Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Synergy is a fun concept.  Sometimes the forces of the cosmos come together and linked things happen that could not have happened by random chance.  Coincidence takes on a feeling of intention.

Whatever.  The human mind is a fun toy and works hard every day to find patterns and make sense.  With tens of thousands of occurrences every day that touch your life in some way, is it any wonder that you will naturally focus on the five that seem to fit together?  More of a wonder, perhaps, that things that feel like synergy don't occur more often... but they do, of course. They just don't count unless you notice them.

Your mind can be set, also.  You can choose to look for blue things and your eyes will pick them up.  When you buy a new car you are often surprised by the number of cars of the same make, model, and color that you see on your commute. Surely there weren't that many yesterday... but there were, you just didn't have a reason to notice them.  In the same way, when you decide "No more of this! I'm looking for that!"  That will suddenly appear everywhere.

So I don't need synergy to explain things... but sometimes it feels good to feel special.  In that crazy busy week with the book going to new (to me) places- final edits, a talk with the publicist-and other things squeezed in (which I may not be able to talk about for a bit) two contacts out of the blue:

1) Been asked to write a peer-reviewed article for a martial encyclopedia and
2) Something wacky involving Hollywood. Someone in Colorado evidently thinks I'm pretty.

The first is solid.  The second I seriously doubt that I have the time, but it is intriguing as hell.  It would be very cool to talk to people from that world and see if they are as completely out of touch with the real world as their products tend to be.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Chaos Addiction

Chaos is addictive on a lot of levels. Once you get past the fear and uncertainty it can be kind of fun. The adrenaline rush of surviving, of being the one who walks away, is simultaneously intoxicating and serene and profound. There are few things that give as powerful a sense of accomplishment as going into a situation of deep and dangerous chaos and making it safe and right. There is nothing that makes you feel as special as deliberately advancing on a situation that everyone else is running away from.

Dealing successfully with chaos strokes your ego, increases your awareness, deepens you appreciation of everything and gives a trickle or a dump of neurotransmitters that feel pretty nice. Is there any wonder that there are adrenaline junkies out there?

The downside, of course is the nature of chaos. There is no scalar: "I am 9 units effective and this problem is 8 units bad, therefore I will win." Easy problems or at least things that should have been easy go sideways. You might be a 'ten' but I would reliably bet that you have some skills that are much lower, and you don't get to pick what skills you might need.  If you play the game long enough and hard enough, you will lose.

(And here's the essence of the Chaos Game: potential infinite variety of problem faced by a nearly infinitely complex person. At one level, if skills match problem, fine. But at another level humans can develop skills in extrapolation: "I don't know jack about X, but I'm really good at Z and it's only two letters away. Can I use my Z skill for the X problem? How?" Even though your skills are finite, your ability to play with and mesh and rethink those skills approaches infinity.)

And that skill- adaptability and extrapolation- gets really addictive.  You start to see problems in a different and clearer way. (There is a trap there, because almost every bad decision comes from someone who thought that they were seeing things more clearly than others.)  When you see problems in this way you can solve things in a way that looks effortless.  It feels effortless too  and that is part of the addiction.  It can spiral.  There is a fine line between feeling special and feeling like an outsider.

Some very successful people glitch on that feeling and meld back into the herd or burn out.  Some revel in it, and that can become another reinforcement.

Addiction has some bad connotations in our society.  Rightly so IMO- dependance on anything, whether a drug, a person, or a government program is giving up a piece of your autonomy, what Kai calls agency.  Anything you need from another person, any responsibility for yourself that you voluntarily relinquish is a piece of your soul that you are selling.

Chaos addiction differs because you can't delegate it.  The deeper you go the more you must rely on yourself.  It pushes you to be better.  Depending on the level and type of chaos it forces you to focus and to relax; to be strong and determined and also flexible.  It forces you not only to see your mistakes and weaknesses but to face them and fix them.

In other ways, though, chaos doesn't differ from other addictions.  Like anything else, the better you get at something the more challenging the things you try to take on just like a drug it can take more and more to get the same effect.  It can be hard on you mentally and physically: there are striking similarities between a thoroughly burned-out cop or paramedic and an old alky.  And you can overdose.  Bite off more than you can chew or get surprised when that level three problem goes sideways and it can be your body laying in the alley with half a face missing.

There are other pathologies here: 
  • It is rarer than you would expect, but some few create problems so that they can fix them.  This almost always poisons the agency where they work. 
  • People who fix problems often deal with peaceful times poorly.  Boredom can mimic depression. Alcoholism rates, I was once told, are the highest in cultures with a warrior ethos that are forced into peacetime.
  • Complacency- the one I most battle with- Once you get really good at adaptability/extrapolation it becomes very tempting not to do your homework.  There have been incidents when I had time to research or plan and just walked in trusting I could "wing it".  Successful so far and I never do it when others might get hurt (he tells himself self-righteously, but there is extreme hubris in the presumption that I could know how far the chaos could ripple).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Trying to Write

It has literally been a crush for the last week. Writing has happened in snatches while waiting for other things. Some of those things might be serious and maybe they'll be written about here, maybe not.

Posts started and not finished include one on knowing your audience when teaching; one on progress with the book and one on how two very different things can get to something that looks like the same place- very specific things about how either nature or nurture, either alone can make a sociopath... and how those two kinds of sociopaths differ and how what might change one won't change the other. The two-way action concept and the convergent evolution concepts are powerful, if I can just keep from going off on tangents and stick to the idea.

So, now in the space after an interview and before work (and I'll try to cram a library run and a few more chores in there) I'll finally eat something and have some coffee and post this. While working on an expanded author's bio for the book. I'm thinking of doing it in the form of a personal ad:

"MWM H/W proportionate seeks adventure, new knowledge and insight. Already found true love. I enjoy long sword fights on the beach, spectacular sunsets in my opponents eyes and good scotch."

More to follow.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Busy Man

Galleys are in and very quickly comes a message that there will be one more trade of copies with the plan that the manuscript will be at the printer on Tuesday- so an entire review, last chances and BOOM. Done. Except for all the things that aren't.

Simultaneously I was tasked to design an eight-hour training day for dealing with the mentally ill. I got the instructions a while ago and wrote/designed what I needed to do and delegated the parts I wasn't qualified to write: psychotropic medications; the continuum of care; a catalog of community resources, stuff like that.

As it got close to crunch time, none of the delegatees came through. None. Zero percent. As the date approached, I called them on it. The answer was universal- they didn't believe that the program had management support, that it would help, that the students cared-- they wanted to bag it. Conscious or not, the inactivity was a passive-aggressive attempt to torpedo the program.

(Yes, people. In any large political organization you can expect management to be out of touch. It is our job to hold it together anyway. I know you're tired. I'm tired too. But we hold it together. Us. No matter how short-sighted or even stupid the directives, we hold things together. We make it work. The people who make the bad decisions won't pay for the consequences. We will, either us or the people we are sworn to protect. So we make it work, every day. Just do it.)

They said they would get it done, but they used the same words as the first time. I'm not qualified to write the stuff we needed. Crisis communication? Oh, yeah. Quick and dirty diagnosis? Limits of physical skills? All that. But not the stuff we needed.

So I called in the big guns. I think I've disagreed with and gone head to head with Capt. A more than anyone else at his rank in the agency. But for years I've admired his ability to deal with problem people (he actually has more trouble with motivated self-starters). I called him. He called a meeting.

It was an education to watch him work. He never even entertained 'why' or 'if' but jumped right to 'how'. The very people that were in full rebellion with me were assigned tasks and solving problems before they even remembered that they were supposed to be resistant to the idea. The captain handled it masterfully. Within a few hours, handouts and contact numbers started appearing in my email...

Which gives me two days to design a student packet, polish two classes, create a PowerPoint and get it all vetted and approved. While working on the galleys. And teach a First Aid class. Maybe get some writing done. A workout would be nice. Start learning a language...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Galley Slave

Rhino has made the magical transition from manuscript to book.  That's cool. Received the galleys yesterday.  This is definitely one of the neat "new author" feelings.  It's a PDF file and it doesn't have the weight of a book, but it has the look.  

For the next week (in my copious spare time) I'll be going over it, looking for changes I'm unhappy with or things that need to be clarified.  Books are scary in a way, because they are moments frozen in time.  This book is what I thought on these subjects in 1993-95.  There have been a lot of lessons since then, some entirely new ways to see things.  Growth is good but at first glance, I think the book is fine.  Growth also creates distance and Rhino (Published title will be Meditations on Violence) is far more accessible than a 2008 version would be.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Sometimes people die.  Actually, everybody dies- but that's not the point.  Sometimes people die and you go over the situation examining decisions and what-if's and sometimes you find the place where something different might have saved a life.  Sometimes that is valid and sometimes it is NOT.  Sometimes the examination is a serious debriefing, professionals trying to learn lessons and find a better way to do a risky job.  Often it is one or more amateurs with an agenda trying to place blame... (and that's not fair. The real mechanism, often, is that someone who they love brought on his own deaths through his own actions... and that's too much, too much love and anger, too much to feel for one dead person. If they can remove at least the little piece about his responsibility for his own death maybe they will sleep better at night.  Maybe they can forgive the dead for dying if they can remove the need to forgive them for what lead to the death.) The amateurs will go to unbelievable lengths of twisted logic to believe that they have found a way.

There was a recent news article that enraged me, and maybe I will dissect it later- but Dave asked about the comment that sometimes people die no matter how hard you try.  A long time ago I mentioned without following it up that if a threat cannot feel pain, it almost guarantees a serious injury.  Those are all connected.

Dave was concerned that it might be personal to talk about.  Less for me, but I have restrictions based on confidences and other things, so this post will probably seem more oblique than most.

The force is over when the threat decides it is over.  That simple. Humans almost always give up.  Unless every long bone in the body is broken or the Central Nervous System is shut down the human machine is still capable of fighting.  The whole point of pain compliance (joint locks, pressure points and Taser) is to deliver enough pain that the threat decides to quit.  The next step above that does damage, but it takes a truly horrific amount of damage to make it impossible for a human to keep fighting.  It is some damage + a fear of more damage that makes the threat quit fighting.  The threat quits because of the fear. They quit psychologically.

The next step above this is lethal force. If it is imperative to stop the threat and damaging force has failed, that may indicate lethal force (that is not legal advice).

More often than not (and in almost every case that has made the papers lately and locally) though the officers could justify lethal force, they try to handle the situation at a lower level. Often a much lower level.  One example is "the swarm" where as many officers as they can get pile on the threat.  The idea is to tire the threat out. Use friction and body weight to cause an exhaustion that will do what pain and fear failed to do.  It is dangerous as hell. If you are trying to wrestle and the other guy is biting, clawing, blinding and may have a weapon, it sucks... and I know officers who have been permanently injured trying hard NOT to injure a threat.  Even if the threat doesn't have a weapon all the officers do, and the threat could work one out of a holster and turn it into a bloodbath just by chance.  So it is dangerous. It would be far safer and often justifiable to stand back and use firearms, but most officers are so reluctant to kill that they try this technique.

Usually it works.

Sometimes (look for "excited delirium") it doesn't.  Excited delirium is a condition that most officers are familiar with, but it is hard to pin down exactly what it is or what causes it.  It usually follows heavy stimulant use (PCP or cocaine) but sometimes not.  Often the threat has a history of severe psychiatric disorders, but sometimes not.  Sometimes it is just rage taken to a point that is inhuman.  The weirdest part, to me, is that some of the liver temperatures taken at autopsy, well after death have been higher than the body can withstand without brain damage, so there is something physiological going on.

What presents (and none of these are 100%): is someone who often strips naked, sometimes howls like an animal, attacks almost anything that moves and likes to break glass.  They don't respond to pain.  They fight when any normal human would long have collapsed into a heap.  They shrug off bullet wounds that are clearly lethal.  The ones I have dealt with have gone relatively well, but close friends have been involved in instances where a relatively small threat was literally throwing (in one case eight, in another five) officers around.

And that's the thing, Dave.  Because sometimes the threat just suddenly quits and you get handcuffs on and start to take a breath and realize that he isn't breathing.  He didn't give up, his heart gave out.

At great personal risk the officers addressed the threat at a lower level of force than they could have justified and he died anyway.  In the end, to the amateur debriefers, it's all the same.  If they hadn't fought so long and so hard, the poor boy would have lived.  They should have done something else.  What?  Taser?  But all of the cool tools that come under fire- Taser, VNRs (Vascular Neck Restraints, the fancy word for a hadaka jime), ankle to hand restraints, even OC tend to be used more often when you need the edge.  You need the edge most of all with excited delirium.  As seen from the liver temperature, some of the people in ED are on the fast track to death or brain damage anyway. 

 Here's the thing- it's possible that a certain percentage of these cases would die anyway, even if they never came in contact with an officer.  A rough analysis shows that the percentage who die in custody hasn't really changed with the LVNR and when the LVNR was removed from many agencies; when hog-tying was common and when it was discontinued; when the Taser and OC were introduced.

There's an international study working on in-custody deaths right now.  It may be years before they have solid numbers, but then we may have an answer.  Until then, the amateurs with an agenda will blame whatever tool or tactic was used, completely ignoring the fact that the officers had no choice about getting involved and risked their lives trying not to use deadly force.

Monday, April 07, 2008


My wife worries about me when I'm alone.  I rarely sleep ( being around people is about the only thing that seems to make me tired. With complete solitude I can go on 1-4 hours sleep every 26- and that's weird in itself because it seems that my natural sleep cycle is set to a 26 hour day). I don't eat much or often, just when I'm both hungry and not absorbed in something else, which makes perfect sense to me, but since it comes out to eating once every other day (plus whatever I graze as I hike along) she worries.

Then she finds out what I am eating (currently a ramen noodle soup with leftover ham and kangaroo) and worries more.

These tendencies don't come out much around people.  Left to myself I eat to refuel or for fun, and cooking is more fun than eating.  Sleep is a form of time travel for when there is nothing else to do.  Around people, it's different.  There are meal times, and people seem to get seriously grumpy if the schedule is off by much.  Social eating- which I understand, hospitality was a big piece of my family's moral culture- but people over time do notice if you don't eat and act concerned, which leads to caring conversation, which makes me tired.  Or they act hurt if they notice you aren't eating with them.  So I eat and I smile.

Conversation for conversation's sake is a grind. When there is something to talk about, I enjoy conversation.  Even debate and arguing, but especially exploring someone else's mind: What do you think?  What do you believe? Why? How does that affect this?  But conversation just for it's own sake, just for bonding is an effort and makes me tired.  If I spend time in your presence, I already like you, OK?  There is no need for mutual babbling to confirm the fact. C'mon.

Half a day alone today and I could feel the psychic human gunk of a very long week flushing away.  That's good. Now I'm going to eat my kangaroo (seriously, how could you have an opportunity to eat 'roo and turn it down?)

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Mr. Rubber, Meet Mr. Road

Before I came to this job, I'd studied a fair number of things in a fair number of styles. I'd sparred a lot and loved it and excelled at it: everything from non-contact kumite to full; boxing; kick boxing; grappling (mostly under judo rules); no rules (with and without weapons)...

(One caveat- I have never trained both full contact and no holds barred at the same time. I have serious doubts about anyone who claims that they have. To put it in perspective when I was training true 'no holds barred' in classical jujutsu at light contact I averaged one broken bone and two dislocations a year. There is no way I could have gone a week with anyone who was decent without suffering- or inflicting- a crippling injury.)

Many years ago I asked a karate instructor why we practiced kata and kihon when we didn’t use any of the moves in sparring. It wasn’t anything like 'fighting'. He didn’t have a good answer.
Four years later after wrestling with a street fighter under a roulette table in a casino I drew a shaky breath and said, “Shit, that wasn’t anything like sparring!”

The casino security gig lasted a little over a year before I went back to college. I learned a little about criminals, a lot about intimidation and presence and talking people down. There were only a handful of major fights. The big lesson was that someone who really knew what he was doing could pull off things that a hot young martial artist couldn’t make work.

College and military after that, and then the Job. Corrections. Direct supervision- constant face to face contact with the inmates. No weapons, always outnumbered and expected to maintain control. I went six months without my first fight, and then had three in a week.

This last post in the series is kind of a cheat, because most of this blog is really about those lessons. The things I learned and am still learning. The things I thought I knew that didn’t hold up. The things I still hear all the time that are the martial equivalents of talismans and wishful thinking- or equally incorrect the dire predictions and certainties.

Some of those:
• I had always believed that there was always a way to avoid force. I hadn’t been na├»ve, I knew that there wasn’t always time to find the way, but I believed it existed. It wasn’t until I met two kinds of people that this faded.
• The people who should be on the front lines of training information were largely ignorant of some of the basic elements of survival fighting.
• I’ve been the rookie who almost got killed because I tried to rely on “academy approved” technique. I did what I had to do to win and learned a lot about skill and cognition under stress.
• Sometimes people die, no matter how hard you try to not hurt them.
• There are physiological and psychological conditions that negate everything you know about what X will do to a human.
• Dynamic and live trainings are a far cry from chaos.
• What you don’t know can hurt you.
• What you think you know that is wrong is worse.
• Doing things efficiently is easier than doing them inefficiently and efficiency is situational.
• Fight to the goal- this means you have to be taught to see various goals, pick the right one and work towards that. Fighting to run is different than fighting to stay and you can’t do both.
• People are rarely beaten. They give up.
• The more levels (tactical, physical, social, psychological…) you can work on the better you are.
• A short fuse can do more damage by surprise than skill (one of the most dangerous people I know is not dangerous because of his skill, but because the triggers that will explode him into violence are so easy to hit that he would explode long before I was even considering the threat.)
• The lessons from a raid or entry do not translate into self-defense and counter-assault.
• The lessons from dueling don’t apply to either (this is a hard one, because people, including me, become so enamored of their fighting skill… but it is nothing like surviving an assault, so totally unrelated that it is hard to put into words.)
• There are rules in a street fight, subconscious rules that can trip you up if you don’t see them and you can exploit if you do.

This entire post is a cheat, as my lovely wife pointed out. Each of these lessons has one (or dozens) of stories behind them. It is unfair to encapsulate it as bullet points in a single post, to treat it like a 'thing that is true'. But this isn’t about the bullet points, this is about the process: the person I was when I began this journey; the martial artist I was trained and forged into; and now the officer that the environment produced. The collision of three worlds, in a way.

I’ve seen a lot of different fights and a lot of different types of sparring, but it all boils down to that insight shaking and out of breath under a roulette table.