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The Dream is damned and Dreamer too if Dreaming's all that Dreamers do.
Updated: 4 hours 12 min ago

Advanced Class

Thu, 2014-10-30 19:00
Just finished the second day of a three-day course for the training unit of a European city. After dinner, over coffee, the boss asked me, "Is there an advanced course we can book for next year?"

Yes. Sort of. No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expanding Lists

Fri, 2014-10-24 20:58
Normally, my default is to simplify. To cut stuff out. By definition, efficiency means less wasted motion. The best athlete in any field moves less than the second best to accomplish the same thing. It's just as true mentally as it is physically. Thinking efficiently is a matter of dismissing the unimportant. When you truly understand a concept, you get more done, faster, and more accurately, with less work and time. So I'm reluctant to add to lists, especially good lists, but it came up during the MNVD training.

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

  1. Injure the threat
  2. Protect yourself
  3. Improve your position
  4. Worsen the threat's position
That's every single motion. Because it is easier to teach, many martial artists learned to strike (injure the threat) or unbalance (worsen the threat's position); learned to block or evade (protect yourself); and learned footwork (better your position, sometimes worsen the threat's)-- but almost all learned them as three separate things.
So you get the stereotypical martial artist who blocks a punch, steps to the correct angle and fires his counterpunch. Taking three moves. Which generally only works in demos where the partner (not a threat) stands still after the block. Offense, defense and motion were never supposed to be separated in the students head or, gods forbid, in the motion of a person who desperately needs efficiency. But it is easier to teach and easier to evaluate than integrated motion.
So, the Gold standard is one move with four effects (and good jujutsu gets more than that with multiple types of damage).
Blindfolded training adds one:     5.  Gathers informationTouch is faster than sight. It is almost impossible to make a decisive motion without a 'tell' in the shift in your body weight. So touch is faster, harder to fool and, if you get good at reading precursor motion, gives you a half-beat of precognition
The second list-- Jeff's RulesAnything you teach must:
  1. Have a tactical use. As he put it, there's no reason to learn to fast holstering because taking your weapon out of the fight first is not useful. Holstering without looking is useful, because it allows you to watch for threats.
  2. Must work under an adrenaline dump. If you can't do it scared, you can't do it when you need it.
  3. Must work moving. If you have to have a solid base to hit or shoot, for combative persons you can't hit or shoot. Fights are dynamic, they happen moving.
  4. Must work when you can't see. I may have added this one, but Jeff was big on indexing, doing everything by touch. If you have to look at your holster or fumble and look for your magazines, you're taking your eyes out of the fight.
The addition, and it doesn't fit quite right. Jeff's rules are about what to teach, and this is operational. But it fits the theme, in my mind:   5. Never do anything alone if you have a choice. Teams are a force multiplier like no other. Everything changes, for the better, with a team. How do you clear a building alone? Fast and quiet and with a fuckton of luck. Much easier and safer with a team. Weapon retention alone is a nasty struggle at ultimate stakes. With a team you hang on for the second or two it takes your partner to solve the problem.
The third list was recent: Escape, Control, Disable. It's a way to organize everything you teach, a way to decide what is relevant and what isn't. Strategies, mindset and appropriate techniques are very different for these three different fields.
I want to add a fourth, at Marc's suggestion. Fighting. Just for you to think about on your own. And it will be a big rabbit hole for some of you. Fighting in this context is any form of contest-- Monkey Dance or voluntary Bar Brawl; competition of any type at any level. When you practice what you practice, is it for escape? To cuff? To disable? Or is it just to prove you are better at the skills of the struggle.
Be honest. This is for posterity.

Kill the Sensei

Tue, 2014-10-21 22:01
Generally, martial arts are taught very poorly. For the so-called "traditional" Japanese and Okinawan arts, they way they are taught is not traditional at all. For many systems, the first generation of US and European instructors learned just after WWII, from an occupied people who hated them and through shitty translators in large regimented groups. Somehow, this unnatural bastard idea of training got called "traditional" and since it set the standards for training, people assumed it was good. Get this, 'Standard' and 'Good" are not the same thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What If...

Mon, 2014-10-20 18:05
Minnesota was a big experience with a lot of learning. I'll debrief it when the lessons have had some time to settle.

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

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

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

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

So, hat tip to Jaime for making me think.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Project

Sat, 2014-10-11 16:25
The writing project for the end of the year will begin in November. It won't be a novel, but I'll do it as part of the NaNoWriMo challenge, to complete a full book in one month, November. I'm excited about it but just as worried. The subject is pretty big, and I'm not aware of anyone who has hit it at this level.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thu, 2014-10-09 00:22

I have lesson plans. I have lesson plans coming out of my ears. I've written lesson plans for SAR, the Sheriff's Office, the National Guard, the Iraqi Corrections Service... but, sometimes, damn.
So I'm in Germany. Some evening classes for civilians, cool. The regular Ambushes and Thugs/Intro to Violence seminar over the weekend. Cool. Conflict Communications on the campus of the Mainz riot police, cool. Conflict Communications is always cool since it doesn't matter what the problem is. Bad guys? Clueless bosses? Family? ConCom explains it pretty well. Tuesday was ConCom.
Wednesday was scheduled for physical control. I had been led to believe that this group needed some skills in arrest and control tactics. Perfectly cool, I'm relatively good at that. But no. Sigh. 37 people. Maybe fifteen agencies. None of them had the same policies or tools.
My normal arrest and control lesson plan is pretty practical. In eight hours we cover:
  • 1-step
  • Joint locks
  • Take downs
  • Leverage and leverage points
  • Stance integrity
  • Ground movement
  • Pain (ethics and application)
  • Lock transition to cuffing
  • Momentum
  • Using the Environment
All useful, all intuitive...Tuesday I found out some of the students weren't allowed to arrest, so they didn't need cuffing. Most carried weapons ("waffen") --pepperspray and batons-- but not firearms. I had 10-15 agencies with different policies and equipment.
Turns out I'm relatively good at this. Yeah, international trainer and all that jazz, blah, blah, blah... but I have never felt like I'm a good teacher, which probably has a lot to do with the tendency to improve...
Fighting organizes.  It can organize in several ways. So I made the most appropriate organization for this group and let them vote on what they needed. We can talk about why later. The thing that I got excited about is that, as much as I train and think about conflict, I'd never organized it this way. Three levels: Escape, Control, Survival.
Completely different in every aspect. Only the Principles (things that made everything else work) crossed all three categories. And some became awesome insight. Power generation (one of my building blocks) is entirely different in "escape mode" and "damage mode" and doesn't apply (as I define it) at all in control mode. So I put the building blocks under the categories in which they were important. And let the students vote.
Okay, that's good teaching, let the adult students take control, blah blah blah...But I don't think i have ever once looked at my personal lost  of critical skills (the BUILDING BLOCKS) and tied the to the basic goals--escape, control, disable. And it was easy. And powerful. And empowered the students.
Good day.


Fri, 2014-10-03 11:08
Enjoying Germany. Great people and food (had the Deutsch version of haggis last night, very good). Jet lag normally doesn't bother me but this trip is different. May have to arrange recovery time next year between seminars...

Something Lawrence said a few weeks ago has been rolling around in my head. He said my writing, speaking and teaching were "pithy." Not a lot of words, many things implied or assumed instead of said. At the same time, I cover a fair amount of information. "Facing Violence" was essentially two hundred pages expanding on two paragraphs in "Meditations on Violence."

Implied and assumed. Assumed is hard, and potentially a serious problem. I'll write about experience thresholds later, but basically, people at different levels of experience think in different ways. Beginning drivers don't think like experienced drivers and experienced drivers don't think quite like security drivers and no one things about it like rally drivers.

The first time I taught a seminar, and one of the reasons I started writing, was because many of the students didn't have a vocabulary for things that were obvious to me. That there was a difference between a fight and an assault, for instance, or that self-defense was an affirmative defense to a crime. Violence is deep stuff and big, bigger than I will ever fully understand... but the parts I am familiar with have aspects that seem obvious, but may not be to others.

So you have to watch for your own assumptions all the time. When you teach, be alert for people who are not doing quite what you said, or are hesitating to begin at all. You may have confused them. And set up test questions (something else I need to write about) which are ways to find out what a thing truly is. You can use a test question to find if a situation is predatory or miscommunication; a proper boundary setting acts as a test question-- no normal person goes beyond the second step, opportunistic predators will push the third. For teaching, one of my favorite test questions is to have the student teach me. "Chris, you've been here four times. Guess what? You're teaching power generation."

Implied. I don't mind leaving lots implied. I teach adults and I respect them as adults. There's no need to spoon feed. Getting into specifics of dealing with EDPs (Emotionally Disturbed Persons) makes sense because so few have done it and almost everything they know about dealing with social conflict will fail. But they all have experience with social conflict, if not violence, and one of the keys in teaching adults is to tie it to their experience. I don't have to explain in details the things they experience every day, and it's a waste of time and, IMO, a show of disrespect to do so.

And there's a benefit. People aren't stupid. Okay, people in groups and people trumpeting their affiliations and a lot of drivers are stupid... but individuals are pretty smart. And, when allowed to be, they are innovative and insightful. And humans like to succeed and hate to fail. Which means, if you give them the tools and leave them alone, they'll do okay. And sometimes they surprise you and come up with something better than you ever thought of. Those are the best days for a teacher.

'Cause I'm wrong about everything. In an infinite universe, there are no perfect answers. Which means there are no right answers. Better and worse, but no "right." So everyone is wrong all the time. Including me. And every time you give a student freedom, there is a chance that she will come up with something that shifts the entire paradigm an order of magnitude closer to that unreachable perfection. That makes the student better. It makes you better, if you have the humility to learn from your own student. It makes the world better.

Two of my biggest epiphanies in martial arts came from mistakes. Misunderstanding instructions in one case and simply screwing up the footwork in another... and the product of those mistakes was ten times better (not exaggerating at all) than the 'right' way.

So if a student does misunderstand... they are adaptable, smart, tough, survivors. They will have a tendency to make the misunderstanding work. In doing so, they may change everything I think I know for the better. I'm okay with that.
Seven days in Minnesota is almost upon us:


Tue, 2014-09-23 15:55
Just finished reading a book, purporting to be about science, where the author was ridiculously ignorant about what science even means. Maybe not ignorant as much as self-serving. He had his worldview, which obviously all right thinking people must share, and a firm belief that anyone who didn't share it had a broken part in the brain. From that stance, science was a search through technology to confirm the 'truths' he already held.

Underneath it all, there is a key thought that might be immensely powerful, but I don't think the author even noticed.

That said, I'm pretty confident that anyone with a modicum of training in actual science would have been appalled by the book as I was... but it was recommended to me by a highly intelligent young man. So why aren't people given a solid education in critical thinking and the scientific method?

Second piece of the thought, stemming from a conversation with Marc MacYoung and touching on the worlds of politics and self defense, on Rotherham and gun control and a bureaucracy completely out of control.

As strange as it seems, I am coming to believe that there are some people, maybe many, who believe that rules actually exist. That when you write a law it actually changes the world. That when you forbid bullying in school, bullying will magically decrease. And magically is the operative word because there is nothing inherent in paper and ink to change people's behavior. Unenforced, rules only have power over the people who consciously agree to abide by them or those so brainwashed or superstitious that they, too believe the rules are real. Someone who believes that a "Keep Off The Grass" sign actually forces people not to walk on grass.

As such, these laws and rules and policies are simply complex spells. And like most magic, they only work on the people who believe (consciously or not) in magic. And making more and more rules has the horrific affect of controlling the people who would voluntarily control their own behavior while doing absolutely nothing for the few who won't. And, as in Rotherham, the priests of this religion get rewarded for doing the rituals correctly even if the bad guys actually gained power. Because energy going into casting spells isn't going into solving problems, no matter what the superstitious want to believe.

If you saw a lithic-technology native who had never contacted Western civilization before and he told you that he wore a cord woven of a red leaf to keep his mother healthy, you'd probably have some pretty condescending thoughts. You'd recognize the superstition and ignorance of sympathetic magic. So, tell me, do you ever wear a pink ribbon for breast cancer?

Like all sympathetic magic, the awareness campaigns give the feeling of doing something without actually putting in the effort and expense. Contribute money to research? Volunteer for hospice? Those are acts and they do something. Wear a ribbon or put a sign on your lawn? That's voodoo. Don't get me wrong, some people are making a hell of a living from running charity campaigns. So your superstition is serving somebody.

Visualizing world peace doesn't work. And it's obviously a stupid platitude, obviously ridiculous, obviously dependent on magic. But a bumper sticker that says "Support Our Troops"gives the actual troops zero support. And if you have that bumper sticker but talked your own kids out of signing up, I wish the hypocrisy would make your head explode.

Struck again with how robust the patterns are. Our ancestors in loincloths making sacrifices and cowering in their huts from the thunder-- that's still us. And we're still using the same tools, whether we realize it or not.

VV: Validating Form, Ignoring Function

Sun, 2014-09-21 12:16
VV, get it? Fifth post in a row starting with V? This will actually be the fourth post talking about validation. First, read this article and prepare to get upset:

Taking everything out, ignoring the fact that 1400 girls were systematically victimized, ignoring any cultural or racial parameters, I want to focus on one very simple thing.

16 years. 1400 victims. Local government, social services, the police and the National Health Service knew about it. Only five arrests, as near as I can make out... until this news report broke.

This is the part I want to write about: The groups that did so little, the groups that even after they knew children were being victimized, and by doing nothing allowed hundreds of others be victimized, were praised. They were praised for their approach and focus and their collaboration and their 'best practices.'

Partner, if 'best practices' leave children to be injured, they aren't 'best.' They aren't even good.

There's form and there's function. If the form doesn't accomplish the function, it doesn't matter how perfect the form is, it is wrong. When a person or an organization focuses on the form to the exclusion of function, which appears to be the trend in all bureaucracies, they become useless. And in cases like this, actively evil.

If you have a test to promote your sergeants, but the people who score high on the test aren't significantly better than the ones who score low, your test is wrong. It is a failure. You are testing for something-- tests always test for something-- but it is not testing for what you believe it is.

If your academy curriculum is centered around what is measurable and not what a rookie needs, it is a tool of bureaucracy, not justice or even survival. And you are dooming students to injury and maybe death to appease the system. And it is a system. And when the system must be served more than the people, you get Rotherham.

It's the way of the world. It has become so ordinary that no one notices, or those that do, laugh. California requires MSDS for bricks. There are places where you can't legally make a straw bale house because no one has written code for them. On a daily level, the constant bureaucratic meddling is annoying or funny. Hideously expensive and wasteful. But we just move on, because it seems so normal.

But this is 1400 victimized children. It should be a slap in the face hard enough to make anyone and everyone rethink how their methods are measured.

Otherwise, the gods of bureaucracy will have their blood sacrifices.

Meanwhile, at the VD Clinic in Minnesota...

Fri, 2014-09-19 13:39
There will be one more post on validation but it's going to take a little research and composition. And it's political. So a short break to plug a big event coming up.

If you and I ever collaborate, think twice before you give me the power to name things. The only reasons my kids aren't named Nifty and Swifty are because my wife has these things called "rules" about "proper behavior" and she enforces them and knows where I sleep. Long and short of it, if we're having a Violence Dynamics intensive seminar and no one tells me otherwise, I'm damn well calling it the VD Clinic.

This year's MNVD will be held October 13-19 at the Mermaid in Mound's View MN. They'll have a special hotel rate for us. It will be twenty-five blocks of training over seven days. You can attend the whole thing, the weekdays, the week-end, or individual sessions.

The instructors will be Kasey Keckeisen, local SWAT member, training coordinator, experienced martial artist; Marc MacYoung, one of the pioneers of the RBSD movement; and me.
The details and sign-ups are here:

I'm excited about this one. You're going to get a core dump of insights, tactics and philosophies from three perspectives-- experienced perspectives. This is the only PD I've worked with that is cool with civilians training with officers. No details, but one of the sessions will be shared with a local specialty team. And if you are a pro, it is all POST certified.

The only one that is likely to fill beyond capacity is the Sunday session, Advanced People Watching and Reading Terrain. We have to limit the group size to the point that security doesn't notice we're running a class, so people who sign up for the whole week will have preference on attending Sunday.


The Mermaid Entertainment and Events Center. 2200 Hwy 10Mounds View, MN 55112763-786-2000
Sign-ups and further details:

Kasey's Description:


Wed, 2014-09-17 12:26
Since I seem to have a theme going...

Long good talk with Erik Kondo last week about improving navigation on CRGI and many other things. Stay tuned on that, there are a couple of ongoing projects I need to write about soon. In the process we were talking about identifying good practices and practitioners, and I was balking.

"My idea of good may not be someone else's. There's a lot of really good stuff out there, particularly in the traditional arts, that is just misunderstood or missed by the instructors." I said.

"Good's hard to identify," Erik agreed, "But you can spot bad in a heartbeat."

You have no idea how much I hate arguing with people who are smarter than me. But at least I learn a lot.

So when validating a technique, deciding whether it will work and whether to teach it, three things immediately come to mind. There may be a lot of other ways to suck, but these are usually easy to see and are definitely failures.

1) Time framing. Everything you do takes time. The less time it takes, the more efficient it is. The longer it takes to get to the same point the less efficient it is. If the technique taught requires more time than exists, you have a time framing problem.

You will never dodge a sword strike with a back handspring. If I throw a jab at your chin within range, you will never get a hand from your hip in time to intercept it. If you have an eight move defense and counter to a single move attack, your attacker is eight times more efficient than you are. You lose. Even if the initial attack and the counter take the same time (or the technique has a slight edge) it probably won't make up for the action/reaction gap. If you are reacting, the opponent will have completed a certain percentage of the motion (maybe the whole attack) before you Observe, Orient and Decide and initiate your reaction.

There are a number of things that influence this. Telegraphing is a big one. In many cases, you can look like you are very fast or even telepathic if you are good at reading telegraphs. Almost everyone has unnecessary preparatory moves before they begin the real action. Almost as prevalent and much more damaging to the student is poor distancing. You can get away with almost anything if you insist that the attack begins from a half-step out of range. If your technique relies on that half-step, it simply won't work.

2) Brainwashing. You can look all over the internet for the videos of the chi masters making their students go dizzy by pointing fingers or knocking people down without touching them. Here's the deal. There is a thing called "victim grooming" where a predator takes time and effort, usually with a child, and raises that child to believe that being a victim is normal and to actively seek out abuse. The students of these chi-masters (and a lot of others) have been subjected to the same process. They have been trained to respond as if magic works or suffer cognitive dissonance and some painful rethinking.

Probably shouldn't have started with chimeisters because it makes it easy to pretend the lower levels of this don't exist. But a lot of them do. Sometimes it is purely mental "I know this technique works because it only takes twelve pounds of pressure to break a knee..." No it doesn't. Your knee can take twelve pounds all day. Twelve pounds moving at 100mph is a completely different problem.

Sometimes it is physical. If your technique only works on your own students, it doesn't work. If you are more likely to be injured by a beginner than an experienced practitioner, your system may be deliberately creating inefficient fighters. That's the technical term for "losers." If you're demonstrating a technique and the student steps back to give you plenty of time, subtly points at which fist she is about to use... sigh. Groomed victim.

Lastly, demos and seminars and you. Really easy to see other people being brainwashed. Much harder to grasp your own suggestibility. Almost all people are suggestible to a degree. You've all seen that yawns are contagious. That's one example. Everyone thinks they are resistant to suggestion, but that belief has, apparently, no correlation to one's actual suggestibility. And when you go to a seminar, your suggestibility is heightened. You have already decided to go to the seminar expressly because there is something about this instructor you admire. That lowers your skepticism. (And don't think a skeptical attitude is a defense, I've read many stage magicians who consider self-declared skeptics the easiest to fool). You will be in a crowd of others who feel the same way, triggering the human herd instinct. Sometimes accentuated by insisting that people come dressed traditionally (much harder to break ranks when everyone looks/dresses the same.) And the really good ones have techniques to pick out the most suggestible (or at least weed out the most resistant) so that the early demos go so well it becomes even harder to question or complain.

If the instructor tells students what is supposed to happen, whether three touches on a meridian will make a KO or that when a hand appears going for the face the body has no choice but to throw itself (and, yes, before you ask, I have heard both of those) the explanation is part of the technique.

Bottom line, if the bad guy is responsible for making the technique work, the technique doesn't work.

3) Mechanical advantage. Any good technique must have a mechanical advantage. It must have an element of leverage, structure or vector that gives it an edge over things applied with more power. You can only do a good sweep if there is enough distance from the sweeping foot and the shoulder crash. You need the leverage. My wife could never outmuscle me pulling her into a hug, but she can use her pointy little elbows to make it really hurt, pitting my strength against her structure and winning. If a fist is coming in and you try to stop it straight on you would have to be far more powerful than the person throwing the punch... but a slap to the side has the vector to redirect a massive difference in power.

Ideally, a good technique will have advantages in all three-- good structure applied with maximized leverage along an advantageous vector. And there is no rule that says a bad guy can't be better at all three elements than you. That's life.

Bottom line- unless there is clear mechanical advantage in a technique, it will only work against a smaller, weaker opponent. It will only work for a bad guy.


Wed, 2014-09-10 14:53
You can't be sure. There is no such thing as a "survival level of proficiency." The world has a 100% death rate and no matter how skilled, equipped, or physically gifted you are, there is stuff out there that can splat you like a bug on a windshield. That's just the way it is. The one thing that's a safe bet is that if you are sure your stuff is adequate, you are already setting yourself up for failure.

No matter how tested something is or under what conditions it has been tested, all you know is that you haven't found the failure point yet. But the failure point is out there. So is your stuff valid? That depends how far you have tested your stuff. There is a point where it will cease to work. And the uncertainty increases when it is not tested. When there is no way to validate a thing, humans seek validation instead.

You can't be 100% sure of very much. 1+1=2 with high reliability when applied to rocks. It's less reliable when applied to rabbits. When you can't be sure (validity) people want to feel sure (validation).

How does one go about validation? They like be told by other people that they are good. There are a lot of rituals and trappings to it, but that's the essence. A black belt. Certificates and trophies. Creating "Councils of Masters" who cross-certify each other as "Masters." In the RBSD world, you have instructors who are combing academic abstracts looking for studies that appear to justify their own beliefs or discredit a competitor's. Everybody wants a guy in a white coat with a PhD after his name to validate their approach. The academic researcher takes the place of the shaman is this quest in this culture.

And that last, science, isn't bad. If you are scientifically literate (understand experimental design, the scientific method and the basics of statistical analysis as a start) and read the actual article, not just the abstract. And don't cherry-pick too hard.

But the rest aren't bad, either. Sort of. I want validation too. My validation comes from the respect of people that I respect. Hmmmm. Sort of. I respect almost everyone as a matter of courtesy. But when I look at my closest friends, I'm a little humbled to be accepted in their company. But it can be a fine line between a group of operators and former operators telling war stories and and a cross-certifying Master's Council. I'm fairly positive that each of those "masters" convince themselves that the others on the council are extraordinary and being allowed in is a compliment (even if one Hall of Fame award was offered to every member of a certain martial arts forum one year. Sigh.)

There are certificates that mean a lot to me because of who they came from and how they were earned. And I know there are, or used to be, certificates that came in a sheaf with a box of DVDs all pre-signed by the "master" so that you could fill them out and show potential students your hundreds of certifications.

And trophies-- you win an olympic judo medal or a UFC title and you are one tough son of a bitch, dedicated and skilled. Or you can just go to an event that has three times as many categories as competitors and come home with a pocketful of gold medals from events where you had no opposition. The good and worthless trophies look just the same on the wall.

It can look like the goal is to be strong enough not to need outside validation, to be so sure that you don't need other people telling you how good you are. But that doesn't work either, because some of the worst instructors I have seen had a profoundly over-developed ego. Someone who truly feels superior usually sucks (Dunning-Kruger) and are most likely to reject outside opinions yet most likely to need them.

Sometimes I  think about offering a certification program in thinking for yourself. The catch being that if you want a certificate in autonomy from someone else, you don't get it. You don't get the certificate or the concept.


Mon, 2014-09-08 13:36
Trying to answer an e-mail and it needs a little thinking out loud.
It wasn't a big thing, there was a single sentence about validity, but the concept of validity in self-defense instruction is a big one. Rocky.

I've seen a lot of things work and a lot of things fail. And thought -- a lot-- about why things succeed or fail. And those whys became my personal list of principles, and those principles became the framework for my teaching. And that was tested in the field. A lot. And... does that make what I do valid?

What does valid even mean?

Here's the deal. A few people have seen the elephant. But on one, no one, has seen the whole elephant. Soldier experience isn't cop experience. Cop experience isn't corrections experience. Corrections experience isn't bouncer experience. Bouncer experience isn't secure mental health custodial experience. And none of that is direct experience with domestic violence. None of that, hopefully, is experience with being targeted as a victim.

As a man, when I teach SD to women, there is an entire part of the equation (what it's like to be a woman) that I can never understand. But, you know what? I also can't truly understand what it's like to be a bigger, stronger man than I am. Or what it's like to have 30 years of kempo experience instead of jujutsu. I know enough about violent criminals to predict their behavior and pick apart their rationalizations in an interrogation, but I've never been one.

All any of us has is a piece of this. There are no experts. So is there validity? Sort of.

Validity is a function of logic, of syllogism, specifically. (And I'm a little out of my depth in the nuances of philosophy 101, but bear with me a bit). If A is B and B is C then A is C. If there are no holes in the logic chain, then it is valid. A is C. Is it true? Seriously, do you even have to ask? If A was C, then cat would be cct. All of the pieces have to be true for validity to resemble truth. As well as all of the assumptions, like what 'is' means.

In self-defense, one of the dangers is that people confuse validity for truth, and they often teach that things that should work do work, or that things that worked on sober, eager students in a class will work on drugged and enraged people in other places. People frequently rate logic or received wisdom over experience.

"As we all know, self-defense is exactly like math. If you do the same thing, you will get the same effect every time."-- A self-defense instructor who will remain nameless. Not a single person with any experience whatsoever and a marginally functioning brain believes this. Not one. Probabilities go up with higher levels of force, e.g. I have never heard of a .50 to the head failing...but a .45 to the head has.

This validity, this search for truth is, in my opinion, a side effect of the subject matter. We recognize that if we or our students are ever called on to use these skills it will be for high stakes. Any failures will be catastrophic. The combination of high stakes and limited experience (remember that three hundred encounters is probably less than five hours of experience) drives people to seek certainty elsewhere: Received wisdom from a 'master.' Thought experiments. Dojo experiments. Chains of logic where every step is a guess or an assumption.

You would be so much stronger as a fighter or a teacher if you could just get over the need to be sure. There is no right. As Tia said recently, there's just solutions with less suck than other solutions. That lets the goal change from being right to being better. The problem with thinking you're right is that you can't improve on 'right.' Accepting that there are no perfect answers, that tiny touch of humility, gives you the superpower of continuous improvement. You can never be perfect. You can never be right. Feeling sure is a dead giveaway that you don't actually know. But you can be better. Every day.

And validity is a slightly separate issue from validation, but that's a post for another day.

The Ultimate Opponent

Wed, 2014-07-23 05:44
Sonny Umpad taught that first you must learn to read your opponent. But then you must learn to write him. Make him do and be what you need him to be for you to win.*

And we all know, all of us, that we are our own greatest opponents. What is holding you back from your potential? You. No one else has the access, no one else has the strength. If you choose to believe otherwise ("I would be really successful except for .") it only means that your excuse-making machine is working fine. You can find people with much worse circumstances who became successful. I guarantee it.

So the question-- can you write your ultimate opponent? Can you turn the parts of you that hold you back into the kind of antagonist who exists to lose? And in doing so, can you create yourself into the architect of your own future? Is that what mastery is?

*As Maija explains it. She's worth checking out.