Sunday, April 30, 2006


It seems my primary teaching modality is "training to the glitches". Put the student in a scenario or a drill and watch for the subtle hesitations and freezes. The things they either can't do or have to consciously force themselves to do. Each of those little freezes is a problem, a place where the mind and the will aren't working together. It's all about integration.

Obviously, you have a body and a mind. You have had them your whole life. I will not be able to teach you anything about how to move your own body that you don't already know...unless you have (deliberately, though subconsciously) either hidden information from yourself or ignored it. So combatives isn't and can't be about teaching you how to move. Side effect of having a body and being active is that you have hurt yourself in hundreds of ways over the years- so it's not about teaching you how to hurt a human body (not that there aren't nuances or information at the upper ends of force, e.g. what brains smell like, that you probably haven't and don't want to learn first hand).

If it's not about moving or hurting, what is training in combatives all about? Integration.

Mauricio Machuca talks about capability versus capacity. As you train, you become more and more capable of certain actions, but it doesn't automatically affect your capacity. I can teach you how to break a neck in a few minutes. Whether you could actually do it to a real person who was breathing, struggling, crying- that's a matter of your capacity, something training doesn't automatically address.

Capacity is largely a matter of integration and clarity. If your tactical mind says killing is the appropriate response, but your conscience has never clarified when it is acceptable to kill, you will glitch. If your reasoning and observation leads you to believe that a calm, neutral expression is your best option but your panic makes your voice squeek, there is a glitch.

So you look for glitches, for inconsistancies.

Here's an aside- have you ever watched a martial arts class where hours and hours are spent on basics, and then when they spar it looks nothing like the basics? That's a glitch... but the ugly truth, for the arts that I am thinking of, is that the techniques that work well in real life look a lot like those basics, and nothing like their sparring. FWIW.

You watch the talented student who can knock the shit out of the heavy bag but can only lightly tap a person. That's a glitch. Is it moral? Spiritual? A conditioned response from childhood? Decades of expectations?

The officer who gets hit with the ConSim paint bullet and 'dies'. Who trained him to die?

Adults who freeze when they get slapped in the face. Or when they suddenly see an unexpected knife in a drill. Trained martial artists who try to get control of the weapon when they know they need to shut down the brainstem. All glitches, all things that came from somewhere. Too often, they came from training.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Just a Big Old Softie

"I feel guilty," I said. I had just given the new baby goats their shots and held them while Kami slid a tight rubber band over their testicals to castrate them.
"Hmmph. Considering you're planning on butchering them, I don't see why this would bother you."
"This is way worse. If I snuck up behind you and shot you in the head, would you hate me forever? Would your identity be shattered? Would you be miserable for the rest of your life?"
"If I wrestled you down and put bands around your breasts so that they would hurt terribly and then slowly go numb and then wither away through lack of blood and literally dry up and fall off like shriveled pieces of meat, you'd hate me for the rest of your life, right? I feel way more guilty about this than I do butchering."

I had racoon shit all over my shirt today. We went to the vet to get some innoculations for the goats. While we were there, we met a very nice Scottish Deerhound and a Newfoundland puppy named Gus. The Deerhound was nervous, waiting for his owner, not sure if he should let this strange person in this strange place pet him or not. Gus wasn't shy at all. Only three months and already big with huge webbed paws, he was in my lap getting his tummy scratched in a matter of seconds...and me, the middleaged, balding, tactical team sergeant thug was down on my knees happy to pet the cute little puppy. The vet then said that she had three orphaned racoon kits in the back room if I wanted to see them.. Oh, yeah. I'm a big softie. Tiny little things, making a wide array of noises, purring and chattering. They suckled at my fingers and climbed all over my shirt, nestling into my neck... and one just dumped on my shirt, a big slimy goop of mustard yellow racoon shit. Didn't matter- even with all my common sense and experience with racoons, I still would have taken them home if it was an option.

Beast, the airedale, gave me a strange and betrayed look when we got home. He's okay with me smelling of other dogs and cats. He's used to it and no longer gets jealous of my time with other animals. He's pretty much written me off as a slut. But a racoon, his mortal enemy. That was going too far.

Bivy Sack

The last week has been busy. Lots of hard work on the property. With tons of unused vacation time, I burned some to spend fencing pasture, cutting down blackberries and pouring concrete. Much of my time now is spent indoors, communicating and subtly balancing the dynamics of 400 or so criminals (most with mental disorders) in an enclosed space. This week is a reminder of how good it feels to get up early in the morning and spend a whole day sweating in the sun and the wind. I miss living and working on a ranch.

Change of pace, today- we are due for a dump run, so we spent time cleaning out the garage. So many memories there. Climbing hardware that has sat unused for a couple of years. Caving outfits. Waterproof bags, covered in dust were a reminder of kayak camping years first open water kayak trip was forty miles solo of mixed lazy river and white water from the Willamette valley to the coast.

I threw away a long expired box of erythromycin, legacy of two weeks in Ecuador bringing medical supplies to villages and military bases on the Rio Napo.

The bivy sack got to me, for some reason. We'd been doing a lot of hiking, bike trekking, kayak camping. 'We' is a little off- much of it was solo. I'd just gotten a real job and the bivy sack was the sign of the transition- I could now afford something that provided great shelter and could be slung from a bike or stowed in a kayak without taking up space or weight. I never used it much- the job that made it possible also took a lot of time and involved switching from shift to shift and changing days off, weaning me from the few climbers and recreational explorers who were willing to play at my level. I set it up, just to make sure it was all there, then stowed it away.

So many dusty things in that garage- head lamps, harnesses, crampons. The goretex cover that Kami made for my sleeping bag. Combined with the fleece insert (which I didn't find) it transformed a mediocre, inexpensive bag into something that could handle snow camping in comfort. A gift of great love from someone who knew me well. An old love-letter too, that I had been too self-absorbed at the time to recognize for what it was, only seeing a friend's stab at poetry. A pair of small knives to match a kukri I can't find. A dutch oven full of parafin that we used to melt to harden leather for armor. An Argentinian bayonet. Two bags of obsidian and knapping supplies (I never spent the time to get decent at that). A collection of fire starters including the cool military sun screen that acted as an alcohol gel and could be used as lighter fluid or a fuse. Threw away some military stuff that I've been keeping for too long and for no reason.

It's good to clean things out, good to dust off the memories once in a while. Today was beautiful day for it.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Smelling the Spring Wind

Wind whips over the tall grass. Last night Mt. Hood was a pale blue shadow against a barely darkening sky. Brilliant stars in the darkness, shiny white clouds in the blue.

The sky, the universe, is all as it should be. If the gate to Heaven, bliss, nirvana were to open right now I wouldn't enter.

I love being human and living in a human-sized world with human problems and human joys. I love the connection of humans with compassion listening and helping each other, even if the problems aren't that real. I love the taste and feel of good food and the burn of honest, real pain. What could paradise offer that could equal a drink of cold water in the back of your throat?

I love being flawed and challenged and struggling. That is what life is and I am loath to give it up. All around are beautiful, passionate human people, too often blind to their own wonder.

If angels and gods are watching us, they are watching us with envy.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Martial University

Received the class schedule for Martial University over the weekend. Damn.

Once a year Kris Wilder, a goju instructor in Seattle puts together MU. It's a cool seminar. He hand picks a variety of local instructors. Each hour, five of them step forward and describe what they will teach for that hour. The students who signed up thus get to pick from five possibilities each hour. That runs to six classes plus the noon bonus. The last few years the noon bonus has been a lecture from off the beaten path. This year it will be a kendo demonstration

Kris assigned me to teach five classes. Crap, do I know five things? We'll see. We won't have the lecture room this year, so I'll do mostly mat time. I'm thinking a class on pain. Everyone knows what pain is as an event, but most haven't thought it through as a tool. It will also allow some segues into strategic and tactical thinking and the tactical matrix.

Then a class on entries, requested by John Migliore. He asked what I teach/do for a sudden ambush. It's a good skill and allows an intro to the strategic matrix as well as operant conditioning as a training method.

I want to do a knife eye-opener. I don't claim to teach knife defense largely because I have so little confidence in most of what is taught. I'll print out some pictures of knife wounds and then we'll play two games- the Manson Drill, designed by Tony Blauer and my Reception Line drill. They're both myth busters. Then we can talk about the tendency to tailor training to create unrealistic success.

Love to do a class on Sosuishitsu-ryu kata, let them see some true koryu stuff. Not sure who will be up for it, but it will be cool for me at least.

That's four. In the past I've done principles-based classes on joint locks and takedowns and lectures on violence. If there hasn't been a big turn-over in student base, that might be boring. Maybe infighting strikes? Blindfolded infighting? Power generation at three ranges?

Should be fun.

Martial University, May 20th. Bellevue Washington.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


The incident is months old. One of our officers was attacked at close range with a knife. He parried, pushed the threat away, drew his Taser and lit him up. This deputy talks about it, critiquing the incident. He wasn't there: he saw it on TV like everyone else. This deputy has opinions, strong ones. He's careful to be respectful, saying over and over again, "I don't want you to get the impression I think he did anything wrong, it turned out perfect. But..." Always a 'but'. Always a what if. There are always 'buts' and 'what ifs'.

He quotes from our use of force and survival training- aren't we taught to never go up against a threat with a lesser level of force? Won't you always react the way you trained?

I reply that we are required to use the lowest level of force that we reasonably believe will stop the threat. That you will react the way you were trained, maybe, until your fiftieth or hundredth Use of Force- then you will exceed it.

He lets that pass, going on about the things he will never do and what he WILL do if he is ever in that situation. Aaah.

I ask him how many fights he's had. He hesitates. He hasn't had any yet. Times have changed. Assignments have changed. The kid's been on five years. I think I was approaching two hundred by my fifth year.

So this is all theory, I say.
Am I wrong? he asks.

I shrug. Get fifty fights down and you quit using words like 'never' and 'I will'.

We teach, I teach, not to use a lower level of force than the threat. You shouldn't bring a knife to a gunfight or try to wrestle a knife away. The very fact that someone thinks he can reliably do it is a sure sign that he's too ignorant to let try. So, to keep the people from letting their fantasy skill levels endanger their lives, we teach them 'never'.

But the best and the most experienced go beyond their training. You get to a place where a vast number of variables are handled subconsciously. The right decision seems to be made by your body. You can, in an instant, choose the Taser instead of the gun or to push at exactly the right angle instead strike. You can take the knife away.

But only in that moment. The more moments you have, the more you realize that because something worked last time doesn't mean it will work next time.

I don't know who said it first: "In theory, there's no difference between theory and reality. In reality, there is."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Revisiting the Past

We are all products of our history. Genetics, sure, but how we interact with the world, how we see it is, a product of the events we have survived. We are the result of our triumphs and our losses.

Everything you have been through has culminated in a YOU, pure and perfect. Not flawless, not perfect in the sense of a symmetrical crystal. Perfect in the sense that you are the ultimate you. There are no imitations, no one who will ever out-do you in youness. In this second, you are exactly what you are.

But humans just can't seem to be satisfied with that. It's not enough to survive, remember, grieve, cherish, assimilate and grow. They have the power of memory- fragile and corruptable as it is, more a composite created than a recording. They use the memory, revisiting the past. It's not a bad thing, for most people. Events need to be remembered to be assimilated. They need to be analyzed to discover their lessons. It is important to check your actions and be sure they are in line with what you think are your ethics (the action, not the thought, will always be the truth, but you can will action to thoughts and create a new truth).

But sometimes people revisit pain to little purpose. To learn, to forgive and grow, to understand and to heal are good reasons to revisit pain. To hold onto pain as a shield and an excuse serves nothing but the little chattering conscious mind that wants to hide from its own strength and never risk growth.

The conscious mind is the weakest aspects of our brain. It is merely the words on the computer screen- the actual thinking is much deeper and in a far older and simpler code. What we "remember" is what our conscious mind can dig up and share, and research has shown again and again that more of it is created than actually recalled. The memories have been subtly (or grossly) twisted to fit our present needs.

This is the first danger of introspection. The unexamined life may not be worth living, but often what is being examined isn't the life at all, but an edited and airbrushed child's painting of the life.

Combined with the human mind's need to find patterns and our infinite creativity, excessive introspection brings a second danger. Seekers who continuously strive to go deeper and deeper into their own consciousness at some point are no longer finding insights but creating them, manufacturing not just a psuedo-enlightenment but even entire imaginary problems and life-altering events.

There is a reason why true meditation disciplines are based on silencing the monkey chatter in the mind. That is the conscious part, the weakest part, the part that can't tell an object in your hands from the idea or the word. Because everything is already assimilated... just not in the 'word' part of your mind. And the word part is too small to handle it anyway. But it's there if you can just keep the chattering monkey's hands off it.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Blood and Leadership

There's a new leadership book out that our management has fallen in love with. Most of the upper-level management has read it and they recommend it and even have several copies to hand out. 1) Highly recommended, 2) will have an influence on my supervisors and 3) free... definitely need to read it.

The Captain asked what I thought of it. "Another book written by a manager who thinks he's a leader," I said.

That's not exactly true. There are a lot of leadership books out there that I have a hard time connecting with. Why? There's good stuff in this book, some stuff I will use. Some weaknesses that I'd attributed to circumstance or environment that are actually internal and controllable, changeable (different perspectives help me to see the blind spots). Why my personal disconnect? Opposition and stakes?

When Lee Iacocca turned Chrysler around, who really wanted him to fail? Even the union, who too often is at war with management, didn't want all those jobs and their reason for the union's existence to disappear. The government probably wanted Iacocca humiliated and begging, wanted one of the most outspoken critics of government intervention in business to be seen begging for government help... but no one in the government wanted to lose the tax base or for those jobs to disappear. Who was the enemy?

Even Churchill and Lincoln (who the author uses a lot) who definitely had enemies and led a state at war, didn't really deal with the enemies. They dealt with the government and the press and the electorate. They inspired people who wanted to be inspired and led people who wanted to survive and maintain their way of life. The people who faced the opposition, who dealt with people trying to kill them, were the soldiers. The people who led the soldiers were the NCOs and the low-level officers who were tasked with taking the grand strategy and making it a reality in the forests and the swamps and the snow. The men who gave those orders had to be loud enough and close enough to be heard over the deafening roar of the artillery and the screaming of the wounded. Close enough to really see and to risk along with their men.

The stakes, too. Market share? I know it's important globally, but this is what I imagine: "In order to save the company, we have to implement my plan. If we make an error, if I've made an error, we stand to lose 20% of the market share and the company will go under. Are you with me?" How does that compare to, "Team, we've lost the eastside facility. Four hostages that we know of, about 170 threats. Here's the tactical plan. We're undermanned for this mission but time is critical. Four lives on the line now, plus us if anything screws up. If anybody wants to opt out, go now." (Caveat- no one in this business would actually make a speech like that or go running into a mission without good planning and resources. I was trying to make a point about the stakes.) A CEO makes a mistake, no one dies. A president or a general or a senior administrator makes a mistake, even if people die, it's not anybody that they know. And it's not them.

The author uses examples from business and sports a lot. That's part of it. There's an aspect of adrenaline to those, but I don't imagine an NBA player, even a rookie, dealing with white-knuckle fear or making sure that his will is in order before warming up for the big game. Thinking about how their kids will turn out as orphans.

So that's the source of the disconnect. I see nothing in this book about how to train AND empower people to make quick decisions under stress while operating independently but still staying on the game plan. There might be something about setting a good example, but nothing about keeping cool under fire and letting the troops see it or how to model dealing with post-incident stressors. It's a concern because. like violence, so little has been written about that extreme edge of leadership and, like violence, most people have the luxury to believe that anything that falls under the label must be the same thing.

It's also a concern because politicians and administrators who either never spent time on the line or did so very long ago will see the word "Leadership" in the title and think that it will help them communicate with and influence the front line.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


I have three types of dreams. Most are just entertainment, my subconscious screwing around. Rarely remember those. Some are literally training exercises: my subconscious sets up a scenario and lets the conscious mind solve the problem. Some of these are memorable, and most are bloody with military situations, monsters... but they're never nightmares per se since I never feel helpless or defeated.

The symbolic dreams are very rare, but I always remember them for a few days and they are easy to recognize. A few days ago, the dream was about a group of people (familiar in the dream but I almost never dream about people I actually know) in the high desert of Eastern Oregon near a shack, a mine and an outhouse looking at the carcasses of vultures. I was admiring the intricacies of the skeleton and others were complaining of the smell or wondering what to do.

I didn't get the dream. It was clearly symbolic and my subconscious never does this unless there is something important in real life that I'm missing. Usually it's a fairly quick interpretation. I didn't get this one and Kami couldn't help.

So the next night, the subconscious lobbed an easy one- Trying to teach someone to interpret tracks there was a place where a bird had tried to land on a piece of snow that looked like a perch and the snow had broken. The broken snow perch and the light marks of the feathers told the story and I was badgering the student to SEE it. The whole time I never noticed that the bird, a very young robin, was lying on the ground beneath the interesting track, freezing.

Too much time spent on details is the message. Look at the big picture. Trivia is a distraction when people are hurting around you. The tracks are important, but not when what made them is right there...

Cool to have a subconscious that that can dumb down when I need it.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Compulsive Competence

Decades ago, in an upper-level class on personality difference the professor would interview a subject each week and we would analyze the subject. Tom was an outstanding teacher and therapist with absolutely no voice inflection or visible emotion. That's an aside. One class he interviewed a young man. When he was done and the subject left, he asked for our first impressions.

I jumped in, "He's the healthiest person we've seen so far. He's getting good grades, keeping a variety of healthy relationships, maintaining athletics and an obligation to the military. He has a long-term plan for his life. We haven't seen anyone doing that well in so many areas. His life seems balanced."

"You're exactly wrong," Tom said, "That kind of compulsive competence is a sure sign of early childhood trauma."

I'd never heard the phrase 'compulsive competence' before and it had to bounce around in my head for awhile. Let me get this straight- if everything is going well, you're screwed up? Taking control of your life and forcing yourself to do your best is a sign of being screwed up? Hell with it then, I'm proud to be that screwed up.

Tom was right in a way, though. And Kevin was right in his comment on the last entry- you don't become strong or smart if your life is easy. All of your strengths arose from your hardships. The most interesting and the best people I know (like you, Kai) outgrew and overcame. They outgrew and overcame real problems. They categorically did not create problems in their head so that they could fit in with their angst-group peers.

So cherish what made you You. It wasn't easy. Good. Cause I don't know anyone who had a perfect childhood who was worth a shit as an adult.

To all the Compulsive Competents out there, welcome to the club.