Monday, March 31, 2014

E-Burgh AAR

Last classes of the Edinburgh leg of the UK tour will be tonight. Arrest and control and cell extractions for a small group of officers from another country, then an evening of infighting. Then off to St Andrews, which would be a big thing if I golfed, or so I'm told. But that will be a fun group, too. Then Swindon, a bunch of fairly short courses, and the scenario training in Sheffield.

Then not-quite-home. Seattle.

Every trip to Edinburgh has been a blast. Beautiful city, good for wandering. The classes are always a mix-- excellent martial artists and beginners; security and enforcement professionals and civilians; and almost always some academics. Everyone thinks, everyone sweats. Most people get bruises (everybody on the second hands-on day). And it always refines my teaching.


Introductory ConCom is tight. Massive information, but easily internalized. One weakness in myself. Probably a complex of old concussions and sleep deprivation (or maybe just because there are so many nuances) I always remember a few details after the class that could have made it better.
Two weaknesses/opportunities in the class itself:
1) There should be different versions and different teachers for different audiences. The jail and agency stories work, the principles are universal, but having an experienced business person telling business stories that illustrate the same points would work better for a business audience.
2) I should have a printed handbook to go with the class. Ideally just copies of the ConCom manual, which I currently can't do if I accept my publisher's offer for print rights.

Crisis Communication with EDPs. Good information, well received, but like anything complex and real, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. First responders will arrive at the scene with minimal information, so they need on-the-spot intelligence gathering and threat assessment skills, whereas the EDP's family member or custodian will have lots of information and direct experience, but probably not the tools or resources. And whether there is a duty to act affects everything as well as the goal and available time. So, first improvement was to address these issues up front. Next will be to expand the power point either for specialized audiences or to address specifically how these factors affect options and priorities. Also, the PowerPoint slides are too wordy and sometimes repetitive. I teach this less often so I haven't built memory triggers into the slides.

Introduction to Violence. Sounds strange, but one advantage of teaching in a foreign country (or to groups from multiple countries) is that I don't know the laws. Thus I can cut the Force Law portion down to almost nothing-- affirmative defense, elements of articulation. Which gives more time for other stuff. This was a one-day. The two-day gives me a lot more time flexibility. Getting people up to environmental fighting in one day without injuries is always challenging, and I prefer environmentals after some work on the ground and with momentum and walls. But it's fun and it works. The two biggest battles are:
1) Getting people to understand that fighting harder is not always fighting better. The serious injury rate in martial arts classes, even full-contact classes, is quite low. It's the only way to stay in business. So if school 'A' goes slow and light and one person in a hundred gets a broken bone or dislocated joint or serious concussion, and school 'B' goes ten times as hard and only one person in a hundred gets a broken bone or dislocated joint or serious concussion, then school 'A' is ten times as efficient as school 'B'.  It's just math. You do have to go fast and hard. People who only play light get a very specific set of bad habits. But people who only play hard get a different set of bad habits.
2) The stupid performance artifact belief that good motion means lots of motion. If you do some eight move spinning cartwheel of doom and KJ puts you down with a right cross, KJ is the better martial artist. KJ is the better fighter. Sometimes there is a two inch move with your knee or just a hip bump that will do more than your prettiest technique, but people usually don't see the opportunity and when it is pointed out and often say it doesn't feel right because it is 'too easy.'

People who use this stuff try to make it simpler. People who only train in it have a tendency to make it more complicated.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Out of the Box

Because my lovely wife worked on the cover and interior design, I got to read Kris and Lawrence's new book, Sensei, Mentor, Teacher, Coach, before it became available. It's a good book. Really good. And important. And I think it will be an uphill battle to make it successful.

Why? The material is original, important, comprehensive. The writing is good, like I expect from these two. Both of the authors are well known, best-sellers in the martial arts genre. On paper,  S-M-T-C should take off. But it will be a struggle.

Largely because, somewhere in our heads, we put people into boxes. Lawrence Kane and Kris Wilder? Karate guys. Martial arts authors. The people who look for their names are not looking for books on leadership. The people looking for books on leadership are not looking for those names. Even most of their fans don't know that before Kris decided to see how deeply he could simplify his life he was a professional consultant who worked on national political campaigns. Or that Lawrence, in his day job, sometimes herds $100 million+ contracts through a major bureaucracy.

These karate guys know leadership. And management. And the difference. They know that teaching is guiding growth through leadership. "Among the thousands of books on this subject I am amazed that Wilder and Kane have not only found a new approach, but one that makes a real difference."   That's what some guy named Anthony Wood wrote in the introduction. Some marine colonel-- who led the evacuation of Saigon. Just some guy.

It's a marketing puzzle. And I'm in a similar place with ConCom. Groundbreaking stuff, but it's not some former jailguard thug talking about violence and bad people. People who want communications books prefer to see a PhD or MSW after the name.

In the last month, all three of us have shattered our molds, and done some of our best work, in my opinion. But I think it's going to take something creative to get traction, to get attention in the right places. Stuff to think about.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

24 Hours

This post isn't about violence or self-defense, just purely about how cool the world is.
On the second of March we had a weather phenomenon called a "silver thaw." It has nothing to do with thawing, so don't ask me about the name. I'm sure it happens in other places, but I've only seen it here, in the gorge.  The rain hits, and it comes down as rain but the ground is cold and every single surface gets covered with ice. The roads are a sheath of ice. Every blade of grass is outlined in ice like a crystal.  It's hell to drive in, but it is gorgeous.
  The rail on the deck (this is what the roads were like):

The plants looked like this:

And the view from the deck was:
Twenty-four hours later it was 51 degrees fahrenheit and I was out in my shirt sleeves, digging in the garden.  The view from the deck:

Life is change. It's a big world and full of many things. Not just in space, but also in time.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Building a House

Conversation the other day about training paradigms. The person was advocating that things are learned best starting with basic technique, then building on that into a system. As near as I can remember one quote, "The first day, sensei showed us a punch. It wasn't quite right, but he told us to practice and pay attention to form and we would do it right when we needed it. It couldn't be right, of course, because if you punch with full power, you'll stress your elbows."

If you heard something like this (as I did from my first karate sensei) I want you to put on your big boy hat and think about, because almost every single element of that thought is palpably false.

Never practice doing things "not quite right." Not quite right is wrong, and if you do enough reps at doing things wrong, you will do things wrong in a fight. We all know this.  The best training in the world doesn't always come out, especially in your first fights-- but if your training does come out, you don't want it to be wrong.

There is no universe where doing things wrong long enough will magically morph into doing things right.

Correct form and not going full power are all artifacts of punching air. You need to punch a body. A moving body. You don't have to worry about your elbows. Wrists maybe, and shoulders if you have some of the snap power generations down... thing is, the feedback for really hitting a body is kinesthetic, not visual. Who cares if rotten food is pretty on the plate?

He tried to explain again with the house metaphor. You have to build a foundation. Then the walls, then the roof. Add the windows and doors and plumbing and electrical system. Only then will you have a house. The metaphore is that you practice your techniques with special attention to form (which, IMO, is confusing the paint job with the foundation) and then you build up through combinations to tactics to strategy and only then, when it is all complete, can you fight with it.

If this was the pattern of actual teaching, there might be some validity to the metaphor. But what you will see most often is the equivalent of handing someone a hammer and showing them how to swing it. After months or years of that they might be allowed to pound actual nails into random pieces of lumber. And they are told that enough reps of that combined with with making forts under the table with blankets (sparring) makes a complete house.

The principles-based approach is to understand what a house is. List what you need to understand (structural stability, insulation, air flow, heating and safety, light) to build one appropriate for your needs (emergency shelter to high rise). And then you play and experiment with the principles and the material you have on hand or can acquire.

None of us learned to talk the way we learned martial arts. We learned to talk through immersion. We played and sang and told stories and listened. We experimented with language-- The two-year-old's "No" stage is finding out how much he or she can control the world. We learned to speak with just a third of the principles-based model and we're all pretty good at it.

We learned to write from the foundational model, and after a minimum of twelve years of formal instruction under professional teachers, a lot of people still suck at it. And even the ones who don't suck have immense insecurities. In my opinion, most of the bad writing comes from the insecurities, by the way. Trying to be "a Writer" people become stilted and artificial trying to please some long-dead third grade teacher.

One of the commenters long ago (no way I could find the post before coffee, sorry) pointed out that all animals learn through play, and only humans were stupid enough to try to turn learning into a job.  I'll go further and say that the primary effect of that form of teaching is to make the students easy to control. It serves no other function efficiently.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

For Love

People are afraid of violence. And some of them make the choice to train to protect themselves from violence. But training isn't free. Not financially, not physically, not emotionally.

How much do you have in your wallet or purse right now?  Credit cards and stuff, too. If you are afraid of getting mugged, that is what you stand to lose. If your training cost $100 a month and you train for a year, that's $1200. Five years is $6000. Does spending that much to protect what you have in your wallet make economic sense?

I've been at the martial arts game since 1981. That will be thirty-three years this coming September. And right at twenty years of actual application-- two years bouncing in a casino (probably only a dozen times it went hand to hand, we were pretty professional) 17 years in Corrections (somewhere in the 500-700 range for actual force incidents serious enough to require reports) and a year in Iraq (only one hand to hand encounter). Almost all of the serious injuries, the ones one pays for as they get older, came from training-- the knee, elbow and all but one of the shoulder dislocations, the broken fingers, most of the concussions.

There is a physical cost to serious training, and the training that has the best chance of working when you need it plays on those edges. Without training at that intensity, the real encounters could have been much more debilitating. But I was going into special circumstances, where violence was a near-inevitability. I think the cost was worth it.

But for most people a decade of serious training will do more damage than most single encounters. And many, if not most people will not ever have a serious encounter.

We train to go home to our families, but I've spent at least 11,000 hours away from my family just for training. Not counting shifts or the time overseas or the traveling training now. That's over 458 full days. Over a year and three months. If it was really about my family, wouldn't the time have been better spent with the people I love?

Is training bad math?

No. Training for fear is bad math. For that matter, doing anything out of fear is almost always stupid in the long run.

This why you train, or at least why you should train: Because you love it. I don't care what art you study, as long as you enjoy it. Anything that makes it a joy to move. Any class that you look forward to each day. I have seen people who sucked at supremely efficient arts and people who excelled at arts that didn't fit my needs. But excelling is its own reward.

Spending $1200 a year to save the $100 dollars in your wallet doesn't make any sense. But spending $1200 a year is less than a daily $5 mocha...and if you spend it doing things you enjoy, getting stronger, quicker and more flexible, getting smarter, and smacking around friends-- what's better than that? What better investment in yourself and your time can you make?

Injuries are more problematic, but you can play hard and safely. Most of the time. And there are lessons in pain and adapting to injury that pay off in other areas of your life. You are surrounded by people who have spent their lives avoiding discomfort. To face discomfort, and even embrace it, is a superpower. To learn that you can adapt even when your body is messed up puts many things into a perspective: You will adapt. You will win. That's who you are. That's what you do. And learning that is kind of cool.

11000 hours away from the people I love would be a lot. The thing was, the time was spent with people I love. The camaraderie and sheer fun of throwing friends through the air is pretty deep bonding. There is a reason why people like KJ and Steve say, "My brother in the arts."

Friends, self-improvement, toughening and fun. Those are some damn good reasons.

Train. Everybody should train in something physical. But never out of fear. Train for love.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Nerd Rehabilitation

If you haven't gone through the Conflict Communications program or read the book, some of the language in here may be hard to follow. The concepts in ConCom were heavily influenced by interaction with criminals because both Marc and I have a lot more experience with criminals than we do with, say, office workers. It also means that most of the examples in the book are from jail. People have already suggested that there should be a business version, and Doc Coray is working on a medical version of the presentation. The principles cross over, but everyone learns better if they can identify with the specific examples.

But one of the possibilities that really intrigues me is nerd rehabilitation.
In case it's not clear, I don't think like most people. No way to tell how much is hard wired and how much is (lack of) early socialization. I was the quiet kid who preferred to run off to the desert alone and climb rocks and crawl through caves. Maybe nature. I was also raised seven miles from the nearest town with no electricity or running water and graduated with a senior class of six people. So when I went to college and actually met large groups of people I was an alien... maybe nature, maybe nurture, but I got along with books way better than I did with people.

I found that people seemed to have no idea what they really thought (measuring their words against their actions) that they were completely controlled by imaginary emotional mine fields. That everyone else had a secret understanding of what one could say and what one couldn't. Silly me, I thought everyone always wanted the truth, otherwise they wouldn't have asked.

I learned the hard way to keep my mouth shut in most situations. And with your mouth closed and your eyes and ears open, you learn stuff. And if you are curious and your brain is wired a little differently, you will make connections. You will get to understand things consciously that the others seem to have been born with. Like the smallest guy on the judo team, if you work hard and smart, you can do with skill what the others do with talent.

This process heavily informed ConCom. Since I wasn't a natural at interacting, I had to work to become conscious. Technical superiority to offset natural inferiority.

In ConCom terms, nerds (I mean socially awkward intelligent people) have a weak or deficient Monkey brain. The limbic system that controls/is emotionality and tribal dynamics doesn't work as well. And in a lot of ways, that's a superpower. When there is a concrete problem, the neocortex is good at solving that... but when the Monkey brain starts worrying about who will get the credit for solving the problem, the neo-cortex shuts down. A weak Monkey keeps the neocortex on the job. Superpower.

But a weak Monkey also means that you don't have an instinctive understanding of how to get along. You assume that being right is far more important than presentation-- because it should be. Obviously. But in a world where most people have very strong Monkey brains, being obviously right is not a superpower, because almost always, the limbic system trumps rationality. And, by the way, everyone rationalizes their limbic responses, so pointing it out doesn't help.
So if you are right, but misread someone's status; or you are right but break one of the tribal protocols in how you present the fact; or if you are right but on a subject where your sub-tribe is 'poaching' (like a tactical guy solving a budget problem) it doesn't matter how right you are. Neurotypicals (non-nerds for our purposes) will have a limbic reaction. And the rational part of their brains will not be able to engage until the tribal part has been mollified.

ConCom makes the underlying tribal processes visible so that they can be understood and even manipulated. It's about making the normally unconscious part of communication more conscious. And if it's more conscious, it becomes a trainable skill. And I think nerds, the ones who are already self-aware enough to understand there are things they don't get, will have a huge edge in applying the skills consciously.