Learning lessons from training and testing

John Titchen's Blog - Tue, 2017-05-23 16:13

A week ago I held another of my Sim Days for a mixture of my students and guests.

Although every karate lesson I teach revolves around pre-empting or responding to HAOV (habitual acts of violence), attacks taken out of any context, no matter how dynamic, alive or sustained, are one dimensional. It is in my Sim Days where my students experience the broader context of the tactical, ethical and legal repercussions of aggression and violence through simulating how they might respond to events in multiple scenarios, whether on their own, with peers, and with children (or adults).

These are training events that comprise elements that test a participant’s response, but also give them training in more optimal approaches and multiple opportunities to learn from what they and others have experienced throughout the day. The core-learning element of the day is not the experience of the short scenarios themselves, but the unpressurised frame by frame group discussions on the video footage of the same that takes place throughout the day. It is always gratifying to see how well trainees respond to this and how much they take forward to future scenarios.

As an instructor, I have an obligation to study the footage to see what I can learn to help maximise the performance of my students. Identifying mistakes or less desirable behaviour means that I must question what I’m teaching and how I’m teaching in order to help each individual progress.

I accept that what I’m looking at in my training days is artificial. There are many different compromises I have to make to ensure that the training is safe. It is however, as many participants with direct professional or personal experience of real violent events have attested, as close to the reality of the pressures of conflict management as is safe to create.

Training safety does present limitations. There are a number of things that cannot be done because of the injuries that might ensue. There are areas of the body that are not attacked, and obviously all contact to the head must be pulled because of the high risk of concussion in multiple person events when many are role-playing. While participants are clearly acting under the influence of adrenaline, they obviously do not have the full pressure of the consequences of a real event, which could elicit more extreme tactics. Nonetheless, when reviewing and learning from a person’s actions I hold the following maxim to be true: if you cannot do it in training then it is foolish to assume that you will be able to do it outside training. 

So what has prompted this particular blog post?

On the last Sim Day I had the highest ratio of junior to seniors I’ve ever had. 1:1.

Still smiling at the end of the training.

I like having younger participants on the training days since people do respond differently as both bystanders and participants when the threat is to or from a younger member of society, especially if they are behaving as if they are acting in loco parentis for a friend’s child. Furthermore, statistically in England the 16-24 age group has the highest risk of being a victim of violent crime and accounts for the largest proportion of offences.

On this occasion I had a group of three 13 year olds and two 14 year olds; all boys training alongside five adults. They all had between 65 – 120 hours of training. I felt that this was a great age to try this training experience as they are at a time where confidence in their ability does not necessarily account for the advantage that size, weight and strength gives fully grown adults. At the same time they were strong enough (in numbers) to pose a threat to the adults, while being young enough to elicit protective parental responses from them too.

Many teenagers don’t automatically appreciate the difference that weight and strength can make.

Throughout the day I noticed the majority of the younger students having difficulty hitting the head. Now they were aware that contact to the head needed to be pulled, and had actually practiced punching both each other and the adults in this manner (the adults were all veterans of a number of these events and had long dropped any qualms on making contact and had the experience to calibre contact appropriately).

Hesitation in hitting can lead to being on the back foot.

This is not uncommon. It has been my experience that a lot of people have difficulty switching from hitting an inanimate object like a pad to making contact against a person. The aversion to hitting the head or face is particularly common. This aversion is generally reduced by practice, just as the ability to shrug off direct verbal abuse is improved through practice, but it is a trait worth noting.

As attacks to the head are among the most common HAOV, my students naturally spend a lot of time delivering them and defending against them. They regularly practice striking pads in simulated head shots and they deliver these in appropriately skilled fashion for their age and time training.  Despite this, the combination of the pressure of the event and a natural disinclination to hit the face meant that most of them struggled in their first few scenarios, especially in ‘leading’ with a strike to the head (as opposed to following through if necessary), and thus for safety I should assume that outside of training the same hesitation could occur.

Demonstrating a variation on a Morote Uchi Uke multiple body hit and head cover entry from the Pinan Flow System book series in Malta. People who have trained with me, whether in armour or not, will attest that even when ‘pulled’ this is incredibly effective. 

I am not overly concerned by what I witnessed because I already have strategies in place to give my students alternatives. Many of my drills (including some of my pre-emptive drills) initiate with elbow point or forearm strikes to the body (acknowledging both the aversion to striking the head, the proximity of most violent encounters, and the potential short and long term injuries and consequences of the action) such as a slightly modified version of morote uchi uke, and knee strikes to the leg and body play a prominent role in the training I deliver. Throughout the day I saw my students effectively utilising these body shots with far greater ease than any shots to the head.

In goes the knee.

So what will I take away from this? Will I stop teaching head shots? No. Will I continue to teach body shots? Yes. What I will do is put a greater weighting on body pre-empts in my classes to ensure that from the start of their training journey my students have something that is more likely to fit within any initial limitations that they set themselves.





The sobering reality of a fake abduction

John Titchen's Blog - Tue, 2017-05-16 07:39

On Saturday, under my supervision, four teenage boys (aged 13-14) experienced a fake abduction. This was a single scenario in a multi faceted training day for both adults and teenagers. While this is a very rare event, it is perhaps one feared the most by parents, and so we wanted to see what we could learn from replicating an example.

Like all training, we had to make compromises for safety. The most glaringly obvious compromise was that the boys knew they were going to experience an abduction attempt. They also knew which vehicle the attacker(s) would use. What they didn’t know was how many people would be involved or how we would set them up.

That wasn’t the only compromise:

– due to a scheduling clash we had to stage our scenario outside a venue filled with young children with open doors for ventilation, so the teenagers couldn’t shout for help or bang on the vehicle,

– the vehicle wasn’t scrapped so we couldn’t kick it or hit people into its bodywork.

– for safety all shots to the head were pulled; the attackers wore headgear in case of backward uncontrolled strikes,

– the teenagers were bare-headed and we decided to proceed on the basis that the attackers would use body shots to subdue them so as to preserve their looks.

Each teenager entered the scenario ‘blind’, not having seen the ones that went before or having had opportunity to get any information from the previous participants. They were asked to walk down a particular passageway as if on their way home from school or visiting a friend. An aggressor would run up behind like a jogger, and then grab the boy to lift him into the van where a second person could assist in controlling them. A third man was behind the wheel.

This obviously represented a possible attack. More people could have been involved. We could have used a fake weapon for intimidation. The aim of the exercise was for all of us to see how difficult it was to escape once the attack had begun, and how quickly it could be done.

The results were chilling as you can see here.

Of the four participants, three were taken with the van ready to drive away within 12 seconds from first contact. The longest resistance lasted 35 seconds, and had he not been pulling his shots (for safety) that young man might have escaped or caused his attackers to abandon their attempt for fear of being caught. As it was we did attract some outside attention.

One of the most obvious things to take away from the exercise is that awareness of your environment is everything. Anyone listening to music on headphones would be easy prey. Hoodies would reduce peripheral vision and reaction time. Choice of routes, walking in company, wide corners and how you react to people around you in terms of innocuous hand positions (scratching the back of your neck for example) would make a difference in reducing the odds of being a victim and in being in a better position to resist.

These abductions featured bear hugs in what is their most likely use. These particular scenarios reinforced that unless you act before it is fully on, you are not going to get out very easily, and you probably won’t have a stable ground platform to work on. I teach bear hug defences to illustrate principles of movement, and to try and ingrain the reaction to move before it is on, but I recognise that the attack is both rare (because there are very few scenarios in which someone would do it) and that once it is on then most defences I’ve seen demonstrated (including my own) are ineffective until the person starts to release you.

If you want to theorise about bracing against a van, or pushing off from a van, or a car boot… try it. Come up with ideas, but then try them until you have some high percentage solutions.

This was nothing more than a training exercise, but it has given all those participating something to think about.

Attempted Brain Dredge

Rory Miller's Blog - Sun, 2017-05-14 21:47
Sometimes I hate not thinking in words. Usually it's a superpower. But right now I'm struggling to explain something that I see as...gestalt is the best word I can come up with. Stayed up all last night trying to find the words. Sometimes words would bubble up and I can explain a piece of it, but sometimes the words open another tangent that's relevant.

Roughly, meaning is important. Syntax is the effective ordering of symbols to deliver meaning. Grammar is an attempt to codify syntax to make it both easier to deliver meaning and easier to detect sloppy syntax. Until grammar becomes it's own thing.

Roughly, fighting is to have an effect to serve the goal. The principles (leverage, structure, etc.) and building blocks (power generation, strikes, takedowns etc.) are the means to achieve that goal. "Form" is an attempt to codify the principles and building blocks. Both to make fighting easier to teach and to make it more efficient. And it works, until form becomes it's own thing separate from effect.

Good grammar is never wrong, exactly. And it's never wrong to punch with good form. This is (sort of) axiomatic because because good form is supposed to be what a punch with perfect body mechanics looks like.

This is where I hit the wall. It's an image, partially visual, mostly kinesthetic in my head, but the words that surface are a mess:

Communication can happen with absolutely no proper grammar or syntax-- Think comforting an infant. And fighters can be devastating even with no recognizable form and shitty body mechanics. A 2x4 upside the head doesn't need a lot of skill. But that in no way means you should eschew skill. A 2x4 plus good body mechanics is better than a 2x4 with shitty body mechanics.

It doesn't hurt to comfort an infant using grammatically correct phrases, unless your focus on being grammatically correct makes your language stilted and unnatural. Then the kid will get weirded out. It doesn't hurt to fight with good form, because good form is just good body mechanics. Unless you are so focused on doing things "right" that your movements become stilted and unnatural and you get your ass kicked.

A focus on form, whether in grammar or fighting, can cover up a lot of ignorance. If I can't refute your arguments, I can make fun of your spelling. If I don't have any real understanding of how the human body works, I can focus on form the way I memorized it-- knowledge memorized substituting for understanding. With understanding, I can teach you to hit harder, with knowledge I can teach you to look like my sensei did when he was hitting hard.

When form/grammar become it's own thing. This is looking like a universal. Grammatically correct nonsense is still nonsense. Punching air while looking right is still punching air. We create these systems to make things better, to make a specific goal easier to accomplish. Whether that goal is conveying information or knocking someone down. But in almost every case, certain people are drawn to become masters and keepers of the system, and to them, the system becomes the goal itself. Has there ever been a piece of great literature that was grammatically perfect? I'm sure Shakespeare had someone correcting his grammar. In fighting and SD, these are the couch sitters that will tell you you survived wrong.  Universal-- I'm thinking of ways that bureaucracies originally designed to solve problems become self-perpetuating machines, sometimes at great cost. Cough*Rotherham*Cough.

And that's even assuming the form is based on what we think it is. Kicking with the instep is less likely to injure your target and more likely to injure you than kicking with your shin... but it makes a slapping noise that is much harder for a referee to ignore. "Ain't" was a forbidden word in my grade school. Not because it was unclear, but because our teachers wanted us to sound like s specific socio-economic class.

Like A Scientist

Rory Miller's Blog - Thu, 2017-04-20 13:36
I've been struggling, for years now, with not being in sworn service. It shows up here on the blog, but it's more evident in the times I can't or won't or don't write. In private conversations. Or staring out over the horizon.

Teaching is fun, and (on paper) life is amazing. Four countries this year already and a new one day after tomorrow. Of the classic travel lines (Arctic and Antarctic Circles, Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, Equator and International date line) I've crossed all but one in the last six months. Amazing home, ardent love. Life is amazing. But for the last few years it has felt muted. Dull. Adrenaline makes life feel more real, and none of this ever has or ever will feel as real as going head to head with a bad guy or heading off a riot.

K and I are experimenting with new things this year. Simple things mostly. Have had most of a week to talk to Toby and spent the night before last in a sleeping bag without a tent north of the arctic circle. I feel transition coming on. A good one.

We all age and change. And, can't speak for everyone, but I suspect it's common-- there's a tendency to focus on an image of the past. Sometimes it works out. I trained so hard in martial arts because long after it was true, every time I looked in the mirror I saw the tiny, scrawny kid, the smallest kid in the redneck school. But most of the time, it's almost like we focus on whatever will make us feel worse. Or maybe it's just me.

Bragging alert: At my peak, I got the physical fitness awards from both Army BCT and the Academy. I could do over 110 pushups in 2 minutes, did a 10:50 2-mile, hand-over-hand a 10.5 mm climbing rope. At 5'8" I could jump and grab a basketball hoop and once kicked the net. That whole time, I thought I was weak and small.

And whining alert: Now over 50 years old. Lots of injuries over the last fifteen-- knee, elbow and shoulder dislocations. Long term effects of concussions. Some arthritis from broken fingers. Bones out of place in feet and ankles. Spine acting up making the hands spasm and go numb...

I've been looking at the past as a lost thing. News alert, the past is always a lost thing. Can 55-year-old Rory ever be 25-year-old Rory? Of course not. Trying to get back to a past physicality is just as toxic as a violence survivor who thinks that who they were before the incident was the "real" them and measures their progress by how far they retrogress to that "real." It's bullshit. It's a bullshit way to think. It's.Not.Useful.

 Can 55-year-old Rory ever be 25-year-old Rory? Nope. But, you know what? Nobody has any clue what 55-year-old Rory can be. No one knows what the limits are. It's never happened before. This is something to explore, not to plan. I've done the fighter thing. And the teacher thing (Don't worry, I'll continue that for a bit). The next transition will be to scientist, experimenter and explorer. What's possible? What's fun? Already feel my inner world shifting. This is going to be an interesting ride.

Addressing self defence in martial arts training

John Titchen's Blog - Tue, 2017-04-04 15:17

What’s in a name?

I’ve used the term self defence because most people understand what is meant by it, even if it is not the most accurate term. We can play semantic games with terms such as Conflict Management, Personal Safety, Physical Intervention, Self Protection and Self Defence – but what most people ‘think’ they are looking for, and therefore search for is self defence. Martial arts training can comprise aspects of self defence, but unless the art has been specifically devised for that purpose recently, it isn’t the same thing.


The elephants in the room

Elephant number one. Let’s call her Nellie. Nellie is the fact that while most classes you attend are physical, and most people want or expect a physical session, the majority of self defence is comprised of knowledge/experience that does not really come with physical training. Nellie isn’t in class, she’s packed her trunk and said goodbye to the (martial arts) circus. Nellie isn’t necessarily an effective use of your instructor’s time in regular training, given how little time your instructor spends with you. Most of what Nellie has to offer can be covered in a seminar or taught via books and videos.

What is Nellie? She’s the non-physical element of self defence.

Avoidance – knowing what does and can happen and strategies to reduce your risks of being a recipient of social or asocial violence, aggression or sexual abuse.

Deterrence – knowing how to move and behave in a way that does not make you a target or a challenge.

Negation – knowing ways to behave in situations of social aggression that can ease tension and reduce the risks of a physical altercation.

Legal – knowing not only where you stand with regard to using force, but also how that underpins your trained responses, and how to describe your actions so as to minimise the risk of prosecution should your actions face investigation.

Physiological – knowing what is likely to happen to your body during and after an aggressive (and possibly a physical) altercation, how it will make you feel, and strategies for dealing with it during and after.

Psychological – admittedly this does carry over into the physical class, having the resolve and having made the decision to act when necessary to protect others or yourself and to handle the consequences of that.

Aftermath – knowing strategies to cope with the impact of an event after it has occurred (physiological, psychological and legal).

These things can be difficult to cover in an average class. Obviously good instructors allude to them where possible, but people generally come to classes for physical training. One strategy that can work well is to cover this material in either a written syllabus that students are given, or in youtube videos for students – in addition perhaps to suggested reading of texts by authors whose work you recommend to broaden their thinking. To help ensure exposure to this external material, introduce short (one or two line answers) multiple question open book theory exams with each grade.


Elephant number two. The king of elephants. Let’s call him Babar. Babar is the fact that actually most people do not need self defence training, they only think they do.

The actual prevalence of aggression and violence for the majority of the population (particularly in first world countries) is so small that most people with a little common sense (see Nellie if they have grown up in a nice enough environment not to develop ‘street smarts’) will only see ‘unavoidable’ violence on screen. The majority of violence that does occur doesn’t happen to the people coming to your classes, or if it has, is not likely to happen to them again. Attendance at a martial arts class is a bit like car insurance, it’s something you hope you never need, and something that is rarely used, but we feel better for having it. While the training aim for the attendees may be self defence, what they actually need is a good product (a martial arts class weighted towards self defence) that will give them confidence and reassurance, and what they need more than self defence is a form of physical fitness training that will provide good health (which is not necessarily exclusive to good self defence). The strength of martial arts is that it can provide excellent mobility, balance and coordination training as well as aerobic and anaerobic development in a mentally stimulating fashion that suits a broad range of ages, personality types and body sizes.


Integrating martial arts and self defence in regular classes

This is where a lot of well-meaning instructors fail. They know that their potential students want self defence, so they use it in their advertising, but because they have no clue about the reality of aggression and violence (due to lack of experience/information or plentiful but limited experience distorted by the prism focus of a particular environment (military/security/LEO)), they don’t offer an appropriate self defence focused class. The problem can be compounded when they are part of a larger organisation with a set martial arts syllabus comprising externally set forms, set basics and pre-arranged sparring.

So how can such an instructor orientate their classes more to self defence?


  1. Impact.

The big difference between real violence and pretence is that people actually hit things. I’m not suggesting that students hit each other (though that is beneficial for psychological conditioning), but that they hit pads. Hitting pads is how you develop and test (the two are not exclusive) your ability to reliably deliver force.

Pad work is the most common nod to self defence I see in martial arts classes, and it is also one where I tend to see a classic error in understanding the issues of real violence.

Guard – Don’t assume that an altercation will be one on one. If you aren’t using a free hand to hold then it should be used to protect the head, the most common target. It’s great to see people do aerobic pad work routines that stretch their stamina and mental resilience, but if they are so tired that they are dropping their guard then they are engraining bad habits. Most violent incidents barely last a few seconds; from a self defence perspective, drilling good habits is more important than drilling stamina.

Head shots and hands – Most people, given pads, immediately focus on head shots. In doing so they are overly focused on the head as the target and the fists as a delivery system. This is a perception skewed by a few factors: firstly the knowledge that head shots can be very effective; secondly the use of the head as a target in both contact and non-contact combative sports. Hitting the head with an unprotected fist is very different from hitting a pad with an unprotected or gloved and wrapped hand, particularly if you aren’t engaged in any other form of hand conditioning. The fist is a useful weapon, but choose targets with care. In pad drills use the fist, but focus more on developing power with forearm and elbow strikes, knee strikes and open-handed strikes and don’t under-estimate the ability of body shots to safely negate most threats.

Pre-emption – pad drills can be an excellent way to incorporate real bread and butter items of good self defence training such as smooth pre-emptive striking skills, combining verbal distraction and striking, experiencing verbal aggression, and utilising appropriate fences. In addition to this they can also isolate and train classical martial arts techniques so there is a real win-win for instructors balancing the needs of self defence and a martial arts syllabus.


  1. Making greater use of the their forms

The technique weighting in classical martial arts forms is interesting. It is quite different to what you will see in competitive martial arts drills where certain types of techniques score higher points, or certain types of protective equipment make certain strikes more viable.

While we do see punching in martial arts forms, it is not the most common movement, particularly in karate forms. You’ll see other techniques that can act as strikes with the forearm or elbow, grappling movements, shielding or parrying, trapping, throwing, kicking or kneeing occur far more regularly.

Learning and training good quality self defence focused applications for your kata not only ticks the self defence box, but also helps students develop as martial artists within the confines of an organisation (and helps expand the organisation’s future instructor knowledge pool).


  1. Hitting through a training partner and simulating impact.

Try to hit people.

This does mean adjusting your drills. Pulling contact is a bad habit that can develop incorrect distancing and a lack of understanding of how people move when hit. It’s useful when you are only training to touch a target, but if you want to train to make contact effectively you need to hit people.

I’m not suggesting that the class be full contact. What I am suggesting is that attacks are made at a distance where an on-target hit would go through the target, and where (a slowed) response will push through its target, thus creating body movement and a more realistic picture of follow up responses. Is hitting people slowly a compromise? Yes it is, but not perhaps so great a compromise as practising missing people, particularly if you are also practicing hitting the pads full power and by actually pushing through the human target you are getting a mental map of tactile response, potential follow up tactics, and gaining stability feedback.


  1. Incorporate HAOV.

Admittedly this is harder to do if you are working within a tightly regulated syllabus, but if you aren’t actively practicing defending against HAOV in the physical classes, including not only the most common initial attacks but also the likely follow through and compromised positions in which students may find themselves, then you aren’t teaching self defence.

How can you do this in a tightly regulated martial arts syllabus? We’re back once again to training applications for the forms. Pushing, grabbing, pulling, haymakers, headlocks, clinching, barging, tackling even ground escapes – the counter tactics and escapes are there waiting to be trained. Doing so brings focus to the rationale behind ‘obscure’ movements and stances, stays true to the martial arts, and hits the physical self defence brief.


If you can address Nellie in your syllabus and gradings, target Barbar with appropriate incorporation of aerobic exercise, and bring good pad work, form use, appropriate contact and HAOV into your physical classes, then you’re offering something beyond a simple martial arts class, you’re also offering self defence.





I find your lack of bunkai disturbing

John Titchen's Blog - Tue, 2017-03-28 15:42

It’s not that you don’t do it. I’m sure that if you are a form practitioner interested in bringing a functional purpose beyond postural exercise to your forms then you do. It’s just that some people seem to pay no more than lip service to actual analysis when arriving at their applications. For me bunkai is about methodology and criteria. I’m very strict about what I teach, for what purpose I teach it, the context of each tactic, and why I choose to drill some applications and not others.

In my Pinan Flow System series of books I discussed many of the criteria I use when assessing potential applications as to whether I deem them worthy of inclusion in my teaching and training repertoire. To borrow an analogy from recent popular culture, my bunkai process sits like Thor’s hammer Mjolnir in the Avengers’ Headquarters, and impressive characters like Captain America, Iron Man and Hulk attempt and fail to lift it. Robert Downey Jnr’s Tony Stark remarks “The handle is imprinted, right? Like a security code. “Whoever is carrying Thor’s fingerprints,” I think, is the literal translation. and some might think that in similar vein my bunkai process only chooses applications that I have formed myself, but as Thor observes “Yes, well, that’s a very interesting theory. However, I have a simpler one. You’re all not worthy. Thor’s honesty (and that Mjolnir does accept other worthy people) is demonstrated later in the film by the character Vision also lifting the hammer. In similar vein I will obviously use good material from other people that meets my analysis criteria. I’m always looking for it when I cross train, and I have referenced in books and videos other instructors such as Rick Clark or Waldo Zapata when I have taken or adapted a drill that I’ve seen them do that lifts my Mjolnir.

So what do I look for through my bunkai? I’m certainly not trying to retrospectively work out the purpose someone in the past saw in a single movement or sequence. Past use or historical accuracy does not guarantee effectiveness or appropriateness in our environment. I have seen in one demonstration of another art an application which I think is such a good fit for a kata sequence that it is highly likely to be the ‘original’ envisioned use; unfortunately it is only appropriate for one on one encounters on soft ground and so I will not drill it – it fails the criteria of my bunkai. If I was teaching seminars in kata application for MMA matches I’d probably train and demonstrate it.

My analysis criteria to find applications looks for movements and tactics meeting as many as possible of a number of combative principles. Here are mine with brief explanatory notes. This is the Mjolnir used to forge my applications.

HAOV Relevant – focusing on habitual acts of violence, whether for pre-emptive use in pre fight posturing, or recovering the initiative from the most likely forms of initial attack, delivering an effective follow through in the event of tactic failure, or dealing with likely secondary or tertiary attacks from failures are important to me because that is the environment for which I am training my students. The physical acts of violence within HAOV may include defending against ‘professional’ or skilled tactics, but I do distinguish between habitual and historical. Purely focusing on the physical techniques is martial arts training not self defence, teaching them alongside patterns of crime, avoidance, deterrence, negation/de-escalation, legal underpinning, aftermath etc. is where more accurately you are teaching self defence as part of personal safety/self protection.

Legally Underpinned – this is not the weak option. This is not about increasing your risks in a situation, it is about decreasing your risks afterwards. This is about understanding force and how to use it effectively within the law. It’s about having a training methodology that results in drills that lessen the risk to practitioners should they have to engage in non-consensual violence. This is an important aspect of self protection. You’re not in an action flick; violence has consequences.

Effective, Efficient and Easy

Minimising Risk of Harm (defender) – I don’t often stress this because I think it is obvious. Protect your head! Don’t rely purely on your technique working. I shudder every time I see someone hit or enter while demonstrating a kata application without doing this. I slap myself if I get so distracted by teaching that I don’t do it in demonstration. If both hands are engaged then not doing this makes sense, but both hands should not be engaged if your head is in or going through a potential striking line.

Technique Multiplicity with Transferable Skills – You don’t want a huge repertoire. You want a small repertoire that can effectively be used to do a lot of different things. You also want the training efficiency that comes from transferable skills.

Utilising Predictable Response – This isn’t simply about how people are likely to attack you if you stand one way rather than another, it’s more about understanding how people really move when things work and when things don’t. You need to hit people and grapple with people to find this out.

Taking and maintaining the Initiative

Inherent Redundancy – Things go wrong, things fail. It might be due to size, strength, angle, or intoxication. You have to have back ups.

Vital Points Targeting – I’m not really talking about Kyusho here, although there are overlaps. Go for weak points. Maximise the efficiency of your movements. This is the secret ingredient in the icing on the cake – the ingredients and cooking of the cake is more important overall.

Adrenaline Tolerant – It’s got to work under pressure. Raising your heart rate can simulate some aspects of this but it’s not the same. While I’d like to see it with bigger group samples to draw firm conclusions, I’ve seen similar increases in combination lock opening times between 5 minutes of hard aerobic exercise and 1 minute of verbal argument followed by 3 second fight simulations in scenario training.

Low Maintenance – It should be simple. That doesn’t mean it can’t have several stages and turns. A lot of things look or feel complex until you’ve done them a few times (watch beginners trying to turn their hips or coordinate arms and legs), but it should be easy to keep at a high skill level.

Stable Posture – Your techniques should not compromise your balance.

Unbalancing – We should always be looking to reduce the other person’s ability to unbalance us, hit us, or brace against a hit.

Multiple Person Awareness – you can only effectively fight one person at a time, but doing so should hinder the ability of others to join in rather than make you an easy target. Some favour close range for this, others favour long range. I certainly favour movement, changing angles and head protection with any free arm.

Holistic Integrity – A technique can be great, but if it doesn’t fit with everything else you do it’s near useless to you. Techniques and tactics need to fit together and be able to flow into each other (see redundancy). An application may look cool, but does it force you to make a completely different initial response to normal?




Scales and Interactions

Rory Miller's Blog - Mon, 2017-03-27 19:08
Anything in the human world is a complex interaction. I have a history, a set of assumptions, a suite of facts and things I want to believe are facts, communication habits and patterns, etc. And so do you. Somewhere in the interplay between our complexities, we communicate. To a degree.

And almost everything is on a scale. Clarity of communication can be non-existent or poor or good or very close to perfect. And the clarity can be impaired at either end (I can write poorly or you can read inaccurately) or in the middle (radio static.) And clarity can be deliberately manipulated. I can choose to lie or be obscure, consciously or not. You can choose to hear something other than what I said, consciously or unconsciously.

At some point, and it's probably on a scale, choosing (manipulating) your own perception becomes the superpower of reframing.

All of this means there are some very important things that will never have a clear answer. Where is the line between education and brainwashing? Deep training changes the student at a fundamental level, and with changes that big, informed consent is impossible. There's an arrogant answer that as long as you teach "the truth" it doesn't matter, but all educational systems have believed that their mythology was objective truth. Do you really think you've evaded a trap that has caught everyone else?

Where is the line between toughening up and abuse? I feel very privileged to have had my childhood. I like who I am, and my childhood gave me the tools to function and stay sane in some relatively nasty conditions. My wife thinks my childhood was "horrific."

If you embrace the power of reframing, the recipient can literally decide if an event was good or bad, can choose the effect the event has on his or her (or my own) life. Except, what about the cult member who is perfectly happy in a life of isolation, deprivation and control? Why is it okay for me to reframe my childhood as a positive thing, but not for another adult to reframe his experience as 'joy in service?' When does reframing shift from empowerment to dodging? Where is the line between assistance and enabling?

At what point does my cheerleading ("I got over X, you can too!") Become disempowering ("So why haven't you got over it? What the hell is wrong with you?")

Speaking about this becomes murky, because not everything that is deliberate is also conscious. There are many people choosing to be assholes that never let that decision rise to their conscious mind where they might have to face responsibility. What's the best way to interact with someone who chooses to lose when I want the person to be successful?

To some extent, this is all mental masturbation. And a by-product of magnification. You can look at anything with too fine a lens and the problem becomes impossibly complex. Too coarse a lens and the problem is too blurry to see. There's a sweet spot.

Living as a human is an action. You'll never cover all of the angles, so you learn what you can, get as good as you can, and act. Over-analysis leads to inaction. Never pretend  that the complexities don't exist, however. That's one of the ways you get people doubling down on failed solutions.

Six between-class shortcuts to excellence

John Titchen's Blog - Mon, 2017-03-20 12:46
  1. REST

Rest is highly under-rated. Most people do not allow themselves adequate rest between different types of training to maximize the benefits of such training and give the body enough time to recover. Failure to allow appropriate recovery is the equivalent of taking a step back for every two steps forward. This isn’t just about taking time off from training or mixing lower intensity sessions or having varied workouts. The amount (and quality) of sleep you take has an impact on your mental and physical performance, memory retention and therefore progress.



This isn’t so much about flexibility as mobility. Daily routines that encourage and increase your joint mobility and maintain or increase your ability to reach or turn will reduce the likelihood of injury in more intensive training. You do not need to ‘warm up’ to do this. You are already at body temperature, your muscles aren’t going to get warmer. Gradually extend and increase your range of motion in supported exercises. When was the last time you saw a Yoga class do star jumps on the spot for fifteen minutes before starting their routines?


  1. EAT

This is a no brainer. We all like to treat ourselves and most of us should have a pretty good idea of what is good for us and what isn’t (despite frequently contradictory isolated studies being taken out of context to attract interest in the mainstream media). Ultimately a nutritionally varied diet that doesn’t upset your stomach and helps you maintain or achieve the weight you want is what you should aim for. If you want your body to recover and be ready for training you have to give it adequate fuel. Saying that you are trying to ‘lose fat’ and then cutting the fat or carbs in your diet so much that you don’t recover properly after training, or suffer mental fatigue, or feel too tired to train is counter-productive.



Visualisation isn’t actually what I mean. Good practitioners can visualise what a technique or tactic looks like and see themselves doing it. More experienced practitioners who have spent time internalising their training can feel a technique without doing it, replicating in their mind not only the sight but the tactile sensation and feedback of the movements. Greater awareness of what you are doing leads to better practice and more reliable skills. If you’ve not done this before it will be hard to begin with. Many people initially cannot visualise something without physically replicating the movement, but when this happens to me I take it as confirmation that I don’t know it as well as I should. Moving from closed eye video representation to adding in tactile feedback (foot pressure, muscle sensations etc.) requires both more paired practice and attention to detail (shutting your eyes in paired training once engaged tactilely and ‘strike-safe’ can help as can focusing on sensory feedback in forms).



If only I had the time, or the energy!

You do have the time, because most of us have unrealistic expectations of what personal practice can be and should be.

Although they can overlap, a training session that develops strength, a training session that works your aerobic fitness (and requires ‘fitness clothing’ and makes you sweat) and a training session that develops core skill sets (balance, mobility, sound biomechanics, coordination etc.) do not have to be the same thing. At full speed most ‘full’ kata only take 10 to 40 seconds to practice, at slow speed you are only talking one to two minutes for a high quality repetition, and quality repetition makes a huge difference. You don’t have the space? Don’t do the full kata, or practice alternative stepping and weight transference to enable you to do a full form. You have no space? You’re sitting on a train? See item 4! Rehearse in your mind what the moves feel like – research shows that mental rehearsal can be as powerful for imprinting good biomechanics as physical rehearsal. It is something done by most top-level sport competitors in multiple disciplines, so why not follow their example?

You don’t have the energy?

Again I’d say that is both an issue of perception of how much energy is required, and what your body is acclimatized to do. A hard training session after a normal working day is both a mental and physical challenge for most people (especially parents) compared to relaxing at home. It’s a wonder that many people make it to training, but then those that do find that socialising with people in a different environment (or simply setting a moment aside at home), doing something that takes the mind away from all other distractions, can be incredibly relaxing and beneficial.

The more you do, the more you become capable of doing. The trick is to stretch yourself gradually, stretching rather than breaking the comfort zone. Those of us who use Leisure Centres are familiar with the January and February perfume of deep heat that accompanies the upsurge in attendance from people who have set themselves challenging New Year resolutions. The aroma only last two months because most people do not set SMART targets for their progress: they aim too high too soon and lose both the mental resolve and the physical recovery to continue. Increase what you do gradually, follow the other five shortcuts, and you will have the energy.



Is this really as obvious as I think it is?

It’s a well-known mantra to tell people to consume more fluids, but how many of us really do it?

You are a bag of water, you are continually losing water, and you need to replenish it at safe levels on a regular basis in order to function efficiently. Simple lack of adequate hydration can have as profound an impact on your concentration, reaction time and vision as tiredness or mild intoxication.

Hydration affects your quality of life. You don’t have to drink pints of water and you don’t have to overspend on flashy prefabricated isotonic drinks or sugar-laden juices. Your food choices can affect how much you need to drink as a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables will contain good levels of moisture, but a healthy person will need to replenish fluids on a regular basis.


Is this all too obvious? Then ask yourself honestly, how many of these do you really adhere to?


Thanks to Dan White for the mobility exercise image. I do not own the rights to the food or bed images.


Rory Miller's Blog - Fri, 2017-03-17 09:30
The longest fight I have ever had lasted over an hour. At no time was I in any danger.

The thing was, we were dealing with an inmate who wanted to hurt himself. Lighten up for even an instant on pressure and he would start slamming his own head into the floor. Lose a grip on his wrist and he would try to gouge his own eyes.

In most situations-- self-defense, combatives, whatever-- you have a goal. Get to safety. Get the bad guy in cuffs. Whatever. In almost every case, the threat's goal is irrelevant to your goal. If the threat wants to play with me as a toy or see what someone looks like as they die or get enough cash for the next hit of meth or heroin or crack, that really doesn't affect my goal to get home in one piece.

Get this: most of the time your goal is NOT to deny the threat's goal. Most of the time your goal (go home safe or threat goes to jail) are antagonistic to the threat's goal purely as a side effect.

But, rarely, your goal is to deny the threat's goal. Your focus shifts from winning to denying the threat his idea of a win.

This is strategically dangerous. One of the golden rules of tactics is to never play the threat's game. But when you are trying to deny the threat his definition of the win, you've already ceded most of your strategy. There is no pro-active way to work from this paradigm. When your goal is denying the threat's goal, you have already let the threat define the goal. The threat controls the battlefield and has the advantage.

In long-term conflicts, "denying the opposition" has a more profound side-effect. Once you define yourself by your enemy, you can never win. Labor/management.  Israel/Palestine. To defeat your enemy would cause your raison d'être to die. And thus, you.

Note for a future post: positive versus negative, in definition and goals.

No Bullshit (Virtue)

Rory Miller's Blog - Thu, 2017-03-16 16:47
Saw an ad offering "No Bulls**t" self defense training. That's laudable. That's the goal. For that matter "No bullshit" should be a goal for training and talking and thinking and living. But it's not that simple. The no-bullshit life is a goal, but if you ever think for one second that you've achieved it, you've just started bullshitting yourself.

We all have biases-- biases in the way that we perceive, process, think, plan... You probably know some of your physical habits (when you cross your arms, is the right or the left on the outside? Are you left or right eye dominant? Which shoe goes on first?) but not all of them. You probably know even fewer of your mental habits. And even fewer of your perceptual habits (hint-- I bet if you examine the last several big meetings of strangers the handful of people you remember will have certain things in common.)

The bullshit never goes away. Humans know surprisingly little. We have a lot of stuff in our heads, but the things we know to a certainty is a very small subset. And many of those are useful, but incorrect. The sun doesn't actually rise in the East, the sun is stationary and the earth spins...and that's not true either, because the sun isn't stationary, nor is the galaxy.

I'm never certain how much bullshit has crept in. I can't be. If I only taught the things I'm 100% scientifically certain of, all of my knowledge could be summed up with "1+1=2 as long as you limit it to inanimate objects; and things with a higher number on the Mohs scale will scratch things with a lower number."

When I teach a technique, I can be fairly confidant because I've used it. But really? Take a throat strike. I've used it exactly once. Spectacularly successful. Would absolutely use it again in the same situation... but if I read a "scientific survey" trying to extrapolate from a sample of one I'd laugh my ass off.

"No Bullshit" isn't a state. It's a scale. And a process. And that makes it one of the virtues.

We tend to have a binary way of looking at the world. Is a thing good or bad? Hard or soft? Right or wrong? I find that immature. Most things are scales, not states. Not good or bad, but better or worse. End state thinking leaves no room for improvement. "Excellent" can be improved on, "perfect" can't.
If you did a move well, you can get better. If you did the same move right, you can't.

Calling something a virtue recognizes that if it is a scale, it can also be a process. Virtuous people are not the ones being good, they are the ones striving to be better. Every day. "No bullshit" as a virtue is a commitment to challenging your own assumptions, back-tracking your beliefs to first sources. It isn't the contentious skepticism of trying to prove people wrong to score points, but to cut away all of your personal wrongness to continuously build a stronger foundation.

Vic and Toby

Rory Miller's Blog - Thu, 2017-03-09 17:47
...and me.

This will be (probably) the last of the MovNat AARs. Talking about training methodology.

I've written about Toby before. And here. And here. And teaching in general here. That's Toby Cowern of Tread Lightly Survival.

Wilderness survival, assault survival and movement have a lot in common. They are simultaneously complex and simple. Specifically the problems can be mind-bogglingly complex, but the solutions, in order to work, have to be simple. All three subjects are perfectly suited to the way people naturally think and move. All three subjects are almost in direct opposition to the way people are socially conditioned and taught to think and move. All three subjects wire to and work from the part of our brain that functions at primal levels with deep joy and deep pain. Almost all of civilization is specifically targeted to make these three subjects alien: We have grocery stores and central heating to avoid using wilderness survival skills; police and laws and eradicated predatory animals so we don't need assault survival and; cars and forklifts so we don't have to move and carry.

Just as there are principles in survival, and in movement, there are principles in teaching. My favorite teachers (and Vic moved onto the list) get that.

Good teaching is principles-based, and we've covered some of that in the last post.

A good teacher doesn't tell you what to think, but shows you how to think. Toby's "non-prescriptive" answers. Vic would ask the right questions, like "Where is the tension in your body? Is that helping or holding you back?" Or pointing out that if you want to move north, having your legs or feet moving west probably isn't helping.

It's about the student, not the instructor. The only reason I have any real assessment of Vic's physicality is because he attended a VioDy. At the MovNat seminar he demonstrated very little and his assistants demonstrated the minimum necessary to get you started, then the participants played. The ability of the instructor was irrelevant, the class was all about increasing the ability of the student.

At the instructor level, knowledge is insufficient. You need understanding. There was one technique in MovNat (part of the broad jump) that didn't jive with my previous training. When I asked why, the instructor (Stefano) was able to explain the reason behind the difference-- the environment in which my previous training was the right answer, why it would be right, when it would still be better than the MovNat way and the reason behind the MovNat difference. When instructors have just memorized technique, they don't have the tools to explain and are left with mere dogma. With understanding you can pass on the rules, and the exceptions, to the students.

Very little about right/wrong. Lots about better. Tied to the above point. I don't think I heard anyone being told they were doing anything wrong, but a lot of, "Try this, I think it will work better." There are lots of good teaching reasons to stay away from criticism.

And, tying into both of the last two points, there was no appeal to authority. It was all experiential. Never did Vic have to tell us something worked. When an instructor candidate pointed out a detail of your alignment or structure, there was an immediate, visible improvement. You only have to tell people something worked if it didn't actually work.

Vic was also cool with variation. I was one of the minority that had better balance with shoes on than off, and carrying a weight at chest level than at waist level. Extraordinary instructors are cool with not trying to force the statistical average onto the outliers.

Just as there is a natural movement for a human body, there is also a natural learning. Humans, like all animals, learn best through play. There's some stuff you have to talk about, and some stuff you want to play with in the gym, the studio or the lab. But playing, ideally in the real environment, is what locks in a skill. I led this post off with pointing out that some of the things closest to our evolutionary path are complex problems that require simple solutions. Play is the way we cut that Gordion knot.

Movement Principles

Rory Miller's Blog - Wed, 2017-03-08 00:11
In combatives, you'll hear people talk about the principles of a system, or principles-based training. That's fine and dandy right up until you ask a senior practitioner exactly what those principles are. If you're lucky, you'll get crickets. If not, you'll get the normal word salad of someone who has been pinned down in their ignorance and needs to fill it with words. You'll get goals ("Don't get hurt.") Or strategies ("Do the maximum damage in the minimum time.") Or tactics ("Close and unbalance.") Or philosophical generalities ("Become one with your opponent.")* Basically tripe. You can't really have a good conversation about principles-based training until you've defined what principles are-- and separated them from goals, strategies, tactics and aphorisms.

There's going to be a core set of principles in any physical endeavor. One of the really gratifying things about the MovNat seminar was not just how principles-based it was but how much the principles mirrored the ones I understand.

The lists will never be exactly the same. Time doesn't function the same in a fight as it does running or climbing. Balance and gravity have other levels when you are simultaneously a bipedal creature and half of a quadrupedal creature.

Something isn't eligible for my list of principles unless it 1) fits my definition 2) applies to striking, grappling and weapons and,  3) there are no exceptions. The MovNat class with Vic pointed out that some of them applied to all movement. And that was pretty cool.

Caveat. What I am about to write comes from my perspective having taken a class once. Don't take this as anything officially MovNat-y.

Structure, momentum, balance and gravity. Four key principles and they all interact.

Life is a constant battle with gravity. Gravity is a force, and sometimes the enemy, and almost always a tool. If you need to resist gravity, resist it with bone, not muscle. That's one of the essential applications of structure. Muscle gets tired. Bone doesn't. I use structure for unbalancing and immobilizations and takedowns and... Vic used it for lifting, carrying, catching, traversing, climbing. Just that I saw. In two days.

Exploiting momentum is one of the key principles, especially when you are outmatched in size and strength. I tend to use it to make people miss and hurt themselves and fall down, but also to increase my own power. "Motion defeats strength" to quote Jimerfield sensei. Vic used it to keep motion going with less effort, to extend a jump and to slow one down and in a climbing thing--

I used to embarrass my kids when I'd take them to the playground and climb around more than they did. One of my tricks was to go to the swings. The big ones where steel poles making an inverted V on the ends to support the main beam that the swings hang from. I'd put one hand on each of the V supports and climb to the top just by swinging side to side and letting my hands move up. It was a way to climb with almost no muscle-- just structure and the momentum of the swing, which relied on gravity. Hadn't thought of that as principles until Stefano demonstrated almost the same technique for traversing.

Balance. In a lot of ways, balance is just the interplay of structure and gravity. In judo we spent a lot of time playing with the science of keeping our own balance while stealing the opponents. But there are times to lose your balance as well, times when falling serves you. Sutemi waza, for instance. Or falling on a locked elbow (someone else's). Balance is not just a principle, but a skill, and Vic had some balance games I'll be playing with for a while.

Gravity is a tool. The iconic application is the drop-step. Done properly it is a speed, power and range multiplier that doesn't telegraph. It's one of the first things I teach. Turned out to be one of the first things Vic taught as well, but as a way to effortlessly and quickly fall into a run. Or a sprint, depending on how much you commit. And a way to control your speed, without working to move your legs faster or thinking about lengthening your stride.

Still playing with thoughts from the class. Will be for awhile. Probably talk about teaching methodology next.

 And, pro-tip, if you have the right partner and the right kind of post-workout smile you can get a full body tiger balm massage out of it. Awesome.

*To be fair, one of my principles is a soundbite philosophical generality, but I use it because it allows me to file a bunch of different related principles-- ranging, action/reaction speed, manipulating perception and realities of timing and distance, working in negative space, etc. all under the label "Control Space and Time."

Talking bollocks

John Titchen's Blog - Tue, 2017-03-07 16:37


Master Ken about to stomp my groin at KNX15.

One of the most prevalent myths I’ve noticed over the years in the martial arts community is efficacy of hitting men in the groin as a one-stop solution to the problem of physical violence.

There is no doubt that strikes to that area can be effective. But a number of people teaching them as part of a self defence curriculum seem rely on them far too much. Like any target on the body, depending on numerous factors, they can range from being fight stoppers to unnoticed insignificant body shots.
In terms of targets, with regard to men, these are the groin itself and the testicles.

  • Frontal groin impact can cause severe pain if the muscles there are relaxed or weak and the bladder is full (and might perhaps cause rupturing of the bladder), but this is by no means certain. Of more use perhaps is the unbalancing effect that groin shots can have on the angle of the subject’s pelvis, creating opportunities for escape or further strikes. While I cannot speak from personal experience (and it isn’t a question I ask or get asked regularly), the same impact on women may well traumatise the female reproductive system and cause pain.
  • While most men have probably experienced pain in the testicles at some point in time due to impact, compression or movement, none of these can be guaranteed by a direct hit at any angle.

To a large degree the effectiveness of groin strikes relies on pain compliance. Factors involved here are the angle and force of impact in terms of whether it affects the target to elicit a normal pain response, and whether the chemistry of the body at the time is such that it recognises and responds in a useful fashion to that stimulus.

There is no doubt that are lots of possible ways to attack the groin. The Enter the Dojo show regularly parodies the over reliance of some on this target and Master Ken has demonstrated 100 ways to attack the groin.

Hitting the groin effectively outside of prearranged combinations is not always easy. If people are actively resisting each other and are hands-on, often the angle of the body is such that the groin is further back than the rest of the torso making it less accessible. Overly tight or loose cut clothing can often impede upward strikes towards the testicles. A further factor is that you get good at what you train for: obviously it may seem to be a ‘natural’ target, but you’ll tend to be better at hitting the things you practice targeting. That’s not to say that groin/testicle shots can’t happen. I have seen numerous accidental ‘hard’ groin shots in training to people without cups and effects have ranged from them being unnoticed, unbalancing knock backs (creating an opportunity for follow ups) or fight stoppers.

Catching the testicles in medium intensity training…

…and breathe.

A large factor in this has often been how intense the training was – the less intense, the more mentally and physically relaxed the recipient, the more effective the strike. Those who were fully committed to attacking the striker often did not notice they had been hit. It is the unexpected nature of the  impact as much as the impact itself that can frame the response. On a number of occasions I have been unaware of being caught until an hour or so after training when I have literally doubled over while sitting at a table as if I had just been hit; the body had been sending pain signals but adrenaline related chemical factors had inhibited their recognition.

Looks painful… but he didn’t feel a thing.

A sack shot isn’t guaranteed to have men reaching for the morphine.

Do groin strikes have their place in a self defence curriculum?

Of course they do.

As with every other strike we should be prepared for failure and have a redundancy trained in place for when they do not work. We do not expect every hit to the head to result in a knockout (although such strikes can be devastating and should always be context appropriate), nor do we expect every knock to the leg to cause a person to fall to the ground desisting in attack or pursuit. Groin strikes can be part of a repertoire, they can be effective, but they are not a guaranteed escape plan and to paint them as such is simply bollocks.

MovNat AAR

Rory Miller's Blog - Mon, 2017-03-06 20:28
Spent the last two days crawling, hanging, jumping, throwing and running. And learning. It was a good time. K says I have a very specific smile when I'm tired, sore and happy.

I'm aging. And coming off of almost five years of serious leg injuries. Aerobic fitness, weight and functional power are not where I like them to be. Below my comfort zone. Legs healed to the point starting in January I could do something about it. Big headway in a short time, but still a long way to go.

Never been into the fitness community. Don't actually get into communities, period really. Went from doing ranch/homesteading work in adolescence combined with high school sports--Football, basketball and track. Then to the college judo team. Then military. That was a long string of years of good coaches and hard work. Good enough that I got the physical fitness award at both BCT and the Academy.

I have friends into fitness, particularly Myron Cossitt, Kasey KeckeisenMatt Bellet and the Querencia crew. And I can't even follow their conversations when they get going.

At last year's VioDy Prime, one of the attendees was some French dude named Vic. Vic Verdier. Cool guy. Great physical skills, awareness, and insight. Myron was fan-boying a little on Vic (Myron does that.) After the VioDy seminar, I got an email from Vic casually asking if I'd like to attend one of his seminars. Turns out Vic is a big deal in the fitness community. MovNat.

So last weekend this middle-aged crippled up old jail guard went out to play.
It was a blast. Perfect level of intensity. If you don't hate your physical trainer a bit at the end of a session you need a new physical trainer. Next post will be about principles and cross-overs.

The movements were super basic. Fundamental. At one point we were learning a technique to lift a heavy, odd-shaped item to a shoulder carry and I was puzzled... why would this have to be taught? And I looked around the room. Almost all young (younger than me at least). Almost if not all urbanites, and I realized that probably no one else in the room had spent their childhoods lifting and carrying ninety-pound feed sacks. Or bucking alfalfa bales onto a truck.

Lifting, carrying, climbing, running, crawling, throwing-- all core, fundamental parts of being human. I'm a little weirded out they have to be taught, but some of my kid's friends have never climbed a tree.

Don't think "super-basic" or "fundamental" are in any way downplaying the value. Or the skill of the instructors. Or the thought behind the program itself.  MovNat is either an introduction to or a reminder of who you are as a human animal. Some of us, maybe all of us, need that.

Vic, Stefano and Craig stressed good body mechanics. More emphasis on doing things right than doing things hard. Because there was a concurrent instructor-candidate class, each of us got a private coach as well (Thanks, Kim and Sadie!). Because of the emphasis, I was able to attend with a plethora of old injuries and, though every damn thing is sore, none of the old stuff reinjured. That's rare.

Upshot? Practical. Fun. Intense. Found some weaknesses to work on, some new diagnostic tools. It was a good weekend.

Maslow Thoughts

Rory Miller's Blog - Thu, 2017-03-02 19:05

I use Maslow's pyramid in a lot of my books and classes. Not because it's great science, there are holes in it you can drive a truck through. I use it partially because it has great predictive power, but mostly because it is so common and universally accepted (which is not the same as 'understood') that it's easy to piggy-back useful information on it. In other words, using Maslow, you can take a person who has only ever experienced social conflict and in a few minutes get  them to accept and understand the existence and even the patterns of asocial violence.

We don't work through the levels. Babies are born at the esteem level in all but the most dysfunctional families. Our ancestors took care of the two lower levels long ago. Thus, most people in the industrialized world have no frame of reference for the survival and security levels. So much so that the skills that belong there have become hobbies.
If you have a choice, it's not self-defense, it's fighting.
If you have a choice, it's not wilderness survival, it's primitive camping.
If you have a choice, it's not hunger, it's fasting.

The thought: Is it possible to have a genuine* experience of the level you inhabit without experiencing the lower levels?

Taking care of the *asterisk now. Genuine is a a problematic word. Of course anything you are experiencing you are experiencing. It's by definition genuine, as real as it is. I mean more that there is a gap between what is experienced and what could be experienced. An understanding gap. That it is different than it is perceived. (Note-- when I say the blog is where I go to think out loud, this is what it means. Words are not how I naturally think and the translation process can be ugly.)

People who have never dropped below the belonging level tend to either think that membership in a group is important without thinking why, or think it is unimportant. (This is separate from the instinctive tribal drive, I'm talking about the reasons, rationalizations and cognitive process.)

I was raised in a family of self-sufficient, back to the land, grow/hunt your own food yadda yadda yadda. I value groups because raising enough food to feed a family was a metric fuckton of manual labor. I liked being a bookworm and a dreamer, but I realized that those were self-centered, selfish preferences-- something I could indulge in during free time, but if that was all I was, someone would have to take up the slack of weeding and packing water and feeding stock and milking and chopping wood.

Same with teams. We had CERT because there were things you could do with a team efficiently and with little injury that would have been either suicidal or murderous to do alone. I still occasionally have dreams about a military service that ended 24 years ago. The bonding when you are dealing with deep Maslow problems is intense.

So I value interdependence and cooperation because of experience. It's not a knee-jerk reaction I must  justify after the fact, so I see the downsides as well. Nor can I listen to the song, "I Walk Alone" without laughing a little on the inside.

If you've never experienced the survival level, there are things you can't understand (and another thought, this isn't monolithic. Look at these three examples.) If you've never been truly hungry, you can't really grasp how important food growth and distribution is or the idea that "all philosophy is based on bellies." If you've never had anyone try to kill you, physical defense skills are a fun hobby.  If you've never been drowned or frozen, you'll never really grasp your own mortality, or how small you really are.

If you've never mastered the security level your basic needs are controlled by someone else. You are owned.

If you've never had to break into a group, just passed from (and this is poor kid's fantasy, I have zero experience in this world) country club family to prep school to your dad's fraternity at Yale and on to the political career assigned for you, you've never learned why other people's feeling are important or how to be considerate. You'll know the forms of politeness, because those are tribal status markers...but you'll never understand that courtesy is central to predators living together.

And without all these and putting them into play and getting competent at them, you can simulate self actualization. You can be an artist or devote yourself to causes. But the depth of understanding will be missing. Causes are chosen by the social impact on your friends. You measure your own art by the reaction provoked in others or the price you can charge for it. (Which are valid ways to evaluate art, but not self-actualized ways to evaluate your own art.)

Just a thought, and a thought I have to be careful of. Most of most best friends have depth of experience (which is the polite way to say "profoundly shitty lives"). It becomes easy to conflate 'people I like better' with 'better people,' And that's a dangerous trap.


Rory Miller's Blog - Mon, 2017-02-27 21:04
Snowed in a lot over the winter so getting some good reading in. For the classics, just finished Seneca's "On the Brevity of Life." Seneca may be the only Stoic so far I haven't enjoyed. Misonius Rufus is next.

Also just finished one of the best books in a long time, Tom Wainwright's Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel.

It was a kick. Taking the Freakonomics approach and applying it to the world of cartels. Why violence is rampant in Mexico but has dies down in El Salvador. Why tattoos keep labor costs low. The etiquette for leaving feedback when you buy heroine on the dark web. Franchising, subcontracting and offshoring in the world of illicit drugs.


Rory Miller's Blog - Thu, 2017-02-23 16:34
Got to watch an interesting specimen. In retrospect, I’ve seen them before, quite a lot actually. But this one was blatant enough to draw attention. Attention brings analysis. Have to unpack the language here, and talk about a couple of categories and some background concepts.Creepers are low-level sexual predators. The kind that harass and pressure women, but always with deniability. Rarely ever cross the line into something legally actionable, or something that could legally justify physical self-defense. They stand too close, shake hands too long, try to increase the physical intimacy of a relationship (e.g. pressuring a good-bye hug from someone they just met.) It hides in the normal social interaction. Rather, they disguise it in the normal social interaction. Many are willing to apologize, to explain away, or even call in allies to make their targets feel like maybe it is all imaginary, there is no problem… Some are sophisticated enough to cultivate an image of “social awkwardness” that gets other people defending their actions: “Mel’s always like that. It’s not a gender thing he does the same weird stuff around me and the other guys.” Perfect camouflage.Most women who have been in any kind of  office environment recognize the problem and know the type. But also, many excuse or explain away their own instincts.Violence groupies are all over. If you’ve been in any kind of force instruction role for any length of time, you’ve seen them. These are the guys that follow you around, begging for stories about ugly fights and death and violence. It’s not a healthy fascination, it’s pure fantasy fodder. Some of them even get fuller lips or lick their lips when they ask. Lips are erectile tissue, BTW, and swell when you get excited in certain ways. The lips are your face’s dick.The specimen this time was both.Concept: Unconsciously deliberate. People are largely unconscious machines. The words in your head are weak and pale (and very late) reflections of what is going on in your head. There’s a study out there where scientists watching an fMRI could tell what decisions a subject would make as much as six seconds before the subject consciously knew. You can pretty much get over the idea that your conscious mind is the driver.You see people clearly planning and setting up situations that they will absolutely deny were intentional. We’ve all seen it— the guy who has been married for X years and meets an interesting women and starts dropping her name into conversations with friends, starts making sure she has a place in the social network, slowly gets everyone used to her presence. Starts minimizing the wife. Then one day after a big shared victory, there will be a bottle of wine and things will “just happen…”So, back to creepers and violence groupies. You can’t accidentally stand too close or ask inappropriate questions. Those are volitional acts. But you can either be (e.g. raised in a culture with different rules on proxemics) or pretend to be oblivious that your choices are inappropriate. Watching the pattern, it may be unconscious, but the actions were one and all, deliberate.And this is an aside, but we have the idea of justice tied intimately with the idea of conscious intentionality. A planned murder is considered a more heinous act than an unplanned act of rage. As long as the creeper can convince others that there is no conscious intent, the others will believe his acts are unfortunate instead of malicious. If the creeper can convince himself, he acts guilt-free.So, and I have no answer for this— when an act is clearly deliberate, is there any way to tell if the perp was truly unconscious, pretending to himself it was unconscious or deliberately using the impression as a way to manipulate others (very conscious.) And, way to tell or not, does it matter?Two of the giveaways. The deliberate ones do target-prep. Long ago, someone introduced himself in a class I was taking as, “That guy.”“That guy?” The instructor asked.“Yeah, you know, there’s one in every class, the guy who asks the inappropriate questions and bugs the instructors.”Oh yeah. Look at that. This specimen has declared his intention to be disruptive. Any of the normal conversational response (the usual is the class snickers and the instructor says, “Thanks for letting me know,” with a little laugh and moves on) gives the specimen implicit permission. He has declared his intention, and has influenced the entire class not to object. This isn’t self-deprecating humor. This is victim grooming.When someone touts their self-awareness of their bad patterns it isn’t admirable. If they are aware of the bad patterns then any step down that path is a choice. Once you know you’re ‘that guy’ acting like ‘that guy’ is a choice. Your excuses are gone.The recent specimen had a tactic. At first I thought it was new, but in retrospect I’ve seen it before. He went around after class to apologize to the instructors. Again, the default is to be professional, polite (read ‘social and following the social scripts’) and try to minimize what he was apologizing for. But I wasn’t in a social mood.Specimen: I just wanted you to know I’m really sorry.Me: For what?Specimen: You know (very smarmy voice: Yooou knoooow)Me: I can think of a lot of things. What do you mean?Specimen: I know how I can be.Me: Then you have no excuses.Specimen: Change is hard for some people.Me: Not really.Specimen: I’ve been working on this for years...Me: Let me cut to the chase. When you say “I’m sorry” what you really mean is, “I fully intend to do the exact same things again and I want your permission.” The answer is no. You don’t get my permission.Specimen: That’s not the way I thought this conversation would go.The other giveaway: If this was subconscious, habitual, ‘just the way I am’ fear of consequences wouldn’t change behavior. More telling than the conversation I just described is his reaction afterwards. If a target sets boundaries and the creeper backs off, it may indicate an honest misunderstanding of proper behavior. Maybe. And if it is an explanation, the behavior will change universally (I once explained to a socially awkward friend the rules for shaking hands. He had assumed that the more he liked you, the longer the handshake went on and he creeped people out. Once the rules were explained his behavior improved with everyone, not just me. He is an example of someone who honestly didn’t know.)
But if someone changes behavior only around the people who simply say, “I know your game” then he knows his game as well. Deliberate and conscious.

Agency and Interdependence

Rory Miller's Blog - Tue, 2017-02-21 17:17

I recently read Junger's book, "Tribe." It hit a lot of my buttons-- not well thought out or researched, explanations just asserted even when there were far simpler possible explanations. He had a theme  and a bias and stuck to them... but it got me thinking.

We live in an amazingly interdependent society. How many of you butcher your own food? Make your own clothes? Do both? Raise the cotton or wool to make the clothes? You're reading this on a machine you didn't make. Maybe, if you are really good, you assembled your own PC, but you damn sure didn't make it. Amazingly interdependent... but not really.
Societies have always been interdependent. You can think of the best survivalist societies you know-- the Kalahari Bushmen or the Lippan Apache or whatever and in all of those societies of super-survivalists, the greatest punishment was to be ostracized. Because as good as they are, no one survives for very long alone.

What's missing now is not the interdependence, it's the awareness.  One side is easy to see-- the iconoclast rebel who declares himself free while typing on a keyboard (that some corporation produced) and sucking down corn chips and Mt. Dew (ditto) in his mom's basement (do I need to say ditto again?)

It's physically impossible to tweet "I'm off the grid."

Junger wrote about the other side. All of us, on some level, want to feel the interdependence. We want to feel the connection. Corny as it sounds, we want to serve.

A few of us have been trying to figure out why it seems that individual power--agency-- is so systematically denigrated in modern society.
I think there is an assumption that agency is a contrary force or contrary attitude to interdependence. It’s not. In what I consider a natural society— tribal hunter gatherers— increasing one's own agency was important for the good of the tribe. You wanted to be the bravest warrior or the most cunning hunter or the wisest healer. Change that, not ‘or’.  Ideally ‘and’. So it was all about increasing agency or personal power, but for the good of the tribe. 
You can look at the collectivist movements (socialism, communism, fascism) as attempts to force a tribal level of interdependence from the top down.  It takes massive control because the tribes are artificial and we have enough radical ideas and different points of view that people can find their own tribes and can easily switch tribes. In order for it to work, people would need a monolithic set of values. Hence force. And failure. But those movements appeal mightily to the people looking for that sense of connection.
As wisdom (one type of power) increases, so does a recognition of interdependence as a fact. Individualists recognize that agency is not a contradiction to cooperative society. It is required if we want society to continue to improve.
At the same time, we aren't insects. We will never all have the same values or the same priorities. Nor should we. Wisdom is to let people disagree.  Even more than focussing on increasing our own agency for the good of the tribe, we focus on increasing the agency of others. Accepting other people’s differences _and_ their power.  
Our society tries to draw a distinction between the passive and the active-- and to include passivity in the definition of "good" (but that's a post for another day). That has resulted in the infantilaztion of adults. Screw that. Be strong. Let others be strong. Cherish their strength and your own.

A New Tool

Rory Miller's Blog - Sun, 2017-02-19 06:17
Finished a new book about a month ago, "Processing Under Pressure" by Matthew J. Sharps (link at the bottom). It had been sitting on my shelf for a long while, and I honestly don't remember if I bought a copy or if it was a gift. If it was a gift, and it was from you, thanks.

Either way, it probably wound up on my shelf because the publisher used the same stock photo for the title that my publisher did for a book I wrote, "Force Decisions." Funny, right? And also a cautionary tale about using stock photos, probably. But it was a good book. A good read and probably the best layman's introduction I've found for some of the neuroscience behind decision making and fear.

There were a lot of crossovers between Sharps book and other stuff I like, and that's always gratifying. He presented academic theories that were very close corollaries of Gordon Graham's "discretionary time." And ConCom's Monkey and Lizard. Good stuff.

There was also a tool in the book. "Feature Intensive Analysis." He didn't describe the actual process, it was more of a, 'people have a tendency to gestalt, but when you have time you will make fewer mistakes if you analyze the features of the problem.' So I let the concept sit and played with it for a bit.

Underlying background concept. Labeling, or "ist-ing" is one of the reliable signs that your monkey brain is in control. We call people names to put them in a tribe we don't have to listen to. If I call you an asshole, or any descriptor that puts you in a group, whether your political, religious or national affiliations or... it puts you outside my tribe, Which means (to my monkey brain) I don't have to listen to you. It protects me 100% from the possibility that your arguments might have merit. We all do this.

Sharps used the term gestalt as a related concept. A gestalt, traditionally, is when you see the totality of a concept. A car is thousands of little parts and each car is different, but the gestalt of "car" exists in our head as a unified thing. Professor Sharps pointed out, that just as labeling is a tool to prevent you from analysis, so is a gestalt. Whether you use the ConCom word of labeling or Sharps' interpretation of gestalt, it is a way to not think. And people are lazy. We have a definite tendency to avoid the laziness of hard thinking.

Shading into politics, one of the things that has been annoying me is the "all good or all bad" soundbite nature of most of the things I see discussed asserted. I realized these are gestalts. If I call you a "fascist" (or asshole, most people don't distinguish) I don't have to think, I'm done.

So I decided to take a stab at my own feature intensive analysis of my gestalts in politics. On one axis (sorry, talking about fascists here, forgive the pun) a list of my political labels-- communist, democrat (party), fascist, libertarian, republican (party), socialist...*
On the other axis, traits that I consider important. The features. I tried to be careful with the source of the features. For instance, I didn't use the modern academic definition of fascism but Mussolini's definition. I used Marx directly for the features of communism. For the stuff that wasn't in the literature, I used personal observation when available. If I didn't have literature or personal observation, I gave that feature a null value. If literature contradicted, I gave a null value. If observation and literature contradicted, I went with observation. For instance if a group insisted that they were for personal freedom and peace, but called for everyone who disagreed with them to be executed and planted bombed (I've just read both 'Prairie Fire' and 'Underground') they got marks for "being okay with using violence to silence their opposition."

I may not have used the FI Analysis the way Sharps intended, since I was back-engineering from a vague description of effects. But I liked it. I found it useful. It did confirm some of my gestalts, some of my impressions of how closely related some of the political labels were. But if it had been just confirming what I already believed, I'd be pretty skeptical. Like everyone else, there's a part of me that likes pre-existing beliefs validated. That's not what happened. I found a few quite unexpected similarities and differences.

And before anyone asks, no. I am not going to share the specific analysis here. 1) I didn't do it for you, I was testing a test for (to an extent) objectively testing my own instincts and, 2) There are few things more likely to put you, as a reader, in your monkey brain than to show you that your favorite affiliation is actually 80% similar to your most hated.

*Not right/left or liberal/conservative, I consider those to be a different taxonomy. I could do an FI analysis those traits, but it would be an apples-to-oranges comparison with the affiliations listed.

Why your kata should not look like your applications

John Titchen's Blog - Tue, 2017-02-14 07:50

In all of my books and videos there are deliberate differences between my kata and my paired application (oyo) that has resulted from my analysis (bunkai).

“Practicing a kata is one thing, engaging in a real fight is another.”

Gichin Funakoshi, Twenty Precepts

Karate kata are generally taught and trained as a solo platform. Through their stances they hint at suggested weight distribution and methods of movements that can support the upper and lower body techniques of which they are made, and indeed at the oyo (if any) of the form that its teacher had in mind from their own bunkai.

I say ‘if any’ because changes in kata may be made to obfuscate purpose, allow greater speed in transitional movement for aesthetic purposes, or provide a greater athletic challenge. Furthermore changes may come about through the copying of the movements of older karateka who have themselves changed their form to reflect how they wish to move and exercise their more mature bodies, or through ignorance of potential oyo or flaws in their approach.

This is not meant as a criticism of any one system; the onus is on all of us to examine what we do and ensure that in application we use the most appropriate posture rather than sticking with something higher or deeper as the case may be.

But whether moving slow or fast in the kata, there is a significant difference between executing controlled techniques into thin air compared with endeavouring to make maximum impact on a target, or moving against the resistance of another person while grappling. This is a subject about which I have written in greater detail in Volume Four of my Pinan Flow System series of books.

The postures and techniques found in the majority of movements in kata are not designed to exactly replicate the biomechanical structure for optimum application, but instead their purpose is varied and can be:

  1. to protect karateka from unbalancing, instability and injury by limiting the power of movement against no resistance,
  2. to balance the ‘hollow body’ that forms good biomechanical structure for striking and grappling with exercise that inverts that posture to ensure balanced muscle development for good health,
  3. to indicate either a single tactic or through generalisation (lack of specificity) give an altered movement that acts as a coat hanger reference point for multiple similar or overlapping tactics,
  4. to highlight a principal of movement on which a number of tactics are based,
  5. to provide an important physical exercise that underpins and strengthens the muscles required for many tactics.

In many kata there are straight rear leg postures or very high stances. These are not necessarily wrong, but a product of their context. A straight leg can be an exaggerated example of thrust, codified into ‘good form’ for aesthetic purposes and to limit forward momentum against thin air which risks injuring the knee joint. In similar vein, thin air fighting puts balance and weight bearing limits on power generation through the movement and positioning of the knee and hip.

Unlike the postures often utilised throughout the majority of kata, when grappling with a training partner, attacking, preparing to attack or bracing during an attack, the back should not be held at a perfect right angle to the ground.

No matter how good your stance or footwork, having an ‘upright’ or classically ‘arched’ back while resisting physical force from another person is biomechanically unsound. The greater the level of force you are resisting, the more necessary it is to brace appropriately to take the load so as not to place undue stress on your back or compromise your balance, so the greater the angle of your back (and depth of stance and thus angle of shin) required. There is a difference between lifting an object and exerting or resisting force along other planes of movement.

The postures of kata protect and develop the body in solo training. They are the other side of the coin that balances the effect of the postures of paired training. Karate is soft and hard, relaxation and tension, grappling and striking, slow and fast, expansion and contraction.

For health and flexibility, form cannot always mirror function. To provide greater depth of application from a limited sequence of movements, form cannot always mirror function.

The kata is a map, but the map is not the territory.


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