Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Third Sacred Question

A little over a year ago, I had two identified.

There are three books that I think every adolescent (or adult who missed them) must read to function intelligently in modern society. They are the Three Critical Life Books listed here:

"Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill suffers from an unfortunate title, is extremely dated... but it lays many things out in cold and usable terms. Hill was given an assignment, by one of the richest and most powerful men of his time, to find out what successful people had in common.  What the difference was between success and failure. He came through in spades and every person, every last person who has gotten off their asses and followed his advice, has become a standard deviation better. At least.

"The Richest Man in Babylon" by George Clason also suffers from its period. But it explains how money and wealth work in a usable way. It is an unparalleled pardigm-shifter and will help anyone, even people like me, raised to be poor and understand the world the way poor people are taught to understand it, to compete in the real world. And, if you read it right, to compete without jealousy.

"How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life" by Alan Lakein is the time management book on which every other time management book seems to be based. Others may have played with the nuances, but Lakein is the one who laid out the priniciples. If you are tired of drifting through life and want to take the tiller, this is the book.

The first time I ever heard the phrase "Sacred Question" was in a Tom Brown course. It was a question of exceptional power. A question that, if you asked it, could change defeat into victory and forever make you grow as a human being: "What is the lesson here?"

I love grappling, and one thing I tell students is that it is impossible to lose a grappling match. If you tap your opponent, you have won. And if your opponent taps you, you have learned. And learning in a class is more valuable than winning. What have you learned, or "What is the lesson here?' turns defeat into growth.

The second sacred question I discovered was critical when dealing with criminals. When I was a rookie, a crusty old sergeant told me, "If one of these guys walks up and says 'good morning' you ask yourself, 'what does he want?'". That sounds cynical, but on a deep and useful level, if you can figure out the true motivation, if you can discern what the real problem is (as opposed to the professed problem) you have a super power. So the second sacred question I discovered (but the one I think is most important and therefor the first) is: "What is the goal here?" If I truly know my goal and the opponent's goal (and most people do NOT known their true goal) it is better than Sun Tzu's advice to know yourself and your enemy. It is a game-changer like no other.

Anyway, I've been re-reading Lakein, and he put forward the Lakein Question: "What is the best use of my time right now?" Time is a limited resource. In a very real sense it is all that we truly have and we have a very limited amount. This simple question, applied consistently and maybe constantly, has incredible power to change your life. To change every aspect of your life.

I nominate Lakein's Question as the Third Sacred Question.

Edit. I can't believe I typo'ed the title.

Monday, January 27, 2014

More Roy

A couple of posts ago, I was thinking out loud about Roy Bedard's contention that people's fascination with violence and killing indicated that there was no internal block to killing inside one's own species. I disagree. Not about whether an internal block does or doesn't exist (more on that later) but about whether fantasy is any indication at all of willingness.

It was brain food, and, as usual, everyone responded to the question they heard.
But Lloyd's response got a few days of thinking.

Lloyd said...
Ill just leave this here.

Would you be willing to kill a goat at a slaughterhouse?

Would you be willing to kill a goat on a farm?

Would you be willing to kill a goat in the wild?

Would you be willing to kill someones pet cat/dog?

Would you be willing to kill a person?

The inhibition cant be completely about not killing your own species. Everyone ive ever asked with only one exception wont kill the pet, either.

I put down Lucky two years ago. He was our obsessively loving, epileptic, black cat. Kidney failure. We wanted his last days to be good, loving, with us. And when the pain got bad I put him down. What a euphemism. I continued to pet him and while he purred at the contact and sometimes mewled with pain I put the barrel of a .22 revolver under his throat, angled for the brainstem and killed him. It was over in an instant.

So I've been willing, but not eager.

But never ever once have I fantasized about putting down a pet. And there are people who daydream about hunting, but I don't recall, when living on the farm, ever fantasizing about butchering day. With the possible exception of when we culled chickens, because that was headshots only on moving targets with strict instructions not to shoot hens or the designated roosters... challenge.

And that's a thing, because K brought up fantasy and fairy tales as a kind of visualization, but in actual experience those are very different things in my head. You can daydream about hunting big game, and that's fantasy. When it was time to put down Lucky I rehearsed every step in my head because I didn't want any mistakes. Fully visualized, but not fantasy.

There are a couple of reasons people assume that there is a block against killing within your own species. First of all, Konrad Lorenz. It's been close to thirty years since I read "On Aggression" but it's pretty certain that most 'battles' within a species are ritualized and do minimal damage.  They can look fierce, but generally both bears walk away. But it's not just about not killing, because if a new male lion takes over a pride it will kill the cubs sired by the previous boss.

Then there's "On Killing." Be careful with Grossman's stuff. If you read his sources, they frequently don't say quite what made it into his books. And if you've ever actually fired a musket, there's a much more logical explanation for the multi-loads than reluctance to fire.

But some of the best evidence for the block comes from the people who freeze. If you debrief enough force encounters you will hear time and again, "I knew exactly what I needed to do, but for some reason, I couldn't make myself move." You will hear that from highly trained and motivated people. I have a much smaller number of debriefs for weapons, but sometimes you will get an experienced hand-to-hand fighter who doesn't go for the gun even when it is absolutely necessary.

So, question number one: Is it a block or a freeze? And is there really a difference?

Next part, and this goes to Erik's point about bell curves. There aren't a lot of things in humans where everybody is either one thing or the other. Almost everything exists on a continuum. And some people simply have less internal blocks to hurting or killing humans than others. Nature or nurture? What if it's all three?
I've heard through the grapevine that there's a guy doing research on a particular group of traits that appear in certain organizations. Evidently, people who gravitate to certain jobs and do well tend to have unusual bone and muscle density; faster healing rates; and respond to an adrenaline dump without a crash afterwards. (I'd like to know about flexibility, ETOH resistance and a few other traits I've noticed but...) That would be a case for a pretty strong genetic component.

Or it could be pure socialization. One of the most chilling things about Rwanda, if Hatzfeld is correct (he reports a prison of 7000 who participated in the genocide with less than a dozen mental health issues in the whole prison) is the lack of PTSD in the killers. Evidently, if you are raised with a strong tribal identity (where no one outside your tribe is a 'real' person) you can kill with all the emotional; baggage of a farmer slaughtering lambs.
Reverse that, and it means that people can be socialized so deeply that they can't make themselves do a 'wrong' thing even when they desperately need to do so to survive. And by wrong thing, I'm not necessarily talking something as extreme as killing, but people facing victimization who refuse to be rude. To slam a door in a strangers face or yell for help and make a scene.
And there's a subtle socialization, too. As much as everyone says how important it is to stand up for people and not let others be bullied and... I can tell you from personal experience that every time I have done so, I've been punished. Someone I cared about would make a point that doing so was stupid, or look at you differently. It was usually a boss. Like the bus driver fired for intervening in a domestic violence situation. That doesn't mean don't stop doing it, but you have to be very robust against peer pressure to keep standing up.

The third way, of course, is that somewhere in this is a mix. Some people are more resistant to peer pressure and socialization. Some respond to reward better than punishment and vise-versa. But I believe you could take one of those genetically predisposed to be comfortable with violence and raise them in an environment where it simple never worked and they would adapt. And I think a certain percentage of even the most dependent 'pleaser personality' genes raised in a dog-eat-dog environment would rise to the challenge. Because, above all, humans adapt. It's what we do.

To sum up, is there a block? For most normally socialized people, I think it's a good bet. How the definition of people is internalized, though, is a social process. And that changes those lines. And some people have more control over their internal states (not just emotion, but actual thought process) and they will tend to adapt faster, including breaking rules. And some people have never internalized society's rules but just follow them out of either convenience or courtesy.

But I still have no idea what to do with Roy's point about excessive fantasy.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

3 Tropes

This will be a rant about the state of my country/world. Feel free to walk away.
According to Nielsen, the average US citizen watches 34 hours of television a week. I have read that most Americans aren't readers, but all of my friends are obsessive readers. Yet, within that crowd, I'm the odd man out because I read almost exclusively non-fiction. The obsessive readers I know are reading fiction.

Subtract sleep, commute time, dead time... some people have more interaction with imaginary worlds than they do with the real world. Almost everyone has more intense interactions with imaginary worlds than with their daily grind. And as such, consciously or not, people are influenced to believe in how the world works by imaginary, scripted drama.

So three tropes, brought to you by Hollywood and popular fiction, that I see becoming accepted wisdom in the real world. Perilously.

The Cult of the Passionate Amateur. The new rookie comes on the team and he's just so much better and smarter than the grizzled veterans that they become resentful. Or Castle hires a mercenary to find his daughter and says, "I'm coming with you." Or the plot line of "True Grit." In entertainment, being a passionate amateur is a superpower. In real life...we'll get to that.

Arguably, there are good reasons for it in Hollywood. Working with professionals is high-speed and there are a lot of communication shortcuts. It is a good idea to have a naive character. For plot logic, it gives the experienced people an excuse to explain things to the audience by pretending to explain to the amateur. But, since the amateur is the one the audience identifies with, if you want the audience to give you or your advertisers money, you are probably going to wind up making the amateur the star. The hero.

It probably doesn't hurt that most of the writers, themselves, are passionate amateurs with no direct experience and damn little skill in what they are writing about.

How does it work in the real world? Let me ask you this. You're going in for back surgery. Do you want the surgeon who has done seven thousand similar surgeries or the kid fresh out of school who has never actually done a surgery but is really into it? You tell me.

Amateurs helping with hostage rescue are about as successful as amateur surgeons.

Even worse-- passion. People do not think clearly under emotional stress. How smart are you when you're in love? Or angry? Passion is worse (look at marriages destroyed for momentary passion.) "Chief, he killed my brother! You can't take me off this case!" Are you out of your friggin' mind? Not only could any good defense attorney destroy the prosecution on that relationship alone, but people obsessed with revenge are not thinking rationally. And rational thinking solves problems. Not passion.

Effect in the world? Emotion seems to be considered to have validity equal to rationality. Feelings equal or trump facts. Irrational fears trump science. And, the people doing it, fear-mongeriong  by spreading bullshit, thinks it's okay. If the cause is worthy, it is worth lying about. And they are spreading the lies to people who react to the emotion and don't fact check.

The Virtue of the Unprepared. I blame MacGyver for this one (and a hat tip to Kathy Jackson of the Cornered Cat for pointing this out.) MacGyver was an eighties TV character who did dangerous jobs but didn't like guns so with his trusty swiss army knife would do some kind of field-expedient explosion or something in every show to save the day using household chemicals and bits of trash...

Get this. He had a dangerous job. Where people would try to kill him and blow him up. And because he didn't like guns he purposely denied himself the right tools. This is not genius, this is blatant stupidity. And somehow it became a virtue. I'm all for thinking out of the box, and creativity, and having a basic knowledge of simple chemistry and engineering in case you need to get rid of a stain or pull a car out of a mudhole and you don't have the right equipment...

But to deliberately deny yourself the right equipment? In the real world, that's just stupid. And, through MacGyver (he's the most obvious, but in every episode of the A-team I saw they got captured or trapped without their toys and had to make things) stupidity has become a virtue.

Let me put it in surgical terms again. Who do you want to operate on your back? The guy with the right equipment, or the one who says, "I don't like knives. What we'll do, see, is I'll improvise a scalpel from a tin can..."

Dreamers. This really contributed to me tossing fiction many years back.  The trope runs like this (it was endemic in fantasy fiction, I hope that has changed):
The sweet, gentle dreamer child is always running off to read books and be alone and daydream about making the world a better place. Her mean, narrow-minded, rough and calloused family are always trying to stop her from day dreaming. If the family isn't out fishing or farming, they are trying to force her to become just like them. Then, one day, a magical creature comes by and recognizes the deep wonderfulness of the dreaming child and takes her away to be trained as a special person, elevated well above her parents where she can become a hero...

Leaving aside all the family issues in this, WTF? You have a family living a hard life-- and if you've ever subsistence farmed, it's a metricfuckton of manual labor. I can only imagine that fishing from small boats would be worse--hard, cold, wet and dangerous. And they have one kid who is just pure lazy. Living off the labor of others, contributing nothing unless forced to, ranting that being forced to contribute to keeping herself and her family fed is a horrible injustice and beneath her. Crap, am I talking about the fictional trope or modern protesters?

If humanity is a body, the dreamers are the fat cells. They are the soft underbelly of society. The ones the shark can eat first before it tears into something useful. Maybe good for emergency food supply.

This is not a rant against dreaming. Dream big, go for it. But dreaming without sweating is worthless. Dreams and sweat combined? Cool. The Dream is damned and dreamer too if dreaming's all that dreamers do. To quote myself.

But, somewhere, somehow, the people raised with this trope not only believe that fantasy is just as effective as labor in making people's lives better. They honestly believe it is morally superior. That doing nothing works. That making unexecuted plans is just as much a contribution (and without the possibility of error, that's a nice bonus) as doing something. "Visualize World Peace" How's that working for you?

Surgery again. Do you want the lady who has put in the years and hours of medical school and residency? Or the one who has been daydreaming about how cool it would be to do the exact same thing without pain? Especially if some magical animal told her she's special?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

My Happy Place

In a good place.
A little sore, tweaked and various joints have been stressed. Just right. Two days of of talk, but also rolling on concrete and punching people in armor and playing with blades of various lengths and configurations.  The knee is healing well enough. Better than I expected. Trouble with joints is that you can't truly test their limits because you find the breaking point by, well, breaking them.

Working short power strikes from the clinch with a big, fit, Muay Thai guy. Close contact flow with a good Silat player (who also cooked curry. Nice.)  I think most of the tweaks come from the footwork with the long blades.

Fencing (this wasn't collegiate or European fencing, it's just the word I like to use for bladed dueling with safe weapons) is a microcosm of many things. Not everything. There are limits on people applying Musashi to business, for instance, and a lot of dueling strategy and tactics are counter-productive or suicidal for ambushes. But fencing reflects a lot of being human.

It's both extremely physical and extremely mental. I think it was Aldo Nadi who said a prima donna ballerina didn't have the flexibility to be a world-class fencer. And (Olympic) fencing is the fastest sport in the world. It requires immense explosive speed. I measured once at the end of practice in college and my right thigh was two inches bigger around than my left.

And mental, too. I was a better technical fencer left handed. By better, I mean that there were people I could rarely score on right handed that I could take left handed. (And, yes, before the fencing snobs start talking about the natural left hand advantage, let it go. That's not what was going on.)

Right handed, I relied on my speed and reflexes. I was fast, but reflexes are predictable and, as Marc says, speed and strength are false gods. Left handed, I didn't trust my speed, precision or reflexes. So I fenced smart. And there were certain people I could beat with my brain that I couldn't beat with talent.

The sword player was really good (Hi, Maija!) and most of my big take-aways were from working with her:
-Getting in for the kill is not enough, you have to get back out before you get killed right back. Doublekill is a bad definition of a win.

-Just because a feint works, doesn't mean it works. I was using a head feint to the knee shot, but her natural parry for the head shot put her blade in the perfect position to slash my arm as I dropped for the knee. Just because something worked (the feint did draw the block) doesn't mean it worked to my advantage.

-Great distancing saves enormous energy. If you can read when you are out of range, you don't need to defend and won't fall for feints. The finer you can read this, the less energy you waste. (I've known this for years, and I think it is the one skill that helped me hold my own.)

- This is a hard one to put into words. If you aren't careful you can come up with solutions that only work if the problem wasn't the problem. Grrrr. Specific example. I have long arms, am fairly fast and most people don't think about their legs, so one of my favorite targets in any weapon class that allows it, is the lead knee. Maija is also fast, sneaky and very aware of her legs, so I'd get the cut sometimes but almost always at the cost of a slash to my extended arm, back or head. I couldn't get out fast enough. After a little thought, I would feint to the lead knee and slash up to catch/cut her counter slash first. And it worked, or at least it felt like it worked...until I realized (and there's really no 'I' in this, we were both brainstorming constantly) that it wasn't solving the problem. The problem was how to cut the lead knee without getting countered. The thing that worked involved NOT cutting the knee. It was a tactic, but it wasn't a solution.

Also (out of blades and into infighting, now) there are some things that have to be taught by feel and you have to learn to feel them. One of the big guys was putting me on my base in a clinch, especially from behind. His grip and weight were making my structure stronger. A slight hand movement immobilizes the spine and robs the core of power, but a profound difference in feel is a very small difference by sight.

Wiring differences-- and this is something I'd like to actually experiment on. We had a very effective technique for taking down (without injuring) a threat who was in a cell doorway, ready for us. Part of the technique is in the approach. For some people. For a lot, there is a full beat hesitation between the approach and the technique. That can be deadly. The experiment would be to see, first, if some people do or do not have the hesitation the first time. Second, to see if the hesitation disappears with practice, experience, both or is robust. Hmmm.

Infighting by feel; time; and efficient motion. This could probably be a book. Time is something I've been wanting to write about and got closer to the words this weekend. One of the things with the one-step is that almost every martial artist I see has offense, defense and footwork in three separate boxes in their head. So they have a tendency to block, move and strike. In order. Taking three beats to do what they should do with one. Infighting can bring this to another depth with a single motion defending, unbalancing, collapsing structure and possibly doing two different types of damage to different places.

That probably seems like a lot, but it isn't. Sometimes in the tangle you can turn and drop your shoulder in a way that locks his elbow and forces him towards the ground, the turn also puts your knee into the back of his and your near hand can do anything from grab testicles to an inner elbow smash into the cervical spine. And that's not even using your off hand. And the motion is about as complicated as shrugging.

But to get here, you need to be able to feel targets and structure and motion. And (this is huge, and goes back to sword people who aren't aware of their legs) knowing your own body well enough to not forget that your fist is over his liver while you are twisting into his knee. And your other hand is coiled to clip him under the ear. One body twist powering three different strikes but all still a single motion. (My benchmark, BTW: Good jujutsu means the person can hurt you three different ways with a single motion.)

Good weekend.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Talkin' with Roy

Got a chance to talk to Roy Bedard, yesterday. He's a good man, good thinker. Doing a hellacious amount of research to apply sports psychology to understanding violent encounters. He doesn't take things on faith and he makes me think. Things I very much value in my friends. Just wish we saw each other more than every other year or so.

He made a statement that got me thinking. And there may not be an answer to this. "I don't believe there is a psychological block against killing."

The psychological block against killing within your own species probably came from Konrad Lorenz's work ("On Aggression") and other experts (maybe that should be 'experts') have run with it. It's become accepted wisdom in this field. Roy spent a long time as a cop and has been working as an expert witnesses in a good number of self-defense cases, so he deals with an unusual number of people who have killed. As always, there's sampling error, but his reasoning:

"If there was a psychological block, it wouldn't be such an attractive thought." We've all spent enough time with martial artists who fantasize about levels of violence they would be shattered to actually use. We've seen epic violence as a mainstay of cinema and fiction forever. If this was a truly horrible thought it seems odd to think about it so much...

Not sure I agree. Actually, I'm fairly sure I don't agree, but if good people only said stuff I agreed with it wouldn't make me think, right?

My data from working the jail is that some people run to a fight and some don't. Most freeze, a few run away. But we never found anything that could predict who would do what in their first fight. No level or type of training (one guy with extensive full contact experience always froze; the biggest coward I ever worked with was a former marine; and one of our most fearless and aggressive was an untrained single mom who only took the job for the security.)

In the early '90s (and I don't think this has been done since, which is kind of sad) the Oregonian (our local paper) sent a survey to all sworn members of the Portland Police Bureau. 238 responded. One of the questions was "Over the last two years, how many times do you believe you could have shot someone with full justification, but chose not to?" Only 14% said zero. Crunching the numbers, these officers would have been justified to take a life a total of 476 times (and only 28% of the officers responded to the questionnaire, so that number might be tripled). Yet over those same years, only 22 officers discharged their firearms in the line of duty. Even without the tripling, over 95% of the time, the officers bet their lives on NOT shooting.

That might be apples and oranges, maybe, because there is no way of knowing whether the decision not to fire was based on an inborn reluctance, or fear of punishment (Arwohl and Christensen go heavily into what thoughts go through an officers mind in a deadly force encounter, and far too often they were distracted by thoughts of Internal Affairs and litigation) or how many rationally decided to gamble on another way because they believed it would work.

I bounced this off K. (Here's some advice, gentleman. Marry someone who is smarter than you.) K thinks that a lot of our fascinations, from some of the really dark stuff in fairy tales (if you've only seen the Disney versions, you need to read some of the old stuff) to movies, are specific mechanisms to prepare to deal with things we don't want to do. Fantasizing is a close cousin of visualization. And we may need a lot of visualization to break our social boundaries.

Maybe. Don't take any of this as answers.  It's just brain food. Think about it. Going to pick up Roy for dinner in an hour or so. The conversation will continue.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


The ConCom manual is finished as of this morning. Not finished, technically. Still need to flesh out the bibliography, check some facts and see what note I left myself, do the internal links for the e-book... but the rewrite is done.

Oh, and hire my lovely wife to do the cover and the interior design. She's good at that. I get the special friend rate, but even without that she's affordable: Wyrd Goat Press Cover Art

Changing the title to: ConCom, the Next Generation of Conscious Communication.

Coming up for air. And feeling a little pumped.

Monday, January 06, 2014

0/-0;+/- Part 2

Open and closed systems.
Let's go back to Monopoly.  It's a classic zero-sum game.  But it can absolutely be played in either a closed or open system. In a closed system, nothing exists beyond the game.  The other players are faceless, meaningless. You can play as ruthlessly as you want, you can cheat, and all that matters is who wins and who loses.

The game is completely different in an open system (and, in real life, almost everything is an open system).  You play this game with your friends.  They will continue to be your friends after the game... maybe.  Because if you cross certain lines in the game, it will affect your friendships.

Systems are open along the time line.  Things that happened before will affect how you deal with the present situation.  In a closed system you would not be able to watch videos of your opponent before a fight.  You would not know your friend's strengths and weaknesses before the Monopoly game.

At the other end of the time line, each fight alters your reputation, which affects all of your future fights.  The personality that comes out in a competitive game informs your friends how you deal with competition, lets them know if, in other areas of your life, you are a poor loser or a gracious winner.

In a closed system, gathering intelligence is quick, spur-of-moment stuff.  Spotting tells in a poker game with strangers. In an open system, gathering intelligence, especially reading people and relationships becomes a habit.  You cannot know in advance which details will be critical at crunch time, but you can pick up a lot.

Time is linear.  There is also a breadth (for want of a better word) to open/closed.  In the real world, things are rarely only one thing.  My third chess game with K was a flat-out seduction. (Hmmmm, the Czech mate puns). Ring fighting happens in a venue where if it's not exciting, people don't make money.  Self-defense happens in a world with laws and, more physically, in a context where almost everything also has social or relationship implications.  In other words, someone trying to get you to a secondary crime scene may be less of a physical problem (how do I take him out) than a social problem (how do I draw attention?). Social dynamics, communication, terrain, history... in complex systems, almost everything can be manipulated.

So how does strategy change? In a closed system, the 'win at all costs' mentality makes sense. Much of our ethics, sportsmanship for example, recognizes that this is an open system.  In a closed system, you can cheat (or not cheat but be a dick) and no one knows or reacts.  In an open system, either no one wants to play or people line up to teach you a lesson.

In a closed system, you only need to master one set of simple rules.  In an open system, the more variables you can see and manipulate, the more you can do. (The seduction chess match, btw, is the only time I've ever won a game against her.  She was playing a closed system, I wasn't.)

Just as some people mistakenly think things are zero-sum and play or fight accordingly a few live like it was a closed system.  Very few things are.  I find it most often in high functioning autistics.  The rules of Monopoly, as an example, are easy to grasp, clear-- but they don't realize it is a bonding experience as well.  So they stay within the rules but burn friends and honestly don't understand why performance at one thing affects the other.

Hmmm.  Come to think of it, I always thought budget meetings were a waste of time because it was just a number I could send by e-mail... that was probably a planned bonding experience as well.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

0/-0;+/-Part 1

I've been wanting to write about this for some time.  Don't know if I can pull it off in a single post.  The note I left myself was, "write about strategy in zero-sum vs non-zero-sum and closed vs open."

Probably have to define those terms.  For my purposes, a zero-sum game is one in which the resources are limited and finite. Closed means that only the particular scenario is involved, there are no ramifications for for the future or impacting relationships with the world.

Monopoly (tm) is a zero-sum game.  There is only so much property, only so much play money and at the end of the game there will be one winner and everyone else is a loser.  Fighting is largely a zero-sum game-- one winner, one loser.  But not truly, because sometimes there are two losers.  Of the seven basic strategies, fighting is the only one that offers the possibility of a catastrophic win.

Momopoly can be either a closed or open game.  So can fighting.  More later.

In a zero-sum game, there is no win-win.  Every advantage for you is a disadvantage to others.  Every time you lose a little ground, your opponent gets stronger and your chances decrease.  When faced with this situation, there are two basic strategies-- you can play to win, or you can play not to lose.  Playing to win is trying to maximize your advantages and hurt the opponent as much as possible.  To increase your abilities and decrease his or hers.  Playing not to lose is the strategy of conserving your resources, not falling for traps, getting the opponent to waste energy and resources.

There's always a balance, of course.  And the more complex the game the more opportunities there are. So a defensive player can see a sweet opening and switch to offense and a generally offensive player can fortify and rest when they find a lull.  Sometimes the strategy is based on personality.  This is very much so in Monopoly, because the opponents start with equal resources.  Ideally, in competition fighting, weight classes and such are an attempt to balance out most things except for personality.

In reality, though, the strategy chosen is almost never chosen based on personality, but on initial resources and stakes.  Those who have more tend to play not to lose. Sometimes, near the end of the Monopoly game, the smartest thing to do is to get sent to jail and just let other people land on your property and pay you. The more skilled fighter frequently waits for the rookie to make a mistake. There is always a chance, no matter your edge in skill or power, that the rookie will get lucky or you will get unlucky.  So the person with the edge tends to keep it.

Conversely, when you are behind the eight-ball, you have less to lose by taking chances.  Desperate people tend to be aggressive (or submissive, in an open system).

Stakes matter a lot.  Except for compulsives, people tend to gamble more when the stakes are low.  It is easier to roll dice for  betting 1 dollar to win 10 than to wager a paycheck at the same odds.  People buy a 2 dollar Powerball ticket with ridiculous odds who would think twice about risking their savings even if the odds were much better.  Even if, objectively, the odds were slightly in their favor.  There is a study on violence comparing chimps and hunter-gatherer humans.  Evidently, both like odds of 5-1 in their favor.  Less than that, they peacefully coexist.  At 5-1 they massacre.  When your own life is on the line, 5-1 odds in your favor seem like the minimum...

That's all zero-sum.  Very little in life is a zero-sum game.  Money isn't.  Wealth isn't. (That's one of the things that bugs me is how few people realize that and how many political arguments are based on the false assumption that economics is zero-sum.  Ahem.) Teaching isn't.  I can give you all of my knowledge and don't lose a bit of it (I'll lose that to age in time.) Not to get all wishy, but love isn't either.  No one needs to love you back.  Personal energy?  The more you give, the more you have.

In a non-zero-sum game, cooperation and synergy take center as strategies... but be careful.  If your opponent thinks it is a zero-sum game, these strategies make you vulnerable. Your attempts to build a trading partner might be used to build an army.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Find and Make

Welcome to 2014 everybody.
One of those thoughts that's so core it is rarely conscious, and one of the ones that crosses over all aspects of life and survival.  Beginners make things.  Skilled beginners are skilled at making things.  Lazy pros find things.

The most important principle of joint locks is the concept of 'gifts.' If you are strong enough and willing to get punched a lot, you can close on a threat, grab his hand, and try to force the one wristlock you've learned.  If you're strong enough and don't get too concussed, it might even work.

To try to set up the lock-- "If I flick at his eye his hand will come up and I'll just turn my hand, catch his..." is more advanced, but on the same scale. It's dependent on both being more clever than the opponent (which is rarely true under assault-- surprise and adrenaline tend to do wonky things to the tactical side of your brain) and the opponent following the script perfectly. That's why I use opponent instead of threat, because it only tends to work if both people are playing nice and following the same protocols.  In other words, combinations tend to work much better in martial arts studios than in the wild.

And someone who is really good just sees the lock (or strike or takedown) that is already set up in the threat's body and just finishes it.

Grappling is the easiest to see.  Beginners try to get through on muscle and, sometimes, speed or flexibility-- but they gas out. And lose.

Good grapplers are playing chess, knowing that the natural resistance to move X will be defense Y which sets up finish Z.

But the best aren't doing this anymore. They know that there is no way the opponent can move that doesn't have a gift.  Everything their opponent does is an opportunity.  The mind and body are both more relaxed (one of the keys, by the way if you want to run a line).

In striking arts, amateurs try to set up their favorite combinations and moves.  The best have a strike for whatever opening appears.

Everything.  Obviously I'm thinking of the jointlock video, but in the post on independence, Michael said that firecraft was a more important consideration in certain climates than shelter.  I've spent some time there, and occasionally needed a fire badly.  From relatively bitter experience I know you have to get out of the rain and the wind to have any hope of getting a fire started.  Do you make a shelter first? Nope, but you find shelter first.  And it's reflexive enough to anyone who has actually done it, that we don't think about it.

Even driving.  I know some crappy, dangerous, aggressive drivers.  They go for any gap they can, push to get a few car lengths ahead. It does take some skill to shoot for the gaps that they do.  Some skill, not much.  These guys are literally relying on the reflexes and good graces of others to stay alive.  But the best driver I know (a former rally driver) moves through traffic seamlessly.  He makes better gains faster than the aggressive drivers...and no one notices.  He doesn't tailgate to create gaps, he moves into available bubbles that are moving slightly faster that the aggressive drivers don't even see.

The more I get into this the more it seems that everything is about learning to see.