Thursday, September 21, 2017

where impunity is granted and related curiousities

Because I am conscious of gender dynamics I am sometimes overly cautious to tag something as gender related, careful about bias when I can be because I will be biased often enough.

Talked with someone a few days ago who will tell me if what I see as gender-based is not when I over-assign. And this time, I was not on a gender question but he said I think this may be a gender thing. After a couple of days noodling around on it, although I am resistant to acknowledge it, he may be right.

Here's the dynamic*.

In the social rules and protocols of one of the tribes I belong to, there is a general expectation of personal strength; the strength to protect oneself and others in your care be they family or otherwise. The idea of strength is to a degree physical but at the broader scope strength is assigned a much broader meaning.

Within the social expectations of the tribe, women are expected to be as strong as men. At the physical level there is acknowledgement that the bodies women and men live in are designed differently and as a result, the expression of physical strength is going to be different. Not "lower" in regards to, let's say, standards of achievement, but different. The women who reach physical benchmarks are proud to have passed the same types of 'tests' that the men pass. Shoulder-to-shoulder and all that.

Interesting though, there is perhaps a deep and unconscious social script in which personal strength in the expression of the broader idea of strength - protecting oneself and those in your care, setting boundaries, etc. - runs on a gender divided set of expectations in which the men have more permission to express strength, than the women. It's a struggle to acknowledge this exists due in part to the powerful overt messages within the tribe to the contrary - and I like those overt messages. A lot.

At the moment I am watching something unfold in which a female member of the tribe set a few boundaries and there are male tribe members who have previously set the exact same type of boundary. I don't know the full back story of course, I don't know if the male members of the tribe might have gotten private communication admonishing the boundary setting. It's possible and if it happened then this is no longer a gender dynamic (but still something to be curious about). I know the female has gotten some subtle - and less than subtle admonishments. Implications of being difficult, or that she needed to take different action, like repealing the boundary.  Even that repealing the boundary was the right and more ethical action than holding the boundary (and I'm paraphrasing so keep that in mind).

Interestingly, the remark about repealing the boundary came from a male tribe member who has set the same boundary on more than one occasion. And none of this means our female is right (or wrong). It's just a really interesting dynamic I hadn't considered until now:

Rule for Male Members of the Tribe - you may set a boundary about who/what you feel is best for the people you are responsible to
Rule for Female Members of the Tribe - if you set this boundary, you will do so without the same degree of impunity

so curious what the purpose of this rule would be -

*because I am a member of several tribes who focus on making people stronger I have kept this post super generalized on purpose. It's not about the tribe, it's about the social rules and being curious.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

back up the sparring hill we go-

This is me over here in my kitchen playing the part of an excited evangelical - nodding my head with vigor saying Yes, Yes YES! Reading this article from The Martialist, the author did a hell of a good job overall and targeted one of my soapboxes...which is why I'm all throwing my hands up with a can I get an amen.

I wrote a couple of blog posts about how fight training, sparring in particular is useful training but it is not, in and of itself, self-defense training. It just isn't. Mr. Elmore does a better job in this article than I could have hoped to do in the blog posts where I was beating my proverbial chest over the issue.

Concise and to the point he reminds us that sparring is symmetrical interaction:

"It's definitely a great way to get comfortable with applying techniques on a resisting opponent and with testing your abilities and your resolve in a relatively "safe" environment. The problem with sparring for self-defense training, though, is one of mindset. It (unavoidably and by definition) turns what should be an asymmetrical conflict into a symmetrical contest."

Sparring is good training. When I climbed up on this hill the last time, I got a good amount of feedback. Some folks agreed with me, others fought for the belief that "sparring = self-defense".  It IS good training. I like it for helping people realize they can take a hit and it doesn't have to shut them down. Unless the hit actually shuts them down by shutting down the brain stem, but that's different.

Sparring is excellent training to understand how much energy a fight takes and for learning to control your monkey brain (getting angry, overwhelmed, irritated, competitive, etc.). Sparring is a safe way to practice reading how other people move, to manage timing and range, and for applying some of the basic skills out of your system.  Sparring can be a great teaching tool, used correctly, and there a metric ton ways to use sparring incorrectly.

Sparring is good training. It IS not self-defense. It has application to self-defense, but as a singular training tool it fails. Self-defense will always be asymmetrical. The Threat makes the rules and you won't get to know what those rules are ahead of time. If you attempt to play by any set of rules, you will lose.  And there are rules in every aspect of training, sparring included. Examples from personal experience include (but trust me, this is the short list):

Judo: be honorable, always. I got warned about my language. I made a mistake and muttered shit. My sensei immediately gave me my one and final warning.
Kickboxing/MMA: Whoa! You can't do that. You can't kick her in the groin (trainer chuckles) you girls don't want that all hurting right? But if my opponent is following that rule and I don't follow it....I have an advantage.
Krav Maga: I hope you have a good lawyer was the humorous admonishment from an instructor after I disarmed a knife in a two on one drill and cut both parties as I ran for the exit. Oh, and keep distance, except once I gained some skill as an infighter if I can get super close I have unique cheats that aren't available "at a safe range".

Every system has a symmetrical element to it's training. At some point and to some degree. By it's nature, sparring is fundamentally symmetrical. In a sparring drill during a testing if I escalate and launch a flurry of attacks, drop a glove off deploying a training knife into a sewing machine attack and then run for the door, my scores will be really really poor. My training partner will be pissed and I will immediately develop a reputation for being a shitty testing partner.

So I have a request. No, it's really more of a plea. If you teach in any system and sparring is part of your training methodology, do not mislead yourself or your students. Sparring has value. It teaches many things and sparring categorically requires the wrong mindset if the training goal is self-defense.

Mr. Elmore, nicely done. You addressed the topic far more eloquently than I could ever-

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

minimal input in learning self-defense does NOT equal maximum output

ever hear the saying "you're preaching to the choir?" It means the pastor is giving a spiritual missive to the people who don't probably much need it because they already get it. They are the choir, backing you up every service.

Pretty sure what follows is preaching to the choir -

You can not learn reliable self-defense skills in one class, one day, one seminar or workshop.

You can learn about self-defense in one class. You can get a decent introduction to self-defense in a workshop and if done well, the workshop participants will end the day with a healthy dose of new information including how much they have yet to learn.

Getting clear about what you don't know you don't know is super helpful in personal safety and self-defense.

Take for example, building a hard-drive. If you know you know nothing (poor John Snow) - you at least have the chance to learn. You'll research hard-drives and how they go together and figure out what stuff you need. If you don't know that you don't have any idea how to build a hard drive, you'll grab a bunch of hard-drive looking stuff out of the junk drawers, glue them together and say Ta-Da! ....and be stunned when the damn thing doesn't work.

Applied to self-defense that equates to being stunned as you bleed out. Surprise.

This all seems fantastically obvious. So what I'm noodling on is this: given the obvious nature of the thing, why is it so many average humans are startled by the fact that learning how to defend yourself, is gonna' require time, effort, training, instruction and application of resources (most likely your money - but for sure your time)?

End of July and early August I get a number of inquiries from parents who suddenly see the college freshman orientation date looming and they freak a little. They want self-defense training for their daughters.

Me: okay great, when does she leave?
Parent: in two weeks.
Me: well.....that leaves us with mostly private lessons and we won't get much in but we'll do what we can. When is she free?
Parent: She's going on a trip with her friends for 4 days, and then she wants to work as much as she can for extra spending money, I think we can do maybe one lesson....for about 45 minutes... on Sunday afternoon at 4:30. Let me see if that will work for her though, Sundays she likes to go to the pool.
Me: not so silent face-palm......

This is a not a hypothetical example because the script is pieces of actual conversations mushed together.

I suppose there are people who would watch a prima ballerina and say - I could learn to do that in an hour.  People who are wrapped tightly in a Dunning-Kruger effect universe and never consider that there is a single thing out there they couldn't do with little or no training/experience. But I find it challenging to accept this is true of so very many people or that all the D-K folks happen to live in my county.

What is it about self-defense in particular that creates the expectation of minimal input = maximum output? Is this the hidden byproduct of the burgeoning black-belt factory mentality of dojos focused on after-school programs and black belted kids by the age of 8?  Or, is it deeper than this. Is it a result of our profound dissociation from our basic nature as predators?

I think both factor in. The first contributes through the commercialization of the coolness factor associated with a Gi wrapped with a black belt. The second is more subtle. It's sneakier and more pervasive. It is the perpetual state of Alice on the wrong side of Lewis Carroll's looking glass and when she falls through it - more than just the glass will shatter.

This little rant brought to you today by a phone call. A young woman who will be leaving in several months for a year of travel. Parents say - you need to get some self-defense training first. I'm like, all happy because I actually have some time with this one. Several months! By comparison to the other inquiries I get this time of year, this is a lifetime. While I'm all excited about this lead time - the inquirer is not. She was hoping just a class or two would be good enough.

Maybe we will see her anyway - it's a condition apparently for this adventure she has planned.

In the meantime. I'm losing my patience with the mindset.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Code - who gets to ask what, and why?

 let's see how many questions I can ask in a single post -

When teaching in a group of women if the training is long enough someone inevitably asks me if I have any personal experience with violence.

Mixed gender or all male groups - the question doesn't come up.

This wants to ask a question, doesn't it? Like....why is that? Why do the women ask and not the men? Do women ask only women? Do women ask male instructors? Why don't the men ask? And, do the men ask other men just not women?

This is probably just a rabbit hole but the questions have me super curious. So I asked a friend of the male type - I shared the observation based on my experience and asked...why don't the guys ask?

His response was it's kinda' like a guy-code. You don't do it. You don't ask another guy if he's killed somebody or how many fights he's gotten into, or if he's ever stabbed someone or gotten shot. In this conversation, he reminded me of a situation we both happened to observe. One of those moments when a guy broke the code. There was a visceral reaction from a number of folks when the code was broken. The guy who was asked made it clear the ask-ee had crossed a line. What if it had been a woman who had presented the question?

Hmmm. I think the general response would have been the same - not cool, sister, not cool.

BUT...what if it had been a female instructor and the question had come from a female participant? When I've gotten this question from other women it's generally come from one of two places, that I can tell anyway. One: credibility. Do I have the experience to back up my confidence in what I'm teaching? Women doubt. They (we) have seen enough bullshit in self-defense instruction that we doubt.  Two: safety v. risk. A lot of the time the question comes from a place of fear. If I have the been-there shirt then she can let her guard down...doesn't risk as much potential judgment.  And, if the answer from a female instructor is NO, I don't have the been-there shirt, a little explanation and personal sharing cinches the credibility factor pretty well too. Women are all...well, women.

If you haven't been physically attacked, you have worried about it at some point. You have been cautious going out to your car at night or have been the focus of spurious catcalls or some other unwanted attention. The girls get it.  Maybe. Hmmm. Then there's the whole neurological multi-connectivity factor in the female brain which tends to create more investigative questioning just by the nature of her wiring. Is that it? Probably contributes but I think this is more a socially driven construct than a biologically driven construct.

What happens though if a guy asks the violence question to a female instructor? I have no idea. I have never seen this happen. Would the violation of the guy-code be bigger or less? Would the women be happy someone asked on their behalf or incensed at the intrusive curiosity?

What about credibility? If the female instructor says yeah, I have the t-shirt, what are the guys thinking about that? Does it add to her credibility? Or, do the men in the crowd feel all offended on her behalf - or - maybe it detracts from her credibility, she's a damsel in distress and should have known better ...or... What if her answer is no - loss of credibility? Are the men relieved but somehow drifting towards being dismissive? No idea. Not a guy and again, have never seen this dynamic go down.

I don't know if the answers inform anything or really matter. I'm just curious more than anything else because it is a trend and, not knowing the rules is one of the things that can up the propensity for violence and conflict. So I am curious about what the underlying rules are here, and even more curious why the rules exist. I have seen it happen, had it happen on more than one occasion. The women ask. The men don't.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

into the fray

Okay-dokey. There's a whole lot of angry and binary and positioning going on right now. It is impacting a lot of different stuff like politics and history and human rights and freedom of speech and...

Is the U.S. on the brink of a new type of civil war? What's the real issue with Charlotsville; freedom of speech? hate crimes? terrorism? the beginning of a new Hitleresque regime on the rise? Do we tear down all the historical monuments from the history of the U.S. Civil War? Do we tear down the pyramids in Egypt because they were built on the backs of slavery?  And then there's Trump's response pointing his finger at both sides and the backlash that he didn't condemn the white supremacists.

At a sociological level this is twisty and complex. At a human level, there isn't anything complex about it.

Any time we see, feel, experience or believe Power is a binary, closed percentage proposition we are fucked. If you get an entire generation of children to believe 2 apples and 2 oranges = 10
Almonds and the numeral 10 comes to mean those 2 apples and 2 oranges as a new concept and you rewrite the dictionaries to change the meaning of the words so they match, there are still 2 apples and 2 oranges on the table, not 10 almonds. If we try to solve math equations with this new interpretation and we bend the numbers and our definitions of reality to make it work - it is still inaccurate and the solutions we create will be skewed and ineffective. The skewed solutions will eventually breakdown because there are just some things that can not survive the test of raw reality.

Trying to solve battles for power by dividing one pie and allocating the pieces to an infinite number of human beings is always, eventually going to break down.

Power is not a finite equation and is not binary. If I have some, you do not have less. Everything we believe about our power or lack thereof has been taught/learned.  We can get super existential even and think about what Frankyl said in Logo therapy and his experiences from the Nazi Concentration camps - he was kinda' powerless when he was interned .... or so it would appear. But he came out of it with theories about being human that eviscerated a binary and finite orientation to power.

One of the things he discovered was humans in the concentration camps had basically two relationships with the food...ummm....well, what passed as food.  People would risk their lives to hoard what little they were given in case they needed it later. Other people would give their portion up to a sick(er) detainee when in need. The latter group lived longer. Tended to be more resilient. Weird, huh? Give away your meager portions once-in-a-while and you live longer? What?

When you feel like someone has power over you, it is because at some level you have surrendered a degree of it. When you feel like you have to drive your car through a crowd of people you hate, they rule you. Yes, you may kill and injure some of them and that sure as hell looks like you have more power than they do. Look, I do this too. We are deeply socially programmed to see power as an equation with a finite numerical product.

There are experiences that inform beliefs I have and those experiences can argue deeply about power differentials 80/20 etc. Moments in which I did not have the necessary skills to avoid the impact of someone else's decisions - that can feel like powerlessness. No doubt. It doesn't mean it's true.

White lives matter. Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. Take monuments down. Destroy history. Keep history. Be right. Be wrong. It's all a battle for power. Only here's the thing - You can't win something you already have access to and you can't lose something wired into your DNA. No matter how hard we try, adding together 2 apples and 2 oranges will not give us 10 Almonds. And as long as we try to solve the equation by using the wrong computation, we are fucked.

Monday, August 7, 2017

botany+dragons+ex-heroine addicts = a little clarity

Weeds. They are easy to get lost in. Particularly when one decides it is necessary to identify all the weeds on the way out of the bramble patch.

This is the allegoric representation on why it took me a ridiculously long time to finish a 3 - part series on stalking for Conflict Research Group, International.

The deeper I delved into the writing project, the worse it got. The more I tried to be precise in my writing the more I discovered the whole field and everything in it was unclear, undefined and difficult to identify. I wondered if this is what Scott felt like years ago up in the outlands of Canada. Scott being a cousin who was contracted by the Canadian government to go out and identify all the plants growing in the grasslands and then to categorize which ones were indigenous and which ones were interlopers. He spent weeks out there with his dog/wolf hybrid. Sometimes days on on end without seeing another human. Looking at each little growing thing seeking to answer two questions. What are you? Do you belong here?

Working on the stalking articles I felt like what I imagined Scott might have felt weeks into the project. Overwhelmed by all the possibilities. While Scott was digging through the underbrush and plucking at leaves and stems, I was digging through published material and various taxonomies. Plucking through Bureau of Justice statistics while also periodically disentangling myself from my monkey brain chatter rising up through a field of personal experience (having been stalked twice). On the second rewrite of article 2 of 3 all I could see was an expanse of unnamed possible patterns in human behavior and fields of possible taxonomies - some established, others undetermined.  And then a feeling of futility.

And that's where I wonder if Scott and I shared another experience. If he might have looked out across the landscape as it dropped off into the infinity of the horizon and pondered on the possibility there might be no true end to the project - a fuck-this, what's the point? - moment.

The chatter that ran through my little monkey brain sounded a lot like that and I, in my fantasy of presumed solidarity with a family elder I respect, I wondered if we shared something.
  • why am I doing this?
  • what's the point?
  • I'm sure there's someone better at this, knows more about this
  • I don't think I'm smart enough to figure this out
  • No one's going to read this anyway (it doesn't add to any valuable body of knowledge)
  • I probably don't know what I'm talking about
There were more, but those are the ones I remember at the moment.

When I got really lost in the weeds, I pitched the unfinished, multi-versioned articled #2 to a friend. One I trust to call bullshit - one I trust to say whoa sister, way too much personal drama.

His feedback, over a couple of conversations, made things worse which made the whole project easier. He had his own wonderings, musings and questions about the topic and behavior patterns and affects. I realized there was a metarphoric metric ton of plants in this field that were never going to be fully identified in a little 3-part article series. So I let go of that part and suddenly I had a finished product. There are a series of assumptions in the articles and a more than equal chance they are wrong as much as they are right.

And that's okay. This is what I've got. Personal experience + a little professional knowledge + some training in the arena of personal defense/safety. Maybe it adds to the body of knowledge. Maybe the suppositions are so wrong, it will send someone else off in a particularly right direction.

My monkey's need to be correct - was part of my problem. I didn't want to misinform and my past experiences where telling me I was supposed to get it all figured out. Ego's a bitch.

And as I finish up this post, I am having a flashback. Remembering a moment with an intuitive, intelligent, slightly off-kilter ex-heroine addict-turned-leadership-trainer. John looked at me and made an observation. "You like to observe and assess and figure things out, don't you?" Yup.

"Yeah....that's not really going to work for you." He said a few more things but I don't remember them because the rest of it just completely pissed me off and all I remember was the moment when I called him out.
"Are you challenging me?" to which John replied by covering the distance of a conference hall in a nano second and stood well inside my 3 foot space bubble, leaned in and announced with more certainty than I thought possible - "Yes! Yes.I.Am."

This was almost 20 years ago. He was right then, and he is still right. I am better when I stop trying to figure it all out ahead of time. We all are.  There is a difference between being an idiot and ignoring the information and experiences gained by others - the wisdom that exists through the knowledge of people who have traveled the terrain ahead of us. And when we hit uncharted spaces - figuring out all the possibilities before we move into the terrain is paralyzing. The new stuff, the fun stuff, the fantastically terrifying stuff is out there in the weeds and the uncertainty and the wrong-ness that is guaranteed by playing in spaces that are uncharted.

"Beyond this place there be dragons" translated to ink on my arm as a reminder that the best lessons are learned playing with the dragons of uncharted territory clearly isn't enough of a personal reminder, because writing these articles would have been much easier if I had remembered.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Alice's adventures down the rabbit hole just got interesting

Two time-encompassing things have happened these past few weeks.  One both internal/external time monster and the second mostly internal.

One: Kid got married this past weekend. Lots of time and energy and totally worth it.Weird to be in this phase of life in which I have a kid who was in the right space in life to be getting married. It's a threshold of sorts. Yeah, yeah, we can do the whole "how did I get this old" or "when did I become an adult" thing. While it's a little accurate - it's more about this new space that is opening up in life. For him, for me - still letting it settle in to see what it all means.

Two: finalized a draft for the second article on stalking, 2 of an intended 3 part series that started with the post on boundary setting and stalking (here). Or so I thought.

I'm a BTDT girl with stalking. Oh. That doesn't read well. As in have been v. have done. Twice. You know the whole thing about experience as the best teacher and experience being a by product of not having always been the sharpest crayon in the box.....

The BDTD shirt award has the capacity to skew my perspective creating glitches and blindspots so before I finalized the draft I sent it to a friend. The kind of friend who is comfortable pointing out the glitches and blindspots and throwing bullshit flags. The best kind of friend, really.

After several conversations I think I can finally finish the article and the series. I haven't created a magnificent masterpiece. Far from it. What I think I can finally articulate is the complexity of stalking, boundary setting and the tangle of humans as both predator and prey tangoing with the twisted social scripts creating this minefield.

Research indicates there a couple different taxonomies for types of stalking. They are descriptive and naturally incomplete. I could create another taxonomy - I may just to make finalizing these articles easier. I have been avoiding doing this but I think it's going to be necessary. The easier thing would be to scrap the project altogether because here's what the conversation with my flag throwing friend created - when anti-stalking laws hit the books (launched by California in the 90's), a line was drawn. Good behavior on one side and Bad (punishable) behavior on the other. Humans like this distinction. Simplifies shit.

Only stalking does not play nice with this distinction.

I can finish the article series because I have accepted I can't get it all neatly tidied up. That's where I was getting stuck. Every time I thought I was on the right track I discovered I was really just writing my way down another rabbit hole. Playing with the Rabbit Hole/Warren metaphor, I have decided I don't need to neatly outline the labyrinth. I am just going to play around in the tunnels and see what happens.