Monday, January 25, 2016

I Can't Teach THAT!

Violence Dynamics 2015 was pretty spectacular. It will be hard to top next year. More on that later, maybe.

During the drive to the airport, Kasey and I were talking about teaching, and teaching teaching, and about people. In any field there are some people that just don't get "it." Whatever "it" is for that field. There are some people who shouldn't be cops. Sometimes because their emotionally vulnerability makes them unable to deal with manipulators, sometimes because their lack of compassion makes them blind... there are hundreds of personality traits that make someone a poor cop.

Some people will never be fighters. I'm not talking about strength or speed, but there are some people that have essential elements of heart that are simply missing.

And some people will never be teachers. There is something missing and they can't command the respect to be listened to. You can force a hundred students to attend, give a simple and important subject and none of the students will make the connection, none of them will listen, none of them will learn.

And in the real world, there appears to be almost an inverse correlation between ability and desire. Probably for reasons of insecurity, many of the people least fit to be cops or teachers want to be cops or teachers. They think the position will give them the respect they can't seem to get on their own. The people who can't fight want to be fighters, hoping the label will make their fear and insecurity go away.

Kasey and I were talking about teaching instructors, and how to deal with the person who desperately wanted the title and was willing to put in the time and do the work, but would never achieve the standard. What do you do? This isn't a bureaucracy. actual life and safety depend on the quality of a teacher in certain fields. At the same time, our internal ethics would demand that we treat all instructor candidates the same...

Fairness, or the actual lives of a generation of students?

That's a question I'm going to dodge, for now.

But here's the cool thing and one of the things I love about people. In certain circumstances, all of that is bullshit. Almost everything I am really good at is stuff that someone I had every right to believe told me I couldn't do.

Yes. Some people can't teach. And usually the honorable thing to do is to tell them that. And some will believe you and quit, and more will refuse to believe you and manage to get into a teaching position and suck for their entire career. And a few, a very few, a tiny number, will say, "Fuck you." And they will leave and on their own they will become extraordinary teachers. They will work their asses off to prove you wrong.

Some people can't fight. And usually the honorable thing to do is to tell them that. And some will believe you and quit, and more will refuse to believe you and manage to get into a force profession and suck for their entire career, and get other people and themselves hurt. And a few, a very few, a tiny number, will say, "Fuck you." And they will leave and on their own they will become extraordinary. They will work their asses off to prove you wrong.

I don't know what it is about that tiny number. I can't pick them out of a crowd. But that incredible diversity of human attitude is one of the things that makes people so damn cool.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Terry's Rules, The Last

Getting back to this series. Got distracted by travel, training and good questions.

Three more: #9 Think. #10 Do. #11 Don't Overcommit.

Rule#2 was "It's okay to stop and think." This might feel like a repeat. I don't think so. The fact that it's "okay" doesn't mean you will actually do it... but there's more than that. Fighting, counter-assault, hand-to-hand-- whatever you want to call it-- is very much a thing of guts and nerve, visceral, not intellectual. And yet, you have a brain. Use it.

When you have time to think, you think. Absolutely. And the quality of your thinking process allows for an amazing level of possibility. One tiny, basic, obvious thing is "reframing"-- instead of coming up with an answer, can I change the question? Powerful. But even when you don't have time to cognitively weigh all options, that doesn't mean "Be stupid." Your hindbrain is actually a very smart survival mechanism that deals with far more nuance than we give it credit for.

Fight smart. Efficiently. Stay alert to options, escape possibilities, unexpected threats... that's incredibly effective, but realistically, the ability to do that-- to deal with a potentially deadly threat and partition part of your brain to do something else-- requires immense experience. I couldn't do it for maybe the first hundred force incidents. I doubt I even considered the possibility before it happened. The people I know that can do it can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. Terry is absolutely one of them.

But the possibility is there. Your brain is capable of this. The human animal is kind of awesome.

This one is huge. Here's the deal: If you never act you are worthless. You affect the world in no way. You are a waste of time, space and oxygen. It doesn't matter how smart you are or how cool you are or how noble your intentions. If those qualities are never expressed in action, you are nothing. You are worse than nothing. You are a barnacle that increases drag for everyone else.

No one is inherently special. No one deserves to be appreciated just because they happen to be born or they happen to be human. Your value as an entity is based entirely on your actual value to actual other entities. If you want to write fiction that you never share because it makes you happy, that's entirely cool. For you. But if that is ALL you do, you could be shot in the head today and it would not matter one iota to the world.

Right now, check yourself. Over 90% of the people reading this will be nodding in agreement because what I just wrote is simply freakin' obvious. If you are glitching, you need to take a good hard look at your life.

Terry's rules are for high-risk situations, but this one is about life. For the world, the inactive are worthless. But you know what? If you don't "do" if you aren't acting, you aren't really living anyway. This thing you are calling your life is just a pale imitation of the real thing.

Get off the damn couch. Turn off the laptop or the smart phone. Do. Live.

Don't Overcommit.
This is the one I want to argue with. But it's right except for where it's wrong. DON'T overcommit. But don't undercommit either.

There are two classic pieces of advice. Winston Churchill's: "I am addressing myself to the School - surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense." 

And a very wise man I knew called Jake Rens: "When a smart man realizes he's in a hole, he quits digging."

Churchill saves it in the last four words, especially the last two. But it takes immense judgment, sometimes, to distinguish between good sense and fear.

Commitment is important. I think, in a dangerous situations one of the most common and almost universally doomed action is to do anything half-assed. Running is fine, but run with your whole heart. Half running or running and hesitating makes you an easy target. Fighting is dangerous, but fight with your whole heart. Half-fighting is not fighting at all, just struggling. And it doesn't save you, it just excites the bad guy.

Overcommitment. If you overcommit your balance, you are vulnerable. If you overcommit your emotions you are vulnerable... And this is the grr for me, because you can't drop step without vulnerability and overcommitment, and you can't truly love halfway.

The one universal with overcommitment appears to be this, in my opinion: Never double down on stupid. Don't reinforce failure. When you catch yourself doing the wrong thing, don't let your monkey brain con you into doing the wrong thing harder. Always be humble enough to admit when you've screwed it up and change. And adapt. And win.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Knowledgable is not Smart

Don't confuse knowledgeable with smart. In this field, there are a handful of people I respect who have gathered their knowledge through bitter experience. And none of us are very smart. You don't learn this stuff by being smart, you learn it by being stupid in very specific ways.

"You want a job son? I got one for ya. Basics is being locked, alone and unarmed, in a room with 32-190 violent criminals and maintaining order for eight hours. Yeah, yeah, the media tells you that most are non-violent drug offenders but the reality is that we're so crowded only PVs and person-to-person violent crimes are locked up. What'd ya say?"

No intelligent person goes for that job.

The thing is, though, that there are certain lessons that can only be learned by doing certain things. Dumb things. And the lessons are valuable. On an earlier post, "Agent Cbeppa" wrote:

I've been wondering about a seeming paradox for a while now. 
You write a lot about how ordinary people who have had no experience with violence make up their own (largely false) stories and identities. When people go through a violent experience, they realise what is fact and what was fiction, which sounds like a handy thing to know about yourself.
Conversely, you also advise people to avoid violent situations as much as possible. It's the safest and most sensible thing to do. 
Do you have any explanations that might clear this up for me? Or is there no right answer?

It's not a paradox so much as a side effect of life. Everything involves choices, and every choice you make now removes other choices. Every hour you spend plugged into practicing a language is an hour you can't spend practicing music. Spending six years studying biochemistry is six years not studying physics. I was very happy being single and am very happy being married-- but the happiness centers around different things. Every door you take leaves unopened doors in the background. That's just life. Even if you could have it all, you couldn't grasp a fraction of it.

With the violence stuff, you can choose a long life where your joints work fine and you have good vision in un-gouged eyes and fewer spasms from nerve damage and less arthritis and an ability to sleep through the night... or you can shatter some illusions about violence. You can't have both.

Of all the gods, only Odin was willing to maim himself for knowledge, and that's the choice here. All this-- call it insight or special knowledge or whatever-- comes at a price. I focus on the physical price because that's the easiest for others to see, but the real price? I can count on one hand the people I can really talk to. The books, the blogs, the articles... there's a compulsion to get the information out, but also the knowledge that most can't grasp it, there is simply no touchstone.

So Cbeppa, it's not a paradox, it's an either/or. I advise people to avoid violent situations as much as possible because that way leads to the kind of life that most can handle. But there is a different truth, and that truth, universally, feels more real to the ones who have followed it (probably just a side effect of adrenaline.)

There's one other reason to preach avoidance. Maybe you get new truths through engagement. Maybe your illusions get shattered and you can get new insights or even enlightenment. But only if you live, and hopefully unshattered. I talk about dealing with knives and luck, but if I had been a tiny bit less lucky, I wouldn't be here to talk about it. It's very cool to imagine going to the bad places and learning the cool lessons, but not everyone comes back and of those who do, many are too damaged or adrenalized to remember what happened. Seeking safety, by its nature, is safer than seeking the alternative.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Terry's Rule Part II


Betray yourself before your people
"Betray" is a hard word, and, for me, this sentiment goes deeper. Substitute sacrifice. Substitute risk. Take the triggering words out of it and it comes down to priorities. My people are more important than me. In the macro, people take certain jobs so that other people don't have to face those realities. At that level, this, to me, means 'do the job.'

But it is also an ordering of priorities. The mission comes first. Then your troops. Then you. The first commander of our CERT had one sterling qualification: Of everyone in our administration he was the only one --the only-- we all believed that, given a choice between sacrificing one of our lives and sacrificing his career, he would sacrifice his career without hesitation. NPNBW, brother.

This one is the hardest for me to explain logically. If the leader has more skill and experience, shouldn't he or she more valuable than his or her troops? I can't break it down logically, but anyone who believes that shouldn't be followed and can't be trusted to lead. It just is.

Last point on this one: Does it contradict the first rule? Not if you see your people as an extension of yourself. But that's a sophistry. So what if it contradicts? I can handle two things in my head.

Be equipped, be prepared, be ready
I despise MacGyver. He inspired a whole generation of people to believe there was something noble about choosing to be poorly equipped. If you refuse to carry the equipment to do the job, you aren't a hero. You are an idiot who is willing to sacrifice innocent people (and yourself) for ego. For image.

Not just equipment. Survival and effectiveness works in a matrix of skill, tools and will. Have the right equipment, but a closet full of high-end toys means jack shit if you don't know how to use them. And the best equipment in the world combined with the best training available also means squat if you don't have the will to access them under pressure.

Acquire the right equipment. Get the best training you can find. But forge and test your will.

You won't ever know what may happen, be ready anyway
One of my pet peeves is that so many people want answers and so many people are willing to sell them, but it is physically impossible to have a good answer when you don't know the question. And you can never know the question because, unless you actively participate, you can't know what kind of bad things will happen to you.

Acknowledging that is another superpower. Or maybe it's just simple maturity. Maybe that's redundant. Here's the deal: Understanding how much you don't know and can't predict gives you an incredible freedom if you aren't scared of it. It shifts training to simply getting better-- at anything and everything-- and away from trying to memorize one more solution to one more imaginary problem. Adaptability is the hallmark of humanity, something we should embrace, and not fear the chaos that makes it so necessary.

Just because no one is ready, ever, to be a father doesn't mean you can't be a good one. One of the most valuable pieces of advice I ever got, was to quit looking for the right girl. "Quit looking for Ms. Right. Work your ass off to be Mr. Right so that she knows you when you finally meet." Quit trying to  be ready. Focus, instead, on being excellent.

Acknowledge emotion, don't be enslaved by it
Are you smart when you're in love? When you're angry? When you're afraid? Of course not, and that goes for every emotion. All of the special snowflakes want to believe that the depth of their caring or their emotional involvement somehow makes them superior, but in actual fact it makes them stupid. Sorry to say it and I know it hurts, but if you're excited about a cause or a group or a party or a candidate, odds are you are wrong. At best, you might be right by accident and despite your emotion-induced stupidity.

And don't pretend for a second that in your special snowflake case you coldly analyzed the facts and got emotional later. Sorry, buttercup. The human mind goes emotion first.

And that's why you always have to acknowledge the emotion. Because it does come first and it is more powerful than reason. (And this is where I tell myself, "Suck it up, Buttercup" because I want so badly to believe that my emotions are fairly weak... but wanting is an emotion itself.)  Emotions aren't necessarily right or effective-- but the righteousness of logic doesn't make it a winner. Emotions win, if you let them. And it takes a lot of skill and a lot of discipline to even recognize when you are enslaved by your emotions, because you will always want to rationalize it. And the smarter you are, the stinkier bullshit you can successfully rationalize.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Terry's Rules

Terry Trahan posted something on FaceBook. Something important and iconic, and I want to play with it, the way I intend to play with Wilder and Kane's recent work on Musashi's Dokkodo soon.

Terry posted them as his rules. The Italic afterwards is my commentary.

No matter what, I go home
Yes. Everything else is bullshit. This is also the first of Mac's Golden rules: "You and your partner go home safe at the end of each and every shift." It is the essence of hostage rescue's "Immutable Order." Here's the deal. It's not just because we do this so we can go home to our families. If that was the only criterion, the smart thing would be to do something else. Be an accountant, whatever. But for society as a whole, someone has to stand up, someone has to take the risks and take the hits. As the saying goes, "If not us, who? If not now, when?"

But the cold hard math of it is that a dead medic never saved anybody. A SWAT operator who overestimated himself and did something stupid and got hurt doesn't just take himself out of the equation. He takes himself and all the resources diverted to save his dumb ass. Those resources are now unavailable for the primary problem.

So, absolutely, for your family, for yourself, and for society your safety comes first. We aren't paid to lose.

It's ok to stop and think
One of the hallmark differences between an amateur and a professional is how they understand time. If no one is getting hurt, the bad guy can say any shit he wants. If I can tell, because of height, distance and weight distribution, that attacking me will take a full second, I'll use half that second to plan.

Time is a magic thing. It makes many problems go away, especially problems based on a bad guy's adrenaline. If there is any time to stop and think, I will use that time as ruthlessly as I would use a weapon or any other resource.

Remember to get doing again
That said, when you have time, you think. When you no longer have time, you need to be me moving. Running, fighting-- whatever is appropriate. But if talking is going to get you killed, one of the stupidest things you can do is keep talking.

There's a subset in our society that thinks that planning and thinking are just as valuable as doing. They can kiss my ass. There's an old saying in intelligence that communication without information is noise and information without communication is useless. Plans without execution are useless masturbation. Thought should inform action, no doubt. But everything predicates on action.

Do nothing you can't live with
Any form of violence has consequences-- physical, legal, medical and psychological. There is always a moral aspect to any use of force. In the end, you have to be able to live with whatever you do, whatever you have done. The drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide rate among survivors is unacceptable.

And this involves knowing yourself. It's easy to say the words, no matter what the words are: "I would kill to protect my children." "I'd rather be tried by twelve than carried by six." "There is no moral way to use force." There's a lot of words, and all of them are bullshit until they have been tested by you in the field.

Knowing what you're capable of is less than half the battle. Knowing what you can do and still look at yourself in the mirror is the greater goal. And, my personal take-- learning how to change what you can live with is a superpower. Understanding the depths beneath the ethics.

That's enough for tonight.  4/11. More coming up.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Things That Impress Beginners

Most people thinking about starting martial arts or self-defense are "naive consumers" which means that they have no way to tell good instruction from utter crap. What little information they have comes from TV or other entertainment sources, and the potential instructor who can talk closest to that fantasy baseline sounds the most credible.

One of the odd side effects of this, is that many of the things that impress beginners are the exact same things that are red flags to people who have been around for a while.

Certificates and Diplomas. If someone has ten "Grandmaster" diplomas in ten different arts, to a beginner that sounds like a good thing. That's like a PhD, right? And someone with ten PhDs must know more than someone with just one, right? Depending on what "Grandmaster" even means within the system.
Does it mean that the person has trained "masters" defined as people who have trained other instructors? Because that would require three times the minimal time to get instructor rank in each of those styles. Assuming extreme belt inflation and a person could get to instructor rank in 3 years, it would take a minimum of nine years to get each of the grandmaster certs. Ninety years for ten of them. Thirty, if the person in question had no life and could study and compartmentalize three arts at once.
If Grandmaster means headmaster, he'd have to be the sole survivor of his generation of instructors and all the previous generations of instructors-- sole survivor ten different times. If the Grandmaster is the hereditary lineage holder, the poor guy would have to have ten fathers and/or mothers, which would make the holidays really hard.
One of my friends ordered a box of DVDs that included instructor certificates for all of the things covered in the DVDs (I don't remember Jeff, was it forty of them? A hundred?) Just fill in your name, you already sent your money.

Ranks. To a beginner, dan rank is dan rank and a fifth degree blackbelt must be better than a first degree blackbelt. But there was a huge change in the early and mid-eighties. An article I read in the late seventies said on average a black belt in karate took eight years to achieve. Some styles now offer them much more quickly-- eighteen months to black belt, anyone? I consider Jim Onchi (judo) to be one of the only two legitimate ninth-dans I have ever met, and he trained from 1929 until his death in 2013. 75 years. When I see a pimply-faced kid advertising tenth dan, I want to puke in my mouth just a little. To someone who has been around, extraordinarily high ranks that don't match the person's age (and ability to move, modified, of course by age) are red flags. And if super-high ranks are norms for the system, it calls the legitimacy of the whole system into question. It's like everyone at a fast-food restaurant being either a manager, assistant manager or manager trainee. Pretty good sign you're not at a 5-star restaurant.

Halls of Fame and Headmaster Associations. Again, the beginner sees these as marks of legitimacy. In the normal world, other sports' halls of fame are managed by governing bodies with a big stake in maintaining the legitimacy of the sport. You can't, as far as I know, buy your way into the Baseball or Rock Hall of Fame. But at least one of the martial arts halls of fame contacted everyone on their mailing list to induct them. My wife, with her (at the time) green belt in Shito-ryu could have been inducted into this hall of fame and all she had to do was pay $600 dollars to attend a dinner. Like almost every other senior practitioner, I've turned down multiple offers. (Full disclosure, I was inducted into one without my knowledge. My wife said it would be rude to refuse). To the experienced, Halls of Fame and Headmaster associations look like cynical, mutual ego-stroking societies existing sole to market to the naive. O maybe I'm the one being cynical.

Medals and Trophies. Yes and no. If you're into sport, you want to train under winners. But this is one that seniors get skeptical about. If they've never heard of the tournament, they wonder. If it says "World Championship" on the trophy but it was held in a one-horse town, you have to wonder. And there are some big tournaments that have a huge number of divisions so that almost everyone can go home with gold medals because there are usually only one or two competitors in each division.
But if you're learning a sport and some of the coaches or practitioners were on the Olympic team, you've struck gold.

Uniformity. Maybe this is just me, but TV always shows lines of people doing things in perfect unison, and that strikes me as dangerous. Tall people and short people should move different. If everyone's head is level throughout the kata, they aren't being taught how to drop step or use weight for power. An over-emphasis on visual measures of effectiveness is one of my red flags. But to the naive, consistency and conformity are almost always interpreted as signs quality.

There are exceptions, always. A red flag don't always indicate a smoking gun. But it strikes me as very odd, maybe funny, that what looks good to a beginner often looks just the opposite after a few years.
Or maybe it's just me.