Monday, January 30, 2012

Justification: Example

I tend to be nice because it works. I can come up with rationalizations and reasons about why nice is better than nasty-- better for me and for society. But I don't think, deep down, that is what is going on.

I can be a dick. There are times when it is appropriate and works, but those times are relatively rare. I tend to be nice instead. Not because of any big ideals. No global ethic or right-or-wrong. Not even because being nice is a more effective strategy more often. Those things may all be true. I believe they are. But they are the rationalizations and justifications, not the reason.

Being a dick increases friction. It makes my life harder. My human brain has reasoned out all the other stuff I said above. A turtle wouldn't need any of that. 'Life is easier' is reason enough.

It's not universal. Some people eschew the 'nice' strategy and go for the 'jerk' strategy because it works-- for what they want or want to avoid. Some like friction. Some are jerks to get left alone, which also decreases friction. Some enjoy even negative attention. And being nice and having friends does take effort.

No two people like or value the same things in the same way. Did you automatically try to figure out a 'why' for that? Nature? Nurture? Seeking justification? Is the simple truth that people are different too simple?

Some people look for attached meanings, and see them for what they are. Same with attached reasons.


Sunday, January 29, 2012


Kris Wilder and Teja Van Wicklen are very different people. Talk to them in close succession, though and they might be nibbling at different edges of a big problem.

One of the drills I used to suggest for rookies (it's in the Drills manual) is the articulation exercise. Basically, most of our decisions are faster than conscious though. In "Blink," Gladwell described several studies that show that decisions are routinely made before the entire question is even heard. Most of our mental power doesn't go to making decisions. It goes to rationalizing those decisions.

Kris brought out that people also feel a need to rationalize who they are. We rationalize our emotional decisions. 'I feel' or 'I like' aren't enough. We want a reason, and that leads to an ugly dynamic.

I like orange ice cream better than rocky road. I just do. But there is a human tendency to want more. If I like something better, it must be better. If it is better and I see it and you don't, you must be wrong, stupid or evil...

As long as our reasons are enough, the slippery slope doesn't really exist. I like things, you like other things. At the most rational, if I like Islay scotches and you like Highlands, we don't have to share. More for me. Yay. The extrapolation, the rationalizations and the justifications are where people let themselves do truly hideous things.

Our ugliness rarely comes from who we are, maybe, it comes from the story we tell about why. Killing people may or may not be wrong in a given circumstances... but the rationalizations, the ideology that justifies it are where genocide comes in. Where things turn from bad to evil.

Justifications can present laziness as idealism. And that makes it attractive. Or fear as solidarity. That makes it good. So say we all. Hmmmmm.

The level of self-analysis critical to the articulation exercise stops there. How many people, if any, could go deeper? Could peel away the justifications and bullshit rationalizations and see who they truly are? Admit why they really do what they do?

Get this-- I don't think it would be bad. I don't think most people have dark reasons for what they do. I think the truth would be simple, and humans are far more afraid of being simple than being dark. There is more romance and a better story in dark and hidden meanings. I think deep down, most of us are about as complicated as a relatively smart turtle.

Teja's contribution from the other side: Have you noticed that if someone is the victim in an abuse cycle, they never describe what happened as an assault or an attack? Is that why most don't really defend themselves? But if you try to intervene, try to help, THAT is seen as an attack and the defense mechanisms go wild.

Hmmmm. Assault with black eyes and broken ribs is just a misunderstanding, a loss of control...
But asking about it is treated as a threat.

That's some pretty intense mental gymnastics. Lot's of roots of behavior lie in the justifications, the stories we tell ourselves and others.

Just a half-formed thought spawned by good talks with good friends.

Friday, January 27, 2012


Really overwhelmed in writing right now.

Finished the (hopefully) last review of "Force Decisions" the citizen's guide to understanding police use of force. Not terrifically happy with the title or the cover, but those aren't my decisions. Due out in April.

In the last or second to last review of the Collaboration with Lawrence, "Scaling Force" due out in September.

Just finished two articles for Concealed Carry Magazine and one for the Los Angeles chapter of the Guardian Angels.

Finished and uploaded two e-books, the fifth year of the blog (2009) and the book on crisis communication with EDPs. Which makes for eight e-books out.

The webpages for the seminar in Port Townsend in February and four seminars in California in March are up and running.

"Meditations on Violence" is at 99 reviews on Amazon. Who will be #100?

Life is good.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Good times with Mac, Maija and Edwin. Lots of thoughts, some insights. Found some of my own inclinations. For the first time I noticed that with training blades I target pretty much anywhere available but with sharps I immediately focused on the face. Interesting. Not sure what it implies.

One of the thoughts-- three ways of learning.

You can be taught. That's brains-downward stuff. It can give new information and polish skills and sometimes even cause a paradigm shift. It's not necessarily the best way to train, but it might be the safest and it is really the only one where a teacher has a necessary role.

I also don't see this kind of teaching doing deep work. You can't really teach adrenaline, you have to feel it. I have never seen a teaching that could change character, that could make someone brave. Or cool under fire. Or kind.

I see that kind of stuff in modeling. Someone who spends time with people with certain qualities-- like bravery, but it works for negative stuff to-- tend to grow those qualities. That's one of the reasons why it is critical to spend time with the highest quality people who will tolerate your presence. You will become more like your peer group over time.

I think this is one of the power of cultures. Not tribal or national... my dad was a Korea-era vet. Hunting camp was an annual ritual that included him and his buddies from the army sitting around the campfire and telling stories. I think a lot of growing up in many cultures is guided by stories around a campfire. You can learn the skills of hunting, but you model the attitudes.

Stories, modeling, bonding... this is where the novice gets a heads-up about what to expect. learns about fear and freezing, whether that is called 'choking' or 'buck fever'. Learns that good strong men are not oblivious to what they have seen and what they have done. It's huge, both in preparing someone to walk into the ugly and also, by telling the stories and preparing the next generation, it is an advanced way to process experience.

The third way is through intense experience. Some of this can be done in training. Sometimes I think learning doesn't really, really happen in intense experience. Not cognitive learning, anyway. By the time you can handle the adrenaline (and this is where the cognitive, intense connections are made) it doesn't really count as intense experience anymore. Maybe.

Intensity conditions deep, however. And it tests like nothing else. I don't think you can really find out about your core in a classroom. But that's probably bullshit. You just learn different things in a classroom (like how patient am I) than you learn on a cliff or entering a cell.

It can also shift paradigms. When the teaching has been aimed at intense experience, real intense experience can point out huge holes, raise doubt or confirm details. Validate or invalidate what has been taught.

And there's an interesting aside there: When people have invested identity into the learning process and identify with an instructor, how many of them avoid experience for fear of invalidation?

Three ways that I see for this, then: Teaching, modeling and experience. Each excels at giving different things. I don't think you can skip one and really get to a useful level of skill. Maybe.

So, practical application-- do you have teachers, mentors and an avenue for gaining experience?

CCA (and domestic bragging) announcement:

My lovely wife, writing under the name Tammy Owen has published an e-book detailing our move to the country. Names have been changed, but otherwise...

"House of Goats" on Amazon for Kindle
"House of Goats" on Smashwords

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Nice Big Cup of STFU

A friend called yesterday and said I should write something about the video of US Marines urinating on Taliban corpses.

He's wrong. I do have an opinion. A strong opinion. But I am a former ground pounder National Guard medic. Not a Marine. The people that need to respond to this, to handle it, are Marines.

Not me. And certainly not any whiny media types with a history of agitating against the military. This will be handled, as it should be handled, by Marines.

Some of the best people I have worked with-- Mike, Craig, TJ, Jon (and I know I am forgetting some) were former Marines. Dedicated, effective men. Dangerous, but above all honorable. They have a tradition of combat and honor older than the country they serve.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


The big question in all of this survival training—what training methods exist that will get you through an initial assault? Is there a training system that works, out of the box, in the first encounter?

There are assumptions built into that. Responding to a back-up call is different than being jumped. Just a few seconds can make a big difference in adrenaline control. Going into a situation gives you some perspective and time to evaluate what is happening. Even a second, even if most of the evaluation is subconscious. Being assaulted, you don’t know what’s going on. It’s not just that fighting multiple attackers is different than fighting a single attacker or that armed and unarmed attacks may change what you were trained to do… it’s that you can’t tell, that fast and that close what you are dealing with.

The stuff works. That’s not the issue. I’ve known people who have fired accurately under stress. I’ve used the ‘impossible’ small joint locks in real encounters. But not the first time. People have spent a lot of thought polishing the body mechanics. There is tons of physical stuff out there that works. But if you debrief enough people you will hear again and again, “I knew exactly what to do. But for some reason, I couldn’t make myself do it.”

The failures aren’t physical, they’re psychological.

Ken Murray, in “Training at the Speed of Life” using Air Force data estimates that your skills don’t even kick in until your third to fifth combat mission. The first three, if you survive, it was luck.

That’s chilling. It implies that all of the nifty skills aren’t going to be there on your first trip through the looking glass.

Force professionals have an advantage. A rookie can model veterans. You hang with the guys who have been doing it awhile, hear the stories, get some tips. It settles into your brain that it is ugly but survivable. You can do this. With luck (I don’t think it was conscious, but looking back we tried to do this) with luck, your first Use of Force will be with an experienced partner who can keep his cool and knows what to do.

None of that exists for a civilian self-defense student. There’s no, “The first time you are attacked, you’ll be with Shelly. She’s been being attacked for years and can show you the ropes…”

For most, if they get any serious violence in their lives, it will only be once. There’s no wading pool for assault.

You can be really good at something and there’s a transition when it comes to the next level.

You can be really good at forms, very pretty, and the first time you point-spar, things go to shit. In some cases. You can be really good at point sparring, but your skills go out the window the first time playing at contact. And if the contact was a surprise, point-sparrers tend to freeze, totally vulnerable. If you get used to some contact, the first hard contact has the same effect. And, if you’ve only played striking or only played grappling, the first time you deal with someone who does both… square one.

This is really consistent. Part of drinking the koolaid is believing whatever level you are working at has it all covered and transitioning to a higher level won’t affect you. Whatever you need to say so that you can sleep at night.

The next level, of course, are scenarios. I think they are critical. You must work judgment in tandem with skills. Have to learn to see the problem as global rather than a matter of just physical attack and physical counter. You have to practice adaptability and fighting in realistic environments. You have to train with all of your force options available. You have to learn to realistically assess what you are facing.

You have to… if you want anything to work.

Caveat—and that is why it is so critical to work scenarios with really, really good people. Bad scenario training can screw up everything on that long list of stuff you need.

And, yes, the first time people do scenarios, no matter how well they have done training at any other level, they look like rank beginners. (The exceptions I can think of all had pretty extensive experience in the real thing.) Super shooters or martial arts champions. Side note on the ‘super shooters’: First scenario, it wasn’t that it was bad, but they weren’t doing nearly what they were capable of or what they had trained to do. One comment during the break, that I was going to tell Jeff (their primary instructor that they choked) and they went through the second scenario like precision machines. It was beautiful to watch… but why not the first time?

So, scenario training is important… but my gut tells me it won’t transition to the first real encounter. Not just my gut. One friend was in a shooting post-scenario training. 15 closing to five feet, multiple officers with weapons out, seven hits of thirteen rounds, only two that could generously be called center mass.

Operant conditioning is the one thing that we know works, and it is the best option to get you through that initial assault. But it can’t be complicated. You probably can OC a string of responses and as long as the stimulus is predictable, or the stream of stimulus stays on the script, you’ll probably be okay. But if the stimulus doesn’t stay on the script, you will unconsciously try to and that leads to catastrophic failure, like trying to gun your way through a yellow light in icy conditions.

The other thing about operant conditioning is that it works at the speed of nerve and adrenaline works at the speed of blood. So you can get one good action in before your skills degrade.

If that first 3-5 are luck, OC might be able to buy you some time and turn the tables enough that the bad guy is in a similar situation. It might buy some seconds to create some better luck/

My best guess right now is OC training for the initial assault and chaos play (primarily jujutsu randori). The first to buy time, the second so that sudden motion, multiple hits, grabbing, falling unbalancing, slamming into objects (all the things that make a fight a fight) aren’t novel.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


This has been percolating since November. Sat in on a panel on Heroes in fiction. They really meant protagonists, I think.

Just to get a taste, here's what I think about people who need the 'warrior' label:

Needless to say, 'hero' would get more vitriol, except fewer people have the arrogance to claim it. I was taught early that 'hero' is a four letter word for someone who gets his friends killed...and somehow manages to write the report so he looks good. So the panel was about protagonists, not heroes.

Doing dangerous things because they need to be done isn't noble or heroic. It doesn't come from a sense of great passion. It doesn't come from a tortured soul or any of the motivations that writers try to imagine.

It is exactly like cleaning up dogshit.

There's a steaming pile of dogshit in a public place and most people just walk on by, pretending not to see it. A few will get indignant: "Someone should do something." The worst won't even clean up after their own dogs*... just as the politicians will never fix the problems that their policies created.

But a few, a very few clean up dogshit when they see it. Not because it is noble. Not because it resonates with knights on white horses. Not because it is fun and exciting. Not to save the maiden. Because it needs to be done, and if they don't do it, no one will. And if no one cleans it up, sooner or later the dogshit will get tracked everywhere.

So you hold your nose if you have to and you get in there and you clean up the dogshit. As quickly and efficiently as possible. And you try not to get any on you. Because someone has to.

Maybe it's your job and you signed up for it. Maybe it just needed to be done.

Either way, there's nothing noble about it. It just needs to be done. Which I find kind of noble.

*Any decent person will clean up their own mess, pick up after their own dogs.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Gifts and Systems

Stew of thought.

Affordances, gifts and possibilities.
Open and closed systems and tasks.

First of all, some of the words and ideas came from comments on old posts and I can't remember who wrote what or even when, so I'm sorry if I don't attribute them. If someone wants to point me at the posts, I can fix that in edits.

There are some things that are simple to do and simple to learn. Those are closed systems. Throwing a ball. Learning to write your letters as a child. There are really only a small number of variables. These are things that you can learn by rote. You can actually get proficient merely through repetition.

There are other things, like fighting and, I don't know, LIFE maybe, where the possibilities are nearly endless and the variables are incalculable. Those are the open systems.

Throwing a ball at the garage door or playing catch, the variables are few and you can get better and better. But a million reps of that will only help a little when it is time to throw a pass to a moving player with blockers in the way and big men coming in to tackle you. By the time you've finished first grade you can draw all of your letters, but twelve years of repetition, even into the mechanics of writing doesn't produce authors.

It seems like the key to developing proficiency in the open ended systems is to get in there and play. That's how kids learn video games and they develop a level of proficiency in hours that wouldn't be achieved with months of classroom instruction. That's why immersion teaches languages so much faster. That's why highly trained martial artists sometimes fail.

Part of it is gifts, which is my less-intelligent word for what Edwin calls affordances. You kind of have to learn to see gifts in their natural environment. Rote learning is good for imposing your will on the simple parts of a simple world. When the world doesn't cooperate, you need to be able not only to see that, but to see how...and adapt.

For a class for writers (with Steve Perry) I wrote a few paragraphs about beginners grappling:

Grappling. At first, again, you are like a rag doll in the hands of a good player. Even if you are bigger and stronger, everything you do seems to make his job easier. If you roll away from his pin you roll into a strangle, you pull out of an elbow lock and into a shoulder lock. Everything you do feels anticipated, even expected.

The thing is that a good grappler isn't anticipating everything. There are people way better than me, but I rarely played the game more than three moves ahead. The thing is that once you learn to see it, any move is an opportunity, a gift. A better grappler than you may not be playing you like a puppet so much as just recognizing that any of your options can be played to his benefit. My first judo coach used to say that "Any way you stand and any way you move makes you vulnerable to a throw." You just have to know the right throw.

And grapplers, more than any other traditional martial artists, get in there and play. They play like it's an open-ended system and they tend to be far more adaptable than anyone who learned only by repetition.

And that's an interesting note-- there are levels of openness. Football has far more variables than playing catch, but the variables are far from infinite. Almost any training will limit variables, the system will never be completely 'open'... part of what I do is to try to open things up, at least a bit. And almost all of the carping, telling people that X isn't as realistic as Y boils down to how many variables are excluded.

Which brings up another thought. Living may be the only truly open-ended system... but no one has the balls to live that way. Everyone brings their own rules in to stay in a comfortable zone.

Do you learn faster playing or memorizing? Do you learn deeper playing or memorizing? Is the skill you are trying to ingrain designed for an open or closed problem? Is your training suited to your goal?