Thursday, March 29, 2007

No Time for More...

"If Not Me, Then Who?"- Motto of Spetznaz counter-terrorism team Alpha.

"The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards.”
—Sir William Francis Butler

"We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." - Attributed both to George Orwell and to Winston Churchill

Inveniam viam aut faciam - my team's motto: "We will find a way or we will make one."

"This is the true joy in life - being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy." - George Bernard Shaw

Trust is the greatest reward for the fighting man- Niccolo Machiavelli, "On War" (from memory).

"Men don't follow orders, they follow men."- ?

"The right thing to do is rarely the easy thing to do."-?

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother"- William Shakespeare "Henry V"

"Bones heal, chicks dig scars, pain is temporary." - Evel Knievel

"The unforgivable crime is soft hitting. Do not hit at all if it can be avoided; but never hit softly." Theodore Roosevelt

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Some Advice for Life

Last week was spent at the Gracie Academy in Torrance getting certified as a LEO grappling instructor. It was good training. Like all training run by civilians there was good and bad. There were disconnects- many times where their experience fighting the best martial athletes in the world didn't match my experience fighting PCP freaks in slippery cells.

At one point, Rener was demonstrating a technique and one of the students asked about controlling the opponent's free arm. Rener said, "That's irrelevant! It's a detail. He can't do anything with that arm but you can exhaust yourself chasing after irrelevant details. Ignore it."

That's some solid advice- for fighting, for martial arts and for life.

What it is, What it isn't

I tend to think of most training and all competition as 'unitary'. There's one definition of a win. There's one environment it can happen in. You face one type of opponent and he is limited in what he can do.

Unitary training is important. It's hard to concentrate on learning technique if you can't trust your footing. If the students think they are learning about knives and the instructor pulls a gun, the kool-aid drinkers (my word for the semi cultists who believe their instructor or system is IT) will talk about innovation, but in the end he has programmed his students to fail. By making it too complicated in the beginning to succeed, they only learn different ways to give up.

So training individual things and individual skills is important. Training them in a clean environment with limited chaos is important to learning- it is even important to learning about chaos itself. But that's what training is, not what fighting is.

Fighting is it's own thing. Chaos but sometimes with a plan; mistakes but mistakes made by adaptable creatures. Simple actions with sometimes complex and far-reaching results.

When I first started teaching cops, I knew it wasn't unitary. I went one step up for binary: "There are two basic ways a cop has to fight- either fighting for control to get cuffs on someone or fighting for his life. The two are not the same." It was true and clear and helpful and still too, too simple. It explained why people who were good at wrist locks and arm-bar takedowns at the academy were getting pummeled on the street- they were trying to use type 1 fighting in a type 2 situation.

The same thing can happen in each type of fight and mean completely different things. Imagine you are wrestling with a guy to try to put cuffs on him. (Shouldn't have to say this explicitly but by definition if you are wrestling for cuffing it means he is not trying to harm you and you know it). The threat makes space and breaks away. What do you do? Probably tackle him before he runs.

Same situation, but you're fighting for your life, down on the ground, the threat biting and clawing and wrestling for your gun. The threat breaks away. What do you do? You let him run if he runs. Access a force option, get on the radio. If the battle is for your life and the threat leaves, that's a win. Re-engaging when it was in doubt the first time jeapordizes that win.

Nice example of binary, right? But what if he breaks away to grab a beer bottle or a kitchen knife? That could happen in either of these fights. That changes everything. Binary is an improvement, but it is still too simple.

Chaos elements enter the equation. In a unitary environment everything possible has been done to limit them. The martial artists in that environment wants to develope skill in training and test specific skill in competition. In real life, chaos is always there, luck always plays a role and the longer it lasts the more chaos is introduced. Dealing and adapting to the chaos is a skill in itself, one ignored by the koolaid drinkers who already have their answer.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Training Towards

Been away for a week. It was a good week of training, working with some superb athletes and instructors. There will be a lot of fodder for future writing, many things to think about.

Many of the best things happened outside of training. I was free for two evenings to meet with an old friend on one night and some people I only knew from on line on the other. The training itself was weird- it was very, very good but at the same time came from a world completely alien to the one I live in. It was like trying to learn how to run a submarine better from jet pilots. The dinners and talking helped put things in perspective.

One of the big problems in self-defense or combatives training is trying to define what we are training for. Different situations require different mindsets and different tactics. If you look at it too small (what do we do for a punch? A jab? A hook? Left? Right? Uppercut?...) it's overwhelming. There are more scenarios and more possible responses than your brain can hold, much less sift through and act on. If you look at it too big, on too grand a scale (the interaction of dynamic energies in this encounter...) you tend to get your ass kicked because damage is always very particular and specific.

In the end you need something very quick and reasonably universal. You need to learn all the little slices of particulars and then digest and forget them. Maybe you need to forget training, too. At least the idea of training for.

Wrapping our heads around this while eating canoli in Santa Clara, Joe Graziano, a Uechika and retired agent, laid it out: a new way to look at the whole training thing. He didn't think about training to any particular task or for any particular thing. He just trained to be better. To be better day by day, incrementally. Always moving slightly closer to a perfection he will can never achieve. Just better.

Better at what? Let that thought go. A little smarter today, a little more aware tomorrow, a little more insightful or flexible or strong down the road...

Because fighting is very, very complex- but so are you. Your complexity is a match for the problem's complexity. Since you can't know and collect exactly what you'll need, just get better. At everything. Not training to a standard or for a problem, training to be. Training towards perfection, a little at a time.

Thanks, Joe.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Best Defense III

The best anything is relative. Everything depends on other factors.

The best best defense, of course, is not to be there: avoid likely bad places, avoid bad people, learn to see trouble approaching and step out of the way.

In a real ambush, the initial defense has to be trained to reflex. It must be a conditioned response that is simple and effective for a wide variety of attacks. It must disadvantage the threat and advantage you. It must be paired with realistic and appropriate stimuli. It can not be complex and it won't work in the later stages of a fight and is unlikely to work outside of an ambush- it's hard to plan to use a reflex.

So in this context, I'm talking about the best defense after it's too late for the real best. Follow me?

The point of a defense is to stop him from hurting you. One of my preferences is to make him want to do something else. Palm heel to the face.

He swings a punch, palm heel to the face. He reaches to grab, palm heel to the face. He starts to kick, palm heel to the face. I can show you the mechanics of how a center-line strike spikes most attacks, how by controlling your own elbow you can cut the line even on a centerline strike from the threat... but that's window dressing. The simple fact is that most people will abort their attacks to save their faces from impact. It stops him from hurting you by making him decide not to be hurt himself.

So what does this do? Primary purpose, prevent damage to you. But it also does damage to the threat, can better your position if you follow it up with footwork and, most importantly, it is an action. It steals initiative. With one move you have gone from passenger to driver.

It's a simple example but an easy one. Easy to demonstrate, easy to convince yourself of how well it works, easy to trust.

I prefer 'entries' (irimi), being an infighter and classically trained in jujutsu. These are a combination of movement and structured position that tend to damage and unbalance the threat, bring you to halitosis range and blow through most attacks safely. They give me everything I want, plus putting me in charge and doing so at a range that very few people really know how to fight from.

The thing about both of these attacks is that even more than physical domination (or reversal of domination) they disrupt the attacker's OODA loop. They directly attack his decision making process and freeze his mind.

This continues once you have closed to combat range by constant aggressive action. We used to call this the "flies on shit" or "stink on shit" technique... ( classical jujutsu training, yeah, but I was raised redneck). Constant action with knees, feet, hands, elbows and head, an overwhelming flurry of damage, lots of it aimed at the face. Overwhelming is the key word. I've done this without contact and had the threat freeze because all of that incoming was too much information to assimilate and respond to. That's cool.

And this, at close range or in a clinch, crosses into the realm of core fighting.

Core fighting is the ability to deal with your opponent as a unit. Legs and arms are connected through the shoulder girdle, pelvis and spine. Pressure on an arm or shoulder can prevent or force the movement of a foot. Pressure on the knee, shoulder, hip or spine can abort a punch. The combination of constant aggressive pressure that not only damages but also unbalances and immobilizes is, IMO, the best defense at this stage of conflict

There you have it. The thoughts of an aggressive infighter on defense.

Monday, March 12, 2007


The Beslan lecture hit hard. Not in an emotional "saw too much icky stuff" way. Icky stuff isn't that new.

People are vulnerable. The very things that make our lives open, free and fun; the very same things that make it safe to be a sheep and graze contentedly without ever once raising your head and looking at the dark forest or the gathering storm clouds leaves us vulnerable. I've always known this. Always accepted it. I've understood the vulnerabilities and I've mapped them. Never planning to become a bad guy but the nature of me- whether it's personality or job- is to explore the problem from both sides.

Sitting in my comfortable sheep-permeated world I've always been aware that other people think that way, somewhere, but I never saw them or their actions. Now I know. Other people are thinking this way. More than that, they are planning this. They are planning not only to take and kill children but to use all of those vulnerabilities as well as the training the protectors get to increase the body count. They plan on using MY training to make sure they kill MY kids.

So the training was big and hit hard. Everything needs to be re-evaluated. I have to deny them predictability (while simultaneously surviving in a bureaucracy).

I talk about big things with Kami. She is the one constant. Not with this, though. She hit her limit with this. Normally the parts that bother her are the details. A particular child, a particular pain or death. The parts that bother me are the implications- what to do if a written policy is a critical piece of the threat's plans? When operators have this information and administrators don't, how do you keep them out of the decision process?- stuff like that.

So I can usually talk about the stuff that bothers me without burdening her with the stuff that bothers her. Not this time, and it felt strange. I don't think I realized that so much of my mental strength and resiliency, the stuff that lets me do things again and again and again when my soul is screaming, "It's somebody else's fuckin' turn!" is something that comes from her. Maybe I did. Losing it right now felt like slipping on an icy rock above a frigid river.

This time, I think the implications got to her, too. Have you ever sat down with your children and discussed what to do if armed gunmen storm their school assembly? The people they will be looking to in that situation- school teachers and counselors- aren't really prepared for it. It's almost worse if they think they are. Talking to teenagers about how hostage takers will try to cow them into submission (shooting any authority figures or people who show leadership, including trying to soothe and calm down the children; demonstration rapes and crippling tortures) and percentage chance responses where some will die but some might live and that's better than staying with the threat's plan...

It's all good now. A couple of days for both of us to let it settle. I have to respect her limits and not take her compassion as infinite or take it for granted. Lesson learned.

The Wrong Audience

I'll get back to the series on defense, but it's core-dump time.
Friday I attended the "Terror at Beslan" seminar presented by John Giduck of Archangel

It was intense and rough and brutal. It was a lot of good information about bad things. Activities of known al-Qaeda cells in America. al-Qaeda training and doctrine. One officer passed out while watching Chechneyan videos and I had to wonder: if he faints watching a movie is there any chance at all that he will be able to keep it together when he can smell the blood and hear the gurgling and it's the face of a child he might know?

I have to re-write one of my chapters on hostage survival now. Everything in the original is still true, provided the hostage taker is a basic criminal. When the bad guys have no advantage in keeping the hostages alive and have trained and studied how police and military units respond, everything changes.

So much big stuff- the chance of saving all or even most of the hostages are nil. Everything I've been taught about hostage rescue will be used against me. Bureaucratic indecisiveness and turf wars will cause bodies. The al-Qaeda analysis of the United States- what we expect, what we will do, how we will respond is terrifyingly accurate (I write as Congress moves to do exactly what the enemy predicted five or more years ago).

Small stuff, too, personal stuff. A little girl crawling back into a burning building because the gunfire outside is loud and scary. A man shot who does nothing but look at his executioner with a dazed look and try to carry on a polite conversation until he is shot againg and his throat is cut and his head taken off, slowly.

There was more. I listened for seven hours and could write for ten.

But the big thing, the terrifying thing, was that this was the wrong audience. Almost everyone in the room was a cop or a soldier. We know there are evil people in the world. Few that we deal with are trained or particularly smart, but we know them. We learned a lot in this class, but the core message was not new to us: There are people in the world who will hurt and kill your children. Somebody has to protect them. If not us, then who?

The amazing thing was the people who were not in the class. Where were the school boards and principals and school administrators? Even on the soldier/cop side, where were the administrators and policy makers? (Derrick showed up, at least). The people who need to see this weren't there. The politicians in Washington and the Hollywood advocates need to learn that the world is not all composed of their country-club friends who believe that contracts are binding and there's always a win-win somewhere and people will like you if you are nice enough and pretty enough.

They need to learn that there are people in the world who would slowly cut off their head with a bowie knife and then give it to their children to play soccer with. That is the mindset we are facing.

If not you, then who?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Best Defense Part II: Foundation

Let's lay some ground rules so that we're on the same page. In any given fight, one side is driving and the other is along for the ride. One is acting, doing what he or she or they wants, and the other is reacting.

First objection: "But I'm trying to survive! That's doing what I want!" No, it isn't. Survival is an outcome that you hope for, it's not an action.

In order to prevail, you must act. It doesn't always mean take the initiative and bring the battle to the enemy. Sometimes it means take the initiative and run. Sometimes it means scream or hide. But if you are getting out in one piece it will because you took action. You started to drive.

So this is about defensive driving- active defensive actions that do not require you to see and understand what the bad guy is doing. Aggressive defense, in Joe Lewis' immortal words.

In order to understand defense, you must understand offense. I'm going to simplify it a bit and talk about damage, though a skilled fighter can also use unbalancing and freezing techniques.

In order to hurt you, the bad guy (BG) must put three things together- Power, Timing and Targeting.

POWER: If someone barely reaches you or tries to hit while they are falling backwards or just uses shitty body mechanics they can hit you in the throat or the balls or the eyes and you'll be okay...probably. There are many systems of power generation. Most require speed and speed takes distance to develop. Not much distance, with training. Most require solid contact with the ground- the key to a good punch is leg strength, not arm strength. Some use rotational power and snap- the power of the opposite hip snapping back to drive the fist. A few use gravity in a controlled fall. A very few use short range whipping action and bone bounce for shocking short range power. The most common power generator overlooked by martial artists is tool use. The knife is the exception to many defenses- you can kill or cripple while falling or with bad body mechanics.

TIMING: Of all the skills in martial arts, this is the one, in my opinion, that gets most over-complicated. Timing is simple in real life. You hit someone when you can get away with it or when you need to stop them from doing whatever they are doing.

TARGETING: Some places injure easier than other places. Would you rather take a stomp kick to the thigh or a snap kick to the base of the patella? A power punch to your upper chest or a light jab to your throat? This changes too, though- with enough power the whole body is a good target. Some things that are poor targets with a fist aren't too bad with a blade.

Those are the pieces of any attack. Here are the requirements for any movement.

Every action you make in a fight should do three things:
1) Decrease his ability to harm you.
2) Better your position.
3) Not get you hurt.

1) Decrease his ability to harm you: If you knock him out, you're golden. If you knock him flat, take away his wind or destroy his balance you've accomplished this aspect of the mission. If you sprint out of his range, you have decreased his ability to harm you.

2) Better your position. In fighting this means getting into a place where he can uses fewer of his weapons and/or you can use more of yours. One of my primary skills is the ability to get behind a BG in the middle of a fight. It's not hard, it's just that so few people train it because they aren't allowed to do it in competition. BTW- Running fits here too. It doesn't increase your weapons but it does decrease his.

3) Not get you hurt. If you do hit the guy on the jaw, step behind him for absolute control...and look down to see a knife sticking out of your stomach, you probably aren't going to have your best day ever. Offensive fighting and offensive mindset are important, but they are only one aspect of driving. You have to protect yourself and you have to do it actively.

The Best Defense Part I: The Weak Ones

The best defense, of course, is not to be there. Don't be in places where bad things happen or bad, stupid, angry or drunk people congregate. Next best is to alter the relationship between you and the threat... I've written about this elsewhere.

For now, I want to talk about physical defense: about not getting hurt when the fight is on.

Most martial artists learn blocks (and passes and parries, etc.) and evasions (ducking, slipping, weaving, bobbing, cutting the line...). For the most part, these are ineffective. Not because the actions are inefficient or the movements don't have a valid application, they are ineffective because of timing, because they are reactive.

Remember the OODA loop? In order to respond to an event, you have to perceive the event (Observe, the first O) figure out what it means (Orient, the second O) decide (D) what to do about it and then Act(A). If the event you are responding to is a punch, the threat is on Act when you start on Observe. You start three steps behind.

If your strategy involves responding to the opponents actions, you are always behind the curve. You are reactive.

Note- in sparring, like in chess, you can see a few moves ahead. You can tell from foot, body, hand and head position what an opponent is likely to do. This gives the appearance in a good practitioner that the block is faster than the strike.

In an unfamiliar situation, the Orient step is thrown off severely. The attack probably won't be what you are used to and the precursor clues (the telegraphs) also will be very different. If you plan to block the incoming attacks you need to wait to see what they are. You are waiting, he is acting. You are in trouble.

This isn't just in personal combat. Remember 9-11? Planes smash into buildings... how do you defend against that? You don't, because it has already happened. At the point that we saw it (O) and figured out what was going on (O), it was over. Intelligence services than went into a spate of Monday-morning quarterbacking, and that's good. They were looking for the clues, the telegraphs that could have warned us earlier. Now they watch for them.

At it's best, reactive defense is iffy. It requires thinking. Thinking takes time.

Next up are static defenses. These are defenses built in to your stance and hand positioning. Look at your 'fighting stance' in a mirror and pay special attention to the holes. Where would you hit you if you stood like that?

(Note: the quotes around 'fighting stance'- when I think things are about to get shitty I stand in what I call a modified Columbo. Feet more or less in sanchin stance, right hand scratching my right eyebrow, right elbow resting on my left hand, left hand up against my right floating ribs over the liver and middle of the forearm covering the solar plexus. It's conversational, non-confrontational, great for asking slightly slow-witted questions and I can explode out of it for three simultaneous attacks and move into the threat's dead zone.)

Static defenses are as simple as remembering to keep your hands up and keep your elbows in. The hard part (go back to the mirror again) is maintaining them while you are moving. Especially when you are attacking. The static defenses are shells, but the shell is composed of your weapons. Whenever you apply a weapon you open one or more holes in the shell.

Better are zone defenses. If you play or watch basketball, the two basic defenses are the man-to-man and the zone. In the man to man, each player of team A is responsible to cover one member from team B and prevent him from scoring. For man-to-man to work, team A must have better players than team B... and team B can still defeat it with superior team work. Reactive defenses are like man-to-man. If you are better, faster, know what is going on AND the threat isn't tricky you have a good chance of making it work.

Zone defense, on the other hand, is a kind of moving static defense. Each time you attack it opens a hole, but each attack opens a predictable hole. If you know where you are likely to get attacked, you can move move some defense there. Throw a high side kick and the lead hand elbow goes down almost to the hip bone, chin is protected by shoulder, lead hand covers to just under the eyes and the rear hand drops under the kicking thigh to protect the groin. Zone defenses, by pairing a defensive action with your attack, allow decent protection without the slow down of the OOD part of the OODA loop. You're only Observing and Orienting to your own actions, which you already knew and the Decide step was done in training when you paired your left jab with ducking your chin, raising your left shoulder and covering your right ear with your right hand.

The good stuff next post.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


This guy is, without doubt, one of the best in the world. Highly trained. Vastly experienced. Well known and well respected. Also flippant, irreverent and sarcastic. These are a few of my favorite things. He started training about the time I was born. Deep down, I think that he thinks that I'm an arrogant puppy. That's okay, too.

In his living room, talking about fighting and writing and people we know, he brings up a "revolutionary, new" thing: he describes it. It was basic to my early training. It's, in a way, what jujutsu is. Old style jujutsu, anyway. I say words to that effect and his eyes narrow a bit.

We're both products of our training. Not just in what we do or the way we handle problems (and this man has handled a lot of high-end problems) but also in the way that we see things. He learned distance and timing in the ring and reinforced it with the careful attention that road officers pay to proper proximics. My distance and timing comes from a closer range based on an ambush paradigm... and it has been reinforced in a crowded jail. It works for me, very well, just as his has worked for him. But it's different, not just in movement but in thinking.

To illustrate a point he shows a combination- cover, startle blow, damage blow. Cover, not a block, because he knows damn well how rare it is to make a block work in a fight.

NB- This does not mean you give up defense. The best analogy I can make is that your brain is too slow to play man-to-man defense and you must learn to play zone.

Continue: Watching him, his body mechanics are superb. The cover is rock solid, the 'startle blow' is perfectly aligned, bone-to-bone conduction from his knuckles to his rear heel. It could do far more than startle. The action of the first blow ballistically loads the torso muscles for a crushing follow up. In three short moves you can see how good he is.

But it's nothing like the way I would move. Something similar to the same cover, but drop-stepping in to close on the threat. Same hand used for the first blow but because of the distance more circular than linear, designed more to spin the spine than to impact and to lead my feet in to raise my center of gravity so that the power blow would crash...

Differences from early training- he was taught to see conflict as a matter of strategy and timing. I was taught to see it as strategy and controlling the center. His hands were his tools and he learned all the ways you can create speed by messing with the threat's mind. My own body weight was my primary tool and it was drilled into me how to use it as a force and speed multiplier.

We're both experienced enough to see and appreciate the differences and use them sometimes, too, but the differences are deep.

And that's very cool. Because there are very many ways to be good and it's an honor to hang out with someone who is that extraordinary in such a different way.