Wednesday, March 12, 2008


A good talk with John Miglorie Monday got to one of the deep frustrations with trying to teach this material. The night before, at work on a very, very quiet night, one of the rookies said, "Yeah, but it can jump off in a second." It bothered me partially because he was a rookie, partially because he was exactly wrong and partially because he was exactly right, too.

Experienced officers are rarely surprised in a dorm setting. The mix of 75 inmates in an open room has a sound and a feel and you almost always sense when things are going bad well in advance. So the things that "jump off in a second" never really do. Most take days or hours for enmities and anger and indignation to build up... at the same time, these things can jump off in a second. The days and hours may have happened years ago on the street or in another prison. An experienced officer is rarely surprised, except when he is, and then he tends to be really surprised.

Someone breaks into your house in your sleep- do you make a noise to let them know the house is occupied? That would actually work for many of the low-level burglars. If, however, it was a home-invasion rape that's just calling the predator.

But what if you say you have a gun? Probably good, unless this was a process predator who had studied you and believed that you didn't. Lying from fear would encourage him. If you actually had a gun? Cool, except not announcing works better if you have to use it, announcing might work to prevent having to use it.

The assertive body language that discourages most predatory assaults might invite or even trigger a monkey dance.

The best research shows that survivors of vicious assaults fell back on an enraged and righteous mindset... but acting from anger instead of fear might negate a claim of self-defense (your lawyer will try to explain that anger was an expression of fear, the opposing attorney will argue that fear and anger are mutually exclusive and the jury will decide who had the most honest-looking haircut.)

I have to teach about the effects of adrenaline and the different types of freezes, but I rarely get them anymore. But I still can, and it is just as bad.

If you have trained to reflex so that the thug attacks and you parry and strike faster than thought and pull the punch a half inch away from his nose, he'll probably reconsider and back off and you will think you have done really well...except if the guy is experienced he will immediately know that you have just missed, pulling strikes is a reflex and you have thus been training to miss and he will bring a fight to you like nothing you have ever felt.

You will get cut in a knife defense. Believe it... but in my local circle of friends, including myself, we have twelve knife defenses and only one of us has even been scratched- and it was just a scratch. At the same time, it's a false sort, since the people who did get cut are far less likely to tell the story. (I could add two more data points, Jeff and Mauricio, but I don't have the details of number and severity of encounters.)

Action beats reaction. I live by this, but I've beaten it too, and so has everyone I know who survived a close-range knife ambush. Does the fact that I've done it mean my students can do it? It doesn't even necessarily mean that I can do it again.

That's a lot of hard truth that all boils down to uncertainty. Nothing works all the time, not even a .45 to the head. It is hard to teach confidence when the more you know, the less confident you feel. And for the record, the real job (and life for that matter) is to act anyway. You don't need confidence in a successful outcome to do the right thing (and that confidence would be false, anyway.) Every time you put your life on the line, it is an act of faith.


Kai Jones said...

I've been seeing your name a lot lately, and it freaks me out every time. Waaah!

Drew Rinella said...

Scary stuff.

Steve Perry said...

Okay, I understand the wisdom of insecurity. We walk on shifting sands, and one never knows when one's foot will come down in a hole. Stipulated.
But I have heard from wiser and more experienced people than I that chance favors the prepared mind; that proper-planning-prevents-
piss-poor-performance, and I know for a bet-the-farm-on-it fact that training and practicing in a skill makes you better at it, from swimming to playing the guitar to brain surgery. So, while there aren't any guarantees in a dust-up; that you don't know how it will end up, striving to make it go your way is better than putting your trust in Jesus (or Allah or Krishna) and hoping for the best.

I know you aren't saying it, but now and again, it comes across as, "Well, since you can't know how it is going to go down, and since your training may fail, why bother?"

It's an act of faith to get into your car and drive to the supermarket. You are trusting that those folks in the oncoming lane aren't intent on crossing the centerline and smashing head-on into you; that they won't run light, roll up on you from behind without braking, or any of a hundred other things. You drive defensively -- you don't assume the red light is a brick wall, but still, there is some level of faith involved ...

Yep, you never know. But because you don't, that's no reason not to try to shade the odds in your favor.

It sounds sometimes like you are trying to have it both ways, and I don't see how you can manage that.

Rory said...

Not at all, Steve, and this may be the heart of the disconnect that we have on this subject. Planning is important*. Training is important- the harder I train, the luckier I get.

But the primary skill, in my view, is an accurate assessment of the situation. Training and planning can both become traps if you are remembering and reacting to what is supposed to happen instead of what is happening.

Most martial arts instructors are relatively naive about violence. Perhaps it is a compensation mechanism for insecurity, but many seem to react by being sure, or dogmatic. This is passed on to their students: 'If you hit here, this WILL happen. People attack like this. No one does X...'. and, frankly, that's setting their students up for failure.

Train, study, plan... but be able to abandon all that in a heartbeat and improvise when your foot comes down in a hole.

Reality map analogy: If your map is too precious (and I see this in people who never doubt their training or instructor) when it no longer applies, the first instinct will be to reconcile reality with the map. That takes time and time is damage. Practice letting go of your map.

That's a skill, too. It takes practice and training and planning.

Jazz improv might be another analogy- lots of training and practice goes into it but it involves letting go and doing what works instead of what you were taught.

Makes a bit more sense now?

*But as a wise man said, "Plans are usually worthless, but planning is critical." Which could be a post all by itself

Steve Perry said...

"Jazz improv might be another analogy- lots of training and practice goes into it but it involves letting go and doing what works instead of what you were taught.

Makes a bit more sense now?"

Not really. You have to let go of your scales, but you absolutely have to use what you were taught. To get to the level where you can do this, you have to have put in a lot of hours getting your chops down, basics to ballistics. Your musicality is what drives you, but your technique is what gives you the ability to play your instrument.

Shift-on-the-fly, I understand. You don't go in thinking, Okay, he'll punch like this, and I'll counter and do this ..." I know that. But you have to have enough time ducking punches from all kinds of angles to be able to riff on them. You have to know your instrument, and what it will and won't be able to do.

Doesn't matter if you can assess the situation if you can't *do* anything about it. You need the tools.

What you do is not as important as what I do. My distance matters more -- what I can reach, what I can deliver. And if I'm not sure I can do it, if I don't have confidence in my ability, and a trust in my tools to be there when I need them, then I don't have anything.

This is not the same as pre-planning an attack or defense. It's not rote drilling of a combination whose time might never come.

I don't know what I'll do until it arises. I hope I will do something useful. I believe that my training offers the best way to achieve that hope. I could be wrong. I could freeze, fall down, or go blind. But I don't need to train those ...

You don't get to say, "Whoa, that's not the right punch!"
You have to be ready to deal with the *wrong* punch. I don't don't argue with any of that. Only thing is, if you want to play jazz with others, you have to have plenty of time woodshedding.

I have to believe that I am going to do whatever it takes to be the guy going home under his own steam, and the way to get that ... faith, is to train so that I'm confident I can do it.

Attitude is important. Attitude and skill are better. It's a simple numbers game. Two against one.

Kai Jones said...

I know you aren't saying it, but now and again, it comes across as, "Well, since you can't know how it is going to go down, and since your training may fail, why bother?"

That's a perception issue, Steve. I've never yet read that into our host's words; my take is "Train, because it's usually useful, but be prepared in case it fails, because sometimes it does." Relying on training to solve everything gives you a false confidence; understanding that even training can fail keeps your mind open so you can respond to situations you weren't trained for, or that don't fit your training.

Steve Perry said...

Tosh and piffle!

So, when does confidence become false? Are you ever allowed to feel as if you might have a handle on a confrontational situation? Never?

Isn't every act everywhere involving every other person every time always one of faith, because, you can never know for sure what they will do?

It doesn't sound as if confidence in your ability is allowed, since nobody can control anything, and you shouldn't feel as if you can. And yet, oddly, I am comfortable with my skills in many arenas, from public speaking to walking the dogs.

I fail to see how of all the things in life that may learned, only the possibility of an attack on the street is something about which you can't have anything but a prayer, that luck runs your way, because, you know, shit happens.

No matter how much you train, shit happens. You never know for sure. Fine, I can understand that.

But I'm talking about probabilities, not absolutes. And from where I sit, all those years of getting thumped in various classes gives me more wherewithal than not, and that some of that experience can be used -- if not to leap tall buildings, at least to hold my own.

I hear Rory saying that could become a trap, that I will fall into a pattern that will trip me up. But he doesn't know what I know, hell, I'm not even sure I know what I know.

In a common room with seventy-five violent felons? Nope, I wouldn't want to test it. But I don't have to deal with that, so it's moot for me.

I don't *know* anything for sure, come the shove. Because I have survived it once doesn't mean I can survive it again. Because the sun came up today, doesn't mean it will come tomorrow.

Every time I sit down to write a book, I don't know for sure if I can finish it. But I've have a fair amount of practice in writing, so I'm fairly confident I can.

There could be a fire-breathing dragon flying around over my house right now, I haven't looked, so, it's possible. If I went and looked, all I'd be able to report is that there wasn't one a minute ago, but who knows by the time I got back to my chair ... ?

I'm guessing the smart money wouldn't give you very good odds on a Pern denizen being out there.

Probabilities. I think it might be more useful to discuss those ...

BFG said...

"Action beats reaction. I live by this, but I've beaten it too, and so has everyone I know who survived a close-range knife ambush."

You've said previously that nothing is certain in a fight, so why is this as well? Its another assumption (like: you break his arm, he gives up; but with more sense), that holds true most of the time - but just not all the time; and by beating it you've shown your lack of attachment to the principle.

I'd imagine that in most cases there would be a reason that you hadn't acted previously - biding your time so to speak, because experience/instinct/intuition told you to wait for a better moment.

It's like the tests they give us at uni - if the daughter got breast cancer, what kind of relationship would that have with her mother (who had already had a mastectomy). Well, it could draw them together through shared experiences, and reinvigorate the learning of a mother-daughter relationship. Or it could damage it if the daughter blamed her mother for Bad Genes (even if the causes weren't genetic, and especially if they were), the mother could feel guilty...etc etc.

So which is it? Or is it more that any situation has infinitely more variables than anything you can write down (either as a scenario, or explain later), and that it comes down to experience & instinct & luck as to whether action, reaction or inaction beats whatever combinations in whatever moment. I don't know. Interesting stuff though.