Sunday, June 28, 2015

Imperfect World

Once Rob wanted to introduce a new member to our little play group. "What's he like?" I asked, "How messed up is he?"
"Oh, he's broken," Rob replied, "but he's broken our way."

My world is full of beautiful but imperfect and even broken people. Rephrase. They are perfect, but they are perfect at being themselves, not perfect compared to some imaginary, objective outside benchmark. They are perfect, not flawless

People are amazing to me. One friend is tough, brilliant, hilarious... but the toughness in a product of nurture not nature. He survived an amazingly brutal early life. And it has left some deep insecurities, including places where his wit and intelligence are unavailable to him. People who hear him on these subjects say, "How can you be friends with..." It's easy.

Since leaving the SO, a fair number of the newer friends I've made have been former criminals. They have the criminal mannerisms and speech patterns that set my teeth on edge. But who they were is not who they are, and when people are working that hard to change their lives, it works for me to marvel at the possibility of redemption. And it would be cowardly and counter-productive if you were to find a bad man you were unable to take down when he was a bad man and try to take him out after he had become better and safer.

Experienced bad-asses with self-destructive streaks annoy me, but several are fast friends. Two of the people I most trust to watch my back are full-blown sociopaths. Almost all of the best teachers I've had had some very deep insecurities. Too many of the most innovative people in this field have never become successful because of stupid pride. I like them as they are, flaws, warts and all.

And all of them have blindspots. So do I, of course, but I can't see mine.

Friday, June 19, 2015


Talking about a workshop for next year and the host asked a great question: "What are you passionate about right now?"

Some background. Personal information. Feel free to skip it. Something very profound has shifted internally over the winter. Last year there was a lot of travel, a lot of teaching, and I was getting really burned out on people. Simply hating the whole world. Didn't want to talk or interact. Just wanted to find my cave in the desert and walk away from it. But I have obligations (mortgage and a wife I love dearly who really likes living in a house.)

And so, this year, even more traveling and teaching. But I'm not burning out. I'm loving it. I'm coming home rested and only slightly irritable (people in airports wandering aimlessly like zombies still make me irritable, but not nearly as much.) So something shifted, and I think the host nailed it.

Even before leaving the SO and the team and eventually Iraq, I was pretty heavily burned out. I was good enough at what I did that it took immense discipline to work to get better. I'd never realized how much fear (especially of failure or letting down the team) had motivated me. When the adrenal glands started to burn out, so did the motivation. I went to Iraq because I was looking for fear. Decided to go into business for myself, giving up financial security, because I was looking for fear. I feel like I want to define fear here, because I'm pretty sure I'm not using it in the normal sense. But I can't. It's just that I do best in conditions of danger + uncertainty. Those are the times when I feel like I am really me. The only times.

End of background for now.

Three things immediately popped to mind when asked about current passions: InFighting, Teaching Methodology and Power Dynamics. And there's an element of fear to each of them.

  • InFighting is the thing I love best about martial arts. It's not self-defense, because it's not about prevention or escape. It's about maximizing internal integration and your ability to play with complexity. It's a blast. The fear element? This knee injury could or should have been a career ender. We all have expiration dates, and those come up quicker the more you push the envelope. I want to play more with what I love-- and get the information out-- while I'm still capable of enjoying it. That's the current physical challenge. As well as rehab and reconditioning a body that I let stay too injured for too long.
  • Teaching Methodology. This is the intellectual challenge. SD is a unique skill with unique problems. The only good way (modeling with experienced people under real conditions) to translate these kind of skills from training to application is simply not available for civilians. So how well and how fast can it be taught? 
  • Power Dynamics. Started as something simple, trying to hammer out the good and bad power relationships in a martial arts or self-defense class. But it got a lot bigger, and a lot of what I'm seeing, on a societal level is pretty disturbing.
So, things are changing and it might be as simple as passion. And passion might be as simple as fear. It's all just adrenaline anyway, until you name it.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Dripping Integrity

Living in a world of social media, where passion is considered on a par with information and where surrounding oneself with a coterie of sycophants passes for critical thinking and cherry picking sources is as close as most people get to being "well informed" I want to give Greg Ellifritz some kind of medal.

Some background. It's well known in the Gun Rights movement that almost all recent active shooter events have occurred in places where citizens weren't supposed to carry guns. John Lott (economist, researcher) says, "With a single exception, every multiple-victim public shooting in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed since at least 1950 has taken place where citizens are not allowed to carry their own firearms."   

It's true, and it makes sense. Posting "No Weapons Allowed" signs obviously only works for people who obey signs. Murderers are generally not worried about "Keep off the Grass" signs. The idea that rules control behavior is not just naivety. It is superstition.

Anyway, Greg has a special interest in active shooters. When the shooter's diaries were released, Greg ran with it. And, though the shooting once again happened in a place where a sign told citizens they were not allowed to pack heat, Greg writes, "Although the killer did take security into account (by choosing the movie theater over the airport) there was no evidence (as some experts have postulated) that the killer chose this specific movie theater because it was the only one in the area that banned the lawful concealed carry of firearms.  In fact, there is no evidence in his diary that he even considered the possibility of being shot by a lawfully armed citizen or an off-duty police officer watching the movie.

Though the message won’t be well-accepted by this audience, gun control did not appear to be a factor in the target selection for this massacre.  The presence or absence of armed citizens wasn’t considered in this specific killing."   

Okay, get this. We have an event that fits the narrative ("Spree killers choose places where civilians are unarmed.") Something that anyone with an opinion and any less integrity would have used...and instead Greg admonishes on our ethics: 
"It’s important not to let our personal feelings or hunches replace the facts in cases like these.  In the ever-present debate against the anti-gunners, we have the facts on our side.  We must stick to the truth and the facts we know so that we retain credibility in the debate."     

If I could change one thing in our national debates, it would be to set this as the standard. Truth over emotion, what you want to believe limited by what the evidence shows. There is no reason to lie when the facts are on your side.

This is my wish for the politics in America. My fear, of course, is that emotion will silence reason and  those that feel will exterminate those that think. For the common good, of course.

Thanks, Greg. 

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Mindsets 2015

The blog is where I do my thinking out loud. And, to help clarify a debate I'm having with a friend, I need to define some terms in my own mind. Just assume an IMO or IME after almost every sentence.

There are a bunch of different mindsets. Written about it a little before. And people at different levels of experience don't gather or process information the same. There are trained mindsets, which are ways you learn to think; and there are core mindsets which are deeper parts of your nature. Maybe.

Any of these might be accessed in a force situation, and all of them will work differently for different people and in different circumstances.

Some of the Core MindSets:
Fighter. Unfortunately, this is the mindset almost all men have as the ideal. It is about "winning" but it is also about letting others, especially the opponent, know that you have won and he has lost. It is a show of strength, conditioning, courage and skill. Operative word is "show." Over millennia, the traits essential to the fighter's mindset are the traits that would impress a female chimpanzee looking for a mate. That sounds dismissive. Sorry. There are a lot of good things that come with this mindset-- toughness, endurance, courage, pain tolerance, the ability to think on your feet, others. Those are good traits and there is no downside in training to develop them. But for the two primary goals (my primary, anyway) disabling quickly and safely or escaping, this mindset lends itself to very bad strategy and judgment calls. In my ideal world, for instance, the bad guy should be down and in cuffs without ever knowing quite how it happened.

Survivor. Just as the Fighter is obsessed with "winning", the Survivor is obsessed with "not losing". In non-violent life these are the people who are so afraid to make a mistake, they generally do nothing. In martial arts, instructors create this personality type (so maybe it should go under "Trained") by constantly correcting. When your students are more afraid of doing something wrong than eager to do something right, they fall into this category. I don't like it, but I see reasons why other people might think it's important. In force professions and situations, I didn't know a lot of these. Rephrase-- I knew them, but they always gravitated to desk jobs and safe posts, so I never considered them to be part of the profession.

Hunter. The Hunter gets the job done with maximum efficiency and minimum personal risk. Snipers are the iconic hunters, but all good pros work from this mindset. The team didn't take risks. Putting the bad guy down was never a contest. If it turned into anything approaching a fight, my tactics sucked or my ego got involved. Hunting mindset is alien to most people in our culture today because they've never hunted or slaughtered. But once they get reintroduced, the world shifts.
Hunting mindset is easy when you have distance and time on your side. Officers responding to a call. Slaughtering day at the farm. Actually hunting, like a deer. It is harder but still accessible in close quarters and even from surprise-- in the fighting mindset you tend to forget things like throat spears, rabbit punches and ear slaps. In the hunting mindset, those are the first things you see.
In the fighting mindset, it is in some way noble to engage with equal weapons or no weapons at all. To the hunter's mindset, this is choosing to be unprepared. Not noble, just stupid.

Predator. Exactly the same as hunter. Just different words for a different model.

"Warrior." I've already written what I think of people who need the label here. In it's current usage, the "Warrior Mindset" seems to be little more than an attempt to grab some reflected glory. I'm not a warrior. I was a soldier long ago, but I was never activated. I know who I am and what I've done and have no need to steal a label that was earned by others.
The proper warrior mindset, the real thing, has layers and levels. At one level, you must have the humility to follow orders. If you have to deliberate about whether the order you follow is worthy, or think that you're so much smarter than the source of your orders that you should have choices... there's no time for that. Arrogant people die and get others killed. At other levels, there is a definite hunter's mindset. And sometimes, you just endure.
The myth that people want-- that you train  in a certain way or follow a certain tradition or wear certain clothes and you enter a brotherhood of secret knowledge is just...childish.

Mama Bear. Mac showed me this one, once. He was sparring with K and she was definitely in the survivor mindset, not trying to take Mac out, just trying not to get beaten too badly. Mac suddenly threatened her daughter. K went apeshit. Mac's good and he was nearly twice K's size, and for the next thirty seconds he was completely on the defensive until I called it.
It's not a gender thing, necessarily. Everyone should have something so precious to themselves that they will cast away all caution, go completely offensive, give no thought to self protection at all... And that can be a huge advantage. Ferocity is one of the factors, and protection of others is inborn in all of us. But it is buried deep. And I don't think this is just buried by social conditioning. It's a high risk strategy. Going apeshit on the tiger will buy the kids time to get up the tree, but it's still a tiger.

Scholar. Not sure if this is a trained one or inborn. And I think you can be in scholar mode simultaneously with some of the others. There are parts I couldn't access before a significant accumulation of experience. The scholar goes into a force situation to learn. Early stages, most of the scholars' work is in debriefing, writing the reports. Not everyone does it, analyzing each event to figure out what worked, what failed, and why. But the scholar core improves you over time. After experience, at higher levels, I would deliberately experiment in a force situation. That's rare, most professionals stick with what works because it is risky to do otherwise. The two experiments I remember was a breathing exercise for in the middle of the altercation suggested by George, and Mac's suggestion, "Next time you have a fight in Reception, thank the guy afterwards. See what happens."

Hopeless. Not sure what to call this one. There comes a time when you know you aren't getting out alive anyway, you have nothing to lose, there is no way to survive and your brain shifts. You don't think about winning, you don't think about not losing, because death is a foregone conclusion. And something clicks and you decide to leave a mark. To leave so much forensic evidence, there is no way the threat will escape. To make this the worse day of his life. To cause as much pain and damage and horror as you can in the limited time you have left. This is hitting rock bottom and embracing rock bottom.
And it is one of the most powerful survivor mindsets there is. Very few people want to pay the price to stay engaged with a victim who has touched this level, the full-blown lizard brain.

Trained MindSets:
Technician. This is a meat problem I have the skills to solve. Very impersonal. I used this more sparring than in real force incidents.
Workman. "This is my job." This is an odd one, because sometimes it gives people permission to access something like the Technician or the Hunter. I've also been bouncing around some thoughts with MR: Having an identity as a bouncer or LEO or CO allows some people to engage with far less monkey brain. Especially if you have a tendency towards the fighter's mindset (and almost all young men do and most of these professions are recruited from the pool of young men) the workman mindset, when achieved, allows you to take the ego out of it. To be efficient, to not take things personally.

There are probably tons more. These are the things that come to my head right now.

They all work, for various people and to varying degrees. There are some I prefer. Anyone can access almost any of them. The physical act of breaking another person is not hard. The mindsets are the ways one becomes willing.