Thursday, December 25, 2014

Lots of False, Lots of True

Writing on something. This one is hard. Probably broader and more complex than anything else I've tackled. Teaching and learning for emergency skills.  The passage I'm working on now is the experience threshold issue:

Because most people have so little experience with violence, they go into violent professions with no idea of what a “normal” response is. The keyboard warriors who teach that every potentially violent encounter is a life threatening situation and must be dealt with using maximum force and the clueless protesters who can’t imagine why any “unarmed child” would ever have to be shot, show the breathtaking range and depth of ignorance on this subject. 
There are many ways to be stupid. Or, to put it slightly more gently, if ignorance of violence is a hole, there is a universe of fantasy possibilities to fill that hole-- fantasies ranging from visualizing world peace to nuke them all and let god sort them out.
But fantasies don't actually fill holes anymore than they stop bleeding.
So rookies have no idea of what normal is-- and there are many ways to be successful in violence professions. Most aren’t skilled martial artists, but some make that work. Some use size and strength, some don’t. Some rely on tools and weapons as a first option, some as a last resort. And there are a lot of ways to come to an understanding or a philosophy of force.
From Bruce Lee’s “Emotional content” to a sniper’s “The only thing you should feel is recoil.” There are completely incompatible concepts that work. Or “You must draw on your rage” to my “I don’t have the emotional energy to be angry all the time. Besides, when I’m angry I fight stupid.”
There may be a thousand stupid unworkable option for every good option, but there are a fair number of good options, too. And okay options. And passable options. And it's more global. It's not just a matter of what physical response is optimal in a specific situation (as if that answer would be the same for different sizes and personalities). At one level it's who you will be. Runners, Fighters and Talkers all successfully solve problems.
Again, this threshold rewires your brain. You can access your training, and it becomes less difficult the more experience you have.

And more, talking about modeling:

In the professional fields, rookies will model their mentors and cohorts. The first few encounters are very important to molding one’s fighting personality (See VAWG for more on that). If those first encounters happen in the company of mature, controlled professionals, the rookie will tend to become a good professional. If the rookie is working with hesitant and timid people, she will become hesitant and timid. If she works with aggressive people who use excessive force, she will become aggressive and uncontrolled. If she works with an individual or group that believes in only one option (e.g. talking, hand to hand, baton, gun…) she will be like the proverbial kid with a hammer seeing the world composed of nails. 

Sunday, November 09, 2014


And, thus, the seminar in the Netherlands ends. Sweet. Lots of fun and good people and well received, but I am tired down to the bone. Early tomorrow a flight to Seattle and, if I can stay awake, a long drive home. Say 'Hi' to the kids, see the dogs. Check in on the goats and chickens.
Sleep in my own bed, for at least one night. Other things may be happening and I may have to hit the road immediately, but when all settles, other than a few friendly local things, I'm done until January.

Should be a good time for knee surgery. Have to make the appointment soon.

On the "to-do" list: 21 days left on NaNoWriMo to try to get the first draft of a book on teaching methods done. K probably has a list of chores a mile long. Get the house and land ready for winter. Update the website. Officially open the 2015 calendar (very slow this year, but largely because without opening the calendar 2015 is 50% booked. With 4x trips out of the country (most a month long) and another month-long East Coast). Three weeks' worth of accumulated e-mail. Evaluate 2014. Plan 2015. Do some long-term planning. Write some course curriculum.

It's busy, but it's all good. At the same time, it's unfocused. For many years, I lived with a plan and had a goals. When the goals were accomplished, I drifted. This life is a result of the drift. The power of focus is incredible and so is the power of adaptability in a drift. I have to make some evaluations and some choices. Or not. It's all an adventure.

More on the trip later. More on insights and discoveries. For now I have six hours to sleep, and then pack, go to the airport, and fly home. Good to be nearing the end of a journey.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Quick Note From Kortrijk

In the last thirty days, all but four have been spent either teaching or on a plane. There will probably be a free day or two in Greece, but I won't know until I get there so mentally, I'm on day seven of a 15-day teaching marathon. Jet lagged too, but that's fading. I don't feel tired.

I am tired. Mind and body tired. But the heart isn't. This is fun. Teaching is fun. Playing is fun. Watching people shift understanding so that difficult things become simple is powerful. Watching another generation step up to the challenge of improving the teaching methods-- that feels a little like legacy stuff.

Looking forward to a long break at home. Have some writing to do. Have a lot of experience to process. Things have been moving so fast that I haven't been debriefing properly. Lisa of Subtle Warrior came up with a way to train something that has in the past has been too dangerous to train live. Have to experiment to be sure. Klaus in Fritzlar came up with a way for people with neck injuries to participate in a drill that's normally unsafe. It's very easy (at my age and history of concussions and sleep deprivation) to forget things if I don't get some play time.

And today kicks of NaNoWriMo. I won't be doing fiction, but the challenge is to get a draft of a book done in 30 days. In my copious spare time.

Time to hit the road. Teaching in a few minutes.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Advanced Class

Just finished the second day of a three-day course for the training unit of a European city. After dinner, over coffee, the boss asked me, "Is there an advanced course we can book for next year?"

Yes. Sort of. No.

I get the temptation. There are people willing to pay me for more. More what? That's the question. And I'm a capitalist. Anyone who makes more than they spend is, by at least one definition, a capitalist, and I equate debt to slavery and like functioning in the black. So am I going to turn down money? If it means making shit up, absolutely.

Taught properly, any level of force is dead simple. Not because violence isn't complicated-- it surely is. But because simple works and complexity fails. Because all the things that work, if taught properly, are just natural. Because people already know almost everything about force, maybe on a genetic level. You rarely have to teach people to fight, you have to unteach all the crap that's been layered in their heads over the truth.

People want more. More moves, more techniques...more complexity. And there are people who will fill that desire for cash. I can't do it. In truth, an advanced class, if I were capable of creating it, would have less material, not more. Cleaner principles, more efficiently taught, less to learn, more to understand.

I'm pretty confident that everything that works can be taught to proficiency in forty hours. Years spent practicing would hone the skills, of course, but in the end, this isn't hard. We all know skeletons because we all have skeletons. Locks, takedowns, spine controls, structured striking, destroying base...all just fuckin' with skeletons. (That totally must be a T-shirt). Do you have to teach a dog pack dynamics or an ape how to live in a troop? Hell no. So with humans you just have to point out what they already know.

There are nuances. People who need to escape need very different body mechanics and mindset than those who need to cuff. Granted. So maybe three 40-hour courses, but not interchangeable. And there are always other things-- I want to create an instructor development class. Teaching people how to deal with force is a different skill than dealing with force.

But what actually works is very limited. If you understand it. If you "know" joint locks, there are thousands. If you understand joint locks there are eight. Just eight. It doesn't take long to get that down. Similar for takedowns. And strikes. If someone can teach you for ten years and there are new insights all the time, the instructor may be holding back. Or you may be stupid. Or the teaching is at the level of knowledge, not understanding. And knowledge tends to not come out in a fight.

So, when we discuss the advanced class next year, I'll shift the conversation to how to teach the simple stuff. The people who want complexity can find or make it on their own.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Expanding Lists

Normally, my default is to simplify. To cut stuff out. By definition, efficiency means less wasted motion. The best athlete in any field moves less than the second best to accomplish the same thing. It's just as true mentally as it is physically. Thinking efficiently is a matter of dismissing the unimportant. When you truly understand a concept, you get more done, faster, and more accurately, with less work and time. So I'm reluctant to add to lists, especially good lists, but it came up during the MNVD training.

The Golden Move +1
My standard for any combative motion, for a long time, has been the Golden Move:
Every single motion should:

  1. Injure the threat
  2. Protect yourself
  3. Improve your position
  4. Worsen the threat's position
That's every single motion. Because it is easier to teach, many martial artists learned to strike (injure the threat) or unbalance (worsen the threat's position); learned to block or evade (protect yourself); and learned footwork (better your position, sometimes worsen the threat's)-- but almost all learned them as three separate things.

So you get the stereotypical martial artist who blocks a punch, steps to the correct angle and fires his counterpunch. Taking three moves. Which generally only works in demos where the partner (not a threat) stands still after the block. Offense, defense and motion were never supposed to be separated in the students head or, gods forbid, in the motion of a person who desperately needs efficiency. But it is easier to teach and easier to evaluate than integrated motion.

So, the Gold standard is one move with four effects (and good jujutsu gets more than that with multiple types of damage).

Blindfolded training adds one:
     5.  Gathers information
Touch is faster than sight. It is almost impossible to make a decisive motion without a 'tell' in the shift in your body weight. So touch is faster, harder to fool and, if you get good at reading precursor motion, gives you a half-beat of precognition

The second list-- Jeff's Rules
Anything you teach must:
  1. Have a tactical use. As he put it, there's no reason to learn to fast holstering because taking your weapon out of the fight first is not useful. Holstering without looking is useful, because it allows you to watch for threats.
  2. Must work under an adrenaline dump. If you can't do it scared, you can't do it when you need it.
  3. Must work moving. If you have to have a solid base to hit or shoot, for combative persons you can't hit or shoot. Fights are dynamic, they happen moving.
  4. Must work when you can't see. I may have added this one, but Jeff was big on indexing, doing everything by touch. If you have to look at your holster or fumble and look for your magazines, you're taking your eyes out of the fight.
The addition, and it doesn't fit quite right. Jeff's rules are about what to teach, and this is operational. But it fits the theme, in my mind:
   5. Never do anything alone if you have a choice. Teams are a force multiplier like no other. Everything changes, for the better, with a team. How do you clear a building alone? Fast and quiet and with a fuckton of luck. Much easier and safer with a team. Weapon retention alone is a nasty struggle at ultimate stakes. With a team you hang on for the second or two it takes your partner to solve the problem.

The third list was recent: Escape, Control, Disable. It's a way to organize everything you teach, a way to decide what is relevant and what isn't. Strategies, mindset and appropriate techniques are very different for these three different fields.

I want to add a fourth, at Marc's suggestion. Fighting. Just for you to think about on your own. And it will be a big rabbit hole for some of you. Fighting in this context is any form of contest-- Monkey Dance or voluntary Bar Brawl; competition of any type at any level. When you practice what you practice, is it for escape? To cuff? To disable? Or is it just to prove you are better at the skills of the struggle.

Be honest. This is for posterity.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kill the Sensei

Generally, martial arts are taught very poorly. For the so-called "traditional" Japanese and Okinawan arts, they way they are taught is not traditional at all. For many systems, the first generation of US and European instructors learned just after WWII, from an occupied people who hated them and through shitty translators in large regimented groups. Somehow, this unnatural bastard idea of training got called "traditional" and since it set the standards for training, people assumed it was good. Get this, 'Standard' and 'Good" are not the same thing.

One of the details of this teaching method is correction. The instructor's job is to tell the student what the student did wrong. Even on the rare occasion when the sensei starts with, "Very good..." there is always a "...but" to follow.

We know micromanaging makes for unproductive and unhappy employees. How and why did it become the norm in a field that should be about survival? If you get corrected no matter what you do, it creates a condition called "learned helplessness" in which the best strategy is to do as little as possible. Why waste energy when you will just be corrected anyway? If you're going to be punished, why be tired, too?

We had a great crew at the MNVD seminar. A week of intense fun, learning. For me it was a chance to tighten up on teaching methods and compare and contrast with others.

Dealing with violence, there aren't a lot of good answers. The usual issue is choosing the option that sucks the least. At this venue, all the instructors were on the same page for this: "That's not what I would have done but you did it and it worked. If I were to tell you something that worked was wrong, that doesn't make it wrong, that just means I'm an asshole."

The student's got the sentiment, they got the words. They actually seemed to revel in and they really grew with the freedom. But even on the last day, there were a few questions about whether someone achieved success 'correctly.' And throughout the week, almost everyone had been so brainwashed that when they were not being criticized by the instructors, they were criticizing themselves. One used the Dracula's Cape technique to evade simultaneous attacks from three people. Get this-- at a signal you can't see, three people, all within arm's reach, launch at you simultaneously. And you knock one back and successfully get off the X for the other two, who collide. That's a good day right there.

And you could see the guy who pulled it off listening to an imaginary sensei on his shoulder, telling him it wasn't perfect. Beating himself up over a success.

We all know, or at least should know, that efficient teaching involves rewarding improvement. Punishing imperfection might keep skills from degrading, but it does nothing to show the way forward. Constant criticism is not good teaching. It rewards passivity and creates victims. Knock it off. In the end, it will brainwash the students so badly that they will create and maintain little imaginary sensei that sit on their shoulders and whisper the criticism even when you aren't there.

Don't create that voice in your head, don't create that voice in your student's heads, and if you have an imaginary critical sensei perched on your shoulder, kill it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

What If...

Minnesota was a big experience with a lot of learning. I'll debrief it when the lessons have had some time to settle.

In the meantime, Jaime Clubb from the UK sent me a review copy of his book, "Mordred's Victory" I'm about halfway through. I knew Jaime from the now-defunct Cyberkwoon website. It was the place I went to ask questions about Chinese arts, and where I first met Mauricio, Theo, Ffab, Dave Jamieson, Steve Pascoe and a few other valuable friends.

 Jaime is someone I know on line only, and he's struck me as a good thinker, good writer. He's grown up with the RBSD movement in the UK.

There's a section in his book about teaching RBSD to kids. I don't teach kids, they don't need to know the things in my head and _if_ they can grasp the concept, they pretty much aren't kids anymore. But that's my perspective, not the truth. And one of his chapters talks about kids asking "why."

I haven't finished the chapter. I wanted to get this written before I finished Jaime's thoughts. Really good insight is often too influential, and when I'm around a good writer or a good instructor with good insights, like all humans I have a tendency to follow instead of think for myself. So a few paragraphs triggered a thought process and I want to get it down before I finish.

So, hat tip to Jaime for making me think.

If you have kids, you know some of the stages. The "no" stage and the "mine" stage. And the why stage. The why stage can be infuriating and there is always a sneaky suspicion that the kid is playing a game, pulling you to the end of your rope: Why is the sky blue? "Because the gasses in the atmosphere absorb more yellow and red light?" Why? "All substances reflect and absorb different electromagnetic wavelengths differently." If I'm very, very lucky here, the kid will switch from the "why" to the "what question: "Whats electromagnetic?"

The kid asking why is NOT trying to punk you out, not trying to dominate you, not trying to humiliate you with how shallow your knowledge really is. The kid doesn't know and desperately wants to know. More than that, kids want to understand, and you can't understand jack shit with just surface knowledge. So they push deeper, and "why" is a question that pushes deeper. If you can honestly track why to the source, you will find the principles that underly everything you do. The principles of the physical art that you study or the principles of your own ethics. All same/same. You just have to keep asking the question and answer honestly.

It's not the "what if" game. Every instructor knows the "what if monkey." For every situation or technique, there's the, "What if he counter attacks with the right hand?" "What if he has a knife concealed in his boot?" "What if he has a friend?" "What if the guy attacking you is a midget with a BJJ background?" "What if you're suddenly attacked by 37 ninjas?"

Because it follows a similar pattern (the same question repeated over and over, always based on the last answer) and because both patterns can be annoying and because both patterns inevitably lead beyond your ability to answer* it is possible to see these as related. But they aren't They absolutely aren't.

The questioning of "why" uses the wisdom of a child to get deeper, to understand things, to get the principles out in the open. The questioning of "what if" makes things more technical, more about the surface. If you understand a deep why, you can use that understanding in a thousand different situations. If you get a great answer on a what if question, you have one thing that you can only use in one ridiculously specific situation.

* Inevitably. All "what if" questions eventually grow into situations that can't be handled. And all why questions eventually dig down to physics so esoteric that no one knows the real answer. Our knowledge is limited, own that.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Next Project

The writing project for the end of the year will begin in November. It won't be a novel, but I'll do it as part of the NaNoWriMo challenge, to complete a full book in one month, November. I'm excited about it but just as worried. The subject is pretty big, and I'm not aware of anyone who has hit it at this level.

The idea is how to train for emergencies. What teaching methods have the best chance when the skills must be used out of the box, under stress and with no time to think? Most of our current idea about teaching and learning are classroom based. Gordon Graham's High Risk-Low Frequency category is rarely addressed. When it is addressed, too often it is a magical handwave past the messy parts and an opportunity for administrators to check a box.

Military and police do it, sometimes well, often not. But professional units have a huge advantage and it may be the single most important component to making the skills functional. They do everything in their power to make sure that no one goes through their first several real encounters alone. You will have an FTO or be assigned to a squad. You try to make sure never to make a new unit out of rookies and if you must (say, because there is a new technology and therefor new and untested techniques) you put the most grizzled old veteran you can find in charge. If you want the unit to succeed.

This opportunity doesn't exist for civilians. You won't get the chance to go through your first home invasion with a partner who has been through dozens. And that modeling of someone else who knows how to deal with it may be the critical thing. So how can you train without it?

Have to cover teaching methods, adult learning, curriculum development. But I also want to get into the mysteries. Why do some very advanced techniques come out of nowhere with untrained people sometimes? There are a very few people who with minimal training and no experience did ridiculously complex things exactly as trained... but no one else with the same training did it. And statistically it appears to be so rare it might as well never happen. But it does. And some "perishable" skills seem to lock in under circumstances and pop up when needed decades after the last event or training. For all people? For some? Lots of mysteries.

Likely a section on acquiring the skills that will make you valuable to other people. Everybody can teach, but not everybody can teach something useful.

And even sections on the paperwork necessary if you want to teach pros.

Big project. Eager to get started and worried it won't be enough. I know this feeling.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014


I have lesson plans. I have lesson plans coming out of my ears. I've written lesson plans for SAR, the Sheriff's Office, the National Guard, the Iraqi Corrections Service... but, sometimes, damn.

So I'm in Germany. Some evening classes for civilians, cool. The regular Ambushes and Thugs/Intro to Violence seminar over the weekend. Cool. Conflict Communications on the campus of the Mainz riot police, cool. Conflict Communications is always cool since it doesn't matter what the problem is. Bad guys? Clueless bosses? Family? ConCom explains it pretty well. Tuesday was ConCom.

Wednesday was scheduled for physical control. I had been led to believe that this group needed some skills in arrest and control tactics. Perfectly cool, I'm relatively good at that. But no. Sigh. 37 people. Maybe fifteen agencies. None of them had the same policies or tools.

My normal arrest and control lesson plan is pretty practical. In eight hours we cover:
  • 1-step
  • Joint locks
  • Take downs
  • Leverage and leverage points
  • Stance integrity
  • Ground movement
  • Pain (ethics and application)
  • Lock transition to cuffing
  • Momentum
  • Using the Environment
All useful, all intuitive...
Tuesday I found out some of the students weren't allowed to arrest, so they didn't need cuffing. Most carried weapons ("waffen") --pepperspray and batons-- but not firearms. I had 10-15 agencies with different policies and equipment.

Turns out I'm relatively good at this. Yeah, international trainer and all that jazz, blah, blah, blah... but I have never felt like I'm a good teacher, which probably has a lot to do with the tendency to improve...

Fighting organizes.  It can organize in several ways. So I made the most appropriate organization for this group and let them vote on what they needed. We can talk about why later. The thing that I got excited about is that, as much as I train and think about conflict, I'd never organized it this way. Three levels: Escape, Control, Survival.

Completely different in every aspect. Only the Principles (things that made everything else work) crossed all three categories. And some became awesome insight. Power generation (one of my building blocks) is entirely different in "escape mode" and "damage mode" and doesn't apply (as I define it) at all in control mode. So I put the building blocks under the categories in which they were important. And let the students vote.

Okay, that's good teaching, let the adult students take control, blah blah blah...
But I don't think i have ever once looked at my personal lost  of critical skills (the BUILDING BLOCKS) and tied the to the basic goals--escape, control, disable. And it was easy. And powerful. And empowered the students.

Good day.

Friday, October 03, 2014


Enjoying Germany. Great people and food (had the Deutsch version of haggis last night, very good). Jet lag normally doesn't bother me but this trip is different. May have to arrange recovery time next year between seminars...

Something Lawrence said a few weeks ago has been rolling around in my head. He said my writing, speaking and teaching were "pithy." Not a lot of words, many things implied or assumed instead of said. At the same time, I cover a fair amount of information. "Facing Violence" was essentially two hundred pages expanding on two paragraphs in "Meditations on Violence."

Implied and assumed. Assumed is hard, and potentially a serious problem. I'll write about experience thresholds later, but basically, people at different levels of experience think in different ways. Beginning drivers don't think like experienced drivers and experienced drivers don't think quite like security drivers and no one things about it like rally drivers.

The first time I taught a seminar, and one of the reasons I started writing, was because many of the students didn't have a vocabulary for things that were obvious to me. That there was a difference between a fight and an assault, for instance, or that self-defense was an affirmative defense to a crime. Violence is deep stuff and big, bigger than I will ever fully understand... but the parts I am familiar with have aspects that seem obvious, but may not be to others.

So you have to watch for your own assumptions all the time. When you teach, be alert for people who are not doing quite what you said, or are hesitating to begin at all. You may have confused them. And set up test questions (something else I need to write about) which are ways to find out what a thing truly is. You can use a test question to find if a situation is predatory or miscommunication; a proper boundary setting acts as a test question-- no normal person goes beyond the second step, opportunistic predators will push the third. For teaching, one of my favorite test questions is to have the student teach me. "Chris, you've been here four times. Guess what? You're teaching power generation."

Implied. I don't mind leaving lots implied. I teach adults and I respect them as adults. There's no need to spoon feed. Getting into specifics of dealing with EDPs (Emotionally Disturbed Persons) makes sense because so few have done it and almost everything they know about dealing with social conflict will fail. But they all have experience with social conflict, if not violence, and one of the keys in teaching adults is to tie it to their experience. I don't have to explain in details the things they experience every day, and it's a waste of time and, IMO, a show of disrespect to do so.

And there's a benefit. People aren't stupid. Okay, people in groups and people trumpeting their affiliations and a lot of drivers are stupid... but individuals are pretty smart. And, when allowed to be, they are innovative and insightful. And humans like to succeed and hate to fail. Which means, if you give them the tools and leave them alone, they'll do okay. And sometimes they surprise you and come up with something better than you ever thought of. Those are the best days for a teacher.

'Cause I'm wrong about everything. In an infinite universe, there are no perfect answers. Which means there are no right answers. Better and worse, but no "right." So everyone is wrong all the time. Including me. And every time you give a student freedom, there is a chance that she will come up with something that shifts the entire paradigm an order of magnitude closer to that unreachable perfection. That makes the student better. It makes you better, if you have the humility to learn from your own student. It makes the world better.

Two of my biggest epiphanies in martial arts came from mistakes. Misunderstanding instructions in one case and simply screwing up the footwork in another... and the product of those mistakes was ten times better (not exaggerating at all) than the 'right' way.

So if a student does misunderstand... they are adaptable, smart, tough, survivors. They will have a tendency to make the misunderstanding work. In doing so, they may change everything I think I know for the better. I'm okay with that.
Seven days in Minnesota is almost upon us:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Just finished reading a book, purporting to be about science, where the author was ridiculously ignorant about what science even means. Maybe not ignorant as much as self-serving. He had his worldview, which obviously all right thinking people must share, and a firm belief that anyone who didn't share it had a broken part in the brain. From that stance, science was a search through technology to confirm the 'truths' he already held.

Underneath it all, there is a key thought that might be immensely powerful, but I don't think the author even noticed.

That said, I'm pretty confident that anyone with a modicum of training in actual science would have been appalled by the book as I was... but it was recommended to me by a highly intelligent young man. So why aren't people given a solid education in critical thinking and the scientific method?

Second piece of the thought, stemming from a conversation with Marc MacYoung and touching on the worlds of politics and self defense, on Rotherham and gun control and a bureaucracy completely out of control.

As strange as it seems, I am coming to believe that there are some people, maybe many, who believe that rules actually exist. That when you write a law it actually changes the world. That when you forbid bullying in school, bullying will magically decrease. And magically is the operative word because there is nothing inherent in paper and ink to change people's behavior. Unenforced, rules only have power over the people who consciously agree to abide by them or those so brainwashed or superstitious that they, too believe the rules are real. Someone who believes that a "Keep Off The Grass" sign actually forces people not to walk on grass.

As such, these laws and rules and policies are simply complex spells. And like most magic, they only work on the people who believe (consciously or not) in magic. And making more and more rules has the horrific affect of controlling the people who would voluntarily control their own behavior while doing absolutely nothing for the few who won't. And, as in Rotherham, the priests of this religion get rewarded for doing the rituals correctly even if the bad guys actually gained power. Because energy going into casting spells isn't going into solving problems, no matter what the superstitious want to believe.

If you saw a lithic-technology native who had never contacted Western civilization before and he told you that he wore a cord woven of a red leaf to keep his mother healthy, you'd probably have some pretty condescending thoughts. You'd recognize the superstition and ignorance of sympathetic magic. So, tell me, do you ever wear a pink ribbon for breast cancer?

Like all sympathetic magic, the awareness campaigns give the feeling of doing something without actually putting in the effort and expense. Contribute money to research? Volunteer for hospice? Those are acts and they do something. Wear a ribbon or put a sign on your lawn? That's voodoo. Don't get me wrong, some people are making a hell of a living from running charity campaigns. So your superstition is serving somebody.

Visualizing world peace doesn't work. And it's obviously a stupid platitude, obviously ridiculous, obviously dependent on magic. But a bumper sticker that says "Support Our Troops"gives the actual troops zero support. And if you have that bumper sticker but talked your own kids out of signing up, I wish the hypocrisy would make your head explode.

Struck again with how robust the patterns are. Our ancestors in loincloths making sacrifices and cowering in their huts from the thunder-- that's still us. And we're still using the same tools, whether we realize it or not.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

VV: Validating Form, Ignoring Function

VV, get it? Fifth post in a row starting with V? This will actually be the fourth post talking about validation. First, read this article and prepare to get upset:

Taking everything out, ignoring the fact that 1400 girls were systematically victimized, ignoring any cultural or racial parameters, I want to focus on one very simple thing.

16 years. 1400 victims. Local government, social services, the police and the National Health Service knew about it. Only five arrests, as near as I can make out... until this news report broke.

This is the part I want to write about: The groups that did so little, the groups that even after they knew children were being victimized, and by doing nothing allowed hundreds of others be victimized, were praised. They were praised for their approach and focus and their collaboration and their 'best practices.'

Partner, if 'best practices' leave children to be injured, they aren't 'best.' They aren't even good.

There's form and there's function. If the form doesn't accomplish the function, it doesn't matter how perfect the form is, it is wrong. When a person or an organization focuses on the form to the exclusion of function, which appears to be the trend in all bureaucracies, they become useless. And in cases like this, actively evil.

If you have a test to promote your sergeants, but the people who score high on the test aren't significantly better than the ones who score low, your test is wrong. It is a failure. You are testing for something-- tests always test for something-- but it is not testing for what you believe it is.

If your academy curriculum is centered around what is measurable and not what a rookie needs, it is a tool of bureaucracy, not justice or even survival. And you are dooming students to injury and maybe death to appease the system. And it is a system. And when the system must be served more than the people, you get Rotherham.

It's the way of the world. It has become so ordinary that no one notices, or those that do, laugh. California requires MSDS for bricks. There are places where you can't legally make a straw bale house because no one has written code for them. On a daily level, the constant bureaucratic meddling is annoying or funny. Hideously expensive and wasteful. But we just move on, because it seems so normal.

But this is 1400 victimized children. It should be a slap in the face hard enough to make anyone and everyone rethink how their methods are measured.

Otherwise, the gods of bureaucracy will have their blood sacrifices.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Meanwhile, at the VD Clinic in Minnesota...

There will be one more post on validation but it's going to take a little research and composition. And it's political. So a short break to plug a big event coming up.

If you and I ever collaborate, think twice before you give me the power to name things. The only reasons my kids aren't named Nifty and Swifty are because my wife has these things called "rules" about "proper behavior" and she enforces them and knows where I sleep. Long and short of it, if we're having a Violence Dynamics intensive seminar and no one tells me otherwise, I'm damn well calling it the VD Clinic.

This year's MNVD will be held October 13-19 at the Mermaid in Mound's View MN. They'll have a special hotel rate for us. It will be twenty-five blocks of training over seven days. You can attend the whole thing, the weekdays, the week-end, or individual sessions.

The instructors will be Kasey Keckeisen, local SWAT member, training coordinator, experienced martial artist; Marc MacYoung, one of the pioneers of the RBSD movement; and me.
The details and sign-ups are here:

I'm excited about this one. You're going to get a core dump of insights, tactics and philosophies from three perspectives-- experienced perspectives. This is the only PD I've worked with that is cool with civilians training with officers. No details, but one of the sessions will be shared with a local specialty team. And if you are a pro, it is all POST certified.

The only one that is likely to fill beyond capacity is the Sunday session, Advanced People Watching and Reading Terrain. We have to limit the group size to the point that security doesn't notice we're running a class, so people who sign up for the whole week will have preference on attending Sunday.


The Mermaid Entertainment and Events Center. 
2200 Hwy 10
Mounds View, MN 55112

Sign-ups and further details:

Kasey's Description:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Since I seem to have a theme going...

Long good talk with Erik Kondo last week about improving navigation on CRGI and many other things. Stay tuned on that, there are a couple of ongoing projects I need to write about soon. In the process we were talking about identifying good practices and practitioners, and I was balking.

"My idea of good may not be someone else's. There's a lot of really good stuff out there, particularly in the traditional arts, that is just misunderstood or missed by the instructors." I said.

"Good's hard to identify," Erik agreed, "But you can spot bad in a heartbeat."

You have no idea how much I hate arguing with people who are smarter than me. But at least I learn a lot.

So when validating a technique, deciding whether it will work and whether to teach it, three things immediately come to mind. There may be a lot of other ways to suck, but these are usually easy to see and are definitely failures.

1) Time framing. Everything you do takes time. The less time it takes, the more efficient it is. The longer it takes to get to the same point the less efficient it is. If the technique taught requires more time than exists, you have a time framing problem.

You will never dodge a sword strike with a back handspring. If I throw a jab at your chin within range, you will never get a hand from your hip in time to intercept it. If you have an eight move defense and counter to a single move attack, your attacker is eight times more efficient than you are. You lose. Even if the initial attack and the counter take the same time (or the technique has a slight edge) it probably won't make up for the action/reaction gap. If you are reacting, the opponent will have completed a certain percentage of the motion (maybe the whole attack) before you Observe, Orient and Decide and initiate your reaction.

There are a number of things that influence this. Telegraphing is a big one. In many cases, you can look like you are very fast or even telepathic if you are good at reading telegraphs. Almost everyone has unnecessary preparatory moves before they begin the real action. Almost as prevalent and much more damaging to the student is poor distancing. You can get away with almost anything if you insist that the attack begins from a half-step out of range. If your technique relies on that half-step, it simply won't work.

2) Brainwashing. You can look all over the internet for the videos of the chi masters making their students go dizzy by pointing fingers or knocking people down without touching them. Here's the deal. There is a thing called "victim grooming" where a predator takes time and effort, usually with a child, and raises that child to believe that being a victim is normal and to actively seek out abuse. The students of these chi-masters (and a lot of others) have been subjected to the same process. They have been trained to respond as if magic works or suffer cognitive dissonance and some painful rethinking.

Probably shouldn't have started with chimeisters because it makes it easy to pretend the lower levels of this don't exist. But a lot of them do. Sometimes it is purely mental "I know this technique works because it only takes twelve pounds of pressure to break a knee..." No it doesn't. Your knee can take twelve pounds all day. Twelve pounds moving at 100mph is a completely different problem.

Sometimes it is physical. If your technique only works on your own students, it doesn't work. If you are more likely to be injured by a beginner than an experienced practitioner, your system may be deliberately creating inefficient fighters. That's the technical term for "losers." If you're demonstrating a technique and the student steps back to give you plenty of time, subtly points at which fist she is about to use... sigh. Groomed victim.

Lastly, demos and seminars and you. Really easy to see other people being brainwashed. Much harder to grasp your own suggestibility. Almost all people are suggestible to a degree. You've all seen that yawns are contagious. That's one example. Everyone thinks they are resistant to suggestion, but that belief has, apparently, no correlation to one's actual suggestibility. And when you go to a seminar, your suggestibility is heightened. You have already decided to go to the seminar expressly because there is something about this instructor you admire. That lowers your skepticism. (And don't think a skeptical attitude is a defense, I've read many stage magicians who consider self-declared skeptics the easiest to fool). You will be in a crowd of others who feel the same way, triggering the human herd instinct. Sometimes accentuated by insisting that people come dressed traditionally (much harder to break ranks when everyone looks/dresses the same.) And the really good ones have techniques to pick out the most suggestible (or at least weed out the most resistant) so that the early demos go so well it becomes even harder to question or complain.

If the instructor tells students what is supposed to happen, whether three touches on a meridian will make a KO or that when a hand appears going for the face the body has no choice but to throw itself (and, yes, before you ask, I have heard both of those) the explanation is part of the technique.

Bottom line, if the bad guy is responsible for making the technique work, the technique doesn't work.

3) Mechanical advantage. Any good technique must have a mechanical advantage. It must have an element of leverage, structure or vector that gives it an edge over things applied with more power. You can only do a good sweep if there is enough distance from the sweeping foot and the shoulder crash. You need the leverage. My wife could never outmuscle me pulling her into a hug, but she can use her pointy little elbows to make it really hurt, pitting my strength against her structure and winning. If a fist is coming in and you try to stop it straight on you would have to be far more powerful than the person throwing the punch... but a slap to the side has the vector to redirect a massive difference in power.

Ideally, a good technique will have advantages in all three-- good structure applied with maximized leverage along an advantageous vector. And there is no rule that says a bad guy can't be better at all three elements than you. That's life.

Bottom line- unless there is clear mechanical advantage in a technique, it will only work against a smaller, weaker opponent. It will only work for a bad guy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


You can't be sure. There is no such thing as a "survival level of proficiency." The world has a 100% death rate and no matter how skilled, equipped, or physically gifted you are, there is stuff out there that can splat you like a bug on a windshield. That's just the way it is. The one thing that's a safe bet is that if you are sure your stuff is adequate, you are already setting yourself up for failure.

No matter how tested something is or under what conditions it has been tested, all you know is that you haven't found the failure point yet. But the failure point is out there. So is your stuff valid? That depends how far you have tested your stuff. There is a point where it will cease to work. And the uncertainty increases when it is not tested. When there is no way to validate a thing, humans seek validation instead.

You can't be 100% sure of very much. 1+1=2 with high reliability when applied to rocks. It's less reliable when applied to rabbits. When you can't be sure (validity) people want to feel sure (validation).

How does one go about validation? They like be told by other people that they are good. There are a lot of rituals and trappings to it, but that's the essence. A black belt. Certificates and trophies. Creating "Councils of Masters" who cross-certify each other as "Masters." In the RBSD world, you have instructors who are combing academic abstracts looking for studies that appear to justify their own beliefs or discredit a competitor's. Everybody wants a guy in a white coat with a PhD after his name to validate their approach. The academic researcher takes the place of the shaman is this quest in this culture.

And that last, science, isn't bad. If you are scientifically literate (understand experimental design, the scientific method and the basics of statistical analysis as a start) and read the actual article, not just the abstract. And don't cherry-pick too hard.

But the rest aren't bad, either. Sort of. I want validation too. My validation comes from the respect of people that I respect. Hmmmm. Sort of. I respect almost everyone as a matter of courtesy. But when I look at my closest friends, I'm a little humbled to be accepted in their company. But it can be a fine line between a group of operators and former operators telling war stories and and a cross-certifying Master's Council. I'm fairly positive that each of those "masters" convince themselves that the others on the council are extraordinary and being allowed in is a compliment (even if one Hall of Fame award was offered to every member of a certain martial arts forum one year. Sigh.)

There are certificates that mean a lot to me because of who they came from and how they were earned. And I know there are, or used to be, certificates that came in a sheaf with a box of DVDs all pre-signed by the "master" so that you could fill them out and show potential students your hundreds of certifications.

And trophies-- you win an olympic judo medal or a UFC title and you are one tough son of a bitch, dedicated and skilled. Or you can just go to an event that has three times as many categories as competitors and come home with a pocketful of gold medals from events where you had no opposition. The good and worthless trophies look just the same on the wall.

It can look like the goal is to be strong enough not to need outside validation, to be so sure that you don't need other people telling you how good you are. But that doesn't work either, because some of the worst instructors I have seen had a profoundly over-developed ego. Someone who truly feels superior usually sucks (Dunning-Kruger) and are most likely to reject outside opinions yet most likely to need them.

Sometimes I  think about offering a certification program in thinking for yourself. The catch being that if you want a certificate in autonomy from someone else, you don't get it. You don't get the certificate or the concept.

Monday, September 08, 2014


Trying to answer an e-mail and it needs a little thinking out loud.
It wasn't a big thing, there was a single sentence about validity, but the concept of validity in self-defense instruction is a big one. Rocky.

I've seen a lot of things work and a lot of things fail. And thought -- a lot-- about why things succeed or fail. And those whys became my personal list of principles, and those principles became the framework for my teaching. And that was tested in the field. A lot. And... does that make what I do valid?

What does valid even mean?

Here's the deal. A few people have seen the elephant. But on one, no one, has seen the whole elephant. Soldier experience isn't cop experience. Cop experience isn't corrections experience. Corrections experience isn't bouncer experience. Bouncer experience isn't secure mental health custodial experience. And none of that is direct experience with domestic violence. None of that, hopefully, is experience with being targeted as a victim.

As a man, when I teach SD to women, there is an entire part of the equation (what it's like to be a woman) that I can never understand. But, you know what? I also can't truly understand what it's like to be a bigger, stronger man than I am. Or what it's like to have 30 years of kempo experience instead of jujutsu. I know enough about violent criminals to predict their behavior and pick apart their rationalizations in an interrogation, but I've never been one.

All any of us has is a piece of this. There are no experts. So is there validity? Sort of.

Validity is a function of logic, of syllogism, specifically. (And I'm a little out of my depth in the nuances of philosophy 101, but bear with me a bit). If A is B and B is C then A is C. If there are no holes in the logic chain, then it is valid. A is C. Is it true? Seriously, do you even have to ask? If A was C, then cat would be cct. All of the pieces have to be true for validity to resemble truth. As well as all of the assumptions, like what 'is' means.

In self-defense, one of the dangers is that people confuse validity for truth, and they often teach that things that should work do work, or that things that worked on sober, eager students in a class will work on drugged and enraged people in other places. People frequently rate logic or received wisdom over experience.

"As we all know, self-defense is exactly like math. If you do the same thing, you will get the same effect every time."-- A self-defense instructor who will remain nameless. Not a single person with any experience whatsoever and a marginally functioning brain believes this. Not one. Probabilities go up with higher levels of force, e.g. I have never heard of a .50 to the head failing...but a .45 to the head has.

This validity, this search for truth is, in my opinion, a side effect of the subject matter. We recognize that if we or our students are ever called on to use these skills it will be for high stakes. Any failures will be catastrophic. The combination of high stakes and limited experience (remember that three hundred encounters is probably less than five hours of experience) drives people to seek certainty elsewhere: Received wisdom from a 'master.' Thought experiments. Dojo experiments. Chains of logic where every step is a guess or an assumption.

You would be so much stronger as a fighter or a teacher if you could just get over the need to be sure. There is no right. As Tia said recently, there's just solutions with less suck than other solutions. That lets the goal change from being right to being better. The problem with thinking you're right is that you can't improve on 'right.' Accepting that there are no perfect answers, that tiny touch of humility, gives you the superpower of continuous improvement. You can never be perfect. You can never be right. Feeling sure is a dead giveaway that you don't actually know. But you can be better. Every day.

And validity is a slightly separate issue from validation, but that's a post for another day.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Ultimate Opponent

Sonny Umpad taught that first you must learn to read your opponent. But then you must learn to write him. Make him do and be what you need him to be for you to win.*

And we all know, all of us, that we are our own greatest opponents. What is holding you back from your potential? You. No one else has the access, no one else has the strength. If you choose to believe otherwise ("I would be really successful except for .") it only means that your excuse-making machine is working fine. You can find people with much worse circumstances who became successful. I guarantee it.

So the question-- can you write your ultimate opponent? Can you turn the parts of you that hold you back into the kind of antagonist who exists to lose? And in doing so, can you create yourself into the architect of your own future? Is that what mastery is?

*As Maija explains it. She's worth checking out.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Types of Scenarios

Just trying to clear up some language here.

There are three very different things that tend to get called scenario training. Maybe more, but I can only think of three right now. They have almost nothing in common. They all have some value. They all have some weaknesses and problems.

The first I call "situationals." These are the short 'what if' questions. What if you're attacked at a urinal? How do you fight out of a crowd? Someone jumps you on the stairs, what do you do? They can be fun training, and intense. But intensity is something the instructor always has to worry about. Not because of danger (though brawling on stairs has obvious safety issues). Because anything that feels intense, any training that gives the student some adrenaline, will feel more real to the student than other forms of training. And if the situation or the solution has artificiality--and it will-- the student will still learn the lessons hard even if the lessons are wrong.

The value in situationals, if you are careful, is that it allows you to work some stuff out. To find some tools (like shoulder slams using the handrail on the stairs). The problem is that they will always be pieces. I firmly believe that most bear hug escapes come from this kind of brainstorming, and they fail miserably because the people envisioning the escapes somehow missed that bear hugs almost never come into play to immobilize, but to throw people into things and any escape must work with your feet in the air.

Situationals will almost always miss context.

They are also a hotbed for stylistic inbreeding. Inbreeding-- you have a good technique so I come up with a counter so you modify your technique so the counter doesn't work so I come up with a modified counter so it does work so you modify your technique again... in two or three iterations of this we are using techniques that don't exist outside our inbred little training hall and have counters that apply nowhere in the real world.

In situationals, you have to be sure that the people giving the problem (uke) are acting natural, not adapting to the solution. The best tactic I've found for fighting out of groups, for instance, is not to fight. It's a wedge and swimming motion that gets you out of the circle or through the mass quickly with relatively little damage. But it predicates either on a group trying to put the boot to you or a panicked crowd. When the group starts to prioritize immobilizing first, the swim is neutralized... but, with the exception of one team prison shanking, I haven't seen that in the wild.

The second type of scenario training I learned as "The Sharpness Exercise" (translated). Hogan's Alley, basically. You give the operator or team a reason to run a maze-- officer down at the end, 911 call from a kid hiding from intruders somewhere in the house... different things for different agencies in different parts of the world. As they run the maze, they will be presented with problems-- booby traps, ambushes, different threats requiring different levels of response, and innocent people as well.

Done well, Sharpness is a great exercise for adapting on the fly, for using your whole range of force options, and for practicing judgement and articulation. It takes a little more equipment and prep than situationals, but a lot less than full blown scenarios.

I've seen this exercise go very badly when the instructor was trying to make a point about how dangerous the world was. Everything was booby-trapped, every hostage you rescued was actually a bad guy with a concealed gun, the other guy in uniform was an imposter and assassin... I played  for one of these at the academy years ago when I was young and stupid and couldn't tell intense training from good training. That Hogan's Alley made the officers so paranoid that they were useless on the job until after they got over it.

Full-blown scenario training is difficult and expensive. It requires armor. It requires an environment, either a real place or a modular training space. You want simunitions if you're teaching professionals. An absolute minimum of a three-man team (Facilitator, Safety Officer and at least one Role Player). The safety protocols must be detailed and must be enforced. It's not easy to do, even harder to do well.

On the plus side, scenarios are ideal for practicing judgment in tandem with skills. They allow you to test and work everything from tactics to emotional growth. They find holes and glitches like no other training. There's a big chapter on them in the Drills manual.

On the downside, they are very difficult to do well and safely. Safety runs from the hazards of a nearly full-contact fight (armor helps, but it's not perfect) to the environment (anything from rusty nails to a gaping hole where a staircase used to be) to pure negligence (about once a year someone gets lazy or complacent on the safety protocols and a live weapon shows up in a scenario.)

And, if the scenario designer, Role Player or Facilitator are ignorant or ego-driven, scenarios can ruin a student. If the training team decides to "be tricky" or "be challenging" that means "be artificial" and they will teach untruth and, under the adrenaline of a scenario ingrain that untruth hard. If they don't understand criminals, the student can't learn what works and what doesn't, only what works or doesn't when dealing with poor actors. If the RP or Facilitator need to win, to prove that they are better or tougher or more tactically sound than the student, they will, consciously or not, punish the student for any solution that is better than the one they envisioned.

Saturday, June 07, 2014


"The thing that strikes me in this whole class is that you think about time very differently than anyone I've ever known."--- Student in a class for writers.  From memory, not an exact quote.

Humans don't think about what we think about.  And even more rarely think about how we think.  I was told long ago that breathing and walking were two things that everyone does but few do well because they breathe and walk without thinking about it.  Unconscious skills don't get developed.  I think I can add communication to that list and a bunch of other things.

And now time.

It's not special-- I think everyone who does emergency work thinks about time this way.  So I didn't know it was rare.

Apparently, most people envisage time, if they think of it at all, as this medium in which things happen. We live our lives in time.  We move through time.  They think of time (or fail to think of it) the way fish think or fail to think about water.

For fighters, time is a resource, an extremely limited resource.  Everything takes time, and time spent doing one thing (prepping equipment) cannot be spent doing something else (developing a tactical plan).

Time can be given, taken or stolen.  It can be wasted.  The scary man reaches under his jacket and you think he might be drawing a weapon but you want to be sure...  You've given him time.  And wasted your own.  And put a cognitive mechanism in place ('I want to be sure' which means 'I want to be consciously sure') that guarantees you will use data inefficiently and waste more time at each step.

If I press, the threat has to make a decision, usually a hasty one.  If I don't press, the threat will use his time-- to observe or plan or move or...--and how he uses that time will tell me who he is.

You can make people think that time exists when it does not.  We frequently used a fake count down before a cell extraction.

The ability to understand and use discretionary time is the hallmark difference between a pro and a rookie. If there is time to think and plan and communicate, the pro does so, the rookie rushes. The pro spends the time wisely. When there is no longer time to think, when the door bangs open or something shiny flashes at your belly, the pro doesn't waste time thinking, he or she moves...and often the rookie tries to think or plan or get some detail of information, trying to spend time he doesn't have.

Infighters process time and space at another level. Close is fast. Time is distance and at that range you have damn little of either. In addition, anything you do potentially changes everything. A slight pressure with your knee can change the vector of an incoming strike and the location of the threat's head, for instance.

This is the part I'm struggling to describe. In a close brawl or doing infighting randori at a decent level of skill, time ceases to be linear. Something that objectively, on video, would be a sequence of action is all one thing. It feels like it happens in chunks. A lot of it is simultaneous, you can pop the knee while clotheslining the jawline, but the things that led there and the things that follow and anything the threat does or fails to do... those all seem part of a whole that teleported into existence as a complete object.

Sorry for the tortured metaphors. This is really hard to describe. And it gets worse, because the threat isn't part of the equation. Not at the time level. When it's go, you're both on it. And if you have to see what the threat does in order to decide what you will do, you're behind the curve and will never catch up, not at this range. He has his chunk of time and will do things with it. You have your chunk of time and will do things with it. But cognitively, for infighters, those chunks don't intersect.

There's also a common assumption about time. It's subconscious, but it really changes the affordances. When people fight, it's a form of communication. Basically a conversation with fists and boots. Many good fighters are taken out in an assault because they subconsciously follow the conversation pattern-- Fighter A does something and fighter B reacts and fighter A reacts... and in this pattern there are tiny pauses (a bad fighter waits for the pauses, a good fighter creates them) that signal whose turn it is.

This subconscious assumption of shared time isn't true. Reliably you can take someone out-- take 'em down, spin them prone and cuff them quickly and safely if you do it fast and decisively. Not because you're that good or the technique is that good. If you act without the expected pauses, people working under the shared time illusion are subconsciously waiting for you to signal their turn to respond. Reading this, that sounds esoteric and intellectual, but it's the best description I have of the difference between the force incidents that turned into fights and the ones (some of which were objectively more dangerous-- weapons, etc.) which just ended in a heartbeat.

But that shared time is illusion. We don't have time in a fight. I have time and you have time. If you are waiting for a pause, you aren't using your time and become meat. And your ability or choice to use your time and how you will use it can and should (maybe) be completely independent of what I do with my time. Unless, of course, you are manipulating my time.

Not sure I can really explain this. Grapplers have a completely different understanding of moving a body than strikers, and it's so subconscious it is really hard to explain simple things, like "make your hands sticky" to people who don't know the feel. It's kind of the same way with infighting and time.

Friday, June 06, 2014


Except for the upcoming seminar in Seattle, and maybe a little brawling with friends, I have the rest of the month free. Which is good, because the rest of the year is going to be almost continual motion.

It's a month, but that's not much time.  Things that need to happen:

  • Rehab the knee. Harder and better. And try not to injure it again.
  • Rethink, plan and execute working out. Three (or is it four?) years of continuous leg injuries. "Nurse Ratchett" used her mad tui-na skills to pop the bone in my ankle back into place. The metatarsal break will never completely heal and I'm used to that so it's just the knee-- so now it's time to find a way to get the wind and muscle tone back up. 
  • Tied into above-- need to make some specific incremental changes in living. Not enough to do new things, I need to modify some deep-seated habits.
  • Work on the property and the house. Over two months of neglect means about a year's worth of work. Make a daily dent.
  • Work stuff-- book writing has to go on hold for a bit. Need to script (wrong word, my usual script for a three-hour video is a single page, nothing we've filmed is staged. More bullet points) "InFighting" and a "Scaling Force" tie-in to shoot in July.*
  • Have to become a business man. Emotionally, this is the hard one. Lots of internal contradictions ( I like capitalism-- the free market concept has done more to make peace possible than anything else, at the same time like a lot of kids raised poor there is an instinct that money is dirty and only bad people make a lot.) Some contradictions with the world-- I really want to get to the point where I can teach for free, but it's been made abundantly clear this year that pricing too low (something I especially do when I believe in the mission) costs not only contracts but credibility.
  • Part of the business is breaking down exactly what I do, what can be delegated, anything I'm doing in person that can be done another way.
  • Work on getting the word out about the CRGI launch. Contact some potential guest contributors.
  • Trivia. I'm about ten days behind on e-mail. Have to send a blurb on the essence of infighting out. Did a podcast interview and need to send a bio.
  • Connect. Haven't had much time for friends and family. Want to make the time and at the same time, there is so much work to do. It's easy to let the soft obligations slide.

*Thoughts out loud about these. For infighting, I need to get together with my local crew and a few strangers to bang it out and decide what must be in it, what should be in it, and what can be left out. I'm leery of filming this. Pretty much by definition if you set up infighting so the camera can see it, you aren't doing it right. But David Silver's crew is pretty ingenious.
For "Scaling Force" Lawrence can't make the filming and I want to cancel, but both Lawrence and David are insisting. What I want to cover is threat assessment:
  1. Am I in Danger?
  2. How much danger? And what force does that require?
  3. Test questions
And, for want of a better word, context of application. If it is a serious self-defense situation, something where high-level force is the answer, it won't look anything like a square-off fight. So how to adapt your current skills to surprise, tight ranges and cluttered environments and some options for disparity of force: numbers, weapons and immense size and strength.
Plus, I'm teaching an on-line class for writers starting in ten days.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Parts and Wholes

Planning the section on defense for "InFighting." And there's a snag. Not a big one, probably easily solved, but it is part of the schism between learning and doing. Or talking and doing. Or, obviously, writing and doing.

Infighting is close work. And fast. You have to do most of it by touch. And defense becomes about controlling space and structure, not intercepting attacks. You need drills to get this down, just like anything else. But the drill isn't the thing.

In order to teach or communicate, you have to break things down. Defense and offense. Foot and hand motion. For infighting: locks; takedowns; structure manipulations; spine manipulations; hand, foot, elbow, knee, head, forearm,shin, shoulder and hip strikes; crashing; gouging...maybe biting. Plus the general stuff of orientation and controlling pockets of space.

But no matter how good you are at defense, something will get in eventually. So in addition to protecting yourself, you must finish the threat. And for infighting especially, this is simultaneous, not a sequence. (Really struggling with how to write about the perception of time to fighters, BTW). Not protect and attack. Not even simultaneous block and strike. Your attacks are your defenses, your defenses are attacks. Not in the sense that you can hit someone upside the head with something you usually call a block. In the sense that the elbow driving into the left side of his neck prevents him from lifting his right foot for a knee strike.

So you have to learn defense and you have to practice defense and it seems easiest to do so in isolation. My dad made me practice shifting gears with the engine off before we tried any driving. That's the way we teach, the way we communicate. Because time is linear, maybe, or we can only use one word at a time. But none of this stuff is used in isolation, at least, not if you're any good.

But the very fact that the defense chapter is separate from the other chapters risks putting it in the student's head as a distinct category. Creating one of the mental boxes that makes most people so inefficient, uncoordinated. Not integrated.

This disconnect must be everywhere. We learn pieces of things and sequences that by their nature are parts of integrated wholes. And there must be a training for the integration. I have that for infighting, not worried... but how many other life skills are learned in pieces? And because it is the normal way to teach, it becomes the normal way to learn. But is it the only way? Or the best?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hit My Buttons

I have a love-hate relationship with teaching. I love teaching, or I'd make my living another way. Watching people grow stronger is one of the coolest things to watch, right up there with desert sunsets and ocean storms. And feeling even a tiny bit of responsibility for that growth is a huge ego stroke. No denying that. And teaching is one of those professions where you can really watch the ripples of what you've done spreading in the world.

As a wise friend likes to point out, we are all teachers.

But I hate being a teacher.

The teacher/student relationship is incredibly toxic for self-defense. And it is incredibly limited and limiting for any real growth or deep internal work.

Toxic for self-defense. The core skill of SD, beyond hitting and hurting, even beyond awareness, is the ability to stand up for yourself. The skills to see what is going on and make a decision are vital, but in the end, you have to be able to act on that decision. If you can't act, your understanding and situational awareness skills will only serve to make you a smarter, more aware victim. This decision to act is not made in a vacuum. There will be another personality there, the threat, and he or she also wants this to end a certain way. And the threat will use power-- physical, personal, voice, authority, threats...-- to make you do what he wants, not what you want.

And so spending six hours a week with an authority figure, doing what he wants in training, may be the exact opposite of the internal training a student needs.

It can be even worse in martial arts. If you pick the right art and the right school the kid who was always picked last for kickball can convince himself he's not just an athlete but a martial athlete. You can convince yourself that you are a great fighter or a "warrior" without ever experiencing real pain or fear. And the person without the social skills to get a date, if he sticks it out long enough, can be called "master" and demand that his students kneel.  You can see why this is a petri dish for certain predatory personality types. And even if the instructor isn't a predator, the system itself is ripe for abuse.

Limited and limiting. Most of our concepts of learning came from our experiences in schools, naturally. We all spent twelve or more years running through what was essentially a factory. Time scripted. Tasks designated. Every assignment judged. There have always been a few extraordinary teachers, but generally any creativity snuffed on sight. Can't speak for everyone, but I've never been sent to the principal's office or had my parents called for doing bad work... but I have for pulling out an encyclopedia and proving the teacher wrong. I never saw stupidity or ineffectiveness punished in the place I was sent to learn. The only sin was disobedience.

And that shared experience is the idea of teaching and learning that we all too often take to other training.

You can't become proficient at chaos by rote. You need to play. To mix it up, to make mistakes. You need to play with people so much better that they remind you there are levels of skill alien to you, and play with people of passion with no skill because they'll surprise you, too. But chaos is scary for some. As soul-crushing as I think our educational system is designed to be, it created a comfort zone and people try to recreate that comfort zone in the dojo. Complete with an imaginary imbalance of power, as if the students were first graders and the teacher the only adult.

You can't learn the stuff you need to know from that dynamic. It's too limited. And it is also limiting, because once you accept an authority figure as a font of knowledge you lose the habit of thinking for yourself (assuming you had that habit to begin with.) NO ONE has all the answers. There are no experts in this field. And even if someone knew everything there was to know about violence, that person still wouldn't know you, not the way that you do. And you are a big part of any situation.

A training environment where all acceptable answers come from a source outside yourself limits some of your greatest survival advantages: Your creativity and your adaptability.

Given all this...ahem... if you sent me an e-mail recently asking me to be your guru and I went a little ballistic, this is why. It's one of my buttons.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Two Reactions

Two people can have entirely different reactions to the same event. What can be crippling psychological damage to one is a challenge or an incentive to grow for another.

Civilian scenario training, like we did in Sheffield, is more complex and more dangerous (on may levels, not just physical) than most of what I see out there. Unlike police scenario training, you aren't working with a population who have been through psychological batteries and have a baseline of training. If you do it long enough, you will get psychological breakdowns. Part of the job is to bring the scenarios as close to the student's core as you safely, realistically (two different things), think you can. So hitting the edge is expected, but sometimes you will hit it inadvertently. Side effect of lack of psychological batteries is that you won't know where the suppressed mindfields (I like that pun) lie.

With a skilled facilitator, that's not usually a problem. If the facilitator is aware and understands dynamics, hitting the edge becomes a huge win, a rare insight that others can never truly share.

But outside of scenario training, people process big events on their own. Or with amateurs (friends) who may care, but may have no idea of what hitting an edge is like. Or with others who were exposed to the same event and will be trying, with very varied levels of success, to deal with the same issues. In the wild, as opposed to good training or, say, exposure to events with an experienced team or FTO, processing tends to be a crapshoot.

Most people adapt. There are relatively few events that can crush the psyche of a fairly healthy human. Very few environments where a human will hit unrecoverable exhaustion before they hit adaptation. People adapt, that's what they do. So most people are or become okay. For various values of 'okay.'

There are two common reactions of the people who do well. Both are acts of will, both are active instead of passive, but they are very different.

One decides that there are forces in the world beyond personal control and concentrates on internal and personal work: learning, training. Becoming more aware, informed, adaptable and tough.

The other decides not to change and focuses on forcing the world to change. Controlling the behavior of people nearby, trying to change social norms, laws and policies.

Objectively, with my reasoning mind, both methods of adaptation are admirable. The second, even, is the core of changing the world for the better, maybe. But my emotional reaction, my Monkey Brain, feels that the second way is on the same continuum as bullying, that these former victims have discovered a version of the power that was used against them and have become a reflection of what they hate and fear. And some revel in that power.

Forcing change is still using force. Making people be what you want them to be against their desires is exactly what your victimizer did to you. You can tell yourself that it's different because the change you demand is right and good. But some extraordinarily bad people have said that as well.

But that's probably just my Monkey Brain talking.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


I've slept. Two nights in a row of good sleep. Doesn't make up for the last eleven years or so...

Mental, physical and spiritual. Three dimensions that all of this stuff (fighting, relationships, life, whatever) share. I'm always uncomfortable with the concept of 'spiritual' and the implications of the word-- but I know that mental and physical are not enough to describe sensation.

One example, that comes easily right now. Physical and mental exhaustion are not the same as emotional exhaustion.

Long ago, our highschool basketball coach (yes, I played highschool basketball at 4'10" advantage of a school with only twenty-nine total students) had us do an exercise called a "chinese chair". Backs against the wall, hands over head, up on toes and knees bent so that the thighs were parallel to the ground. Everyone had trembling thighs very quickly. Only two of us finished two minutes and neither of us could walk afterwards.  The coach said that if anyone collapsed and could walk afterwards, their bodies hadn't failed, their minds had.

Physical exhaustion. Climbing or judo (or milking cows) hands would go to total muscle failure again and again. You learned to rest them, stretch them and get them back to work as soon as possible. BCT we would do pushups to failure and then a partner would support part of our weight so we could do more. For endurance running, tasting blood in my mouth was the sign that the real training was about to begin.

That's not the same as mental exhaustion, and I've experienced that mostly with sleep deprivation. Forty hours in I start to hallucinate. Run multiple days on one or two hours of sleep and muscle tics and tremors develop. Eyes get less sharp. It's hard to monitor your own thinking, but mentally tired makes me stupid as well, and frequently stubborn. Emotions come to the surface. For me, especially, a sense of other people's physical and emotional weakness.

But there is a completely different type of exhaustion. Physically great. Calm, hydrated (dehydration can cause the symptoms of all three kinds of tired) and well-rested. But soul tired. Every human voice and presence is scratching on a raw nerve. My beloved K knows when I am getting "peopled-out" and insists on a rest day-- at home or in the woods, no contact, no phone, no computer.

This is a different kind of tired than being physically or mentally tired. I know other introverts feel it but honestly don't know if extraverts can relate. For me, one of the physical symptoms is that it becomes very difficult to make eye contact, it feels like a force is pushing my eyes away from faces. Spiritually tired. Burn-out, I think, is the high end version. Burnout in our (actually, my old) profession can come from big events, seeing something dark; or a lot of cumulative events. Sometimes from the internal expectation of being the only one who can handle the bad things and always stepping up or always being ready to step up and denying ourselves down-time.

Alone time is the cure. Maybe. Sometimes the big things process better with someone to talk to. But alone time is looking really precious right now.

Friday, May 02, 2014


"Are you having fun?"
The student grins, "Yes."
"Are you getting hurt?"
He looks a little confused,"No."
"Then there's no reason to be so tense. Relax. Breathe."

RC pointed out that in certain professions, sleep deprivation is just a natural state. Whether you're a pager slave or you do shift work; whether it's crossing time zones or adapting to the sounds and smells of a new place every night-- or injuries. People who do certain things don't sleep much or well, generally. And that can put you in what I call the Death March mode. You have a job to do, a condition to outlast and mentally, physically and spiritually you are running on reserve power. What do you do? Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. And breathe.

When the energetic, powerful kid wants to grapple, relax. Let him burn his energy as you fill the spaces that he creates in his thrashing. Just breathe. Even better if you can arrange that your dead weight is on his diaphragm, so you can breathe and he can't.

When the pain gets bad but you must remain absolutely still, breathe. When you know you've made a bad mistake and don't think there's anyway out and you feel the little rat in the back of your skull clawing away at you, telling you to panic, breathe. The air comes in, and fills your belly and holds it full and the air goes out until your lungs are empty and you feel that empty sensation before you inhale.

When you want to find a dark corner and just rock and hum, that's okay. Rocking and humming is breathing.

And every so often, for no reason at all, got out in the night, lie down, look at the stars, and breathe.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Teaching on the Fly

As mentioned, some of the seminars in the UK were shorter than I like, shorter than my standard lesson plans. On arrival, I didn't always know how many people would be there, the backgrounds of the students (how many force professionals versus experienced martial artists versus beginners, etc.) what the facility was like or what equipment was available.  Traveling, I can rarely carry the amount or type of equipment that I like, so I'm dependent on what can be provided.

Teaching on the fly is a challenge, and I enjoy it.

Some tips.

Make a lesson plan. Don't expect anything to go according to the plan, but plan anyway. I don't remember who said it, but "plans are generally useless, planning is essential." It's a good exercise, it allows you to put thoughts in a logical way. Don't fall in love with the plan-- at one venue I had a tight 'essential elements of self-protection' plan but the students wanted restraint & control. Know your stuff well enough to switch and improvise.

Keep the end-user in mind. That's the students. You are teaching not just to the students but for the students. Not for your ego, not for your pocketbook. If they need something different than you planned, their needs trump your preferences, at least in my philosophy.

There are three elements (probably more) that determine what is possible to teach.

#1: The student base. You have to be able to size them up quickly. Watch and listen. I start with the one-step drill because you can see how well they follow instructions, get a good gauge of any training artifacts or bad training habits that are endemic, find the blindspots... and it engages them immediately.

If there is a wide range of students, your drills should be designed such that beginners and advanced practitioners, pros and hobbyists all will get good value. Their goal is to learn and improve. Once you understand the core of your own skills, you can set the game so that each person can learn what they need. That's one of the differences between teaching techniques and principles, or teaching subject matter and students.

#2: The equipment. Some things can't be taught without the proper equipment. You can't do scenarios properly without armor. Some of the academic stuff (like violence dynamics or force law) are damnably difficult without a white board. I wouldn't try teaching ConCom without a projector, too easy to go off on tangents. Power generation requires firm kicking shields and, ideally, telephone books.

That said, there are other things that don't require equipment-- learning to move a body; or leverage; or targeting. There's more than enough information to fill a day even if you don't have the right equipment. Just don't fool yourself into believing that anything is good enough or complete enough. Targeting is cool, but good targeting with poor power generation is likely to fail.

#3: The facility. My least favorite place to play is a nice, clean, flat place with good lighting and padded floors. It's excellent for some things, but difficult for others. It's hard to do environmental fighting in a dojo. You can usually break off small groups to the office and the restroom, so not impossible. But I like having stairs and access to a few parked cars that are already scuffed and dented as well. In general, you want to do your rolling on mats, but a couple of times a year (or at my seminars) I want people rolling on asphalt, concrete or hardwood floors. I want them to remember that in the real world, stuff is dirty and it hurts.

You can teach body mechanics almost anywhere, but the combination of exploiting momentum and "gifts"is hard to teach in a pristine, flat, uncluttered world.

You also have to evaluate things for safety. Boots are good. If you wear boots you should practice in boots. Mats are good, they make learning to take falls easier. Mats and boots together can result in some really horrific knee and leg injuries. That's bad.