Saturday, December 24, 2011

Assumptions and Biases

We all have biases and assumptions as instructors. So does your instructor. We can't help it. We see the world a certain way and certain things have worked for us. The things that worked (for us, in our environment) are where we concentrate our teaching.

An athletic martial artist who has worked as a bouncer will believe and teach that you see things coming and your physical attributes are key.

An instructor who has survived a rape attempt may well believe that the key is unbridled ferocity, slipping the leash. If they won despite disadvantages in strength, size and position they will believe and teach that strength, size and position are secondary to mindset. If they could not even think of a technique in the moment, they will likely teach that technique is irrelevant.

So here are my biases and assumptions, to the extent that I see them (the thing with blindspots is that you can't see them, so there are many I will miss.)

  1. Unarmed arts only exist for emergencies you didn't see coming. If you can predict it and plan it and force is unavoidable, it is stupid to go in without a weapon. For that matter, without getting every advantage you can.
  2. Which means that the basic environment of an unarmed encounter is the position of disadvantage. Bad structure, positioning, footing, injured, overwhelmed and behind the curve.
  3. Almost always, the ones you see coming you can ward off by positioning or verbal de-escalation. As such I've often and (so far) successfully, put myself in positions that weren't tactically optimal in order to talk stuff down (strategically preferable).
  4. I don't think conflict is a physical problem most of the time (see number 3) and even when it is a physical problem, there are minds and social rules and the world involved. The more of those elements you can manipulate skillfully, the better off you are. Sometimes you play the cards, sometimes you play the person and sometimes you play the table.
  5. I expect the threat to have the advantage in size and strength or to be crazy (mental instability or drugs). Because almost all of them were one or the other. Potentially sampling error... but I think it makes sense, since you'd have to be crazy to routinely attack bigger and stronger people.
  6. I believe in the primacy of infighting. This is the prejudice that is most likely to be incompatible with a student's nature. Classical JJ is an infighting system-- weapons were assumed and there was no safe way to finish it at long range. Early I learned that people freak out more when someone tries to close, and that shaped my personality. Thus, by nature and training, I'm an infighter. I tend to reject techniques that keep distance and most of the techniques I prefer (and therefor teach) put you at clinch range. If that's not a good range for you, I'm unlikely to be a good teacher.
  7. I tend not to injure people. That was the preferred outcome on my job-- maximum control with minimum injury. That's shaped a lot in that I have very few strikes I consider reliable. Marc consistently gives me a bad time because I don't always treat potentially deadly threats as seriously as he thinks I should.
  8. Weapons: I'm completely cool with improvised weapons and using obstacles, etc. But for the first ten years of my career, we were not allowed to carry anything. When OC was finally authorized, I just never thought about it. OTOH, my weapon training was completely offensive, centered around hostage rescue tactics with a team. My mindset is completely different when I pack versus when I don't.
  9. I have very weak social instincts. This means that I don't tend to get emotional or competitive when I fight...and I don't really understand why other people do. It's good in that the lack of anger never makes me want to overstep bounds, but some of my basic things- the range, positioning, not bothering to make eye contact, smelling, face contact-- are sometimes hard for others. Many people have to force themselves to grab a face, for instance, whereas grabbing a collar or neck is (emotionally) easier. Just rarely as effective.
There are more, I'm sure. Do this analysis for yourself, your style and your instructor. It all adds up to each of us are training for a generally narrow range of conflict. Including me. Be aware.

Hope you all had a good Solstice.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Illusions of Speed, Illusions of Power

At some point some of you have met someone who was fast and looked slow. Someone who always seemed to be at the right place, at the right time; someone who never gave you a chance to respond, and yet the person looked relaxed, almost lackadaisical.

I was watching someone a few weeks ago who looked fast. The young gentleman was fast enough that most of his training partners froze. But there was nothing smooth about his actions. It was fast, staccato, choppy. Then it hit me. Choppy looks fast.

Strobe lights tend to freeze people because each visual snapshot shows a discrete amount of motion without the "in between" and our brain fills in that the motion is unbelievably fast. But it isn't. No one moves faster under a strobe light. Everyone looks faster. You can simulate that by using jerky, choppy motions. If you do, not only are the motions not faster than being smooth, they aren't as powerful, either. The quick stops apply brakes to the technique.

Check me on this, but my impression (never really looked for it specifically) is that the jerky 'fast hands' stuff tends to be far more prevalent in non-contact stuff. Largely because non-contact is scored by what looked like impact. Real impact is different.

It does have some advantages. Discrete motions act as discrete observations in the OODA loop and you probably more easily get the OO bounce type of freeze. On that level, the appearance of speed may be better for fighting minds than actual speed. But it isn't nearly as good for fighting bodies. The other thing, maybe the big thing, is that it is okay if you are fighting other people's minds, but if you buy into the illusions, you may be fighting the threat's mind but on some level defeating your own. Coming to believe what in the end is only a trick. A useful trick, but...

Similar stuff with power. What we are conditioned to believe feels strong doesn't necessarily deliver power. From the time we were little kids and dad said, "Show me your muscles" and we flexed our bicep we have the idea drummed into us that strength is about size (big muscles) and rigidity (hard muscles) and static.

It gets compounded with the dynamics of social violence. Most of the conflict we have seen is social and almost all of the violence-- Monkey Dances. And Monkey Dances are about communication and messages. The message is 'look how big and strong I am' and so the person tends to square up (wrong base for power generation, all targets exposed) and turn red (turning pale is the survival response) and go up on the toes to look bigger (sacrificing from the base both balance and power) and to flex and tense all the muscles, looking bigger (and making actions slower and weaker).

We all know, and have been taught and trained that power comes from motion, that loose is quicker and hits harder than stiff, that structure doesn't require muscular rigidity... blah, blah, blah. We know this. But our conditioning says something else.

So we all have a tendency, when afraid or feeling challenged, to tense up. To look big. To concentrate on the illusions of strength instead of what we know about power. If the illusion over-rides reality, you will get generations of people trained to rigidity. You will even get people who can mouth the words (often in a fake Chinese accent) "Life is supple, the only rigidity is in death." Who then turn around and not only move rigidly but fail to think in their rigidity.

And they are completely blown away the first time they see someone demonstrate a ballistic strike. Or a body slam. Or even a good jab.

There is a saying that slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Sort of. But smooth can look slow, even when it is too fast to react to...and jerky will always look fast even if it is not. Relax. Smooth your motions down. If all you need are illusions, it doesn't matter. If you need the real thing, it may not look like you are conditioned to believe.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Training and Conditioning

Mentioned early, but it deserves some more talk.
I don't mean conditioning in the fitness sense. I mean it in the Behaviorist Psychology sense. It is a subconscious way to learn and we learn the lessons much more deeply than through regular teaching. We also condition faster than we learn.

My mother had been told by her mother that a baby couldn't hold a hard-boiled egg long enough to be injured. She conditioned me to the word "hot" through pain. One time and she could tell me something was hot, even before I could talk, and I would be very careful about touching it. On the other hand, that may be why I don't like eggs very much.

Conditioning is like that. Most of it is accidental. It happens so fast, so subtly, that we don't see it. We rarely exploit it. And some of our best teaching is completely undermined by concurrent conditioning.

My firearms training included hours of dry fire. Jeff believed in form first; that you got your fundamentals before you burned ammo. That was hours of four-count draw, presssssss, pressssss, low ready and scan, muzzle to muzzle, then 360. Reset weapon. Go to retention. Holster. All smooth.

There was one bad habit in the sequence. It was important, because it gave us the trigger pull. If we didn't reset the weapon we wouldn't get that feel. But later, I caught myself starting to reset the weapon in a venue where it was kind of important not to waste ammo by ejecting it onto the ground. I had conditioned the bad habits while learning the skills.

Very closely related to the story every range master tells about officers found dead with expended brass in their pockets because cleaning up the range was just a part of shooting.

We condition lots of small things all the time. With weapons training you can often modify the weapon to preserve the skills safely. Unarmed, that's harder to do. We wind up modifying the skills themselves. We pull punches or respond to taps as if a surrender signal was reliable. we pull up on throws and tell ourselves it is to increase the control for the follow-up when it is really about helping the opponent NOT get injured.

Conditioning is always there. If you practice a technique and reset (something I am guilty of with the counter-ambush material) you condition stopping based on what you did, as opposed to the effect it had.

We condition big things too, and this is something endemic in martial training. If the instructor is so ego driven that he must be the top dog in everything, he may be teaching students to win... but when a student tags the instructor and gets punished for it, the student is simultaneously learning to win and being conditioned to lose. When the student gauges the effectiveness of a technique by what the instructor says versus what the technique does, the student has been conditioned to require outside validation. Conditioned to not believe his or her own senses.

I've written about kids classes before and how the automatic obedience and "yes sir!" that is touted as discipline and respect is also exactly what a predator would want in a victim: conditioned obedience.

Habitual ways of doing things seem to get to the same part of the brain as conditioning. That's what makes a good drill good, and what makes repetition valuable. But repetition of crap is deeply habitual crap. And when the underlying skill you are training for is breaking people, crap has to be there to preserve partners.

Habits and conditioning.

More later, probably. Split up writing over three days and I sometimes lose my train of thought.

Monday, December 12, 2011


There are three ways to look at fighting (millions, of course, but three in this set) that are different, and those differences drive almost every aspect of the encounter. It's very clear, but sometimes people get confused and try to solve problems of one situation from another point of view. That fails.

I hate the word 'fight' because it implies a contest. 'Assault' doesn't work all the time as a word, nor does 'combat' so I'm going to default and use fight, but don't lock up on it.

Take the other guy out of the equation. There are three ways that you can go into a fight: You can go in on the offense, go in as a mutual fight, or be on the receiving end-- defensive.

Going offensive is not the same as being an aggressive boxer. It is a quantum difference. When you are intending to use force offensively, you have a goal. There is something or someone you want, some event that must happen. You do everything in your power to minimize risk. It is a job. Same as mining. You have a goal, you want to be safe.

So, offensively: you gather your intelligence, you choose time and place, you stack every factor you can control in your favor (weapons, armor, numbers, surprise) and you act, ideally never giving the victim a chance to respond in any way.

Good guys and bad guys do this. It is the essence of a military raid or a simple robbery. It is just the smartest, safest way to accomplish your mission.

So what skills do you need? Stealth. Clean hits. Almost any precision skill works here, very well. Emotionally there are differences, but whatever you train, if you have the complete drop, you can shoot like the range or strike like you were only hitting a bag.

Mutual fights have no surprise. Take that back- one of the essences of strategy is creating little pockets of surprise and some people go into a Monkey Dance believing the other guy won't really hit-- but generally, not only do you see these coming but both parties, on some level, have agreed.

They are very social. Consciously (sport) or subconsciously (Monkey Dance) they have rules. They almost always have an audience. Mutual fights are not about resources or survival, they are about communication: "I am a bigger monkey than you" "I deserve respect" "That's my woman" Stuff like that.

An aside- I like sport. Sports MA tend to be (IME) the least delusional of all martial artists (including RBSD) because they know exactly what they are doing and why. Most of us went into sports and competition to find out who we were and what we had.

In a lot of ways, mutual fighting is a testing ground and much of what it tests is attributional. Strength, speed, endurance, will. Many of which an offensive attack is designed to neutralize.

So what are the skills? You need the skills that you are testing. Boxers need boxing skills and judokas need judo. Then you need the attributes and then you need the ability to read an opponent and lead him and do all those things that add up to mat sense or tactical thinking.

A defensive fight is what happens when you are on the receiving end of an offensive fight. The bad guy has set everything up to his advantage. Whatever attributes you have trained (strength, speed, endurance) he has either found a way to neutralize or will simply (if he has the option) choose someone else. An unexpected blitz where your movement is restricted, probably coming from a zone where you have little practice or experience delivering power; with structure compromised...

What skills do you need here? The precision skills that work for an attacker won't be an option for you. If you can turn it into something that resembles a mutual fight, that's cool... but how? You can't handwave past that.

Most of the big chances to make things better come well before the attack. Use of terrain, reflections and shadows. Trying not to be surprised enough to ever be completely defensive. But that has limited utility, since these skills come into play when prevention skills have failed.

The skills I think are important? Having been inured to pain and the particular kind of chaos that comes with a blitz attack. Good training in a mutual combat-based system can help with that. Practice working against bigger, stronger people. Awareness and use of the environment and skill at exploiting momentum are probably two of the biggest. An indomitable will that goes to active rage instead of passive fear is critical, and I'm not sure if that one can truly be trained at all.

I see the lessons of these three as largely separate. Even though in any given assault one is offensive and the other defensive, the skills and strategies of the offensive actor wouldn't help the defensive. Nor will the defensive skill at recovery help the attacker. The type of tactical thinking needed in a mutual fight is counterproductive in both the offense and the defense. In the offense, it is unnecessary and the restraint required to balance offense and defense and feint actually impairs hard, efficient forward action. From a defensive position, trying to get 'set' trying to get into the position and distance where mutual fights start takes time and time is damage.

Some times I think I write the same things over and over in different ways.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Thought Process

Was asked last night about techniques for gun disarms. Not my thing. I've trained them extensively, have a few I trust, but I've never done it for real. Even if I had, how many would it take to be sure? Too many.

But there is a thought process to working things through. Maybe valid, maybe not. It's the one I use.

Bad guy first. How and why would someone threaten you with a gun? Robbery? Intimidate you to a secondary crime scene for something that requires time and privacy? Each of those has very different needs, different geometries and intents.

Under what circumstances would it serves the threat's interest to threaten but not just kill? Does the fact that there isn't just a loud bang tell you something? Is that information you can use?

When and where would this happen? You can't predict perfectly, but sometimes I get the feeling that one of the most common types of armed robberies happen in convenience stores, across a counter. How many practice disarms across a counter? Is there a good technique for that? I can't think of one I'd trust.

There are distances that make a disarm completely impractical, and anyone who has been taught to hold a weapon at retention at certain ranges will be damnably difficult to disarm.

Which all adds up to, "How fricking narrow is the window of opportunity for this technique?"

Then re-examine the question. Because disarming is not the goal. Not getting shot is the goal. Whether that means getting to cover, disarming, creating distance or shutting down the brainstem (none of which are completely reliable) isn't dependent on what you are good at. They prioritize on which will be fastest.

Then, and only then, if disarms are the option, it has to be based on the geometry. That's just biomechanics and any martial artist who has played with another body should be able to see what has the best chance to work. Which motion works with the threat's joints (e.g. it is almost always easier to shove the weapon towards the threat than to pull it away from you). Which motion will get the barrel off your body fastest (I've seen and despised techniques where you pan your own face). That's just a matter of seeing.

Doing drills, almost anything works, provided you do it with full commitment and no telegraph. Action beats reaction very, very consistently. But if you haven't practiced untelegraphed explosive movement... not good.

And this is the part where I rant about technique. I don't like technique dependency. Whether it was the complicated, multi-step locks and handcuffings we were taught at the academy or simple disarms.... grrr.

Here's the thing. I can reliably make the very first action just like I want. Whether that is a drop step pass-parry or slapping a wrist doesn't matter. But people don't react or flinch or anything the same. Anyone who says, "If you do 'X' the threat will do 'Y'" hasn't fought people on meth. Calling a four-step move one action doesn't magically turn it into one. The first action, if you can do it explosively, will work. Everything after that depends on your adaptability. Which depends on your ability to apply principles.

Saturday, December 03, 2011


This came up at a class last night and it keeps coming up.
Last night was a homogenous group, almost everyone instructor level in the same school with, I believe, one guest. So there were a lot of questions that usually get a little debate where everyone tended to agree. Honestly, I don't care that much about right or wrong or who wins a debate. Partially because this violence things is an awfully big animal and right or wrong changes depending on what aspect you are dealing with. Mostly I don't care because you can win all the debates in the world and still be left bleeding and dying when you take your certainty into the bad places.

But the process of debate is important. If you listen. Most don't, just pouncing on the word or phrase that they can use as an opening and not hearing anything else. If you really listen, you question and you learn. It's one of the reasons I value mixed groups and people who question and argue and doubt. Celebrate diversity.

Humility. I am wrong most of the time. So are you. In a universe as complex as this one, the odds of anything we believe happening to be true are very slim. And, as a very wise man wrote, you can't make a good decision about anything you care about. You might luck into one, but anything you care about triggers your limbic system, not your neocortex. If you care you are not using your brain. And that sucks, but denial doesn't change it.

And a corollary-- Have you noticed that the more one knows about something, the less sure one is? And that rabid certainty seems more common in things it is impossible to know? The interested dilettante can explain geopolitics with great confidence and solve all the world's problems... the seasoned diplomat says, "It's not that simple. There may be no good answers."

Humility. I am the least important part of anything I teach. If I could remove myself from the process entirely, I would. It is about the student first, about the subject matter second. Anything in the teaching process that centers on me doesn't serve the student. There are tools. I have talked myself through some very shitty stuff with an internal monologue that starts, "What would Dave say right now?" If it helps and they have time, it's okay. But I want my students strong enough in themselves that they look to themselves to solve problems. I'm happy being an advisor, but not someone they feel a need to please.

We talked last night about all the times when we are teaching one thing and conditioning another. If you are doing multi-man, you may be teaching people how to fight multiple opponents... but because you need to control the contact, you are conditioning them not to hit. The instructor who makes an example out of a student who taps the instructor clearly taught good skills... but by making an example conditions the student to be afraid to win.

Embrace the fact that even the communication between two people is not simple enough to be sure. You are sending a million messages all the time without realizing it, and some will have profound effects, positive and negative, on those who watch and listen. You can improve, all the time, but only if you watch for it, only if you practice and see your intent, your message and the results.

The instructor's ego is one of the most dangerous opponents the student will ever face. Sometimes it is obvious. Martial arts has a hierarchy and a power dynamic and in too many places competency is not tested and compassion is assumed. It is a sweet spot for bullies and predators. Where else can you hurt people and they pay you and say, "Thank you, Master." What bully wouldn't get off on that?

Sometimes it's a notch more subtle: making examples, having your students give you 'feeds' so you can show off things you could never do at speed, changing rules and expectations to keep your students 'off balance' and your own power secure.

And sometimes it is just good intentions gone very wrong: The scenario trainer who wants the students to solve the problem the way the trainer would. The tournament champion who thinks what has worked for him will work for a scared tiny person with no experience or warning. The bouncer/SD instructor who thinks that everything he learned from a hundred fights with drunk college kids will cross over to date-rape defense.

Everyone is different. Every situation is different. That diversity thing again. Have the humility to let your students adapt. To cheat to win to excel. To be better than you and, even if you are stronger and faster and more skilled, give them permission (and maybe practice) at finding a way when your strengths might have trapped you.

The class last night was good. Good practitioners and instructors who asked the right questions and really got me thinking. Thanks for setting it up, Clifton. And for hosting, Kykle and Shannon. Good times.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Coming Up For Air

For what it's worth, I have been doing a lot of writing. Just not here. So this will be a catch up: cool stuff, whining, bitching and rants.

Opened my 2012 seminar schedule and got a lot of action. Still working on scheduling since many people don't want to commit to hard dates. It actually makes it easier in that the few who picked gave me anchor points to work the others around.

It looks like January is still open; February will have confirmed private lessons (and maybe an open ConCom) in West L.A.; and a weekend in Port Townsend WA; with an as yet unconfirmed return to Granada Hills; March will be Oakland and San Diego; April/May in Canada; June will be a big month with Israel, Slovenia, the UK and Greece; July and August are clear, but there are two groups I like to hit that time of year, one on Cape Cod, one in Denver; September has fuzzy dates for Minnesota and Granada Hills; October Marseilles; November and December currently clear. Colorado Springs, Montana, upstate NY and New Jersey said yes but without dates.

A lot of openings left, but a lot of time filled as well.

"Force Decisions" and the video version of "Facing Violence" are in the new YMAA catalog, scheduled for release in April and May. Both are new territory. First video, and I know nothing about the video world. I rarely even watch them. "Force Decisions" is about how officers decide when and how to use force. Given the emotion right now, I'm not sure anyone is even interested in knowing the rules. They seem to just want to pick a bad guy and once a side is chosen, all bets are off. So I expect the book to get a lot of flack...and from both sides, since I think many force instructors have considered writing the same book and I'm sure the product won't match what they think it should be. We'll see.

Also, the editing process for FD was pretty hellish.

Tim's manuscript is basically done, just waiting for some more testimonials. (Thanks, David T and LD).

Did two on-line courses for writers in November. One on police force policy; one on weapons and wounds. I think the weapons and wounds might make a good addition to a second edition of Violence: A Writer's Guide. If I ever get the time.

Spent a day in Seattle shooting pictures with Lawrence Kane for the collaboration "Scaling Force" also due out next year.

Sent Kasey Keckeisen the notes from the UofF classes I did for his Ramsey Co. guys in September He made a very nice PowerPoint out of it and now the ChironTraining UofF is officially part of their training. Kind of cool.

(And that got me thinking-- how rare is it for Use of Force to be taught with all the background and concepts? It's the only way I've trained, so running into an agency where 'Factors and Circumstances' hadn't been an explicit part of training was unexpected. Which is the normal baseline? To just read the department policy and state law and send 'em out? Or to go into the cases and reasoning and have them practice articulation?)

The handbook on talking down EDPs is also, basically, done. Got the perfect guy to do a foreword, then a last editing pass and it should be available.

Doc Coray was in town for a long weekend and we got to brawl a bit and sample some microbrews. Next week, TVW will be in town to talk about some projects and see the PNW. She also sent me a draft CD of her audio program for Mommy and Me Self-Defense. Can't recall seeing many recorded books on martial or SD subjects, except for Gavin DeBecker. Considering how much I preferred books to music when I was commuting, I think publishers are missing a big opportunity.

And working on installing a floor upstairs. And Lee wants me to work on an instructor's curriculum. And I need to rewire the stairway light. And somehow get the tool out of the chimney that I dropped. Maybe fix the porch...

Back to the salt mines.