Sunday, February 05, 2012

The First 3 to 5

This will be a rehash of some things I've said before. Hmmmmm. Maybe I'll just make a post with a list of all the things I say too much and then quit writing? Naaaaah. New questions come up all the time.

Making certain people proficient at violence is simple. Not easy, but simple. The physical skills are not complicated nor difficult. Good basic skills, realistic expectations and then you put them in the situation, surrounded by veterans or at minimum backed up by veterans and most people will develop proficiency. Simple. Not easy and certainly not safe, but simple.

Works for most people, with at least one caveat-- the person has to want to be proficient. Someone who actively seeks to undermine being tested (not showing up, looking for a desk job, tying shoes before running to a back-up call...) won't get there. And there are a few people who never quite get there, and that can work a couple of ways-- someone who just can't hurt someone else will never become proficient at violence. And some one who can't control their anger may do things and survive things, but they will never meet my definition of proficient.

The core question for civilians is that most won't have the multiple encounters it takes to access skill. According to Ken Murray in "Training at the Speed of Life" the Air Force set the requirements for Ace at five kills because the first 3-5 were luck. Until some magical threshold, somewhere in the 3-5 range (I estimated 20-50 for unarmed encounters, but maybe I was slow) no one remembered, much less used, their training under the stress of combat. You survived the first handful on luck and instinct...and if you could do that five times, you probably had good instincts.

When you hit the threshold, you had a fighter with good instincts who could access all of his training, and that defines formidable.

For civilian self-defense, this is the big problem. How to get someone who doesn't necessarily have good instincts through the first encounter. These are the victim profiles, the people that need a chance. They are also the group with the most stacked against them.

The weird part, and what I really want to write about, is that sometimes we know what doesn't work. Complicated patterns, anything that requires calculation or prediction isn't likely to be accessible when the neocortex steps aside and the hindbrain takes over. Maybe after the threshold number, but not in the first one. Repetitive drilling of unnatural motions puts you in conflict with your own body and mind when you need things to be together most. If those repetitive, complicated, unnatural motions were practiced against attacks that don't happen, even worse. And telling fairy tales of what attacks are like or what your techniques can do... maybe it works. The Ghost Shirt society did pretty well in their first battle, believing bullets would bounce. But I still don't think lying to students is ever good.

We know (and by 'we' I mean other people) things don't work...and we still do it that way. We teach that a ridiculously obscure formula will give us the power to safely and without side effects put large men to sleep. Or we drill, drill, drill against attacks that don't don't don't happen. Because as teachers we have so much ego tied up in our years of training that we would rather provide a bad answer than admit that we have none.

That's wrong. It is managing fear, making us feel better, while doing absolutely nothing for danger. It makes no one safer.

Maybe. There's a lot of bullshit and misunderstanding, but almost every technique you drill hard at will have a use in real life. It may not be the block you were taught it was, but most of the motions are pretty efficient and they will stand you in good stead. Provided you survive to your threshold number of encounters so that you can access them.

There's also some data that what works at the instinct level, before the threshold, may not be the same skills or mindset that works after. Sanford Strong's research indicated that the most important survival element for victims of violent crime was not size or skill, but the ability to turn fear into a righteous rage. But rage almost always hurts a skilled fighter (though that, again, may be my opinion and based on an environment where we were expected to show complete self-control).

In Maslow's hierarchy, these would be the people tapping into their lowest level of survival brain and they would fight completely without skill, much like a drowning victim. No skill, but very dangerous. Past the threshold fighting is a marriage of higher brain function with animal intensity.

Basic point is that once we know what doesn't work we have a responsibility not to cling to it. If we do so, we do so for our own egos, not to make anyone safer. We need to be honest with our students and we need to look for new ways, or old ways that worked better. Other ways.

There is some stuff that helps, and again, almost every style and system has it. Operant conditioning or contact response or flinch training or whatever you want to call it will maybe get you through the first half second. That's important.

Good scenario training can help you adapt to the natural environment of conflict. It can also push a student to use judgment, bringing higher and lower brain functions together under stress.

Good information never hurts...


  1. Anonymous10:53 AM

    Lifelong Chicago resident here, and reader of your blog. A recent story taking place in nearby suburban Naperville caught my eye and invoked some of the lessons that you have taught both in this post and in others.,0,4821776.story

    A lot of stuff on the table here. Monkey dancing, identity, face-saving, etc. Just something for people to think about, especially in the context of this blog and your posts.


  2. Ymar Sakar2:00 PM

    Dumb as hell reason to die for, in my view.

    If someone wants to die over an argument, at least let it be an argument over patriotism or politics.

    As for rage, it's a short cut like getting drunk for drunken boxing. Drunks don't get injured as often as their victims... because they are relaxed and can absorb a lot of trauma before things break. So often times martial artists that trained hard and external, would use alcohol to loosen some of their muscles up, like a pain killer as well, and be able to express better power and be able to take more damage. Still a shortcut though, as the internal martial artists spent decades mastering their muscle control to do the same thing, without getting drunk.

    Oh well, that's my interpretation of it at least. It could have happened differently. Although gong fu imitated animals, so why wouldn't they imitate drunks...

    Rage is an external shortcut in that it provides people brief bursts of power, pain resistance, and what not. Something civilians normally are unaware of before tapping into.

    But a rational mind can sometimes harness rage and temper it into a cold version. Through hard work.

    Your description of the importance of instinct I believe is critical. Although not something well advertised, because it would make people have less faith in their training.

  3. What is the ROI timeline for training, then? If untrained rage gives a bonus, how long do you have to train to have the bonuses of training overcome the loss of the untrained rage bonus?

  4. Why are we treating rage as not natural? Fight, Flight or Freeze all hind brain. What is the trigger for fight?


  5. PS.There has been many a time rage has got
    me off my ass and doing something. Rage is only destructive if not focused on a positve, but I guess that is what you mean by righteous. Why can't rage be managed and treated like any other skill. Is it because martial artist train and focused on being calm (Maybe this is not a realistic expectation?) instead learning to ride the storm?

    Instead of fighting the adrenal fight response why not learn to use it? Maybe that was the secret of the berserkers of yor.


  6. PS. PS. But this now comes into conflict with Conflict Communication. Or does it?


  7. Question what is the difference between passion and rage?

  8. Ymar Sakar6:21 AM

    Anger motivates people. Thus allowing them to temporarily unshackle themselves from social conditioning and fear of social consequences. It makes them want something enough, to generate the motivation and intent to "get it done". Which is important in H2H slaughter houses. Just having the intent to pull that trigger is one thing. Having the intent to fatally stab someone, even if it takes NINETYSIX stabs, is quite another. Quite another.

    Anger or rage is an external shortcut and equivalence booster that can temporarily place a normal socialized civilian on par, momentarily, with psychotic serial killers and murderers. Temporarily. But they still lack experience and control, so it only gives them maybe a 25% boost in odds.

    A person that no longer needs anger or rage to supplement their motivation can instantly generate the intent to kill when necessary, via a combination of internal mental conditioning, training, experience, and so on.

    Rage takes time. Anger takes time to work. Even adrenaline takes time, though fear is the shortest external bio chemical injection in terms of feedback length. But the activation of manual intent is the fastest of all.

    It goes from A (see threat) to B (eliminate threat). There is no (wait for fear). There is no (wait for adrenaline to pump). There is no (wait for rage to give us intent, then use intent to harm). There is no delay, no lag, except neural lag between the command from the brain, the spine, and the muscles in the body.

    Like all external shortcuts, it's convenient for people lacking anything better. It's like a microwave and a dishwasher. Use it if you must, but never misunderstand that what you are using is somebody else's power given to you, it wasn't your skills to begin with. You cannot reverse engineer it. You cannot even fix it. You can use it though, easily. Fixing microwaves and appliances, require greater knowledge and skill. Same for fighting.

  9. Really how much of winning or just surviving a fight is jusy not loosing or dying. Not just luck, but not quitting.

    As Kai says, flipped, when does the mental energy of supressing our rage, become a determent to our surviving, or just getting us to the point of being able to survive.

    Let's put it this way. People talk about flipping the switch, but what is on the other side? I say rage... controlled, focused do what ever it takes... Rage!!!
    And who says flipping the swich off has to be any harder than flipping it on?

    Rory is that to simple. Is everything else just what we tell ourselves at night, so we can sleep? That I actualy had a reason for doing what I need to do to survive....

    Some of Wims post that got me thinking...

    What should the goal be when training self-defence?

    Effectiveness, mastery of chaos or something else.

    PS. The more I look at SD laws, the more I find they muddy the water, and cause you to gamble with your life. I digress though.

  10. Anonymous5:24 AM

    Self-Defense is “recovery from stupidity or bad luck, from finding yourself in a position you would have given almost anything to prevent.” – Rory Miller in Meditations on Violence. It also includes preventing the situation.

    There is no proficiency without self-control, self-mastery. That would be a good start. Otherwise, you have a physically conditioned athlete getting into lots of fights for all the wrong reasons.

  11. Anonymous5:24 AM

    Self-Defense is “recovery from stupidity or bad luck, from finding yourself in a position you would have given almost anything to prevent.” – Rory Miller in Meditations on Violence. It also includes preventing the situation.

    There is no proficiency without self-control, self-mastery. That would be a good start. Otherwise, you have a physically conditioned athlete getting into lots of fights for all the wrong reasons.

  12. A realistic portrayal of what people can expect in real encounters. Thanks as always for your sage words. :)