Friday, August 30, 2019
Good question. Don't really have an answer. This post is about the off-balanced nature of how we play with the word because it doesn't mean now what it used to mean.
I guess we get to acknowledge first, that "expert" means a lot of things. It can mean someone particularly knowledgeable in a particular arena, someone granted personal respect, someone with demonstrated skill sets that seemingly outmatch their peers -
It used to mean just "experienced". But that usage is now deemed obsolete. Too bad. A momma who's raised 9 fabulous kids is a freaking expert by experience in my book, and I know one such momma.
Expert has evolved into one of those words that changes in definition as swiftly as the context changes. Here's what I mean:
I've been designated for "expert testimony" in a couple of court cases over the years. Two criminal, a handful of civil, and one IDEA mediation (that one was a really long time ago) and my testimony ranged from nodding my head yes to a judge in family court to a 7 hour deposition in a civil suit. Cases addressing a bunch of different situations - mostly human behavior...except the IDEA case - that one was an assessment on accessibility. Long story that, based on my first career as a Deaf Education teacher.
I earned an Expert I rank from Krav Maga Global following a week-long grueling physical training camp in Israel followed by an equally brutal physical skills test. I survived - earned the patch and hung up my rank-testing goals. When just about everyone testing undercut me by a minimum of ten years, (and months of recovery to their weeks) I turned my physical training goals on to different objectives.
People have called me an expert on any number of occasions mostly around the field of self-defense as it relates to our psychology and human behavior - and self-defense specific to women.
Who's right? The courts? The mediation officer? The judge? My combat art system's rank evaluators? The IDEA attorney? My friends and colleagues?
It's not a title I claim and I have openly shunned it until I'm blue in the face - and it gets used my direction anyway. I'm not a fan of the word - but not because of the word itself. I don't like how easily we fall under the authoritative spell cast by it.
Case in point. Just because some folks label me that way doesn't make it true. There are so many people out in the self-defense world with more experience both as practitioners & as instructors than I will ever have. But the E word is sticky and once someone wipes that sticky goo on you, it's damned hard to get it off.
There's a logic fallacy called Appeal to Authority. It's when we reference Experts to give our words more weight in an argument or, a good natured debate (and that seems to be a dying art -but check out Randy King's new podcast for dose of fresh air on that one). Humans like to appeal to higher powers for a host of reasons, mostly, I think it's because there's a degree of personal abdication...a little back door that gets creaked open when we say an Expert told us so-and-so. Then if shit goes badly, we have someone else to blame. The Expert told us...therefore...it's the expert's fault...certainly not our own! Back door...
I think we like Experts too because they get to be windmills for the Don Quixote's among us. Something, or someone to rail against when we feel otherwise ineffectual. We can write scathing reviews, blog posts, IG comments - from afar we are the brave warrior for truth and justice and again - back door exits because few people will reach to have open honest dialogue anymore. Particularly around disagreements (or worse, offense). I have an Expert I don't like - at all. But I know a metric ton of people who do like this particular Expert. When I feel like jousting I'll grab my steed and lance and do my thing. But I do it quietly, with friends who are going to laugh at me for it because jousting at windmills is...well jousting at windmills.
So, what IS an expert? My spouse, for starters. In his area of expertise - a sought after guy in his domain. He's an expert. In my world, he's stunning. I know there are people who don't like him and in his domain would not call him an expert. Okay-dokey. I get to see him how I choose.
As much as there are people who slapped the sticky expert goo on my back and use the term with respect, I know there are folks out there who completely disagree. Good. They get to do that too.
The cautionary tale around the word Expert lies in the credence we give it. No one is a true expert. That's because somewhere, someone else taught the Expert who was then just a student. And that teacher was taught by someone before them, etc. And - more importantly, somewhere there is someone who is keener, more skilled, sharper minded than anyone slapped with the Expert label. We may never hear about them - doesn't make it less true.
Whether we seek an authority in curing an illness, healing a broken bone, in deciphering early English Literature, self-defense skills, in torte law...it is essential to remember Expert is a designation, not a fact. The best possible gift you can give yourself when you meet someone who's been tagged with that sticky label is to decide for yourself...then let other folks do the same.
(And I'll be the first to tell you there are other folks out there who far more earn the designation than I ever could.)
If you really like the work of a particular person, you respect their ideas and feel they are a benchmark in their field - okay. You can share this sentiment with your friends and some may buy it while other's do not. Good, accept it and move on. Not a great platform for proselytizing.
The inverse is also true. Have a friend or colleague who designates someone as an Expert that you don't much care for? Okay dokey. Remember, it's an assigned value of esteem, not a universal fact and you both get to believe as you choose. Really. There's enough room.
And if you turn assigned value into a battleground (whether for or against) you are playing deep in the Appeal to Authority fallacy and here's the rub, it is unnecessarily divisive. Unnecessary because it doesn't matter. It's a label with such a profoundly fluctuating meaning the term itself doesn't carry any authentic value.
I like my Expert and you decidedly do not. You and I kick up a storm over a worn-out, echoic paper doll of a term...to what end? Who is served? Who's life is now the better for it?
Here's an option. We evaluate an Expert's position and message as it relates to our personal experiences in life. If the words and music line up, if the message resonates and it adds value to your life, own it. It's your life (not the Expert's), take the message that moves you and let it become your own. If in this evaluation you do not find value, leave it. Move on. There is something thread-bare and weary to the gestures we make against the messages we reject.
We used to burn people at the stake for this sort of thing. Physically. We're still doing it metaphorically. Think about what amazing creativity could replace obsessive hostility against a meme, message or ideology you reject?
And this goes deep. Let's take an ideology like racial/ethnic supremacy. I personally find it abhorrent. I can march against it, carry signs, shout at rallies, exchange blows with those who support such ideology. Who have I helped? Is my neighbor happier? Are my children healthier? Are the hungry fed? Is the justice system suddenly woke?
We get really spooled up over our Experts and experts. We pit one against the other and hide behind keyboards - which feels a little self-convicting at the moment since I am, in fact, at my keyboard...and we throw poisonous darts because we feel better for it?
I don't think so. I don't think anyone actually experiences resolution in these ideological hunger games.
So no, I'm not an Expert. I have been called one, labeled one, introduced as one at a speaking engagement. I have stopped stomping on the term when thrown my way because I don't get to decide what other folks think. Much as I'd like to - and because my energy is better spent where something may be created v destroyed.
It's a silly word, anyway.
Sunday, June 23, 2019
In an era of participation trophies and black-belt factories we are losing Moments.
Brief moments in the grand timeline of a life, but moments of importance nonetheless. Moments when we pause and we make distinct the accomplishments of specific people who show up in specific ways distinguishing themselves in their community. We are losing the beauty of the Moments.
Collectively, society has a new phobia. The collective we is particularly cautious about recognition. Everyone gets a trophy. Show up (or not) and let enough time go by - and pay enough money - and you too can have a martial art black belt. We don't want anyone to feel left out.
No one should feel disappointed because they didn't earn something. No one should wistfully look to the future with I hope I get recognized someday hanging as an unspoken whisper on their lips. They should be recognized now. Breathing should get an award because somehow, NOT getting a Moment of recognition is interpreted as a categorical statement of perpetual insignificance.
Value is not a zero sum game. Recognition is not a zero sum game. Honoring someone's efforts is not zero sum. If your name is called out and you get an award and I do not - I am not the lesser for your Moment. There is joy in celebrating a friend or colleague's accomplishment.
This joy is available commensurate to the degree you are comfortable in your own skin. We are significant. We have impact. We are also fundamentally insignificant (do you know the name of the person who traveled across your patch of land 500 years ago? nope - that person...to you...is insignificant.) Significantly insignificant is one of the remarkable paradoxes of being conscious of our own existence.
A paradox is only a problem if we think it needs resolution. We are both significant and insignificant. And...THIS IS OKAY.
A few weeks ago I ordered a series of trophies and awards. For our kids program, we bought blinged out metal award monuments and medals. Kids like bling. For the adults, crystal engraved awards of various sizes and certificates for areas of recognition. On June 7th, we had our belt advancement ceremony for the kids and gave out a couple of trophies and medals. A couple. We have a couple dozen kids in our program.
Yesterday Kore Self-Defense & Krav Maga had our annual pool party which has evolved to be our adult award ceremony. We gave certificates for Testing Insanity and Training Perseverance. Engraved awards for Excellence in Training, Volunteer Bad-Ass, and a Student Leadership Award. Not everyone got an award. It's okay. If you can celebrate the accomplishments of your peers you are the stronger for it.
Pictures are getting posted from the party and awards recognized across social media today. Comments from people who were not the recipients. Members of our tribe celebrating the Moments of their friends and training partners.
We take these awards seriously. The leadership team at our facility meets and discusses the awards and the students. There is debate and eventual agreement. There is debate because pretty much all our students are significant to us. Spending a few minutes away from food, water and sun, we get to talk about why the awards are given.
We get to mention the student who turned her ankle at the beginning of a rank test and should have benched herself...and didn't. Who passed her test and then wore a boot for a month because...she should have benched herself. Or the student who travels a metric ton and seeks out places around the world to keep training so he can test - and handles with extreme grace having his rank "held" until he retests a couple of skills that aren't quite up to par. Or the student who for years has moved through a series of life events and eventually always returns to the mat and now is committed to bringing his experience to other students by becoming an instructor. Or the student who...
It is a beautiful gift to create a Moment for these people. We always hope of course, that the recipients feel honored. It's the giving of the recognition though, that I get to enjoy. There is a peace and joy in embracing the gratitude accompanying the opportunity to honor members of the tribe.
Being in the gallery applauding your colleague is okay. It means you are part of a tribe who authentically recognizes people for their Moments. It means you are part of a tribe that believes you are already strong and your strength stands. Your strength is complete as is - your strength is inherent and independent.
Sunday, June 16, 2019
Pine sap. East Texas folks in the Pineywoods call it Pine Tar. The interminably sticky sap oozing off pine trees is like perpetual double-sided tape. You can't seem to get it off of you (skin, clothes, whatever) and everything you come in contact with sticks back.
Every once in a while I get Pine Tar thoughts. An idea or a gut feeling refusing to let go of me. No matter how I try to ignore it away or wash it out of my thoughts, it's just too damned sticky and won't go away.
Several weeks ago I received an openly hostile email spewing hate-filled comments about something I was quoted as saying in an article. I looked back at the article and even reached out to the author about the how it was perceived. Then I wrote about the email (in part) in Scared Rabbit Syndrome. I wondered if I was being over-sensitive and realized being attacked by some unknown person from somewhere out there in the inter webs is just an odd experience because it's an intangible confrontation. The best response may in fact be no response at all.
Then the sticky thought came back. More of a little niggling wormy thing in the back of my head. So I looked at it again - is my perception wrong? Is there an actual error in using a Predator Test to suss out whether or not a casual touch or brush of contact is truly accidental v. the beginning of Target Assessment?
Don't think so. I still believe if one's radar goes off and there isn't anything openly threatening happening yet, you can test the situation out before activating a personal version of community Tornado Sirens. Conversely, I also believe you have the right to just get up and walk away if that feels like the best option; however, the circumstances discussed in the article and subsequent vitriol attack reference confined space in an airplane. Only so much getting up and walking away available.
The sticky thought eventually pointed out a blind spot. I firmly believe everything can be weaponized. Including words. Including words typically employed for social pleasantries. Words like Please. Two-by-four upside the head moment for me: that's not a common mindset among women. Duh. Not the sharpest crayon in the box sometimes.
Pine Tar thought should be done now. Moving on. .... Nope.... it's back again. Sticky damn thing.
Last night I ran into the tree. The source of the Pine Tar worm in the back of my brain.
NOW I GET IT! Now I understand why this woman exploded in an email about the predator test process discussed in the article. I understand why her solution - the only solution that should ever be taught, standing up and screaming get your fucking hands off me you XYZ, when you get brushed by a passenger seated next to you - now I understand what that means.
Before I ran into the Tree, I kept thinking - why does someone want to live that way? How is teaching women to assume every accidental point of contact is a sexual assault a good idea? Or at least, why is it becoming a popular idea? Yeah, I get the influence of the #MeToo movement and I appreciate the depth of awareness-shift happening...but still...it bugged me.
Now I get it.
What image sparks in your mind when you see "Women's Self-Defense Seminar"?
Pictures of women learning to hit? Women learning groin kicks? Learning to defend chokes on the ground? Women at a shooting range learning to use a firearm?
Me too (see what I did there?). This is how I was raised as a self-defense instructor. This is how I was trained as a Women's Krav Maga instructor - a specialty certification. Don't get me wrong, I think physical self-defense should be part of gym class in all middle and high school curriculum.
But this is also where we get it wrong.
I have a daughter-in-law. I have nieces. I have a handful of adopted daughters, girls I have known well through the years. The last thing I want ANY of them to EVER experience is the need for those physical skills I love teaching. There are no physical encounters without scars. Emotional or physical. And yet those images are the expression of women's self-defense - of self-defense regardless of gender.
Prevention. This is what we should visualize when we hear Women's Self-Defense. Threat Assessment, people reading, environment management, victim assessment/grooming (as in - you're being evaluated as a potential target), escape/evasion...the short list of skills we should picture when we think of self-defense training. The fun physical stuff - and I mean that literally - should absolutely live in the curriculum. The industry standard is the mistake. We teach the last line of defense as the primary skill set instead of as the last line of defense.
Ta-Da. This is the sticky-pine-tar brain worm. Women's Self-Defense is synonymous with physical self-defense. Now the verbally violent email makes sense. The self-defense world has held a singular focus and has effectively created one acceptable solution to assault: wait until you are attacked to respond. This is the standard.
This logic is akin to teaching architects to look for structural problems after the bridge collapses.
With the pine tar washing off, I have more thoughts. This post; however, is already WAY too long. Putting a pin in it and maybe there will be a part 2.
Tuesday, March 26, 2019
Not everyone is a Threat. In fact, most people just want to get through any given day with minimal drama.
I'll use flight travel as an example. When we are crammed together in close quarters by choice, we benefit from remembering most people aren't out there to "get us". First situation, two separate flights. Once the Offender was a young woman, once the Offender was a young man. Both were sitting on a plane and trying to get the Touch Screen on the seat back in front of them to work. While trying to figure it out, their contact with the seat back (touching different spots on the mini video screen) translated through to the body in the seat.
The young man and the young woman were disturbing the person in the seat. They didn't know they were bothering the person in the seat. The woman in the seat in front of the young man got up, placed her hands on her seat back and leaned over the top of her seat toward the young man. In no uncertain terms, she told him to stop "hitting her in the back of the head".
The young man appeared rather startled - he had no idea what he was doing to hit this woman in the head. He was traveling with someone who could have been his father. This guy leaned over and said something to him quietly ... I'm assuming it was an explanation of why she made the assault accusation. The young man read a book for most of the flight.
Different flight - roles reversed, the man turned to the girl who was finger stabbing the screen and said something like "if you don't stop banging on my seat, I'm calling the flight attendant."
Not everyone is a Threat. These two air-travel novices were unaware how easy it is to jostle fellow passengers. Like the guy who fell asleep and his head flopped over during turbulence and rested on the shoulder of the stranger next to him. He wasn't trying to look down her shirt or cop a feel.
The woman who dropped her cell phone and reached down to hunt for it and repeatedly touched the men on either side: her head brushed a thigh, knees, her arm moved across a calf, etc. She wasn't testing them to see if either would be a good target for sexual assault.
The young flyers weren't attempting to escalate conflict and the sleeping frequent flyer wasn't looking for an "accidental" grope.
Is 'manspreading' a thing? Sure. Is consuming more space than your tight quarters socially permits a thing? Yup.
Does it mean the person means you harm? Most of the time...no.
If your self-defense protocols & training are making you more suspicious, more hostile, and less comfortable in social environments - your protocols and training aren't helping make your life better.
If you yell PERVERT, every time someone brushes against you in densely populated situations, your protocols and training are building fear and anger.
The last thing we need right now are more angry, frightened humans. Train (if you do) to be strong. Strength is marked by your ability to know most people don't care to harm you - most people don't even notice you exist, to be honest. They are too wrapped up in their own personal goals & problems to notice you. Rude? Maybe. Self-absorbed? Maybe. Assault precursors? Not typically.
Train so you can discern the difference between self-centered "man spreading" and a predator testing you to see if you are a good target. Train to trust that should the time ever arrive in which the situation warrants defense - you can defend you yourself.
Check the knee brush on the subway, of course. But if you assume every knee brush is the precursor to sexual assault or another form of violence, your life is kinda' terrifying and qualifies for Scared Rabbit Syndrome. I don't wish that on anyone.
Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Who does this? No, no...I know the answer. Lots of people. Knowing the reality isn't enough to quiet my own monkey-brain emotional reaction-
Shame on you - really - just stop.
It's mostly a self-soothing statement. If I don't say it - I am left with a mix of thoughts and emotions that roil about and at best are described as sorrow. But that word doesn't quite cut it.
It's been months since I posted here. Somehow, I seem to end up back in the blogosphere when my alternative is to sit in a dark corner and bang my head against a wall. When that choice is the sanest alternative...I end up here.
I heard a story today. It's a true story. I wish it wasn't.
It is predictable. I wish it wasn't.
Here's the story: a high school student with several years of martial arts training, a talented and committed student, wants to expand her training. She has a few specific short-term training goals before she ships off to college. She researches a variety of options. Finds something appealing. Does her homework. Sets up her first trial class - you know, the free one we pretty much all offer.
She enjoys it. Looks like it could help her accomplish a specific training goal she has and the dojo - or whatever they call themselves, does their homework too. Good on them. They make the effort to get to know her, explore those goals.
She shares openly about her background, her current training and her progress toward instructor development in one of her styles. The new program is roughly 45 minutes to an hour away from her current program and a 100% different focus and style (that's important).
Realistically, she's a short-term student for this new style. Her college aspirations are not local.
And ready? They are going to have to "get back to her". As a prospective student? "It's a conflict of interest" -
Teaching a young woman who wants to learn as much as she can across a broad range of physical skill sets is a CONFLICT OF INTEREST? She's not a pro-track fighter. She's leaving for college in a few months. She's not going to run off and open a dojo of her own somewhere -stealing all your super secret squirrel skills. She's a freakin' high school student.
The new program and her current program do very different things and are so far away from each other there's nothing even geographically competitive.
What exactly is this martial arts program afraid of?
Protecting your student investment as an instructor? When did we start owning humans again? Oh right - we (humans) never stopped. It's called human trafficking now instead of slavery. I digress.
Reality Check #1: We don't own our students. We get to set the parameters of how we run our business and training protocols, yes. We do not; however, own students. If they want to train 7 days a week in 3 different styles simultaneously, they get to do that - except obviously, at this particular school.
Reality Check #2: hear of the internet? the Information Age? Yes? Good. Guess what. There isn't anything you teach that can't be found on the web. Nothing you do is secret squirrel enough to turn a high school girl away because you're afraid she's going to run off with your secrets.
Reality Check #3: If there IS something that secretive? She shouldn't train with you anyway. That's actually just scary. What else will you do there you don't want anyone to know about?
Reality Check #4: Don't you dare say you give two flying fucks about women and strength and self-defense. EVER. Because you don't.
Reality Check #5: You taught a high school student a valuable lesson. People will often protect their ego as the highest of priorities leaving proverbial (and sometimes real) dead bodies in their wake.
Reality Check #6: Dojos, training centers, whatevers, you do not own your students - wait I said that. Saying it again. They pay you. For a service. You work for THEM.
We do get to deny service. And this program is exercising their right to turn someone away. I have no problem with that. None. Dangerous student? Someone who's goal is to see how many people they can hurt? A participant who wants to train so they can touch people intimately and not get in trouble for it? Check. Host of other possible things as well.
And here's the dark-corner, head-banging truth of it all. I_Am_Not_Surprised.
This is not my offense, I know. But I'm carrying it at the moment. It IS my (loosely applied term) industry. I am reduced to my own stupid-human-tricks because all I am left with at the end of this is...
Shame on you. Stop it.
Monday, December 17, 2018
armchair quarterbacks...who are they? or maybe rather Why are they?
- folks who played the game when they were younger and live vicariously now through the players on the field...feeling a lack or loss in their current circumstances
- folks who feel their dreams were thwarted by bad deals (if only X...I'd be playing for the NFL right now)
- folks who never played but think they are masters at anything they observe
- folks who never played and enjoy telling people off ... or what to do... from the safe distance of one-way relationships
- folks who never played and are, in general, superior to most other folks on the planet
- folks who currently play the game ... but not THIS game or not at THAT level and feel excluded, shunned or otherwise inappropriately disregarded
- folks who need an enemy - someone to rail against, someone upon which they can project conscious and subconscious bias, prejudice, and as a result also fear(s).
There are a couple of other who/whys I can think of that are actually kind of cool-
- folks who currently play the game and just enjoy the game
- folks who played the game in the past and enjoy it being played by current athletes
- folks who enjoy the game and like to enjoy it with friends (and all the banter that comes with hanging with friends)
The above descriptions apply regardless of industry.
With a nod to full disclosure, I have watched a video clip of instruction (online) and had my own comments to make both positively and negatively. Sometimes I have to force myself to remember I'm watching a piece of a bigger picture that has a 50/50 shot of being presented completely out of context. Particularly if I'm on a soapbox at the moment.
I have watched some things executed from start to finish and cringed at the fucked up physics or at language that says "this will always work, no matter what, if you do it correctly".
I like the phrase my colleague and friend Randy King uses: don't worship at the altars of Always and Never. Or something like that. I like it a lot so that's one of my hot buttons.
What I find interesting...annoying...and sometimes pissed-off worthy is when an armchair quarterback from the self-defense industry comments on a thing and there is an obvious assumption s/he knows everything about the situation they a) were not in attendance for b) have not asked any questions about c) have been wrong about said assumptions in the past d) is uninterested in inquiring beyond the pontification and e) has the opportunity to talk to the person/situation in question while making zero effort to do so.
Armchair Quarterbacks in football don't bug me. I understand the passion of the game but I don't see football as addressing personal safety - as the point of the industry. I don't see football Armchair QBs attempting to undermine good people trying to help other people be strong(er). I'm guessing it happens, I just don't hear about it. Not my industry.
And I get too, this is just what human monkeys do. And we all do it periodically. At the end of it though, ultimately, when I see AQBs in the self-defense industry and I get past my own monkey reactions - I am left with sorrow.
If you teach or train in self-defense and you are authentically involved in this avocation because you want the people you care about to be safer, strong people - what value do you add by attacking colleagues?
What frightens you enough to attack, deride, denigrate rather than engage, inquire and discover? What value - or - how useful is this action toward the goal of creating physical and emotional strength?
There are plenty of ideologies to get worked up over out there in the reals. If we all want the same thing (safe, stronger, healthier people we care about) and our actions are divisive, we care about something MORE than we care about safer, stronger people. It's not that we don't care AT ALL about safer, stronger people. It's that our needs for status, dominance, power, authority, recognition etc. are MORE important to us than the goal of strong -healthy people.
Competing agendas. What wins out evidences in our actions and exposes that to which we are most committed.
Something to think about...
...and I am by no means immune.