Monday, September 26, 2011

"Hi" From Minnesota

At some point I have every intention of getting some sleep.

Swords with Kasey yesterday, a nice class showing the physics of sword and how that applies to takedowns (primarily) and other aspects of force. It was a blast, and I always like playing in the gray areas between my training and someone else's-- especially someone who is good that I absolutely respect. Got to bang with western sword as well, a little.

Today, taught ConCom to a group of (primarily) LEOs. Seemed to go well. Actually it seemed to go very well and cops tend to be a tough audience, but I never think my teaching is good enough. Hopefully that will be incentive to always improve.

Tomorrow I get to watch Marc teach his "Martial Mechanics" class for the first time. Later in the week, high- and low-level defensive tactics (Me); edged weapons (Marc); Environmental fighting (Me)... some other little classes as well as a day on the range with the local SWAT. Lots of stuff. Not so much sleep.

And good talks, too. Kasey is one of the (despite his age, he's relatively young) old-school tactical operators. Work hard, laugh much, keep the world safe. Have a cigar and some nice scotch when you can look around and your part of the world is safe... Surrounds himself with good people as well.

Still some class times available:

Lots of comments on the last post. Too tired and rushed to review them all, but I want to make sure that the point is not lost: Size (strength, speed, ferocity...anything you can name) does matter. But it's not a binary thing and never has been. 'Matter' does not mean the same as "If you have more X than I do, life is hopeless." And it's not just harder or easier. It changes more than that, sideways things.

It changes the value of evasion.
It changes the relative value of the principle of conservation of momentum.
It changes the importance of environmental fighting.
It reorganizes the relative values of the MPDS paradigm from Meditations.

Lots of stuff. You can't fight big guys the way you fight small guys. It's a different problem. In friendly matches with friends I think the most weight I've ever given up and won was about 240 pounds. Only around 100 with real criminals. Ergo, I have some confidence that it can be done... but I also know damn well that I would have failed in those matches or fights if I'd tried to go toe to toe. I've also been surprised by a very, very good MMA kid who used a technique on me that a bigger man could not physically have done (If you're reading this, Joey L. that was awesome).

If you are studying with someone who gets his feedback from sport with weight classes, not only might you not learn the techniques, mindset or principles that have to be emphasized when fighting, defending from or attacking a bigger person, you won't even be exposed to the concepts. And if you aren't careful, you might wind up in a weird state of denial.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Big and Bad

This is one of the things that is so obvious I sometimes don't mention it at all. It only comes up when someone says something about fighting different sizes and the only way to get to that conclusion is to miss this point...and that's weird, because I don't think you can miss this point. I believe that you must choose to be willfully and actively blind to miss it.

You don't fight very large people and very small people the same. It's an entire galaxy of reasons, from differing legal justifications (very unlikely that the force you need to stop an angry 100 kilo guy is the same force you need to stop an angry 40 kilo guy) to different angles (a foot difference in shoulder hight is a foot difference in the origin of all the hand strike attack angles) to different dead zone sizes and different access to the dead zones. The threat's lever arms are different lengths and the mass you need to control with those lever arms can vary widely.

It's not just that you take the skills in your weight class and take on someone three weight classes up and do your stuff harder or better or more. The things that work are qualitatively different.

Take the elbow leverage point, (what Al Arsenault calls, "the magic place"). At around my weight class I can reliably control the threat's entire upper body. Someone smaller, unless they have extraordinary rooting, I can get absolute control with one hand. But on an immensely strong or big threat, it takes all my structure to turn or to prevent him from turning and the wonderful control technique buys me time to get to someplace else and do something else.

And that's not all. If I have the edge in size and strength, I can work the elbow point with unidirectional power-- just push where I need the threat's shoulder (and then spine and pelvis) to go. With the super strong, I tend to shock-stop it and wait for the recovery power I know is coming and use that.

We all know this. If you have any exposure to judo at all you know that some throws are very difficult to make work against some body types, and some may be difficult depending on your own body type. Full-entry hip throws work great short-and-stocky versus tall-and-lanky but are hard to work the other way. The momentum throws tend to work great against strong, aggressive people in a fight, but not very well in matches at all.

Simple and obvious things-- whether you go over the humerus or under it to turn a body at close range is a matter of comparative height. So is the efficiency of working the back of the neck versus the chin. Head hunting on someone a foot or more taller is completely different (and loses a lot of efficiency).

There's more going on than just size or strength, or even just the threat's size and strength for that matter... but it's still one of those things so obvious that it might be missed.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Crabs in a Pot

The bad thing with any major life change is that circumstances conspire to prevent you from changing. That's how it seems, anyway. One of the reasons so few people really change, even when they are living a life with a definite expiration date, is that they stay in the same environment with the same people.

You decide to change profoundly and give up crime and drugs... how do you think your druggy criminal friends will respond to that? We all know it's harder to give up any bad habit, like smoking, when we spend time with people that smoke.

One friend uses the analogy of crabs in a crabpot. If one did figure out how to climb free, the others would pull him back. Changing your life affects the homeostasis of all those around you. Maybe they don't want to live with the constant reminder that if you can change so could they. Maybe it's darker and they want you to fail so that the part of the brain that's afraid of all change can point to you as an example and keep from trying at all. Maybe...

But there are other crabs in your own mind, things that pull you back. I'm watching two people right now that have made huge gains and it looks to me like they are about to lose it all. That's what has me thinking. But in small ways, we all self-sabotage to prevent change, including success. Some write and don't publish. Everyone has great ideas that they don't try to produce (why have I never got around to substituting the peanuts in a Snickers bar for coffee beans and sold them on college campuses?)

Everyone, with just a few minutes thinking can come up with a plan to make life better. Profoundly better. Almost none will ever write down the plan or execute the steps. Those that do have found a pair of super-powers, planning and execution. But most won't. Crabs in the head hold them back. "That's for special people, not you." "You'd just fail anyway, it would be better not to try."

The crabs in our head hold us back with whispers, not claws.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Simple Brutality, Brutal Simplicity

The title is a quote from Kris Wilder.

Another thought from the week of insane business:
Fighting is complicated and hard and can take quite some time to learn.

Hurting, damaging, injuring, killing (whatever level of harm you wish to invoke) is relatively easy, and often the matter of a simple decision.

If you and I were standing in arms reach you could take me out.  Orientation wouldn't matter-- standing side by side on the deck or walking past each other or sitting on the bus.  If size and strength were too disparate, you simply employ a tool.  All provided you could simply decide and act.

Most can't.  Physically, most people have a host of precursor motions and telegraphs and intention signals.  Mentally, it's not enough to simply have a good reason.  Most people need a justification as well (killing someone to protect yourself or your children is a reason.  "Because he was a bad guy" or "He was a piece of shit" are justifications.)  Killing animals 'for food' is reason enough.  We don't need to be angry, don't need to convince ourselves that the animal is bad. Socially, most people must go through steps as the conflict escalates, must seek hooks so that they can blame their own violence on the victim.

And so we have a tendency to kill animals, but to fight humans.  And everything about fighting is inefficient.  Bullshit dominance games played out physically.

And so, for self-defense, you don't 'fight off' an attacker.  You hurt him.  You make him pay.  If necessary, you kill him.  But you don't fight.  He's a human too, and may have needed both a reason and a justification and all that jazz... which meant he wouldn't have picked you if he had any concerns about winning the fight.  Work on conditioning and skill.  They will never harm you.  They will take you off the target list for many predators.

But if you, or your students, are on that list, the skills needed are qualitatively different than simply being a good fighter.  You need to know how to break a human being (the easy part) and you need to be able to make the simple decision to do so.  Not fantasize about the decision, not imagine your heroics.  Simply decide and act.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


"1234" was our code word for mentally ill or emotionally disturbed. Crazy. "I've got a twelve thirty-four..." We used to joke that their should be a "Two-four-six-eight" for the ones that were twice as crazy as usual.

Sometimes, teaching a Conflict Communications course, one of the students will be in a Mental Health field and will ask about dealing with the mentally ill, or a cop will ask about dealing with someone in extreme emotional crisis.  THat was my job for a long time.  There are techniques and stuff to know and ways to talk... but most of what I learned came from an attitude.

I admired these guys.  Understand that I was working with severely mentally ill people in a jail.  Mental illness is one thing.  Some (but not all) were also pure criminals.  Most, outside of the jail, were homeless.  How many people do you know, including yourself, that could handle being homeless?  Could figure out where to get food and shelter and clothes and the occasional shower?

Add to that that you can't even trust your own mind.  Not all of the things you see and hear are real.  You are sometimes compelled to do things you don't want to do or can't force yourself to do things you need to do...

"I know Sarge, I do better on meds and I'm happier when I'm on meds, but I can't make myself want to take them..."

And these guys (and gals) survived.  They didn't thrive, not by any stretch of the definition, but they survived.  Would I?  Dumpster diving and hustling would be hard enough, coming from my old-school pioneer stoic background (Stoics suck at panhandling) but not knowing if the person I was begging from was even real?

Every time I looked at the inmates in the Mental Health units, every time I was tempted to look down on them or feel superior, all I had to do was look at the other officers or counselors or nurses or myself and wonder if we would even have survived.

Same with criminals, and this is a weirder line to cross.  There are many, many violent criminals, some extremely depraved, that I got along well with.  To put it another way, there were a few that I would play chess with and listen to their problems and even counsel that I would shoot without hesitation if I saw them near my children.  As people, I got along with them. As predators, my job was to stop them cold.  It wasn't an either/or thing.  Both.  At all times.

Most, at least most of the ones I knew, were raised to be criminals.  Daddy a drug dealer and pimp, mommy a drug addict and whore.  Extended family and many friends and some of the neighborhood similar.  Sometimes you wanted to bang your head.  What was the rite of passage in your family/group to be a 'real man'?  First deer?  First time getting laid?

For one family I knew from jail, it was prison.  Not jail, jail didn't count. "Hard time" a violent felony and more than a year sentence were prerequisites to being a man.  They couldn't wait until they were eighteen and it became a possibility...

Raised in this environment, some profoundly antisocial things made sense.  Lying was constant, since giving up information in that environment was unsafe.  Trust is stupid.  Intimidation is fine but showing anger? When you felt anger you showed a smiley face and got a weapon.

Like a lot of officers, I don't believe in rehabilitation.  We simply haven't seen it work.  You raise a violent criminal's self-esteem he gets more, not less, violent.  I have enough background in psychology to be able to tell how individual studies were fudged.

But sometimes I think we made a difference.  When someone who had been raised to lie and con as the only effective ways, short of violence, to get what he wanted would start the long story and we'd say, "Eddy, you don't need to hustle me.  Tell me what you want and if it's within the rules, no problem.  You don't have to work so hard."

I don't know how many, if any, really changed.  But showing someone raised in the criminal subculture that there was sometimes a better way, that sometimes they could get what they want without lying, without pissing people off, that there was an effective solution that was safer...

They had never learned, growing up, that sometimes it was safe and effective just to ask.  That away from their family and friends and subculture people being out to screw you was the exception instead of the norm.

So, I don't think I ever rehabilitated anyone.  But teaching a few that there were less damaging ways that were safe and effective may have been small steps to habilitating a few.

"You can't rehabilitate someone who was never habilitated in the first place."-- Don't remember who said it, one of my instructors two decades ago.

Monday, September 12, 2011


A lot of writing to catch up on, especially here, but I need a little debrief and decompress first.

Sitting in Logan Airport with a coffee and some precious free moments.

Two days of filming. Part done in Club 58, Jamie's place, where we played scenarios last year, part at the YMAA kwoon in Jamaica Plain. Some really nice people and excellent martial artists showed up to help, and Nick stopped by to say 'Hi.'

It was hectic and the days were way more exhausting than they should have been. Not sure why, it was basically teaching, but I was pretty drained every night. It might have been exhaustion from the night-flight out (no real good sleep this week, that always seemed secondary to spending time with friends I don't see enough). It might have been the choppiness, as things were paused so the cameras could be fed and cared for. It might simply be because shooting order is different than the logical progression of teaching. You need to shoot all the scenes you can without moving lights or cameras, then move them and shoot all you can with the new orientation...

Or a combination. David Silver was great to work with and from everything I hear, he is a genius with editing and production. That's outstanding, since I am completely ignorant. One of the martial artists who showed up to assist, Teja Van Wicklen, has training and experience in video production and she seemed impressed. Frankly, I wouldn't know good if it bit me on the ass.

The videos will be released by YMAA and the working titles are "Facing Violence" and "The Logic of Violence." I'll keep you posted.

Two days of that then an evening/night drive to NYC. With a GPS that decided to send us in circles on the bridges between NY and NJ.

Followed by one long but fantastic day brawling on a rooftop with a small group of mostly strangers. It was a blast. Since the group was so small and familiar with the books, I did it private lesson format: "What do you want to work on? Dealer's choice."

Groups, fighting the mind, weapons, coaching the one-step and a really quick run-through of Conflict Communications.

That evening, Afghani food followed by scotch and conversation on a deck in Weehawken, NJ in a very light rain. The deck looked over NYC with an incredible view and was attached to a beautifully restored 3-bedroom apartment that happens to be for rent...

Then up in the morning and a train back to Boston. On the train, we met the rudest, funniest person. When we asked to sit in the only paired unoccupied seats opposite her she actually sniffed (not the snooty sniff, but inhaling, like a dog seeing if we smelled clean enough to be in her world) and turned away.

It got worse from there and it was so hard not to laugh. I did giggle a little.

Mike and Tia and two of their friends invited me to Oktoberfest, so it was arrive in Boston, dump things off at J&J's apartment (and if you wonder why they aren't in the story so far I was almost never with them, but they do have some great news that I can't divulge until they do. No, it's not that.) Then to the meeting place. Got there a little early so had a snack, then the big meet-up for the Sam Adam's Okoberfest. OMG. Crowds. Beer. Polka music. It was like hell but with a worse dress code.

I came of age in the microbrew capital of the world. Sam Adams is good beer compared to... PBR and Bud and Coors and that's about it. Even given that, I don't like beer that much. Four free pints of not very good beer came with admission. Yay. And crowds. Drunk crowds. And dumb little trivia games- for weird little fake felt hats. And pretzel tossing. And polka music. Oh. dear. god. polka music. It must take a gene to appreciate that. Or more beer than I was willing to drink. It was also deafening loud and I think no more than six songs played over and over again.

I really want to know this-- who plays the accordian? I can see some little kid forced to play against his will, but when he grows up and moves away and his parents die... he still plays? In public?

It sounds horrible, but hanging with this group, horrible can be fun. The best part was talking about dark thoughts with... a certain person who will go nameless. But thanks, M, you made the night.

Then too short sleep with enough bad beer on board to keep one farting all night and off to the seminar. Which was held in a venue that googlemaps indicated was at the bottom of a lake. Half-hour late to my own gig, which wasn't too bad because everyone else was too.

It went well, a good, sweaty day. Intelligent questions, hard players. We skipped counter-assault in favor of Plastic Mind. Not sure if it was a good call, but some people really made progress with some of the plastic mind exercises.

Dinner with M&T and some fantastic people watching. We were competing to try to guess details and back up our observations on couples: first date? Long-term relationship? Hook up? Stresses? What are those two complaining about?

Then to T's to wash clothes and sleep (done far too late to go back to J&J's)
Slept in until seven, the longest sleep all week, and then up and deliver the Conflict Communications talk. I think it blew some people away. I also saw some people get very uncomfortable on certain parts... which is good. Emotions are signs the limbic system is stepping and you may want to see where that is coming from.

Then, for the last night in town, dinner at a Brazilian BBQ (which I love, but we passed a place that had Iraqi kebabs and I had a sudden stab of what can only be called homesickness) and narghilah at Habibi's Hookah Lounge.

Home in less than twelve hours.
The week has been packed.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Time to Breathe

Just for a few days, of course.
The last (hopefully) revision is done on "A Citizen's Guide to Police Use of Force" which will be released under the title "Force Decisions" early next year.  The scene list for the videos is written, submitted, and approved.

Filming starts Tuesday in Boston.  A one-day small class in NYC Thursday, then an Intro class and ConCom in the Boston area the weekend of the 10th and 11th and then back home.  Nothing pressing, nothing on deadline...

Except for the Minnesota week-long gig at the end of the month with Marc and Kasey.

But aside from that, a little time to think.  To work on some projects that have slipped to the B-list.  Do some long-overdue house and land maintenance.  Put a dent into the two-foot tall "to read" file.

On the B-List projects-
The e-book for talking down EDPs
Editing Tim's manuscript, which will involve a long talk with his widow, I think
Proof-reading my wife's latest opus
Write the last of a series of articles for Concealed Carry Magazine
Shooting and gathering pictures for several projects
Working on the expanded print version of "Drills"
Taking a stab at putting "Logic of Violence" down on paper

Magically, some of these will move to the a-list.
I might even find some time to blog.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Edge of the Blade

On one level, there are few things as obsolete as medieval sidearms. Whether kobudo or iai or fencing, sword attacks, much less sword fights have become pretty damn rare. Which might make it seem a pretty silly thing to study. Combined with my general attitude about dueling training being applied to self-defense, you might expect an automatic rejection.

Can't do it. There are some things you can learn from the edge of the blade that get sloppy and take too long any other way. Also, especially in Western weapons, there are centuries of people working out very carefully efficient ways to kill and not be killed.

Maija (and Jake and Mac) got me thinking about this. What follows is a mix-- big things and little things. Don't waste time looking for a theme. And a caveat: I've trained and played with swords and other weapons extensively. I've even slaughtered livestock with swords... but I've never been in a sword fight. Take everything that follows with the appropriate amount of salt.

Margin of error:
Dealing with a sword, there really isn't a margin of error. Unarmed you can afford to make far more mistakes, give yourself more time. You take a glancing blow to the head or someone tags your upper arm with a fist and it's not a big deal. Bladed weapons force you to think in a more demanding way.

Weapons teach distancing faster and better than unarmed:
You need to be able, at a glance to tell from build, grip, foot position and weapon if the threat can reach you. Exactly how his range changes with shifts of footing, grip or center of gravity. You can predict the 'tells' you need to watch for when and if the threat decides to develop range. It's a critical skill with weapons and the cool thing is that it translates. After getting ranging with weapons down, unarmed range assessment is even easier.

You learn not to waste time or motion:
Related to 'no margin of error.' A sword fight is won or lost in fractions of seconds and fractions of inches. If the person is going to miss you by the tiniest of margins, you don't waste effort or time in motion. You never parry even an inch more than you absolutely have to. Unarmed fighting allows for a lot more slop.

It requires (and thus develops) commitment:
There's no way you can hit someone without being close enough to be hit back. Or maybe hit first. But we've all been hit enough to know it really isn't a big deal. With a blade? Any decisive action means you are close enough to be killed or maimed. Every time you engage you are betting your life on your skill, your speed and your ability to read what is truly happening.

This is specialized, maybe, but by truly limiting the weapon, strategy comes to the fore. Unarmed we can get by forever on tricks. Given just hand strikes, foot strikes, take-downs, locks, gouges, strangles, head-butts and slamming I can keep shifting between the options and force you to play catch-up, or find the one that you haven't experienced before. Limit it to just one class of tool (hand strikes in boxing, for instance) and it forces the skill to go up another level. t changes from tricks to tactics and then, maybe even strategy. Dealing with just a point (foil or epee) and limiting offense and defense to the same tool in the same hand pushed a deeper understanding of all the elements of strategy: timing and distancing and psychology and...

All of these things, and there are more, inform and improve your unarmed skill. They change the way you see and think.