Friday, January 23, 2015

Hot Mess

Back from a no-internet writing retreat on the Oregon Coast. Did over 5000 words in a single day on the "How to Teach" manuscript that has been stuck. Feels good, the information is good. But the book itself (or, at least the conception of the book) feels like a disorganized mess.

Realistically, this feels like a new area. Most teaching methods are traditional, in the sense that they were handed down instead of purpose built. Most are centered around a school paradigm, with a high status instructor and low status students. And most assume that a problem is a problem, that in some way getting skilled at force is like getting skilled at math or engineering or medicine. But there aren't a lot of fields where you have to make quick, accurate decisions with partial information under an adrenaline dump. And in those fields, the most important part of instruction doesn't necessarily come in the class or at the academy-- things are set up very carefully to ensure that the first real encounters don't happen alone. Officers get an FTO. Paramedics work with a partner. Soldiers get assigned to a squad. Civilian self-defense doesn't have the modeling aspect that is so important to adjusting from training to application.

And I don't know the answer either. I have a collection of really important pieces. But a collection of pieces, as a writing project, looks like a mess.

The things I want to cover:

  • The problem, as outlined above-- training for high stakes, low information, low margin of error rapidly evolving situations.
  • Time in emergencies. Discretionary time, time distortion, stuff like that.
  • Evaluating sources. Why social sciences are mistrusted in professional violence fields.
  • Qualities of effective emergency techniques
  • Teaching, training, conditioning and play. Definitions, values and drawbacks. This one is definitely the heart of the matter
  • Scenario training
  • Experience thresholds that rewire your brain and pitfalls and values of teaching from the different thresholds and how to handle teaching to people of different experience levels than your own.
  • Dogma and it's effects. Tribalism versus truth
  • Teaching adults/adult learning theory
  • Big section on teaching professionals including designing lesson plans to standard, evaluation, getting lesson plans approved, required paperwork, coming in as an outsider...
  • Testing effectiveness, evaluating "best practices"
  • Related, the relationship between rules, policy and sympathetic magic. Ritualization of bureaucracy
  • Working in the political reality (finding the line between effectiveness and policy and law; that the rules for how to teach are written around current models, not effectiveness)
  • Bad student profiles and trouble shooting
  • Designing short and long-term curricula
  • Integrating skills (e.g. often, for police, DTs, handgun, baton, OC and Taser are taught in separate classes as separate skills.)
  • Ethics and judgment under survival pressure
  • Training and writing policy for Black Swan events
  • Teaching homogenous versus diverse groups; diversity/homogeneity on different scales
  • Related to above, possibly some advice for people who have never worked in certain environments. Some things that seem like attacks are actually tests, for instance.
  • Explicit power dynamics
  • Glitch hunting and countering social conditioning
  • Managing a career as an instructor
  • Questions, unknowns and twilight zone experiences for some of the sections.
It's a lot. It's loosely related, but feels like it's all over the place. This is the list of things I think I can write about with some value... grrrr. It just looks like a disorganized mess. A shotgun blast of data.

But the first rule of writing is to finish the damn thing. I can organize when the pieces are all done.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Justified, Justifiable, Prudent and Smart

Wrote this a couple of weeks ago and then got asked by David at YMAA to avoid mentioning the video Scaling Force. They were doing some kind of publicity experiment and didn't want the numbers influenced.
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Lawrence Kane called this morning. Last summer, we shot a video tie-in to the Scaling Force book. David Silver at YMAA is working on the magic post production stuff and just sent us the rough cut. Lawrence wasn't able to fly out for the filming, so seeing the rough cut was his first exposure to the physical stuff filmed. And he wants to move a piece right up front. And that would open a whole can of worms.

"Scaling Force" was Lawrence's brain child. Force/violence is a big issue, and appropriate responses to force or threatened force range from doing nothing (sometimes just being a witness makes bad people stop) all the way up to deadly force. Lawrence noticed that most martial arts concentrate at only one or two of the appropriate levels of response. Boxing really doesn't have good tools for taking the keys from your favorite drunken uncle at a New Years party.

It's easy to read the book as legalese-- "deadly force" and "self-defense",  just to give two examples, are legal terms. The actual goal was to get people unfamiliar with the context a little exposure to the different possible levels. Low levels of force, like presence and verbal, are very idiosyncratic. High pitched and low pitched voices can't be used in the same way. Both can work, but not always in the same instances or using the same phrases. Physical people present differently than sedentary people.

And high levels of force are only appropriate in very bad situations. The essence of self-defense is that things are going bad. You are behind the curve. The threat is bigger and stronger and/or armed and/or crazy and/or multiple. You are surprised and almost certainly off balance with minimal room to run or maneuver, no time to evaluate and plan, with compromised structure and likely injured before you knew it was on. If you are working in your weight class with good lighting, footing, room, some time, equal numbers and equal weapons, it's a mutual fight, not self-defense.

Anyway, towards the end of the video, we demonstrate fighting out of a crowd. It's not really fighting, and you have to be careful with language here. It's a lot closer to swimming. If I try to fight a mass of people, I'll get overwhelmed. But you can move through them. It's just that the body mechanics of fighting are very close to the opposite of what you need here.

Lawrence thought it was cool and unique and should be near the front of the video. I'm cool with that. Really the whole marketing and capturing attention and drama is all a little above my paygrade. But it does open a can of worms. And here's the can of worms.

Justified and justifiable are not always the same thing. In 1992, the Oregonian surveyed Portland Police officers. One of the details: In the four years before the survey, 86% said they could have fired with full legal justification but chose not to. There are some implications of that-- for every 28 shootings, officers bet their lives they could find another way about 900 times. And were largely successful except, of course, dead officers don't get to fill out surveys.

So first hurdle, because something is justifiable doesn't mean you couldn't find another way. My personal definition, Justifiable means I could convince a jury, Justified means I can convince myself there was no other way out. Prudent means it would be stupid to go in at a lower level.

The thing with fighting out of a crowd is that it shows another level. Getting pounded by eight people is a huge disparity of force. Unless they are all kindergardeners or geriatrics in walkers, it's not hard to justify deadly force. In general, higher levels force are quicker, easier and more effective than lower levels. You might win an argument with words (verbal), but you will certainly win it with a shotgun. Shotguns also tend to trump other hand to hand skills. Where it can take years to get good enough to fight a boxer, it takes hours or less to get good enough to shoot one. Higher levels of force-- quicker, easier, more certain. But the higher level of force, the more it takes to justify it.

But sometimes the higher level of force can be completely justified, completely prudent, but not the smart thing to do. Like fighting out of a crowd. I'm decent at close quarters stuff. That's my range and I know how to deliver power there. Know how to use one guy as a meat shield against the others. No hesitation on going for the quick finishers. Even have some favorite power generations that are completely non-static. Feet don't even need to be touching the ground. But in that mass, with all of those variables, with any kinetic energy I deliver changing the physics of my motion, things will go wrong. Someone who goes down might tangle my legs. A push or strike on my part might make me a static target for just an instant.

Hence the swim and it works.

People like rules of thumb. And rules of thumb work reliably enough to, well, become rules of thumb. "High levels of force are faster, safer and more effective than lower levels" is a good rule of thumb. But like all of them, it has a failure point. A situation where something else becomes true. Or truer.

Fast forward to a short conversation with Edwin yesterday. From the Golden Move standard (each motion should protect you, damage the threat, better your position and worsen his) given that sometimes you just can't get all four, or all four aren't prudent, how do you prioritize?

You can't give a quick rule for that. Goals, parameters and environment change. Sometimes it's so important to finish things quickly that it's worth taking damage to do so. (And, less academic, you're probably going to take some damage anyway, so suck it up, Buttercup. But that said taking damage unnecessarily is, by definition, unnecessary. Smart people don't do it.) Sometimes, fighting out of a shitty position is more important than ending the threat. Better to do both, but if you're with a bad guy in a burning, collapsing building and damage to him will cost you even a second, improve your position.

Maybe justified and justifiable can be subsumed under smart. Do the smart thing. If it's not justifiable and you either can't live with yourself or you go to prison... hmmm, maybe it wasn't all that smart? Justifying--articulation-- then becomes the skill. Do the smartest thing you're capable of, but practice explaining why it was the best available option.

And maybe, in the end, smart is the wrong word too. Maybe just necessary.

(David even sent the embed link below. No idea if it will work.)


Sunday, January 11, 2015

War Stories in Teaching

Going back to Jeff's Rules: Everything you teach must have a tactical purpose.
Corollary to that, the way you teach must have a purpose as well. How you teach must serve the purpose of teaching. This is about getting stuff into your student's heads, not showing what is in yours. This is about what your students can do after the class, not what you did a decade ago,

I recently watched a very well known instructor. He told a lot of war stories. To hear him tell it, he had participated at levels of violence you can only imagine, no matter who you are. And all of his experiences were special. You could say, "I've tried X and it worked about 20% of the time" and he would cut in with some graphic story implying that you had never done it as right, as hard, as harrowing as he had. You've struck testicles with no effect? Well, he'd eaten them and by gawd that always worked, son!

By the end of the weekend, the students were visibly uncomfortable whenever this instructor stepped up to teach. Telling outrageous stories to a point might validate you. But after a certain point, it becomes easy to disbelieve.

Years ago, Marc MacYoung (I don't remember the exact quote) wrote about a someone asking him why he laughed when a friend was maimed. He said something to the point of,  'You can laugh or you can cry, but if you cry you'll never stop.' The humanity in that phrase struck me. I've been to too many funerals. I laugh, and I would tell my rookies, "You can take the job seriously or yourself seriously, but never both at the same time." You have to be laughing at something. Always. Because the other direction is madness.

I don't tell a lot of war stories when I teach. The point of the class is what the students can do at the end of it, not what I did in the past. But I tell a few, specific ones for specific reasons. And almost all of them are about failure. Where things didn't work. What I learned.

My war stories are all about what I learned. And the subtext is clear: I'm just an ordinary, average guy who has been in some weird places. You can be better than me. Hell, I expect and demand that you surpass me. Otherwise you are insulting my teaching ability.

To the other instructor, his war stories were an ego fest. "I'm cool. You could never possible understand or exceed me. Therefor you must listen like children, not like the adults that you are. Bow in awe."

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Drop Step

Written a couple of posts recently, but haven't been happy with them. Might be able to get them in reader-worthy shape eventually.

One of the things from Violence Dynamics in Minnesota. The drop step is everywhere.

Not going to go into too much detail on what the drop step is. You can read that here.
Just the basic Dempsey drop step generates enormous power. But it also increases speed. Gravity is faster than you. And, if you can let the drop happen instead of make it happen, it's untelegraphed. Gravity doesn't flinch. It increases your range. It allows you to make powerful strikes (fast and untelegraphed) to your rear flank. And that's just the basic drop step.

Drop steps can be loaded or natural. A natural drop step, you just lift a foot and start to fall. A loaded drop step you shift weight towards the foot you intend to lift so the CoG is farther from the (single foot) base that will remain. And there are dramatic ways to load a drop step. Look at the way a pitcher raises his center of gravity and extends the natural stride length to maximize speed in a throw.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-vOceb1Cho
In martial terms, baseball pitchers use a crane stance to load power into a front stance. Good body mechanics are universal.


The sutemi-waza, judo's sacrifice throws, are another variation. And they work almost always-- provided there is no telegraph. Once you clinch up with someone, you can choose to see yourself as a bipedal greature with a base and a center of gravity in a contest with a different bipedal creature who also has a center of gravity. Or you can choose to see the entirety as a four-legged creature with a shared center of gravity. And you have absolute control over two of the legs. Removing your two legs puts the CoG well outside the base instantly. Too fast for the opponent to read and recover. Again, all assuming there is no telegraph and you truly drop. You can't do a controlled lie-down.


Sosuishitsu-ryu has a body mechanic for power I haven't seen elsewhere, but at its root it is a loaded drop step for that four-footed animal. Trying to describe in words: You are locked up with uke, either in a tight clinch or a joint lock (do NOT try this at home with locks. Some of the koryu were very good at preventing uke from doing a proper breakfall and a few of the kata have uke landing on locked joints, including the neck. Really, really dangerous. Not something you want to experiment with without expert supervision.) Anyway, with that tight grip, you are one animal. Tori throws his left foot up as if he is doing a spinning crescent kick, turning to his left and throws the crescent kick coming all the way down to his left knee, spinning 180 degrees with uke attached. It's brutal. And there's a variation which takes the spin to 360. It is also very hard on your knees over the years.

On the ground, you can get wicked speed in some spins by creating spaces and falling into them. One we used in Minnesota was for weapon retention while face down. Bad guy is on your back going for your holstered gun. Not going into the mechanics of the technique here, but creating a space and falling into it correctly usually whips the bad guy off of you, even if there is a big size disparity. And crushes certain precious small bones, which is a bonus.

But the drop step is everywhere. Experienced people don't split wood with just their arms. With every swing they raise their center of gravity and let it fall.
That's another thing. Gravity never gets tired.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Lots of False, Lots of True

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


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

And more, talking about modeling:

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

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Wuff!

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Quick Note From Kortrijk

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

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

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

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

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