Saturday, June 05, 2010

No Passing Grade

One of the long talks last week was about testing versus training.
A group of four people who only knew me from writing hired me for three days of private lessons.  They weren't sure what they would get.  Possibly a complete waste of time. Possibly new skills or new insights.  Possibly to be tested to the edge of the envelope.

That needed a talk.  Most of us have done the grueling physical tests.  Most have worked out in extreme pain or through injury.  Everyone has been tested or at least feel that they've been tested... but in this field there is something wrong with that paradigm.  It is not the way this particular world works.

Psychologically and physically, everyone breaks.  There is no passing grade for a survival test, whether it is assault survival or combat or wilderness survival or natural disaster.  No matter what you have in terms of skill, will and equipment there is a level that will overwhelm you.

There is no such thing as a 'survival level of proficiency'.  Not in a world with a 100% mortality rate.

There is no test so grueling that passing it means you are unbreakable.  You are profoundly breakable.  All a test can tell you is if you have reached your limit.  You can only really learn by failing.  Passing, whatever that is, only means that this test on this day didn't break you.

And if you do break, if you find that edge of exhaustion where you can't force yourself to move or the psychological precipice where meekly submitting and obeying seem like good options... the edge you have found becomes invalid the second you find it.  And how it becomes invalid is hard to predict.  Some find the inspiration to be a little tougher the next time, some find it easier and safer to give up a little earlier.  Some become afraid to ever be tested again.

If all you can really learn is that you will break; if the best you can get is to understand that some days you are the bug and the situation is a windshield on a gut level (I hope no one is so delusional that they don't at least acknowledge this intellectually), how valuable is that insight, really?

Most will never approach the edge in their normal lives.  Of those few that do, it seems knowing and trying to expand that limit only really helps those who are going into situations again and again with others needing to rely on them and thus needing to predict a teammate's breaking strain.

How many things does this apply to?  Violence in all its forms.  Disaster survival.  Maybe things as subtle and common as peer pressure.  100% mortality.  Everyone dies.  No such thing as a passing grade.


Kai Jones said...

From a book I just finished reading a couple of days ago, "Shakespeare's Counselor" by Charlaine Harris:

"I don’t know why everyone feels like they’re supposed to be safe all the time.”

Jack raised an eyebrow in a questioning way.

“Think about it,” I said. “No one expected to be safe until this century, if you read a little history. Think of the thousands of years before – years with no law when the sword ruled. No widespread system of justice; no immunizations against disease. The local lord free to kill the husbands, the husbands free to rape and kill their wives. Childbirth often fatal. No antibiotics. It’s only here and now that women are raised believing they’ll be safe. And it serves us false. It’s not true. It dulls our sense of fear, which is what saves our lives.”

Tiff said...

Wow. Anyone else feel like Rory's in their head half the time?

Good addition, Kai.

Steve Perry said...

Very zen; maybe shading into EST ...

The realization that one is going to die in the long run no matter what, is important.

I'm not sure that knowledge is particularly helpful in the short run.

Sure, if you win 99 fights you could lose the hundredth and having that sense of confidence you can't lose isn't acknowledging the possibility. But I'm not seeing how the notion that you could lose helps you to win, which I see as the goal of training. To up your chances of survival.

If the Chinese army comes over the hill and you offer a stand-up fight, you are going to be outgunned.


Of course you could lose. Bulletproof vests aren't -- every kind of armor has something that will pierce it.

Not being there is a guarantee you won't lose that battle, and that's sometimes the best move, but that isn't always going to be possible or even desirous, is it?

Then what?

Tiff said...

At a great Sayoc Kali seminar (hosted by Warrior's Way in Wichita Falls -- an awesome dojo with awesome people), Tuhon Tom Kier mused aloud about people regarding us as lunatics for training... well, like lunatics.

"You'll train for thirty years," he said, "so you can survive that thirty seconds of hell -- and live thirty more years."

Made damn good sense to us.