Friday, September 20, 2013


There are three classes that I think should exist but don't.  Maybe they exist somewhere, but I haven't heard of them.

1) A class for women going into law enforcement.  I wrote about this in "Violence: A Writer's Guide." Men and women are different.  And law enforcement, like it or not is a paramilitary, testosterone-laden and violence-driven profession. (Note well, I don't consider any of those things to automatically be negative.)  Not all, but most guys going into these professions have already handled the locker-room politics of team sports.  Many of the women going into the job don't know when they are being tested versus being harassed or when it is absolutely necessary to handle things yourself.  Many (again, not all) were raised that friendship comes from niceness and respect is assumed.  In this world, friendship stems from respect, which is never assumed and must be earned-- and niceness itself is suspect.  We lose too many good female officers on probation because no one taught them that being a nice person and being a good officer are unrelated things.

(I am aware that this sounds sexist.  FIDO.  One of the reasons that this class doesn't exist is because the politically powerful people who control the dialogue insist that men and women are the same.  This stupidity and blind ideology, no matter how well meaning, condemn too many women to failure.  The pretense that the world is fair or equal creates victims.)

2) Political survival for tactical leaders.  This class appears to not exist for two reasons.  Number one, the political players keep insisting that they aren't playing politics.  The other guys are playing politics, but not me...  So they tell the operators just to be natural and everything will be fine.  The second reason is that tactical guys have a couple of blindspots and an arrogance issue.  The blindspot?  We believe that 'playing politics' is an inborn things, some kind of genetic trait. The arrogance?  We believe we are above that:  "You play your silly little bullshit political games.  We're saving lives here."

Because of this some really good operators get punished or sideline.  How cool would it be if you could play the games well enough that your budget didn't get gutted every year.  And it's a skill.  As much resistance as there might be to such a class, it would be extremely effective.  Because if there is one thing good operators know it is how to learn and how to use information and how to adapt.  And politics is a skill.

For some reason, the first name that comes to mind for collaborating on this is Greg Ellifritz, which is odd because I've never met the man.

3) Nerd rehabilitation. The Conflict Communication material keeps turning over new rocks.  Originally intended as a de-escalation program for cops to manipulate crooks, the principles have worked for everything from negotiating huge business deals to family issues to getting along in the workplace.  The reason is that it is natural communication done consciously.  A friend pointed out tonight that ConCom has all the tools for people with no social ability (nerds was his word, not mine) to gain those abilities as skills instead of inborn talents.

All three of these would be good classes.  Valuable.  None of them do I feel fully qualified to design and deliver on my own.  Ahhhhhh, who am I fooling anyway?  As if there was enough free time...

Coming up:
Nine days in MInnesota with Steve Jimerfield, Marc MacYoung and Kasey Keckeisen:

How to run a scenario in Port Townsend, WA:

A long weekend in Oakland.  Ambushes and Thugs, ConCom and a Playdate.  Probably.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Training and Selection

There's a trueism in elite teams.  You don't create extraordinary operators in training.  You discover them in selection. Then you polish them in training.

Want to have a stable of extraordinary fighters in any martial art?  Make the training tough.  Make the training so tough that 90% of your people drop out.  The people who stick with it will be tough and strong and endurant and have high pain thresholds.  They will be able to hold with anyone else.  Don't think for a second that it validates your training.  They were selected, not trained.  Your training did exactly jack shit.  If you set the selection bar high enough, you can be an unbelievably crappy trainer and your students can still hold their own.

This is on my mind. Jess had her first muay thau fight months ago now.  I'd heard it'd gone well but didn't get any details until we could sit down and talk during the Boston trip.

Looking at Jess, knowing Jess (and please, Jess, if you read this find the compliment in it.  I am so proud to know you) you wouldn't think of her as a fighter.  Slender, unathletic, health problems.  Not exactly social.  Not the kind of person you think of as a fighter, much less a muay thai fighter.  But she trained, she trained hard with a good coach...and she kicked ass.

Selecting for heart is cool.  But training heart is hard and time consuming.  There are no quick fixes, no program that will make someone brave.  It has to be grown over time and it takes an extraordinary teacher to make that happen.

To do it in sport is incredible.  To grow heart in SD is critical.  Selection in a self-defense school is toxic.  You wind up training only the people who have no need.  Those with a true need for SD, the victim profiles, would never pass a selection-based process.

There are very few who can do it, even fewer who bother.  And almost no one bothers in a competition-based school.  Except for Jeff and people like him.  Jeff is Jess's coach.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Play Dates

As always, Boston was fun and interesting.  Met a new branch of the Uechi clan and instituted something that I think should continue.

Paul DiRienzo of Metrowest Academy is a fun guy and a great host.  He's gathered or created (since that's what good instructors do) a fine set of people with good skills and open minds.  Logic of Violence and ConCom over two days.  Went well.

Spent most of midweek with Dr. Coray.  Some light hiking and quality time with her mastiff/pit mix.

Dinner with Wes and his lovely wife, L.  As always, insanely deep talk.  L has insights into a world I've never seen.  Wes is brilliant and entirely too self-effacing.  I think it would embarrass certain people, but sometime I'd like to do a post on people who should be household names in martial arts and self-defense.  People who are a full order of magnitude better than the 'masters' and champions you know, but teach quietly in their garages and basements; write treatises that they then file away.  If I ever write that post, Wes will feature.

Saw Jeff for just a minute during the week.  He was teaching a kid's class.  Jeff would also be featured in any piece about amazing martial artists who should be famous.

Met with Erik Kondo, for a big project that a few of us are working on.  More info on that later.  But it was enjoyable.  Erik is fun, intelligent... I have three pages of notes from our little breakfast meeting.

Then taking pictures for the cover of the Joint Lock video due out early in 2014.
This is not the picture, but the sign in the salon window was too cool so Doc Coray agreed to put on a lock:

And an evening class on Threat Assessment for YMAA Boston.  Ben was a warm person, a good host and he didn't mind getting bent and twisted for a cover.  Class went well, I think, but it was getting a touch frustrating, in that most of the teaching for the trip so far was talk.  It's important.  Most of the people who come to play with me have good physical skills.  But just because it's important doesn't mean I don't get bored.  I totally needed to get hit.

Which brings us to Saturday and the point of this post.  Molly-Mac came up with a last minute option for my free weekend, a place to brawl.  People came from New Jersey and Connecticut (I think those were the farthest) for a play date.

This was the deal:  Not a seminar.  No fee.  Donations would be gratefully accepted and split with the host.  Then it was more or less the VPPG formula.  Each participant got asked, "What do you want to work on?"

And that's what we did.  Multiple bad guys was fun.  Nate took some impact on that one.  David asked some tough de-escalation questions.  Art wanted to play with close-range power generation.  Someone wanted to play with close range kicks.  I got to push my knee a little (first ukemi practice since the knee injury).

If time allows, I think Play Dates will be part of my regular traveling schedule.  Any time I have an extra day and a venue...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


It’s not just you.  It’s not just the threat.  There is a layered interplay between and through the involved people in any situation.  It is affected by other people who might be around (witnesses and also audience) and even geography.  People who feel trapped respond very differently than people who feel free to leave.  The invisible thoughts and imaginary fears and beliefs have a huge impact on behavior.  The officer who has been counseled about a recent force incident will reliably have a slight hesitation in his or her next force incident.
A hit is a simple thing and you can work to perfect your strike… but hitting someone is not a simple thing and will be affected by the threat’s movement and body composition and skill and positioning and to a great extent by his mindset.
And your strike, which you have practiced to physical perfection, will be affected by your mind.  Sometimes, we call that choking.
Logic of violence the other day, this was coming up a lot. 
“Someone is approaching and you think he might have bad intent.  Do you make eye contact?”
“What if the threat doesn’t respond to your boundaries?"
“Can you back up while setting a boundary?  What if you circle?”
The thing is, everyone knows the answers to all of these.  Humans are communicating animals—it is what we do.  But we don’t, generally, have a conscious skill at it and we do, generally, have an over-active “what-if monkey” imagination. 
Do you make eye contact?  Where and how?  The rules for eye contact are different in some cultures, but you know the rules where you are.  Maybe not consciously, but you know them.  So it becomes ‘how’ you make eye contact.
A smile can show pleasure.  It can show confidence.  It can show a snotty superiority.  But a big smile is the exact same facial expression as a grimace—what a chimp does when it is afraid—except for the eyes.
So, do you make eye contact when you think someone with bad intent is approaching? Depends.  When you make eye contact, do you pair it with the body language of a terrified monkey?  Or the body language of a bored predator?  Do you have any idea how you actually look?
This is huge.  Conflict Communications has the bones, all the underlying necessary structure.  Logic of Violence gat people thinking and looking at the problem. Both programs increase your ability to communicate mindfully.
But it takes practice and a level of self-awareness.
I don’t have the skills, but I’m curious what a good acting coach could contribute in the realms of crisis communication and self-defense.  Not acting as in faking, although there may be an element of that—but an actor’s job is to communicate consciously.  To send a specific message with face, voice and body language.
Tying it back, since I went off on a tangent.
Everything depends on interplay.  It succeeds or fails in the chaos of the Four Factors (You, Threat, Environment and Luck).  Skill in isolation is almost unrelated (maybe 1:3 correlation) to effectiveness in application.  That goes for physical skills and verbal skills and awareness skills (bad guys hide their intentions).
Physically you must generate kinetic energy, get that energy to where it will do the most good, and make damn sure the bad guy is where you need him to be.  Verbally, you must be able to make sure that the message received is the message you intended to send.  Observationally, you must read the threat as well as signs of the threat's deception and signs of his or her skill at deception.
Life is a moving target.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Mission Statement

In the ConCom model, every tribe has mores, which are more about how things are done than what is done.  Mores are the collection of beliefs and protocols that separate groups from each other.  We both hunt in the jungle, but I wear black feathers and you wear white.  We both think people should be polite, but my culture teaches eye contact is a sign of respect and yours teaches it is a challenge.  The how of doing something becomes very important.  Sometimes more important than the what.

Businesses use mission statement as a short hand.  All of the employees come from different groups with different values and protocols.  The mission statements and vision statements that organizations come up with are (subconsciously) trying to get their members to realize that when they are on the job, they are in a different tribe and these are the tribe's values.  "Duty, Honor, Respect" at work... but "Love" should be in your home mores.  You get the idea.

Yesterday, I wrote:

in this place and time and for my purposes and definition of best, etc*.

This might be the bones of a mission statement.  Might help explain the important differences.  So here's a stab at explaining those thirteen words.

In this place and time:  Dealing with the threat and environment that exists.  For civilians, training with respect to current law, who the student is (as a victim profile), weapons availability and actual criminal predation patterns.
          This is, for me, one of the big differences between SD and MA.  Martial arts is partially about preserving a method, a set of mores.  Many instructors start by teaching escapes from a wrist grab--- because 130 years ago, in Japan, it was the most important self-defense technique for one strata of society.  The koryu mindfully preserve cultural artifacts.  Far too often the gendai arts preserve artifacts mindlessly.
           And place and time changes.  The situation is different in the jail, at home, traveling, in Iraq or competing.  Competition is the easiest because it has the fewest variables.  Not the easiest to do--grasp that.  Because you can set the variables you can set competition right at the edge of what the contestants can handle.  But by far the simplest to train for.

For my purposes:  Changes by student profile.  But the essence is this: I don't want the three a.m. phone call that Officer D is dead, and I hate visiting people in hospital.
          For pure SD students with no experience, I want them to be able to recognize and avoid a situation if possible; if not have the tools to survive an ambush; and get a leg up on dealing with the chaos of a bad situation.  I need them to be adaptable enough to deal with a situation where they cannot know the parameters in advance.
           For experienced martial artists studying violence, they already have good physical skills.  Any athlete has good physical skills.  They need to know where those skills fit, what they will face, where their training has created false expectations.  They need to know context.  This is my biggest group.
            For force professionals, they need to be able to adapt to situations where they cannot know the parameters in advance and they must be able to integrate all of their resources (and know when, due to space or time, their options are limited) and adapt.  And that has to be taught in very limited amounts of time.  This is the group that is most precious to me.

My definition of best: The most important metric is maximum adaptability with minimum training time.
            Measuring anything this chaotic is tricky, but that's the best I can do.  And it works when you set it as a goal.  Best example is the lock training.  I consistently get untrained people improvising joint locks under light pressure in an hour.  They don't know the name of a single lock and couldn't pass the lock portion of a traditional JJ yellow belt test, but they can find a lock, including some exotic ones, in a brawl, something many blackbelts can't do.  I think that's more important, hence 'my definition of best.'
            And the biggest gains in efficiency don't seem to come from adding skill, bur from removing constraints.  Still working on the implications of that.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Nobody Is Wrong Here

Spent a fantastic weekend at Water and Steel. A lot of moments for me.  Learning, thoughts.  Good people.  The instructors-- Professor Trigg and Kelly Worden were the headliners. Alex Corper was a blast and Randy King is an up-and-comer who is going to change the martial arts world from an unexpected angle.  There were other classes I missed-- sorry, guys, but someone had to run into town for gin and you know we couldn't trust the Edmonton crew with that kind of responsibility.

Lots of differences between the instructors, and that's what I wanted to talk about.

Got to play with Kelly Sunday morning.  He was teaching single stick as it relates to empty hands and he was kind enough to play with me between the lessons.  Almost everything he did was different and sometimes contrary to the way I teach and think.  Pattern, timing and rhythm.  He gives them as a platform to build from, I treat them as an addiction and distraction to be avoided.  Kelly could take the concept of timing and tie it three dimensionally, not just to rhythm but to pitch, and that gives you an entire extra dimension in which to manipulate the opponent.

We teach differently.  We think differently.  And both ways work.

As different as the paths of learning, the movement in students isn't that different.  Some differences. For instance Kelly likes a little more distance than I do and his preferred point of action is in the limbs and mine tends to be in the core.  But the essence-- the NSI guys can strike, throw, lock, grapple and incorporate weapons.  It's all integrated.  The faster things come, the more they adapt. And everyone is having fun.  When people giggle when they get hit, you have a good school.

I only got two sessions with Leonard Trigg and didn't get to cross hands.  I'm usually resistant to calling people (and very resistant to being called) master or professor or sifu. (Less resistant to sensei, since I came up in those systems and early habits are harder to break).  But Trigg is one of those guys that you look at and get a feeling that a name isn't enough.  You feel that there should be a title.

Quiet, incredibly self-efacing.  Soft spoken enough that everyone goes silent when he talks.  And tough.  Moves flawlessly, hits hard.  The professor taught a sequence in steps.  Within that sequence were offense, defense, shutdowns, target preps and transitions.  Everyone got it. No child left behind.  And I saw several people spontaneously using pieces of the sequence later in more random play.

I learned very little about Professor Trigg's thought process.  Two shy people tend not to make deep conversations on the first meeting.  But his teaching method was very different from mine.  And it worked.

People get tribal, and I have to watch for this in myself.  Water and Steel was an opportunity to see a whole bunch of excellent things that were different.  Challenge myself.  I do believe I'm working on a superior training methodology (in this place and time and for my purposes and definition of best, etc*.)  If I saw something better I'd be doing that.  But it's good to get a solid reminder is that there is no 'one right way' that there are a million ways to be excellent and to create excellent students.  And a lot of those methods will be better for many people than my methods.

That's what diversity is all about.

Kelly, Professor Trigg-- Thank you.  It was a genuine pleasure.

* That might be a blog post tomorrow.