Tuesday, November 03, 2015

AAR- Europe and Japan

Well, if I count layovers it's been seven different countries since last I wrote. Nine border crossings, since I've been through Canada twice. One more border crossing in an hour or so and then I'll be home.

Processing lots. Taught "How to Run Scenarios" without being able to understand the native language well enough to really evaluate how well everyone was doing. I think there are some things I don't have the skills to do myself. In future, I will probably have to create a cadre of instructors who can create teams to work in their native language. Much as it hurts me to say that, it's time to think about the next generation.

Taught InFighting on the second visit to the Netherlands. Have to think about this carefully as well. To do InFighting safely requires pretty high-level distancing, ukemi, control and confidence. People panic. They always call it something else but it is definitely panic. The class went very well in Natick, but that was a jujutsu school with very similar core competencies to mine and it was my (fifth?) visit there. They were ready and they knew how to be safe. Not that Chris' men and women in the Netherlands were unsafe or not ready, but there were some minor injuries. And there was a weird time compression thing, because I got through almost all of the sixteen hour class in eight. Still can't figure out how that happened.

Japan was very strange for me on an emotional level. I always assumed my first visit there would be as a student, not an instructor. In my head I had just assumed that the expats were the people who were so into martial arts that they changed their entire lives and gave up everything to get closer to the source. I was expecting on a very deep level to be the itty-bitty bug in a roomful of martial gods. And I found out, like every other time I've been around the immensely talented or famous or whatever, that they were pretty much people. Just like me. And we all have tons to learn. And learning with good people is kind of fun.

And oh my god they can drink. Had whisky, beer, awamori, and habushu, and that was on the first day, just saying hello. The dinner after the seminar was epic.
Habushu. Snake wine. Tastes remarkably like alcohol.

Also fulfilled an obligation. Had to go to the hombu of Sosuishitsu, just to say thanks. One family preserved something that kept me alive in some rough times. There's an eternal debt there. It was a good place and I liked Shitama-sensei. He's solid. 

Met some good people, as always-- Quint, Peter, Joe, the Fearsome Foursome (Quint's kids) Iida, Shinya and James. Other names I don't remember.

And got to duel an entire generation of an ancient samurai clan simultaneously at their family shrine. Of course, the oldest was eight.
Good times. But time to head home.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Thoughts from Today

The class was working on power generation, using the center of gravity to slam extra power up into a strike or down into a strike. Two types of wave power. One man interrupted. Through the translator, he said, "But I don't want to hit. My reaction will be to defuse and avoid."

Wrong place, wrong time. The class had voted to work on surviving an attack. One of those skills is hitting hard. The defusing and de-escalation part had been the focus of the whole morning. The question was good, in a way, and I had to address the whole class.

There are stages in a fight. If you see something that makes you suspicious, something that's not quite right, you have options. You can gather more information. You can leave. You can prepare a weapon or alert your friends and partners.

If you do nothing, or don't see it until the person becomes overtly threatening, you have fewer options. Leaving, de-escalating, gathering resources and alerting your team are still on the table, but now they come with extra risk. You will likely set him off, if he wasn't going before. You will almost surely increase your chances of being suckerpunched if your attention is on resources or you try to leave when you are too close. You can pre-empt here, and I showed a social pre-emption. No injury, but usually even more effective than trying to suckerpunch first.

But once it's on, once a bad guy has made violent contact with you, de-escalating and gathering resources are off the table. Mostly. By all means yell for help as you defend yourself. But never instead of defending yourself.

By the time you need to hit, it is too late to do anything but hit. And if you are going to hit, you need to hit well. Generally, if you aren't finishing things, you are escalating them.
Context and timing. Real attacks versus sparring artifacts. One of the common patterns of shanking works from a handshake. The bad guy shakes your hand on some pretext and then pulls you in as he stabs you about in the armpit. I don't usually teach knife defense for a number of reasons, if you know me, you know the reasons. But if you have certain jobs I'm willing to show you what I know under the assumption that you will think for yourself, adapt, and take responsibility for your own survival.

The best defense I've found for the handshake shanking is structural. Very quick. One of the students said, "But all I need to do to defeat the defense is let go."

Absolutely right. That's all you need. But that would predicate on a threat, with full lethal intent, grabbing your hand of his own volition and for his own purposes who is savagely using that hand to yank you onto the tip of the knife...and that threat halfway through this fully committed action sensing that you have a defense, sensing that you are applying the defense, completely aborting his own committed action AND doing the one thing that monkeys almost never do under stress-- open their clenched hands.

Yes, there is a simple counter and no, you will never, ever encounter it in the field.

There are a lot of things, especially in traditional martial arts, that work great for real situations but are difficult or suck in sparring. The hip and shoulder throws in judo are hard to get and involve turning your back on the opponent, but in real life people jump on your back. Karate's x-blocks are all but useless in sparring, but they are a godsend when something unexpected and shiny suddenly arcs towards your belly-- a big, gross-motor move that covers a lot of area and gives you a lot of close-range options.

There is stuff that works under close-range assault, and there are options that only work with sparring timing and distance. Do not, ever, confuse the two.
"I don't want to waste time learning power generation because I could never hurt a big man."
Grrr. I've broken ribs on people much bigger than myself. Collapsed a trachea on someone who out-weighed me by over 100%. With an informal survey, we are now at, officially, 119 people who have either used a cup-hand slap to the ear, had it used on them, or seen it used. How many of those 119 incidents have seen the receiver keep fighting? Zero.

Small people can hurt big people. The smart way, of course, is to use a tool. It happens and it has happened. But if you are weak and small, your body mechanics must be superb. And there's no rule that say big, strong guys can't have better body mechanics than yours. There are no guarantees in this world.

But how fucked-up is it to say, "I can't win so I won't try." Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Right now, in your mind and every day in training or in choosing not to train, you are laying the groundwork for your success or you are laying the groundwork for your failure. Winning and losing doesn't happen on that dark day when you run out of options. Winning or losing is something you are doing right now.


Thursday, October 08, 2015

Whew. And wow.

It was a big three weeks. All but one of the days was spent either teaching or traveling. Met some great people-- Jeffrey, Alan, Dave-- and reconnected with some old friends, including a slew of Allisons, Teja, Jake and Jeff(s).

The structure and void AAR was the last post. It seems like a long damn time ago. After that it was exploring Manhattan with Teja, and one evening each of talk and hands-on with David Ordini's Krav NY. It was fun, and David has some great ideas for the future. Can't wait to break the toy he is building.

Up to Rhode Island, where Chris Thompson hosted a weekend on how to run scenarios. Scenarios are easy to do poorly, hard to do well, and bad scenarios can do immense harm to students. Not just physically, but programming bad tactics and limiting options. Not to mention the potential for having to deal with an emotional crisis. Two days is an introduction to the mechanics and a heads up on the issues. Hopefully, it's a gateway for the attendees to start taking their teaching game to new levels.

Some very good scenarios, designed and run by the class. Eye openers, as well. A few who fought when they shouldn't. One who fought too late. One who saved a baby and questioned the decision afterwards. The class revealed some good natural actors who will be brilliant roleplayers. Some with a start on being good facilitators.

Three days in Salem were fairly relaxing-- some training in the evenings, lots of talking and debriefing. Meeting with friends (Wes). Found a unicorn. Sort of. My wife has a favorite beverage that they quit making in 2010. I saw four dusty bottles on a shelf in an interesting section of Boston. Bought them all. K is very happy.

Then two days of filming at Jeff Burger's new dojo. It was a blast. A really good crew from all over the area. We were filming "Drills" and the video will be different than the book. Lots of the exercises in the book are internal, or paper. Some require doing questionable things in public places (we did demo one of those) and some, like scenarios, are far too serious and complicated to learn by video. And also remembered a couple that aren't in the book. Fun. Jeff said it will be the best video I've done.

Same time, Jeff was shooting his first video for YMAA, "Attack the Attack." Jeff's one of those guys who should be well known-- extremely skilled and experienced and a talented teacher-- who has always been happy to quietly do his thing in his own quiet corner of the universe. Glad he's finally getting some exposure.

Last for Boston, two days of InFighting at the MetroWest Academy of Jiu Jitsu. I love playing with JJ guys. We have a shared vocabulary (though I think I use more Japanese than they do) and they aren't afraid to fly. There were other people there without the throwing and grappling background, but skilled JJ players were able to keep them safe.

I love infighting! We covered striking at that range, including targets and power generation, specialized strikes and kicks. Takedowns from tangles and at speed. Gouging (damn, I think I skipped biting class. Eh, we had some krav people there. Everybody got bit anyway). Skeleton manipulation offensively and defensively. Locking. A truly great weekend.

As you can tell, I'm late on this AAR because...

Two nights and one day home (40 hours) and I was back at the airport, heading to Zurich. Spent last weekend with a Bujinkan club there (Thanks, Phil) and got to see two old friends (Phil and Murray) and meet a slew of new ones. The class covered a lot of the basics, my basics anyway. Only two hours to look around before things kicked off with ConCom on Friday. Then rock and roll through the weekend (where bruises were distributed, stories told and schnapps imbibed) and out on a train Monday morning.

BTW, I also love being alone traveling and buying food with minimal language skills. And watching some crime crews case potential victims. Frankfurt Rail station was very interesting. And you can get a pork shank at the cafe.

Then on to Fritzlar and Wegas. Actually have some sight-seeing time. Saw Wewelsburg yesterday, a triangular castle with two histories. One was the history of the castle going back to 1600's. The other was a completely separate tour of how the castle was used by Himmler as an SS school and intended headquarters.

Then, and most spectacularly Externstein. Hit it right at dusk. Gorgeous. Should be featured in a fantasy movie. Haven't uploaded the pictures yet, but I'll probably add one on when I do. Stay tuned.
Then dinner in an old castle. Traditional food. No electric lights. A great end to a big day.

Today, more sight-seeing. Friday an evening VPPG in Fritzlar. Saturday and Sunday will be the first attempt at "How to Run Scenarios" through a translator. I think we're using the Highway Riders MC clubhouse again. Which is a unique space. Very cool

Next week teaching cops near Mainz. The weekend after, ConCom and InFighting in the Netherlands.
Then home for a week.
Then Japan.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Structure and Void AAR

The idea-- I've been teaching the infighting seminar for a little while. In a lot of ways it is hardest for me to teach, because it is the thing I do least consciously. And when you try to take something that is not in words in your head, the words you wind up using can sound pretty weird. Two of the things that have been coming up consistently in the infighting seminars are structure and void. The mechanics of skeletons (structure) and how those interactwith empty space (void). If you grasp it, you can organize a ton of material in those two concepts.
Jake likes to experiment. When he saw me post on the blog that I was toying with the idea of teaching a class just on two fundamental principles, he wanted to run with it. The class was yesterday. Debriefed with a couple of students last night. Deconstructing it today.

What happened:
11 people attended. Three extremely experienced MA/instructors, two complete beginners, the rest with varying degrees of experience. Four had trained with me multiple times, two or maybe three had trained with me once before, just under half were strangers. Four women, seven men. One wheel-chair bound. I would say tradition jujitsu and muay thai were the most represented.
Covered: What each student though was meant by "structure & void" in the first place. Parlor tricks with structure (e.g. "unbendable arm"). Power conservation, including pocket structure and how to structure circular strikes. Bone slaving. Application of leverage. Spine extension. Working into the skeleton vs. breaking connection with the ground. Using the threat's structural weak and strong lines to increase damage or to unbalance. Structure and balance on the ground. Swimming, shrugging and posting. Angled structure, sawing and rolling bones. Dead zones (did I cover that explicitly?) Offensive and defensive use of voids. Creating, finding and filling empty space. Void zones in balance (one can only fall into space, not structure. Dropping into a created void. Chock blocks. Defensive use of the threat's structure. Constant forward pressure as a game of impact, compromise and pivot off the impact point or into the available void.

What went well:
I'm a terrible judge of my own work, and the formal AAR process deliberately avoids "what went wrong". From the debriefs and the after class ritual, the people who attended enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. As expected, the beginners and senior practitioners got very different things out of it. One of the beginners found it very intuitive. That leads to big gains fast. The seniors were using it to organize things they already knew and to make some things explicit that students often miss. All of the teacher levels expressed that they were struggling with how to integrate it into their regular classes. That goes in the "went well" section because it means they thought it was worth integrating.

What could be better:

  • Organization. Heard at least one "drinking from a firehouse comment." I think if I organized it better, the information received would be the same, but would feel less intense and retention would be better.
  • Organization II. Normal for a beta-class, but I was constantly remembering nuances or making connections that were not in the lesson plan.
  • Organization III. List the parts, drills and pieces of class and put them in the order that they play off and reinforce each other. Makes it easier for people to grasp and retain.
  • Teaching methodology. Classes at this level should be extremely interactive. I got time conscious and wanted to make sure people got all the information they paid for. Not sure anyone noticed except for me. Could be solved with more time.
  • Teaching methodology II. Having a unified game to bring all the parts back to for experimentation is central to my usual teaching module. The best game for this material is infighting randori, which is pretty intense for a seminar format. Also, requires more time and might shift Structure and Void to be a mini version of infighting.
  • Personal. Working with someone in a wheelchair I was shocked by how much I take for granted about my own physicality and how little I knew about different, less obvious effects. Like not being able to work core muscles. For class purposes, some things will simply not be possible and some require crazy work-arounds that may not be efficient enough to be worthwhile. Between the two of us, we knew enough about physiology to get most things to work, but I'm a little humbled.
  • Equipment. I should not be allowed to teach without a dry erase board.
  • Complacency. I get pretty foul-mouthed. 
  • Play more. Feedback from the beginners was that often the words were confusing until the physical parts of the exercises, and then it came together. Must remember that this is experiential, touch is the only way to learn to fight. Train with respect to that.
  • Ground part was important, but I cover it better (more time) in the 2-day Intro to Violence. Too big a chunk out of a four hour class. Maybe. there are really important aspects of structure and void that are more apparent on the ground than standing. Have to think this one through.
That should be enough to work on to keep me busy for awhile.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Road Beckons

Heading out Thursday, flying in to Boston. It's been some time at home with just a little local travel. Hacked at the invading army of blackberries, prepped for and hosted our big annual party (corned beef and horse radish wontons, scotch eggs, BBQ steak, salted-carmel rum milkshakes...)

Time to get moving, though. And this will be fun, and busy, and intense.
Details for most of it are here:

The first two workshops will be this weekend. Saturday, a one-day intro to violence. The usual: Efficient movement, fighting to the goal, a quick overview of SD law, of context, of violence motivations and dynamics. Power and counter-assault. More if we have time.
Sunday's workshop gets me excited.  There is very little new information in either martial arts and self-defense. People have been bad to other people since before there were people (judging from pre-human fossils who appear to have been hit from behind with an antelope bone). The quest now is to organize the information in ways that make the package tighter, easier to understand, easier to apply-- and do so without becoming vague or useless. So Sunday will be four hours exploring the principles of Structure and Void. Which sounds all cool and esoteric, but it is only how to offensively and defensively use your skeleton and the bad guy's skeleton (structure) and how to exploit the empty space between you, the threat and the environment (void.)

Then to Manhattan for a pair of evening workshops on the 16th and 17th. Gonna cram as much data in the first evening and principles-based physicality in the second as I can.

The following weekend in Rhode Island at "Just Train" will be an instructor class, "How to Run Scenarios". Scenarios are easy to do, but hard to do well. And if they're done poorly, they can mess students up on multiple dimensions.

The next week, three of the days will be spent filming Drills for YMAA during the day. Evenings, the plan is to run the CRGI/Chiron Instructor Development course. Specific material on teaching principles-based self-defense, limits of knowledge, trouble-shooting difficult students, developing and maintaining rapport with specialty teams-- stuff like that. It's _going_ to happen, even if we haven't hammered out exact location and price point. If everything falls through, I'll get with the interested people and do the class over dinners.

And then top it off with an infighting weekend at the Metrowest Academy in Natick. Martially, InFighting is the thing I love above all things, and a traditional JJ school will have a lot of the fundamentals down, so there will be some good people to play with.

Then home, for a few days, before hitting the skies for Europe.

Thursday, September 03, 2015


I like the word "abandon" and it has been coming up a lot, lately. There are three (at least) instincts when faced with chaos and danger. The most common is to try to control it. To minimize the chaos, to minimize the danger. To basically take chaos and  and make it "not chaos." Whatever the opposite of chaos is.

When you can do that, it's a powerful strategy. Damming flood-prone rivers has been so successful that only historians have a grasp on the immense damage that unpredictable flood cycles used to do. An aircraft carrier constructed of 60,000 tons of steel and powered with nuclear engines can ignore all but the most extreme weather conditions.

I would say that is the second most common strategy. Evidently, people prefer even an evil stability to all of the possibilities that come with freedom. But that's a long talk over coffee.

The most common strategy is to pretend to control it. You can, with enough resources, control things you understand. Without an understanding, and a fairly deep understanding, all attempts to control become a gamble. Most common example is central planning of an economy. The planners would have to deeply understand a huge number of industries, the interplay between those industries, and somehow have to correct for the fact that a large number of humans, the cleverest monkeys ever, will be actively trying to subvert the system.  This is what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls "Naive interventionism." "Something must be done! We don't understand the problem, actually, and have no idea if what we are going to do will actually work or make things worse... but something must be done!"

On the micro, we have martial arts. Which are largely a stylized, impressionistic, ritual of violence and controlling violence. "When you achieve your black belt, you will be ready." Ready for what? You can't know the answer to that simple question-- no one gets to know what bad stuff the future holds. If you can't know the question, you should be incapable of feeling confident in your answer. But people feel confident all the time.

Like economics, violence and self defense always involve other people, and people are the cleverest monkeys on the planet. It's not just mechanics, but mechanics applied against a moving target who may understand what is going on better than you and certainly wants you to fail. And each of those people will be different in some way.

The third strategy is to give yourself up to the chaos. Abandon. To immerse yourself in it. Not become part of it, but recognize that you have always been part of it. You have always been one of these adaptable, clever, frequently unpredictable monkeys. This (whatever 'this' is in a given context) can be chaotic, but not beyond what the human brain and body evolved to solve.

It's scary-- humans prefer even an evil stability to chaos. But it is also powerful. And it works. It takes confidence, but also builds confidence. And there's no way to learn it theoretically. You have to get in and mix it up. Take chances. Push the edge of the envelope until the envelope changes shape.

It also requires faith. Not in the religious sense. Dangerous stuff is dangerous precisely because you can get hurt. Chaotic means that you can't know the outcome. And jumping into that with both feet pretty much defines faith. Or stupidity. No one gets good at this stuff because of their overabundance of common sense.

To sum up:
The first strategy--Control the chaos:
To an intermediate grappler, a beginning grappler is completely under your control. You just make him do what you want him to do.

The second strategy-- Pretend to Control the chaos:
"We train not to go the ground in our dojo. If you're facing a grappler, all you have to do is..." says the man who has never grappled.

The third strategy: Abandon
The superior grappler doesn't bother to control the intermediate grappler, because everything is a gift.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


... or phishing.
One thing every predatory criminal needs is privacy. The quality of privacy depends on the type of crime. Beating a member of your gang that you suspect of breaking the rules might go better if the other members can watch, but you'll certainly limit civilian and police witnesses. The quantity of privacy varies as well. Rape and torture murders can take days, muggers may only need privacy for a few seconds.

There are only a handful of general strategies to get some one to a private place. You can intimidate them, trick them, lure them, follow them or wait for them.

Following and intimidation rely on assessing the victim, but very little intelligence gathering is needed. You want someone smaller, weaker, less confident to intimidate, someone oblivious to follow. Those are instantly obvious. The other strategies, usually, will have an element of intelligence gathering.

Not always. Just like fishing you can try to match the lure to the specific fish you want or you can cast a wide net. In "Think like a Freak" the authors pointed out that it might seem stupid that the Nigerian scam emails you get actually say they're from Nigeria. Everyone's heard of the Nigerian scam, right? But when you cast a net that wide, sending thousands of e-mails, you want to weed out the bad prospects as early as possible. If I send 1000 emails saying I need help getting millions out of the Nigerian bank, the 995 who recognize the scheme and don't answer have allowed me to concentrate on the five that might fall for it. Efficient use of time.

One personal version. "Hey, you from America? I love America. You know, there's a shrine that's not on the tourist map. It's a little far..." Which, could be targeted to the person trying to go native and be different from the other tourists, but works just as well if you ask every tourist you see.

When the isolation strategy is targeted, there will be some element of intelligence gathering. Surveillance is a possibility, but following someone for days to figure out his or her routine should be rare. Very labor intensive, far more evidence of premeditation, and I can't speak for other people, but I always thought the Hollywood cliche of the target who has the same meal at the same restaurant at the same time every day pretty damn unlikely.

Most intel gathering comes in a simple conversation-- the phone call claiming to be from the IRS is a big one now. Ted Bundy would strike up a conversation with a woman in the library on campus. In any first conversation at a university, three things come up: "Where are you from?" "What's your major?" and "Which dorm are you in?"

It's rapport building. Knowing your hometown tells me about background we have in common. Your major is a big clue both to the possibility of common interests and how you see your future. Where you live on campus tells me your socio-economic background and how social you are. But Bundy used the routine questions for something simpler.

If you ask a target at the library where the target lives, you can scout the loneliest place between the library and the home.

It can be hard to spot someone gathering intel. Like many long-term crimes (e.g. creating a relationship so the predator gets the victims home and access to bank accounts and can groom a victim), the criminal excels at imitating the steps of a normal relationship. Ted Bundy used the normal conversation scripts to extract the information he wanted. There are a finite number of tools, good guys and bad guys use the exact same tools.

The best exercise, from my point of view, is to practice it from the other end. Strike up conversations with the intent of finding out as much as you can about the other person while giving up as little as possible about yourself. Don't lie, just focus the conversation back on the other. Not only will very few people notice you aren't answering, they'll be flattered to be the center of attention. And they'll spill their guts.
Seeing how easy this is will help you recognize when you are on the receiving end. It will also teach you how rarely it is necessary to share. And, weirdly, the focus on others can even make you more popular.