Friday, February 27, 2009

Stage 3

Prevention and De-Escalation

In most cases there will be some warning before an attack is imminent. I'm not as optimistic as some authors- snipers and people who kill in the victim's sleep won't tingle your spidey-sense. Nor will some very well skilled and planned assaults and ambushes. But in most incidents there are pre-assault indicators and since the payoff for recognizing them is so high (As a friend put it, "If you talk 'em down you don't even get your feelings hurt.") it's worth understanding.

This stage has a lot in it and a lot of nuance.  What I said about no warning? That's sort of true.  There is a variation of inductive reasoning, like inductive intuition. Deductive intuition ranges from "He just said he is going to kill me and he reached for his waistband." To "things just got suddenly quiet for no reason, something's wrong."  The inductive variation is to have no clues at all but to be aware, "If I was going to pull a blitz it would be right here and I would come from right there."

So there is a level of reading terrain and possibility and an easier level of reading people and intent.  Both are good skills. Both enrich your life in other ways (that terrain reading? I've been able to guess where old villages would be.)

This leads to an array of different skills, but they go right together. Avoiding situations, staying away from bad people and bad places is great. It takes some discipline and those who most need to heed the advice (young people on their own for the first time just experimenting with alcohol, drugs and social life) are the ones least likely to listen.

Escape and evasion, looking at running away as a finely honed martial skill gets lip service, but not much practice. Do you understand the difference between running away from danger and running to safety? In a new place that has suddenly become dangerous what is most likely to be the safe way out?  There are exits you can see, are there exits you can make? In your home and workplace, what walls and objects are cover and which are only concealment?

Then there is verbal de-escalation, "talkin' 'em down."

There is no way I can do justice to this in a short post.  If you haven't read Gavin DeBecker's "The Gift of Fear" read it for no other reason than the list of tactics that he gives of how Charm Predators get close to their victims.  But that is only a piece.

Reading the threat:
Is this about status, or predation?  The body language that can make a predator look for easier prey can trigger a status fight.  If it is about status, is it internal or is the threat playing to an audience? How does the audience fit into the picture as additional threats or as resources?

The 'interview'- if a potential threat strikes up a conversation is it as a predator to gauge the prey? As a Charm Predator trying to lure the victim to a more conducive place or position for the attack? Or, in social violence, is the threat trying to show a justification to his audience or manufacture one for himself?
And, most important- is this an interview or is that stage (NOT always talking, sometimes just observing) already over and this is the distraction preceding the assault?

There are tools for all of this, tools and skills to determine what is really going on and tools to defuse the situation.  This is probably the biggest, most important and most effective skillset in all of self defense. You can't separate it from Stage Two, you need to know what you are looking for, but the skills here are wide and deep. Physical self defense is limited by the physical body. This level is pretty much limited only by your imagination.

There are kool-aid drinkers here, too.  They imagine the crazed killer of a slasher flick as the typical real villain or disdain what they call 'soft skills' because 'they don't work in the extreme, not when things go really bad.'  Sometimes that's true. Don't dismiss it. But the skills work often and they can prevent much badness and they in no way detract from or interfere with physical skills.
Sometimes the kool-aid is a different flavor. There are people, (they are rare) who will teach that verbal skills are all that you need. There are people who hear about officers shooting an enraged threat with drugs on board or mental illness and consider it a preventable tragedy, something that could have been averted "if only the officers knew how to communicate."

If someone is too enraged to listen, you usually can't talk them down.  If they are too unbalanced to understand your words, you can't reason with them.  If the knife is already going into your stomach, it is too late to form words.

Skill at Level 3 is a skill. But it isn't an answer.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Seven Circles Parts 1 and 2

Or stages or whatever. This was a brief section in the book (for some reason two were combined and it came out as six) and here are some more thoughts on it. Violence is complex. It's not just complex in one way, either.  The actual physical skills of martial arts can seem complex, but it is a very uniform type of complexity- physiology, physics, priorities. The human body moves like a human body, but some styles vary over how they choose to move. Many styles vary over how they prefer to develop power or how they compare the value of applying power versus disrupting balance.

Violence takes all that complexity and adds more. Some of the complexity is at this level. The person may be trained or untrained, may value a strategy that you have never seen or rely on one that you ignore because you have been taught that "No one really attacks that way."

There is more at other levels- social interaction. Motivation. (Almost nothing you have learned in sparring applies to a predatory assault).  On and on.  It is complex in a number of measurable ways- over time and technique and environment; and fuzzier ways- the emotional baggage on all sides; and then the interaction between each and every piece.

That's preamble, because I'm going to ignore most of that, just didn't want anyone forgetting it. 

I originally divide these aspects up by time. The idea was that the first stages are things that you need to understand and apply well before anything bad happens, the rest are in the order you will face them.  This is my opinion, but if what you are training doesn't cover these seven things calling it self-defense is wrong.

1) Legal and ethical issues.  If you do not know when it is legal to use force or what levels of force are appropriate or how to justify force you are vulnerable. I have seen people teaching throat chops to a hand grab... and people teaching ineffective  joint locks for situations where deadly force would be not only legal but prudent. You don't want to be beaten, robbed or murdered- but you also don't want to spend years training to put yourself in a state prison. Trust me on that. If you don't absorb Force law with force techniques, you'd better be playing a video game.  There are a bunch of kool-aid drinking reactions to this, most centered on a subconscious belief that the instructor is the next thing to god so if he didn't teach it, it wasn't important. It's far more likely that what he is teaching arose in a time and place when the rule of law wasn't even imagined. It is now, and ignoring that change in environment is as stupid and self-defeating as practicing archery from horseback and pretending it is for modern war. 

Ethical issues are more personal. There are things that a normal person simply can't do, but they vary for each individual. And there are things that a person can do in an instant that they can't make themselves do if they have time to think about it. And there are things that people can do and can't live with.  I don't know where these lines are for you. Neither do you. You know some of them and you suspect many more- a lot of the tough guy blustering is hiding these fault lines (places you might break) from yourself and others*. There is an art to training for this and a good instructor can notice your glitches and start working some of them into the light of day. The kool-aid drinker path with this is, "I'll be able to do it when the time comes." This is pure talisman thinking. If you can't make yourself do it now, you likely won't even think of it when you are surprised and scared. Work out your ethical issues with violence NOW. If you find that you have hard limits, don't waste time training to do things that you can't do or can't live with**. That requires understanding the effects of what you train. I suspect that many people practice a technique and never absorb that it is not just a hand or foot moving through the air but is intended to make a man blind or crippled.

2) Understand violence dynamics.  You need to know how fights start and how predators attack, and those are two very different things.  If you can't see it coming, you can't prevent it. If you can't tell, early, the difference between someone starting a Monkey Dance, setting the stage for a Group Monkey Dance or a Charm Predator closing to range, it is a crap shoot. The body language that prevents one triggers the other. The tactics that are necessary for a predator blitz can lead to criminal charges in a MD; a MD response to a blitz can leave you dead or crippled. Neither works that well in a GMD.  That's big picture stuff. How do bad things happen in your particular area? It turns out that where I am right now, they don't use knives at all like I am used to. Know the dynamics, know criminal tactics. If the instruction doesn't accurately cover these you are rehearsing for your instructor's fantasy life.
There is more here, it is a study in itself, and it interacts with you. If the most violent gang in your area ranges in age from nine to thirteen, does that change the way you think about responding? Why? How?  If the threat is clearly out of it, say lashing out in a diabetic crisis, would you handle it differently? How? Why? Would you even know?

*Once upon a time I was walking into a room with one of the toughest-talking guys I ever met when the electric panel blew out in a series of 'pops'.  He turned and ran, thinking it might be gunfire. Had it been gunfire, I would have been alone to deal with it. Probably better in this instance.

**If you practice a blade or gun art find someone who raises livestock and offer to help butcher. If you can't force yourself to cut the throat of an animal or shoot one (to supply food- this isn't gratuitous violence but simply where food comes from) you will have a much, much harder time with a human being, both in the action and dealing with the aftermath.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Power of Diversity

As a rule, professionally, I don't give a damn about feelings.  My job and especially when on a team is to keep people from being injured.  If I can go in and leave with the bad guys in cuffs and no one- good, bad or bystander- injured, I really don't give a damn if someone feels slighted or insulted.

Understand- I don't want to insult people and go out of my way to avoid it, but not because I care about their feelings. It's just easier to deal with people who are calm and on your side than people you've been a jerk to.

So when people talk about diversity, I take a fairly hard look. Most are talking about diversity of appearance. There is something there, but only as little or as much as people decide. In almost all of the so-called 'protected classes' I know people who are extraordinary and people who are worthless. It's not the 'easy to quantify' things- race, religion, gender, age, gender identity, whatever- that make people different or special. But some latch onto one of these as a label or a badge or a shield or a reason or an excuse... I don't have a lot of use for that.

I solve problems and I work with teams that solve problems.  The more different eyes looking at the problem from different places the more options I have. THAT is why I value diversity. It has nothing to do with appearance or catering to feelings. It is about getting everyone out alive. So I want the inner city kid and the redneck and the flower child. As long as they agree on the goal (and as TL I reserve the right to set the goal if there is any dissent) the mix will give me more options.

They have issues. I don't know any adult human being who is worth a shit who doesn't have enough bad stuff in their past to be full of excuses and issues... but I choose people who have the stuff and refuse to use it as excuses. In that one thing, perhaps, I don't honor diversity. I see nothing noble or useful about wallowing in the victim identity.

Two men despise each other.  One is urbane and mild mannered. The other is crude and loud- he talks like someone out of the movie "Deliverance". The urbane one has no frame of reference for what is going on here.  Where he has lived he has never actually met a poor southern boy. Everything he has seen on television requires that someone who looks and talks like this must be stupid and ignorant and violent and probably evil.

The southern boy, his whole life, has only seen privileged white northerners with this demeanor, this condescension.  He is used to being talked down to, treated as if he were stupid and dangerous.

The southern boy is smart as hell and deeply compassionate, two things the northerner can't see because they don't compute with his world view.  The urbane northerner is actually brave and tough as nails and the southerner can't see that. Hidden behind condescension he has always seen, or always expected to see, a physical coward.

The team leader strikes the balance. She is a product of urban Texas and has seen "good ol' boys" who were smart as anything and upper-class city kids who would stand their ground in the fires of hell.  It is work for her to maintain the balance. If the northerner and the southerner could see the strengths, it would make a hell of a team.

Diversity is a resource, but seeing it and using it is a skill.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Just a Few Memories

Canoeing through a Mayan burial cave on an underground river, neon tetras swimming in the water below.

Flesh standing up to steel at an ancient vision-quest sight.

Chichu with a reformed cannibal in the Ecuadorian selva.

Sword fights lit by construction lights in a half-finished building.

Climbing through an actual ventilation duct- it's not like the movies.

Fine Islay scotch on the shoulder of a Cascade mountain under the aurora borealis.

Practice pursuit driving at PIR.

Putting on the black armor and checking weapons and coms.

Water erupting from the solid rock in a cascade deep underground.

Falling asleep with a cougar.

Looking into the eyes of a wild wolf.

Running through a desert night with the stars so bright that the sagebrush glowed.

Jumping out: arch, look, reach, pull, check...check canopy and looking at my own boots at 5000 ft.

The plane takes off to go to a new country, a war zone. Glance out the window and all of the airport staff are outside in the hot sun, saluting, sending us off.

Motoring fast up the Rio Napo.  

The first time kissing my lover goodbye thinking I might not see her again.

The tenth time, wife now. Different, deeper, but still spectacular.

Smoking a naghila with orange tobacco at Christmas with the muezzin calling outside.

Midnight crepes in Vieux Montreal with a table-full of strangers, fascinating, intelligent, skilled strangers.

The rough skin of a living shark.

The kind of job that requires a laptop and an assault rifle.

The gift of a t-shirt from a foreign elite unit.

Offered, and turned down, a "temporary wife" in a country where I am told that doesn't happen.

Sitting in a hot spring on a mountain in a desert with snow all around and an air temperature about 10F.

18 year-old scotch with a general who has been fighting his entire adult life as a woman sings in a dialect that neither of us understands.

Speed rappelling into icy cold water and swimming out to a mountain pool.

Bowling in Iraq, forty miles from the Iranian border.

Chess with murderers, and combat too.

Earning the trust of a low-functioning autistic schizophrenic and helping him control his life.

Talking down a 210 pound threat in excited delirium.

Sitting in a class where a nationally recognized expert says that is impossible.

Squeezing through a tight hole that opens into the ceiling of a sixty-foot high cave chamber. Squeeze to rope in a heart beat.

A wild horned lizard in Washington state.

Jumping on a train in motion. Easy if slow. Tried it once at speed, not a good thing.

Making fire with a bow drill.

Wading medical equipment across an amazonian tributary.

Drinking aguardiente and telling stories with close friends.

Seeing my book for sale in the local book store.

Looking down on an eagle in flight from a 5.9 climb.

And, of course, an ostrich in a sweater. Very amazed at my life right now.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


When I get back I'm going to have some great stories and great pictures. Things that can't be shared now. Some funny, some just cool, some very disturbing.
So, in an old Russian-built fortress, a shaft sealed off. It was probably used to winch materials up from lower floors but is now completely sealed except for the top. Just a midden or, perhaps, an oubliette:

And how in hell will I ever top an ostrich wearing a jacket herding hairy sheep?  Or goats? Or whatever the little capines are.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

One Full Circle

This will be another technique post. Yeah. Darn.

Johann asked a question: 

how would you attack someone from a distance (3m-10m), for example someone busy hurting someone else? No weapons on any side.

Which was the incident that prompted my first blog post.  There was more going on there and obviously I was compelled to write the post because of the blood exposure, not the incident itself.  The other question that weighed at the time was what the consequences would be over the long term and whether saving a life is always a good act.

So, Johann, I'm going to start with a couple of caveats and general stuff. No weapons on any side is not only an assumption, but downright stupid. If you are anywhere in the real world you should be able to access something to use as a weapon even if no one else is doing it. I am more or less expected to take people down without hurting them so sometimes I go hands-on when it might not be wise.
When you are going into a situation it can go bad very, very fast. Be ready for that. Both of the people involved and even the audience might turn on you if they see an 'outsider' trying to break up a fight between 'insiders'. If you tunnel vision on one, you might miss the response of the other. There is a lot that can potentially go wrong.
Have a back up plan. Preferably, have some back-up people who can pull you out if things go wrong. It is a situation that can turn from easy to a 2-on-1 in a heartbeat.
Move fast and decisively. This goes for everything, but if there is any hesitation, any half-assed attempt to do a technique it will fail.
This does NOT mean you try to take heads off!! You use the minimum  level of force that you believe will work. If you think you can do it with a lock, you do a fast, decisive lock- no hesitation. If you decide you must strike, even try to take a head off, you do it. You don't give a half-power blow to gauge the effect. If you think of the level of force you have chosen as a place, you must be all the way there. If you hesitate at the threshold you will fail.

Johann's instructor recommends going in hard with fists and boots. IME striking is relatively unreliable. I'll go farther than that. The effects can be downright weird. I've seen people curl up in fetal positions from strikes that others ignored and just glare when hit in the head with a bar. Been lifted in the air by a solid groin strike that didn't effect me at all for several minutes and been put down by one that barely contacted. Put people down twice with a solid left hook to the floating ribs but been on the receiving end from bigger, stronger people and didn't feel it. Fought through concussions and not noticed broken ribs. My experience is that the closer the threat is to a normal state of consciousness the more likely strikes will work like they are "supposed to" --but since the closer one is to the normal state of consciousness the less likely I'll need to go hands on at all-- you do the math. Strikes seem to work best when you need them least.

Those are the warnings, here is some strategy:
 You are not taking damage so you can take a little time to make a plan or get help or get a tool. It might sound cold to ignore the person who is taking damage, but this isn't about justice, this is about resources. You do this stupid and get hurt not only do you get hurt but you can no longer be a resource to save the victim. One of the reasons to plan and train for these scenarios is to limit that damage time
Do it smart. Remember the four basic truths? Use them. The threat should have no idea you are there until you have already acted. Fast and hard/decisive action.  Part of Johann's question says 3m-10m. Without a weapon, you can't do anything at that range. Part of answering this question is closing the range without being seen. Usually, the threat is tunnel-visioned and it isn't much of a problem.
Choose who to help.  This sounds stupid, but sometimes the guy winning is the good guy. You might not know. This is critical if you are considering deadly force.
Can you fight the mind?  In a full-blown berserk rage, probably not. He may not be able to hear you at all and he may not care. Increasing the level of stimulus (trying to distract the threat) usually increases agitation. That said, there are two strategies that sometimes work:
1) Supplying information, e.g. "The cops are on the way." Or, "You'd better stop, I don't think he's breathing."  The more criminal the act is- and by that I mean deliberate and planned and based on a history of successful violence- the more likely these are to work. It's fundamentally fucked up, but career criminals know when and how to surrender and can keep consequences in mind, like a manslaughter conviction is heavier than an assault conviction, that an enraged citizen or EDP (Emotionally Disturbed Person) couldn't. Remember the line about resources, not justice? This is another part. Stopping someone from being violent isn't about justice, only about stopping them.
2) Shocking them. I'm generally soft spoken, but I do have a window-shaking sensei voice. Good thing is that a couple of time it has had almost magical effects on fighters. Bad part is that it ruins my voice for days every time I use it. So really loud noises. I think a bucket of ice water would do wonders (it works on dogs), but I've never been allowed to use it to break up fights with inmates.
Both of these strategies can sacrifice surprise. It's your call.

Take a second, because that is a huge amount of information and we haven't even got to the technique yet. Take that to heart. Technique is the easiest part. Knowing when and how to apply the technique is the second easiest. Making yourself do it may be the hardest and that's the part I'm not sure can really be taught.

All of this gets modified by position.  The example from 2005 the threat had the other guy bent over backwards on a table, was leaning over him with a forearm choke across his neck and gripping the victim's shirt with his other hand. Mount, straddle ground and pound, clinch will all affect things.
Coming up on the threat's right from behind, left hand goes to control the base of his spine (pelvic girdle) right hand held very flat comes up across his mouth and under his nose.
---The spine control assumes he is not laying flat, you only need it if he can move freely from his legs.
--- Keep in a position that if he spins suddenly to either side to throw an elbow the elbow will run into something or you can control the rotation at the shoulder before it reaches you.
---Right at the base of the nose there is a place where it is still bone and not cartilage.  It makes a nice grip, is extremely sensitive to pain and can apply extraordinary leverage through the spine to the whole body.
Pull up and back with your right hand and probably push forward with your left.
---Use the bone at the base of your index finger to maximize pain on the nose point.
---The action is based on the spine. You don't lift his face but extend and arch is spine. That's why it works on monstrously strong people.
---Note on above- in a lot of technique, instead of looking for the circle, look for the spiral. If that makes no sense to you it will in a few years of practice.
---Pushing forward on the lower spine gives a two-way action (one of the basic, basic principles to making things work) and puts him in a position where he can't generate power in any direction other than falling down.
---Depending on position,but especially if the threat is now on his feet or knees, you can 'load' the spine a bit by a slight shift up and to your left with the right hand.
---Be very, very careful with this. Catch me in person to find out why.

Finish.  You probably have him in a spine immobilization, which looks like he is doing a back bend with his hands not touching the floor. I've held people in that position and had chats. It may work and it allows you a chance to keep an eye on the other guy.
You can drop him straight down from there, which may just kick off another ground fight with your back to the other one.
If you have loaded his spine, you can now pivot hard to your right and project him to land face down. That's what I did with the guy in the example. I was able to do it and keep the other in my peripheral vision.

I can imagine ways that things could heat up again and leave you in a bad position. My experience is that if it is fast and decisive enough, no one wants to be in the sequel- and this technique looks like magic. We investigate all Uses of Force and this one got some extra hard looks because all of the witnesses said, "Miller showed up and the guy was on the ground." It had happened too fast for the witnesses, including the experienced officers, to tell what happened or how. That's good, but it makes the reports look fishy. 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Fade to Gray

Got the word today that my old team has been disbanded. Budget cuts. It hit like hearing about a death. They were good men and women doing good things. Sometimes it seems like that is a negative, that something about holding yourself to a higher standard draws condemnation and retaliation from the world. Maybe it isn't the world, maybe it is just petty bureaucrats, the paladins of mediocrity who gnash their teeth and lash out at anything superior. Maybe that is why they are more comfortable promoting a drunk who makes them feel superior rather than a good worker who is not only smarter and braver than they are but also more honest, more honorable.

Or maybe I'm just bitter. It doesn't feel bitter, just sad. If this wasn't an Islamic country I'd raise a glass...

The first operation for the team was a riot in a facility that wasn't ours. Some of us thought it was a practical joke when we got the page. But we were there, coordinated with the local metropolitan SWAT and the Fire Department and it went beautifully. For the first time we heard, "Who were those guys?"

We impressed the other agencies- how many corrections teams have ever been specifically asked to take over a city SWAT op? We have and it went perfectly.

We designed and implemented a plan for 'mobile booking.'  At the time (and still, as far as I know) we were the only people in the nation that could go into the field to support a mass arrest situation and create a temporary jail from scratch controlling the inmates, the property and the paperwork.

That put us on 'the list'. During my tenure on the team we were on the 'first call' list for two Federal Agencies, a state facility and two city SWAT teams. 

The highest rated and most proficient trainers for both Enforcement and Corrections were all on my team. We trained with our enforcement team for a short time, but moved on to the local USM for training. They were simply better. Our enforcement team would go to our training, but wouldn't train with us, "That looks dangerous. We just shoot 'em," they said.  But we shot better.

The first agency tasing saved a life. Failures of different less-lethal impact rounds. Tons of field experience with OC, especially when it didn't work at all. PCP freaks and excited delirium. Talking people down who couldn't be talked down.

We were created and instilled with the values to always do the right thing even, or especially, if it wasn't the safe thing. As the agency changed over time, as they actually wrote into training that it was more important to avoid liability than to do the job, we could see the writing on the wall.

It's still a sad day, even if we could see it coming. They were the best of the best, as individuals they still are, and they have much to be proud of and nothing (except for blowing kisses TH you geek!) to be ashamed of.

Inveniam viam aut faciam


Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I don’t much doubt my ability to communicate with the written word. It is an amazing tool and with practice it gets better. But this is the nature of the beast, the nature of what I teach and talk about: it is scary as all hell. It is death and annihilation.  Not just facing your own demise, that’s easy, but the fact that you may face your final years blind or crippled or with the memory of having crawled or begged.

Teachers don’t talk about it, usually. But we all know that this is what it is. This is where it all might go. Because of that, because of its nature, people are almost infinitely creative in ways to NOT think about it. If you read “With the Old Breed on Peleliu and Okinawa” E. B. Sledge describes it perfectly: “…men had squared away their gear and had done their last-minute duties: adjusting cartridge belts, pack straps, leggings, and leather rifle slings—all those forlorn little gestures of no value that released tension in the face of impending terror.”

Fiction, movies, martial arts, late night fantasies- putting this impending terror and pain into boxes, pretty boxes small enough to hold in your brain.

This is the busy work of the monkey mind.  The obsession with perfect form, the martial arts politics, the bickering over lineage, treating instructors like gods and your training as The Truth are all just different ways to hide your brain from what this is.

I don’t doubt that I can describe the technique in the written word. But this isn’t about technique.  This is why I teach individuals and in person- because I have to be there to see when the mind wanders, when developing a skill becomes an obsession to hide behind or when they are doing something to avoid seeing something else. I have to hold what it is and what they are doing before them at all times. In the written word, no matter how strong the truth or how limited the bullshit, there is always enough weasel room that it can become a place to hide behind surface knowledge, a way to ignore while pretending to see- or just fodder for a fantasy.

Because this is my amulet- to hold up what I know about this by its slimy neck and look at it without flinching. Knowing it will kill me some day and refusing to look away.  I choose to believe that if I poke at the dark places and wade in the shit I will understand it, at least a little. And that will let me control it, at least a little.

The Morning Show

I call it the Morning Show- a group of heavily armed men (3 native languages in my vehicle of four) make the short trip to the workplace.  Two of the team keep up a constant stream of talk- crude, hilarious, insightful.  It is the kind of talk, phrased in the kind of way that paranoid feminists think all men talk, all the time.  The primary subjects are sex and violence- who they would kill and how and why. Who they would fuck and how and why.

It is like a bad script of "man talk" but it is sometimes astonishingly funny and sometimes even wise. "Explosive thigh sweat" and "That there is a rare chinchilla" are phrases that will stick with you.

Despite the scripting, neither of these men is like that. Despite the sex talk, if you catch him alone one will speak with quiet earnestness about his wife and how he would never do anything to hurt her feelings. Both have had opportunities. Neither has acted on them.

To one degree or another, everyone in the truck is experienced at violence. They tell stories of wild uncontrolled anger and flights of fantasy vengeance but in the real deal they are professional. Controlled. Cold.  They are good enough to teach it- not just teach violence, but teach control- in a country torn by perhaps millenia of war.

What brings this on, the talking role?  I'm used to wannabes who talk tough. They are mildly amusing. These are true tough guys who talk like wannabes on steroids. Are they playing out a script, something that they learned somewhere is the way talking is 'supposed to be'? And if so, where did they learn to separate their worlds from their talk?  Are they spoofing the people who try to imitate them?  Does it ease some of the tension of being good all of the time to talk bad some of the time?  Or is it just because it is funny?

So I'm a little puzzled today about the why of it, and wondering how many others would see past the words to how these men act.  "Words and actions in accord" are one of my usual signs of heart. If these mens acted like their words, I wouldn't like them. But I have seen them take risks to comfort a stranger, show compassion to people beneath the notice of most (by the social rules of this culture), and show the utmost politeness and cultural tolerance.  The tolerance was clearly a habit, too, the default value.

Only locked in the rig in the early morning do they vent like teenage boys with a radio show.  It is funny, but puzzling, too.

Sometimes you have to share what can't be shared. Years ago, I drank chichu with a reformed cannibal in the jungles of Ecuador.  In a very real way, that summed up my life at the time. I have a new summation now.

Friday, February 06, 2009


The details vary a lot, but I think I can put down in a very few steps what I do in a sudden close contact assault.

First of all, what I don't do and what I'm not talking about- sparring. If a bad guy puts his fists up and starts dancing around or extends both his arms and tucks his chin to his shoulder and his eyes go dead or he brandishes a knife, I don't play. Not unless I want to play that is, and that's a different thing. I've only failed to resist a few times. (Unprofessional, maybe, but validating.)  If someone sends you signals that they "want to fight" the signals are a gift. Get distance. Or a force option. Or friends. As Howard Webb at the academy used to say, "No intelligent man has ever gotten his ass kicked by someone who said, 'I'm gonna kick your ass.'" You have to be stupid enough to let him choose the game before you can lose an announced fight.

Watching a martial arts movie the other night it hit me. The set-ups were pretty realistic, but the responses were based on sparring. It was interesting, but frustrating, too. Things lasted too long. The director had to artificially hold back people so that the multiple opponent scenarios could work. The weapons stuff was stupid...

Variations on a theme, but this is the template for how I move when bad shit happens.
1) First point of action. Something is coming at me. Foot, fist, blade... don't know, don't care. Drop into the threat, back or side of my lower forearm(s) targeted to the outside of the threat's lead elbow.  Drop-step closing reliably neutralizes kicks. If the attack is high, my arms contacting his tend to deflect him in a circle. Low, they tend to pin the arm to his hip bone.

What this has going for it is that there are no fine motor skills, nothing to grip or coordinate. I don't need to know whether it is a weapon or not- I'm not dealing with a specific attack but with a direction of force. It doesn't even matter if the lead hand is the attacking hand. The back of the elbow is a leverage point: if the arm was high, I'm already behind him, if his arm was low, I will be behind him in the next motion.

2) Second action, and this is a continuation, there is no hesitation- the rear leg follows the drop step and I am either completely behind the threat if he gave me force high or at his rear flank if it was force low.

You understand that if someone is attacking, they are giving you force, right? Any other option I've experienced falls under 'brandishing'.  Nothing described so far is more complicated, or any different, really, than stumbling and recovering- something monkeys are wired to do and very fast at. So far no thoughts, no decisions.

3) Decision point. You shouldn't stop and think here, but in some cases you probably could. Even a guy with two knives can't do something to someone who is behind him and has control of his elbows. Not until he changes the equation, at least. So you don't give him time to change the equation. Nowhere in this template do I stop to evaluate. Anyway, this is the decision point and will depend on your goal and your parameters.  You can simply push and create space to possibly escape or draw a weapon, as Roger did. I prefer pushing into hard objects- a door jamb will break a clavicle far more efficiently than my best strike. With tall guys a hand slips up to the philtrum leverage point and the other stabilizes or blasts forward the base of the spine resulting in a harmless take down, neck sprain, severe concussion or spine fracture with a very slight change in body mechanics.  Those are just example, trying to demonstrate very fast things from both extremes of the force continuum. Everything else is there, too. Half-nelson take downs, knee stomps, kidney shots, cervical spine or just holding them by the jacket and shaking the threat like a terrier shakes a rat. Or throwing him into his friends.

4) Follow up, which can include just leaving.

First of all, this is back-engineered. I'm not trying to come up with something that should work so much as finding the common thread in things that have worked a lot.

Weapons do change things and they don't. A knife vastly changes the stakes, but if you change your strategy for high stakes, it sounds to me like you are fighting stupid when the stakes are low.  There's also a good chance you won't be able to tell if the fist coming at your stomach has a knife in it, so train so that it doesn't matter.

Again, though I feel like I've said this a million times: If the threat is good with a knife and plays at the right range and wants to whittle you into pieces, you're pretty much screwed UNLESS YOU LEAVE. Or use a weapon yourself. Or attack his mind directly. This template is for an ambush. The sucker-punch. "Buddy, you got the time?" And something flashes at your stomach or eyes.

You can tell that this is almost entirely positional. There is little more going on here than "Eeeeek! Get to my Safe Place!" My Safe Place just happens to be behind the threat.

The critical skills are the drop-step to close (including bringing the rear leg in, too many people leave it or their hips behind); learning to use the back of the arms (fewer tendons and vessels) to close and control; no-hands control of the leverage points; using leverage points and spine manipulation to control the whole body.  Maybe some on goal setting.

Unless you want to draw it out (I usually have to finish with cuffing, which adds a lot of steps) this is almost as fast as a "block and strike" combination or a "defang and counter". The steps leading up to getting to the safe place are at least as fast, since the footwork is essentially the same.

This is body contact range. It seems that many, nearly all, people equate proximity with danger. That depends on who owns the space. But this is close range stuff. I know some very good Filipino and related stylists who consider what they do infighting. I fight closer. Shoulders and pelvis touching is good for me. That is what makes the safe place safe, I think. The threat has to step out of the bubble before he can turn to get his weapons into play. That gives you that much free time to do as you will.

In most environments, the damage potential is great. Driving someone into a wall head first with the combined body weight of two people has a tendency to do the trick. This makes the template a faster finish than a block and strike, strike, strike... it can take a lot of strikes to make someone quit playing.

Last thing- I haven't done a lot of multiple threat fighting, but most of my fights involved tens of potential threats. I was almost always able to perform this and face the potential threats immediately. Since it happened to fast for most to register why Billy-bob was suddenly face down on the floor, the thought of jumping in rarely made it all the way across their minds. Since this template can be done running through and away and takes so little time... but that's all theory until I do it. If I get involved in an ugly bad one with multiple threats I'll let you know how it worked out.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Running With The Wind

The sky is immense here, the land barren. Mountains tower in all directions. Wild dogs howl in the night.  Hail, rain and thunder shot with flashes of brilliant sun and a sky as blue as my son's eyes.
I shake scarred hands and ask the story. My shadow is always there, covering my rear flank. Unobstrusively skilled, I hand him a short staff and he grins. He's a fighter on a lot of levels. Good to have my radar confirmed.

The half-adopted stray wags her tail. Her ears are cropped, the custom here with stray dogs (that puzzles me, neither killing nor adopting strays but taking the time to mutilate them). I scratch behind her stubby ears and share my breakfast- flat bread and cheese, usually, but sometimes garbanzo soup. Nasty.

I can run and I do. Sometimes the mud sticks to my shoes and I stop after only a hundred meters or so. Each foot weighs several pounds too much and I am standing inches taller. It will take forever to get all the mud off my shoes.

"A king was executed on that rock."
"That is the ruins of one of the oldest villages in the world."
"Would you like to buy a hunting falcon?"
"All the bullet holes are so high because they had to shoot from outside the walls."

A man with disfiguring scars does mundane business with a breathtaking beauty across the counter of a shopping gallery.

Just a minute, really, allowed to swing a hammer in a forge that has changed little since the dawn of the Iron Age. It is his heaviest hammer and I am trying to be precise, not show off muscle. He makes his living at this and I don't want to mess up his job.  The hammer rings, lift and stroke and it rings again. Yeah, I could do this and be happy for a very long time.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Living and Learning

In the last couple of days I've read some opinions on blogs comparing martial arts and military combat training. Very old stuff, soI'm not feeling compelled to source it. One mentioned that BCT (Basic Combat Training) was more about instilling confidence than skills. Another said that the weeks of combat training could not compare to the depths the average martial artist would reach in his or her years of training.

Both of these comments came from serious martial artists. Neither, as far as I know, has been involved in the military.  Obviously, I feel different. Here's why:

If time in training matters (and sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't- 100 hours doing bullshit does not outweigh 1 hour doing something worthwhile.) I'm not sure the argument would hold. A regular MA (not a fanatic like all of you probably are) goes to  two classes a week and, from the ones I've checked out over the last two years, the classes last for 90 minutes. 

ASIDE- There will be a lot of generalizations in here. For everything I bring up, from training hours to how systems develop to what is put in or left out of a system, I am aware of exceptions. So, if you feel compelled to point out how whatever I said doesn't apply to you, just be aware that you are writing it to feel special, not to enlighten me.

It used to be two hours, when I was a pup.  So, assuming no missing but no extra work either, this mythical average martial artist gets 156 hours of training a year. My BCT ran eight weeks. For six days a week we would get up at 0400 and, if we were lucky, hit the racks at 2200. Was all that time training? Damn near. You could argue that PT (Physical Training) are not skills, but I think the conditioning time from a martial arts class would be a bigger percentage. Meals? You learned how to eat quickt... but for arguments sake, we'll take the 45 minutes to an hour a day that we were allowed for eating out of the equation.

So, a MA gets about 156 hours of training a year. A recruit gets damn close to 816 hours of training in eight weeks. Even if my times are generous. (Marines get more.)

But that's really not the big deal.  MA instructors teach the same things, generally, that they were taught. If it's good enough for the 18th century, it's good enough for you.  It is enough to validate a system if your instructor or instructor's instructor successfully used it. Simple fact is that nothing pushed to the edge is always successful. That's how you know where the edge is.  There will be failures in dealing with violence and chaos. If there are no failures either someone is lying or it is not being used. Live with it.  
The military specifically uses failures to re-evaluate training. Every branch of the US military has a "Lessons Learned" or equivalent program. The troops coming out of BASIC now are getting skills that were learned by and/or reserved to elite forces in Vietnam. My training dates from just before the first Persian Gulf war and it is clearly outdated.  New recruit training, such as the CLS (Combat Life Saver) course is light years beyond anything we had and has (much to my sorrow as an old 91B) made the Combat Medic MOS obsolete. BCT is always changing but the changes are carefully based on necessity, not ego or fantasy or untested theory.

In martial arts, time is spent on warm-ups, basics, forms, sparring. That's not too different. It seems like it, maybe, because so much of MA time is spent on unarmed, one on one, non-lethal conflict. That makes it easy to specialize and focus.  A recruit's basics, forms and sparring include communication, small unit tactics, riflery and weapon maintenance, first aid, chain of command, operational security, and the law and rules of modern warfare. Plus a bunch of things that I may be forgetting.

BCT is a global approach to violence. Too many martial artists learn how to punch, but never learn when to punch. They don't get lessons on identifying an enemy or the legal parameters of force.

More than that- there are some very old systems that put a lot of stock into what I sometimes call the 'trivia of combat'.  It's important stuff and sometimes it is those little details that can tell a combat art from a fantasy. How do warriors walk in enemy territory? That's okuden in some Japanese arts. Basic marching order for soldiers.  Kuatso/Kwappo the 'lost' healing arts of jujutsu... I have a jujutsu manual from the 1940's that states categorically that there was no point in including them anymore because western first aid (1940s level!) was superior.  Bringing up eating- how do you eat in a war zone?  Set up meals? Schedule a rotation?  Probably a very esoteric aspect of koryu, but something you did and learned in BCT without even noticing it was a lesson.

'Eating Dirt'- one of the the articles I read extolled the value of "eating dirt": not learning anything useful but simply proving yourself through repetition and exhaustion. I found that insulting, frankly- the kind of bullshit that someone makes up to brainwash students before they give them whatever dribbles of real information that they actually have.  But there is value in exhaustion. Because sometimes you won't win by technique or power. Sometimes you will win by outlasting. By eating dirt on a level that most  of the MAs who extol the value would piddle in their little pants to actually have to endure. Six consecutive 18 hour days of training trumps any 8 hour black belt test that I've ever heard of. I notice that the guys who have been in BCT don't brag about their 'grueling' belt tests like others tend to.  Other, advanced training, like Ranger School or SERE takes this to a whole other level, but we're just talking about Basic, here. Nothing but basic.

Here's where MAs tend to get full of themselves- The hours spent on UAC (unarmed combat) in MA clearly trump the hours spent on it in BCT. But this is the deal- UAC is one of the things least likely to help a soldier. Just like in civilian life, dealing with predators, awareness trumps fighting skill and weapons trump unarmed skill.  Weapons are superior. They are better tools for stopping a human than a fist or a takedown. That's why we have them.  For the recruit, spending the hours on UAC that a MA does would simply be a waste of time. It would be confidence building in a useless and largely ineffective venue. Confidence building and nothing more.  They can get their confidence in other places.

Honestly, UAC is one of the things least likely to affect your safety as a civilian, too. If that's not self-evident let me know and I'll write about it another time.

Okay, so I'm a little bit of a cheer-leader, I'll admit that. When I was in I thought that the men and women I served with were special. They were intelligent (for the most part) dedicated, hard working... they were smarter, stronger and more honest than the whiny little rat bastards who delighted in talking them down.  This new crop is better in every way than my generation. I have the opportunity to watch them interact with a native populace that in any other time or venue would be denigrated and insulted. Not here. I can count the pejoratives I have heard in six months on three fingers and none of those were from soldiers. They exhibit respect and restraint and honor that the politicians who control them don't even dream of. At the same time, they are more technically and tactically proficient than we were.

I can stand here in this dry and sandy place and look at kids half my age and feel honored to be here with them.