Friday, December 28, 2007

The Joy of the Lesson Plan

Teaching private students is fun and easy.  Provided they have good safety basics (they know how to take a fall and they don't panic at minor striking contact) you can usually get a good session rolling with a simple, "What do you need to work on today?"  It serves a couple of purposes beyond setting an agenda for the day.  It gets them thinking critically about why they are here, what they want and where their strengths and weaknesses lie.  More importantly, it pushes them to take control of their own training.  Taking control is critical.  In a predator assault, especially a sexual one, the predator wants the victim's submission and degradation.  It can set up a powerful disconnect if, in the class where you are supposed to be physically learning how to prevent or survive such an attack you are mentally expected to be subservient to a 'master'.
            The student isn't always in control, of course- but when I take control it can never be about my ego or proving who is in charge or who is smarter.  I drive the training when I have seen a problem like a need (something they suck at); a hole (a skill or danger they aren't even aware exists); a glitch (a psychological problem with a performing); a false belief (something they have been told is true that may not be, e.g. "a broken nose is a fight ender"); or a missed concept or opportunity (they know how to do a technique physically but don't realize that the skill translates to something wonderful, like Okinawan blocks infighting or aikido-style movement in the clinch).  Stuff like that.  This is why we have instructors, in my opinion- not because they are smarter or wiser or even more experienced- but because they have an ability to see things that we can't.  Sometimes because we've never been exposed to it (ask me about the 'horizontal line cats' experiment some time) but often because we are too close to the problem or have already decided something is a certain way and quit exploring it.

So with private students, they collaborate in the lesson plan and I rarely write one unless there has been a good time commitment, time to get to know the student and they have been very clear about their goals.

Teaching seminars is a hoot, too.  For the most part, you know why they asked you there: you have an expertise that they feel they lack.  What you usually don't know is how broad a range of skills the students will have, who can do what safely and whether they have even a basic grounding in what you will cover.  If the students don't even know the vocabulary (like giving a class on Use of Force law to certain martial artists) it can take a while.  But that's fun and challenging.  To design something that can be used by rank beginners, specialized experts and generalized experts and have them all walk away with something is a very good day.

Teaching cops, though, requires a lesson plan.  Pre-written, pre-approved.  Judged by some higher authority to be what all of the officers need (no matter how different the officers are). Some instructors go the easy route with a short list of skills to be memorized by rote, completely out of context with the day-to-day job.  I've seen the results of that kind of training.  I've called the ambulances for the officers who got it.
          I've bragged about this before, but my agency (largely due to Jose) realized that they had experienced instructors with hundreds of real fights who honestly cared about their fellow officers and knew how to teach and how to write.  They let us write what the officers needed.  Not what the academy said was "industry standard."  Not what an imaginary lawyer deemed to be "sufficient for liability reduction."  What they needed.
        It forced us, or allowed us, to look at training in a new way.  Something the officers, regardless of ability, experience, skill, previous knowledge, size or fitness could all use.  Something that would make everyone more survivable, from our best to our weakest.  And something that could be explained in a lesson plan.  That was, possibly, the hardest part. And I love it.
       The lesson plan has to be broad, deep, and logical.  Unfortunately, because it has the potential to be challenged in court, it can't be too flexible- we must be able to testify that all the officers were taught the same way.
     So here are two of my great joys of the lesson plan:
       1) Having a very intelligent, very caring supervisor ask, "What if...." and "What do I do if...."questions all day and be able to say, "We'll get to that in a few minutes," every time.  Every single thinking contingency was dealt with in a logical order.  It felt complete and solid.
        2) One of the instructors who understands this paradigm best is looking over a draft lesson plan and says, "What about 'fighting to the goal' do you... oh, there it is."  That really got to me because five years ago no one had even put in to words that survival fighting was different than struggling to put handcuffs on a squirming drunk.  We knew it was different, but we hadn't taught it as different.  Now we teach goals-strategy-tactic-technique.  It is one of the keys to being both flexible and decisive.  We have created a common language that has become so logical that one person can anticipate that an abstract concept needs to be in a basic lesson plan, and it is there.

It's a good feeling.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Another Perfect Morning

The snow falls in fat flakes outside, pushed into flurries like ghosts by a fitful east wind.  It looks like it will stick this morning, blanketing the deck, the rock garden, the acres of unconquered black berries, the tall firs just down slope.  It is a beautiful morning.

The perfect wife thinks that bacon-cheddar french fries and sausage will make a wonderful christmas breakfast.  She wears a silly santa hat and a tight pirate tank top with loose dragon pajama bottoms... perfectly her: sensuous and cute and deep.
The kids are good- they never did the game of waking up at 0400 and waking up the parents to eagerly tear into presents.  They like presents, but they are neither so greedy that they must have them now nor so insecure that they must see them to believe.  They choose to open them on christmas morning instead of christmas eve or the solstice because they enjoy the anticipation.  That's a patience and discipline I don't see in many children.
The family is mixed and that makes for a medley of tradition- grandparents on one side catholics from "the old country" in Eastern Europe.  Surviving grandparents on the other side quietly pagan- not overtly, very secret with many traditions lost, resulting in something more a relationship with the world and with presumed (and often scary and dangerous) forces.  The parent from the catholic side is Wiccan; the parent from the pagan side bases  spirituality on solitude and the Quest.
So the children grow up with a taste of each and christmas tries not to be confusing.  The solstice is the big night, with vigil and fires; Christmas Eve is the big night for one grandparent, with gifts and traditional meals.  The children choose Christmas morning, because it is the last day important to so many and the longest they can stretch out the festivities.  The only reason the season doesn't confuse them is because we have made it so clearly about each other, about family.  Friends too, but family.
The one who coordinates this all is Kami.  Without her I know I would drift away from this world, farther and farther to the edge of experience.  Not that I don't do that, but she makes me return, brings me back to the world of hearth fires and family dinners.  She has given two autistic children the feeling of security they need and the confidence to live beyond that security.  Every child needs "roots and wings" and these children more than most.  They have them.  I could never have given them roots, not sure I even understand the concept beyond the intellectual level.
So it is another perfect morning with good company and good coffee.  Mellow dogs and dignified cats and snow falling beyond the warmth of home.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Small Circle and ABT

When Wally Jay originally designed Small Circle Jujitsu he didn't see it as a system by itself but as something you could add to any system and make it deeper and more efficient.  The physical principles that he centered it on were present in almost every style but rarely overtly.  The "small circle" wrist action, for example, was a refinement in most of the striking arts I am aware of; a rare but effective defensive move in judo and a core element of using a slashing long bade, whether katana or fencing saber.  But only in the weapons arts was it commonly pointed out and, weapons arts being weapons arts, the interesting unarmed uses were not mentioned and probably unknown.

SCJJ was largely centered around finger locks- an effective tool missing from the arts that focused on striking; removed from the sport grappling arts (two big guys rolling and allowed to use small joints result in many breaks and arthritis in later years); and rare in the older battlefield styles (our style has only one).

Wally's vision (it's changed through time as more and more people got on the band wagon) was an openly incomplete system (and all systems are incomplete- to approach completeness they would have to cover at minimum threat identification, violence dynamics,strategy and tactics, talking, dealing with the emotionally disturbed and mentally ill, all ranges of unarmed combat, all common weapons -from clubs to long guns-, impromptu weapons, escape and evasion, small unit tactics... on and on.  And don't think I'm talking military operations, those are the same skills that will get you and your friends out of a bar fight with minimum damage.) The vision was the important and brilliant thing.
I see ABT going that way too.  Awareness Based Training is the paradigm that Mac and I have been using to teach our agency.  The gains have been huge, but it is definitely not a system of fighting, or martial arts or DTs or self defense.  It's more a way of teaching.
I keep trying to come up with analogies and comparisons.  It's less molding an officer than growing one; less 'forging a warrior' than releasing a predator to the wild.
There are concepts and principles that are critical to real situations.  Many of them are addressed in most martial arts but rarely overtly.  Some of them you can see in the old kata but the modern instructors don't recognize the implications or the uses of some of these details.
Principles are the physical things that make the technique work.  Range, for example, is covered by all styles.  Some are complicated (8 ranges), some simple (in range/out of range).  A few are sophisticated (which is much different than complicated).  Balance, leverage, two-way action, using gravity, exploiting momentum... I've identified 10 or so.  Again, these are present in most if not all styles but rarely brought to the student's conscious attention.
Concepts, some of the mental things, are even rarer.  Violence is a big animal and only teaching the physical aspects of fighting is like only teaching a surgeon organ repair.  The surgeon needs to know sterile technique and how to read a medical history and how to open, repair the organs, close and prescribe post-op care...
Aside- not all martial arts teachers are teaching about violence or about self-defense.  If people are playing for fun or training for competition or adjusting their chi or getting healthier or learning about another culture that is great, and far purer and better than someone who wants to kick ass trying to learn from someone with warrior fantasies.
But if you are teaching about violence and self-defense you must address the basics: Legal issues.  Each student's personal emotional capacity for violence. SSR and how the brain and body work under stress.  The OODA loop.  How attacks happen (if you don't know how people really use a weapon how can you possibly train for it?) How to deal with freezing. How to recover from mistakes and failure. How and when to change goals. Fighting to the actual goal (if you have only ever trained for ippon and now you have to carry your daughter past threats and out of the house, how do you adjust? Practice adaptability.) Dealing, win or lose, with the aftermath- physical, legal and emotional.
Pretending these things don't happen or won't come in to play is talisman thinking- pulling blankets over your head and hoping the magic words will keep the monsters in the closet.
Almost every system I've seen, especially the systems that arose in places and times where the level of violence was horrific by modern standards, deals with these concepts.  The much maligned x-block of traditional karate deals wonderfully with the range, power and surprise of a real close range ambush attack (How do attacks actually happen) and works with the SSR (how the body works under stress).  Instructors or generations of instructors look at how ineffective it is in sparring and drop it.
All this stuff is there, but the instructors as well as the students need to learn to see it

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Knife and Gun

My captain used to say, "For most people, carrying a gun is like a fifteen year old with a condom in his pocket.  He's not going to get a chance to use it and if he did he wouldn't know what to do, but it's cool to show his friends."
In a similar way, a person with a knife out scares me more than a person with a gun out.  Some of that is personal- in most of my knife experience, the threat was trying to kill.  In the very small number of gun encounters, I got the impression that the threat was sort of hiding behind the gun.
This goes to a lot of shooting.  I know a handful of very serious gun guys  (who consider me a knife guy) and a smaller number of very serious knife guys (who tend to consider me a gun guy).  In my estimation, the knife guys are more serious than the gun guys.
This, of course, falls to my definition of serious.
The serious gun guys I know practice with a cold, surgical precision.  "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast."  Dry fire every day.  Four count draw.  Weapons transition, long gun or SMG to sidearm.  Immediate action.  They practice turning corners at retention in the house.  Walking with a rocking motion of their feet.  The best (and civilians rarely have an opportunity for this) practice with ConSims in uncontrolled environment with all of Force policy and statute in effect, working their judgment in tandem with their skills.
The serious knife guys are a different level.  Stay close, here, because my definition of serious knife guy may not match anyone else's.  Knife is not a precision skill, not at the serious level.  It is a matter of intent and will.  Knives are close range and messy and the serious knife guys I know focus less on motion than on the context.  They prepare themselves for the smells; the transition when things go from technical to slippery; the feeling of parting tissues transmitted up the blade.  The screaming and struggling.  It's easy to play with a knife or a gun or any toy... but actually using a knife hits almost every social button, every uggh and disgust and "Oh, Hell No!" a human being has.  Just for the record, slaughtering and butchering animals is valuable (struggled with that word- it's not important in all ways, not critical- you won't learn a lot about knife work; and cutting through a skinned animal with a good set of boning and butcher knives isn't the same; gutting a bled-out deer is very different from the warm, slippery gush of a live disembowelment.  What you do learn is about yourself and a tiny, itty bit of how much a death can affect you.  You also learn how some things die very hard.)
Much of the difference is in the mechanism.  A gun is a joy of engineering.  It is a nifty machine that throws a rock in a straight line.  It is classically civilized.
A knife is anything portable and sufficiently thin to cut.  I've found eyeglass earpieces that were sharpened to scalpels (more for torture than assassination or combat) and plastic toothbrushes sharpened to puncture.  A knife is primitive- no matter the skill and technology that went into it, the knife is an exemplar of more primitive, less civilized times.
Part of the difference is in use.  In combat neither a knife nor a gun is used for winning fights.  Get over that. They are used for killing people.  That is a profound difference.  A handgun (as opposed to a rifle) is used defensively.  As one of the rookies put it, "My glock is just to buy time to get the shotgun."  Simplistic, but the sentiment is there.  A handgun is a compromise- portability and concealability for a profound drop in accuracy and power.  The handgun is something you pull when bad shit happens to you or you expect it to..
The knife (dueling systems aside) is used offensively, usually in a close-range ambush.  The threat appears to be walking past his target and suddenly grips the shoulder or arm with his off hand and pop-pop-pop-pop hammers staccato thrusts into the kidney or liver.
Neither of these examples are universal- handguns can be used offensively, but no professional does as a first choice.  If you are going on the offense, you get a rifle, AR, SMG or shotgun.  Knives can be used defensively, but usually increasing range is a better choice than working in the knife's required range- and when bad things happen in knife range, you can take a lot of damage while making the draw...

Today we had to demonstrate our weapons for a group of people who are frankly scared of us.  I was given a stupid but funny ninja t-shirt.  Said goodbye to an old team mate.  Watched as each of the rookies tried to impress me in their own ways, and thus showed where their insecurities were.  Let flashbangs go off at my feet in a vain attempt to convince decision makers that they were good tools, not scary bad things.  Taught a new generation the culture and ethos of the team.  Appreciated good friends (thanks Dre, Derrick, Mike, Jon).

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Reality and Denial

Teaching cops is different than teaching civilians.  One of the big differences is that in a regular martial arts class, your students want to be there.  When you  are teaching officers, that's not always true.  Sometimes they are ordered to be there.  Sometimes because they desperately need the training, sometimes because it is 'that time of year'... annual training.

Some of the students that are ordered to the training are extremely resistant to it, and that really puzzles and bothers me.  I don't teach fluff classes.  My classes fall solidly into the Survival Skills (Defensive Tactics, Confrontational Simulations); violence prevention (Advanced Communication, Crisis Communication with the Mentally Ill) or not getting sued (Use of Force) categories.  This is important stuff.  A failure in any of these areas could cost you your life, your job your income... it's potentially bad.

This isn't a safe job.  Things have gotten better, but when they tasked me to design the program, 10% of our officers were being hospitalized each year.  Yet in every group of people who don't want to attend training, at least one will say that they don't want to attend training because they don't need it.  They don't fight.  They've been doing this too long and that kind of stuff doesn't happen to experienced officers...

I've visited officers in the hospital who said stuff like that.  You don't get to pick whether you get attacked.  You don't get to pick whether you will have a bad day or not.  We see this all around us.  Good officers get taken hostage too.  Good officer get clocked (far more rarely than bad officers, but it still happens).  We see this, we see this all the time, and still a very small group says, "But not to me."

Watching them, they would get hurt a lot more if not for alert supervisors who assign them to safe places.  Why does stupidity about risk so often go hand-in-hand with the kind of blindness and complacency that makes one such a perfect victim?  The question answers itself.

Changing tires in the rain, the guy couldn't figure out how to use the rod to lower his spare tire from the undercarriage.  I crawled under (why was everyone else hesitant to lie on the wet ground?) and felt for the attachment point.  The square end of the rod he slid in was exactly the same size as the attachment. "You have to use the other end," I said, "this is too small to fit over the crank."

"Nope," he replied, "That can't be right.  The handle fits on this end.  That doesn't make sense."
So let's get this straight:  I'm right there.  I'm telling him why it's not working and what we need to make it work... and he rejects it because it doesn't make sense from his (completely separated) point of view.

He actually refused, twice, to turn the rod around.  After those two failures he acquiesced to try it my way (the way of the guy who was actually there) and in a few seconds, his spare tire was free.

Maybe that would make a good name for a style, translated into Japanese: The Way of the Guy Who is Actually There.  Actually there guy-do.  Kevin?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Nefarious Skullduggers

Been asked to put together a few class for a writer's conference coming up in two months. Planning the classes has been fun- working with PowerPoint, which is almost new, and trying to decide what writers will need versus my usual audiences of cops or martial artists.

The class on Use of Force policy will be easy. I could teach that in my sleep. They will learn almost exactly the way officers learn about how and when and why to use force. Even get into report writing a bit.

The one on violence will be easy, too. I don't think it will help writers as much as they think. Real violence tries to minimize many of the factors that make for entertaining writing. Things tend to be short and one-sided. I work very hard to keep them that way and so do the professional criminals that I know.  The goal, in real life, is to limit drama.  the opposite in arts and entertainment.

The class on weapons will be fun. With luck I'll be able to check out some of our more exotic toys, such as a six-shot 37mm grenade launcher. There are also slides of injuries (knife, gun and a particularly ugly one where blunt trauma ruptured the perineum) and a good analysis comparing skilled shooting at the range and how real officers do in particular shootings.

The one that is hardest to outline will be the class on criminals. I just know these guys too well. There are some categories that are useful- my three basic types of criminals; how different personality disorders gravitate to different types of behavior; and the nightmare threats- excited delirium, mass bad guys, trained teams, process predators.

But real people don't pigeon hole well. Yes, I know the drug dealing pimp with over thirty children and I know that he thinks that he is a good dad and defines being a good dad as giving them presents occasionally. I know people who have engaged in brutal murders, but I also saw them being weak little kids. I've watched people who have committed really heinous crimes try to coach other inmates on how to deal with their mental illnesses.

There is evil. A rapist/murderer with all sincerity explained to me once that while he did it, it wasn't wrong. When I had the duty of telling one young man that his brother had just died, he had a ready list of privileges he should be extended to go with that. I've read the journal of an incestuous rapist who didn't get it- if he couldn't do anything he wanted with an object, they wouldn't have called it "his"... in his mind that logic extended to "his" daughter. The act of raping a wound- on a baby. Yeah, there's some evil.

But no one is evil all the time. That takes a lot of energy. It's possible to be selfish almost all the time, though. There is much more stupidity and selfishness than there is evil, and some of the evil is just stupid.

I've got a feeling that this section will be a very rambling talk.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Tired and busy. I'll be teaching six classes in the next two weeks from a custom lesson plan just for these guys. Have spent the last two days re-writing old lesson plans and designing new ones. Won't talk about that, much.

Maybe a little. I have this little situation that can only be described as INTJ hell. The world actually does make sense and is really pretty simple. People desperately want to be complicated and they aren't. There are a lot of issues and as the scope of what you are exploring grows, the variables increase. More importantly the unknowns increase. This is why I don't have much of an opinion on political situations that I'm not personally involved in... I've been in situations where I was given a pretty full brief and then watched what was presented to the media, and what the media presented to the people and talked to some of the people who drew their conclusions from partial information. In essence, I'm too aware of how much I don't know to rabidly defend some opinion.

However, people imagine a complexity that they then create. This is INTJ hell: Something needs to happen. It is obvious what needs to happen... and someone with power but without information decides that the right thing would look bad. Or MIGHT look bad. Or could incur some liability. So the obvious right thing isn't done and real people get hurt to protect imaginary perception.

"Perception is reality"... but it isn't, not when you are the one who is really bleeding. Not when you are the widow or the orphan of the one sacrificed for appearances.

One officer did exactly what he was taught and was able to take down a knife-wielding psych who ambushed him without using deadly force. Dozens have told us it was the most useful program yet. A few (mostly rookies but one senior) have said it gave them a confidence that they could do the job.

I'm being asked to rewrite the class that made those stories possible.

It's possibly the most effective DT class we've ever had. But it's too violent, according to some. It looks that way on paper- at least to some... and "perception is reality" to some people. The ones not in a position to bleed. Have any of the people complaining been through the class? Has there been ANY increase in excessive force claims? Have officer hospitalizations gone down by a third?

That's what INTJs do- they design systems that work, and it is hell to change a working system, especially if the cost might be in the pain or blood of friends.

Maybe, maybe if I can make the changes with enough skill, the cost will be less. Maybe.

C'mon, Sisyphus. Time to push that rock up the hill. One more time, partner. Don't feel alone.

I'm very, very tired.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Supporting Illusion

We all do it. We have spent our entire lives creating a detailed mythic story of who we are. Nothing in this story is by chance. We never say, I got married because i was lonely and desperate and just happened to run into someone more lonely and desperate. Never. A good love is "fate". A bad relationship is a conspiracy of villainy or insanity.

We never stumble into a career because we desperately needed a job and this one of the thirty applications came through and it was good enough and besides I'm lazy and change is hard. Oh, no. If you love your career, your whole life has been leading up to it and you cherry-pick from your memory all the experiences that make that seem true. If it is a job you don't like it is either a stepping stone or, more likely, a cast of characters whose soul purpose on this earth is to enchain and challenge your inherent nobility and goodness.

People love drama and they create drama in their lives. They tell this story of who they are. Never underestimate the power of that story. People who won't lift a finger to save their own lives from imminent violence will fight and die so that people don't think bad things about them. People who are careful not to step on bugs have killed over rumors spread about them. It certain cultures, someone can be a coward, but don't you dare call him one. In jail I have heard inmates on the phone screaming at their mother: "Bitch you put some money on my books or swear to god I'll slash your face!", Men who would try to shank another inmate who insulted the same woman.

The biggest threat to this story are those inconvenient little things called facts. When someone's story is threatened by facts, watch the scramble. Facts can be denied, and often are. They can be labeled with 'opinion' or the "equivalent sources" fallacy (My favorite example: "It's unfair to claim that your experience is in some way more valid than my training." A martial artist at a seminar years ago.)

Watch the scramble. People will marshall resources and allies, redefine words, reject their own personal experience all to protect this story, this dream.

Same with supporting it, which is what got me started here. A friend was writing about the friction that MMA gets from the self-appointed "Practical self defense community". After all, MMA is only cross training. Picking the best things you can find from multiple sources. Is that any different than the so-called PSD community? Very valid point (most of my friends are pretty smart. Stupid people make me tired.)

That's not really the point, though... and the issue isn't what MMA is or isn't. The issue is, here and elsewhere, the "True Believer". It doesn't matter- the Gracies, MMA, WWII combatives, Koryu snobs: all have their kool-aide drinkers, the ones who have taken whatever it is as a core tenet of their story and defend it far beyond logic. They believe that this thing is IT, the ANSWER, the SILVER BULLET, because in the story they tell themselves, it is. Never likely to be in a fight for their lives, this piece of the story is tested over and over in fantasy before they go to sleep.

They will go to extreme lengths to defend the story. The Gracies swept the early UFCs (ignore that they wrote the rules, ignore the ruleset of a 'no rules' competition, ignore the difference between a bar fight and a match) so it must be the answer. MMA is the winning set of skills in the Octagon today, it must be the SILVER BULLET. WWII combatives and koryu have a bit in common- they were both used to kill real people in real battles, they must be IT!.

Each of these things are what they are. The Gracies I have played with have had the most superb body mechanics of any grapplers yet. I'll play with them whenever I get the chance (If I can afford it... damn, dudes!). But the mount isn't the worst case scenario, not even in my top ten and wearing gear does make a difference- sorry Rener. MMA guys play hard and with skill and relatively safely. They are always worth the time and you will learn more losing to Joey Lauzon than winning with many other people... but weapons and hard corners and multiple bad guys are part of my world. I am a koryu snob and love the WWII stuff- but both were designed for extremely fit professional soldiers and completely ignored the lower end of the force continuum- not something I can use most of the time.

Do you see it yet? When we speak of violence, we are talking about a very big animal. Almost infinitely complex, ranging from incoming artillery to squad tactics to snipers to assassins to redneck stompings and gang hamstringings and...there are an infinite number of ways to die. Adding patch after patch to all the ways you can imagine dying still leaves holes and can make a solution too unwieldy to apply.

The people who have dealt with violence are pretty consistent in their advice: You won't fit this beast in a box. You won't find a single answer to an infinite question.

"What's the answer, then? What is it? Where's my magic bullet?" the question echoes. There is no answer.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


George Ledyard is an aikido instructor in the Seattle area. I haven't met him, but he wrote something once that really resonated, something that most martial arts student need to hear. I don't have it in front of me and I definitely don't have Mr. Ledyard's gentle way with words, so this is my personal take on it.

This is for all of the students who are in awe of your instructors: Get over it. Get over yourself.

The best instructor in the world has the same number of arms and legs as you (more or less). A human body and human brain not too far off the charts. In most cases (barring the ancient or damaged student) there is nothing he can do that you can't do.

Do not use him as an excuse to aim low. Do not set him up in your head as an unapproachable paragon. Never say, "I'll never be as good as my sensei." It's an insult to you and it is an insult to his teaching.

It's time to stop trying to be good.

Don't be good enough.

Don't be damned good.

Decide to be amazing.

Exceed your teacher. Take what he gives you and bring it to new levels.

You can do this and if you really want to honor your teacher you must do this.

And then you must turn around and give your students permission to be better than you.

Be AMAZING. Good enough isn't.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Moving, Seeing, Training

Steve Perry asked the $64,000 dollar question today.  I've answered it or tried to answer it in many ways over the years.  Sometimes I seem to say that you can't prepare for the bad stuff, and yet I train and I train other people.  I also sometimes equate violence and martial arts as an apples and oranges thing... or even crop rotation versus hydrodynamics.

So, if there is one, what's the bottom line? (I think both Steves will get called out a bit on this one, but they're big boys.)

One of the most basic problems is in the realm of how martial artists are taught to move.  They are taught to move right.  They are taught to strike or throw or lock correctly.  This works in a controlled environment.
It's the same with basketball players: throwing free throws they can do it with precision and consistency that any sensei would applaud... but they can't deliver that kind of precision in a free-for all.  At some point each player has to transition from moving right to moving well, just getting the ball through the hoop from an unstable platform against resistance.

Most martial artists take it to exactly this level with sparring and think it is enough.  They forget (or don't know) that all live training has built-in flaws for safety.  At the best, the flaws become habits that can get you killed... at the worst, they become "the right way" to do the technique.  The part about safety flaws is an aside.  The meat is this:

Games are simple.  Life and violence are not.  If you take the basketball player who can really move well but suddenly the basket is defended by a rugby, soccer or lacrosse team, using their tactics, his moving well has to come to an entirely new level.  When he is not allowed to know what kind of team he will be playing against in advance, that's another level.  And in real life, sometimes putting the ball through the hoop isn't the way to score.  Sometimes it is and you don't know until you are there.

So most martial artists learn a collection of very specific ways to move.  It's like having a toolbox filled with pre-cut jigsaw puzzle pieces and jumping into a jigsaw puzzle and hoping to find a gap that happens to fit a piece you have.  It works sometimes, but people in real life actually say, "He attacked me wrong."

What the practitioner needs to do is to soak all of his puzzle pieces and mash it into a sort of paper mache that you can cram into an hole you can find.  It won't look pretty....

Steve (Perry) talks about ingraining technique until it becomes a natural way to move. That's key, but it needs to be checked because it is much easier to believe than to do.  When you bump into someone accidentally, do they get knocked back?  If not, you aren't naturally walking with power. When your wife turns around in the kitchen and she has a knife do you automatically close and shut down her arms?  If not, it's not instinctive yet.  Do you cover as naturally as you answer a phone or strike the solar plexus without targeting as unconsciously as you shake a hand? Do you automatically stand so that you can pop knees or exploit weak lines? Where are everyone's hands in a crowded room?  Do you monitor shadows and reflections without thinking about them?  Do you sometimes forget how to teach a technique because you can't remember another way to move?

Crossing hands with Steve Barnes he was very comfortable with close range chi sao style movement- pushing, trapping- but he had an instant of hesitation whenever I didn't do it 'right' breaking contact, say, or head butting.  Lawrence Gonzales in "Deep Survival" pointed out that one of the dangers of getting good at something is that you tended to stick with the script, responding to what happened the other hundred times instead of the different thing that is happening now.

Long training, especially with a system and instructor that you admire, sets you up for this.  You come to believe and expect and internalize his idea of what a fight will be like.  The concentration on doing things 'right' combines to instill a tunnel vision that what you are training for, the venue where the system has worked (and all good systems are designed for something and work very, very well in their natural venue) is the only reality out there.

Years before we met (and I don't really feel we've met yet, but we've chatted a few times) I sat in the back while Steve Perry discussed fighting with a bunch of SF fans and writers.  Steve said, "If you are ever in a knife fight you WILL get cut."  I started to raise my hand and my lovely wife elbowed me in the ribs and whispered, "Cookie!" which is our code word for "Don't be a monster."

Steve then said that no one ever, ever attacks overhand with the knife in a reverse grip... and my hand started to go up again.

Thing was, I've had five knife encounters (sort of, two could be considered assassination attempts and two were pre-empted, one pretty decisively.. not sure 'fight' is the right word) without a scratch.  Sean has had six without a scratch.  Brad had one with just scratches, literally, and he almost bit the dude's ear off.  Mauricio, on the other hand, has some scars that impress me, which takes some doing.

One of my attacks was the reverse overhand thing and one of the others might well have been if he'd ever got a chance to move.  It's actually pretty common.

Not putting Steve on the spot- this happens to almost everyone who trains and I've seen students swallow crap whole in cop classes and SWAT classes and HNT classes.  You start to confuse training with reality.  You've never been attacked that way in class and your instructor has a logical reason why no one would.. and you turn to your students and start using words like "never" and "always".

Which are dead give-aways.  Crap, I've had physics fail on me twice... but once was in my favor, so it balances so far.

Bigger than this "moving right" issue though, is thinking and perceiving.  If people could just see what was right in front of them, combative training would be completely unnecessary.  All humans already know how to move.  In any given situation there are obvious and effective options.  With no training at all, people are often blinded or frozen by their social conditioning.

Unfortunately training, particularly training in disciplined movement, instills these templates of what an attack looks like and the right way to move.  You wind up looking through the templates and comparing learning and experience instead of looking at what is right there.

This is easier to demonstrate than to explain.  You can go into a competition with your mental rolodex of armlocks and flip through them looking for a technique that matches what you see...or you can just see a straight arm and opportunity to apply force in two places.

When a martial artist is taught striking and grappling, they tend to do one at a time.  Instead of looking at their body and the threat's body and doing the efficient and effective thing they decide if they are in wrestle or strike mode and try to remember an appropriate technique.
One of my drills is to get the students up on the MOVEMENT/PAIN/DAMAGE/SHOCK paradigm and put them in a free play (sparring, continuous one-step, etc) with the caveat that at any instant they should be able to do any of the effects to the opponent.

The reverse POV, the technique paradigm:
 MOVE THREAT/STRIKE/TAKEDOWN/LOCK/PRESSURE POINT/STRANGLE at any given time and in almost any position, the student should be able to do all or almost all of them.  Too often training, instead of teaching the student to see more, blinders them into seeing less.

The ideal is simply to see the situation as it is.  All of your solutions are inherent in the situation.  As an organism, you see it complete and true... but as a trained, thinking person you perceive it through created filters.  Teachers teach the filters and students learn them: "You see that possibility?  Good, Grasshopper, you are now a yellow belt.  See two possibilities? Six? Aaah, blackbelt!"  But the default, the natural thing with open eyes is almost infinite possibilities.

So in most training they aren't learning to see they are learning to focus, which is a way of not seeing the extraneous- which, in this case, means all of the hundreds of things the instructor doesn't know how to exploit.

Sonia has trained with me a bit and she says good things about my teaching, but the truth is I haven't taught her one damn thing.  She'd learned to move and strike and throw and twist and slash and stab long before I ever met her.  All I've done was point at the things she missed seeing because she was too busy following scripts.

She had the aikido movement down but only used it at aikido distance- and it works much better at extremely close range once you learn to see the voids.  She knows how to force someone off balance but wouldn't remember it was an option in a fist fight.  She knows, intellectually, that it is easier to beat someone up from behind but she almost never attempted to get behind me in action- intellectual knowledge never expressing in motion.

So (and forgive the long post) I've met very few martial arts instructors who could really see and even fewer who gave their students permission to see.  What gets people killed aren't the moves or even the false confidence.  It's setting their brain- their perceptions, their expectations, their assumptions and their reactions for a limited interpretation of what they might face.

I can almost hear, "You can't train for everything."  Trying is the opposite of the right solution.  Humans are immensely adaptable, perceptive.  Our eyes don't quit seeing mountains because we've been watching the ocean (though we can be trained that only mountains matter or only oceans are real).  You practice seeing and you practice acting.

Easy, right?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

An Old Issue

Working on a presentation for a Writer's Conference and simultaneously teaching a class, I am hit once again with how absurdly ignorant people can be.  It's not their fault, but there is something about the subject of violence where people both completely miss the reality and CAN NOT accept that they are off.

The section of the presentation (on PowerPoint) opens with one of my range qualifications targets- not bad, if I say so myself, but I need to lock my left arm out more- and compares it with a real shooting.  They are nothing alike.  To boil it down a lot: 50% misses at 5-10 feet; only two hits anywhere near center mass and the fatal shot wasn't one of those.

It makes me tired, sometimes.  I showed the data to this kid and he immediately explained why it would never happen to him, why it makes no sense, that missing at that range would be harder than hitting... all those things.  Same as the people who watch the video of Kyle Dinkheller's murder and can't figure out why he didn't do what they are so sure in the comfort of the classroom they would have done.

They try their slick knife defenses against the Manson Drill and they fail utterly, but I know they go back to their dojos and teach what they always taught.  It makes me tired.  We want to believe that we will "fight the way we trained" and it is sort of true.  Sometimes.  Almost never the first time (unless it was a conditioned reflex and lasted a fraction of a second) and when it gets ugly it is this weird chaos and stew of stress hormones and instinct and some training... but the best officer involved shooting stats I've found can't find a good statistical relation between officer's performance in a real gunfight and their range scores.

But I know from experience that if you can survive some critical number of fights (10? 20?) you can use your training, and you can function in almost inhumanly efficient ways.  And I also know that once you achieve this level, something very slight can change and you are at ground zero again.

Here's an analogy that has been bouncing around in my head- when a martial artist plans what will work in an assault, he is about as accurate as a farmer trying to use his knowledge of crop rotation to build a boat.  The difference is that vast.

No one wants to hear that.


Steve P was polite enough to apologize for highjacking a thread in the comments section.  No problem and apologies are unnecessary.  The comments section, in my opinion, is for the readers to hash things out.  If I have something to say, I have the luxury of the blog.

That said, it got me thinking.  Read the comments for yourself, but I know Kai and have met Steve (and read some of his stuff).  Both are intelligent and insightful.  I count Kai, FWIW, as a dear friend and a role model.  When she speaks, I listen.  Attentively.

In this discussion, from the outside, it was easy to see where both were discussing not quite the same thing.  Both right, both insightful... but both disagreeing.  Kai saw the source of the disconnect first...
Okay- I'm acting like the director at a fencing match, repeating back moves.  Irrelevant.  This is what it made me think:

I like debate and generally won't put any rules on it, especially between my friends, but I have my own rules, and this is how and why I debate.

There are debates/arguments either to find the truth or to prove who is better at arguing.  These are not the same thing and nearly mutually exclusive.  I only play the second in fun and with friends who know what I am doing- and as part of the exercise am willing to switch sides.

When you are looking for truth, seek the common ground.  I actually pegged this working with schizophrenics.  If you argue about which parts of the world you see differently, both sides entrench and they get nowhere.  Start with what you can both see and move out gradually from there, when things start to diverge in small ways it is easier to see paths of logic and compare sources.

Don't get competitive.  The need to win can turn debate, which should be (IMO) a search for truth into a contest.  People cheat in a contest.  The reason I despise Socrates and admire Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus is that Socrates was using debate to make his drunk friends look stupid and the stoics were trying to teach people to live.

Listen.  If you follow any debate, watch for the point where the competitive one 'stays on message'- not dealing with what the other actually said, but answering only his own interpretation.  This is a subtle form of the "straw man", arguing against what you wished they had said instead of what they did say.  Listen.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Poking Bears

This is going to be a little difficult to write, because there are no good guys in some of the stories. Not too long ago, a teenager decided to screw with a local driver.  For several miles he boxed the driver in against the rail, speeding up to prevent him from passing, slowing down when the driver tried to slow down.  He thought it was great fun... until the other drive pulled a gun.

Compared with a flag burner who was shocked, shocked and horrified, when a disabled Marine vet broke his nose.

Or (since I usually defend officers) an officer who challenges someone to hit him, expecting the fear of time in 'the hole' or additional charges to protect him, and is flabbergasted when the subject cleans his clock.

There's a stupid, self-centered, entitled mindset which believes that you have the right to fuck with anybody you want without consequences.  Grow up.  Doing this is playing with emotion and emotion in most societies leads to action.  Don't believe because our culture is extremely polite and forgiving (and it is, despite various political beliefs) that you can safely provoke emotion without getting emotion.

The kid who was cutting off the driver was getting off on the power of making someone else angry.  Drawing a gun was wrong, there will be consequences... but only a moron would be surprised that provoking anger led to- you guessed it- anger.

I don't mind killing a bear if it needs killing or you need meat, but if you torment an animal and get eaten, you had it coming.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Make and Let

Here's a big mystery for all of the martial arts instructors out there.  In every style, in every class, there are some things you need to make happen and there are others you need to let happen.  Sometimes the instructor will say, "Focus! That was slop! Concentrate!"  Other times he or she will say, "Relax.  You're trying too hard."

I've done it myself.  There are some things that require concentration and effort, and some things you just have to let flow.

It's not, as near as I can tell the class of technique.  Sometimes you focus punches and some times you just let them fly... but others, like dead hand technique, are ruined with a tight focus.  Maybe it is the student and some students need to relax and others need to focus.  Maybe it is the combination and student X needs to focus on his hip throws and relax on his sweeps and student Y needs to do the opposite.

Maybe it is something similar- in the 'make' techniques you focus on somatics, on the body and in the 'let' techniques the focus is on perception.  Maybe.

It's on my mind today because it applies to other things.  A new friend was asking about love- why it is so hard to find and so hard to keep.  It's a big mystery to many, but I have never felt that way. Listening today I got the impression that finding love was a 'let' technique  for this  person and keeping love was a 'make' technique.  That initial love was just supposed to happen and the work would come in keeping it from changing.

I approached it differently.  Loving for me was a decision; staying in love has been an act of gentle perception, like turning a flower over in my hand to see something new every day.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Comfort Level

As a former judoka and current jujutsuka, I've been choked a lot.  More correctly, I've been strangled: had a skilled opponent cut off the blood to my brain until I quietly went to sleep or surrendered.  I've used the techniques a lot, also.  It used to be something of a specialty, since I'm a relatively small guy with strong hands, bony forearms and no fear of being on the ground on my back.  Many an opponent who thought they were winning suddenly slumped to the side.

Sorry if that sounds like a brag.  I'm trying to set context.

Strangles- Vascular Neck Restraints (VNRs) in the jargon of law enforcement- are great tools.  They work regardless of size, psychosis or drugs in the system, something that can't be said for any other force options including handguns.  They are extremely safe, with recovery complete and total in under a minute. They are easy and, though strength helps, small bony arms help more.

However, there have been deaths.  Never in sport.  Only once in martial arts as far as I have been able to determine (funny story, too) but several times in law enforcement. In as many of the cases as I have seen, the cause of death was listed as "asphyxia".  Suffocation.  Hmmmm.  It would seem that if blood was cut off, the cause of death would be listed as "anoxia".  A little more research and I come across a technique in some old DT manuals- the 'bar-arm choke'.  The officers were taught to take a flashlight, a baton or their forearm across the adam's apple and pull back hard.  Yes people died.  Bad technique being taught as proper technique.

The fallout was that about fifteen years ago, maybe more now, the VNRs were forbidden by many agencies.  They dropped off the radar screen.  A few agencies kept them, but classified them as "Deadly Force" and I have had administrators in one such agency tell me that they would rather a threat be shot than strangled- there is more case law supporting shooting.

For the last few years we have been given cautious permission to teach these techniques.  The officers get an extra safety briefing, a policy briefing and probably more information on physiology than they want.  Then they practice them on the instructors.

This is where is gets weird. I will get, in a normal class, forty strangles, eight chokes and eight neck cranks (all lethal force, right?  So no need to exclude spine or tracheal attacks as long as the students know the differences, the consequences and can choose conscientiously).  This is just a day for me and I encourage the class to get close, watch my eyes and skin color changes, apply more power, experiment with hand placement...and their eyes are wide with fear.  Not all, but a significant number are extremely creeped out.

The instructors are safe.  We know what we are doing.  Further, we are the only ones with sufficient experience to say, "Yes, this is safe."

So where is the fear coming from?  Is it so natural to be afraid of something you know nothing about?  Isn't part of the purpose of teaching to take cues from others about safety and significance?

A friend recently commented that I am in a place in my personal exploration where I am off the map, out in the margins where it is written: "Here be Dragons." That doesn't bother me much, because until I touch one for myself I don't know that dragons are bad.  Maybe I can't understand the student's fear because 'the unknown', to me, is simply stuff I don't know yet.  In life, most of the unknown has turned out pretty cool once you get to know it.

Friday, November 23, 2007


I've been letting the Citizen's Guide concept stew in the back of my head.  Yesterday, it came together.

The basic concept of the book is that many people with strong opinions on Law Enforcement matters don't actually have a strong background in understanding them.  I wussed there- many, if not most, have NO IDEA what they are talking about.  They rarely understand violence, and certainly not in the context of a "Duty to Act".  Most are unfamiliar with laws pertaining to force, much less with policy and procedure... but their opinions are no less strong for all of that.

The idea with the citizen's guide is to try to give a deep introduction to how officers think about force.  A solid introduction to how they are trained combined with how that training interacts with experience.  All the drafts of the intro (I usually write the intro first- it is my 'mission statement') have been unsatisfying.  Either argumentative or talking down or expressing how powerful the need is for some understanding...  That's okay, for me. I do think it is important and part of me does get argumentative- it seems natural when you deal with someone who is sure they are right but has very little knowledge of the subject.  It was okay for me, but not for the readers.

I decided yesterday to approach it as a gift.  I can't make anybody read it.  Certain people have so much personal stake in believing in a vast and powerful conspiracy or a sub-human violent subspecies that they might never be reached.  It has to be a gift.  An expensive gift: there are years and blood and fear-sweat all over that package.

But a gift, left in the clearing between two tribes.  It just might work.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Rambling About Amateurs

There is a subtle but powerful difference between professionals and amateurs.  People who play (or fight) for money don't think about it the same way as people who play (or fight) for fun.  People who put out cars on assembly lines don't think about it the same way as people who restore cars as a hobby.  Engineers don't think the same way as hobbiest/inventors.

I had the opportunity to work with a very skilled martial artist last weekend.  Yes he had decades of training, all the right credentials... but that really doesn't mean anything.  What mattered is the way he felt- his structure and movement- when we played.  He was good.  Not many people can hold structure while moving.  In the course of a few minutes I had finger locks fail, very reliable spine/face moves get slipped and was taken off balance (taken down if not for a convenient wall) in a more perfect and more controlled way than I have experienced in a couple of years.

Very nice, but like everyone there were glitches too.  You could feel his energy as he tried to think of the right thing; watch comfort level rise or fall based on interpretation instead of damage and control; feel the separation of mindsets between flow and staccato bursts.

This is hard to put into words.  As skilled as he was, he processed things through a filter. (We all do- don't get smug) He wanted to do the 'right' thing, apply his skill efficiently.  That had two effects- sometimes he would focus on moving right instead of moving well, he would try to maintain a sticky-hands control while striking instead of just unloading.  The second, and the probable basis of the subtle difference between someone who fights as a hobby and someone who fights professionally is that he tried to win, not to end it.  At any moment I could have frozen the action and asked: "If you had to kill me right now, right this second, how would you do it?"  He would have an answer, he had the skill... but it would not be what he was actually doing.  What he was actually doing was what he had trained.

So here's another difference: It is almost true that you fight the way you train, but never quite.  Simply in a real fight you want it over and the threat incapable of harming you.  In training, you want the experience without the uke ever actually being injured.  You need to train with the same people next class.

The good professionals, this is never far from their minds.  They don't use the table, maybe, but they know it is there...

And they are always cataloging, remembering, probing:  I know some of what this guy likes, what he avoids even when it isn't tactically necessary to do so; the opportunities that are invisible to him; what patterns he will fall into as familiar ground; what patterns will make him cautious; what patterns will take him a second to interpret...  It's just a way to think.  Fighting minds is separate from fighting bodies and even separate from fighting skills.

Another difference- everything in the last paragraph was tactical skill, a tactical game.  Time to make those judgments almost never exists in the real thing.  It becomes a habit, but when it is ON, it is OVER, with those niceties of thought and interpretation just things that the broken amateur was maybe planning on doing.

Yet another difference- the amateur always has a personal stake.  'This is about me'.  The questions are there- am I good enough?  Can I win?  Will I ever get laid if I lose?  Bullshit masculinity issues and esteem crowding in, messing with a brain that needs to get a job done.  Getting over this (and it is hard: personal violence pushes a huge amount of issues to the fore) frees up a great deal of brain power.  The hobbiest wonders if he can beat the reigning champion.  The professional just has to decide how.

So here is the question- on most of the levels we played at, I believe that my friend showed superior skill.  My advantages were mental and attitudinal.  Can this be taught separately?  Can I graft the professional experience, the way I think, onto his skill set?  Wouldn't that be cool.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


I am so tired right now that my eyeballs are twitching. Vision doesn't blur or flicker, but it feels like my eyes are jumping and twitching in their sockets. It makes driving interesting. I've been this tired before. The next stage, it will feel like ants are crawling all over my skin. The medical term for that is formication, which is a really funny word. The stage after that (usually hits me about 46 hours in with no sleep) involves some minor hallucinations. Hopefully I'll get to sleep before then. (But in the past, occassionally, with burned and red eyes and the feeling of insects on skin I've been unable to sleep, the will that let me stay awake and do what needed to be done suddenly hard to turn off.)

It was a long weekend and I think a good one, but it will take me time to process. It will take some rest and fresh brains to look at what was done, what was learned and separate the positive from the layers of interference and duties and pseudo-emergencies that interferred with sleep.

Much done. Heard what I needed to hear on an issue that has troubled me for some time. Listened as a friend told me for the first time that it's possible that my skill at reframing questions and choosing how to process events are limited- powerful but limited- and toxic events and people have left a mark, visible to her. Spent time with dear friends, very relaxed time, more feeling talk than in many ages. Talked about my early spiritual training with a relative stranger. Invited to talk at a writer's training conference. Finally saw and was able to share what the book cover will be like. Crossed hands, lightly, with an old friend for the first time. Felt my Celtic predilection for being distracted by shiny objects and actually let myself be distracted. Played with a new computer.

Connections, sharing, learning, teaching. Very human stuff. But right now I am very tired. To sleep, perchance to dream...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Weak Reason

Steve, a local author and long-term martial artist (who gets the credits for one of the best insults I've ever heard) picked up on something in the post "Balancing Act" that is worth a look. The meat of it:

"Reason, as I understand the term, is hardly weak. Expecting other folks to act reasonably, in their own best interests, that's a different beast. People do stupid things.But one of the reasons you train is to be able to do the smart thing when necessary, and without a foundation in reason, you can't learn those things."- Steve Perry

Each piece is sensible. It just rarely works.

There is nothing wrong with the _process_ of reason. The scientific method is the best bullshit detector ever discovered. Deductive logic is a powerful tool; inductive logic probably more powerful if also more prone to sampling error.

The problem with martial artists or administrators or politicians trying to apply reason to violence is that reason is based on extrapolating from knowns to unknowns. Very few people have any idea how many of their "knowns" especially in violence, are actually "thunks" as in, "I thunk so...".

Peope try to reason from what they know of human movement and come up with good moves... but people don't move the same way under adrenaline load.

They come up with expectations of effects of impact and pain and damage... none of which are quite the same when the threat is enraged or drugged or psychotic or...

They base their defenses on reasonable attacks, defining a reasonable attack from their own experience, a balance of offense and defense designed to give you the best chance of winning a fight with the least chance of taking injury... and are totally unprepared for the speed, power, surprise or extremely close range of a sudden assault.

Even reason itself, the ability to make good decisions, is severely affected by fear and surprise, leaving the problem that the brain that learned what to do is chemically very different from the brain that has to pull it off.

Steve is right- it's not that reason is weak, not by itself. But the products of reason, the systems put together because they 'should' work fail very consistantly. They work really well when tested in laboratory (or dojo) experiments. They fall apart in chaos.

The problem is that the reasoners not only have no good valid basis for their extrapolation, they are unaware of that fact. Just like some people assume that the worst pain they have felt gives them a touchstone to the worst pain someone else has felt (never tell a mother who just lost her child that you understand because your goldfish died when you were five) they assume that the conflicts they have dealt with (schoolyard fights or boxing matches or family arguments) prepare them for an ambush or a gang stomping or an experienced killer.

It's not the same. A gold medal in fencing will teach you about as much about rape survival as getting raped will teach you about fencing.

In things we consider technical fields, this is obvious. Medics need to learn how physiology works to start guessing at solutions to problems. Reason without background led to medical beliefs like "any red flower must be good for the blood." Pure logic led to the obvious belief that heavy things fall faster than light things- and this is a good analogy, because to disprove that, Galileo had to drop some stuff off the tower of Pisa. Just like finding the holes in a self-defense system, somebody had to go out and try it in the real world.

Violence is special because very few people have enough experience to try to deduce and, for me, the more experience I have the more signifcant the weirdness and luck seem and the less likely I am to say "X is true, Y is false."
Yet every one, it seems, everyone feels that they have some instinctive understanding of it. They act as if the years of daydreaming about fighting the gang to win the girl are actual experience.

I think language is the closest analogy (which brings it back to Steve). Everyone speaks, has done so for most of their lives, and so many assume they can write. People who don't actually speak that well think that they do, and then decide that they can write well and then... they reason out what would be the next sure-fire block buster. How often does that work? How often was a classic written with classic in mind?

Violence and Language. Steve writes, and he writes well (I dimly remember some of his books from the days of yore when I read fiction- that's a high compliment) and it was a combination- he wrote a lot, he practiced and polished his craft BUT (and this is the difference between a best seller and a wannabe) he put it out there, sent it to magazines and publishers. The real world told him which of his bright ideas or clever wordings were actually good, solid or insightful. At this stage he probably doesn't remember how many of his worst early writing habits and assumptions about 'good writing' seemed reasonable and logical all those decades ago.

I've even seen him try to share his experience with budding writers.

Steve, thanks for making me think this out.

To sum up, reason must be based on a set of basic facts. If those basic facts are wrong, the reasoned solution is liable to be ineffective. Most people, dealing with violence are starting from a set of facts that range from myth to nonsense- and what they produce is ...less than optimal.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Power generation is one of the big mysteries. It seems that every time I get a handle on it, feel confident that I can explain what makes a hard hit hard, how to wallop somebody good, some joker comes along and shows me an entirely new way to hit hard. Over the years I've worked on hip rotation; hip snap; whip action; dead hand; drop step; cresting wave; crashing wave; bone conduction... many others. Some blend, some don't. Some compound, and when you strike with a whip/rotation/snap/drop/wave it will break ribs through armor without effort.

There's a lot there and it just occured to me today that it may be simpler than I think.

What if there are three basic things that can effect power delivery and all this confusion has been seeing too many things and thinking it is one? This might be confusing. Try to keep up.

What if there is only Power Generation, Power Stealing and Power Conservation?

Power Generation is what you can do with your muscles- push, pull, lift, twist. That's it. You cannot generate any more power in a strike than you can press on a barbell. (Physics, of course, intrudes: smaller weight at faster speed can be more powerful, but...) These are the systems that emphasize hip action for a punch or fast whipping action in the hands. It's good to maximize, but by itself is limited.

Power Stealing is making use of energy in the universe that you are not supplying. The wave actions and drop steps use gravity to put far more power in a strike than muscle can alone. A physically weak specimen who knows how to use sudden changes in weight and elevation can put far more energy into a strike than a muscular man can produce. Muscle produces energy, the other steals it. You can also increase power in your punch with timing- using the threat's motion and momentum to add velocity to your attack. If you throw a good hook while he is stepping into it, he receives all the power you generated and adds the power inherent in his own movement... like a head-on collision versus a stationary object.

You could include environmental fighting in this- I've often said I'd rather make a Bad Guy flinch into a door jamb than hit him with my fist, but that's a little off topic. Damage, but not neccessarily an increase in your power.

Power Conservation is structure. If I hit you with a steak, it's a wet slap. If I hit you with a bone it might even penetrate flesh. Muscle is just meat. Left to it's own devices, it flops. Bone is rigid. Rigid things transmit force better (more efficiently, less waste) than floppy things. The human body is composed of lots of bones and those bones are connected by joints and those joints are controlled by muscle.

Remember that for every force there is an equal and opposite reaction? Every time you fist goes out, the same amount of energy goes into the earth through your base (we've actually tried fighting in deep water- without the grounding, force is bled away as each strike pushes you back or starts you spinning). If the body in between the striking fist and the ground is rigid (not the same as stiff) the power conservation approaches perfection. If the body in between (this is you, the striker, not the target that we are discussing) has poor structure, energy bleeds away through each of the joints and muscles that are improperly aligned. This is why some very strong men (bench press monsters) hit so weakly.

The styles that focus on Power Conservation get called "internal" and some of the good instructors will explain that you are using bone and tendon instead of muscle.

No style uses just one, and I'm not sure of anyone who has taken any of these as far as they can go. This may not even be a good model- but I think it will help me analyze new ways as they come up.

There's a vibrating contact strike that usually gets explained using very mystical language. You place your hand on the threat's ribs (usually floating ribs to injure, upper chest to demo) and, without moving your arm or tensing muscles, send a shock wave into him. What is going on physically is a slight rise in your center of gravity that is allowed to fall (the distance can be so small as to be almost imperceptible). The weight, the energy is allowed to fall and bounce up through the contact with the ground (which must be the heels) down the bones into the contact hand. It is essentially stealing a very small amount of power and then transmitting it through very good structure. With bad structure, you get nothing at all and wind up pushing with muscle. Different feel.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Balancing Act

Reason is weak. Especially when dealing with chaotic and violent situations. Just because something makes sense has absolutely no bearing on whether it will work or not. For the theoreticians, that's a hard thing to accept. For the operators, that's just a simple fact.

It can become a problem when courses are designed or policies are written by theoreticians.

I helped teach a class a while ago. The head instructor was a very, very good teacher. The class itself was crap. It was designed by theoreticians, people with much training and little experience. I recognized it- an earlier version had been standard when I went through the Academy. This version was brought to our agency several years ago... and was immediately laughed out of existence by experienced staff. Even inexperienced (by our standards) staff were appalled. It was that bad.

Theoretically, everything should work... and it will in a training gym. Some of it. The footwork is good.

So the first question- how can a good instructor and a veteran officer not see the absurdity of some of this? The answer came partially in his lecture- he explained that these encounters were very rare, that in his twenty years he had only had to use them three times or so. He looked at me for conformation. I couldn't give it. I'd used them almost three times that much in a single night. (Eight is my personal high). I quit counting at about three hundred. Hence I didn't see the reason in the technique because I was too caught up in the fact that predators and meth freaks don't move or react like students. I don't see being able to switch or even reverse technique as advanced skills. They are basic, basic, basic.

Yet this is the curriculum that must be taught. It is what the students will be tested and graded on. Their success at this curriculum could have a powerful bearing on their success in their careers. This must be balanced- their careers versus their survival, because these are not the best skills for survival. It seems like an easy balance- SURVIVAL FIRST! but it's probable that many or most of the students will have career paths more like the other instructor than like mine. And if they resist the beauracracy by insisting on survival, they may never be permanantly hired in the first place.

The second point of balance: Survival is far more mental than physical. As bad as the techniques are if the students are confident they will survive and adapt. Giving them better, separate techniques can actually undermine their confidence. One voice in your head can be bad enough in a fight. Two voices telling you different things can be paralyzing.

He is a talented teacher. I would really like to see him teach something of his own design.

Monday, November 05, 2007

"Where Do We Go From Here..."

Many, many busy things in the world right now. Hired to teach classes at a local business college. Work. Training (really into throwing tomahawks and viking axes right now). Enough overtime in two weeks to buy a high end computer for K. Writing. Reading. A writer's convention coming up, where I'll talk about violence and hope the writer's incorporate some of it... and on top of everything I'm coughing up a lung with a raging fever- the gods' way of telling you to slow down.

And the book. Saw the catalog from the publishers and for the first time saw the official date. "Meditations on Violence" will be on the shelves in June 2008. Seeing that was strange and powerful. The bullet leaves the gun and things will never be the same again.

Haven't had much time to write- much time to sit, really.

One thing: I'm used to teaching cops. We share a common language and when we don't share common experiences we are at least in the ballpark. Teaching at this college for kids who want to BE cops is different. They are naive in ways I can't even remember. Part of me sees it as an opportunity: I'm still an idealist in a profession where idealists tend to burn out pretty quickly. Can I teach them to see the world the way that I do, to thrive on a thankless nobility? Can I make other Don Quixotes to carry the banner into the next generation? Should I? It seems sometimes that the ones who embrace the negative have an easier time, an easier life, a quieter career... but that's not true. It just seems that way.

The world is changing.

Friday, October 26, 2007


De-escalation is the step when force is imminent (how's that for 'soft' language- more real: if you don't do something now the fight will be on in a few seconds). It is "talking 'em down". It ranges from sympathy to weird non-sequitors to treating a threat like a thoughtful question to pure intimidation. It is a skill, and a more varied and more versatile skill than anything physical. But it is a skill, not an answer.

Some memorable successes:

"Turn your head to the side."
"Why, mother fucker?" He glared hard.
"Cause you look like you're thinking about fighting and you seem like a nice guy, so if you do start to fight and I smash you into the wall right there, if you turn your face to the side you won't break any teeth."
His glare changed to something more puzzled.
"It's just a courtesy. You seem like a nice guy and you don't need any dental bills. Just turn your head to the side."
"I won't be any trouble."
"I appreciate that."

"Mr. N----, please hand me the weapon."
"No you piece of shit. come here and take it."
Hurt tone, "But... Mr. N---, I said 'please.'"
"Oh, all right."
"Thank you."

"What's your goal today, partner?" This is one of my universals. Most of the people who want to fight are unhappy, without really thinking about why, and want to do something, without really thinking about what. Once they put into words what they want , e.g."I wanna go home" they often clearly see how fighting is not a step in that direction.

The dude has already kicked the door off a squad car.
"What's his name?" I ask the arresting officer.
I shake my head, "What's his last name?"
"Uh, Jones." (Names changed)
"Mr. Jones, you ARE going to go through this process but you are in absolute control of two things: How long it will take and how much it will hurt. I'm for very fast with no pain. How about you?" This worked, but there are problems with it. People in altered states of consciousness (not just drugs or alcohol or mental illness, anger and fear and dehydration and injury can all have similar effects) usuall can't follow long sentences. Keep things simple.

"You're fine. I'm part gypsy and gypies can't be turned into vampires." Needless to say, that got a big "Huh?" which lasted long enough to get cuffs on. Also, needless to say, this is part of a much longer story. Use your imagination. This is also where I learned that things that freeze the threat's brains can also freeze your partner's. When I got the cuffs on, my partner was still looking at me with his mouth open.

Not just for de-escalation of a fight. There is a critical moment right after a very bad thing and sometimes you will have to deal with someone on the edge of shock. Not physical shock, just the information and the implications of that information (the violent death of a loved one, for instance) can smash the identity. Will smash the identity, more realistically. The words then need to be for growth and positive action.

"I know this hurts, but your children need you know more than ever. They need you to be the strong one." The implication that no matter how shattered you feel you are still stronger than someone is empowering. Taking the steps to help another helps process the woumd without wallowing in it.

When it is being transformed into a righteous anger, an honest, cold focus: "Bullshit. You need to take care of her. She needs you to be there. You run off and do something stupid, look for some vengeance and you know what will happen. THEN she'll be alone and then will be forced to deal with what happened to her AND what you did to yourelf. Don't you dare do something stupid and try to make this about you."

This is a good skill, one of the critical skills in critical situations.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Robert Anton Wilson (I think) once wrote that everything man deems to be good- loyalty, integrity, self-sacrifice, acting for the good of the community- the things we loosely gather under the label 'humanity' were things that we learned from dogs. That dogs, in the end, were domesticated wolves- intelligent, cooperative, loyal pack hunters. Humans were domesticated primates- intelligent, sneaky, self-involved, violent...

Mark Twain said that if you lift up a dog from the streets and make him prosperous he will not bite you, and that is the primary difference between a dog and a man.

Loyalty. Love, in many of it's forms. Intensity. The understanding that the pack/team/unit/agency/family/organization is more important than ME are the traits that make dogs what they are. A good dog will give his life without hesitation for any member of your family. He will not care and maybe not even realize that he is a different species. It doesn't matter. He exists to protect.

He will lie awake all night listening for intruders. He will live in the cold eating dry food. He will be ecstatic at some kind word or a good run or a little pet, but he doesn't need it.

And a healthy dog will never challenge you until there is no other choice. He understands that the pack works better with an older and wiser alpha. Unlike humans, dogs rarely overestimate themselves or their abilities to lead. They don't show ambition in the human sense.

But they are wolves also, and when pushed to the edge, abused or damaged through training- taught or forced- they can be very, very dangerous. The teeth are sharp and the teeth are in your service, unless you force it to be another way.

Some humans always see the wolf, and they fear dogs. Some always see the loyalty. Some see the loyalty and feel the power, that they can push and tease a wolf and he will take it, like a good pack animal will. This kind always acts surprised when they torment the dog until he bites... then they squeel to have the dog put down.

It makes me very tired.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Good students are rare. They may not even exist by themselves. The good student is really a matter of "fit" between student and instructor. Dave, my sensei in jujutsu, was an extraordinary martial artist and an outstanding teacher... for me. Years after he retired I ran across another of Dave's old students who felt Dave was a terrible teacher: "I never understood a word he said."

Some of that was what made him such a great teacher for me. He never told me everything, just enough. He always left things for me to discover. He always set the bar right at the edge of my ability. Despite the fact that the other student felt Dave wasn't a great teacher, the student developed a lot of skill, which says something. Which may be a subtler distinction, that teaching students and teaching subjects are different and it is possible to be good at only one of those... except with some students.

Some instructors are extraordinary and can form a connection with almost any student. A small number of students are extraordinarily adaptable and can learn from many different styles of teacher. In that sense, being a good student might be a skill.

Poor students have a struggle. There are some students who have trouble in any study. Maybe uncoordinated in a physical skill or their brain doesn't process information the way the teacher transmits it. They may have difficulty learning by seeing, or hearing or touch. Maybe poor memory or poor cognition... they have a rough road. But occassionally you get a poor student who sticks with it and that long, slow road can produce a deep and durable practitioner. Moreover, the best teachers were often poor students: the extra practice, the extra explanations and ways to envision add up, and often leave someone who knows more ways to explain than anyone who struggled less. I, for one, most value the skills I learned in the subjects that didn't come easily.

The gifted student has a talent- speed or coordination or the right attitude for the study. They rarely last long. It's a cliche but what comes too easily is valued too lightly. If a student is too successful early, they often quit or decide that they know more than they do. It's a natural thing, people want to be 'good enough'. Training after all is tedious and hard work. It takes great inner discipline to try to improve and refine when you are already winning. Some confuse victory with skill. They may be successful for awhile and may even convince others- but all these talents fade, some with age, some with injury. When the talent fades the skill is shallow.

'Promising' is almost always a euphemism for lazy. The promising student has the coordination or the intelligence or the (insert attribute here) to be GOOD... if they would only get off their asses and practice. You shouldn't get these if you only teach people who want to be there.

If you teach martial arts, you will run into damaged students. Some are victims of violent crime or early abuse, and for them what goes on in class has extra inner dimensions. It is challenging and requires, from the teacher, discipline, compassion and insight. It is really not a job for amateurs. Other damaged students have been damaged by previous training. Sometimes it is physical- old injuries. Sometimes tactical, as in the student has been taught that a style based on dueling is exactly the same as self-defense. Sometimes it is more sinister. I've had instructors in other styles give a conspiratorial smile and say, "The secret is to hurt them the first day, dominate them early so that they never get up the balls to challenge you." Teaching the students to lose in a bullshit dominance game. More subtly, the student who can't stand to lose or can't stand to lose to a woman is a particularly dangerous form of damaged.

Bad students are thankfully rare. In the business world they are called "poisonous personalities". These are the ones that aren't satisfied to be unhappy themselves but must spread it. The ones who hurt other students or complain rather than train or try to set a personal agenda. Again, very rare unless they are attending unwillingly.

There are another category, too- the special students. Sometimes they fall into one of the other categories. One of my friends has alway had a "project student" a completely hopeless case that he would spend years and unlimited energy trying to bring up to an acceptable skill level. I assumed he was doing it for penance, but in retrospect he was probably simply paying back the instructors who never gave up on him when he felt hopeless. My special student was the Friday Student- who taught me about teaching.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Long talk today with Mac, sipping coffee in the autumn sun and talking and thinking. It's always a priveledge- his insight and experience are vast, but that's only a part of it. He looks at problems in different ways, ties them in with different phenomenon than other people might. Talking about an old subject with Mac is new. Talking about a new subject is extraordinary.

He wanted to explore the idea of creating a martial art specifically for and by law enforcement officers. It won't work. Every black belt with a badge has done it or tried to do it to some extent. Too much territory is staked, and it's not really that new anyway, and the very idea triggers scepticism... That said, there are some unique aspects to what we have been teaching our officers over the last years. Not new things, necessarily, but new ways to teach them and new ways to think about fighting, survival, and defensive tactics.

So we thought and talked today about what was critical, what was core, what is unique about our approach and how it could be presented.

The pages of notes I brought were soon over-written. Concepts. Advantages. Lesson plan design. Thoughts on teaching. Thoughts on ranking. Mac focused on core principles, one step deeper than I usually think, trying to get the concept of structure put into words. Structure, if you don't do it, is a way of moving (easiest seen in striking), where the bone and tendon, not the muscle, does the work. Start from structure. Utilizing yours. Disrupting the threat's. The handful of principles that apply universally, and only then moving on to technique... not individual technique, but intuitive classes of technique. You can learn over three hundred named wrist locks, but in the end, there are only three ways to do it, which can be combined into 3x3x3 and compounded... everything else is window dressing. (Or eight ways, if you want the simple version). People literally spend years on locks, but every real thing there is to know can be taught in an hour or less. Same with takedowns. Entries. Striking takes a little longer because there are so many ways to generate power and some compound and some contradict.

It might work. Not as a system or a style. That would be impossible to make unique and would run into ego problems. But we have proven a new way of looking at, thinking and teaching: one that works very well in the chaos of combat (and not just for us, relative rookies have used it with success). It might work.

Agencies are beauracracies- they can't help it. They are like organisms. I wonder sometimes if our agency realizes just how far out we are on the cutting edge of effective teaching, or what they did when they let a small group with probably a hundred years of martial arts training, a thousand+ actual encounters between them and some very unorthodox, practical ways of gaugung success and set them free to design.

What we've done is awesome (modesty check, but I've seen the standard and we are so far beyond that ball park that you can't see it). What we will do has the potential to change verything.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Brotherhood

We trained today, the team. We have new members and they were getting a first introduction to some of our basic skills. Just a taste. There are a lot of obligations coming up and time is limited. They needed the basic skills for the most likely scenarios and they needed to feel the intensity, the speed and the chaos.

Everyone teaches on the team, everyone learns. I sat back at one point and just listened and I had to marvel at the skill and the insight and the experience of this small group of men and women.

"Raise it to here and all the force focuses on the shoulder."
"Spread them out and they lose their leverage."
"You don't need to worry about the hands if you take their legs."

Out of context the simple phrases won't mean much, but in action these are secrets and observations that martial arts masters dream of.

To be part of a team that no longer gets tunnel vision in an ugly fight; a group of people where it is just obvious that you will learn to control your sense of time and slow things so that the action seems to be in slow motion; that can see nuances of opportunity and shift gears as a team in action without a word spoken...made extra special by the fact that new members are coming into this arena and it might (probably will) change their lives and their ideas of possibility and impossibility forever.

There are other types of elites that share a different world. A LRRP veteran will get information from a smell that I will miss. A veteran paramedic will identify a problem that will be invisible to me. Each of these elites and each type of elite share a bond, a brotherhood.

Don't misunderstand- 'brotherhood' is used in broad ways by criminals. I mean it literally here, not as some kind of thuggish cult. Just as people raised together understand the subtext of family dinner conversation and share much of a world view, people who depend on each other in teams and share intense experience become a sort of family, sometimes stronger than the birth family.

We have a good family. A strong sense of mission, a strong sense of ethics, a strong sense of compassion, all aimed at solving sometimes unbelievably violent problems. The new ones will be good. Welcome to the team.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Refinement and Nuance

Competence is quick, nuance is slow. Going from zero to sixty, metaphorically taking a completely new student from no skill to useable skill is relatively easy and relatively quick. Everyone makes huge gains when they start a new study- the learning curve is steep, and that can be addictive.

It takes a different kind of teacher and a different mindset on the part of the student to take that competency to a higher level. Perhaps yet a different one to increase the skill still more.

Some go into 'refinement' and that can be rewarding or a trap. You can look at anything through steadily increasing powers of magnification and find endless variation and information. The rock at normal sight is a rock with a given shape and substance. At ten times magnification there are previously unseen cracks, stresses and topography. At a hundred there are many different crystals in complex matrices.. and on and on until you are dealing with particals at the edge of comprehension, or dealing with things that can only be experienced indirectly (aside- this also happens in long-term relationships with spouses or coworkers: things too small to notice in the early months and years become glaring in the selective memory as the easy parts become unnoticed, taken for granted).

Refinement is rewarding in that it is a life-long endeavor of improvement and discipline; a trap in that these details can become more important than the basics and the original reason for studying at all can be forgotten.

I separate nuance from refinement. Refinement can be achieved merely by looking harder. Nuance requires looking in a new way. An example is 'fighting emptiness'. At close quarters it is usually instinctive to attempt tp match strength with strength and a lot of skill training goes into maximizing the use of leverage or exploiting subtle vagaries of momentum and balance. Fighting emptiness is learning to see where the opponent _isn't_, where he has NO strength and begin working in and from this space. It usually requires no new skill, but opens up a vast world of application. Nuances can jack up the learning curve (especially as measured by successful application) back to a beginner's learning speed.

In fighting and martial arts, your competence can be my nuance and vice-versa. If you have studied a system based on delivering crushing power, manipulating the threat's balance and momentum may be an advanced study for you, possibly almost mystical. It is right there and always has been but is invisible until you are taught to see it. Conversely, if my style centers on balance and momentum, the application of crushing power may be a mystery. Both competencies work, both nuances increase the effectiveness.

You will find advanced nuance in many things, some are the same with different names. The concept of fighting emptiness is familiar to me from judo, jujutsu, aikido (thanks SOL), Chen Taiji (thanks, Ted), Japanese swordsmanship and even once in a karate class long ago. Searching for nuance is one of the big advantages of cross-training. There are only so many ways to move a human body- but there are an infinite number of ways of understanding, explaining or teaching the ways. And there are a near-infinite number of ways of prioritizing them, often based on what the skills were dealing with: your village worries about being unarmed against a sword? Better not be there. Your tribe carries out duels with knives on sloping muddy hills? Better learn to slice while crawling. Your culture has hundreds of years of unarmed one on one duels? Gonna have lots of nuance and refinement in those systems... but the nuance will be different than the clans who have spent hundreds of years in a perpetual civil war.

The hard part, when you quest for nuance, is integration. Refinement can be hard too. When you are playing with atoms and crystals it is easy to forget that the problem is human sized. Nuance, though, must be integrated.

It can be hard. The most common example is teaching grappling to strikers. They immediately stop striking the second they hit the ground. They create an artificial separation of these skills: in this situation, these skills; in that situation, those skills. It happens with cops, too. They take a "tactical groundfighting course" and completely forget weapon retention, available force options, radios, the environment and sometimes the mission, going for the submission instead of either the escape or the cuff.

The skills must be played with, the insights allowed to play off of each other with gentle reminders from the teacher when an area of nuance is missed. In most arts, going from zero to sixty, the instructor is teaching you to move. At sixty to eighty, the instructor needs to teach you to see.