Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Move less.
If I had one piece of advice for the physical aspects of self-defense, it would be two words.  Move less.

Fighting is like marble sculpture.  It isn't like painting or architecture.  It is like sculpture.  Because moving well has nothing to do with adding things.  It is all about cutting things out.  You make a sculpture out of a slab of marble by taking out all the rock that isn't the form.  Sculpture is removal.

So is the art of good movement.  Absolute efficiency is not having a millimeter of unnecessary motion.  You don't defend if the strike is going to miss by a fraction of an inch.  Your own strikes do not go through any unnecessary distance.  Avoid decelerating to zero except with linear impact.

In sparring, there is a lot you can do with extraneous motion.  You can fake, disguise your telegraphs, change your rhythm.  But when you need to take someone out, for that matter, when you need to do anything quick, no extra motion.

And that's not how we teach it, usually.  The good martial artist can do more stuff than the beginner.  He can do the flashy moves.  The TV martial artists-- Bruce Lee hitting bad guys who just stand there in rapid fire strikes, clearly five times as fast as the bad guys can move.  Congratulations.  Those are the skills you need to beat someone 1/5th your speed-- and, in case you missed it, if you have superspeed you don't need any skill.  The best martial artists move more than the beginners.

And one of the side effects-- if the stakes go up, it becomes even more critical to move less.  A knife coming at your belly has no margin of error.  Bad things require maximum efficiency, not more cool moves.

The best fighters move less.  The best fighter, the best athlete in any speed game, moves less than the second best.  Not more.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

For Tiffani

This is that question Tiffany asked yesterday:
So... today in class we were having a discussion on bullying. Having been bullied as a child I made the comment that I was against it and stop it when I see it happening. A girl turned to me and said that bullying happens, its normal, and to toughen up because there is nothing wrong with it and it never goes away. While I agree it never goes away, I disagree that its normal and there are no adverse effects from bullying. Marc MacYoung and Rory Miller, I'm curious of your perspective on this. Is bullying harmless and how do you deal with a bully?

For the record, what to do about bullying is here.  Two lines in the second paragraph covers everything that works.

This isn't as clear as we would like.
Part of it is the way Tiffani subtly reframed the questions.  If something never goes away, then it is the normal state.  It will take an act of will to create an unnatural state where this doesn't happen.  And her arguer never said that there were no adverse effects.  Nor that bullying was harmless.

So, clearing up, there is no bad guy in this disagreement.

Is there "nothing wrong with bullying?"  There's all kinds of things wrong with bullying.  Does anybody like to be bullied?  Barring certain personality disorders, I mean.  But there are some benefits.

Augustine, in "The City of God" was trying to explain why good things happen to bad people.  One of his arguments was that it is not the event that is bad.  Olives and olive leaves both go into the press.  The olives come out as pure, valuable oil and the leaves come out as mangled garbage.

Everyone has been bullied.  Everyone.  And the reactions to it are critical to who we become as an adult.  Tiffani didn't like it and won't let it happen for others.  Her reaction to bullying, whatever age it happened at, cemented one of her most admirable traits.  I went through a progression as a kid.  I would fiercely defend any of the littler kids on the playground, but it was years before I realized I had the same right to stand up for myself.  Then I went a little too far the other way, making a point that I could bully big strong people who liked bullying the small and weak.  In hindsight I can see I was just as bad, and felt fully justified because I only bullied bullies.  But I bullied them, I wasn't merely assertive or just trying to get their behavior to stop.  I wanted them to feel what others had felt.

That's still stronger than I like to admit in my psyche.

So, "toughen up."  That's actually good advice.  Discipline, strength (physical and mental), whatever it takes so that other people can't control your emotions is a good thing.  And it is woefully hard to get tough or strong or brave or compassionate or even loving if those qualities are never challenged.

The most formative thing in high school for me was football.  My school was small. Graduating class of six.  My junior year, for the first time in almost a decade, they had enough boys to field a B-league (eight man) football team.  If I went out for it.  As a junior, I was almost the smallest kid in the school.  I didn't break 5 foot tall or a hundred pounds until the summer before my senior year.  (I did basketball and track, too.  Really small school.)  It was a lot of pressure, but we had a team and I played.

And I learned more about human dynamics, and power plays and politics and bullying in that locker room than any academic could ever dream.  As did damn near every male (I have no idea how women's team sports are) who has been through the same thing.  Most importantly I learned that size was not a tenth as important as the willingness to stand up.  And knocking people down was not as important as getting up yourself.  And stepping in to help others is noble, but expecting people to step in is stupid.

And there is a qualitative difference in every aspect of life between the men who have navigated that experience successfully and the ones who have not.  I see most of the anti-bullying industry as weak people who failed at overcoming it as children fantasizing about a solution from the distance of adulthood.

Sometimes I see anti-bullying causes as wanting to create a world where it is safe to be weak.  And I get that.  I like the idea of a safe world.  But I virulently despise the concept of a world of the weak.  The mild.  The insipid.  And that is one of the inevitable unintended consequences of making a world too safe.

Much of 'good' is unnatural.  It takes a sustained act of will.  It would take an enormous and coherent act of will to make bullying go away, and even then it will keep cropping up. But if we were to raise children in that perfect environment, would we make them incapable of dealing with adversity?  Would the weirdness of people who believe that hurt feelings are are more real than spilled blood, spread?  Would our society become a hothouse flower, beautiful but incapable of surviving without the charity of others?

If people never learn to stand up, they become dependent on others to stand up for them.  It's personal, but dependency is one of my core sins.  It is the other half of slavery.

FB World

A friend asked a question on FaceBook today that I can't answer on FB.  Can't answer it there because the answer isn't simple, and FB is a place for simple things.  A place where people put up links with built-in outrage and a dearth of thought, nuance or truth.  I have a compulsion: if it is something I care about, to go back to primary sources.  And there are some common FB sources that I just discount because every one I have checked out has been a lie.

But they are easy.  Short videos.  Impassioned speeches.  Headlines.  Soundbites. It takes absolutely no effort to find vitriol-disguised-as-fact to support whatever emotion-laden thing you choose to believe.  But if you go to primary sources and have even basic skills in critical thinking, it is almost all bullshit. No, not bullshit.  It is entertainment designed for no other purpose than to get you to read it and spread it.  You are the product of this business.  And it is brilliant at manipulating you.

Statistically, most of you will get half of this.  You will immediately realize how true it is for the other side and completely dismiss that you partake of it too.  The more raw intelligence you have, the better your justifications will be, because your limbic system trumps your neocortex.  As long as you have the emotional attachment, your intelligence is a slave to your tribal identity.

Your emotions, not your intelligence decides what is 'right' and then your intelligence is drafted to prove why it is right.  I've talked with pagans and shamans and christians and muslims and atheists.  High end, intelligent people.  They disagree.  Think about two icons of the American right/left divide say, Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton.  I'd put both their IQ's above 130.  There aren't a lot, maybe any, top people in any field who are actually stupid.  But what they believe (feel) trumps.

And the soundbite world of FB is perfect for this.  Thinking is work.  Research is work.  Evidently, people hate work.  We all pretend we think for ourselves, but if someone gives us a factoid that supports our worldview, the question of truth doesn't even enter our minds.

Life is about the questions, not the answers.  If you accept the answers without the questions, you are giving up part of your life.  It's hard, I know.  And it can be stressful to live in a world where things are fairly complicated and there aren't many clear-cut bad guys and there really isn't a simple solution to big problems and there is a very real possibility that even the big problems themselves might not be what we think... but part of being an adult, as Kai says, is your comfort level with ambiguity.

Think, dammit.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Absolute Basics

Trying to brainstorm something for mixed environment (urban/rural, hot/cold, etc.) survival every day carry.  I like working from basic principles forward or from goals backwards.

Completely setting aside the fact that there is no actual need to live (can't be, since there is this inconvenient 100% mortality rate) in order to live, what are your most basic needs?

I learned Tom Brown's Sacred Order long ago: Shelter, Water, Fire, Food.
Shelter, because one of the quickest, surest deaths in the wilderness is from exposure (hypothermia or hyperthermia) and conserving core temperature is more efficient than adjusting it.
Water, because that is the next quickest killer.
Fire for a lot of reasons.  It can make the water safe.  It can make food safe.  It helps to make tools.  It increases morale and acts as a signal.
Food.  Most people have more than enough stored energy (the polite word for fat) to go for some time... but when that time is up, you will die.

The Ten Essentials were taught in a survival class when I was a pup: Map, compass, light, clothes, water, food, fire starter, sunglasses, knife, first aid kit.

The essence of small unit tactics: Move, Shoot, Communicate

My dad was more pragmatic, and minimalist, "A good knife.  A rifle doesn't hurt."

Survival also happens in a context.  Car might break down in the Eastern Oregon desert.  Maximum survival need of a couple of hours.  Possibility of getting iced into the house with no electricity.  Maximum two weeks, but with the whole resources of my house, which has way more stuff than I can carry.  Plane wreck in remote areas?

Any really extreme survival will be voluntary.  I'm never going to get sucked through a wormhole and have to live in a dinosaur infested jungle.  Won't have to create a resistance cell when the commies invade. But might decide to do a week with minimal equipment just for the hell of it.

Personality comes into this as well.  I'm a luddite.  I am slowly coming to like my phone, but I hate the idea of betting my life on anything that needs batteries.  The phone is cool-- If I'm in the right place it can serve at least three of the ten essentials and 'communicate' from the small unit essence.  But if I depend on them to the point I don't carry a map and compass... Badness.

The last factor that comes to mind is portability.  Your house is probably full of useful stuff and it takes little to put a very complete kit in the car and just forget about it.  But I'm not going to carry a ruck to the grocery store on the off chance that the zombies rise.  If it's too much stuff, you won't carry it...and going back to personality, I'd prefer that no one notice I'm carrying anything.  Things are even more restrictive as much as I fly.

Do weapons figure in this?  It's a potential threat profile, and high stakes.  But I won't discuss it here.  That's always a personal decision.  And potentially actionable intel.

Another consideration.  Training is more important than equipment.  There are a lot of things you can do with ingenuity and minimal equipment-- and equipment you don't know how to use is just weight.  But training can influence things another way.  I've been trained up to sutures and administering IVs (way out of practice on sutures, though).  The first aid jumpkit I'd like to carry would be huge... and it was appropriate when I was a medic assigned to an infantry unit.  Knowing how to use cool tools sometimes makes you want to carry more cool tools than you can transport.

More thoughts later.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Take Offense

My favorite used book store is Robert's in Lincoln City, Oregon.  Whenever we make a trip to the coast we make a point to stop by.  I've occasionally found some amazingly rare books there, like a copy of "Caves of Washington" with all of the maps intact or "Judo In Action: Grappling" which was going for hundreds of dollars on E-Bay not so long ago.

This time, I ran across two incredibly cheesy 1970's era self-defense manuals.  One is hilarious.  I may write about it later.  The other is Lt. Jim Bullard's "Looking Forward to Being Attacked."  It has the seventies hair styles and clothes and some odd pictures (exactly how does someone get mugged while playing tennis at the country club?) but most of the advice is spot-on and the gimmick of looking at assaults as fun opportunities is entertaining.

Anyway, all cheese isn't cheese.  Or cheese has some nutrition.  Whatever.  It's a metaphor.

But one of the things Lt. Bullard says again and again is both potentially terrible advice and absolutely dead right.  Boldly go into dark places.  Take offense whenever you are offended against.

Right.  This hits my core.  I don't let bad guys be bad around me. I do go to places I warn others about and hang with people that most shouldn't...and I have committed to a cold math.  Behavior has consequences, including mine.  I will be one of those consequences, if necessary.  And, if necessary, I will pay my own consequences for that decision.

I tell my students the truth, however, and encourage them to use it.  Bad stuff happens in predictable places, at predictable times.  The targets are predictable and you can simply not  be one of the targets.  But to follow this advice is to cede a certain part of the world to the predators.  To give them some control over our behavior.  To 'give up freedom' as Lt. Bullard phrases it.

Many good strategies (and plans and especially policies and government programs) originally designed to evade a problem wind up enabling.  We don't want people to starve and we don't want being unemployed to be especially demeaning so we set the social safety net at a dollar amount that satisfies those needs...and people who have no intention of ever producing are enabled to be comfortable.

We do the same thing in self defense:  "Avoid, escape, de-escalate, only in the gravest extreme do you use your skills."  This attitude (and it is not just self-defense instructors, society as a whole condones this, which is why we teach it) makes it extremely safe to be a criminal.  It should not be safe to be a criminal.

But we live in a world of liability, where law-abiding people with legal assets have much to lose and criminals almost nothing that can be forfeited.  You can't garnish profits on drug deals.

And so we teach avoid, evade, de-escalate... But I wish we lived in the world that Bullard imagines, where someone who chooses to rob or rape (these are the bad guys for cryin' out loud) is at immediate risk for their lives, sight or motor function.  Where people felt confident to say, "We don't tolerate that bullshit here" and could go a little commando on the gangs and riffraff that ruin a community.  But they fear that they would be punished quicker and more fiercely than the bad guys.  You see, it is safer and easier to punish good guys.  Good guys take the punishment.  Bad guys laugh at you.  Far easier to confiscate weapons or sue citizens than to get the same thing from criminals.  And if you are deluded, it still feels like you are doing something.

The smart thing is to avoid.  But I wouldn't have leaned a damn thing if I'd been smart.  I went into a profession that let me fight the bad guys.  Because they have to be fought.  Not understood-- we understand them well enough.  Not accommodated-- you give them what they want and you have identified yourself as a victim and there is no limit to what they want.  Bad guys need to be stopped.  Cold.  As a citizen, that is legally problematic.

Josh's comments implied that people become cops seeking power and authority.  That's not my experience.  People become cops because they know the victims.  They know that the only way to prevent victimization is to stand up and fight back... and they also know that under our current system that is a very, very risky strategy unless you have the sanction of the government.

I would love if that was just an expected thing, and I think that is what "Stand Your Ground" laws are trying to bring back.

It should be dangerous to be a criminal.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Question for the Regulars

The Conflict Communications Manual is out to the first readers.  Waiting on their feedback, and then the usual boring stuff and the book will be available.  ConCom's big.  I don't think I can overstate how big it is-- a functional taxonomy of all conflict-- but I feel a little animal screaming in the back of my head to not make it available.  The deep parts of your brain, and mine, fears change.  Especially profound and unpredictable change.

So... I need another writing project. It would be entirely too easy to vegetate right now.
The stuff on the table:

Principles-- A manual of the things that make other things work.  Those principles of physics or geometry or mindset that apply to all techniques.  This has been written for a long time, but it would need a lot more work, and pictures.  Working with pictures and photographers is always a pain in the ass.  Can someone genetically engineer a photographer who isn't flakey?

Concepts-- Experienced fighters don't think the way that other people do.  There is an entirely different way of looking at the world.  This might not be long enough for a real book.

Principles and Concepts-- Combine the above two.

Teaching Cops-- A manual on how to teach pros: cops, soldiers and operators.  Will set some people off because, frankly, most people shouldn't.  It's a waste of everybody's time.  But if you have the right stuff or intend to do it anyway there are a bunch of things you need to know: rules and tools, paperwork, vernacular and how not to be a dick to a relatively tough audience.

Awareness-- Want to write it, but, frankly, Terry Trahan would do a better job, so I'm giving him a year to finish.  So I can't write this one.  Yet.

My lovely wife got me writing fiction some time ago and I quit about the time I became a sergeant... but there's some stuff floating around.

Godbox-- your typical science-fiction cowboy medical mystery.

Scars-- working title.  Hard to describe.

Short Stories.

So, what would you like to see out next?  I'm blatantly using you for motivation.  Which will it be?  Or something completely different?

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

In Reply

Lots of comments on the last post and some of them require more thoughtful answers than I can do in a short space.

Preamble, though:  there is a reason why SD and martial arts are so ripe for misinformation.

One, of course, is that so little of it is tested by so few people.  Of the few who test it, very few will have multiple encounters.  Outside of certain professions, if you have had to fight off bad guys a lot, you need to make some lifestyle changes.  Outside of those professions it would take an extraordinary level of stupidity to get into enough situations to make someone an 'expert streetfighter.'

Related to that (we can call it problem 1a) is that the experience garnered will be in a very specific venue.  Most of a bouncer's experience is with one threat profile (drunk idiot) and two scenarios (breaking up fights or being challenged.)

Problem 1b would be the fact that after a certain number of encounters your internal wiring appears to change and desperate chaos becomes something else.  A lot of us wind up teaching what we would do and can't really remember the first few encounters where it all seemed so fast and chaotic and the brain wasn't working

Second, martial arts is an endeavor that hits really hard at one of the core questions many people share: If things got really bad, who would I be?  Training gives people the illusion of an answer to that question.  It's not an answer-- we've all seen tournament champions choke-- but it feels like one.

And that leads to 2a: When you feel you have an answer but deep down you know it is an illusion, you are almost driven to put all of your mental resources into justifying it.  And so almost every practitioner has long involved rationalizations why their system/training method/teacher or whatever is the best.

It gets really, really tribal very quickly.

Budo Bum wanted to know about wiring to the wrong part of the brain.  Cognition is the slowest part of the brain.  It hesitates.  The more you think in words, the slower your reaction time.  We've all experienced it.  Which means that teaching in words and targeting reason tends to be ineffective in emergencies.  Note- I'm not saying give up logic and reason.  They work very well.  Unreasonable things are unreasonable because they don't work.  But the part of the mind that processes things in that way can't keep up with chaotic action, so use reason in your system and designing your lesson plans, but target a different part of the brain in the actual teaching.

My best practice right now is to concentrate training on conditioning, (not physical conditioning, but operant conditioning) that wires a stimulus/response; or on play with the goal of making effective movement just feel natural.  The human brain appears to be wired to learn faster at play than by rote AND a properly designed game has operant conditioning built into it.

Chiyung disagrees that inbreeding is bad.  Inbreeding happens in every insular art. I have a good attack so you come up with a response to that attack and I come up with a response to your response and you... within three iterations you have created something that only works within your school and for your reasons.  Case in point is the turtle in judo.  Turtling is a defensive position where you are down on your hands and knees, forehead pressed to the ground and your own fingers inside your collar to prevent chokes.  We used to spend a lot of time on breaking the turtle... but the turtle itself could only arise in a venue where you weren't allowed to simply boot the guy to death.

Inbreeding is the perfect word for this, because from the outside we can see the hemophilia and cleft palates and harelips and mental health issues... but from the inside the practitioners (of inbreeding) call it refinement.  Same in pharaonic dynasties as in some martial arts.

Chiyung brought up a lot of stuff and I don't want to pick on him, but I couldn't have made up a series of naive arguments this good.

"It is the warrior who makes the art."  The individual, absolutely.  I have seen natural winners take completely worthless systems and use them effectively.  And I know two instructors in my own favorite system who can't fight worth a damn.  But warrior?  My thoughts on that are here. Have you, working as a team, destroyed a group of other, breathing, human beings?  Have you buried friends?  Have you unwillingly accepted an order to risk your life and done it anyway, to the best of your ability, because other people would die if you weren't willing to sacrifice yourself?  Unless you have done ALL, not some, of those things, you aren't a warrior.  And training in a martial art makes you a warrior to the exact extent that watch a Steven Seagal movie makes you a Navy SEAL.  No more, no less.  And for the record, I don't claim the warrior label.

"I only need to get punched in the face once to know it is painful."  Nope, you don't even need to get punched once to know that.  But here's the deal-- how many does it take before you know you can shrug it off and keep fighting?  How long before you can differentiate between pain and damage and press through pain and adapt to damage?  Because if you can't do that, you can't fight.  You can only play at fighting.

"Do I need to knock someone out to know if I can? I don't believe so because science shows that concussive force to the heard (sic) would probably cause a knockout blow."

Fighting is really idiosyncratic.  The fact that someone believes that concussion=knockout is a sure sign of serious misinformation.  I've had five concussions that I clearly remember (pun) but I had to report seven for a medical in 86' and at least one of the ones I remember was after that... so I've had at least eight severe concussions.  And only lost consciousness from one event.  And only for a second.  Science understands concussions well; unconsciousness less well.  And because science understands something, does that mean you can do it?  Science knows how to go to the moon.

Malc asked about training the difference between dueling and assault.  (Good to see you typing here, BTW) He rightly understands that the hardest part is getting past our social conditioning and wondered if that could only be done by physical drills.

That's the hardest part and in a lot of ways the big question.  Every aspect of physical self-defense violates social taboos.  Every touch in a self-defense situation is a bad touch.  One of the things that sometimes makes martial arts ineffective is an attempt  to play at self-defense while keeping everyone safely within their social boundaries-- and so you get blackbelts who are uncomfortable with close contact.  Does that make any sense at all?

Even the physical drills for this must concentrate on the mental aspects.  Grabbing faces is physically easy but for most people psychologically hard.

My soundbite right now is that SD training has a progression: First, you have to make an emotionally safe place to do physically dangerous things.  Then you have to make a physically safe place to do emotionally dangerous things.

The second thing is that the mechanics of a physical assault are entirely different than the mechanics of a duel or sparring match.  So a lot of training (for assault survival) goes into conditioning immediate action to a stimulus and after the first half-second fighting by touch instead of sight.  There are a lot more drills that help.  There's a reason why I'm partial to blindfolded infighting.

And another prizewinner from Malc-- what constitutes experience?  It's all experience.  Experience in a dojo is experience in a dojo.  Experience in a ring is experience in a ring.  Experience working the door or as a soldier or as a cop is all what it is.  But it isn't any more than it is.  So if you Monkey Dance with people every Friday night at the bar, you can have a lot of experience and be really good at that... but have absolutely nothing to teach a person who is being dragged to a secondary crime scene.

As for flipping the switch, I don't know a training method that provides the real thing.  The training method that mimics it though (and that is often good enough) is a conditioned response to get you through the first half second.

Chiyung again: "It's a false assumption that you have to train with a hot stove to know how to be able to touch it."
Correct.  But you have to touch a hot stove to know if what you have learned is correct.  That is one of the big dangers with martial arts being ripe for myth.  This statement is factually correct, and also serves as a perfect foil so that your students don't test and question.  If your students accept this one statement, you can teach them utter crap and they will never, ever figure it out.  That's the danger.

Chiyung also seems to believe that hard conditioning is a myth.  There are some things you can't condition.  You can't make your belly impervious to blades and concussions make you more susceptible to later concussions. Can't toughen the brain.  But you can toughen bone and muscle.  More importantly, pain is almost entirely imaginary and exposure to pain makes it easier to deal with.  And people who sit back and imagine pain don't do nearly as well with it as people who have pushed through before.

Wrap up.  I know this has been long.  More important than the martial mistakes-- what do you tell yourself to pretend that they aren't mistakes?  What is the narrative that allows you to do something you know is wrong?  And how do you justify passing it along to your students?

Charles hit it on the head when he said (paraphrase) that the people who most need to challenge themselves, to question, are the ones least likely to do it.  Dunning Kruger isn't just a phenomenon, it is the mechanism.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Martial Mistakes

The list won't be exhaustive, and I wish all of the things on here were simple and had simple solutions.  Most martial arts training isn't effective for SD purposes.  Some of it is on the teaching end, and some of that is on the learning end, and some is in the culture.

That last sentence might take a long time to sink in, so examples:  Teaching by rote wires the reactions to the wrong part of the brain for use in a fight.  Bad teaching.  The most exciting aspect of training feels the most realistic, even if it requires the most artificiality to maintain safety.  The student will take away the wrong lesson.  Bad learning.  And a hierarchical cult of obedience is exactly what an exploitive predator dreams about.  Sometimes the culture farms victims.

The dueling paradigm.  Other than for fun or sport or balancing things within a social group, people don't square off.  Because it's dumb.  If you had to take out the biggest, scariest martial athlete you can imagine, how would you do it?  Exactly.  From behind with a weapon.  And maybe friends.

This has a lot of implications for MA/SD.  The paradigm sets you up to expect distance, time and warning, none of which will exist unless you are monkey dancing.  People who are successful at dueling or sparring believe (sometimes, I hope rarely) that the skills will transfer to ambush survival...and they don't.

Unarmed.  With the exceptions of corrections, hospital security, and secure mental facilities, almost no profession goes hands-on unarmed.  Because it is stupid.  If you know things are going to go bad, you get a weapon.  And friends.  And intel.  And surprise.  Crime, by the way, is another profession that uses weapons.  And this goes back to the dueling/sparring paradigm.  To get good at unarmed dueling is to develop skill at a very bad strategy, a strategy which has the sole purpose of stroking your ego.  Don't quit playing.  I love to play.  But don't make it something it's not.  If someone was trying to kill someone you loved would you tap them on the shoulder and step back so that they could face you at the appropriate distance?  Or would you hit them in the back of the neck with the best tool you could find?  Your choice, but one choice is stupid and that choice is the one you have likely practiced most.

Inbreeding.  You train together and you get used to dealing with each other.  When I taught at a dojo, my class were infighters.  They were really good at doing all the things that infighters do.  But nature of a class setting, they were spending all of their time practicing against other infighters, which is a pretty rare category.  Frankly, this is a slight problem for infighters and grapplers.  It takes very little to close range, especially at ambush distance.  But it can be a huge problem for strikers.

Bad metrics.  How do you measure if something works?  The military has a "Lessons Learned" program.  My team, and Search and Rescue and even the Reception crew when I was sergeant there used After-Action Debriefing protocols.  This will get you better continuously-- provided you have actions to debrief.  Without those actions, it is much harder.  I wonder what percentage of students of an SD instructor are attacked on average, how often...  but I feel the numbers are too low.

When people don't have a reality check they have this really stupid tendency to make up a reality check.  'Make up' and 'reality' rarely belong in the same thought.  I almost always pick on karate for this.  When I look at their kata and kihon, they have possibly the best body mechanics for infighting that I've seen... then they choose to test it at sparring range, where it sucks.  Or, worse, point contact range where it sucks AND it screws up everybody's sense of distance and time.

Scenarios can be solid gold to test some things, but only if the scenarios are incredibly realistic (ideally based on real events) and the role players are superb actors and the facilitator really knows his stuff, especially the debrief.  Without that it can ingrain incredibly bad habits.  Doing the instruct's fantasy at high speed is still doing fantasy.

The Safety/Effectiveness scale.  Fighting, especially recovery from ambush, is a very dangerous thing.  One of the biggest challenges is training people to fight without injuring them.  Straight up, if neither you nor your opponent are scared or need medical attention, it's not a fight.  It has nothing to do with fighting.  Trying to approximate the skills without the injuries is a very fine line.  Weapons arts have the advantage in that they can make the weapons safe.  Much harder to do with throws and neck twists.  MA tend to make the techniques safe...and more safe the higher speed the training.  And so the safety artifacts ingrain right along with the techniques.

Modality.  Related to metrics.  The measure of effectiveness is how much damage something does.  Do bones break?  Does the guy go down?  Again, less of a problem in grappling arts, but a hellish issue in striking arts.  When you can't actually do what you are supposed to do (collapse tracheas or cause concussions, say) the instructor's default seems to be whether it looked right.  Fighting is about touch, not about looks.  Pretty, crisp, geometrically clean can be seen.  Power and structure need to be felt.

There's tons more here, but this is a start.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Too Close

I'm editing on the Conflict Communications manual.  As always, I hate editing.  By the time you get to this stage of editing, you've read the damn thing so many times that you everything sounds redundant and you hate every word.

It feels a little different this time.  I love teaching the ConCom class because I can actually see the lightbulbs go off, feel the energy in the room change as people become conscious of a new power.  That sounds overblown, but it isn't.  Just like the physical stuff we do, ConCom is completely natural, and because it is natural it is intuitive.  The class just makes it conscious.

Reading it over, it doesn't have that impact to me.  It is a way of thinking that I've become accustomed to over the years, so it reads like a reminder, not a revelation.  Not sure if naive readers will get that or not.  Probably not, but it is so hard to be sure in the editing process.  I fear that a lot of good stories and books are killed in editing.  The temptation to make it exciting to me (on the umpteenth reading) would make it incomprehensible to anyone else.

Still to do:
One more time through and expand a few bits
Read for continuity
Create the Table of Contents
Create the internal links for the e-version
Expand the bibliography, bios and add a contact page
Send out to first readers for critiques
Send out for blurbs
Get Intros (I have two great people in mind)
Copyedit pass
Get K to do interior design and cover

That's the work part of writing,  It's a chore but like any job you just do it.  And most of it won't take that long.  Longest will probably be waiting on the first readers and intros.

Johannes is trying to open up some new markets to teach ConCom in Germany.  A university asked about the "table of contents" of the program.  The book is way more detailed, but this is the overview:

Maslow's  Hierarchy of Needs as a model for sources of conflict
Group needs of humans as social primates
Goals and purposes of social conflict
Goals and purposes of asocial conflict
Triune Brain Theory as a model for reactions to conflict
The Lizard Brain (hindbrain) and survival threats
the Monkey Brain (limbic system) and social threats
The Human Brain (neocortex) and problem solving
Conflict scripts
How to recognize when the limbic system has taken over
How to turn off your limbic system so that you can use the power of your neocortex
How to use the neocortex to evaluate and soothe the other person's limbic system
Followed by a collection of specific tactics.

The book will go into overt violence as well.  One of the programs covers dealing with emotionally disturbed people (EDPs) but I think I covered that as well as I could in "Talking Them Through."

So, that's where my time is going.

I'll be teaching a session at this year's "Water and Steel" Kelly Worden's annual camp.  Professor Trigg will be there as well, and he's one of the Old Dragons I haven't met.  Bonus.
Information is here:

Thursday, August 01, 2013


Talking with Wayne A. for the last couple of days... good talks-- he's smart, skilled and comes from a very different background (martially, upbringing, and professionally) than I.  So lots for me to learn.

One of the conversations was about community, inclusiveness and exclusiveness.  I'm almost paranoid about groups and organizations in the martial arts.  They stagnate or splinter, dissolve or become dogmatic.  I can think of a single martial organization that lasted beyond the death of its founder and stayed both coherent and effective (judo).  But even my beloved judo appears to be changing.

In martial arts instruction, a lot of people have observed that people come for self-defense but stay for other reasons.  Wayne says that they stay for the community, and I see that.  There was a time when I would talk about my 'martial arts brothers'-- we bled and sweat together.  We were tight. So I get it.  the judo team was tight.  Direct interaction with pain and sweat.  Also, nature of judo, it was hard to get away with being a poser.  Everybody rolled with everybody every practice. But add one layer of abstraction... College politics or the AAU or the Olympic community all appeared fragmented, political and nasty.  There were at least three organizations all vying to be THE umbrella organization for judo in the US (two big ones, actually and a couple of fly-by-nights).  All hated each other and it was all about power... if you can consider writing rules for sweaty strangers to be power.

I think it's worse in martial arts that don't have a strong competitive aspect.  Doesn't make sport better, but it makes it clear about what you are doing.  If you have competition, and you aim for competition, you have immediate feedback on whether your stuff works for competition when you compete.  If you aren't sure on what you are measuring or what you value, there's a lot more weasel room.

Self-defense?  How can you know when such a small percentage of your class will ever use it?  Deadliness? You can't know unless you kill people.  Authenticity/lineage/etc.  --hard to measure, even assuming you have actual documents and can read an archaic version of a foreign language. And even harder to show that it matters in any real way.

When people don't have a good metric, they tend to rely on received wisdom.  On dogma. When you can't know, you want to feel sure.  Dogma makes you feel sure.

That was mostly a tangent, but it ties back to community in a big way.  People want to be sure and have identifiers.  "We are the (insert name here)."  Once you have chosen your tribe, your tribe must be the best, and since no tribe (or style or school or method or nation or family or team) is or can be the best (too many different measurements of 'best' for that to be possible) your excuse-making brain goes into overdrive.

And a big piece of that process is coming up with an excuse to deny any information from a different tribe.

There is an exception, though.  Certain high end teams, the VPPG, and the valued friends that I refer to as 'honorable enemies'-- all have the same concept. We exist to challenge each other.  To push and shatter illusions.  "A man sharpens a man as steel sharpens steel."

I don't think it will ever spread very far.  Don't think a group like this will ever get very big or last beyond a small group at a certain time of life.  Most people want comfort and certainty.  The few I know who seek discomfort and doubt tend to be the men and women who bet their lives on their skills and can't afford certainty, comfort or similar illusions.

I believe it is completely incompatible with teaching subject matter (may be wrong about that-- competition teams are an obvious exception).  Preparing for high-chaos, high-risk environments, I'm confident you can't be dogmatic and continuously improve.

Would it be possible to create a long-term community dedicated to challenge?  I wonder, because the people who seek groups also seem to like to crystalize them.