Monday, September 25, 2006

...I Never Knew

Not sure I want to write about everything just yet. I'll be leaving the jail soon and for about four years I'll be doing investigations. It will be a whole new world and frankly, I need a challenge, something completely new.

When it was announced, L, a sergeant I have worked with off and on for seven years said, "That's really surprising. I thought you would be the absolute last choice." She was really concerned about hurting my feelings, but this is something I've been curious about for a long time- why so many people see me in such a specific way.

"Oh, you know," she said, "You're one of those tactical guys. A maverick. Always on the edge. You don't get along with regular people."

True or not? Part of me is thinking "consider the source: This lady got lost in a building she'd been working in for two years" but more important than right or wrong is that this is how I'm seen.

Background: I tried for a position a few years ago. Walking into the selection process I was the only candidate who had ever run a unit and the only one with any experience in the field at all. I was just coming off teaching seminars in the field on both coasts and being asked to use my material in a state police academy on the East coast. The first statement from the selection panel in my interview was, "Rory, you're clearly the most qualified candidate, so we have decided it would be unfair to consider qualifications for this post." WTF? Another very senior administrator was overheard to say, "That sergeant needs to realize that there are office people and line monkeys- and he's a line monkey." This isn't an 'oh poor me' sentiment. It's become very apparent that senior administration sees me a certain way and I've wanted to know for a long time what they perceive. L was telling me.

Return to the subject: Where were we? Oh yeah. Maverick, blah, blah, blah. "You aren't the calmest person in the world, you don't really communicate, you set people on edge. You're good in a fight and really controlled and professional but I just don't see you doing investigations."

"L, I usually talk people down. That's why they have me do mental health."

"You do mental health?"

"Mental health. And peer counseling. And crisis negotiations. And teaching"

"You do all that? I never knew."

Yep. Done all that. For seven years right along side her. Probably four years of that in the same building. Completely invisible next to the barely contained savage in her head.

It's good to finally hear it in words.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Re-Framing the Question

The world, and our perception of the world, is incredibly plastic. It can be shaped and molded. Things are as they are, a rock is a rock, but whether the rock is an ugly lump or baroque beauty, whether it is an obstacle or a tool lies entirely in our perceptions and our choices.

Many people recognize the malleability of the world but it seems that few embrace it and actively practice using this amazing power.

One of the hardest things when dealing with new martial artists is that they want to learn to "fight" and they want to "win" and they hate "losing". None of those words have any meaning beyond the student's perception. They think sparring is fighting, for one thing, and it isn't. It is one of many training methods that increase some skills and attributes but can erode others. They think that ippon or a submission or a knockout is a win, but it isn't. It's a data point. If you were sparring with a friend and he suffered permanent brain damage, do you still feel it's a win? If you are having the best time of your life in a wild engagement with swords.. it's over when you score. How can ending something so fun be a win? And losing.. struggling against the best grapplers makes you stronger and smarter and more skilled. Few "wins" provide those benefits.

You try to tell them: "In the dojo, there are no winners and losers. There are teachers and learners and we are all both." But those are just words. Not as powerful, for most people, as the image in their head of winning and losing.

Everywhere. Some people lose jobs and they are crushed, others use it as the incentive they need to finally do what they always dreamed. Some are born into families of horrible poverty and abuse and use it to excuse every bad act and failure of their lives and a sibling born into the same situation says, "Not for me. My kids will have it better." For one an insurmountable obstacle, for the other a burning incentive.

This may be the most powerful expression of the human will: to choose what things mean and how to respond. Do you want to live forever? How many different ways can you define immortality? Some of those definitions are in your reach. Do you want to succeed? Would that be the "at peace with the world" success of a mendicant monk or the "material posessions" success of the business man? Or the "make the world a better place" kind of success? Or the "good father" kind of success? On and on.

Personally, I wanted to own the world. So I pissed on it. Marked my territory. It works for dogs. That world your standing on? It's mine.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Experience Concentrates

An avalanche works because a little bit of snow starts to slide and pulls a little more with it, which pulls a little more which pulls a lot more...

Life is like that too. When you step out of your comfort zone and see a piece of the wide world for the first time you will see other pieces of a wider world from your new vantage point. When you read a really good book and start poring through the bibliography you will find a bunch of books to read that will lead you to many others.

Growth cause growth. Learning encourages learning. Life makes life- and living makes living, which is not quite the same thing.

Combative experience accumulates and concentrates. Sean and I taught an instructor course for defensive tactics today. Most of the people in the course were instructors and veteran officers. A few were martial artists... but some were something else. We were talking about experience and what we had learned and there was this handful of instructors who gravitated to one group and the others watched them. It struck me that each of the members in our group had more fights than than everyone in the other group combined.

We aren't bad guys. No one in the group (except maybe Dave ;)) goes looking for a fight. But for whatever reason (inclination? dumb luck? attitude?) each of us were very successful in our early fights and consequently were called in for anything that might go bad. We were then assigned to the positions where bad things happened: booking, disciplinary, ad-seg. The little bit of experience quickly grew. That lead other places- the tactical team first.

Then Sean and I went slightly different ways. I got promoted and spent the next five years still fighting but investigating and evaluating even more. Went from being an operator to a planner. Took a side step into Search and Rescue and learned more about other stupid ways to die. Really integrated experience with martial arts- started writing and meeting people and teaching.

The avalanche is still building power.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Stress Debriefing

Maybe two years ago there was a young man in one of our tougher dorms haveing a rough time. It wasn't the inmates- he had a measure of respect and wore all the 'right' tatoos and knew the 'right' people... and he wasn't exactly new to the system. He was depressed and sometimes crying- not good or safe jailhouse behavior.

He wanted to talk and I listened.

He'd killed a man. He'd done other crimes, but he'd never killed before and he couldn't quite wrap his mind around it. He couldn't sleep. He would wake up from nightmares in a cold sweat, choking on a scream.

He claimed it was self-defense and I told him not to tell me anything about his case, but I would listen to what he was going through now.

He talked about his guilt, and I told him he should feel guilty. It was normal. We talked honestly about the enormity of taking a human life, how small and fragile it makes the universe. How much the world can change with a decision that took a fraction of a second.

We talked for hours over several days and I remember walking away once thinking, "I just did a post-traumatic stress debrief on a criminal. Weird." Has anyone ever considered doing that? What kind of effect would it have? Simple truth is that everyone comes to some kind of accomodation with their actions. This young man could choose to learn how to deal with the killing from other criminals or from me. He could have learned that it was cool and a mark of manhood and his emotional response was a weakness to be rooted out. He chose to work it through with me, and I chose to listen.

Did it have any effect? Will it have any effect? I'll never know.

In the paper yesterday it said that his plea of self defense was rejected and the jury returned a verdict of guilty in a few hours, as well as guilty verdicts on a string of armed robberies he never mentioned to me.

By the time he gets out of prison, if he does, I'll be long retired- sailing with my lovely wife or diving or climbing.

I'll never know.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Words of Wisdom

Feeling very grateful for old lessons.

Capt. Whalen (my first CO): "We have only two goals. Accomplish the Mission and Survive on the Modern Battlefield. Everything else must serve those goals."

Top, his 1Sgt: "When you have a hopeless mission, you send your best people. Your best people will always surprise you."

An instructor at Ft. Sam Houston: "A dead medic never saved anybody!"

Reinforced by Cecil at HNT training: "The operator is always more important than the hostage. If you get hurt or become a hostage yourself, resources will be wasted on you that could have gone into saving the hostage. You are supposed to be part of the solution, if you do something stupid you become part of the problem."

Ron, when he handed me my badge: "The second you put this on, you are never allowed to lose again."

Wally, one of my trainers: "If you can't walk solo into a tank with forty screaming inmates surrounding a pair who are fighting and drag the fighters out by the hair, you can't do this job."

Jeff: "The harder I train, the luckier I get."

Norm (a retired, burned out cop who I asked about the job): "No matter what any bleeding heart liberal tells you, three percent of the people in the world are scum. The trouble is, you start spending 90% of your time with that 3% and you start to think that 90% of the world is scum. You keep that in perspective and you'll be fine."

Mac: "You want to hear the deepest okuden (secret transmission) in martial arts? Just hit the guy. Strategy, tactics... it's all bullshit. HIT THE GUY."

Dave: "Not everyone can fight with this stuff. You'll be all right, though. You'll do the right thing or you'll make something up. That's ju."

Also from Dave, trying to explain the spiritual side of martial arts: "The dead guy doesn't get to go to church. Don't read too much into this."

Mike: "You want me to be a good loser? Show me a good loser and I'll show you a LOSER. I never want to lose enough to get good at it!"

Dep. USM Jeff: "Violence of Action Trumps Technique."

Dad: "Use your superior judgment to avoid using your superior reflexes."

Dale: "That was ugly, but an ugly win is still a win."

Ali: "It's better to be unarmed against a knife than go knife on knife, because if there are two people willing to fight with knives you have two crazy stupid people in the room."

Barry: "I'll cut you four ways: Hard, fast deep and often."

Hesitating to close this post because there are hundreds more bubbling just below the surface.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


People belong in groups. I'm about as much of a loner as you will find who can still function in society, but even loners have their groups.

Cops don't see race as much as most civilians seem to believe. Sure, it's a data point. But it's not a huge one- if I see a black kid slouching and sagging and wearing a specific color and looking at certain things, I put a name to the gang. Change the race and it just changes the name of the gang. The gang membership or the 'thug life' is a relevant classification, and far more important than the color of skin.

If I see a skinny toothless woman with bad skin dressed in easy-access clothes on a cold street corner trying to flag down car after car without any sense of urgency I'll assume, with a high degree of accuracy, that she's a crack whore if she's black and a meth whore if she's white. You never seem to find prostitution without addiction, but that's another subject.

And the white whore will have more in common with the black whore than she will ever have with a white school teacher or nurse.

In a lot of ways, it's the same with cops and crooks. I understand better and at certain levels get along better with criminals than I do with clerks or CPAs. For that matter, better than other officers who have spent their careers behind desks.

Even more so with cops and cops. There's an isolation of viewpoint. Victims are kept out of the news, but when you've seen the victims (even of victimless crimes) and you've seen the bad guys in their natural environments (something even judges and prosecutors rarely see) and you've literally risked your life to save one person who you would never want within a mile of your children from another person who is even worse... the people you can meaningfully share your world view with dwindles.

So it is with the team- skin color and gender and religion and political view point and.... are so meaningless beside the fact that I trust them absolutely with my back. Here's the test- you make entry, button hook left and see a door in your area of responsibility. You cover the door and you hear gunfire behind you. And you don't look. Because the team is trusting you to cover that door and you are trusting, absolutely, that the teammate responsible for the area the shots are coming from will stop the threat before he gets to you.

Not everyone sees the groups that they belong to. I don't think of myself as many of the things I get labeled as... but if you look at pictures of a seminar, you'll see me with the skeptical cops in the corner. If you see me at a Science Fiction convention (my wife drags me to one a year) I wind up with the scientists and the professional writers.

Conversely, some people see themselves as members of groups when who they are at the core something completely different. I see this most powerfully in people with an internal sense of control. People who set goals, work to control their own lives, make no excuses- I get along with them and understand them. People who wait for life to hand them the woman and job and house of their dreams, who would rather whine than work for their goals are alien to me.

To me the internal/external locus of control is one of the most definitive dividing lines... and yet I see many people with an internal locus of control who overcame great obstacles who feel such a kinship with the obstacles that they work and work and sweat and lecture and even bleed to help others overcome the same obstacles. And they never, ever see that the other person, no matter how much they want the obstacle to disappear will never do anything about it. With an external locus of control they are always victims, always passive always waiting for the universe to magically hand them what they deserve. The ILoC helper shows and guides and points... but the ELoC is waiting for more than that, waiting for the gift (which they will squander if they get).

Perhaps this is what makes a codependent partnership. One willing to give, the other merely unwilling to act.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


The widow wrote a touching and very private letter. She had been in a situation of escalating domestic violence and on one particular evening her husband got the gun. He held it on her chest, backed her into a corner. She wrote that looking into his eyes, she could see that he was going to kill her. She says that the look was unmistakeable.

She chose not to die and not to beg. She chose to walk out and force him to shoot her in the back. In one of the weird twists of this dynamic he couldn't put up with her making a decision. He said that he would leave and stepped outside. He had no less intention of killing her, you must understand this. This type of violence is about control and he couldn't let her make a decision, couldn't let her be an actor in this drama. He stepped outside purely to deny her the chance to be the one acting.

She locked the door and dialed 911 as she frantically locked up the other doors and windows. The husband began slamming his weight into the door, trying to shatter his way in.

This is why I'm writing this- in her letter she talked about how amazing and humbling it was that when she called for help, perfect strangers showed up to rescue her. Three men (one a brand-new trainee) who had lives and families and children showed up at her door step to save her from a man with a gun. She read the reports later and was hit hard by how they described what was going through their heads at the time, the fear and mission.

The husband decided to fire at the deputies. The woman is a widow now. The deputies stayed with her for the next several hours and it was the first solid information she had ever received on the cycles of domestic violence. They got her counseling. They took care of HER.

Remember this, if you can. That there are people everywhere who risk their lives and the possibility of orphaning their children every day to help strangers. Because the stranger called for help.


So this is the crux, down and dirty specifics about training for violence... but I can't do it. Context is too big. Questions need answers: What are you capable of doing? What are you willing to do? What scares you? What freezes you? Do you even know when you are fighting for your life and when you are fighting for your ego? What tools do you carry for self-defense? How much time will you put into tools? Can you access them at close contact and under stress? What kinds of threats are you likely to face? With what weapons? At what range? Do you have a duty to act? Do you have a duty to retreat?

Any advice I can give can be negated by certain answers to the above questions as well as a million more. With that warning in your head, we can proceed. I'll give you some training methods, what they are for and where they can screw you up.

The critical things to train for are the surprise of a sudden assault and the chaos of the fight itself.

Patrick McCarthy has made a list of Habitual Acts of Violence, a compilation of common attacks. The list is long, though, and responses to ambushes have to be instantaneous. Learning and training that many stimulus/response pairs would take a long time. The key is to come up with a very few responses that cover a great many of the stimuli.

Operant Conditioning is the training method to help with ambush. You need a very small number ( I teach three per student and use about five myself) of high percentage counters to sudden attack. They have to be simple, powerful, based on gross motor skills, provide protection, close the distance (because I am an infighter- this is my prejudice, YMMV), do damage and better your position. Then they need to be trained to reflex. If they work with the body's natural flinch reaction, they will be learned faster. Students who flinch away and throw up one arm adapt quickly to the Dracula's Cape entry. Students who instinctively throw both hands in front of their face adapt easily to the spear entry. One of these is picked for each student and the response is paired to the stimulus of "any visible threatening action". In addition, they each learn one for attacks from behind (including being yanked off their feet backwards by the hair) and one for being powered off their feet forward from behind.

The kata of classical jujutsu are an extremely advanced training method for dealing with the habitual acts of violence of their time.

The problem with OC for ambush is that you must remember what it ISN'T. It's not good for or designed for sparring. It must be trained simply. It must be trained against an ambush style of attack: in other words one that is committed and done at full power and speed. If the students providing the stimulus are allowed to feint or switch attacks or get tricky it destroys the conditioning. A crook in an ambush doesn't swing the baseball bat halfway and then pause to see if you react so that he can react so that you can react...

Dealing with chaos. For this you need live training. You need to mix it up, to roll and brawl and box and spar. You need to spar with multiple opponents and with weapons and in cluttered areas and against people who have studied things you've never heard of and against people who haven't studied at all. Listen to me here: THIS WILL NOT TEACH YOU TO FIGHT. If you are paying attention and pushing yourself, it will teach you to be comfortable in chaos. In a real fight (or in real life) you are never totally in control anyway, and that makes people freeze. You need to know what it feels like to be overwhelmed and concussed and pinned and out of breath and surprised until it becomes just a data point. If you have put yourself through everything, suddenly realizing you can't move your left arm has no more emotional power than the smell of a new flower. You can literally become exhilerated that some one had the skill to hit you in the face and enjoy the sensation and the knowledge. (Mac put something on the board once about the stage of "getting hit and liking it" I've done it for a long time but I'm just starting to understand it now. Thanks, buddy.)

The problem with live training is that it is fun and alive.. and any bad habit picked up is hard as hell to get rid of. People who point spar have spent hundreds of hours practicing missing. People who strike hard but rely on gloves will do more damage to their hands than to a skull. People who practice the sweet ippon throws of judo have trained to reflex a follow-through that helps the opponent avoid damage. People who practice 'position before submission' rely on time they may not have. The harder you train for a specific venue, the deeper the habits are ingrained and the harder you freeze when things change.

But if you can deal with surprise and deal with chaos, the rest of training is cake.

You need to learn how to move someone else's body.
You need to learn how to move yours.
You need to learn how to generate power.
You need to learn where the good targets are and how to hit them with your eyes closed. (Not kidding here. If you can't fight blindfolded you can't fight with blood in your eyes).

That's it, really.

One more thing- the very essence of dealing with chaos is giving up on the idea that there is a solution or an answer. There's just whatever you can do right now. If you feel you have the answer, whether its a style or a training method or a technique, all that you have done is put chaos in a box in your own mind. Chaos doesn't fit in boxes and you have set yourself up for surprise. Let go.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


This is complicated and I'm not sure how to write it. In "Code of the Streets" Elijah Anderson casually mentions a by-pass that allows people to drive above a violent and poverty-stricken neighborhood without ever seeing it. In a different article, the author talks about modern warfare and how the US is attempting to apply the concepts of modern warfare (an affair between states to further political goals, limited by treaty and international law) to the essentially tribal warfare of the terrorist networks (non-state, driven by deep hatreds, largely free of explicit goals, centralized leadership or critical infrastructure). Today teaching Use of Force policy I found myself emphasizing again and again how important it was to enter any violent situation at the right level of force and how critical it was to change the level when you found you were wrong.

Life is stratified in so many different ways and so much misunderstanding comes from refusing to recognize when someone is acting, fighting or talking from a different level. Missing that their goals, morals and strategies are not the ones that you think of as "normal".

This is readily apparent at the confluence of my two worlds. On the one hand I deal every working day with people who believe it is stupid to accept a responsibility you can avoid; that people who feel that working for your livelihood is proof that you are stupid and should be exploited; that using force is natural and right and the only reason everyone doesn't all the time is fear; that jail is a place to rest and take care of health problems.

These are not exagerations, not even slight exagerations. And these are not the super-predators. These are the attitudes of the day-to-day low level criminals- the addicts and pushers, the guy holding the sign saying "Will work for food" (who will turn you down if you actually offer him a job. Try it.)

This mindset is so alien to the other half of the people I know (the "citizens") that many refuse to believe that it exists. It makes them uncomfortable when someone they know to have good judgment and wide experience makes a statement like this because it strikes them as impossible or wrong. But the mindset isn't that alien- it's adapted to its environment and reinforced in its own subculture.

People get uncomfortable with anything that strays too far from their strata, and they'll do incredible mental gymnastics to justify and explain behaviors as "bad decisions" because they are more comfortable thinking that there is a connection, that under the right circumstances even "I" could be driven to kill a child and this poor criminal just happened to hit those conditions. This is more comfortable than believing that there are people who will kill a child because her crying might annoy a boyfriend who supplies drugs. Or might just not think of it as an event at all.

So we sit in our air conditioned, genteel, polite world and refuse to believe that there are people who will deliver a savage beating while deliberately planning how they will defend it in court.

We will look at politics as a matter for discussions and sanctions... and be laughed at and people will be murdered because we are trying to negotiate trade, land and access with an entity whose goal is the absolute extermination of a people.

There is talk of trying to deal with terrorism as a crime when our legal system is predicated on rights and priveleges; intelligent, unafraid and truthful witnesses and compelling evidence. No decently organized group that is willing to be lethal could be convicted much less defeated by our legal system.

When your level of perception departs largely from the level of reality, a skilled opponent will note that and use it- so when the US pulls on Israel's leash and a cease-fire is declared, Hezbollah immediately reoccupied, Iran started shipping missiles and E-INT equipment... and we all pretend it isn't happening because a civilized country wouldn't violate an agreement and we are far too polite to call a terrorist group who kidnaps and murders and a state who supplies them "uncivilized". That would be rude.

In police Uses of Force there is a line that each officer must understand. There are different numbers and names assigned to it, but it is critical. For us, on one side of that line is Level 4, the restraint and control and pain holds used to get a threat into handcuffs. On the other side is level 5, survival fighting. If you attempt to resolve a level 5 situation with level 4 techniques, you will get hurt. If you try to handle a level 4 at level 5, you get sued. If the threat decides you are in a fight for your life and you decide to try to just control him a little, you will bleed.

So much of this comes together. In any area, mistaking the level of the situation, the level the threat is working from or assuming that the rules that you and your friends use at your level will be respected by someone who operates from a different level is disasterous.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Three Strikes

The inmate is asking my legal advice. He's heard there's a "three strikes law" in the neighboring state and he wants to know how he can get one of his two previous violent felonies expunged. He has no doubt and makes no pretense that he's going to commit a third. He just wants, desperately, for there to be no more consequences than he is used to.

I ask, casually, what his previous convictions in that state were. He dismisses them: "Can you believe the judge said that kicking a guy who happened to be on the ground was a felony? I didn't use any weapons and the guy didn't even have any broken bones, just some scarring and the judge said that was a felony. Can you fuckin' believe that? No way that's a felony."

But you were convicted of a felony.

"That don't mean nothin'. The same judge gave 17 months to a guy for being too close to a school and he had a perfectly good reason."

Hmmm. Illegal to be too close to a school? Child molester or drug dealer?

"Don't matter, that judge was way out of line. No way am I gonna be in a position where I raise one little finger to defend myself I'm goin' to prison for the rest of my life. No way. I'm getting that expunged."

It's blurry, this world that lays just over or just under the top of mine- where kicking a man after you've beaten him to the ground is only a little wrong. Where society is draconian and evil because the third time you've damaged one of their citizens for either fun or to take their possessions society decides to remove you from the victim pool. Where a child molester that a prisoner would normally consider shanking is a victim and example of common cause if you can ride the coat tails of their victim-hood. Where protecting children by removing predators is "way out of line". Where stomping a man into permanent scars is "raising one little finger to defend myself".

Normally, I deal with this well. Today I want to take a shower. Partially because this human reptile can't see his own evil but even more because there are hundreds of well-meaning people waiting in the wings who would love to champion this poor and oppressed and disadvantaged man. Who will sympathize over his fear of being sent away 'forever' and ignore the human wreckage he has left in his path and all the ones he will create in the future if he can only find or manufacture an excuse.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Reverse Freudian Slip

It's bad enough that sometimes people say the wrong word, a word that sounds like what they mean but isn't... but sometimes it's even weirder to hear the wrong word.

Years ago, a bunch of friends were hanging out in a hot tub and the conversation went something like this:

K: The apartment has a hot tub, but it doesn't have a sauna.
D: Sonnet? When did we start talking about poetry?
D2: Poultry? What do chickens have to do with anything?

Yesterday was a bad one. Walked into a conversation where coworkers were discussing someone who played too many video games.
Person: We never should have introduced him to that. He's addicted.
Me: He's always been a dickhead. What do games have to do with it?

Addicted. A dickhead.

Kathy trumped that one today. "He said he was going into the backyard to mess around with the Trac-hoe and lay a ditch. I swear to god I heard him say 'mess around with a crack ho and lay that bitch.'"

The List

Last weekend, Kami and I were driving to Nate's wedding. There was a lot of talk and a lot of comfortable silence. In one of the moments of silence she asked, "What are you thinking about?" Mostly, I don't really think about anything. My natural resting state seems to be an inflow of what I see and hear and smell all around me and letting it flow through and leave. I rarely think in words and so I usually answer, "Nothing" but Kami knows me well and she picked the moment.

I was idly making a list in my head of all of my dead people. Dad. The twins. Rick. SeanMac. Detective Ben. Samson. Charlie. Chris Soto. Miro. Cody. Faces and images that don't go with any name. Some of the names I've forgotten, the ones from my childhood. And there were others, corpses I knew professionally in one way or another that I never bothered to remember their names.

This isn't meant to be depressing. It's just history, nothing more. The things that drift through your head sometimes.

Three more in the last month added to the list of my dead: Frenchy, Andy, Brad.

Brad's memorial was today. I was locked into a training day that couldn't be changed. Heard the service was nice.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Half-Second Freeze

Veteran fighter, both skillful and experienced. Also a pretty nice guy, good awareness, good verbal skills. He is an officer with good rapport with both inmates and other officers and he was just doing his job.

An inmate took his words, his expression, something as an insult. This was an inmate who had honed the blitz attack to a fine art. The officer was hit three times before he was aware an assault was underway. Then his first instinct was to grab the threat to try to slow down the situation and buy time to think.

It all ended well. There was a fair amount of blood, mostly from the threat. The officers injuries were cosmetic. The other 56 or 57 inmates watching chose not to get involved. The other officer did. Minor injuries all around.

But the officer is and will be mentally torturing himself for a long time. Because he froze. It wasn't much of a freeze- three hits for an average blitz attack is about half a second. He'll be turning it over in his mind, wondering how he let his guard down and how the threat had opportunity and why he didn't see or feel it happening in time to react.

This is the thing, the difference between a fight and an assault. The officer was behind the curve, trying to play catch up, trying to figure out what the situation was and how to respond when the threat already was well into the steps of his plan. This is where you start in an assault: fifteen points behind halfway into the fourth quarter and you don't know if you're playing basketball or footbal and you aren't dressed for either game.

Because he's done this for decades, he thinks he should have done "better". He's alive and mostly uninjured. The threat was dragged away in cuffs. It honestly doesn't end much better than that. But that freeze, that half-second, won't let him rest for a long time.

If you play with snakes long enough, you get bit. It's natural. But the human animal has to think 'why me, why that time, why why why'. A skilled officer will prevent 99% of what could happen, but when that 1% breaks through, he can feel like a rookie all over again.

The officer did good. What happened was normal and natural, and bad guys rely on it (honestly, they expect it to last for the entire assault). Anyone who thinks they can't be surprised or won't freeze for an instant when they are is.. wrong. I wish I could tell him in a way that will make him feel better.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Many becoming One

The kid's at one of the really complex stages. He's trying to block and strike and kick, occassionally attempts a lock or a takedown. If he's watching my hands he can't watch my feet. There's just too much to watch and too much to think about.

When you start, there are hands and feet, two of each. Four things. But the other guy has them to! That's eight! Eight things to keep track of! But there are elbows and knees and head butts, too! That's ten more. Shoulder and hip slams! Forearm smashes! Clothesline snaps! Knee pops and grapevines! Fingers! All the different ways to lock and take down! The environment- footing and armor and obstacles and found weapons and... then add more opponents! Crap!

You do have to take the time to learn each little piece. In the end, though, all of this list of parts and range of possibilities boils down to two bodies. When your mind can do this- just deal with his body (not the parts) by using your body (not the parts) you will be very, very good.

Then, of course, in the next step the two bodies become one dynamic interaction and you can control this. Two (or more) fighting people become a single entity, with you as the brain, all of their actions work to serve your purpose. Touched this a few times.

And then the environment (always the third player in any fight) joins the unity- or you join with it.

Then, theoretically, the Universe.

Negative Space

In "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" (read many years ago, don't remember the author and may be slightly off on the title) the author wrote that when drawing a tree you could draw the leaves or that you could draw the spaces between the leaves. For the most part, the resulting picture would be similar, but the mindset needed to work with negative space is quite different.

Tracking, in a way, is all about negative space. The tracker isn't looking at the foot, he is looking at the empty space where the foot used to be... with skill he can work from this empty space and reconstruct details about the animal far removed from the foot he has never seen. Reconstructing a tree from the space between the leaves.

One of the things that I've noticed with fighting, particularly with in-fighting, is that most people fight against limbs and bodies and a few very effective people work the spaces where there are no limbs and bodies. It's hard to control space if you don't think about and see space- fighting at close range is very much about controlling space, working and moving in the space between the leaves.

A friend asked an amazing question, recently: What is faith? Why do so many successful people evince so much of it?... I realized that faith was one of the things that is invisible to me except as negative space.

Faith in religion is a story we tell ourselves to lessen the fear of the darkness. I can't see it as a real thing. Faith in yourself is a transient assessment against an imagined level of problem. If your capabilities change or the problem you expected was a big bill and the one you got was a tsunami... do the math. Faith that everything will turn out alright in the end... I can't see any of these as real things.

But I can see the tracks. What I think faith is is the ability to let go. To not need to know the outcome before acting. People are risk adverse- they don't like losing, they don't like taking chances if there's a chance of loss. They like comfort and security.

One of the reasons most people can't do (or even really understand) emergency services jobs is this level of faith- how much information would you need before gambling your life on a decision? For us, it seems completely logical: "As much as I can in the time I have, then roll." For civilians (and some administrators), they always seem to want more even on minor decisions.

I've seen officers make the sign of the cross before entry and heard others say, "It's a good day to die." I've looked the team over and thought, "Yeah, with these guys, we can handle this. We're good to go." Leaders have said (often), "You've trained hard for this. You'll be fine." Faith in religion, in self, in team mates, in training... all just words to me.

What I do see is the ability to act in uncertainity no matter how they describe the source of courage. The ability to leap in the space between the branches.