Friday, June 05, 2009

Double Imaginary Bell Curves

People think weird.  They have an emotional/social/mythic ideal that is sometimes more real to them than reality.  Much of it is naive (using the world in the social science sense as uninformed).  The myth thing plays heavily in martial arts and self-defense: we have an image in our minds of what a martial artist or self-defense expert looks like and the image is often from central casting.

That runs dead on into a 'bell curve' image of what violence is like and a matching 'bell curve' image of what you need to prevail.  Those ideas are terribly wrong- flat out wrong and potentially fatally incorrect.

Most people don't hang out in war zones or work in jails.  Some take this to mean that my level of violence will be higher than theirs.  True. My baseline will be higher.  But my awareness of where I am and what I am doing, the tools and commo and teamwork are designed to match that level.  I'm not worried about the stuff I'm prepared for.  Like everyone else, if I get killed it will be by the stuff way off the baseline.

This applies to training hugely and it applies in both directions- fit martial athletes, the image that pops into our heads when we think of martial artists or self defense experts are the least likely to be victimized, least likely to need the skills they train... and when they are killed it is by something outside their baselines, trusting their kick-boxing skills until the gun they didn't see tears a hole through their innards.

Fit twenty year-olds don't need a lot of skill to be a handful in a fight. Give them the confidence to go in and permission to cut loose and they can do some damage.  Pile skill and experience on top of that (and be careful that you don't unwittingly remove the permission to cut loose) and you have a very dangerous person.  These are the people least likely to need self-defense skills.

The people who need them, the ones most likely to be victimized are the timid, the unathletic, the unaware... exactly the group least likely to seek out training.

"I'm good enough for what I'm likely to run into," he said, "I don't need to train for your environment."

It's not true and it is terrifyingly blind... yet it is true.  He is likely to run into exactly nothing in his life.  He is adequately prepared for that.  But violence comes in something closer to a hockey stick distribution than a bell curve.  It probably won't hit this kid. But if it does he will likely need skills and ferocity well beyond what I've needed.

There's an assumption in there- I give him enough credit to believe that he will walk away from the ones he can walk away from and that he won't go out of his way to create a violent situation.  Most of the low level stuff, the Monkey Dance stuff takes two to play.  So he's also prepared for that, for the stuff he could walk away from.

The result of false bell curves, naive beliefs:
  • The people who most need the training are the least likely to seek it
  • The people most likely to seek it, the athletes, are the ones most able to make a bad system work
  • People train for things that don't happen or for the most avoidable
  • They use an imagined rarity as an excuse to limit their own preparation
This shouldn't bother me. Most people train to bolster their fantasy life far more than they train for survival.  I understand that.

One more- when someone says, "I don't let negative energy into my life, I don't have to worry about this stuff."  They are using false reasoning. It will seem true more often than not because in this society and this time most people's lives will never be touched by extreme violence.  It is one of those things that is safe to believe until it isn't.  Then it becomes catastrophically untrue.  Or the converse, "Thinking about violence causes violence."  Not true, obviously, though experiencing violence will damn well make you think about it a lot.  It is an excuse to stay in a mental comfort zone. Nothing more.

Complete aside.  Kami's story is out!!!!


Steve Perry said...

But -- one's man's fantasy is another man's reality. (Heisenberg, while dealing on a quantum level, did have a point -- things are never certain, and "reality" is kind of hard to pin down.)

There are billions of people who have lived long and full lives and passed on whose reality on a day-to-day basic was not the same as yours.

I've lived sixty-odd years without having to deal with a room full of violent, incarcerated felons to make my daily bread, and I must confess that in my naive and fantastic belief, I don't foresee that event approaching the realm of possibility for as long as I might have left.

So ... why would I train for it? KInd of like practicing meteor-dodging, isn't it? Could happen, but I'm guessing the smart money wouldn't bet that way.

You raise interesting and thought-provoking questions and I'm always game to jump right in, but some of your sweeps seem a little broad at times.

Your reality is valid, but it also isn't the only one that is ...

P.S. Kami's story is a fine thing. Or as I just said on her blog, not bad for a white girl ...

Rory said...

I knew this would be hard to communicate. For most people the odds of getting a problem that requires physical force are pretty low. Most of what could go south, they can (and usually do) walk away from- the monkey dance stuff.
The middle ground- someone actively displaying intent and both giving you time to realize but leaving no chance whatsoever to avoid the situation- is largely non-existant.
What does that leave? Thinks like home invasions, wildings or 'wilding lites' like they had in Seattle a few years ago. Walk-by hamstringings. If a regular citizen truly needs these skills it will be for these kinds of problems.
That is leaps beyond what most train for in self-defense, but solidly where the problem is.

It has nothing to do with facing a room full of criminals, and why I consistently say that if something goes really bad with a civilian they will need higher intensity and ferocity than I usually do. The only advantage of working "a room full of violent, incarcerated felons" is that it gives multiple trips to something closer to this ballpark.

60+ years of it not happening and you are right to say that it is unlikely to happen. But if it does, it won't be incremental. There's no wading pool for this stuff.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. Food my thoughts as I get pulled into the realm of "The Teacher."

Oh, and you're wife's publishing deserves a post of it's own. I'm just saying...



Kai Jones said...

It only takes one addict to ruin your day.

A long time ago I wrote about women and rape, the essence of which is that it is not within your control to ensure that no predator will ever pick you as a victim, because no matter what you pick (training, behavior, demeanor, clothing, avoidance, geography) somebody has been attacked under the circumstances you think will prevent it.

And just like with mutual funds, past performance does not predict future returns. It doesn't matter that it hasn't happened: the past doesn't correlate here at all, let alone causally.

shugyosha said...

About "not letting violence into my life":

How accurate would it be to say that you do not control what comes "into" your life but you might control what comes out? Most things "pass by" without much chance for danger --and so it can be believed that you didn't "let them into" your life-- but violence has to be pushed out quickly enough that it doesn't have a chance to harm.

Steve Perry said...

So, it raises the question -- again -- how do you train for something totally unexpected? Is that even possible?

Guy with a rifle lines up on you from a hundred meters away as you are walking to your car and shoots you dead. Other than sensing him using the Force, how do you train to defend against that?

I'm sure such things happen, but I can remember the last time it did here in Beaverton ...

If you aren't on the look out for trouble, will you see it in time? At least some of the martial artists I know use Colonel Cooper's Color Coding, so they are paying attention. Will it be enough?

Isn't something better than nothing? A not-perfect answer better than no answer?

If somebody kicks in my front door while I am watching TV and charges into the house, I'll have maybe three, four seconds to do something useful before they come round the corner. Do I have an option? Well, in my case, yes. Will I have the wherewithal to use it? I won't know until I get there, but at least I'll have a choice. That's part of the martial arts mindset, at least as I understand it.

There's only so much you can do when it comes to totally unexpected, isn't there?

edgeofgrace said...

I think I'm kind of saying what Steve is saying here:

"Most people train to bolster their fantasy life far more than they train for survival."

Maybe true, but isn't training for *any* scenario that's not immediate a fantasy -- whether it's home invasion or sniper attacks, IF you are an average unathletic law-abiding civilian not living in a crime-ridden part of town? Isn't it then a matter of choosing *which* fantasy you train to, and then always acknowledging that you probably will get a completely different scenario if and when something happens?

Rory said...

Strawman, Steve. Yet you argue best when you argue my point.
Let's put it yet another way. Divide acts of violence into some arbitrary categories:

Emotional bullying- very common, only has the power the victim gives it, physical/martial arts response not justified.

Physical harassment- grade school teasing done by adults. Not legally justified to get physical. Walk away.

Monkey dancing- young people get caught up in it, but should be taught how to walk away. Most martial arts work just fine here.

The duel- Most MA are specifically taught for this scenario. Does it happen? Only with two ego driven idiots. Completely preventable.

The dream scenario- an attack where you have enough warning to be ready, the threat is dangerous enough to justify your coolest techniques and there is no possibility of preclusion so the legal leash is off. This is a martial artists wet dream, and about as likely as a supermodel showing up at your motel room with a bottle of Ardbeg and a note from your wife saying, "Go for it, honey."

Pretty bad stuff- the way just a garden variety criminal attacks- from super close range with a concealed weapon while trying to control part of your body. It's just a little tweak on the dream scenario- all the same stuff with the little caveat that it's not specifically designed to be easy. Suddenly, most MA don't work so well. That's fine... until it becomes an excuse not to train at this level. Look at it. Everything lower than this is either avoidable or imaginary. This is the first level of real threat and it is well past anything most martial artists have ever even considered. Or they hide their heads in the sand, pretend there is nothing they can do and try to tear down anyone who tries. And they really get their panties in a twist with anyone who has done it successfully multiple times and trained others to do so.

Really bad stuff- like your home invasion scenario. Numbers, weapons and surprise on the bad guys side and you have to fight not only the threat but your own freeze. This has been survived, multiple times... but the key was almost always a very specific mindset. Training helps here, but the most important training is accessing that mindset. This one is rare, but not as rare as the martial wet dream scenario.

Then the strawman, your sniper scenario. Or nuke 'em from orbit. Or meteors falling out of the sky. Violence is bigger than any of us and no matter who we are or what we have done, there are levels that will crush us like bugs. Sometimes I think that 90% of the students are training to subconsciously deny that fact. When you can keep your eyes open to it and still train for the other levels, then martial arts is more of a tool than an amulet.

And even at this level some people survive, just on pure luck. If you find yourself breathing by luck it's kind of nice to have an idea what to do next.

Danny said...

Good stuff Mr. Miller. Thanks for sharing your knowledge/thoughts.

Steve Perry said...

Strawmen, strawmen, everywhere -- scaring the crows over in your yard, too ...

Sniper, SWAT team door-kickers, meteors -- they all happen, albeit rarely, and yes, overwhelming violent events beyond any one person's capacity to deal with are by their natures not something for which you can reasonably train.

If the Chinese Army comes over the hill while you are on the way to the 7-Eleven you are in deep shit no matter how well-trained or armed you might be.

But the wilding hamstringers are how likely? More than the sniper, but still rare in these parts.

If you can't see it coming at all, you can't defend against it, which was my point with the shooter. If you can, with even a couple heartbeats notice, then you can use your martial art. Assuming you don't freeze, etc.

I know people who have done it and survived.

It's all fantasy -- all the scenarios are what-if?- theoretical until they happen. The question is, how likely are you to run into one, and what can you do about it if you do? If you are paying attention and you can buy yourself a few seconds, then what do you have?

Run if you can, sure. What if you can't? Or won't?

That's a reasonable thing for which to train. A situation you can *do* something about. Somebody shoots me in the head from across the street, I'm done. If I see him lift the rifle, maybe I'm not done.

Here's one you left out of your violence categories: You are on the way to the 7-Eleven -- dangerous places, those -- and you see a man attacking the teenage girl who lives on the corner. You have time enough to dial 911, but are you just gonna stand there and let him maul or rape her, until the police arrive?

You can stay out of it. Are you going to?

No, I didn't think so.

You and granny are coming out of the 7-Eleven with your Icees and a guy moves in on you in the parking lot. You been eating your carrots and your vision is sharp enough so you actually see him coming. You know that bad guys don't always want a light for their cigarette when they ask for one because you read Miller's book and thus know a little about criminal sneak attacks. You have a clue, if not a certainty, that something might coming. Would that cock your hammer?

Knowledge is power, sure enough. And there are all kinds of knowledge.

Steve Perry said...

I've always like the AA prayer:

Lord, let me change the things I can change; allow me to accept the things I cannot change; and give me the wisdom to know the difference between the two.

It's an ongoing battle with me and that last one ...

Mark Jones said...

So, Rory, the "pretty bad stuff" level you mention. How do you train for that? If most martial arts instruction doesn't address that, are martial arts useful at all? Useful if you find a teacher who _does_ address it? Or can you prepare for it in some other way entirely?

Fred Ross said...

There's something I've been tossing around in my head for a while, a port of the "number of nines" approach to reliability in telecoms. It refers to the the number of nines in your 99.9999...% uptime. It's a folk theorem that every nine costs an order of magnitude more than the one before it.

So the question is how to most efficiently rack up the maximum number of nines. Removing yourself to a decent, low crime area, not monkey dancing, and this kind of thing already takes us to better than eight nines. Now the question is how to rack up the next couple.

But I suspect that this measurement is too narrow. What is downtime here? Anything that will seriously disrupt your ability to plan for the future at some normal level. From this point of view, a heart attack is every bit as much of a problem.

So if we allow "social" strategies -- that is, if we allow that attempting to raise the number of nines of everyone around you, such as by becoming an EMT, is a good strategy -- I suspect the number of nines suddenly drops again, but there are way cheaper ones to be bought than ones against violence specifically. Or at least, there is probably a certain degree of preparedness which is optimal here. It's actually probably calculable.

But as for the whole bell curve thing, the poor Gaussian distribution gets forced to do more work where it is totally helpless than any other object in the history of mathematics. I don't even try anymore. I haven't worked on data that was Gaussian in years.

Rory said...

Re "Strawmen" If I've ever misquoted someone and argued against the misquote because it was easier than arguing their stance, please point it out. If I'm doing it, I can't see it without a little help from my friends.

Mark- There is a lot going on in training- at the most basic level it can be matching stimulus-response pairs. Just using stimuli that resemble common attacks instead of easy attacks is a huge step forward for far too many. The biggest gains I see in the martial artists that work with me is that they start shedding some of the rules that they have picked up subconsciously.

Fred- and this ties into Mark's question too- The first place I heard of that phenomenon was in wind resistance and bicycles. There is another way though. Doing the same type of thing, like polishing technique, gets big gains early on and then you have to work hard for almost microscopic gains. But you get big gains when you shift paradigms. Striking power I was taught hip, hip, hip with a little bit of structure there but not overtly pointed out (but even a little structure in striking is a huge improvement over rotational power alone) then I learned the drop step and saw that it had been there all along, codified in kata but missed or misunderstood by many (all of my karate instructors). Then whip action and dead hand. Then fajing and with that some more insights into structure. Then I started working on the ones I can combine. Then added using his motion to add to my power and then...

And there's another piece, too, which was more central to the point of the post. Let's say that the bad stuff is harder than the easy stuff. Harder to train for, harder to pull off. If you are going to train for 5, 10, 20, 40 years what is the mindset behind training to defeat what you can walk away from but avoiding training for the bad stuff? I really don't get that. If I'm going o spend a life time training with an axe, I want to train on wood, not cubes of butter.
It never occurred to me that there was any controversy in this. I had assumed that most people go with what they are taught without ever thinking about it, but once pointed out it was pretty obvious.

shugyosha said...


about the axe... it depends. Are you training to cut wood or are you training to swing the axe?

Keep well.

Rory said...

Either way, Ferran. If you do it on butter, any crap will work and it gives you no feedback to tell you if the technique was what cut it or the butter was just that easy.

shugyosha said...

Then I didn't explain myself clearly enough.

Let's change axe for sword. If you're doing it "to swing the sword" it's much easier to fall into "wushu acrobatics" than it is if you're doing it to chop someone, I believe.

Steve Perry said...

As I understand the strawman argument, one makes an assertion misrepresenting an opponent's position, then knocks it down. I didn't do that -- I asked how you train for something that is a total surprise, e.g., a distant sniper. Because you keep saying that the bad shit is a) stuff you won't see coming and that b) it will come all in a heap, no increments. No wading pool, right sploosh into the deep end.

So, as I see it, you saying I'm stuffing and then knocking down strawmen is, well, a strawman argument ...

And, the bad stuff -- a shot to the head from down the block -- fits that can't-see-it-coming, overwhelming-force cenario to a faretheewell.

You can't train for it, which was and is my point -- any more than you can train for meteors or lightning strikes. Sudden, overwhelming, unstoppable violence is, by definition. not something for which you can prepare. When the ground shakes, even Hercules sits down.

My thesis is that if you can see it coming, you can devise a response. And better that you train yourself to be able to see the possibilities and have something in the tool box.

What to do if the teenage neighbor girl is getting mugged -- which you can see and do something about or not -- is an example of perceiving a problem in advance and that gainsays the If-you-have-time-to-see-it-coming-you-can-run dictum.

You can run. But you -- and probably I -- won't.

Same if you are out walking with granny or the toddlers or your spouse. Avoiding stuff is better, but here are three relatively common events that will make running unlikely.

If one is clueless and the bad guy steps up and clocks one, then maybe all the martial arts stuff is fantasy. But part of training goes to awareness, at least in some circles, so that you might have enough warning to a) avoid the situation entire, or if not, b) have time to come up with something to throw at it. That you can train for, and that isn't completely off the beam.

I think it is good that you raise the question. And that you admit you don't have all the answers. I don't have them all, either, but I believe I have some answers and that's what I'm offering. Maybe what I have is not enough, but unless you have something that is demonstrably better to replace it -- which I ain't heard yet -- then tossing what I have because you say it's a fantasy doesn't make any sense from where I sit.

Unknown said...

It is better to have It and not need it, then to need it and not have it.
The more you know how to fight armed and unarmed, the less you should want to.
The main benefit of martial arts is mental and physical health, not beating up others. Confidence and stamina are priceless. The irony is after so many years of training to defend your self in a fight-street or cage, is you have been beat up 100 times more in practice than you ever will in a fight. The other fact is even Bruce Lee or any martial artist should know, anyone can be knocked out, flukes happen.
The best weapon is a calm and clear mind. I have learned even if justified there is always a negative outcome to violence, legal, emotional, and possibly karmically.
I enjoyed everyone's point of view.