It offends me that there are some extraordinary martial arts masters (and master is a word I do not use lightly) who, in their old age, are living in poverty or on the edge. Pioneers in bringing thriving traditional systems to the states or Europe, people who started the entire Reality-Based Self defense movement. And they're living in shitholes, not even surviving on a pension because they were too busy following their passion to create a pension in the first place. It offends me. Maybe you know some of the people I'm talking about, maybe you don't, and maybe you know a few I've never met. But whether you know it or not, no matter what your lineage is, there is probably someone living in a crappy trailer park that you owe a huge debt to.
Part of what bothers me is that in many cases, it was preventable. It shouldn't have happened. A tragedy is when the flaws in the hero of a story spawn an inevitable demise. So it is here, and in almost all cases, the flaw was pride. And I'm subject to it just as much and in exactly the same way.
If you came up through the traditional Japanese arts as I did, you were probably pounded with the antipathy between the samurai class and the merchant class. Are you from that culture or that era? Hell no. But you probably absorbed the ethic that "fighters are above money." It will be compounded if you were raised poor in America, since one of the mechanisms society applies to keep people poor and powerless is to tell them the lies that only bad people make money and that power corrupts. (What better way to keep good people powerless than to tell them that gaining power will turn them into bad people?)
Caught in this belief, many of the best fighters and teachers deliberately work to be failures at the business side to preserve an ethic designed to keep them weak. In doing so, they serve their own enemies and ensure their own defeat.
Fighters are one thing. When you are ready to become a teacher you should be at least a step beyond that. You must be, at minimum, a strategist. Would any good strategist deliberately refuse to learn the way a new battlefield works? Would a good swordsman faced with guns not learn about guns? He would only refuse if he was stupid, or too proud.
And that's the first reframe, and probably the most critical. Use the pride: If the merchants are a lower class, are you going to lose at their game? Hell no. But in order to win, you have to learn the new rules. So what are you? A mere fighter who can't see beyond a single opponent? Or a true strategist?
All alone in the moonlight
I can smile at the old days"from the musical Cats
A friend of mine recently called, and it wasn't long before we started reminiscing about some of our training days back when the world was much younger.
On most Saturday mornings for a several years in the 70s my friends and I would get together and fight. When it was warm we would go to Shelby Park in East Nashville, and if the weather was bad we would train at the gym at Two Rivers Baptist Church just across the river in Donelson.
Everybody fought, mostly full contact.
Some days we would box. Other days we would kickbox. The rules would change from week to week, or even during the same training session. We might allow clinching and grappling, or we might include leg kicks. Sometimes we would just wrestle or do a form of sloppy judo. We might limit the techniques that could be used, so that one guy could only use his hands, while other could only kick. Most of the time our rounds lasted 3 minutes. But we sometimes went long, maybe 5 minutes or so. Other times we would do 1 minute rounds or even 30 second rounds. Breaks might last a minute, but usually we only rested for 15 to 30 seconds between rounds. Occasionally we would add rules that made us do active resting, so it was not uncommon to do jumping jacks or push ups or crunches between rounds.
We made up scenario training that we thought was fun, but was actually fairly cutting edge and ahead of its time. For example "Freshman" fighting was where one guy stayed in the middle and fought fresh, rested opponents every minute or so. We also would put one guy in a corner and have him fight his way out against two or three others who were intent on keeping him wedged in.
We did "Ring of Fire" where one guy was in the middle of a circle and attackers would move in one by one at a signal unbeknownst to the victim. We also did "You and Whose Army" where a guy would have to face a line of attackers who came in like the bull on the old Schlitz Malt Liquor ads.
In all of the rounds, hundreds of rounds, countless rounds that we fought we had one special rule: If someone trips, slips and falls, the fight did not stop. In fact, the fighting merely intensified. This, to us, simulated a real street fight where there were no rules and no refs.
Near the end of every training session we would usually do some weapons work. This might be stick fighting, knife fighting with knives made from wood, staff fighting or sword fighting using bokken we bought from an import shop at 100 Oaks Mall. Sometimes we would go stick versus knife, or staff versus stick.
We always finished with specific self-defense scenario training that focused on realistic attacks. We hated prearranged, choreographed training, but we did design certain standard attack/response scenarios that we believed were likely to occur. We figured we needed to sear these techniques into our brains and bodies so that they became automatic responses. We did not really know the term "muscle memory," but we understood the concept and capitalized on the process.
Our training gear was limited. This was due to two factors: We were poor, and we were stupid. We usually had boxing gloves, and most of us were able to get shin guards from a local sporting goods store that was located in downtown Nashville near the high school where I had attended, Hume Fogg Technical.
We bought lacrosse gloves which we used for weapons training, and some of us had football padding. We usually had at least two sets of head gear, wiping out the other guys sweat, but even without the safety gear we fought anyway.
What I loved was the fact that although we trained hard we rarely got mad at each other. We shook hands before and after each match up. We respected each other and gave good, objective feedback at the end of each training session. In fact, we might even interrupt a match if we saw something particular noteworthy. If someone brought in something new that they stole from a book, or if someone stumbled on a cool, effective technique, we would all work on that skill and troubleshoot how to incorporate it into various scenarios.
Training indoors was good, but what we really dug was fighting outside. At Shelby Park there were flat areas, uneven woodsy areas, and plenty of hills. I remember one session where we fought on the side of a particularly steep hill. It was exhausting but really a ton of fun. There was a Cedar log clubhouse in the park back in those days, and if there was no church or family picnic going on, we would go inside and fight on the stairs or in the tight confines of the corners of the rooms.
We were lucky. We rarely got hurt. Sure, we had bloody noses and busted lips. Sometimes a jammed finger or badly bruised thighs or sharp, painful shin impact. But we would just follow standard coaching procedure and "walk it off." It was not uncommon to see somebody with a cone of tissue stuffed into a bleeding nostril.
Of all the training I've done over almost five decades of martial arts and combatives training, I must say these were my favorite training experiences.
I miss getting up and driving to go over and get my buddies.
I miss warming up and stretching and doing a little roadwork to loosen the muscles.
I miss the camaraderie and the joking and the playful teasing when we screwed up. I miss touching gloves before the violence started.
I miss stealing ice from the church kitchen to make a compress for a sprained elbow. I miss insisting on two guys shaking hands when things were starting to get heated up and tempers were starting to get out of control.
I miss coming home with a nice mouse on my cheek or the beginnings of a black eye.
I do not really miss getting kicked in the nuts or getting hit on the knuckle with stick.
If doing is learning, then I learned a LOT. Of all of the great seminars I've participated in, with some of the world's leading instructors, I must say that I probably learned more from just fighting with my pals.
Then Charles Lampshire writes this: "So today I've been thrown down the stairs, had my head knelt upon, a simultaneous wrist, finger and shoulder lock used whilst slamming me into a table, been punched in the balls, had my nose smashed with several elbows, had a scrap in a ladies toilet and even been fish hooked on a sticky dance floor. What a fantastic day! Can't wait to see what Rory Miller has cooked up for us tomorrow."
That's awesome, by the way, Charles. Thanks. But it's the essential quandary. People who like the idea of rolling around on a sticky dance floor gouging, fish hooking and biting are going to show up. And they have fun. But people who think that is fun don't really need the training much. The ones who most need it are the people who will read that description, shudder and say, "I could never do that." And of course they could do that. And if they tried it, they would find it valuable and fun.
But it's hard to explain. "This time we have an office we are allowed to demolish in the environmental part, so expect to get thrown through the dry wall. But it will be fun and safe."
For most people fun/safe and heads slammed into tables don't go into the same categories. Of course nothing is perfectly safe. Including doing nothing.
This is another one I don't have an answer for. Word of mouth, maybe.
Winding up a month in the UK heading home this afternoon.
Maryland and Oakland coming up this month.
Erik Kondo, a friend and one of the CRGI team wrote a draft article about becoming a skilled conflict manager. Everything he wrote was absolutely true, but everything could also be distorted or even used against you, if you only relied on the surface interpretations. I offered to do a riff on Erik's article. Still working on it.
But wait, there's more. We did the first CRGI IDC (Instructor Development Course) in Sheffield over the last two days. It was about the methods of principles-based teaching. In one segment, the attendees created a list of difficult students and brainstormed solutions. They did good on the list and the solutions. But the answers were largely one-dimensional. You see behavior X. How do you stop behavior X?
And that led into yet another discussion of depth of game.
Because you can easily add another dimension to what you see that gives another dimension for solutions. Things happen in time, people change over time. This behavior didn't arise full blown, it escalated. And it could, possibly, be solved immediately-- probably with specific consequences-- or the behavior can be altered over time with different consequences.
And you can add the dimension of mental depth as well. Where is this behavior coming from? What are the reasons? If you teach a non-contact system (though I can't think why anyone would) and a student keeps making excessive contact, he might be an ass who needs to be taught a lesson. Or he might be a kid going through a growth spurt. Or a vet who is blind in one eye. Or a former victim who lashes out under stress. And that's another avenue to fix things.
And there is the solution dimension. Stopping the behavior is only one outcome or one piece of the potential outcome. How will your tactics change if you set your goal not to stop the behavior but to make a great student? In a cop class, you always have the disgruntled guy who was ordered to attend training. Most instructors have some kind of tactic to stop the spread of his or her verbal poison. Since ConCom, my goal has been to get them on my side before lunch.
Last example. We talked about Priniciples a lot in the IDC, as you would expect from a class on Principles-Based teaching. One of the principles I used as an example was structure. Many people, if they can distinguish structure from stiffness in the first place, think of using structure to conserve striking force "Hitting with bone."
And that's good and valid. But it's deeper than that. I think any true principle you can dive into as deep as you want to go. In under a minute, I demonstrated power, unbalancing, bone slaving, void defense, vectors along bones versus angled against, disruption... all just structure. And I completely forgot using bone to rest and resist in grappling or structuring as a defense to joint locks. And as cool as all that is, I know I'm barely scratching the surface.
My game could be much deeper.
And he was not calming down. He kept darting glances over my shoulder, and there was no way I was going to look. You don't make direct eye contact with excited mentals (it can be read as challenge or threat and adrenaline rises) but you give them full attention (read as respect). And if you glance away at the wrong time you can get badly hurt.
What was going on was that one of the rookies decided to ignore my instructions to stay out of sight. When dealing with potentially bad situations, you want the best back-up you can get, but when talking down an EDP (Emotionally Disturbed Person-- you know it's tactically important because we have a TLA (Three Letter Acronym) for it) if they see the backup they know that you're scared, and fear is contagious and their adrenaline rises.
So, despite specific instructions to stay out of sight, the kid (who was big enough to be imposing) was hanging right off my shoulder. Why? Because he wanted to see why I was so successful at dealing with EDPs. He wanted to see what I did first-hand.
This is a big teaching quandary for me. And research problem. The best way to learn real skills for high-risk, high-speed problems is to model them. You can learn theory in the classroom and you can practice the motions in the dojo, but real world applications are complex on many levels. Just talking to someone isn't a mere exchange of words, there are social, emotional, intellectual and status implications of the tiniest interaction. Being with someone who is skilled at handling problems and watching them handle those problems and maybe helping and definitely asking questions later is where the important stuff happens. It's the safest way for the stuff you learn in class to become a real skill you can apply.
But there are a handful of skills that are hard to model, because the skill is so hard to apply without the emotional protection of privacy. Imagine trying to reassure a mother whose child has just died but start with, "Do you mind if I film this?"
Intersection, here. There are certain things, maybe everything but thinking about it, all the high-risk stuff, where the processing is more important than the event. Something terrible happens to you and it's terrible... but how you process it, how you come to think about it and understand it will make the difference between an incident you soon forget, one that makes you stronger, or one that continues to victimize you mentally for the rest of your life.
And helping someone process a big event is one of those skills that generally requires some privacy. "Let's go for a walk" as you wave the other people who want to help back. Absolute best thing for the primary, but as that rookie pointed out long ago, it denies the ability to learn by modeling.
I don't have a good answer for this one. The best stuff I have for talking people down is in "Talking Them Through." But teaching the skill, modeling... I don't have a solution for that. And it's one of the skills that can be badly bungled-- with horrible long-term consequences.
How many times have you heard someone remark
“That won’t work!”
about a particular tactic or training method?
Here are my top ten reasons why your tactics or training methods won’t work:
- You’re too close!
- You’re too far away!
- The angle of entry/application is wrong.
- This technique relies on a particular attack.
- You’re not unbalancing them enough.
- You’re unbalancing them too much.
- You’re training it too fast (for your skill level).
- You’re training too slow (to be effective).
- There’s no resistance.
- There’s too much resistance!
(11. Because (insert name here) said that (insert advice taken out of context here).)
When it comes to looking at training and tactics, everyone’s got an opinion. Criticism can be a great tool when applied correctly, but before we indulge in its use, we should look at whether we understand what is being done and why. Different training methods and tactics exist because different problems create different solutions. There is no single perfect solution for every problem. (with the possible exception of Chuck Norris)
So before we armchair criticise something from a different system, we should perhaps ask ourselves whether we’ve really understood what it is they’re trying to achieve. I’ll hold my hands up and admit that in the past I’ve criticised something because it didn’t fit the context of my approach, without acknowledging that it was designed for something else. It’s not something of which I’m proud. Blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make ours any brighter.
Criticising my own training is a different matter. When it comes to examining why your own training or tactics aren’t working, the list of ten above is a good check-list for why we might not be getting the results we want.
Train safely, criticise yourself regularly, and frame your solutions to the criticism positively using SMART approaches.