Friday, January 30, 2009

Errata of My Day

I do rear and left flank security as the small convoy tears through city streets and into the wasteland. The spotter is good, very good. So are the drivers.  Ravines and bare mountains, water-cut gulches, a unique (to me at least) rock formation called 'Dragon back'. A border is crossed and things change, physically change- the only difference is who lives on which side of an imaginary line and how they feel about the land and themselves.

K makes me write and I get rolling and voila something is put into words. Something important. Something that has shattered lives and angered people for decades. I'd had the shadow of the idea but for the first time, maybe, I can help the hurt and angry people understand it. Will it help them heal? Help them forgive? I hope so.

The writing is part of something bigger, for publication, so I can't share it here. I hate it when people play "Secret Squirrel Shit" with me and I apologize for doing it to you, but I'm pumped and had to share as much as I could.

A contract in e-mail today for a pair of encyclopedia articles. It is flattering, but the contract...whew. Bad.  I don't need to publish, not for money, not for ego. And the two articles are good enough to sell elsewhere.

I love running and I hate it. A burn-out sprint until you can taste blood in your throat feels awesome and sucks at the same time. I thought I found a place to run stairs but... let's just say that climbing these stairs (2x4's with a single wobbly hand rail) take more concentration than is compatible with aerobic conditioning. The gym when I get there is dark and empty. Mine, all mine! Bwahahahah!

In a single gesture I knew everything about the new team I need to know. They will be awesome. It already feels like home (except for the lack of my perfect wife, children, dogs and cats). But very comfortable.

Graffiti left by some soldier in a bathroom in an airport in a dry and sandy country: "Your wife said 'hi'. I left you a six-pack in the fridge." It tickled me.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Zombies and Red Kryptonite

One of my enduring fantasies is the Zombie Apocalypse scenario. The dead walk the earth: rotting, shambling hordes of cannibalistic undead and only the brave, intelligent and well-armed have a chance…

The power in this fantasy is very simple and very powerful- you get to kill people without any of the guilt or psychic damage that a healthy person feels from actually killing people. The idea resonates because we know what a huge release it would be. As  children, we all threw tantrums, kicking and screaming, sometimes breaking and hurting anything we were strong enough to hurt or break. This comes out in early childhood, when we are too physically weak to be much danger to the tribe, and it must be dealt with in childhood, too.  But we have all felt it and we know that it feels good to rage, to scream because the world is not all about us, to destroy not just the things that endanger us or hurt us, but the things that annoy us, or even just the things that we can destroy purely as an expression of power.

We walk away from this, most of us, as adults.  There are consequences to giving vent to rage. The world is not all about us, and it shouldn’t be. It couldn’t be all about me and all about you too. The math doesn’t work.

Same with the idea of Red Kryptonite. A substance that removes all feelings of guilt and right/wrong and shame. You do what you feel like because you feel like it. This is the way that we are born (inner child therapy? My perfectly undamaged inner child is a sociopath and so is yours). As we grow, we learn that there is a cost to it. You can’t use and abuse anyone you want and keep friends. There isn’t enough trust. There are potential legal and financial and health risks (act like an ass for long enough in the right places and you WILL get hurt.)

That’s only half of it, because each of those problems are centered on the self. “I don’t do bad things because I might get in trouble,” is still all about me.  The world is not all about you.

A big part of growing up is coming to understand that everything gets paid for, just maybe not by you.  Giving vent to a murderous rage or even a justified shooting in fiction pretty much ends there. Rarely does it go into the funeral and the grieving. Almost never to how the orphans adjust, trying to explain a world where someone they love could be brutally erased or how a widow with children must balance both grief and the need for enough money to stay alive.

Some authors go into the shooter's head, a little, with lip service to the nightmares and the flashbacks. In real life, one person may have the nightmares, but someone else has to hold them through the night. Some one else was in physical danger during the flashbacks. Someone else, someone they loved, often watched a shooter slip away into a mental world that couldn’t be shared.

Doing whatever you want is fun. It is. It just might leave a trail of broken hearts and broken people, the more broken the closer they are to you.

There was a fairly intense time when I was working with some very bad people. Bad enough that almost everyone would agree that the world would be a much better, safer place without them. In essence, I was spending eight to sixteen hours a day not killing people who could have used some killing. After shift, many mornings, I would go home and plug in a video game and shoot CGI people.

It was the same fantasy, but with another level. Even if 100% of the people agreed that these violent people needed to be killed and it would make a better place, having someone in uniform do it, without the sanction of courts, would be far worse, a much higher price to pay. The betrayal of the way the world should work would be far more damaging than the benefit of what amounts to removing a public health risk.

The things that would satisfy a child are rarely what an adult needs to do.

So here’s a line (and apply it to politics to see why I am so disgusted with both parties): children are okay with other people paying for their mistakes or for their desires. Children feel it to be a great outrage and injustice to be expected or even demanded to pay their own prices. The most immature of them don’t recognize that there is a price at all, or pretend that it is really a benefit (from “giving me money is good for your soul” to “every dollar taken by the government in taxes puts (magically?) $1.20-$1.50 into the economy” to giving failures billions of dollars so that they can continue to fail in exactly the same way. Insanity? Or simply childishness?).

Red kryptonite is a simple choice. I love the people who would have to pay the price too much to indulge.

“…I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep…”- Robert Frost

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Can't do full disclosure at this time, so just an update:
Things will be in flux for awhile.
Internet access should be fine but time will be limited.
I have to start learning another language.
Very cool, this world of mine.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Deal With Chiron

...and the thing about horses. Dr. Kevin likes horses. A lot. More importantly, he's doing some good work with them, healing some people who need something less monkey-minded than a human to set things right.  Good and important works.

I don't like horses. They're beautiful and fast and powerful and all that, I see that, but so is an elk or an antelope or damn near any other large prey species. So I don't dislike horses. They just don't impress me much.

I was raised on a ranch (cue the fade out and flashback music)... or, technically more of a farm. Or a survivalist compound. And I did ranchwork when I was old enough to work. Horses were tools. But, unless you were doing competitive rodeo, they were extremely expensive, high maintenance tools. Not only could a pickup carry more, but over the years it was cheaper to run. The places a pick-up couldn't go? In rough country I was faster and more endurant than a horse. I'm sure the horse could have gone faster, but in that country no rider would let it for fear of the animal breaking a leg.

I had actually thought the horse was kind of a compromise- if you didn't have a teen-aged boy who liked broken country running and a pickup, a horse was probably your best option.

Then one day, my boss and I and a friend had to go way up in the hills to mend some fence. The friend brought mules.  I had always been a little iffy on the difference between mules, donkeys and burros. These mules were big animals. And strong. They carried almost twice as much as a horse the same size. They weren't afraid to run on rough country. And they were smart enough that they responded to voice commands. (Some horses can be trained to voice also, indicating that an extraordinary horse is almost as smart as an average mule.) Better than a horse in every way that mattered to me.  14 year old girls, and the men who want to be them, feel differently, of course. ;)

So Kevin's ribbing me a little on the horse thing, especially with regards to Chiron the centaur. That's his name at the top of this page.  Horses are funny. This is serious.

I don't remember when it hit. I know it was before Roger's thing. I was teaching a close quarters course for my tactical team at the old agency and realized that I wasn't teaching martial artists. These guys weren't hobbyists. And I wasn't teaching self-defense.  I wasn't teaching people how to protect and defend their loved ones.

These were men and who would risk their lives, did risk their lives almost every day for people they didn't even know. They would go hand to hand against odds to save someone they didn't even like. If it came down to it and it wasn't just a stupid gesture but might actually work, they would give their lives.  They walked into this of their own accord.  Every morning they strapped on a gun and kissed the wife or husband good-bye, hugged the kids and went out to make sure bad stuff didn't happen.

I was training people who put it all on the line- and they didn't do it for their best interests or in a way that directly protected the people they love or even people they knew. They just did it. Because it was the right thing to do.  The motto of Spetznaz Team Alpha: "If not me, then who?"

There's no other word. I was training heroes.  In all of history and myth, Chiron is the one who resonates most with that.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Unconditional Positive Regard

One of my Psychology Professors espoused that all humans are looking for “unconditional positive regard”. They seek someone who will look at them (regard) and like them (positive) no matter what they have done or are doing (unconditional).  I never really had much use for the concept.

I’ve never wanted unconditional love. Whatever love I had I needed to be worthy of. I did not want a gift of 'unearned grace', a dispensation from heaven. I wanted someone to love me for what I am, not despite what I am. Someone who loved a me that they saw clearly.

Same with friendship. I like to spend time with impressive people. Strong, intelligent, accomplished people. I also want them to feel that they are spending, not wasting, their time with me. It’s a great incentive to stay interesting. To work to become what I admire.

It’s one of the reasons that I so value the deeply honest friends, the ones that will tell me when I am full of shit or heading down the wrong path or playing with matches in the powder shed.  If someone I admire sees me that clearly and chooses to stick around, it’s a very good sign.

Unconditional? I trust the people who I love never to cross these lines, but there are behaviors that deserve high-velocity trans-cortical lead therapy regardless of history or blood ties. My love is deep, but there is a condition never to turn evil. Or even really, really stupid. I have limits.

When a Psych Prof says ‘everybody’ and I know damn well it doesn’t apply to me, that really doesn’t mean much. By this time, so much of my emotional wiring is home-built after-market that it’s not funny. So I’ll consider it a ‘most people’ thing and tread lightly.

But, lately, a couple of things have come up in different places…

Absurd, silly things. The kind of things that I am confident if they were just pointed out one could only laugh… but maybe not.  Both of the things I am thinking about were triggered as defense mechanisms. Reflexive responses to something I said, nothing more, but so impossibly absurd that I am afraid that pointing them out would trigger a deeper defense mechanism.

One of my assumptions (this might be a little complex) is that if someone pulls out a ridiculous explanation, something their adult mind couldn’t possibly support, in order to defend a position, both the position and the explanation were implanted very early and very deep. If you push it, especially if there is no real room to run, you are directly attacking identity. The backlash can be harsh. (No, not danger: just anger and hurt and all that emotional sludge that makes me tired.)

For the people intent on finding “unconditional positive regard” it’s probably a no-brainer. Avoid hurting feelings, pretend not to even notice contradictory beliefs. Smile and move on.  Also for the very few people who genuinely have their identity centered around understanding themselves- pointing out contradictions and absurdities to those few is a rare gift. Not always pleasant, but they are usually grateful when the wounds heal.

But for many people, maybe most, the things that trigger a reflexive defense are some of the deepest things about who they are. Stuff they will refuse to see and deny, sometimes to the point of death or beyond.  A wise friend once said that the things you can’t see are the ones that control you the most.

It’s just a data point, something to let go, I think. I like these people the way they are. There is no obligation to fix something that no one else may consider broken.

I guess that’s my version of positive regard.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sweating Koolaid

Writing about koolaid and martial arts cults had me all set to go off on a rant.  I do know, personally and by reputation, people that I consider absolute frauds in the martial arts and training communities. Instructors who have verifiably lied about their past or changed their personal stories to reflect changes in research. People who claim ranks and experiences that never happened.  People who were unsatisfied with the 'highest possible rank' and bought or created or manufactured yet a higher rank than the 'highest possible'. I also know people who I like who are absolutely committed to these frauds.
And some of those frauds are damned good teachers and/or teaching something pretty valuable.
I really wish stuff could be all bad or all good.
Often, these frauds are protected by a group (self-appointed in one type of cult, designated in another) who try to quell any dissent or discredit any other point of view.
Here's one of the things- if you can point at a leader and a group it is fairly easy to say, 'they drank the koolaid. That's a cult.'  So I was all set to rant about the teachers that feed on this, the teachers that let this happen. Justifiable. The instructors like that are pukes and it does piss me off... but sometimes the instructor has nothing to do with it. Rabid fanboys on the internet display the exact same behavior and you know damn well that they have never rolled with their MMA hero or been in a gunfight alongside their designated infallible handgun guru.
Maybe I'll still rant about those instructors someday, but that would entail going very deep into what teaching means to me.  Not yet.
Sometimes the students make their own koolaid. 
When you enter into a student relationship, you expect the instructor to have knowledge, at least, and maybe even answers. So you enter predisposed to believe.  If the instructor is good, and the definition of good is heavily reliant on the students previous knowledge (or ignorance) and experience, you get impressed. It is a very small step from there to dropping your critical reasoning. It becomes a point of epistemology, the instructor becomes one of the sources that you accept without fact checking, just like some people believe CNN or their priests or their horoscopes or Scientific American.
That, too, can be okay. It crosses the koolaid line when the student decides that the instructor's words are more real than reality. When what you train contradicts the world but the students agree that the training is right. Some students make their own koolaid, even if the instructor had no intention and would happily correct himself.
There's another dynamic that happens, too. Sometimes a good instructor, a damn good instructor can make almost anyone drop their critical faculties. In the book I talked about one "charismatic young instructor" who had gotten a veteran jail fighter to completely forget what he already knew.  That instructor was Kevin Jackson, for what it's worth. Kevin didn't teach anything wrong and I give him the highest accolade in martial arts that I know- he once taught a knife defense class that wasn't stupid. But one of the fighters (not sparrers, not martial artists but fighters) that I respect most in all the world (That's you, Bill K.) was willing to go with Kevin's instruction without even considering his own experience.
I've rolled with some guy named Renner. I don't know if he is as good as his dad, but that young man was good. He was so good that he got an entire room of cops to absolutely believe that techniques they would never be able to pull off in body armor and a belt full of weapons (and some of which were pretty clear violations of force level common sense) were the best things ever. He absolutely believed that his stuff was the best, but Renner never discouraged questions, never did an appeal to authority, never made any claims that in any way could be interpreted as cultish behavior... but he inspired some very creepy cult-like behavior. He was that skilled. It was like he sweats koolaid.
How far does that go?  Is everything koolaid to someone? The better one teaches, does that just give higher quality students a chance to drink a more rarified flavor of koolaid?

Is there any caveat or warning strong enough that what I say won't become kooliad to someone? When I say "Never, ever delegate responsibility for your own safety. Never, ever, ever take the word of some self-appointed 'expert' over your own experience and common sense." Will that, my talisman against koolaid drinkers, become koolaid; just words that people chant without understanding?

Drinking the Koolaid

“They drank the koolaid” is our shorthand for martial artists who have displayed even low levels of cult-like behavior. It is a reference to Jim Jones who took his little cult to Guyana and convinced them (forced them? Some? All? Who was there who lived and can tell the whole story?) to drink poisoned grape koolaid. It offered them a chance to go to the next world as a unit, I suppose.

There are a few words I have to explain here that I may not use in the common way- bias, prejudice and bigotry.

Bias is just a statement of preference. I like steak better than cauliflower, as do all right-thinking people. Jamieson’s Irish whisky better than Bushmill’s and Ardbeg scotch better than either. I don’t have a lot of trouble with biases.

I don’t have a lot of problem with prejudice, either. We all pick up clues based on appearances about what is likely to trigger our biases. I expect a green glass soda bottle to have something citrus in it, not a cola or root beer. I prefer to not eat at a restaurant that smells bad from the outside.

In human terms, I don’t like stupid, lazy or rude people. I just don’t. Those are some of my biases. My prejudices, however (and I try not to show it, that would be rude) are that I expect slow people to be stupid, obese people to be lazy, and loud people to be rude.

It’s not always true. It is true often enough that it is reinforced.

However I know and cherish people who have triggered all of my prejudices without proving them out.

Here’s the thing- prejudice only becomes bigotry when you cling to your belief in the face of facts. When you treat someone as if they are lazy or stupid when they have proven that they aren’t, that’s bigotry. These are my personal definitions.

It is related to the talismanic thinking in the martial arts.

We all have our preferences, biases. I’m an infighter. I know people who like grappling; who like striking; knife guys; gun guys; people who work out in pristine white pajamas and people who work out in their work clothes. It’s all good. Just preferences.

Then there are prejudices-e.g. “sports martial arts are better for streetfighting”; “grappling is the most practical”; “winning at (insert your contest of choice here) is the best way to find out if something works”; “the guys in white pajamas don’t play hard”; “the guys who wear camo are bad asses”; “older styles are more real”… These are just beliefs that people have about what constitutes a valid clue. If you have been paying attention, have both an open and a critical mind, you can use your prejudices to quickly narrow down the field and choose something you are likely to be happy with. Generally, that’s cool.

It becomes a problem when facts cease to matter. Actually, only a problem for me.

For most people, martial arts is about fear management, not danger management. It is a way to feel that they have “a pretty good chance” or that they can “take care of themselves”. It’s about the feeling, not the ability.  So becoming blindly dogmatic, absolutely certain that your Purple Lotus of Screaming Death Style is the end-all and be-all vastly increases your fear management. It makes good sense, from that point of view, to ignore those annoying little things called ‘facts’ and even to shut out experience- in extreme cases, even your own experience. So it generally really isn’t a problem for the koolaid drinker himself (and no one seems to be able to call it koolaid while they are drinking it). It’s only a perceived problem, and only for me, because I look at it through that dastardly danger-management lens.

There are levels of koolaid drinking. People who believe that their master has a scroll that is older than the native country’s written language or that their unarmed style was designed to fight mounted warriors. Those are pretty extreme.

It’s a group thing, too. Martial arts (and other specialized societies) create tight little self-reinforcing communities. Sometimes it is formal- the hierarchy specifically discourages dissent. Sometimes it is informal with the students banding together to protect the integrity of their fantasy.

More later….

Friday, January 16, 2009

Principles and Drills

Jodan uke. The upper block. We practiced doing line drills. Uke would step in with his right foot as we stepped back with our left. His right hammer fist would come crashing down in a big circle and we would punch our left arm up at the right angle. His forearm would slam into ours and, if the angle was right, glide off. Then he would step forward with the other foot and everything would be repeated on the other side.

There were a lot of things that went into a proper upper block. The arm was punched up, not raised, which delivered more power. The palm side was snapped forward at the perfect instant to drive the ulna as an attack into uke's arm. A bad angle made a bruising contest of power, the perfect angle could glide a baseball bat without bruising. Minimal bruising, anyway. A good snap could open up his whole centerline.

Then, one day when I was bored or tired or something, I did it wrong. In line drills I blocked the big right downward hammer fist with a right jodan uke, cross body. Most of the same stuff happened except it turned uke's entire body, made him lean slightly and I was on his flank, halfway behind him. I owned him. Playing around, it was even better when I didn't step back. Closed the distance. Hmmmm.

Chi sao, or sticky hands, is primarily a sensitivity drill. You face your opponents, wrists touching, and try to tag each other (I have a gift for oversimplification). The cool thing is that if you can maintain wrist contact you can tell not only what your opponent is doing but what he is about to do. Without turning it into a strength contest, you can 'steer' his attacks to safe zones.

Just for fun, next time you play chi sao, take a half step forward and apply the skills to his elbows. Not only can you control his attacks, you can control his entire body like he was a rag doll. If you don't piss away the principles you can even bend and fold someone much bigger and stronger. Don't take my word for it. Try it.

Lastly, referring back to an old post.

There are a lot of connected principles here. It is easier to steer a moving object than it is to stop one and the threat in a fight tends to be a moving object. Maximize your leverage and utilize structure- and know, in a body, specifically where the leverage points are. Get to a dead space (love that rear flank) or force the threat to present it to you. Learn how much you can control without even using your fingers. The whole body is connected, if you can control the threat's elbow, you can control his feet (when I use the phrase 'core fighting' I'm talking about using the connection through the spine and hip and shoulder girdles to influence or control part of the threat's body by another part. It's fun.) Lots of things work better at closer ranges than they are commonly taught.

Something to think about.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

You Learn Stuff When You Write

Sorry about the long break. I've been doing quite a bit of writing, just not here. A handful of people have asked me to look at their ideas, which always turns into a dialogue that teaches me a lot.  

Two other things though 1) A friend (Marc MacYoung) mentioned that he was working on a problem, a big problem in self-defense: the freeze. What is it? Why does it happen? When doesn't it happen? To whom? Are there different kinds? What can you do about it in training? What can you do about it in the moment?

In a lot of ways, Marc and I think a lot alike. Too much alike, IMO, to usefully collaborate most times. In this case, I had been looking at the question from a higher magnification than he had.  That little twist, one of us (Marc) looking at the social dynamics surrounding the freeze and the other (me) looking at the different freezes I had experienced or debriefed other on... a lot of connections came together.  Can't guarantee that we've broken the back of the puzzle but it looks more solid and far more useful than anything I've seen on the subject.

2) I started writing something for the blog that I've been thinking about for a very long time.  The deeper I wrote (with some insight from an entirely unrelated off-line discussion with Asher Bey) the more I became aware that the problem wasn't what I thought it was. Well, it is, but not in all cases. There are two entirely different ways to get to a very bad place, except one of the paths isn't bad. Except when it is.  Cryptic, I know, but I have a little more to write and then a lot more to organize and cut before I can post it here.

I'm also toying with yet another writing project. It would be fun. Useful to the right people, and would piss off the people who think they should get it, which I am immature enough to find very funny.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Other Basics

This is some bedrock stuff- not 'what I think' but 'how I think'.  IME, most of it is pretty common in people in high risk professions even when they don't have the words to articulate it. Possibly some of my disconnects (I feel strategy is fundamental, others belief it takes a background in physical skills to grasp) come from this bedrock.  So here goes, an incomplete and fuzzy list since sight is the hardest thing to see-

1) Goals-backward. This is taught specifically to most emergency leadership. Drop me off on a desert island and I won't start by going through my pockets to see what I have. I'll list what I need first (shelter-water-fire-food), then check resources to match needs, then gather or create resources to fill the rest. I am also one of those kids who found story problems much easier than the same problem presented as a formula and always found mazes easier to work backwards.  Fighting with a clear idea of the goal- to escape, to prevail, to restrain to... is both more efficient and less likely to escalate to something excessive. 

2) The Art of Advantage.  A practiced sense for vulnerabilities- in balance, position, targeting, but also emotional and logical. Been doing this for so long that I am not sure if it is a 'taught' thing or simply a 'permission' thing. But it takes some deep restraint. To even play with this and not destroy your life you have to understand deeply that defeating someone else is not the same as winning. Knowing how to hurt without knowing when and who is dancing on the edge of evil.

3) Reframing. The ability to look not just at different answers but at different possible meanings for the question. An aspect is to know what the real question is.  

4) Context. This is a hard one under stress because your SSR triggers both a visual and mental tunnel vision (that's also why true environmental fighting usually takes experience as well as practice). But sometimes, often (and this is more true with a predator who has moderated his own SSR than with a kid in the Monkey Dance) you can affect what the fight is about. Change the perception of the value of the goal (Ever listen to "The Winner" by Bobby Bare?). Change the perception of risk (Kris' "You guys should probably know the front desk has already called the cops.")

5) Connected thinking. Everybody does this but not everybody does it very well. Everything you do affects other things. Almost everything is connected. The more deeply and subtly you see, the more you can affect things in relatively distant space or time and with relatively little obvious action. One place where I take this is looking at the source of information and then looking at their motives. With practice, if you are objective, you can predict the drift of bias.*

6) Continuity. What you are dealing with in this moment began long ago and will have effects, intended and unintended, long into the future.  The past is for research, the far future for prediction and an attempt to mold, only the present and the near future for planning and action. This works two ways. First, avoid getting caught up in a past you can't fix. How a particular criminal became a violent criminal is an academic matter. I might use it in the future to help another kid not become a predator, but when someone is trying to stomp your head against the curb that is so NOT the time to try to figure out if it was due to potty training or not getting breast-fed. The other side: how you deal with the immediate problem will affect future problems that can arise. Treating symptoms is rarely the same as treating causes.

7)Simplifying the problem. The ability to take all this and cut it down in an instant to an immediate problem with an immediate solution.

I need to emphasize here- almost every good operator thinks like this, but they don't think about it.  It appears complex, maybe, and in words and explanations, it probably is.  Just like no one thinks about the rules of grammar when they are actually speaking in a native language, no operator is consciously extracting a web of past and future. 'This came from here and is going there.' You just see it because it is the way you have learned to see. When you make an error, you re-evaluate and move on. If they have practiced, and this is rarer, they can articulate how they knew 'x' was about to happen, but not all of them can.

* Predictive power is the only way to evaluate your skill in a lot of this.  If you are wrong consistently wrong you have misjudged their bias and must look at your own.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


I wanted to open this with a big paragraph about how I don't usually write about politics and that this isn't referring to anything specific. Read it for yourself.

“Plundering and devastating the enemy’s country, which play such an important part with the Tartars, with ancient nations, and even in the Middle Ages, were no longer in accordance with the spirit of the age.  They were justly looked upon as unnecessary barbarity, which might easily induce reprisals, and which did more injury to the enemy’s subjects than the enemy’s Government, therefore, produced no effect beyond throwing the Nation back many stages in all that relates to the peaceful arts and civilization.  War, therefore, confined itself more and more, both as regards means and end, to the Army itself.” Carl von Clausewitz "On War" pp383  Anatol Rapoport translation

So- this is the basis of the concepts of proportionate force and attempting to limit civilian casualties (cf Israeli warnings to neighborhoods about exactly when and where they would strike.)

This seems obvious and right, yet what happens when you face an enemy who deliberately uses your feelings, beliefs, protocols, customs and laws to harm you and conserve his own strength?  When he deliberately hides his firing positions in civilian areas, or hospitals or schools?

It’s a great soundbite- once you have the media on your side you can be confident that they will not show the damage or bodies of that you have inflicted, but they will film in loving detail the shattered bodies of the children that you used for a shield. You targeted bus stops, but you were never so evil as to target schools...and yet you hid your weapons in schools and fired from them. No matter, roll the cameras and show the broken children and cry for restraint.

Very neat, very effective, but it presages another sea change in the art of war. It is time for a different spirit for a new age.

More from Clasuewitz- paraphrased. For a time, war was seen as a political thing involving mostly the cabinet and the army. With the rise of the French Republic, everyone felt that they were part of the State, not the subjects of a State. War became everyone’s business and we wound up with the entire weight of a nation on the French side versus only the army and the politicians on the other. Wherever Napoleon met this old way, he crushed them.

Not until Spain had its citizen’s insurgency; Austria made the extraordinary step of activating many of its citizens for war and Russia deliberately followed the Spanish lead- only then did the Grande Armee begin to lose.

Someone said (and I wish I knew who) that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.

So we live in a country where most citizens have never served in the Armed Forces and some citizens openly show contempt for those who do; where people vote as if the primary purpose of the government were to ensure that the voters have enough possessions; where decisions about war are made not by the popularly elected legislative branch (as required by the constitution) but by the largely appointed executive branch… have we regressed to the model described by Clausewitz? Tradition (policy, procedure) and equipment against people? People adapt very fast, bureaucracies less so.

And so another point. Winners always lose. The problem with being a winner is that there is little incentive to get better and the previous losers and people that feel they are going to lose have nothing better to do than to harness all of their creativity, all of their resources and study the winner for weaknesses.  They eventually find a way… and the erstwhile winner cries that it wasn’t fair. ‘They’ changed the rules. Changing the rules is one of the best ways to win.  And winners are terrified to change the rules that they have won by in the past.

We are in the midst of a sea-change in international conflict, even a change in what international means. That’s not true. It’s not ‘the midst’. The change has happened. I am not even sure that we are trying to play catch-up or trying to adapt in any meaningful way.  Rules that were taken for the very highest of ideals are being used by ruthless men to make better men seem careless or even vicious.  One group is fighting, or trying to fight, against ‘armies’ and reduce, even eliminate harm to civilians. The other group is deliberately blurring the line- no uniformed armies, civilians exploited to perform military functions including acting as shields, no nations to conquer or negotiate with in many cases.

Eerie parallels with the world that Clausewitz described. The old ways did not survive the crisis of Napoleon.  What will change now, and who will adapt?

Sunday, January 04, 2009


Got interviewed. To myself I sound like a bumbling, nasal idiot. Both of us were dead tired and it was done over a computer from across a sea... anyway:
My interview(s) (plural, it was supposed to be 40-60 minutes and we wound up gabbing for about two and a half hours):

And Dr. Keogh's website.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


Here's a problem.  Martial arts are usually taught from a tool- or skill-based perspective.  What are the basics of your system? Strike and block? Nage-waza and Osaekomi-waza? Irimi and shomen-ate? Block-check-strike? The long form?

Learn a technique and play with it for awhile. Learn a second technique and play with that. Put them together and play with the combination... when all of these techniques assemble into a system it turns out to be a tinker-toy construction incapable of doing a job or supporting weight. In the martial arts, this is where the instructor steps in to explain the 'advanced aspects'.

That is so, so wrong. The advanced aspects, too often, are principles and strategy.  These are the true basics.

Every real system has some things in common: they evolved in a specific environment; they addressed a particular type of threat; and they revolved around a strategy that respected those two facts.

Given that these are the central essences of a system of self-defense or combat, why are they considered advanced?  These are the basics of the basics. the things that make everything else make sense and, possibly more importantly, if something doesn't mesh with these core values it doesn't belong. Splitting your strategy weakens everything. (Theoretical example- if the core strategy of your system is to pull someone close and strangle, where does pushing away fit?)

No matter what you incorporate as physical basics- footwork, power generation- make sure your students understand two things from day one: 
1) The problem the system was designed to deal with. One of the most popular systems around was designed for the sole purpose of beating Japanese karate in karate tournaments of the 1950s. It is masterful at that. My system was designed for medieval emergencies. It wouldn't work well in a 1953 karate tournament. If the focus is on self-defense some time has to be spent on how criminals think and act and how assaults happen. You must learn diagnostics before you can apply the cure.
2) The strategy chosen to deal with the problem. Different strategies can deal with the same problem, that's fine. Mixing strategies or adding techniques to a system that are incompatible with the strategy just create confusion. Trapping is an aspect of controlling the movement of the threat. It is feasible, maybe critical, for a strategy of "Control the arms to create an opening". It isn't compatible with a more brutal "Close and do damage" strategy. Techniques or types of techniques should only be added to systems if they serve the strategy.

This doesn't mean "don't go out and try new stuff." One of the things you need to prevail is something that I can only call 'clean'.  Just as mind, body and spirit have to be in accord, strategy, tactics and techniques have to work together. If they are at cross purposes, the entire structure is weakened.

Strategy and threat assessment are basics.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Most of the Time

Communication is never pure. Steve points out that everyone brings their own axes and there is no guarantee that they are really listening when they are grinding them. He has a way with words, that writer.  I see it in reviews of the book (I haven't done this enough that I don't bother to read them) and it is amazing what people have chosen to read. People who have never felt my fa-jing assume that I only do or understand 'external' styles (hint: you want to see some awesome internal power principles, play with a world class judo guy. Odds are he can explain it better, too.  Oooo, is that sound I hear panties twisting?) Despite a quarter of a century, most of that in the most traditional of the traditional, I have contempt for traditional training. Or so I have read.

Everybody is wrong pretty much most of the time.  On complex issues, anyway. There is a default assumption that if two people are arguing one is right and one is wrong.  The more complex the subject (say religion or politics or violence) the more possible answers there are. If there are a million solution, then 999,999 of them are wrong. Or at least not as right as the other one. Or at least not as right for that particular person... and you add another layer of complexity which from one point of view makes all the answers "right" (but it becomes a pretty weird definition of right) or all the answers wrong.

That's OKAY.  We are just people stumbling through life. We don't see everything, we don't know everything. Most of the things (like religion and politics which are classic for 'the less you know the more rabid you tend to be' syndrome) aren't actually that important. Yeah, I said it. Even assuming that the purpose of religion is to make people more civilized (and I don't think it is) I haven't seen a religion or the absence of a religion that accurately predicts the morality of the person I'm talking too.  What conservatives and liberals believe about each other is harsh and dogmatic, but they way they actually act and think are not as different as they seem to need to believe. Just my experience. Go talk to someone you disagree with. Better, listen to one at least as smart as you are.

Anyway, there's one of these big things that has been popping up lately- a growth and truth thing and reality thing. I'm going to be vague here, because I don't want to talk about the thing itself- that is usually pointless. You can substitute "martial arts mastery" if you want- something that is rarely defined well, may mean nothing but a lot of people have a lot of identity invested in the quest.

There are stages, maybe, or definitions, but at the highest (non-faked) level I have seen it is very ordinary. So ordinary, in fact, that many of the searchers dismiss it, "A martial arts master in blue jeans? Preposterous!" One of the things that when you grasp, you become very concerned for the searchers because it both isn't anything like their image and it isn't fun, or happy or comfortable.

They describe it though, even if they have never seen it. They are sure of what they will be when they get there. They measure others by how closely they fit their mental image of what a "martial arts master" should look, act and talk like.  This isn't Disney- someone who is at that level can choose to become an ice cold murdering sociopath at will.  A choice. Then switch back.

That doesn't fit with most people's image of kindly Master Po or whatever.

Of course, like everyone, I could be wrong most of the time.