Friday, February 26, 2010

Playing From Versus Playing To...

A long time ago I wrote about Mac tricking me into a weapons tournament. Been thinking about that, as well as a conversation between acquaintances on the efficiency or superiority of jo versus katana.

I stayed out of the conversation, but it was quickly apparent that I didn’t see the problem the way the people arguing did. It ties back to that tournament. In the tournament (and it wasn’t any big thing, just a small round robin among friends), I stuck with a shinai the whole time. I’m used to katana or boken. The shinai itself is something I never practice with. It is too straight, too long and too light. The other competitors were very skilled and everyone had their pick of weapons- sticks, spears, staffs, shinai, daggers, sword and shield.

The choice of weapon wasn’t the reason I made it through undefeated, though I over-heard one of the other contenders comment that “the katana is a superior weapon.” It isn’t really-- I’d rather use a spear any time I have range, or a pair of short swords if I don’t-- and I wasn’t using a katana anyway.

The thing the others players were doing (speculation alert) and the genesis of the argument about katana and jo, is that everyone was trying to figure out what they could do with what they had. They were playing from their resources, trying to maximize their skill base to win.

The stickfighters were fighting with their sticks with all they had, for instance.

I was looking at what my opponent had. How do you defeat a pair of sticks? Sword and shield? Spear? Another shinai.? Strategizing to the opponent instead of from myself.

The katana/jo thing. You don’t use a stick against a sword the way you use a stick against a stick.

There are people who will tell you that blade and stick are interchangeable, but they haven’t thought about it much. Both are longer than they are wide, but they do damage in very different ways and do their most serious damage to different tissues. Orientation (is it edge on?) isn’t a problem with a club. Things that bleed off power from blunt strikes will still leave you bleeding badly if you try them on blades.

One of the conversants in the great debate, impressed with the might of steel, offered to stand with his katana against anyone who would face him with a jo. He explained that steel was inherently superior to wood, stronger, more dangerous.

But it’s not, really. Wood and steel are strong in different ways. For that matter different types of wood are different. Part of the problem is how to use one against the other. The bigger problem is how to use a staff against a swordsman or a sword against a jodoka.

Jo against jo might be a matter of skill.

Jo against sword? In the first second you will see if he is afraid or not. If he is not afraid, he will come to you. You shorten your grip and the jo has nearly a foot of extra reach and you beat at his hands until he can no longer hold his weapon, circling and angling as he tries to close.

If you see the glimmer of fear, you close, pressing the center of the jo into the blade, hoping it bites, making sure it does because that will buy you the instant to get into the dead space behind his hands, where you can use elbows, the staff and your hands to punish or strip away his weapon…

Sword against jo? The only thing you have to fear is the thrust, and that only at specific range. If the point of the jo strays outside of the triangle, launch an attack pressing the blade, hips and feet all closing. He cannot retreat as fast as you advance. If he angles press on.

If the point never strays, circle (blade high) until you catch his feet slightly impeded, then circle your sword down, gliding his tip to the side as you step in. Use the sword as a pressing blade and do not forget the hilt, your elbows, knees and head.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I like PDX, as much as it is possible to like an airport. Free wifi and they have the last Coffee People in the state. Which is sad, 'cause Coffee People do some great stuff.

On the way to Colorado to hammer out the basic course for Conflict Communications, get the website off its knees and get this thing rolling. We want to keep things quiet (a little) until the test run. A lot of that is my insecurity. My honest assessment of what we have created is that we have found the skeleton, something that explains the sources of almost all conflict and identifies opportunities and gives skills to handle it. That seems too big, too effective and I want some test runs to see if this really is as huge and important and dead simple as I think it is.

If it is...

It's hard to stay on the basics with this. We started with cop conflict, because good guys and bad guys are what we know. Then realized that it also explained almost every damn instance of line staff and administration hating each other. Then realized that it would give more effective tools for anger management than anything currently taught to prisoners. Then realized it also worked on raising children...

It's like a really good tracking class. The world opens up and is full of useful information that was invisible until you were taught to see.

It's just like the old riddle, "What do you get if you introduce an ADHD former bad guy to a mildly Asperger's former jail guard?"*

Breakthrough. That's what you get.

*Not a real riddle. Artistic license. No need to google for the answer.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Thanks for the kind words about the seminar, everybody. Be careful, though... what you say in public may find its way into promos.

Read Jim's comment re "Permission" on the last post. Everything he said was right on, but it still needs to go further.

We are, all of us, masses of potential. No matter how unathletic or weak or uncoordinated we feel, we can still do amazing things with our bodies. We can run and climb and dance and if you don't feel like that, you can touch your thumb to each of your fingers, or at least wiggle your eyebrows.

No matter how dumb we feel, or tired, we can still learn new things. Every day. The difference between the guys who spent three years on the mission in Iraq and my first three months was that I worked at the language. No smarter, no gift-- I just spent a little time each night writing out the letters, the time that so many others spent watching TV.

Along with this mass of potential, we are also little bundles of rules. Stuff we have been fed since childhood. Some of it is good. You need to put curbs on temper tantrums because things that are cute at thirty pounds are deadly at 200. But some of it is outdated. Some of it was always wrong. Some of these rules not only limit what we do, but even what we think and what we can see.

So yes, when we talk about permission in self-defense it is permission to break the rules against hurting. Permission to let go of our normal, civilized, peaceful self-image. Permission to decide that this shit isn't working and maybe the boss will freak and IAU will get involved and go for the higher level of force... (and this is huge, because a lot of the really bad decisions are a way of protecting the rules themselves. Think about that.)

But it is soooo much bigger than that. What could you be? What could you do right now? Why not? Wouldn't it be fun to laugh and run like a kid? Why don't you? Wouldn't it be useful to learn new things like a child? Do it.

"I can't, the brain doesn't grow dendrites as fast as an adult." Maybe, but try it and see how much faster they DO grow. What are you protecting, what are the rules that say that adults can't laugh and play like children? Because it is the same set of rules that sometimes keep a women from defending herself or make an officer freeze when he needs to fight for his life.

I hate going off on these rants. They start sounding not only touchy-feely, but like every self-help guru out there.
Here's the deal:
  • Get off your ass and do stuff
  • Challenge your own assumptions
  • Have fun
You've spent your whole life trying to be a good person. You're also a perfectly good animal.
Go play.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Seminar Last Saturday

Serendipity, and good friends. Finding out the seminar was sold-out and possibly over-booked was like a splash of cold water. Turning people away violated all my Irish hospitality genes, yet doing serious brawling, even at the low level necessary when you don’t know everyone’s background can get really dangerous when crowded…

Kris came through. Like a hero. One of his students manages a club. Phone calls were made. E-mails sent. And Saturday morning we got busy in a nightclub with two bars and chicken wire separating the sections. It felt more than appropriate.

If you were there, you know if you liked it or not. The feedback at the end was good. The lawyer said I didn’t mess up anything. The karate instructor with 30+ years of teaching said he was stealing some drills. Bobbe said I wasn’t nearly the asshole he was expecting (paraphrased, very paraphrased)… I was happy and tired and my voice was shot.

But… but… and this is a very good bad thing-- there was so much more to cover. K had wanted me to at least mention the little weapon awareness drills that I do at home. We talked only briefly about some of the Principles*. Discussed the legalities of self-defense but ran out of time before the nuances, like factors and circumstances or even levels of threat and force. Mentioned Permission briefly but didn’t touch on Awareness or Initiative as training paradigms. Never got to power generation at all, much less the short range power I love (and we even had the taped-up telephone books).

The only thing that came up about groundfighting was tossing a brick to those who wound up there anyway. Realized that to really do justice to avoidance/evasion/de-escalation would take a day all by itself.

It’s all good. The stuff we missed seems important, but the stuff we covered was important as well. There wasn’t a lot of dead time. Even the water breaks were times to watch videos or listen to lectures (seven stages, legalities, types of attacks, stuff like that).

It was organic as well. I knew where I had to start and had a few things that were on a checklist, but for the rest, without knowing it, the class supplied the clues. Timing in a real fight came up because a few were unconsciously working sparring and not assault. Not only is the difference important, but sparring timing in a drill is actually a form of compliance, and it allows things to work that don’t. Range and negative space came up because of the people who were attacking arms without attacking structure. The talk on stacking damage doesn’t come up very often, but it did here. That’s a sign that there were some pretty skilled practitioners.

There’s more. So much more to play with and learn. Core fighting. Power chains. Negative space. Agreements. There is always more.

But, highest compliment of all, the students got permission to (safely) play with environmental fighting. Water bottles aren’t just impact weapons, they can penetrate as well. Some chairs are too heavy to lift and use as weapons but can be angled into a threat. The bungee cord blocking off the bar back isn’t quite long enough to strangle someone on the ground. That was all stuff that they showed me, thinks that the attendees discovered by playing.

It was a very good day.

*Principles in the sense of my big list of what makes other things work.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sold Out

Just a quick note- the Seattle seminar February 20th is at capacity. Kris says we can't fit anymore people into the space.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

In the Dry East Rain

A domestic house cat can bite entirely through your thumbnail. I tell you this in case you are curious. No need to go out and experiment for yourself.

A long drive from one end of the state to another. Lots of not being asleep. There is a place in Pasco, Washington where the remains of irradiated humans are evaluated. Seeking knowledge in a warehouse with an autopsy room, I am struck once again by the huge gap between an expert's knowledge and the public's ill-informed fears.

Also struck by how much human remains, parted and tagged and vacuum-sealed and frozen, look like pork chops.

The science fiction fans out here (for I am at Radcon) are very different from PDX. They are younger, more enthusiastic, and gloriously, openly armed. If I had known it was a weapon-friendly event I would certainly have brought some toys, probably Unimpeded and a tomahawk. Or maybe the Criswell.

Good talks with good friends, as always. Some disturbing panels, where it becomes almost surreal how differently I see the world. In a panel on evil, Sarah Palin comes up as an example. I am thinking of mutilated babies; predation and murder and torture. Others think of political opinions with which they disagree. Once again, and I still struggle with articulating this: I am amazed at the human ability to confuse the worst they have experienced with the worst that could happen; the ability to decide that the perceived enemy is somehow the enemy of all that is good. So petty, and so sad.

Watched a demo of armor and weapons and was antsy with frustration-- "Now!" There would be an opportunity and instead of taking it, the person would then prepare to take it, giving the opponent plenty of time to defend. Only once did I see a participant exploit this. Not once did I see one just bypass it and strike.

It was clear how much of the local martial arts training has been influenced by movie choreography. It was also clear how different training to spar or fight was from training to kill. I wonder if I would have been impressed twenty years ago. Probably.

Long talking in the rain in a usually dry country. Warm for this place, this time.

Bouncing for the first time in years, checking ID at a private party. No issues, which I am told is the exception here.

Experimenting, last night, with consciously unconsciously firing muscles. Hard to describe and very much not a word thing. I decide I want my back muscles to jump, but when it happens my conscious mind is completely surprised. The same principle as firing a gun without anticipation, so that the report comes as a surprise. How do I think of this stuff? And , damn, it works. Conscious decision with unconscious execution. Can I apply it in a fight? How many times have I already?

All good.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Stuff 'n' Things

The Seattle seminar is a 'go'. Here's the information. Should be fun.

Also check this out. KJ and I are toying with starting a VPPG in the Portland area.

Upcoming seminars in Kansas City and Austin.

I'll post some more if the damn phone quits ringing.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


It makes my teeth ache when martial artists try to be “modern samurai” or “American samurai.” Samurai is a really specific thing, a specific class of warrior. In order to be a samurai, one must be born into the buke, the warrior caste. Not possible in modern America unless, I suppose, you descended from one of the recognized buke families of Japan.

The second element is that you were a bushi, a professional warrior. Making war, peace-keeping, policing, guarding—the bushi did them all, so for modern shorthand, you would have to be under a ‘profession of arms’ or what Van Canna calls a “Force Professional.”

And the third element is that you must be in sworn service to a lord.

Born into the right family, doing the job and working for someone else…

Obviously, I wasn’t born into any ancient Japanese families, neither bushi nor heimin nor the other caste (which I can’t remember right now…)

I was talking to K, being introspective. Both relishing the freedom and wrestling with the uncertainty. “I always knew who and what I was. I had my tribe and my status and duties within the tribe. I’m not a part any more.”

“You’re ronin,” she said.

I winced at the word, thinking of some long ago wannabe martial artists.

But, as usual, she hit a piece of the truth. For the first time in my adult life I am not in service. From a sworn officer in my old agency to a representative of a program in Iraq I’ve always been in service to a cause. In sworn service, which is something else. I always took the duties seriously, internalized them. Became, to the best of my abilities, the perfect retainer/representative/operator for the agency that I worked for.

And now…

I don’t miss it, the world is wide open in a way that it hasn’t been for twenty-three years. Yet I do feel something. Not quite an emptiness. A drift. A change in my identity. Things are new. Things are different.

A world to wander. Like a wave.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Common Ground

One of the tricks to dealing with schizophrenics is to work from the common ground. You can't hear the voices or see the images that they might see. Simultaneously, they can't NOT see or hear them. If it was a choice, it wouldn't be a mental illness. You can waste endless energy and just infuriate people by arguing about what is real and what isn't.

So you work from the common ground: "You probably know I can't see the blue people, but I can see that you're bleeding. Can I help you with that?"

It works, more often than not. Not just here, either.

Talking to a friend recently about cultural sensitivity instruction. Many do it backwards, to my mind. They try to give you a list of all the ways that all of the world's different cultures differ from yours. Sometimes without even knowing what your culture is.

It backfires, sometimes. There is nothing quite as annoying as someone who watched a television special on a part of the world and feels a need to tell a native what that native believes and why. The whole time, the speaker feels 'sensitive.'

Work from the common ground. Respect is actually pretty universal. So is truth. I've never insulted anyone by saying, "I know absolutely nothing about your country. How do I say, 'Hello'?" There is no disrespectful way to ask for instruction, as long as you are sincere, and follow it up with actually listening and learning.

Cultural differences, mental health, even politics and religion. All easier to understand starting from the common ground.