Friday, August 31, 2012

A Dragon Falls

Just heard that Joe Lewis died.
He was fun.  Great mind.  Great timing. Power and speed in a nearly perfect package (and I met him well after his prime.)  Analytical mind, and a blast to hang with.

He's left a good legacy.  Taught some fine, tough people.
Fought cancer longer than the doctors thought he could.

Don't know what else to say.  The old Dragons are passing.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Principles and Details

There are divisions to this.
Principles are the big things.  Principles are the things (usually physics) that make other things work.  Principles apply to everything.

‘Maximize leverage’ is a principle.  Poor leverage will make locks fail and takedowns fail and significantly weaken strikes.  Good leverage (and good leverage for strikes includes using a stick) makes everything better.  It’s just physics.

Range is a principle—you can’t hit something you can’t reach.  But teaching range poorly (e.g. this is good range for hand strikes but too close for kicks and  that is good range for kicks but too far away for hands) is an easily-inherited lack of understanding and creativity. Jack Dempsey proved you can knock someone out with a jab from well out of punching range.  There are kicks that work very effectively at clinch range.  There are power generation systems that require no more distance than what you can get with your fingers touching the threat, and there are ways to use some of those on the ground.

There are more principles, but not that many (at least that I’ve identified).  Simple, universal.  Like many things, there is a big gap between knowing them and understanding them.  I’m coming too believe that it is easy to know something and at some level you can teach just from knowledge.  But the stuff you apply instinctively under stress is only the stuff that you understand.

Thought during the drive yesterday.  Things must have either eased off or tightened up, since I’m thinking about writing almost constantly.  Details. I know there is enough material in details for a book, but I doubt that I’m consciously aware of a tenth.

Details are the little things.  Not big universals like principles.  More specific, maybe more limited, but the tricks we all do to make things work.

Like the ulnar rotation.  You smack into a bicep or under the jaw with the flat of your forearm and then rotate and dig the ulna into the target.  Or the sawing action.  No idea why pushing directly against certain points won’t work but when you saw your forearm it moves much bigger people.

And some little details make things fail.  When (as many do) you apply a wristlock with some of your fingers actually on the joint, you are in your own way.  You support the joint, just like a splint.

And some things I’m not sure are details, maybe a nuances: You should be able to tell the orientation of your blade by the feel of the handle.  If you can’t see or feel where the elbow joint is, the little finger will tell you where to put pressure.  Stuff like that.

Something to let stew for awhile.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


David S has been pushing me to say something nice about the "Facing Violence" video.  He directed it, and I think he does a lot of YMAA's video marketing, too.

But I'm feeling nostalgic and kind of want to do a life recap.  Like everything on the blog, this is for me.  It might read like a CCA (Crass Commercial Announcement) so feel free to skip it.

My first published works were articles to Black Belt Magazine (on jujutsu striking, I was starting to get tired of JJ being characterized as a pure grappling art with the advent of GJJ) and American Survival Guide (an article on some nifty rappelling and climbing tricks with limited equipment).  That was about 1997 and almost as soon as I sent them in I got promoted to sergeant.  Which turns your life around.  I dabbled, but didn't think about publishing again for ten years.

Meditations on Violence
Coming off of an ugly year, I started writing.  About the same time, Kris Wilder invited me to teach at a seminar.  I hadn't been in a room with pure, shiny martial artists for a long time... and it seemed that none of them had a clue to what I was talking about. Fights are different than assaults?  Adrenaline?  Environment?  Aftermath?  You mean some of this stuff is illegal?  And some won't work?
So I started writing things down, partially to explain, partially to get some stuff out of my head.  'Meditations' is a core dump.  Sort of a psychic vomit.  And originally intended as something for my senior students when I got older.

I sent it to Kris, of course, since he was a friend and a big reason the book was written. He sent it to the publisher.

Facing Violence
MoV was a core dump, Facing Violence is a plan.  MoV addressed what too many martial artists didn't know.  FV was my list of what they need to know.  It grew out of a class at the very last Martial University (that seminar that Kris used to host) before I went to Iraq.  Thought about it for a couple of years and wrote the first draft in less than a month.  It organized information, particularly the categories of violence, in a way that I'm really proud of.

Force Decision
I wrote this entirely in Baghdad and Sulaymaniyah.  And I'd decided not to publish it.  There are huge battles in perception going on right now.  One of the ones I've been closest to is how some people hate and fear the police...and how many police expect that they will simply be punished for doing their job no matter how well they do it.  That there is no level of gentleness, even all the way up to letting criminals run free plus constant ass-kissing that won't leave some of our citizens calling us thugs and Nazis.  It was frustrating.  K is the product of a 'worker's paradise' and damn well knows what 'police state' really means.  I was in Baghdad, trying to teach leadership to a generation that had learned that any glimmer of initiative was answered with summary execution.  I wanted to write something so that the people who cared could have the facts.  But I know perfectly well that the people deepest in the controversy don't give a damn about the facts.  They want to be vindicated and the other side to be evil.  Reason is not welcome here.

And I really, really didn't want to step into the middle of that.  Not because of fear (since, realistically, the scariest thing in my world right now are live TV interviews) but because there is no gain in trying.
But Tiff read the book and disagreed.  And so have a few other people.  I'm not hopeful, not yet.  Maybe.

Campfire Tales from Hell
A certain person was getting in trouble with some extreme medical bills, and a group of us decided to do something more permanent than donations.  I volunteered to edit and some very cool people shared stories.  And it was a blast.  And, for all the horror stories I had heard about editing ("What's the difference between herding cats and editing an anthology?  Cats aren't neurotic and insecure.") it was painless and fun.  And the book is awesome.  Smashwords link.

The E-Books
Amazon Author Page

The Blog Compilations
Currently five of them, they cover all the blog posts from 2005-2009.  I didn't feel I had the right to the comments, so comments are excluded, but I also wanted to add value, so there is a little extra information in all of them.

I wanted to experiment with the e-book platform and I wanted a writing challenge.  Every year, K does Nanowrimo, the National Novel Writer's Month.  Essentially a challenge to complete a full book in 30 days.  Sounded cool.  I asked for suggestions on the Blog and Maija suggested a book of drills.  Done.  And fun.  YMAA plans on doing an illustrated print version in 2013, with some new chapters.

Talking the Through
With a little pressure from Tim Boelhert, I finally got this one done.  It's essentially a write-up of the course I designed and taught for the Mental Health Team at my old agency.  Good reviews.  The people in the trenches seem to like it.

Working With a Translator
Actually an article I'd been toying with for awhile.  Wanted to see how it went.  Lessons from the best of the best, and some of the worst interpreters.

And now, for David, the video:

Facing Violence
I don't watch videos.  For whatever reason, with books non-fiction engages me and fiction annoys but with video, it's the opposite.  I like shoot-em-ups and westerns and noir and some comedy and... but the best directed, cast, narrated non-fiction bores the absolute crap out of me.  And, personally, I think that any sort of combatives is much easier to learn by touch than by sight.

So, hmmmmm.  I think it's good.  I'm not an actor.  Alain was being kind when he said I'm not a polished speaker.  I said some bad words. Never really got the knack of looking at the camera like it was a person.  But the information is solid and there are some things that were easier to show than to explain in a book.  Everything else aside, if you are interested in self-defense the example of "Articulation Wars" is incredibly important.  The story you tell will compete with the threat's and it is another form of battle you must practice.

Upcoming Stuff

Book- Scaling Force, a collaboration with Lawrence Kane should be coming out in a month or so.  It includes the best stuff I've written on presence and verbal skills.  And interacting with Lawrence got me to put somethings in words that were important.  You know, the stuff that everyone knows but you don't realize it until it's phrased just right?

Book- Drills, an expansion of the e-book early next year.

Book- Working slowly on the Conflict Communications Manual revision.

E-Book- It will be under a pseudonym (since I'm not thrilled about broadcasting the actual names of my children) but I've been collecting some of the horrible stories I used to tell my kids.  At one point, they believed we got them from the Kid Pound.  And the time I convinced them my mother-in-law was a cannibal.  Stuff like that.

Videos- Two for next year release are in the can.  Or in post.  Or whatever magic David does after we've packed up our toys and gone home.

Logic of Violence: It's been killing me to figure out how to write this as a book. David suggested we just film a class.  It's a lot of talking, and I'm afraid it might be boring, but the information and the process are both cool.  Get a room full of smart people and have them solve the problems a crook solves.  On their own, they create and understand a raft of common street-crime tactics.  It's cool.

Joint Locks: No idea what this will actually be titled.  It will be about an hour and will cover everything you need to know about locks.  For instructors, I want you to look at the method for breaking down the information.  For everyone else, pay attention and do the drill.  IMO locks, like a lot of things in MA are simply taught wrong.  They aren't complicated, they aren't hard.  But most martial arts who specialize in locks can train for years and still not be able to apply them.  I was able to get officer to improvise locks under stress consistently with 90 minutes or less of training.  It's not hard.

Monday, August 13, 2012


We used to do a drill for new members of the mental health team.  One of our best psych counselors had collected what "the voices" told various schizophrenics and created two scripts.  One was anger and rage and paranoia:  "Kill them. They're laughing at you.  Hide what you feel kill them all. Taste blood. Shit!. Control. Hide it."  The other was self abasement: "You are a worm.  Die.  Kill yourself.  Make the world better and bite off your tongue."

Those aren't the actual scripts (though I have them in a file).  The actual scripts were much better, more intense.  The exercise was to have two people whispering scripts in your ear-- while you went through a job interview.  It gave the new officer an idea of what some of our charges needed to deal with, how hard it could be to concentrate on the 'real' world. 'Real' is in quotes because the voices are real, too.  Not something imagined but something heard, very like a stranger or a demon whispering in your ear.

We also noticed that some people adapted quickly.  They got good at it.  For most people distraction was obvious as eyes darted towards the voices or they flinched.  For a very few the voices could be ignored, the flinches suppressed.  You still heard them but didn't give it away.  You could get through the job interview and show very little.

It gave us a lot of respect for high-functioning schizophrenics.

This morning I was interviewed on TV for the first time.  Sorboni Banerjee of Fox 25 in Boston is friends of a student of Bill Giovannucci's and found out I was in town.  I was nervous, normal for a first time at almost anything, but the crew was good, very smooth and practiced.  They knew how to deal with rookies.

But I learned something about an interviewer's job.  It's a lot like being a paid schizophrenic.  The entire time, while paying full attention to me, Sorboni had an earphone and was getting constant updates.  "Speed up, slow down. Ninety seconds to go. Next point."  Not a blip she was hearing voices.  And watching monitors. And seeing a teleprompter.  The whole time carrying on a normal conversation.

But not really.  She wasn't just carrying.  She was driving and directing.  A slight turn of her head would get a reaction from me and keep things where they needed to be for the camera.  She would change her rate, tone, pitch or volume knowing I would have a tendency to match.  It's a technique I used on EDPs all the time (Emotionally Disturbed Persons).

Incredible multi-tasking.  Strategic direction of a social interaction with a naive subject in a stressful (relatively and I have no idea why this was so much more stressful than my last fight.  Which is bullshit.  I know.  The last one was last of what? Hundreds. This was a first.) milieu.

Very impressive.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Awareness Details

I don't think I've broken this out as its own piece before, and doubt if I have the space to go into details.  To follow along, you'll need a basic understanding of Violence Dynamics, which is just a fancy way of saying you know about different kinds of bad guys and how they attack.

This is a quick overview of what I mean (and what I teach) when I say, "Be aware of your surroundings."

1) The uber fundamental: You probably don't think about the same things a criminal thinks about or value what he values.  But you can.  And once you understand the criminal's goals and values, the threat becomes far more predictable.
        1A)  The criminal has more experience dealing with citizens than citizens have dealing with criminals.
        1B) If you try to deal with a criminal the way you would deal with a civilian, you will probably fail.
        1C) If the criminal is sophisticated, your standard (social) tactics will be used against you.

2) There are criminals with different needs.  They choose different targets and attack in different ways.  The goal drives almost every aspect of the attack.

3) Potential for danger
        3A) Personal.  What is your personal threat profile? How does it change over time and circumstances?  A fit martial athlete is largely only going to be targeted for a Monkey Dance-- until the day he is injured and/or drunk.  The elderly are targeted by resource predators more than process.  Women are targeted for many different types of violence.  What would a predator or an insecure monkey want from you?
        3B) Dangerous Dynamics.  Most violence is predictable.  If you are in or create a dangerous dynamic, physical skills are not the answer.  In an abusive relationship?  The relationship has to change, probably end.  It is very, very rare for a person to be targeted by bad people unless he did something wrong or stupid.  No, I'm dancing around this. Straight out, the number one prevention for probably 90% of non-drug related murders is to not sleep with somebody else's mate.  And the prevention for most drug-related murders is to stay away from drugs and the people who use them.
        3C) Reading Terrain.  The places where bad stuff happens has certain qualities.  They are different--very different-- between social violence and asocial, but all predictable.  For social, groups of young men, alcohol... for asocial resource-rich (ATMs or out of town businessmen or collections of drunk college girls or...) with isolation and an escape route are good starts.  You can learn, quickly and easily, to see this.

4) Presence of Danger.  For social, this is largely the ability to recognize the script.  For asocial, the absence of normal social cues.  Big ones for this are proxemics (there are natural and unnatural distances to stand); Orientation (how often do people asking you questions stand at your flank?); and foot placement (normal social interactions will have the power line perpendicular to you.)  Signs that a weapon is involved (hand placement, clothing, tells, unequal armswing when walking....). And whether there is an audience (social).
           For both social and asocial, the ability to recognize the signs of adrenalization, and how to tell how experienced the threat is with adrenalized states (from adrenaline-controlling 'self-calming' behavior to the blank-eyed relaxation from someone who's skin has just paled.)

5) Analysis of Danger.  Kind of touched on above, but telling a social from an asocial situation and a resource predator (where giving up your purse will work) from a process predator (where it profoundly will not work.)

6) Analysis of Opportunity.  Globally seeing what you can do about your identified problem-- from bringing social pressure to bear (from getting the audience to intervene to creating witnesses) to learning to use the environment offensively to...anything.

Just some thoughts.  This would be easy to expand on for a long time.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

No Good Answers

Good talks with Jake Steinmann yesterday.  About teaching students versus subjects; learning versus experimenting; why the easy things are hard and the hard easy sometimes.  We also talked about his experiment with knife defense.  He has more to do-- turns out people are not nearly as keen on banging out stuff when there is considerable pain and impact involved-- but the preliminary results are in.  There aren't good answers.

That shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody.  It's all percentage points.  Taking the Monkey Dance bullshit off the table, no one is going to pick you as a victim if they think you will win.  The bad guy gets position, surprise.  The bad guy prefers to have the edge in size and strength (not always-- skinny, short meth addicts need drugs too).  And if there is a weapon, the bad guy will have it in play. You won't, because why the hell would he pick you if you did?  The world is full of marks.

Knife-in-play blitzes (what most martial artists envision when they think of defending against an active attack) don't happen that much in my experience-- but they are a formidable tactical problem.  The crazy guy attacking a crowd doesn't happen that often either.   Outside of certain populations, neither does shanking-- but that is where I concentrate my training time.  And I think I have the best available answer for it.

But I'm not gonna delude myself for a second into believing it's a good answer.

Self-defense is a thin list of things that might give you a chance.  But just a chance.  If there was something reliable, criminals would change their tactics.

Take that back-- there is something reliable.  And that is victim behavior.  There are exceptions (and our entire goal as SD instructors is to turn our students into those exceptions) but those exceptions are rare.  Almost all victims freeze under a flurry and their hands go up to protect their faces.  Most people yanked try to pull away instead of step in.  Most men (even very well-trained ones) try to instinctively use the body mechanics of a Monkey Dance fight, with the shitty base and poor body mechanics and wide open centerline that comes with that.  On some level almost all humans when they perceive themselves to be under attack by another human, try to communicate.  What fighting they do is (subconsciously) intended to send a message, not to eliminate a threat.

It's not conscious, but criminals know this stuff and they count on it.  And it works.

But that's an aside.

Close range knife assault.  Caught in a riot. Being a civilian on the receiving end of an active shooter scenario.  There is stuff you can do for all of them, but there is nothing with a guaranteed outcome and sometimes the best possible outcome (the shooter only got one person--that's how you knew-- and you got him) still leaves two grievously wounded or dead people and a messy aftermath.

No good answers.  Whatever you have, if you are sure about it, you are wrong.  Don't get comfortable.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Paraphrased and From Memory

Darin Yee:
People misunderstand the five animals.  All arts have all five, but they pretend to ignore some or emphasize them differently.  The Dragon is structure and breathing, all of the stuff that is really subtle but has a big effect.  The Crane is about flow and continuous movement.  The Snake is about speed and flexibility.  The Leopard is stealth and cunning.  The Tiger is power.
That's it.  You need all five of these to fight.  At some level you need cunning and power, speed and flow and the subtle things.  Every workable system has them all.

Van Canna:
It's the people.  I worked at my job for a long time but never made friends like I have through martial arts.  When things get bad and the end gets close, what do you have, really?  Nothing but friends.

George Mattson:
Tell Kimmi (for some reason he always calls her Kimmi instead of Kami) she has to be here next year.  People are still talking about the belly-dance class for martial artists workshop she taught.  You're okay, Rory, but Kami is really something special.  Get her here next year.

Greg Postal:
You've been busting my balls, my turn to call you on your bullshit.  It wasn't chance.  Conscious or not everyone involved made that decision.  EVERY good leader thought they were a better XO (Executive Officer) than they were a leader.  People wind up in the position other people need them to be in.

Kami, Robb Buckland, Clyde Bagley and about a dozen other people in different times and contexts:
I missed you.

Absolutely mutual.

Friday, August 03, 2012

I'll Sleep Later

It's not insomnia.  Because I'm not tired.  Last night it was just too hot to sleep.  Today, though drowsy in the afternoon, I don't feel tired at all.  Energized.

Rob once said that being sleep deprived was just the natural state of operators.  The odd hours, the shift work, the obsession with the perimeter (however you define the perimeter) always half-awake listening for the pager... you don't sleep much or often or well.  Your body finds a new steady state, a homeostasis of functional sleep deprivation.

I'll make myself sleep soon.  Another big day tomorrow.  But for now I feel like riding the wave, running out the energy.  Writing (since all the people I would consider brawling with are already asleep, snoring softly).

Good day today.  I don't study karate.  As far as I know there isn't a Uechi instructor within 200 miles of my base.  I can make a long list of all the things I don't have in common with this group, martially... and yet I love being here.  Tried to put it in words today.  Good people, a big family,  many brilliant (research physicians, counselors, scientists, investigators) many talented (champions, athletes, martial pioneers) many dedicated (people who have studied, for the purpose of comparing, similar systems from Okinawa and China).  But deep down, I think I love them because at the very base so many people here are thugs.  Sorry if that sounds like a harsh word.  'Thug' is what I used to insist on when anyone seemed to be romanticizing violence: "I don't do this for noble purposes, I do this for money."

It was never really true, Marc would call me on the 'lie to children.'  It was never about the paycheck and I always committed to doing the right thing-- but that's something you can say from the experienced end of it.  For a beginner to rationalize it... let's just say that there appears to be no limit to the evil a person can do if they feel they are righteous.

This group though, more than almost any I have encountered, know what they are doing.  They know the cost of it.  The old dragons here have put people down and avoided being put down.  Street time, bar time and jail time... they've done it, and survived and hung together.

And so I feel good here.  Watching George as the master strategist he is (you see the effects, but never what he does).  Hanging with Bear, who knows his dark side.  Joking and drinking with Robb (though we haven't had to avoid police in a couple of years-- I think he's getting old).  Getting my brain analyzed by Greg and my motion by Bill.  Watching R slay her demons with every stroke of her bo. And the new generation of talent...

It's all good.  Time to force some sleep.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Next Five Days

Last night: Red-eye flight to Boston.  Couldn't sleep on the plane, as usual.

Today: Jeff picked me up at the airport, despite the delay (the one checked bag went missing then reappeared) then wander the Boston waterfront, trying to stay awake.  Beautiful hikes, humid and sweaty until the rain broke and then very nice.  Too slagged to meet with the gang (the 'Handlers') slept a bit, through calls and texts.

Tomorrow: Film.  Fill-in scenes and re-shoots for "Logic of Violence" and shoot (working title) "Everything There is to Know About Joint Locks." Original plan was to shoot "Drills" but David agreed it was a little ambitious to try to knock anything definitive out in one day.  Re-think, plan, script and shoot that in the spring.  It will be good times with good people, including my ECBT (East Coast Brain Trust).

Friday: Meet up with Harry and get to Plymouth in time to teach two classes at George Mattson's Summerfest.  Then two more Saturday and whatever on Sunday.  A good time to play with good people.  There will be some of the Old Dragons there-- George, of course but also Jimmy and Bill and Van and probably Art and... names you may not know and if you are a martial artist, that is a shame.

Good skill building followed, if the pattern holds, by good talks and maybe a wee dram of fine scotch.  Just found a new one, Ledaig, at one of my favorite stores, Federal Wine and Spirits.

Then a week of hanging with friends, hiking, writing...