Friday, October 30, 2009

Conscience and the Rules

Working on the website is kicking my ass. It looks beautiful on my computer. Finally got it to upload to the host site... and then it doesn't actually show up on the web. Or it does, but without pictures and in a black-on-black unreadable font. Sigh, time to call in the big guns...

VC wanted more on the value and the cost of a conscience. It's not some deep or profound thing, if you think about it... but many people go their whole lives without being exposed. Some things suck. There are many things that are cool to think about that suck to do.

When you apply force to a human being you should only do it when it is the right thing to do, when the costs of not applying force outweigh the cost of applying force. If you pull the trigger (and you don't miss or...) no matter the circumstances, you will have destroyed a unique thing. Something more unique and of greater artistry than a Rembrandt or the only copy of a Mozart fugue. Would you destroy "Starry Night" to save your daughter? I would. But I would feel bad about it.

The cost of a conscience is two-fold. The fear of bad feelings can make people hesitate or not act at all. Don't get me wrong: fear of other bad stuff can also keep people passive and make them victims- but fear of your own conscience is an interesting thing because it is both very powerful in (some people) and completely imaginary. The other cost is that people can beat themselves up emotionally over things that are objectively good decisions. That's just the way it is. No matter how logical and necessary the action was, you can expect to wake up in the middle of the night for a while (sometimes for the rest of your life) wondering if there was another way.

And the cost is the value. The feeling bad and the expectation of feeling bad is what keeps us from using violence as a convenience. Those that don't have this do horrendous things.

Thus, as near as I can remember in Toby's words, comforting a girl who defended herself: "That you feel bad doesn't mean you did a bad thing, it just means that you are a good person."

There were a lot of good comments on the post on teaching, but Robert made one about context and permission and working in the jail. I'm going to deliberately misunderstand it in a useful way, a way that ties into conscience:

One of the keys to personal 'permission' was a by-product of working as a corrections officer but is not dependent on it- I knew (and had to know) force law inside-out, upside-down and backwards. Knew it so well that I could compare it with my feelings and internal ethics and work out the issues well in advance. For the most part, I found that when an instructor said something that made my eyes twitch e.g. "You are authorized to use one level of force higher than the threat," my instincts were usually spot on.

There are rules. There are social-monkey rules to conflict that we have learned from birth. And there are legal rules that we are beholden to whether we want them or not. When one person says "I'd rather be tried by twelve than carried by six," does he also say "I'd rather spend seven years in a state prison than take a beating." ? Without a thorough knowledge of force law and probably a good knowledge of real conflict- at least enough to recognize when you are monkey-dancing and not defending yourself- you might find some pretty weird thoughts popping up in a conflict.

You can choose to believe that you are immune and if you have one or two encounters that only last a second, you might not have felt it, but get a copy of "Deadly Force Encounters" and take it for a read. Even trained officers in life-or-death firefights found themselves worrying about lawsuits and IA investigations.

So part of the context, Robert, and in my opinion more powerful than the uniform or the duty to act, was a really thorough knowledge of the rules. There is no reason why a martial arts student can't know this as thoroughly as I did. For that matter, there really isn't a good excuse for anyone who bills himself as a self-defense instructor not knowing this stuff.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Admin Notice

First things first. Met Toby and he is a damn fine man. One of the ones who understands the value, and the cost, of a conscience- and can explain it to his daughters.  I was most impressed.

The old website, chirontraining, hasn't been updated since I went to Iraq.  The connection there was too unstable (most of the time) or I was too busy (the rest of the time) to do anything with it.  At some point the provider changed the program that runs it, so I haven't been able to work on it.  Turns out our lovely little macs have a program just for making web pages, so for the last three days any spare minute has been spent trying to design a new web page.  Once all the pages are mostly done, we'll see if it up loads.  Wish me luck.

So, question: for the first time this will include a page of the stuff I am willing to do for money. I intend to title the page "Whorin': Things I'll do for Money" but certain elements (cough)wife(cough) indicate that it might be less than professional.  I think it's the oldest professional... but... any input?

Anyway, staying busy.  Thanks for the input on the last post and there is a lot to think about, stuff that deserves an answer in the body of the blog.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Teaching for Chaos

What I teach is dealing with violence, and that dictates a lot of what and how and who I teach.

I don't teach most people. Children don't need to know about certain parts of the world. They need to believe, at some level, that the world is safe and good. Maybe it's not true and maybe it's not necessary, but I want children to have that. I don't teach stupid people. They make me tired and waste my time. I try to avoid the ones who are just augmenting fantasy or on some kind of imaginary power rush, since I can't hide the contempt for any length of time.

So who I do teach tends to break one of two ways- either professionals who expect to be dealing with very bad things in the near future or hobbyists (experienced martial artists) who are just now realizing that what they thought they were learning might not actually be what they learned. They are waking up in other words, pushing away the dream violence and looking for a touch of the real.

There are a few cross-overs, people who pride themselves on collecting reality credentials. A very few who share more than teach or learn, finding comfort in someone who knows the words and the music.

What I teach is chaos, and so in the end, I teach nothing. I mean that very seriously. When the shit hits the fan you will be all alone, no matter how many people you are with. No matter how good or extensive your scenario training it will never be exactly like real life. You (or the student) need to be able to handle it. Alone. Not like me, you need to handle it like you. So I make no effort to teach my way. You find your way. And then you build on it and refine it and broaden and deepen it. You do that until you have achieved something I could never give you. At best, if I tried to teach you, you would be an imperfect me. But you can be a perfect you.

So I don't teach. We explore and I point out what I see and you tell me what you sense.

That's the essence because in a moment of survival, you will be a perfect expression of yourself. Who you are and what you do, both in that moment and in all the hours of training beforehand are who you are. Who you have become. Nothing less and nothing more.

So I can't teach someone to bow and cower and genuflect and call me 'sir', not when I want them to stand up to someone far scarier than me. I can't lie and tell them that they have what it takes, that they've drunk the magic kool-aid, because some days it's bug on a windshield time. I can't let them get away with the whining and 'oh poor me' and 'I don't wanna' or "I can't' because I don't want them to learn that if they give up it will still be okay. It will probably be very NOT okay.

I can't teach them platitudes, "You will get cut" or "You won't get cut" because both can be lies and they don't need garbage in their brains when they see their own blood. They need to move.

It's all about the student and they need to learn to see and evaluate and move. They need to learn how to grow themselves. In the end, they learn how to teach themselves. Then they do and should move beyond the teacher, not as little flawed clones but as men and women who have grown themselves to be as strong and good and courageous as they can be. Powerful enough to be themselves, even when they are all alone and afraid.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Communication Styles and Teaching

Throwing something out for you to ponder on:
People have habitual modes of communication- ways that they try to get stuff from their heads into yours.  There are lots of levels of magnification you can look at this, everything from NLP's modalities to how much a person relies on logic or emotion to make a point.

The habitual modes are a huge piece of what we see (in others) or project (ourselves) as personality.  If someone is loud, uses anger to attempt to invoke fear and tries to stand too close and at a higher elevation, he is read as a bully.  Someone who talks about himself more than the issue at hand is read as arrogant.  Someone who talks around the issue or is constantly distracted by other things is an airhead if otherwise charming and nice; manipulative or stupid if not.

Habits become habits because they worked, and communicating is something that we learn so young that it can be very difficult to change.  Cute talking tends to work at two years old, less so at six or eight.  But, if it does continue to work through six and eight because it is rewarded, it can become a habit into adulthood that doesn't work.  People become bullies because they got away with it.  They become passive victims because that mode protected them from the far more horrific things that they imagined might happen if they asserted themselves.

That's background.

You have a teaching style, (even if you are not officially a teacher, you teach all the time.)  If you have never received specific training or at least given it a lot of thought, your teaching method is probably heavily influenced by your normal communication mode.  If you are a brash, arrogant jerk in your private life, you are probably one of those loud teachers constantly pointing out tiny errors and keeping your students constantly on the defensive.

Two side notes, here-
1) Sometimes this is not true at all. Sometimes when a person drops into teaching mode they have an entirely different personality, often cobbled together from TV shows or memories of good teachers.  This is not always effective- a good dramatic presentation of teaching is not the same as good teaching. What makes good entertainment is not the same as what makes good education.
2) And some people, when they start to teach or put on a blackbelt and get in front of a class undergo a personality change because they finally have the confidence (really the self-perception of power/authority) to start acting in ways that they were afraid to do before.  Almost always negative.

If you have one or a few communication strategies and can't change them, that amounts to a personality disorder.  Think of and treat people as tools and toys, you're an Anti-social Personality Disorder.  Other people only exist to acknowledge your greatness?  Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  You manipulate people through your own emotional upheaval? Histrionic Personality Disorder.  You espouse the deeper truths of a reality not open to the common man (or just believe you've been abducted by UFOs)? Schizotypal Personality Disorder.  On and on.

Most people have a few strategies.  Logic. Connecting the idea to the physical world.  Emotion.  Big concepts or building the idea brick by brick.  Metaphors.  Metaphors presented as truths (a lot of the chi demonstrations I've seen, for an example).

Healthy people change strategies when they don't work for them (an inability to change is why they are called Personality Disorders).  Emotion ("My parents are ill") didn't get me a raise, so let's try logic ("I've saved you 30% in Worker's Comp claims in the last four years.")

That's good, but it's reflexive. It still comes back to the person.  This didn't work for me, so I'll change something. That hurt, so I won't do it again.

They are levels of maturity.
A Personality Disorder is locked into a behavior program that was solidified very young and won't change.

The average person changes strategies based on personal consequences.

A good teacher changes strategies based on what is working for the student.  This is a huge step in maturity.  The focus, for the first time, is outside of the communicator and monitoring the receiver.  This is big and basic. The instant that you grasp that your attempts to communicate are about the receiver, not about you, your ability to communicate- to write and speak and, I don't know, interpretive dance- all jump to another level. Not automatically, it takes skill and practice, but the potential to improve jumps by an order of magnitude.

The next step, with experience, is to plan the communication with the student in mind and from the student's point of view from the very beginning.  It is still about the student, but now trying to plan rather than getting steered by trial-and-error.  You will make errors, though, so you have to keep monitoring. Otherwise, it is about you even when you are pretending it is about the student.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


I'm working on a more serious idea right now, chipping away at an aspect of teaching for the blog, but it is not quite ready yet.

Met some really fascinating people over the last few days. First, a stranger e-mailed me and asked if I would be interested in telling a story. Out loud. On stage. To a large audience. The idea made my hair stand on end and my palms sweat, which was reason enough to agree... but first there was the sit-down meeting with the producers of Back Fence PDX.

Great ladies, and this was the thing- in a lot of ways, the worlds we live in couldn't be more different, but both listened with huge empathy and curiosity. They asked questions, they were passionate about the whole world. They were perfectly comfortable, while we talked, to immerse themselves in the world the way that I see it. Amazing, both of them. Too many, almost all people aren't just listening, they are constantly comparing to what they want or expect to hear. Then they judge what they learned, but the pain and the fear, I think, comes from the damage when their filters aren't working. So, two things about Melissa and Frayn, 1) the world could definitely use more of your gift and 2) This kind of curiosity cannot help but lead to vast intelligence. Hmmm... can I teach sincere curiosity? That would solve a lot of problems.

Also met a man, an old fighter. The kind that gets people asking him to join their "Master's Councils" but also the kind that the self-appointed 10th degree hanshis and sokes wouldn't consider fucking with. Some of the stories were by any objective measure horrific, but we were laughing so hard it was disturbing other diners. This man lived "Lord of the Flies: The Musical Comedy."

He's a mass of old injuries, unapologetically rude when he wants to be, flirts outrageously with women who could be his granddaughters (all the while confident that between his age and the damages, he'll never be called on it). We talked about... stuff. It's comforting to talk about stuff instead of around stuff.

Then he told me, "It's really good. All the times I was trying to get myself killed, I never knew that life could be like this. Just good. It's worth it." That's the end game. It can be done, to age well.

Thanks, GJ. It was an honor.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


My brother was eight years older than me. For most of our lives together, eight years seemed like a huge gap. He was bigger and stronger, but also he was more athletic, more popular, more gregarious. I admired him a lot, and envied him at least as much, but that doesn't mean we got along. He was the first person to break my nose when I was six and he was fourteen. It must have been funny, an enraged six-year old with blood and tears and snot running down his face and a laughing teenager... but I broke his nose, too and we bled into the same sink and were sort of friends for a while.

Rick did it all- sports, activities. He was the first member of our family to get a college degree (with an ROTC scholarship) and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force. He flew. He was also the first to die. No, that's not true. The twins died before I was born, so they were just stories to me and tears in my mom's eyes. Rick reached adulthood, and then he died.

He had just been promoted to 1LT and assigned to the squadron he most wanted- he was going to fly F-15s. He flew his trainer through a high-tension power line. September 4th, 1981. I don't remember my relatives birthdays or when I graduated or... but I remember that date.

Doing the math in my head, he was twenty-four when he died. This morning I was thinking he was twenty-two.

I am almost twice as old as Rick ever got to be. In my head he is still the big high-schooler to my grade-school self. The bluff, hearty pilot to my shy teen self.

Twice as old as he ever had a chance to be. What would he tell me, or what would I tell him now? I have far outgrown the advice he used to give. See him now as someone who had a ton of growing to do himself. I wish I could have seen what he would have become.

There will be more moments like this, if I stay alert and my luck holds. In the not-too-distant future I will be older than my own father. That will be kind of weird. It will happen to all of us, if we are lucky and good. We will outgrow our mentors, though it may not be as clear and obvious as death.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

All In

Another metaphor, or maybe a string of metaphors. A wise man, Mac, once said to me during a short conversation about the finer points of professional intimidation: “I want him to look into my eyes and see the price of admission.”

I love that line.

If you crunch the numbers, it is impossible for a small woman to resist a committed attacker. He will be stronger, bigger, have surprise and a plan on his side. (Trust me, in general, a threat will rarely pick a larger, stonger, more alert victim. That’s not the way the game is played.) Purely crunching the numbers, the victim doesn’t have a chance.

But victims have won. Many, many times they have fought their way to safety or scared off or incapacitated the threat. Statistics are statistics, but I have heard or read that fighting back increases a women’s chance of escaping unharmed by 50-80%. Full disclosure, (this is from memory, so don’t quote me) one of the studies in the eighties reckoned that fighting back increased the chances of getting away unharmed by about 80% but also increased the chances of being killed by 13%. Tell me if we need a short post on reading statistics.

So what’s going on? The math (size + strength + predator surprise) of what should happen in an assault doesn’t match observations from the field.

So here’s the metaphor- in any conflict each party is willing to risk a certain amount of chips. If the other party raises beyond what the other is willing to risk, they have the advantage. It’s a clumsy metaphor and I already hate it. It implies bluffing, but this is very real. It implies that only the chips on the table count, but the cards matter too.

Still, bear with it a little bit. When a rabbit turns on a fox and drives it off, it isn’t because the fox couldn't beat the rabbit; the fox leaves because he doesn’t want to pay the price to stay in the game. The fox, the predator, the threat makes a mental note of the risk they are going to take, what they are willing to do to take down this rabbit or that co-ed. They have estimated the price of admission. When the price goes up, they often leave (and this gets messy, too, because sometimes it can trigger a rage reaction as their manhood is put into question. If I can pretend the statistics are all about my little metaphor, raising the stakes works about 80% of the time and backfires about 13%). If the threat is surprised enough to freeze, the rabbit-turned-feral can not only escape, but destroy the threat.

Just a thought. I like the image of raising the stakes. When you are accustomed to a penny-ante, nickel limit game it just makes sense to walk away from the guys playing for rent money and paychecks.

But another reason to hate the metaphor- it sounds too much like Marc MacYoung’s ‘escalado’. Not the same thing at all, and the metaphor works better for escalado then for this…

But do you see it? There is size, strength, skill, speed and ruthlessness… but there is also an ability to take this conflict to a level that the other party isn’t prepared for. You want to chip your teeth and try to intimidate and I’m willing to put you face down in the concrete… who is going to win? Still want to play? You want to push and shove and I want to break bones and joints? You want a good old-fashioned fistfight and the knife appears in my hand?

Achilles and Hector- Hector was a good, noble man, possibly the best human being in the Iliad, and he was willing to kill, to risk his life and fight to the death. Achilles wanted to humiliate Hector’s dead body and drag it around the walls of Troy. Who won?

There are higher levels you can take conflict to, and as long as you leave a face-saving out, once you raise it too high the threat may walk away. But god help you if he was willing to call and you were only bluffing.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Old Man...

My lungs hurt.
It's a beautiful little town, a place I wouldn't mind living, so I decided to drop in an application. Today was the physical. It was based on the APFT- the Army Physical Fitness Test, with the single modification that the run had been shortened from two miles to one. Damn good thing. I hate running. Unless I'm chasing something. Or being chased. Those are kind of fun.

The proctor told us it was a pass/no pass test, no extra points for exceeding the minimums and he encouraged us strongly to stop when we hit the target number. So you had two minutes to do so many push-ups, two minutes to do a certain number of sit-ups and then the run.

The target number is weighted by age and gender.

I was really worried this morning. One of my shoulders has been getting worse, I haven't been on a work-out schedule, feeling fat and old and creaky blah, blah blah...

They handed me the slip with my target number. I was embarrassed. Suddenly I wasn't worried about the shoulder, I could do that many push-ups one-handed with the slightly less bad shoulder. Did I mention I was the oldest guy testing?

So I did the minimums, like I was instructed. Finished each exercise in less than thirty seconds.

Then the run. I haven't really run for time since I was in the military, but back then my two mile time was right around twelve minutes. So I started at that pace. Big mistake. Not too big. Still finished with over 90 seconds to spare, but it hurt. I'll be coughing for a couple of days. We gathered around at the end. 50% washout rate on a relatively easy test. Roughly half of the applicants will be there for the written test.
And I'll still be the oldest.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Early Love

Good talk with Don this morning. Don's primarily a gun guy, but does jujitsu on the side- Danzan-ryu. So we talked and it gradually degenerated into something that only a judo or jujutsu geek could follow. It really got me thinking.

Sometimes I think I've gotten entirely too serious. Pragmatism. Efficiency. There is a gear-geek thing where you are tempted to attach everything you can to a rifle. Then there is another stage where you want to take off everything that can fail and just strip it down to a tool that will do the one thing it was designed to do with absolute reliability. Sometimes I forget how much pure fun the gear geeks are having.

I loved judo. I was privileged to have world class instructors in Wolfgang Dill and Mike Moore. I loved the strategy, the feeling of flight and even the impact. I loved the work out, the exhaustion. Going to muscle failure in my hands and abs several times a night. I loved, loved, loved the sensation of finding the perfect moment and sending a bigger man through the air and I loved dominating big guys on the ground.

I dabbled in other things, but one of the things I liked about judo was that it was exactly what it was. Rokyu or godan, you were going to get on the mat and you couldn't just say you were good. You either were or you weren't and everyone knew. You couldn't lie to yourself.

There was no mysticism- my instructors didn't know mysterious secrets that I didn't know, they were simply better at what I knew. And I have seen things presented in internal martial arts as deep truths about structure that were just basics in judo- how to rest while groundfighting and how to not use muscle are big parts of effortless power and using tendon and bone instead of muscle.

Then jujutsu under Dave Sumner. He was a fantastic instructor and I loved the system- weapons to striking to grappling with a strong emphasis on infighting. It was all integrated seamlessly and it matched my experience with real violence more than any other style I've seen, before or since. And it was fun. I love infighting. Loved the plasticity, the ju of being able to work impact and imbalance and tearing and locking and throwing and pain all together or in fluid combinations. To fight from disadvantage and find the advantage within the disadvantage.

There was a little more weasel room in jujutsu than in judo because there were a few, a very few, who managed to avoid getting on the mat. But it was still a 'put up or shut up' art. And it hurt significantly worse than judo. Which I loved. That's one of the things about jujutsuka as a special breed. There is no pain-free way to learn jujutsu properly. As a consequence, the people who stick with JJ have a very special relationship with pain.

It was a good day, remembering old loves. Might be time to look for a place to play.