Tuesday, December 25, 2012


I can't stand Christmas.  Most holidays set my teeth on edge.  Some of it is the music-- omnipresent, cloying.  Occasionally I can break out of my time and realize how beautiful and sincere much of the music was when it was written by believers and listened to by believers.  That's one of my buttons: when sincere good works get manipulated or, worse, are used to manipulate others.  So the music annoys me, but that's not why the season annoys me.

Looked at one way, there are no great moments.  No big events.  Every tactical operation was a few minutes or hours of activity, but what made it possible was the hundreds or thousands of hours of training and prep and the minutes or hours (depending on what we had) of planning.  That is what made the visible stuff possible.

But that's not the half of it.  Everyday someone got up early in the morning, got her kids off to school and went to work in a factory.  She made my armor.  Someone else designed the radios.  Someone else made the batteries.  The motorpool guys took the truck out of circulation every three months to make sure it was lubed and ready to go.

Everyday, everywhere is a constant mill of people doing the right thing.  And it keeps all of us going.  (As an aside, there isn't enough real work left in the world to keep us all meaningfully employed, so there is a certain percentage of that milling, maybe most of it, that is not contributing, but that doesn't meant they realize it.)

So 'special days' where you are supposed to be thoughtful and kind and caring mean exactly what for the other days?  If I give K a present on Xmas; present and a dinner on anniversary and Valentine's Day...are we done?  Hell no, and we all know that at some level.  Being kind, taking care of others-- that's an every day thing.  Or it should be.

(And, personal rant, speaking as an introvert being nice spontaneously is natural and easy.  Being nice on a holiday schedule I find exhausting.)

The guys who take away our garbage every week have saved more lives than every policeman and paramedic combined ever.  So did the people who designed the sewer systems in any major city.  Good deeds.  Heroically good deeds.  And done every day.  People who are nice every day make the world better every day.  Not just on Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Layered Writing

Multidimensional projects are interesting to teach and both interesting and damnably difficult to write.  "Meditations on Violence" was hard.  Good information, but it never felt organized.  "Facing Violence" was better.  Organizing an introduction to violence around the context was useful and much easier to write.

Violence is one of those things that is dead simple and incredibly complex.  People use violence because it will get them what they want.  What they want dictates how the violence will be used, on whom it will be used... there are always outliers, but the logic is simple.

On the other hand, like any form of communication, violence is incredibly complicated because it is hooked into every other thing.  Relationship tweaks it.  Environment, social milieu, brain chemistry all tweak it.  The magnification you choose to view a situation dictates what you can do.  The more connections you understand, the better you can manipulate things.

Working on the rewrite of the Conflict Communications manual and I am really wishing I could write (or, rather, that humans could read) in simultaneous layers.  It has to build in logical steps from a solid base.  Too much information too early is overwhelming.  Some of it pushes buttons so trust must be gained.  Sometimes you need one concept before you can have the language to understand the next.

That's cool, and that is standard for teaching almost anything.  But I wish I could do it another way.

Maslow is a good starting point for understanding that different motivations drive different behavior.  It is accessible and can be tied into anyone's personal experience.  So we start there.  Great. Remembering to be straightforward that it actually kind of sucks as a theory but rocks as a model.

The second model is a slightly harder sell.  Not to everybody.  There are some people who have experienced deeper parts of their brain, or who have read the right things and understand the concept at least intellectually.  But this has potential to hit buttons or resistance.  Not a big deal since being both true and useful people will get it... but that difference means it comes later.  It can't be the lead-off concept.

But (and this is what is fascinating me right now, not just in writing but in teaching, too) the second concept, once understood, deepens and enriches the first.  Maslow is cool.  Maslow seen through the triune brain model is profound.  And seen again under the violence comfort scale (originally in "Violence: A Writer's Guide")... but there is no way to get people to read and process three things simultaneously.

 I think there are a few books that have to be re-read.  Books that turn into different books once you have internalized the initial concepts.  I think that happens in teaching, too.  Not as often as people think it happens, in my opinion (lots of shitty teachers pretend to be 'nuanced' or 'deep' or --my favorite-- 'coyote teachers').  But there are definitely some things that I knew early and understood late, if you get my meaning.

So, "Force Decisions" Won the USA Book News award for Current events in 2012.  Yay.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

It's Later

Sampling error, cherry-picking and story telling.

In the most recent post on scenarios, I said "There are a very small percentage of criminals who will kill you after you give them your wallet (and the reason the percentage is so small is social and logical.  Maybe I'll write about that later.) "

It's later.

Some background first.  There are a lot of experts on criminal behavior out there.  There are also a lot of 'experts'.

'Experts' first.
The biggest problem is that bad guys lie.  A lot of the so-called experts were clearly snowed.  They were manipulated from the very beginning to tell the story that the bad guy wanted told, and they were either not smart enough to realize it or, more likely, too arrogant to admit even to themselves that they were conned.  They then pass on information tailor-made by the criminal to citizens and other experts.

The second problem with 'experts' is agendas. Not just they agenda they may want to advance, but the agenda that they want to believe.  For most people, violence is big and scary and a lot of people are driven to do something and so they latch on to something they think might work, hope will work, and either insist that it will or create, or cherry-pick research to show that it will.  And this becomes pseudoscience really damn fast.  (Point of Order, boys and girls: Science, by it's nature cannot prove anything. 'Proof' as such only exists in mathematics and logic.  The scientific method is the most powerful tool ever devised for disproving things.  It is the ultimate bullshit detector, not a truth detector.)

Experts, the genuine thing, are imperfect as well.  For bad 'experts' the problems are usually cherry-picking data in order to create a narrative to support their agenda.  In real experts, the problem is usually sampling error and the inability to do real research.

Real research first.  All the anecdotes and computer models and surveys would just be background research in real science.  They would be the data you looked at to design the experiment.  The nature of the beast is that these kinds of research, even optimally designed, can show corelation but not causation.  The classic case is the statistic that the more churches there are in a given area, the more violent crime there is.  Corelation is not causation.  You can jump on the statistic saying it proves religion causes crime or crime causes religion or religious people are hypocrites... but that is all just talking about your internal workings.  The simple fact is the more people there are in an area, the more crime there will be and the more churches (and grocery stores and schools and everything else) there will be.  Corelation is not causation.

In order to show causation, you must design an experiment.  Take a hundred cities of the same size and build  four extra churches in fifty randomly chosen cities from the hundred and see if the crime rate changes.  If crime rate remains unchanged, you have disproven the hypothesis.  If it changes, you have shown it might be the independent variable.  Might.  Nature of the Scientific Method.  Rules things out, not in.

Because of the nature of violence and society, no real experiment in violence and criminality will ever pass a university ethics board.  Which means that what experts we have are basing things on background research of often dubious value and their own experiences, which vary widely.

Case in point, and this is where it gets to the question about why so few criminals will kill over a property crime- I recently read an article by an extremely experienced super-max prison psychologist who stated that hardened criminals will reflexively kill to keep from being caught.  And implying that every robbery should be treated as a deadly force encounter.

Sampling error.  This author (who seemed a great observer with a ton of insight) dealt with a fraction of a fraction of the criminal population.  The ones who had done serious violent crimes.  Got caught. Couldn't bargain it down either out of stupidity, history or stubborness.  Couldn't follow the rules on violence even under the scrutiny of the prison system (you don't get to super-max by singing "Kumbaya" too loudly).  Within that population?  Hell, yeah.  The majority will kill for any reason or no real reason at all.  But that's not normal.

We booked about 40,000 people a year at my old agency.  A handful of serial killers, killers, robbers...and lots and lots of petty thieves and druggies and drunk drivers and Domestic Violence cases.  The majority of those 40k didn't stay very long.  Prisons are so crowded that judges, recog and other programs were looking for any excuse to keep people on the streets.  So most of the people who stayed for any length of time were violent and/or multiple repeat offenders.

Most of the robbers didn't hurt anyone.  Because it didn't suit their purposes.  The goal is to get money (usually for drugs) and not get caught (cause withdrawals are a bitch) and not get hurt (because it makes it harder to do crimes tomorrow.)  If they showed a weapon and you handed over your wallet, you'd likely report the robbery to the police, it would get a little attention, but an arrest would be unlikely.  Unless they found the gun exactly as you described it and something of yours like a credit card still on the bad guy, a conviction would be iffy.  Even with that, it would likely be bargained down.  This criminal will do a lot of crimes, but he'll never see the inside of a super-max, and never make it onto that particular expert's radar.

On the other hand, if the guy shoots his victims, he becomes a very high priority for enforcement and their is a ton more forensic evidence which makes a conviction more likely.  And long sentences. And, if he is also stupid inside prison, he will get to super-max.

That's just practicality, but there is a social side to it as well.  DO NOT count on this dynamic in places where no crime will be investigated or where no one cares or there is no law.  This relative lack of violence is a practical adaptation to this environment.  It is not because the robbers I dealt with were 'nicer'.

So, bring this back to you.
There are lots of experts out there as well as 'experts' and not one of us knows it all.  We all have our experience or our research or research that we have borrowed.  No one has definitive answers and we all have blind spots.  Listen to as many different voices as you have time for.  Try to pick out the agenda.  If a self-defense instructor's answer to all problems is lethal force, he will be cherry picking sources to make that sound reasonable.  Don't sweat it.  Recognize the agenda, absorb the non kool-aid parts and move on.

And, this is huge:  Examine your agenda occasionally. What you want to believe will always get in the way of what you know.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Sacred Questions

I know that there are more, that this just scratches the surface of a way to look at the world, but I know two, and only two, of the Sacred Questions.

What is a Sacred Question?  You probably aren't ready for this, but:  life is about questions, not about answers. Not a single one of your answers will survive death.  The Sacred Questions recognize that.

The First Sacred Question is, "What is the goal here?"  If you know what you truly want, you can make it happen.  If you know what someone else wants, you have absolute control.  But the real goal is almost never the declared goal.  The part of the brain that comes up with stated goals is the exact same part of the brain that comes up with excuses for all stupid behavior.

If I know what you want separate from what you say you want and separate from what you think you want... I own you.  This is the heart of strategy.

The Second Sacred Question I learned earlier, from Tom Brown.  "What is the lesson here?"  There are no successes, no failures.  Only lessons.  And the lessons are everywhere and in everything.

Some Thoughts on Scenarios

This came up in an e-mail exchange, and I wanted to expand here.
Most stuff in real life can be avoided or de-escalated.  If you have been around 100 people today, there was at least one situation you could have escalated.  Odds are you don't even remember it because we are all constantly adapting to and manipulating the people around us.

Violence isn't a normal distribution (Bell curve).  It's a hockey stick distribution.  There is a lot of low level stuff and a very small quantity of very high intensity stuff.  That stuff is rare and high-stakes.

One of the important things in scenario training is to not make the exceptional ordinary.  I don't means in terms of just quantity.  There should be more high-end things than happen in real life... but you should avoid avoidable/preventable scenarios where the role players act exceptional.  That creates bad training artifacts on multiple levels.  In other words, if you (because of role player ego or facilitator decision to get a specific result) don't let the student disengage or de-escalate, when it would work in a real encounter, the student is conditioned not to try things that work.  And pushes them towards strategies with risks.

Going hands-on is never a guaranteed approach.  There is always a chance it will go bad.  If the guy has weapons or friends, then bad is relative, but almost certain.  It won't end well.  The only scenario that has no chance of injury and death is a scenario where no one gets touched.  No matter how good you are there is the chance, maybe a miniscule one, that this will go to a bad place.

In that hockey stick distribution (I'm pulling numbers out of my ass here) 90% of things in the world can be avoided or de-escalated. Another five percent can be handled with a shove and a shout.  3% you
must and can fight out of.  But there will always be 2% where you HAVE NO HOPE.  Wrap your brain around that, because it is a big, bitter pill for martial artists to swallow.  There is stuff that can crush you like a bug on a windshield.  Steve likes to talk about the Chinese army coming over the hill or the shotgun at twenty feet or the sniper.  But it doesn't have to be that.  Any waiter who has ever handed you a steak knife in a nice restaurant could have had you.  There are a very small percentage of criminals who will kill you after you give them your wallet (and the reason the percentage is so small is social and logical.  Maybe I'll write about that later.) and they will do so after putting you at your ease that you played it right.  There are no win scenarios.

So, training corollary #1: If you give them hopeless scenarios, they learn to give up.  It's called 'learned helplessness' and you may have seen it in bad bosses.  The ones who talk about initiative all the time but punish any they actually see.  The ones who must find something wrong or don't feel they are doing their job. And you will see it in a lot of sensei.  If you will get punished no matter what you do, your hind brain learns that doing nothing is the safest solution. Bad.  This training method conditions people to freeze.

_Talk_ about the no-win scenario, by all means.  Explain it.  It's a great place to talk about glitches and values and one of places where I advocate changing the definition of a win (from survive and escape to 'leave enough forensic evidence this guy will not get away with this)  But don't TRAIN no win scenarios.  Don't practice losing. It's not something you want to get good at.

Training corollary #2.  Remember hands on is always dangerous?  It can always go bad.  The five-year-old with the knife can get lucky and stab you... or you could both die or... 

So fighting has to happen when not fighting would be worse.  This is a game of odds and reading the situation.  If you skew the odds in training your students will go into the world with a warped sense of what the odds are.  If you teach them that the wrong things work OR teach them that the right things fail, you are sending them into the world more confidant and less capable then when you got them.
Scenario training ingrains conditioning hard and deep.  Unrealistic scenarios are unforgivable.

Go back to basics.  IScenario training is not about the scenarios.  It's not about style or system or even self-defense.  It's about the student.  Take a look at each individual.  What does he/she need?

The big tough guys?  Test their judgment.  Do they know when it is safe to intervene as a third party or when it might make things worse? Can they choose when and how to intervene at the lowest level?  Or do egos get involved and they try to win?

The little guy who is a great martial artist but has some insecurities?  Put him in a fist fight.  (I have a scenario I stole from LawDog that sets that up really well)

The student who is much better than she believes herself to be?  Throw her into the sudden stranger attack or waking up to a knife wielding intruder.  Let her see what she can do.

 Scenarios are a tool and a great way to cap and integrate previous training.  But don't fall in love with them and don't do scenarios just to do them.  First question for almost everything in life is: "What is the goal here?"

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


I'm late to this.

Tim Bown's book, "Leading the Way: Maximize Your Potential as a Martial Arts Instructor" is out and available on kindle.

He wrote the manuscript.  And then he died.  First day on the job with the Canadian Border Patrol (the real job, he'd completed the academy) Tim collapsed.  Dead very quickly.  Autopsy found him eaten up with cancer.

Editing it was hard.  It's a first book from a brilliant instructor.  One of the few people who ran a successful dojo without dumbing it down or selling out.  Tim could fight and he could teach and his students were good.  But it was still a first book.  And a last.  Had he been alive, the editing process would have been very different.  There would have been lots of late-night phone calls, "What did you mean here?  Double check that, US law is different.  Too much on the writing process."  And each question would have turned into a long talk.  And I would have learned.

Posthumous, the process is different-- make sure the book is all Tim.  But there is a lot of regret over the conversations (and the brawling sessions and the scenarios) we will never have.

Enough about that.  Tim was a premier trainer in scenarios, the best role-player I have ever worked with.  And this book isn't about that.  It's about running a traditional dojo (a lot about teaching kids, which is the bread-and-butter of many schools) and doing it effectively and with integrity.  He covers a lot and he covers it well.  I don't know another book on teaching MA of this quality.  And it will be his last book.  All proceeds go to his wife and daughter, who he adored.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Tune Up

Good unwind weekend.  Talk, swing swords at each other, mix it up unarmed a little, talk some more.  Got some of my internal assumptions identified and challenged.  And all bleeding (on my end) was minimal.  Someday I will learn that no matter how much fun I am having, I tend to bit my tongue when I'm smiling and get clipped.  But it's hard to imagine brawling without smiling.

Later, K said, "That's a good group.  I haven't seen people who can play at that level that safely in years.  I might even play next time."  That would be cool.  She moved away from this kind of play when the injuries started stacking up.

At the same time, I don't think anyone else would look at this group and think, "Safe."  But it is.  Everyone involved, whether because they play with swords or because it was a professional requirement, needed to be utterly precise and controlled.  Almost everyone in that room had hurt people, hurt them badly... but not by accident.

There's a friend I haven't seen in years.  Barry is one of the knife gods.  Fast, ruthless, skilled.  And it is absurdly simple to defend yourself from this very dangerous man: don't threaten his family.  That's all.  Like most dangerous good guys he is very, very dangerous in certain ways and to certain people and under certain circumstances.  And outside of those circumstances, you are safer if he is around.

This was a room full of this group.  And it was fun.  Maija is working on a manuscript on deception in dueling.  She demonstrated some and more and more I love the way her mind works. R is a blast.  I love playing with someone big, strong, skilled and ruthless.  And with the control and trust to not hurt each other (or my gimpy knee, got the 'good' knee popped sideways a few weeks ago.  MRI this morning, no results yet.)  Ivy likes playing just to play.  I think E rarely likes to just play.  We have in the past and it's fun but one of the elements of play is that it has to last a lot longer than you would let anything real last and E recognizes that as a bad habit.  So do I, but it's still fun.  Even when I bite my tongue.

Physical part, good.  But the talks were huge.  And not just with players but with spouses.  It is eerie how well our wives know and understand us.  And to be in a group where you can share some of the things that bubble up without people flinching, where you don't have to constantly navigate the minefields in other people's heads.  That's comforting.  It makes a place feel like home, or like the quiet of the desert.  My happy place.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Unnaturally Good

Building from a piece of the last post and from Neil's comment:

"Also, couldn't it be argued that this behavior is related evolutionarily to how many animal species treat the smaller and weaker of the litter ?"

Bullying.  Predation. Abuse and exploitation and even slavery...all are very, very natural things.  Ants milking aphids (or is it the other way around?).  Cats toying with mice.  The new leader of a pride of lions killing the cubs of the previous leader.  This is where we came from.  All of us.

A lot of it is very cold math.  If your tribe is starving you MUST take food or land from a neighboring tribe.  There are only three options-- 1) Refuse to take the land.  You and your children starve. None of us are the products of this choice. 2) Try to take the land and fail.  You leave no descendants.  None of us are the products of this choice. 3) Try to take the land and succeed.  We are all descended from people who made this choice.

If lion 'A' kills the previous leader's cubs and lion 'B' does not then B's cubs start out at a disadvantage. The killers win the darwin game.

And this is where people glitch.  There is an automatic assumption in our world that natural=good.  Most of what we call good is profoundly unnatural.  And it is still good.  Compassion for others outside our immediate gene pool? You will search long and hard for this in nature and if you can find an example it will be because the very oddity has drawn attention.  Natural sanitation systems?  Where is the gender equality in a pride of lions or a herd of deer or any other social mammal?

Do we have gender equality now?  Of course not.  But we have the idea. An idea not found in nature.  And we have decided it is good and many, many people are working for it.

You may or may not agree, but I like this civilization better than the natural world.  I love that I can cherish K instead of thinking of her as a commodity or a 'helpmate' or a gift from her parents to cement ties who could be traded off...

But this civilization, this concept of good, is an act of mass will.  It takes work and effort and conscious decisions every day.  Being a bully is natural.  Even the weak do it when they get the chance.  Exploiting is natural.  People do it unconsciously every day.  Seeing your impulses and choosing another course, a better way...

That is unnatural.
That is an act of will.
That is what being human is all about.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Bullying as Human Behavior

I was asked a while ago to put something together for Bullying.  It's getting a lot of press.  There are a lot of programs, and people seeking more.  I refused.  The simple fact is that the people who want those programs want a magic solution and there have only ever been two things that work in preventing bullying:

1) Not being interesting enough to be targeted in the first place or
2) Being too expensive to victimize

That's it.  Not making friends or telling jokes and definitely not complaining to a teacher, especially in an environment where the teachers can do so little.  Be invisible or make the bully pay.  And no one wants a program that advises little kids to band together and beat the bully up on the way home.

There is a lot of bullshit about why bullies are bullies.  I don't think it's complicated.  Bullies are bullies because it is fun.  The sense of power may be working on some Freudian security issues, but we don't have to look all that deep.  Expressing power is fun.  The perfect judo throw.  Center shot out of a target.  Overhearing people talk about something you've made.  Putting up a bookshelf.  Anything that affects the world is inherently fun.  Including making weak people scream.  We have to learn to get over that (a toddler doesn't automatically know that squeezing kitty is bad and if the kitty makes noises but doesn't use claws, the toddler will continue to squeeze)  and whatever needs are fulfilled, we learn to fulfill them another way.  This is maturity and growth.  But don't assume it is natural.  It is an act of will and rarely an internal act.  We are taught to be kind.

 That's a lead off.  Last month I witnessed a superb act of bullying.  It was targeted, organized and even orchestrated... and not one of the people hurting others for fun realized they were doing classic bullying.  Bullying is not just the strong targeting the weak.  The weak will bully too, if they get the chance.

Can't go into too many details here, so bear with me.
A certain organization had organized an event to talk about a community.  They had done this many times in the past, very successfully and were very well received by people in that community.

Another group of self-appointed advocates for that community demanded to know who at this event were in fact members of that community.

The organizers didn't know.  And you know what?  They couldn't know. HIPPA prevents even asking the question.

The self-appointed advocates (I think I can safely say I'm at least on the fringe of that community and I sure didn't appoint them) started a massive (for this area) e-mail and tweet campaign.  And they got what they want.  The organizers cancelled the event.

Bullying worked.  But it wasn't enough.  That one sign of weakness triggered more vitriol and demands for an apology.  And that's the thing, whether the bully is weak or strong and whether the bullying is done with messages or fists, the purpose is to hear the victim squeal.  To revel in the power of forcing the victim to obey.

And some of the scheduled participants, on their own, held an informal talk anyway.  Because they didn't like being bullied.  And you know what?  They weren't bullied.  None of the ones who stood up.  But the complaints and slurs and bullying redoubled on the ones who had given in.  Bullies hate being defied.

You get the idea.  It's easy to look around and see all the bullying behavior done by people who label themselves 'victims'.  And it works on compassionate people.  It hurts the people who are most inclined to help.  But whatever they say, whether protester or community activist or self-appointed spokesman, it is about reveling in the power to coerce others.

Much harder to look at yourself and see where you do this.  But you probably do.  It's human behavior.  It's also human behavior to grow out of it and find the thrill of power in protecting and helping.  Or so I hope.