Sunday, July 31, 2011


Anonymous asked about "messing with the mind." I hate it when people use movies to illustrate things, but I'm going to.

There's a wonderful movie called "By the Sword". To the best of my memory, the fencing master in an epee bout with his promising competitive protege suddenly springs straight up and thrusts straight down on the kid's wrist. The kid tears off his mask and screams, "You never taught me that!"

The fencing master screams back, "I can't teach you surprise!"

That's the problem with a lot of tricks, with most of the tactics that attack the mind or the context or the relationship directly. The obvious concern is that if you show people the tricks the tricks won't work as well... but obvious doesn't mean important. You show a trick, people memorize the trick. It becomes a technique. The things that made it work (reframing the question, fighting in the emptiness, social/asocial juxtaposition, feeding expectation....) get lost. I can teach tricks that might allow you to gain surprise, but that's not the same as teaching surprise itself.

Same with the Baby Drill. I took it out of the drills e-book not just because it is more a trick than a drill or just because if you read it, you won't make the same mistakes, but because if you read it you will THINK that you know it... but even people who do the baby drill don't always learn the lesson of the drill. We've demonstrated that again and again.

Reading, hearing doesn't lead to understanding. Even a few experiences don't always. And if you learn something real good, it doesn't mean that you will be able to recognize when you can generalize the lesson.

So, attacking the mind, the no touch parry, the baby drill, knife exposure, super woofing... some of the cool stuff will have to be in person. Not because of the exercise, always, but often because of the debriefing. The no-touch parry looks like magic, but I can explain why it works. More importantly I have a good handle on the personality types it will fail. You kind of need to know that.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More Math

The math thing. Remember that any model is a model, a way of explaining the world and no more. It is not the world. No model is "truth" whatever truth may be. But many models are useful (and, in my experience, useful can be measured by how well the model predicts the future.)

You can represent the problem with knives as math.  One of the cool things about knives (for math purposes) is that they operate so much like hands.  Baseball bat swings have huge dead zones, but a knife doesn't require any more of a swing that a bare hand.  For that matter, it can do more damage with less speed and distance.

So, for our model, a knife is functionally a hand, but say, increases the effectiveness of a threat's attack by 'sixty'.  Part of that imaginary number is damage/lethality, and part is the way people tend to choke when they see something shiny and sharp rising towards their belly.

So, in our completely imaginary, numbers-pulled-out-of-the-ass mathematical model, we have two people with combative chances of o-100.  Hand one a knife and the balance becomes 0-100 on the unarmed side, 60-160 on the weapon side.  Mean is 50:110, for what it's worth.  All other things being equal, the knife is a huge advantage.

There are other things making that initial score of 1-100.  Size, strength, speed, ferocity... it seems like a some of the dynamics on defending against a knife involve trying to amp one of these.  For that matter, a lot of self-defense: "Your natural ferocity is about a 12 out of 100, like most nice, civilized people.  Let's ramp that up to 80 and you will be a far more effective fighter."

That rise from twelve to eighty is huge... but if the threat started at ninety you have only begun to level the playing field.  It's a big gain in an area where it is easy to make big gains.  Lots of skilled martial artists are shitty fighters.  Teaching them to slip the leash is huge.  But that doesn't mean that the threat started at a twelve, and if you are slipping the leash for the first time and he's been doing it for awhile... it's an increase, but it's still a far cry from an edge.

Hmmmm.... and willingness to use a knife (an up-close, messy and personal weapon) usually indicates that the threat has already pretty much maxed the 'ferocity' and 'disdain for human life' attributes.

Controlling the weapon arm is an attempt to neutralize the knife's sixty percent advantage, but it does so at a cost.  If you don't know how to control a limb without hands, it often ties up two of yours.  Do you lose forty or more points of your own effectiveness?  If you went into any other type of fight and decided that you would use both of your hands to keep a death grip on one of the other guy's hands... how do you think that would work out?

The thing with a knife, not just in skilled hands but in any except spectacularly stupid and brain-washed hands, is that the sixty-point advantage doesn't come at any cost anywhere else.  Swinging a club involves a vulnerability in geometry and another one in momentum.  The only cost to a knife is that you can't grip with that hand, and sticking a piece of steel through flesh and under a bone can do almost everything a grip can do.

*Over-reaching generalization alert*
It seems that lots of the RBSD out there focuses on increasing one or more attributes (aggressiveness, ferocity, strength, speed) to give one an edge.  I dunno. There are very few attributes you can increase that the threat can't increase as well.  

Traditional martial arts *over-reaching generalization alert still in effect*  tends to focus on precision and technique, which I've found are pretty unreliable in your first few encounters until you get used to what is going on.  But sometimes it works.  The cool thing is that you can work on efficiency for a long time, but there are genetic limits to most attributes. But... there is nothing in here inherently that says the threat hasn't spent more time on his technique than you have... and he damn sure has more experience with good guys than you have with bad guys.

My focus tends to be on changing the game.  Not because a crook can't be better at it than I am.  Aside from prevention, I find the big gains in in messing with minds, because far more people have practiced or trained with their bodies and weapons than have even considered playing with their own minds.

It's maybe only a few points, but it doesn't cost anything and fewer threats are prepared for it.

I'm tired, and very soon I will be tired of doing serious posts and having the posts (or parts of them) taken seriously. There was a rule I used to teach rookies: You can take yourself seriously or the job seriously, but never both at the same time.

Life is cool and complex. If you aren't laughing at something, you're probably missing the point. Plus being serious all the time isn't good for you. Ulcers and such.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Before Math

I want to do a post on math and odds and factors. It's one of those things that is very true and consistent, but isn't necessarily real. Like math. 1+1=2. As long as you are talking about rocks, anyway. Talking about rabbits and given a little time, not so much. The thing is that numbers by themselves are not real. They are just a way to count things that are real.

You can have two rocks or two rabbits, but you can't simply have a two. That's why we distinguish numbers from numerals. Same with odds. A coin will flip with equal possibility of heads or tails. The odds are 50:50, but the actual flip is either heads or tails. Odds are 50:50, reality is either heads or tails. 100 or 0. No fifties.

So before a future post about math and odds, let's look at the rocks.

Thomas, a young German cop, asked me last night about some of the things I'd mentioned here, fighting the mind and my high percentage options and such, and we were able to play with them.

Knives are not mathematical fictions. They are real things that cut and maim and kill. In training, they can be introduced for artificial reasons: "Let's see what works against a knife." Then you give a student a knife and have them fight. Just like sparring but with a knife. It adds a level of difficulty, but it is artificial.

In the real world, knives are used for concrete reasons.

1) A knife can be used to kill people. One of my adages is "Knives are not used to win fights, knives are used to kill people." This goal dictates how it is used. Stealth. Sentry removal tactics. Close range. Weapon out of sight. Control the victim's arm or body or head. Training comes into this. People who learned to kill in jail or prison will do it differently than those who trained in the military. But not that differently. The reason for the kill matters as well. If it is just about money, that changes a few factors. Different than if it is about revenge, or establishing a reputation or a hit...and whether the hit is about removing a problem or sending a message changes things as well.

But in any case, hard, fast, brutal, surprise. Maximum effect and shock, minimum reaction time for the victim. (Survived this once, so luck or not, I know it can be done)

Knives aren't always used to kill.
2) Intimidation. If someone stabs you and you die, the crime, in most places, will be investigated thoroughly. If a threat shows you a knife and you hand over your wallet and no one is hurt, that will not be investigated nearly as thoroughly. Criminals know this. They also know that showing a weapon is more likely to intimidate than being polite.

So knives are used as intimidation displays. The only reason to let you see a knife is if the threat intends NOT to use it. This can go bad, but usually only if you are stupid. Challenge the threat's manhood, try to save face, dare him to use the knife and he just might. This is also the only scenario where a knife defense might look like it does in many classes: a half-hearted knife thrust from well out of range. The regular class stuff might work here, as well... but you have to be stupid to escalate it to here. (Survived this once)

3) The live knife. A trained knife fighter deciding to slice and dice on an unarmed man. This is the training artifact mentioned earlier. It's a challenging tactical problem, but does it happen? I know lots of people who train and play at it, but I don't know any experienced knife thug who would even consider it. The assassination route is safer if you are willing to go there.

4) Rage or fear. You absolutely should practice against certain 'stupid' attacks. Enraged people do sometimes grab the nearest knife or pair of scissors and charge screaming in an icepick grip. Or in fear, pick something up and slash wildly.  Some of the old-school stuff, like the figure four armlock, works here.  But the same tactics are sometimes rejected because they fail so miserably at category 3.  So if "The live knife" as described above is your bench mark, you might not appreciate some things that work in the far more common fourth category, rage and fear.  (Survived this once.  Overhand scissors to be specific. That 'once' keeps coming up.)

5) Monkey Dance gone wrong.  Sometimes the threats escalate and an insecure person draws a knife.  It is almost always a dominance display, display being the operative word.  Particularly common if the person perceives himself to be out numbered, sees it possibly escalating to a Group Monkey Dance.  Thomas described a situation where a friend reassuring the threat that it wasn't a group thing and just a friendly fight talked the threat into throwing the knife away and voluntarily engaging in fisticuffs.  Sometimes people amaze me.  

Big ego or honest fear of death can also trigger someone to pull a knife when losing a dominance fight.

There may be more, but I think these cover the scenarios I've seen, at least in broad strokes.  So, next post when I talk about knife math and knife odds, keep this in mind.  Knives are used for purposes and it happens in the real world.  Any talk about abstractions, including math, can be a distraction from the world.  Be careful.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Who Will Guide Us...?"

In a comment on the last post, AF1 made a comment that gets to the core of what I see as a major problem. AF1, this isn't aimed at you, but aimed at an attitude that I see throughout the martial arts world.

AF1 wrote:
The Straight Blast Gym guys use the S.T.A.B system of knife defense which focuses on controlling the weapon arm.

That gym is famous for banging it out. In fact if I'm not mistaken it was them who first coined the phrase "alive training."

So if they say it really works, and you say it doesn't work, who are we to believe? Is it possible that there is more than one way to skin a cat?

The point is not whether to believe me or to believe them. Either way, it is an "argument from authority," one of the classical logical fallacies. (Especially annoying, if I am the authority in question.) All it means, whichever you decide, is who you have chosen to do your thinking for you. It has nothing to do with being right.

That's getting really close to the essence of one of the things that has been bothering me. Martial arts, self-defense, whatever label you put on this endeavor is supposed to make you better. Stronger, fitter, and, in my mind at least, smarter and tougher and more independent as well.

That means thinking for yourself. Observing for yourself. And sometimes challenging ideas from people you respect.

So if you want someone to do your thinking for you, go with the other guy. You've already missed the point of everything I have to say. There are lots of people out there actively looking for acolytes and yes-men who will welcome you with open arms.

And, to be glib, when we are talking about knife defense, it's more accurate to say that there is more than one way to fail to skin a cat.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Science, Knives and Rambling

My heart is warmed.
Jake Steinmann over on his blog has a cadre of volunteers to go bang my contention that "controlling the weapon arm" as a first defense priority is... well, he'll see and then he'll pass on the data. I hope everyone understands how critical it is that people go see, and then pass on the data.

Most of the science of self-defense is crap. Someone comes up with a contention or a marketing strategy and then medical and psychological journals are combed looking for something that might support it. But there are problems with that. Most of the people combing the literature aren't scientists, they're martial artists. And sometimes I'm convinced that they never read past the abstracts... and so we have cardiac stress tests (treadmill running) used to substantiate the effects of hormonal stress. Stuff like that.

Dr. Bill Lewinski over at Force Science News seems to have the best grasp of experimental methodology... but most of the rest of the stuff in the field is crap. From voluntary questionnaires aimed at mass murderers, (Oh, he may haver killed six people without any motive but he doesn't have a reason to lie... sigh) To people getting in a pissing match because research and marketing may not match

Or people who quote in little circles: Dr. A says, "Mr. B contends that X+X=Z" and then Mr. B says, "In a paper published last year, Dr. A said X+X=Z" which is technically true, but still a form of intellectual incest.

I'm an INTJ. I pretty much only give a crap about whether something works. That outweighs whether it was handed down in a pure form for 200 years or if elite commandos train it. I'm also not super-interested in whether it works in class. If you explain to a group of people that hitting three points on the lung meridian in succession will knock them out, it will work on a surprising number of people... but if you go randomly smacking three points on strangers without the explanation, none pass out and they tend to get mad. Hmmmm.

So when someone tells everyone in a class how to defend against a knife and it works in class, that's not enough for me.

The live knife thing. We banged it. Mac came up with the best answer (though he has since said it was my idea, he is old and his memory is incorrect)... but just think it through: if there was something that worked reliably against a knife, people would quit carrying knives.

I'm rambling now (hotel after about twenty hours driving). The late Carl Cestari wrote something interesting about knives and knife users. His widow gave me permission to use it in "Violence: A Writer's Guide"... but not here.

I think Jake is on the right track. Question. Test to destruction. Report. That is the Scholar's courage, and it completely trumps the Warrior's.
I have been remiss in keeping you up to date.

Bunch of stuff in New England in August (I'm not running any of it, but if someone wants to get together on the off times, let me know.)
A two-part interview with Kris Wilder and Lawrence Kane (I seem incapable of sticking to a time limit):

I think that's about it.

Monday, July 04, 2011

"Getting the Stupid Out"

Andrew Middleton teaches Systema in Montral.  He has a cool way of describing certain drills that I will shamelessly steal.  He called it "Getting the stupid out."

The VPPG does a similar thing, we call it 'banging' as in, "Let's go bang it" which translates to "Let's see if that works."  Similar, but not the same.  In the VPPG, it is an experiment.  We present a problem (e.g. what do you do for face-down weapon retention?) then we come up with some ideas and then we test them to failure.

Getting the stupid out is an experience.  He presents a standard self-defense platitude, like "In a knife fight, control the weapon arm*" and lets the students try it.  But not against a compliant partner, against someone using a knife the way the knife was meant to be used.  The fail is spectacular and memorable. It gets the stupid out.

One of the things to watch for, in our training and when we teach, is where the stupid has crept in.  When we train against unrealistic attacks, or count on artifacts of the dueling or sport paradigms (equivalent weapons and size and numbers; advance notice; uncluttered environment...) we have let some stupid in.

So bang it out.  It will never be perfect, and keep an ear out for anyone who has been in the field who  finds a flaw... but if it fails in live training it has little hope to work when you are scared and surprised.

And especially if you have students who cling to myths, bang it.  Let them get the stupid out.

*This is one of the classics and one of the big issues in training.  "Control the weapon arm just makes so much sense...  The issues is that I have never seen anyone actually make it work, not in real life or even in free training, not for more than a second or two.  The fact that it makes sense doesn't, somehow, prevent it from being a messy and suicidal tactic.  I may get flack on this, which is fine... but before you tell me how wrong I am, go out and bang it, with someone given absolute freedom to play 'live' and tell me how it works.