Friday, February 29, 2008

"Load 3 of 6 and twelve loose in your pocket."

We were on the B side of the range yesterday. Eight hours- shooting, shooting while moving and pivoting, moving in a tight stack with live weapons, target discrimination, entries with a team of mixed lethal and less-lethal weapons to engage a mix of threats: deadly threats; dangerous threats and hostages. It was a good shoot, even cold at seven yards nine of my first ten were in the two-inch square. Moving was almost as good. I threw several rounds while moving on the boardwalk- as complexity increases (shooting + moving + listening for commands + target discrimination + magazine changes and failure to fire drills + keeping your balance on a fairly narrow, slightly wiggly platform) it becomes easier to let little things slide, like, oh, the front sight. Still, even there the shooting was good- just not consistently the standard I need to put a round on the nose of a moving threat without hitting the hostage being used as a shield.

On the A side of the range the local contingent of a federal agency were qualifying. I watched one miss the paper, the two-foot by three foot paper, not just the large silhouette of a bad guy in the middle, three times out of three before the instructor came over to help. Shooting for a two inch pattern on the B side, happy to hit the paper at all on the A side.

At one point both sides of the range were cold, so we could take off our hearing protection and I heard the instructor on the other side order, "Load three magazines of six and put twelve loose rounds in your pocket." Wow. That means that they have not changed their qualification course since they gave up revolvers. Think about that. Lots of things don't change- human aggression really hasn't changed since before we became humans, the instinctive physical motions when threatened aren't that different either- the difference between an antelope bone and broken cue stick in actual application are negligible. Technology does change some things, however... and sometimes people don't change in response, even when the stakes are high. If you see an officer who carries his magazine pouch on the same side as his weapon, he has been taught to do that and probably told it was faster. And it was faster, back when we carried revolvers and had to switch the weapon to the other hand to pop the cylinder and use the speed-loaders.

I was a weaver shooter for decades. I'd seen the stats that people almost never blade their bodies under stress but I was sure that didn't apply to me. All those years and hours of practice surely made me a special case (you may laugh)... what convinced me was JJ pointing out a change in technology; "You realize that your stance points the biggest hole in your armor right at the bad guy, right?" Crap. Time to learn the modified isosceles and actually point my armor at the bad guy.
Aside- old pistol duelers advocated an elbow to hip, hand at shoulder stance side on to the opponent. If he did happen to hit the torso area with his pistol ball it would have to penetrate all three arm bones before getting to the ribs.

The tendency to not recognize when the world has changed and go with the original plan is really powerful. Sometimes people don't see the change. Sometimes they stay within their comfort zone of behavior. Sometimes it just seems that tradition and habit have a kind of weight and momentum. This combined with human ability to rationalize and a hefty dose of ego makes for some pretty poor decisions defended with rabid ferocity. It's funny, most of the time. But sometimes there is a real price.

I've written about training artifacts before- things that were introduced to make training safer that have become the "right way". The pronated fist in karate. The follow through in a judo throw. There are technology artifacts, too. If you have ever had the opportunity to take apart an old Filipino sword, the handle is no more than a piece of rattan pounded onto a rattail tang. So maybe, the flowing cuts of some of the styles are because the blade stays in the wound longer... or maybe it's because almost any other technique made the handle fall off. Maybe the curve in a katana is because it is some mathematical function of the way people's arms move when they slash... or maybe they never figured out how to use the folding technique on a straight blade (FWIW, some viking weapons were pattern-welded by braiding the softer and harder steels, but the vikings never figured out the differential tempering trick).

It's hard to step back and look at these things in your own stuff. Often, unless something is tested to destruction, the weak spots don't look like weak spots in training. When you do find one, however, it often leads to an entire new set of insights. When Bric pointed out that the magazine placement we had learned was based on the revolver, it got me thinking and led to a change in weapon retention- because that skill was also based on revolvers and revolver holsters and some of the techniques, such as turning your hip away when the weapon is grabbed from behind, actually gives up the third level of retention on a modern holster, making it easier for the bad guy.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Being Invisible

Another one for the "Combative Twilight Zone Files" today from training. (hmmmm... that would make a hell of a book, wouldn't it?)
I usually stay away from the twilight zone stuff on the blog because I am worried about the reaction. Incredibly strange, impossible stuff happens at the edge. When you talk about it, impressionable people either:
A) Don't believe you. (Which doesn't bother me. I'm writing for myself primarily and most people live a life of sufficient comfort and safety that they can believe anything they want with no real effect.)
B) Believe you. If they believe you, they might:
b.1) Start believing in magic and quit "wasting time" on basics or;
b.2) Twist their focus and come to believe that the twilight zone fluke is "the way it is" and the other hundred mundane examples are ignored or;
b.3) Become weird little intellectual groupies, which frankly creeps me out. I'm tons more comfortable with Steve P.'s disagreements than I ever will be with, oh... you know what? I'm not even going to finish that thought. Someday just give me a scotch and ask me about the 'one move that embodies a style '. Puke. Gag.

Weird stuff happens and most of it can be explained once you understand the influence of super-high stress. The trouble is that understanding after the fact doesn't really prepare you for responding and understanding doesn't imply that you can predict or exploit the phenomena. That's why they're called "flukes" I guess.

On an entry, the first person in is responsible for immediate threat, near corner, far corner, cross corner. Don't hang up on the terminology. The first guy in has to deal with any immediately apparent bad guy, then check to make sure there isn't an ambush coming from the flank, then scan the room. His partner does the same from the other side.

One of the things we do in training is throw bad guys in at inconvenient times to make sure our entry team can adapt on the fly. Today on one of the reps, I was standing directly in the doorway when the point man came in. He blew right by me and covered a door (a potential danger spot). He actually brushed me. He never saw me. In the debrief he is adamant that I was NOT there.

I started to form the thought that I could fall in behind him like part of the stack, but the number 2 guy smashed me into the wall before the thought was completely formed. Which is excellent, it's what I train him to do.

Weird, though. This invisibility thing has come up a couple of times. In training (see the post on Perfect Predator Moment), just goofing around- one friend I stalked and counted coup on four times in a half hour while he was looking directly at me; but it is hard to tell if it has ever happened in a real fight. No one, at least, has ever told me I was invisible, but they have said, "Where in the fuck did you come from?" Wouldn't it be cool to interview the bad guys after a dust up? Something beyond crimes and discipline but more like, "What was your initial plan and when did you realize it had gone to hell?"

Adrenaline can cause tunnel-vision, and that accounts for a lot of the cases (the difference between invisible and unnoticed is very small in practice) but we'd been drilling this all day and it wasn't a rookie.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

South Coast Writers

I did some classes for the South Coast Writer's Conference and I've been letting it settle for a week. There was a fair amount of sleep deprivation and a very long drive; a beautiful sunset and a small town charity fish-fry; a hilariously awful hotel experience and great food and conversation at a heavy-metal cowboy bar and grill. A poet's first autograph. A writer's critique group that will become a long story over beer someday.

I was a bit of an experiment. Most of the presenters were literary types- people who identify themselves as writers. I was more like a thug who happens to have a book coming out. But an attractive subject: Literature is about conflict, right? And you have villains, right? So I was there to talk about violence and villains.

On the good side, only one of the students left the room and only for one segment. A few covered their eyes at the slides. The notebook of photographs that I sometimes pass around never made it all the way around the room, as if a small knot of people were afraid that the pictures would somehow enter their psyches if they touched the cover, and bring on nightmares.

Violence can be awesome, in the old sense of the word- the meaning that brought on kneeling, hoping that if you were small enough the god would not see you and crush you. It can be cathartic, completely changing in an instant how you will view the world. It can even be funny. It is often pathetic and sordid and messy. It is almost never dramatic or entertaining.

If I use force and it is dramatic or entertaining, I am doing it wrong.

So these writers, many of whom impressed me with their intelligence, insight, warmth and compassion got to see a tiny bit of the world that their profession often packages for entertainment. They got to see the rhinoceros that inspired the unicorn that they create.

The murders of Linda Lawrence and Kyle Dinkheller. Excited delirium. How and why women fight differently than men. What happens when an outsider interferes in an in-group's "adjustment session". How a real shooting differs from the range. What bullets and knives and bats and bites do to a human body. What happens when a martial artist tries to break up a bar fight and over-estimates himself.

How bad guys see themselves. How cops see them. How their families see them. How they see each other. How truly aberrant that can be at the extremes. Some of the norms, the "normality" in certain sections of criminal subculture. Why things that seem impossible to polite society make good survival sense in that world.

Prostitutes and the "Bad Date Line". Drugs, inmates and riots. Gangs and molesters. Icky days. Professional good guys and professional bad guys. And scars. We talked about the scars at one point, but only the ones on the skin.

It's always strange to talk to good people about bad things. Do you sensationalize it? But you can't sensationalize Linda Lawrence's murder: it could never be sold as fiction. Too weird, too impossible, too brutal (not her murder, per se, which happened in the space of a few seconds, the fight with her killer afterwards which would seem a bit 'out there' in a werewolf movie.) You can't sensationalize the heroism (and sheer bloody determination) of a Marcus Young. You have to tell them it is rare, but this stuff happens: blood has been used as house paint. Wounds have been raped.

And there is a constant, lower-level buzz of violence: casually abused children, casually beaten wives. Problems solved by boots and weapons as a matter of course... and they glitch hard there because since most people do not know anyone who regularly solves problems with violence they have a hard time accepting that there is a group that considers it an obvious first choice. Obvious. That's the glitch.

It went well. Janet Pretti worked her...erm... very hard to make sure that everyone had a good time. She even got me to do a public reading, though I almost choked when she said to pick something "family friendly". So much for anything out of the book.

And I got great reviews. But what would you expect? No one ever tells the teacher with the gun that he sucks.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Mix

Today was a mix. Lots of paperwork. Good interactions with officers and inmates. An epiphany. A call-out.

The epiphany: I've always worked under the assumption that my job was to either prevent or fix problems. That seems to apply to every job there is- you are either making things better or keeping things from getting worse. Part of that responsibility is to accurately see what the problem is, how big it is. Part of the responsibility is sharing that information up the chain of command. But that's not always the way it works. People want to accomplish the mission- get the job done. Bureaucracies are about preserving the system. When the ship is heading for big rocks, the obvious thing to do is to change course. The bureaucrat begins hiring the smartest, toughest, most creative people in the hopes that they will find away to avoid the damage without changing course... and god help the individual who stands up and says "This won't work- the system is flawed." Though the bureaucrat is driving the ship onto the rocks, they will throw someone over the side for making waves.

The Call Out: Not a lot of action lately, so when a neighboring agency without a tactical team calls for assistance with a riot with multiple barricaded, armed threats... it was looking like an interesting day. The team hit the ground running: a hasty pre-plan, some ball park concepts, equipment choices and draws for a range of scenarios; commo and even an advance team on the way... when the bad guys decided to surrender. This is the tactical equivalent of a case of blue balls.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


"What I saw was couple of DUMBASSES who didn't have the tactical sense god gave an animal cracker." - Mark Jones
"You don't teach answers. You teach humans." - Asher Bey
"I don't trust people who are sure." - David Becker
"We aren't lowering the standards.  We're just changing them so that more people will pass."- Anonymous administrator.
"I want them to see me looking; to look in my eyes and see the price of admission."- Paul McRedmond
"Leadership is making things better.- J. Callum
"I think you got some zen in my eye."- Brandon Oto
"There were grade school teachers and high school teachers and kindergarten teachers and counselors. Those were all the oppressions, I mean professions in the class."- Se-ah-dom Edmo

Friday, February 15, 2008


You can't walk towards something without walking away from something else. Every choice that you make removes other choices from the table. If you stop, you can't be going. If you keep going, you miss all the things that you would have experienced by stopping for a spell.

I've made a decison. A certain piece of it is out of my hands, but the decision is made. It involves huge changes. Walking away from some things means walking away from other things as well. Some of those things are going very well. When I return, they may have grown on their own or withered and died. I won't know, can't know until I return.

Things will develop in their own time. From this perspective it seems monumental if I think about it too much. Yet I already know that I will live in the moment, experience what is there and, someday, it will become just another thing that I've done. A piece of history. A collection of stories. Valuable, important...but there will be just as many stories I will miss. Stories and experiences I would love. It's one of the reason that change is hard, especially for people who have been successful in creating a nearly perfect life. But part of my perfect life is abandoning the comfort zone. For now, at least. Rest may become more valuable in later years. Not yet.

This has the potential to be very cool.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


There is an old Persian tale about a man whose wisdom was tested by Allah. He was told to cook the best meal in the world and the worst. For the best meal he chose tongue, delicately seasoned. Because from the tongue, from speech, came all truth, all praise, all teaching... everything that was extraordinary in the world comes from the ability to communicate.

For the worst meal, of course, he also prepared tongue- decomposed and rotting, half burned and half slimy. Because evil requires deceit and that too, comes from speech.

A few decades ago, for one of those cheesy psych test I was asked my favorite animal. Without hinking I answered,"Humans." Humans are also my least favorite. At their best, humans embody everything that is nobility. The human capacity for heroism, for self-sacrifice, for doing the right thing at great personal cost is humbling. Conversely, the human penchant for betrayal, for sadism, for deceit also seems to be without limits.

So I love people and I hate them. It's not a halfway thing- or maybe it is: When I don't think about them, I'm pretty neutral about people- about the human race and its existance. But when I do think about them, when I observe humans as they live and act and interact I am usually blown away by the miracle of humanity. Or disgusted by creatures who can be given the triple gift of life, reason and will and use it only to hurt and use others for their own benefits.

Sitting in a restaurant/bar today (small town, Valentines day) I watched a bartender and a waitress working like machines. They were dealing with drinks and food, seating. The waitress was new and had a cheat sheet to figure out the table codes. They were running their asses off. I've watched higher paid people with 'higher status' jobs who would grumble, whine or simply refuse to put out a quarter of the effort these two did. And these two women did it with good cheer and wicked humor. It was a pleasure to watch.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


In the middle of  a day with nothing planned (!!!) it seemed like a good time to go over some old stuff.  My students may not know that I take notes after class:

"JJ- (list of students) working on very minor stuff- triangle immobilizations; steady vs. staccato force; tendon lock; shearing from ground; mental vs. physical stops; controlling pace physical and verbal RTPV.  Caught a ridge hand to the eye. Had to do the whole psych FA thing on face contact. All good."

I like the balance- nuanced physical skills and critical physical distinctions; mind and body; tactics and techniques; finishing and prevention; emotion and socialization.

Triangle Immobilizations are a simple way to pull on a wrist, elbow, collar, hair or push/glide other contact points in such a way that the threat can't move either foot and sometimes can't twist his spine.
Steady vs. Staccato- a staccato attack, especially one in broken rhythm, upsets the OODA loop more than a steady rhythm; is harder to adjust to and can increase damage by utilizing it's own "bounce".
Tendon Locks are ways to position your own bones to make it very difficult for the threat to move you or a part of you.  Structure used for grappling defense.
Shearing from ground is just one way to break connection, a fast way.  Breaking connection with the ground cripples most people's fighting ability.
Mental and physical stops are largely about you. Your brain freezes and you body follows when you concentrate on the surface or the point of contact.  It decreases your ability to do damage or apply power in other ways.  The most common way of demonstrating is playing the childhood game of "Red Rover"  If the runner concentrates on the hands, he will usually be stopped.  If he concentrates on the horizon, he will either break through or drag the entire line, even if moving at a slower speed.
Controlling Pace... Physically, emotionally and even with your voice you can make someone else move faster or slower.  You will often see a good technician slow down in the middle of a match and his opponent will subconsciously slow down to match.  I've used this in real fights- along with the staccato explosion once the threat expected slow.
RTPV are the rate, tone, pitch and volume of voice.  Even without understanding a word of a mutual language you can set the tone for an interaction with good conscious skill at RTPV.  This is the kihon of verbal de-escalation.
Psych FA There must have been a rookie in the class.  Our society (all societies I know of) have serious tabus about adults touching other adults on the face.  That is why the slap is such a staple of domination- and why it is so often used by predators.  The socialization runs so deep that in MA classes, a rookie who accidentally makes face contact will stop, apologize and feel terrible. Once this tabu is brought into consciousness, you can train for it and even use it.

All good.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

"I heard..."

Talking with Vinnie in the locker room at the end of a wild, busy shift:
"This one big guy, the guy DC called on, for a second I thought he was going to get brave."
"Yeah," Vinnie said, "I heard that you even put down your coffee cup."
"Everyone knows, you put down the coffee cup, it's last chance."

Everyone?  One of the big motivators to applying for the desk job was a real fear that there was something wrong with me on a very deep level.  I'd found myself fully engaged with an amateur boxer (he got the first move at extremely close range) and as he literally bent over backwards before hitting the floor, I'd been composing the report in my mind, not really interested in what he was doing or what I was doing either.  Before that (long story) a local agency had chased a car thief into my neighborhood.  The pursuing officers had jumped the fence into my backyard, where I happened to be, wondering what the commotion was about.  I was staring down  five guns with excited, largely rookie officers behind them.  I was the only calm one at the scene.  Last example- yawning while a 300 pound biker threatened me.
If that sounds like bragging, it isn't.  A data point- at one time my adrenals were so burnt out that unless I was actively being shot at I was bored.

There's a level of adrenaline, a trickle, that tugs at the corner of your mouth and crinkles your eyes and makes you fell very alive, very present in the moment.  It took a year off to get that back, and it's great.  But in the course of the year I'd expected things to move on.  I'd expected that someone else would step into the ready position, someone else would just be expected to deal with the problem children.  No one else has stepped up (that's not true- we have many good officers who deal every day with situations that would make a clinical psychologist choke or that some Federal enforcement officer would be analyzing in books for decades), but no one has stepped up to the extent that I'm forgotten.

Have you ever heard of the Johari Window?  It's a psych concept where you imagine yourself as a square with a vertical bar and a horizontal bar.  Everything to the left of the vertical bar are the things you know about yourself.  To the right are the unknown things.  Above the horizontal bar are the things others know about you.  Below the bar are the things others don't know about you.
Part of skillful living is to try to move your vertical bar as far to the right as possible- to know everything you can about yourself.  The window implies that there are always things things that others know about you that you don't.  What others can see sometimes (often, if you don't really examine yourself) is more accurate than what we choose to believe about ourselves.
So I keep my ears open for little hints, like, "Everyone knows..."

Years ago, Mike pointed out the position I took when force was about to happen. That was okay with me because the position (which I call the 'modified Columbo') was a purely conscious choice... but he also pointed out a specific thing I do with my wrist just in the instant of 'go'.  that bothered me a little. Partially because it was unconscious (effective, believe me, but unconscious) but also because I'm not used to anyone else looking for minor battle tells.  That was when I was absolutely sure that Mike would be a superb team leader.

Invisible to me, but "everyone knows" even the inmates that haven't worked directly with me before. Put down the coffee cup and it's the last chance.
That's what I heard.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Incident Analysis

An interesting problem last night- inmate refusing an order.  Not an english speaker.  Signs (not symptoms- an important distinction, especially with a language barrier) of possible opiate withdrawals or a psych crisis or great fear.

The staff on hand didn't want to use force.  We generally avoid force whenever possible, but if there is no immediate threat to others (the inmate was successfully isolated) no active self-harm and it's probable that the deeper reasons are avolitional* we will go to great lengths to not hurt somebody.  Great lengths, in this case, involved waiting for me to clear another duty and try talking.

Last night it worked out very well and there is some stuff in there to analyze.

1) Reading the threat:  I invited the inmate to sit down immediately, which gave me a read on his understanding level (0 to english, okay to his native language) and general compliance level.  Entered the cell to get a read on his territoriality.  Stood at different distances and with different postures to examine his comfort zones and see if I could work my way into his 'intimate distance' without setting him off.  At one point, trying to rule out fear based on recent trauma, I stood too close and put a hand on his shoulder.  No excessive flinch response.  Note- all of this proximics stuff is extremely valuable but you must be superbly confidant in your close-range ability to defend yourself.

2) Comfort: I knocked before I went in.  Didn't wait for an invite, but it's a courtesy that many respond to even if they don't consciously register it.  Didn't wear gloves- to some inmates, they presage violence (I have put on gloves very ostentatiously in the past to let an inmate know that force was imminent and give them a chance to back down.  Most do.) Gloves can also become a focal point for schizophrenic or paranoid inmates.  My body language was extremely relaxed- a little slumped, rare direct eye contact, very casual, sipping a cup of coffee (a posture that also covers my center line, allows me to explode directly into the threat if necessary and takes full advantage of the design of the cell for obstacles and power generation). Voice low, slow, a little sleepy.

3) Back-up.  This could have been handled better.  The more officers involved in a back-up, the less likely for anyone to be hurt.  It seems counterintuitive, but if you really want to fight and I have six guys, I can probably get cuffs on you just by holding you down.  If I'm alone and you want to fight, I may have to break you.  When dealing with EDs (Emotionally Disturbed) I like my back-up out of sight.  Too many uniforms can trigger their paranoia and make my relaxed mode seem insincere. If available, you need B/U there (you CAN NOT do a hostage negotiation without a tactical response ready), but better not to be seen. A few wanted to watch and stayed in the inmate's line of sight.

4) Timing.  The third time into the cell was for the nurse.  I gloved up for that one.  In his home country, a child will be beaten for merely making direct eye contact with any law officer.  Each time I had entered the cell, he had expected physical violence.  I figured the third time he might be toying with the idea that I might be reluctant to use force and he might get brave.

5) Physical.  I touched the inmate four times.  Once was the early hand on the shoulder mentioned above.  I did the same thing later and looked in his eyes and very softly said, "I know you don't want me to hurt you. Please don't make me." It helped, (he did understand quite a bit) because it allowed him the chance to not fight as a favor to a nice guy (me) rather then out of fear. At one point he started to move suddenly and I put one hand on the back of his elbow ( a leverage point) and one on the wrist- our standard escort hold.  He tensed, testing my strength and whether it would provoke a reaction.  He got no reaction so he didn't escalate.  I did, however, warn him that moving fast would be a very bad idea.  The fourth time was holding his arm so the RN could take his blood pressure and trying to take a BP by palpation. No big deal, but the dynamic with a second person (small and untrained) in the room was different.  I had to be ready to knock him off his balance if he made any threatening move towards the nurse.  The leverage point at the back of the elbow again.

6) Remote control good-cop/bad-cop: You've all heard of it and it works.  One of my best partners had this perfect work persona as the Bitch Queen from Hell.  It was a delight working with her- if a new arrestee started working himself up to fight she would turn towards him with this indescribable look and I would put a hand on his arm and plead, "I can't control her when she's like this! Please, please don't say anything."  We almost never had a use of force.  Working close-custody and max, I got pretty good at playing GC/BC all by myself: most of the inmates would warn the others that I was a pretty nice guy, but not all there.  I could snap.  For the incident last night I got on the radio and told the OIC that we couldn't quite get there and the guy was demanding we use force and asked for his blessing.  The OIC said, "We have no choice." This was all done in the inmate's hearing.  I said, "You heard the man."  The inmate complied.

7) Detail. I noticed early on that whenever I started to leave the cell, the inmate would start to comply and then catch himself, consciously forcing himself to stop.  I don't know what this means and didn't figure out how to exploit it in the time we had.  With the language barrier (and because it appeared unconscious), it's unlikely that I'll ever figure it out, but I will watch for it in other incidents.  Just a data point.

8) Restoration of normality.  The primary officer decided to treat this as a probable psych issue instead of a disciplinary matter, so we took him to a module.  This got a little weird because every officer that didn't have anything specific to do was hanging around.  That's good- this was the most likely place to go bad in the jail- but for an ED inmate it can feed into paranoias or delusions.  One offered to carry the inmate's property.  It was natural, because when you've been waiting around you want to do something and he's a good officer who wants to be useful.  But it was important to make the move as normal as possible, so I had the inmate carry his own stuff.  It's also very important for EDs, especially as they are coming out of crisis, to get a feeling of control.  Something as simple as carrying their own things or cleaning up can give them a feeling of normality and control that they value very much.

*Avolitional.  Most criminals are extremely self-centered and manipulative.  They have done criminal acts because what they wanted was more important to them than their victim's rights or feelings or even lives.  EDs- truly terrified or mentally ill people sometimes display behavior or have motives that they can't control (it's actually rare- most can control their behavior most of the time, but not their motives). If it's not a choice (avolitional) we try to cut as much slack as we can; when it is a choice, especially if the criminal is counting on us being nice or taking time that is manipulative behavior that we work hard not to reward.