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Types of Scenarios

Sun, 2014-06-15 16:32
Just trying to clear up some language here.

There are three very different things that tend to get called scenario training. Maybe more, but I can only think of three right now. They have almost nothing in common. They all have some value. They all have some weaknesses and problems.

The first I call "situationals." These are the short 'what if' questions. What if you're attacked at a urinal? How do you fight out of a crowd? Someone jumps you on the stairs, what do you do? They can be fun training, and intense. But intensity is something the instructor always has to worry about. Not because of danger (though brawling on stairs has obvious safety issues). Because anything that feels intense, any training that gives the student some adrenaline, will feel more real to the student than other forms of training. And if the situation or the solution has artificiality--and it will-- the student will still learn the lessons hard even if the lessons are wrong.

The value in situationals, if you are careful, is that it allows you to work some stuff out. To find some tools (like shoulder slams using the handrail on the stairs). The problem is that they will always be pieces. I firmly believe that most bear hug escapes come from this kind of brainstorming, and they fail miserably because the people envisioning the escapes somehow missed that bear hugs almost never come into play to immobilize, but to throw people into things and any escape must work with your feet in the air.

Situationals will almost always miss context.

They are also a hotbed for stylistic inbreeding. Inbreeding-- you have a good technique so I come up with a counter so you modify your technique so the counter doesn't work so I come up with a modified counter so it does work so you modify your technique again... in two or three iterations of this we are using techniques that don't exist outside our inbred little training hall and have counters that apply nowhere in the real world.

In situationals, you have to be sure that the people giving the problem (uke) are acting natural, not adapting to the solution. The best tactic I've found for fighting out of groups, for instance, is not to fight. It's a wedge and swimming motion that gets you out of the circle or through the mass quickly with relatively little damage. But it predicates either on a group trying to put the boot to you or a panicked crowd. When the group starts to prioritize immobilizing first, the swim is neutralized... but, with the exception of one team prison shanking, I haven't seen that in the wild.

The second type of scenario training I learned as "The Sharpness Exercise" (translated). Hogan's Alley, basically. You give the operator or team a reason to run a maze-- officer down at the end, 911 call from a kid hiding from intruders somewhere in the house... different things for different agencies in different parts of the world. As they run the maze, they will be presented with problems-- booby traps, ambushes, different threats requiring different levels of response, and innocent people as well.

Done well, Sharpness is a great exercise for adapting on the fly, for using your whole range of force options, and for practicing judgement and articulation. It takes a little more equipment and prep than situationals, but a lot less than full blown scenarios.

I've seen this exercise go very badly when the instructor was trying to make a point about how dangerous the world was. Everything was booby-trapped, every hostage you rescued was actually a bad guy with a concealed gun, the other guy in uniform was an imposter and assassin... I played  for one of these at the academy years ago when I was young and stupid and couldn't tell intense training from good training. That Hogan's Alley made the officers so paranoid that they were useless on the job until after they got over it.

Full-blown scenario training is difficult and expensive. It requires armor. It requires an environment, either a real place or a modular training space. You want simunitions if you're teaching professionals. An absolute minimum of a three-man team (Facilitator, Safety Officer and at least one Role Player). The safety protocols must be detailed and must be enforced. It's not easy to do, even harder to do well.

On the plus side, scenarios are ideal for practicing judgment in tandem with skills. They allow you to test and work everything from tactics to emotional growth. They find holes and glitches like no other training. There's a big chapter on them in the Drills manual.

On the downside, they are very difficult to do well and safely. Safety runs from the hazards of a nearly full-contact fight (armor helps, but it's not perfect) to the environment (anything from rusty nails to a gaping hole where a staircase used to be) to pure negligence (about once a year someone gets lazy or complacent on the safety protocols and a live weapon shows up in a scenario.)

And, if the scenario designer, Role Player or Facilitator are ignorant or ego-driven, scenarios can ruin a student. If the training team decides to "be tricky" or "be challenging" that means "be artificial" and they will teach untruth and, under the adrenaline of a scenario ingrain that untruth hard. If they don't understand criminals, the student can't learn what works and what doesn't, only what works or doesn't when dealing with poor actors. If the RP or Facilitator need to win, to prove that they are better or tougher or more tactically sound than the student, they will, consciously or not, punish the student for any solution that is better than the one they envisioned.


Time

Sat, 2014-06-07 17:50
"The thing that strikes me in this whole class is that you think about time very differently than anyone I've ever known."--- Student in a class for writers.  From memory, not an exact quote.

Humans don't think about what we think about.  And even more rarely think about how we think.  I was told long ago that breathing and walking were two things that everyone does but few do well because they breathe and walk without thinking about it.  Unconscious skills don't get developed.  I think I can add communication to that list and a bunch of other things.

And now time.

It's not special-- I think everyone who does emergency work thinks about time this way.  So I didn't know it was rare.

Apparently, most people envisage time, if they think of it at all, as this medium in which things happen. We live our lives in time.  We move through time.  They think of time (or fail to think of it) the way fish think or fail to think about water.

For fighters, time is a resource, an extremely limited resource.  Everything takes time, and time spent doing one thing (prepping equipment) cannot be spent doing something else (developing a tactical plan).

Time can be given, taken or stolen.  It can be wasted.  The scary man reaches under his jacket and you think he might be drawing a weapon but you want to be sure...  You've given him time.  And wasted your own.  And put a cognitive mechanism in place ('I want to be sure' which means 'I want to be consciously sure') that guarantees you will use data inefficiently and waste more time at each step.

If I press, the threat has to make a decision, usually a hasty one.  If I don't press, the threat will use his time-- to observe or plan or move or...--and how he uses that time will tell me who he is.

You can make people think that time exists when it does not.  We frequently used a fake count down before a cell extraction.

The ability to understand and use discretionary time is the hallmark difference between a pro and a rookie. If there is time to think and plan and communicate, the pro does so, the rookie rushes. The pro spends the time wisely. When there is no longer time to think, when the door bangs open or something shiny flashes at your belly, the pro doesn't waste time thinking, he or she moves...and often the rookie tries to think or plan or get some detail of information, trying to spend time he doesn't have.

Infighters process time and space at another level. Close is fast. Time is distance and at that range you have damn little of either. In addition, anything you do potentially changes everything. A slight pressure with your knee can change the vector of an incoming strike and the location of the threat's head, for instance.

This is the part I'm struggling to describe. In a close brawl or doing infighting randori at a decent level of skill, time ceases to be linear. Something that objectively, on video, would be a sequence of action is all one thing. It feels like it happens in chunks. A lot of it is simultaneous, you can pop the knee while clotheslining the jawline, but the things that led there and the things that follow and anything the threat does or fails to do... those all seem part of a whole that teleported into existence as a complete object.

Sorry for the tortured metaphors. This is really hard to describe. And it gets worse, because the threat isn't part of the equation. Not at the time level. When it's go, you're both on it. And if you have to see what the threat does in order to decide what you will do, you're behind the curve and will never catch up, not at this range. He has his chunk of time and will do things with it. You have your chunk of time and will do things with it. But cognitively, for infighters, those chunks don't intersect.

There's also a common assumption about time. It's subconscious, but it really changes the affordances. When people fight, it's a form of communication. Basically a conversation with fists and boots. Many good fighters are taken out in an assault because they subconsciously follow the conversation pattern-- Fighter A does something and fighter B reacts and fighter A reacts... and in this pattern there are tiny pauses (a bad fighter waits for the pauses, a good fighter creates them) that signal whose turn it is.

This subconscious assumption of shared time isn't true. Reliably you can take someone out-- take 'em down, spin them prone and cuff them quickly and safely if you do it fast and decisively. Not because you're that good or the technique is that good. If you act without the expected pauses, people working under the shared time illusion are subconsciously waiting for you to signal their turn to respond. Reading this, that sounds esoteric and intellectual, but it's the best description I have of the difference between the force incidents that turned into fights and the ones (some of which were objectively more dangerous-- weapons, etc.) which just ended in a heartbeat.

But that shared time is illusion. We don't have time in a fight. I have time and you have time. If you are waiting for a pause, you aren't using your time and become meat. And your ability or choice to use your time and how you will use it can and should (maybe) be completely independent of what I do with my time. Unless, of course, you are manipulating my time.

Not sure I can really explain this. Grapplers have a completely different understanding of moving a body than strikers, and it's so subconscious it is really hard to explain simple things, like "make your hands sticky" to people who don't know the feel. It's kind of the same way with infighting and time.

Organizing

Fri, 2014-06-06 18:07
Except for the upcoming seminar in Seattle, and maybe a little brawling with friends, I have the rest of the month free. Which is good, because the rest of the year is going to be almost continual motion.

It's a month, but that's not much time.  Things that need to happen:

  • Rehab the knee. Harder and better. And try not to injure it again.
  • Rethink, plan and execute working out. Three (or is it four?) years of continuous leg injuries. "Nurse Ratchett" used her mad tui-na skills to pop the bone in my ankle back into place. The metatarsal break will never completely heal and I'm used to that so it's just the knee-- so now it's time to find a way to get the wind and muscle tone back up. 
  • Tied into above-- need to make some specific incremental changes in living. Not enough to do new things, I need to modify some deep-seated habits.
  • Work on the property and the house. Over two months of neglect means about a year's worth of work. Make a daily dent.
  • Work stuff-- book writing has to go on hold for a bit. Need to script (wrong word, my usual script for a three-hour video is a single page, nothing we've filmed is staged. More bullet points) "InFighting" and a "Scaling Force" tie-in to shoot in July.*
  • Have to become a business man. Emotionally, this is the hard one. Lots of internal contradictions ( I like capitalism-- the free market concept has done more to make peace possible than anything else, at the same time like a lot of kids raised poor there is an instinct that money is dirty and only bad people make a lot.) Some contradictions with the world-- I really want to get to the point where I can teach for free, but it's been made abundantly clear this year that pricing too low (something I especially do when I believe in the mission) costs not only contracts but credibility.
  • Part of the business is breaking down exactly what I do, what can be delegated, anything I'm doing in person that can be done another way.
  • Work on getting the word out about the CRGI launch. Contact some potential guest contributors.
  • Trivia. I'm about ten days behind on e-mail. Have to send a blurb on the essence of infighting out. Did a podcast interview and need to send a bio.
  • Connect. Haven't had much time for friends and family. Want to make the time and at the same time, there is so much work to do. It's easy to let the soft obligations slide.

*Thoughts out loud about these. For infighting, I need to get together with my local crew and a few strangers to bang it out and decide what must be in it, what should be in it, and what can be left out. I'm leery of filming this. Pretty much by definition if you set up infighting so the camera can see it, you aren't doing it right. But David Silver's crew is pretty ingenious.For "Scaling Force" Lawrence can't make the filming and I want to cancel, but both Lawrence and David are insisting. What I want to cover is threat assessment:
  1. Am I in Danger?
  2. How much danger? And what force does that require?
  3. Test questions
And, for want of a better word, context of application. If it is a serious self-defense situation, something where high-level force is the answer, it won't look anything like a square-off fight. So how to adapt your current skills to surprise, tight ranges and cluttered environments and some options for disparity of force: numbers, weapons and immense size and strength.
---------------------------------------
Plus, I'm teaching an on-line class for writers starting in ten days.

Parts and Wholes

Mon, 2014-06-02 19:27
Planning the section on defense for "InFighting." And there's a snag. Not a big one, probably easily solved, but it is part of the schism between learning and doing. Or talking and doing. Or, obviously, writing and doing.

Infighting is close work. And fast. You have to do most of it by touch. And defense becomes about controlling space and structure, not intercepting attacks. You need drills to get this down, just like anything else. But the drill isn't the thing.

In order to teach or communicate, you have to break things down. Defense and offense. Foot and hand motion. For infighting: locks; takedowns; structure manipulations; spine manipulations; hand, foot, elbow, knee, head, forearm,shin, shoulder and hip strikes; crashing; gouging...maybe biting. Plus the general stuff of orientation and controlling pockets of space.

But no matter how good you are at defense, something will get in eventually. So in addition to protecting yourself, you must finish the threat. And for infighting especially, this is simultaneous, not a sequence. (Really struggling with how to write about the perception of time to fighters, BTW). Not protect and attack. Not even simultaneous block and strike. Your attacks are your defenses, your defenses are attacks. Not in the sense that you can hit someone upside the head with something you usually call a block. In the sense that the elbow driving into the left side of his neck prevents him from lifting his right foot for a knee strike.

So you have to learn defense and you have to practice defense and it seems easiest to do so in isolation. My dad made me practice shifting gears with the engine off before we tried any driving. That's the way we teach, the way we communicate. Because time is linear, maybe, or we can only use one word at a time. But none of this stuff is used in isolation, at least, not if you're any good.

But the very fact that the defense chapter is separate from the other chapters risks putting it in the student's head as a distinct category. Creating one of the mental boxes that makes most people so inefficient, uncoordinated. Not integrated.

This disconnect must be everywhere. We learn pieces of things and sequences that by their nature are parts of integrated wholes. And there must be a training for the integration. I have that for infighting, not worried... but how many other life skills are learned in pieces? And because it is the normal way to teach, it becomes the normal way to learn. But is it the only way? Or the best?

Hit My Buttons

Thu, 2014-05-22 16:39
I have a love-hate relationship with teaching. I love teaching, or I'd make my living another way. Watching people grow stronger is one of the coolest things to watch, right up there with desert sunsets and ocean storms. And feeling even a tiny bit of responsibility for that growth is a huge ego stroke. No denying that. And teaching is one of those professions where you can really watch the ripples of what you've done spreading in the world.

As a wise friend likes to point out, we are all teachers.

But I hate being a teacher.

The teacher/student relationship is incredibly toxic for self-defense. And it is incredibly limited and limiting for any real growth or deep internal work.

Toxic for self-defense. The core skill of SD, beyond hitting and hurting, even beyond awareness, is the ability to stand up for yourself. The skills to see what is going on and make a decision are vital, but in the end, you have to be able to act on that decision. If you can't act, your understanding and situational awareness skills will only serve to make you a smarter, more aware victim. This decision to act is not made in a vacuum. There will be another personality there, the threat, and he or she also wants this to end a certain way. And the threat will use power-- physical, personal, voice, authority, threats...-- to make you do what he wants, not what you want.

And so spending six hours a week with an authority figure, doing what he wants in training, may be the exact opposite of the internal training a student needs.

It can be even worse in martial arts. If you pick the right art and the right school the kid who was always picked last for kickball can convince himself he's not just an athlete but a martial athlete. You can convince yourself that you are a great fighter or a "warrior" without ever experiencing real pain or fear. And the person without the social skills to get a date, if he sticks it out long enough, can be called "master" and demand that his students kneel.  You can see why this is a petri dish for certain predatory personality types. And even if the instructor isn't a predator, the system itself is ripe for abuse.

Limited and limiting. Most of our concepts of learning came from our experiences in schools, naturally. We all spent twelve or more years running through what was essentially a factory. Time scripted. Tasks designated. Every assignment judged. There have always been a few extraordinary teachers, but generally any creativity snuffed on sight. Can't speak for everyone, but I've never been sent to the principal's office or had my parents called for doing bad work... but I have for pulling out an encyclopedia and proving the teacher wrong. I never saw stupidity or ineffectiveness punished in the place I was sent to learn. The only sin was disobedience.

And that shared experience is the idea of teaching and learning that we all too often take to other training.

You can't become proficient at chaos by rote. You need to play. To mix it up, to make mistakes. You need to play with people so much better that they remind you there are levels of skill alien to you, and play with people of passion with no skill because they'll surprise you, too. But chaos is scary for some. As soul-crushing as I think our educational system is designed to be, it created a comfort zone and people try to recreate that comfort zone in the dojo. Complete with an imaginary imbalance of power, as if the students were first graders and the teacher the only adult.

You can't learn the stuff you need to know from that dynamic. It's too limited. And it is also limiting, because once you accept an authority figure as a font of knowledge you lose the habit of thinking for yourself (assuming you had that habit to begin with.) NO ONE has all the answers. There are no experts in this field. And even if someone knew everything there was to know about violence, that person still wouldn't know you, not the way that you do. And you are a big part of any situation.

A training environment where all acceptable answers come from a source outside yourself limits some of your greatest survival advantages: Your creativity and your adaptability.

Given all this...ahem... if you sent me an e-mail recently asking me to be your guru and I went a little ballistic, this is why. It's one of my buttons.

Two Reactions

Fri, 2014-05-16 12:37
Two people can have entirely different reactions to the same event. What can be crippling psychological damage to one is a challenge or an incentive to grow for another.

Civilian scenario training, like we did in Sheffield, is more complex and more dangerous (on may levels, not just physical) than most of what I see out there. Unlike police scenario training, you aren't working with a population who have been through psychological batteries and have a baseline of training. If you do it long enough, you will get psychological breakdowns. Part of the job is to bring the scenarios as close to the student's core as you safely, realistically (two different things), think you can. So hitting the edge is expected, but sometimes you will hit it inadvertently. Side effect of lack of psychological batteries is that you won't know where the suppressed mindfields (I like that pun) lie.

With a skilled facilitator, that's not usually a problem. If the facilitator is aware and understands dynamics, hitting the edge becomes a huge win, a rare insight that others can never truly share.

But outside of scenario training, people process big events on their own. Or with amateurs (friends) who may care, but may have no idea of what hitting an edge is like. Or with others who were exposed to the same event and will be trying, with very varied levels of success, to deal with the same issues. In the wild, as opposed to good training or, say, exposure to events with an experienced team or FTO, processing tends to be a crapshoot.

Most people adapt. There are relatively few events that can crush the psyche of a fairly healthy human. Very few environments where a human will hit unrecoverable exhaustion before they hit adaptation. People adapt, that's what they do. So most people are or become okay. For various values of 'okay.'

There are two common reactions of the people who do well. Both are acts of will, both are active instead of passive, but they are very different.

One decides that there are forces in the world beyond personal control and concentrates on internal and personal work: learning, training. Becoming more aware, informed, adaptable and tough.

The other decides not to change and focuses on forcing the world to change. Controlling the behavior of people nearby, trying to change social norms, laws and policies.

Objectively, with my reasoning mind, both methods of adaptation are admirable. The second, even, is the core of changing the world for the better, maybe. But my emotional reaction, my Monkey Brain, feels that the second way is on the same continuum as bullying, that these former victims have discovered a version of the power that was used against them and have become a reflection of what they hate and fear. And some revel in that power.

Forcing change is still using force. Making people be what you want them to be against their desires is exactly what your victimizer did to you. You can tell yourself that it's different because the change you demand is right and good. But some extraordinarily bad people have said that as well.

But that's probably just my Monkey Brain talking.

Edges

Thu, 2014-05-15 19:40
I've slept. Two nights in a row of good sleep. Doesn't make up for the last eleven years or so...

Mental, physical and spiritual. Three dimensions that all of this stuff (fighting, relationships, life, whatever) share. I'm always uncomfortable with the concept of 'spiritual' and the implications of the word-- but I know that mental and physical are not enough to describe sensation.

One example, that comes easily right now. Physical and mental exhaustion are not the same as emotional exhaustion.

Long ago, our highschool basketball coach (yes, I played highschool basketball at 4'10" advantage of a school with only twenty-nine total students) had us do an exercise called a "chinese chair". Backs against the wall, hands over head, up on toes and knees bent so that the thighs were parallel to the ground. Everyone had trembling thighs very quickly. Only two of us finished two minutes and neither of us could walk afterwards.  The coach said that if anyone collapsed and could walk afterwards, their bodies hadn't failed, their minds had.

Physical exhaustion. Climbing or judo (or milking cows) hands would go to total muscle failure again and again. You learned to rest them, stretch them and get them back to work as soon as possible. BCT we would do pushups to failure and then a partner would support part of our weight so we could do more. For endurance running, tasting blood in my mouth was the sign that the real training was about to begin.

That's not the same as mental exhaustion, and I've experienced that mostly with sleep deprivation. Forty hours in I start to hallucinate. Run multiple days on one or two hours of sleep and muscle tics and tremors develop. Eyes get less sharp. It's hard to monitor your own thinking, but mentally tired makes me stupid as well, and frequently stubborn. Emotions come to the surface. For me, especially, a sense of other people's physical and emotional weakness.

But there is a completely different type of exhaustion. Physically great. Calm, hydrated (dehydration can cause the symptoms of all three kinds of tired) and well-rested. But soul tired. Every human voice and presence is scratching on a raw nerve. My beloved K knows when I am getting "peopled-out" and insists on a rest day-- at home or in the woods, no contact, no phone, no computer.

This is a different kind of tired than being physically or mentally tired. I know other introverts feel it but honestly don't know if extraverts can relate. For me, one of the physical symptoms is that it becomes very difficult to make eye contact, it feels like a force is pushing my eyes away from faces. Spiritually tired. Burn-out, I think, is the high end version. Burnout in our (actually, my old) profession can come from big events, seeing something dark; or a lot of cumulative events. Sometimes from the internal expectation of being the only one who can handle the bad things and always stepping up or always being ready to step up and denying ourselves down-time.

Alone time is the cure. Maybe. Sometimes the big things process better with someone to talk to. But alone time is looking really precious right now.

Just...Breathe

Fri, 2014-05-02 19:27
"Are you having fun?"
The student grins, "Yes."
"Are you getting hurt?"
He looks a little confused,"No."
"Then there's no reason to be so tense. Relax. Breathe."

RC pointed out that in certain professions, sleep deprivation is just a natural state. Whether you're a pager slave or you do shift work; whether it's crossing time zones or adapting to the sounds and smells of a new place every night-- or injuries. People who do certain things don't sleep much or well, generally. And that can put you in what I call the Death March mode. You have a job to do, a condition to outlast and mentally, physically and spiritually you are running on reserve power. What do you do? Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. And breathe.

When the energetic, powerful kid wants to grapple, relax. Let him burn his energy as you fill the spaces that he creates in his thrashing. Just breathe. Even better if you can arrange that your dead weight is on his diaphragm, so you can breathe and he can't.

When the pain gets bad but you must remain absolutely still, breathe. When you know you've made a bad mistake and don't think there's anyway out and you feel the little rat in the back of your skull clawing away at you, telling you to panic, breathe. The air comes in, and fills your belly and holds it full and the air goes out until your lungs are empty and you feel that empty sensation before you inhale.

When you want to find a dark corner and just rock and hum, that's okay. Rocking and humming is breathing.

And every so often, for no reason at all, got out in the night, lie down, look at the stars, and breathe.

Teaching on the Fly

Tue, 2014-04-22 22:19
As mentioned, some of the seminars in the UK were shorter than I like, shorter than my standard lesson plans. On arrival, I didn't always know how many people would be there, the backgrounds of the students (how many force professionals versus experienced martial artists versus beginners, etc.) what the facility was like or what equipment was available.  Traveling, I can rarely carry the amount or type of equipment that I like, so I'm dependent on what can be provided.

Teaching on the fly is a challenge, and I enjoy it.

Some tips.

Make a lesson plan. Don't expect anything to go according to the plan, but plan anyway. I don't remember who said it, but "plans are generally useless, planning is essential." It's a good exercise, it allows you to put thoughts in a logical way. Don't fall in love with the plan-- at one venue I had a tight 'essential elements of self-protection' plan but the students wanted restraint & control. Know your stuff well enough to switch and improvise.

Keep the end-user in mind. That's the students. You are teaching not just to the students but for the students. Not for your ego, not for your pocketbook. If they need something different than you planned, their needs trump your preferences, at least in my philosophy.

There are three elements (probably more) that determine what is possible to teach.

#1: The student base. You have to be able to size them up quickly. Watch and listen. I start with the one-step drill because you can see how well they follow instructions, get a good gauge of any training artifacts or bad training habits that are endemic, find the blindspots... and it engages them immediately.

If there is a wide range of students, your drills should be designed such that beginners and advanced practitioners, pros and hobbyists all will get good value. Their goal is to learn and improve. Once you understand the core of your own skills, you can set the game so that each person can learn what they need. That's one of the differences between teaching techniques and principles, or teaching subject matter and students.

#2: The equipment. Some things can't be taught without the proper equipment. You can't do scenarios properly without armor. Some of the academic stuff (like violence dynamics or force law) are damnably difficult without a white board. I wouldn't try teaching ConCom without a projector, too easy to go off on tangents. Power generation requires firm kicking shields and, ideally, telephone books.

That said, there are other things that don't require equipment-- learning to move a body; or leverage; or targeting. There's more than enough information to fill a day even if you don't have the right equipment. Just don't fool yourself into believing that anything is good enough or complete enough. Targeting is cool, but good targeting with poor power generation is likely to fail.

#3: The facility. My least favorite place to play is a nice, clean, flat place with good lighting and padded floors. It's excellent for some things, but difficult for others. It's hard to do environmental fighting in a dojo. You can usually break off small groups to the office and the restroom, so not impossible. But I like having stairs and access to a few parked cars that are already scuffed and dented as well. In general, you want to do your rolling on mats, but a couple of times a year (or at my seminars) I want people rolling on asphalt, concrete or hardwood floors. I want them to remember that in the real world, stuff is dirty and it hurts.

You can teach body mechanics almost anywhere, but the combination of exploiting momentum and "gifts"is hard to teach in a pristine, flat, uncluttered world.

You also have to evaluate things for safety. Boots are good. If you wear boots you should practice in boots. Mats are good, they make learning to take falls easier. Mats and boots together can result in some really horrific knee and leg injuries. That's bad.

Alone Time

Wed, 2014-04-16 00:22

This is alone time. It might not seem like it to you. It’s crowded. It’s loud.The table across from me are a bunch of overweight guys with glasses talking about being great fighters and women. A very few couples, I don’t think this is a date kind of place. I’m sitting in a corner, typing away, sipping something local and watching.It’s alone time. No one knows me, no one has any reason to watch me. Typing on a laptop is unusual but non-threatening. To the few who notice at all, I’m a nondescript guy in a corner, typing. Probably some kind of struggling attorney, maybe a journalist. Those that peg the accent will take me as a tourist at first, but other things won’t add up and, again, the very few that think of me at all will assume I’m here on business.I’m an extreme introvert. Which doesn’t mean I don’t like people. Not saying I do like people, just saying introvert means something else.It means I find them exhausting.But not this. Right here, right now, I am separate and watching, even in a crowd. I’m clocking potential threats and potential prey, noting patterns of movement and interaction. It’s the most restful time I’ve had in two weeks.I love what I do, don’t get me wrong. If I didn’t love teaching, I would do something else. But three weeks, constantly on stage, constantly a center of attention... it drains me.And so I steal an hour, maybe ninety minutes to be gloriously alone in a crowd. It will refresh me, and I will hit the stage again tomorrow with renewed vigor, fresh.
Written a few days ago, in a pub. Very refreshing and the last of the class is winding down. It's been intense, good, powerful. Tomorrow night, a train to Scotland. Friends and fine whisky. Then a long plane ride and a few hours in the arms of my one true love.

Easy Teaching is not Easy Learning

Sun, 2014-04-13 09:39
Going to be writing about teaching for a few posts, I suspect.

Traveling seminars are usually weekends, and it makes sense to batch them, like three UK weekends over 16 days (plus travel time, and maybe a day to reset the internal clock). But that leaves the weekdays as big sinks of unused time. Garry and Dan decided to remedy that this trip. Dan scheduled things at St. Andrew's and it seems some college students can handle an all-day seminar during regular class times (imagine my old man voice saying, "Kids these days!") Not a problem.

Garry's were evening classes, so working people could make them. Three hour slots in London, Gate's Head, Wirral, Doncaster and four hours (later today) in Coventry.

Most of my lesson plans center around eight hours. It's the minimum to get a taste of the pieces, in my opinion. Almost everything in those eight hours is centered on understanding the question (What will I face? What are the elements of attack?) and gathering information-- how to see and evaluate not only what the threat is doing but your own trained mechanical inefficiencies. A second eight hours can go into the mechanics of efficient brawling. But at three hours something must be left out, and it must be made clear how incomplete the training is AND that can be hard when the attendees have never had that type of information in that volume before. Things can feel more complete than they can possibly actually be.

Anyway, how to train is often on my mind. But given a new problem, you learn new things.

One thought right away, and this feeds back to my secret intention with the Joint Locks video:
The best way for teaching is almost never the best way for learning.

It's an endemic belief in bureaucracies that training must be consistent and measurable. It is far more important to be able to objectively evaluate a student in a skillset than whether that skillset works. That's how bureaucracies measure 'fair' and bedamned to those who wind up bleeding.

It's not just soulless organizations, either. It's a staple of martial arts instruction as well. Any kind of force skill will be applied in a chaotic situation. It will be messy. Everything affects every other thing. Your ability to play in the margins, to use the chaos and mess is a big part of your survival skill. But it's hard to train, and for the ego-bound instructors, the prospective of losing to a student (and if you teach them to think sideways, you will lose sometimes) is a huge threat. It's hard to teach, so many instructors teach the easy stuff, not the good stuff.

And the way of teaching. The easy way of teaching is to break things down into manageable chunks. If I can pick out the eight steps to that wristlock, I can teach those eight steps. I can tell whether the student is doing each of those eight steps correctly. I can correct the student, which makes me feel like a teacher. And in the end, the student only has to remember those eight steps (and we're all good at remembering sequences, right?) and apply them and everything will be fine...

But it won't, because the student will need to access the memory part of the brain, which is slow and nearly useless in a force incident. The student will hesitate because that's what being constantly corrected makes people do. The ritual of the eight steps, consciously or not, sets an expectation for a very specific set-up that the bad guy may not be willing to provide. And it's not eight steps to success but eight chances for failure, since if any of the steps fail, they all do.

Some of the keys, and I'm a long way from finding them all:

  • Getting the information in the right level of detail to actually use. Nothing to memorize, but not so vague as to be useless
  • Match the skill to the correct part of the brain. Fighting has to be noncognitive, so there's no point in getting intellectual about it. Get intellectual about perfecting your training, though.
  • Teaching in the right modality. And testing, too. Fighting is inherently kinesthetic, not visual. We knock people down, we don't impress people unconscious.
  • Make it fun. Force is an inherently unfun subject, but all animals learn through play, everyone moves more efficiently when relaxed, and people learn better and to a deeper level of the brain when they enjoy the process.
  • Play. Related to above, but there is no way to script a complex answer to an unknown problem. The only way to get good at any complex skill intended for a chaotic environment is to play. And there's a lot in this, because the game has to be very well designed to teach the right things, and the student must be carefully prepped not to read too much into it.
  • Whatever you teach must agree with the student's world. The wording on this is tough. Generally, assume that your students are intelligent adults with their own experience of the world. So if you say or teach something that contradicts their knowledge of the world, they will either doubt the rest of what you say (which is bad) or they will reject their own experience (which is much worse.)
Enough for now. Time to go to Coventry.


Not on Hold, Just... Busy

Mon, 2014-04-07 20:35
It's hard to write when you are either working or trying to sleep.
This is my life now (and this is not a complaint, but an explanation and apology to the regular readers):

Up relatively late. Most times I have to catch a plane, the plane seems to leave at 0600, which means I have to be at the airport between 0400-0430, which means awake at 0300 at the latest. So the late start is a blessing...

But after a delay for mechanical problems which misses a connection  and another delay on the made-up connection I find myself at the destination somewhere around 25 hours awake and eight hours off from my biological clock... screw it, too tired to do the math. Commit to staying awake until at least 2100 local time so that I don't screw up my sleep schedule too bad. In order to stay awake, no writing or reading. I'd fall asleep. Walk. See a few friends. Walk. Have a wee dram. Walk. Keep moving.

Back to the flat around 2100, as planned. To sleep. Snap awake after three hours. (The one actual side-effect of my history is that, until very recently, I couldn't sleep more than four hours at a time.) Up, stretch, read, sudoku. After two hours I can sleep. Sleep until almost noon. Cool.

Wander the town (I love walking In Edinburgh, but also Montreal, Athens, SF, many others) with a friend, see more friends, eat and back to the flat to sleep. Snap awake after four hours. Still exhausted but only doze fitfully after that.

Get up, get coffee, try to find wifi and contact home. No-go. Find food. Catch ride to venue. Teach for 8+ hours. Talk and socialize and answer questions for another two. Dinner with the group. Back to flat. Go for another long walk. Realize that on a Sunday, breakfast, wifi and coffee will be harder to find. Hit a grocery store so at least breakfast won't be a problem in the morning.

Get up. Ride was barely on time yesterday, so go down right on time only to find that he felt guilty about not being early and has been waiting. To venue. Eight hours of teaching, plus talks,  dinner, etc. Things wind up so late that, with a friendly native guide, I have to work out the bus system to get back to the flat.  Next morning is free, but have to teach evening classes, and in that morning break, finally get a chance to blog.

Classes. Up late answering questions. Up early either to teach or to travel. Repeat.

This is not a complaint. Raf gathered a fantastic group at Edinburgh. Dan and Maya let me teach and connect with some of the next generation at St. Andrew's. The last three days in Swindon have been incredibly high energy, with plenty of bruises and learning for all.  I finally got to meet Stuart Williams and the lovely Louise in person. A gorgeous woman in the Edinburgh airport (they do tastings at the Duty Free there) gave me a dram of Glenlivet Distiller's Reserve. Ruins and good food and great conversation... Going forward, Garry has set up a slate of people to meet. Hoping to see Iain and Al again and maybe meet Geoff.

It's an awesome life, but sometimes a bit too busy for writing.

E-Burgh AAR

Mon, 2014-03-31 11:06
Last classes of the Edinburgh leg of the UK tour will be tonight. Arrest and control and cell extractions for a small group of officers from another country, then an evening of infighting. Then off to St Andrews, which would be a big thing if I golfed, or so I'm told. But that will be a fun group, too. Then Swindon, a bunch of fairly short courses, and the scenario training in Sheffield.

Then not-quite-home. Seattle.

Every trip to Edinburgh has been a blast. Beautiful city, good for wandering. The classes are always a mix-- excellent martial artists and beginners; security and enforcement professionals and civilians; and almost always some academics. Everyone thinks, everyone sweats. Most people get bruises (everybody on the second hands-on day). And it always refines my teaching.

Self-evaluation:

Introductory ConCom is tight. Massive information, but easily internalized. One weakness in myself. Probably a complex of old concussions and sleep deprivation (or maybe just because there are so many nuances) I always remember a few details after the class that could have made it better.
Two weaknesses/opportunities in the class itself:
1) There should be different versions and different teachers for different audiences. The jail and agency stories work, the principles are universal, but having an experienced business person telling business stories that illustrate the same points would work better for a business audience.
2) I should have a printed handbook to go with the class. Ideally just copies of the ConCom manual, which I currently can't do if I accept my publisher's offer for print rights.

Crisis Communication with EDPs. Good information, well received, but like anything complex and real, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. First responders will arrive at the scene with minimal information, so they need on-the-spot intelligence gathering and threat assessment skills, whereas the EDP's family member or custodian will have lots of information and direct experience, but probably not the tools or resources. And whether there is a duty to act affects everything as well as the goal and available time. So, first improvement was to address these issues up front. Next will be to expand the power point either for specialized audiences or to address specifically how these factors affect options and priorities. Also, the PowerPoint slides are too wordy and sometimes repetitive. I teach this less often so I haven't built memory triggers into the slides.

Introduction to Violence. Sounds strange, but one advantage of teaching in a foreign country (or to groups from multiple countries) is that I don't know the laws. Thus I can cut the Force Law portion down to almost nothing-- affirmative defense, elements of articulation. Which gives more time for other stuff. This was a one-day. The two-day gives me a lot more time flexibility. Getting people up to environmental fighting in one day without injuries is always challenging, and I prefer environmentals after some work on the ground and with momentum and walls. But it's fun and it works. The two biggest battles are:
1) Getting people to understand that fighting harder is not always fighting better. The serious injury rate in martial arts classes, even full-contact classes, is quite low. It's the only way to stay in business. So if school 'A' goes slow and light and one person in a hundred gets a broken bone or dislocated joint or serious concussion, and school 'B' goes ten times as hard and only one person in a hundred gets a broken bone or dislocated joint or serious concussion, then school 'A' is ten times as efficient as school 'B'.  It's just math. You do have to go fast and hard. People who only play light get a very specific set of bad habits. But people who only play hard get a different set of bad habits.
2) The stupid performance artifact belief that good motion means lots of motion. If you do some eight move spinning cartwheel of doom and KJ puts you down with a right cross, KJ is the better martial artist. KJ is the better fighter. Sometimes there is a two inch move with your knee or just a hip bump that will do more than your prettiest technique, but people usually don't see the opportunity and when it is pointed out and often say it doesn't feel right because it is 'too easy.'

People who use this stuff try to make it simpler. People who only train in it have a tendency to make it more complicated.