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.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Advanced Class

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

Yes. Sort of. No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 24, 2014

Expanding Lists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be honest. This is for posterity.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kill the Sensei

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

What If...

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

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

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

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

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

So, hat tip to Jaime for making me think.

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

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

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

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

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


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


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Next Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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