Friday, October 29, 2010

Steve's Street Cred

Steve posted on his blog and I got contacted, blah, blah, blah... Steve and I thought it would be good to use it as a jumping off point for some thoughts. The italic stuff will be mine, the regular text is Steve's original post.

Right off, this isn't a debate or an argument. Like any two people, Steve and I see things differently. We also guess about what the other sees, feels or means. There is a lot of potential for learning in the gap between what the guy outside and the guy inside the skin see.

A bit more on the violence thing. Most of you here will assume that when I post such things about the reality guys, I am talking about Rory Miller and Mac and the other hardcore dudes like that.

You're right. I am. But it's not meant to be derogatory when I offer it.
And I know this. Steve understands and respects differences in perspective. I don't think he could write convincingly if he didn't

A couple thoughts to clarify things ...

I like Rory, and I believe what he teaches is valid and valuable. I've reviewed all his books, given them raves.
This is mutual...except for the valid and valuable, since Steve writes fiction after all... (joke).

I also believe that what he teaches is mostly geared for, and aimed at, people who are apt to find themselves in scuffles regularly. It's from and for people whodeliberately put themselves in harm's way. Soldiers, cops, bouncers, folks who go forward knowing things are about to get active.

No. Not at all. And this is a huge disconnect. The hard-core operators know this stuff. According to e-mails, what they really get from my work is 1) a feeling that someone else 'gets it'. Even within the operator world, it can get pretty isolated. You can be a qualified operator and never be activated. You can be activated and never see trouble...and some people, through luck or inclination or whatever see a lot, and it makes them think. there's comfort when you find other people are thinking the same things.
2) I seem to put things into words that they know on a gut level, and that's comforting too and
3) The words make it easier to teach to rookies.
But pretty much by definition, if I blow someone's mind, they weren't an operator.

As Rory has been all those things and has not-walked-but-run into the room as the shit hit the fan, I might be excused for thinking that's where he likes to play. I think he gets bored if somebody is not shooting at him -- and barely missing.

He has specialized knowledge, worth diamonds to people who need it. As he points out, he does violence for money.

That's a long way from where most of us live. It colors one's world.
Absolutely. I'm not sure if this is the place to express it, but there is no way to get the cumulative experience of violence while living a peaceful life. It does color my world. But the people who won't experience it more than once or twice in their lives will never get the underlying factors, will never even get the adrenaline under control enough to see what happens in so few encounters. Someone who has had sex a hundred times just understands it better than someone who has only had sex once. And way better than someone who has only fantasized about it. It doesn't mean that the lessons can only be understood by gigolos and hookers.

We want him on the wall. We need him on the wall. But on one level, I get the sense that he mostly wants to swap stuff with the other guys on the wall. (You might can add serious martial artists to the teaching pool, in that they are willing to pug in practice, and thus aren't completely against the idea of thumping or sticking somebody, should the need arise. People who could never hurt a fellow human being even in defense of their own lives don't seem to be good candidates for reality fighting.)
Absolutely true... for me. Because I get my learning from other guys who have been there. I really can't learn anything useful from someone who has only imagined my world. So, absolutely, I prefer to spend time with operators. Experienced martial artists, not so much. This may be my perspective but many of the 'experienced' are so choked with delusion that it is almost detrimental to talk to them. Back to the sex analogy, collecting belts or collecting porn aren't that much difference. Thirty years of memorizing centerfolds still isn't having sex. (man, I am going to get so many hits for this post off of perverts doing google searches). There are some exceptions, pure martial artists who can improve my body mechanics, but they are damn few.

When he's talking to guys like me, chair-sitters old enough to be his father, or people who hike a long detour to avoid the mean streets, he has to dial it down. We need to know about it, to be sure. We might need some of it someday, and it'll be worth diamonds if we do. But "might" and "surely will" are two different horses.
This is another disconnect, cause when things go bad it gets binary very fast. If you have basic common sense, you probably won't need it, but if you do (home invasion, workplace shooting, Bonding GMD) you will need it all, and probably at a level greater than I do. For me it is a surely. For civilians, it is a possibly... but if the civilian needs it the stakes and the obstacles will both be astronomical. There is no middle ground here.

Big attitude change from "this might happen" to "whenthis happens 'cause it's gonna."
And that creates an incentive to train smarter, (or, if you want to look at it this way) allows civilians to train stupid and it won't matter a lick...until it kills one or two.

Here's where I keep coming down to it: I can't tell you what it's like to be a soldier, cop, or bouncer, because I've never been one.

I think it's hard for Rory to tell you what it's like to be a civilian, because he's never been one.
Sounds cool, but nope. One of the neat things about our society is that there are no castes. Every cop has been a citizen. Every soldier has at least been a high school student. I was the shy science nerd. Mac was the hippie studying library science at Maharishi Mahesh University. We all, at one point, had our first fights. My training was world-class...and I was largely unprepared. What I do with my teaching, is to try to let people in on the stuff that I didn't get from martial training. The holes that left me unprepared. It is a huge list.
So my classes aren't mostly composed of cops and soldiers. There are a few and I think it has more to do with camaraderie than anything. But the majority are what you call serious martial artists who are just coming to terms with the fact that they know almost nothing about violence. They have spent decades honing a tool to be used if they are ever faced with violence, and they don't know what an assault looks like, or how to see one coming or what the opponents and attacks they will have to defend against even look like. How do criminals get you alone? How is a knife really used? How does a predator find out where to set up his ambush? What's the fastest way to tell a dominance game from a predatory interview? How do criminals get you to lower your guard? What does it feel like to kill or cripple another human? Why do so many people freeze and what can you do? What does adrenaline really do and how do you compensate for it?

So many questions and most people go their whole martial career and never ask them. That's what I do. Cops know this stuff.


Mac said...

HIPPIE!? Dang you to heck for such an insult. Now I'm gonna have to bully you on your blog. Hippie, indeed! Why, I was beating hippies up when you was still suckling, you upstart youngster!!

Nick Lo said...

Here's the link to Steve's original blog post:

Nick Lo said...

And here it is again in clickable form (hopefully): I Got No Street Creds.

Irene said...

I don't know if I can say this right. My experience with violence actually all predates my training in martial arts. But the one thing that has vaguely, and lately explicitly, gnawed at me regarding martial arts training is that it doesn't address the situational, psychological, and environmental world in which violence occurs. The boy who corners you in a side room at a party. The barroom drunk who decides that you're his friend regardless of your wishes. The angry boyfriend who wants to know where you've been all evening. The mugger in line at the store who grabs your newly purchased electronics. The intruder who kicks in your bedroom door when you're asleep - with your spouse between you and the door, with no idea what the status of your child is. The gangster who walks into the restaurant and starts randomly shooting (this happened last week in Portland). The gunman who tells you to get out of the car so he can take it... when your infant is in the carseat?

Or the other end of it: what do you do afterwards, if you survive. When you're covered in the blood of your attackers, when the police show up and you're standing there surrounded by the unconscious bodies of four men, when your wannabe paramour has a broken nose or a broken neck, when the bartender has you arrested for assault on the harmless drunk regular who was hitting on you?

How do you deal with that, legally, emotionally, psychologically?

All of my martial arts training- and I think MOST martial arts training - simply does not address these elements of violence.

That is what Rory teaches.

Kai Jones said...

I'm almost certain I am neither a professional nor a martial artist, but I learn plenty here and do not perceive that your shared information is aimed at somebody other than me or is over my head. :)

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Cultures pass on their information in the tales they tell. The great value in what Rory and the few others like him do, is they pass that information on to the others, who have not had the real experience. without that information then where would it leave people who have not had the chance or misfortune to find out what happens and how it feels?
People who have done it don't really need the book but its good to know, those who haven't done it or have not had enough experience to really grasp it need the books to understand at least what might work and what is pure fantasy.
What Rory does is makes it accessible and that in and of itself is vital,

Maija said...

I was just answering a question to a friend about why I choose to train with the teachers that I do, and one of the things that I said was that having the opportunity to train with someone who has really 'seen it and done it' AND is willing AND ABLE to teach you is a true gift.
There is nothing lost in the translation as it were :-)
There's many out there that HAVE seen it and done it for real, but few that are interested in teaching, and even fewer that are able to ACTUALLY pass the skills on.

Why am I, personally, interested in learning this stuff?
On the one hand I really don't think that anything bad/violent will happen to me - I just don't live a life where it is very likely. On the other hand, on some gut level I DO think the 'zombies are coming' - read potential future uncertainty - and would like to educate myself as to what it might look like, and what I can do about it.
There's also an inbuilt personality thing that I have that is not content with ignorance. Having peeked my head over the wall and realized how oblivious I actually am walking through life - I can't pretend it's OK to carry on that way.
Perhaps this sounds like a negative emotion, linked to anxiety and paranoia, but it really isn't. Learning about reality and truth is good. It's fascinating and engaging, and yes, to use a hugely over used word, empowering.
That Rory is happy to teach is frikking awesome, for me, and all of us that are interested in life and living.
I can totally understand how it must be more interesting for an operator to hang out with other operators ... but it's cool that it also seems satisfying for Rory to see light bulbs go off, and skills improve, in those of us that are not.
As long as that sense of satisfaction keeps him teaching, I'll keep learning from him.

Deborah Clem said...

Rory- You exercise an extraordinary amount of patience with this person. And that's all I am going to say so I don't get booted off the internet for being rude.

Maija said...

Just an interesting follow up regarding likelihood of having to deal with violence. Just read in the local news that 9 people got shot at a party downtown last night (link: )
I had dinner 4 blocks from there last evening.
Also, last week a guy got shot half a block from where I train and teach.
What separates me from the violence is that I am safely in bed at midnight, not walking the streets ... but ......

Steve Perry said...

Hey, it works for me. Said so on my blog -- which you can get to by clicking on it over there on the right, in Rory's link list.

"Dagney," you go ahead and be just as rude as you want, I'm a big boy, I can handle it. Might not be a heroic pirate, nor inventor of a miracle metal or going to stop the motor of the world or anything, but I expect I can manage to keep up with any of Mama Ayn's crew. We go way back.

zzrzinn said...

This is good stuff, way too much "yeah me too" on blogs, nice to read some well reasoned debate-y stuff.

pax said...

I'm a fat middle-aged chick with very little martial arts experience (unless you count sitting on the sidelines and mostly watching while other people work on the mat). I've been to two of Rory's seminars now and found both of them valuable.

It's true that bouncers have a different mission than cops, and that correctional officers work under different rules of engagement than military guys do -- and that none of these are exactly the same as what a stockbroker or a housewife might face. None of them deal with stuff that a construction worker or an elementary teacher or a writer might deal with on a daily basis.

But isn't that the point? If I ever need to defend myself "for real," rather than in the controlled environment of the dojo, I want lessons that came from actual encounters on the street, one way or the other. And sometimes I need those lessons from someone who faced it more than once, because -- well, because violence isn't all the same. "Too much stew from one oyster," or "blind man and the elephant" are the aphorisms that spring to mind here. Not to mention the basic problems of memory distortions and confabulations that happen under stress. Only someone who's faced that multiple times really has a hope of coming back from it with a realistic understanding of what happened and why or how it happened.

Furthermore, the only way you're going to get that knowledge & experience based on multiple encounters coming from a non-stupid and non-criminal person is if you listen to someone who comes out of the "martial professions" such as police work or military work or bouncing. You're not going to get instruction from a stockbroker who has dealt with violence repeatedly over the course of his life, unless he is either an exceptionally violent person (read "criminal") or an exceptionally stupid person.

That said, I think anyone who's paying attention realizes that cops have different rules than ordinary citizens have to follow, and that being a soldier isn't the same thing as being a civilian. So we've all got to watch that the differences in mindset don't sneak in and undermine the good lessons that come from people who've been there and done that.

Bottom line: there's certainly something to be gained from "martial professions" experience, but Steve's right that these professions are in fact different from civilian mindsets. A skilled translator like Rory provides a very valuable service, as long as he remembers that he is translating and that the experiences cannot possibly be truly useful to outsiders without that translation work.

Scott said...

I just read the stuff on Steve's site and he makes a lot of clarifications.

My view is that we all deal with violence everyday, in the news, and in our society. We are responsible for what happens in our prisons. We are ultimately responsible for all the decisions our government makes.
Rory is challenging us to be more ethical, he is the Moses of Martial Arts. I think Steve has a point that the people who are coming to these seminars and who are reading the books are a limited self-selecting crowd. But we each have constituencies of our own, we all have a responsibility to make conversations, decisions and training with regard to violence more in line with what's real.
Is Rory ready for Oprah? Is he ready to teach 2nd graders? How about pregnant single mothers? I've always been a sink or swim kind of a guy, so a say we should just throw him in with the wolves and see if he can float.
(comment for Steve's blog: I teach a lot of rabbits. A rabbit can break the jaw of a wolf with its kick. I don't see a reason for believing anyone is helpless or should be. The mind can be a powerful weapon.)

I've been doing martial arts most of my life. I worked one night as a bouncer and had to submit a guy who was stealing cash, I thought the other bouncers were such unethical creeps I quit the next day. I've done a bunch of medical emergencies, including taking charge of a situation where a guy got his legs chopped off. I think most people have experiences with real violence, too often they don't even make good witnesses. I was the sixth person on the scene when the guy got his legs chopped off but I was the first person to start doing something. If you train people to take responsibility they can and they will.
Is there a reason why that shouldn't be expected of all citizens? Wouldn't we all be better served if the gap between LEO's and civilians was a little smaller?

Kasey said...

To be a warrior is not a simple matter of wishing to be one. It is rather an endless struggle that will go on to the very last moment of our lives. Nobody is born a warrior, in exactly the same way that nobody is born an average man. We make ourselves into one or the other. - Carlos Castaneda

Read that quote and thought it would fit here.

Rory said...

I'm flattered by a lot of the comments and really impressed with others (though Moses is going WAY too far... how about Maimonides? At least he wanted people to think for themselves).

One of the things I'll have to write about at some point is the Johari Window. Steve and I are friends. If I ever agree completely with another person, one of us is unnecessary. I desperately need friends that will tell me when they disagree, call me on shit.

When there is a difference (and this isn't even a disagreement, my house simply looks different from the outside, the inside, from the south and from the north) that is always opportunity. The nature of blindspots is that you can't see your own. Only when someone tells you what they see and either you see something else or see nothing at all, can you begin to work your blindspots.

It's actually way closer to my way of teaching now that I think about it. Walk a litle together and share what you see.

Scott said...

I was assuming you still have 40 years in the desert ahead of you, but yeah Moses was a bit over the top, I guess.
How about Junior Wrathful Bodhisattva?

Steve Perry said...

Problem with analogies and metaphors is that they tend to fall short -- they are just ways to try to illustrate something.

Maybe what I'm talking about could be shown with something that is simple and easier to see.

If you tell somebody that eating sugar is like heating your house with kindling in the fireplace instead of a nice hardwood log, anybody who has ever fed a fire knows what you mean. But it's not the same as what happens in a human body's digestive system, merely a

People are not rabbits, wolves, tigers, or anything else but people. These are simple labels for more complex behavior, and it kinda-sorta gets the point across in a shorthand that a lot of folks can understand. But it's like a slide rule versus a calculator accurate to fourteen places. Good enough for a lot of situations, but not really dead-on.

Wide-swath generalizations -- including the one I just made -- tend to catch a lot, but also to miss a lot.

One brings one's experience to the ways one deals with the world, and not everybody comes from the same place. What you know to be true for you, what works, might not be what is true and what works for somebody else, and while most of us -- surely I -- extrapolate from our experience to good effect, the notion that what works for me will work for everybody else is perhaps not completely accurate. And therein will lie more than a few spirited discussions.

Maija said...

Another conversation best served with food and beer ....

Steve - What I get from what you are saying is that we are all different and bring our own unique set of stuff to any situation/interaction - Rory, being different from you, being different from me.
No argument there.
But ... if in any situation, there is you, them, the environment, and luck, though it seems to make sense that how you choose to resolve the situation may be dependent on you, I suspect there are still a finite set of solutions that are worthwhile because of the rest of the equation.
To wander off into another analogy with fire - If you are trying to start a fire in the wilderness, success will depend on what is available in the environment, what you brought with you, the weather conditions, and your skill at the task.
The fire doesn't care about my personality or individual history. Success will happen if I know what I am doing, can find what I need, or was prepared through forethought, and perhaps some luck with the weather.
Is it not similar in self defense situations? The threat is still the same person enacting a behavior whether you, or I, or Rory is standing in front of them. They are still human with the inherent weaknesses and strengths that being one entails.
Perhaps I can talk my way out of something in a different way to you, or de-escalate somehow depending on my personality, but once I have to do something more, surely the high percentage ideas hold true whether it's you, me, Rory or whoever doing them? The only difference (apart from luck) is that Rory would have the best chance of prevailing, through life experience and practice ... But the solutions are still what they are, no?

Dan Gambiera said...

Steve, do you want to say something about icebergs?

Anonymous said...

The really important point is being overlooked here-

Maija, the zombies are really coming. Not metaphorically, but in a drooling, shambling horde.




Steve Perry said...

Maija --

Given the nature of human anatomy, there are always going to be a finite number of things one can do, come the dill. Some will be better than others. One can leap into the air and cluck like a chicken and that might stop a violent attack -- never know but that the bad guy has a phobia about mad people (or chickens) -- but probably that wouldn't be the first tool you'd reach for, unless you knew the guy.

I believe Rory is much inclined -- and here I am again, putting thoughts into his head -- to go with the flow in the moment, to avoid carrying any preconceived notions into action -- one doesn't plan to do Defense #3, but to adjust on the fly to whatever is incoming. Which makes sense to me, as long as you don't have to think about it in any detail.

There may be, in theory, a "best" way to deal with something -- call it the Rolls Royce Solution. Anything less won't be as nice a ride. But while a Chevrolet isn't nearly as sweet as that '54 Bentley, sometimes it will get you where you need to go.

Again, the metaphors -- cars, fire, whatever.

When Rory's first book came out, I did a review. You can read it entire here:

Here is a graph near the end. I believed this when I wrote it, and haven't seen any reason to change my thought on it:

". . . He (Rory) has a world of experience that I don't, but I've got my own, and I have to go with mine. (He speaks to this early on: "Never, ever override your own experience and common sense on the say-so of some self-appointed 'expert.'" Be skeptical as hell of this book, he says, and he's right to say so. He doesn't agree 100% with any of the long list of authors in the bibliography included in the back, and that's understandable."

I'm not saying I don't need to know what Rory is offering. And I haven't walked the mean streets he has. I'm not comparing what I know to what he knows. I'm just saying there have been other folks, some of them even martial artists, who have walked away from violent encounters, luck, skill, alignment of the stars, whatever. People have been doing it for thousands of years.

In a whole lot of contests, the smart money bets on the player with the most experience, and it's easy to see why. But that's not a guarantee that the smart money always wins, and Rory is the first to tell you that.

Anonymous said...


Excellent points.

I would only add that sometimes one is successful *in spite of* what one does rather than because of it. I know, as I watched myself survive an armed encounter in just such s manner. It's been an excellent training example of what *not* to do.

Experience is just that - experience. It's relevance, value and application is always subject to interpretation.


No Nonsesnse Self Defense said...

Sticking with analogies, violence can be like the ocean. It's big, it's vast and there are places where it's really, really deep, dark and scary. But when you're playing in the surf at the beach, what's down there isn't an issue.

What works in those depths is over the top for a beach situation. What works in the shallows will fail terribly in the depths. This is an issue because -- if you solely focus your training and understanding on one depth alone -- you're in trouble when you find yourself in a different depth.

A second issue is the tendency of many instructors to promote their student's comfort zone as the entirety of the subject. The particular 'depth' a teacher focuses on is not the whole of the ocean. The students don't know there are other depths. As such arguments over the universality of localized truths are common.

Rory is very good at pointing out elements that consistently operate on the different levels. Although the topic is vastly complex I find that Rory is very good at building bridges between different, specialized understandings that they may say 'oh that's a depth we're not used to working at."

Maija said...

Steve - Thanks for the reply.
Having read it now a few times, I wish I could have this conversation ... as a real conversation ... :-) because obviously words in this format are inadequate to convey full meaning .....
I was seeing the discussion as being about knowledge, experience, relevance, teaching, and the possibilities of learning and integrating said knowledge.
Is this what you were thinking about in your original post ... or something else?

The paragraph that I keyed on most in your last reply was this one -

Quote: "-- to go with the flow in the moment, to avoid carrying any preconceived notions into action -- one doesn't plan to do Defense #3, but to adjust on the fly to whatever is incoming. Which makes sense to me, as long as you don't have to think about it in any detail."

Agreed! And obviously would be a great goal to aim for.

Obviously, experience brings recognition and judgment to situations, hence the possibility of 'going with the flow' and 'adjusting on the fly' .... But can this recognition and judgment be taught, or learned?

How about the solutions (not rote, but principles) that go with them?

Are you arguing that the answer is no? or perhaps just irrelevant (in this context) to most?


@LD .... HAH! I knew I was right about them zombies ;-)

Steve Perry said...

Maija --

I'm not arguing that principles can't be taught, I believe they can be. And I also believe that the principles of movement are what's gonna save your ass -- because if you are limited to punch-comes-parry-and-counterpunch-thus and the punch isn't "correct," you're screwed.

See this a lot in knife attacks -- no, no, you can't stab me like that, you have to do it this way.


I was pointing out that if you have to stop and think, to come up with a considered response at the speed of thought once action commences, I expect that will be too slow to do you any good. The shifting has to be quicker than that; and proactive is gonna be better than reactive.

That line Richard Dreyfus has in Jaws: Don't wait for me!

And the way to get to that is practicing your tools until you can swing them without having to look at them. There is a certain amount of practice, not necessarily rote, but certainly repetitive, necessary to lock in a motion until it becomes mostly automatic.
You have to have 'em before you can trust 'em.

As everybody here knows, no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. When the hormones surge and the tachy goes psychia, the small muscles give it up to the big ones, so finely crafted moves go away. If you don't have something you can do, you're screwed.

If you have seen enough crap heading your way, then eventually you might get to the place where you can duck. This is where the training comes in.

What the training is and how it is accomplished? Whole other can of worms ...