Sunday, May 28, 2006


Muscles grow through exercise, I am told, because the effort causes tiny tears in the fibers. They don't actually grow during exercise but through the healing process during periods of rest. Learning is like that too- under good instruction and through dedicated effort there is a growth process composed of microscopic acts of destruction.

A punch is not perfected by doing something 'more'- it is perfected by removing every motion, every tension anything and everything that is not a punch from the motion. The hallmark of good fighting is simple efficiency- if my line is simpler, my distance shorter, my power generation cleaner, my targeting more efficient... I will win.

Teaching, at least for what I teach, has more in common with a sculptor chipping away at any piece of marble that doesn't match her inner vision than at a mason building a rock wall.

Those are the minor acts of destruction. Teaching, at the edge of life and death, involves major acts of destruction. Since part of the skill of real confrontation involves internalizing risk and fear, the student must be exposed to real risk and real fear. Whether it's at the high end of two man kata training where a slight lapse in concentration shattered a collarbone or boxing and breaking ribs or a drill with safety equipment and rules that still sent a third of the participants to the hospital, it had to be faced.

We make training as safe as we can, but for the few for whom this is not a hobby they eventually need to reach the edge and spend some time there. Still, the destruction that arises here is peripheral, accidental. Injuries happen when you play hard, but the injury isn't the point.

But sometimes the injuryIS the point. Usually it's a psychological break, not a physical one. A good instructor carefully brings a student to the edge of this cliff, gives them all the tools they need to fly, and pushes them off. Some fly. Some don't.

It's important to be clear here, but very difficult. For every physical inefficiency that slows and weakens a strike, there are psychological issues caused by history or inclination or false information that can cripple you before you even move. Illusions that must be faced and shattered. Once he has them to a certain skill level, Mac puts his students through a multi-man drill with the intent of immobilizing them to helplessness and then to continue the beating. For a young, strong, male fighter it is psychologically crushing... but the only thing that is crushed is a stupid illusion of invulnerability. Some learn, dropping one of many illusions. They fly at the edge of the cliff. Others never return to class, imagining what they will and should do to prevent it ever happening again, rescuscitating their illusion.

I remember some of my breaks- when my judo instructor showed me the old follow-throughs, turning a fun sport into a frightening art, I thought about quitting... but chose to accept the responsibility. When my shoulder dislocated in a match, I learned that pain and injury weren't that big a deal. My first Bull-in-the-Ring I learned that my instinct, even when I was too tired to lift my arms, was still to fight. My last Bull, just after knee surgery I learned that I would rather be crippled than let the team down. And I learned that if I was scared enough I would pray.

They were shattering, but shattering an illusion is like shattering a constricting shell. It's not like breaking a bone, something structural. But when you, as an instructor, push it to this level you don't know who will fly and who will fall. Whether what breaks is a shell or a bone isn't up to you. The student decides. That's scary.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Basic Jailin'

Frustrated today, and I'm going to try to turn it into something useful.

Today, off the top of my head, subject to change without notice, Rory's Rules of Jailin':

1) Being a jail guard is a very easy, very safe job for smart people who pay attention and a very difficult, dangerous job for stupid people who don't pay attention.

2) The officer wants the dorm clean, quiet and safe. So do the inmates.
Corollary- if all involved parties basically want the same thing, it shouldn't be a daily battle.

3) Asking an angry or upset crook what his goal is can cut through a lot of bullshit- "What's your goal, son?" "I want out of this fucking cell you piece of shit! Let me out or I'll kill you!" "How does yelling and making threats work for getting you out of your cell?" "Oh."

4) Keep your word.
Corollary- don't give your word if you will have trouble keeping it or it would be wrong to follow through.
Second corollary- ALWAYS follow through.

5) Being a talker (which is 90% being a good listener) is good.

6) Being a fighter is good.

7) Being both and being able to switch between the two without hesitation is essential.

8) Your reputation as a fighter will prevent 50% of the fights.

9) Your reputation for being fair and consistant will prevent 90% of them.

10) Paying attention to the dynamics in the module and acting early will prevent even more.

And a general rule for life: You can take yourself seriously or you can take the world seriously but NEVER both at the same time.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

MUQ-2006: Philosophy

Got back from Martial University late last night. Three hours driving, seven hours playing, three more hours driving on less than four hours sleep... just whining.

One of the participants, a karate instructor (and I did not get his name, damnit) got me after a session and asked "What's your over-all philosophy of self-defense?"

Hell of a question, isn't it? He noticed the hesitation and quickly threw in his to give me a starting point- conditioning and fitness are the key. Hmmm.

It's one of those things that is both so right and so wrong. On the right part, fit people look less like victims. They'll get challenged somewhat more in monkey-dance scenarios (in my experience), but predators look for the weak. Just being fit is an edge.

But.... as you age and fitness fades (who will truly be in fighting trim in their eighties?), you become a more appealing victim. When you are injured, you are a more appealing victim.
But fitness makes everything work better...

I think if I ever develope true philosophy it will be a big step towards moving this from just a collection of observations and facts (a natural history) into science. The hardest part about writing about violence and self-defense is organizing the information. I've used artificial frameworks to make the information easier to remember and understand, but I hope that somewhere there is a natural framework that will snap everything into focus.

Here are some artificial frameworks that can be used like philosophies:

OODA: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. Observation training would cover alertness and situational awareness. Orient would cover predator/prey dynamics, violence dynamics, violence escalation, legal ramifications and all that stuff. Decide is simple- find the student's 'Go buttons' and train them to act. Act would cover the physical part from verbal de-escalation to and through lethal force.

The Big Three: Awareness, Initiative, Permission. Awareness and Initiative are close corollaries of Observe and Decide. Permission addresses the fact that many people are not okay with hurting another person or doing what needs to be done and works specifically on this.

Traditional training: works the skills and assumes that the student will be able to use them effectively and appropriately in an emergency.

Scenario training: puts the student in a situation to experience and learn to deal with adrenaline effects... but does the student learn to deal with adrenaline or learn to see the training as a game?

Too many good ways to teach it. I would generalize (guess), that self defense has to center around a handful of things:

1)Awareness- if the person doesn't pay attention or doesn't recognize a problem, no skill in the world will help. They need to learn how to be watchful and what they are watching for, which will cover a lot of crime/violence patterns.

2)Skills- the person needs to have something they can do, in fact several things for different situations. But they must not be confused about the situations or by the number of skills. The skills must be simple enough to be resistant to stress and be effective.

3)Judgment- the student must be able to recognize the situation, choose the right response and do so quickly.

4)Decisiveness- the student must be able to act explosively and without hesitation.

5) Capacity- the student must be able to do what they have been trained to do without crises of conscience or subconscious pulls or squeemishness or social conditioning interfering.

There are more, but these are a start. I don't have a hard and fast philosophy about self-defense, but I think I do about teaching self-defense. The job is to check the student in each of these areas and work on weaknesses as they are identified. That's what the predator will do after all: the predator will evaluate each of these areas for an opening and attack on that line. Poor awareness? Blindside. No skills? Beat him down. Poor judgment? Trick her into vulnerability. Indecisive? Overwhelm with arguments, patter or fast action. Capacity? If the victim can't make himself hurt the predator, it's lambs to the slaughter.

Good question.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


He talks a good game. He's got all the qualifications- a Black Belt, a security job, special team membership. He buys every piece of new equipment and every cool weapon that comes on the market. I asked his captain once what he thought of him as an operator. The captain gave a smirk and said, "He sure dresses nice." He has a reputation for freezing, standing there with a deer-in-the-headlights look while his partner fights and, once, was injured. When he plays the bad guy for training, he curls up on the ground the second the team enters... then says he thought getting him out of that position would be an "interesting challenge for the team". It also hurts a lot less than fighting.

You can have all the skills, all the recognition, accolades and approbation and still lack heart. Because it's easy to fake heart.

There was a new officer, a six-foot former marine, who called me to say that an inmate had challenged him and insulted him. He wanted to know what to do. He was hiding in the locked officer's station when he called me. The question, of course, is what should he have done, which was get the inmate cuffed and if it turned into a fight to win. He left the job after a year or so. He never got any braver.

The same week another rookie had her first fight. She was a 5'2" single mother who had no military training, no martial arts, and had never been in a fight or even thought to... but when she saw two inmates fighting, she jumped on the big one and when he threw her completely out of the cubicle, she jumped on him again. Over the years she became one of my favorite officers- she even, occassionally, scared her partners because she would jump into any fight and always picked the big one.

Heart is a big one for us. We know from bitter experience that there is no way to tell who, when the shit starts, will run toward the fight, who will run away and who will freeze. Size doesn't matter. Tournament trophies and championship belts don't matter. I've seen Marines run away and former SEALs unable to control their shakes or their tempers.

I've also read claims (we all have) that with this course or those DVDs you will learn to control your fear, be a master of combat, "fear no man"... I haven't seen it. I'm in a unique place for that, since I know people who go to those classes and then I watch them deal with danger. It makes the good ones better. A really good class can point out weaknesses. But I've never seen any training that can make a coward into a brave man.

Yet I don't think you're born with it either. I don't think I had any special heart when I was young. I was afraid of conflict, afraid of violence, afraid of being hurt- but I fought. I always fought because I believed I was supposed to, believed with the faith that children are known for. You protected the weak, even if you were weak yourself. You stepped between bullies and their victims. When you heard a cry for help, you ran to help. When you honestly believed that there were vampires in the cave (long story) you went in, because if you didn't they would get someone else, someone who couldn't fight.

It became a habit to fight, to defend, to go in. Just a habit, chosen by a child who read too much about King Arthur.

Monday, May 15, 2006


The task today at the start of the shift was to explain to an eighteen-year-old violent serial rapist that it was no accident he was in protective custody. We had tried to put him in four other housing areas and he had "PC'd up" out of every one- asking to be transferred because he felt threatened. His isn't a particularly high-profile case. His face hasn't been on TV or in the papers. He just can't keep his mouth shut, can't stop talking about his case.

We had a conversation in his cell. Between his attitude and his crimes, this jail, a prison or something very similar will be his living environment for most of the rest of his life. He needs to learn how to survive in it. A big part of that will be not talking. He didn't get it. He only told people about his case who were his 'friends' so that can't be the problem. Too stupid to know that he's stupid... constantly whining for the world to change to his desires so that he doesn't have to make the effort to change.

That was the first part of my day, giving fatherly advice to a rapist.

The second incident was preventing an assault, investigating it, moving housing assignments around. Good, pro-active jailin'. Nothing happened. No injuries, no new charges. Finessed what would, five years ago, have been a balls-to-the-wall brawl with three involved inmates, two officers and 72 spectator inmates who could have watched or picked sides. I used to live for that. I still miss it.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


I was offended yesterday. In most cases, that takes some doing.
A friend and brother, someone I love and have long admired, introduced me to his biological brother. The conversation went well. From his stories he responded to challenges head on, as I usually do, and he likes a good fight.

The conversation drifted to wives and how difficult they can be to communicate with- particularly the balance of control, confidence, companionship and autonomy that a woman needs to feel. The line between taking us, as husbands for granted and smothering out of fear of losing us.

He shared his story- how his wife unreasonably kept bringing up an affair he had two years ago. What a bitch.

That burned me. I don't have a lot of deep sexual mores, beyond the ability for all involved to form informed and responsible consent. But I have serious issues with broken promises and trust. He felt it was natural- any man with the opportunity would act on it. Hiding it was only natural. Getting caught happens. The person betrayed needs to get over it...

The lack of integrity, that he would swear an oath (and marriage vows involve some very specific oaths), that he would lie to and hide things from someone who he has agreed to share his life with is enough, in my mind, to discount him completely as a man. That he would then turn around and blame the victim blew me away.

I guess I'm just old-fashioned.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


I've been in a weird place for the last week or so. Almost every thing I saw, touched or did seemed to summon an image. I would see the curve of Kami's face, or the mist in the valley, the heat waves over a grill, wind blowing in the grass...

And things would well up- the face of a girl from nearly thirty years ago. A finger split lengthwise from impact, gray and yellow in death. Words from a rapist's private journal. The yellowing whites around a friend's eyes. A one-speed bicycle. The sound of water dripping in the back of a cave, sounding like vampires smacking their lips to a lone nine-year-old. A grula horse with Kiger stripes. A blank tarot card. The tracks of a beaver along the Washoe river. A rotting wolf eel on the beach. Looking into the eyes of a wild wolf. The feel of welded tuff. Old friends. Old adversaries. An obsidian hand ax. A purple tonka toy roadster.

When I'm not around people I don't think in words anyway. Images are nothing new... it just seemed that they were attached, coming from any sensation, part of that sensation. I would hug my wife and feel the exhiliration of a judo throw or hear the threats of some long forgotten criminal. It was like being in a room crowded with ghosts.

I read a theory long ago that the phenomenon of "life passed before my eyes" in a near-death experience is an attempt to go through history seeking a solution for the present problem. Without the problem, without fear, I've had that sensation for the last week. It seems to have no meaning, no triggering stimulus. It's faded now, enough that I can write at least.

It was a very odd week.

Friday, May 05, 2006


This is one of those epiphanies based on the shades of nuance in language and translation. Take it for what it is worth.

I first learned the term 'kime' in a karate class. It was explained as total commitment when every fiber of your mind, body and spirit were focused on a single moment of a single act. If you could strike and in the moment of impact be ONLY striking with all that you are, that was kime. I have felt that intensity and it is everything it is advertised to be- when you achieve it, you are not just a person hitting, you become impact itself, the essence of damage, inhuman and unstoppable.

Just finished reading Tony Reay's book on judo. As an act of discipline, I force myself to read whole books- introductions and acknowledgments and even glossaries. In his glossary, kime is translated simply as "to decide".

I knew that! The Kime-no-kata, the judo self-defense kata (old style) is called the Form of Decision. I just had not seen it before.
The big three concept was a huge piece of the puzzle fitting together (see here):

It is humbling to find so much of it so elegantly stated in the first art I ever studied. What is the most important thing in self-defense? Make a damn decision. Everything else predicates on that.

Every so often there is something that you know in a few minutes... and begin to understand in a few decades.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Stuff You Notice

Fresh human brains smell like a mixture of very fresh, high-quality meat and Ivory soap.

The common daisy was used by the Romans in a poultice to slow bleeding and help heal wounds.

When a tendon snaps, it can sound like a pistol shot.

If you shine sunlight through a ruby it will throw a spot of red and a spot of blue light onto a white surface.

A ligament snapping makes less of a noise than a tendon and there is little pain, just a watery, weak feeling like the joint isn't there.

You can rappel with no equipment but a rope and ascend with nothing but a good pair of boot laces.

Bones make a dull snap noise when they break, and the pain of a hand is sharper than a rib is sharper than a leg. The pain of a healing bone is a dull ache, especially in the cold.

When you are a door gunner in a helicopter and the pilot is flying knap-of-the-earth and he banks hard, you have no sensation of movement: it looks like the earth just moved in front of you, turning into a wall.

The pain of circulation and sensation returning after severe frostbite is intense and it seems it will never end, it feels like a fire in a nightmare.

The Mayans never developed a true arch, so their walls are thicker and chambers smaller than we expect.

Crepitus is the crunchy sound of broken bone ends grinding against each other. There are other things that make that sound, too.

In an outer ring around every thermal is a downdraft.

There are different "flavors" of concussion. Some are fun, like being mildly drunk and hungover all at once.

Milking cows strengthens your grip like nothing else.

Your own bones look very white when you see them.

Right handed people tend to take slightly longer steps with their left legs.

The Spanish term for parasites is bichos. Not sure if that is spelled right.

Chichu is an Ecuadorian native chewed beverage. It tastes like weak beer mixed with milk.

Finger joints take forever to heal because they keep catching on things. I hate that.

Peacock tastes a lot like alligator (and neither tastes like chicken).

Once you get to the point that you can go hand to hand with a real criminal without the adrenaline effects, you get them again when it is time to shoot.

Water won't stick to a diamond.

What a cool world.

Monday, May 01, 2006


People make first impressions. That's not really true. I create the first impression from a medley of subconscious detail- how others react to them, how they carry themselves, what they glance at and what they watch, what they say and how they say it, their general health. Most important, probably, is what they try to subtly influence me, as a stranger, to see.

The impressions can be detailed, even complicated, but they aren't labels. Like most of my thinking they aren't word-things. Perhaps they are like maps: symbolic, never perfectly accurate but usually good enough to plot a course.

Met a near-legend recently. There's a depth to him, but a veneer too, and places where the veneer is wearing thin... and he's laughing at that, because the veneer isn't him. It's the legend people have created around him and he looks forward to the illusion shattering and the freedom it will bring. He would be fun to sit and listen to and laugh over people's needs for mystery in their miracles.

One of my co-workers is like a slow river. His appearance- bald and goofy with ostentatious hearing aids- hides a depth of compassion, intelligence, raw strength of spirit and amazing skills of observation. His laughter is like a child's, honest... or like a river bubbling over rock.

An old man today, an old criminal, had a stroke. "Fuck the world, live or die, all the same! Don't care what happens, I'm going to live hard!" The shadow in his eyes when he thought not of dying in some romantic outlaw fantasy but living, paralyzed and drooling, was a depth of fear like a paniced animal's, only to be fought with more bravado. He was like a sand castle, constantly building himself.

No time to write more.