Thursday, August 30, 2007

Instinctive, Conscious and Unconscious Fighting

A question I threw out elsewhere and I want to discuss it here. There are three (actually four) discrete ways that people respond to fights. Not all fights are the same and not all violence dynamics are the same and not all people are the same... etc. Violence is an infinite thing but sometimes you can categorize it- and sometimes the categories are even useful.

Martial artists train to develop skill. They train to be skilled fighters. They train to bring clean and efficient skills into a messy environment. Often it doesn't work. Sometimes it does.

In "Angry White Pyjamas" Robert Twigger writes of his year training in the intensive aikido course taught to the Tokyo riot police. Not going to comment on the book, read it yourself and make up your own mind about the book and the author. In one scene, however, he supplied a big clue. He happened to be training when the founder of this particular branch of aikido died. He was able to participate in a mourning 'pub crawl': the highest ranks of this system drinking their way from bar to bar. He got to watch them get into a mass bar fight.

These were some of the highest ranks in the world, extremely skilled practitioners of a system that has constant interaction with officers who test it hands-on. What Twigger saw was these masters rolling on the floor and swinging wild punches.

This is the way that people instinctively fight. This is why "control goes out the window" when a martial arts instructor ramps things up and pushes the students out of the comfort zone. This is why when martial artists go through simulation training they tend to flail and can't make things work. This is why some of my officers, with the best range training in the world, couldn't hit the broad side of a barn the first time they did a ConSim.

When instinct goes head-to-head with training, instinct will usually win unless you have a deep, down to your bones belief that your training is better than your instincts. That's hard, because instincts start bone deep. The two situations where I see training win out is when the training has been cultural as well as technical- in other words where the teacher was a veteran who could say what you will feel, what he had felt and why things worked or didn't. In essence, you borrow experience to create faith. The second is a student who has an almost cult-like faith. Blind faith can give courage and knowledge where healthy scepticism can give opinion and hesitation. It's an ugly truth, but fanatics tend to fight better than thinkers.

Conscious fighting can be good or very bad. Martial artists train for fighting -sort of- but they do it safely. There is no safe way to hurt someone. A handful of people are aware enough that training is not reality and disciplined enough to tell themselves, "This isn't a game, I'm going to have to do it differently" and then do it. It's rare and the balance lines are many and fine. Thinking too much is slow. You will never cognitively be able to analyze and make decisions in time to prevent a flurry of strikes- so how much of the process will be conscious requires balance. Where to focus requires balance, too, because the deadliest mind freezing questions "Who is doing this, why me..." etc. are also conscious.

Unconscious skilled fighting (instinctive fighting is unconscious and unskilled. The aikidoka Twigger mentions had skill but didn't use it, hence brawling) breaks down in two ways. One can be very good or very bad, the other is very good and very rare.

Skilled flinches can be very good or very bad. Someone swings and you act before your brain has caught up. It is blindingly fast, the cornerstone of ambush survival and the product of repetitive training in stimulus/response e.g. attack/counter. It can be really good if you trained a response that worked. Really bad if you trained one that didn't. My favorite example of this is Bryan who was surprised from behind and turned and fired three punches into the threat. The punches were so perfect that they made loud snaps against the threat's jacket and never touched his skin. Had there been a judge present there is no doubt that Bryan used winning technique.

This level of skilled flinches is limited. You simply can't flinch a complicated response. So it serves for the first few seconds of a fight and is critical in the first fraction of a second of an assault... but then you might be left either thinking, which is slow, or standing there getting hit or cut.

The rare good type also works on faith. I do not personally know anyone who got here from training alone. It took extensive experience. It is the ability to say, "My body knows what to do," and step aside and let it. It's not really your body, it's still your brain, but it is getting your conscious mind out of the way and trusting that everything will be okay.

It requires IME proven skill on two levels. If I know that I can handle likely situations, that my physical skills are up to the task I can let go without micro-managing myself. But that's only half. I also need to believe, absolutely that the decisions I make and what I do when the leash comes off will be decisions I can live with. I have to know that just as much as the fighting skills are internalized, part of who I am not just something I do, my ethical base is just as internalized. I need to know and trust that the subconscious decisions will be the same as the conscious ones would be if there was sufficient time.

This allows me to fight without thinking, or even to fight while thinking of something else, like paperwork or transport contingencies.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Short and Simple

The fourth day of training wasn't for the team. Saturday morning I got up and hit the road before first light and made the long drive to Seattle. Still feeling sleep deprived, but I wanted to do this.

Bob had asked me to come up to his dojo and be a guest teacher at a clinic. He said, "I'll do some judo, we'll have some aikido guys there and you get to do the tactics part."

What the hell does that mean? The tactics part? Entries? Team fighting? I asked and he wouldn't answer. Bob is just that laid back: "Whatever you want to do. You're good, everyone will have fun and I'm cooking barbecue."

It's a dojo where he sets up the grill outside and keeps beer in the fridge with the bottled water. It's perfect and I hope that you can understand this because it is powerful and wonderful: whether he ever realizes it consciously or not, Bob doesn't draw a distinction between his dojo and his home or his students and his family. He acts on the mat the way he acts with his best friends. There is no pretention at all. That is rare and special.

I generally like playing with judoka. They know their stuff, they know what they are doing (judo) and know what they aren't doing (self-defense fantasies). This tends to make them better at self defense than people who think they are training for it.

BTW- You didn't think 'Short and Simple' referred to this entry, did you?

The aikido bothered me and I was finally able to put my finger on what usually bothers me about aikido. A good aikidoka develops, in my opinion, two skills that are awesome in a real fight (caveat- they need to practice in a real fight before they can apply them, but the foundation is there): 1) aikidoka can find the empty space. They practice moving to where the sword or the fist isn't and where it's not going to be. It sounds simple, yet very few martial artists every practice it or think about it. 2) They can be masters at using gifts of momentum when they are presented.

The cool/weird thing about using momentum (with the exception of using it to increase force in a strike) is that it is effortless. The threat halls off and tries to take your head off with a straight punch and you gently touch the moving hand on one side and he fractures his fist against a wall. That's effortless and awesome. I think a lot of what I see and dislike in aikido comes from equating the feeling of effortlessness with effectiveness.

What I saw was a lot of long and complex chains of action. Each link in the chain was effortless, but by the time you had gone through eight links...

One in particular struck me, because it started with a spiral pass parry to a wrist lock that was then reversed, passed and wound up with a bent shoulder lock... and the exact same shoulder lock was right there from the initial spiral parry if you just frigging stepped in instead of focusing on blending so much.

Later, in the course of my piece, we talked about knife defenses. One of the aikido instructors had been a witness to a stabbing some time ago. It was an ambush and pretty well matched my knowledge of knife attacks. Using that real example, did it look like the knife attacks they practiced against in classes? Why not?

It's like practicing defenses against elephant charges. You know anyone who has been charged by an elephant? Why do so many martial artists practice against X when they know that Y happens? Why practice dodging imaginary elephants instead of real cars?

Kris Wilder (goju-ryu karate) was the star of the show. He's been doing something with spine alignment and structure that is pushing both his striking power and his body's ability to withstand blunt trauma to some interesting places. I've seen a lot of these things done in static positions. Kris can do them moving and seems to apply it in his judo as well as his karate (important note- I've seen some 'tai chi secrets' that were basic body alignment skills from judo; the judoka could use them moving, the 'tai chi master' couldn't).

His structural striking embodied the concept of short and simple.

More to work on.


It's been a long week. Anybody miss me?

One day of training in a classroom- weapons of mass destruction recognition and familiarity; new protective suits and masks. Still trying to get the hang of the electronic radiation detector. We had the class two years ago from FEMA. Now it's from the Department of Homeland Security... so we sat through much of the same stuff again. Some was new- the instructor this time was a veteran HAZMAT officer and he had experience, which leads to unique insight and good advice.

Then two days on the range. I felt out of practice, tired, hungry and like I hadn't slept well in weeks. Hot, glaring sun. It was the worst shooting I can remember doing... so to feel better I would walk over to the other range where instructors from across the state were getting a refresher course. Instructors. One look at their targets and my pathetic shooting didn't look so bad. The worst target on our team (and we were practicing from the draw, often moving and transitioning from long weapon to handgun) looked better than the best on the instructor's side...

It was still pathetic, though. To our standards at least- to my standards.

Walking and shooting on a boardwalk, changing magazines and firing while moving backwards on the balance beam (not a regulation gymnastics balance beam, wider so that our feet could stay at a good fighting width, and only a sudden eight inch drop if you slipped off).

Shooting silhouettes. Shooting one silhouette with a weapon painted on it that was surrounded by other 'innocent' silhouttes. Down officer drills- running in small teams while other members provided cover fire and perimeter protection to snatch up a limp officer. Deployments from vehicles.

Ended with mixed team entries: lethal and less-lethal weapons coming together through a door in a fast, tight team.

That went well. The first round I was third in the stack, which doesn't mean I entered third, the first three come through as a single body, clearing the door instantly. Entered and saw the 'bad' silhouette with 'hostages' in front and a gap of three inches between them at about five yards. The handgun snapped up, front sight right where it should be and two rounds pinged off the bad guy before the metal silhoutte could fall.

Shittiest shooting I can remember, but when it came to the complicated moving stuff, we were dialed.

Monday, August 20, 2007


It is the opposite of writer's block. Working on the introduction to the citizen's guide to police use of force, I find myself wanting to say three distinct things. Three solid, powerful reasons that the book needs to be written and, more importantly, needs to be read. Yet the ideas don't blend in an easy way and I'm also unwilling to let any of them go.

The obvious thing to do is to skip the introduction and get to the meat. The obvious on how officers are trained, what they are taught about the use of force continuum and how they are taught to make those decisions will practically write themselves. The deeper chapters on how experience with violence enhances and deepens the training will be easy (and fun and probably therapeutic) to write. Skipping the intro is obvious and I will do it if I need to, but in the past I've used introductions as a sort of mission statement- here's the problem, this is who I am and why I'm writing it, this is why you need to hear it. It not only sets the tone for the reader but I use it to set the tone for my writing.

It's just hard to choose. All of the facts and images will be used, but which should be the first one that the reader sees? Here are the options:

1) Contrasting caribou and wolf with living rooms and grocery stores hits the theme that violence is the natural environment of life. Violence is and from the very richness and abundance of our lives we have the luxury to pretend that it is an aberration. We pretend that it is horrible and wrong, think that it is odd when it happens but we know we are lying to ourselves. This cognitive disconnect drives us to create theories that are little better than fairy tales or whistling in the dark. Worse, when faced with the people who do deal with violence, citizens tend to marginalize them, pretending that the officers and soldiers are somehow broken and unreliable. The equivalent of putting fingers in one's ears and going , "lalalalalala I can't hear you!"

2) Society has largely decided that violence is bad, but isn't quite stupid or suicidal enough to have forgotten a basc truth: force is the ONLY thing that can stop violence. This possibility would talk about the long term effects of other strategies, such as appeasement and denial. Our solution is to create a profession who exist primarily for the application of force for the good of and protection of society. This also creates a cognitive dissonance. In other societies with recognized warrior castes, this wasn't a problem- but where we recognize the need for good force, but still feel that force is inherently bad it separates the protectors of society from the society that they protect- to the point that they don't understand the officers and soldiers.

An aside, and something that I am afraid will drive some people up the wall: I absolutley consider the officer's point of view to be superior to and clearer than the citizen's. All officers have been and are citizens; few citizens have been officers. If someone has lived on both sides of a line, I feel that their conclusions about that line are inherently more valid than someone who has only seen one side.

3) Judging from ignorance- this is one of my personal drives in writing the book so I may be too close, or maybe close to the bone is just what it needs. If a plane crashes, the people who pass judgment are pilots and aircraft engineers. If someone dies on an operating table, doctors hold an inquiry. If someone dies after a use of force (the wording is deliberate, there- sometimes officers kill people, but sometimes people crash cars or their heart gives out or the balloons of meth in their belly pop) reporters, politicians, citizens groups most of whom have never been in a fight; many of whom would have no chance at keeping their temper after just a few minutes of verbal abuse... feel perfectly free to judge.

This might be the key. I don't mind being judged. I am aware that I am an instrument of force for society (possible intro 2) working with dangerous people (possibility 1- see why I am having a hard time writing it? Everything blends) and the people have a right and a responsibility that the force I use is in fact for the good of society. My problem is with ignorant judges. People who don't know the policy, keep confusing a use of force or a shooting with a "fair, clean, fight" or a John Wayne movie. People who get their ideas about either crime or violence from entertainment: TV, books, movies. When force is used, it must be used to professional standards. The people evaluating it must be familiar not only with the professional standards but also the environment.

Partly, I'm even more concerned that the people who need to read this book either will not or have too much ego entrenched in their point of view to listen. But that's just despair. That won't slow me down.


It was a smaller group than in the past. Too many old friends with obligations, plane tickets and scared significant others couldn't make it. More 'friends of friends' than in the past: a newer phenomenon, disquieting yet interesting.

Once a year, in August, under the pretext of a mass birthday party we hold a bash. It's about friends. There are traditions- experimental cooking, the Lobster of Shame, new scotches, home brew, "The Parting Glass", the Baraka book. Some traditions have fallen by the wayside. We don't heal the way we used to, so the six-on-one tackle football has slipped into the past.

We are getting older. The party used to last for three days, from sometime Friday night until late on Sunday. Saturday night we would tell stories, sing and sip scotch until sunrise as the beauties belly danced and some of us drummed or played instruments. This year the last person left at 0130 on Sunday morning.

Good stories, good friends. The friend of a friend thing- at this party I used to be able to look around and realize that almost everyone there had saved my life or sanity at least once. The group was tight in a way that only sharing lots of heartache and/or danger and/or blood can make happen. This year there were people that I barely knew. A short time ago they probably would have been sitting with their backs to a wall with wide eyes twitching looking for exits... but we've mellowed with age. Most of the intense stories we've lived and told and re-told enough and now we tell mostly the funny ones. Some of the ones that weren't so funny at the time, like Curly Creek Falls, have become funny in the retelling. I think the strangers felt comfortable there, and safe. Which is really odd.

Barbecued kangaroo, steak and sausages. We had yak, too, but as usual K had provided enough food for a bigger army than we had, so we didn't get to the yak. Ardbeg is still the best scotch ever and Boodle's is still in first place for gin. You can load scotch into a seltzer bottle and carbonate it- that was the culinary experiment for this year. Previous experiments included scotch milk shakes (good); beer milkshakes (good); and making espresso with beer instead of water (bad, really, really bad).

We've been doing this for a long time now- there have been many changes. From comrades-in-arms to couples. For a few years there were many babies and small children. Now teen agers (and one baby!). Rules used to include "No throwing knives or axes after drinking", the rules are unnecessary now, just, "Take care of each other" which is the one lesson we have all learned in life. In a few years or decades, more of us will be walking with canes. Children and then grandchildren will take over the planning and will tell the new stories- and maybe repeat some of the old one, "Blue-White-Blue-White" or "What Friends Are For" or "Suffocation in Dynamited Cave" or "Rick's Bachelor Pary in a Ghost Town and how we Almost had to Fight an Entire Town and Wound up Eating Sardines".

Good times, good friends. Amazing how often those go together,

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ueshiba, Kano and Futagami

Ueshiba was a martial genius. When I want to tease aikidoka I just say, "Aikido is what happens when a really good jujutsuka gets religion." But Ueshiba himself was a martial genius. Don't let the pictures of the little old elf fool you. In his younger days he was a very dangerous man, trained by a very dangerous and vicious man. He was not a theoretician and experienced a significant amount of close quarters combat- he has even described some of the things I think of as "twilight zone stuff", things, such as seeing bullets in flight, that happens on the very edge of human experience.

Kano, on the other hand, was a master instructor. He was a good jujutsuka, but first and foremost he was an educator with a vision. The art that he created, judo, was one of the first effective examples of applying modern (at the time) training methodology and learning theory to a martial art.

Ueshiba did get religion in a big way. He had (alert- my conclusions based on my reading and observation, I'm no expert here) seen that the core of his personal and very effective fighting style (in this instance, 'system' is what you are taught, 'style' is how you as an individual fight) was to misdirect and slip forces. Sword, knife, bullet, punch, tackle... all forces. All things that at high enough skill you can simply choose not to be in front of. When he got religion, he saw that this worked for the world too: conflict only exists if you oppose forces. By misdirecting forces you can win, even destroy an opponent without engaging in a clash. Victory without conflict. Aikido was an expression of what Ueshiba had learned in personal combat aimed towards making a better world.

Kano's art has very similar principles. He had less experience (if any) with personal combat. He had much more experience with how things are learned. Judo was Kano's expression of using martial arts to make a better person.

Our style of jujutsu has a few techniques that look like echoes of aikido- spectacular throws based on locks, stuff like that. But each of them is taught as an assassination. They are things you do as you are walking past an unsuspecting victim. The primary training methodology is based on making a trained warrior reflexively kill when surprised or suddenly 'disadvantaged' (there isn't a good word for it- when a weapon breaks or you are disarmed or, more modern, when you expected your gun to go 'BANG' and it went 'click' the common reaction is to stop and stare at it for a second... and die). Most of the techniques fit this model and are 'rougher' than the assassination techniques.

Working out last night- close and spine control (it can be an immobilization, a takedown or a kill) Close and spine control. Close and spine control. Stan (one of my favorite martial artists and teachers- primarily Small Circle but he has done many other things) noticed that because of flukes of distancing, many students were in a position for one of the aikido-like throws, but no one was going for it.

I approved. There are ways to use the principles of aikido- all good fighters use them, whether they know it or not- but the techniques, especially as echoed in our style, demand perfection. There is no room for mistake in snatching the weapon hand of an armed man out of the air and throwing him. There are some that will say it is not possible. It is possible, but it is hard as hell and there is no room for error. For the style founded by Futagami, who had no interest as far as I know in making a better world or a better person, just a more efficient killer, slop is built in to it. We use the techniques, but we use them from surprise. When the threat is unsurprised or we are recovering from surprise the techniques are "grosser' more respectful of the slop, chaos and mistakes that make up most fights.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Doing some research for the next book and I ran across a reference to Amnesty International's 2006 study on Taser use. The reference claimed that AI had implicated the Taser in 152 deaths in the US. Hmmm... the paper itself was available, so I read it.

Does anybody read these things? Everyone reads the press release that blares the number 152, but who reads the actual paper? That number is not in any way related to the actual causes of death named by the coroners.

AI's definition by itself appears to be fishy. They seem to label any death preceeded by Taser use to be "Taser related" even if the death happened days later or even if a different cause of death was clearly listed. Hey, I was tased a couple of years ago. If I have a heart attack tomorrow will my name show up in Amnesty International's next report?

152... but only 23 actually listed the Taser as even a possible contributory cause of death. One of the actual cases states that the Taser may have contributed to the fatal abnormal heartbeat in addition to the other causes of meth and bleeding out from a cut wrist. Clearly the electrical stun device was the culprit. Sure.

So 152 is down to 23, except really only 7 had the cause of death listed as primarily taser. Seven in five years. In at least one of those the ME recanted, having put Taser down as a cause of death before actually performing the autopsy... but that's not mentioned in the report. Very few of the deaths mentioned in the report have much detail, but what detail there is tells a story. If a plaintiff's attorney in a case says the death was caused by Taser and the medical examiner says it was NOT the cause of death, AI still lists it. What about the case where it took three autopsies to get the result that AI wanted: "In all it took three autopsies to conclude that taser had been a contributory factor in his death."

I've seen this report cited for over a year. I finally read it. I have a hard time believing that anyone else who cites it has actually read it.

There's more there and it points to the gulf between people who want to fix the world from ignorance and those who deal with it. There is a difference between pain and injury. Every mechanical means that approaches the level of pain produced by the Taser risks injury- broken bones and dislocated joints. Compare that to two 1/4" pin pricks (not two inches of penetration, as the report says).

The report says ..."tasers in dart firing mode may be a preferable alternative to deadly force..." May be? WTF? Here, more than anywhere, the agenda might show. Killing with a gun is old hat, comfortable tradition. Hurting with a new device, even if it saves lives (and it saves thousands, I've saved one myself and so I might be biased- everyone has an agenda. Even me.) that is new and scary. This isn't about force or government power or corruption or even rights. Just like the Inquisition, this is about making sure that the status quo is preserved. Though it often gets labeled as 'liberal' AI is conservative in the true sense of the word- terrified of change.

There is more there, some truly awful misunderstandings of force policies and the effects of drugs on behavior and how violence operates in real life. The authors seem to feel that since so many of these deaths involved excited delerium (they always use quotes around "excited delerium" to give the impression that it doesn't really exist) the Taser should not be used on violent, insane, naked, sweaty, blood-spitting people that can throw around five officers. Do they really think that beating them with clubs or putting so much weight of officer on them that they can't move or breathe will be safer? Hasn't anyone compared the numbers between these so-called taser deaths and ICDS (In-Custody Death Syndrome) which, strangely enough, also happens primarily to excited delerium cases?

It comes back to the same question: Did anyone ever critically read this pile of horseshit?

Frustration and Love

Taught a very small class yesterday: two new officers and two instructors from another division who wanted to get a handle on this 'new way'. This is the basic course, eight hours. It is imbedded in just a handful of drills that are free-action (no scripts, no attempt to clone the students into instructors) and also (really appreciated this yesterday) carefully designed to avoid both the dangerous game habits of sparring and the equally dangerous belief that the drill is the fight.

The drill is taught, and they play. If you know how to move, you know something about fighting. They do the drill first with what they bring to the table. Then a short class/demo/practice on generating power in linear strikes; then they return to the drill. Then short range circular strikes and return to the drill. Long range circles. Close range kicking. Leverage points and spine controls. Locks. Everything goes back to the drill, just continuing with their natural movement but with some new ideas, new efficiencies.

A short change as they work an operant conditioning system for ambush survival. The drill changes here, instead of interactive chaos it becomes far less interactive: someone attacks you and they become meat, never given a chance to recover and interact.

Then the ground. How to move a body in three easy principles, which leads to a new drill. Application and limitations of pain. Remind them to apply the skills from before- locks, leverage, spine- in addition to the basic skill of moving another person. Striking from the ground. Strangles and neck breaks. Debrief, clean up and go home.

There's extra time written into the lesson plan. (aside: that seems like a lot to cover in eight hours but the skills are very simple if you look at them right. Joint locking is the most complicated and takes forty-five minutes to cover all the principles, how locks work, types of locks, experimenting with each type and a drill to start to learn to see the opportunity to apply a lock when the threat presents it. 45 minutes.) During breaks, the students hydrate and the instructors address any issue they think the students need to hear. Some of it is pretty standard- almost all of us go over the OODA loop, types of assaults, fighting the mind versus fighting the body, different reactions to adrenaline and how to read it in the threat, how to control your own.

These were new hires and I got to talk about the job and how much I love it. The nobility of being surrounded by dark and refusing to become dark. The restraint of using force for good in a world that seems to believe that all force is bad (because most have never felt or seen the effects of the small percentage of the population who use force for pleasure or convenience and can only be stopped by force). The unbelievable, supernatural feeling when training, experience and adrenaline intersect and you become a force of nature, something beyond human, doing things effortlessly that are clearly impossible. The thrill of sharing with students that they have entered one of the few careers where this is possible is... almost as good as the battle joy itself.

It's scary, too, because it is a glorious thing that can only be found in dark places. As horrible as violence is, if it were ever erradicated humanity would lose this experience also.

But there was a lot of frustration. It was petty compared to the love of teaching, but still it was there and it gnawed for hours. Why do people need to be taught to see? They have eyes, they have touch. The left hand is four inches from the threat's ear and the right hand is a foot from his ribs, yet they hit with the right hand because they have decide the left is their 'blocking hand'. They see that their knee is right behind the threat's and a slight pop will put him on the ground... the eyes see but the brain doesn't. The fact that the threat is off balance and a concrete wall is right in line with his weak line of stance is obvious and seemingly invisible at the same time.

If people could only see what is right in front of their faces and play with it a little, there is nothing special about fighting. It is seeing (sensing, really: many people, including me ,fight better by touch) and moving. That's all. So simple. So invisible.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Inflow and Outflow

I watch my wife typing away on the computer and marvel at how different we are. Writing is a flow for her, an art, an act of creation. The enthusiasm brightens her already beautiful eyes.

It is almost the opposite for me- a dredging. The soul sometimes need to be cleaned and writing is one way to do it. The clearer her spirit is flowing, the more she needs to write. As mine flows clear and the world around feels like a place of purity, the less I write. The more I absorb.

It won't last, of course. Nature of this life that I have chosen and I do love. It's easy to be noble when life is easy. Easy to be a saint in a monastery. It's far more worthy to be a good man in bad places. It's more fun, too.

That made writing Rhino easy- there was a lot of stuff to dredge. The other projects are more constructive and so I feel less ned to write them. Time for some discipline, I suppose.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Six W's


And now:
What the hell?

That's the kind of stuff you learn in investigations

Can't really talk about it but damn, people, if you file a report that's fine. But if you want to do a follow-up at least remember the alias you were using when you filed the first report. How hard is that?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Teaching to the 2s

This is one of the inane results of the collision between bureaucracy and training. I first heard the expression "Teaching to the 2s" at the academy. The instructors explained that they had no control over who was hired and that the current process of civil service examinations to fill emergency services jobs left many cadets who were tempermentally, physically and mentally unsuited for the job. That left the academy instructors with the obligation to train them as best they could. This became known as "Teaching to the 2s" designing classes in an attempt to reach the lowest common denominator. Make the classes simple for the stupid ones; non-threatening for the timid ones and never pressure tested for the weak ones.

The fallacy of this is obvious, of course. You can't teach the lowest common denominator. By the time someone is an adult if they have any desire to learn or improve, they have done so and are no longer the lowest common denominator. By trying to reach the people who have no desire to be reached, you lose them. You bore the good students and even the mediocre are shafted because they are taught not what they need, but only what the instructors think the 2s can handle.

Training wasn't about the needs of the job or even the students. It became about liability coverage by showing you taught something. This is where you get the cadets who memorize an eight-step wrist lock which only works on other students and only from one position.

This tendancy was compounded by the way the academy was staffed. The people who teach and design the courses are largely administrators. A mediocre deputy could decide to apply to the academy. If he was selected, he would suddenly be called a captain or lieutenant and could come off like a grizzled veteran to a room full of fresh-faced rookies. Unless you knew the instructor from their previous assignment or agency, you didn't know who or what they really were.

It hasn't changed much in the state and probably won't, but within our agency there has been a big change. Most of the credit goes to Mac (but I want some too!). We were able to convince the agency that there were unused resources: classically trained martial artists with years of teaching experience and hundreds of real fights. We knew how to get it done and we knew how to teach others to do it.

I'd been working on 'principles based training' basically instead of teaching students a dozen wrist locks just teach them what wrist locks are and let them create their own. Same goes for takedowns, striking, spine controls, pain... (as an aside, I can teach pretty much everything there is to know about locking in under an hour- or you can take three or four years of aikido or jujitsu. Your choice). Mac looked at it, added his umpteen million years of experience, combined it with a mind blowing insight and we had Awareness Based Training. (The first of the Big Three).

Principles is still big, but combined with live drills that teach the student to recognize and exploit targets as they become available. To see the principles in action. It's been great in many ways. Our agency has 2's as well, but they pick up something here. They play with it instead of trying to memorize it, and that's a big bonus. The best and the medium learn too, and some learn a lot. They are given permission to experiment and improvise and play at speed.

The courses weren't designed by administrators but by line officers and we have a very real stake in the product: On some dark day these folks, including the 2s, will be my backup. I want the best backup I can create. We knew the job and the problems and how hard it is to take pretty classroom skills and make them work in chaos. It was, and is, a good system.

Baton Training

This one's for Jeff. My first three-day training with Deputy US Marshall Jeff, he made a comment that in order to be useful any combat training must have three elements:

1) It must have a tactical use.
2) It must work under stress.
3) It must work moving as well as standing still.

Point number three has come up a lot lately. I've watched too many instructors teach escapes from grabs without seeming to realize that an assailant doesn't grab you and just stand there- he grabs you to make you move, destroy your balance. The dynamic of a moving escape is different enough that many of the techniques don't work.

Friday we had recertification training in the expandable baton. I noticed a couple of things right away. First off, I'm not particularly big or strong. In the static drills I hit faster (that's a technique thing, most of the officers were swinging with the arm, I was using the finger closing grip from sword work for speed) but several of the big guys were hitting as hard as I was. However, when it came to hitting moving during the scenarios almost everyone had a huge power drop off. I didn't (and my armored bad guy paid for it. Sorry, D.)

Do many martial artists practice hitting while moving? Striking fast and hard while angling forward, back or straight retreating? If not, why not? I've never not practiced that way, so it seems weird when I hear people talking about the difficulty of it. Same for shooting, too. If you have to freeze in place to get a good shot off you turn into a big target.

So that's for Jeff. If you can't do it moving, you can't do it effectively- no matter what 'it' is.

There was another drill, striking with the closed baton. We practiced on kicking shields. The strike was to 'go through', essentially scraping the surface of the shield to set up a recovery strike from the complementary angle. The exact same motion could either be a pain compliance technique (scraping the ribs and sternum to drive someone back) or a "level 5" technique, breaking the clavicle or separating ribs based only on a slight difference in wrist angle. I asked the instructors about it... they recovered nicely but they hadn't really considered it. They were teaching to a lesson plan and hadn't really thought about what they were trying to do to a human body, or how that would change the recovery for the second hit or all that it implied about centerline targeting versus peripheral or...

The last drill was to go into a room with a bag over our heads and a padded baton. We were spun around and then the bag was pulled off and we had to deal with whatever we saw. What I saw was an armored threat in full attack at biting range. To be fair, one of the instructors had given me a special brief beforehand: a personal reminder that it was a baton class and I wasn't to throw, lock, knee, elbow...he tried to make the list comprehensive.

That was a problem. The essence of this drill (probably based on Tony Blauer's Night of the Living Dead drill) was for the armored attacker to give constant pressure, a constant barrage of attack. It predicates on a combination of good armor and a soft padded weapon so that the weapon can't stop the threat. But I've trained myself for years that if option A doesn't work, you switch to something else without hesitation (thanks, Mac). So I was good- I only kicked once to buy distance and didn't aim at the knee. I was going in for a throw when the instructor stopped it, however. The stick wasn't working and I was getting a little tired. If you can't knock someone down with a stick...

On the plus side only four of the thirteen students remembered to (and were able) to access their radios under the attack. "Did I enunciate clearly?" I asked.

"It was eerie calm. If someone was killing you, we wouldn't be able to tell from your radio voice."

That's cool.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

"If You Can't Say Something Nice...

...don't say anything at all."

"I've seen his stuff," I said, "I'm not impressed."
"Really? He's famous! One of the best in the world."
"There are at least two better locally..."

It struck me right then- I've gotten very, very critical of martial arts and martial artists. Sometimes on the blog, but more often when people ask me for advice on picking a school or an instructor. Some of the things I've said, and the circumstances:

A famous Taiwanese internal arts master brought in for a seminar actually turned my stomach away from the Chinese and internal arts for years: "He's a complete fraud. His physical skills were amazing, but how he was explaining them and what he was teaching his students was pure bullshit. He's actively making his students worse so that he can look better."

At a recent seminar one of the guest instructors was someone who I knew briefly years ago. The students were eating it up but I honestly consider him one of the worst martial artists that I have ever met... and that's completely aside from his tendancy to hit on every woman who walks through his doors.

A local, famous Indonesian stylist- actually a very good instructor, but the first time I met him he showed a basic technique, something common to judo, jujutsu, WWII combatives (hell it's in Bruce Tegner books)... and all of his students, two of whom had nearly thirty years in martial arts, were flabbergasted. "That's amazing! Show us that again! I've never seen anything like it!" It left me with the belief that he was a good martial artist with a knack for getting students who had only had terrible instruction before, leading to his cult-like status.

A friend asked about a mutual acquaintance and I demurred until asked directly, then answered: "We've had some interactions in the past. Just as an experiment try to verify a single one of his claims that doesn't trace back to his publicity machine. One of the international medals he claims, well, that event wasn't held on the year he 'won' it."

After watching a jujitsu instructor teach a knife disarm in which he cut his own throat in every repetition (if the weapon had been real) I couldn't say anything, just stare with a sick look on my face. He then taught an escape from a wrist lock that was exactly the wrong way to move. No surprise, it worked on his students and no one else. I blurted: "How many years does it take to brainwash a student so that will work?" (I really shouldn't have said it outloud. I did not make friends that day.)

"Why don't you believe in kyusho? You've used it!"
"I've used targeting. Some places hurt worse than others. But when one of the top names uses you for a demo dummy and he fakes so bad that up close it's like something from a bad highschool drama class but the audience buys it, it's hard to accept on faith. Then you do the math and if the theory is right, it's impossible to survive a good massage. Targeting is fine, but his explanations don't work."

There are more. That's a lot of bile.
I think it's time to work on finding and acknowledging the positive.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Intense play acting is not the same as intense experience. I'm not sure why. Maybe the fear isn't quite the same without the safety net. Maybe because it is the details- a crushed, graying finger or a clear picture of a specific rock as you fall- that stick in your head, and no one ever gets them quite right in training or film or whatever. Maybe your hindbrain knows it's not real and refuses to process it the same way. Maybe...

In training, simulations are good-great, even- but they don't increase survivor rates quite as much as veterans. People still freeze the first time it is real. IME.

But I don't want to talk about that. Experience changes people, whereas intense playacting just clarifies who they already were. Maybe... Oooh could the difference be as simple as that playacting is always a choice and real experience almost never is? That feels closer to the truth.

I see this in fiction. Fiction is generally hard for me to read. It rarely "feels" right. Even an author who has trained with shooting schools and talked to cops doesn't get the feel right. In non-fiction, when they convince themselves that their training and research is as good as reality it often strikes a pretension, defensive and sometimes laughable chord. But sad, too. And sometimes dangerous when inexperienced people believe.

The ones that read right, the ones who speak to me, write from experience and it is almost more a matter of getting things out of their system than sharing. One I like is Drew Rinella. A student of mine in the past, and of Mac's. A paramedic who has volunteered with FEMA (most notably Katrina relief).

Drew writes: "Here are the poems you requested. Each tells a story that doesn't need to be told anymore." They needed to be told at the time. Here are two. Both are (c) Drew Rinella. His other works can be seen at:

Lilies from Peru
Tell me, little guy, that in your single spin
around the axis of this earth,
You felt more than a cold hospital bed.
Tell me that you saw the sun and felt its heat.
Tell me that you tasted everything in reach.
Tell me that your chest filled with a summer breeze.
That you pet a kitten. Smelled the rain.
Tell me things are better off this way.
I don't know why God called you home so soon.
I don't know you.
But I hope you like alstromeries.
Hide your eyes, little guy, and I'll hide Easter eggs
on four corners of your grave.
No peeking; no cheating.
Hide your eyes, little guy,
and I will hide the tears in mine.
Upon your headstone: lilies from Peru.
Does a good job
Of washing you away
Is my ritual
Eleven times a day
The body is so cold
The body is so cold
The body is so cold