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.