Monday, November 07, 2016

Back to One

There's something I've written about, thresholds, and it's not quite right. Experience with violence rewires you. The person who has survived a violent encounter is not the same person as they were before the violent encounter. Five encounters later, there's another definite change. Then another and another and another. Six discrete stages is as far as I know.

It tracks for other things and it generally tracks for other people. One of the issues with writing from personal experience is that you can't really know whether something you notice is idiosyncratic to you. One stupid example-- I tend to remember high-stress incidents in mirror image. I'd go over a force report and everything in there was exactly what happened, except everything I wrote that I did with my right side, e.g. "I then knelt on the side of XXXXX's head with my right knee to immobilize him against the ground." I'd actually done with my left knee.

How idiosyncratic is that? Without the combination of force incidents + report writing + report review I wouldn't even know. Same with the idea of experience thresholds rewiring your brain. Internal change is usually imperceptible unless you have a mechanism to bring it out. Or a combination of alertness and luck.

That's a digression.

Kathy Jackson over at The Cornered Cat is one of my "Honorable enemies." She's a good friend who has no hesitation in telling me when she thinks I'm wrong.

One of my threshold observations was that people who has prevailed in a single violent encounter were consistently the worst teachers. These were the ones that felt there was only one right answer, whether it was rage or fitness or speed or power or... the one thing that had worked was the only thing that could work. And, because all thinking humans know that's not true, these instructors had a constant cognitive dissonance they needed to resolve. As a result, the students they attracted were not students at all, but just pawns in their self-therapy.

Kathy pointed out two instructors who were superb, but each had one violent encounter. Which made me dig a little deeper.  She was right. But those two instructors had not prevailed by any stretch of the imagination. They had survived on luck or the intervention of others.

One of the other things that rewires your brain is to be absolutely sure that you will die in the next few minutes while being absolutely sure that there is nothing you can do to change the equation. Situations of complete helplessness exist, and I think almost everything we do as societies and individuals is geared, at least in part, to deny this truth.

These two instructors had hit that rock-bottom of helplessness and were allowed to live. And it has driven them to become the best they can be. They have the constant bullshit filter of their own experience and a drive to push their limits. They're extraordinary instructors.

Recently, Kathy pointed out another pattern. The experienced, effective, skilled operator who has that feeling of total helplessness late in their career.

(remind me to write later about how much fear and cognitive dissonance there is at the heart of this)

Simple truth is that no matter how alert, fit, skilled, experienced, equipped... name any combination you want... there is something out there that can crush you like a bug on a windshield. The incidents are rare, so most will never face them. And if you do face them and die, which is common, you don't have to work out the emotional issues afterwards. But when you hit complete helplessness and live, that can really mess you up.

We train to be harder to kill. That's cool. It's cool right until we become invested in the identity. When we start to believe that we can handle anything. Confidence is fine, but when it is not paired with humility and the sure and certain knowledge that the world is bigger than you and can bring you down, it creates a vulnerability.

So the tough guy (and I want to write swaggering, but not always) who has convinced himself he is the best of the best gets rolled. Nothing he had was enough. Maybe he wakes up in the hospital fully aware that the only reason he's not in the morgue is pure dumb luck, or the whim of violent strangers.

The pattern? Generally he goes out on one more mission to prove he can still "get back on the horse" and then he transfers from operations into teaching. He fantasizes extensively about what might have worked in that one encounter and when he thinks he has something that might have worked, he insists it would have worked. And he teaches that, obsessively. Not the hundreds of other things that did work in real life before the one incident. The fantasy that makes him feel less vulnerable.

Like the instructor with only one encounter, it's not really teaching. It's self-guided therapy. And the students are just pawns in that therapy.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Constant Forward Pressure

There are things about fighting that are very difficult to learn without fighting. There are things about an assault that are difficult, maybe impossible, to learn without being on both ends of an assault. Martial arts training is largely about trying to preserve and pass on skills without the side-effects of using the skills. You want to learn to punch without the arthritis from old fractures in the delicate bones of your hand. To learn how to survive an attack without the accumulated concussions and microconcussions that are a natural result of knowing what "surviving an attack" even means.

When we sanitize fighting and try to make it safe we lose a lot of information. In hierarchical systems, if information is lost to one generation of instructors, the system tends to resist the information when it is rediscovered.

Some of those little bits of wisdom are so obvious it feels weird to talk or write about them. This is one.

Hitting changes stuff. Not just 'hitting a body feels different than hitting a heavy bag or punching air.' Every time you hit or are hit for real, something changes. Something in the structure of the person receiving the hit is disrupted. If you get hit hard enough in the face to twist you neck, it will change your shoulder alignment and the distribution of balance between your feet. If you take a heavy rising body blow it can break your connection with the ground.

Every incoming impact affects you, and every impact you deliver affects the threat.

In order to hit well you need power, targeting, timing, and empty space to move through.
Power is usually based on structure and a connection with the ground OR whip action and speed.
Targets must be in range and available. If you can't reach it you can't hurt it.
I'll skip timing. Timing in fighting is a complicated art form, in assault (either doing or receiving) timing is dead simple.
Empty space is something an infighter must manage.

Every solid impact affects at least one of those things. It can disrupt structure and connection with the ground and interrupt the looseness required for whip power. Changing structure changes range and the body's orientation to available targets. Attacks change your perception of time and thus alter your timing.

The essence of defense is to disrupt the other person's offense-- by denying targets or disrupting, power, targeting, timing or range. "The best defense is a good offense" is a literal truth when you are working with impact.

On the receiving end it is a double-whammy and almost impossible to understand or get skilled at without experience. Incoming attacks at power mess you up physically, as described, but also mentally. Fast hard attacks disrupt your OODA loop and tend to overwhelm people into a passive, child-like mode. The determination to keep control of your own mind and to adapt to the physical disruption-- there are exercises which can show you pieces of it (Infighting randori is the best I know, followed closely by full blown scenarios...) but the real thing can't be replicated safely.

I first heard "constant forward pressure" as a wing chun strategy. This is my understanding of it today: Every attack disrupts. Each contact does damage; disrupts the threat's targeting, timing and distancing; and sets up the next shot. (I tend to fight by touch instead of sight, so indexing and pivoting the attacking limb off the point of impact are big for me.)

Constant forward pressure lets your offense handle your defense. It sounds like an armchair strategy, but it is an obvious natural truth when you are hitting and getting hit hard.

Sunday, July 17, 2016


Working on a model. A lot of things have puzzled me for the last several years, especially things that look, to me, like people fighting against their own self-interest; people blind to the disconnect between their own peaceful words and violent actions; people arguing and even rioting against their own civil rights (WTF, people?); demands to add power to already failed initiatives and institutions...

The people that see the problems I see tend to have certain things in common. And the people who don't see the disconnects also tend to have things in common. I think the disconnects fall on a common fault line, though. So let's see if I can dig this out here.

There is a natural world. In that natural world, things follow the laws of physics and the laws of biology. If you want a rock on top of a hill, energy must be expended to get it there. Most things you eat comes from the destruction of another living creature. Want a burger? A sweet, docile, brown-eyed cow must be killed, chopped up into it's constituent parts and some of those parts ground into piles of once-living flesh. Want a beer to grow with that? Barley must be chopped and carefully rotted.

There is an economics to the laws of biology/ecology. It's not exactly a zero-sum game, but energy must be exerted to get benefits. You must expend the energy to move to shelter. To get food. To not be killed by creatures that want you for food.

This reality underlies everything. Bellies need to be fed, in order to feed bellies, something must be destroyed and some person must initiate that destruction. Meat doesn't come from grocery stores, it comes from ranchers and slaughterhouses.

That reality is stark, and people are very uncomfortable with it. Extremely darwinian. There will be winners and losers and extinctions.

Nobody likes extinctions and they dislike people losing (in an abstract way) and hate being losers themselves, and so they set up or empower someone else to set up a system that overlays and attempts to control the natural world. You can't control the natural world, but you can influence the effects.

But by creating this second ecosystem that overlays the natural one, you create a second way to play the game. If I can't feed my family, I can invoke the rules and someone else will feed them. If I'm not a good enough businessman to prosper, I can apply for grants or get a bailout or donate to a congressman who might write rules that hamper my competitor.

Technology has out paced population. We don't live in a scarcity economy and almost no one has any direct connection to something as primal as procuring food. We have machines powerful enough that it takes a remarkably small number of people to deal with the real world-- to butcher the animals and move the heavy rocks and build the roads and...

So for most people, the artificial overlay of rules (written and unwritten; intended and unintended...) have always been more powerful than the real world. And the people who manipulate the artificial world (politicians and bankers, for instance) have always been more powerful than the ones who work in the real world (industrialists, for instance*). Thus, the artificial world feels more real, and in day-to-day life, has more impact than the real world of hunger, cold and injury.

That's background. Here's the deal.
No matter how detailed, intense, powerful or all-controlling the artificial world becomes, the natural world never goes away. And every so often, in a natural disaster or a spree shooting, the natural world intrudes. For people who see the artificial world as the real world, the answer is obvious: We need more rules. In modern society, the response to fear has become micromanagement. Which works so well in the business world, right? Sigh.

But hurricanes and spree-shooters don't follow human rules, that's what makes them what they are. They follow physics or the laws of biology. Society's rules are just magical incantations and they only work on believers.

Universally (so far, I'm sure there are exceptions) the people that see the problems I see have lived close to the edge. They have been hungry with no one there to help, they have had people try to hurt or kill them and been profoundly alone. Which means they come overwhelmingly from the poor and rural demographics. Conversely, the ones who believe you can create a written answer to a physical problem have spent their lives in a rich, privileged and artificial world.

Both the worlds exist. Both affect our future. We need to recognize them both and recognize when a problem is beyond the reach of the artificial world's tools. IME, the people who have been exposed to the real world have no problem recognizing the artificial. They may get significantly self-righteous that their world view is the real or good one (long look in mirror here... I'm back) but unless they are completely off the grid, they know damn well about the overlay. Does anyone truly believe  that hard work and reliability is the fast-track to promotion in a big organization? Or that brilliantly arguing your professor into a corner will improve your grade?

But it is possible to live entirely in the artificial world and to believe that it is the only world. That writing rules somehow, magically, controls events. And for the most part, this isn't only a safe bet but a good one. The artificial overlay is the most powerful of the two worlds right now in day-to-day life. Right up until it fails.

*When you reflexively think about "evil corporations" are you thinking about the ones who provide your laptop, phone, car and food? Or the ones who exist just to manipulate interest and debt? I'd argue that they are very different.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Take a Breath

There's a lot happening in the world right now. More than you know, but probably less than you fear. Take a breath. Tension, fear and anger all make you stupid. And the resultant stupidity is a tool for someone else. Don't be a tool.

People learn through story. News outlets make money through advertising. People are tribal.
News sells stories, not data. They don't just tell you what happened, but try to tell you why, and what it means for you, and have a cast of characters and sometimes a moral... It's not a conspiracy or deceitful. People bond to stories and "just the facts" reporting would lose all of their audience to something more entertaining.

In broadcast TV, radio and newspapers, the media sells you. They work to deliver a certain number of viewers to their advertisers. To be a successful business, TV news has to keep you glued to the TV through the commercials. In order to do that they need a compelling story. Or just to make you angry and afraid. It works doubly well, because angry and afraid people are easily manipulated, and that's what advertisers want. Who does your fear and anger serve?

Story and tribe. In the modern world, tribes are abstractions based on story. The narrative trumps the truth and it must trump the truth because not standing with the tribe is unthinkable. So when a cornerstone of the narrative is shown to be false, the tribe doubles down. They alter facts to fit narrative. They invent entire incidents to keep the emotional bonds tight.

A concept I stumbled upon recently, I'd credit it if I remembered who I heard/read it from: When you are offended by a social injustice, if you want to fix it, don't bother looking at who suffers. Look at who profits.

Works for other things than social injustice. Who profits from your fear and anger?

Another concept, one of my guiding principles for civilians caught in high-casualty situations: Don't make things worse. Don't increase the chaos. It's related to the golden rule of dealing with EDPs (Emotionally Disturbed Persons) to wit, Don't do anything that increases the EDPs adrenaline.

Anger and fear are contagious. They feed off each other. The infect others. They spread. And they make things worse. I know some of you have taken your fear or your anger as parts of your identity and don't want to let it go. Let it go anyway. From that mindset not only are you part of the problem, you are serving someone else.  Someone who profits from rage and chaos.

Friday, July 08, 2016

A Hint From the IDC

IDC is Instructor Development Course. It's not a standard "Master Instructor" or "Train-the-Trainer" course in that IDC is about teaching regardless of subject. Master Instructor and Train-the-Trainer courses are usually certifying people to teach a something specific. CRGI's IDC centers around self-defense instruction because that's our common language but we're definitely not teaching a system. IDC is about the "how" of instruction, not the "what." Which probably only makes sense to me.

Garry and I taught an IDC last week. We had an extra day (one day more than last time, two or three days less than we need) so we went deeper into the business stuff and curriculum development.

Here's a thought for curriculum development, a quick and dirty thought experiment.
If 1) someone you loved was 2) going into harm's way and 3) this person was completely innocent and 4) you had five minutes on the phone to tell them how to be safer, what would you say?

That's your most important thing. It tells something about how you prioritize. I think awareness is the most important skill, but five minutes isn't even enough to make sure we have a common vocabulary. I think the most important physical skill is surviving the unexpected ambush, but that takes more time and I can't do it in words. I have something for a short advice. So should you.

If you had two hours hands on, what would you teach?

That's your core. The things every students should get as soon as possible.

If you had more time, what would you add? What is your most essential four hours of information? Eight? Sixteen? Forty?

As you write this out (you will write it out, right?) be careful to note where you get redundant or start to add things that aren't strictly necessary. That's where you start transitioning from a survival skill to an art form. Still nice, but a different thing.

As you get more time you can go deeper into subjects, and with more time you can change the order. For instance, I think the most important thing for most students is to get grounded in violence dynamics, but that's not the first thing I do in a one or two day seminar. It works better if the ice is broken by physical play, they've already had the context talk which sets the need and several references to hunting versus fighting have been filtered in. Early things prime the pump for important things later.

Counter assault is the most important physical skill, but it goes faster if the students understand drop step and structure a bit, so power generation comes first.

You get the idea. As a self-defense instructor, what's your core?

Saturday, July 02, 2016

This is Life Stuff

Just finished teaching an Instructor Development Course with Garry Smith of the Academy of Self-Defence in Sheffield. Not planning on debriefing the class here. But there was some very big things that came up.

The course was a deep introduction to teaching: what it is, what it means, the breathtaking responsibility. In the end, teaching is the re-engineering of another human being. Think what that implies. A student will come to you and when that person moves on, he or she will move on as an entirely different person. If they do not, you have failed utterly as a teacher.

We can never give the student what they want. Humans want homeostasis and comfort and, in the end, they want to learn without changing-- which is impossible. They want, in a self-defense class, to learn about fear and danger yet never become uncomfortable. The essence of teaching is that it is transformative. True teaching is incompatible with homeostasis, with comfort zones.

During the course, what I kept picking up from student comments and questions was that everything blended. When you organize your concept of SD there will be Building Blocks, Principles and Concepts. But teaching, also, is composed of Building Block skills, based on Principles and understood by Concepts that change with experience. And so is business (we covered primarily teaching, curriculum design, critical thinking and business in the course.) In the end, consciously or not, you will live your life the same way.

Because living is learning. Unless you are working very hard to maintain your comfort zones, living is learning. Life is change. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Suit

Had to put on the suit this morning.

Last night, decided to check in on FaceBook and just happened to see an update on a memorial page and backtracked and... yeah. The memorial that was postponed? This morning. So I put on the suit.

2016 has been a year already. We all (if you've spent time in this world) have the list. As we get older, it accelerates. The people we know get older, and the old die, eventually. The list grows.

Ron was a good man. He was the training sergeant when I was hired on. At different times he was my sergeant and my lieutenant and my Chief Deputy. He envisioned and formed the CERT team and I was on that from our first call-out. Of all the administrators, he was the one we trusted. It was a simple question, really-- given the choice between an underling dying and your career, what would you choose? Ron was one of the few that we really felt would sacrifice his career to save a life. I know that sounds simple and obvious, but spend a little time in any government agency and see how rare it is.

Lots of stories, but they belong to us. And they'll be shared between us, when the time is right. NPNBW, brothers.

The service was well done, but my radar wouldn't turn off. I noticed the significant negatives. Who didn't show. What was not said.

I hate funerals. I've been to too many, but that's a stupid thing to say since one would be too many. At the same time, memorials bring us together, people who are usually too busy to get together, to just say "hi" find the incentive when someone dies. And I appreciate reconnecting, but hate the reason.

The suit symbolizes that. I've been fortunate enough to work jobs where suits were a rarity and when a suit would normally be required, there was a Class A uniform. So the suit, to me, mean a funeral.

At least I couldn't smell any lilies.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Farm Boy Workout

One of the things I missed from being raised in ranch country was the work. No running water, we (I) packed it from the creek in five-gallon buckets. Enough for all household use and enough for all the animals that were penned and couldn't get to the creek themselves. The first two years, until dad installed a pump for the garden, that was watered by hand as well. Packing water. And splitting wood. And building and repairing fence. Putting up and repairing outbuildings. Milking cows.

Ranch kids tend to be really strong for their size. It's a side effect of manual labor as a way of life. But not all manual labor. There's a pretty nice whiskey called "Monkey Shoulder" named after the guys who shoveled coal. Lifting and tossing shovelfuls of coal for ten or fourteen hours a day, day in and day out will make you immensely strong-- in one motion. And kinda bind up your body for other motions. Not even talking about repetitive use injuries.

Ranchwork, you might spend a week digging postholes in rocky terrain. Shoveling is good exercise, but using a tamping bar ( six foot long, inch and a half thick steel bar pointed or wedged on one end, flat on the other) is a nice core workout. The next week pulling barbed wire. Summer bucking bales of hay and moving irrigation pipe. Splitting wood all year, but mostly in autumn. Packing water and milking the cows and goats every day.

The work is unpredictable. It was never three sets of ten reps. You bucked as many bales of hay as you had. Sometimes you could choose the pace, but if you saw dark clouds all of the hay had to be in before the rain got to it. You milked until the cows were out of milk. Total muscle failure or cramps in your hands? Tough. Stretch it out and keep going. We had a hard milking cow and at first my hands were going to muscle failure two to four times a session. Twice a day. Every day.

There were no rest days. My friends who work out scientifically insist on the importance of rest days, but cows make milk every day. I think the body adapts to the conditions. Hmmm. Hitting one of the science versus experience paradoxes.

And little of this was working with ergonomically designed tools. Barbed wire is designed to keep cattle in, not to be carried or tensioned by human hands. You have to hold big buckets away from your body to keep your legs from brushing them and spilling it. And, nature of water and gravity, you always carry the empty buckets downhill and the full buckets uphill. Rat bastards. T-posts are ridged and nobby and carrying bundles of them digs into you.

One other thing that distinguishes ranch work. You worked hard at being efficient. Some days you were going to work all day and nothing was going to ease up until dark. So you used your whole body whenever you could instead of isolating. You rested or even just rested a part (like hammering staples with your left for awhile to rest your right arm) whenever you could.

Feeling nostalgic. Our little herd of goats, which is planned to be four permanent with 2-4 kids a year for meat is now at nine and they've denuded the fenced parts of the property. So K and I have spent most of the last two weeks (lots of breaks for other obligations) building fence to give the goats access to another huge stand of blackberries. Days of hacking paths through blackberries with machetes, cleaning the paths up with clippers, raking. Digging post holes and pouring concrete to set them. Pounding t-posts. Manhandling rolls of hopefully goat-proof field fence. Tensioning wire and pounding staples. Last couple of weeks I've been working like I was a kid again. And loving it. But feeling it, too. All the joints make noises of protest in the morning. It's been a good couple of weeks.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Reason as a Discipline

Neil hit a critical point:
"There are so many cognitive biases that I'm pretty convinced humans almost never act based on reason. But then that's what makes us who we are. Why try to be something we're not?"

Neil is right. Again, from ConCom, we spend most of our time in our Monkey Brains. Being fully in the human brain is rare. And it is probably just as much a Dunning-Kruger as anything else-- some of the least rational people I know insist on their rationality. Conversely the most rational people I know are always questioning themselves. In my opinion, the expert is not the one who can tell you what is right and what is wrong. The expert is the one who can argue from any side, explain why he or she believes that one side has more merit and is able to say, "Of course, I could be completely wrong because..."

Also remember that reason is a discipline. It is not an intention or an attitude. Declaring yourself to be reasonable or logical does not make it so.

From my current work-in-progress:
Understanding experimental design and logical fallacies are just two parts of a much greater skill. That skill is critical thinking. Like reading people, it is not binary. It is something that continually improves with practice but will never be perfect.
People are by nature, far more emotional than rational. Rationality is actually a rare and precious skill. Even more, survival, self-defense and the crimes that necessitate them are emotional hot buttons....

One of the biggest hurdles to true critical thinking is that we have a presumption of our own objectivity. We can look at all the people around us making stupid decisions clearly based on ill-informed emotion, and never, ever notice that we do it just as much. To actually be good at critical thinking requires a willingness to doubt yourself. Ideally, an ability to find the joy in error-- you only truly learn when you are wrong. Searching for your own blindspots is a life-long endeavor.

You can never be rational. We all have cognitive biases (See Heuer's Psychology of Intelligence Analysis for the most useful breakdown I've seen.) We all have blindspots. We have experience that shapes are perception and interpretation; ideas of normalcy that will be out of tune with many other points of view; habitual ways we analyze, interpret, and draw conclusions that miss other options.

There is no point at which one can say, "I am rational. I am objective." It is a skill. Something you get better at through dedicated practice. Like the Stoic idea of good, you couldn't get there. You work towards it. That's virtue.

It is really easy to analyze other people's positions, statements and stances and point out the logical fallacies, the facts they choose to ignore, and declare them irrational. It makes one feel superior. It's a trap.

The valuable skill and the discipline is to do the same with yourself. Know the logical fallacies well enough that you catch yourself when you use them. When you catch yourself shunning a source or a point of view, dig down and find the reason. And you have to learn to differentiate between your own excuses, justifications and the real reason. (Hint: justifications and excuses don't predict future choices.)

To reject reason because reason will never be perfect is to cut off your left hand because it will never be as dexterous as your right (see what I did there? Multi-lingual pun.) Or to reject being good because no one is perfectly altruistic. To reject all learning because we never know the universe...

Reason is a tool, and it is a tool that improves with practice. Further, it can sharpen and assess all of your other tools. It can be a check on your own integrity. Never perfect, but it makes things better.

And any time you reject a tool, you reject part of your own agency

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Heart and Ego

Walking out some internal stuff. Friend Steve Barnes put something up on FB:
"If your philosophy of life, politics, or humanity depends upon the average person being inferior to you, or other groups defined by race, religion, or sexual orientation being inferior to yours, it is safe to assume you are addressing reality through your ego rather than your heart."

I glitched on this hard. Not about the idea that there is something wrong with you if you look down on others. There is. The universe is pretty big and you are pretty small and if you need to look down on anyone, it is to stave off the fear that 50% of the universe, at least, is looking down on you.

The part I glitched on was the artificial duality of "ego" and "heart". And the implication that one was good-- heart-- and the other, ego, was bad. The monkey brain in ConCom is a functional definition of the colloquial term ego, so I agree that ego is not a good decision-making base. But also in the book, I point out that when you feel anything-- hate, anger or even surety-- you are physically incapable of making a good decision. There is a reason why doctors are not supposed to operate on their own children. Emotional, passionate people make mistakes. They are frequently wrong. And the power of emotion makes them deny it, even when things go horribly wrong. Then they double-down on the stupid.

Heart or ego? What about reason? Heart and ego are both aspects of the monkey brain. Can we get our human brain into the equation?

"If your philosophy of life, politics, or humanity depends upon the average person being inferior to you, or other groups defined by race, religion, or sexual orientation being inferior to yours, it is safe to assume you are addressing reality through your ego rather than your heart.

Here's the deal. Feeling superior to others makes you feel good. That's the reward for the operant conditioning. BUT feeling good, following your heart... is the exact same thing. Both center on feelings. At first glance, one appears more self-centered than the other but really, not so much. Either option is pure monkey brain, manipulating feelings or tribal dynamics.

A lot of the glitch is in how I see the world acting today. In my mind, heart is "feelings." And I have a very bad reaction when feelings trump facts. Peace protesters who set fires and loot. Freedom activists who block access to speakers they disagree with. It is physically impossible to be for free speech and anti the right of anyone else to speak. It is physically impossible to be for cultural equality and anti genital mutilation.

A philosophy of life, politics and humanity dependent on heart with no leavening of reason? This is where it goes: At the mob level, flipping cars and burning buildings is "free speech".  And simply pointing out the damage they do is to their own communities or that their acts are unlawful is "oppression." At the higher level (and this is Steve's heart + ego) this is Stalin's 30 million or more killed for an ideal. For the common good.

Steve mentioned that pure reason was a trap. I agree. Socialism, communism, fascicsm were all great thought experiments, largely  conducted by the extremely privileged who had no idea how economics or human nature actually worked (hmmm. Maybe not true. The demagogues understood human nature enough to get people to buy in, but either didn't understand or were ignorant of the  Freeloader Problem. Or they simply didn't care as long as they were in charge of defining the "common good.")

But reason, as I define it, is the ability to use your skills to look at the world, to create hypotheses. To test them.

What, instituting socialism didn't create an immediate paradise? Let's kill a million people, that should get things back on track... (Stalin's Great Purge. Look it up.) Whoah and it still failed? Let's try it here. My heart says the ideals should work...

Heart and pure reason are both traps, because they are entirely internal. Until and unless your feelings  and theories are tested in the real world, they're pretty much bullshit. Masturbation for your ego. And right there we tie all three together-- heart, ego and pure reason. As long as they stay internal, they are all traps.

Here is where I like reason more. Of course, it has to be honest reason, not ego. Heart has a tendency to ignore the world when the world contradicts feelings. 30 million killed for an ideal is heart. There's no logic in that. Mob action is all heart (it's easy to lose your sense of individuality--ego-- in a riot.)

Reason can look at a protest and say, "Shit, we just alienated everybody." Heart says, "That felt so powerful, we must have changed some minds."

If heart goes external, fine. It has to have skills in data gathering and assessment, (and, kudos to Steve, he's taken some positions, set the criteria-- like infant mortality rates-- and when the criteria changed in the wrong way he was willing to change his position*) but if your highest priority is compassion and you can look at the world and see that your ideals increased suffering and you change, then heart is a compass. It will show the way. If you can't see the suffering or refuse to acknowledge it or explain it away to preserve your feelings, if feeling right is more important than other people's pain or hunger... that's not compassion. That's just narcissistic heart. What Sherlock would call "mere sentimentality."

Strangely, if ego goes external, it also works. I ran across a really old (I think Italian) essay years back that explained why pride was one of the seven deadly sins, but vanity was a virtue. The two had always been synonymous to me. The essay said that pride was a sin because people who already thought they were all that and a bag of chips (paraphrasing, obviously) didn't care what other people thought, whereas vanity was all about what other people thought, so it was a great motivator to display the virtues valued by your group.

Same with ego. Narcissistic personalities think that everybody reveres them, and so treat others contemptuously. But people obsessed with earning that reverence have to work for it, and usually have to work for it in socially-approved ways. So, it's rare, but even ego outwardly directed and with feedback from the world, can be a compass.

*One of the reasons I can talk to Steve about anything. He can disagree honorably. It's a rare trait.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


Going to try to capture the thought I woke up with this morning. It was about sacrifice throws, sutemi waza, and how many principles they illustrate. I just thought about linking to a video, but this is kinesthetic, and video doesn't show the most important stuff.

Principle: Balance. The essence of balance is that the Center of Gravity (CoG) must stay over the base. The base is the space enclosed by the outer edges of the points of contact with the ground. That was a mouthful. When one person is standing normally, the base is defined by the outside edges of the feet and two imaginary lines, one running from toe to toe, the other from heel to heel. The base is a rectangle.  When a person is standing in a bladed stance, say, left foot pointing right at the threat, right foot back and perpendicular, the base is a triangle. If a person has their left foot and knee on the ground, left hand on the victim's throat, right hand raised to punch and right foot on the ground, the base is a matter of connecting the dots: left foot to left knee to left hand to right foot and back to left foot.

That's the base. As long as the center of gravity stays within the lines, the person is on balance. If the CoG leaves the base, the person is off balance and starts to fall. If he or she can't get the CoG back inside the base (or, more often, move the base under the CoG) the person falls. Simple.

Concept: In a fight, it's always about more than one person.

Back to balance. In the set up for a sacrifice throw (and not just a sacrifice throw, remember I'm just using it for illustration) you have two people with bases and CoGs. Simultaneously, as soon as two people grip up, you also have a four legged animal with a shared Center of Gravity. Get it? I can defend my balance and try to manipulate his or I can just skip to the chase and manipulate our balance. In a sacrifice throw, the instant I drop weight (all of them, really. By definition.) or slam my body into his knees (yoko wakare) two of this animal's four legs, the ones I control, have just collapsed. Know any four-legged animals that stay upright when two of their legs disappear?

Concept: Psychology matters

One of the things that strong young men tend to do in a clinch is lean into each other. Maybe it's because they don't want their pelvises to touch. Maybe it's because they are instinctively trying to show off their strength to female chimpanzees. People in a monkey dance mindset tend to sacrifice control of their individual base and trust in the shared base, which makes them far more vulnerable to sutemi waza. This illustrates more than one principle. Not only does it make balance easier to exploit, but it also increases the leverage when the technique is applied, uses gravity and exploits momentum.

Principle: Exploit momentum. Sometimes I write it as exploit force. It's been a core principle of every system that was ever actually used in violence. From unarmed to guerrilla warfare, when you are outmatched in size and strength your best hope is to use that strength. Force is much easier to steer than it is to stop. That's just physics.

In the sutemi waza example, not only is his leaning weight a force that can be exploited, but if you can time it as he surges with his leg power, his force adds to yours and to gravity.

Principle: Use gravity. Let's face it, gravity is stronger than you are. And all of that force is free. And using it is, literally, as easy as falling off a log. One of the reasons I didn't link to the animated videos I found was because it looked like tori (the thrower) was pretty much just laying down. When someone gets a good sutemi on you, suddenly all of his weight is hanging from your shoulder, neck, or extended arm and you have damn few choices. Gravity is used to force the fall. Gravity is powerful, quick and gravity never telegraphs. You might, but gravity doesn't.

Principle: Leverage. Leverage comes up everywhere. The more the person is leaning, the longer distance the CoG is from the base, the more leverage. The higher the pull and the lower the blocking action (provided they are going in complementary vectors) the better the leverage. On and on.

Principle: Structure (and Void). In a sacrifice throw you are manipulating structure and exploiting a void. You need space (a void) to fall into. Without that, you just slide down the other guy's legs and wind up in a very vulnerable position. Some of the sacrifices, like yoko wakare can block the uke's knees, freezing his structure and increasing the impact of the fall through leverage.

There's more, obviously. Each of the principles could be explored for a lifetime, and almost any of the sacrifice techniques could be dissected. Good physics is kind of awesome. One way to think of it-- mechanical advantage. Any good technique you should be able to see why it has a mechanical advantage either over-all or in particular situations.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Logic of Violence Steps 4-6

The bad guys have one or several preferred victim types. They go to the places where their types congregate. They choose the best prey from the herd. Those are steps 1-3. Here on out is where things get messy.

Step 4. Isolation. In order to do bad things to humans, you need time and privacy. Note, we're talking about predators here, for most of the social violence, there will be an audience, because it's a show. To predators, audience=witnesses.

There are a bunch of ways to get people alone. But only a few basic strategies. Wait, follow, lure, trick, intimidate, snatch and groom.

Wait can be simple. If you know your target profiles travel through a particular space, you can just be there. The restroom at the bar. A bench on a lonely stretch of jogging trail. When the crime is more specifically targeted, there will be an element of intelligence gathering. Ted Bundy would strike up a conversation in the library on campus. Most people in a conversation will give up seemingly innocuous information, like which dorm you live in. Once he knew the dorm, he could pick the most isolated place to wait between the library and that dorm.
Prevention-- know when you are in a good, isolated hunting ground and be on alert. Watch for unusual behaviors in isolated places. If you are jogging and a guy is sitting on a bench and gets up and starts walking toward you, the timing on that should make you a little suspicious...

Follow is obvious. Get in the habit, especially in isolated places, of knowing what is around you. Use reflections and shadows. There is an eye trick to get your peripheral vision up to about 270degrees. Don't know how too write it, ask me if we meet in person. But that allows you to get a 360 look with a simple glance right then left.

Lure. Offer the target something he or she wants. "Mister, there's a temple that's not on the tourist map, let me show you..." Be skeptical, set hard boundaries.

Trick. Just like lure. "Your mommy was in an accident. Your daddy sent me to get you. Get in the car quick." Emotional attacks tend to lower your judgment. It can be very hard to remember what normal protocols are when you get a shock. Like the voice message that says the IRS is coming after you or the guy in the overalls who says there's been a gas leak. Some emotional detachment (which is much easier said than done) and a good handle on what the normal protocols are, will help.

Intimidate. Threat shows a weapon and says, "Come with me, don't make a scene." Or "Do what I want, I know your kids are upstairs." This one bleeds into step 5 as well. Three things about this tactic. 1) There is almost never a good reason for a guy with a weapon to want alone time with you. The secondary crime scene is very bad. Do not go. 2) He is not your friend, and therefor his advice is to serve him, not you. If someone tells you not to make a scene, that is probably the absolute best thing you can do. 3) At this moment, you probably have more resources than you realize, for instance other people. If someone is trying to get you isolated that means there are people in reach who would help you, not him. Scream. And use the word 'pervert'. It has a magical effect.

Snatch. Just physically dragging you off. Generally, this won't happen as an isolation tactic, it will happen when the victim is already isolated (walking down a deserted road, for instance. There is an exception for certain countries with kidnapping businesses or that like beheading people on video. When the police can't or won't solve certain crimes, people can get snatched with witnesses. I have some opinions here, but the go-to guy for this is Ed Calderon.

Groom. This is a long term tactic to create a safe and pliable victim. It is a steady process of removing the victim's agency and will to independence. Common in many domestic violence cycles, long-term abductions and long-term seduction crimes.

Step 5. Psychological control. How does the bad guy psych you out of fighting back? There are a lot of ways-- display of force or weapons, threats, surprise, positioning. Moving or talking too fast for you to close your OODA loop and think/act. Playing on your social conditioning (one of the most effective ways bad guys use to violate boundaries is to simply ask the person why they are being so rude.) Many tactics. But here's the deal: He wouldn't be trying to psych you out of fighting back unless he thought you could do so successfully. He's probably bigger and stronger. Probably more experienced and skilled at violence. But a win here is not beating him in a match, a win is in raising the stakes beyond what he is willing to play. This is the time for surprise, commitment and violence of action.

Note. This is not the time for half measures. Slapping or hitting the chest will not only fail, but will likely be punished. This is destruction for the sake of your survival, not sending a message that the bad guy's behavior is unacceptable. He has already chosen to act unacceptably.

Step 6. Physical destruction. If the bad guy decides to skip step five, he will take his target out. It will be as safe and efficient for him as he can make it. Everything is in the bad guy's favor. He can choose the victim (tiny, drunk, college girl) the place, the time. He can even choose the initial position (bending over trying to put her keys in the lock.) It's not about how to fight fighters. He can slam her head into the door. Or hit her in the back of a neck with a brick or steel water bottle.

In the LoV class, this is the big "reveal" moment. Each pair of students has designed a violent crime, created an ambush the way they would set it up. They have demonstrated some really vicious, sneaky stuff. And then I ask, do you train for this? Do you have solutions for the types of assault you would commit? And the room goes silent.

The big gains are in staying off the list from 1-3. Each step beyond gets more desperate and has fewer options.

Okay, so with this background, I can get back to that chat.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Logic of Violence Steps 1-3 of 6

This post is a cheat. I'm chatting with someone about crime and responses to crime and got tired of typing in the little box. And the conversation requires some shared language.

When we do Logic of Violence it starts with the Violence Dynamics talk, which I've written and talked about it until I'm sick of it. The Maslow perspective.

This gives us motivations for violence-- fear (Survival level); Stuff (resource predator, Security level on Maslow); the social motivations (status-membership-territory-protocols); or pleasure (process predators, Self-actualized on Maslow.)

The next is understanding the violent people have goals and parameters. What they want and what they don't want. The goal will determine the type of crime. If you need money to feed an addiction, your choices are theft, burglary, robbery-- stuff like that. If you get off on seeing  a woman crying and begging, assault and rape. Those are goals.

The parameters, commonly, include not getting hurt, not getting arrested, not losing your reputation (especially if you are active in a criminal subculture) and in some cases violent people will respond very violently to attacks on their egos.

In LoV, we hit the following six questions from the criminal point of view, so each person by the end of the day has played Design-a-Crime. Only after do we go back over the list with an eye to prevention. For this essay, it's going to be mixed.

Question 1: Who? Certain people make better targets for certain types of crime than others. If it's about money, out-of-town business men and tourists tend to carry cash and equipment and generally won't fly back to testify. Before direct deposit, the day the social security checks arrived each month was hunting season on the elderly. If the motivation is rape, it varies. For some it's people who remind the perpetrator of someone in the past. Or it could be any target of opportunity. Or a specific type (one of the reasons why dressing down or trying to appear unattractive isn't a successful strategy). If the goal is simple bullying, the threat seeks out emotionally labile victims. Etc.

In the risk/reward equation that the threat does, if you can honestly discern what visible rewards you might offer and the apparent risk you represent, you can get a good handle on your victim profile. I have enough gray in the beard that Monkey Dancing shouldn't happen. I'm nobody's idea of a good time for abduction rape. I'm middle-aged with a limp when I'm tired and that moves me up the list for simple muggings...

Question 2: Where? Whatever your preferred victim profile, they congregate somewhere. Out of town businessmen can be found at the convention center, hotel bars and strip clubs. Tourists congregate where there is stuff to see. If you target college-age women, they can be found on campus...

These are target selection sites, not necessarily where the crimes will happen. Pick-pocketing, sure. But the asocial violent stuff requires privacy

Question 3: Ripeness? I should find a better word, but these are all the behavioral clues that indicate which of your preferred targets will be easiest to take. You have a bar full of out-of-town businessmen (or college girls)-- who do you pick? Alone, distracted, slobbering drunk, anxious to please, weak, awkward... We all have good predatory instincts. Bad guys are bad guys because they act on them.

Questions 1-3 are the heart of prevention. And in this instant, prevention is tons better than response. Things only get worse from here and your options decrease. To whatever extent possible, stay off the first list. You don't get choices in most of it, but you can be a tourist without looking like a tourist. You don't have a choice about your size and old age comes to everyone lucky enough to survive. But at almost any age you can still move like an athlete.
The second list of places-- you're going to go to those places sometimes, but know to keep your guard up and your eyes open. Wild animals don't get complacent approaching a watering hole. Neither should you.
The third list is where all of that self-defense advice comes from-- walk like you have purpose; don't have headphones in when jogging in remote areas; don't text and walk; don't pull out a map and look lost...

That's enough for one day. Steps 4-6 tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Words are powerful. The words you use can influence or even control other peoples' perceptions. And the words you think can influence or even control your comfort level. Changing the words you use to describe a past event can change how you feel about it. Done well, it is processing. Done poorly it is enabling or crippling.

One example that has been on my mind, lately: Often there is a single thing that has a different name depending entirely on whether we like or dislike the result. I wish I had a longer list, but I suspect that this is a mechanism I use myself, and thus a blindspot. Or several blindspots.

Force and violence. When we like the outcome, or are defending our tribe, we use the word 'force.' Enemy and bad guys' actions are called 'violence'. If I took someone down, handcuffed them and dragged them to a cell it was a "Use of Force." If a cartel enforcer performed the exact same acts in the exact same way, it would be a "violent crime." (Not looking at crime, here, because there are specific exceptions in law for police actions.*)

We have the armed forces, not the armed violence purveyors. Coalition armed forces fight violent jihadis. It's deep in the language.
 And when I had to write a report, I would frame it as a prudent and judicious use of force. Because people would read that report and make a judgment on my actions. If I were to call it a prudent and judicious use of violence, a certain percentage wouldn't even be able to process the words.

But in my own mind, I used the word violence. Except for whatever blindspots I haven't discovered, I always try to use the harsh words. It keeps me honest, and keeps me on a leash. The danger with the soft and comforting language is that it makes it emotionally easier to cross certain lines. There is almost no limit to the evil that one can do when convinced it is for the common good.

Cultural sensitivity and racial profiling. Exact same fucking things. You work with different cultures, you learn a ton about them. Food, family dynamics, respect rules, attitudes towards outsiders, attitudes regarding gender, and attitudes towards violence. Tons of stuff. If you know that a certain gender of a certain age from a certain region is culturally expected to carry a knife, and you can identify from dress, appearance, tattoos, stance, etc. age and gender and region of origin and how assimilated or not into local culture, that takes some damn good cultural awareness and knowledge. But if that understanding means that you approach a suspect with gun in hand instead of pepperspray or nothing, it magically turns into racial profiling.

One of my friends in enforcement was very successful (he says 100%) at finding drugs or weapons on  certain traffic stops. A certain ethnicity and age plus a certain make, model and age of car would get drugs. A different combination of age, ethnicity, make, model and modification of a car would result in guns. Very reliable. He had to stop when his "good nose for smuggling" was reframed as racial profiling.

Manipulation and hmmmm. Sorry about the "hmmmmmm" but there are a ton of things that are called by different names when we like the result. Maybe I should just put "communication" there. Palming coins as a magic trick is entertainment. Try it on a store clerk and it is manipulation or  a crime. Con men and advertisers. Deep teaching, for that matter.

Hell, the only difference between brainwashing and "transformative teaching" is whether you like the results. And if you (or enough others) come to dislike the results, transformation can be retroactively reframed as brainwashing. Cult members tend to be happy. For a time.

There are more. Probably a ton of them. And there are other, related issues. For instance, what is a right? Because I see more and more people defining a right as anything that is really important to them, but they fear they would lose if it was put up to a vote. So people say, "majority rules" right up until the majority is not on their side and then redefine the issue as a right, exempt from the working of democracy.

* Oooooh. That's a good one. When the politicians are trying to sell us a war, they sometimes call it a "police action."

Sunday, May 01, 2016

The Victim Personality

I've used the term in writing and, judging from e-mail, haven't ever adequately defined what I mean.

If you've been victimized before, are you a victim personality? Victimized twice? Thrice? Ten times?
Maybe. Maybe not. There are victim characteristics that all predators (and all aware humans) know.

Distracted. Awkward in their physicality. Pleasers. People so domesticated to social norms that they will be predictable and nice even when it is time to be profoundly un-nice. People like this are targets, they are easy to victimize. They are often victimized. They are not what I mean by "victim personalities."

Humans are incredibly adaptable. At the same time they, like all animals, tend toward homeostasis. They have an idea of "normal" and they move toward or attempt to recreate that idea of normal.

Families have a very wide range of behaviors, widely different ideas of normal. Some are abusive, either because it is the pattern the adults were raised with and thus their homeostasis, or because someone is unskilled at raising tiny humans to be humans or because there is evil and one of the parents sees children as victims to be groomed. Other reasons abound, probably.

A child who grow to adulthood in that environment learns how to survive in that environment. That may be the only place he or she does know how to survive. The habits implanted under adrenaline, or fear of death are really strong. They rarely change. The child raised in this environment has no reason to believe that other relationships are less dangerous... but he or she doesn't know the rules of other relationships. Doesn't know how to behave. And fears any error will be punished as severely as an error in his or her family of origin.

This is the genesis of the victim personality. When you only know how to function or how to even survive by being in the exploited or victim role, you seek it out. You recreate the dynamics you know. This can sound like blaming the victim and maybe it is, but it is an outgrowth of human adaptability. If you only know how to function in a pile of shit, you will either seek out or create piles of shit to function in. It's a survival trait.

It's not permanent, or at least it doesn't need to be. The people I see break out of this (and I'd love to name names here because I am immensely proud of some people, but their struggle is deeply personal) first see or guess that maybe their experience of the world is not the world. Then they see that there are other ways to live. And that those ways are possible. And that those ways also have rules, but the rules are learnable. It takes an immense amount of courage, but they learn through experience that failing to follow the rules in a non-toxic environment has consequences, but not the harsh consequences they expect. And that, in turn, lets them be brave enough to risk mistakes as they learn this new world.

I want to say that it requires a safety net, a social network that supports, teaches and encourages, but my experience says different. There might be a few voices of aid and reason, but almost everyone I know made their first steps without any support whatsoever. They come from a world where no one can be trusted and they, generally, need to learn that trust is not a trap. Learning that is not an early step in this process. So they make the first steps alone, and it is an act of profound courage.

Slightly related, not about victim personalities but about the environment that created them. I've seen three common responses to kids raise helplessly in extreme chaos. One group become hyper-competent. A second group believes they can never control anything and become hyper-passive. A third group sees it as a natural state of affairs and transitions to the abuser role when they get to the appropriate place in the script. I see very few come out of this environment simply being normal (possible sampling error, normal is easy to not-notice.)

I would really like to know how much of this is internal wiring; how much early influence (like mentors) during the process of abuse; and how much can be affected by processing the event after the fact. Are there limits or opportunities in different time frames of processing? Can a competent foster parent do things a counselor can (or can't) do much later?

Monday, April 25, 2016

OODA Double Reversal

Just read a really terrible book purporting to be about safety. Ignorant, repetitive and pseudo-profound. According to the back cover, the guy had a resume that sounded like a god, but there were basic words used incorrectly, over half the book was word-for-word repeats of the author’s talking points. And some of the advice…. whew. Worried about freezing, fear or stressed-induced bad decisions? “Simply” divorce yourself from emotion. No idea why I never thought of that…
Anyway, pissy rant over. He had a lot of emphasis on a weirdly misunderstood version of Boyd’s OODA loop, and it reminded me of a long ago conversation with Maija (Maija of The Liar, the Cheat and the Thief fame). The conversation was about using the OODA loop as a framework to explore and teach personal safety and some other things. The conversation was almost forgotten and the bones had never somehow got written down. So here goes, and let’s see if I can make it make sense.
O is for observe. On your end— see and sense as much as you can. When static, try to be in places that maximize your vision—elevation, looking from small apertures through big apertures, position to take advantage of reflections and shadows. And use all of your senses. Practice consciously listening, smelling, feeling the wind and temperature changes. Vibrations through the floor. Learn to sense not only things, but significant negatives. Like when the crickets stop chirping or the target stops snoring or the steam is not rising from the coffee cup.
The reversal: These are the same things you want to deny others. Minimize your visibility. Watch from camouflaged places. Looking from small through big apertures puts the threat in the position of doing the opposite. Remember that stalking in the wild is about not being seen (heard, smelled) but stalking in an urban setting is about not being noticed. Blend. You want to observe the world, but to maximize your freedom of action, you want to be unobserved.
O is for Orient. Doesn’t matter what you see if you can’t figure it out. On your end, this is about studying people. How they move, think and act. In groups and alone. Musashi’s advice about know the way of all arts. understanding how taxi drivers, construction workers, criminal, doctors, lawyers, etc see the world. It is a constant process of learning. Take a good tracking class and an entire world of perception and understanding opens up. Riff off the elements of that tracking class and you can learn to see the emotional tracks left by certain events.
And denying this is a skill as well, and there are at least three ways to ruin someone else’s orient stage. 
You can simply deny them information. Nondescript clothes. Lack of facial expression. Basically, no obvious hooks.
Or you can confuse the threat by offering contradictory information. Long ago when the first crop of entrepreneurs started wearing tennis shoes with their business suits, there were news articles trying to figure out what it meant. You can have your words and actions diametrically opposed. You can wear a RTKBA t-shirt with fuzzy bunny slippers.
Or you can take absolute control of the Orient process and supply a convenient pigeonhole. One friend has long frizzy hair and wears tie-dye and a kilt. He’s immediately dismissed as a harmless burned-out old hippy. I can wear the tweed jacket with leather elbow pages and copper-rimmed glasses and be immediately dismissed as a harmless academic. Or I can put on my middle-aged tourist costume. If you’re so big and imposing you will be noticed, adopt the body language of the big, goofy, harmless guy. JA is amazing at that.
D is for Decide. You want to maximize your decision speed, which means minimize your hesitations. Comfort level with your physical skills is one of the keys, of course. But I also find a clear order of priorities to be useful. I know what is worth getting involved in and what isn’t; what I will and won’t tolerate. Truly understanding what is important speeds up your reaction time.
Also, courage. Courage can be tough to define beyond 'acting despite fear' but I mean a special kind. I mean the confidence to know that you can and will recover from fuck-ups. We all make mistakes all the time. When you are afraid of mistakes or the consequences of those mistakes, you hesitate. When you deeply believe that you can and will recover, making mistakes is less a thing to be feared and thus not worth hesitating over.
To prevent others from deciding can be a long-term or short-term route. Long term, if you have the right relationship, you can induce learned helplessness either globally or in a particular field. When someone gets punished no matter what they do, the only intelligent strategy is to do nothing. That induced passivity is called “Learned Helplessness.”
If you correct your students no matter what they do, you are inducing helplessness in that particular field. If you are in a relationship where you are wrong no matter what you do, you are being groomed for helplessness.
Short term, most of the ways to prevent decision involve adding more information to the equation. Very few people are disciplined enough to make a timely decision when there is a possibility of critical information on the way. So most of the short-term methods for paralysis involve manipulating one of the Os, Observe or Orient. All of your actions are information (Observation) so purposeful movement prevents decision. If your purposeful movement is hard to read, (“What is he doing with that cat?”) the threat can’t access the Decide stage until the question is resolved (Orient.)
Recognition of available time (what Gordon Graham calls “Discretionary time”) is a secondary skill that plays a powerful part in the O/D stages. When people envision applying Boyd’s work, they often focus on speeding up the loop, “getting inside the opponent’s loop.” Sometimes recognizing that there is no immediate need to act is a super-power. While others are frantically trying to respond, you can gather information and resources and make a better plan. Often, if your calmness is hard to read, it will invoke rash action in the threat. Always let your enemies make mistakes if they are inclined to do so.
A is for Act. Part of this is possibility for action. Whenever possible, place yourself for maximum options and freedom of movement— have multiple escape routes, see that none of your limbs or weapons are hindered. There’s no point in having a weapon you can’t access. At closer range, this is the kind of stuff we play with InFighting. In order to deliver a strike, you need power, a target and a weapon, but you also need empty space to move the weapon through. This can range from managing the voids infighting to creating empty space to exploit while grappling
Another part of Act is having a physical skill to apply. It doesn’t matter how well you can OO or D if you don’t have the necessary skills to execute your decision. And it’s not just skills, it’s comfort level with skills. Knowing how to do something because you’ve read about it or watched videos helps if and only if the situation gives you enough time to move from the cognitive to the physical plane. Reading about how to make a shelter can work, because hypothermia can take hours to kill you. Watching videos of knife defenses, on the other hand, is almost if not completely useless. Physical skills must not just be practiced, but played with. It’s the only way to cross that gap into adaptability and access under pressure.
Note- Operant conditioning can skip the two middle steps of the OODA loop entirely, but conditioning correctly is pretty stringent and it only works on very simple responses to relatively clear-cut situations.
Efficient action hinges on having a broad range of applicable skills that you have tested. Ideally skills you have tested to the extent that your lizard, monkey and human brains all trust the skills.
It doesn’t hurt to make a habit of decisive action, either.
The reversal. You can deny the opponent’s ability to act by controlling his avenues of movement, filling the space either he or his attacks must move through, by physically disrupting his ability to act (injury, handcuffing, etc.) by disrupting his base mentally or physically, by blocking his access to resources (tools, funds, people, advice, information…)

Overall, maximize your adaptability (skills, awareness) and resources. Minimize your opponent's.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Animal Farm

Two observations, unrelated to each other except for the barnyard metaphors.

1) I have officially decided to quit making fun of the chi-meisters. You know, the guys who send their students spinning with a look or stun them with a gesture. The ones demonstrating and teaching no-touch knockouts. As some of you know, I've offered my support to a few of the big names if they'd just come with me on public transportation, let me pick out a couple of subjects who had no idea who they were or what was supposed to happen and then knock them out. Should be easy, right? Every other way of knocking people out is easier by stealth, without the big show... so far, no answers.

Anyway, I've decided to exercise gratitude and see the chi-misters for what they are and appreciate what they contribute. The rest of us are trying to make people stronger and tougher. They are the ones with the foresight to create a new generation of victims. Think about it-- it's not about the instructors, it's about the students. Always has been. And these guys are breeding the human equivalent of fainting goats.

2) When we take a young creature and lock it up, remove it from challenge, deny it any exercise or even the mild challenge and irritation of sun and wind, we call that veal. It gets fed a rich diet, treated like a baby long after it should be. It's straight up animal abuse. Tasty, tasty animal abuse, but there's something fundamentally not right about it. We know that babies-- animal or human-- need to move and play to be what they are. And we all know that growth in anything comes from challenge.

People demanding places where only one opinion can be heard, where they will be shielded from any thoughts or ideas that might actually make them work, people demanding a right to a perpetual comfort zone-- they are insisting on a right to be veal. Mental veal. What they can so clearly see as animal abuse in the outside world, they are demanding. Or begging for. Begging for the resources and demanding the right to be soft, helpless and probably tasty.

One of the poignant/funny scenes in the Hitchhiker's Guide trilogy was the beef who was bred to want to be eaten. Well, the american educational system has gone one better. We have trained our children not just to be the mental equivalent of veal, but to demand their own helplessness as a right.

There is no desire for weakness in our nature. That has to be taught. So maybe there is more of a connection between the fainting goat breeders and the veal producers-- it is learned behavior, and the product of systems that ingrain weakness as both a behavior and a virtue.

Think about this-- who hates and fears you enough that they must brainwash you to believe that weakness is a virtue?

Friday, April 22, 2016

Course Correction

Huh. Fell into a trap. This blog started as an anonymous place to unpack some stuff in my head. To think about events and ideas out loud and on paper. Or screens. Whatever. To get out of my head.

The anonymous part is done. Too late. Might go and start from scratch elsewhere, but not yet.

Here's the deal, I've been writing less because I've been trying to be a writer. Classic trap. Trying to say the right thing, of the right relevance, in the right way...

That's not what this corner of cyberspace is for. It's not for marketing or branding or useful insight or polished anything. Time to let it be a little more internal vomit (writers would say stream of consciousness) and about what fascinates me, not what I think would interest readers.

Since the ICITAP contract, I've been playing inside my comfort zone with maybe 3/5 of my life. That's not me. Time to cut closer to the bone in writing and in real life.

More to follow.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

VioDy West

VioDy West in Oakland is coming up in three weeks, and Keelin, the coordinator, ordered me to write about it. So here goes--

Long ago, somewhere in the mists of time, Kasey Keckeisen, a SWAT leader, sniper and training coordinator thought it would be really cool to have a couple of his favorite SD writers come out to his neck of the woods and play. One was Marc MacYoung. The other was me. Kasey was an experienced officer and a lifetime martial artist, so he wasn't just a host, he was a third instructor.

It was the seminar where we unveiled the first public ConCom class. Civilians got to train with the local SWAT in environmental fighting. It became an annual thing. It's also why I am no longer allowed to name things. (Come on, if you are doing a workshop on Violence Dynamics, you'd call it the VD Clinic too, right?) Over the years, people who originally came as students have stepped up to teach sections-- Randy King taught counter assault and Dillon Beyer* taught power generation last year in Minnesota, and Querencia Fitness did classes on functional strength and training despite age and injuries.

This all happened in Minnesota...

Last year, Keelin suggested a Bay Area version. I assumed (my mistake) Kasey and Marc wouldn't be available. Kasey is a full time officer with limited vacation time, Marc had a host of other concerns. So I floated the idea to two of my favorite people, Terry Trahan and Kathy Jackson. They were in. Then miracles happened and Marc and Kasey could make it as well. So this is what we have:
A six-day seminar covering physical skills including: leverage, power, targeting, fighting by touch, using the environment, ground survival...
Practical skills like ConCom and people watching in the field...
And a few lectures, like threat assessment and legal articulation...
And even a range day, led by Kathy Jackson

Five instructors, and maybe some guests. I know of people flying in from Sweden (Toby!) The UK (Anna!) and Cypress (Dan!) There will be separate OG classes by request... (If you know what OGs are in this context and you are one, contact me for special pricing.)

And the sixth day-- people watching. Small groups. You get to see how a sniper sees architecture and space, how a former criminal sizes up marks, some other stuff I won't go into here.

Keelin has set up a website with more details and sign-ups.
This will be fun.

* Look at the VioDy NextGen on that link.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

"In the Real World..."

Thought for the day.
In the martial arts and self-defense, you hear a lot of crap about what will and won't work in the "real world." Everything is as real as it is, and no more. All things are what they are, and all only extrapolate so far. Written about all that before.

So everything happens in the real world, whether it's on the mat, in  a cage, around a poker table, over a chessboard, or in a mass holding cell. None of this is happening in the virtual world. (Yes, I know, you can play video versions of all of these, quit being cute and pay attention.)

Here's the thought. Instead of defining what the "real" world is, look at all the things we say aren't the real world and you notice that they all have the same things in common. When someone says, "that's not the real world," what they mean is a place or endeavor where:

  1. You know the rules and 
  2. The rules are the way the game is really played
Monopoly or chess-- everyone plays by the same rules and if you cheat you forfeit. But college grad goes into business, goes into his first negotiation and gets played--
College grad: "That wasn't fair! He lied!"
Boss: "Welcome to the real world."

This is a subconscious distinction for people. If it's predictable, it's not the real world. If it's predictable, it doesn't count. And of course it all does count, but only so far. I'm not arguing for the truth of this, mind you, just pleased to have found the words for a nearly universal unconscious distinction. 

This does have some implications.

Even in games with rules, things are never predictable, but the rules are there to limit the unpredictability. In a match, no matter the sport, you can't be sure what your opponent will do, but you can be pretty sure of what he won't do. The boxer won't kick, the the judoka won't punch you in the face, the fencer won't pull a gun.

We teach children through games with rules and the children are punished for cheating. Because we want them to grow up and not be cheaters. We want to condition them to believe that cheating is punished, because your brain equates punished with "doesn't work." This allows them to get along with other adults. This keeps people from screwing each other over. It also makes them patsies when someone else understands that the rules are artificial.

Yes. Artificial. Rules are not real, they are magical spells used to control the behavior of others. And like magic, rules only work on believers.

Because we start kids on rules and social conditioning so young, they all go into the real world carrying around a personal list of largely unconscious personal rules. Rules that control and limit their options, artificial restraints on behavior that can be used against them by anyone who doesn't share the same internal rules.

The fifth implication. The real world is the place where, often, cheating isn't punished, but rewarded. This is the elephant in the room. Cheating works. In the real world.

Unless someone better makes it not work.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Triple, Again

Mac says most things can be broken down in threes. Speed, surprise, violence of action. Power, speed precision. Move, shoot, communicate. Awareness, initiative, permission. It works quite often, and sometimes it doesn't. I guess the rule is to never fall in love with a model to the extent that you try to force the world to fit the model.

Another one came up last week. I'd been asked to advice a young man on designing a defensive tactics program for a certain profession. Have to be a little obtuse here because there are programs that exist for this profession, but no one (and I mean no one) who actually works in that profession is happy with the current programs. The programs I have seen and heard about are classic "liability reduction" training, designed for the express purpose of keeping organizations from being sued, regardless of whether what is taught actually works.

I'd been thinking about it for weeks leading up to the meeting. These are people doing important things with small budgets, a lot of scrutiny, and very limited training time. And whatever program comes out of this, if one does, will have to be effective (or it's not worth my time) but also palatable to the administrations, the media and the public.

Snapped awake the morning of the meeting. When a problem is hard to solve, it's often because you are trying to solve the wrong problem, asking the wrong question or asking the right question in the wrong way. My contacts had been always talked about managing aggressive behavior, and all of their programs failed against assaultive behavior. Duh.

So the triple for this one:

  • Managing aggressive behavior would be the tools, verbal prevention before, verbal and possible physical redirection during. Qualitatively different from...
  • Managing assaultive behavior. Under attack, your solution won't be verbal. Always good to augment physical responses with verbal skills, both to direct the threat and for the benefit of witnesses. But when someone is trying to stab you, you don't have the time to try to calm his mindset. The third though...
  • Managing destructive behavior. Including self-destructive, but the difference between Assaultive and destructive is the focus. No matter how violent someone is being, you have an entirely different suite of options if he's focused on someone or something else.
Nothing new here. The physical, interpersonal and tactical skills for each type are pretty well known. But I haven't divided things this way before. And I think it's telling that multiple systems shared the same failure point and it was a simple recognition that teaching people how to handle aggressive people won't translate to handling an assault.

More came up in the brainstorming session-- Gordon Graham's discretionary time concept and how it applies. Training methodologies for improvising and adapting under pressure. Power dynamics that will have to modeled in the class before they can be mirrored in the mission. An ethical framework that ties a lot together. Gotta love curriculum development.

Lots of stuff coming up:

VioDy West in Oakland (This will be a big one!) April 12-17
 Plus Alaska and Pennsylvania.

Friday, March 04, 2016


One of the things that makes communication difficult and some problems hard to solve is that very different things can be the same thing.

I wrote about DV as an example of taxonomies some time ago.
 Antisocial Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder are both different, but they get to the same place, seeing people as tools or toys to be used. And the old saw that "there are many paths to the top of the mountain" ignores the fact that there are actually many mountains, with many different points of view and the path you choose will change how you see the view more than the elevation.

I do believe some people are born unable to see that other people are real. It's an emotional thing and there is a sliding scale to it. At the extreme end, this is like a video game and other people are just pixels. Slightly less intense, many criminals don't feel shame. They just don't get it (See Fleisher's Beggars and Thieves for some corroboration). About half of my friends feel "trust" as an emotion and the others see it as a decision, but with no feeling associated. Which leads me to believe that it is probably possible to scale people's emotional palette.

That was a bit of an aside.
I believe some people are born sociopaths, and essentially don't have the capacity to develop an emotional palette that includes compassion or empathy. I believe a larger number have the capacity but it was never developed-- Babies are born inherently selfish and egocentric and must be taught that other people have feelings just like them. If that teaching fails, the child will be heartless. Sociopath? Functionally, but a very different mechanism.

And one can be placed in an environment where heartlessness is the only effective survival strategy. Humans are adaptable, and even people who will not be heartless on their own behalf can become heartless if that is the only way to protect or feed their children. It's rare, fortunately, and almost all of society is set up to prevent this. And the older and more entrenched you might be in your early socialization, the harder it will be to actually act... but in an environment where ruthlessness is necessary to survival, the survivors will be ruthless.

So, rambling as that was, three ways to get to almost anything. And none of those three ways are separate, they all interact:

Nature, socialization and selection.

  • If you have a genetic gift, you can be very fast.
  • If you are raised in a society where speed is rewarded and slowness punished, your childhood games will be based on developing speed. You'll be faster than someone with similar genetics raised differently.
  • And if all the slow kids die, the surviving kids will be fast.

For fighting or combat or making friends-- some have the right genetic mix of physical and mental attributes. Some learned. And some adapted because they had no choice.

For good things and bad things. That has a lot of implications for us as trainers, voters, people. It's not a single lens, not one size fits all. Do we want to train survivors? Selection doesn't do that, it weeds out the ones who need training most. Do we want to fix crime or any social problem? Eugenics, education and social welfare are three historic attempts to do that, each aimed at one of the three paths.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Growing old in Wales

Made home-made mayonnaise last night.
Spent five days in Wales with Murray. Five days with an old school British Officer, a Northern Rhodesia vet, a high-level martial artist. And he taught me how to make mayonnaise. And how to tell if an egg is raw or hard boiled. And the proper protocol for how, what and when an officer and a gentleman drinks*. And the elements of chip carving.

He walks with a cane. If confronted, the cane slips behind his back and every element of his face and body language looks like an old man shrinking back in fear, but that cane can come out from either hand, thrusting at at least six finishing targets or swinging.

His students are a little in awe of him. He has to protect his hip and back and he doesn't have the stamina of fifty years ago, so he finishes things very quickly, very efficiently. What he has lost in speed, he more than makes up for in timing. Where he probably used strength as a youth, he now uses precise targeting. At speed and under pressure, that's a product of both training and live-fire experience.

His creative energy is in decorative carving. In under three hours, he made a plaque based on a Welsh love spoon for me to take home to K. It's his meditation and the way he creates. And that's one thing: for the sake of sanity you need to do something creative. We all need to make palpable beautiful or functional things: Write. Paint. Build furniture. Restore cars. Garden. Something. There is an emptiness in your life that grows when you are passive.

We had a nice visit on a three-masted schooner, the Kathleen & May, the last running Welsh-built schooner. Murray's part of the trust restoring the Helen II a "nobby prawner" in Conwy. The sailing world is pretty small, and it was enough connection that the couple restoring the schooner took us on board and showed us around.

There aren't many people with certain backgrounds who are growing old successfully. Murray is one of them.

Create. Learn. Stay Dangerous.

 *Gin and tonic is strictly for lunch. Whiskey and soda at 1800. Wine with dinner. Port with cheese after dinner. If a night cap is necessary, then brandy.
"But I don't like port," I said.
"That's not the point."