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.
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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.
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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.      

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Depth of Game

"How deep is your game?" has been coming up a lot, lately.
Erik Kondo, a friend and one of the CRGI team wrote a draft article about becoming a skilled conflict manager. Everything he wrote was absolutely true, but everything could also be distorted or even used against you, if you only relied on the surface interpretations. I offered to do a riff on Erik's article. Still working on it.

But wait, there's more. We did the first CRGI IDC (Instructor Development Course) in Sheffield over the last two days. It was about the methods of principles-based teaching. In one segment, the attendees created a list of difficult students and brainstormed solutions. They did good on the list and the solutions. But the answers were largely one-dimensional. You see behavior X. How do you stop behavior X?

And that led into yet another discussion of depth of game.

Because you can easily add another dimension to what you see that gives another dimension for solutions. Things happen in time, people change over time. This behavior didn't arise full blown, it escalated. And it could, possibly, be solved immediately-- probably with specific consequences-- or the behavior can be altered over time with different consequences.

And you can add the dimension of mental depth as well. Where is this behavior coming from? What are the reasons? If you teach a non-contact system (though I can't think why anyone would) and a student keeps making excessive contact, he might be an ass who needs to be taught a lesson. Or he might be a kid going through a growth spurt. Or a vet who is blind in one eye. Or a former victim who lashes out under stress. And that's another avenue to fix things.

And there is the solution dimension. Stopping the behavior is only one outcome or one piece of the potential outcome. How will your tactics change if you set your goal not to stop the behavior but to make a great student? In a cop class, you always have the disgruntled guy who was ordered to attend training. Most instructors have some kind of tactic to stop the spread of his or her verbal poison. Since ConCom, my goal has been to get them on my side before lunch.

Last example. We talked about Priniciples a lot in the IDC, as you would expect from a class on Principles-Based teaching. One of the principles I used as an example was structure. Many people, if they can distinguish structure from stiffness in the first place, think of using structure to conserve striking force "Hitting with bone."

And that's good and valid. But it's deeper than that. I think any true principle you can dive into as deep as you want to go. In under a minute, I demonstrated power, unbalancing, bone slaving, void defense, vectors along bones versus angled against, disruption... all just structure. And I completely forgot using bone to rest and resist in grappling or structuring as a defense to joint locks. And as cool as all that is, I know I'm barely scratching the surface.

My game could be much deeper.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Solo Skills

Once upon a time, I'd elected to go into a cell and talk down an extremely agitated inmate, and it wasn't working. One of the big keys to talking down people in altered mental states (bad drug reactions, stress that makes them temporarily out of control, or truly unstable mental illness doesn't really matter much) is to lower the adrenaline. Which, since only time dissipates adrenaline, means the golden rule is "Do nothing to increase the subject's adrenaline."

And he was not calming down. He kept darting glances over my shoulder, and there was no way I was going to look. You don't make direct eye contact with excited mentals (it can be read as challenge or threat and adrenaline rises) but you give them full attention (read as respect). And if you glance away at the wrong time you can get badly hurt.

What was going on was that one of the rookies decided to ignore my instructions to stay out of sight. When dealing with potentially bad situations, you want the best back-up you can get, but when talking down an EDP (Emotionally Disturbed Person-- you know it's tactically important because we have a TLA (Three Letter Acronym) for it) if they see the backup they know that you're scared, and fear is contagious and their adrenaline rises.

So, despite specific instructions to stay out of sight, the kid (who was big enough to be imposing) was hanging right off my shoulder. Why? Because he wanted to see why I was so successful at dealing with EDPs. He wanted to see what I did first-hand.

This is a big teaching quandary for me. And research problem. The best way to learn real skills for high-risk, high-speed problems is to model them. You can learn theory in the classroom and you can practice the motions in the dojo, but real world applications are complex on many levels. Just talking to someone isn't a mere exchange of words, there are social, emotional, intellectual and status implications of the tiniest interaction. Being with someone who is skilled at handling problems and watching them handle those problems and maybe helping and definitely asking questions later is where the important stuff happens. It's the safest way for the stuff you learn in class to become a real skill you can apply.

But there are a handful of skills that are hard to model, because the skill is so hard to apply without the emotional protection of privacy. Imagine trying  to reassure a mother whose child has just died but start with, "Do you mind if I film this?"

Intersection, here. There are certain things, maybe everything but thinking about it, all the high-risk stuff, where the processing is more important than the event. Something terrible happens to you and it's terrible... but how you process it, how you come to think about it and understand it will make the difference between an incident you soon forget, one that makes you stronger, or one that continues to victimize you mentally for the rest of your life.

And helping someone process a big event is one of those skills that generally requires some privacy. "Let's go for a walk" as you wave the other people who want to help back. Absolute best thing for the primary, but as that rookie pointed out long ago, it denies the ability to learn by modeling.

I don't have a good answer for this one. The best stuff I have for talking people down is in "Talking Them Through." But teaching the skill, modeling... I don't have a solution for that. And it's one of the skills that can be badly bungled-- with horrible long-term consequences.

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.