Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Process and Pathology

Fevers can come from a lot of different things.  I was taught that sometimes it is simply the way your body kills viruses, or at least keeps them from reproducing.  The fever is part of the process of healing.  The virus is the problem, not the fever.  The fever is not just a symptom, it is also part of the healing process.  When we lower the fever, we ease the visible signs of the sickness, but we also may be prolonging the illness.  Protecting the virus.

Stress after a big event is normal.  For most people, a huge violent event completely restructures their reality map.  It can show you that everything you believe and value is context-dependent.  Or I can be harsh and more honest and say that you will come to know that almost all of your cherished beliefs about what people are were simply lies.  Pretty lies and pleasant lies and things that most of the population works very hard to make true... but lies none the less.

But because most people are good people and work hard to make some of the harsh truths less true. Might does, in fact, make right-- unless strong, good people stand up and through action and force of will make it untrue.  Violence works, and has for millennia and across all species-- until we came up with the will and the vision that we can make it not work. And that requires a capacity for violence as well. The only defense against evil violent men are good men with more skill at violence.

That's a digression. The point is that there will be a period of adjustment after a violent event.  Some will always be damaged.  Most of those I know are the ones trying to return to 'normal'.  The normal that a deep part of them now knows never really existed.  They feel that the only thing that can make them right is to go back to a state that they now know was always false.  Just like someone crushed with responsibilities wishing to be a child again.

Some will find a new normal, and that normal will largely depend on how much of what they were exposed to.  With a single aberrant event, they can rewrite a reality map pretty much like the old one.  Pretend the event was an abnormality.  With lots of exposure in different areas, the violence becomes the new normal and, at least for me, you feel a little awe over the power of will and human vision and technology that has made the natural so rare.  Peace occurs in nature about as often as suspension bridges.

A lot of the adjustment and 'healing' is a recalibration process.  One of the symptoms of PTSD is hypervigilance.  You know what?  There's some shit you don't survive without a hefty dose of hypervigilance.  It's not just a super-power, it's a necessary survival trait.  Does that make it pathological?  Are the people treating this symptom aware that they, the counselors and doctors, might have died in that environment without that 'symptom'?  Are they trying to help people be better, or help them return to normal?  In extreme environments, 'normal' is rarely better.

But it can get uncomfortable, and can be dangerous.  Just like going from dim light to bright light or vise versa, there will be, must be, an adjustment time.  That's normal.

And waking up from a nightmare.  That's part of the healing process.  Dreams are one way you work through things.  And part of the recalibration process is to snap awake in a cold sweat...and have someone you love hold you and say, "It's okay.  It's okay.  It's just a dream.  You're home now."

Don't confuse the healing process with the pathology. And it is a process.  And it is growth, not repair. You will be different afterwards.  Stronger, if you manage the process well.

Monday, April 29, 2013


That was interesting.

A new time frame-- 2x6.5 hours, with actual lunch breaks.
The youngest group I'd ever played with.  Not just age.  In most of the other classes I believe average martial experience has been over 15 years.  So this group was young in a couple of ways.  And it completely didn't matter.

One of the original issues with training cops is that there is a wide variety of skills and experience.  You will get rookies who haven't even been to the academy yet, veteran meat-eaters who really know their way around a brawl and men and women right on the edge of retirement.  You'll get gym rat tac guys and desk jockey investigators; people in great shape just out of military service and and guys who have spent most of the last ten or twenty years driving a car and eating junk food.  And outside of work, some of them have been doing martial arts as a hobby since long before they were cops, some are competitive martial athletes and some have never taken a physical class of any kind since the academy.

You have to give them all something.  And the skills have to work, despite size or strength disparity, because cops don't get to pick their bad guys and the stakes are high.  If you teach shit you will wind up visiting hospitals or attending funerals.

It has to be easy enough for beginners to grasp; have insights that experienced martial artists can play with; physical enough for the meat-eaters but safe enough for administrations; challenging for everyone.  So it's not a simple scale.  An 'easy' class helps the beginners but bores the skilled.  An 'advanced' class confuses the beginners.  But that assumes 'easy' and 'advanced' are somewhere on a linear continuum and that assumption is a mistake.

So it was a good test and extra validation for the awareness-based-training model.  Thanks, Mac. The student who said she had no training was redirecting heads into walls like everyone else by the end of the weekend.  The instructor levels were working out how to adapt and analyze the information and drills.

Some of the lessons learned:
--Doing ConCom first really allows me to speed up part of the lecture, but only if everyone has attended ConCom.  The Conflict Dynamics section of ConCom is similar but not the same as the Violence Dynamics section of Ambushes and Thugs.
--There are things I like teaching that are only important to certain audiences.
--I can cut three hours out of the program and not feel like I am withholding critical, life-saving information.  Much.  Still insecure about leaving anything out.
--The biggest issue that was left out are the little talks about how to coach some of the drills.  Never realized how important that could be.
--I talk way too much and tell too many stories when I'm sleep deprived. I think these guys got more of the funny and icky stories than any other group. (Don't worry, I didn't waste much class time. It was mostly afterwards at dinner.)

So thanks to Brandon Sieg, an excellent host, and also a sincere martial artist who really wants the best for his students.  He takes the responsibility very seriously, thinks and plans.  He's created a FAST team that is both effective and creative, and a collection of good students (look at the students to see the instructor).

Good times.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

CofV 12.3: Terrain

I'll be winging this.  Terrain is, literally, a big topic and I know I can just touch on it in a blog post.
Some things that need to be in there:
Vision, including reflections and shadows
Movement control
Resource access
Escape routes
Unconventional applications

And all under the headings of how to read the terrain, how to use the terrain and how to manipulate the terrain.

There's way more.  This is stuff I do but rarely teach.  I'm finding a direct correlation between how well I can write or speak about something and how often I teach it.

Reading Terrain--
One of the elements to be aware of is flow of resources, and since we are talking about self-protection, you are the resource.  Bad stuff happens in predictable places. A mugger could starve waiting in random dark alleys. But the mouth of the alley between, say, the convention center hotel and the nearest strip club will give you a lot of unaware, out of shape, drunk, non-local, cash carrying businessmen.  Think about the victim profiles and where you would hunt for them.

Another element are forced flows.  Places where you must pass too close to a blind spot.  Places where the threat doesn't even move but his prey comes within arm's reach. There is a reason that women despise nightclubs with long hallways to the restroom.

Blindspots and vision spots.  Places you can't see into (blind corners, pockets of shadows) and places you, or the threat, can watch easily from.  This list expands as you get better at utilizing reflections and shadows.  And that skill is manipulatable as you can position yourself to take advantage of shadows, but you can also adjust a windowed door or place your sunglasses to maximize useful reflections.

Escape routes, choke points and death funnels.  How well you must know terrain and how you use it changes by mission.  Defensive strategies use funnels of death, offensive strategies need to bypass them quickly, for instance.  The 'funnel of death' is any small area that you and your team must bypass that allows the enemy to concentrate fire.  Choke points or bottlenecks in other words.  Escape routes are cool and the bad guy will likely have planned his.  You should look for them by habit.  The trouble with hiding strategies that have only one escape route is that by definition, when you are found, the threat will be blocking your escape route.

Cover and concealment.  Cover will stop a bullet, concealment will keep someone from seeing you.  Hiding behind drywall is concealment, but drywall won't stop most bullets.  It's not cover.  That said, I'm a little disturbed with the idea with cover as a category.  Concrete blocks are not necessarily cover for .308 rifle rounds.  I've shot through those.  Anyway, think of cover as a guideline.  Better than nothing and always use it, but don't count on it.  Also, remember, that some things change with angles. A stick-built house offers practically no cover... except if you are shooting down a hallway, the threat's bullets have to engage, because of the angle, sideways drywall and all of the studs.

Everything above you need to be able to see, but you also need to be able to exploit.  How do you see around a corner before you negotiate it?  How do you angle  to get maximum visibility at safest distance.  How do you cramp an assailant's movements?  How do you use the environment instead of simply mitigating the effects? (That's what I love about day two of the A&T seminar). How do you position yourself to maximize your useful information and minimize the threat's?

And what is there in the terrain that you can change?  Already mentioned adjusting doors and placing sunglasses to maximize vision.  There's more.  One of our old deputies always sat in a way that let him flip the chair out from between his legs in a flash.  My cell extraction method got a lot of juice from the fact that there was a concrete bench at knee height and I knew precisely where it was.  Sophisticated inmates who expected the team would soap their floors...and we countered that with kitty litter.

There's a psychological element to terrain as well.  A surprising number of people, even in emergencies, will respect a "Do Not Enter" or "Employees Only" sign.  Not bad guys, of course.  If they followed rules they wouldn't be bad guys.

Enough for now.  Big subject and I need to organize thoughts a little more.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

CofV 12.2: You

Classifications of Violence 12 is about threat assessment.  12.1 was about adrenaline signs.  Very few people can force themselves to go hands-on cold, so adrenaline is one of the reliable signs that things are about to go south.  And certain adrenaline responses indicate skill or experience with adrenaline.  Stuff you should know.

12.3 will be about distinguishing between social and asocial violence. Threat displays versus pre-assault indicators.  Maybe.  I might go into reading terrain instead.

The other element in this equation is YOU.  Violence is used for specific purposes.  As such, it has its own logic.  Incidents of violence are chaotic because you have multiple people in an adrenalized state that is unfamiliar to at least one of them.  It's not that violence doesn't have rules, it's that you likely don't know them.

Remember, here, that I am not saying 'rules' in a game context, i.e. artificial constructs designed to control a person's behavior. I mean rules in the sense that there is a cause-and-effect relationship.  These are rules for prediction, not rules of behavior.

Violence is used for specific purposes.  Each incident has specific goals.  Dollars to feed a bad drug habit in resource predation versus gaining or clarifying status in a Monkey Dance for example.  It also has specific parameters. With a few exceptions, the druggie wants to avoid withdrawals, so he doesn't want to get caught (usually-- see Fleisher's "Beggars and Thieves" for the interesting detail that most hustlers choose to go to jail for specific reasons).  He can't afford to be injured, because then others will prey on him.  In a MD, the primary parameter is to avoid humiliation at all cost.

Another factor mandating predictability is that violence is a high-risk strategy.  When you are doing something that is dangerous, and you have a strategy that works, it is really hard and really dangerous to try something new and untested.  MOs are reliable for a reason.

So now it's about you.  The goals and parameters paradigm create a subconscious risk-reward math for the bad guy.  What rewards for what kind of crimes do you offer and what is the risk you present?

Are you a young man?  Who hangs out with other young men?  While drinking?  Do you go places where said young men hang out?  Then there is some potential for MD.  If you are a little older, your Monkey Dances are likely executed with words and office politics.

Remember there are three categories.
The bonding type is rare but can possibly target anybody.  Your risk increases if you spend time where territories are in dispute (whether the edge of gang territory, war zones or sports bars) and/or you are easily identified as an outsider.
Boundary Setting should only come up if you regularly intervene in stranger's problems.  LEOs, Social Workers...
Betrayal. Partner, unless you are a member of a violent group AND they have reason to believe you have betrayed them, you don't have to worry about this one.

This one will only come up if you violate the rules of a group and will only go violent if you violate either a major rule (e.g. betrayal) or break the rules of a violent group.  And how violent will depend on the group.  So, as long as you stay in your group, you know how to behave and what to expect.  Educational Beat Down shouldn't be a problem.  If, however you travel to or liaise with groups you don't know well, there is some risk.  Risk goes up exponentially with your arrogance.

Because it is intended to break the rules of social violence, everyone is slightly vulnerable.  That said, this is a pattern pretty much exclusive to violent criminal subcultures.  If you don't spend time around such people, your risk is minimal.

Resource Predator
If you look like you have money (some money, not much-- homeless people rob each other all the time) and you don't look like you'd be a problem (easy to intimidate either psychologically or physically) you're a target for muggers.  There are lots of behaviors that can raise your risk-- not paying attention, getting drunk, being alone in a high-risk locations.  That's all standard self-defense advice.

Process Predator
In some ways, this is the hardest to narrow down the victim profiles.  The process predator is idiosyncratic.  For example, someone who gets addicted to the status seeking show (SSS) may prefer to assault, humiliate and kill or cripple big, strong, men.  He has learned over time that sudden ferocity trumps skill or physicality and it is simply worth more reputation, and feels more satisfying, to beat a big man. Another may choose his victims for his own safety. An opportunistic rapist may target any vulnerable or small woman who piques his interest...and another rapist may only target women who subconsciously remind him of his mother.  Generally, though, people who don't look like they will put up a fight are the safest bet for the predator; and most want an inner weakness or emotional lability.  They want to see a victim cry, scream and beg.

Most in-shape martial athletes are, at most, on the target list for a Monkey Dance.  The safest and most avoidable.  If you teach self-defense you have to look at each of your student's with predator's eyes (all the different types of bad guys) to determine what they are likely to face.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Brain Storming with Marc

One of the things I like about hanging out with Marc MacYoung are the long conversations.  He's a thinker with wide experience and we've seen a lot of the same problems but from different sides and different magnifications.  The synthesis of ideas is intense.

A few weeks ago, he taught a class at the Firearms Academy of Seattle.  It was my chance to meet Marty and Gila, so I tagged along.  The class was good, but the conversations were amazing.

(Do NOT take a bet with an attorney.  He would not be betting unless he had insider information.)

At one point in the class, Marc asked, "How do you not get stabbed?" And let the class mull over it.
Later that night, I ran with the question.  I liked it.  It's only limited if you think it is.  Between the two of us we came up with a pretty good list.  Not definitive, I'm sure we missed some things.  And there are places where we disagree about the order, but generally, in order of importance:


  1. Don't be the kind of person that someone else would want to stab.  Marc likes to say that the two best knife defenses are to avoid are: 1) to avoid the drug culture and 2) don't sleep with other people's mates.  Almost every stabbing I could think of was over something, and it was over something big enough to make it personal and it was between two people at least one of whom was cool with stabbing.
  2. Don't go places where people stab each other.  This ties in directly to Marc Denny's "Avoid stupid places with stupid people doing stupid things."  Random stabbings are rare, but they happen in predictable places.
  3. Run.  If you don't have to engage, you don't engage.  If you have time to ask yourself, "Should I engage?" the answer is, "No."
  4. De-escalate.  If you can talk your way out, do so.  Most of the time if you have an opportunity to talk, the goal is not to hurt you.  The weapon is displayed to get you to hand over your wallet.  So more accurately, some of the time I should say, "Don't escalate."  Don't say anything stupid.  If you challenge his manhood, he's likely to use the knife even if that wasn't his attention.  

And be aware, right here, that almost all of this from de-escalate on comes from the viewpoint of a male martial athlete.  A victim being intimidated to a secondary crime scene goes into a different flowchart and may have to make different choices.  A knife suddenly at you neck and the words, "Give me your purse" are not the same situation as the same knife and the words, "Come with me.  Don't make a scene."

5.  Brainstem.  If it is going to engagement, you take out the brainstem.  Get this, all of the physical responses are low percentage, and there is a matrix somewhere of ease of execution, likelihood to work and whether it finishes or delays the situation.  This will be heavily influenced by your skill and your training.  EV has long arms and great power and has made a practice of hitting brainstems shots from a number of angles.  A different individual may or may not be able to make it work.
6. Positioning.  Done properly gives you options and protects you without tying up your hands.
7. Compromise structure. This may be better than positioning or worse than limb disabling or not.  I think where this goes on the list depends a lot on your fighting personality. But either destroying a leg or twisting the spine have their uses.  And their dangers.
8. Disabling the limb.  If you can pull it off.
9. Defanging the snake.  Disarming in other words.  Technically difficult and low percentage, but the big change from a lethal encounter to an unarmed encounter moves it up the matrix.
10. Controlling the weapon arm.  Might buy you a second, maybe two, but it generally ties up (unless you do it by positioning) two of your hands to his one. To think that someone is 'so focused on the knife he will forget to hit you' is what we call wishful thinking.  It is not strategy.
11. Simple blocking.  Lot's of issues with it.  Reactive so it tends to be too slow, doesn't finish anything or even slow anything down.  So if it works, and that's a crap shoot, you are in exactly the same place you were.
12.  Simple pain.  I have no problem with adding pain.  For that matter you can stack as many options as you can handle.  Use them simultaneously.  But counting on just pain, whether a pressure point or a shin kick to stop someone adrenalized to use a knife is very, very low percentage.

Not definitive, not absolute.  Especially not prescriptive.  I think I got more out of arguing where to place these than I did from the list itself.

But there was one other thing, and I want you to look at it-- it's not a perfect correlation but it looks very much like most training spends effort in the opposite order of effectiveness, or near enough.  Far more hours in most schools are spent on blocking than on positioning, for instance.  Is this because of misplaced priorities?  Or a lazy tendency to teach the things that are easiest to teach regardless of effectiveness?  Or some belief that the low percentage options require more training so we train them more.  But I don't think the math works on that excuse.

More to think about.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Training Blindness

Have to get this out of the way first.  Most of the self-defense techniques I see taught don't take into account the essential nature of an assault.  Not just ignoring the fact that it is fast, hard and from surprise.  Most ignore the simple fact that the bad guy doesn't do just one thing and then wait for you to solve the problem.  If, anywhere in your solution, there is time for him to do something, the bad guy will be doing something.  And that 'something' will change the dynamics of each step of your complicated, memorized technique.

I've seen this in an eight-move technique to escape from a wall pin that wound up in a nifty armlock. Even at a 90% effectiveness rate for each step, let's see, .9x.9x.9x.9x.9x.9x.9x.9= .43.  Or thereabouts More likely to fail than to work even if you are very good.  And what really annoyed me is that there was a two-move option to get to the same result... but the instructor didn't consider that elegant.  Dammit, simple is elegant.  And effective is beautiful.

Also seen it in a two move escape from a grab (at least it was a grab that actually happens, there's that at least).  The second move actually worked okay without the first move.  The first move did nothing except afford me an opportunity to punch him in the face while he wasted time.

Had to get that out of the way even though it only has a weak connection with training blindness.  Maybe the inability to see the artificiality?

I don't teach new things.  On some level, everyone knows the things I teach.  You couldn't survive without at least some gut feeling about this stuff.  The running class on classifications of violence-- we all knew that the monkey dance of a drunk college kid in a bar was different than a stranger rape.  We all knew (if we thought about it for a second) that robbing to get the money to get the drugs was different than working out a self-esteem issue.  And if we ever really thought about the problems criminals need to solve we would come up with efficient criminal reactions to those problems, not martial arts solutions.

So it's not new, just making the information conscious and organized enough to use.

But one of the most basic is the hardest.  And that is simply seeing.

Went to grab a throat and the student immediately ran through her memory rolodex to do what she was taught.  Which did not have a hope in hell of working.  It was too complicated, didn't take into account our strength disparity... Hopeless.  All the technique would have done is distract her while the bad guy escalated his evil.

And here's the blind part: She knew it.  Like every student, she has been moving her whole body for her whole life.  She's seen other people move and, I assume, felt them.  One glance and she knew it wouldn't work, anymore than any chi master will ever lift an engine block without touching.  She knew and turned off her eyes and her brain and did what she was 'supposed' to do anyway.

Training makes you blind.  Not at first.  At first you see all kinds of new things.  The world gets bigger.  And that's a huge component of getting good.  The 'Orient' step of the OODA loop is one of the places you can freeze and it must be trained.  A baby doesn't automatically know that an object getting bigger is getting closer.  You have to learn to identify the weight shift before a kick.  All good.

But the longer you stay in one sandbox, the more you forget all of the other things outside the sandbox. Once you remember you forget to see.  Once you start living in your head, you quit living in the world.

Going back to the defense that didn't work-- had she applied the exact same motion as the first move of the sequence at a slightly different angle she would have prevented the grab and jabbed me in the throat.  There was absolutely nothing wrong with the physics or body mechanics of the move.  Except for where they were applied and the assumption that 4 moves at 90% effectiveness would mean 360% effectiveness.  When it is actually 65.6%.

A slight angle change and you get two solid effects with a single motion.  (My goal is four with each motion).  As opposed to four motions to get one effect with no finish.

The student already knew this.  She could see it.  It was right in front of her eyes.  Except she couldn't.  Seeing a problem she knew from training, she remembered the response from training.  In all of the years of training somehow the fact that it was only working because her partners had also been brainwashed into letting it work drifted out of consciousness and it became 'the thing to do.'

With that, everything she knew about physics, about bodies, about the way angles cut into weakness (still tired, not using words gooder-- basically it's easier to move the end of the lever and even easier if you 'cut' while doing it and even easier if you move) just disappeared down some mental rabbit hole.  For combative and self-defense purposes, this student was essentially blind.  And her training had made her that way.

It's not so simple, because everything I did point out was in her system.  Any system that has survived for any length of time has the stuff you need in it.  Darwin had a lot to say about things, until rule of law spread and even then for a long while until dojo arashi became frowned upon. (Anyone want to propose legislation that legitimizes dueling as an alternative to lawsuits?)

So not only did she naturally know this stuff, the system she trained in was based on it and somehow failed to pass it on in a useful way.  How many instructors can you think of who can explain the principles of how techniques work but the techniques taught violate those principles?  Too many.

This kind of blindness is hereditary.  An instructor who has it will pass it on.  In demonstrations, the blindness of his students becomes part of the reason his techniques work.  A student who can actually see is an incredible threat to his ability and status

And it is all completely unnecessary. The good stuff is there.  You just look for it, and then look for where it really fits. See.

Monday, April 15, 2013

London Debrief

That's London, Ontario.  In Canada.  Not the Uk one.

It's been busy.
Came in exhausted on the fourth.  Had to wait at Customs.  Seems I left a pamphlet from the "Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network" in my bag.  Got some questions from the Canadian Border Service.  That was the first Thursday.

Friday-- Walks, explore and settle in, then an evening class at the local BJJ school.  Did a little dirty rolling.  Had to take it easy.  Still in the big knee brace, still pre-surgery... but I love playing.

Saturday: Day One of the regular seminar, Intro to Violence.  Usual stuff--  the three long-assed-talks; fighting to the goal; efficient movement; learning to see... That stuff.  Didn't go into the usual detail on Power Generation because I wanted to get to counter assault, so only structure and stealing.  Didn't get into twitch power.  Other cool thing--when I was demonstrating blindfolded infighting, they sent two in on me.  Wish I had film of that.  Then conversation and narghila at Crazy Joe's.

Sunday: Day Two. In the cabinet making shop again, but with a little twist.  Chris had a room they were tearing down so we were able to do the mass brawls without worrying about structural damage.  The go signal was throwing one of the students through the dry wall.
This brings up something.  I like training hard, fast and with intensity, but don't do so in a seminar format.  Seminars I focus on intensity. Chris said that some of the people who didn't show seemed afraid it would be a 'slugfest.'  I don't see it.  Injury rate is very low.  But that we do play in dangerous environments, and do drill with mass brawls and blindfolded infighting-- there's definitely a perception there.  Most people aren't ready to hear "You will be thrown through walls" and "It's really safe."

Monday: Day off.  Writing and catch-up on correspondence.

Tuesday: Conflict Communications in the morning and another Dirty Rolling session with the London BJJ club in the evening.

Wednesday: ConCom in the morning.  Then did an evening class for a local karate club.  Then did some boxing.  Kick boxing, technically, but I was in a knee brace, so I was just boxing.  This was stupid, dumb, I know what you're gonna say.  But it was a blast.  I really miss playing with big skilled guys who are into contact.

Thursday: ConCom

Friday: ConCom.  Then fencing.  Now, fencing may be the worst possible thing for my knee, so I decided left hand only, no footwork.
Used my right hand some.  And a little footwork (it's not something you can just turn off, evidently).  Again, fun and again, clearly I'm not merely a martial artist, I'm a junkie.  Addicts.

Saturday and Sunday: Logic of Violence.  This seminar is growing and getting more powerful.  Strangely, a couple of people who were worried about the physical aspects of Intro showed up to this since it was mostly verbal were affected at a deep emotional level.  And, from a SD viewpoint, that's valid.  Self-defense is far more difficult emotionally than physically.  The mechanics, in other words, are simpler and for most people easier than the will aspects.

Which brings us to today.  Quiet.  Lunch with Steve, the head instructor at Twin Mountains (who got two gold medals in Malaysia-- congrats.)  Otherwise, read and vegetate.

So 13 sessions in a little over a week.  I'm a little tired.  I'll get back on my regular writing schedule soon.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Talent, Skill and Experience

There are three paths to being good.  Being human, you can take multiple paths simultaneously.  So maybe path is a really shitty metaphor here.  But bear with me.  And I'm not going to talk about fighting, at least not right away.

A talented photographer sees the way a camera sees.  For whatever reason, the eye and mind grasp what a thing will look like cropped to picture size, can see not just the trees but the light-and-shadow play in the shape of the trees.  If you have a little talent, see a little differently, you can take some good pictures.

A skilled photographer knows his equipment.  He knows what to do with all the little dials and how to sometimes 'trick' the camera beyond the camera's usual abilities. Further, a skilled photographer has been taught much of what a talented photographer does instinctively.  But knowing does not always equate with understanding, and an untalented but skilled photographer can get technically perfect but completely boring pictures.

I don't mean experience here as someone who has taken a lot of pictures.  The third way to get good, unique pictures is to go to unique places and take them.  Take a shot of something as incredible as the Earthrise over the Moon's horizon and talent or skill do not touch the fact that you were there.  A technically crappy, poorly composed picture of Bigfoot would still be a picture of Bigfoot.

This goes for all art, for athletics and it absolutely goes for conflict.  Maybe it goes for everything.

It's not an either/or.  With a few exceptions it is not difficult to be talented, to work on skills and to go to extraordinary places.  They compound.  But it's not always easy.

Simple fact is that most talented people don't get very good.  My experience is that the kid who gets 'A++' and effusive complements in his grade school art classes never works that hard to get really good.  He is already good enough.  I know very few big strong athletic martial artists who bothered to become superb.  With an edge in size and strength, they tend to get good enough to dominate the people they know and then get lazy.  It usually takes an extraordinary drive, often the iconic smaller/weaker/older technician who can beat the talented individual that shows them there is more.

This is a very human thing.  It's a lot of work to get better, and most people stop when they are good enough.  So talent, without extraordinary discipline or an extraordinary challenge, can become a trap.

The people without great talent but with desire tend to become the technicians.  When others are more talented, you must be more skillful to win.  Most of the really superb martial artists and fighters I've known have been runts with a drive to win.  Small and weak, they couldn't afford to be merely good.  They had to be fantastic to hold their own.

And there are two things that happen here.  One is that much of 'talent' falls under the heading of attributes.  Like strength, speed, endurance and coordination.  Diligent training increases all of those.  There are talents that will be backfilled, for want of a better word.  The second is that with the right kind of training, your senses start to do what a talented person's always did.  A judo prodigy knows the split second when his opponent is about to be off balance.  A non-prodigy will learn that over time.
(And it is really infuriating to have something you have spent a decade perfecting being dismissed as, "Well, of course you can do that.  You're a natural.")

There is a lot here.  Physically untalented people tend to become superb technicians, if they work at it.  Mentally untalented people who work equally well tend to become superb teachers.  They've received so many explanations and worked out so many ways to grasp things that they can often communicate things they may not be able to do.

But, there is a solid difference between being untalented and ... I need a word.  If you have taught for any length of time you know there are certain people that don't get certain things.  I'm going to own it and put it down as, "my skill as a teacher is inadequate," but that's not what I feel deep down.  I take responsibility because that's the only part of the equation I can affect.  And I keep trying.  But it seems there are certain people that can't see what is right in front of their eyes.  Can't change patterns of movement or behavior.  It's rarely physical, it's some kind of mental block.  But they actively fight their own learning, even while putting in hours and hours.

And experience.  Go to the cool places and take the cool pictures.  Go to the dark places and learn about the dark side.  It certainly helps to have talent and skill.  That's how you make it out.  But there is more than that and it compounds.  The experience will teach you, very fast and in big block letters, what details are important.  And you'll pick up a crude version of what a talented person naturally sees. He sees composition and shadow instead of 'pretty flower.'  The experienced person learns a cruder, starker, but equivalent lesson, something on the order of, "I got too close."

It's hard to learn the kind of lessons from experience that you can learn from skill building or training.  Ideally, what you are taught is the accumulated experience of hundreds of experienced people.  There is no way you would have the time (or the luck) to survive that much experience.

But experience filters your training like nothing else.  The devil is in the details but it is experience that tells you which details are important.  That's the nature of the way humans learn and teach.  They add stuff.  They complicate things.  They make things special.  When you move too far away from experience and focus solely on training it becomes hard to tell which of the added information is important, what is really relevant.

Experience also happens at higher stakes and in compressed time.  It not just winnows your training but forges your training and any talent that you have.  Fast, dangerous situations force you to be equally fast and extremely precise.  Your trained skills become sharper, more adaptable and more reliable.  Your talent becomes reliable.  And it can become one of the incentives to keep a talented person training.

Friday, April 05, 2013

CofV 12.1: Adrenaline Signs

Most people can't fight 'cold'.  They need the emotional edge of fear or anger to get over the taboos involved in hurting people.  Not everyone, but almost everyone.  Even very experienced fighters, whether good guys or bad guys, want to be "in the zone" just like any other athlete.  Part of being in the zone is an optimum level of adrenalization.

I'll use adrenaline throughout this as easy shorthand, but know that the SSR (Survival Stress Response) is caused by a slew of hormones and neurotransmitters, not adrenaline all by its lonesome.

There are lots of symptoms of adrenaline-- breathing changes, pulse rate, pupils-- that I don't care about because you can't see them.  Signs are distinguished from symptoms in that signs are what you can see.

So common adrenaline signs:
Gross motor activity.  Under an adrenaline dump you want to move.  Pace.  Flex.  It seems like as the adrenaline increases both the activity increases (the pacing becomes faster) and seems to concentrate in the big muscle groups-- legs and shoulders.
Clumsiness.  Big muscle groups up, small muscle groups down.  Shaking, dropping things.
Voice gets higher pitched.  Loud is one thing, but I listen for the squeak. Couple of reasons.  The funny one is that every team leader so far has had his voice crack the first time he gave the ask-advise-order-check.  That reads as nervous to the threat, and we almost always had to fight.  Second reason, high pitched voices are one of the signs of fear and fear, like any emotion, is contagious.  If one person squeaks or screams, nearby people are more likely to get stupid.  Third reason, if the threat hears his own voice break, he may feel compelled to fight to prove that he is not afraid.
Swallowing and licking lips.  Or drinking a lot of water if available.  Adrenaline burns up a lot of water and makes you very thirsty.  Side note: Tardive dyskinesia is one of the side effects of long-term use of psych meds.  Street people call it the 'thorazine twitch.'  Tardive dyskinesia also involves a lot of lip-licking with darting tongue movements but will also have sharp twitches and (usually) hard blinking.
Rhythmic movement.  Almost every person I've seen under an adrenaline dump does something rhythmic.  They tap their fingers (especially if they are trying to hide the fear/anger.) Or they bounce on their toes.  Some hum.  Not usually whistling, the mouth is too dry to whistle.
Color change.  Getting red is part of the threat display.  These guys don't tend to bother me.  They might get stupid and become dangerous, but that's not the sign I'm looking for.  When a threat goes pale, things are about to step off.  The paleness, of course, comes from peripheral vasoconstriction.  the body is trying to make sure that if the saber-toothed tiger gets an arm or a leg you won't bleed too much. Think of sudden pallor as the body clearing the deck for action.  Things are imminent.

Danger happens at the intersection of adrenaline and purpose.  A drowning man will be adrenalized and have the purpose of breathing, which makes you look like a flotation device.  A mugger needs money for drugs and will get his adrenaline into the zone to do the crime.

Some notes, before we go on.
1)  Fear, anger and love.  I'm a big believer in the James-Lange theory of emotion.  The theory states that first there is an event, then there is a hormone dump and THEN you ascribe an emotion to it. They noticed that there's not really a huge difference in the signs and symptoms of intense emotional states.  If your mouth is dry and your palms are sweating and your knees are weak and your breathing is rapid and shallow... are you afraid?  Or in love?

You get those symptoms when you see a bear, you call it fear.  See someone attractive, the exact same symptoms are called 'falling in love.'

So, especially for this subject matter, fear and anger are different labels for the same chemical state.  The labels, however, can be powerful motivators.  If you call it fear, your instinct may be to curl up in a fetal position.  You call it anger and you may fight.  There is huge power in consciously labeling.  More power, IMO, in NOT labeling and just using the chemicals... but I don't think that's something you can do the first several times.  Maybe.

2) Whistling and lighting cigarettes.  There are some iconic things in old movies.  Lighting a cigarette will show any tremor in your hands, and it is one of the things the heroes and some of the bad guys used to do to show how calm and in control they were.  In real life, back when bars allowed smoking, many bouncers practiced so that they could calmly light a cigarette under an adrenaline dump.  People subconsciously got it.  Calm can be very intimidating in the right circumstances.  Same with whistling.  I don't suggest whistling around threats, especially mentals, since any high-pitched sound tends to increase adrenaline, but it might help calm you.

Secondary signs.
Most of the adrenaline control methods taught require a certain amount of time.  They work better for people responding to a violent situation than people who are attacked.  There are a few tricks, but this is about reading a threat, not controlling yourself.

Someone engaged in social violence generally won't try to hide his adrenaline.  It's part of the show.  The two groups that will try to hide it are criminals and professionals.

Professionals (like bouncers lighting cigarettes mentioned above) tend to have elaborately relaxed body language.  Their job is to defuse the situation if at all possible, so they will close distance and get in position while giving relaxed and non-threatening body language.  They will be focused on the threat, however.  If you see someone who should be showing the signs and isn't and they are focused, assume you have a professional. (As opposed to someone who should be adrenalized and is oblivious, in which case you have your basic nitwit.)

Criminals have to close the distance and set you at your ease.  They have to appear NOT to be focused on you and they want to control the adrenaline. Many will engage in self-calming behavior.  When your kids are hurt or afraid you pick them up and hug them, right?  You basically pet them like small animals.  Self-calming is doing that solo.  Rubbing the face or neck are the most common.

This probably goes at the end, but danger is in the matrix.  When you see someone rubbing his neck and not making direct eye contact but looking at you it's a sign he is adrenalized and trying to control it.  If you've known him for awhile (the social aspect of the matrix) he's probably working up his nerve to ask for a date.  If he's a stranger?  Hmmm.  If he is a stranger standing at an abnormal range, with asocial feet alignment and no witnesses?  Big red flag.

There is one more professional reaction, but not necessarily criminal.  One of the things with criminals is that they can time when to attack, so they can control their own adrenaline.  They can get themselves excited (with visualization, ritual or self-talk) to raise their adrenaline and they can get the adrenaline under control by waiting a little longer, breathing, or other self-calming behaviors.

Victims don't get that choice.  When the threat arises, they get an adrenaline dump.  If YOU are a force professional (LEO, soldier, bouncer) your job will be to accost people.  From their point of view, you are the threat.  You will use the same techniques bad guys use to control your own adrenaline (and, hopefully, more consciously, trained and taught and more effectively.) But the people you confront will not have that option.  They will get an adrenaline dump.

If they go pale, things are on the edge of going bad.
If, however, the subject goes pale and relaxes and his eyes unfocus, you may be in for a very bad day. Most people tense and shrink up when the adrenaline hits hard.  If you see the relax and the thousand yard stare you have stumbled on someone with extensive experience with adrenaline.  He knows how to use every last drop of it.  If you see this you may well be in for the fight of your life.

On the good side, if you see this the subject is still thinking clearly enough you can reason. You can rarely do that with the ones who go white and tense up.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

That's Gotta Hurt

I'm going to paraphrase a bunch of things to make a point.
Someone asked how to develop mental toughness.  The answer is easy: Do things you don't like to do. Things that scare you or disgust you or chores that you dread.  At the same time, cut out things you do enjoy if they serve no purpose.  What have your hours or maybe years of TV watching done for your life?  No excuses.
That was my answer and the guy kind of chuckled and said, "No, seriously.  How do you develop mental toughness?"
Another wants to develop fighting skills without the ick factor of touching people.
Years ago (and the day I decided I really liked Steve Perry) we were on an Orycon panel on the future of pharmaceuticals (and I have NO IDEA how we wound up on that panel).  Steve asked the audience; "If there was a pill that would increase your energy, make you more attractive to members of the opposite sex, make you better at sex, make you live longer, lose weight and even make you smarter, would you take it?"
The audience clapped and smiled.
"Would you pay a hundred bucks a month for it?"
"Hell yeah!" the audience cheered.
"Well," said Steve, "It's called 'eat right and exercise' and I can tell just by looking that most of you aren't doing it."

People want things to be easy.  They want something for nothing.  I get that.  But there are some subjects where it is not possible.  Your body is not designed to improve under conditions of comfort.  It improves under stress.  With stress, muscles grow.  Without stress, muscles atrophy.  You don't get better at running by sitting.

You can get to a certain level of knowledge without pain or exhaustion.  You can get to a certain level of skill.  But you can't get good.  You can convince yourself you're good.  As long as you hang with other people who have avoided the same things you have, you can be comparatively good.  But you can't get good.  Not at fighting and not at competition level anything.

It's gonna hurt.  It has to.  People want a magical method where they can learn to deal with shock, surprise, pain and exhaustion without feeling shock, surprise, pain and exhaustion.  That's not the way the world works, kids.

And I'm not just talking about the swimming analogy-- you know, where you compare learning about any fighting system without fighting as learning to swim without water.  That's not what I'm talking about this time.

 You can't get good inside your comfort zone.  You want to get stronger?  Your muscles have to hurt.  Want to get flexible? Don't overdo it but you have to stretch beyond your comfort zone.  Want to get anaerobically endurant? You have to push until you are sucking wind.  Maybe puking.

Want to be better at a motion than the other guy?  Then you either practice more than him or more mindfully or, ideally, both.

In "Campfire Tales from Hell" Dan Gilardi did a little article called, "Want to Learn how to Win?  Learn How to Lose."  Essence is, unless you go into challenges that will kick your ass you will never rise to the level of skill or 'mental toughness' or conditioning required to meet that level of challenge.

When in doubt, push.

Some of our training-- with the team, with Dave, with Wolfgang-- literally scared people.  People would walk in and walk out after watching one class.  Administrators would say, "Is that really necessary?"  For their jobs the answer was "No." For our jobs, yeah, it was necessary. It never stops hurting, you just stop caring.  Some would tell us it was unnecessary.  A few openly called it abuse. (But these are the people that think that sore muscles are a punishment.)

I'm worried, frankly.  When people start having a knee-jerk reaction that pain is bad and discomfort is bad it seems like a short step before they start classifying Olympic level training (as an example) as child abuse or torture.

Caveat here, before I close:  Train hard, don't train stupid.  Injuries make you less survivable.  And there is no gain in emotionally abusing a student.  They have to feel emotionally safe in order to learn about physical danger.  For that matter, if you feel safe emotionally abusing your self-defense students, you aren't teaching them right.

That said, all valuable training happens outside the comfort zone.  Physically, mentally, emotionally you have to push the envelope.  It's gotta hurt.