Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I Was Wrong...

Looks like there's more than 24 hours worth of stuff.

I am enjoying the hell out of working with a tight group of experienced, talented people for three+ days. We've covered most (but not all) of the building blocks; the basic drills; sensitivity; counter-assault; force law; efficient movement; self-teaching; and touched on CQ combat shooting, the emotional elements of blade work and psychological first aid. Tomorrow: recap, environmental fighting; That Which Works When Things Are Hopeless; the initiative drill and just general banging and rolling for fun.

Good conversation as well, and good food (calazone thick with pepperoni; Lebanese chicken soup; BBQ). It's a happy time. Finally met LawDog Jon, and that was an honor. Sometimes New York's Finest isn't a cliche. Sometimes it's merely a description.

The Conflict Communication course has been approved by Minnesota POST (Police Officer Standards and Training) for continuing education credit. That's a huge step.

All in all, things are going very nicely...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Feeding Frenzy

Chris and Travis are having a little discussion on the last post and maybe I should post some background.

Beginners in a lot of Eastern striking arts are taught to deal with an incoming strike by blocking and then counterstriking. (Not just Eastern, fencing has the right-of-way rule, but it has it for a damn good reason.)

After they have practiced this, many (but not all, unfortunately) instructors show that the block and strike don't have to be sequential. They can be delivered at the same time. Gosh! Wow!
It seems like an amazing insight. Even fewer take the next logical step that the defense and attack should be inherent in the same move.

That progression isn't what I was hammering on. The problem is more insidious. The issue isn't about the response at all, but the original 'attack' because it wasn't an attack at all. It was a feed.

A feed is when you give your uke/partner/student something that looks like an attack but is designed so that they get practice working the technique. It is an attack designed to be defeated, to give practice at block and then strike or simultaneous block-and-strike.

But it is not an attack. It is a feed. It just occurred to me that it might not be obvious to everyone else. Training in this way, even sparring starts to be composed of feeds. Not good feeds, the person doesn't want to lose, after all, but not attacks either. Attacks are designed to hurt and damage and overwhelm. Offensive moves in sparring, as often as not, are designed to deceive, disconcert or 'score'... which are very different things.

An attack designed to injure, hurt and subdue you mentally and physically is completely different than a feed. It is delivered at a different range with a different intent, often at different targets. It is not a game, with the halfhearted commitment that makes for such great contests of skill and timing.

When it is an assault, you add the element of surprise and it becomes a flurry of damage with no thought of defense. As different from an attack as an attack is from a feed.

A feed, you can block and then strike. Simultaneous also requires a feed. If it was not a feed, the threat would be doing two or three things just like you.

More background: You can cover and strike against an attack. But covering is shielding and in some sense, a good sense, blind. You don't have to see the attack, choose an option and then cover. By being blind, the cover becomes part of your attack and protects against the most common counter-attacks.

If you try to make it respond separately to each attack (the concept of simultaneous block and strike) you will fail. No one is fast enough to deal three separate blocks and three separate counterstrikes as a response to a three-punch boxer's combination. Even if there was no thought time on the defensive end (and there is damn near none on the offensive end, that's why you drill combos so hard). To do so you would have to be physically (nerve and muscle) at least twice as fast as your opponent. Since you are reacting, you would have to be even faster.

So people practice on feeds. But some forget or maybe they never knew, that feeds are not attacks.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Duality of Truth

Thinking about dichotomies, things that are true and untrue.
For my son's school project we have shot a little video- core defense, one of the big questions from the SF seminar, and power generation.

In the segment on Power Generation I make the statement that the essence of combatives is to transmit kinetic energy into the other persons body.

It's undeniably true. The whole point of hitting is to transfer enough energy to damage. At the same time, I know perfectly well that almost all fights are lost mentally, not physically. That people give up, they are rarely 'beaten'.

There is a point that comes up in most of the seminars very early-- I give instruction for the students to respond with one motion. It takes awhile for some to get it, but most see the value very quickly, the idea becomes for each move to be efficient on multiple levels rather than have three moves to defend, attack and position. As I said, most get it. The math is obvious.

But a few don't. They insist that they have been trained 'simultaneous block and strike' so effectively that they will always do it to each incoming attack. It's a bullshit dueling artifact.

To demo, I bring someone up from the audience. Preferably someone with some skill who knows how to move on the mat. It's better if the subject doesn't panic and hurt himself. As we reach to shake hands, I attack. A flurry of strikes, usually three standing, a take down and another 2-4 strikes on the ground. The elapsed time is under two seconds.

The only possible way to 'simultaneous block and strike' against a flurry is to be both twice as fast as the other human and able to process information and make decisions faster than your brain works. As I said, a bullshit dueling artifact. When the focus shifts to assault survival, the things that work change.

For the seminar students, it is a reminder: We are not talking about fighting or martial arts or survival. We are talking about violence. The class is not about how to flurry, that is easy, but how to prevail against that flurry.

That's not germane to this post really. The next part is.
One cool detail is that the initial flurry makes the subject freeze, even though every strike is pulled and I never touch him.

That's the dichotomy. Fighting bodies, you need to get kinetic energy into the threat. Fighting minds, you just need to overwhelm the thinking process. Either works. Both together? That's what I train for...

The essence of striking is to get kinetic energy into the threat's body. A true statement, undeniably... and yet... not just in demos, a couple of times in real life I have achieved full effects without any kinetic transfer at all.

Undeniably true... except when you do something completely different that also works....

Upcoming stuff:
Seattle Two course... Sunday june 27

Boston August 8th
Tentatively two classes in SanFrancisco September 11-12
Montreal in late September

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Scattering

This will be scattered, like lots of life. Still, busy and fun.
The last two days I was asked to guest lecture at a private college here in town. The course was Critical Thinking as part of a criminal justice program. The instructor had wanted something basically from Meditations on Violence about social conflict.
I got permission to wing it a little and worked on premises from "7" and MoV with a healthy dose of the new Conflict Communications paradigm and filtered through the pilot class on violence prevention...
New connections, a real synergy in the material... but the thing that really hit hard was that the people with the most need to understand it-- the former soldier, the two former gang members and the domestic abuse survivors were blown away. Not only did their experiences validate almost every piece of the talk, but the talk gave them perspective and tools and left them with a way to understand and change things. It rocked.

The official unveiling of the course will be in Minnesota on June 18th, followed by a hands-on class the next day. All will be team taught with Marc MacYoung and, if the past predicts the future, we'll have plans for three more courses and two more books if we talk to each other for an hour.

Plans are running along for a second-level seminar in Seattle (officially over half-full, 48 hours after the announcement) and a seminar in Boston August 8th. Probable shows in Montreal and a repeat and/or second level in San Francisco in September.

Flying out Sunday for the Rochester NY area-- one evening workshop, three days of private lessons and then tagging along with a survival class. Definitely need to put a new handle on the tomahawk. I'm excited about this one. Three days of training and it should cover the basics from anthropology to shooting. The crew seems really enthusiastic and talented. This isn't just a hobby.

Rats. I have, at last, eradicated all the rats from the house. Except one died a little hard and dragged his little rat body and the trap deep, deep into the walls between the upstairs and downstairs bathroom. I'm trying to come up with some way to secure the maggoty corpse without tearing out yet another ceiling. Gag.

The rats outside the house are doing fine. They have discovered that the cats stay out of the dog yard, there's always some dogfood to be had and our beautiful Great Pyrenees crosses think it is beneath their dignity to chase rodents. I've killed one and injured one so far. Five to go that we can positively identify. A little archery practice, maybe.

All with the usual-- writing, getting a tiller running, BBQ when the weather is nice...

And the VPPG. Last one went to two-on-one blindfolded groundfighting. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Stack

Writing has been insane lately-- I just missed doing 10000 words in one day over the weekend and have been pushing at about half that all week.  Which means some other stuff is being neglected.

The books that I have almost finished, trying to buy time to kill the last few pages or chapters include:
"On the Wealth of Nations" by P.J. O'Rourke- I usually really enjoy P.J.  This one reads like he was writing for the paycheck and didn't really understand the material ( Smith's "The Wealth of Nations") or why he was writing it.
"The Sociopath Next Door" by Martha Stout, PhD.  Good stories and occasional brilliant insights, but in a goo of non-standard definitions and what seem to be an idea to reject any definition of conscience that doesn't fall back on a divine spark.
"Guards, Guards" by Terry Pratchett.  This is the one book that I have been told (ad nauseam) will get me to enjoy fiction again.  So far, I appreciate Pratchett's way with words (though it is wearing thin now that I've read several others) and there are two concepts I think he has explained as well as anyone.  But as far as fiction telling deeper truths... not seeing it.
"Leadership and Training for the Fight" by MSG Paul R. Howe (ret).  Someone really needed to write this book as an antidote for all the books written by managers on the subject of leadership that don't know there's a difference.  It is raw, written for himself and those who want to follow in the Master Sergeant's footsteps.  There are almost as many lessons in how it is organized as there are in the stories or specific points.

Those are the books in progress.
The next one's from the library, so has to be read next:
"America's Secret War" by George Friedman.  Up close, the situation in Iraq looked completely different to me than it did from a distance.  More coherent, more positive.  It was also clear that our last president knew Arabic culture far more intimately than our current one (Arabic culture, not Muslim.  Know the difference.)  It's also abundantly clear that people with definite opinions are basing them on even less information than I have.  So Stratfor's take on it should be at least interesting and well-documented.  We'll see.

Then, and the point of this post, I received some very thoughtful gifts in San Francisco from Maija and Dale.  Almost everything above was my excuse that I won't be able to get to them for awhile:
"Values for a New Millennium" by Robert L. Humphrey, J.D.  Dale tells me this is the ethical underpinning of what he teaches his Bujinkan students.  People I respect speak highly of the late Mr. Humphrey, so I'm eager to get to it.
"Shop Class as Soulcraft" by Matthew B. Crawford.  I like things (people, stuff and skills) that are useful.  This one should be cool.  And I just now noticed the card.  Thanks, Maija
"Dirt" by William Bryant Logan, subtitled "The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth"  I suspect that dirt, like walking and breathing is one of those basic things that most people don't look at very closely.
"Oak The Frame of Civilization" also by William Bryant Logan intrigues me, much like the books Cod and Salt-- little things of immense impact in history.

On top of writing.  Editing "7". Lectures at a private college tonight and tomorrow.  Prepping for the private lessons and seminar in NY next week.  Conflict Communications in Minnesota and a second-level seminar in Seattle in June...
Busy, but the kind of busy that I like.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Professor Emeritus

I wanted to title this with the name, which I remember as Dr. Frohlander, but it was before the internet age and when I went to check the spelling (or maybe I had the name wrong-- Frohlings?) I couldn't get the confirmation.

In 1981 or 82, I took an introductory Oceanography class. It was taught by a Professor Emeritus who came out of retirement once each year just to teach this particular undergrad class. What follows is from memory, and I'm sure over the decades it has altered, but I remember his first lecture starting like this:

"The sun rises in the East. It sets in the West. Warm air rises. Cold air falls. Your assignment for tomorrow is to use that information to draw a weather map of the world."

The class started to murmur in protest and several hands went up. Dr. Frohlander slammed his hand down, silencing the room.

"The sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Warm air rises, cold air falls. THAT IS ALL YOU NEED TO DRAW A BASIC WEATHER MAP.
"Some of you think you are here to be spoonfed facts. Anyone can do that. You are here to learn to think. Part of that is taking what you already know and learning what it means and how to use it."

Most of us got the basic maps right. Might not have been perfect on the latitude where the easterlies ended and the westerlies began... but the concept was close enough.

In my time at college, Dr. Frohlander was the only one who demanded that I think for myself. Some requested it or suggested it. (Some of those then punished the free thought if they disagreed with the conclusions.) But only Dr. Frohlander, an elderly, retired hard scientist demanded it.
I can never thank him enough,.

For Life

When I asked my jujutsu sensei, Dave Sumner about spiritual traditions associated with Sosuishitsu-ryu he told me not to read too much into practice. 'Dead people can't go to church.'

It was profound, and pointed out a deep difference in how different people see their practice. At the time, I studied MA because I wanted to be a "complete human being" without even realizing that we are, all of us, already complete. It was just words and an ideal. Nothing, really.

Everything has primary and secondary gains. The same thing can have different primary and secondary gains. And we can lie to ourselves about which we value.

Some people want a black belt. Some want to be champions. Some want to be 'masters'. None of those words mean anything. The blackbelt is a symbol. The primary gain behind the desire can be to amass skills or to gain prestige, to get entry into a world of competition or to understand yourself...and some of those, particularly understanding yourself, are nebulous ideas and maybe traps, but that's a thought for another time.

So someone can believe they want to be a champion, and the real primary gain is to win matches... but they can convince themselves this is the same thing as dropping an opponent. If that were true, ambushes in the locker room or parking lot would be an acceptable part of the entire tournament process. Getting the skill to drop people, or to escape are different gains.

So some martial artists proudly do their thing as a 'way of life'. It is part of their identity. It is who they are. It is a primary gain to be a martial artist.

My point of view is radically different. Unarmed arts are part of a subset of skills that may be necessary so that I can get back to my family and friends, so that I can look at sunrises and have a good burger. That is life. Anything I do in training is to serve that. Martial arts or combatives or whatever can never be a way of life for me, only a tool to ensure that I have a life to enjoy my way in.

It changes many thing. My primary gain in an altercation is to get out of the altercation with minimum problems later. My primary gain is going home. There is no internal desire to be a monk or a master or a samurai or a knight or any of the icons that people strive to emulate. The longer I can keep breathing, the longer I can be Rory, (which has rocked so far.)

The training still shapes me (or you, if you envision it like this). It has become a basic part of my movement. It colors how I see the world and how I plan. It has taught me that many things are not problems that may seem troubling at first.

But one of the big differences is that when we look at what works, I have to be more specific about what it works for. If you train martial arts as a way of life, as long as you are engaged and alive in training it is working and your primary gains are satisfied. Whether it works for anything else or in any other context is, at most, a secondary gain.

When you train for life, whether it works and what it works for are primary. Training spent for the sake of training alone is time spent away from that life.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Two Little Things

Long talks with Kris, Edwin and Maija about teaching methodology. Good, focused stuff. Kris talked about attaching the new information to the vehicle. You put on your gi, you get in front of the class, everyone bows in.

That's an icon or an archetype. There are a million little assumed things that go with it. You don't have to say what you are teaching. It's martial arts. As if the words defined anything. Kris rides the archetype, breaking little things down, changing patterns, bringing in information that rarely finds its way into a dojo. But never so much or so fast that the students lose touch with the pattern, the expectation.

He sneaks in the important lessons, and the students learn it without ever feeling they are on alien ground.

Maija quoted her late instructor: "No drills, no style. I am teaching you to see." It warmed my heart.

Edwin, with his expertise in system design ,asked the right questions, I think.

A student is/has three things.
1) Attributes. People differ in size and strength and speed. But they also differ mentally and emotionally. Aggressiveness and fear, tolerance for uncertainty, ability or inability to see things as they are. Many ways to be different.
2) Training. At some level everyone has been taught things. Even if they have no formal training, each student has an idea of what fighting is.
Ideally, the training would be based on the student's attributes. Knife fighting is a bad choice for a gentle soul who can't abide messiness and liquid spills.
3) Experience. Maybe a lot, maybe a little... and many take training as experience. It's not the same. Training falsely interpreted as experience can be a deadly trap.

In the end, I'm only trying to offer two things:
1) An analysis of the problem. This gets broad very quickly. Violence dynamics, how bad things really happen, is crucial. Knowing "how to defend yourself" if you have no idea what you are defending yourself from doesn't make any sense at all.
But there's more. Often, maybe usually, the battle isn't lost physically but mentally. The glitches and freezes and fears and the emotional and social context are just as important to making yourself act as what the threat does. The physical part is often simple. Making yourself do the simple thing in a frozen fog of doubt... that's less simple.
2) A way to evaluate yourself. Does this work? Is it set up to be applied to the real problem? Can it be more efficient? What about myself? What makes me hesitate? What could I not live with? Will this send me to prison? Am I okay with that? Under what circumstances? What is the price of admission on this ride?

So I have nothing to replace a martial system. Most systems work just fine if they are trained with respect to the real problem and the attributes of the students anyway. The body mechanics usually work better than the explanations some instructors come up with. There are some styles that work way better with real assaults than they will ever work with sparring, which shouldn't surprise anybody, since that's where they came from.

The physical skills are easy, and the principles are quickly and simply understood. Practicing and applying them takes considerably longer, but I'm not convinced that the constant presence of an instructor is really useful. At some point, if the sensei is there every day and the absolute authority on what is good or bad... it's basically a teat for the brain. No reason to learn to feed yourself.

That's addictive and counter-productive. Not something I want for my students or, for that matter, anybody.

Getting together every so often so that you can show me what you've discovered and I can show you what I see? We both grow then.

Some People Don't Care About Science!

You would think that my wife would understand the value of the scientific method. Especially when the need is so great, but no.

The theory struck me late at night: since 1) laughter is the best medicine and; 2) extremely low temperatures have kept people alive when they would normally die (particularly drowning children) it is entirely logical that tickling someone using icy cold fingers might be the ultimate therapeutic touch. It might cure a myriad of diseases.

Despite the unassailable logic, she resists letting me perform the necessary experiments in cold-finger tickling.

It's a damn shame.

Monday, May 03, 2010

24 Hours

Really re-thinking the seminars. Especially thanks to a lot of help and advice when I asked for it earlier. You guys rock.

Thinking out loud:
The physical stuff is the most entertaining but (except for the counter-ambush training) it is the least important. The things that make violence difficult to deal with are emotional and cognitive. Those are the things I try to hit hardest in a seminar. Instead of teaching a bunch of things to deal with violence, I try to give a glimpse of the violence they might have to deal with. In the end, that doesn't change or replace any previous training. All it does is put the training in perspective.

What putting it in perspective can do is ratchet up the efficiency by orders of magnitude. Not by showing new stuff, just by showing where the old stuff fits.

The talk-talk part is important. Visuals and demos are good, but long ago kids learned about hunting by hearing stories and getting advice. That hasn't changed. "The deer go to higher pasture in summer" is easy to get in words, hard to learn by trial and error. More so when part of the world, specifically the law, exists in words.

The physical stuff is important as well, but most of the people who show up already have good physical skills, and I extend the trust that they can improve themselves with just a little guidance. that said, beyond the basic safety drill and counter-assault, every seminar is different because I see different holes.

If I notice that some or most hit too light or won't hit at all, we have to cover power generation. If some or most act in discrete units (strike-pause-other strike-pause-kick) they need something to encourage them to flow into total initiative. Blindfolded infighting works great for that. Plus it is fun and gets people to use their senses in a way that is faster than sight. If people never consider weapons or running, never give a thought to why they are pretending to fight with strangers in a gym... then we have to talk about fighting to the goal and bring in the baby drill or breakout.

There is a subset of students I was told recently, that want completely non-physical self-defense. On one level, that's a pipe dream. If you are targeted at certain levels the only thing that will get your ass out is overwhelming force or, at minimum, the credible threat of overwhelming force.

But... that's at the very rare extreme. There are a handful of decisions that that can drop your danger almost to zero. There are a few habits that will prevent most of what slips through the cracks. There are some interpersonal skills that can clean up many things... but beyond that, there is a Hellstorm. If you train non-physical only you can't be prepared for that... and too many of the people that teach to these odds just quietly pretend that the Hellstorm doesn't really exist.

That said, I've been asked to put together a non-physical program. It would do a lot of good. But it's not complete.

So there is the talk-talk: about context and legalities and types of fights and what will happen to you physically, emotionally, internally. What to do right after an event and what you should do long before.

And there are the physical skills, broad and deep, but very, very simple if taught properly.
Basic skills, like striking, locking, entries and takedowns. Fundamentals like speed and power. Thee real stuff, like seeing opportunities and adapting. Stacking basic skills. Stacking fundamentals.

Experiential stuff, like finding your own glitches and creating your own strategies. Finding where your tactics fit.

Which goes into which seminar? What do I do with a three hour block? With four hours... or four days?

Someone asked yesterday if I taught a regular class. I said I didn't and made noises about that not being where my head is right now. That wasn't true, but what I really believe would seem like an insult to most martial arts instructors:

There's only about 24 hours of stuff-- mental, physical and spiritual-- that actually works. Everything beyond that, you will learn on your own. I might be able to show you, but it can't be taught. I would feel, if I had a regular class, two hours a night, two nights a week, that anything after six weeks would be spinning wheels. Cheating the students, feeding my own ego, trapping them in a worldview that isn't their own.