Thursday, December 31, 2009

Re-Cap. Ho Hum

End of the year is a good time for a wrap-up.
2009 was intense on a lot of levels- I made friends I will never see again, and some I am sure I will. Names that can't go on the internet among them. Found out I can be lazy for as much as three months before I start to go stir crazy.

Found out I can kick out a decent book very quickly- but gained almost ten pounds doing it. Sometimes people talk about balance, but sometimes you make great strides when you go off balance, falling or throwing yourself into something with your whole being.

Still hate getting older. Not sure I would notice if not for old injuries... and there is some psychic drag developing which needs to be jettisoned. As a young man, I'd try anything. I needed a reason to NOT do stuff. More and more, unless I find a compelling reason, I'm giving a lot of things a pass, things that might be fun. That needs to change. I think tomorrow will be a good day to jump in a cold mountain lake.

I lost my journal for several months early in 2009, and then really didn't work on it for the rest of the year. Between daily reports and a work log, everything felt like it was being documented well enough. Still- the continuity and ability to look up dates would have been nice.

Memories of 2009? Kissing K in an Irish castle; A punch bowl full of emeralds in Istanbul; sparring with my son; dancing in Kurdistan; a present for General A; BBQ with the Pariah Dogs...
Strangely, but exhausted as I was, I have no memory of arriving in Portland after Iraq. I remember Kuwait and wish I could forget; and out-processing at Benning; and the sunset from the plane... but not the arrival, seeing my family. No memory. How odd.

For 2010? I think it's time to let myself get out of balance and practice being young again. I'll let you know how that works out.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Had a long talk with Kris Wilder the other day. It made me introspective, as talks with Kris are wont to do. He comes off as the classic bluff and hearty good ol’ boy… sometimes it takes a few minutes to realize that he was talking about some very deep stuff.

He’s also incredibly analytical, which you will see in a lot of his writing, and he lives truer to his beliefs than most are willing. All good stuff.

But enough about him. This post is all about me and, in a way, all about the blog and my writing and how I see teaching-

He gave a good analysis of what happens on most martial arts blogs- uplifting stories, analysis, descriptions of classes or techniques. Which grows readership? What speaks to who?

Chiron isn’t about growing readership and I’m not writing for you. We all know that. What readership there is appears to be from word of mouth and google searches- but there is readership and it is growing. Despite the fact that there are very few technique posts, not much uplifting, and even if I do skewer sacred cows I don’t do it with the entertaining glee of the dedicated iconoclasts.

(I also use big words, sometimes, which is a no-no on many martial arts sites.)

It’s a matter of how versus what, I think. Because the writing is for me, it isn’t about what I think. I already know that. It’s about how I think. The deeper it gets, the more it is exploring a process. There are a lot of epiphanies here, and questions and doubt and mysteries. Those are what I think about, those are the things that writing helps to explore, the way others talk to themselves.

I think, maybe, the difference with Chiron is that you can go to thousands of martial arts sites and read what ‘masters’ and experts think… here you can read how a working professional thinks.

The blog, writing, and teaching as well. It’s not about what you know but how you learn, less about what you do than how you decide what to do. Not about what the student thinks, but how the student thinks. My interest isn’t in the end product (except as a measure of effect) so much as in streamlining the process.

The language gets weird, here. A fighter is not something you are, but something you be. Grr- there’s no really active verb for existence. You can be a painter or be a painter. You can be a painter with efficiency and intensity, or you can be a painter lackadaisically, wastefully. The painting part doesn’t interest me as much as the being part.

Thanks, Kris.


Kris also asked me to do a guest blog on his "Striking Post" should be coming up soon. It's an idea I've been working on for a while...

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Rules

My first on-line article was many years ago for Fabien Senna, the webmaster of cyberkwoon. I'd mentioned that it always bothered me when people said that there were "no rules in a street fight" because there were rules. Laws matter, sure, but there are also subconscious rules that people get stuck on. Fab asked me to write a little about some of the rules, so I did.

Along with the rules I'm coming to understand that there are scripts as well. Off and on over the years I've described several of them here without realizing it. The bad guy gets angry and expects you to either show fear or get angry back; the basic monkey dance; threat displays and dominance games...

A lot of the successful de-escalations have been by refusing to play the role or follow the script that was expected.

It would be easy to say that the scripts are social, but watching body language, even non-human primates do very similar things. One pushes and gets aggressive and loud, the other responds. Often both look to the bystanders to see if public approval is on one side or the other. Often they rely, just like people, on being separated by friends, getting to feel like they stood up without the danger of actually getting hurt.

When you start looking for it, you see this monkey behavior everywhere. And it seems so petty. There is great power in seeing the game and choosing not to play- it is almost a superpower to be able to focus on the problem and ignore the social mine-field surrounding it.

That's very cool, but in a way it is sort of a trap as well. When you step away from the monkey games it is easy to forget that all the people you deal with every day are still primates. What looks silly and petty when you are dealing with avoiding death and injury is the very definition of what others see as human... and when you cease to come across like a person, they have to figure out who and what you are.

I think this is why so many good operators get 'reined in' by their bosses even when they have done nothing wrong. It's not punishment and only partly a power play. The bosses are just reassuring themselves that the operator is still a human, still a member of the tribe and still knows his or her place in the tribe.

To be anything else is to be unreadable, possible a stealth predator, a wolf in ape's clothing.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Get Out of Your Way!

If you break down the koshi-waza, the hip throws, there are really only two: a full entry hip throw where you turn so that the opponent is completely behind you and your butt, ideally, hits him just above the knees; and a half-entry, where your hip bone takes him about in the crotch.

There are slight variations in how high or low to hit, the vector... but those are pretty much just things to argue with over a beer. The real difference, the reason that there are so many variations is that it is pretty hard to get your own arms out of the way.

We never explain it that way. Each of the grips has advantages and disadvantages, a place and a time. Morote seoi nage works very well for shorter, stronger judoka; ippon seoi nage is nice when you have the room to fling an arm and is much easier than morote if you are slightly taller than your opponent. That's what we tell our selves.

What is really going on is that a hip throw requires a really tight connection between the two bodies. Especially in a full-entry hip throw, your arms aren't really designed to hug something behind you. The elbows push things away, the shoulders don't go there. The key to the variations is that they are just different ways of overcoming the fact that we are physically in our own way to accomplish that goal in that position.

Making a 'proper fist' is a really big deal for beginning karate students. It is taught in great detail, great precision and the student practices again and again until his or her fists ideally become little bone clubs on the end of an arm.

It's cool, but it's completely unnecessary. I know. Shock, horror. The first time someone explained this (it was Mac, by the way) I reacted as if someone had pissed on one of my religious icons. There was no way I had worked that hard to do a simple thing right that was completely unnecessary...

But it was. The idea with a punch is to focus the power through the ends of the metacarpals. Curling your fingers tightly beginning with the distal joint and working in then locking them down with your thumb accomplishes that. So does simply letting your fingers relax and hang down. You can hit with the exact dynamics of a karate seiken with completely loose hands. Both are just techniques for getting the fragile fingers out of the way.

In individuals this happens mentally as well as physically. People drop into sport mode when survival is the order of the day. They, sometimes, grip the weapon arm when they don't have the leverage to hold it even when the grip keeps them from getting the solid blow to the brainstem that they need to finish things.

And mentally- whether we call it the inner critic as writers do or a fear of success; whether it is self-satisfaction or laziness or complaisance-- we spend a lot of time getting in our own way. If you are like most people, the biggest obstacle in your road to success is you. What are you going to do about it? How do you plan to get out of your own way?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

So Close...

Argh... reviewed the pictures for the book and there are four that need to be retaken. Four poses, that is, each will require several shots. It will take time to return to the same place with the same model to do them... Or I could have totally incongruous pictures today. I think I'll wait. Alain has given me the thumbs up on the legal sections as well as a few very nice suggestions.

Confirmed with Kris and we are a go for a seminar February 20th, 1000-1600 at his dojo. I'll put together a lesson plan, a flier and get an e-mail list going.

Intriguing suggestion to work directly on a class (maybe videos? A book?) specifically for cops who need to attain control and side-step the Monkey Dancing. Primate behavior gets a lot of play in the next book, but saying, "Don't do X." Is easy. the challenge is training behaviors to replace the 'don't' and get a good effect. A lot of the strategies for people/cops whatever (like yelling or being bossy) are used because they work. But when they fail, they fail catastrophically. Need to outline the concepts and see what format will get the point across most clearly.

An old friend, a former thug who thinks a lot, may be coming up for air after a long hiatus. Might join us for the weekly brawls if his schedule permits.

Decisions to make. Things to plan.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Frame of Reference

My lovely wife reads books for a local award. Some of the books, she assures me, are amazing. Many are dreck. Sometimes, to help her get through a really awful one, I'll read it aloud, doing the voices, emphasizing the unwittingly horrible turns of phrase.

K is a writer and she picks out why specific things didn't work, where the author got confused but wrote it as the protagonist got confused... stuff like that. I noticed something today and realized that it is one of the reasons I gave up fiction and, indeed, one of the major problems I have with people who live primarily inside their heads.

I read two sections today. In one, the character was dealing with emotional questions- is this really love? will it last? That sort of thing. In the second section, the characters were trying to decide what to do about someone trying to kill them.

The emotional weight, the vividness, the drama, the feeling about what the stakes were in the two sections was exactly the same. I was left thinking, as I often do, that the author had only experienced emotional pain and angst, and was trying to extrapolate that to physical agony and the terror of potential extermination.

Steve recently linked to an essay by Harlan Ellison. In the article, Ellison talks a little bit about a brush with violence. It was just a brush. He was neither the victim nor the perpetrator. For that matter, he tried very hard to avoid being a good witness. It still shook him.

That was one encounter, one step removed. As good as Ellison is at writing, as profoundly as it affected him, no matter what you feel when you read it, he barely got his toes wet in the shallow end of the pool.

He was never the target of such an act. Never been the force of nature who could do that. Certainly never been one of the people who step between the violent and the victim. For those who have, it is very different- different by orders of magnitude. Just being on the periphery, Ellison found it horrible. (I'm curious to read a before and after of his stories, see if they changed after this event).

This isn't about being a bad ass. Nor is it about 'people who live in their heads are wimps'. It's about teaching. Because this is the big issue with teaching: Many of the students have absolutely no frame of reference to understand what they are trying to learn. Neither do many instructors. How do you teach this aspect to students whose closest frame of reference is having their feelings hurt?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Universal Wristlock Escape

Small joint locks do work. I've used them, very successfully, many times. Even on enraged freaks who were huge.

They work best, however, on people who have had a little martial arts training. Put a martial artist in a sankaju (inside turning wrist lock with elbow up) and he obligingly goes up on his toes. Put him in kote gaeshi and he twists with it and goes down (or sails through the air, if he has been taught to do that.) The skilled ones go with the lock and try to essentially outrun the pain. Sometimes it works.

Interestingly, completely untrained people, especially if a little drunk, tend to do the same thing when placed in a wristlock. It doesn't matter which wristlock- whether you take out yaw, pitch or roll or any two of the three or all of them, the escape still works fine.

It works better than any technique I have yet seen from a trained martial artist. It is simple.

They reach out with the other hand, say, "Ow!" and pull the trapped hand to their chest. It works beautifully. Give it a try. And don't forget the 'ow'- consider it a primitive but pure kiai.

There is a valuable lesson here...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Caveat Lector

My mother told me that when she was little, the Catholic church discouraged reading the bible by yourself. It was considered too big, too complex, could bring up too many issues... so you were supposed to have a guide. Someone educated in what the book was supposed to mean, so that you wouldn't stumble over all the things that it inconveniently said...

There have been a lot of books written by criminals, and I catch myself wanting to fall into the same trap- they should be read, but they should be read with guidance. That's silly. It offends me when a power group says it about the bible... but I catch myself wanting to say the same thing.

People, the people who buy and read books are largely good people. They know good people. Consciously or not, they extend their assumptions about the people around them to authors.

Criminals, especially those doing serious time are not good people. They have gone into that place where they can kill or rob or sell drugs (the rapists almost never write books, or if they do they leave the rapes out) and are okay with it. When they write the books, they want you to be okay with it, too.

Violent criminals do a lot of mental gymnastics to justify their crimes. It takes a lot of mental gymnastics to rationalize sodomizing an eighty-year-old woman or stabbing an eleven-year-old girl or blowtorching another criminal to death. But not only are they good at living with themselves (most like themselves and some will brag about their stabbing a child as a proof of iron will) but they are good at getting other people to be okay with it as well. There is a reason that even after a savage, vicious killer dies resisting arrest his family will go on TV to say he was a "...good boy." It's not just looking for a settlement. Some really believe it.

They are master manipulators. It is how they survive. And the ones with the skill to write, to really write, are better at manipulation. Literati seem to want to believe that beautiful writing can only come from a beautiful soul. It's not true.

So I will, reluctantly, include a few books written by criminals in the bibliography of "7". But read them at your own risk. Don't read them for how the criminal sees himself, his victims or the world because he will almost surely be lying about that. Read for how he manipulates you, the reader. How he convinces you that he is either the victim, the hero, or both. How he gets you to question your ethics... even though you have never murdered, robbed or raped.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Done... Mostly

We were going to take some pictures for the book today, but Kevin had to cancel at the last minute. Added some sections today (every time I go to sleep I wake up in the middle of the night thinking of some critical detail I left out).

But it is done. Mostly.

Confession time- I've had the shakes after a big thing and sometimes trouble sleeping for the first few hours, but as far as I remember I've never had what is called an 'adrenaline hangover'. Sometimes I'm sore from injuries I didn't notice at the time...

If anyone has a source or experience, now would be good. The thing is, unless I'm really sure I'll cut any mention out of the book. I think that's why MoV was both so short and got so little friction- I just left out all the stuff I couldn't personally confirm.

So, pictures to take, captions, indexing... and off to the publisher.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Putting it in Words

At one of the Orycon panels the moderator, Nisi Shawl had contacted us in advance and asked us to bring something to read.
The panel was about writing from the point of view of cultures you didn't belong to. It was a cool panel, and Nisi was the stand-out in terms of insight and compassion. It was a little jarring, as it sometimes is, to listen to people whose lives center around things (like writing fiction) that I can't quite see as real.

I didn't have anything to read written from another point of view, so I decided to read something from "7" about dangerous ground. The idea that sometimes you step into a new place where the rules, particularly the rules about violence, might be very different. How do you know? How do you learn the rules? How do keep from making a fatal mistake while learning the rules?

As I read, part of my mind was racing. I could be very wrong, but reading it felt like no one, ever, had put this stuff into words before. How to specifically read a room. The patterns your eyes must follow. When violating space is a violation and when it is a cultural norm. How to pitch your voice, your attitude. Where your gaze rests.

There have been masters of this skill- Lt. Sir Richard Francis Burton comes immediately to mind. Any skill I have would be rudimentary compared to his... but did he ever write down how he did it? He documented how he mastered languages in as little as two months, but not, as far as I know, how he could blend in with a foreign culture and not be spotted.

It's nothing new, lots of people do it from cops to method actors to taxi drivers... but there was an undeniable rush of creation in writing the words. Maybe it's false and the knowledge is so common it has never been written. Or some author that I've missed but everyone else knows well has already covered it...

But it didn't feel that way. It felt exactly like the first time I made a fire by friction, taking two pieces of wood and from them drawing forth an entirely new, living flame. I see why writers get hooked.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Chapter List

This is what you'll be getting:



CHAPTER 1: Legal and Ethical

1.1 Legal (Criminal)

1.1.1 Affirmative Defense

1.1.2 Elements of Force Justification The Threat

1.1.3 Scaling Force

1.1.4 Civil Law

1.2 Ethics

1.2.1 Conscious Stuff: Capacity Beliefs, Values, Morals and Ethics

1.2.2 The Unconscious Stuff: Finding Your Glitches

1.2.3 Through the Looking Glass

CHAPTER 2: Violence Dynamics

2.1: Social Violence

2.1.1 The Monkey Dance

2.1.2 The Group Monkey Dance

2.1.3 The Educational Beat-Down

2.1.4 The Status Seeking Show

2.1.5 Territory Defense

2.2 Asocial Violence

2.2.1 Predator Basics

2.2.2 Two Types

2.2.3 Two Strategies

CHAPTER 3: Avoidance

3.1 Absence

3.2 Escape and Evasion (E&E)

3.3 De-Escalation

3.3.1 Know Thyself

3.3.2 Know the World You Are In

3.3.3 Know the Threat

3.3.4 The Interview De-Escalating the Monkey Dance De-Escalating the Group Monkey Dance De-escalating the Resource/Blitz Predator

3.4 Altered Mental states

3.4.1 Rapport Building

3.4.2 The Psychotic Break

3.4.3 Excited Delirium

3.4.4 Fakes

3.5 Hostage Situations

CHAPTER 4: Counter Assault

4.1 Foundation

4.1.1 Elements of Speed

4.1.2 The Perfect Move

4.2 Examples

4.2.1 Attack From the Front

4.2.2 Attack From Behind

CHAPTER 5: Breaking the Freeze

5.1 Biological Background

5.2 What Freezing Is

5.3 Types of Freezes

5.3.1 Tactical Freezes

5.3.2 Physiological Freezes

5.3.3 Non-Cognitive Mental Freezes

5.3.4 Cognitive Freezes

5.3.5 Social Cognitive Freezes

5.3.6 The Pure Social Freeze

5.4 Breaking the Freeze

5.5 One other Habit

CHAPTER 6: The Fight

6.1 You

6.1.1 This is Your Brain on Fear

6.1.2 And This is Your Body

6.1.3 Training and You

6.1.4 Mitigating the Effects

6.2 The Threat(s)

6.3 The Environment

6.4 Luck

6.4.1 Gifts

6.4.2 Managing Chaos

6.4.3 Discretionary Time

6.5 The Fight

CHAPTER 7: After

7.1 Medical

7.1.1 As Soon as You are Safe

7.1.2 Hours to Months

7.1.3 Long Term

7.2 Legal Aftermath

7.2.1 Criminal

7.2.2 Civil The Threatening Letter Difference

7.3 Psychological Aftermath

7.3.1 Story Telling

7.3.2 Change

7.3.3 Feelings

7.3.4 Questions

7.3.5 Victim Power

7.3.6 Friends, Society and Alienation


Further Reading

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Busy Bak Son

It's been a busy bunch of days.
The Book. Working title is simply "7." I decided to evade the whole circles/arenas/stages thing and also the very clever suggestion to keep using "Violence" in all the connected titles Maybe "Meditations?" The title will be an editorial decision anyway, and David is smarter about this stuff than I am. He's the professional. The book is in rewrite, I'm waiting for one SME critique. I'll post the table of contents in the next few days.

Orycon- Sat on lots of panels with some very amazing people, notably Pat MacEwen, a criminalist with a very cool collection of pictures. Also some friends, like Steve and Bart and Guy and Mike and a few acquaintances that would be nice to know better. Got to see some of my favorite people as well. You know who you are.
The thing that always amazes me about cons and fans and writers is how huge the rift can be between their fears and beliefs and mine. In one of the panels on writing about other cultures (which I was on, I think, because I routinely work with other cultures) the question was asked, "How do you know if you have offended someone?" The authors were thinking feedback from readers. I was thinking that when the General's bodyguards reach for their guns it's a big freakin' clue you've crossed some kind of line.
The other big insight was from a panel on peace. There are people working for peace who are afraid to look at violence. You can't get there without that step. They seem to want to get to a pretty place but only travel through pretty places to get there and not see the bodycount they help to create on the way or the value that violence has for those who use it.
Disturbing moments, but the con was a good time.

Hands-on: I had the chance to do two hands-on classes at the Con as well. About 20 participants and ten observers in each. Wide range of skills, aptitudes and mindsets. There is a saying that 'the excellent is the enemy of the good'. I tend to go the other way- everything connects so I try to cover too much. They got a lot of concepts, but without the time or equipment for them to practice with any depth. Some of the class was recorded and it's good for me to watch.

I listened to a speech yesterday, and a politician who I really respected (disagreed with on almost every issue, but respected) lost my support. He made the statement that since he had written letters to the families of war dead and seen some of the coffins delivered that he knew "first hand" the cost of this war. It was delusional and profoundly disrespectful. Profoundly disrespectful gets used as a whine a lot. That's not what I mean here- to know the names but not the smiles or touch of the people in the coffins; to compare watching and writing from safety to wondering if you will get a call tonight or if the incoming alarms are real this time is not only profoundly disrespectful for those who are in danger. It is also profoundly disrespectful to the very concept of truth. There is no parity of experience between those who watch and those who do. Only the most self-absorbed of the watchers can even pretend that there is. I had thought that this man was far, far above this. One of my budding heroes is hollow.

Interview tomorrow. Prepared pretty well. Have to wear a suit.

Thanks to everyone for the condolences on Beast. Death is strange- not quite real and yet the most real and certain thing there is. It doesn't feel like loss but does feel like sadness. I expect oblivion for myself but still have long conversations with 'my' dead- Dad, Rick, a nameless baby in Ecuador, Ryan, Frenchy, Samson, Miro...

This isn't one of the things where I feel a need to understand or control. We'll all know soon enough.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Been looking forward to writing a little- the Convention was a great experience. Homecoming wasn't.

An average dog knows more about loyalty than the most extraordinary human. Got home to see our beautiful airedale listless and stumbling. He came to me. We brought him inside. I lay down and he lay down next to me, just happy to be near his human.

He was cold. Listless, stumbling... but he was cold. Everything I could think of that would cause his symptoms came with a fever, or involved a slow deterioration. I guessed hypothermia. Beast wasn't a bright dog in a lot of ways and had brought himself to near-hypothermia several times by getting stuck under the porch. It wasn't that cold out... but it was all I could think of.

I didn't think shock. He wasn't dehydrated. He wasn't bleeding. His abdomen wasn't swollen or tender or rigid. He wasn't sweating (I know, dogs don't sweat, just used to humans). His breath wasn't shallow or rapid, it alternated between normal and very deep.

I couldn't figure it out and decided that it could wait for morning, for our regular vet. If it was hypothermia, he would be fine in the morning. Other than shock, there isn't a lot of intersection between "Things that will kill you quick" and "things the vet can do something about".

Then Beast collapsed. We made the run in to the 24-hour clinic late on a Sunday after an exhausting weekend. He didn't survive surgery. I called it wrong. It was shock. Cancer on the spleen, bleeding into the abdominal cavity. Bringing him in immediately might have changed nothing, but I'll never know. So I own this one, this death. A good, loyal, brave friend. Not that smart. And four legged, but I didn't mind.

Cold and wet digging a grave this morning. Didn't notice at the time. Digging gives you some time to think.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Doing Scary Things

A close friend reminded me how I used to advise students to do something scary every day. It's one of those diminishing returns concepts, because after a while it gets harder and harder to find scary things. Last Thursday, I had a nice one.

Back Fence PDX is an interesting, fun concept. as a sort of dinner theater, seven people get up on stage, one at a time, and tell a story. The story must be true, personal and un-rehearsed.

If you have been to an ABBB, you know I like telling stories... but that is very different. Stage fright doesn't make sense to me when you are surrounded by people who have held your head when you puked and put on bandages when you bled and would be there in a heartbeat if you cried. At ABBB, we are reconnecting with the old stories and catching up with the new ones.

These were strangers, with bright lights in my eyes (want to make a jail guard nervous? Put him in a room with three hundred people all watching him, and then blind him.) It was something new. And the story was something I don't talk about often. I can only think of twice when I had a failure of moral nerve in my career, times when I followed the policy even though it was wrong. I told about the old one, the one that is not so raw. How a good man died because everybody did the right thing, followed the rules.

The internal state had some adrenaline. I don't think the audience saw much, and what they did see was a rookie trying to figure out a microphone. No shakes, voice steady... just visualizing tripping on the way to the stage...

There was a secondary effect, too. It caught me off guard. When several people seek you out to say they were moved to tears... what do you say? I had no idea. "Thank you," maybe.

It's good to be a rookie again.

It's also fun to tease K: avant garde dinner theater with her husband followed by a book release party for a friend, she's officially literati now, I think.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Is That a Problem?

"Let go of my arm. It's messing up your distance."
"But that's the weapon arm. I need to control it."
I shake my head. "Watch me." I pass/parry/enter "What can you reach with your knife?" I know the answer- if my hand weren't under his arm he might be able to get my thigh, but it is. If he was extremely flexible he just might be able to nick my ear or ruffle my hair. Maybe. Just because it is scary, doesn't mean it can hurt you. What I say is, "If you can't reach me with it, I don't need to waste resources on it. It is controlled, but by position, not grip."

There's a lot of that kind of stuff out there- solutions to problems that aren't problems. We talked about it later. Someone grabs your wrists, what do you do? I just say, "I know you're desperate but I am not going out with you." I know where his hands are. Where his feet are. What he can do and what he can't. For most things he needs to let go, for the one he doesn't, the head butt, I'll feel his intention. There is no problem here, unless you psych yourself into one.

Same with grabbing the shirt. It's an aggressive, scary move if you buy into the hype. Put it down on paper and suddenly it's a gift. "Hi, my name's Ray and I'll be your attacker today. I've decided to open by tying up both my hands in a way that can't really hurt you, leaving your hands free and my knees, throat, ears and lots of other good stuff in easy reach."

Lots of the groundfighting positions on the bottom are good places to rest. There are some holds- kesa gatame and kami shiho gatame to name two, where the person can't hurt you without changing the hold. The only danger in either is to struggle yourself to exhaustion. There is no problem here, not until the bad guy's friends show up.

Recognizing a problem is a critical strategic skill. Recognizing when something is not a problem and you can save your resources is a critical tactical skill.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


Things have been busy lately, but probably boring for you to read about. My son's play; my daughter's concert. Meeting with old friends. Writing. Evidently a rat chewed into a power line last night and the East end of the house has no power.

Boring stuff, but kind of cool, too. The thing about shiftwork was all the parts of normal life that you missed. I have gone to more of my kid's events in the last two months than in the whole seventeen years before. It's kind of cool. It means listening to bad music (and some very good) but it is also watching kids grow up in an environment that was alien to me.

I always spent a lot of time with my kids. Not a lot, maybe. Very nearly as much as they would tolerate. On my days off I would get them up and see them to school. When I worked nights I tried to sleep while they were in school. If they had a half-day that coincide with an off-shift or a day off we would go bowling or out for lunch or... I've always loved my kids and they have never, I hope, doubted that I loved them. For the first time I am meeting their school friends, seeing where they fit in the social networks that surround them.

I'm seeing happy, well-adjusted, popular kids. Despite the autism. Despite a father who taught them how to throw axes instead of footballs. Despite all the times I wasn't there.

So, sorry if the blog is lagging or boring right now. It will pick up. But life is in one of the cool, easy happy flows and I plan to ride it for all I am worth. Wish me luck.

Monday, November 02, 2009


Thanks for the concern, Viro. The site appears to be up and running. Feel free to check it out and let me know if there are any issues. Big thanks to S. Cole for getting it up and running.

Second, I'll be telling a story on November 19th at the Mission Theater. Details, including where to get tickets, are here. This will be entirely new for me and like most new things there's no way to tell if you're going to suck until you jump in with both feet. Any way it breaks it should be fun. Plus, there will be cupcakes. Which would be more of an incentive if I liked sweet things.

Third, I'm taking a cue from nanowrimo and will be finishing a book in 30 days. I've committed to getting one complete book down by the end of the month. Piece of cake.

Lastly, I want to apologize for the last half of the last post. On re-read, it barely makes sense to me and I know what I was trying to say. Lesson to self- don't rush things, take a breath to re-read or just let it sit. Just because the kids need to be picked up doesn't mean the writing needs to be rushed.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Conscience and the Rules

Working on the website is kicking my ass. It looks beautiful on my computer. Finally got it to upload to the host site... and then it doesn't actually show up on the web. Or it does, but without pictures and in a black-on-black unreadable font. Sigh, time to call in the big guns...

VC wanted more on the value and the cost of a conscience. It's not some deep or profound thing, if you think about it... but many people go their whole lives without being exposed. Some things suck. There are many things that are cool to think about that suck to do.

When you apply force to a human being you should only do it when it is the right thing to do, when the costs of not applying force outweigh the cost of applying force. If you pull the trigger (and you don't miss or...) no matter the circumstances, you will have destroyed a unique thing. Something more unique and of greater artistry than a Rembrandt or the only copy of a Mozart fugue. Would you destroy "Starry Night" to save your daughter? I would. But I would feel bad about it.

The cost of a conscience is two-fold. The fear of bad feelings can make people hesitate or not act at all. Don't get me wrong: fear of other bad stuff can also keep people passive and make them victims- but fear of your own conscience is an interesting thing because it is both very powerful in (some people) and completely imaginary. The other cost is that people can beat themselves up emotionally over things that are objectively good decisions. That's just the way it is. No matter how logical and necessary the action was, you can expect to wake up in the middle of the night for a while (sometimes for the rest of your life) wondering if there was another way.

And the cost is the value. The feeling bad and the expectation of feeling bad is what keeps us from using violence as a convenience. Those that don't have this do horrendous things.

Thus, as near as I can remember in Toby's words, comforting a girl who defended herself: "That you feel bad doesn't mean you did a bad thing, it just means that you are a good person."

There were a lot of good comments on the post on teaching, but Robert made one about context and permission and working in the jail. I'm going to deliberately misunderstand it in a useful way, a way that ties into conscience:

One of the keys to personal 'permission' was a by-product of working as a corrections officer but is not dependent on it- I knew (and had to know) force law inside-out, upside-down and backwards. Knew it so well that I could compare it with my feelings and internal ethics and work out the issues well in advance. For the most part, I found that when an instructor said something that made my eyes twitch e.g. "You are authorized to use one level of force higher than the threat," my instincts were usually spot on.

There are rules. There are social-monkey rules to conflict that we have learned from birth. And there are legal rules that we are beholden to whether we want them or not. When one person says "I'd rather be tried by twelve than carried by six," does he also say "I'd rather spend seven years in a state prison than take a beating." ? Without a thorough knowledge of force law and probably a good knowledge of real conflict- at least enough to recognize when you are monkey-dancing and not defending yourself- you might find some pretty weird thoughts popping up in a conflict.

You can choose to believe that you are immune and if you have one or two encounters that only last a second, you might not have felt it, but get a copy of "Deadly Force Encounters" and take it for a read. Even trained officers in life-or-death firefights found themselves worrying about lawsuits and IA investigations.

So part of the context, Robert, and in my opinion more powerful than the uniform or the duty to act, was a really thorough knowledge of the rules. There is no reason why a martial arts student can't know this as thoroughly as I did. For that matter, there really isn't a good excuse for anyone who bills himself as a self-defense instructor not knowing this stuff.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Admin Notice

First things first. Met Toby and he is a damn fine man. One of the ones who understands the value, and the cost, of a conscience- and can explain it to his daughters.  I was most impressed.

The old website, chirontraining, hasn't been updated since I went to Iraq.  The connection there was too unstable (most of the time) or I was too busy (the rest of the time) to do anything with it.  At some point the provider changed the program that runs it, so I haven't been able to work on it.  Turns out our lovely little macs have a program just for making web pages, so for the last three days any spare minute has been spent trying to design a new web page.  Once all the pages are mostly done, we'll see if it up loads.  Wish me luck.

So, question: for the first time this will include a page of the stuff I am willing to do for money. I intend to title the page "Whorin': Things I'll do for Money" but certain elements (cough)wife(cough) indicate that it might be less than professional.  I think it's the oldest professional... but... any input?

Anyway, staying busy.  Thanks for the input on the last post and there is a lot to think about, stuff that deserves an answer in the body of the blog.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Teaching for Chaos

What I teach is dealing with violence, and that dictates a lot of what and how and who I teach.

I don't teach most people. Children don't need to know about certain parts of the world. They need to believe, at some level, that the world is safe and good. Maybe it's not true and maybe it's not necessary, but I want children to have that. I don't teach stupid people. They make me tired and waste my time. I try to avoid the ones who are just augmenting fantasy or on some kind of imaginary power rush, since I can't hide the contempt for any length of time.

So who I do teach tends to break one of two ways- either professionals who expect to be dealing with very bad things in the near future or hobbyists (experienced martial artists) who are just now realizing that what they thought they were learning might not actually be what they learned. They are waking up in other words, pushing away the dream violence and looking for a touch of the real.

There are a few cross-overs, people who pride themselves on collecting reality credentials. A very few who share more than teach or learn, finding comfort in someone who knows the words and the music.

What I teach is chaos, and so in the end, I teach nothing. I mean that very seriously. When the shit hits the fan you will be all alone, no matter how many people you are with. No matter how good or extensive your scenario training it will never be exactly like real life. You (or the student) need to be able to handle it. Alone. Not like me, you need to handle it like you. So I make no effort to teach my way. You find your way. And then you build on it and refine it and broaden and deepen it. You do that until you have achieved something I could never give you. At best, if I tried to teach you, you would be an imperfect me. But you can be a perfect you.

So I don't teach. We explore and I point out what I see and you tell me what you sense.

That's the essence because in a moment of survival, you will be a perfect expression of yourself. Who you are and what you do, both in that moment and in all the hours of training beforehand are who you are. Who you have become. Nothing less and nothing more.

So I can't teach someone to bow and cower and genuflect and call me 'sir', not when I want them to stand up to someone far scarier than me. I can't lie and tell them that they have what it takes, that they've drunk the magic kool-aid, because some days it's bug on a windshield time. I can't let them get away with the whining and 'oh poor me' and 'I don't wanna' or "I can't' because I don't want them to learn that if they give up it will still be okay. It will probably be very NOT okay.

I can't teach them platitudes, "You will get cut" or "You won't get cut" because both can be lies and they don't need garbage in their brains when they see their own blood. They need to move.

It's all about the student and they need to learn to see and evaluate and move. They need to learn how to grow themselves. In the end, they learn how to teach themselves. Then they do and should move beyond the teacher, not as little flawed clones but as men and women who have grown themselves to be as strong and good and courageous as they can be. Powerful enough to be themselves, even when they are all alone and afraid.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Communication Styles and Teaching

Throwing something out for you to ponder on:
People have habitual modes of communication- ways that they try to get stuff from their heads into yours.  There are lots of levels of magnification you can look at this, everything from NLP's modalities to how much a person relies on logic or emotion to make a point.

The habitual modes are a huge piece of what we see (in others) or project (ourselves) as personality.  If someone is loud, uses anger to attempt to invoke fear and tries to stand too close and at a higher elevation, he is read as a bully.  Someone who talks about himself more than the issue at hand is read as arrogant.  Someone who talks around the issue or is constantly distracted by other things is an airhead if otherwise charming and nice; manipulative or stupid if not.

Habits become habits because they worked, and communicating is something that we learn so young that it can be very difficult to change.  Cute talking tends to work at two years old, less so at six or eight.  But, if it does continue to work through six and eight because it is rewarded, it can become a habit into adulthood that doesn't work.  People become bullies because they got away with it.  They become passive victims because that mode protected them from the far more horrific things that they imagined might happen if they asserted themselves.

That's background.

You have a teaching style, (even if you are not officially a teacher, you teach all the time.)  If you have never received specific training or at least given it a lot of thought, your teaching method is probably heavily influenced by your normal communication mode.  If you are a brash, arrogant jerk in your private life, you are probably one of those loud teachers constantly pointing out tiny errors and keeping your students constantly on the defensive.

Two side notes, here-
1) Sometimes this is not true at all. Sometimes when a person drops into teaching mode they have an entirely different personality, often cobbled together from TV shows or memories of good teachers.  This is not always effective- a good dramatic presentation of teaching is not the same as good teaching. What makes good entertainment is not the same as what makes good education.
2) And some people, when they start to teach or put on a blackbelt and get in front of a class undergo a personality change because they finally have the confidence (really the self-perception of power/authority) to start acting in ways that they were afraid to do before.  Almost always negative.

If you have one or a few communication strategies and can't change them, that amounts to a personality disorder.  Think of and treat people as tools and toys, you're an Anti-social Personality Disorder.  Other people only exist to acknowledge your greatness?  Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  You manipulate people through your own emotional upheaval? Histrionic Personality Disorder.  You espouse the deeper truths of a reality not open to the common man (or just believe you've been abducted by UFOs)? Schizotypal Personality Disorder.  On and on.

Most people have a few strategies.  Logic. Connecting the idea to the physical world.  Emotion.  Big concepts or building the idea brick by brick.  Metaphors.  Metaphors presented as truths (a lot of the chi demonstrations I've seen, for an example).

Healthy people change strategies when they don't work for them (an inability to change is why they are called Personality Disorders).  Emotion ("My parents are ill") didn't get me a raise, so let's try logic ("I've saved you 30% in Worker's Comp claims in the last four years.")

That's good, but it's reflexive. It still comes back to the person.  This didn't work for me, so I'll change something. That hurt, so I won't do it again.

They are levels of maturity.
A Personality Disorder is locked into a behavior program that was solidified very young and won't change.

The average person changes strategies based on personal consequences.

A good teacher changes strategies based on what is working for the student.  This is a huge step in maturity.  The focus, for the first time, is outside of the communicator and monitoring the receiver.  This is big and basic. The instant that you grasp that your attempts to communicate are about the receiver, not about you, your ability to communicate- to write and speak and, I don't know, interpretive dance- all jump to another level. Not automatically, it takes skill and practice, but the potential to improve jumps by an order of magnitude.

The next step, with experience, is to plan the communication with the student in mind and from the student's point of view from the very beginning.  It is still about the student, but now trying to plan rather than getting steered by trial-and-error.  You will make errors, though, so you have to keep monitoring. Otherwise, it is about you even when you are pretending it is about the student.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


I'm working on a more serious idea right now, chipping away at an aspect of teaching for the blog, but it is not quite ready yet.

Met some really fascinating people over the last few days. First, a stranger e-mailed me and asked if I would be interested in telling a story. Out loud. On stage. To a large audience. The idea made my hair stand on end and my palms sweat, which was reason enough to agree... but first there was the sit-down meeting with the producers of Back Fence PDX.

Great ladies, and this was the thing- in a lot of ways, the worlds we live in couldn't be more different, but both listened with huge empathy and curiosity. They asked questions, they were passionate about the whole world. They were perfectly comfortable, while we talked, to immerse themselves in the world the way that I see it. Amazing, both of them. Too many, almost all people aren't just listening, they are constantly comparing to what they want or expect to hear. Then they judge what they learned, but the pain and the fear, I think, comes from the damage when their filters aren't working. So, two things about Melissa and Frayn, 1) the world could definitely use more of your gift and 2) This kind of curiosity cannot help but lead to vast intelligence. Hmmm... can I teach sincere curiosity? That would solve a lot of problems.

Also met a man, an old fighter. The kind that gets people asking him to join their "Master's Councils" but also the kind that the self-appointed 10th degree hanshis and sokes wouldn't consider fucking with. Some of the stories were by any objective measure horrific, but we were laughing so hard it was disturbing other diners. This man lived "Lord of the Flies: The Musical Comedy."

He's a mass of old injuries, unapologetically rude when he wants to be, flirts outrageously with women who could be his granddaughters (all the while confident that between his age and the damages, he'll never be called on it). We talked about... stuff. It's comforting to talk about stuff instead of around stuff.

Then he told me, "It's really good. All the times I was trying to get myself killed, I never knew that life could be like this. Just good. It's worth it." That's the end game. It can be done, to age well.

Thanks, GJ. It was an honor.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


My brother was eight years older than me. For most of our lives together, eight years seemed like a huge gap. He was bigger and stronger, but also he was more athletic, more popular, more gregarious. I admired him a lot, and envied him at least as much, but that doesn't mean we got along. He was the first person to break my nose when I was six and he was fourteen. It must have been funny, an enraged six-year old with blood and tears and snot running down his face and a laughing teenager... but I broke his nose, too and we bled into the same sink and were sort of friends for a while.

Rick did it all- sports, activities. He was the first member of our family to get a college degree (with an ROTC scholarship) and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force. He flew. He was also the first to die. No, that's not true. The twins died before I was born, so they were just stories to me and tears in my mom's eyes. Rick reached adulthood, and then he died.

He had just been promoted to 1LT and assigned to the squadron he most wanted- he was going to fly F-15s. He flew his trainer through a high-tension power line. September 4th, 1981. I don't remember my relatives birthdays or when I graduated or... but I remember that date.

Doing the math in my head, he was twenty-four when he died. This morning I was thinking he was twenty-two.

I am almost twice as old as Rick ever got to be. In my head he is still the big high-schooler to my grade-school self. The bluff, hearty pilot to my shy teen self.

Twice as old as he ever had a chance to be. What would he tell me, or what would I tell him now? I have far outgrown the advice he used to give. See him now as someone who had a ton of growing to do himself. I wish I could have seen what he would have become.

There will be more moments like this, if I stay alert and my luck holds. In the not-too-distant future I will be older than my own father. That will be kind of weird. It will happen to all of us, if we are lucky and good. We will outgrow our mentors, though it may not be as clear and obvious as death.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

All In

Another metaphor, or maybe a string of metaphors. A wise man, Mac, once said to me during a short conversation about the finer points of professional intimidation: “I want him to look into my eyes and see the price of admission.”

I love that line.

If you crunch the numbers, it is impossible for a small woman to resist a committed attacker. He will be stronger, bigger, have surprise and a plan on his side. (Trust me, in general, a threat will rarely pick a larger, stonger, more alert victim. That’s not the way the game is played.) Purely crunching the numbers, the victim doesn’t have a chance.

But victims have won. Many, many times they have fought their way to safety or scared off or incapacitated the threat. Statistics are statistics, but I have heard or read that fighting back increases a women’s chance of escaping unharmed by 50-80%. Full disclosure, (this is from memory, so don’t quote me) one of the studies in the eighties reckoned that fighting back increased the chances of getting away unharmed by about 80% but also increased the chances of being killed by 13%. Tell me if we need a short post on reading statistics.

So what’s going on? The math (size + strength + predator surprise) of what should happen in an assault doesn’t match observations from the field.

So here’s the metaphor- in any conflict each party is willing to risk a certain amount of chips. If the other party raises beyond what the other is willing to risk, they have the advantage. It’s a clumsy metaphor and I already hate it. It implies bluffing, but this is very real. It implies that only the chips on the table count, but the cards matter too.

Still, bear with it a little bit. When a rabbit turns on a fox and drives it off, it isn’t because the fox couldn't beat the rabbit; the fox leaves because he doesn’t want to pay the price to stay in the game. The fox, the predator, the threat makes a mental note of the risk they are going to take, what they are willing to do to take down this rabbit or that co-ed. They have estimated the price of admission. When the price goes up, they often leave (and this gets messy, too, because sometimes it can trigger a rage reaction as their manhood is put into question. If I can pretend the statistics are all about my little metaphor, raising the stakes works about 80% of the time and backfires about 13%). If the threat is surprised enough to freeze, the rabbit-turned-feral can not only escape, but destroy the threat.

Just a thought. I like the image of raising the stakes. When you are accustomed to a penny-ante, nickel limit game it just makes sense to walk away from the guys playing for rent money and paychecks.

But another reason to hate the metaphor- it sounds too much like Marc MacYoung’s ‘escalado’. Not the same thing at all, and the metaphor works better for escalado then for this…

But do you see it? There is size, strength, skill, speed and ruthlessness… but there is also an ability to take this conflict to a level that the other party isn’t prepared for. You want to chip your teeth and try to intimidate and I’m willing to put you face down in the concrete… who is going to win? Still want to play? You want to push and shove and I want to break bones and joints? You want a good old-fashioned fistfight and the knife appears in my hand?

Achilles and Hector- Hector was a good, noble man, possibly the best human being in the Iliad, and he was willing to kill, to risk his life and fight to the death. Achilles wanted to humiliate Hector’s dead body and drag it around the walls of Troy. Who won?

There are higher levels you can take conflict to, and as long as you leave a face-saving out, once you raise it too high the threat may walk away. But god help you if he was willing to call and you were only bluffing.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Old Man...

My lungs hurt.
It's a beautiful little town, a place I wouldn't mind living, so I decided to drop in an application. Today was the physical. It was based on the APFT- the Army Physical Fitness Test, with the single modification that the run had been shortened from two miles to one. Damn good thing. I hate running. Unless I'm chasing something. Or being chased. Those are kind of fun.

The proctor told us it was a pass/no pass test, no extra points for exceeding the minimums and he encouraged us strongly to stop when we hit the target number. So you had two minutes to do so many push-ups, two minutes to do a certain number of sit-ups and then the run.

The target number is weighted by age and gender.

I was really worried this morning. One of my shoulders has been getting worse, I haven't been on a work-out schedule, feeling fat and old and creaky blah, blah blah...

They handed me the slip with my target number. I was embarrassed. Suddenly I wasn't worried about the shoulder, I could do that many push-ups one-handed with the slightly less bad shoulder. Did I mention I was the oldest guy testing?

So I did the minimums, like I was instructed. Finished each exercise in less than thirty seconds.

Then the run. I haven't really run for time since I was in the military, but back then my two mile time was right around twelve minutes. So I started at that pace. Big mistake. Not too big. Still finished with over 90 seconds to spare, but it hurt. I'll be coughing for a couple of days. We gathered around at the end. 50% washout rate on a relatively easy test. Roughly half of the applicants will be there for the written test.
And I'll still be the oldest.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Early Love

Good talk with Don this morning. Don's primarily a gun guy, but does jujitsu on the side- Danzan-ryu. So we talked and it gradually degenerated into something that only a judo or jujutsu geek could follow. It really got me thinking.

Sometimes I think I've gotten entirely too serious. Pragmatism. Efficiency. There is a gear-geek thing where you are tempted to attach everything you can to a rifle. Then there is another stage where you want to take off everything that can fail and just strip it down to a tool that will do the one thing it was designed to do with absolute reliability. Sometimes I forget how much pure fun the gear geeks are having.

I loved judo. I was privileged to have world class instructors in Wolfgang Dill and Mike Moore. I loved the strategy, the feeling of flight and even the impact. I loved the work out, the exhaustion. Going to muscle failure in my hands and abs several times a night. I loved, loved, loved the sensation of finding the perfect moment and sending a bigger man through the air and I loved dominating big guys on the ground.

I dabbled in other things, but one of the things I liked about judo was that it was exactly what it was. Rokyu or godan, you were going to get on the mat and you couldn't just say you were good. You either were or you weren't and everyone knew. You couldn't lie to yourself.

There was no mysticism- my instructors didn't know mysterious secrets that I didn't know, they were simply better at what I knew. And I have seen things presented in internal martial arts as deep truths about structure that were just basics in judo- how to rest while groundfighting and how to not use muscle are big parts of effortless power and using tendon and bone instead of muscle.

Then jujutsu under Dave Sumner. He was a fantastic instructor and I loved the system- weapons to striking to grappling with a strong emphasis on infighting. It was all integrated seamlessly and it matched my experience with real violence more than any other style I've seen, before or since. And it was fun. I love infighting. Loved the plasticity, the ju of being able to work impact and imbalance and tearing and locking and throwing and pain all together or in fluid combinations. To fight from disadvantage and find the advantage within the disadvantage.

There was a little more weasel room in jujutsu than in judo because there were a few, a very few, who managed to avoid getting on the mat. But it was still a 'put up or shut up' art. And it hurt significantly worse than judo. Which I loved. That's one of the things about jujutsuka as a special breed. There is no pain-free way to learn jujutsu properly. As a consequence, the people who stick with JJ have a very special relationship with pain.

It was a good day, remembering old loves. Might be time to look for a place to play.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pages of Notes

Been busy. Right now I am looking at pages of scrawled notes covering everything from career options to a little tree that tries to show the connections between different types of violence.

One of the difficult issues with violence as a study is that relatively few people have extensive experience. Of those, even fewer have the drive to analyze what they have experienced. That leaves small numbers, widely scattered, trying to figure things out alone. That, in turn, means that each of us create our own private language.

Again and again (and maybe again, but not much more than that- there are literally less than five people that I can talk to on some stuff) we find that we have experienced a thing, but we have each chosen a different word for it. My 'predator' is MM's 'criminal' his 'predator' is my 'process predator'. So getting together with any of these few- Mauricio, Mac, Sean, MG and now MM-- is an exercise in linguistics: "Oh, I've seen/done that but I call it..." There isn't a common language for this stuff. And we desperately need a language if we want to share.

There is also a special dynamic to speaking about problems with someone who thinks a lot like you do, but not quite. You tend to have wondered about the same things in different ways. To have looked at issues from perspectives similar enough to share but different enough to learn from each other. It makes connections. Your brain gets new good stuff. Older stuff can settle into new patterns.

Probably the precious thing is the ability to talk about it directly. The good stuff and the bad stuff. The things that so few people have any frame of reference to understand. It's like childbirth that way- you can watch videos and read books but there is no way I would pretend or delude myself that I understand what my wife has gone through. Nor would I insult her by pretending to.

I've had two days of being able to talk about stuff. That's nice. Now it's time to get back to work. Books are waiting.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Trained but not Taught

The kid doesn't know anything. Not a single form, no techniques. He started on his first technique yesterday- side breakfalls. He already has a sense of distance and is actually pretty ruthless at controlling space and getting to blindspots. He uses leverage points, especially the ones on the face, quickly and without hesitation.

I have never really taught him anything. On the other hand, I've been training him since he was born. So he doesn't know any stances, but he knows to drop his weight hard and fast after he grabs me. His feet will be in a stance when he catches his own drop, but he won't think about it. He won't memorize it or try to get it to look a certain way.

I've never taught him a hook, jab or even my beloved shotei. We play with things another martial artist might call ballistic and structured striking but they are general ways of movement, not refinements of a specific technique.

Sensitivity, power, movement. The next should be 'fighting to the goal' and that will lead into (worthy) goals and parameters, which are the roots of strategy. That will lead both into personal ethics and into analyzing potential problems. Then the game will become deciding what is appropriate on the fly and under stress.

He's not skilled in the way that most people are inclined to measure it. But he can be a handful, which I can't say about many people with, say, five years of formal training. He's a good kid. I'm curious what happens when and if he starts studying with a real martial arts instructor.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I Usually Don't Respond to Tags...

Four Lies and a Truth

I don’t do tags. I don’t join groups or causes or games on FaceBook. But Pat did this one and I find myself still thinking about it, so here are five statements. One is the truth, the rest are lies.

1) My Arabic nickname in Baghdad was ‘Jrade Naghal’. Rat Bastard. ‘Shaitan’ was already taken.

2) I don’t dream about people I know and even in my dreams, I’m faithful to my wife. Consequently, I haven’t finished an erotic dream in over twenty years.

3) Despite hundreds of Use of Force incidents, I have never been subjected to an Internal Affairs investigation.

4) The only person who has ever put me down with one punch was my father.

5) I hate eggplant in all of its forms. Terrible taste, terrible texture.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Catch Up

I've been busy.

Got to cross hands with Steve P. then had to immediately leave, take care of some business for K (which I thought would be chauffeuring to a writer's event but somehow transitioned into buying a bunch of plants which often happens with my habibi) then pack to get up early and hit the road with Jake for a short trip to Eastern Oregon.

It was a good time and I am sore and a little tired and have lost just over four pounds since Tuesday.

Playing with Steve- I genuinely enjoy the man. Broad experience, sharp intelligence and a winsome little kid on the inside. It's comfortable and challenging at the same time. Playing was fun and it was playing. Both of us wanted to learn what each other had (minds and words are one thing, bodies and movement another) or maybe what we were, but neither was there to prove anything. He deftly set it up to bypass any kind of dominance game ("Show me how you teach..."). Very nice. I liked the skill. He does credit to a very good teacher.

Insight- there were several, but this plays off of other things from the week: Training can be isolated (just doing actions separate from an opponent or threat) alive, resisting, 'fully resistant' and assaultive. Different people put different values on each, but you will consistently find that people trained isolated are blown away by the difference when they have to work 'alive', when they have to improvise and respond. People who train live are shocked by how much doesn't work when they meet resistance for the first time. People who are used to a certain level of resistance (the level approved and considered safe in their classes) are often helpless the first time they meet high-level resistance, like in a MMA match or serious class. It is just as big a gap going from 'fully resisting' to surviving an assault. The mental/emotional difference and the technical difference, literally what works and what doesn't, is just as big between being on the receiving end of an assault and 'full resistance' as 'full resistance' is from complete non-contact.

This is a problem and it feeds off a human tendency- to believe that the most intense thing you have experienced is close to the most intense thing anyone has experienced. I believe that the ability to say, "Words can cut like a knife," comes largely from never having been cut with a knife. My list of levels above only goes as far as I have gone- there are probably levels beyond a brutal surprise assault (bombing? nuking?)
See why I like Steve? He draws things out that otherwise I have a tough time conceptualizing.

It was a very good time. Learned a lot, made me think.

The road trip- Drive to a remote corner of Eastern Oregon, camp under unbelievable stars (no dust, no smog, no moon, no light pollution) then hike a river trail, swim to Idaho, swim back, poke around the foundations of an abandoned mining town and the entrance to a few mines (all the ones we found were sealed and we couldn't go deeper). Almost the whole time spent in deep conversation with my oldest friend.

The swimming thing- in my circle of friends I am a notoriously poor swimmer. With fins and a snorkel or scuba tanks I'm fine. Kind of iffy on the surface. Jake was fatalistic- he's tried to talk me out of stupid things before and has graduated to just giving me safety advice, which I do listen to... but c'mon, how many times do you get a chance to swim across state lines? Especially the Snake River in Hell's Canyon.

Needless to say, I survived, though Jake's description, "You swim like a whale, a whale recently harpooned and partially torn up by orcas..." was probably pretty accurate. Total muscle failure in my arms a couple of times, oxygen and calorie debt I still haven't quite recovered from and then the five mile hike back to the camp space.

Beautiful river, beautiful hike. Imnaha river to the Snake. If you get a chance, go for it. You can swim to Idaho!

Insight- Lots of driving, lots of talking. Side effect of the time in the Middle East, I have reason to doubt a lot of common sources. There are a lot of things bandied about as 'true' or common knowledge that I either doubt or have direct knowledge that they are false. I'm not talking false conclusions here, but false evidence- I'm not disputing 2+2 equals four, but I've seen one of the 2's and it wasn't actually a two. The conclusion may or may not be right, but if I doubt the premise, I doubt the conclusion.

Anyway, I've noticed that several people take "I'm not sure about that" as an argument against. Some take questioning sources as a direct attack on their conclusions and even themselves. I'm not sure I understand the phenomenon, but it is there. Perhaps it's because people want others to agree with them and someone saying, "I don't know" is staying aloof from both herds. Maybe. It seems strange how sure people can be about things that they can't possibly know. (And this feedsback as well to Steve Perry's insights on the politics and folklore and lineage and history disputes in the martial arts.) It's cool, in the way that really, really stupid things can be funny.

Nice to have a time of skill building and wisdom seeking and friend-making spread from a nice suburb to a snake-infested wasteland. Beauty in the wasteland, the skies. Good times.

Less stream-of-consciousness next time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Myth of the Fully Resisting Opponent

This is something I wrote some time ago, in response to a specific statement. It came up again on the last post, so I thought some clarification was in order. There has been some slight editing fromn the original version.

Van's forum is all about facing up to the flaws in our beliefs, the things that we think are true that may have a cost when things go bad. We are popping the myths that we create about ourselves and our training.

I submit that if you have never had anyone try to gouge your eyes out to escape from a rear naked strangle, you've never tried the technique against a "fully resisting opponent". The first time, I let go of the strangle to protect my eyes. The second time, I knew better. (Edit- but one eye is still blurry almost twenty years later. From that eye gouge or the one four years later? Not sure.)

If you've never cranked on the technique so hard and fast that you heard a "crack" from his throat, you were playing a gentleman's game, politely.

In the time it takes to put someone in a juji gatame and start to yell "Back off or I'll break his arm!" You can easily be kicked in the head three times. Maybe more. I remember the first three pretty well.

If you've feel you've hit a real opponent as hard as you can hit, take the gloves off and try again. I've known people with shattered hands to keep punching, and people with broken skulls to keep fighting.

A fully resisting opponent isn't resisting. He is acting. A pure attack with no thought of defense. He's not resisting your technique, he's trying to beat you so badly, so quickly, that you can't USE a technique. (Edit- I was thinking of the predator ambush when I wrote this.)

I avoid the threads on "Uechi pointy things" (Edit, and what really brought this subject up- someone was claiming that eye gouges and throat spears weren't allowed in his particular brand of ultimate, anything goes, cage fighting because they either didn't work or were too hard to execute.) because I don't know enough about Uechi to contribute. But I have once used a spear hand to the throat. It was easy. It didn't require me to practice magic or have faith in untested complex precision techniques. It left a man who outweighed me by over a hundred pounds on his knees trying to scream and making no sound. That image still bothers me.

Train hard. Hard rolling is fun and good for you and good training. But don't pretend that either you or the other person is going all-out. You want to use the same partner tomorrow and so does he. And don't pretend that dangerous techniques are difficult or complex. You don't avoid them because they're difficult to make work, you avoid them because you need to recycle training partners.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Glitches and Denial

Since we're talking about catastrophic failures...

A little background: With the exception of rookie officers I rarely teach rank beginners. At the occasional seminar there will be some new people and sometimes I'll do a hands-on class for non-martial artists. The awareness-based paradigm works pretty well for that, so it's okay. But most of the people I work with already know how to move and how to fight. They have the skill.

What usually happens is that we wind up fishing for glitches. Expose him or her to the common attacks and see if they are still on familiar territory. Show ranges of intensity and power and mindsets and see if they panic or choke. Increase the complexity- of terrain, of number and type of threats, of weapons. Hold them to legal standards. Let them deal with darkness and slippery stuff. When they choke- and sometimes it is just a fraction of a second of hesitation or a tightening around the eyes- we work on that, dig it out, see what it is and where it came from. Then we see if it can be dispelled or must be worked around.

Some of them can't be dispelled. Some people can't eat larva no matter how hungry they get and some people can't take a life or blind. Training to do something you know you can't make yourself do is a waste of time.

And here's the rub- most people have no idea of what they can or can't do on the extreme edge. They think they do, they build elaborate stories about their prowess and bravery and what they will do if...

Here's the real deal- I've put a man through scenarios, a big, tough jail guard with probably a hundred fights under his belt and he could not point a real gun at another human being. He wasn't even aware that he wasn't doing it. I've seen another who curled up and 'died' when hit with a plastic bullet. I've seen the 6'4" former marine who ran and hid from inmates and the 5'2" single mom with no training or experience who fought like a tiger. And the blackbelt with a roomful of trophies who still freezes though no one could ever call him a rookie. What you believe about yourself, all the stories, all the logical progression (I've been training for this for ten years, I've been hit by blackbelts, surely I won't freeze!") doesn't have a whole lot of bearing on how you will perform. That sucks, but there it is.

It ties back to the last post. The catastrophic failures come from glitches, they come from choking. Mental errors. Thinking when you should be moving and seeking to understand when you should be escaping. Stuff like that.

The denial hits hard, here. You froze and got your ass kicked. Train harder. You got ambushed and pushed down some stairs. Better switch styles, obviously the first was inadequate. It doesn't apply to me. I visualize. I won't freeze, we train against fully resistant opponents*.

When you step through the looking glass, it's not just that the world has changed or the rules have changed. You have changed. In ways that you can't know from this side. Those changes may go both ways- there may be things that you believe you can and should do that you can't. And there may be things that you do in panic or rage that you never believed you were capable of. And hear this well- the psychic damage to you doesn't come from what you did or didn't do. It comes from the parts of your identity, the story you've been telling yourself, that turn out to be lies. All the things that you pretended that you knew about yourself that failed to be true.

Some of you will be braver than you think. Some more cowardly. Most will be stupider but a few will have a clearer head than they though possible.

But too many will just pretend it won't happen. And as long as they can stay in their nice, clean dojo and kwoons and get pushed, (but not past the real mental limits) they can believe any damn thing they want. And they will believe what makes them comfortable.

Be aware of your glitches. Just as you don't get to choose what bad things will happen to you, you don't get to pick who you will be when they do. That is a you that must be discovered. Start with the glitches.

*Which are something of a myth, anyway.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Four-Way Breakdown

There are four (at least) ways that survival fighting breaks down.

The first is physical, and this is the essence of combat: applying force from your body or tool to the threat or threats. Avoiding similar damage coming at you. There is a lot here, enough to make thousands of techniques and to justify the hours and years of training. Sometimes I seem dismissive on this aspect. Partially it's because once you have been doing it for a long time, it seems pretty simple. Power generation, targeting, power conservation and the infinite quest for the most efficient motion. Take some comfort in that if you want, but that's not the real reason I don't spend a lot of time writing or thinking about this. The real reason is that I have rarely seen anyone with any training who was crushed in an assault because of a lack of physical skills. Almost all simply choked. They knew what to do, they couldn't make themselves do it. So the physical side of it, in my opinion, is a critical skill to success, but does nothing to prevent catastrophic failure. That comes from elsewhere.

The second is the cognitive stuff. Strategy, tactics, evaluation and planning. The ability to see what is going on and make a decision. Right here, the infinite ways to see and prioritize these possibilities are the reason for the huge variety of combative systems. Do damage or avoid damage? Attack the mind or the body? Minimal harm or maximal harm? Break bones or disrupt balance? Weapons common or rare? Expect multiple opponents or duels? Ambushes or matches? In each of these pairs, the one you emphasize (no one discounts one of them entirely, though people sometimes argue as if they do) will drive how you move and what you teach.
There is a big potential for failure here IF the students are led to believe that the strategy and system they are learning is perfect, or even good, for all situations. Tactics and movements from an unarmed duel aren't the same as an armored medieval battlefield or an ambush from behind at a urinal.
But it's an easy fix, to an extent (and this is not a guarantee of success, nothing is): From day one students are taught to keep their eyes open, don't count on anything, and be ready to adapt. That's my personal definition of ju in a nutshell.

Third is the emotional level, and there are really two of these.

The first is what all the people who like to talk about the warrior identity call 'spirit'. This is the internal aspect of emotion: How much do you feel fear and how do you deal with it? More important, in my experience, is the question of security. Can you act when you can't begin to predict the outcome? Maybe it's a level of faith, maybe confidence, maybe ignorance and maybe those are all aspects of the same thing. Is your instinct when you are pressed or scared or someone screams to deal with it yourself? Or do you look around for someone else to deal with it? Or pretend it's not happening? People have been brutally beaten and some have probably died curled into a little ball hoping mommy or the cops or the cavalry will come save them.
This is the source of a lot of catastrophic failure, and the source is strictly internal.

I haven't seen a training system that grants what you need for this. I have seen it grow in individuals over time when those individuals were exposed to other people they respect who have it. And I've seen it fail to grow. Still speculating on the reasons, trying to sort out why and who. (I have seen one system that tests for it in a single minute. That's cool, but the injury rate is pretty high.)

The fourth is another emotional level- the social screaming monkey level. The psuedo-cognitive level that always wants to know 'what does this mean to me?' It is the social mind that wants to put everything in a social context- does this person trying to kill me hate me? Did I do something to deserve this? Why is this happening to me?

The thing about this is that tries to deal with a violent situation from the rules and point of view of a regular world that doesn't countenance violence. It is just like trying to cling to the plane after you have already jumped. It's too late for that. The monkey mind insists on trying to analyze a social solution to what has become a physical problem. Right here is where a lot of the freezing and the catastrophic failures happen.

This is another level of 'letting go'- some people don't realize when they have stepped through the looking glass into a new world. Others can't let themselves work under the rules of the new world. Some is conditioning, which goes deeper in some people than others.* For some it may be wiring- and this can go a couple of ways. Not just physical fear, but fear of the unknown are different in different people. The balance of whether physical damage or death is more demotivating than social embarrassment and humiliation is another. (Point, logically it would seem that death was a bigger fear than social concerns. If that were true, armies would dissolve and teen age boys wouldn't do all the stupid things that we remember so fondly. No one would smoke or use drugs or alcohol. Fear of death isn't as big a motivator as it logically should be. Just an observation, not a position.)
These things all contribute to whether someone can let go of their civilization, slip the leash and actually do what they have trained, physically, to do.

Not only is there a lot of catastrophic failure stemming from this, but there is a lot of denial on the subject. This is one of those things that being told your mind and body will change, that you might freeze, that you may not be able to make yourself do your patented fight ending move gets shrugged off. Or instructors parrot the words, but in this case the words are not the music.

So far, and I like to think it's been pretty successful, I describe as well as I can what to expect and how I have broken the freeze. Just get them to recognize that they have crossed that border. Let them know that the rules are different there.** This is one of the places where I do give a talisman to selected people. Here it is: "Do you have the will to survive? Are you a good person?" If you have both those things down to your soul, you will do the right thing, you'll do what you need to do and no more. Let your body run with it. Trust yourself."

*Everyone who teaches women to fight needs to read this article. Originally written for heavy fighting in the SCA it was a very valuable tool for teaching not just martial arts students, but also cops. Tobi went even farther in the book, "The Armored Rose." Out of print, but well worth the price.

** It's not a world of savagery and blood, either, at least not for me. Professionals are required to do the right thing in there and by and large we do. There are rules in violence, they just aren't the same ones.