Monday, November 11, 2013

Learning, Responsibility, and Power

I want to run with Pax's comment from the last post:
"From my place at the front of the room I have complete responsibility to speak clearly and with fearless honesty. I accept full responsibility for communicating with my students and for seeing to it that the message does get through. 

But that 100% responsibility on my shoulders does not lighten the student's responsibility at all. 

The student has a responsibility to actively participate in the learning process, which can include making the instructor explain unclear ideas, or challenging questionable concepts, or asking how to integrate apparent contradictions. No matter how dedicated the instructor, in the long run, self-education is the only kind of education there is..."

Here's the way I see it.  I will assume 100% responsibility.  If I am the teacher it is 100% my responsibility to be understood.  And if I am the student, it is 100% my responsibility to understand.  These percentages and the concepts of teaching and learning, the relationship of teacher to student are not exact realities.  A huge amount of every interaction you have with other people is being created in your head. Humans don't deal, almost ever, with objective reality.  We ascribe meanings from our own histories, and interpretations from our own internal connections to everything we hear and everything we see.

You can and do control this process. A fairly large amount of it you can control mindfully, consciously.  And some you can only influence.  Can I learn anything perfectly, 100%?  Of course not.  And are there teachers that can affect how much I learn?  Absolutely.  So is shouldering 100% responsibility even possible?

But here's the thing.  If I delegate responsibility, if I say I'll meet the teacher halfway, I now become dependent.  If the teacher only gives 25% I will fail.  I will be waiting at the halfway point and he will be waiting at the quarter point and we will never meet.  If I commit to making the journey all the way, with or without the teacher, I will get there.  I will get there very fast with a good teacher and slow with a shitty teacher, but I will get there.

And there is both what Kai would call 'agency' in this and power.  Agency is your autonomy.  As described above, anything you delegate, any responsibility you shirk creates a dependency. It removes choices from your hands.  If you don't procure your own food, you don't get to decide what to eat.  If you can't procure your own food, you have given up 100% of your agency and other people get to decide whether you eat.

It's a mental trick, assuming 100% responsibility, but there is power in it. Agency is control is power is choices.  Like the concept of "100% responsibility" there is no absolute power.  You cannot prevent bad things from happening and most aspects of your life are influenced profoundly by other people you cannot control... but that makes it more, not less important to assume control.  The less power you have the more you need to use it wisely, the more foolish and dangerous it is to give some away.

One last note, for the self-defense world.  I occasionally hear that "Women should not be taught to be cautious, men should be taught not to rape." I agree with the last part. But the entire thing is phrased as a false sort, as if there are only two options. Moreover, the first part of the statement... for someone to not be taught anything is to assume you have the right to remove or deny someone power.  Never let anyone take your power, no matter how well-meaning they might be.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Articulation III


It is not the student's responsibility to understand you.  It is your responsibility to make yourself understood. It is rare in martial arts or self-defense that junior instructors are given any training in how to teach.  You earn your black belt (sometimes not even that) and you step into a teaching role.

(Part of this is an artifact of the dan/kyu ranking system.  As I understand it, Kano had instructors wear black belts and students, white.  Later instructor-candidates wore the brown.  That's an aside, maybe.)

So we have people often simply teaching the way they were taught, or teaching things that they may know but they do not understand.

Teaching the way they were taught.  In many of the so-called traditional arts, the first people to bring the art to the west had been members of an occupying army, being taught by former enemies, often through poor translators, and taught to large groups.  None of this was the same way that the same instructors taught their friends or families.  But because it was the only way they had seen it taught, it became the way to teach.

Knowing but not understanding.  This is huge.  There are many things that I was technically proficient at that I did not understand until the rubber met the road. The jujutsu etiquette of the two-man kata seemed like an anachronism until I realized that the way you hand a wakizashi to uke were mirrors of the "action open, safety on" protocol of handing a firearm over.  Etiquette between dangerous, armed people is almost universal.

Without understanding, you can pass on a certain technical proficiency which might fail or be incomplete in the real world.

Whatever you teach must make sense and it must be true.  Stories about ancient monks and platitudes and statements of certainty will resonate with many students.  They will attract a certain following and they will appeal to the koolaid drinkers, the ones looking to feel safe, not to be safer.  People love stories.  Many students will willfully suspend their critical faculties because you wear a black belt.  That is no excuse.  In martial arts and especially if you claim to teach self-defense, the price of error is blood.  The luxury of an instructor is that it will not be your blood.  That makes bullshit more reprehensible, not less.  It adds an element of cowardice to it.

This third and last installment of the Articulation series might seem incomplete.  Fewer examples, less advice on right and wrong.  Know this: Teaching, like any form of communication is a skill.  If you have taken up the responsibility to teach, you have also taken the responsibility to teach well.  If that means breaking out of the box of tradition, so be it.  If that means going deeper, so be it.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Articulation Part II

How you tell a thing is at least as important as what you tell.

Preface-- I am not an attorney.  I am a Use of Force instructor.  Don't construe this as legal advice.

It might surprise you, but I don't teach SD legalities as a decision making course.  Truth is, things are likely to happen very fast, in a fog of adrenaline, and with limited visibility and information.  That said, almost everyone makes good, legal decisions.  For the most part, self-defense laws (like any laws) are simply a codification of standard morality.  You were raised in this culture.  If you aren't a pathological asshole, your instincts will be in line with the law.

I only see three places (overzealous prosecutors aside) where normal people get in trouble with claiming self-defence:

  • A monkey dance, where two usually stupid and drunk young men insist a mutual fight was self defense because the other guy started it. (one stared, so he started it, the other said something so he started it, one pushed so he started it, the other swung so he started it...)
  • The incident is over, the threat either down or fleeing, and you want to teach him a lesson.
  • You have been trained to do something, like cut the throat on a downed threat, as part of the technique.  You could be on the hook criminally and civilly, your instructor might be facing civil liability.
You don't want to hurt anybody unless you have to, right?  You don't want to hurt them more than you need to, right?  You don't want to kill anybody unless it is the only way to save an innocent life, right?  If you answered yes to all three, congratulations.  Your instincts are in line with the law.

But here's the problem-- you can do the right thing and tell the story badly.
Imagine a cliche victim of spousal abuse.  Tiny, terrorized.  He's threatened to kill her and recently put his handgun against her head and laughed.  He's big, strong and unpredictably violent.  Over dinner, he played a round of russian roulette with her head and when she asked about the children he said if she lost the game he'd just kill the children, too, and leave town...
So that night, while he is in a drunken stupor, she shoots him.
As SD, this is beyond iffy.  Why didn't she leave?  Why didn't she get the authorities involved?
If she said, "I couldn't run.  I've tried before and he always found me.  I was in the hospital for four days last time.  And he said if I ever called the cops, he'd just post bail and take it out on one of the kids.  He was bigger and stronger and I was terrified but it was the only chance I had, the only chance the kids had."
However if she said, "I wasn't going to put up with his shit anymore.  So I crept up on him while the fat pig was snoring and put one in his brain. Bastard had it coming."  What reaction would the jury have?

Get this: Both of these accounts fit the (imaginary) facts of the case.  They are 'true' in that sense.  A bigger, stronger, violent man with resources to get out of jail and no qualms about hurting children is a bastard who has it coming.

One of the things you must understand is that criminals practice lying to cops. Have you ever, in your life, practiced telling the truth to the cops?  If not, what are the odds you will be good at it?  Too often a skillful lie will trump a clumsy truth.  That's one of the reasons you want an attorney.  Their job is to present the story properly.

Aside-- Don't take story to mean fiction.  Never lie.  For both moral and practical reasons, lying doesn't serve you.  When I say story, I mean that people are wired to understand things in narrative form, and they get nuance of meaning from word choice.  The Jack Webb "just the facts. ma'am" is great for investigation, but if you're describing the most terrifying minute of your life in cold and robotic terms, you sound non-human. And people, whether they be cops, investigators, prosecutors or a jury are never just evaluating your actions.  Consciously or not, they are evaluating you.

There are elements of a self-defense claim. You have to explain the source of your fear, why you couldn't leave, why a lesser force would have failed. Most importantly, how every bad decision that led to the moment was made by the bad guy.  Again, instinctively you will have done almost all of this.  But, especially under the wash of adrenaline, you might not have been aware of it or remember it now.  The part of your brain that thinks in words is a very tiny part of your thinking power, but the whole brain is very good at what it does.  Trust your own brain.

There are exercises to work on consciously explaining and understanding subconscious decisions.  I've written about it before, and this is getting long.

That's what you say.  There are two more elements (at least) to a good self-defense claim.  When do you say it?  Who says it?

When?  Any good attorney will give you advice to not talk to the police at all.  Good advice but very hard to pull off without looking very guilty, and the officers will play on that appearance of guilt to get you to talk.  Especially hard because people tend to babble under stress and you will be under stress.  And babbling implies what you think it does. Much of what you say will not be accurate.

There are four basic times when you will be asked for your story:

  • Cops at the scene will ask what happened. There are different options.  Say nothing.  Or point out witnesses, evidence and no more.  Or say that you aren't calming down and want to see a doctor. Or say that one of your friends is a lawyer and he told you to call him if police were involved in anything and that's what you should do or... Mine?  I'll say, "Gentleman, you're doing your job and I want to help but I've heard horror stories about what can  happen in civil cases.  I'll cooperate fully as soon as my attorney gets here."
  • If the incident resulted in death or serious injury, detectives will want to question you. Demand an attorney. Make no statements until he or she arrives.
  • The meeting with your attorney.  Get a good attorney.  Tell the attorney everything.
  • This doesn't count as one of the four, but there may be depositions and motion hearings and all the things you pay your attorney to guide.
  • The trial

Who tells the story?  When possible, I prefer the witnesses or the video to tell the story.  Adrenaline can distort your memory and probably did distort your perception, and anything you missed might be characterized as a lie to challenge your credibility. Within this story you, with the help of your attorney, you can add commentary ("That was when I realized he'd cut off my only escape.")

When that's not an option (a skilled predator will do his best to make sure there are no witnesses or video) it's up to you.  With your attorney's guidance. In a jury trial, whether to take the stand yourself is a tactical decision.  If you don't present well, if you get flustered, if you come across as too cold or are easy to provoke, it's probably best NOT to take the stand.

Again, you can be 100% right, have all the facts on your side, and torpedo yourself with a poor articulation.  Articulation is a learnable, trainable skill.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Articulation Part I

How you tell a thing is at least as important as what you tell.  You can be  100% right, and tell the story in such a way that it alienates the jury, or the media, or your prospective customers.

Case in  point:
A group I am a member of put out this video for comment.  Most of the comments, as you would expect from a group of brawlers, were negative.  Simple fact is that even the best sport or martial application you have seen doesn't rise to the level of complexity and ferocity of real violence.

But the video was not wrong.  It was dead on.  But the explanations, the articulations, were substandard.

To hammer the main point: You can be completely right, and if you explain poorly, it won't matter. The jury will find you guilty or the BTDT crowd will find a reason to dismiss you.

So in the first segment, Mr. Kesting talks about RBSD and the advice to 1) never go to the ground in a street fight; 2) what if the bad guy has friends; and 3) what about weapons?

He sidesteps these, but these are critically important.  More important, they don't distract from his main point.

Multiple opponents? Standing or on the ground, multiple opponents suck.  I'll tell you right now that my plan in a big riot was always to find the biggest bad guy I could and cross choke him out and hide under his body. That's a grappling application in a worst-case multiple attacker scenario. Context is critical.

Weapons suck, too.  Grappling against a blade sucks on unbelievable levels... but so does stand-up against a knife.

Never go to the ground?  If you get to pick, you're the bad guy.  In self-defense, victims don't have choices.  If there was one thing I could re-write in the script to this video, this would be the key because Mr. Kesting is exactly right-- but without the experience of street violence his explanation is off. You need to be able to fight on the ground because you will not have the choice. Any dick who tells you 'we train not to the go to the ground' is indulging in his fantasy, not your reality.

His second reason involves clinching.  I'm an infighter.  Most people do it shitty, but this is my range.  This is the way I like to fight.  He points out that clinching is what boxers do to not get hit.  The way I would articulate it is this: Grappling, whether standing or on the ground, allows you to control time.  It is the slowest possible way of fighting (that's not a bad thing). Time without damage buys time to think, and plan, and manipulate the fight into something you might win. Properly executed, a good clinch controls space, controls arms, controls the entire skeleton.  If you're good, it allows you to control the pace of the fight.  No down side to doing it well.

Kesting's third reason is for control. To hold someone until authorities arrive.  A valid reason, but it can be incredibly complex and fucked up.  Legally, there is a fine line between controlling a perp and committing "unlawful detention."  For enforcement officers (and this is my experience) most tournament grappling systems fail because sport submissions don't tend to put the threat into handcuffing position. That leaves with a guy who says he's done fighting who may be lying. The bridge, FWIW, between submission systems and handcuffing tends to fall into fingerlocks, and no one teaches that like Small Circle Jujitsu.

The fourth reason is beautiful, but poorly phrased. If the guy is bigger and stronger and there is no opportunity to retreat...

Here's the deal.  The guy will be bigger and stronger than you. IF IT IS SELF-DEFENSE.  He will have size, strength, surprise, weapons, and/or be crazy.  This is self-defense, not Thanksgiving Dinner at Grandma's. As a general rule. If someone is better at 'A' you fight him with 'B'. Kesting's fourth reason applies if and only if you are a better grappler. Voluntary grappling is almost always a bad idea for SD-- when the goal is to escape, sacrificing mobility has a huge cost.  But we don't train for when things are going well.  You have to be good at striking, clinch and grappling (and small arms and small unit tactics and...) and you have to have the capacity to turn the fight into the kind you are good at...especially if the bad guys is better than you at another range.

The physics of fighting to escape are different from the physics of fighting to win, and this is worth practicing as well.

Kesting's fifth reason is also exactly right, but not.  There are a handful of things that work with the really big problems, with the mentals and the enraged and EDPs and PCP freaks and EDs.  Breaking every long bone in their body works.  A very severe concussion usually works.  Suffocation.  Bleeding out. And cutting off blood to the brain.

I could do a post on things that should work but don't, but the list of things that actually work is very short and Kesting points out the number one unarmed technique: the rear naked strangle.  Or LVNR or hadakajime.  Whatever you want to call it, it works.

That said, it is hard as hell to justify as self-defense.  Why? Because in order to use it you must be behind the threat and in control.  You are likely the bad guy.  It is an extraordinary technique for defense of a third party.  Defending yourself it is roughly equivalent to justifying shooting someone in the back.  Especially in jurisdictions that have ruled any neck restraint to be deadly force.  Long ago my county attorney said, "I'd rather you shot someone on the back than used a chokehold.  There's a lot more case law for shooting." Which, by the way, is one of the reasons to get good at cross-strangles.

Once again, Kesting is exactly right, but misses the context of the real world.  Familiarity with those concepts make his points stronger, not weaker.  He is, like a lot of martial artists, more right than he knows.

You need to be able to articulate why the right answer was the right answer.
Note-- I contacted Stephan Kesting and let him see the first draft of this post.  His response was: 

Go for it!  This is a valuable discussion to have, and by putting videos on YouTube I'm pretty much putting myself into the spotlight; at that point having people disagree with what I'm saying, or pointing out incomplete aspects of my arguments, comes with the territory.

That's the sign of a good thinker, teacher and perpetual learner.  All the signs of a good man.