Monday, September 08, 2014

Validity

Trying to answer an e-mail and it needs a little thinking out loud.
It wasn't a big thing, there was a single sentence about validity, but the concept of validity in self-defense instruction is a big one. Rocky.

I've seen a lot of things work and a lot of things fail. And thought -- a lot-- about why things succeed or fail. And those whys became my personal list of principles, and those principles became the framework for my teaching. And that was tested in the field. A lot. And... does that make what I do valid?

What does valid even mean?

Here's the deal. A few people have seen the elephant. But on one, no one, has seen the whole elephant. Soldier experience isn't cop experience. Cop experience isn't corrections experience. Corrections experience isn't bouncer experience. Bouncer experience isn't secure mental health custodial experience. And none of that is direct experience with domestic violence. None of that, hopefully, is experience with being targeted as a victim.

As a man, when I teach SD to women, there is an entire part of the equation (what it's like to be a woman) that I can never understand. But, you know what? I also can't truly understand what it's like to be a bigger, stronger man than I am. Or what it's like to have 30 years of kempo experience instead of jujutsu. I know enough about violent criminals to predict their behavior and pick apart their rationalizations in an interrogation, but I've never been one.

All any of us has is a piece of this. There are no experts. So is there validity? Sort of.

Validity is a function of logic, of syllogism, specifically. (And I'm a little out of my depth in the nuances of philosophy 101, but bear with me a bit). If A is B and B is C then A is C. If there are no holes in the logic chain, then it is valid. A is C. Is it true? Seriously, do you even have to ask? If A was C, then cat would be cct. All of the pieces have to be true for validity to resemble truth. As well as all of the assumptions, like what 'is' means.

In self-defense, one of the dangers is that people confuse validity for truth, and they often teach that things that should work do work, or that things that worked on sober, eager students in a class will work on drugged and enraged people in other places. People frequently rate logic or received wisdom over experience.

"As we all know, self-defense is exactly like math. If you do the same thing, you will get the same effect every time."-- A self-defense instructor who will remain nameless. Not a single person with any experience whatsoever and a marginally functioning brain believes this. Not one. Probabilities go up with higher levels of force, e.g. I have never heard of a .50 to the head failing...but a .45 to the head has.

This validity, this search for truth is, in my opinion, a side effect of the subject matter. We recognize that if we or our students are ever called on to use these skills it will be for high stakes. Any failures will be catastrophic. The combination of high stakes and limited experience (remember that three hundred encounters is probably less than five hours of experience) drives people to seek certainty elsewhere: Received wisdom from a 'master.' Thought experiments. Dojo experiments. Chains of logic where every step is a guess or an assumption.

You would be so much stronger as a fighter or a teacher if you could just get over the need to be sure. There is no right. As Tia said recently, there's just solutions with less suck than other solutions. That lets the goal change from being right to being better. The problem with thinking you're right is that you can't improve on 'right.' Accepting that there are no perfect answers, that tiny touch of humility, gives you the superpower of continuous improvement. You can never be perfect. You can never be right. Feeling sure is a dead giveaway that you don't actually know. But you can be better. Every day.

And validity is a slightly separate issue from validation, but that's a post for another day.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Who ever said that doesn't know math at any level past algebra. Fractals, imaginary numbers, and welcome to Non- Euclidean Geometry. It is important to know things but it is more important to know what you don't know.

Verner Riecke said...

anon: I second that. Knowing what you don't know may be one of the most important things there is, esp. in self-defense.

Rory: "There are no experts" So true it hurts. And yet,
/my usual whining begins/
the most infuriating thing in self-defense instruction, at least for me is that if I proclaim I'm not an expert, just a guy with some experience and a lot of empiric research on how violence works, people tend to look for other sources. Those who claim they know it all. Because a former security guy with a history deterring and arresting a few dozen criminals, 10+ years self-defense and 20+ martial arts training and a down-to-earth, rational attitude is less valid than a martial arts "master". Because if you got X dans you magically learn all there is about violence, right? 'Cause a dead japanese guy, who lived in a completely different time and society, who's teachings
have been distorted by 10+ generations knows better than little old me, huh?

Don't get me wrong, I've met with a lot of great martial artist, many could wipe the dojo floor with me. But they are that; martial artists. I'm fed up with those who claim to teach self-defense. They are not the same thing. But how many MAists claim they DON'T teach SD, they are NOT experts of SD?

So what do we do? What can I do? Shall I claim I'm an expert or loose students to people who teach them how to get killed or go to prison? The minute I admit that I don't hold all the answers and truth - and I always admit - my validity shrinks, even more so if I say there may not be any good answers. But I'm not willing to lie.

Do you ever stop being sad for loosing students to know-it-all masters and their fantasies?

I take solace in the fact that I'll never be perfect, but I least admit it to others and myself and will continue to grow.
/usual whining ends here/

'This validity, this search for truth is, in my opinion, a side effect of the subject matter. We recognize that if we or our students are ever called on to use these skills it will be for high stakes. Any failures will be catastrophic. The combination of high stakes and limited experience (remember that three hundred encounters is probably less than five hours of experience) drives people to seek certainty elsewhere: Received wisdom from a 'master.' Thought experiments. Dojo experiments. Chains of logic where every step is a guess or an assumption.'

This is why understanding the problem and context are critical for SD. Without understanding it's sooo easy to go astray. We see it all the time. Taking the knife from and stabbing the attacker (IF it works. Probably won't). Finishing moves on downed opponents. Using a knife on an empty handed attacker. Or just plain old 'I don't need a weapon, I'm a martial artist, I can defend myself unarmed'.

When you understand the problem and context, a LOT of the bullshit falls away and you can start cleaning up the rest.

Validity, in a big part, is a question of context. Are BJJ techniques effective? In UFC, sure. Armed predator? Many of those will get you killed. So is BJJ a valid form of MA/combat sport? Sure is. A valid SD/control tactic system? Not really, but some elements of it may be useful.

'As Tia said recently, there's just solutions with less suck than other solutions.'

But humans want certainty, and they don't give up that need easily. Most would chase illusions of it, rather than face reality.

'...that tiny touch of humility, gives you the superpower of continuous improvement.'

And is what is missing from a lot of MAist and SD and also firearm instructors. Oh, they demand it from those they teach, but do they practice it?







Verner Riecke said...

'Probabilities go up with higher levels of force, e.g. I have never heard of a .50 to the head failing...but a .45 to the head has.'

I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure. :-D

Verner Riecke said...

Sorry for flooding the comments, Rory but you made me think again.

So 'What does valid even mean?'

I find it useful to define words. There is a danger there, being too hung up on words and meanings, but but a useful tool for better understanding.

So, valid can be:

well-founded, sound, reasonable, rational, logical, justifiable, defensible, viable, bona fide, cogent, effective, powerful, potent, convincing, credible, forceful, strong, solid, weighty.

Let's do some 'autopsy'.

'I've seen a lot of things work and a lot of things fail. And thought -- a lot-- about why things succeed or fail. And those whys became my personal list of principles, and those principles became the framework for my teaching. And that was tested in the field. A lot. And... does that make what I do valid?'

It certainly makes it well-founded.

It's sound. For you. The usefulness of some or most of it may be different for someone else.

Reasonable? That's a whole new can of worms. From a LE scaling force perspective it is. In the US at least.

Rational, logical? Are these the same thing? Don't know. But it's based on reason, not traditions, not emotions, not on how the world you think should work, right?

Viable, as in capable of working successfully? For you, sure.



Justifiable? In a US court, yes. Ethically? That depends on you or any user. Technically? Yes. For you? Sure, that's why you created it. For others? For me? Yeah, except for the legal part. Different country.

Defensible? The same.

Let's jump to cogent or convincing. Aaaand, here comes trouble.

Yes, if one really wants to do SD. Not monkey dance, not duel (UFC, MA tournament and such), not killer commando shit, not be ninja. If one can distinguish between them.

Have you ever read the two start review of Facing Violence on amazon? It's hilarious, but clearly shows lack of grasping the basics of what you try to impart.

Validity depends on agreeing on the basics, the goals, the principles.

I agree with most of what you teach, because it is consistent with my experience or just makes sense in the context. For me it is valid. But, hey, maybe we are both wrong, both deluded, and the UFC tough guys or the killer kungfu commandos are right.

Rory said...

Verner- The one thing I would have you look at more closely: It's not my experience that being honest and recognizing my limitations has cost me students. There's a good possibility that the idea is your monkey brain projecting (see ConCom for anyone who's not familiar with the Monkey Brain). And if it is losing students, I think it would be more a winnowing than a loss.
If someone wants the certainty even if it is false, I wouldn't be a good teacher for them and they would be a frustrating student for me. So IF the loud and certain 23 year old ninety degree blackbelt and inheritor of ten systems that he was granted while on a special undercover mission with the SEALS is getting any students, it's a better deal for everybody. His students get the fantasy they seek; he gets his ego stroked by the adoration of stupid people and; I don't get my time wasted. Everybody wins.

Basically, I'm not sure the problem exists and if it does exist, I'm not sure it's a problem. At least in my world.

Verner Riecke said...

Rory - When you put it that way, yeah, it's not a problem, it really is winnowing. I should have written potential students. I never lost anyone who took SD seriously, just the ones who wanted to inflate their egos. But it's still sad -for me anyway- to see people waste their time on bullshit and meaningless self-gratification. Eh, whatever...

pax said...

Rory, Verner ~

With Rory, I agree it's both good & necessary to be honest about your own limitations and the limitations of your knowledge.

With Verner, I agree it's damned tough to know you'll lose some potential students to your fearless honesty about those limitations.

And Rory? I strongly agree that I as an instructor don't want to waste my time on stupid people or blowhards, but ... I think we don't only lose stupid ones to that kind of marketing. I think we also lose far too many who are simply ignorant, who don't yet have the skills to parse between good and bad sources of self defense information. Marketing works, and not just on idiots.

Bottom line here, I think it's a question of how you frame those honest limitations. A good, attractive frame helps that filtering process so you winnow out the idiots while keeping the teachable, but a bad one probably costs you students who might otherwise be teachable.

"Oh, I'm not anyone special" might be a great place to live as a human being, but it's lousy marketing.

Verner Riecke said...

pax - You maybe right. Maybe better articulation is needed to get trough to the ignorant ones. Lately, I'm beginning to see that what I can teach worth shit, if I can't sell it to those who need it. That's another problem with SD instruction. Rory wrote something a while ago along the lines that those who need it most are the least likely to look for it. I'm always wondering what more can I do to get trough to them.

keithw said...

"it's both good & necessary to be honest about your own limitations"

True and not necessarily only in the context you gentlemen are discussing.

Not all students are the "yes, Sensei!" Zombie type willing to follow Kreese into hell. Nor are they "that guy" wearing the tapout t-shirt & shorts to class, who starts talking about myriad injuries that preclude him from hitting the mats when the time comes.

Once in a while a Predator will come walking in off the street.

Not the resource/process type either. I'm talking about the guy that strikes fear into the hearts of students and instructors alike. It's human nature to want to be comfortable, but when this guy walks quietly out onto the mats & starts warming up by himself, you know--sometime tonight--you're going to have to contend with him and comfort goes right out the door.

I'd say most martial arts and SD instructors question there own limitations most when confronted by a predator who shows up for the "first free class" rather than while stroking the egos of students they wished would just go away.

But this is good.

And if that fear doesn't exist, you're training doesn't lend itself to validity, or there are too many protective layers between validity and you.

Kai Jones said...

Once you realize there is no certain cure for a problem, then you can work on figuring relative risks and possible outcomes. Don't forget unintended consequences.

The question I always ask is, "What are the likely failure modes and how do you intend to ameliorate them?" Most people are so confident things are going to work as planned that they fail to plan for getting around failures.