Friday, June 29, 2012


Home. Good times. Relaxing. Sitting at Jett Burger, possibly my favorite diner. Trucker food with a Hawaiian influence. The girl is going to her state-mandated driving course, so we've been going out to breakfast some  mornings.  It's good daddy-daughter time.

Not a lot of writing since I got home.  A very small part of that has been sending the laptop in for an upgrade.  But that gave me time to think about what I wasn't writing and why.  The words 'writer's block' crossed my mind...and I knew immediately it was a bullshit excuse.

Writing is a job.  It is not waiting for some mysterious force to smack you upside the head with inspiration.  It is a job and you do a job by working. Sit down.  Write words.  That simple.  Writer's block isn't what is going on.  What's going on is an overwhelming mass of projects.  It's like a huge pile of dirty dishes in the sink.  You want to believe that if you just don't look at them, they will magically go away.  But that's not how life works.  You do the dishes.  One at a time.  Until you are done.

The project pile is big.
- Review the Facing Violence DVD.  It's been out for a month and I haven't even seen it.  My publisher wants me to write some nice words and increase the buzz.
- Review the rough cut of the Logic of Violence DVD to make editing suggestions and see what needs to be reshot.
- The producer wants a companion DVD to the Update of the Drills manual.  I think it's ambitious, maybe unworkable, especially in one day of shooting.  There are easier, quicker projects that I think would lend themselves to video better, like, "Everything There is to Know About Jointlocks"
-The collaboration ball is in my court and I am dreading it.  The tight, concise and complete 150 page work that I sent to get some filler stories and clarification came back as a 450 page tome that reeks of insecurity and advertising.  This won't be editing so much as axe work and feelings will get hurt.
- The Curriculum is half lesson plan and half mission statement.  Maybe not for publishing.  It will include:

             Philosophy (teaching and fighting)
             Concepts (how operators think)
              Principles (the physics that make other things work)
              Building Blocks (classes of technique
             Training methods
             Teaching methods/advice

- A manual for Martial artists on how to teach LEOs
- A collection of some of the horrible stories I told my children.  To be published under a pseudonym. Not going to use my children's real names in a book.
- More articles for CCM magazine
- The secret pseudonymous nonfiction project
- Work out the mechanics of setting up 4x week-long intensive courses for next year.
-An on-line writer's course where it appears that they promised the one course I said i couldn't pull off on an e-mail format.

Lots to do.  Have to get on it.  One chunk at a time.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


This is just about edges.  Maybe someday I'll be ready to write about lines.

There is only so much your body can do.  But you can never tell, I can never tell, at least, when the edge is psychological and when it is truly the physical edge.  Take getting strangled unconscious.  The progression, for me, is a rushing noise in my ears.  Then my vision starts to tunnel, collapsing from the side, sometimes with a red rim, sometimes black.  Not sure why.  Then I hear a single high-pitched note.  Then I pass out.

I'm pretty sure that's a real, physical threshold... but I've heard of people going unconscious in as little as three seconds.  And that may not be physically possible.  I read once that during the French revolutions one of the scientists timed how long the head tried to talk after a decapitation and got something like 5-10 seconds. I can't believe any strangle would be more efficient than a beheading.  And I once saw a guy I barely tapped swear he was KO'd... but he always came up with some excuse to get out of any physical training.  I think it was ego defense, not unconsciousness.

We used to do a drill called the "Chinese Chair." The first time I did it only two of us finished a whole minute and neither of us could walk afterwards.  Our coach said of the people that collapsed that if they could walk afterwards, their minds gave out, not their legs.

So, edges.  That edge when you've been concussed and you know you need to finish things now before you pass out.  I assume it's like the edge where you are bleeding out, but I've never lost that much blood.

Total muscle failure in your fingers, but you are 80 feet or more up a cliff and can't go down.  You must finish.  And that was conditioned by, of all things, milking cows.  You don't stop with muscle failure.  You stop only when the cow is done or she will develop mastitis.

The edge where you haven't slept in 30 hours and you get the page.  No way out.  Another eight hours of focused... it's not alertness.  Part of your brain is dead.  But it is a focused determination.  Zombie stuff.

Joe, with blisters popped, exhausted, thirty miles into a mountain hike.  Locked on to the edge, one foot forward, other foot forward.  The whole world just focused pain and repetition.

Belaying as hypothermia sets in.  So cold the shivers can only be called convulsions.  Whole body spasms but the grip has to be tight.

Is pain a mental edge or a physical edge?  Taser felt pretty absolute... But people have learned to function.  Not well or doing anything complex, maybe.  And I've seen two people with the same physical injury, and one was completely incapacitated and the other just got to work.

You find edges, they change.  And they change when you avoid them too.

19 Hours to Home

Haven't been writing much.  Or sleeping for that matter.  Should be home in nineteen hours.  Have to schedule some interviews, get some writing done, review the videos.  And definitely BBQ.  Family time. Create the webpages for Colorado and Nevada seminars in July.

Things I want to write about:

  • Debrief the trip.   Met some really cool people, got to do some very cool things.
  • Plans for 2013
  • Why I avoid groups (just for the record I have only ever voluntarily joined two FB groups, every other one I was named to without my permission)
  • Brainstorm a complete curriculum
Still lots of travel coming up.  Need to work on my time management.  Or, maybe, take a day or two and just be.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Big Year

The difference between Baghdad and Athens is when a favorite team scores a point in soccer (sorry, football) in Athens, the banging is from fireworks, not AK fire.  It got pretty loud last night.

It's only half-way through and already it has been a big year.  Counting the US and Scotland-as-separate-from-the-UK, seven countries and two more (possibly three or more) scheduled.  I've been completely nervous a few times: Playing with one of the best sport guys in the world (and his cop buddies); Playing with a group-who-shall-not-be-named.  And, strangely, a pure lecture format. Nervous.  But when we played, it all worked out.  Old man still has a little game.

Found out some details and background on some of the people who ask me back.  I generally don't ask too many questions.  Satisfy myself that the client is one of the good guys and get to work... but people talk when they like you.  Some explicit-- 30 million euros is a lot of ransom.  Some implicit-- you set up a meeting with who?  Who are you really?  I don't need to know...

Loving the travel. Loving meeting the people. Loving getting information out to the people I consider the good guys.  Hoping they are willing and able to adapt the information and run with it and make it their own.  But that's just what any decent instructor wishes.

Life is good.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Company of Men

I know that sounds gender specific, but it isn't.

In Conflict Communication, we reveal a very simple truth: If you have no friends, or all of your friends are assholes... you're an asshole.  That's the only way it works.

None of us truly see ourselves.  Any thinking person has insecurities.  Every time I teach I hit the wall:  "I don't know this person, I don't know what she will face.  Anything I know is about me in my environment... who the hell do I think I am?  Why am I even..."

But I look at my friends.  The people I can talk to.  The ones who understand and listen and, back when that was the job, would just assume that I would take point.  Not sure whether to put names or descriptions or nothing right here.  There are good guys and (former) bad guys.  Specialists in extremely rarefied worlds.  Tough and smart and skilled.  Women (since I brought up gender) who know more about killing and the price and the lines than most instructors could ever dream. Far more than I ever will.

We share a glass, and we share stories...and somewhere in there we all feel slightly at home.  Because someone can understand and know.  Things that we have to talk around or ignore with others.

I have no great darkness.  Nothing special.  And I am always slightly in awe of the quality of people willing to spend time with me.

It can never be completely objective, but if I want to know who I am, if I feel doubt... the answers are in the company I keep.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Two days.  Sixteen hours of solid lecture.  Only one of the audience members was a native English speaker...

It went beautifully.  I can't explain it.  Sitting that long and listening would have put me to sleep.  Maybe because the material is so familiar.  Not sure.  But I am used to mixing the data with the physical application.  It works.  It makes sense to me.

Andraz said no.  "These are tough guys.  They train all the time.  They don't need more of that.  They need to know what they are training for."  I wasn't sure, and that was largely because it was a new idea, outside of my comfort zone... which was reason enough to do it.

Sixteen hours.  More students the second day than the first as word spread.  And all done in a University lecture hall with state of the art AV equipment.  None of which could I run by myself, since my Slovene, even after five days is pretty much limited to 'please' 'thank you' 'good' (although I may have accidentally told a waitress she was pretty while trying to say the coffee was good) and 'hello.'

This picture was before the first day's lecture.  I definitely should have packed the tweed jacket with the leather elbows.

First day was Violence Dynamics and Context of Violence.  Second day was Conflict Communications (including the specialty modules on Crisis Communication with the Mentally Ill and Emotionally Disturbed; and Violence) and "Logic of Violence".  The feedback has been excellent.

Who knew using just words could work?

Thursday, June 07, 2012


Very last day in Israel, Tal brought me to meet Alex and Noah of ACT.  I spent the next few hours playing with Alex.  It was a blast.  And I learned a lot.  The guys at ACT have done something impressive.  I don’t know exactly how (it feels like probably fiberglass rods, flexed and bonded with padding) but they have made training weapons very close to real hand-and-a-half swords, katana, bolo machetes, and knives.  They match the real dimensions, even flex like the real thing.  Maybe a bit light, but Alex assures me they are the exact weight as well…

And safe to go full contact with.  You’ll get some bruises and you definitely need eye protection, but you can go at it as hard as you are willing.  And Alex is good.  He’s been doing this long enough that his ranging is superb, he doesn’t telegraph, and he finds most people, including me, predictable.

I found some of my own blind spots and training artifacts.  That’s why they’re called blindspots—you can’t see them.  Not until they get pointed out.
Years of playing with a boken (I don’t like shinai—too long, too straight, too light-- shinai just feel wrong) has left a habit.  Not only do I pull a little bit, but I slow down about the last third of my strike so I can stop without serious injury.  People who I usually play with don’t notice it ( I didn’t notice it, it wasn’t conscious).  Alex did, and he exploited it ruthlessly.  And it gave him a fraction of a second’s edge.  When the situation was a multiple attack (rarely a combination but more often an attack missed but it loads the muscles for a natural second attack without wasting time) the small pieces of time compounded, and all to the advantage of the guy who played with the most realistically.
Said it before, but making things safe screws up more than your commitment.  It also screws up your distancing and timing.

It’s not real, of course.  No pain or screaming or blood.  And that makes anything you can do in play suspect.  Real sharp thing mean real blood and real fear.  Any safe or toy weapon does not show what you can do, but only what you might be able to do in a world where you are fearless.  Going in on a training knife is to going in on a knife as walking a length of 2x4 on the ground is to walking the same length suspended between 15 storey buildings.
Not the same.  Even if the physical skills are the same, the events are profoundly different.
And Alex had some questions.  What ends a fight with a blade?  He can’t imagine being stabbed and simply not knowing it… but it’s common.  So do you stop the match at a good chest thrust?  Alex reasoned that if the hands are hit, the pain is so intense… but I’ve seen threats continue, completely oblivious, with shattered hands.  Lawrence shared a story in “Campfire Tales” of one of his threats who punched a metal rail so hard that it shattered the bones in the hand so that they were sticking out, and he just kept punching.  No idea he was injured until well after he was cuffed.
For good or ill, the adrenaline in training will never quite be the same as in real life and there is a possibility that any guess will be profoundly, catastrophically wrong.
Great time playing with great people.
A good last day in a beautiful country.
Forty hours on a few naps later found me in Slovenia.  Beautiful.  Lakes, mountains.  Great people (Andraz and Lara and Lucas) and great conversation.  And I ate horse.
Then sleep.  Now, sitting on the deck overlooking the Adriatic. Early morning. I’ll post this when I can.

Monday, June 04, 2012

The Frustration of El Halev

El Halev is a non-profit organization in Jerusalem.  It offers classes (various martial arts, WSD and IMPACT) and even counseling and acupuncture.  It is focused on the people who are at the top of the list to be victimized: "...women, teens, children, seniors and people with special needs..."

And the instructors know that population, and know what they face very, very well.  El Halev are good people and they are doing good and important work.  (If you are jaded and wander around their website you will find words that bug you. 'Empower' for instance has been co-opted by so many flakes it is sometimes hard to read.  Just remember that it was co-opted because it was such an accurate expression.  It's not a platitude at El Halev.)

I had twelve hours there and was able to teach two classes...and it wasn't enough.  And that was the frustration.

I'm not an expert in Women's Self-Defense (WSD).  I can't be.  I've never been a woman.  I've never faced the type of violence that women face. Ambushes in the jail shared some similarities, but they were not the same, neither in purpose nor in dynamics, of the violence that women face. The only things that I can really offer are solid information on how the perpetrators act and think and some advice on training-- particularly how to do high-end training safely and effectively.

Teaching most SD seminars, there is very little sense of urgency.  You look over the class and see a roomful of martial athletes and a few old men who carry themselves unnaturally well for their age.  Their victim profiles are negligible.  I will give them a lot of information to help put their training into context.  If a bad thing happens, they will have a better chance, but it is relatively unlikely.

With El Halev students, there is no such luxury.  The people in those rooms are vulnerable.  And the leadership is not only seeking out the people that most need the skills (most martial arts instructors get the people looking for the skills and those are almost never the people who truly need them), the instructors at El Halev are consciously and effectively making a place where the vulnerable feel safe to come and to learn.

Twelve hours.  Eight for students, four for instructors.  It wasn't enough.  Introduction to Violence is a lot of material. Some physical, some mental...but every twenty minutes a series of questions would come up and the answers were in entire programs, like Conflict Communications or Logic of Violence. The students needed everything, the full package.  There was no way to tell what tiny piece of information a student might need to survive.

It was frustrating and scary.  A lot like teaching cops, actually.  Because you know not just that the students will use it, but that they will need it.  The quality of your material and your ability to transmit it will affect who will live, and how they will live physically and emotionally, forever.  I gave it all the energy I had... but it was frustrating.  I wanted to give it all.  Because they need it.  And, if Jill (one of the senior instructors) is representative, the core of El Halev is smart and strong and stubborn enough to take anything I can offer, understand it, adapt it and make it into what they need for their purposes.  And that is the goal.

And there was one other frustration, a personal one:  They had a lot to teach me about aspects of violence I know little about.  It was a community of experts and there simply wasn't enough time to pick their brains properly

Eye Contact

A lot of comments on the last post are extremely valuable.  There is a lot of input on social rules for eye contact and there are profound gender differences and cultural differences.  Your history and depth of understanding will deeply affect how you use eye contact for communication. It is huge.

But it's not just an external thing.  Absolutely, people will read a message in my eye contact.  As Mac has been known to say, "I want them to look in my eyes and see the price of admission."  With a glance, certain people can raise the stakes beyond what all but the craziest are willing to pay.  Different contact, different message.

But eye contact also sends a message to yourself.  The way you look at the world not only affects how you see but affects how the world responds, it affects what does and doesn't work.

In the external/communication analysis of eye contact, you send a message:
Downcast eyes: "I am no threat to you.  You have no need to hurt me.  Please don't hurt me."
Interested look at the face: "You are interesting and I am learning."
Hard look in the eyes: "I am bigger and stronger.  I am the boss here."
Not looking, but not downcast: "You are not the most important thing in my world.  You are no threat to me."

In the internal world, the same levels of eye contact do something to you as well.
Downcast eyes: Not just signal meekness but force you to be reactive.  Partially physically, but mostly emotionally, the downcast eyes completely cede initiative.  Anything you do from here will be in response, not an action.  Not finding the words... communication aside, if you can't make eye contact (some auties excepted) lowering your eyes internally turns you into the kind of person who will not act.  It is not just a sign of passivity, it makes you passive.
Interested look in the face: Makes you interested and curious.  It opens your perception and helps you quit being self-centered.
Hard look in the eyes: Sets you to take control of your world.  Turns you into the kind of person who will assert him or herself.  To an extent, eye contact is a sign of assertiveness, but it is also a step to becoming assertive.
Not looking but not downcast: Relaxes you.  By removing the personal element, the need to prove, it turns you into the kind of person for whom this (whatever 'this' is, including various forms of violence) is just a job.  Something to be done efficiently.

These aren't automatic, but the point is that eye contact (like posture and breathing and other things) doesn't just change the way the world sees you.  It literally changes who you are.

To NRY's point-- when you have a group that have the dominance games down, who enjoy rolling, if you are paying attention you will notice all kinds of inefficiencies creeping in, most of them types of signals.  Some people actually believe that pulling back your fist makes the punch stronger and I've heard some pretty detailed, mathematical sounding excuses for it... but as near as I can tell the real purpose is to give the other monkey just enough time to turn this into the kind of contest that might impress a chimpanzee female.  There are aspects of exploiting momentum that are very hard for young men to do because in order to send the dominance signal and show their strength, they have to piss away the momentum they are trying to exploit.

I want them to be hunters, not fighters.  To be beyond any concept of contest.  It's a different level than merely 'flipping the switch.'  Maija sent me an e-mail a long time ago pointing me at an article.  I can't remember who wrote it and I'm basically too happy right now (G&T on a Mediterranean beach with local calamari and shrimp stirfry on the way) to search through old e-mails or I'd link it.  But the guy used the old :
Unconscious Incompetence
Conscious Incompetence
Conscious Competence
Unconscious Competence

But he added another layer that made perfect sense to me, a consciously unconscious competence.  You don't have to think about what you are doing, but you are monitoring it, aware of all the surrounding stuff, making decisions...but it doesn't interfere with the physicality of it.

You see it sometimes in a really good instructor who is sparring one of his students while watching the others.  He stays smooth and relaxed, doesn't get tense, if anything spars better than when he is focussed and, the weird part, if the student he is sparring does something dangerous, the instructor just drops him without engaging at all on an emotional level OR if he sees the students he is watching do something unsafe, he can step away from his own sparring session in such a way that he doesn't get touched and sometimes his 'opponent' even loses balance as if it were nothing.  Because, internally, it is nothing.

IF you can get to the place where none of this is important (and that's a big if) your efficiency goes off the charts.  Not just that you are less likely to subconsciously communicate instead of remove, but also because you are more likely to see the real situation, the real problem and the real goal...not your internal interpretations.

Sorry if this sounds a little outside the ballpark, but there are some huge epiphanies on that edge and this is one of them.