Monday, January 28, 2013

That Went Swimmingly

The new seminar format went really, really well. Some old acquaintances, and some new that felt like we'd known each other for a long time.  A roomful of brilliant thinkers, varied experience and everyone was cool with not being spoonfed.

The big test was whether, given some background information and after reasoning out aspects of the problem the class would recreate a list of Principles and Concepts that would match mine.  Thirty years of martial arts and twenty of (mostly, usually, on my end) unarmed encounters with violent criminals, I have my list.  There are more-or-less precisely:

Eleven principles that make all techniques either work or fail

Sixteen thought processes or concepts that experienced people have that are unfamiliar to many civilians

About twenty classes of physical skills that fighters need

That's my list.  That doesn't make it exhaustive and it sure doesn't make it right.  But it is mine and it does make a good framework and it is transmissible, so that's all good.  And I'm not going to share them here.  Nope, not hiding information to be a dick.  The handful of you that really care and really get this are already making personal lists in your head.  I don't want my list polluting yours.  Happy to share when you are done, but people have this weird tendency to quit thinking for themselves as soon as they see a list of answers.

So, it took a little steering (but not much) and of the eleven principles, the students identified eight.  Two of the others are kind of esoteric (so broad that they are almost metaphors) and the third was so obvious it was probably just assumed.  So I'm happy with the ratio.

Nine of sixteen concepts. Two of the ones missed are actually really specific to law enforcement.  And one, I realized in the after-action this morning was right there, a perfect teaching moment, but I missed it too.

In two days we touched on some of the building blocks (classes of skills), but only as a way to show how skills could be taught separate from technique and improvised immediately or as they came up in the specific solutions.

In two days, this group of people got a huge chunk of what took 20+ years of trial and error to learn.
THAT is what teaching is all about.
Very, very good weekend.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Fellow Explorers

This will be a challenge. Not the material.  That is pretty intuitive once you get the underpinnings down.  The method will be a challenge.  Over the next two days I want this course to be almost entirely student-driven.  The Logic of Violence piece has been that way from the beginning.  That's material the students need to own, not just know...

Brainstorming here.

Intro-- Violence Dynamics.  Make sure all of the students are using the same vocabulary and understand the drives and purposes of different types of violence.

Part 2-- Logic of Violence.  The students, as a group, will solve the problems that a successful criminal needs to solve.  This will give them a strategic view of what the actual problems of SD are.   This will be the first time where I hope that they will break up (or at least see) that SD can be, maybe must be implemented at five (?) different stages: 1) Not being the person who can solve the bad guys problems or 2) Not getting on the victim list or 3) Avoiding/resisting the psychological dominance techniques 4) Surviving or countering the ambush 5) surviving the fight if you are lucky enough to turn it into a fight.

All the big survival gains are in the first steps.  Most SD and MA spend time on the last step, which is the one least likely to work but easiest to teach.

Part 3-- As they come up to answers to the problems they themselves have set, it's going to require some deep thinking and that should lead into the physics, the principles that make things work.

And this is where it gets three dimensional, because the easiest way to teach is NOT the best way to get applicable skills into a student.  So that will take a digression into conditioning versus training versus play (or randori).  All three get things into a student in different ways, but conditioning is the one you need for surprise and only in play can you learn to adapt, improvise OR make your skills simply part of the way you move.

If this student pool is as brilliant as I think they are, they'll not just learn this stuff over the weekend, they'll discover it.

The goal: No students, no teachers.  Just fellow explorers.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Knee Brace

The Doc doesn't care for my life style.  Why didn't I make an appointment right after the injury?  Because I was out of the country.  Shouldn't be walking (or able to). Sorry, got stuff to do.  We need to schedule a surgery.... Booked through October.  How's October?

Have to rethink things.  The knee is unstable.  Reflexive, casual, regular walking it has collapsed in three different directions.  So I have to pay attention all the time.  The walking my dad taught me for stalking deer seems to protect it best, but it is slow.  The chaos of play (much less fighting) is risky.  I'm actually sitting on the edge of a career-ending injury.  Yeah, definitely have to rethink.

Be an adult.  Demonstrate less.  Play less (and my stomach knots up at that thought.)  I never really wanted to teach.  I don't get an ego-boo out of people calling me 'sensei' it actually makes me feel awkward and shy.  I'm Rory.  Standing in front of a class changes nothing.  Still just Rory. Sometimes the responsibility of teaching feels like a weight. Especially when the students invest too much in the (IMO completely wrong-headed) student/teacher relationship. My first formal class was simply because I had run out of people locally who could play the game the way I wanted to.  I knew if I wanted partners that could hang, I'd have to create them.  I only ever taught because I wanted to play better.

Be an adult.  Limit risks.  Limit chaos.  Try to teach chaos while avoiding it.  Which is okay, because avoiding is the best strategy for chaos. But reveling in it is the second best.  Focus the classes on the lectures and data dump.  And that's okay, too.  I know it's the important part.  Most people who train have fine physical skills.  The physical stuff is easy.  Will is hard.  Foresight takes some practice...

So the next few months a big bulky brace and a shiny new cane.  Hmmmmm.  Never really got into training with a cane.  Opportunity.

Monday, January 21, 2013


"Within Normal Limits" was a distinction from medic class a long time ago.  There's no healthy or sick, no right or wrong, no crazy or sane, just stuff that is or isn't within normal limits.  WNL. Joints are a little tight or a little loose, that's WNL.  You can function in society, your psychology is WNL.

More or less.  I've written about this before and been thinking about it much.  Normal limits shift.  They shift with time and society and subculture and circumstances.  My normal limits (and expectation) for appropriate alertness, speech and ability to engage were very different in the jail than at home.  WNL behavior is context dependent.

Obviously.  And one of the things I've written about before, in different words is that most attempts to 'fix' bad guys are not attempts to make them better, but attempts to make them more like the people that judge them.  In other words, to drag them within the boundaries of our normal limits.

Last Tuesday, I got the chance to talk to a small group of people at Walter Reed Medical Center in DC.  Some were clinicians, some patients.  It was good, especially for me.  There are people who have been through certain things and that lets us cut out the bullshit and talk about things instead of around things. Sometimes on the blog I feel like I am ranging fire, trying to find the concept that most people can get as an analogy to some of the things I try to say.  But at best, it can only be an analogy.

One of the symptoms of PTSD is "hypervigilance" the adrenaline-fueled jumpiness that has you living on orange alert.  Is it bad?  Looked at in the context of where it developed it is an important survival trait.  In an environment where people are hunting you, where vest bombers and assassins and snipers will do everything possible to hide their intention, hypervigilance is far more valuable than the complacent zombies you see all over Costco.  Not only are the zombies unaware and helpless, they also aren't really living.  They don't see the snipers but they don't see the sky, either.  They live small and pathetic bubble lives.

People in certain professions have done things and adapted to doing things that others cannot imagine.  In any other endeavor, we would recognize this for what it is-- superiority.  All other things being equal (not that that ever happens) the person who holds the gold record in the 100m dash is superior to the one who doesn't.  The person who speaks three languages is superior to the one who speaks only one.  All other things being equal, being better at math is simply better.

Take a minute and let your little insecurities come out in whimpery growls.  Explain all the reasons why everyone is equal OR why someone who is better than you at everything doesn't mean, on some imaginary spiritual level that you are inferior.  Whatever you need to say so you can sleep at night.

When it comes to violence, though, there is an extra level of weirdness. Our civilization has progressed to the point that some can believe that violence is an aberration.  They can deny that they remain safe only because other people (who can do something they cannot do for themselves) stand ready to oppose those who would use violence.  And so, most are driven to believe that those who can do violence MUST be broken in some way.

The broken/fixed paradigm may get in the way.  Appropriate levels of response vary by situation (and that was one of the Major's goals with this talk was a conscious recalibration of threat assessment.)  I have a hard time saying there is something wrong with mindset X if it gives you an edge surviving situation Y.  The skill of reading the situation and opting between mindsets might be the way to go.

Enough.  I'm rambling.  Just be aware that if you have a superpower, those without will be driven to describe it as a problem.  The question may not be whether something is wrong but where that something fits.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Teaching Adults

Adam e-mailed with a suggestion on what to teach, which sent my brain into a completely different tangent.  I'll try to avoid the Myers-Briggs references too much.

The suggestion was good and it's definitely on the table, but what intrigued me is that Adam and I are both fairly rare MB types.  He felt that my communication style was very helpful.  The money quote:

"For example, it is more effective to tell me what striking is and what it is useful for and then show me how to punch; it is much less effective to start by showing me how to make a proper fist."

I don't think this is an INTJ/P thing.  This is an adult thing.

Some of the tenets of adult education versus childhood education are:

  • In order to interest an adult, you must show the adult the value in the lesson
  • You must tie in what you are teaching with what the adults already know
  • You just fit the new information into the world that the adult lives in
  • It is better to use the adult's current skill and knowledge as a jump board
This is different with kids.  Kids don't know very much.  They can be smart but rarely knowledgable, some have memorized facts but few understand context.  So for the most part, we can skip these bullet points.  If you tried to explain to a four year old the value of symbolic communication, he or she simply wouldn't get it, nor see the connection between that and learning the alphabet song.  Small children don't sometimes know enough to tie things together, like the relationship between drawing letters and listening to songs.  The third point we don't skip, but we do adapt it to the kid's limited world and so they learn the alphabet in the context of a song and not an indexing system.  Lastly, small children rarely have relevant skills and knowledge to build from.

So we teach them their abc's and the alphabet song and then how to draw letters and then simple words that we attach to pictures.  It's a painstaking way to learn from zero to a level of skill.

The equivalent kid way is to teach how to form a fist.  Then the proper way to strike.  And things sometimes go bad in this martial process when proper=pretty and (to stretch the metaphor to breaking) the students believe they are learning critical writing when in fact they are only learning calligraphy.

With adults, treating them like children ("Do it in this order and do not ask questions.") doesn't work that well.  Personally I find it profoundly disrespectful.

You start with problems and goals, parameters. There are bad people in the world.  You want them to NOT affect your life.  You want to do that with minimal bad effects.

You tie that into what they know-- all relatively athletic people know how to move and what hurts.  they never go up on their toes when they are trying to push a car.  They do go up on their toes when they need speed.  You can show them that they already know structure and whip.

At it's simplest, when things go physical, the goal is to get kinetic energy into the bad guy. And so they learn to strike.

And to do so with minimal damage to yourself, since every action has an equal and opposite reaction. And so they learn to make a fist.  As something they need and want to know, because they see the use in their own world.

Thanks, Adam, for getting me thinking.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Commemorative Plans

Follower #300 signed up today.  Appears to be SJ Fowler, but it's hard to tell.  Sometimes the new number goes up and nobody shows up on the little widget.

So, there's something I've been considering and now seems like the time to get the ball rolling.  On line free lessons.  (Not completely free, I installed a 'donation' button below just in case anyone feels compelled to help me replace my armor).

So, I'm soliciting suggestions.  Couple of caveats.  They have to be stuff that can be written down.  The hands on stuff, as I teach and understand it, has to be felt.  Even video isn't good enough.  So nothing technique based.

Who to aim it at?  Martial artists?  Self-defense instructors?  Self-defense students? Writers? Some other group I'm not thinking of?

Once target audience is identified, we'll narrow it down from there.  Or I'll throw out suggestions.  Or I'll do whatever I damn well please...

Format will be just like any other blog post, it will just say subject and lesson number/title at the top.  Open access.

Might be fun.
Teaching for the MCSO reserves in a few days, then flying to DC for a seminar, a class for a police academy and one for some of the guys at Walter Reed.  Sign-ups for the open parts are here:

Granada Hills at the end of the month.  Information here:
Contact Lee to sign up.

Then the UK in February and Orlando in March.  Nice weather contrast.

Thursday, January 03, 2013


 K and I are both free for an unbelievable 3 days, so we grabbed an apartment on the coast for a working weekend.  Drove a new route yesterday, stopped in a small town park, went for a long walk on the beach and into the tiny, mostly-closed, off-season town.  Took pictures.  Salvaged some jetsam.  Finished the rewrite of the second edition of "Violence: A Writer's Guide" (Nearly 30000 words longer than the first version) and passed it to K to upload to her WyrdGoat press project.

I missed the annual Polar Bear swim with the Kajukenbo crew on New Years day. Made up for it this morning.  Crunched through icy-coated grass until I got to the sand.  A pair of bald eagles were doing some kind of coordinated flight (mating? flirting) above as dawn broke.  Dropped my sweatshirt and sandals and ran into the waves.  It was appreciably cold, as was the wind.  But it felt good.

Lots of mental ghosts trying to lure me back to a warm bed: "There's no reason to do this."  "You aren't a kid, you don't have anything to prove."  The sneaky voice: "Aren't you supposed to be beyond this kind of bullshit posturing?"  And the last ditch effort, just before I hit the water: "You know, you aren't young any more.  Your heart might not be able to take this..."

Sigh.  The doubt voices never go away.  And I guess that's one of the big challenges-- to know the difference between the still small voice that whispers of a glimmer of potential growth; the protective intuition that whispers a warning; and the screaming monkey voice that fears any change and any challenge.  It's not enough that your monkey mind is the center of emotion.  Not enough that it will stick to your tribal identifiers (like politics or sports teams or religion) in the face of all evidence.  Not enough that it drowns out the part of your brain that actually listens to evidence and makes good decisions.  Nope.  It will actively lie to you to prevent any change.  To keep you solid in your identities.

When someone says something breathtakingly wrong in defense of a point of view, it doesn't always meant that they are stupid.  Nor that they are lying to you.  They are lying to themselves.

Tribal identities, patterns...and habits. I am more 'me' when I travel.  I explore, play, try new things, brawl.  Don't work out much, but I've never been a gym kind of guy.  I liked trail running and climbing and grappling.  Or else I was living and working in a place that demanded a lot of manual labor.  Constant activity, constant pushing.

Because for seventeen years, home was the place where I decompressed.  The job was constant crisis management.  Always moving, always on stage.  You were either fixing a dangerous problem or trying to predict and avoid the next one.  So you'd go home and desperately want to NOT think.  And I have that slug habit associated with home.  Some is age, sure, and some is injuries... but a lot is habit.

Time for some changes.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Cannoli in the Sun

2013 looks like it is going to kick ass.
Yesterday, got an hour of just play with a White Crane Silat player (those White Crane guys got everywhere).  Today, sunny skies but cold, time with my daughter...and found a local place that makes cannoli.  Hee, hee, hee.

Calendar is filling.  New projects.  All good.  Looking at knee surgery sometime soon, but I've done that before.  It will be good to have legs that can handle aerobics again.  The combination of no longer fighting for a living, the fact that I'm too good a cook, and the writer's lifestyle... easy to get out of shape.

Also realizing, and this may be a blog post later, how much of who I am was based on fear.  I don't even like that word.  Fear was always the enemy. Always the thing to overcome.  But if I had never listened to my parents argue about whether they had money for food, I wouldn't have accumulated the skills or needed the self-sufficiency.  If I hadn't played football as the smallest boy in my high school.  If I hadn't left home at sixteen.  If I hadn't walked away from everything I knew a couple of times.  If I hadn't gone to work in a maximum security jail as a 148# kid.

From hunger to taking hits to new cultures to...I always had to be at the very top of my game.  No choice.  The fear, whether of letting others down or what could happen was a constant drive.

I was never driven by desires.  There's not a lot in the world that I want.  K to be comfortable and...that's about it.  Warm place to sleep.  Food.  Cold water and hot water.  Coffee.  Learning.  New experiences.  We all rate our lives.  Some people use money to keep score or relationships (quality or quantity).  Some have other measures.  I think I do mine with stories.

2012 was tons of new experiences and new people.  At least seven new countries.  Ten countries total. Fifteen states or thereabouts.  Swam in three new seas.  Stick sparring in a villa on the Adriatic.  Shot (poorly) with German cops and well with the crew in the Big Easy.  Ate horse.  And fish eyes.  Fine Hungarian wines and Barack (thanks, Atilla).  Discovered gammon.  Hung out, ate, played and trained with people who cannot be named.

Maybe a retrospective later.  For now, it's time to enjoy my cannoli and the sunshine.