Tuesday, September 02, 2008


This is one of the Twilight Zone posts. There is some weird stuff that goes on in the world and sometimes you just notice it, but sometimes you get a glimpse at a pattern... and sometimes someone gives you a clue.

I'm reading a book- not that unusual. But this one puts forth the premise that the body can sense things that are bad for it (ranging from toxicity to malevolent thoughts to negative people) and one of the body's reactions to that is for the muscles to go weak. It's hitting very high on my BS meter, hence no title and no recommendation in the post.

But...but... there is a phenomenon and you can see it in martial arts and real combat and conflict and a lot of places. It is a basis of some of the 'martial magic' or 'kool-aide' drinking set- you know, the stuff that only works on students who have been trained for it to work or the "no-touch knockouts" that require a detailed explanation before they will work. They don't work on people who don't know they are supposed to pass out. Stuff like that. But there's also another level. It's still a trick, sort of, but the kind of trick or ability or force that you can use on people in real life and sometimes in real combat.

A lot of it feeds into the concept of zanshin. I don't want to explain and quibble over definitions. For my purposes zanshin is an effect of internalized experience. The effect shows itself in a determined focus and it can be sensed by other people.
  • Internalized experience: people who have been through a lot of shit and absorbed it are different than people who haven't.
  • Determined focus- a fuzzy way of saying that they have learned to act decisively and with everything they have and are.
  • All but the most oblivious people can tell who not to fuck with.

One example is the "no touch block" which works pretty reliably, but there are some people it doesn't work on and you can sense who they will be.

Another one is the body hardening techniques that Kris uses and demonstrates. They work pretty well and he can do them moving, which most of the "internal arts masters" I've had the opportunity to work with couldn't. But where he will let big strong people hit him, I notice that there are people he won't invite to test it. I'm not even sure that he is aware of it, but they fall into a certain pattern- big is fine. Strong is fine. Multiple black belts are fine- but the cold vicious and crazy, even when they are acting nice don't get the chance.

I have made people feel weak just by standing close to them and smiling. Grappled with people much bigger and stronger who couldn't seem to apply any of their strength.

I said this was twilight zone stuff, so here goes: the book speculates (actually states, unequivocally) that dangerous and toxic substances and even thoughts cause an immediate and measurable muscle weakness.

What if a person can develope the zanshin, the presence, to cause this weakness at will in another human being? (Or to strengthen them, it's all the same) What if these demonstrations of toughness are actually an ability to weaken someone else by becoming an elemental danger?

Don't get hung up on it. Any post that mentions the twilight zone is for wild speculation. So much could be explained by this- all the victims that said the attacker looked at them and they couldn't move; all the victims who struggled instead of fought. How fear makes you stronger most times, but in some interpersonal conflicts seem to make you weaker. My success at some stuff that, crunching the numbers, I had no right to walk out of (like today. Cripes.)

I've felt that weakness and know that if you fight anyway, you can recover. The weakness is an illusion that falls away if you can survive long enough to do it. Does it relate to permission? Does the human animal sense that this person is higher in the monkey hierarchy (read more zanshin) and it would upset the tribe to win?

This is at best a half-formed thought, but that's why I blog, to poke at stuff outside the narrow confines of a single brain.


Anonymous said...

Fear is weakening in a social situation -- it really only councils fight or flight, nothing at all more sophisticated. You can't use violence on the cool kids to get the approval of the cool kids. Running away won't get it either.

Also, unrelated (maybe):
Zanshin: "I see your bullshit. And I see that it goes all the way down."

Steve Perry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Perry said...

Sorry, that most recent post was so full of typos I had to repair it ...

Interesting line of thought. I haven't seen this book, though I have, from time to time, picked up books that dig into the mind/body connections, and the idea that there is a kind of wisdom that sometimes beats the brain to the punch.

I won't argue with your definition of zanshin, though I've always thought of it as the best integration of awarness and motion. I first came across the term playing with swords, and the example I recall is the practice of iai-jutsu's draw to the point where it becomes a near-reflex. Sword in the sheath, sword in the hand, blink, no sense of time passing.

As I understand the physiology of flight-or-flight syndrome, there are a number of responses, once it kicks in, and the three primary ways of dealing with a danger perceived are 1) Run 2) Fight or 3) Freeze.

All of these can be useful under the right circumstances, but the trick is somehow picking the one that works best for a specific threat.

If a bear walks across the path fifty yards ahead upwind, he might not see or smell you if you hold real still -- motion draws the attention of a predator.

If he sees you and heads your way, freezing is maybe not so good.

If you don't see something as a danger, it doesn't trip the cascade. If you aren't afraid, it doesn't manifest.

I can recall the first time I stepped into a sparring ring, long ago and far away, and that called up pretty much the same feeling that seeing a car run a red light and plow into mine did.

I haven't been in so many car wrecks that this reaction has dwindled. I have been into enough rings that it doesn't kick on there.

I would think that the notions of being able to either short-circuit the fear or get past it in a hurry to keep moving, as you point out, would both be very useful.

I dunno how you'd train to make people's knees go weak without making yourself appear to be a deadly threat. On some level, they'd have to sense it and accept it. There may be be postures and pheromones and such involved.

Be interesting to see some research done on this.

Kai Jones said...

We're all trained from birth in recognizing the subtleties of human interaction. Of course some get better at it than others, but mostly we can tell when someone doesn't respond to us or another situation the way we expect.

I wonder if the weak knees response happens when a person recognizes that they have failed to elicit a fear reaction from the other.

Anonymous said...

Posted by Rory: "my success at some stuff that, crunching the numbers, I had no right to walk out of (like today. Cripes.)"

Care to elaborate? "Cripes"? :)

BFG said...

I was wondering something similar to this when you mentioned your "sensei voice" a while ago. (first post, actually. Karma and Uncertainty.)

People carry themselves differently. When I think about stuff like this I generally just label it as the aura that a person has/is emitting, but rather than being some kind of metaphysical thing, I think it's body language and facial expression, and how those around you respond to you. Yours is going to be dependent on how your responding to others as well. If I carry myself like a thug, people's reaction changes. If someone who intimidates me comes past and I introvert, that changes how people will perceive me. If I appear less of a threat, someone who gave me a wide berth last time might just give me a distasteful look next time.

I imagine talents held by those with the Hitler/Jim Jones/etc personality would be similar - just an amazing ability to control people through what appears to be force of will.

When I was practicing for my medical interview's, my mum (who does a lot of interviewing for senior government positions) told me the make-or-break thing was to "fill the room." For the 45 minutes I needed to go in there and make them obsessed with me.

All in all, I think that made very little sense.

* * *

From what I understand from my lectures on behavior (and less than you, I imagine), the freeze reaction is there because if your being mauled by a tiger, fighting and fleeing both dramatically shorten your life expectancy, but if it thinks your dead it might leave you alone and come back later, giving you an opportunity to escape. I disagree with creids though, people do freeze in a social situation. Go into a club and see the people orbiting on the outside or at the bar, without the confidence (or BAC) to dance/start a conversation. A fight response is not necessarily violent, its just a confrontational (in the sense of taking something head on), a flight response is actively leaving the situation, a freeze is waiting to see what happens next. All can be terminal or perfect, depending on the situation.

Anonymous said...

Rambling Thoughts:

I think you need to factor in the concept of "authority" along with permission and zanshin.

As I sit her contemplating this (and not working) I think I'm going to have to try and clarify authority as "recognized authority." That is, the authority others know that you possess.*

In the terms that you are describing it here, zanshin and authority are modifiers to threat's permission to act.

If a co-worker belittles me in public, I'm going to rip that guy a new one. Maybe start up ze Monkey Dance, maybe not, but there WILL be a response.**

a: zanshin prohibits a response

If said co-worker is 6'6" and brags about busting heads on the weekend and about joining an MMA gym... not so much of a response on my part. This will most likely get physical. I may get hurt. I will lose my job.

Not worth it.

b: authority prohibits a response

If the co-worker is my boss and can fire me for any reason whatsoever... not so much of a response on my part. I will lose my job. (Assuming I like my job)

Not worth it.

c: a & b are negated

If the situation above were to escalate in a way that negates their zanshin or authority, i.e. persistent and/or escalating verbal harassment or the introduction of physical violence.

At this point, the things that hold you in check have been ground down. (Well, in my opinion at least. There's only so much stuff you can take for so long.)At that point, you have permission. In the first case, it'll most likely be a verbal escalation. In the second, "sweep the legs and put him face-down on the concrete, crying like a little bitch."

* I had to look up "possess." How sad is that?
** I'm not a LEO and I work in an office. The only shivs in the back I have to look out for are of office-politics kind.

Dave Chesser said...

There are people that train their intent to a level beyond the norm. These people do have an unsettling aura about them. They seem potentially dangerous and may even be so. The eyes can give it away.

Check out this clip:

Notice how he stares right through you.

This is what internal martial arts and meditation can add to the picture because they work directly (if you get the right teacher) with this material. However, it isn't a substitute for real training but rather a by product of real experience with the internal work.