Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Fish Story

New inmates seem really young.

Two kids are by the phone, neither of them with the body language the environment breeds. They aren't reflexively watching each other's back or keeping the telephone column behind them and scanning the room. They don't notice the color of my uniform as I move through the crowd of inmates and they missed the subtle change in sound when I entered the dorm. One passes the phone to another...

That's forbidden. It's possible for inmates to use three-way calling to harass victims or witnesses and the three way can make it tough to trace; because the calls are collect, it's possible for someone who really doesn't want to talk to an inmate to accept a call from someone else they know (inmates and their families make for a really interconnected mini-community). So our policy is that if the citizen accepts the call from Mr. Smith, they talk to Mr. Smith.

I walk over and it takes awhile before they see me- I'm standing very close and the first one to see me jumps a little. His friend doesn't even notice the jump. "I can send you both to the hole for passing the phone," I say. "Don't do that."

"I'm sorry, I didn't know."

"I figured if you knew you wouldn't have done it right in front of me. This is your freebie. Don't do it again."

The kid is relieved, "Thank you. Don't worry. It won't happen again." He reaches out and pats me on the shoulder.

I look at him and all the color drains out of his face. He freezes.

"You don't do much jail time, do you."

The hand falls limp, "Uh, uh, no."

"It shows".

I walk away.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Beyond The Journey

Some of you are aware of Joseph Campbell, who did very important work in showing the parallels between life and mythology and how mythic themes are still everywhere and affect us all in profound ways.

One of his paradigms is "The Hero's Journey". It shows the steps that a classical hero undertook to achieve his spiritual growth and his integration of the spirit and material aspects of the world. This is a powerful model and you can see it in compelling fiction and film and even in the real lives of people.

One of my friends refers to this a lot and suggests it as a framework or a plan for your own life. So I printed out the steps and really looked at it. Next to each step I wrote the specific event in my life that reflected that challenge or triumph. They didn't happen all in the same order, but every single one was checked off. The last one about the time I started getting really bored with almost everything.

The trouble is that there is no sequel to the Hero's Journey. What did Theseus do after slaying the minotaur and returning to Athens? Rule wisely and well? How fricking boring would that be? Is that the destiny of someone who acieves this pinnacle of growth? Paperwork? No thank you.

The truth is that fighters rarely age well. Sure, the injuries don't heal as well and cold weather hurts old breaks, but it's more than that. The suicide and alcoholism rate of Medal of Honor winners is astronomical. The bitter, reclusive retired warrior is a cliche. I know many people who deserve to be called heroes and I watch them fall apart as they pass through middle age, not just physically but mentally.

The ideal, of course, is to die in your last battle, but that's not really practical.

So that's what I'll work on for the next year. Attempt to script the endgame for a warrior.

Some things I've rejected: setting goals is basic, but once you have achieved your list inventing more just to fill the void lacks heart. It wouldn't be genuine. So I won't just try to repeat the journey. This one will be new and different.

Who are the role models from the past? Many did become rulers, but that rarely ended well and I'm not a big fan of paperwork.

Some retired to monastaries to reflect and meditate, creating, especially in Japan, the image of the warrior monk. My wife would hate that.

There is Merlin, who went into the esoterica. He outgrew the world, in a way. He achieved what he became on a warrior's path, but let his lessons separate him from the world to the point that he was no longer considered truly human. He let that happen and in many ways I feel it was a mistake.

There was Chiron, my namesake for these writings, who dedicated his life to training new generations of heroes. I like that.

Things to think about for a year or so.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

OODA Insights

Now the fun part. With good students there's a synergy that takes things you know and brings them out into the open, that makes words out of feeling and experience. You can share words, pass them on. Not so much with experience.

The OODA loop came up today, got explained, basically what the last entry was about.

Then there were the insights. Some of them I already put in the OODA intro entry because they fit so well. I'll refer to them again here.

1) People lock up on novel observations. If you observe something and can't tell what it is ( a giant carniverous tomato with tentacles or someone clearing his throat preparing to spit to open a combat) you can't orient to it, so you can't decide so you can't act. Someone commented that people are never brave (read decisive) in conditions of uncertainity. One of the goals of training must be to expose yourself to the widest variety of situations possible to prevent this.

2) You must be able to act with partial information. You will never have all the answers or know exactly what is going on. People who wait for too much information before acting get hurt. The speed of your OODA loop depends on your comfort level of information.

3) The person with a plan or an internal map of what is supposed to happen will have a hard time Orienting if the plan isn't followed. The attacker who has chosen a small female may have laid a detailed plan: he will grab her by the hair and when she screams he will slap her and if she continues to scream he will... If the actual events go more like 'he grabs her hair and his nose explodes in blood and pain' he will have a momentary freeze as he orients to the unexpected events.

4) Each action on your part is a new observation. The power in a barrage attack or a fast entry in a tactical situation is because the constant action constantly resets the opponent's OODA loop. Observe: "His fist is getting big" Orient: "He's hitting..." Observe: "His other fist is getting big" Orient: "It's a combo!" Observe: "My knee just collapsed" Orient: "He's kicking too!" The constant attack keeps the opponent bouncing between the first two steps, never Deciding or Acting.

5) (And this is wicked cool!) This can be defeated by a self-referencing stimulus!!! Barrages haven't worked on me. Chain punches haven't worked on me. The reason is that when my senses get overwhelmed, I shut down the source of the information. Too put it in OODA terms, if I feel myself caught in the OO bounce or sense it about to happen, I attack. The OO bounce has become an Observation in and of itself with a simple one choice orient ("I'm frozen") followed by a simple Decision: "Hit the bastard!" and a simple action- POW.

I like these kind of classes.

OODA Introduction

This might be a little technical, but I'll try to catch you up quick. The OODA loop has become the standard nomenclature for combative decision making. In essence, each person must Observe what is happening; Orient to the observations- basically interpret the sensory input; Decide what to do about it; and Act.

This isn't new- I remember one martial arts instructor from long ago who had the "Four P's": Percieve, Present, Plan, Perform. My sensei taught it as the elements of speed- perceptual speed, interpretation by experience, the decision tree and then neuromuscular speed. It isn't new or even fresh, but OODA has become standard.

Clarifying example:
O: You see a fist suddenly growing larger (observe)
O: Hey, that must mean it is getting closer! I'm being punched! (orient)
D: What should I do about it? Block or duck? Duck! (decide)
A: Duck! (act)

I was taught these as the elements of speed with the caution that reactive moves, such as blocking, rarely work because the bad guy is on step four when his action triggers your step one. His "act" is the first thing you "observe".

Time is most critically lost in the two middle steps. In the orientation step, inexperienced people try to gather too much or too little information. In combat or self-defense, the usual problem is to try to get too much information. I need to know where his good targets are and my available weapons. That is all. Martial artists tend to also want to know how he reacted to their last attack and what he is likely to do next. That's chess thinking, not brawl thinking- predicting what the thread will do in four moves is useless if the intervening three moves are stabs. The most fatal orient decision in an ambush is the "why" question- "Why are they doing this?" "What does this mean?". You won't get an answer and if you did get an answer it won't help you. But many, many victims freeze right here, with the 'why'.

Decide is the second time waster. There's a thing called Hick's Law which states that the more options you have, the longer it takes to choose one. Makes sense. I call this the Brown Belt syndrome. It's what happens when you have too many cool ways to win and you get your ass kicked while you are weighing options. The way to grow past this is something I call "meta-strategy". Again, this is something I've back engineered from the people that consistantly make it work, not something I'm reasoning out.

The people I know who consistantly do well in ambushes or have often beaten the maxim that action is faster than reaction have one thing in common. They have a group of techniques that form the core of their strategy that they DO NOT SEE AS SEPARATE TECHNIQUES. Mac has hundreds of disarms and counter-attacks, but when he is surprised he "de-fangs the snake". He can and will do it in a hundred different ways, but in his mind it's just one thing. James "does damage". Again, hundreds of techniques that are all one thing in his brain. I "take the center".

Operant conditioning is critical in self-defense because it is possible, in certain situations including surprise attacks, to cut out the middle two step and develop an automatic, reflex-level response.

Two or more people in conflict have their OODA loops activated and they feed off of each other. My actions are your observations. When what you observe changes, you must re-orient. If I can conclude my loop faster, I not only act faster and get more damage in, but I also throw you off your loop. If you start to swing and I hit you in the face, most people will stop their swing to re-orient.

The closer the events reflect previous experience, the less time it takes to orient. If the event is completely new, such as a judoka experiencing his first leg lock, it is effectively invisible- there is nothing in the past to orient to (which explains the effectiveness of judo in 1888; jujutsu in America in the 1920's, karate in the 50's and BJJ in the 90's). This is also the purpose of cognitive interrupts or context shifting: doing something, such as blowing a kiss or drooling that doesn't compute as a fight. In short, you can attack the OODA loop as well as attacking the body.

That enough for now? More to come.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


One of the rules of life is that actions leave traces. A foot pressed against the ground can leave a clear imprint in sand or a subtle compression in fallen leaves or a difference in sheen of the traces of dust on a concrete floor. The track is always there.

The track tells you the action, sometimes more. I'm not much of a tracker, but on good soil I can tell if the person who made the track was male or female, right or left handed and usually if they are carrying something in one hand or over the shoulder. A good tracker sees more- where the head was turned while the feet went forward, exactly when the person decided to turn before they actually did, precisely how fast they were going, whether they are carrying a backpack or a fanny pack.

Tracks are everywhere and once you atune to them, there is a rich source of information invisible to everyone else at your feet. It is magic, as powerful as clairvoyance but more sure.

Everything you do leaves a track. Sometimes it's not a mark on the earth. Sometimes it's a child who is not afraid to try because of some contact, some action that you made, and you will see that track and the echoes of other tracks in the amazing things the child and later the adult will do. You see the tracks of major abuse and minor insults in fears and little hesitations, in subjects that never come up or subjects that come up too often.

Habits leave tracks in behavior as deep as ruts on a country road.

Teaching is the deliberate laying down of tracks- trailblazing or railroad tracks, sometimes the teacher tries to do it without leaving a personal mark, but it can't be done.

Maybe you will never have the time or the desire to learn to watch the ground for clues of all who have passed there before. But take the time, if you can, to look for the tracks of history on the people you care about. And walk gently there, because the traces of your actions may out live you.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


The baby is tiny. She is a little girl without a name yet born to a mother in custody. As a sergeant, I check in on the deputies assigned to duty outside the jail- at hospitals and birthing centers, for instance. So there I met this tiny child.

I ask and the mother gives me permission to hold the baby's hand. The hand is so tiny, with long fingers. The child has huge dark eyes and dark hair. Bright eyes. She grips my finger in her fist and tries to pull it to her mouth, her baby attempt at controlling her world. For a second, I'm caught by the image of our hands, the uncalloused fist wrapped around the stubby, scarred finger. For just a moment, it is a perfect image: she is weak and I am strong; she is defenseless and I exist to defend; she is precious in her unlimited possibility and I am dedicated through experience...

It's just an image, though. I can't protect her. Her unlimited possibilities are at the mercy of a mother who may be too addicted to care for her; a father who may or may not be there (and sometimes not is better). Her delicate hands and delicate brain will depend for life and love and her very idea of what it means to be a person on a mother who is hoping the birth of the baby will sway someone- a judge, her PO, someone- into letting her out of jail early. I wish I was sure that she wanted to be out of jail for the baby and not for something else.

So I sit here wishing the best for all the unnamed little babies of the world.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Management for My Amusement

I thought about writing a book, "Management for my Amusement: The Cat and Mouse System of Supervision". Catchy title, huh? Some people take supervision far too seriously. No one wakes up in the morning and thinks, "You know, I'm going to do a real shitty job today. I'm going to make sure that my workplace is less safe and all my co-workers hate me." Okay, there are a few who do, but they're rare.

If you are a supervisor, you have employees who are people. Since they are people who have to be there and do that for so many hours, there are a few universal things. They'd rather be proud of their performance than ashamed; they'd rather be interested than bored; they'd rather spend eight hours with friends than with enemies... they want to do a good job and they want to have fun doing it.

I work in a jail. Most of my deputies spend an eight hour shift locked alone in a dormitory with up to 75 criminals. Most of them enjoy it. The ones that hate it also hated working at a mill or teaching or being a dog catcher. The ones that hate it, that turn every day into a battle haven't figured out that for the most part, the criminals are people too- who would rather be interested than bored; safe than in danger....

Two people can be in the exact same event and one will be bothered for years with the tragedy or just the smell and the other will have just another great story. Who do you think lives longer? Who has the better career?

Given that, and given that since I really care about my people one of the most powerful effects I can have as a sergeant is to get them to the end of a long, healthy career, it makes sense that I get them to see the absurdity and when they are making the decision whether to laugh or to cry to let them see some one laughing. It also means that they have to see me have fun.

Cat and Mouse- two of my deputies can't stand each other. Each believes that he is a good officer and the other is a "lop". They both made the same mistake at about the same time and are the only two people on the shift to make that mistake... so I pretend to have trouble telling them apart. They know it's a joke and they're laughing, but each is working harder than ever before to prove to me that they aren't the same, that they are superior officers.

Years ago, there was a deputy who was extraordinarily bad, a martinet of the worst order. We have a running joke that in this job, at least the worst people will eventually get hurt and then they'll learn. He didn't. I'd tried counseling and coaching and setting very clear boundaries and expectations as did every other sergeant... the most we got was a grudging agreement not to do specific things when we were watching. I finally said, "I'm recommending you get some remedial training. Not that you will get anything out of it, you already think you know everything. This is to cover my ass. You are a disaster waiting to happen and it's only a matter of time before you get yourself or someone else seriously hurt. Basically, I'm writing you off as a lost cause and just trying to minimize my personal liability."

Being "written off" was the first thing that ever reached him. For awhile, he actually did good work.

Supervisor means the same thing as overseer, if you break it down. A supervisor looks at the big picture and tries to make it better. The best supervisors do it by helping things change for the better, identifying needs and filling them. The worst do it by looking for mistakes and attempting to stop anything that might go wrong.

Managers manage- they manipulate paper, numbers, resources and people to either get something done or perpetuate a bureaucracy. The best look at what the people need to do the job and make that happen. The worst look at the numbers and try to add and subtract people and behaviors to reach a bottom line.

Leaders get things done. The best live an example that makes people want to live up to that standard. They remember that the job always centers around two things: the troops and the mission. The worst center everything around themselves and the mission.

I'll never write the damn book. I care about my people too much to be that flippant on paper. But if you have power over someone else's life, use that power to help them have fun.

Use your power for good.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Hostages to Fortune

Cat is a great friend, now half the continent away. When Orion was born, Cat was the one I came to with a confession: I was afraid. As far back as I could remember, I'd never been afraid of dying. The closest thing I had to a survival mechanism was a hatred of losing so severe that I would take on the world and the gods and not give up. I might be beaten but I would not lose. And I would play the game, take the challenge, climb the cliff because not playing was a form of losing.

With the birth of my son, I started to feel a chill fear of death. Small and weak, he couldn't play the game, not even the safe game of a relatively sedentary life. He NEEDED, in a way that I hadn't needed since I was old enough to kill my own food.

Cat listened and said, "With Kami and the baby, you have hostages to fortune." I turned the phrase over in my mind. Hostages to fortune. The Japanese daimyo would demand that the heirs of their vassals live at the daimyo's castle as guest/hostages so that any disloyalty on the part of the vassal could be swiftly punished by executing his heir. With every one that comes into your life that you truly love, you have a hostage to fortune, to luck.

In the twinkling of an eye, the person you live for can be stripped away by a driver's momentary distraction, an act of casual violence or the honest mistake of a good doctor.

The fear has fallen away as the children grow into a young man and young woman- I would miss them and they would miss me, but they have a good start and will grow into fine adults with or without me.

While I was gone, Kami had a medical problem. We don't know exactly what- trouble breathing, panic, pain, sweating. She waited until after the seminar was over to give me the message- the kind of silent courage and thoughtfulness that leaves me in awe. She was well taken care of by good friends. She will take more tests...

She has been the biggest part of my life for nearly two decades. The world makes sense because she is in it. Kami has allowed me to deal with the darkness with a sense of purpose, been the safe harbor after each and every storm.

With the news that she was in the hospital my brain began rattling off probabilities, scenarios and contingencies: the thing I've trained it to do so well. But despite any skill and visualization I can never truly grasp what a loss of that magnitude would be like.

My mother had six children. Three of us survived to be adults. She has buried three children and a husband. She keeps going.

There is so much luck in the world and so few precious people.


4 days. 5 nights. About 18 hours of sleep.

One of the best things about the internet is that it allows really specialized interests to connect across continents. There are lots of soldiers and cops, people who deal professionally with violence, but relatively few who have made a career of the dangerous missions and even fewer who are given to pondering the principals and implications of their expereience. It would get lonely.

There are also millions of martial artists, but few who are both dedicated and open minded. Fewer who have been with it long enough that they are driven to strip away and understand rather than collect new techniques or new belts. Even fewer who pay more than lip service to practicality.

The internet allows me to connect with both of these groups and even with the very, very rare individuals where the groups connect: the hard core combat philosophers who are also trained in traditional systems of combat.

Last weekend was spent at the Gulf Coast/BudoSeek jujutsu camp. There were probably 80 people in attendance with probably 20 serious martial artists, 15 professionals and a half dozen of that elite of both camps. I think that's more than I've ever seen in one room before. Two of them, Tony and Cliff (and Robert, who is all Martial artist and retired Marine), were my reasons for attending. Whether the classes were good or not (and it was a mixed bag, as always) the time spent with them was sure to be worth it.

There's also something about the internet- you can gauge someones knowledge and maybe dedication, but until you see them move you don't know. These guys knew pain and damage, how to withstand and how to create it. They were each and every one the real deal.

The classes were mixed. Good judo, good aikido. Some good jujutsu, some terrible. Some atrocious self-defense (how do you teach a knife defense where you cut your own throat every time and none of the students notice it?) Good introduction to arnis (plus a piece I never put in context before- Thanks, Barry). But even the weakest classes with good partners were opportunities to learn and improvise.

Travel budget allowing, I'll return next year.

Monday, January 09, 2006

"Fatigue Makes Cowards of Us All"

I've heard that quote attributed to Vince Lombardi and General George Patton. It's hard to imagine Patton ever admitting a moment of cowardice, but maybe his ego slipped for a minute.

Sleep deprivation is a big part of mind control methods. The exhaustion of near starvation and constant deprivation may be what allowed people to walk meekly by the millions into the Holocaust gas chambers when they had nothing to lose by fighting.

I'll tell you about my moment of cowardice.

It wasn't sleep fatigue. I just get mean when I go without sleep. It was spiritual and mental, a year of funerals and suicides and families and friends falling apart; doing too much and knowing too much and not allowed to speak. It was a year of bloody empty skull and crack baby and far too many days spent in an office where I couldn't do anything real.

A local guy was going out of business. My wife and I had talked to him a week before and he was pretty distraught over it. On the store's last day we dropped in. People were wandering over the lot (it was a nursery) asking if we worked there. We went into the office. The computer, radio and TV were on. A sign on the counter said, "Leave Money Here. Back at 1pm" It was already 2 pm.

I looked at Kami and said, "He probably hung himself in the back."
She nodded. "We should go look."

My first instinct, my first reaction was this thought of fear and frustration- "No! No! It's somebody else's fuckin turn!" It was just an instant, just a shadow across my face that no one except my wife would have noticed. Out loud I said, "Wait here," and I searched.

No body. He came back later.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


She's not really my student. She is a friend who learns something from me formally while I learn much from her less formally. She introduced me to her student over the weekend, but he's not really a student either- he's a young friend who is drawn to her as a source of wisdom and experience. So I met my unstudent's unstudent. That's very cool.

There's a certain age where young people (males in my experience, but that's what I've always been) seek a teacher, a mentor. Someone older and wiser and farther down the path they envision for themselves, someone who knows the secrets and the mysteries and the magic. Largely I skipped that, through luck or analytical scepticism or a loner personality or the fact that the earliest closest possibilities I remember were failures on other levels, I spent very little time with self-proclaimed gurus and masters and a lot in the high desert listening to coyotes.

I have met a lot of 'masters', and most were very charismatic and coldly predatory. I remember in particular one called Sylver who was a pure sexual predator behind his smile and words of free love, surrounding himself with women a third his age who he had convinced that it was impossible to lie in the nude and clothes were necessary for dishonesty. To maintain the sterling (sylver) honesty of his house, clothes were not worn there.

So there is conflict here and danger in the quest for a mentor when being a mentor is so easy to fake and so profitable.

The kid's lucky to have her as a mentor. He won't be exploited, he will learn and she won't feed him bullshit to keep him on the string. She won't become addicted to having someone look up to her and her goal is to bring him along the path as far as she has come and farther. A true teacher desires to be outdone by their students. The 'masters' and 'gurus' and 'sokes' thrive on a steady diet of inferiors and keep their students... students.

For a day, I was a mentor's mentor. It was fun and strange and silly. The kid is young and smart and sincere. He wants answers and he is doing the right thing, putting himself in the company of people who live like they have them. But it's hard, because like everyone else, he asks a question and wants an answer... and almost every time the answer is "That's not a real question."

What he sees as mastery he thinks of as having the right stuff, having more answers and insights. It's almost exactly the opposite- it's about not having the wrong stuff in your head or your life; about having fewer questions that are more real; clear sight.

So much of the world is attributed. People create panic and drama. They decide that things are important when they are only interesting. People don't spontaneously combust when they miss a deadline. Who wins the superbowl doesn't affect anything real. If you don't watch television you lose no more than the opportunity to talk about imaginary people with your friends. It's a loss, but not a real loss.

Okay, I'm beating a dead horse.

Martial Art

There's a question that comes up frequently on MA sites- why martial art? Why not martial science or martial endeavor? Where did this art thing come into it and why?

Honestly, it's not worth the time to read crap like that. It's like the people who are arguing about whether jutsu or jitsu is right... there's no letter 'u' or letter 'i' in Japanese writing so it just doesn't matter. Does red taste like chocolate?

However, I did have a thought the other day. It ties in with things already mentioned here about the messiness of combat, the unpredictability, the fact that there really aren't right answers, just stuff that worked that one time.

Maybe that's why it's called an art and not science, because in art it's accepted that there are no absolutes, no right answers. Bach gets his point across and so does Rob Zombie. Pollock and Monet are displayed in the same museum. I shoulder slam, sweep and kneel on the threat's elbow and neck, C picks the threat up and slams him to the ground. We both get the message across but in very different ways.

Rigid thinkers do well in science and crappy in art (though a mix of free and rigid is where the breakthroughs in science happen). Rigid thinkers do well in administration and crappy when it comes time to actually deal with criminals.

Maybe who ever called it 'art' was on to something. More likely it was just the luck of a poor translation. That's kind of a human drive, though, to look for meaning in arbitrary things.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


Things are moving fast with the new year. New schedules, new officers. Designing classes. Preparing for the Alabama seminar.

Moving very fast- I've also heard back on one of the query letters. My first choice of agents wants to see the manuscript. Is it ready? Does it matter?

This is just like an entry on a barricaded criminal. You prepare and train as much as you can, but then it's on. No more time to work out a little more or plan a little more or... you go in with what you have when you get the green light.

This is the green light for writers, a very friendly "I'll be happy to take a look at your book ..."

It's on. Ready or not, here I come.

Sunday, January 01, 2006


I look at my son at fourteen and I see the strength and the promise in him. He's smart. He doesn't see the world the way others do, but since he also hasn't taught himself to look through their eyes the man-child they see is not what he wants to project.

He is thrashing right now, trying to discover who he is, where he fits, what this world is all about. He already recognizes that what the world says it demands is very different from what it will tolerate- something I did not understand until I was much older- but he doesn't have the experience or the wisdom to use that insight safely. Not yet.

I remember that path, and want so badly to walk it with him, show him the traps and the glories of life, but it can't be done. He'll become a man and he will do it alone, the only way it can be done. I hope he trusts at every step that he is loved. I hope he learns early that discovering who you are is only half, the other half is deciding who you will be.

He is cautiously exploring the social spiderweb. He's in a good place with good role models. He will love and admire strong, smart, tough women because those are what he sees all around him... if he doesn't get bound to one of the dozens that he will be drawn to "save" as a young man. That's a familiar path, too.

For the next years- no one knows ho many- he will be driven to put distance between the familiar and himself, to form an identity that is clearly not a clone of his father but himself , separate and real. Then, if I live long enough, we will sit down with a good scotch and he will tell me all the things he doesn't know how to say right now. And I will say the thing he doesn't know how to hear, "I love you, son."