Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Going to try to put this into words. It's pretty much a complete thought, but...

You can look at almost anyone and see what kind of violence they can expect. There are outliers, sure, and often training time has to go into the high-stakes/Low-frequency stuff. I'm actually looking at it from the other direction.

Lawrence works stadium security. He's a supervisor. That means he has a lot of experience with putting down college-age kids. Usually bigger and stronger than he is, but drunk and stupid and inexperienced. Also, he is usually drawn to the action, which means he has a little time to mentally prepare and he is coming in with the coolest head.

That doesn't denigrate his experience. It is a valid place to have concerns about safety. It requires real, not imaginary skills. I'd rather have his advice in a soccer riot than anyone else I know.

There's a bouncer look that some people go for: shaved head and sometimes tats and a little bulky... that very look almost guarantees that ninety percent or more of the violence they will be exposed to will be, again, a drunken college age man. Someone who will challenge directly, "You don't look so tough!" And will give plenty of warning.

M doesn't have that look, though he was in that life for a while. He's old enough that he won't get challenged often by the young bucks. If he is attacked it will be by an old enemy and it will be silent and brutal and from behind. Side effect of the world he lived in.

S is a tiny woman, very pretty. She risks an unguarded moment and then a hand on her arm an someone showing her the knife or the gun, "Come with me. Don't scream. Don't make me hurt you."

Another woman lives with high risk behavior and spends time around high-risk people. She will become used to, even expect, certain types of violence. hen it happens it will be direct and close range from someone stronger, faster and more vicious and it will happen while she is trying to manage the potential conflict in a social mode. Maybe apologizing or placating or even tentatively attempting to set boundaries.

There are outliers: Home invasions which can suck no matter the victim profile and may or may not have been researched by the criminal (most will be). A mugging may be anything from displaying a weapon for money to a brutal, quick pack attack...or even a not particularly brutal pack attack. The victim profile for those ranges, but hits close to a basic risk/reward equation. A bonding-style group monkey dance can hit almost anyone...

When we, as instructors, pretend that our experience extends everywhere, we're probably snowing ourselves even more than the students. An officer who has responded to calls a hundred times with armor and weapons and back-up on the way may not be able to really understand, much less prescribe answers for, the college girl locked in her dorm room with a guy who may not be as compatible as she first hoped.

Even those of us with experience got a specific type of experience. There is not a lot of experience with the most dangerous stuff because it is damnably difficult to survive enough to figure out what works.


Kai Jones said...

This fits in with something I read today: people can spot criminals--except rapists.

What do you think?

Nick Lo said...

Topical, considering the current conversation, not only in the news media, but also in the self defence community over the film of Casey Heynes fighting back against a schoolyard bully. I wonder if this post was in any way inspired by reading some of the commentary on the incident?

p.s. This is my second attempt to post this (using Name/URL as identity) as the first appeared to go through but then nothing.

Nick Lo said...

Topical, considering the current conversation, not only in the news media, but also in the self defence community over the film of Casey Heynes fighting back against a schoolyard bully. I wonder if this post was in any way inspired by reading some of the commentary on the incident?

p.s. This is my third attempt to post this as the first appeared to go through but then nothing. This time I'm going to use my Google Account instead of Name/URL.

Lise Steenerson said...

That's why it is nice to have others we can learn from, hear their point of views, share their experiences.
Understanding the basic premises of violence will help everyone equally. Learning to deal with it is that difference you are talking about.
When I am asked about my experiences, no I don't know what it's like to arrest someone or bounce in a bar but I do know what it's like to be smaller and weaker and to be threatened. I am understanding what it's like to go from having to be social, polite to fight to save your life.

Randy said...

It's a tricky thing to recognize the limits of experience, especially for people in teaching roles. I used to chafe in seminars when an "expert" would preface everything with "on the street, x will always/never happen" and eventually admit that they had never been in so much as a fist fight. Or an expert would insist that smaller people could successfully outfight larger people if they “just use technique x” , when I knew full well from my own experience that after doing x my face still got put through a wall, or that the 4’11” lady next to me would never be able to pull it off against her 6’4” training partner in an unscripted setting. Too often the expert-types impose rationalizations about how or why something didn’t work they way they think it should, when the reality is that violence is too complex to be treated algorithmically. After 10 years of really listening to folks in a lot of karate circles, my tendency is to listen less to the people who profess absolute certainty about all situations (and there’s a lot of that in karate). There’s a strong tendency in all levels of martial arts training for instructors to be regarded as or portray themselves off as a fountainhead of knowledge, when in reality most are working off of guesses- educated or otherwise. When I’m in an instruction role I make it a policy to admit when something is an educated guess or based on training experiences, or someone else’s experience. There’s a small window of situations that I can speak to from my own experience, and the rest is moderated by observations from trusted sources, pressure testing and common sense. The last thing I want is for someone to lessen their chances of surviving a violent situation because it doesn’t play out in the way that I convinced them that it “should.”

Charles James said...

Thanks, never looked at it that way... You and Mr. MacYoung tend to provide unique perspectives.

Kasey said...

Never trust a bald barber, a thin chef, or a large muscular man teaching rape defense

Maija said...

I'm not that bothered what size, shape or gender a teacher is. They should have physical skills of course, but more importantly I think, an understanding of psychology and anthropology.
Admittedly I have perhaps learned more from my rail thin, chain smoking Filipino teacher who weighed 110lb wet, than from my Bagua teacher who has the strength and flexibility of an Anaconda, but that's not necessarily because I am closer in body type to the former rather than the latter.
I think his world view was more attuned to the psychology of violence, what bad people actually do, that the spectrum of tactics that he taught was wider - more dependent on context.
Surely the constant in all violent encounters is that there are human beings involved.
Physically we are all constructed in a similar manner, with a brain inside a skull at the top, 2 leg, 2 arms etc. It bends in certain ways and breaks in certain ways, so it seems that physically there is room to extrapolate some at the actual fight stage.
Context? Well that where things start to diverge, and I suspect this is where much of the erroneous extrapolation occurs. I've seen plenty 'reality based' self defense videos that bear no relation to my life, focusing purely on Monkey Dance encounters as though they are the only scenarios possible.
Emotionally and mentally? Well that's where it becomes more individuated still.
I have to say though, that I don't think it's mandatory for a teacher to have experienced all the different types of violent encounters that exist, from all the possible points of view, to be able to educate themselves about how they differ. Apart from the very rare, they are finite - humans do behave as humans, even criminals have patterns that you can learn to see, so even though a bouncer may be best tuned to young male monkey dancing, and a person who works in mental health say, may have a different world view, why can't each expand their knowledge? I suspect a good gut sense is a good gut sense, just got to learn from quality people and combine the knowledge.
Though first off, of course, you have to realize that you don't know everything .....

Anonymous said...

I've heard Socrates gets the credit for saying that first, but whoever did it is a truth. That moment when you believe you understand everything is the moment you should realize that your missing something.

-Billy G.

Unknown said...

So, how do the rest of us who don't fit the listed characteristics determine the most likely form of violence for us?

Thank you.

Flinthart said...

This analysis - it highlights one of my concerns with the current popularity of a hardcore MMA approach as applied to self-defense.

I should point out I'm a traditional-style ju-jitsu instructor, and I spend a lot of time encouraging any/all of my students to try other schools and classes, and to invite skilled people into our dojo to talk with us and upgrade the training.

The point is that violence comes in a lot of shades, many of them quite predictable -- and many of them not even particularly violent. It seems to me that people who train in hardcore MMA with the fierce desire to commit 'self defense' are almost certainly going to increase the likelihood that they will be in a situation to need those skills. More importantly, it also seems to me that they are not training effectively in martial techniques of redirection, de-escalation, and related ideas.

I guess personally, I'm still debating whether or not I'm happy that the MMA craze has come along. It's nice to see some respect for all-purpose arts like ju-jitsu, but I'm not comfortable with the culture I can see developing.