Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pages of Notes

Been busy. Right now I am looking at pages of scrawled notes covering everything from career options to a little tree that tries to show the connections between different types of violence.

One of the difficult issues with violence as a study is that relatively few people have extensive experience. Of those, even fewer have the drive to analyze what they have experienced. That leaves small numbers, widely scattered, trying to figure things out alone. That, in turn, means that each of us create our own private language.

Again and again (and maybe again, but not much more than that- there are literally less than five people that I can talk to on some stuff) we find that we have experienced a thing, but we have each chosen a different word for it. My 'predator' is MM's 'criminal' his 'predator' is my 'process predator'. So getting together with any of these few- Mauricio, Mac, Sean, MG and now MM-- is an exercise in linguistics: "Oh, I've seen/done that but I call it..." There isn't a common language for this stuff. And we desperately need a language if we want to share.

There is also a special dynamic to speaking about problems with someone who thinks a lot like you do, but not quite. You tend to have wondered about the same things in different ways. To have looked at issues from perspectives similar enough to share but different enough to learn from each other. It makes connections. Your brain gets new good stuff. Older stuff can settle into new patterns.

Probably the precious thing is the ability to talk about it directly. The good stuff and the bad stuff. The things that so few people have any frame of reference to understand. It's like childbirth that way- you can watch videos and read books but there is no way I would pretend or delude myself that I understand what my wife has gone through. Nor would I insult her by pretending to.

I've had two days of being able to talk about stuff. That's nice. Now it's time to get back to work. Books are waiting.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Trained but not Taught

The kid doesn't know anything. Not a single form, no techniques. He started on his first technique yesterday- side breakfalls. He already has a sense of distance and is actually pretty ruthless at controlling space and getting to blindspots. He uses leverage points, especially the ones on the face, quickly and without hesitation.

I have never really taught him anything. On the other hand, I've been training him since he was born. So he doesn't know any stances, but he knows to drop his weight hard and fast after he grabs me. His feet will be in a stance when he catches his own drop, but he won't think about it. He won't memorize it or try to get it to look a certain way.

I've never taught him a hook, jab or even my beloved shotei. We play with things another martial artist might call ballistic and structured striking but they are general ways of movement, not refinements of a specific technique.

Sensitivity, power, movement. The next should be 'fighting to the goal' and that will lead into (worthy) goals and parameters, which are the roots of strategy. That will lead both into personal ethics and into analyzing potential problems. Then the game will become deciding what is appropriate on the fly and under stress.

He's not skilled in the way that most people are inclined to measure it. But he can be a handful, which I can't say about many people with, say, five years of formal training. He's a good kid. I'm curious what happens when and if he starts studying with a real martial arts instructor.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I Usually Don't Respond to Tags...

Four Lies and a Truth

I don’t do tags. I don’t join groups or causes or games on FaceBook. But Pat did this one and I find myself still thinking about it, so here are five statements. One is the truth, the rest are lies.

1) My Arabic nickname in Baghdad was ‘Jrade Naghal’. Rat Bastard. ‘Shaitan’ was already taken.

2) I don’t dream about people I know and even in my dreams, I’m faithful to my wife. Consequently, I haven’t finished an erotic dream in over twenty years.

3) Despite hundreds of Use of Force incidents, I have never been subjected to an Internal Affairs investigation.

4) The only person who has ever put me down with one punch was my father.

5) I hate eggplant in all of its forms. Terrible taste, terrible texture.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Catch Up

I've been busy.

Got to cross hands with Steve P. then had to immediately leave, take care of some business for K (which I thought would be chauffeuring to a writer's event but somehow transitioned into buying a bunch of plants which often happens with my habibi) then pack to get up early and hit the road with Jake for a short trip to Eastern Oregon.

It was a good time and I am sore and a little tired and have lost just over four pounds since Tuesday.

Playing with Steve- I genuinely enjoy the man. Broad experience, sharp intelligence and a winsome little kid on the inside. It's comfortable and challenging at the same time. Playing was fun and it was playing. Both of us wanted to learn what each other had (minds and words are one thing, bodies and movement another) or maybe what we were, but neither was there to prove anything. He deftly set it up to bypass any kind of dominance game ("Show me how you teach..."). Very nice. I liked the skill. He does credit to a very good teacher.

Insight- there were several, but this plays off of other things from the week: Training can be isolated (just doing actions separate from an opponent or threat) alive, resisting, 'fully resistant' and assaultive. Different people put different values on each, but you will consistently find that people trained isolated are blown away by the difference when they have to work 'alive', when they have to improvise and respond. People who train live are shocked by how much doesn't work when they meet resistance for the first time. People who are used to a certain level of resistance (the level approved and considered safe in their classes) are often helpless the first time they meet high-level resistance, like in a MMA match or serious class. It is just as big a gap going from 'fully resisting' to surviving an assault. The mental/emotional difference and the technical difference, literally what works and what doesn't, is just as big between being on the receiving end of an assault and 'full resistance' as 'full resistance' is from complete non-contact.

This is a problem and it feeds off a human tendency- to believe that the most intense thing you have experienced is close to the most intense thing anyone has experienced. I believe that the ability to say, "Words can cut like a knife," comes largely from never having been cut with a knife. My list of levels above only goes as far as I have gone- there are probably levels beyond a brutal surprise assault (bombing? nuking?)
See why I like Steve? He draws things out that otherwise I have a tough time conceptualizing.

It was a very good time. Learned a lot, made me think.

The road trip- Drive to a remote corner of Eastern Oregon, camp under unbelievable stars (no dust, no smog, no moon, no light pollution) then hike a river trail, swim to Idaho, swim back, poke around the foundations of an abandoned mining town and the entrance to a few mines (all the ones we found were sealed and we couldn't go deeper). Almost the whole time spent in deep conversation with my oldest friend.

The swimming thing- in my circle of friends I am a notoriously poor swimmer. With fins and a snorkel or scuba tanks I'm fine. Kind of iffy on the surface. Jake was fatalistic- he's tried to talk me out of stupid things before and has graduated to just giving me safety advice, which I do listen to... but c'mon, how many times do you get a chance to swim across state lines? Especially the Snake River in Hell's Canyon.

Needless to say, I survived, though Jake's description, "You swim like a whale, a whale recently harpooned and partially torn up by orcas..." was probably pretty accurate. Total muscle failure in my arms a couple of times, oxygen and calorie debt I still haven't quite recovered from and then the five mile hike back to the camp space.

Beautiful river, beautiful hike. Imnaha river to the Snake. If you get a chance, go for it. You can swim to Idaho!

Insight- Lots of driving, lots of talking. Side effect of the time in the Middle East, I have reason to doubt a lot of common sources. There are a lot of things bandied about as 'true' or common knowledge that I either doubt or have direct knowledge that they are false. I'm not talking false conclusions here, but false evidence- I'm not disputing 2+2 equals four, but I've seen one of the 2's and it wasn't actually a two. The conclusion may or may not be right, but if I doubt the premise, I doubt the conclusion.

Anyway, I've noticed that several people take "I'm not sure about that" as an argument against. Some take questioning sources as a direct attack on their conclusions and even themselves. I'm not sure I understand the phenomenon, but it is there. Perhaps it's because people want others to agree with them and someone saying, "I don't know" is staying aloof from both herds. Maybe. It seems strange how sure people can be about things that they can't possibly know. (And this feedsback as well to Steve Perry's insights on the politics and folklore and lineage and history disputes in the martial arts.) It's cool, in the way that really, really stupid things can be funny.

Nice to have a time of skill building and wisdom seeking and friend-making spread from a nice suburb to a snake-infested wasteland. Beauty in the wasteland, the skies. Good times.

Less stream-of-consciousness next time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Myth of the Fully Resisting Opponent

This is something I wrote some time ago, in response to a specific statement. It came up again on the last post, so I thought some clarification was in order. There has been some slight editing fromn the original version.

Van's forum is all about facing up to the flaws in our beliefs, the things that we think are true that may have a cost when things go bad. We are popping the myths that we create about ourselves and our training.

I submit that if you have never had anyone try to gouge your eyes out to escape from a rear naked strangle, you've never tried the technique against a "fully resisting opponent". The first time, I let go of the strangle to protect my eyes. The second time, I knew better. (Edit- but one eye is still blurry almost twenty years later. From that eye gouge or the one four years later? Not sure.)

If you've never cranked on the technique so hard and fast that you heard a "crack" from his throat, you were playing a gentleman's game, politely.

In the time it takes to put someone in a juji gatame and start to yell "Back off or I'll break his arm!" You can easily be kicked in the head three times. Maybe more. I remember the first three pretty well.

If you've feel you've hit a real opponent as hard as you can hit, take the gloves off and try again. I've known people with shattered hands to keep punching, and people with broken skulls to keep fighting.

A fully resisting opponent isn't resisting. He is acting. A pure attack with no thought of defense. He's not resisting your technique, he's trying to beat you so badly, so quickly, that you can't USE a technique. (Edit- I was thinking of the predator ambush when I wrote this.)

I avoid the threads on "Uechi pointy things" (Edit, and what really brought this subject up- someone was claiming that eye gouges and throat spears weren't allowed in his particular brand of ultimate, anything goes, cage fighting because they either didn't work or were too hard to execute.) because I don't know enough about Uechi to contribute. But I have once used a spear hand to the throat. It was easy. It didn't require me to practice magic or have faith in untested complex precision techniques. It left a man who outweighed me by over a hundred pounds on his knees trying to scream and making no sound. That image still bothers me.

Train hard. Hard rolling is fun and good for you and good training. But don't pretend that either you or the other person is going all-out. You want to use the same partner tomorrow and so does he. And don't pretend that dangerous techniques are difficult or complex. You don't avoid them because they're difficult to make work, you avoid them because you need to recycle training partners.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Glitches and Denial

Since we're talking about catastrophic failures...

A little background: With the exception of rookie officers I rarely teach rank beginners. At the occasional seminar there will be some new people and sometimes I'll do a hands-on class for non-martial artists. The awareness-based paradigm works pretty well for that, so it's okay. But most of the people I work with already know how to move and how to fight. They have the skill.

What usually happens is that we wind up fishing for glitches. Expose him or her to the common attacks and see if they are still on familiar territory. Show ranges of intensity and power and mindsets and see if they panic or choke. Increase the complexity- of terrain, of number and type of threats, of weapons. Hold them to legal standards. Let them deal with darkness and slippery stuff. When they choke- and sometimes it is just a fraction of a second of hesitation or a tightening around the eyes- we work on that, dig it out, see what it is and where it came from. Then we see if it can be dispelled or must be worked around.

Some of them can't be dispelled. Some people can't eat larva no matter how hungry they get and some people can't take a life or blind. Training to do something you know you can't make yourself do is a waste of time.

And here's the rub- most people have no idea of what they can or can't do on the extreme edge. They think they do, they build elaborate stories about their prowess and bravery and what they will do if...

Here's the real deal- I've put a man through scenarios, a big, tough jail guard with probably a hundred fights under his belt and he could not point a real gun at another human being. He wasn't even aware that he wasn't doing it. I've seen another who curled up and 'died' when hit with a plastic bullet. I've seen the 6'4" former marine who ran and hid from inmates and the 5'2" single mom with no training or experience who fought like a tiger. And the blackbelt with a roomful of trophies who still freezes though no one could ever call him a rookie. What you believe about yourself, all the stories, all the logical progression (I've been training for this for ten years, I've been hit by blackbelts, surely I won't freeze!") doesn't have a whole lot of bearing on how you will perform. That sucks, but there it is.

It ties back to the last post. The catastrophic failures come from glitches, they come from choking. Mental errors. Thinking when you should be moving and seeking to understand when you should be escaping. Stuff like that.

The denial hits hard, here. You froze and got your ass kicked. Train harder. You got ambushed and pushed down some stairs. Better switch styles, obviously the first was inadequate. It doesn't apply to me. I visualize. I won't freeze, we train against fully resistant opponents*.

When you step through the looking glass, it's not just that the world has changed or the rules have changed. You have changed. In ways that you can't know from this side. Those changes may go both ways- there may be things that you believe you can and should do that you can't. And there may be things that you do in panic or rage that you never believed you were capable of. And hear this well- the psychic damage to you doesn't come from what you did or didn't do. It comes from the parts of your identity, the story you've been telling yourself, that turn out to be lies. All the things that you pretended that you knew about yourself that failed to be true.

Some of you will be braver than you think. Some more cowardly. Most will be stupider but a few will have a clearer head than they though possible.

But too many will just pretend it won't happen. And as long as they can stay in their nice, clean dojo and kwoons and get pushed, (but not past the real mental limits) they can believe any damn thing they want. And they will believe what makes them comfortable.

Be aware of your glitches. Just as you don't get to choose what bad things will happen to you, you don't get to pick who you will be when they do. That is a you that must be discovered. Start with the glitches.

*Which are something of a myth, anyway.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Four-Way Breakdown

There are four (at least) ways that survival fighting breaks down.

The first is physical, and this is the essence of combat: applying force from your body or tool to the threat or threats. Avoiding similar damage coming at you. There is a lot here, enough to make thousands of techniques and to justify the hours and years of training. Sometimes I seem dismissive on this aspect. Partially it's because once you have been doing it for a long time, it seems pretty simple. Power generation, targeting, power conservation and the infinite quest for the most efficient motion. Take some comfort in that if you want, but that's not the real reason I don't spend a lot of time writing or thinking about this. The real reason is that I have rarely seen anyone with any training who was crushed in an assault because of a lack of physical skills. Almost all simply choked. They knew what to do, they couldn't make themselves do it. So the physical side of it, in my opinion, is a critical skill to success, but does nothing to prevent catastrophic failure. That comes from elsewhere.

The second is the cognitive stuff. Strategy, tactics, evaluation and planning. The ability to see what is going on and make a decision. Right here, the infinite ways to see and prioritize these possibilities are the reason for the huge variety of combative systems. Do damage or avoid damage? Attack the mind or the body? Minimal harm or maximal harm? Break bones or disrupt balance? Weapons common or rare? Expect multiple opponents or duels? Ambushes or matches? In each of these pairs, the one you emphasize (no one discounts one of them entirely, though people sometimes argue as if they do) will drive how you move and what you teach.
There is a big potential for failure here IF the students are led to believe that the strategy and system they are learning is perfect, or even good, for all situations. Tactics and movements from an unarmed duel aren't the same as an armored medieval battlefield or an ambush from behind at a urinal.
But it's an easy fix, to an extent (and this is not a guarantee of success, nothing is): From day one students are taught to keep their eyes open, don't count on anything, and be ready to adapt. That's my personal definition of ju in a nutshell.

Third is the emotional level, and there are really two of these.

The first is what all the people who like to talk about the warrior identity call 'spirit'. This is the internal aspect of emotion: How much do you feel fear and how do you deal with it? More important, in my experience, is the question of security. Can you act when you can't begin to predict the outcome? Maybe it's a level of faith, maybe confidence, maybe ignorance and maybe those are all aspects of the same thing. Is your instinct when you are pressed or scared or someone screams to deal with it yourself? Or do you look around for someone else to deal with it? Or pretend it's not happening? People have been brutally beaten and some have probably died curled into a little ball hoping mommy or the cops or the cavalry will come save them.
This is the source of a lot of catastrophic failure, and the source is strictly internal.

I haven't seen a training system that grants what you need for this. I have seen it grow in individuals over time when those individuals were exposed to other people they respect who have it. And I've seen it fail to grow. Still speculating on the reasons, trying to sort out why and who. (I have seen one system that tests for it in a single minute. That's cool, but the injury rate is pretty high.)

The fourth is another emotional level- the social screaming monkey level. The psuedo-cognitive level that always wants to know 'what does this mean to me?' It is the social mind that wants to put everything in a social context- does this person trying to kill me hate me? Did I do something to deserve this? Why is this happening to me?

The thing about this is that tries to deal with a violent situation from the rules and point of view of a regular world that doesn't countenance violence. It is just like trying to cling to the plane after you have already jumped. It's too late for that. The monkey mind insists on trying to analyze a social solution to what has become a physical problem. Right here is where a lot of the freezing and the catastrophic failures happen.

This is another level of 'letting go'- some people don't realize when they have stepped through the looking glass into a new world. Others can't let themselves work under the rules of the new world. Some is conditioning, which goes deeper in some people than others.* For some it may be wiring- and this can go a couple of ways. Not just physical fear, but fear of the unknown are different in different people. The balance of whether physical damage or death is more demotivating than social embarrassment and humiliation is another. (Point, logically it would seem that death was a bigger fear than social concerns. If that were true, armies would dissolve and teen age boys wouldn't do all the stupid things that we remember so fondly. No one would smoke or use drugs or alcohol. Fear of death isn't as big a motivator as it logically should be. Just an observation, not a position.)
These things all contribute to whether someone can let go of their civilization, slip the leash and actually do what they have trained, physically, to do.

Not only is there a lot of catastrophic failure stemming from this, but there is a lot of denial on the subject. This is one of those things that being told your mind and body will change, that you might freeze, that you may not be able to make yourself do your patented fight ending move gets shrugged off. Or instructors parrot the words, but in this case the words are not the music.

So far, and I like to think it's been pretty successful, I describe as well as I can what to expect and how I have broken the freeze. Just get them to recognize that they have crossed that border. Let them know that the rules are different there.** This is one of the places where I do give a talisman to selected people. Here it is: "Do you have the will to survive? Are you a good person?" If you have both those things down to your soul, you will do the right thing, you'll do what you need to do and no more. Let your body run with it. Trust yourself."

*Everyone who teaches women to fight needs to read this article. Originally written for heavy fighting in the SCA it was a very valuable tool for teaching not just martial arts students, but also cops. Tobi went even farther in the book, "The Armored Rose." Out of print, but well worth the price.

** It's not a world of savagery and blood, either, at least not for me. Professionals are required to do the right thing in there and by and large we do. There are rules in violence, they just aren't the same ones.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Physics and Fear

Physically, personal combat can be pretty simple. If I can be more efficient than you- get power to the right place faster than you can- I will prevail. That becomes a very complex simplicity very quickly.
If I am better at generating and delivering power, I have the advantage. If you know how to disrupt balance and can do it at the right time, you can neutralize my advantage in power. If I can keep the encounter at a range where your tools are ineffective, I have the advantage. If you can control how I perceive time and opportunity, the advantage is yours. There's a lot there, but the actual physics of it is pretty clean. Simple.

That's the baseball bat problem. The problem of someone swinging a bat at your head isn't that complicated. The closer you can contact to his shoulders (hips, technically...) the less force you need to absorb or dissipate. The bat can only move along one plane and each plane has specific dead zones. The momentum of the weapon in a committed attack gives you certain gifts and the constrained momentum of an uncommitted attack limits the damage you will take. It's not hard, physically.

But mentally and socially, knowing what to do is a far cry from doing it. In the last post, there were some good comments, especially from the BTDT. Uncomfortable... pressure to succeed... concerned... PISSED... cold and very, very focused... Some speculation that it is probably the same chemical, but interpreted differently. I would go so far as to say the hormone is properly used instead of taking over. LawDog says something to the effect that the hindbrain has the authority to take you over.

A very, very primitive part of your brain has the power and the inclination to shut down the sophisticated parts of your brain, including your martial arts skill, and revert to an animal or child, a screaming monkey or passive victim hoping mommy can save you.

So we get past that. All of the BTDT regular commenters have done it. The question is , "How?"
Anonymous speculates that adrenaline junkies get the same thing, so it might be a training issue. That sounds wrong. The trouble with chemical reactions is how to tell if we have learned to deal with it or we have desensitized to it. That's a profound issue, because if it is a purely desensitizing process, there truly is no substitute for experience and training in complex skills will not help you at all until a certain threshold number of encounters. If it is a training issue, it can be taught...

Evidence- Mark brings up that in my one operation where I was assigned as shooter, I got a lot of the adrenaline effects that didn't occur anymore in hand-to-hand stuff. Tunnel vision (which actually seems to help with accurate shooting); time dilation; extraneous thoughts and new after-effects. All true. But I broke through it faster and was operational almost immediately. So it appears (aware that a sample of one isn't much for statistical purposes) that breaking the freeze can be learned or modeled as a skill. That's good to know, and might give us the crack we need to teach it.

It's also clear that BTDT people don't feel the fear the same way. Or so it seems. There may be no difference between "Oh my god I'm gonna die!!" and "This isn't going to end well." The only difference may be the words. You can't measure what is in someone else's head.
It may be as simple as having done it a hundred times without anything too bad happening. Maybe it is simply unknown territory for some and less so for others. It may be the difference between singing in public for the first time and a professional performer.

Or it could be a difference in wiring. I was raised in rural eastern Oregon. Some of those ranchers and loggers were tough. But when it got down to it, did they handle pain better (using will to ignore it) or did they feel it less (just insensitive nerves)? How would you tell?

So- deal with fear better? Or feel it less?

I'll think more on this. This emotional aspect is what I fear is missing from most training- or worse, students are simply told that it won't happen to people trained in X ("because we meditate" or "Because we practice self-discipline" or "because mushin will take over," or....)

And this is just one emotion- fear. And just one way- fear inside yourself. A panicked animal is a different animal to fight than a rational person, even if the animal is human. Incoming rage seems to trigger a monkey-minded fear in most people. And a truly cold killer, someone who can take your life or simply, coldly, put you down and put the cuffs on without engaging any emotion at all is another thing entirely.

Lots here. Consider the surface barely scratched.