Tuesday, March 17, 2015

On Power

Maija asked the right question. Always best to define your terms. I think "strong" and 'weak" are false sorts, and forgive me for not being clear.

This whole line of thought got launched because Dr. Tammy Yard-McCracken started a dialogue about power dynamics in teaching-- and the can of worms got a whole lot bigger than either of us expected. I really don't know where that project is going. It could be a book or a class or something unexpected. But so far, just in the questions, the collaboration looks promising.

Power isn't an endstate. There are no weak or strong people, just people at different places on a given continuum. And power is not linear. I am stronger than K, but she is smarter and more artistic than I am. R has more money, but J has more skills. Q can access a deep level of viciousness, but W can access an equally deep level of empathy. Power is not a scale but a net of ever-interconnecting methods of affecting the world. And in each strand of the net, you have attributes and skills that both affect the strength.

But in the end, it is about ability to affect the world and, at least equally and maybe more: an ability to have choice in how much the world affects you.

And so when I say "strong" or "weak" in this case, it has nothing to do with where you are on this scale. It has everything to do with which direction you are moving in. Because you are either getting better, or you are getting worse. If you don't get stronger, you will stagnate and get weaker. You can't rest on this. And that "can't' isn't meant as an admonition, but as a simple statement of fact.

If you are getting better, you are strong. Maybe not as strong as you want or you could be. Certainly not the strongest in the world. But the very act of seeking to be better, to be able to affect the world more, is strength.
And, conversely, if you are not striving to be better, you have accepted entropy and you are weak. Doesn't matter if you have the genetics to be a world power lifter. Doesn't matter if you inherited wealth and political power. Doesn't matter what you tell yourself so that you can sleep at night. If you aren't striving to be better you are, by my definition weak. Sorry.

And there's another dynamic here, because power is only a small part of it. You are already powerful. You have a brain bigger than our ancient ancestors. If you have a decent diet you are likely much bigger. You have better communication skills. You have access to information your ancestors could never dream. And your ancestors conquered the world. With half of your gifts, with nothing much beyond rudimentary communication skills and opposable thumbs, your ancestors became the apex predator of this planet. Do you get that? You are fucking mighty.

That is your birthright. That is who you are. And no animal naturally weakens itself. Tigers never starve themselves to look better to other tigers. Snakes don't slither over coals to show their bravery.

So the second dimension is not just power, but comfort with power. If you have a working brain and a decent amount of mobility, anyone on this planet could assassinate anyone else. I may be stronger than K, but she is comfortable enough with the strength and skill that she has that she has no doubt she could make me pay. People who are comfortable with power have to be respected.

There's a huge amount here that Tammy and I are slowly working on-- the ethical element, toxic relationships to power, whether power can be given or must be taken-- a ton of stuff. But I think the bones lie in these two things:
Power is about growth or stagnation.
Comfort with power is required to use it.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Just a Few Thoughts

It looks like we might be on business stuff for a bit. And there will be some teaching stuff, too.
The blog is my place for thinking out loud. That was easier when it was the anonymous meanderings of  some random jail guard poking at internal stuff. The biggest mystery and challenge in my life right now is the business end. I want to get good at it because I hate being bad at anything. And I must do it without compromising my principles. So far, no problem.

This will be kind of random. I may not publish it (I already have several posts written that I'll never publish-- some too dark, some too personal). I may take each paragraph and expand it into a post. I don't know yet.

Thought One:
In this discussion, there is a cross-over to another project I'm working on. We have all been systematically lied to. There is a belief that is so common it is considered axiomatic, but I believe it started as a deliberate lie with a deliberate purpose:
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."-- Lord Acton (titled, landed, seat in parliament...)
What better way to keep good people powerless than to tell them they will become bad people if they gain power? And it has the effect of a self-fulfilling prophecy because once the edict is taken to heart, only people who are already bad seek power. So we see corrupt people in positions of power and assume that the power made them that way.
It's a lie. A systematic lie woven into the fabric of society for the express purpose of keeping good people from ever being strong enough to challenge those in power. If you believe this (and I did for years, an assumption so deep I never even considered challenging it) you have been brainwashed. And the brainwashing has made you a servant to your enemy.

Thought Two:
This is coming up in the discussion. Mac made a comment on the last post that earning a living and getting good enough to teach are both full time endeavors, and that made it hard to do both. The math doesn't work for that. You have to make a living anyway, why does a career at the Sheriff's Office not make it just as hard to do both? When we have arguments we can show to be mathematically false, what are we really arguing for? I think we are driven to preserve our own brainwashing.
And, aside-- I do need to make a living, and I really only had two marketable skills when I came back from Iraq. But money is not how I keep score. I started teaching JJ because there was no one nearby who could play the games I wanted to play at the level I wanted to play them. I was creating my own playmates. My current goal: Weak people annoy me. They whine and complain and play bullshit little political games (and the loud blustery ones, whatever they tell themselves, are in the weak camp as well.) If I can't find enough strong people, it's up to me to make them. And that's probably more than you wanted to know about my inner motivations.

Thought Three:
I'm doing everything wrong and it's working.
No advertising. Only social media is FB and that's still a personal page. I don't send out e-mail blasts. For that matter, I just have a few regional e-mail lists and people have to ask to be put on it. I don't list the agencies or special groups I've worked for. For the first three years I charged for a whole weekend what a few others in this field charge per person for a weekend. (Not quite true anymore-- it would be for the cost of about two people.) And there are very few openings left on my schedule this year, and it was almost full before I even opened it...

Thought Four:
That implies there are some universal principles that work, that go deeper than just common business wisdom. Not sure what they are, but I have a pretty good idea what works for me.

Monday, March 09, 2015

More Business Stuff

The last post hit some people a little hard. Got some conversations going in my e-mail and on facebook. So a little more thinking out loud here.

It offends me that there are some extraordinary martial arts masters (and master is a word I do not use lightly) who, in their old age, are living in poverty or on the edge. Pioneers in bringing thriving traditional systems to the states or Europe, people who started the entire Reality-Based Self defense movement. And they're living in shitholes, not even surviving on a pension because they were too busy following their passion to create a pension in the first place. It offends me. Maybe you know some of the people I'm talking about, maybe you don't, and maybe you know a few I've never met. But whether you know it or not, no matter what your lineage is, there is probably someone living in a crappy trailer park that you owe a huge debt to.

Part of what bothers me is that in many cases, it was preventable. It shouldn't have happened. A tragedy is when the flaws in the hero of a story spawn an inevitable demise. So it is here, and in almost all cases, the flaw was pride. And I'm subject to it just as much and in exactly the same way.

If you came up through the traditional Japanese arts as I did, you were probably pounded with the antipathy between the samurai class and the merchant class. Are you from that culture or that era? Hell no. But you probably absorbed the ethic that "fighters are above money." It will be compounded if you were raised poor in America, since one of the mechanisms society applies to keep people poor and powerless is to tell them the lies that only bad people make money and that power corrupts. (What better way to keep good people powerless than to tell them that gaining power will turn them into bad people?)

Caught in this belief, many of the best fighters and teachers deliberately work to be failures at the business side to preserve an ethic designed to keep them weak. In doing so, they serve their own enemies and ensure their own defeat.

Fighters are one thing. When you are ready to become a teacher you should be at least a step beyond that. You must be, at minimum, a strategist. Would any good strategist deliberately refuse to learn the way a new battlefield works? Would a good swordsman faced with guns not learn about guns? He would only refuse if he was stupid, or too proud.

And that's the first reframe, and probably the most critical. Use the pride: If the merchants are a lower class, are you going to lose at their game? Hell no. But in order to win, you have to learn the new rules. So what are you? A mere fighter who can't see beyond a single opponent? Or a true strategist?

Monday, March 02, 2015

The Advertising Problem

"I wasn't sure I should come," the student confided, "I heard stories and thought it would be really scary. But it's fun." She had a big grin.

Then Charles Lampshire writes this: "So today I've been thrown down the stairs, had my head knelt upon, a simultaneous wrist, finger and shoulder lock used whilst slamming me into a table, been punched in the balls, had my nose smashed with several elbows, had a scrap in a ladies toilet and even been fish hooked on a sticky dance floor. What a fantastic day! Can't wait to see what Rory Miller has cooked up for us tomorrow."    

That's awesome, by the way, Charles. Thanks. But it's the essential quandary. People who like the idea of rolling around on a sticky dance floor gouging, fish hooking and biting are going to show up. And they have fun. But people who think that is fun don't really need the training much. The ones who most need it are the people who will read that description, shudder and say, "I could never do that." And of course they could do that. And if they tried it, they would find it valuable and fun.

But it's hard to explain. "This time we have an office we are allowed to demolish in the environmental part, so expect to get thrown through the dry wall. But it will be fun and safe."

For most people fun/safe and heads slammed into tables don't go into the same categories. Of course nothing is perfectly safe. Including doing nothing.

This is another one I don't have an answer for.  Word of mouth, maybe.

Winding up a month in the UK heading home this afternoon.
Maryland and Oakland coming up this month.