Last night, decided to check in on FaceBook and just happened to see an update on a memorial page and backtracked and... yeah. The memorial that was postponed? This morning. So I put on the suit.
2016 has been a year already. We all (if you've spent time in this world) have the list. As we get older, it accelerates. The people we know get older, and the old die, eventually. The list grows.
Ron was a good man. He was the training sergeant when I was hired on. At different times he was my sergeant and my lieutenant and my Chief Deputy. He envisioned and formed the CERT team and I was on that from our first call-out. Of all the administrators, he was the one we trusted. It was a simple question, really-- given the choice between an underling dying and your career, what would you choose? Ron was one of the few that we really felt would sacrifice his career to save a life. I know that sounds simple and obvious, but spend a little time in any government agency and see how rare it is.
Lots of stories, but they belong to us. And they'll be shared between us, when the time is right. NPNBW, brothers.
The service was well done, but my radar wouldn't turn off. I noticed the significant negatives. Who didn't show. What was not said.
I hate funerals. I've been to too many, but that's a stupid thing to say since one would be too many. At the same time, memorials bring us together, people who are usually too busy to get together, to just say "hi" find the incentive when someone dies. And I appreciate reconnecting, but hate the reason.
The suit symbolizes that. I've been fortunate enough to work jobs where suits were a rarity and when a suit would normally be required, there was a Class A uniform. So the suit, to me, mean a funeral.
At least I couldn't smell any lilies.
Ranch kids tend to be really strong for their size. It's a side effect of manual labor as a way of life. But not all manual labor. There's a pretty nice whiskey called "Monkey Shoulder" named after the guys who shoveled coal. Lifting and tossing shovelfuls of coal for ten or fourteen hours a day, day in and day out will make you immensely strong-- in one motion. And kind bind up your body for other motions. Not even talking about repetitive use injuries.
Ranchwork, you might spend a week digging postholes in rocky terrain. Shoveling is good exercise, but using a tamping bar ( six foot long, inch and a half thick steel bar posted or wedged on one end, flat on the other) is a nice core workout. The next week pulling barbed wire. Summer bucking bails of hay and moving irrigation pipe. Splitting wood all year, but mostly in autumn. Packing water and milking the cows and goats every day.
The work is unpredictable. It was never three sets of ten reps. You bucked as many bales of hay as you had. Sometimes you could choose the pace, but if you saw dark clouds all of the hay had to be in before the rain got to it. You milked until the cows were out of milk. Total muscle failure or cramps in your hands? Tough. Stretch it out and keep going. We had a hard milking cow and at first my hands were going to muscle failure two to four times a session. Twice a day. Every day.
There were no rest days. My friends who work out scientifically insist on the importance of rest days, but cows make milk every day. I think the body adapts to the conditions. Hmmm. Hitting one of the science versus experience paradoxes.
And little of this was working with ergonomically designed tools. Barbed wire is designed to keep cattle in, not to be carried or tensioned by human hands. You have to hold big buckets away from your body to keep your legs from brushing them and spilling it. And, nature of water and gravity, you always cry the empty buckets downhill and the full buckets uphill. Rat bastards. T-posts are ridged and nobby and carrying bundles of them digs into you.
One other thing that distinguishes ranch work. You worked hard at being efficient. Some days you were going to work all day and nothing was going to ease up until dark. So you used your whole body whenever you could instead of isolating. You rested or even just rested a part (like hammering staples with your left for awhile to rest your right arm) whenever you could.
Feeling nostalgic. Our little herd of goats, which is planned to be four permanent with 2-4 kids a year for meat is now at nine and they've denuded the fenced parts of the property. So K and I have spent most of the last two weeks (lots of breaks for other obligations) building fence to give the goats access to another huge stand of blackberries. Days of hacking paths through blackberries with machetes, cleaning the paths up with clippers, raking. Digging post holes and pouring concrete to set them. Pounding t-posts. Manhandling rolls of hopefully goat-proof field fence. Tensioning wire and pounding staples. Last couple of weeks I've been working like I was a kid again. And loving it. But feeling it, too. All the joints make noises of protest in the morning. It's been a good couple of weeks.
"There are so many cognitive biases that I'm pretty convinced humans almost never act based on reason. But then that's what makes us who we are. Why try to be something we're not?"
Neil is right. Again, from ConCom, we spend most of our time in our Monkey Brains. Being fully in the human brain is rare. And it is probably just as much a Dunning-Kruger as anything else-- some of the least rational people I know insist on their rationality. Conversely the most rational people I know are always questioning themselves. In my opinion, the expert is not the one who can tell you what is right and what is wrong. The expert is the one who can argue from any side, explain why he or she believes that one side has more merit and is able to say, "Of course, I could be completely wrong because..."
Also remember that reason is a discipline. It is not an intention or an attitude. Declaring yourself to be reasonable or logical does not make it so.
From my current work-in-progress:
Understanding experimental design and logical fallacies are just two parts of a much greater skill. That skill is critical thinking. Like reading people, it is not binary. It is something that continually improves with practice but will never be perfect.People are by nature, far more emotional than rational. Rationality is actually a rare and precious skill. Even more, survival, self-defense and the crimes that necessitate them are emotional hot buttons....
One of the biggest hurdles to true critical thinking is that we have a presumption of our own objectivity. We can look at all the people around us making stupid decisions clearly based on ill-informed emotion, and never, ever notice that we do it just as much. To actually be good at critical thinking requires a willingness to doubt yourself. Ideally, an ability to find the joy in error-- you only truly learn when you are wrong. Searching for your own blindspots is a life-long endeavor.
You can never be rational. We all have cognitive biases (See Heuer's Psychology of Intelligence Analysis for the most useful breakdown I've seen.) We all have blindspots. We have experience that shapes are perception and interpretation; ideas of normalcy that will be out of tune with many other points of view; habitual ways we analyze, interpret, and draw conclusions that miss other options.
There is no point at which one can say, "I am rational. I am objective." It is a skill. Something you get better at through dedicated practice. Like the Stoic idea of good, you couldn't get there. You work towards it. That's virtue.
It is really easy to analyze other people's positions, statements and stances and point out the logical fallacies, the facts they choose to ignore, and declare them irrational. It makes one feel superior. It's a trap.
The valuable skill and the discipline is to do the same with yourself. Know the logical fallacies well enough that you catch yourself when you use them. When you catch yourself shunning a source or a point of view, dig down and find the reason. And you have to learn to differentiate between your own excuses, justifications and the real reason. (Hint: justifications and excuses don't predict future choices.)
To reject reason because reason will never be perfect is to cut off your left hand because it will never be as dexterous as your right (see what I did there? Multi-lingual pun.) Or to reject being good because no one is perfectly altruistic. To reject all learning because we never know the universe...
Reason is a tool, and it is a tool that improves with practice. Further, it can sharpen and assess all of your other tools. It can be a check on your own integrity. Never perfect, but it makes things better.
And any time you reject a tool, you reject part of your own agency
"If your philosophy of life, politics, or humanity depends upon the average person being inferior to you, or other groups defined by race, religion, or sexual orientation being inferior to yours, it is safe to assume you are addressing reality through your ego rather than your heart."
I glitched on this hard. Not about the idea that there is something wrong with you if you look down on others. There is. The universe is pretty big and you are pretty small and if you need to look down on anyone, it is to stave off the fear that 50% of the universe, at least, is looking down on you.
The part I glitched on was the artificial duality of "ego" and "heart". And the implication that one was good-- heart-- and the other, ego, was bad. The monkey brain in ConCom is a functional definition of the colloquial term ego, so I agree that ego is not a good decision-making base. But also in the book, I point out that when you feel anything-- hate, anger or even surety-- you are physically incapable of making a good decision. There is a reason why doctors are not supposed to operate on their own children. Emotional, passionate people make mistakes. They are frequently wrong. And the power of emotion makes them deny it, even when things go horribly wrong. Then they double-down on the stupid.
Heart or ego? What about reason? Heart and ego are both aspects of the monkey brain. Can we get our human brain into the equation?
"If your philosophy of life, politics, or humanity depends upon the average person being inferior to you, or other groups defined by race, religion, or sexual orientation being inferior to yours, it is safe to assume you are addressing reality through your ego rather than your heart."
Here's the deal. Feeling superior to others makes you feel good. That's the reward for the operant conditioning. BUT feeling good, following your heart... is the exact same thing. Both center on feelings. At first glance, one appears more self-centered than the other but really, not so much. Either option is pure monkey brain, manipulating feelings or tribal dynamics.
A lot of the glitch is in how I see the world acting today. In my mind, heart is "feelings." And I have a very bad reaction when feelings trump facts. Peace protesters who set fires and loot. Freedom activists who block access to speakers they disagree with. It is physically impossible to be for free speech and anti the right of anyone else to speak. It is physically impossible to be for cultural equality and anti genital mutilation.
A philosophy of life, politics and humanity dependent on heart with no leavening of reason? This is where it goes: At the mob level, flipping cars and burning buildings is "free speech". And simply pointing out the damage they do is to their own communities or that their acts are unlawful is "oppression." At the higher level (and this is Steve's heart + ego) this is Stalin's 30 million or more killed for an ideal. For the common good.
Steve mentioned that pure reason was a trap. I agree. Socialism, communism, fascicsm were all great thought experiments, largely conducted by the extremely privileged who had no idea how economics or human nature actually worked (hmmm. Maybe not true. The demagogues understood human nature enough to get people to buy in, but either didn't understand or were ignorant of the Freeloader Problem. Or they simply didn't care as long as they were in charge of defining the "common good.")
But reason, as I define it, is the ability to use your skills to look at the world, to create hypotheses. To test them.
What, instituting socialism didn't create an immediate paradise? Let's kill a million people, that should get things back on track... (Stalin's Great Purge. Look it up.) Whoah and it still failed? Let's try it here. My heart says the ideals should work...
Heart and pure reason are both traps, because they are entirely internal. Until and unless your feelings and theories are tested in the real world, they're pretty much bullshit. Masturbation for your ego. And right there we tie all three together-- heart, ego and pure reason. As long as they stay internal, they are all traps.
Here is where I like reason more. Of course, it has to be honest reason, not ego. Heart has a tendency to ignore the world when the world contradicts feelings. 30 million killed for an ideal is heart. There's no logic in that. Mob action is all heart (it's easy to lose your sense of individuality--ego-- in a riot.)
Reason can look at a protest and say, "Shit, we just alienated everybody." Heart says, "That felt so powerful, we must have changed some minds."
If heart goes external, fine. It has to have skills in data gathering and assessment, (and, kudos to Steve, he's taken some positions, set the criteria-- like infant mortality rates-- and when the criteria changed in the wrong way he was willing to change his position*) but if your highest priority is compassion and you can look at the world and see that your ideals increased suffering and you change, then heart is a compass. It will show the way. If you can't see the suffering or refuse to acknowledge it or explain it away to preserve your feelings, if feeling right is more important than other people's pain or hunger... that's not compassion. That's just narcissistic heart. What Sherlock would call "mere sentimentality."
Strangely, if ego goes external, it also works. I ran across a really old (I think Italian) essay years back that explained why pride was one of the seven deadly sins, but vanity was a virtue. The two had always been synonymous to me. The essay said that pride was a sin because people who already thought they were all that and a bag of chips (paraphrasing, obviously) didn't care what other people thought, whereas vanity was all about what other people thought, so it was a great motivator to display the virtues valued by your group.
Same with ego. Narcissistic personalities think that everybody reveres them, and so treat others contemptuously. But people obsessed with earning that reverence have to work for it, and usually have to work for it in socially-approved ways. So, it's rare, but even ego outwardly directed and with feedback from the world, can be a compass.
*One of the reasons I can talk to Steve about anything. He can disagree honorably. It's a rare trait.
Principle: Balance. The essence of balance is that the Center of Gravity (CoG) must stay over the base. The base is the space enclosed by the outer edges of the points of contact with the ground. That was a mouthful. When one person is standing normally, the base is defined by the outside edges of the feet and two imaginary lines, one running from toe to toe, the other from heel to heel. The base is a rectangle. When a person is standing in a bladed stance, say, left foot pointing right at the threat, right foot back and perpendicular, the base is a triangle. If a person has their left foot and knee on the ground, left hand on the victim's throat, right hand raised to punch and right foot on the ground, the base is a matter of connecting the dots: left foot to left knee to left hand to right foot and back to left foot.
That's the base. As long as the center of gravity stays within the lines, the person is on balance. If the CoG leaves the base, the person is off balance and starts to fall. If he or she can't get the CoG back inside the base (or, more often, move the base under the CoG) the person falls. Simple.
Concept: In a fight, it's always about more than one person.
Back to balance. In the set up for a sacrifice throw (and not just a sacrifice throw, remember I'm just using it for illustration) you have two people with bases and CoGs. Simultaneously, as soon as two people grip up, you also have a four legged animal with a shared Center of Gravity. Get it? I can defend my balance and try to manipulate his or I can just skip to the chase and manipulate our balance. In a sacrifice throw, the instant I drop weight (all of them, really. By definition.) or slam my body into his knees (yoko wakare) two of this animal's four legs, the ones I control, have just collapsed. Know any four-legged animals that stay upright when two of their legs disappear?
Concept: Psychology matters
One of the things that strong young men tend to do in a clinch is lean into each other. Maybe it's because they don't want their pelvises to touch. Maybe it's because they are instinctively trying to show off their strength to female chimpanzees. People in a monkey dance mindset tend to sacrifice control of their individual base and trust in the shared base, which makes them far more vulnerable to sutemi waza. This illustrates more than one principle. Not only does it make balance easier to exploit, but it also increases the leverage when the technique is applied, uses gravity and exploits momentum.
Principle: Exploit momentum. Sometimes I write it as exploit force. It's been a core principle of every system that was ever actually used in violence. From unarmed to guerrilla warfare, when you are outmatched in size and strength your best hope is to use that strength. Force is much easier to steer than it is to stop. That's just physics.
In the sutemi waza example, not only is his leaning weight a force that can be exploited, but if you can time it as he surges with his leg power, his force adds to yours and to gravity.
Principle: Use gravity. Let's face it, gravity is stronger than you are. And all of that force is free. And using it is, literally, as easy as falling off a log. One of the reasons I didn't link to the animated videos I found was because it looked like tori (the thrower) was pretty much just laying down. When someone gets a good sutemi on you, suddenly all of his weight is hanging from your shoulder, neck, or extended arm and you have damn few choices. Gravity is used to force the fall. Gravity is powerful, quick and gravity never telegraphs. You might, but gravity doesn't.
Principle: Leverage. Leverage comes up everywhere. The more the person is leaning, the longer distance the CoG is from the base, the more leverage. The higher the pull and the lower the blocking action (provided they are going in complementary vectors) the better the leverage. On and on.
Principle: Structure (and Void). In a sacrifice throw you are manipulating structure and exploiting a void. You need space (a void) to fall into. Without that, you just slide down the other guy's legs and wind up in a very vulnerable position. Some of the sacrifices, like yoko wakare can block the uke's knees, freezing his structure and increasing the impact of the fall through leverage.
There's more, obviously. Each of the principles could be explored for a lifetime, and almost any of the sacrifice techniques could be dissected. Good physics is kind of awesome. One way to think of it-- mechanical advantage. Any good technique you should be able to see why it has a mechanical advantage either over-all or in particular situations.
Step 4. Isolation. In order to do bad things to humans, you need time and privacy. Note, we're talking about predators here, for most of the social violence, there will be an audience, because it's a show. To predators, audience=witnesses.
There are a bunch of ways to get people alone. But only a few basic strategies. Wait, follow, lure, trick, intimidate, snatch and groom.
Wait can be simple. If you know your target profiles travel through a particular space, you can just be there. The restroom at the bar. A bench on a lonely stretch of jogging trail. When the crime is more specifically targeted, there will be an element of intelligence gathering. Ted Bundy would strike up a conversation in the library on campus. Most people in a conversation will give up seemingly innocuous information, like which dorm you live in. Once he knew the dorm, he could pick the most isolated place to wait between the library and that dorm.
Prevention-- know when you are in a good, isolated hunting ground and be on alert. Watch for unusual behaviors in isolated places. If you are jogging and a guy is sitting on a bench and gets up and starts walking toward you, the timing on that should make you a little suspicious...
Follow is obvious. Get in the habit, especially in isolated places, of knowing what is around you. Use reflections and shadows. There is an eye trick to get your peripheral vision up to about 270degrees. Don't know how too write it, ask me if we meet in person. But that allows you to get a 360 look with a simple glance right then left.
Lure. Offer the target something he or she wants. "Mister, there's a temple that's not on the tourist map, let me show you..." Be skeptical, set hard boundaries.
Trick. Just like lure. "Your mommy was in an accident. Your daddy sent me to get you. Get in the car quick." Emotional attacks tend to lower your judgment. It can be very hard to remember what normal protocols are when you get a shock. Like the voice message that says the IRS is coming after you or the guy in the overalls who says there's been a gas leak. Some emotional detachment (which is much easier said than done) and a good handle on what the normal protocols are, will help.
Intimidate. Threat shows a weapon and says, "Come with me, don't make a scene." Or "Do what I want, I know your kids are upstairs." This one bleeds into step 5 as well. Three things about this tactic. 1) There is almost never a good reason for a guy with a weapon to want alone time with you. The secondary crime scene is very bad. Do not go. 2) He is not your friend, and therefor his advice is to serve him, not you. If someone tells you not to make a scene, that is probably the absolute best thing you can do. 3) At this moment, you probably have more resources than you realize, for instance other people. If someone is trying to get you isolated that means there are people in reach who would help you, not him. Scream. And use the word 'pervert'. It has a magical effect.
Snatch. Just physically dragging you off. Generally, this won't happen as an isolation tactic, it will happen when the victim is already isolated (walking down a deserted road, for instance. There is an exception for certain countries with kidnapping businesses or that like beheading people on video. When the police can't or won't solve certain crimes, people can get snatched with witnesses. I have some opinions here, but the go-to guy for this is Ed Calderon.
Groom. This is a long term tactic to create a safe and pliable victim. It is a steady process of removing the victim's agency and will to independence. Common in many domestic violence cycles, long-term abductions and long-term seduction crimes.
Step 5. Psychological control. How does the bad guy psych you out of fighting back? There are a lot of ways-- display of force or weapons, threats, surprise, positioning. Moving or talking too fast for you to close your OODA loop and think/act. Playing on your social conditioning (one of the most effective ways bad guys use to violate boundaries is to simply ask the person why they are being so rude.) Many tactics. But here's the deal: He wouldn't be trying to psych you out of fighting back unless he thought you could do so successfully. He's probably bigger and stronger. Probably more experienced and skilled at violence. But a win here is not beating him in a match, a win is in raising the stakes beyond what he is willing to play. This is the time for surprise, commitment and violence of action.
Note. This is not the time for half measures. Slapping or hitting the chest will not only fail, but will likely be punished. This is destruction for the sake of your survival, not sending a message that the bad guy's behavior is unacceptable. He has already chosen to act unacceptably.
Step 6. Physical destruction. If the bad guy decides to skip step five, he will take his target out. It will be as safe and efficient for him as he can make it. Everything is in the bad guy's favor. He can choose the victim (tiny, drunk, college girl) the place, the time. He can even choose the initial position (bending over trying to put her keys in the lock.) It's not about how to fight fighters. He can slam her head into the door. Or hit her in the back of a neck with a brick or steel water bottle.
In the LoV class, this is the big "reveal" moment. Each pair of students has designed a violent crime, created an ambush the way they would set it up. They have demonstrated some really vicious, sneaky stuff. And then I ask, do you train for this? Do you have solutions for the types of assault you would commit? And the room goes silent.
The big gains are in staying off the list from 1-3. Each step beyond gets more desperate and has fewer options.
Okay, so with this background, I can get back to that chat.
When we do Logic of Violence it starts with the Violence Dynamics talk, which I've written and talked about it until I'm sick of it. The Maslow perspective.
This gives us motivations for violence-- fear (Survival level); Stuff (resource predator, Security level on Maslow); the social motivations (status-membership-territory-protocols); or pleasure (process predators, Self-actualized on Maslow.)
The next is understanding the violent people have goals and parameters. What they want and what they don't want. The goal will determine the type of crime. If you need money to feed an addiction, your choices are theft, burglary, robbery-- stuff like that. If you get off on seeing a woman crying and begging, assault and rape. Those are goals.
The parameters, commonly, include not getting hurt, not getting arrested, not losing your reputation (especially if you are active in a criminal subculture) and in some cases violent people will respond very violently to attacks on their egos.
In LoV, we hit the following six questions from the criminal point of view, so each person by the end of the day has played Design-a-Crime. Only after do we go back over the list with an eye to prevention. For this essay, it's going to be mixed.
Question 1: Who? Certain people make better targets for certain types of crime than others. If it's about money, out-of-town business men and tourists tend to carry cash and equipment and generally won't fly back to testify. Before direct deposit, the day the social security checks arrived each month was hunting season on the elderly. If the motivation is rape, it varies. For some it's people who remind the perpetrator of someone in the past. Or it could be any target of opportunity. Or a specific type (one of the reasons why dressing down or trying to appear unattractive isn't a successful strategy). If the goal is simple bullying, the threat seeks out emotionally labile victims. Etc.
In the risk/reward equation that the threat does, if you can honestly discern what visible rewards you might offer and the apparent risk you represent, you can get a good handle on your victim profile. I have enough gray in the beard that Monkey Dancing shouldn't happen. I'm nobody's idea of a good time for abduction rape. I'm middle-aged with a limp when I'm tired and that moves me up the list for simple muggings...
Question 2: Where? Whatever your preferred victim profile, they congregate somewhere. Out of town businessmen can be found at the convention center, hotel bars and strip clubs. Tourists congregate where there is stuff to see. If you target college-age women, they can be found on campus...
These are target selection sites, not necessarily where the crimes will happen. Pick-pocketing, sure. But the asocial violent stuff requires privacy
Question 3: Ripeness? I should find a better word, but these are all the behavioral clues that indicate which of your preferred targets will be easiest to take. You have a bar full of out-of-town businessmen (or college girls)-- who do you pick? Alone, distracted, slobbering drunk, anxious to please, weak, awkward... We all have good predatory instincts. Bad guys are bad guys because they act on them.
Questions 1-3 are the heart of prevention. And in this instant, prevention is tons better than response. Things only get worse from here and your options decrease. To whatever extent possible, stay off the first list. You don't get choices in most of it, but you can be a tourist without looking like a tourist. You don't have a choice about your size and old age comes to everyone lucky enough to survive. But at almost any age you can still move like an athlete.
The second list of places-- you're going to go to those places sometimes, but know to keep your guard up and your eyes open. Wild animals don't get complacent approaching a watering hole. Neither should you.
The third list is where all of that self-defense advice comes from-- walk like you have purpose; don't have headphones in when jogging in remote areas; don't text and walk; don't pull out a map and look lost...
That's enough for one day. Steps 4-6 tomorrow.
One example that has been on my mind, lately: Often there is a single thing that has a different name depending entirely on whether we like or dislike the result. I wish I had a longer list, but I suspect that this is a mechanism I use myself, and thus a blindspot. Or several blindspots.
Force and violence. When we like the outcome, or are defending our tribe, we use the word 'force.' Enemy and bad guys' actions are called 'violence'. If I took someone down, handcuffed them and dragged them to a cell it was a "Use of Force." If a cartel enforcer performed the exact same acts in the exact same way, it would be a "violent crime." (Not looking at crime, here, because there are specific exceptions in law for police actions.*)
We have the armed forces, not the armed violence purveyors. Coalition armed forces fight violent jihadis. It's deep in the language.
And when I had to write a report, I would frame it as a prudent and judicious use of force. Because people would read that report and make a judgment on my actions. If I were to call it a prudent and judicious use of violence, a certain percentage wouldn't even be able to process the words.
But in my own mind, I used the word violence. Except for whatever blindspots I haven't discovered, I always try to use the harsh words. It keeps me honest, and keeps me on a leash. The danger with the soft and comforting language is that it makes it emotionally easier to cross certain lines. There is almost no limit to the evil that one can do when convinced it is for the common good.
Cultural sensitivity and racial profiling. Exact same fucking things. You work with different cultures, you learn a ton about them. Food, family dynamics, respect rules, attitudes towards outsiders, attitudes regarding gender, and attitudes towards violence. Tons of stuff. If you know that a certain gender of a certain age from a certain region is culturally expected to carry a knife, and you can identify from dress, appearance, tattoos, stance, etc. age and gender and region of origin and how assimilated or not into local culture, that takes some damn good cultural awareness and knowledge. But if that understanding means that you approach a suspect with gun in hand instead of pepperspray or nothing, it magically turns into racial profiling.
One of my friends in enforcement was very successful (he says 100%) at finding drugs or weapons on certain traffic stops. A certain ethnicity and age plus a certain make, model and age of car would get drugs. A different combination of age, ethnicity, make, model and modification of a car would result in guns. Very reliable. He had to stop when his "good nose for smuggling" was reframed as racial profiling.
Manipulation and hmmmm. Sorry about the "hmmmmmm" but there are a ton of things that are called by different names when we like the result. Maybe I should just put "communication" there. Palming coins as a magic trick is entertainment. Try it on a store clerk and it is manipulation or a crime. Con men and advertisers. Deep teaching, for that matter.
Hell, the only difference between brainwashing and "transformative teaching" is whether you like the results. And if you (or enough others) come to dislike the results, transformation can be retroactively reframed as brainwashing. Cult members tend to be happy. For a time.
There are more. Probably a ton of them. And there are other, related issues. For instance, what is a right? Because I see more and more people defining a right as anything that is really important to them, but they fear they would lose if it was put up to a vote. So people say, "majority rules" right up until the majority is not on their side and then redefine the issue as a right, exempt from the working of democracy.
* Oooooh. That's a good one. When the politicians are trying to sell us a war, they sometimes call it a "police action."
If you've been victimized before, are you a victim personality? Victimized twice? Thrice? Ten times?
Maybe. Maybe not. There are victim characteristics that all predators (and all aware humans) know.
Distracted. Awkward in their physicality. Pleasers. People so domesticated to social norms that they will be predictable and nice even when it is time to be profoundly un-nice. People like this are targets, they are easy to victimize. They are often victimized. They are not what I mean by "victim personalities."
Humans are incredibly adaptable. At the same time they, like all animals, tend toward homeostasis. They have an idea of "normal" and they move toward or attempt to recreate that idea of normal.
Families have a very wide range of behaviors, widely different ideas of normal. Some are abusive, either because it is the pattern the adults were raised with and thus their homeostasis, or because someone is unskilled at raising tiny humans to be humans or because there is evil and one of the parents sees children as victims to be groomed. Other reasons abound, probably.
A child who grow to adulthood in that environment learns how to survive in that environment. That may be the only place he or she does know how to survive. The habits implanted under adrenaline, or fear of death are really strong. They rarely change. The child raised in this environment has no reason to believe that other relationships are less dangerous... but he or she doesn't know the rules of other relationships. Doesn't know how to behave. And fears any error will be punished as severely as an error in his or her family of origin.
This is the genesis of the victim personality. When you only know how to function or how to even survive by being in the exploited or victim role, you seek it out. You recreate the dynamics you know. This can sound like blaming the victim and maybe it is, but it is an outgrowth of human adaptability. If you only know how to function in a pile of shit, you will either seek out or create piles of shit to function in. It's a survival trait.
It's not permanent, or at least it doesn't need to be. The people I see break out of this (and I'd love to name names here because I am immensely proud of some people, but their struggle is deeply personal) first see or guess that maybe their experience of the world is not the world. Then they see that there are other ways to live. And that those ways are possible. And that those ways also have rules, but the rules are learnable. It takes an immense amount of courage, but they learn through experience that failing to follow the rules in a non-toxic environment has consequences, but not the harsh consequences they expect. And that, in turn, lets them be brave enough to risk mistakes as they learn this new world.
I want to say that it requires a safety net, a social network that supports, teaches and encourages, but my experience says different. There might be a few voices of aid and reason, but almost everyone I know made their first steps without any support whatsoever. They come from a world where no one can be trusted and they, generally, need to learn that trust is not a trap. Learning that is not an early step in this process. So they make the first steps alone, and it is an act of profound courage.
Slightly related, not about victim personalities but about the environment that created them. I've seen three common responses to kids raise helplessly in extreme chaos. One group become hyper-competent. A second group believes they can never control anything and become hyper-passive. A third group sees it as a natural state of affairs and transitions to the abuser role when they get to the appropriate place in the script. I see very few come out of this environment simply being normal (possible sampling error, normal is easy to not-notice.)
I would really like to know how much of this is internal wiring; how much early influence (like mentors) during the process of abuse; and how much can be affected by processing the event after the fact. Are there limits or opportunities in different time frames of processing? Can a competent foster parent do things a counselor can (or can't) do much later?
"I like a man who grins when he fights."
The martial arts academy where I trained back in the 70s was like an early version of Fight Club. I know, I know. I'm not supposed to talk about it, but as this is the last article for my blog I thought it might be fun to look back one last time.
This school, located in Nashville, Tennessee, had an open-door policy, and once a week on Saturday mornings anyone could drop by and spar. We had boxers, wrestlers, judoka, tough guy brawlers, and gung fu stylists all come in and test their skills. I had the chance to fight guys from lots of different karate styles including Wado Ryu, Shotokan, Isshin Ryu, Kyokushinkai and Goju Ryu. I also fought Korean stylists such as Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do fighters, and I even fought a guy with a background in Hapkido, one of my favorite styles.
We hated point-tournament type fighting, so it was mostly full-contact sparring, with standard, no foul rules. Takedowns and ground fighting were allowed. Safety gear was encouraged, with mouthpiece, boxing gloves, and groin protector mandatory. We all looked kinda goofy because the school's policy at that time was that you had to wear your cup on the outside of your pants to prove that you were wearing one.
We had a loud timer set perpetually to 2 minutes with a 30 second rest between rounds. Most people would fight for a few rounds with the same person and then move on to another opponent. I liked to try my skills against a wide variety of styles, so I usually switched opponents every round or two. In a typical Saturday morning session we might fight 20 or 25 rounds, maybe more. We would shake hands at the beginning of a round, and then just go at it at the sound of the buzzer.
You never knew what you might encounter. I remember one time getting slammed to the ground early on in the round by a college wrestler who shot in super fast with a beautiful double leg takedown technique. Another time, purely by luck, I did a spinning backfist and knocked out my rushing opponent about 1.5 seconds into the round! It was probably some kind of record at our academy, but I couldn't duplicate it again if I tried.
One day I fought a guy who had trained in Muay Thai and WKA-rules kickboxing which allowed leg kicks. Although I had sparred under these rules before, this was different. He was a superb craftsman, and he knew how to chisel away at the legs, weakening them and setting up higher kicks. He massacred my thighs, leaving big bruises up and down my legs and making me walk like the mummy from the old horror movies--step and slide, step and slide, step and slide--for several days after.
Another time there was a boxer, a Golden Gloves guy if I remember correctly, who practically tore me to pieces whenever he got on the inside. His combinations were incredible, and he rarely threw just one or two punches. I had to work really hard to keep him away by using stop kicks or tying him up in a tight clinch.
Judo guys and wrestlers in general were the absolute worst. They were unbelievably strong, and they had well-muscled torsos and thick necks. Their fitness levels were through the roof--you could not make them tired if you tried! Plus if they ever got a grip on your triceps or wrists or the back of your neck, they could pull you in and down so fast it felt like you had whiplash. The main reason I started fighting shirtless back then was because I had been caught more than once by a vice-like grip grabbing my T-shirt. If they got a hold of you, forget it. Your were pretty much done for after that.
Knockouts happened. Frequently. We rarely had any serious injuries, but occasionally we had some guys who had to go to the emergency room for treatment. One guy had a ruptured spleen, and another time a guy broke his collar bone when he landed wrong after a hard takedown. Our goal was not to hurt one another, but to learn from one another. If somebody was an asshole and threw illegal shots or was a tad too rough, we had one fighter in our school who was an extreme badass. He would give the guy a quick lesson in respect, and the guy would self-correct or pack up and leave.
This was also the era of the "Tough Man" fights where amateurs could make a little money getting in the ring to lay it on the line for cash. A few big, burly guys dropped by from time to time to prepare for their fights. As a rule of thumb most of these guys weren't too fit. They didn't follow a disciplined training regime at all, and some of them were drinkers and smokers. But they hit really hard, and they were tough and wild, throwing big haymaker punches that would take your head off if they got lucky and connected.
We occasionally had some female fighters in open class. I sparred a female gung fu fighter one time who was incredible. She was very fast, and her high kicks were extremely accurate. At the end of a particularly intense round she shook my hand and thanked me for fighting her like she was "one of the guys." Apparently she wasn't used to this, and rarely got to show what she could do.
I learned so much about fighting during this time. I fought small, fast guys and big, slow guys. Within a few fights you learned pretty early on what usually worked and especially what failed miserably. Fancy was generally a mistake, and practical usually ruled the day. I learned to stay calm and cover up, keeping my knees bent, my chin low, my hands high, and my elbows in. I learned how to use footwork to move lightly and how to shift my weight to hit hard. Proper breathing was critical. I developed some go-to techniques, especially snappy jabs, sharp, fast sidekicks to the ribs, good clinching skills from Greco-Roman wrestling, and head and shoulder feints like a basketball player or a boxer might use. I learned to be confident but never cocky. Every time I started thinking I was any good some guy would quickly knock me back to my senses.
None of us wasted much time with form. We couldn't care less how we looked and instead focused on what worked. I'm not sure if any of us practiced kata, at least not seriously. Those robotic motions, we figured, would just get you creamed in a real fight. Every now and then we would fight what we called a "dojo warrior," or somebody who could look great performing a kata but had his ass handed to him when he put on the gloves. That's not to say that precision wasn't important. I knew one guy who was a stickler for form. He spent hours working on drills and practicing kata and getting his moves just right, and he was one of the best fighters I ever met. Most of us though simply didn't have his discipline and single-minded dedication.
My buddies and I spent time during the week honing what had worked and figuring out what didn't, building a solid repertoire of techniques. We did a lot (A LOT) of heavy bag work and calisthenics. We were early proponents of the little known type of explosive training that athletes behind the Iron Curtain were experimenting with. Called plyometrics, these exercises were terrific at building power and helping to avoid injuries. Most of us also did roadwork, with LSD (long, slow, distance) runs and sprint work at the local high school track. A few of us worked out with weights, although this was generally frowned upon at the time. I went to the gym with a friend of mine, and we had a simple weight lifting routine we followed. Nothing like today of course, but cutting edge back then nevertheless.
Most of the time the Saturday morning sessions were routine. A lot of the same guys, regulars I guess you'd call them, dropped by frequently. Some guys we'd see only once, or once in a blue moon.
Every now and then the routine would be interrupted by something weird.
A truly weird moment occurred the time I fought the guy I called "The Narcissist." One wall of our academy had big ceiling-to-floor mirrors, and while this guy was fighting me, I shit you not, he was watching himself in the mirror the entire time! He couldn't take his eyes off of his image in the mirror. Thus, I pretty much hit him at will. I said, "Hey, why don't you look at your opponent when you're fighting?" He said that he was just checking his form, to make sure he was getting it right. I suggested that his form might be okay, but we'd never find out if he didn't get in the game. I'd throw a kick and get him right in the ribs, or I'd throw a punch combination and hit him with each strike, but still he just stared at the mirror. I'd knock him down, but even when he was on the ground or trying to get up, he'd be watching himself. He gave me the creeps, so I bowed out before the first round was over.
Another time I had a really wacky fight. Before we started the round the guy I was fighting told me that he had been training to fight in the dark. In order to improve those skills he usually trained with a blindfold on. He asked me if I would tie his blindfold, but I refused. So he said he would fight with his eyes closed. You're probably not gonna believe this, but he didn't fight so well that way. He couldn't hear my moves above the din of all the fighters, which made him a sitting duck. What a loon. I'm not sure, but I think he was dain bramaged.
These were strange times. While most of us wore loose fitting athletic pants with no shirt while we were working out, some people wore some pretty odd clothing. For example one guy showed up in a ninja costume with his face covered and wearing those tabi shoes, the ones with the individual toes. Another guy fought while wearing a shiny, gold-colored satin gung fu uniform. My favorite was the guy who came in wearing jungle fatigues, sans patches, and a black beret. I asked him if he was a US Army Ranger, but he said that he "couldn't talk about it," as if he was on some super-secret clandestine mission.
I don't consider myself a fighter per se, never did--just never was that competitive or had much of a killer instinct I guess. My skills were moderate at best, but I was persistent and worked hard. I guess I was tenacious, but most of the time I was less focused on winning and instead concentrated on learning and improving. My nose bled too easily for me to be much of a fighter. I got knocked down, and I got knocked out a few times. I was choked out on more than one occasion. That taught me to protect myself. But I also learned to take calculated risks, and I was sneaky.
I have been around some incredibly talented martial artists through the years, guys who had more talent in their little finger than I had in my entire body. I would always watch and learn, stealing a trick here and a move there.
I have a profound respect for fighters and for highly talented martial artists and combat experts. I was never much into team sports and generally only followed combative sports like boxing, wrestling, fencing and Judo. I was so excited in the mid 90s when NHB arrived on the scene. This was the culmination of what I had been preaching for decades, and I felt vindicated when MMA started growing into one of the fastest growing sports in the world.
Even now in my 60s as I have slowed down considerably, I still like to do some combat training from time to time. My speed is still there, and in some respects my power has improved. But my endurance is crap, and my recovery takes weeks, not days. My knees are shot, and my joints ache. But every now and then I feel energy racing through my old muscles, and I will throw some combinations and yearn for the good times when I was a sweaty, bruised and battered, grinning young man.
Overall, maximize your adaptability (skills, awareness) and resources. Minimize your opponent's.
1) I have officially decided to quit making fun of the chi-meisters. You know, the guys who send their students spinning with a look or stun them with a gesture. The ones demonstrating and teaching no-touch knockouts. As some of you know, I've offered my support to a few of the big names if they'd just come with me on public transportation, let me pick out a couple of subjects who had no idea who they were or what was supposed to happen and then knock them out. Should be easy, right? Every other way of knocking people out is easier by stealth, without the big show... so far, no answers.
Anyway, I've decided to exercise gratitude and see the chi-misters for what they are and appreciate what they contribute. The rest of us are trying to make people stronger and tougher. They are the ones with the foresight to create a new generation of victims. Think about it-- it's not about the instructors, it's about the students. Always has been. And these guys are breeding the human equivalent of fainting goats.
2) When we take a young creature and lock it up, remove it from challenge, deny it any exercise or even the mild challenge and irritation of sun and wind, we call that veal. It gets fed a rich diet, treated like a baby long after it should be. It's straight up animal abuse. Tasty, tasty animal abuse, but there's something fundamentally not right about it. We know that babies-- animal or human-- need to move and play to be what they are. And we all know that growth in anything comes from challenge.
People demanding places where only one opinion can be heard, where they will be shielded from any thoughts or ideas that might actually make them work, people demanding a right to a perpetual comfort zone-- they are insisting on a right to be veal. Mental veal. What they can so clearly see as animal abuse in the outside world, they are demanding. Or begging for. Begging for the resources and demanding the right to be soft, helpless and probably tasty.
One of the poignant/funny scenes in the Hitchhiker's Guide trilogy was the beef who was bred to want to be eaten. Well, the american educational system has gone one better. We have trained our children not just to be the mental equivalent of veal, but to demand their own helplessness as a right.
There is no desire for weakness in our nature. That has to be taught. So maybe there is more of a connection between the fainting goat breeders and the veal producers-- it is learned behavior, and the product of systems that ingrain weakness as both a behavior and a virtue.
Think about this-- who hates and fears you enough that they must brainwash you to believe that weakness is a virtue?
The anonymous part is done. Too late. Might go and start from scratch elsewhere, but not yet.
Here's the deal, I've been writing less because I've been trying to be a writer. Classic trap. Trying to say the right thing, of the right relevance, in the right way...
That's not what this corner of cyberspace is for. It's not for marketing or branding or useful insight or polished anything. Time to let it be a little more internal vomit (writers would say stream of consciousness) and about what fascinates me, not what I think would interest readers.
Since the ICITAP contract, I've been playing inside my comfort zone with maybe 3/5 of my life. That's not me. Time to cut closer to the bone in writing and in real life.
More to follow.
"The hero and the coward both feel the same thing, but the hero uses his fear, projects it onto his opponent, while the coward runs. It's the same thing, fear, but it's what you do with it that matters."
Cus D'Amato, Legendary Trainer
"If you screw things up in tennis, it's 15-Love. If you screw up in boxing, it's your ass."Tex Cobb
My dad, who used to be a boxer back in the 50s, took me to the Nashville, Tennessee fairgrounds coliseum to watch a local boxing tournament when I was 13 years old. I had seen boxing on TV plenty of times but never up close where you can actually hear the oomph of a body shot and the smack of a glove on an opponent's cheek bone.
I was, and always have been, a boxing fan, and I consider boxing to be the second most important of all the martial arts (with wrestling/grappling being number one).
Here's the deal with boxing. Go to a boxing gym and watch the athletes train. You won't hear a bunch of what-if scenario talk. You won't see them dealing with hypothetical situations or discussing theory. They deal with the practical. They train for the fight, nothing else.
I love the inside of a boxing gym. The sound of the speed bag and the jump rope and the round bell, the smells of sweat and disinfectant, the sharp instructions from trainers. There's nothing like it. Where most martial arts academies are sterile and organized, the boxing gym is chaotic. There is a stoic, single-minded devotion to the preparation at hand for the next looming fight.
And don't get me started on their fitness. I remember in the early 80s when I used to be a pretty good runner. Back in those days I ran every morning and sometimes again in the afternoon. I ran to Shelby Park, made a complete loop, and ran back. One day I met up with some professional boxers who were jogging in combat boots. I tried to hang with them, but they just kept going. Five miles in I was pretty much spent, and when I turned to head home they were still at it. They didn't even look tired.
I had met these boxers at the martial arts academy where I taught classes. The academy was a multi-purpose fitness center which housed my classes, a fully-equipped gymnasium, a competitive table tennis school and a power lifting gym. It also had a full-size boxing ring and an area for a dozen or more heavy bags and speed bags. We all used the same equipment, it's just that the boxers who trained there had a no-nonsense approach to training that just didn't quite translate to my group of kickboxing students. I think that for the most part the boxers approached what they did as a job. It put food on the table. My guys and I just did what we did as a hobby. The fighters were all lean and muscled and had a flame-like intensity in their eyes.
In the Army a few years later I got to train side by side with members of the military boxing team in Germany. These guys were soldiers first and boxers second. But most of them were good enough to compete at a high level and really didn't don the uniform much at all except for mandatory training and formations. One thing I remember was their power. I could hit the heavy bag pretty hard, but they seemed to hit harder and with less effort.
I watched what they did, and I tried to mimic their moves. The way they managed their energy, the way they moved around lightly without wasted motion, the way they shot out their punches and snapped them back to an on guard position. Chins down, knees bent, hands up, body coiled like a cobra. No one-punch wonders, these guys threw two- and three-move combinations. High/low, low/high, inside and outside. Conservative but constant footwork and subtle body and head shifts that kept the opponent guessing.
One of the boxers and I became friends. When he rotated back to the States he gave me his 16oz training gloves. He used to tell me, "Ron, you gotta hit with your toes." He meant that the power of the punch travels up through the pivot of the toes, through the unwinding body, and down through the snapping, outstretched arm. I had felt some of his punches while wearing a thick head guard. It truly felt like his hands were made of stone. His jab felt like my power punch. While I could absorb one or two of his body blows, I couldn't take a barrage, and he knew how to rain the punches down and hit exactly where you weren't protecting.
Why do I love boxing and respect it as a preeminent martial art?
- The common sense, no nonsense approach
- A small but lethal repertoire of techniques
- Tight yet graceful footwork
- The ability to move in all directions without getting tripped up
- The intensity of their training and the way that nothing they do is superlative or fancy
- What they do in the gym is preparation for what they do in the ring
- Courage and fearlessness
- Ability to withstand punishment
- Speed, power, and accuracy
- Tremendous conditioning
- Acceptance of critical commentary by coaches and trainers
- Dedication, both in and out of the gym
- The scientific process they use to remove extraneous motion
- The respect they show other fighters
I even knew a few kickboxers who were really just boxers who had learned to throw enough kicks to satisfy the rules. They ended up doing pretty well in the sport.
In my own training, mostly just for fitness nowadays, I revert back to boxing time and again. I love to hit the heavy bag, shadow box, work the speed bag. No sparring these days, but I sure miss it. Miss the discipline, miss the camaraderie, miss the contact.
If I had one piece of advice to share with up and coming fighters, it would be this: Learn to box. Never stop learning how to box. Keep your hands up and your chin down. Keep your knees bent, and move lightly on the balls of your feet.
And hit with your toes.
“Frank Abagnale could write a check on toilet paper, drawn on the Confederate States Treasury, sign it ‘U.R. Hooked’ and cash it at any bank in town, using a Hong Kong driver’s licence for identification.” Chief of Police, Houston, Texas
Moses Pray: 'I got scruples too, you know. You know what that is? Scruples?'Addie Loggins: No, I don't know what it is, but if you got 'em, it's a sure bet they belong to somebody else!' From the movie "Paper Moon"
The psychology of persuasion is a fascinating topic. If you ever watched the movie "Cath Me if You Can," about the legendary con-man Frank Abagnale, you may have thought it was all mostly exaggerated by Hollywood. But the truth of the matter is Abignale fooled lots and lots of people. The "con" in con-man comes from the word "confidence," and Abagnale had loads of it. He convinced people that he was a pilot for a major airline, head of surgery at a top notch hospital, a knowledgeable attorney, and even an agent for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. He understood human psychology perhaps better than a professional therapist, and he grasped the concept of persuasion better than a convention hall full of salespeople.
Abagnale eventually went on to become an expert on the other side of the law, assisting law enforcement agencies in tracking down forgers, thieves and other impostors. In his current capacity he has revealed some of the dirty little secrets that confidence men use to separate people from their money.
I just read about an interesting scam that has apparently fooled more than one gullible person in the UK. Here's how it works:
Step 1: The assistant walks into a shop, explains that he lost his expensive glass eye earlier, and offers a £1,000 reward. He leaves his (fake) number, just in case.Step 2: Later, the con enters with a glass eye he claims was on the floor. The shopkeeper naturally wants to look after it but the con insists on returning it.Step 3: Thinking of the reward, the shopkeeper offers to buy it for £250. The con and assistant split the takings, and the shopkeeper gets a cheap glass eye.Abagnale, as you can imagine, is not alone. The world is full of people who, without conscience and without a shred of decency, will gladly take your hard-earned money and give you back, if you are lucky, the equivalent of snake oil. In fact you may be surprised to find out that the worId of martial arts, where trim, athletic men and women exhibit amazing fighting prowess and exemplify the epitome of honor and self-discipline, is also filled with con-men, swindlers, hustlers, flim-flam artists, and shysters.
I have seen it with my own two eyes. I have observed con-men in martial arts uniforms fleece the gullible, and I have wondered why they get away with it time and time again.
My guess is that they, much like Abagnale and other swindlers, exude confidence and are able to persuade and manipulate people with their knowledge of human behavior. They not only display self-confidence, they help others to become more confident, and they gain their trust. They have a natural ability to intuit weakness and insecurity in others, and they have learned to exploit those fears and emotions. With absolute conviction they will look another person straight in the eye and make bold promises. They use active listening, body language, false friendship, and other tactics to help the targeted individuals to open up and drop their guard.
They may also take advantage of the seedier side of humanity--the greed, the lust for power and influence--and they may help people to come to believe that they can help them achieve their goals.
I hate to see people get fleeced. It bothers me that this type of behavior occurs right under the noses of concerned parents who want the best for their child and who search out a martial arts academy to help their child succeed. It concerns me when they hear empty promises and false claims.
Not all martial arts schools participate in this type of behavior. Many are active in organizations who are careful to weed out bad behavior and avoid any semblance of false advertising or illegal activity.
But a few, perhaps more than a few, have no such scruples. In fact, many of the things that legitimate academies do are often counterfeited by scam artists.
Here are a few examples I have encountered in my almost five decades of martial arts training:
1. Belt ranking, uniform patches and testing: I had a friend who was an Eagle Scout, a unique achievement in scouting and a true honor. He was intelligent, competent, poised and knowledgeable about life in general. I admired him and his years of devotion and dedication. When I asked him about his scouting experience he told me that for the most part it was very positive: The hiking, the camping, the exposure to nature. He enjoyed learning about what he called "cool boy activities," making a fire, pitching a tent, and learning first aid for example. But he also told me that there was a lot of tedious activities as well as he worked towards earning required merit badges, literal symbols to be worn on the uniform.
Some martial arts academies have discovered the power of patches. As students participate in self-defense classes or nunchaku seminars or demo teams, they earn patches to be worn on the uniform. Not necessarily a bad thing, that is unless each activity costs money, in which case the richest kids often end up with the coolest uniforms.
As the student progresses at his or her academy he or she is often awarded a new belt, usually starting at white belt and culminating in the coveted black belt itself. Along the way the student may earn 4, 5, or more colored belts. In some cases there are stripes in between. So a student may be orange belt, third striped. It can be quite complicated, but the student usually knows what he or she needs to know in order to earn the next belt.
None of this should automatically be suspicious. It helps to know each student's skill level. This ensures that the student is safely matched against others with similar skill levels, and it helps to motivate the student to progress. Unfortunately it all to often comes with a steep price. Each testing or grading event costs money. Each piece of a cheap roll of tape can be expensive.
My advice is to watch the black belts, and especially the youngest black belts, in action. If they have sharp skills, power, poise, and accuracy, if they can confidently display athleticism and agility, balance and stamina, and if they have intensity and focus, then the rank is legit. If, on the other hand, they stumble and look confused, have trouble focusing, cannot effectively demonstrate skill, then the school is not legit. I remember one rather shady martial artist telling me one time, "My car note is due--time for another testing!"
2. Promises: Who wouldn't want their child to make good grades in school, to be self-confident, respectful and to resist the temptation to use drugs. Some desperate parents turn to the martial arts academy that makes claims about what they can do for the child. How they can teach a child to say "yes ma'am and no ma'am" or "please and thank you." How they can train a child to be obedient and willing to do chores. I'll never forget the academy I visited where the young kids shouted loud and in unison about being a CHAMPION. "A 'champion' in what?" I asked the head instructor. "A champion in life!" he responded.
Martial arts was not always a systematized grouping of specific skill sets. Instead it was handed down father to son and warrior to warrior as part of a tribe's need to ensure survival. Real battlefield fighting skill was what was needed, not some clean, sterile, devoid-of-intensity, by-the-numbers display of technique. It has evolved into something else entirely. It is an art form. It is a means to teach confidence. It is a way to brainwash obedience to authority.
When the martial arts school becomes a daycare, when "fighting" becomes a bad word, when the student can utter long creeds and tenets but is unable to defend himself or herself, then the school is focused on the wrong thing, and the student is being charged good money based on false promises.
3. Tournaments: I believe in the sports mantra that competition breeds competence. Without competing, measuring one's skills against another, it may be difficult to determine one's progress and achievement. For combat sports such as fencing, wrestling, boxing, judo and BJJ, competition serves as a necessary vehicle to move the practitioner forward and to hone one's skills against a resisting opponent.
However, a few crafty individuals have learned that there is a lot of money to be made in tournaments. In some cases the tournament is a 'closed' tournament, not open to outsiders or other schools. In this case there is no fear that a participant will be outclassed. The tournament is controlled, and everyone is a winner. The student comes home with a trophy that is larger than he is, but he has not learned a thing. There was no risk. There was no real chance to lose. There was no opportunity to learn and grow and feel challenged. Moms and dads payed out a lot of money, but it might as well have been flushed down the toilet.
4. Unique abilities and special courses: Too often I have seen special "closed-door" seminars where a travelling instructor will teach things such as no-touch knockouts or chi development. While there is not scientific evidence that chi exists or that one can master this power or life-force to hurt or heal others, that does not stop shysters from making wild claims and charging exorbitant fees to learn their secret skills.
A new type of course I have been seeing recently bothers me personally. As a combatives instructor who has introduced legitimate fighting skill to a large number of students in otherwise traditional schools, it concerns me that there are scam artists now offering "commando" fighting courses, military camps or special ninjitsu classes. The students may be encouraged to buy camouflaged uniforms or special equipment or t-shirts in order to participate. They pay extra fees to attend and advance and become certified in these courses. As long as the knowledge is legitimate and adds true value, no worries. But when it becomes just one more source of income for the school, and the student is merely doing cosplay, it is a scam and a gimmick.
5. False history and faked qualifications: Used to be that it was relatively easy to create a false background, forge a false certificate, and fooling people about who they are and what they have achieved. Now, with the internet, it is much more difficult. With a few clicks you can learn quite a bit about an individual, and you can root out faslehoods. But some people have learned to side step the searches. They may show you amazing bios and enough certificates to cover a wall. They may make claims about being a world champion or being an instructor in the military. My advice is to watch and listen. See if the instructor cares about his students, is concerned about their safety and the quality of instruction. See if the instructor helps to instill knowledge and provide opportunities to grow and be challenged in keeping with the students' ability. What they show you can be much louder than what they tell you. Make sure you're getting your money's worth before you sign a lengthy and costly contract.
6. Certification: There is an allure to gaining knowledge. To believe that one is among an elite, with special knowledge that is not known by the masses, can be seductive. The certificate, and especially the instructor's certificate, is a tremendous tool in keeping the student coming back for more. Most of the time, I see no issue in this. But if the student is already paying to attend a seminar, charging extra for the certificate seems wrong to me. Also, if the certificate comes from a legitimate organization, or a solid individual, and the certificate is earned, then I agree wholeheartedly in the practice. If the certificate comes with a reasonable fee, again I have no issue. But when the certificate is suspicious, signifies nothing, is recognized by no one else outside of a small circle, and when it costs a considerable amount, then I am immediately suspicious.
7. Proprietary equipment: Some academies insist that each student must purchase specific equipment, and they also insist that this equipment MUST be purchased in house. This is not always a ruse. Sometimes the academy or chain of academies want to maintain quality control, or perhaps they can purchase in bulk and pass the discounts on to their students. However, this is not always the case. In some cases the student could buy the exact same equipment elsewhere and save money. I do not agree with the practice of over charging a student for equipment he or she will need to safety practice the art.
In conclusion: Not every martial arts instructor is part of a scam. Most are professionals who want the best for their students. But look for the wolf in sheep's clothing and remember Caveat Emptor, let the buyer beware.