always to find the biggest bad guy I could and cross choke him out and hide under his body. That's a grappling application in a worst-case multiple attacker scenario. Context is critical.

Weapons suck, too.  Grappling against a blade sucks on unbelievable levels... but so does stand-up against a knife.

Never go to the ground?  If you get to pick, you're the bad guy.  In self-defense, victims don't have choices.  If there was one thing I could re-write in the script to this video, this would be the key because Mr. Kesting is exactly right-- but without the experience of street violence his explanation is off. You need to be able to fight on the ground because you will not have the choice. Any dick who tells you 'we train not to the go to the ground' is indulging in his fantasy, not your reality.

His second reason involves clinching.  I'm an infighter.  Most people do it shitty, but this is my range.  This is the way I like to fight.  He points out that clinching is what boxers do to not get hit.  The way I would articulate it is this: Grappling, whether standing or on the ground, allows you to control time.  It is the slowest possible way of fighting (that's not a bad thing). Time without damage buys time to think, and plan, and manipulate the fight into something you might win. Properly executed, a good clinch controls space, controls arms, controls the entire skeleton.  If you're good, it allows you to control the pace of the fight.  No down side to doing it well.

Kesting's third reason is for control. To hold someone until authorities arrive.  A valid reason, but it can be incredibly complex and fucked up.  Legally, there is a fine line between controlling a perp and committing "unlawful detention."  For enforcement officers (and this is my experience) most tournament grappling systems fail because sport submissions don't tend to put the threat into handcuffing position. That leaves with a guy who says he's done fighting who may be lying. The bridge, FWIW, between submission systems and handcuffing tends to fall into fingerlocks, and no one teaches that like Small Circle Jujitsu.

The fourth reason is beautiful, but poorly phrased. If the guy is bigger and stronger and there is no opportunity to retreat...

Here's the deal.  The guy will be bigger and stronger than you. IF IT IS SELF-DEFENSE.  He will have size, strength, surprise, weapons, and/or be crazy.  This is self-defense, not Thanksgiving Dinner at Grandma's. As a general rule. If someone is better at 'A' you fight him with 'B'. Kesting's fourth reason applies if and only if you are a better grappler. Voluntary grappling is almost always a bad idea for SD-- when the goal is to escape, sacrificing mobility has a huge cost.  But we don't train for when things are going well.  You have to be good at striking, clinch and grappling (and small arms and small unit tactics and...) and you have to have the capacity to turn the fight into the kind you are good at...especially if the bad guys is better than you at another range.

The physics of fighting to escape are different from the physics of fighting to win, and this is worth practicing as well.

Kesting's fifth reason is also exactly right, but not.  There are a handful of things that work with the really big problems, with the mentals and the enraged and EDPs and PCP freaks and EDs.  Breaking every long bone in their body works.  A very severe concussion usually works.  Suffocation.  Bleeding out. And cutting off blood to the brain.

I could do a post on things that should work but don't, but the list of things that actually work is very short and Kesting points out the number one unarmed technique: the rear naked strangle.  Or LVNR or hadakajime.  Whatever you want to call it, it works.

That said, it is hard as hell to justify as self-defense.  Why? Because in order to use it you must be behind the threat and in control.  You are likely the bad guy.  It is an extraordinary technique for defense of a third party.  Defending yourself it is roughly equivalent to justifying shooting someone in the back.  Especially in jurisdictions that have ruled any neck restraint to be deadly force.  Long ago my county attorney said, "I'd rather you shot someone on the back than used a chokehold.  There's a lot more case law for shooting." Which, by the way, is one of the reasons to get good at cross-strangles.

Once again, Kesting is exactly right, but misses the context of the real world.  Familiarity with those concepts make his points stronger, not weaker.  He is, like a lot of martial artists, more right than he knows.

You need to be able to articulate why the right answer was the right answer.
Note-- I contacted Stephan Kesting and let him see the first draft of this post.  His response was: 

Go for it!  This is a valuable discussion to have, and by putting videos on YouTube I'm pretty much putting myself into the spotlight; at that point having people disagree with what I'm saying, or pointing out incomplete aspects of my arguments, comes with the territory.

That's the sign of a good thinker, teacher and perpetual learner.  All the signs of a good man. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Intel, Influence, Control

Not sure where I'm going with this.  Bear with me.

You can look at almost any human interaction as one of these three things.  From conversation to a fight, I am either trying to learn about you, influence you, or control you.  There's some overlap, primarily in that gathering intelligence should be an ongoing and instinctive process, present in all instances of control and influence.

Verbally, even small talk.  You do gather information from small talk.  Rarely the subject matter, and that may be the point.  You gather information about how comfortable the person is socially and what level of connection they feel towards you. My high-functioning friends on the spectrum can be very smooth with small talk, as long as the script doesn't deviate.  And subject matter-- small talk may be a natural counter-intelligence technique to avoid giving up important data.

Lots of talking, maybe most of all communication, is about influence.  We are constantly trying to modify the behaviors of those around us.  Consciously or not, you dress to either get a reaction or to avoid reactions.  Even dressing to blend in is influencing others.  Arguing, debate, persuasion, or the subtle manipulation of letting someone discover a thing... all are influence.  All communication is manipulation.

 Influence works by providing intel.  The intel may or may not be true.  May or may not be logical.  Emotion works even better than facts in most cases to change behavior.

Control is the removal of choices.  Giving orders.  Making ultimatums.  Writing laws. It must be backed up with the power to enforce it OR applied to someone who has been thoroughly conditioned to obey. You herd sheep.  You don't bother to negotiate with them.

Unless you are dealing with a population conditioned to obedience, control may have quick responses, but it has long term costs.  The relationship of equals becomes impossible.  There must either be a power struggle or the power disparity grows until one of the populations is purely a victim, a slave.  And when a controller tries to influence, tries to pretend that there is mutually equality, you will see the sick dynamic of victim grooming.  They can only keep up the pretense of equality until the victim presumes upon it...

And all of this applies to battle at any scale.  Every sensitivity drill in martial arts is about gathering information.  The typical beat-degage-beat as an opening move in fencing will usually tell you if your opponent is strong or weak, quick or slow, aggressive or a counter-striker, sensitive or dull, brave or timid. A little training in chi sao and you should be able to touch your opponent's forearm and now where his entire skeleton is located, where his weight and balance are, and where he is about to move.
You look to aim.  We have to consciously program and practice the 360 scan.  It goes all the way up to satellite imagery and analysis of open source news.

The pain-compliance levels of defensive tactics or going for a submission in sport or the shock-and-awe strategy are all influence. The bad guy could always ignore the pain and keep fighting.  A submission can always go to a dislocation, if you have the will (and, aside, one of the purposes of having a ref to call it is so that people can avoid finding out if they have the will).  But I've seen people fight with broken bones and dislocations.  I've had sport fights, one consim training and one real force incident where my shoulder dislocated and I kept going.

And shock and awe. Looking too powerful to even fight.  Making it look like submission is the only survivable option.  Influence by adding information.  The entire idea behind maneuver warfare, for that matter.

And control.  No choices.  Pulling the trigger (not always immediate, but the goal in shooting someone is to make it impossible for them to continue, not just change their attitude).  Strangling someone out.  The war of attrition.

Control is not always this grim.  Handcuffs on the cop side.  Pins (osaekomi waza) on the judo side-- the point is you can't escape.

So, how to use this paradigm?
Intelligence gathering should just become a habit.  Every interaction with every person, whether watching someone walk on the sidewalk, a conversation with a friend or a stranger, a sparring match or a fire fight is an exercise in observing and learning.  Don't nut up on this. If you think in an ugly fight you'll have better things to do than pay attention, it will probably end badly.  You have to deal with what is happening, ergo you must know what is happening.  Otherwise you are rolling the dice.

Be clear when you are intending to influence or control.  You do it all the time anyway, try to do it consciously.  The most dangerous mistake is to attempt to blend influence and control when control is required.  If you are setting a boundary, it is not a conversation.  (see Scaling Force for more on Boundary Setting and verbal responses to threats in general.)

Experiment in your training with manipulation.  Maija does this with sword, I like doing it with unarmed-- if you give a target too juicy to pass up, your opponent will exploit it in a predictable way.  It's how you set up an armbar, for instance.

Lastly, take a look at the communications aimed at you, at what goes on in the world around you.  Who is trying to influence you?  For what purpose? Who is trying to control you, taking away your choices?
This goes deep, and you will see people presenting their controls as mere influence or even kindness and their enemy's arguments (influence) as life-threatening (control).

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Seven Strategies

There are three natural strategies for dealing with predators: Hide, run and fight.
There are two more for dealing with your own species: Posture and Submit. Both occasionally work cross species.

The three natural strategies mimic the Freeze-Flight-Fight.  Freezing is natural.  We evolved in a world where predators key on motion.  It is a form of hiding when it is too late to hide.  If something else is moving and you aren't, the eyes of the predator will be drawn to the something else.  And it works sometimes in social violence.  Often, when someone wants to escalate to physical violence, he or she needs a 'hook' a reason to blame you.  Frequently, freezing denies the hook.

Hiding can be an effective strategy.  Many wild birds hide their nests.  Helpless things like eggs and fawns are camouflaged.  There is a definite trainable skill in it.  When it works, the cost is low.  However when it fails, it fails catastrophically.  For that reason I'm uncomfortable with lockdown as the sole response to school shootings.  They call it shooting fish in a barrel for a reason.

Running works too.  It's very hard to be injured if you're not there.  It works for herd animals, as long as something else is slower. Predators are lazy.  Or efficient, depending what spin you want to put on it. Turtles are easier to run down than gazelles. And that's the rub.  No matter how much you pretty it up, running works as a strategy because you are willing to sacrifice one of your own.  When you can't run, or aren't willing to run because of who the target will become, you get stuck with freeze or fight.

Fighting-- probably 50% of the blog is about that.  It's an unfortunate word.  People tend to think of the dominance struggle within a group, and that's more a part of posturing.  It's not what a caribou should do to a wolf, no more than you should try to box or grapple a tiger.  As a targeted prey, an animal knows that the predator has the advantage-- bigger, stronger, with more weapons, probably all of the above.  The fight strategy is an attempt to make you too expensive to be a meal.  It is not something rabbits do because they believe they can beat a coyote

It's especially an unfortunate choice of words when people attempt to use Monkey Dance defaults in predatory situations.  Again, something I've written and talked about until I'm tired of it.

Posturing is generally playing the alpha male or Monkey Dance game.  Trying to look impressive.  Threats.  Sometimes it does work on predators-- being loud and making big arm motions sometimes discourages cougars and bears.  And sometimes it doesn't.  Again, one of the things that when it fails tends to fail catastrophically.  Predators don't play in the same league or for the same stakes as intra-species rivalry.  When bluffing fails on a creature that has claws and fangs...

Submission, showing the signs of surrender works within species.  It can go very badly when you have been trained that all people are essentially the same and you are trying to surrender to a society that believes anyone not like them is subhuman.  So maybe I should say that it usually works within cultural groups.  Unless you are dealing with someone who wants a reputation for breaking social rules.

Sometimes it works with predators.  There are a few documented instances of playing dead working with bears.  With certain human predators giving them what they want keeps them from using force.  With others, of course, submission gives them a clear signal that it is safe to use force, and they will.

All except fighting tend to work, but fail catastrophically when they fail.
Hide-> Fish in a barrel.
If you try to run and aren't fast enough, you've given up your back.
If your bluff gets called posturing, it will be bad against a predator, even money in social violence.
And submission postures are submission postures because they are difficult to fight from.

You can also get destroyed fighting, but that comes with the territory and if that's the strategy you picked you should feel somewhat prepared.  The thing with fighting is that when successful it has a higher price than any other successful strategy.  Fewer catastrophic losses, but the only strategy that risks catastrophic wins.

There are two more, one natural and one uniquely human.

Hunting.  Maximizing your advantages to eliminate the target as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible.  With human technology, size, strength and ferocity of the target have little bearing.  Bad guys use this strategy.  It is hard for a good guy to use the strategy, though it is the central tenet of Llap Goch.  But good guys can use the mindset, and there is a lot of power in that.

The last strategy may be exclusively human (maybe not) and can be done in conjunction with any of the others: Gather intel.  If you pay attention you can learn much about your enemies, even while you are hiding (that's what scouts do, essentially); or running; or fighting (Maija is working on a book on reading and deceiving an opponent in a duel); or submitting (assassin's favorite?); or posturing.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Good Day

Life has changed.  The first year I kept this blog, my definition of a good day was different.  Here's one example.

Today was a good day.  But very different.  Nick called late last night from Chicago.  It was a scotch-and-cigar kind of talk that would have gone better in person.

K has an incredibly rare string of days off.  I'm committed to the tune-up tomorrow, and I'll miss her, but I had one day with the precious lady.  A day of gathering materials and loading trucks and moving hay and digging holes and setting fence posts.  Sunday will involve a lot of carpentry.

Kasey has an idea for a kick-ass class (would it be possible to do active shooter training for cops and citizens at the same time?)  The logistics and the complexity of running such a scenario would be staggering... but with Kasey and Cabot, staggering is a minimum level of challenge.

Nick and James sent e-mails that will require some thought, as they are wont to do.

Greg sent the first draft of his foreword for the ConCom manual.

Got the tentative schedule for Spring in the UK.

Now it is time on the deck, in the mist, with a good book and a good Islay.  Steaks to come.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Idiots, Assholes and Pros

This is aimed mostly at professionals.
There are three general kinds of people that will require force.  The three types don't fight for the same reason or use the same tactics, and your skills may not work the same.

Honestly, most of the time, if you are in enforcement or corrections or especially bouncing, you are going to run into idiots.  The drunk college kid who squares off and lets you know he's coming a mile away.  The entitled whiner who thinks he's too special to go to jail just for driving drunk.  The martial artist who's never been in a real fight but doesn't believe there's a difference.

It may just be the old man in me coming out, but it seems like idiots are on the rise.  Fewer people have been exposed to violence; more people have never had their behavior controlled.  That combination creates people who are both hot-house flowers incapable of taking care of themselves, but certain that anything they want is a right and anyone who disagrees is an oppressor.  It seems I see more and more of this pathetically weak but shrill and bullying dynamic. For whatever my opinion is worth.

Idiots are easy.  You see them coming and almost anything done decisively works.  The drunk steroid freak squares off and let's you know he has a blackbelt in...

And you smile and toe kick him in the shin with your boot before he finishes the sentence and then drop him. Or beat past his arms and twist his spine.  Or, probably the classic:

Again, almost anything done decisively works.

Assholes are the second most common.  They like to fight and they have varying levels of, for want of a better word, professionalism.  The experienced know when they are outnumbered and tend to surrender.  The experienced assholes know when they are losing and give up.  Generally, even the experienced assholes don't like going hands on on a cop or other professional-- unless they sense any weakness.

They have varying levels of 'professionalism' in how far they are willing to go and incredibly varied skill levels.  An asshole who gets the drop on you is still dangerous even if he barely knows how to hit. To a large degree, fighting assholes is somewhat like fighting martial athletes.  A wide range of skill and commitment but generally, they like to fight and it will be a fight.  The fatal mistake is treating an asshole like an idiot.  When it comes time to bat his guard aside, the guard won't be weak and it will likely trigger a counter-attack.  An idiot's lack of confidence and/or lack of understanding of how the world really works are the reasons it is so easy to bat aside even their trained fists.  You won't get this with assholes.

And saying they like to fight isn't quite right either.  They don't like the give and take of fighting, only the give.  They enjoy causing pain and beating people down but tend not to be so big on receiving pain. So most won't engage if you act like a wary professional.  They won't see the safe opening.

The pros are a different kettle of fish.  For the most part, you won't get a lot of these.  Highest concentration is in prison, jails, or on elite teams.  Rarity makes them somewhat low risk.  Their own professionalism also makes them low risk.  It is very, very rare for this category to fight for ego.  If you have the drop on them and maintain control they will, generally, not resist.  If your handcuffing technique has a hole built into it or your approach is sloppy, they will use the Golden Rule of Combat: "Your most powerful weapon applied to your opponent's most valuable point at his time of maximum imbalance."  They will hit you hard, decisively, where and how it will do the most damage, and they will strike when you are least ready.

Assume most pros are skilled.  It's not always true and it's not a necessary factor, but growing into a pro mindset usually takes time and that kind of time doing those kinds of things develops skills.  That said, it doesn't take a lot of skilled technique when you follow the Golden Rule.  No one has to be trained to hit a man in the head with a brick from behind.

And the skill may be something unusual.  In the debrief on Minnesota I mentioned that there were some high-percentage techniques that simply didn't work on Kasey, Dillon or me.  Our grappling backgrounds made us instinctively structure in ways that idiots don't think to and assholes are too arrogant for, even if they had trained the skills.

Taxonomy alert: Taxonomies are naming classifications.  This is a separate taxonomy from the social/asocial that I usually use.  An asocial threat can fight as either an asshole or a pro (as an idiot, too, but Darwin usually takes care of that combination early).  The asocial/social/maslow/triune is a better introduction for most everybody, but people who use force professionally might get something from this classification.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Blood, Sweat and Tears

Two big training weekends and I want to debrief them.  Not specifics, but some generalities.  Important things.

I sometimes say that a perfect training day is indicated by blood, sweat and tears.

I don't get the concept of not sweating in a physical art.  Doesn't matter what the art is-- martial arts or climbing or dance or horseback riding or tiddleywinks.  If you don't sweat, what exactly are you doing?  Feel free to disagree, but I think an absence of sweat means it's not a physical skill.

Blood.  This is a game of edges.  Physical edges, mental edges, emotional edges.  Physically, you're a skinbag of meat and (mostly nasty) liquids.  Life is a contact sport, and if you never get your skinbag moving fast and coming in contact with the things of the world, whatever your doing doesn't look or feel like living to me.  And that goes ten times for anything you want to call a martial art or martial sport or combatives or self-defense.  If you play so deep in your comfort zone that you never leak, you might be doing origami or tiddleywinks or low-level interpretive dance. Don't destroy yourself-- you can make your muscles stronger than your joints or create forces in a second that will ruin your physicality or your partner's forever-- but training only happens on the edge.

Lastly tears.  Fighting, especially survival fighting, is a mental and emotional skill far more than a physical skill.  You can live your martial fantasies and pretend it doesn't apply to you, but everyone has emotional edges.  Play tough guy all you want, but until you see the baby's head roll away, or watch someone trying to hold their stomach inside their skin, or feel the barrel of a shotgun in your mouth, you can't know how you will react.  Until you have been shattered and get back up, you cannot know if that is inside you, no matter what you tell yourself.

The last two weekends involved some intense stuff.  Part of scenario training is judiciously pushing buttons, creating a scenario that feels real and pushes someone right to the emotional edge.  Good scenario planning has a lot in common with sadism.  Except it is set up to power through.  To find or create the strength.  So, yeah, I'm a bastard.  Actually used a student's real daughter as a prop...and got to see a slender, untrained, retired lady throw a fifth degree blackbelt across the room and pull a soccer kick to his head just in time. And her tears were pouring down.  And that didn't stop her. Not. One. Damn. Bit.

Two perfect training weekends.  Blood sweat and tears.  Some of the students did some very deep work on themselves.  Everyone had fun.  I think every e-mail so far has said something like, "I'm still processing..."  Very, very good.

Monday, October 07, 2013


This has been a long eleven days. Roughly eight hours a day of training preceded by an hour or two of prep and finished with four or more hours of campfire-level talk.  One or two hours (depending on the day) for travel.  I'm a little wiped.

Friday.  Landed at the airport.  Killed time until Marc's plane got in.  Lise picked us up.  Drive to Lise's for dinner, scotch, talks.  Of the four instructors, (yours truly, Kasey Keckeisen, Marc MacYoung and Steve Jimerfield) Marc and Steve hadn't met.  Lots of story telling.  I listened.

Saturday.  Eight hours of mat time with Steve Jimerfield as the lead instructor.  30-year cop, retired.  Even at his age he moved and adapted like a force of nature.  Good techniques, structure and thought process.  Every art, system and instructor is formed by his or her environment.  Steve's was as an Alaska State trooper.  Back-up hours away, criminals with high confidence that they could make your body disappear if they got the upper hand and an environment (cold, slick, hypothermic and numb) that in some cases was more dangerous than the bad guy.  He lived in a world that had no room for error and a teaching environment where bullshit would kill rookies.

All week, each class and each day was debriefed by the students and each day began with a safety briefing.  Starting Monday, each new skill was thrown back into the One-Step to begin the integration process.

And usually followed by dinner, scotch and cigars.  And talking.  Lots of talking.  I won't go into these much because in many ways it blended into a single long conversation.

Sunday.  Day two of the cold weather One-on-One Control Tactics, plus two hours on a little pain compliance tool called the Talon.  I'm not big on pain compliance, it's extra and pain is legendarily idiosyncratic and unreliable.  I can ignore it so I assume most bad guys can.  That said, "ow."  Nice little bruises.  Also- Jimerfield is an old judo guy.  Between the judo and the experience, he moves the way so many aikidoka try to move and fail.

Monday.  Our first hiccup.  This entire seminar was Kasey's brainchild to see how our styles meshed, whether we could work together and take the first steps to designing a combined lesson plan.  Which would be cool, because Jimerfield's DT program blows away anything I've seen and the program we designed at MCSO does, too, but in different ways.  The meld might be amazing.

Unfortunately, we'd promised a 1on1CT Instructor's cert and that requires 40 hours with Steve for the basic. So we had to split into two tracks.  Half of the mission was accomplished-- I got a good taste of how Steve taught, but he was going to miss most of what Marc and I taught.  So we split into 2-tracks and I didn't get to watch one of them.  Our track included:

Intro to the basic drill (with all the little lessons in that)

  • Context (me) With a segue into teaching philosophy and teaching methods for emergency skills
  • Structure while moving (Marc)
  • Compliant cuffing (Steve) 
  • Power Generation (Marc's version)
  • Power Generation (My version)
  • Warm-up
  • Sightless (me)
  • Strikes to takedowns (Kasey)
  • Violence Dynamics (Me)
  • Threat Assessment (Marc)
  • One Step
  • Practical Locks (Me)
  • Force Law (Kasey)
  • Leverage (Me)
  • Ground Movement (Me)
  • Ethics and Application of Pain (Me)
  • Counter Assault (Me)
  • Drives and Impacts (Marc)
We were joined by the RCSO combined SWAT for their regular training.  First part of their morning was getting them up to speed on our methods and, especially, safety protocols.  One of the few places I've ever seen where civilians are allowed and encouraged to train with high-end police units. Then:
  • Environmental Fighting (Me)
  • Weapon Retention (Steve)  I took the few civilians who didn't carry off to the side to cover spine manipulation, infighting strikes and creating and exploiting pockets of space.
  • Blade defense (Marc)
  • Neck manipulation and structure on the ground (Kasey)
One of the themes that had consistently come up was the interplay between movement, structure, leverage and space.  Fighters that can actually use structure in a brawl are rare.  It's not, generally, something that young men grasp and the guys that get it rarely fight.  Good judo players are the exception.  Anyway, a lot of the 99% effective techniques were failing with Kasey (although he is a good uke) Dillon, and me because over the years we've learned to structure instinctively. So Kasey and I decided to do a class exploring how we were preventing or escaping techniques and how it could be used against us.
  • Structure on the Ground (Kasey)
  • Plastic Mind (Me)
  • Size Difference Fighting (Marc)
I know there was some more in here and some stuff I'm taking out of order.

Saturday, we had four new people joining us, and whereas every one of the regulars had agreed to get some sleep and start at ten, I couldn't reach these guys so I was there before eight.  Ran them through the academics-- Violence Dynamics and Context and ConCom.  Steve took most of the physical stuff.  It looked like fun.

Sunday, we met at the Mall of America for an advanced people watching course.  We included the Clothespin Game in the course.  Check out Drills for a description.  We broke into very small groups to draw less attention.  All of the students got a session with each instructor.

This was extraordinary, according to the feedback.  They got four entirely different ways of seeing the same thing and I'm frankly jealous I couldn't be a student for the other instructors.  Kasey used his tactical and sniper experience to show them space.  Marc taught a form of cold reading and evaluating relationships between people.  Steve used his extensive experience watching criminals to point out criminal and pre-criminal behavior and attitudes.  That's what I picked up in the moments I could eavesdrop and what I gathered from the debrief.  I hit:
  • How to expand peripheral vision, including seeing both ways down a corridor when you break a T, and how to look directly behind you 
  • Shadows and reflections
  • Risk assessment as separate from threat assessment
  • Moving without being noticed (stalking in the wild is about not being seen, stalking in crowds is about not being noticed)
  • Active shooter options for civilians
  • Defensive observation in pairs or teams
As you can see, a full week.  I can't even begin to describe how cool the students were.  Open minded, physically gifted, critical, smart.  Could not have wished for more.

Hopefully, I'll have more time for writing.  Things are already percolating.