Friday, January 23, 2015

Hot Mess

Back from a no-internet writing retreat on the Oregon Coast. Did over 5000 words in a single day on the "How to Teach" manuscript that has been stuck. Feels good, the information is good. But the book itself (or, at least the conception of the book) feels like a disorganized mess.

Realistically, this feels like a new area. Most teaching methods are traditional, in the sense that they were handed down instead of purpose built. Most are centered around a school paradigm, with a high status instructor and low status students. And most assume that a problem is a problem, that in some way getting skilled at force is like getting skilled at math or engineering or medicine. But there aren't a lot of fields where you have to make quick, accurate decisions with partial information under an adrenaline dump. And in those fields, the most important part of instruction doesn't necessarily come in the class or at the academy-- things are set up very carefully to ensure that the first real encounters don't happen alone. Officers get an FTO. Paramedics work with a partner. Soldiers get assigned to a squad. Civilian self-defense doesn't have the modeling aspect that is so important to adjusting from training to application.

And I don't know the answer either. I have a collection of really important pieces. But a collection of pieces, as a writing project, looks like a mess.

The things I want to cover:

  • The problem, as outlined above-- training for high stakes, low information, low margin of error rapidly evolving situations.
  • Time in emergencies. Discretionary time, time distortion, stuff like that.
  • Evaluating sources. Why social sciences are mistrusted in professional violence fields.
  • Qualities of effective emergency techniques
  • Teaching, training, conditioning and play. Definitions, values and drawbacks. This one is definitely the heart of the matter
  • Scenario training
  • Experience thresholds that rewire your brain and pitfalls and values of teaching from the different thresholds and how to handle teaching to people of different experience levels than your own.
  • Dogma and it's effects. Tribalism versus truth
  • Teaching adults/adult learning theory
  • Big section on teaching professionals including designing lesson plans to standard, evaluation, getting lesson plans approved, required paperwork, coming in as an outsider...
  • Testing effectiveness, evaluating "best practices"
  • Related, the relationship between rules, policy and sympathetic magic. Ritualization of bureaucracy
  • Working in the political reality (finding the line between effectiveness and policy and law; that the rules for how to teach are written around current models, not effectiveness)
  • Bad student profiles and trouble shooting
  • Designing short and long-term curricula
  • Integrating skills (e.g. often, for police, DTs, handgun, baton, OC and Taser are taught in separate classes as separate skills.)
  • Ethics and judgment under survival pressure
  • Training and writing policy for Black Swan events
  • Teaching homogenous versus diverse groups; diversity/homogeneity on different scales
  • Related to above, possibly some advice for people who have never worked in certain environments. Some things that seem like attacks are actually tests, for instance.
  • Explicit power dynamics
  • Glitch hunting and countering social conditioning
  • Managing a career as an instructor
  • Questions, unknowns and twilight zone experiences for some of the sections.
It's a lot. It's loosely related, but feels like it's all over the place. This is the list of things I think I can write about with some value... grrrr. It just looks like a disorganized mess. A shotgun blast of data.

But the first rule of writing is to finish the damn thing. I can organize when the pieces are all done.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Justified, Justifiable, Prudent and Smart

Wrote this a couple of weeks ago and then got asked by David at YMAA to avoid mentioning the video Scaling Force. They were doing some kind of publicity experiment and didn't want the numbers influenced.

Lawrence Kane called this morning. Last summer, we shot a video tie-in to the Scaling Force book. David Silver at YMAA is working on the magic post production stuff and just sent us the rough cut. Lawrence wasn't able to fly out for the filming, so seeing the rough cut was his first exposure to the physical stuff filmed. And he wants to move a piece right up front. And that would open a whole can of worms.

"Scaling Force" was Lawrence's brain child. Force/violence is a big issue, and appropriate responses to force or threatened force range from doing nothing (sometimes just being a witness makes bad people stop) all the way up to deadly force. Lawrence noticed that most martial arts concentrate at only one or two of the appropriate levels of response. Boxing really doesn't have good tools for taking the keys from your favorite drunken uncle at a New Years party.

It's easy to read the book as legalese-- "deadly force" and "self-defense",  just to give two examples, are legal terms. The actual goal was to get people unfamiliar with the context a little exposure to the different possible levels. Low levels of force, like presence and verbal, are very idiosyncratic. High pitched and low pitched voices can't be used in the same way. Both can work, but not always in the same instances or using the same phrases. Physical people present differently than sedentary people.

And high levels of force are only appropriate in very bad situations. The essence of self-defense is that things are going bad. You are behind the curve. The threat is bigger and stronger and/or armed and/or crazy and/or multiple. You are surprised and almost certainly off balance with minimal room to run or maneuver, no time to evaluate and plan, with compromised structure and likely injured before you knew it was on. If you are working in your weight class with good lighting, footing, room, some time, equal numbers and equal weapons, it's a mutual fight, not self-defense.

Anyway, towards the end of the video, we demonstrate fighting out of a crowd. It's not really fighting, and you have to be careful with language here. It's a lot closer to swimming. If I try to fight a mass of people, I'll get overwhelmed. But you can move through them. It's just that the body mechanics of fighting are very close to the opposite of what you need here.

Lawrence thought it was cool and unique and should be near the front of the video. I'm cool with that. Really the whole marketing and capturing attention and drama is all a little above my paygrade. But it does open a can of worms. And here's the can of worms.

Justified and justifiable are not always the same thing. In 1992, the Oregonian surveyed Portland Police officers. One of the details: In the four years before the survey, 86% said they could have fired with full legal justification but chose not to. There are some implications of that-- for every 28 shootings, officers bet their lives they could find another way about 900 times. And were largely successful except, of course, dead officers don't get to fill out surveys.

So first hurdle, because something is justifiable doesn't mean you couldn't find another way. My personal definition, Justifiable means I could convince a jury, Justified means I can convince myself there was no other way out. Prudent means it would be stupid to go in at a lower level.

The thing with fighting out of a crowd is that it shows another level. Getting pounded by eight people is a huge disparity of force. Unless they are all kindergardeners or geriatrics in walkers, it's not hard to justify deadly force. In general, higher levels force are quicker, easier and more effective than lower levels. You might win an argument with words (verbal), but you will certainly win it with a shotgun. Shotguns also tend to trump other hand to hand skills. Where it can take years to get good enough to fight a boxer, it takes hours or less to get good enough to shoot one. Higher levels of force-- quicker, easier, more certain. But the higher level of force, the more it takes to justify it.

But sometimes the higher level of force can be completely justified, completely prudent, but not the smart thing to do. Like fighting out of a crowd. I'm decent at close quarters stuff. That's my range and I know how to deliver power there. Know how to use one guy as a meat shield against the others. No hesitation on going for the quick finishers. Even have some favorite power generations that are completely non-static. Feet don't even need to be touching the ground. But in that mass, with all of those variables, with any kinetic energy I deliver changing the physics of my motion, things will go wrong. Someone who goes down might tangle my legs. A push or strike on my part might make me a static target for just an instant.

Hence the swim and it works.

People like rules of thumb. And rules of thumb work reliably enough to, well, become rules of thumb. "High levels of force are faster, safer and more effective than lower levels" is a good rule of thumb. But like all of them, it has a failure point. A situation where something else becomes true. Or truer.

Fast forward to a short conversation with Edwin yesterday. From the Golden Move standard (each motion should protect you, damage the threat, better your position and worsen his) given that sometimes you just can't get all four, or all four aren't prudent, how do you prioritize?

You can't give a quick rule for that. Goals, parameters and environment change. Sometimes it's so important to finish things quickly that it's worth taking damage to do so. (And, less academic, you're probably going to take some damage anyway, so suck it up, Buttercup. But that said taking damage unnecessarily is, by definition, unnecessary. Smart people don't do it.) Sometimes, fighting out of a shitty position is more important than ending the threat. Better to do both, but if you're with a bad guy in a burning, collapsing building and damage to him will cost you even a second, improve your position.

Maybe justified and justifiable can be subsumed under smart. Do the smart thing. If it's not justifiable and you either can't live with yourself or you go to prison... hmmm, maybe it wasn't all that smart? Justifying--articulation-- then becomes the skill. Do the smartest thing you're capable of, but practice explaining why it was the best available option.

And maybe, in the end, smart is the wrong word too. Maybe just necessary.

(David even sent the embed link below. No idea if it will work.)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

War Stories in Teaching

Going back to Jeff's Rules: Everything you teach must have a tactical purpose.
Corollary to that, the way you teach must have a purpose as well. How you teach must serve the purpose of teaching. This is about getting stuff into your student's heads, not showing what is in yours. This is about what your students can do after the class, not what you did a decade ago,

I recently watched a very well known instructor. He told a lot of war stories. To hear him tell it, he had participated at levels of violence you can only imagine, no matter who you are. And all of his experiences were special. You could say, "I've tried X and it worked about 20% of the time" and he would cut in with some graphic story implying that you had never done it as right, as hard, as harrowing as he had. You've struck testicles with no effect? Well, he'd eaten them and by gawd that always worked, son!

By the end of the weekend, the students were visibly uncomfortable whenever this instructor stepped up to teach. Telling outrageous stories to a point might validate you. But after a certain point, it becomes easy to disbelieve.

Years ago, Marc MacYoung (I don't remember the exact quote) wrote about a someone asking him why he laughed when a friend was maimed. He said something to the point of,  'You can laugh or you can cry, but if you cry you'll never stop.' The humanity in that phrase struck me. I've been to too many funerals. I laugh, and I would tell my rookies, "You can take the job seriously or yourself seriously, but never both at the same time." You have to be laughing at something. Always. Because the other direction is madness.

I don't tell a lot of war stories when I teach. The point of the class is what the students can do at the end of it, not what I did in the past. But I tell a few, specific ones for specific reasons. And almost all of them are about failure. Where things didn't work. What I learned.

My war stories are all about what I learned. And the subtext is clear: I'm just an ordinary, average guy who has been in some weird places. You can be better than me. Hell, I expect and demand that you surpass me. Otherwise you are insulting my teaching ability.

To the other instructor, his war stories were an ego fest. "I'm cool. You could never possible understand or exceed me. Therefor you must listen like children, not like the adults that you are. Bow in awe."

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Drop Step

Written a couple of posts recently, but haven't been happy with them. Might be able to get them in reader-worthy shape eventually.

One of the things from Violence Dynamics in Minnesota. The drop step is everywhere.

Not going to go into too much detail on what the drop step is. You can read that here.
Just the basic Dempsey drop step generates enormous power. But it also increases speed. Gravity is faster than you. And, if you can let the drop happen instead of make it happen, it's untelegraphed. Gravity doesn't flinch. It increases your range. It allows you to make powerful strikes (fast and untelegraphed) to your rear flank. And that's just the basic drop step.

Drop steps can be loaded or natural. A natural drop step, you just lift a foot and start to fall. A loaded drop step you shift weight towards the foot you intend to lift so the CoG is farther from the (single foot) base that will remain. And there are dramatic ways to load a drop step. Look at the way a pitcher raises his center of gravity and extends the natural stride length to maximize speed in a throw.
In martial terms, baseball pitchers use a crane stance to load power into a front stance. Good body mechanics are universal.

The sutemi-waza, judo's sacrifice throws, are another variation. And they work almost always-- provided there is no telegraph. Once you clinch up with someone, you can choose to see yourself as a bipedal greature with a base and a center of gravity in a contest with a different bipedal creature who also has a center of gravity. Or you can choose to see the entirety as a four-legged creature with a shared center of gravity. And you have absolute control over two of the legs. Removing your two legs puts the CoG well outside the base instantly. Too fast for the opponent to read and recover. Again, all assuming there is no telegraph and you truly drop. You can't do a controlled lie-down.

Sosuishitsu-ryu has a body mechanic for power I haven't seen elsewhere, but at its root it is a loaded drop step for that four-footed animal. Trying to describe in words: You are locked up with uke, either in a tight clinch or a joint lock (do NOT try this at home with locks. Some of the koryu were very good at preventing uke from doing a proper breakfall and a few of the kata have uke landing on locked joints, including the neck. Really, really dangerous. Not something you want to experiment with without expert supervision.) Anyway, with that tight grip, you are one animal. Tori throws his left foot up as if he is doing a spinning crescent kick, turning to his left and throws the crescent kick coming all the way down to his left knee, spinning 180 degrees with uke attached. It's brutal. And there's a variation which takes the spin to 360. It is also very hard on your knees over the years.

On the ground, you can get wicked speed in some spins by creating spaces and falling into them. One we used in Minnesota was for weapon retention while face down. Bad guy is on your back going for your holstered gun. Not going into the mechanics of the technique here, but creating a space and falling into it correctly usually whips the bad guy off of you, even if there is a big size disparity. And crushes certain precious small bones, which is a bonus.

But the drop step is everywhere. Experienced people don't split wood with just their arms. With every swing they raise their center of gravity and let it fall.
That's another thing. Gravity never gets tired.