I am drooling.
I am standing there in the bakery section of Whole Foods lusting after pies, tarts, donuts, pastries, bear claws, and strudels. I've bitten thru my bottom lip. Other shoppers have very obviously given me wide berth. Kids are pointing.
See, I've pretty much eliminated most carbs from my diet. Especially the bread carbs. No buns, no cornbread, no croissant, no scones, and no sweet rolls.
No soft tabs of butter melting on a golden stack of pancakes. No fresh from the oven Southern biscuits. No straight from the can cookie dough.
Also, and this is probably obvious to most of you, but I'm also not supposed to eat candy, ice cream and other ever-so-delicious treats. That stuff is definitely not on the approved list.
I oughta know...I checked....several times.
What would I do for a Klondike Bar? You don't wanna know.
Those scenes in the movies where the guy's crawling thru the desert? And all he wants is a drink of water? That's pretty much me, but I'd like just an ever so teeny tiny spoonful of the icing they put on a Cinnabon.
Fortunately I have been blessed with an iron discipline. Okay, it's a little rusty I admit, but down deep it's still there. I have come this far. I have used mind over mattress to get me up and moving in the morning, forced myself into the gym to sling some weights around, and challenged myself to beat up Tito, my grappling dummy.
Aside from a few minor setbacks I have stayed at it consistently. But now it's time to ratchet it up. Stoke the fire.
Starting this week I am severely restricting calories. Say 'NO' to carbs. I will increase the amount of water I drink each day. I must add more cardio, and now that warmer weather is here I have no excuses. Some power walking perhaps, or maybe some hikes on the trails near my house.
Maybe add some weight to a backpack?
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. So now I must step away from this sinful, seductive bakery section. Get thee behind me. Honestly I don't even remember walking over here.
But now I gotta go. Besides, somebody's complained to the manager.
A few weeks ago, he taught a class at the Firearms Academy of Seattle. It was my chance to meet Marty and Gila, so I tagged along. The class was good, but the conversations were amazing.
(Do NOT take a bet with an attorney. He would not be betting unless he had insider information.)
At one point in the class, Marc asked, "How do you not get stabbed?" And let the class mull over it.
Later that night, I ran with the question. I liked it. It's only limited if you think it is. Between the two of us we came up with a pretty good list. Not definitive, I'm sure we missed some things. And there are places where we disagree about the order, but generally, in order of importance:
HOW NOT TO GET STABBED
- Don't be the kind of person that someone else would want to stab. Marc likes to say that the two best knife defenses are to avoid are: 1) to avoid the drug culture and 2) don't sleep with other people's mates. Almost every stabbing I could think of was over something, and it was over something big enough to make it personal and it was between two people at least one of whom was cool with stabbing.
- Don't go places where people stab each other. This ties in directly to Marc Denny's "Avoid stupid places with stupid people doing stupid things." Random stabbings are rare, but they happen in predictable places.
- Run. If you don't have to engage, you don't engage. If you have time to ask yourself, "Should I engage?" the answer is, "No."
- De-escalate. If you can talk your way out, do so. Most of the time if you have an opportunity to talk, the goal is not to hurt you. The weapon is displayed to get you to hand over your wallet. So more accurately, some of the time I should say, "Don't escalate." Don't say anything stupid. If you challenge his manhood, he's likely to use the knife even if that wasn't his attention.
And be aware, right here, that almost all of this from de-escalate on comes from the viewpoint of a male martial athlete. A victim being intimidated to a secondary crime scene goes into a different flowchart and may have to make different choices. A knife suddenly at you neck and the words, "Give me your purse" are not the same situation as the same knife and the words, "Come with me. Don't make a scene."
5. Brainstem. If it is going to engagement, you take out the brainstem. Get this, all of the physical responses are low percentage, and there is a matrix somewhere of ease of execution, likelihood to work and whether it finishes or delays the situation. This will be heavily influenced by your skill and your training. EV has long arms and great power and has made a practice of hitting brainstems shots from a number of angles. A different individual may or may not be able to make it work.
6. Positioning. Done properly gives you options and protects you without tying up your hands.
7. Compromise structure. This may be better than positioning or worse than limb disabling or not. I think where this goes on the list depends a lot on your fighting personality. But either destroying a leg or twisting the spine have their uses. And their dangers.
8. Disabling the limb. If you can pull it off.
9. Defanging the snake. Disarming in other words. Technically difficult and low percentage, but the big change from a lethal encounter to an unarmed encounter moves it up the matrix.
10. Controlling the weapon arm. Might buy you a second, maybe two, but it generally ties up (unless you do it by positioning) two of your hands to his one. To think that someone is 'so focused on the knife he will forget to hit you' is what we call wishful thinking. It is not strategy.
11. Simple blocking. Lot's of issues with it. Reactive so it tends to be too slow, doesn't finish anything or even slow anything down. So if it works, and that's a crap shoot, you are in exactly the same place you were.
12. Simple pain. I have no problem with adding pain. For that matter you can stack as many options as you can handle. Use them simultaneously. But counting on just pain, whether a pressure point or a shin kick to stop someone adrenalized to use a knife is very, very low percentage.
Not definitive, not absolute. Especially not prescriptive. I think I got more out of arguing where to place these than I did from the list itself.
But there was one other thing, and I want you to look at it-- it's not a perfect correlation but it looks very much like most training spends effort in the opposite order of effectiveness, or near enough. Far more hours in most schools are spent on blocking than on positioning, for instance. Is this because of misplaced priorities? Or a lazy tendency to teach the things that are easiest to teach regardless of effectiveness? Or some belief that the low percentage options require more training so we train them more. But I don't think the math works on that excuse.
More to think about.
I've seen this in an eight-move technique to escape from a wall pin that wound up in a nifty armlock. Even at a 90% effectiveness rate for each step, let's see, .9x.9x.9x.9x.9x.9x.9x.9= .43. Or thereabouts More likely to fail than to work even if you are very good. And what really annoyed me is that there was a two-move option to get to the same result... but the instructor didn't consider that elegant. Dammit, simple is elegant. And effective is beautiful.
Also seen it in a two move escape from a grab (at least it was a grab that actually happens, there's that at least). The second move actually worked okay without the first move. The first move did nothing except afford me an opportunity to punch him in the face while he wasted time.
Had to get that out of the way even though it only has a weak connection with training blindness. Maybe the inability to see the artificiality?
I don't teach new things. On some level, everyone knows the things I teach. You couldn't survive without at least some gut feeling about this stuff. The running class on classifications of violence-- we all knew that the monkey dance of a drunk college kid in a bar was different than a stranger rape. We all knew (if we thought about it for a second) that robbing to get the money to get the drugs was different than working out a self-esteem issue. And if we ever really thought about the problems criminals need to solve we would come up with efficient criminal reactions to those problems, not martial arts solutions.
So it's not new, just making the information conscious and organized enough to use.
But one of the most basic is the hardest. And that is simply seeing.
Went to grab a throat and the student immediately ran through her memory rolodex to do what she was taught. Which did not have a hope in hell of working. It was too complicated, didn't take into account our strength disparity... Hopeless. All the technique would have done is distract her while the bad guy escalated his evil.
And here's the blind part: She knew it. Like every student, she has been moving her whole body for her whole life. She's seen other people move and, I assume, felt them. One glance and she knew it wouldn't work, anymore than any chi master will ever lift an engine block without touching. She knew and turned off her eyes and her brain and did what she was 'supposed' to do anyway.
Training makes you blind. Not at first. At first you see all kinds of new things. The world gets bigger. And that's a huge component of getting good. The 'Orient' step of the OODA loop is one of the places you can freeze and it must be trained. A baby doesn't automatically know that an object getting bigger is getting closer. You have to learn to identify the weight shift before a kick. All good.
But the longer you stay in one sandbox, the more you forget all of the other things outside the sandbox. Once you remember you forget to see. Once you start living in your head, you quit living in the world.
Going back to the defense that didn't work-- had she applied the exact same motion as the first move of the sequence at a slightly different angle she would have prevented the grab and jabbed me in the throat. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the physics or body mechanics of the move. Except for where they were applied and the assumption that 4 moves at 90% effectiveness would mean 360% effectiveness. When it is actually 65.6%.
A slight angle change and you get two solid effects with a single motion. (My goal is four with each motion). As opposed to four motions to get one effect with no finish.
The student already knew this. She could see it. It was right in front of her eyes. Except she couldn't. Seeing a problem she knew from training, she remembered the response from training. In all of the years of training somehow the fact that it was only working because her partners had also been brainwashed into letting it work drifted out of consciousness and it became 'the thing to do.'
With that, everything she knew about physics, about bodies, about the way angles cut into weakness (still tired, not using words gooder-- basically it's easier to move the end of the lever and even easier if you 'cut' while doing it and even easier if you move) just disappeared down some mental rabbit hole. For combative and self-defense purposes, this student was essentially blind. And her training had made her that way.
It's not so simple, because everything I did point out was in her system. Any system that has survived for any length of time has the stuff you need in it. Darwin had a lot to say about things, until rule of law spread and even then for a long while until dojo arashi became frowned upon. (Anyone want to propose legislation that legitimizes dueling as an alternative to lawsuits?)
So not only did she naturally know this stuff, the system she trained in was based on it and somehow failed to pass it on in a useful way. How many instructors can you think of who can explain the principles of how techniques work but the techniques taught violate those principles? Too many.
This kind of blindness is hereditary. An instructor who has it will pass it on. In demonstrations, the blindness of his students becomes part of the reason his techniques work. A student who can actually see is an incredible threat to his ability and status
And it is all completely unnecessary. The good stuff is there. You just look for it, and then look for where it really fits. See.
It's been busy.
Came in exhausted on the fourth. Had to wait at Customs. Seems I left a pamphlet from the "Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network" in my bag. Got some questions from the Canadian Border Service. That was the first Thursday.
Friday-- Walks, explore and settle in, then an evening class at the local BJJ school. Did a little dirty rolling. Had to take it easy. Still in the big knee brace, still pre-surgery... but I love playing.
Saturday: Day One of the regular seminar, Intro to Violence. Usual stuff-- the three long-assed-talks; fighting to the goal; efficient movement; learning to see... That stuff. Didn't go into the usual detail on Power Generation because I wanted to get to counter assault, so only structure and stealing. Didn't get into twitch power. Other cool thing--when I was demonstrating blindfolded infighting, they sent two in on me. Wish I had film of that. Then conversation and narghila at Crazy Joe's.
Sunday: Day Two. In the cabinet making shop again, but with a little twist. Chris had a room they were tearing down so we were able to do the mass brawls without worrying about structural damage. The go signal was throwing one of the students through the dry wall.
This brings up something. I like training hard, fast and with intensity, but don't do so in a seminar format. Seminars I focus on intensity. Chris said that some of the people who didn't show seemed afraid it would be a 'slugfest.' I don't see it. Injury rate is very low. But that we do play in dangerous environments, and do drill with mass brawls and blindfolded infighting-- there's definitely a perception there. Most people aren't ready to hear "You will be thrown through walls" and "It's really safe."
Monday: Day off. Writing and catch-up on correspondence.
Tuesday: Conflict Communications in the morning and another Dirty Rolling session with the London BJJ club in the evening.
Wednesday: ConCom in the morning. Then did an evening class for a local karate club. Then did some boxing. Kick boxing, technically, but I was in a knee brace, so I was just boxing. This was stupid, dumb, I know what you're gonna say. But it was a blast. I really miss playing with big skilled guys who are into contact.
Friday: ConCom. Then fencing. Now, fencing may be the worst possible thing for my knee, so I decided left hand only, no footwork.
Used my right hand some. And a little footwork (it's not something you can just turn off, evidently). Again, fun and again, clearly I'm not merely a martial artist, I'm a junkie. Addicts.
Saturday and Sunday: Logic of Violence. This seminar is growing and getting more powerful. Strangely, a couple of people who were worried about the physical aspects of Intro showed up to this since it was mostly verbal were affected at a deep emotional level. And, from a SD viewpoint, that's valid. Self-defense is far more difficult emotionally than physically. The mechanics, in other words, are simpler and for most people easier than the will aspects.
Which brings us to today. Quiet. Lunch with Steve, the head instructor at Twin Mountains (who got two gold medals in Malaysia-- congrats.) Otherwise, read and vegetate.
So 13 sessions in a little over a week. I'm a little tired. I'll get back on my regular writing schedule soon.
ROUND TRIP PART 28
For many weeks now my son Shane and I have been working out in the basement. Boxing drills with the focus mitts, Muay Thai kicking on an old tire tied to a support beam, ground and pound work and stand up striking on our life-sized grappling dummy (Tito), and lots and lots of footwork and conditioning exercises. We work out...hard.
Arms bruised, perspiration dripping down, heart rate racing like the Wipeout drum solo. And that's just me trying to put on my sneakers!
This past week I decided to do both...hit the gym AND continue with the basement training. Thank goodness I still have a cane. And some pain killers left over from that knee injury. And a muscle relaxer.
Actually the two types of workout blend together nicely. I'm hitting the gym on Mon, Wed and Fri, and we work out together in the basement on Tue and Thur. The workouts compliment one another, and I feel like I am getting stronger and faster than I've been in a long time. We use the GymBoss round timer, and some nights we do 2 minute rounds with 15 second rests. Other nights we do Tabata--20 seconds on and 10 seconds rest for 4 minutes per exercise or a complex of exercises. Other nights it's continuous work for 12-15 minutes or so before we take our first short break before doing it again.
Working out with Shane has been a blast. Shane and his brother Cody have been around martial arts all their lives. They took some classes at a traditional school when they were kids. Watched a gazillion martial arts movies with me. They both have a critical eye for what's b.s. and what's real. Can name the styles, can critique technique. Play a lot* of games (*an understatement by a factor of 50), many of which involve fighting and hand to hand combat.
But we really haven't seriously trained together all these years. Working with Shane, seeing his interest grow, watching his speed, power, and skill improve is exciting as hell. It reminds me of my own quest for combat knowledge, a quest that keeps me enthusiastic to this day, and not once has ever been boring.
The adventure continues, reminding me of so many training sessions from my past--memory flashbacks to hundreds of hours of solo training, countless training sessions with a good buddy.
Iron sharpening iron.
Next week we start with stick fighting. My old sticks were in bad shape, so Shane ordered us some fresh, new rattan sticks. Where once I used to hear the pitter patter of his little feet, now I'll be hearing the click clack of sticks.
He's funny, but so focused. Doesn't want to screw up. Knows that mistakes are a natural part of learning, but hates it when he gets it wrong. I told him the other night that it's just so natural for us to berate ourselves each time we cock it up. "You idiot," we say so easily to ourselves, "you dummy. What's wrong with you?" I then asked him what would happen if we didn't reinforce the negative...what if every time we got it right or close to right we told ourselves, "Good job. Way to Go. Keep it up."
It's like deja vu all over again...it's pretty much the same advice that my first gung fu instructor gave me.
I know I'm biased, but he's actually coming along nicely. He's got a good flow, lots of intensity. Fists feel like hammers.
He got me in several good chokes the other night. Felt like a python or anaconda wrapped around my neck! I think my eyes bulged out of their sockets like one of those little squeeze toys.
I'm looking forward to our next workout. Looking forward to getting a whiff of burning rattan. Looking forward to getting bruised and battered, stretched and sweaty.
I'll teach him everything I know, or at least everything I can remember.
Well, maybe not EVERYTHING. After all, I'll need some tricks up my sleeve in case he gets better than me.
I see him almost everyday. He's waiting to catch the school bus, standing near the corner not far from the Waffle House. He's probably, what, 7 or 8 years old? Reminds me of me at that age. Just a little chunky. As mine did for me, his Mom probably buys his blue jeans in 'husky' size.
He is totally oblivious to the world around him. Cars and trucks whiz past him, only feet from the curb where he stands. The bus won't be here for another couple of minutes. No worries. He has all the time he needs.
This is war, all-out chaos. The hordes of ninjas offer no respite. No quarter is asked, none is given.
They always come at him the same way. First with stealth, hiding behind trees, standing behind a telephone pole, or squatting in the shadows of a mail box. They creep up, real quiet like. They're good at their job. They get maybe 3 or 4 feet away before he becomes aware of their presence. Usually it's the slight whirring sound of a shuriken. Okay, maybe it's luck, perhaps it's just battle-hardened instinct honed from the daily stress of war, but his lunch box saves him and catches the spinning blade of death.
The realization that he has had a close brush with death awakens his fighting instinct, and he springs into frenzied action.
He is a blur. His lethal hands and deadly feet move at blinding speed. The first 3 attackers fall quickly, but there are more...there are always more. Move! his brain commands, and move he does! He leaps, he turns, he twists, slips, ducks and spins.
By now the ground is littered with their bodies, the sidewalk is slick with their blood. He must move carefully now. They never send in the best fighters first. These are mere cannon fodder, sent in to weaken him for the true terror that is to come.
But from which direction will the real danger arrive? He looks around, but the shadows are deceptive. He is tired from the combat, and he could easily succumb to panic at this point. The body count is impressive for one so young, but the fear he has held at bay desperately wants to be set free.
Like a zen master he calms himself. Becomes still. Takes a deep breath and...get this...actually closes his eyes and gathers his energy in what can only be described as quiet meditation. He is unexpectedly tranquil, like the calm eye in the middle of a chaotic hurricane.
Suddenly, and without telegraphing his movements, he engages the final elite squad. These are seasoned pros he realizes quickly, and his actions up to now must shift to overdrive if he expects to live to see another sunset.
He leaps the bench and darts around the fire hydrant with a grace that dancers only dream of. The power of his blows is tangible, and many of the attackers go down with only one strike...a shuto to the temple, a spinning heel kick to the wind pipe.
This is no game. They all fall before him.
Finally the head ninja, maybe the sensei of the others, and obviously a skilled and respected veteran, does not bother to hide. He is immense. The boy steps back and has to look up to see into the dull, lifeless, shark-like eyes. The boy is scared. But he does not run.
He takes another step back and another, and turns to get on the bus.
As he takes his seat he looks out the window. In his hand he holds the shuriken he has removed from his lunch box. He brings it up, defiantly waves it in the beast's face, and grins. He continues to watch as the bus pulls away, the giant warrior diminishing, fading from sight.
His day will be long and full of other challenges. He must regain his strength and rest tonight.
For tomorrow they will gather, and they will not be satisfied until he is vanquished.
One day, way back in 1987, I was walking through a local restaurant in Madison, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville, when I recognized martial arts legend Leo Gaje sitting at a table eating breakfast. I stopped at his table, paid my respect, and he graciously asked me to join him. He told me that he and his family had recently moved to town, and after a brief conversation he asked if I would like to drop by his house sometime for a little one-on-one training.
A few days later I took him up on his offer. He was so generous, showing me all kinds of incredible techniques, both with a stick and a knife. He also had an empty-hand component to his system which was very effective.
In one of the training sessions he took me out to his backyard and handed me a thick stick made out of durable hard wood. He instructed me to hit a tree with forehands and backhands, essentially just big figure 8's.
"How many times?" I asked.
"100 repetitions," he answered, adding "and be sure to hit it hard each time."
"What do I do when I've finished 100 reps?" I asked.
"Switch to your left hand," he replied.
"And after that?"
"Switch back to your right hand. I'll be back to check on you in awhile."
About an hour later he did check back. I think he was surprised that I was still going at it. My arms and shoulders were exhausted, and my hands already had blisters. If I thought it was over, I was mistaken, because now he wanted me to continue hitting the tree but with different combinations. It was tough, but it was great training. It also explained why he was able to hit so durn hard!
In too many of the classes and seminars I've attended over the years, we've mostly just hit the air. Punching and kicking the air over and over, just snapping our techniques out towards imaginary opponents.
I usually didn't like that approach.
My best teachers always made sure we hit something--a tree, a tire, a heavy bag, speed bags, double-end bags, focus mitts, and especially another person wearing protective gear.
I don't think you can get a feel for a technique unless you hit something...hit something hard...really REALLY HARD. In the best training you actually should hit something that's trying to hit you back.
Learning to hit, learning to move, trying to avoid getting hurt by someone else, all of this is such an important aspect
of combat, and yet it's not always done. I know of some schools that don't allow contact at all. Or if it's allowed, it must be light contact only.
In one of my first seminars with legendary instructor Hock Hochheim he told the class that they needed to pick up their sticks every now and then and go and hit something and hit it hard. Hock understands this concept all too well, and at his seminars he encourages people to suit up so they can train hard. I once was on the receiving end of one of Hock's leg kicks, not even one of his hard kicks mind you. The pain was intense, and completely took over my thinking. Imagine, I thought to myself, just imagine what that would feel like in a real fight if he were to do a full-contact, adrenalized version!
I had the incredible opportunity to be on the receiving end of some of Remy Presas' stick strikes, an unforgettable experience. Remy wanted me to block his strike, and he made sure to warn me to hold onto the stick firmly. When he hit it, the shock wave traveled up through my hand, wrist, forearm and shoulder. I'm pretty sure he loosened up some of my fillings. But feeling this impact made me aware that in a real fight it's full-on, hard contact, and if you don't have a good grip you're gonna lose the stick. Then you'd really be screwed.
When my buddies Richard and JT and I trained we almost always added in some full-contact training. Whenever we fought with sticks we'd wear fencing headgear, lacrosse gloves, and any extra padding we could scrounge, beg, borrow or confiscate. We had some shin guards we got from a baseball catcher, some football padding, and some knee and elbow pads. It was very tough training, and it was nothing to get bruised and banged up, but we understood stick fighting to be much much more than just going through fancy flourishes and twirling. The guys we knew who didn't practice full-contact? We derisively referred to them as 'baton twirlers.'
We used the heavy bag, and we really loved kicking the Muay Thai pads. Sometimes a workout holding the pads for a skilled kicker was in itself a helluva workout. You'd be forced to breath correctly to absorb the impact, which translated well into full-contact sparring.
I'm not suggesting that ALL training should be full-on full-contact all the time. That would be unproductive and unsafe.
But if one's training is mostly no contact or very light contact, the real impact of a real punch or kick is going to be a shock.
How can you expect to hit hard in a fight if you've never hit something or someone hard in training?
Now, if you'll excuse me, in the words of the immortal THING from the Fantastic Four, "It's clobberin' time!"
A talented photographer sees the way a camera sees. For whatever reason, the eye and mind grasp what a thing will look like cropped to picture size, can see not just the trees but the light-and-shadow play in the shape of the trees. If you have a little talent, see a little differently, you can take some good pictures.
A skilled photographer knows his equipment. He knows what to do with all the little dials and how to sometimes 'trick' the camera beyond the camera's usual abilities. Further, a skilled photographer has been taught much of what a talented photographer does instinctively. But knowing does not always equate with understanding, and an untalented but skilled photographer can get technically perfect but completely boring pictures.
I don't mean experience here as someone who has taken a lot of pictures. The third way to get good, unique pictures is to go to unique places and take them. Take a shot of something as incredible as the Earthrise over the Moon's horizon and talent or skill do not touch the fact that you were there. A technically crappy, poorly composed picture of Bigfoot would still be a picture of Bigfoot.
This goes for all art, for athletics and it absolutely goes for conflict. Maybe it goes for everything.
It's not an either/or. With a few exceptions it is not difficult to be talented, to work on skills and to go to extraordinary places. They compound. But it's not always easy.
Simple fact is that most talented people don't get very good. My experience is that the kid who gets 'A++' and effusive complements in his grade school art classes never works that hard to get really good. He is already good enough. I know very few big strong athletic martial artists who bothered to become superb. With an edge in size and strength, they tend to get good enough to dominate the people they know and then get lazy. It usually takes an extraordinary drive, often the iconic smaller/weaker/older technician who can beat the talented individual that shows them there is more.
This is a very human thing. It's a lot of work to get better, and most people stop when they are good enough. So talent, without extraordinary discipline or an extraordinary challenge, can become a trap.
The people without great talent but with desire tend to become the technicians. When others are more talented, you must be more skillful to win. Most of the really superb martial artists and fighters I've known have been runts with a drive to win. Small and weak, they couldn't afford to be merely good. They had to be fantastic to hold their own.
And there are two things that happen here. One is that much of 'talent' falls under the heading of attributes. Like strength, speed, endurance and coordination. Diligent training increases all of those. There are talents that will be backfilled, for want of a better word. The second is that with the right kind of training, your senses start to do what a talented person's always did. A judo prodigy knows the split second when his opponent is about to be off balance. A non-prodigy will learn that over time.
(And it is really infuriating to have something you have spent a decade perfecting being dismissed as, "Well, of course you can do that. You're a natural.")
There is a lot here. Physically untalented people tend to become superb technicians, if they work at it. Mentally untalented people who work equally well tend to become superb teachers. They've received so many explanations and worked out so many ways to grasp things that they can often communicate things they may not be able to do.
But, there is a solid difference between being untalented and ... I need a word. If you have taught for any length of time you know there are certain people that don't get certain things. I'm going to own it and put it down as, "my skill as a teacher is inadequate," but that's not what I feel deep down. I take responsibility because that's the only part of the equation I can affect. And I keep trying. But it seems there are certain people that can't see what is right in front of their eyes. Can't change patterns of movement or behavior. It's rarely physical, it's some kind of mental block. But they actively fight their own learning, even while putting in hours and hours.
And experience. Go to the cool places and take the cool pictures. Go to the dark places and learn about the dark side. It certainly helps to have talent and skill. That's how you make it out. But there is more than that and it compounds. The experience will teach you, very fast and in big block letters, what details are important. And you'll pick up a crude version of what a talented person naturally sees. He sees composition and shadow instead of 'pretty flower.' The experienced person learns a cruder, starker, but equivalent lesson, something on the order of, "I got too close."
It's hard to learn the kind of lessons from experience that you can learn from skill building or training. Ideally, what you are taught is the accumulated experience of hundreds of experienced people. There is no way you would have the time (or the luck) to survive that much experience.
But experience filters your training like nothing else. The devil is in the details but it is experience that tells you which details are important. That's the nature of the way humans learn and teach. They add stuff. They complicate things. They make things special. When you move too far away from experience and focus solely on training it becomes hard to tell which of the added information is important, what is really relevant.
Experience also happens at higher stakes and in compressed time. It not just winnows your training but forges your training and any talent that you have. Fast, dangerous situations force you to be equally fast and extremely precise. Your trained skills become sharper, more adaptable and more reliable. Your talent becomes reliable. And it can become one of the incentives to keep a talented person training.
Resource Predator – yup, you are nothing but a resource to the criminal. How does that distinction effect the way you are dealt with by a criminal, and how you should deal with this form of crime. You ever think of yourself as a, “Walking ATM.” as Marc calls you, or are you a sentient being with inherent rights that need to be protected? Well, yes, and no…
I'll use adrenaline throughout this as easy shorthand, but know that the SSR (Survival Stress Response) is caused by a slew of hormones and neurotransmitters, not adrenaline all by its lonesome.
There are lots of symptoms of adrenaline-- breathing changes, pulse rate, pupils-- that I don't care about because you can't see them. Signs are distinguished from symptoms in that signs are what you can see.
So common adrenaline signs:
Gross motor activity. Under an adrenaline dump you want to move. Pace. Flex. It seems like as the adrenaline increases both the activity increases (the pacing becomes faster) and seems to concentrate in the big muscle groups-- legs and shoulders.
Clumsiness. Big muscle groups up, small muscle groups down. Shaking, dropping things.
Voice gets higher pitched. Loud is one thing, but I listen for the squeak. Couple of reasons. The funny one is that every team leader so far has had his voice crack the first time he gave the ask-advise-order-check. That reads as nervous to the threat, and we almost always had to fight. Second reason, high pitched voices are one of the signs of fear and fear, like any emotion, is contagious. If one person squeaks or screams, nearby people are more likely to get stupid. Third reason, if the threat hears his own voice break, he may feel compelled to fight to prove that he is not afraid.
Swallowing and licking lips. Or drinking a lot of water if available. Adrenaline burns up a lot of water and makes you very thirsty. Side note: Tardive dyskinesia is one of the side effects of long-term use of psych meds. Street people call it the 'thorazine twitch.' Tardive dyskinesia also involves a lot of lip-licking with darting tongue movements but will also have sharp twitches and (usually) hard blinking.
Rhythmic movement. Almost every person I've seen under an adrenaline dump does something rhythmic. They tap their fingers (especially if they are trying to hide the fear/anger.) Or they bounce on their toes. Some hum. Not usually whistling, the mouth is too dry to whistle.
Color change. Getting red is part of the threat display. These guys don't tend to bother me. They might get stupid and become dangerous, but that's not the sign I'm looking for. When a threat goes pale, things are about to step off. The paleness, of course, comes from peripheral vasoconstriction. the body is trying to make sure that if the saber-toothed tiger gets an arm or a leg you won't bleed too much. Think of sudden pallor as the body clearing the deck for action. Things are imminent.
Danger happens at the intersection of adrenaline and purpose. A drowning man will be adrenalized and have the purpose of breathing, which makes you look like a flotation device. A mugger needs money for drugs and will get his adrenaline into the zone to do the crime.
Some notes, before we go on.
1) Fear, anger and love. I'm a big believer in the James-Lange theory of emotion. The theory states that first there is an event, then there is a hormone dump and THEN you ascribe an emotion to it. They noticed that there's not really a huge difference in the signs and symptoms of intense emotional states. If your mouth is dry and your palms are sweating and your knees are weak and your breathing is rapid and shallow... are you afraid? Or in love?
You get those symptoms when you see a bear, you call it fear. See someone attractive, the exact same symptoms are called 'falling in love.'
So, especially for this subject matter, fear and anger are different labels for the same chemical state. The labels, however, can be powerful motivators. If you call it fear, your instinct may be to curl up in a fetal position. You call it anger and you may fight. There is huge power in consciously labeling. More power, IMO, in NOT labeling and just using the chemicals... but I don't think that's something you can do the first several times. Maybe.
2) Whistling and lighting cigarettes. There are some iconic things in old movies. Lighting a cigarette will show any tremor in your hands, and it is one of the things the heroes and some of the bad guys used to do to show how calm and in control they were. In real life, back when bars allowed smoking, many bouncers practiced so that they could calmly light a cigarette under an adrenaline dump. People subconsciously got it. Calm can be very intimidating in the right circumstances. Same with whistling. I don't suggest whistling around threats, especially mentals, since any high-pitched sound tends to increase adrenaline, but it might help calm you.
Most of the adrenaline control methods taught require a certain amount of time. They work better for people responding to a violent situation than people who are attacked. There are a few tricks, but this is about reading a threat, not controlling yourself.
Someone engaged in social violence generally won't try to hide his adrenaline. It's part of the show. The two groups that will try to hide it are criminals and professionals.
Professionals (like bouncers lighting cigarettes mentioned above) tend to have elaborately relaxed body language. Their job is to defuse the situation if at all possible, so they will close distance and get in position while giving relaxed and non-threatening body language. They will be focused on the threat, however. If you see someone who should be showing the signs and isn't and they are focused, assume you have a professional. (As opposed to someone who should be adrenalized and is oblivious, in which case you have your basic nitwit.)
Criminals have to close the distance and set you at your ease. They have to appear NOT to be focused on you and they want to control the adrenaline. Many will engage in self-calming behavior. When your kids are hurt or afraid you pick them up and hug them, right? You basically pet them like small animals. Self-calming is doing that solo. Rubbing the face or neck are the most common.
This probably goes at the end, but danger is in the matrix. When you see someone rubbing his neck and not making direct eye contact but looking at you it's a sign he is adrenalized and trying to control it. If you've known him for awhile (the social aspect of the matrix) he's probably working up his nerve to ask for a date. If he's a stranger? Hmmm. If he is a stranger standing at an abnormal range, with asocial feet alignment and no witnesses? Big red flag.
There is one more professional reaction, but not necessarily criminal. One of the things with criminals is that they can time when to attack, so they can control their own adrenaline. They can get themselves excited (with visualization, ritual or self-talk) to raise their adrenaline and they can get the adrenaline under control by waiting a little longer, breathing, or other self-calming behaviors.
Victims don't get that choice. When the threat arises, they get an adrenaline dump. If YOU are a force professional (LEO, soldier, bouncer) your job will be to accost people. From their point of view, you are the threat. You will use the same techniques bad guys use to control your own adrenaline (and, hopefully, more consciously, trained and taught and more effectively.) But the people you confront will not have that option. They will get an adrenaline dump.
If they go pale, things are on the edge of going bad.
If, however, the subject goes pale and relaxes and his eyes unfocus, you may be in for a very bad day. Most people tense and shrink up when the adrenaline hits hard. If you see the relax and the thousand yard stare you have stumbled on someone with extensive experience with adrenaline. He knows how to use every last drop of it. If you see this you may well be in for the fight of your life.
On the good side, if you see this the subject is still thinking clearly enough you can reason. You can rarely do that with the ones who go white and tense up.
Someone asked how to develop mental toughness. The answer is easy: Do things you don't like to do. Things that scare you or disgust you or chores that you dread. At the same time, cut out things you do enjoy if they serve no purpose. What have your hours or maybe years of TV watching done for your life? No excuses.
That was my answer and the guy kind of chuckled and said, "No, seriously. How do you develop mental toughness?"
Another wants to develop fighting skills without the ick factor of touching people.
Years ago (and the day I decided I really liked Steve Perry) we were on an Orycon panel on the future of pharmaceuticals (and I have NO IDEA how we wound up on that panel). Steve asked the audience; "If there was a pill that would increase your energy, make you more attractive to members of the opposite sex, make you better at sex, make you live longer, lose weight and even make you smarter, would you take it?"
The audience clapped and smiled.
"Would you pay a hundred bucks a month for it?"
"Hell yeah!" the audience cheered.
"Well," said Steve, "It's called 'eat right and exercise' and I can tell just by looking that most of you aren't doing it."
People want things to be easy. They want something for nothing. I get that. But there are some subjects where it is not possible. Your body is not designed to improve under conditions of comfort. It improves under stress. With stress, muscles grow. Without stress, muscles atrophy. You don't get better at running by sitting.
You can get to a certain level of knowledge without pain or exhaustion. You can get to a certain level of skill. But you can't get good. You can convince yourself you're good. As long as you hang with other people who have avoided the same things you have, you can be comparatively good. But you can't get good. Not at fighting and not at competition level anything.
It's gonna hurt. It has to. People want a magical method where they can learn to deal with shock, surprise, pain and exhaustion without feeling shock, surprise, pain and exhaustion. That's not the way the world works, kids.
And I'm not just talking about the swimming analogy-- you know, where you compare learning about any fighting system without fighting as learning to swim without water. That's not what I'm talking about this time.
You can't get good inside your comfort zone. You want to get stronger? Your muscles have to hurt. Want to get flexible? Don't overdo it but you have to stretch beyond your comfort zone. Want to get anaerobically endurant? You have to push until you are sucking wind. Maybe puking.
Want to be better at a motion than the other guy? Then you either practice more than him or more mindfully or, ideally, both.
In "Campfire Tales from Hell" Dan Gilardi did a little article called, "Want to Learn how to Win? Learn How to Lose." Essence is, unless you go into challenges that will kick your ass you will never rise to the level of skill or 'mental toughness' or conditioning required to meet that level of challenge.
When in doubt, push.
Some of our training-- with the team, with Dave, with Wolfgang-- literally scared people. People would walk in and walk out after watching one class. Administrators would say, "Is that really necessary?" For their jobs the answer was "No." For our jobs, yeah, it was necessary. It never stops hurting, you just stop caring. Some would tell us it was unnecessary. A few openly called it abuse. (But these are the people that think that sore muscles are a punishment.)
I'm worried, frankly. When people start having a knee-jerk reaction that pain is bad and discomfort is bad it seems like a short step before they start classifying Olympic level training (as an example) as child abuse or torture.
Caveat here, before I close: Train hard, don't train stupid. Injuries make you less survivable. And there is no gain in emotionally abusing a student. They have to feel emotionally safe in order to learn about physical danger. For that matter, if you feel safe emotionally abusing your self-defense students, you aren't teaching them right.
That said, all valuable training happens outside the comfort zone. Physically, mentally, emotionally you have to push the envelope. It's gotta hurt.
A Breath of Fresh AirA PARABLE
Frank Johnson was a celebrity. Maybe not as big a celebrity as a Hollywood actor or a sports legend, but in the world of CPR he was a star, and he had few equals. Frank was a renowned CPR master, (or as he preferred to be called, MAASSTER), who owned several CPR academies and toured the world teaching his unique style.
Frank had learned his skills as a young man in the late 60s, when he had signed on as a life guard one summer at the local community pool. His Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) instructor was a harsh task master, and it was not uncommon for the students to be ordered into the pool to swim extra laps for messing up the sequence or for not performing up to the instructor's exacting standards.
He was lucky...he never had to actually use his CPR skills that summer. Mostly Frank just stood at poolside, blowing his whistle when the horseplay became too intense or when kids wouldn't stop running at the edge of the pool. But he was vigilant, always looking for signs of distress, carefully watching for the telltale symptoms of cardiac arrest.
Frank knew that if someone stopped breathing he only had seconds to respond, so he decided to excel at his CPR skills. On many evenings when the other lifeguards took off for the local pizza parlor, Frank stayed behind practicing over and over again the vital steps of CPR on the training dummies, whom he had affectionately named Sonny and Cher after the stars of his favorite prime time TV show.
He visited the library to do additional research, and he even applied for a job at the local hospital so he could be around doctors and nurses, hopefully to gain just a little more knowledge. Mostly he just emptied bed pans or pushed the patients around in their wheelchairs, but he picked up a tip here, a trick there.
Frank thought of himself as a Maass-man, named after Dr. Friedrich Maass, purportedly the first person to have performed documented chest compression on a human, way back in 1891. Although there had been a number of advancements in the procedure since that time, Frank thought that the original way was the superior way.
One day, in the mid 70s, Frank was given an incredible opportunity, one which would ultimately change his life. Because of Frank's knowledge, dedication and persistence, he was chosen to be the new community CPR instructor. The position involved teaching CPR not only to up and coming lifeguards, but also to soldiers at the local Army Reserve battalion, Boy Scouts, and civilians.
Frank approached his new responsibilities with the utmost gravitas. He decided that each person who trained in these life-saving skills should wear the same hospital orderly uniform he had worn so many summers before. He expected his student's uniforms to be clean and pressed when they showed up for class, and he began offering patches to reflect individual accomplishments. If a particular student, for instance, received a perfect score in performing CPR, he or she would be awarded the coveted bellows patch.
Frank's classes became quite popular, and people all over town knew Frank by name. When he went to the grocery or the barber shop, people would call him by his new nickname, "The Exhaler".
It wasn't long before Frank moved up in the CPR field, first teaching at the State level, and eventually taking on District and Regional responsibilities. Ultimately thousands and thousands of people learned their skills as a result of Frank's tireless work.
Whenever new technology came along, such as Public Access Defibrillation (PAD) programs, Frank balked. The old ways, the Maass technique, were, in his mind, quite sufficient. They had worked for almost 100 years. No need to introduce new technology, he thought, so he resigned from his position and began the first commercial CPR academy in the United States.
The first academy was small, just a storefront location near the downtown square. He started off with a few of the former lifeguards, some retired Reservists, and one or two orderlies from the county hospital, but soon the classes grew. Frank adhered to the old ways, and he became a stickler for perfection. He expected each trainee to call him "MAASSTER." The class did not use training dummies, there just wasn't enough money, and instead they were taught to visualize the victim. They learned to shout, "YOU, CALL FOR AN AMBULANCE" in their loudest voice. In unison they knelt down, began their chest compression exercises on imaginary victims, and counted out each one in a rhythmic cadence.
When one student suggested adding music to the class, Frank expelled him from the academy. Larry Thompson began his own local CPR academy, the MBA (Modern Breathing Academy), and his modern approach became Frank's primary competition for several years. More on him later.
Even with his emphasis on the past, Frank thought of himself as an open-minded instructor. The ultra-white uniforms slowly began to be replaced with pastel-colored hospital scrubs and EMT-type utility uniforms. He opened up a very successful kids' class, the "Elite Exhalers", and, surprisingly, he even began to allow Safar/Elam mouth-to-mouth techniques to be added to the curriculum.
Frank appeared on several community access TV programs, featuring demonstrations by his most skillful and accomplished students. In unison they would go through the motions of CPR, with and without a human 'victim'. Usually Frank would appear towards the end, sometimes doing a unique, dramatic and exhilarating multi-person CPR routine he had developed.
As Frank's fame spread, Larry Thompson struggled. He felt that his new, modern, reality-based approach would catch on, but it seemed that people preferred the old ways. Larry introduced Automated External Defibrillator (AED) certification at his academy, and stayed current on the newest methods, but Frank's school always had the largest attendance.
Larry developed the newest, cutting edge breakthrough in CPR when he developed Extreme Exhalation Gatherings (EEG). These competitions brought in CPR experts from around the country, and eventually from around the globe. There were several events: Group unison CPR, Military CPR where participants competed in battle gear, and, of course, individual CPR demonstrations, often set to electronic music.
Larry's programs took off, and slowly and surely Frank's school was seen as outdated and impractical. Frank fought back. He decided to once again introduce dummies into the program, and he even reluctantly allowed some technology, but he tightly held on to tradition with few compromises with modernity.
This approach ultimately prevailed, and Larry had to rely on teaching his method out of his garage.
Frank took over the EEG competitions, and his students regularly come home with the bulk of the trophies.
Students liked Frank's traditional approach and applauded his stance against newfangled, unproven methods. Many called Frank a "breath of fresh air" after an article came out about his work with local historical reenactors.
Frank, Pictured Here in a Confederate Surgeon's Uniform, Attends to a Gunshot Victim
Frank eventually went on to win CPR Instructor of the Year and was named as a pioneer for his promotional efforts in the Who's Who in CPR Publication. Here's how they described him, "IN YOUR HEART, YOU KNOW HE'S SMART."
Frank, a seasoned instructor, no longer gives demonstrations or teaches group classes at his academy. He still teaches advanced CPR classes to an elite group of MAASTERS, and he continues to travel, occasionally teaching his method to very lucky attendees.
Violence serves a purpose. Multiple purposes, actually. And the purpose it serves, the goals (and parameters) will drive how the violence occurs.
The threat who wants money for drugs will approach differently than the drunk college kid trying to impress a girl and neither will be quite the same as the person from a violent subculture who feels he has been shamed in front of his peers.
Knowing the base-- the different types of violence and their motivations-- is critical, but it is far from complete.
Also, to be clear: this is what I have seen. This information here has allowed me to recognize, evaluate and manipulate situations. That doesn't mean it is right. It doesn't mean I'm right. Actually, the second sentence in the paragraph is not how it worked. Like most of what I teach, this was back-engineered. Recognizing, evaluating and manipulating came first. The labels and connections and commonalities are what came out in the analysis and the debriefings. Success came long before understanding.
If you ever need this information, you will be the one on the ground. You will be there. I will not. Pay attention and make your judgment and act. You will need to trust yourself, but not naively. Learn. Study people like animals (because we are). Many people have very good instincts with other people, but some don't and the ones that don't tend to be in the victim profiles. The other victim profile, of course, include those who over-estimate their awareness or street smarts.
This is about human interaction and the analysis of human reaction. Like almost anything that has to do with humans it is both complex and dead simple. Not a mix. It is both. When it comes to reading a person the complexity comes in the interaction primarily of goal, ability and adrenaline.
The simplicity comes in, "He wants X and he is preparing to get it in this way." People get in trouble when they take that simple part and make it complicated. Do you need to know metallurgy to turn a wrench? Neither do you need to know someone's internal existential struggles to deal with that person as a threat. Recognize complexity where it is unavoidable but never imagine or create it. Occam's razor applies.
The next sections will be on recognizing adrenaline signs. Then differences in social and asocial approaches and distinguishing between threat displays and pre-assault indicators. I'm toying with writing about architecture, but I think my insight there is very limited.
As far as reading people, Terry Trahan's chapter in "Campfire Tales from Hell" is really good and hits it from a slightly different angle than I will. It's highly recommended (and I don't get money for it so I don't feel guilty plugging it.)
I've seen other practitioners of this style. Some were good, some terrible. But all had his same 'off' feeling.
Finally figured it out. In every case, they were doing inefficient things efficiently. The best practitioners are smooth. The 'slow is smooth, smooth is fast" concept works because speed is really based on efficiency. Smooth is efficient. The less you move to get the same effect, the more efficient you are and the faster you seem.
So each actual motion was very efficient, but he would use five or six moves when only one or two were necessary to get to the same result. In one case, a 45 degree difference in the first step would cut out the need for three moves. And give you more options.
So there is a difference between efficiency of motion and tactical efficiency. And even experienced people sometimes confuse them. And people love complexity. If they are quick enough to get away with it, people tend to extend engagements (at least play or training engagements) and make things more complex.
Efficient complexity may look good. Maybe some people see it as proof of skill. But simplicity is efficient. Efficiency by itself isn't 'mastery' (I hate that word.) It's efficiency of motion and efficiency of tactics and strategic efficiency. Minimum motion for maximum effect.
Kano was a genius. (Maximum efficiency, minimum effort.)
- Does your uke have to attack from out of range for your technique to work? Big red flag.
- Does your technique require or expect uke to follow a specific pattern?
- Is that pattern nonsensical with respect to tori's movement?
- Does tori use more motions than uke?
- Does uke have to hold still?
One more edit, because I think the point isn't clear: You can be the fastest runner in the world, but if you take an inefficient route you will still lose.
In Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” a young Ender in his first fight escalates the event to a brutal beating as a warning to others.
Deadwood, Dakota Territory, 1876. Jack McCall shoots James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickock in the back of the head. Though McCall is acquitted at his first, irregular trial, he is retried and found guilty after bragging about the shooting.
Long a staple of prison literature, the fish (new prisoner) must prove to all that he is more brutal than anything he will face. As Jack Henry Abbot wrote: “The first…I forced him to his knees , and with my knife at his throat, made him… This is the way it is done.” (In the Belly of the Beast, Jack Henry Abbot, 1981 pp 93-94)
This is the Status Seeking Show, a very particular type of violence aimed at achieving a very particular social effect.
Some societies and sub-societies are relatively dangerous. People beat and stab others over insults or drug deals gone bad. It’s not just dangerous, it’s also stressful and it feels like there is no way out. Humans are smart and adaptable however, and some have found a clever way to feel safe in that environment. They get a reputation.
It’s a very specific reputation. They want to be known as ‘hard’ or ‘crazy.’ They want to be seen as someone ‘too dangerous to mess with.’ The way to get this reputation is simple: You break the rules of social violence.
Social violence has rules, and most of the previous articles have introduced some of the rules:
- Individuals Monkey Dance at their own level. Lieutenants vie with lieutenants, not generals. Men Monkey Dance with other men, not with women and not with children.
- The Educational Beat Down requires that a rule be broken, that the person be told why they will be punished, it comes from higher in the hierarchy and it ends when the target acknowledges their guilt.
The Status Seeking Show breaks the rules. Shooting an authority figure or shooting a child. Beating someone who has not broken a rule or refusing to acknowledge the signal to stop. Using extreme violence when it is unnecessary specifically because it is unnecessary.
Of the types of social violence, the status seeking show may be the most dangerous. The group monkey dance variations are brutal, but often preventable (don’t betray a group that enforces rules violently) or predictable (groups of young men raising hell and heading your way are usually easy to see coming). When someone wants to send a message that he doesn’t follow the rules, predictability and preventability go way down.
It can be as brutal as any predatory violence, moreso since it is about the show, not about getting stuff. The brutality of a status seeking show is inefficient when the goal is money or drugs.
Identifying a Status Seeking ShowThe SSS can present like a Monkey Dance, an Educational Beat Down or like a Bonding Group Monkey Dance. The key is differentiating.
A MD traditionally starts with the hard stare and the challenge, e.g. “What you lookin’ at?” The MD is predictable and there are ways to prevent it. You can apologize, change the subject… almost anything but play the game back. When these tactics fail, it is likely that this is not about status, but about show or fun. Either is dangerous. In a normal MD, the threat’s attention will be focused on you and internally. On you because he is reading subtle signals about your status; internally because he is afraid of not being man enough. In most SSSs, the threat is consciously playing to the audience. I hope you never experience enough of these to be able to tell the difference at a glance, but you can.
An Educational Beat Down almost always starts with a statement about the rule you have broken (unless the rule is blatantly obvious in that culture) and often comes with instructions. It can range from, “Apologize to the lady.” to “Don’t disrespect me or we are gonna throw down.”
Unless the rule is egregious, like (probably the most common in situations that lead to violence) having an affair, a sincere and respectful apology almost always sidesteps escalation. It must be sincere, without smirks or eye-rolling. It must be respectful, without any comments about lower orders of being or stupid rules. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” Has gotten me out of missteps from Baghdad to Quito. Tagging on, “But that’s a dumb rule,” would have ended badly. If an apology doesn’t work, you may be looking at an SSS.
There are other clues as well. An EBD usually comes from a high-status member of a group. Not the highest, but high. If the person attempting to correct your behavior is low status, he may be trying to build a reputation. Because of the status levels, a person doing a ‘proper’ EBD will not be looking to the group for approval. A low status individual will, and he often won’t get it. I’ve worked with populations of criminals mostly and in this situation, old cons well know the insecurities that drive this behavior and do not respect it. They won’t interfere, that would be against the code, but they won’t approve, either.
Be very, very careful. De-escalation and prevention must be sincere and your pride is one of the biggest traps waiting for you. A sincere apology or not playing the Monkey Dance back at the threat almost always works. But a part of your brain, especially if you are a young man, is going to kick in and try to save face. A part of your brain will want you to say something nasty under your voice while walking away. Will want to let the other person know that you still think he is beneath you. Will trigger a crisis that you could have prevented.
And if you are one of the people who wants a confrontation, an insincere de-escalation will fail…and you might tell yourself “De-escalation failed! This isn’t a Monkey Dance! This is a Status-Seeking Show!” and go for a level of force that is unjustified or unnecessary. DO NOT FOOL YOURSELF.
A Status Seeking Show may precipitate a Group Monkey Dance. Sometimes you will have successfully de-escalated a situation only to find one member will not let it go or begins to egg the others on. It is an SSS if the member initiates an attack and sometimes, emotions being contagious, others will join in. Related dynamic is the mouth in the group egging the others on, "You gonna let him walk away? He's playing you!"
Two things become clear in an analysis of the SSS.
1) Your own pride, as the potential victim, can be a dangerous pitfall. Not because there is anything wrong with standing up for yourself or standing up to the bad people of the world. Pride is dangerous because it prevents you from seeing the situation, or even your own actions clearly. Pride in self-defense may be easy to see, but the mechanism is the same in little things: “I was perfectly clear, so if my employees didn’t understand what I wanted it is their fault.” Same mechanism.
2) Preclusion is important. In most jurisdictions one of the tests to establish if an act of force was self-defense includes whether or not there were valid non-violent options, like leaving or apologizing. Not only is a sincere attempt to de-escalate valuable in a claim of self-defense, it can give you valuable information about what is really going on.
I want to expand on point two. There are types of violence that have very similar (or not) outcomes and similar dynamics that have very different causes. You must distinguish them because the necessary deescalations are different.
That's too obscure. A Monkey Dance is low risk. A Status Seeking Show is high risk. But the pattern will be the same until the very end. Preclusion (trying to walk away, trying to apologize) is not a good idea just because of self-defense law but it is the easiest test to find which you face. Same with the two date-rape dynamics-- there is a test to tell you which you are facing. Sharks and tigers are both dangerous, but they are avoided in different ways. You have to be able to tell what you are facing.
There is also an individual dynamic with the SSS. It starts as a low-status, low-esteem, unrespected member of the group. As mentioned before, the old cons don't respect these guys. They're punks. But once they have the rep, they sometimes need to feed the rep. And in an more organized outlaw group, they will be used as disposable enforcers. But some of them get good at it and some of them get addicted, and they become very dangerous provided they stay alive and out of prison. Their dangerousness is based on being crazy, unpredictable and violent. Not cool under pressure or skilled.
There's a quote from the movie The Dirty Dozen, where Donald Sutherland's character Pinkley is inspecting the troops, pretending to be a general. He says, "Very pretty, General. Very pretty. But, can they fight?"
I see it all the time...martial artists doing elaborate,
acrobatic moves, and I always find myself thinking like Pinkley...man, that's pretty, very pretty, but can they fight.
Do fancy, complicated moves translate to combat? Why do we feel compelled to add fancy flourishes to simple, direct movements?
I can think of nothing uglier than hand to hand combat.
It's a nasty, messy activity. I talked to a Korean War veteran once about his combat experiences where entrenching tools, knives, rifle butts, fists and feet were used in a desperate, all-out battle. The description of this furious fight was the stuff of nightmares.
I have seen the aftermath of a real knife fight, I have witnessed people being brought into the ER with street fight wounds, and I have watched as one man was stomped to unconsciousness in a violent street brawl.
Fortunately I have only been in a few real fights in my life. They happened quickly and were over in seconds. Only later did I feel the bruises, taste the blood, experience the stiffness from sore muscles.
But I have known people and learned a few tricks from guys who have been in dozens of street fights; bouncers, long haul truck drivers, pipe line construction workers, tough guys, some soldiers from the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell who had been on long range reconnaissance missions, and a few rednecks who really liked nothing better than a beer-joint bust up.
One of my instructors had been a street cop whose beat was in some very rough parts of town. Another one of my instructors had been a H2H combat instructor for the famed ROK Tigers. He had combat experiences from the Vietnam War, some of which included up close and personal combat.
There was a common denominator with all of these guys: all of them, believed in straight, to-the-point, no-nonsense tactics. They all seemed to share a direct, nothing-fancy approach. Not a thousand moves, not even a hundred. Maybe a dozen or so solid, dependable, go-to techniques.
Some moves from boxing for sure, that's a given. Maybe a couple of take-downs from high school football and a trip or two from judo. Knees and elbows most certainly. Clinch fighting and grabbing the jacket collar, lapel or sleeves. The concept of grabbing and using whatever's nearby as a shield or a club or something to throw as a distraction. If they kicked at all, they kicked low--to the groin, the knee, the shin, or a stomp to the foot or to the face of a downed opponent.
They could all wrestle, and knew how to get up or how to get someone off of them. They knew how to get into and maintain a superior ground position where they could rain down destruction. None of them thought in terms of rules or fair play. Hit first, hit hard, hit often. No concept of tapping out or yielding. If the fight went to the ground, you kept fighting.
With the exception of the martial arts instructor, most of these guys weren't what you would call fit, at least not by today's standards. They drank a lot and a few of them smoked a pack or two of cigarettes a day. But they were strong, probably from doing tough physical labor all their lives. Farm work. Construction work. Not much flab.
I liked being around these guys. I liked the way they talked. Loved hearing their stories, a lot of which was probably exaggerated bullshit, but you could tell when they were really telling the truth. When they would show me a trick they would throw in a couple of tips: Chin down, they'd say. Hands up. Move! Don't be a sitting duck. Be a moving target. Don't square off, turn your body. Keep your damn'd hands up!
When they showed me a technique, they'd show me once, and then come at me. Usually half speed, limited power. Soon though and they'd be coming in quick as a snake, punching for real. If you snooze you lose. Get hit, next time you'll get your hands up..throw 'em in the deep end.
Hard hands. If they hit you, it'd feel like they had a roll of quarters in their fist. Vice like grips. And if you managed to get in a punch, their bodies felt like concrete.
They knew about knives. How to hold them in tight. Knew enough to know that you should grab a pool cue if you could 'cause it was about to turn ugly. Knew that running was okay and it wasn't about some stupid sense of pride or being a warrior or something noble. Sometimes you had to stand up to a bully. Sometimes you had to fight when you couldn't run. Sometimes you were gonna catch a beating. Does it hurt, I'd ask. Hell yeah, it hurts. Hurts like a som'a'bitch. They'd show me a scar, or a chipped tooth, or an empty socket where a tooth used to be. Some had gnarled, scarred hands.
I admired their animal courage. I saw one of these guys knock out a guy who owed him money. It was a short, snappy punch to the jaw, and the guy fell, as they say, like a bag of flour. I was mesmerized by their ability to stay strong in voice, no trembling, no weak knees, when facing down a bigger guy or, in some cases, more than one opponent.
Most of them didn't brag. A few tried to downplay their toughness. Joked a lot, laughed like crazy at their own stories. Always knew a bunch of guys tougher than them. "There was this ONE guy..." they'd all say, some real tough-as-nails serious, straight up bad ass. Guy who was long since dead or in jail.
When they found out my interest in fighting, they'd say forget it. You don't want that. Stay away from bars. Ain't nothing good gonna come from that. When they learned I was into the martial arts they'd say, keep it simple. Don't try anything fancy. One guy gave me this advice, "When push comes to shove, kick his teeth in."
I always wondered what these guys would say if you were to show 'em some of the stuff people do. Fancy, silly, outlandish uniforms, very precise, exact, overly rehearsed movements. A stand there while I work you over approach.
I think they would laugh. I think they would say, try that on the street, and you'll get your ass kicked.
I'm pretty sure they would admire what the MMA fighters can do now. They'd be intrigued with some of the stuff BJJ fighters know how to do...probably say, wish I'd known THAT move. I know for a fact they'd have admiration for some of the basic moves from FMA knife work.
But when it turns pretty, if somebody threw in something flashy, I'm convinced they'd just stare and shake their heads.
Some of the unpublished ones are first drafts of articles that were published. A few are crap.
But there are a few...
In some I couldn't get the tone right. There are certain things you can't learn when things are going well. Learning about inner workings of some organizations requires enough of a consistent type of painful mistake that you can see and come to predict the pattern. Learning anything about the mechanics of a violent assault almost always requires mistakes. You learn certain things because you are stupid in certain ways...and almost every time I've tried to write about that, it comes off sounding whiny and self-pitying to my own ears. I simply don't have the skill as a writer to make certain points in the right way.
Same with certain kinds of clarification. When "Meditations on Violence" first came out, some of the reviewers read diametrically opposite things in the same material. I'd been warned about that by the professional writers, but my first instinct was to explain, to clarify... and that fails on two levels. First, people will read what they want or expect to read and that includes in the clarification. Second, it just sounds defensive. Especially if you are defensive it serves no purpose but to validate the point of view.
Actually, there's a third-- anything you write must stand on its own. Writing is a telepathic message into the future. You won't always be alive to clarify.
There are subjects I stay away from, but have strong opinions about. Especially when the political silly season was on, I wanted to write about economics and politics. People conflate money and wealth; conflate jobs and work. But these issues are so tied to the limbic system it would do no good, except give people an excuse to not listen to core things.
Some of the unpublished stuff is just too personal. I write fairly close to the bone here, share, share some deep water stuff. But there are some wounds that I'm afraid will always be fresh. Some complicated feelings that I don't think can ever be shared adequately in the written word. Some that can only be grasped by a very few people. And some of this is stuff I want to write, stuff that tries to claw its way out of me and onto paper. Maybe I'll let K publish it when I croak.
And some of it is just pure mean. And K tells me not to be mean.
All societies, subsocieties and groups have rules. Sometimes the rules are formal—states and nations have statutes and even the local gardening club has bylaws. Sometimes the rules are informal. Families don’t have constitutions, but the kids know what behaviors will get them in trouble.
In any given society, the rules will be enforced. Maybe not well or consistently, but they will be enforced.
In a healthy group (defined as one in which everyone agrees on the methods and goals) ‘enforcement’ may be merely a glance. Someone does something wrong, you look at him, maybe with a raised eyebrow, possibly say, “Really?” and he says, “Ah, dammit. I screwed up. Sorry.” Unless it turns into a power play, the verbal variation of the Monkey Dance, the member of a healthy group is grateful for the correction.
As groups become less healthy, they also become less secure. The methods for correcting behavior escalate, from informal gossip campaigns and chilling a person out to screaming at subordinates…
There are other factors at play. Different subsocieties have much different attitudes towards physical force. Some families spank, some do not. Some groups thwack the back of the head, some do not. Some nations execute, some do not.
These three factors: health of a group; security or insecurity of the group or its leadership and; attitudes toward violence shape if and when the educational beat-down will ever be a self-defense issue for you.
There are three cases where the EBD may be dangerous.
#1: If you are a dick. There is a pattern to the EBD. The first step is that you do something wrong. Yes, you. We all make errors and step on toes from time to time. If you think you never do or, worse, always have a reason why it is the other guy’s fault, you’re a dick. If you refuse to acknowledge that your group has rules or that the rules should apply to you, if you feel you are being oppressed by any rule you don’t happen to like… you’re a dick.
For most people, breaking the rules isn’t a big thing. You realize you violated protocol, acknowledge that there was an error and the error was yours, accept punishment if the group thinks it was merited, and move on. This is called “accepting responsibility,” and one of my personal rants is about people who want to skip the step about accepting the punishment. Merely acknowledging the error was yours is NOT accepting responsibility.
Rant aside, jerks have problems with every step of this. Most importantly, refusal to acknowledge that the rule existed and that you broke it prevents the EBD pattern from closing. It demands an escalation in correction.
“Toby! Apologize to your sister!”“No!”“Then go to your room and stay there until you are ready to apologize!”“No!”“Do you want a spanking?”
If you insist on being a dick, punishment will escalate until you are removed from the group, whether that means being fired or being beaten to death behind a bar. If you’ve been fired or divorced a lot, partner, it’s time to do some soul-searching. Cause you’re probably a dick.
#2) If the group or the leadership is insecure. This factor applies to all social violence but is especially obvious in corrective violence.
We are basically primates and a lot of our wiring is older than our ability to communicate. When we get tense, afraid or insecure, we tend to fall back on ancient patterns of behavior. If you are a good boss and people want your recognition and approval, they hurry to do what you say and work hard not to get you upset. If you are a terrible boss, people also hurry to do what you say and work hard not to get you upset. The emotional mind doesn’t really distinguish submissive behavior stemming from respect or submissive behavior stemming from fear.
When a boss feels he is coming under fire, he has a tendency to get loud and aggressive. This is what his limbic system is telling him to do. This will get submission signals from his group. This will make everything better.
From the outside, we see more clearly. We call this behavior “losing it” for a reason. If it happens in a society with a propensity for violence, it can escalate to a beating or murder. Like when Al Capone beat three of his lieutenants to death in 1929.
#3) Where you don’t know the rules. Most of us spend time around people that share our basic attitudes and beliefs. We know the rules and know, consciously or not, how they will be enforced. It can be a very dangerous situation when a person or a group travel to an unfamiliar place and expect or demand that the rules remain the same.
Whether it is a group of college kids going to the biker bar on the edge of town for a thrill or someone who hopes to backpack through another country, they will be exposed to new rules. It’s usually not a problem unless they possess that certain mix of arrogance and stupidity—unless they demand the right to follow their own rules.
In many cultures it is safe to be arrogant and stupid. If the culture is very homogenized and insular, silence or possibly stares are the worst that will happen. They will hate you, but they won’t hurt you.
In other cultures where violence is seen as an easy answer to many problems, it can be very dangerous. But even in a culture that regularly handles social disputes with knives or assault rifles, trouble is usually easy to avoid or evade.
Avoid trouble by not being there, of course, but if that is not an option:
- Keep your mouth shut. Answer questions, be polite, but don’t offer an opinion or try to ‘fix’ the locals. And especially don’t feel magnanimous or superior enough to say something like, “You people are ignorant and you worship evil, but that’s your right. Don’t change.” A British tourist I overheard in Istanbul.
- Be polite. That isn’t hard. Don’t stare, don’t back away, don’t argue.
Evading trouble is also easy. The Educational Beat Down follows a pattern and the pattern is universal. How does a child get out of a spanking? “I broke the lamp, mommy, I’m really sorry and I won’t do it again.” How does a killer get the death penalty taken off the table? Usually with a full confession and a show of remorse. How do you avoid hard feelings (or worse) when you try to speak Arabic to a Kurd? Or flirt with the bouncer’s girl? “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. It won’t happen again.”
Most of the time, if you acknowledge it was a valid rule, that you broke the rule and that you won’t do it again, there is no need to teach you a lesson. The behavior has been corrected and that is the sole purpose of the EBD: to enforce norms of behavior.
If you try to evade responsibility or say the rule was stupid or that the rule shouldn’t apply to you, if you put any weasel words into the apology, you don’t get it. The correction must escalate.
There is a fourth situation in which the EBD is dangerous, but it is more an historical artifact then a current problem. When resources are scarce, for instance, if a tribe expects a few starvation deaths each winter, people who don’t follow societal rules are a liability. Fewer things are punishable by death in an affluent society than in a marginal one.
There are very dangerous behaviors that can mimic the EBD. More accurately, many people use the underlying motivations of the EBD to attempt to justify viciousness. Abusers say, and may honestly believe, that they are teaching a lesson. Justified excessive force complaints arise when officers switch from subduing a suspect to punishing a perp. A fully justified act of self-defense can turn into assault with just a few extra kicks to send a message.
The dynamics of the EBD are also mimicked in the two most dangerous of the types of social violence: the Status Seeking Show (next lesson) and sometimes the bonding-style Group Monkey Dance (last lesson). Social violence, unlike predation, is primarily a form of communication, dysfunctional though it may be. Even if the real goal is just to enjoy beating someone, it goes better if the beating is preceded by a provocation from you.
“I beat her up for no reason,” doesn’t get a lot of play even in bad crowds. “Bitch called me fucktard so I taught her a lesson,” plays better.
The person looking for an excuse to get violent will try to get you to do or say something that can be used as a rationalization. It is not a reason—they already have the reason in that they want to hurt someone. It just needs to sound like a reason. When someone tries to incite you to inflammatory language and anger, that is the time to slow down, and act thoughtful and cold. And check the audience.
If there is no audience, this is probably a lead-in to a predatory assault. Experienced predators will mimic social patterns so that YOU stay on the predictable (and much less violent) social script. If there is an audience and they are egging on the threat, be prepared for a Monkey Dance. Apologize and leave, but be prepared to crash through the crowd if necessary.