Monday, January 15, 2018

nesting dolls

I'm in Santa Rosa, CA this week. It is like being in a nesting doll - a living breathing nesting doll.

I don't even know how to articulate it.

In October the area was hit with the "Tubbs" Fires. It's January and the impact of the devastation is still palpable. Not where I'm staying and working - it looks untouched. It isn't singed or scorched. But it's a pocket. It's a spot of normal in a reeling abnormality of destruction. Everyone I know here has talked about the new layer of impact - community wide PTSD. If your house didn't burn, maybe where you worked did - maybe you escaped both but XX number of your good friends are homeless.

I can't really find the language to express the ripple effects -

So nesting doll. I'm here in this city that is normal and abnormal paradoxically simultaneously.  And I'm teaching physical self-defense, a little ConCom, a little Violence Dynamics, a little Krav, in this mismash that shouldn't work...but does. Teaching a group of people who "have to" come to the training and the research on mandatory programming in any kind of rehabbing (including the whole idea that prison should be rehab of a sort) consistently reports mandatory stuff doesn't work. But this seems to.

And the people in my classes are in the bigger long term program that is voluntarily mandatory because being IN the program is voluntary but participating in the different aspects of the program once you are IN...is mandatory.  And so the people who show up to work with me for two days didn't have a say in it.

And they all have a metric ton of life they are working through, including addiction.  Violence is an up-close and personal experience for the majority - both on the giving and receiving end of the violence spectrum. So there's a lot of conversation and experience of PTSD in the program tucked inside a city that kind of has PTSD.

Nesting dolls.  Nothing profound to say about any of this. Just noticing and wondering about it. And fascinated once again by the crazy capacity humans have to adapt and adapt and adapt again. There's a continuum or a scale in how humans measure adaptability ...healthy to unhealthy to not-at-all.

But being here in the midst of a great deal of adaptation in action, all I can think of is --

no wonder we made it to the top of the food chain - we just don't know how to die, do we?

It's a figurative statement, haven't met an immortal human yet and we all eventually die and sometimes we die in tragedy -

at the collective though? we don't die easily. We should - but we don't.



Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Dear Oprah, give me 500-




Dear Oprah;

Inspiration is a fantastic emotion. When the well of emotional energy living at our core finally gathers enough energy to explode upward into conscious awareness and we feel compelled - there is something grand about watching a volcano erupt and something equally grand about feeling inspired.



And then there is the aftermath. The emptiness that is left once all the energy has been expelled. When the molten rock cools we are left with a barren landscape. Let's face the aftermath of our inspirational experience and get our hands dirty. Do the work.

Hard work. Work that plods forward outside of the eyes of social media and work largely unrewarded - which is by no means a bad thing. In your acceptance speech, you acknowledge the hard work. The years of toil under oppression whether the oppression be about race, or gender, or both.

You also applauded the #METOO women for their courage - what have they gained for giving their voice and sharing their experience? Individually- perhaps a moment of inspiration. And an experience of strength for walking past the shadows of misplaced blame and its sister shame - maybe that as well. Not small moments.

But Oprah; what has changed? Yes...I hear your argument about how change takes time and we need to dig in and be an agent of change regardless of reward. I hear you. I speak those words and I agree.
What will be your unrewarding efforts? Now that the inspiration has past, where will you work?

Here's an idea. Give me 500 women from the North American Continent. Not all at once - 20 at a time is do-able.  500 women I can train in essential elements of self-defense specifically for women. 500 women who will know how to explain prevention skills, how to read the early warning signs of escalation in behavior and pattern. 500 women who will understand the context of violence in a way that is honest, straightforward, without ego of "I know all the answers" because as women, we absolutely know we do not.

These 500 women will understand the social, tribal training wired into the behavior of both men and women. They will know how this creates a context for violence and what it requires to step outside this context. They will be able to communicate this understanding and be able to invite other women into this wisdom.

These 500 women may be able to tag themselves with the #MeToo campaign, but it is not a requirement. I can. I didn't. Having been targeted for violence is not a prerequisite for an effective self-defense instructor. It does not automatically make me knowledgeable. It does not make me an expert in any action of violence except the specific events I have personally experienced and this may - or may not - be transferable.

These 500 women will know there is nothing glorious to be gained by experiencing violence. They will know the scars left behind are permanent. They will know too, the scars can be reinterpreted into strength. And this will be their invitation. Strength is more than a hashtag.

Strength is a choice.

Give me 500 women. In a year, each of the 500 will reach (and by reach - I mean train/teach) 100 women and in short order there will be 50,000 women with basic self-defense skills. That is the beginning of a tipping point. Add 500 more instructors in Europe and another 50,000 women. And let's keep going. Let's go to places where violence against women is far more indemic.

The potential for this to be exponential is in the math. Not in the inspiration. Change is in the work. Work we can do now - not in 50 years, not when legislation and sentencing laws change, not in safe spaces.

Maybe instead of coming forward in a band of violated sisterhood we can stand in strength. #500








Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Right Room



playing with answers and thoughts to a trap my monkey brain just SO badly wanted to jump right in the middle of -

A lot of folks like to educate on topics in which they are poorly informed

Common phenomena in all industries and all areas of human interest from economics to art to violence. Social and behavioral psychology offer loads of explanations for this behavior. It's not new, nor is it a mystery.

Picking away at the layers though into more specific versions of this broad-stroke human behavior I'm struck by a subset. When someone who is actually rather informed on a subject and they not only jump out of their lane but do so with such grand unequivocal proclamations of expertise - this behavior is the trap/hook I reeaaaallllly wanted to get wrapped up in recently.

Once in a while, I throw my monkey brain a banana and let it play until it exhausts itself. I was tempted, really tempted on this last one. Wanted to rant about - not sure why I held off -

What usually happens when I don't go bananas, I end up poking a stick at it.

Here's the thing. The more a human learns about a topic or subject matter, the more the human discovers how much s/he does NOT know. The more 'expert' in an area we become, the more clear we get about what we do NOT know. When ego overwhelms what intelligence dictates, the monkey brain demonstrates it's power.

Where does this gigantic push from the monkey brain come from? The ego needs to be affirmed. It needs to be right. It needs to prove something and it needs to be dominant. If I think about the essential biological purpose for this drive, it is about structuring the tribe by enforcing protocols and squaring up unanswered questions about leadership and power. This is a super interesting function when it takes place among a group of people who are all pretty competent, i.e. powerful, in the same subject matter.

When that subject matter is violence and the competent crew in question has gained competence through experience the dominance display doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Unless it's an expression of fear.  Think about it... if I have survived a violent subculture by being the most dominant, the most frightening and the most asocial animal in the territory, then the monkey brain is going to create an intense correlation between dominance and survival even among friends (or at least friendly colleagues).

The opposite then, is also true. If I am not the most dominant, the most Right, the most expert of the crew then I am vulnerable. Dominance = Survival. Vulnerable = Death. So Dominance it is.

Recently, I watched someone who is not a woman, and by admission has not beaten a woman, raped a woman, etc. explain with great veracity (and in my judgment, great hubris) what women really need in self-defense training.  It was not a dialogue but more a diatribe. An unnecessary dominance display among colleagues - some of whom were women. No nod given to the women in group, no recognition of the intellectual and experiential collective gathered regardless of gender, and therein lies the hubris. And beneath that hubris, I suspect a great deal of unacknowledged fear.

What was cool though, no one got worked up over the dominance display. The diatribe addressed a couple of different topics in the same breath and in that breath, there was a good deal of truth spoken as well. A couple of folks in the conversation responded to that truth - gave acknowledgement etc. Maybe, in time, this will quiet the fear. There is a fantastic experience being human offers us...the conscious acknowledgment of what it's like to NOT be the smartest person in the room - when that happens - you are in the right room. When the fear that requires dominance controls us, we can never be in this room ...even when our body is in that room our monkey will never allow the reality to be acknowledged.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Enemy Mine



the enemy narrative seems to be a deeply embedded human narrative. It's may even be tied in to our genetic drive for tribe. Kind of hard to have a solid sense of tribal identity if everyone in the tribe can change tribal affiliations at will - revolving door tribal identities aren't an acceptable thing.

I'd venture that in our current era, most of our tribal affiliations are imaginary. Doesn't make them wrong or bad or any less potent, the affiliations are just not tied to raw survival. Example. I am "a lot" Swedish. Still have family in Sweden. But if Sweden goes to war, I am not going to feel personally threatened. I'll worry about family - but my sense of physical safety and security won't be under attack. I am also "a lot" Irish. Same thing goes.

Tribal affiliations to our chosen organizations and even cultural heritage are rarely tied to our original drives for maintaining tribe. Sort of. Working this out...

Let's say I'm part of a Facebook group and over time, everyone in the group - leaves. The group page may still hold a spot in the interwebs, but the tribe has disbanded. Poof. Extinct. A year from now very few people, if any, will remember the group ever existed. Woe is me, such a loss!

But...if I founded this group and it's purpose is SUPER important to me and everyone is like 'meh' and moves on, I am likely to feel at the minimum, a tad irritated and on the opposite extreme - deeply betrayed.

And. If you leave my FB group for another group of a similar focus - now you are an enemy. You are my competition. You, are a traitor. You are loyal to me, or you are my enemy.

Are we so fiercely protective of our imaginary tribes because the evolution of humans' higher level skills (prefrontal cortex stuff) has outpaced the evolution of our tribal functions/drives? There is an internal disparity in these two evolutionary tracks and I wonder if that's why we engage in such dysfunctional behavior.  Think about this. If I belong to one martial arts group and then get involved in a second - there is a powerful martial mores that says my behavior is bad and wrong.

About a year ago I was looking into Libre - nosing around more than anything. A martial colleague reached out and said "hey, I'm a Libre guy and we could work together and make your school a location" (paraphrased). This could be fun, I'm thinking. But......I was also connected to someone else, a different martial colleague who had a few connections to Libre and taught knife stuff....and there was a subtle resistance to this from the first person. The connection never happened - for a variety of reasons btw - I'm just using this as an example to highlight the point.

The Gracie BJJ organization had a video circulating in which one of the Gracies made an overt statement that if you trained with him and then you also decided to train with someone else you were really fucking up and he would take it personally- a betrayal and a violation of ethics.

Another example - I'm connected pretty deeply with a couple of Martial 'tribes'. A representative of one of the tribes and I had a conversation ....can't remember when...a year? two years ago? The conversation included a questioned posed to me...why would you risk the approval and support of our organization to be connected to another one?

Somewhat paraphrased because naming the tribes is irrelevant here. It highlights though, the strong drift humans have toward the enemy narrative.

You are either with us, or against us.

Historical references go back at least as far as the Judeo-Christian Old Testament Book of Joshua - this is super important to us.

I am chasing about 5 different rabbit trails in this context right now - maybe there will be a few more posts on it as I play around with it. At this moment, I am landing on a couple of things:

1. if the purpose of a tribe is to make people better, stronger, more resilient expressions of themselves then this tribe would be violating it's own purpose for existence to say "you can only be stronger and more resilient in MY way..." because-
2. If as a tribe, I restrict your ability to become stronger and more resilient to the greatest degree possible then I make you vulnerable to the types of strength other tribes are developing...i.e. you can only be strong the way MY tribe is strong.
3. This creates an obvious weakness easily exploited by the enemies my tribe has created by drawing this line.

Rory once posed the question...is it possible to shift tribes without creating an enemy narrative? It should be possible because the tribal identities are a) chosen and b) irrelevant to daily survival. However, the disparity in evolution of our monkey and human brains may create such an intense dystonic state that we may find the paradox too intense and capitulate to the stronger monkey drives no matter what we do. And yes - I am using the WE on purpose. The WE applies to both the tribe and the Benedict Arnold's.

Sooo many thoughts - but given I'm at the end of cogent thoughts at the moment - I'll put a pin in it for now.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

where danger lives




Thoughts stirring from a couple of different statements and a conversation from BC Vancouver VioDy –EDITED...

Humans aren’t a fan of acknowledging violence as an element of our biological nature and yet we have always used it to establish territories, to affirm hierarchies, to punish and to set tribal membership boundaries.

We have grown into a colonized species and like ants, have figured out how to live in large numbers without eating each other or ripping each other’s heads off (literally). Most of us like the results of the skill set.

And even with this evolutionary trend toward civil colonization, we struggle to keep ourselves in check.

In the past week I’ve heard two law enforcement professionals create a distinction between violence and use of force.  One made the distinction overtly and argued for it openly. The other one made the distinction in a conversation; not quite as consciously, but no doubt was still anchoring into violence and use of force are different.

post published edit to the above paragraph: flushing this out a bit - I know plenty of LEO's who do not separate use-of-force & violence contextually. I think the need to differentiate among force professionals is anchored in the idea that violence is bad and therefore if a force pro is one of the good guys, what s/he does in the line of duty can't be called violence.

There’s no difference. Use of Force is violent action. Sanctioned violence, maybe – but still violence.

Is it better to categorize violence with language to create the behavioral leashes that allow for this colonized living (and all its benefits)?

Or is it better to acknowledge – violence is violence – and set different parameters? I’m going to be super biased because this second option is my paradigm so obviously, I like it.

Being unleashed removes any socially programmed rules for when violent action is acceptable. Unleashed, I can hit you over the head with a shovel because you took my chair. When my kids were toddlers they hit each other over the head with tiny plastic beach shovels because someone had their bucket. Humans in their natural state do this.

So, I have parameters. A protocol in place that guides my choices based on how I want to live in this colony of humans. I have a failsafe if I lose my shit and slip the leash. I have friends who have similar protocols. Hence the bias.

I can’t help but wonder if the “let’s use words to say certain kinds of violence aren’t actually violence” is a risky way of establishing protocols. In psychology, there is a school of thought that identifies the more dangerous human is the one who refuses to acknowledge what s/he is capable of…

You know, the person who says – and adamantly believes – s/he could NEVER do THAT – EVER.

This is a dangerous human. If she ever slips the proverbial leash it will be so completely alien an action she’ll have no capacity for self-regulation. And this makes me wonder if the increase in episodes of mass shootings, etc.  is tied to our over-domestication and refusal to acknowledge…yup – I could totally do that.

We can’t explore and regulate those behaviors of which we refuse to become self-aware (sorry for the psychobabble).

I know what I’m capable of. I know where I glitch and I know why. I know there are blindspots still in which this awareness is completely absent.

Can you answer these same things for yourself? Are there things you think you absolutely can NOT do? Are you sure?

Violence isn’t binary. Shooting you is violent. It doesn’t matter if I do it because I don’t like your face, or I do it because I have sworn duty to protect and you have a gun shoved in the mouth of a baby. Either way, if I pull the trigger I am – in that moment – violent.

The more domesticated our colonization becomes, the more we eschew words reflecting our primal nature. I don’t think this is something we should be particularly proud of -

Monday, November 20, 2017

the unicorn tracker



I've been called a lot of things over the years. Not all of them complimentary. Sometimes it bugs me, because I have a monkey brain and it likes to be liked but for the most part, I realize that if EVERYONE liked me or supported what I stood for then I'd be doing something wrong.

Recently, someone told me I was a unicorn. He meant it. He said a female self-defense instructor who:

1) wasn't trying to be a "guy"
2) wasn't operating from a "we are victims" mindset

was a unicorn. Typically, I wouldn't take being called a fairytale creature a compliment per se, but I get it and I know this guy and I understood what he meant.

There are a number of women who are martial arts instructors. Not a plethora, but there are definitely more female martial arts instructors than there are female self-defense instructors.

And no, they're not the same thing. Martial Arts and Self-Defense are not synonymous. There is crossover and sometimes a significant amount of crossover. There are elements of martial arts training, including the combat arts, that can be applied to self-defense. These truths do not; however make martial arts and self-defense synonymous.

I have seen what the Unicorn Tracker identified. I have seen female instructors being really 'male' on the mat. Posturing, dominating, moving and walking with a more male gate....and not because they relate as a male from a gender perspective...but because somehow they must have felt it was necessary to be respected and effective.

I have also seen female instructors with a victim history making everything they teach about the victimization. A war of sorts. Us v. Them. I get this perspective too. There is a passion born of experiencing the sensation of utter powerlessness when being physically and psychologically overwhelmed by violence.

I could be either or both of the above. I'm not entirely sure why I'm not. And the only reason it matters is that I would like for the Unicorn Tracker's statement to become moot. It would be great if there were enough female self-defense instructors to meet the instructional demand. I have a deep respect for the guys who reach out and ask for help, direction and insight into the landmines they should avoid when teaching self-defense with women. They are taking on a task they have to shoulder because there isn't much of anyone else to do it.  Good on you, gentlemen.

I don't know how to do it - and I don't know if it's really actually possible. But it would be cool as shit for Unicorns to loose their designation as rare - it would be fantastic to look out across a room full of self-defense instructors and see as many women as men...more even.

Maybe in the generations to come. In the meantime, I'm noodling around on what the catalyst would be - what it would take to transform the mythic connotation from meaning rare, to meaning fantastically abundant.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

What! Really? Say it isn't so-



ooookaaaayyyy. The woodwork is crawling with everyone who's coming out of it from Hollywood to The Hill. Sexual violations from lewd comments, groping, assault and under-age targeting.

And we are all appalled. Along side is the social media awareness campaign #MeToo.  That's a different but parallel universe so for now, I'll stick with the crawling woodwork.

I have two questions.

Why are we surprised?

Why are we suddenly outraged?

Question One. Why are we surprised...
Sex and sexuality have been a confused and distorted facet of human behavior for.............. well kind of for a few millennia.  Humans have been using rape as an action of war or territorial marking for deep back into recorded history. As a personal action, I think it's a safe assumption to say sexual violence has been a factor in our behavior at least as long as it has been part of our behavior at the tribal level. Sexual violence and appropriation is about power, dominance, control, territorial marking, and occasionally about lust and desire. This.Is.Not.News.

What's more, I'm pretty sure most adults are not actually authentically surprised by the recently disclosed licentious behavior. Our need to be surprised by a decently documented historically time-lined behavior serves a purpose. Are we collectively surprised because it gives us the right to plausible deniability? Letting ourselves off the proverbial hook of social responsibility?

Question Two. Why are we suddenly outraged...
Perhaps our collective gasp is an acceptable expression of virtue signaling. Generally, no one I know or have ever come into contact with supports sexual violence as a socially acceptable human behavior.  There is a dark and twisty debate about what actually constitutes sexual violence - but there doesn't seem to be debate about whether or not it's something we should all gather around to say "yay US! Let's legalize rape!"

Let's get honest. In industries and social systems like Hollywood and politics, the fight for and ownership of power is a primary objective. And if there is a human behavior through which power is frequently expressed then there should be a pretty high correlation between the power-hungry industries and this behavior.

We should not be surprised. You should not be surprised. By any of this. Drop the drama.

It's common. If we have decided that common no longer equals acceptable, okay - good on you. Fix it. Get off the drama and get to work.