Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Things Change

Talking with the Doc last night. About a lot of things, training and the past and connections and places been and things done. He observed, (or maybe it was me, doesn't matter) that when we were young, we were shaped by 'perfect days' which usually included adventure and often danger. The big learning, the cool things, the events that shaped us were defined by discomfort and risk, challenge and the unknown.

That's still there, that will always be there. You find out stuff on the edges, find out who you can be. In comfort, 'you' becomes sort of a compromise. Not sure I can find the right word.

As we get older some of the best memories are of quiet times with good people. Talk or silence. Sharing with or without words. Sometimes with a great view and a fine meal. Sometimes in a dingy office in Baghdad eating strawberry jam and processed cheese spread on flat bread.

The August Babies party was the same. Good food and a plethora of fine scotch... but I was looking forward all day to listening to stories around the fire. Old stories and new. The things the old timers thought were important and the things that excited the kids. Brand new stories and stories many of us knew by heart. Competing versions of the same stories or commentary by the others who shared a particular cave trip or mountain slide or fire or electrocution. (Not kidding on that list. Explosions, too.)

If ever my confidence starts to slip, I just have to look at my friends. They are extraordinary and, somehow, they seem to think I am worthy to be in their company. No higher compliment exists.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Proto-Zombie Alert!!!

Disclaimer: I hope no one reading this is really stupid, but just in case: What follows is a joke. Please do not act on it. Or, if you do, man up and take personal responsibility.

It is common knowledge in certain circles that George Romero's early zombie movies were financed by the US government. The DIA and NSA having found compelling evidence that the Soviets had perfected a weaponized rabies virus, the government decided that moving zombies into the mainstream might help survivors of a bio-war overcome the emotional challenge of killing a friend or relative who had become a murderous, bloodthirsty and highly contagious monster.

The situation is worse than we feared. The weaponized rabies has been released into the population of the United States. We don't know who released the virus: terrorists working with Soviet cold-war scientists? The Yucatan Socialist Worker's Party (YAZIs)? Some lost cell of the long-defunct KGB?

We only know that the virus is here and it is subtle and more dangerous than our initial intelligence estimates.

The first generation of weaponized rabies works slowly. It can take as long as five years to build up in the system and create "zombies". As it does, the virus slowly eats away at parts of the brain that control independent thinking and compassion. When, and it is when, gentleman, not if, the first of the infected turn, it will be hell on earth. Their bites will turn others almost instantly. And they will be fast-mover zombies, not the shamblers we hoped and prayed for.

What follows is a list of signs and symptoms that indicate the virus is building up:

  1. The subject is a shitty driver. It may be a loss in reflexes from the virus eating at the nerves or rudeness and aggression or both.
  2. The subject sometimes just stops his or her cart in the middle of big box stores and just stares around with a blank expression.
  3. The subject demands to do whatever he or she wants while simultaneously declaring membership in a special group. A sign of the essentially sociopathic lack of compassion of a zombie combined with mindless herd instincts.
  4. Constant texting and social media. Appeals to the zombies attraction to shiny objects and the herd instinct.
  5. Ignoring children, especially leaving them to be raised by television.
  6. Constant complaining. As their brains are eaten away, the proto-zombie experiences mysterious pain and becomes stupider, which gives them a lot to complain about.
  7. Inability to solve problems for themselves. A side effect of stupidity, but with low cunning, the proto-zombie often combines this defect with #6 and demands that others-- friends, family or the government-- solve the proto-zombie's problems.
  8. Working to make a world safer for zombies and other monsters. Probably not a conscious decision, but working to disarm future meals is the proto-zombie's way of ensuring the safety of the zombie it will be.
  9. Doing nothing in large groups of similar people. Whether common loitering or the feeding frenzy at the free samples in the big box stores, watch for the zombie tendency to hang out in groups and just mill around.
  10. Loud and rude in public. The higher brain functions, such as those controlling civility, are among the first to go.
If you see a person exhibiting seven or more of these ten symptoms, they are on the verge of total metamorphosis. Do the right thing.

Friday, August 19, 2011


This is my first time in Reno in 25 years. I used to joke to my wife, "I can't go back until a few more people have died." Yet here we are.

I don't tell the Reno stories. In a lot of ways, this is where I came of age, crossed a barrier, whatever. I came here to find out who I was. I found out, and in the process changed.

My eyes feel tight. Watchful. K said, "You're different since we got into town. All teeth." She didn't mean smily teeth.

I didn't really noticed until I casually, habitually, laid my sunglasses on the table upside down. It's a better angle for seeing anything behind me in the reflection. I haven't done that in years and here it just happened without a thought.

Have to get up early or tonight would be a night for prowling. See if the hobo "jungle" is still there on the railroad tracks west of town. See if the storm sewers are still open on the Truckee. Night action at the CalNeva. Maybe a midnight run to Pyramid Lake and the Needles. See how many of the hidden service doors I can still remember or find in the strip casinos.

Just stuff. Memories.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Teasers and Pitches

Trying to hit things from the other side.  I have real trouble, sometimes, putting a label on what 'this' all is, on what I do and teach.  Sometimes the best way to explain to yourself is to explain to other people.  I'm also crappy at the whole business side of this, so consider this marketing practice as well.

The 'elevator pitch' is something I learned about from writers.  You happen to step onto an elevator and there is the editor of your dreams.  How do you sell him or her on your project? Teasers are things I've been playing with, so:

Conflict Communications
Elevator Pitch:  Marc and I seem to have stumbled on the principles underlying all human conflict.

Teaser: In every long term relationship, there is at least one argument that the couple have word for word periodically.  There were some clues in that:  It's scripted.  You say the same words without ever deciding to.  It's also hard to just walk away without bringing it to closure, finishing the script.  It's subconscious, you are sometimes minutes into the script before you realize that you know exactly what everyone is going to say.  You don't choose it.  It doesn't resolve and at first that was the puzzle... but once we figured out who it served, lots of things came together.

Logic of Violence  
Elevator Pitch: Just simply using the methodology of disaster planning and applying it to self-defense.

Teaser: Take a guy who teaches self defense.  He's well trained and from his work as a bouncer has over a hundred real fights.  How applicable is that?  He's also six foot two, in great shape, and has dragons and tigers tattooed on his arms.  He has had hundreds of real fights, but all with drunk college kids saying, "You don't look that tough to me."  What in the hell does that have to do with an elderly lady mugged for her pension check or a 110 pound drunk girl being singled out for an abduction rape?  Is the approach similar?  The type of attack? The force parity.  You know damn well it's not.  For generations, martial arts has been about fighters teaching fighters how to fight other fighters.  Almost nothing about how to teach victims to survive attackers.

Introduction to Violence sometimes called Ambushes and Thugs
Elevator pitch: It's an introduction to the context of violence.  Most martial artists know how to fight, but they don't know when and they don't know exactly what they will be fighting against.

Teaser/Elevator pitch:  You've been studying martial arts for twenty years?  Twenty years of training in what to do if you were ever attacked by a bad guy.  Cool.  Tell me, in those twenty years have you spent one day studying how real bad guys attack?  Doesn't that strike you as odd?

More a straight pitch:  There are seven areas of vulnerability for your students and if any of those areas are left out of training your students can fight like demons and still lose.  If you are teaching self-defense you have a responsibility to make sure that they understand the legal and ethical ramifications of force; how bad guys really attack; that they practice avoidance, escape and de-escalation; that they have some tools to deal with the ambush and suckerpunch; that they are prepared to break out of a freeze; that there skills for fighting adapt to the real world and; what to do and what they have to deal with after a force incident.

Dream Team
Elevator pitch: Really want an inside view on high-end criminal violence?  It's expensive, but if you think you're up for it I know the guys.

Teaser: You get a former high-end criminal or three; one of the best and most experienced bouncers in the business; a role-playing and safety expert (for obvious reasons) and me.  If you want to know not just how violence breaks down, but how violent people think, plan and react to violence this is a weekend that should rock your world.

Monday, August 15, 2011


I want to do the last two weeks justice and really can't.

I love this world. It's messy and chaotic and maybe things are breaking down, but it is full of wonderful people who are deeply passionate and caring. In the last two weeks I've spent time with people who have spent fifty years with an art that they loved (and probably dozens who have loved their arts for forty or thirty years). Spent time with extraordinary individuals who walked away from everything out of a passion to learn. Spent time with people who are experts to the point of being savants and some who are just as good but also complete and functional.

Martial arts attracts some very broken people. People who have always felt awkward can learn to move with grace. People who feared and avoided the primate aspects of high school locker rooms can feel like jocks. People who don't have the social skills to get a date can be called "master."

It can be incredibly empowering or heady or toxic. Or all three. I got to spend time with people who saw it clearly and still forged ahead, subtly pushing students towards the empowering and away from the toxic.

There is a special group coming of age in the field of self-defense right now. Men and women with the insight to see how much crap is taught, with the passion to do better and with the humility to wonder, "I've never done this. Who am I to teach it? How will I know if I start teaching crap without that frame of reference?" It's a good internal debate, it keeps them honest and skeptical and learning.

If mastery means anything in this culture (and I hate the word, the connotations in America are too dark, it becomes reminiscent of slavery rather than guilds and implies control more than ability), but if mastery means anything in this culture, George Mattson's annual camp is a collection of Masters. Brilliant researchers and thugs and historians (yes, thugs can be brilliant). people who care about a system and each other and their students above all. Awesome.

I got to meet with my East Coast brain trust, and I absolutely owe them a dinner. We got sooooo busy talking we forgot to eat. Jake, Erik and Bill are brilliant and insightful (Jeff couldn't make it). They helped with presentation and got a taste of the Logic of Violence material in return. I got the best end of that deal. Erik is also a consumate business man (huge compliment in my world) and may have come up with a way to present LoV not as a book, but as a self-study (group study, actually) program. that will probably be my November writing project.

Jeff and Jessica and (for a day) Lisa were awesome hosts. Hospitality is one thing, but learning something every day (side kicks without hip replacement surgery; a refresher on how to suture wounds) is very special.

The seminar at YMAA was new material to a new audience. Nick Yang is one of my favorite martial artists. At the Crossing the Pond seminar in Seattle there was Al Peasland (thug); Marc MacYoung (thug); Iain Abernethy (Really nice thug-- imagine what Santa Clause was like in college); me; and Nick Yang (serious martial artist, super nice guy and definitely not a thug.)

So we were talking about brawls and dismemberment and stuff like that and Nick was talking about White Crane...and we all liked him. With absolutely no idea how to express that without scaring him. Thing is, Nick wouldn't have been scared.

Anyway, Nick hosted a session on recovering from overwhelming force. It's stuff the regular readers are familiar with, but the big gain for me is how natural the concepts were for this group. It shouldn't have been a big insight-- the stuff these guys studied dated from eras when people were trying to kill each other. It wasn't a contest and there were no weight classes. Why should I be surprised that the things I learned were important in jail ambushes were part of systems that dated from this world?

Wes Tasker worked on my back and the difference is incredible. Still pain and numbness, but much less. Much happier...and Wes is one of the people I find intimidatingly intelligent. Cool. Also got to stick spar with Mike M... tee hee hee.

Raffi Derderian is a damn fine man, a great martial artist and an extraordinary teacher. It was very good to spend a day with the people that he admires. I also got to hang with Chris, who is one of the coolest people in the world and meet some new people: Stephe, a bulky, carnivorous, Tai Chi guy who admonishes people to, "keep the F.U. in kung fu." Yet another Erik with a "k" who was that rarest of martial artists: a kenjutsu instructor who isn't anal-retentive. That was awesome. A recluse who hits like a freight train... Good times with good people and a chance to put out some new material (gender differences in violence) and get my material critiqued by new eyes.

All in all, an extraordinary time. But I am missing Kami and eager to be home. Next week: Reno.

Lisa asked at one point what I am most proud of. It's my friends. That I am allowed to spend time with people of this quality blows me away every day.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Too Simple

Teaching new material tonight. That always feels weird going in. Not so much worrying about whether people will like it or not, or the usual bullshit stagefright thing. It's mostly when people ask for something or I see an obvious hole, the program always feels too simple to teach.

"Facing Violence" is doing pretty well and getting good reviews... but did anybody NOT know that self-defense has ethical and legal dimensions? That avoidance was a skill that needs to be practiced? That bad guys attack differently than training partners? Seriously?

In almost every class I'm almost embarrassed to point out that it is easier to beat people up from behind. There are giggles, but always several who have not really practiced it, who don't even realize how their learned strategy is derived from dominance displays (which kind of require fighting eye-to-eye.)

Logic of Violence is merely an exercise in examining a problem from the viewpoint that drives it. We all do this every day. There are nuances and details that people who don't spend time with criminals might miss, but humans think like humans. Apply your mental tools to the threat's problems and you will come up with some things very close to the threat's solutions.

I'm proud of ConCom, but on at least one level it is just a taxonomy, just putting labels on things that every person sees every day. We have made important connections. Just as an example, in every long-term relationship I've seen, the couple have at least one argument that they have word for word periodically. That one observation leads to some pretty cool inferences. But once the program is laid out, it's just stuff that every person does and sees every day. Once you see it, you can act with far more skill and intention... but I wonder why people don't see.

Self-defense is what happens when you are losing. Everybody knows or should know what losing feels like, should know that part of losing is not having access to the resources you rely on when you are winning or even. Anyone who has spent thirty seconds thinking about this grasps it. Anyone who has a background in any kind of movement art and gives a little effort to understanding bad guys can start coming up with some solutions. What feels to me like ten minutes of correlating known data will be two hours of class tonight.

So I keep expecting every last student to look up and say, "Well, duh."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I remember, once, laying (lying?) on my back and trying to scream. I'd taken a fall, about twelve feet is all, but flat on my back. I couldn't breathe and I wanted someone to know. It's hard to scream if you can't breathe. The pathetic squeaks that came out never carried past my own ears.

A couple of years later, frostbite. An arrogant teenager it, seemed stupid to put on gloves just to water the neighbor's rabbits. 17 degrees below zero fahrenheit with a stiff wind... when I got home, my fingers looked like they were made from candle wax and clicked strangely when I slammed them together. My mother had me slowly thaw my hands in lukewarm water. It felt like it was boiling as feeling returned. I promised myself I wouldn't scream, but I couldn't stop the little animal whimpers coming from my throat.

Learning sword and buckler, somehow-- still not sure how it happened-- the ring finger on my left hand was crushed. ICES--Ice, Compression, Elevation, Splint-- didn't cut it. Went to the doctor. He said it wouldn't hurt as he heated a straightened paper clip under a Bic lighter to melt through the fingernail to relieve the pressure. It was a lie, but he was sprayed in blood and pus for the lie so, in retrospect, it was okay.

Run on a broken fibula. Liver punches and testicle kicks. Broken ribs and broken fingers. Lacerated eye. As the man says, "Life is pain, Princess. Anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell something."

Living is a privilege, and sometimes we pay a price to get here.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Recovering Under Overwhelming Force

Will be doing a workshop in a few days and I want to think out loud here. Nick wants me to do self defense law, and that's easy. One of the standards. He also keyed on an article I wrote for YMAA and wants a class on recovering from overwhelming force.

It's one of those things that is so inherent in my assumptions that I hadn't thought about breaking it out. I mean, physical self-defense is what happens when you are losing. Deadly force is justified because you are about to die-- so having a solid base or good structure or room to move or time to think or space and time for feints or a single opponent in your weight class are all really, really unlikely.

So, brainstorming, this is how I plan to structure it:
  • Super brief Logic of Violence intro: Self-defense predicates on a threat doing something bad. The threat will be doing whatever he does for a specific goal and with definite parameters (don't get caught, don't get hurt and two more). His choice of time, place victim and specific situation derive from the goals and parameters. His choice of time, place, victim and situation also completely drives who the victim will be and what the victim must defend against.
  • Quick talk that most crimes involve psychological dominance rather than injury for very logical reasons, at least in this country. Signs of psych dominance, signs it might go bad, decision points and the one thing you absolutely don't want to do.
Then the actual elements of physical dominance (speed to freeze your brain, power, compromised structure, constant movement... that kind of stuff) and what to do:
  • Beating the OODA loop-induced freeze.
  • Fighting emptiness: Not the direct skill needed under an assault, but a habit and way of thinking that helps with other direct skills. It sounds esoteric, but fighting emptiness is just ignoring our primate instinct with other humans to try to match force with force and instead use our force on the undefended place, or get to the flank or squeeze out of a lock or wall pin through the gap... it's a pretty universal principle.
  • Which leads to exploitation of the threat's momentum.
  • Pocket structure: Finding and training places where you can create structure to hit hard with only some bones in alignment.
  • Trying to come up with a name for this one. "Gift-blasting?" Often, the thing the bad guy does to compromise your structure, (like whipping your jacket over your head and forcing your head down) gives you something cool, like a powerful falling shoulder slam directly into his knees if you can see it. It plays a little off the fighting emptiness concept because most people instinctively try to rise directly against the force and fail to see the gift.
If there's time we might go into the fighting the mind stuff, but it already looks fairly ambitious for the time slot.

Does that look like a good intro?

Anyway, if you're going to be in the Boston area Friday:
And, for that matter, Saturday in Rhode Island:

Monday, August 08, 2011


I'm not sure if I can ever really explain how much George and the Uechi crew mean to me. Martially, I'm a bit of an outcast and an orphan (cue the violins for the sad, self-pitying music. Naw. I like running alone.)

There are a lot of people I play with, like and respect in the martial community, but as far as family... Dave retired about a year after he ranked Bo and me. Bo moved away. Don't want to hurt any feelings, but the few yudansha who continued to teach didn't come close to matching Dave's depth or intensity. It was easy to drift, looking for that level of play.

Found a few training partners, but never did, outside of the Team, find another 'home.'

So my first time at Uechi camp was like an orphan being invited to an Italian family dinner. Then just kind of accepted.

So, brawling and everything aside, the Uechi crew have a special place. I'm a little bummed the weekend is over.

Darin told stories, and so did George. Bill brought a friend, an impressive martial historian who will have his brains picked in the future like a baby at a zombie rising. Patrick and Sara and one other person of unknown name worked on my shoulder. Robb was Robb- big brawling profane and devilishly intelligent. Van and I talked, but not enough. Never enough. Someone shared things that neither of us normally talk about. Mike and Harry shared great talks, even when I was close to drifting off to sleep.

It was a good time.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Landed in Boston

Couldn't nap. Red eye flight. Didn't want to sleep during the day and mess with sleep cycle... so the answer was coffee and constant movement. Jeff and I walked for six hours yesterday (his estimate) constantly talking. About martial arts and martial artists, fights and psychology, early criminal behavior, and Boston. He talked about training in China and Thailand (and he really needs to write a book, not on the training so much as the personalities). I showed him what I meant by 'fighting the mind' and now he wants to gestalt slap somebody. He gave me some exercises for an old injury that seems to be getting worse.

Then a hookah lounge with Mike and Tia. Very nice company but the music was too loud for conversation after a certain point. Good talks as well, and Boston traffic, which makes all driving sort of funny.

Then sleep.

Teaching first class at 0900 tomorrow. May have to experiment.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011


Today will be a prep day.  Packing.  Laundry.  Going over lists.  Just a few.  Nothing in the next two weeks requires armor or special equipment, but I should bring the knee brace and the wraps.

Catch an all-night flight tonight, then ten days or so in Boston, Plymouth and Providence.  I love two of the groups I'll be working with.  George Mattson is one of the Grand Old Men and it is always fascinating to watch this group of people that he has created.  Strong, serious, talented and each individual very different, and George cherishes the differences.  The Summerfest is always a blast.

Raffi Derderien is good.  I've only taken a couple of classes with him and been very impressed, but a long time ago I quit watching instructors.  If I want to know about the instructor, I watch the students.  I love hanging with Raffi's students.  Smart, quick, skilled and they laugh and think and question and change.
This will be my first time at Raffi's summer camp and I'm a little excited.

Somewhere in the middle I'll meet with four of my favorite self-defense instructors in the area.  Jeff Burger is a fighter, an obsessive martial artist and hasn't always been one of the good guys.  His perspective is invaluable.  Erik Kondo is one of the most dangerous men you will ever knock out of a wheelchair. He knows the real problems of self-defense from a perspective most martial artists can't grasp.  Bill Giovannucci is a Uechi guy who thinks deep and makes me grateful for good armor.  Jake Steinmann is a PDR instructor who thinks, experiments and uses words like pedagogically.  Want to bring your game up?  Surround yourself with people smarter than you.  Works for me.

The goal is to get these few good men to look over the Logic of Violence concept, evaluate, tweak, and possibly help with one of the sticking points in presentation.

There will also be an evening workshop with YMAA.  It will be my first time at their facility, but with luck I'll see Nick Yang again, and that's always a good time.  Nick asked me to go over SD law, which is pretty a standard by now, but also recovering under overwhelming force.  I haven't considered teaching that as a separate thing before.  It's just sort of one of the background facts of SD: hard, fast, close, surprise.  It will be good to separate it out, I think.

So pack, prep, clean up the house a little.  Say goodbyes, fly.  Should arrive in Boston in time for a breakfast cannoli and a nice coffee in the North End.