Monday, July 15, 2013


I've written a basic intro to risk management before.  You can find it here:

The part I want to focus on is the levels of risk versus levels of frequency.
You can categorize things into High Risk and Low Risk.  For self-defense purposes, High Risk means you are likely to get hurt or killed, Low Risk means those things are unlikely.  You should put more training time into high risk events than low risk events.  You really don't need extensive training in how to protect yourself from a toddler attack.

The next paradigm is frequency.  This may be counterintuitive, but you don't need to train for high frequency things that much.  Reason being that you get a lot of practice.  Driving is almost surely the most dangerous thing you do on a regular basis, but very few people get continuos training (unless they go into special jobs or get told by a judge they need some remedial lessons).  If you actually do something four hours a day, there isn't a lot of gain in training it two hours a week.

The low frequency stuff is where you need good information, good training and a plan.  You should have a plan for how to get your family out of your house in a fire (HR/LF).  You probably don't need a plan or rehearsals on how to drive to the gas station (HR/HF).  Or a plan/rehearsals on how to deal with pet hair in the carpet (LR/HF) or how to deal with a gerbil overpopulation problem (LR/LF).

There are more dimensions, though.  Not sure how they affect risk management, but they are very powerful in how you must train and what you can analyze and learn.

One of the biggest is time compression.  The basics of how Toby and I teach survival are almost identical.  Train awareness, use your brain and body, instincts... the biggest difference is that Toby teaches wilderness survival where many of the dangers require hours or days to kill you.  I teach assault survival, in which the dangers are measured in seconds or fractions thereof.

This is one of the biggest, and I'm not sure I'm willing to write about time yet.  Not ready, because so much of it is hard to explain.  Working through the ConCom manual it is really apparent how much of the communication skills are really counter-assault skills... just brains instead of bodies.  And how much I would never have noticed except for the  combination of High Risk + Compressed Time.

Dealing with conflict as opposed to violence, it can be spread over a long time and much of the nuance can be hidden in the thousands of other acts of communication all around.  The patterns in ConCom are incredibly obvious once you see them, but it took the filter of fast violence to screen out the white noise.

The second dimension is intelligence.  Information.  And that further breaks down into low and high quantity, clarity, breadth and reliability.

If you know a lot about the problem, that is usually better than knowing little or nothing. Quantity.

But you may know a lot of facts about the big picture but not details. E.g. You might know the names and histories of the local gangs and their territories and business; but not be up to speed on the current members.  A problem that a lot of people who leave an active job and go into training run into.  Clarity.

You may know a lot about a piece of a big subject or a lot about a related subject and just miss this subject.  A degree in zoology with a concentration on marine mammals may have big blindspots dealing with reptiles.  Bouncers know what bouncers know, not what cops know...and vise versa.  Same with victims, perps and enforcement.  Breadth.

And reliability.  This one is endemic in the martial arts.  It is possible to know an awful lot of things that aren't true.  It is always hard to measure the reliability of your own beliefs.

A high risk, low frequency event where you have years to plan and prepare is different, both in training and response from one where you have seconds.  Obviously.  And it changes even more when you are well-informed, clueless or deluded.

More to think about here.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Structure, Space and Orientation

Good playtime with KJ yesterday.  He wanted to work infighting defense against elbows, specifically elbow flurries. Ergo, we both had bloody lips and big smiles before we broke for lunch.

Infighting is not like fighting at striking range.  As I use it, it is also different than the other player's concept of infighting.  It's not the range where you can comfortably hit with your elbows.  Infighting, for me, is the range at which our torso's are in contact range.  Maybe a fistwidth between, at times.

And that has huge implications for how you fight and think-- and this is hard for me to write.  Because the range is so close, the speed is high, far too fast even in play to think.  I don't infight mentally with words or pictures, it is almost all by touch, which makes it very hard to write about.

KJ has a lot of skills, but his default is a striker.  And so he envisions incoming attacks as things that must be intercepted before they reach him.  That is how you fight in space.  But at infighting range, that's not necessarily true.  None of those attacks are separate from the body and brain controlling them.  The attacks are physically linked.  And it's not like an octopus, either.  It is bone.  Hand bone to forearm bones to humerus to shoulder girdle to spine (and rib cage) to pelvic girdle to femur to lower leg bones to feet.  All bone, all connected.  And every one of those bones is a lever arm.  And if you displace any of the core bones (spine, rib cage, shoulder girdle--rarely pelvis) you affect what all of the other satellite bones can do.

So if that elbow comes in, I don't have to intercept it.  If I can modify the position of the ribs, the spine or the humerus, I don't have to worry about it...and if I am already in contact with any of those parts, a light push in the right direction will not only be easier, it will be much faster, require less strength/speed and be infinitely more sure than trying to intercept an attack in space.

You have to understand structure and part of this is counterintuitive.  Generally, I want to apply my strong structure to the threat's weak structure.  But infighting, if I apply structure and some power to the threat's strong structure with the right leverage and at the right angle I control his whole body.  If I apply the exact same motion against his weak structure, he simply twists or folds.

We have a couple of games to start developing this skill-- puppetmastering and elbow chi sao.  Structure and leverage are intertwined and damnably important to both offense and defense at this range.

At this range, you and the threat are both working structure, trying to smother or drag potential attacks.  One of the key offensive skills is the ability to find or create pockets of space in which you can strike.  There are some systems of power generation that require zero space, but I'm not that good at them.  Most of mine require about three inches (the one-inch punch requires about three inches too).

Aside-- don't want to get in a long debate.  I can put my top knuckle in contact with the threat (zero space) and hit hard, but the hit comes from the bottom knuckles-- which move about three inches. Zero space hitting means (to me) no visible movement, basically accomplished with skeleton bounce.--Aside ends.

So creating the pockets is critical and, again, has to be something you develop an intuitive feeling for.  Not so much for when you create or find space.  That comes easily.  But defensively, you have to be able to sense when the threat has opened a dangerous space, because something very bad is going to move through there very quickly and into your hurty parts.

And this goes back to manipulating structure.  You can make the space go away. You can try to fill the space (block).  But frequently you can merely tug or push on the shoulder (or neck or whatever you happen to be touching) and change the threat's orientation.  He still has that pocket of space, but it is no longer aimed at you.

You have an orientation.  You are facing a certain way.  So is the threat.  The positional battle in infighting (or any good fighting) is to get to the dead zone, the point where all of your weapons are on line and all of the threats are pointing the wrong way.  Attack from behind or the rear flank, in other words.  But for infighting this isn't just a matter of your motion, but what you can do to the threat's orientation, via his structure.

Probably too technical, but Mick has challenged me to try to put infighting into words.  Working on it.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Writing Advice

My lovely and talented wife is working on a non-fiction book.  It is about becoming a writer.  Not another how-to book, more like pathnotes.  Anyway, she asked me to expand and write down something we were talking about:

The difference between editing a book and herding cats is that cats are way less insecure and neurotic than writers.

Maybe my experience won’t fly here—I’m not a fiction guy.  The books I’ve published and edited are non-fiction.  Intense subject matter, violence and criminals and things, but not stories.  Which means that a lot of the people who write this stuff are subject matter experts first and writers second. Sometimes a distant second.

I noticed a few things editing.

These subject matter experts, the best of the best, would shyly and hesitantly ask if maybe, just maybe, they might have an idea that might make a story that maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t hate.  As if I was doing them a favor.  These hard-assed violence professionals turned into shy teenagers asking for a date.

There is a lot of insecurity about writing.  It’s something that you have not just done since grade school, it is something that has always been judged.  Always evaluated.  If you weren’t the one who got the gold star you felt bad and told yourself you weren’t a good writer.  If you did get the gold star, you worried you wouldn’t be that good again.  If your parents told you that you might be a writer someday it seemed like such a huge impossibility…

So they would send me the manuscript, and in every single case, the manuscript was good.  Just because you are insecure and just because you have been judged doesn’t mean you can’t write.  For the most part, most of us have been writing since we were six years old.  Odds are you’re actually pretty good at it.  Writing is just like talking, once you get the insecurities out of the way.

So I got a good manuscript and I would send a little note saying, “Great! Thank you!”  And many of the authors would send me a note saying, “Oh, wait.  That wasn’t the real article.  That was just a rough draft.  Here’s the real article.”

Out of insecurity, in some weird and misguided act of ego-defense, most had sent a draft, not the finished manuscript.  You see, that way, if I rejected it, I wasn’t rejecting their best work.  I wasn’t rejecting them.

And here’s the part that writers need to hear: In every single case the amended article they sent me was worse than the original.  In the draft, they were experts just communicating something they felt passionate about.  It was brilliant and raw.  In the second drafts, they were trying to be writers and it sucked the soul out of each and every piece.

Assuming you have basic writing skill, if you feel passionate about something you will write something raw and powerful.  It will be good.  If you feel nothing about a subject but have basic writing skill (and intelligence), you will write something very clear.  It will be good.

Both are good.  Both are different types of good.

If you try to edit the passionate to make it more clear, you will ruin it. If you try to edit the clarity to make it more passionate, you will ruin it.

Run with the type of good that you have.