Thursday, April 29, 2010

Romance! Adventure!

I'm not sure how it happened, but a chapter of the Romance Writers of America somehow heard about me, tracked me down, and asked if I'd do an on-line short course on violence for writers. The course will run a month, be handled on a BBS...

Should be fun. Or at least very strange. Part of me keeps saying, "Don't scare the customers" but isn't that really what it's all about?

The first two "lectures" are written and I'm thinking nine:
Base Line; Context; Bad Guys and Violence; Good Guys and Violence; Unarmed; Blades; Gunfighting; Less Lethal; Aftermath.

The class announcement is here.

Should be interesting.

BTW, anyone going to be in San Francisco May 8 and 9?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Striking Deficit

I'm trying to brainstorm my way around a training artifact.
Proper striking can be effective. I've put people down and broken bones with techniques ranging from hook punches to slaps. On the other hand, they're really idiosyncratic. If anyone tells you that a specific strike will always have a specific effect, the person is lying. Or misinformed. In my personal experience, I've taken a crowbar to the back of the head with no injury whatsoever, and a slap to the back of the head that left me dizzy and puking for three days. I've been lifted in the air from a solid kick straight to the crotch and didn't feel it for well over a minute... and I've been flicked in the crotch and gone down.

Strikes are dangerous. Even if you don't notice that you have broken bones until after the fight, they are still broken and can take a long time to heal. That solid shot to the head might not hamper you at all, until a few hours later when the tissue swells and you pass out. Maybe die. Hours after you 'won.'

Because of all this, strikes require special safety restrictions in training. Maybe you put big pillows on your fist. Maybe you pull the strikes and practice missing. But something is done to make sure that the strikes in training don't do what strikes do...

Which has two bad effects. One is obvious, in that all the training to miss (whether you call it pulling or just use contact to a safe area like simulating hitting the groin by hitting the thigh) will influence you to miss in real life. Trust me-- you'll have other things to think about than trying to remember what you simulated in practice and substituting the 'reality' variation.

The other bad effect is that it increases the value of grappling techniques in sparring.
That's not in and of itself a bad thing. The ability to move, control, lock and strangle a human body are some of the most effective and reliable base skills. But when you are practicing, whether sparring or scenarios, and the strikes have to be controlled and the submissions can go to submission, you wind up with scenarios that always end with a lock or strangle.

Unless you stay alert, it can seem like locks and strangles work and strikes don't. The thing is that real strangles work far better than pretend strikes.

I haven't found a good solution for this. If you insist that people respond as if the strike was real... what the hell does that mean anyway? Not everyone folds when punched in the torso. To be truthful, not everyone even notices when they are punched in the gut. Headshots are notoriously idiosyncratic.

One of the cardinal rules is that you never train people to fail. Giving up should not be part of the drill. If you teach people that if they get hit in the head (or stabbed or shot or blinded) they are out of the fight, they tend to simply quit when the condition is reached. That's unacceptable.

At the same time, if you have trained to tactical advantage, you discard techniques that don't work. Consciously or subconsciously, students will tend to reject the strikes and focus on the submissions in an environment where only submissions seem to work. That creates a weakness as well.

Yet another problem is that because of the safety artifacts, a grappler will usually have a huge edge in applying techniques in a free-for-all. Many strikers, except with gloves, have never practiced getting kinetic energy into another moving, dodging, resisting body. Getting peak force in a strike requires control of motion and distance and those are things learned best hands on. The strikers who use gloves are almost required to use hand conformations that put their metacarpals at risk, so they can play harder, but what they play at often injures the striker more than the strikee once it ceases to be play.

This one's a poser.

Monday, April 26, 2010


The Violence Prone Play Group was an idea that came from sitting too long in a CHU (Containerized Housing Unit) in Kurdistan. I like teaching, but it misses the exploration aspect that I love about learning. Guiding others is very different than learning for yourself. You also don't get nearly the workout.

So the idea was to get a small group, no more than six, together. I wanted high-end instructors. Not because the rank means anything but because I wanted people who had moved into territory where they were on their own. It was never intended to be a group that would get together and show off what they knew. I wanted a group that would get together and share what they were working on. If you have been doing martial arts or combatives or fighting for even a year, there should be a mystery that you are working on. How to get the power from the ground or how to use the energy of a rush, something basic like that.

Too many don't. They wait to be spoonfed what their instructor wants them to know on a schedule chosen and imposed by the instructor. I wanted people who had been in long enough that they had gotten to the questions the instructor didn't have answers for: How do you prioritize options when you are outnumbered? Defense or offense when your mobility is compromised? Why are the mechanically identical blocks and strikes processed differently? How fast can you read tells?

I wanted people who had got to that level and kept going.

I envisioned a small group, maybe drinking coffee, "What you working on?" And someone could spill out some weird thing about spine control for damage resistance and someone else would have experience in something similar and two others would wonder if you could apply it moving and fighting and the fifth would recognize that "if" wasn't the real question, but "how" was...

The group would brainstorm and then they would bang. When everyone was tired and had a headful of new data, they'd debrief. And then someone would ask another question and the group would brainstorm and then brawl...

The inaugural group was small. Just three of us. All skilled, all liking to play. There was a little blood and there were far more questions than answers... but it was great. A truly wonderful time.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Shoveling Peace

Yes. Ahem. I'm the world famous author and lecturer, Rory Miller. Yes. (Insert snotty noise and read this in a fake, wannabe New England/Princeton accent).
So guess what I did yesterday?

Shoveled shit. Thirty or so wheel-barrel loads of goat shit and straw. It's called "mucking out the barn." It was fun, in a "This is hard work and it really stinks and I will have to burn these shoes" sort of way. Only some of it in the rain.

My lovely wife was right there the whole time. Digging, mucking, pulling down the old hay feeder and building a new one. She is ecstatic about the high-quality fertilizer.

That's life now. Writing. Designing classes and teaching. Spending time with the kids. The occasional forays into flooding laundry rooms and rat nests in the walls and goat barns. Constant warfare with our acres of blackberries.

It is the most peaceful time that I can remember in my entire life.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

New Business

"May I speak to Sharon Tring, please?"
I didn't recognize the voice on the phone. "I think you have the wrong number, " I said.
"Did you just start a business? You're doing business as Sharon Tring?" Sharon Tring? Chiron Training? Swift.
"Yes. Chiron Training. How can I help you?"
"I'm XXXX with XXXX and I'd like to help you get your new business off the ground."
"No thanks. I won't be needing your services."
He chuckled, as if he heard that from all of his cold calls, "We're a consulting company that specializes in helping start-ups. You just started your business correct?"
"Yes, and you can't help me, but thanks."
"Now hold on there, son..."
"No, you hold on. What do I do?"
"Excuse me?"
"What do I do?"
"If you didn't do enough basic research to find out what I do, you can't help me do it. Thanks for calling.
"Err, thanks. Have a nice day."

Evidently, the state business license is public record. Second call like that so far. This one was just funnier.
Other stuff:

Martial University will be held June 19th at the Sumner High School in Sumner WA. Mark Hachey of YiLiQuan Kung Fu is setting it up. All proceeds will go to the families of the four Lakewood Police Officers who were murdered last November.

Seminar in Portland May 1st.

Seminar in San Francisco May 9th.

Remember the storytelling event? The recording is now available in BackFencePDX's archives.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Expert

I got a weird question in Austin: "What's your advice on fighting in roller skates?"

The young lady wanted some advice on a serious question. She handled the security at a roller-rink. She'd been in a number of fights while wearing roller skates, usually with people much larger than herself. What she had learned in martial arts about foot work and power generation and base and other things just didn't apply when your feet were tied to wheels.

We brainstormed some stuff, but I had to say, "Why are you asking me? There's a very real possibility that you are the world's foremost authority on fighting in roller skates. I should be asking you."

It's probably a pretty small world, the roller skating security set. But she had clearly learned things that I couldn't imagine. And this is one of my peeves. Not really. It's not a peeve. It's something I see every day with a little wonder and a little sadness: The human ability to discount personal experience and seek validation. Often validation from someone with paper.

They may have more than paper, these experts. That's the idea behind certifications and stuff, if you see a five-year pin you can assume five-years of experience, but sometimes it doesn't fly so well.

Not the point of this post, the experience of others. The point is discounting your own experience. Sometimes to preserve an illusion. Often to preserve a relationship. Very often to defend identity.

Experience isn't absolute, either. In my analysis a single violent encounter almost always does more harm than several. With one, lucky illusions can be reinforced or, more commonly, things you were certain of can be destroyed. A single violent encounter shows some gaping holes, but gives nothing to fill them. You find out what was wrong, but it often takes more experience and some experimentation to figure out what is right.

You are all expert at something. At what? Where do you look for validation? Why do you look for validation?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fifty-Seven or So...

Totally unrelated to the last two posts, Nick Guinn asked if I had a ranking sheet, a list of what I wanted students to know.

I used to, back when I thought there were more answers than I believe in now. Nick made me think, though, and the product is sitting in front of me. It fits on one page. Fifty-seven items in six categories. There should be one more-- I woke up in the middle of the night thinking of something that should be on the list but can't remember it now. It will bubble up.

Six categories:
The Seven Aspects will be a book all its own (contract out in the mail just today.)

Principles could be a book, just a list of what makes other things work. Mostly applied physics.

Awareness-Initiative-Permission, the Big Three are already treated in MoV, extensively enough for people to get a handle on them, I think. At least to get a sense of what might be missing.

The Building Blocks are how I approach technique, I guess. Targeting, power and timing. Delivering kinetic energy. How locks work and how to improvise them. Same with with getting someone off their feet or moving them on the ground. Some of those are still rough-- power generation is pretty universal in, say, long-range circular technique but hand conformation really affects both the damage delivered and whether your hand breaks.

The Four Elements (You, the Threat or Threats, the Environment and Luck) all have elements that can be taught and explored but in practice they wind up being a checklist of what is ignored: "When was the last time we did this with shitty footing and improvised weapons? Is this drill set up the way bad guys attack? Where are the points when things can get weird?"
The elements are a big piece of life and self-defense and possibly the source of all complication, but they are also simple in a way.

Miscellania are just thoughts or ways to think or things to remember. Nuances and special skills. Basics like fighting to the goal; big shifts like re-framing the situation. Little details like dead zones.

The list doesn't include drills. Those are fluid and I like the ones I use, but they are ways to get to the point, not the point itself.

There's nothing on the list that is incompatible with what anyone wants to teach. Sort of. Styles developed before modern legal systems may not wish to tack on the information or adapt methods to comply with modern law. The styles enamored of their thousands of discreet techniques might not be happy with unifying them under a handful of principles. Instructors who like their static bear-hug defense may be unhappy when reminded that someone is grabbed, generally to be moved, not immobilized and the technique might not work so well when the victim is lifted off her feet...

But there doesn't seem to be anything here that contradicts the fundamentals of any style. In a lot of ways it is a list of reminders about context. Context can be easy to forget in a big clean room, training with people you like.

I think I'll put some more work into this, shift from merely a list to explanations. Might be another book or two in it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Something I Fear

I fear creating a system. Anything I do or teach is just the best I can do right now. All systems start that way, just the best of the person who started it. Ideally, if it caught on, it was better than most of what was available at the time and place. Often, new systems start driven by new paradigms.

When a system becomes a system, the stuff (techniques, strategies, principles, beliefs) intended to solve problems subtly become the things you use to identify yourself. That’s the danger.

Because once that shift happens improvement, especially paradigm shifting improvement, becomes a threat to identity. If you have good stuff, really excellent stuff, but I have a paradigm shifting idea that replaces 80 of your techniques with 1 concept… a system’s tendency will be to reject it. Even if it is in line with the systems principles. Because it would negate things that are already in the system.

There are only eight ways to lock a wrist (I can double that to sixteen + two, but it’s not really necessary). There are over three hundred named wristlocks, but there are only eight ways to do it. If you introduce that concept to a system that has 300 wristlocks they will either reject it… or add it. Then they will have 308 wristlocks. Instead of playing with the concepts and trimming, things accrete.

So I fear creating a system, because living (which is another way of saying “not dying”) is a thing of growth and change. Creativity and paradigm shifts are precious. Systems, in a way, create heresies. Fighting to stay alive shouldn’t be constrained by orthodoxy. The bad guys count on that, count on victims playing by the rules.

Monday, April 12, 2010

True Believers

Most martial arts students, on some level or other, are ‘true believers’. They believe that their chosen art or instructor is ‘IT’ whatever ‘it’ means to them. It must be the best, of course… otherwise, they would be doing something else.

Sometimes it is na├»ve—can a six-year-old in a “Little Tigers” class really evaluate how good his training is?

The question of best can never be objective anyway. Best for what? There are world champions teaching MMA, or people with deep ties to ancient schools who are available in the west, or people who have survived extensive levels of violence. There are also people with incredible fitness training regimens or philosophies or spiritual awareness. And there are teachers who just make you feel great to be training. Which of those is ‘best’?

There is a qualitative difference I’m trying to narrow down, because it seems that there are two different groups of ‘true believers’. By True Believer, I mean people with at least a little of the fanatic in them, the ones who don’t see it as just a hobby but part of their identity. Cross that with the belief that whatever they do is the ‘best’. That’s what I mean.

Most of the time when I see this I’m not impressed. It seems tribal and close-minded. When (what I consider) dysfunctional TBs get presented with something new, something outside their experience, they close their eyes and stick fingers in their ears. They put extensive effort into explaining why they don’t need to listen to that source.

That’s a big clue there—if you ever find yourself discounting the source instead of the arguments, you are in your emotional brain. That is primate tribal thinking.

Dysfunctional TB’s get defensive.

There are some extraordinarily cool schools that also are pure True Believers. Emerald City Judo up Seattle way comes to mind. Bob Wittauer runs a good dojo. They work hard and they play hard and it feels like a big family. When you are invited in as an outsider, it is with open arms. Even if what you do is not what they do, even if what you teach contradicts things that they believe in.

The last weekend spent with Fit and Fearless Krav Maga in Austin felt the same way. They train hard. Bruises are daily, bleeding is pretty common too, and my god they sweat. (Blood, sweat and tears makes for a perfect training session, IMO). They are unabashed that what they have is the best… and they can simultaneously work, with open minds and hearts, to make it better.

F&F had the same family feel as Emerald City, or that Mark Moy and Scott Dinger bring to their training. They all produce loyal students—who are fierce.

I made a comment about “lions that leave rabbit tracks” in an earlier post. I can think of some excellent practitioners who seem to be thoughtful and intelligent teachers, but who have never produced students that excelled them. And I can think of some who only produced people who were afraid to win, more timid than when they started.

Family feeling with hard work? Instructors who are not merely competent and demanding but also loving? An expectation that the next generation will be the evolution, that they are not only expected to carry the torch but to carry it higher and farther? Is that all the difference? Is there more? What?

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Even more tired, but also sore and happy. There have been some developments in the last week:

A seminar in Portland, OR with KJ is coming up on May Day. Information is here.

I've been invited down to do a seminar in San Francisco May 9th. San Francisco is a fun town. The seminar is on a Sunday and I should have that Saturday free for private lessons or just wandering around.

My first web-based class for writers starts June 7th. I started writing the first lesson and it is turning into a friggin' book. Which might not be a bad idea, actually.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Need Some Sleep

Played with some good people with good skills today. My biological clock says I've been up since 0300 and local time is almost 2300. Only 2200 back home, though. Still very tired.

Weird images today. Flying into Austin and looking out the window it looked like flat and scrub and swampy. I got flashes (maybe of refueling in Panama?) it looked familiar. Odd.

Lots of talking. This crew plays hard and they don't need a lot in the physical skills department. I could teach them stuff, maybe tons of stuff, but it likely would be different stuff and not better stuff. Some of the precepts from "7" are pretty new to many of them. Not sure how I feel about that. Things that seem obvious now, essential, were unknown and unexplored quantities to me not that long ago.

With luck, I'll be able to keep saying that for the rest of my life.

The head instructor is good. Saw him move but even without that, the skill and intensity of the students spoke well for him. Students are like footprints. If you see a lion print, you can be pretty sure that a lion made it.

(Which brings up a huge aside to play with-- if someone who should be a lion, judging by skill and knowledge and personality, is leaving rabbit tracks, what does that mean?)

Advanced the blindfolded training. Defensive movement is relatively easy, being able to read what the threat is about to do by shifts in center of gravity and movement of the shoulder and pelvic girdle. These men and women (all instructor ranks) were able to take it to static targeting (hit her rear ankle with your left foot; now touch his nose with your fist) often without the movement clues. In only half an hour. Really impressive.

Long day tomorrow.

Monday, April 05, 2010


Some friends have put unfair pressure on me to give fiction another stab. Grrrr. There are some authors I can tolerate- George MacDonald Fraser, for instance. But he's done so much research it might as well be a textbook. Only more fun. The series my friends have recommended (read, "insisted on") are classics in the speculative literature field.
It's been a hard plow. One of my gripes about fiction in general and the fantasy/SF subgenre in particular is that the things that should make fiction fun boil down to sex and violence... and most write as if they have never been in a fight. And only had sex with a partner once.
If someone is going to have sex with a multi-breasted ancient shape-shifting undead demoness of seduction it should be at least as good as the sex I'm used to. C'mon writers, it's called imagination. The best sex you can imagine should not fall so far below the real thing.

And, generally, they write sex far better than they write violence. 'Nuff said.

Still, the man has a way with language. Unexpected turns of phrase or strange references made me chuckle a couple of times. In a way it reminded me of Nelson Algren. Not to the same level, of course. Algren did things with the language in his writing that could be so powerful and be completely unnoticed (some of the paragraphs work perfectly as metered poetry and it doesn't distract or draw attention).

Gave a challenge to some students to read a book they wouldn't normally pick up, something from a section of the library or bookstore that is unfamiliar to them. If they do it, I kind of have to, right? So I'm 3/4 of the way through "The Picture of Dorian Gray". Sigh. Heavy sigh. What evidently passed for cynical wit in the day just seems snide and self-involved now. The things intimated as horribly corrupt and evil wouldn't shock a tenth-grader. There was a murder, finally. Maybe it will distract the point of view character from describing brocades and clothing, but I doubt it.

"Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life" is a constant challenge. It's the kind of thing I've been writing about lately from an entirely different point of view. It's really hard for me to stay on point with this. There is good stuff here and the basic formula is workable... but it hits so many of my buttons. The rich, privileged and wiser-than-thou preaching to the unwashed heathens... and I can't help but believe that if the author had ever met one of the people in my list of unwashed heathens he would run. But his idea of unwashed heathens appears to start at anyone who works for a living. You know, sweats and gets hands dirty. What an Arab would call a fellahin.
This voice and attitude seem very common with the professional mediators and peace-makers for hire (so many of them and it seems that they account for about 0% of what little peace actually gets made). I think it might be time for a blue-collar, version of peace and understanding, coming from some people with scars on their knuckles...

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Some Teaching Thoughts...

I've had time to read, re-read and somewhat digest the comments (both here and e-mail) on Toning Down. Time for some philosophy.

I have no evidence that I'm better than any of you. There is nothing to say that I'm stronger or smarter or quicker or tougher or wiser or more sensitive or any of a hundred of the things that people sometimes use to differentiate themselves. Any difference that exists is that I have done things that many people think about. People who firewalk are no different than people who don't... except that they firewalk. I have learned some things in my own personal firewalk, but there is nothing that leads me to believe that each and every one of you wouldn't have learned even more than I. Would not have discovered more and spoken of it better. Would not have excelled me in every way.

I like to think I am special. I can be downright vain. There is just no evidence to support that.

So when I am faced with a group of students, they aren't students. They are bundles of potential and insight and skill and power. The same as I was, the same as I still am. Each has the capacity to be better than me. They are, each of them, already better than me at many things.

Further, and this is a hard leap for many people who teach martial arts and self-defense, I'm not interesting in teaching them what to do or even what I did that worked. Because even in the hairiest situation, whatever I did wasn't the key to getting out of it. The key was always in what I saw. (Then, of course giving myself permission to do what I saw needed to be done.)

And all of the students, in every class, already know how to sense the world around them. They can drive. They can identify friends and tell when something is wrong. They can feel a cold draft of a window that shouldn't be open or feel the body warmth of someone who shouldn't be there.

They see stuff and they know stuff, if the blinders aren't on.

If the blinders are on they will trample each other at a door to get out of a burning building and not think to throw a chair through a window. They will hide from gunfire behind a gypsum drywall that won't stop a bullet. They will follow their social conditioning even when they know in their gut and their brains that something is wrong.

There's some teaching in here-- few people have enough contact with predators to understand how predators manipulate, but actually it's not that different than the way that car salesmen or even some parents work.

My ideal for teaching is to give the students permission to see, and then teach them how to teach themselves. People can constantly improve. They can get better, smarter and more efficient each day. Especially if they are working on themselves, in their own way, to become the smartest, strongest most efficient version of themselves that they can grow into.

My gut feeling is that this can only be hampered by a traditional teaching model. If you decide someone is the ideal and your goal is to imitate him, you have set a bar and you will get there through successive approximation. Not only will you never quite achieve your goal (because even a perfect imitation is an imitation) you take the worthier goal, to be better than the best you have ever seen, right out of your mind.

There is nothing stopping you from this worthier goal... and if you glitch on it, that is one of the first things I would look at.

This post has really rambled. Let me try to sum it up:
You have the potential to be extraordinary. You might need help to see how, but it is right in front of you. You might need permission, so here it is: It's okay to be extraordinary. If you are my student, extraordinary is my minimum expectation. You will get there by teaching yourself. Teaching yourself is simply practice at seeing things as they are, doing something to make them better and then putting some thought into whether you could do it a better, more efficient way.