Sunday, June 17, 2018

compliments in many forms ...

I'm working on an ethics presentation for VioDy's 'back channel',  a project in development for the organization's website. I'm looking at it from two angles, the student angle and the instructor angle. The instructor angle is expanding a little into a broader professional angle.

Been thinking about that off and on the past couple of years. Interacting with various other instructors running programs similar to mine in our area and internationally (and less similar too) it's been a curious journey as the professional behavior is incredibly diverse. What's okay to do, not okay to do - okay to say/not okay and how we treat one another in the martial/combat industry.

There are some horror stories out there. More horror stories and cringe-worthy tales by and far than the tales of collaboration and ethical decorum.

One organization I've been a part of originally had a general rule of thumb about intra-organization behavior: play nice with each other. There's plenty of room for multiple instructors, programs, clubs don't get spun up about proximity. I was at a meeting many years ago where folks were pushing for a hard radius rule and the guy in charge wasn't a fan. His input? If you put up a good program with good training and good people even if another guy from our group sets up across the street from you, you should be fine. Different personalities create different tribes.

Essentially, he was right. Practically, as a business owner, having what could be competition within your own tribe set up across the street would be at the minimum awkward. I can totally understand how it could feel worse than awkward, even like a betrayal. Nonetheless, the guy in charge had a point that is valid. At the end of it, there was one distinct behavior he was not cool with...don't go after your brother/sister's students. No poaching.

Students might drift on their own but poaching was seen as particularly poor form within the organization. I tend to agree. If they wanted to train with me - they would. If they started somewhere else and came to me - their choice. If you start with me and it doesn't suit you...why would I want you on the mat? You won't be happy and that makes for the beginning of a whole lot of shenanigan's I don't really want anyway.

Over the years different students who train at my place have shared how they've been solicited to leave our place and go to another place, the place doing the soliciting. About a week ago, one of my long term students pulled me aside (actually the student's parent - student's a teenager) and shared that they had been approached on a number of occasions, including recently, by another school teaching similar skills and part of an organization we are also a part of.

This other program isn't across the street - it's a good distance away and we draw from different demographics. They're making overt efforts from the other program to get the student to leave us and join them instead. Not the first time they've done this, but the first time in a good long while a student of ours has brought it up because the student "thought I should know" as they are uncomfortable with the ethics of it.

The first time I heard about this kind of dynamic a few years ago it irked me. I got a little puffed up and monkey-brained about it. We weren't supposed to do that - that was one of the no-no's in that organization. This time though I had mixed feelings. First, confirmation that our industry is notorious for under-the-table deals .... like many industries. Second...what a huge compliment! When a student we've trained from ground floor up gets repeatedly courted by another program it is confirmation we're doing something right.

It was cool to hear both the parent and the student describe how adamant their NO has been stated and the explanations for why they are super clear they would not consider training over there...different tribes/different personalities fit different needs.

What's even more cool though - the team of instructors at our place alongside the student's commitment to their training - has created a desire from other programs to poach the talent. Raising a glass to the compliment and a nod to all programs who create the environments conducive to kick-ass students.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

thinking out loud on safe spaces

thinking out loud-

Communication gets tough when words/phrases take on differing definitions particularly when those definitions are politically - socially charged.

It makes me think of The Giver and how words like 'love' were discouraged because it was too imprecise a term. Language is symbolic by it's nature and as a result is going to be malleable and imprecise at times. I can get ranty just like other people about how a word or phrase is used. I do, in fact, sometimes get ranty on that topic.

Not a fantastic personal attribute.

All that to say, I'm not exactly sure how to unwind our current social construct of 'safe spaces'.

I've used that phrase safe place - a lot - and it has meant different things. I'm sure I've interchanged space and place because while they don't mean exactly the same thing, they're strong synonyms.

How I know I've used the words -
1. in a therapy setting, you won't be judged and what you say is confidential (within the limits of the law). This is a 'safe place' to talk about what you don't think you can talk about anywhere else.
2. at our training center - safe place means if someone is being an asshole on the mat - I will invite said asshole out the door. Have done and will do again if it's needed.
3. on any mat I'm teaching, if student A decides other students are good targets for predation student A will be escorted off the mat, again have done and will do in the future should it be required.
4. at a presentation to a bunch of men who oversee regional programming for an international martial arts organization 'safe place' for training for women - if your male students strip down to their underwear to change out their groin protection and that makes the women (in your culture) the men to the bathrooms.
5. don't hunt your students as your built-in dating pool regardless of your to be a dangerous human should be done in a safe place -
6. training (again) is a safe place in in we work hard to control for injuries and acknowledge they happen sometimes anyway-


In my experience, safe place/space has never meant the same as comfortable or easy. Nothing grows in comfort, comfort encourages stasis and living things that fall into stasis are on the slow slide to death. What it looks like from my breakfast table is that safe is becoming interchangeable with easy and comfortable and whatever the opposite is of challenging. College profs are being told they can't challenge a student's answer in class discussion because that wouldn't be 'safe'. Holding standards is considered a violation of someone's rights to (without judgment) behave as they choose. To create a safe space, you are allowed to do and say as you please and no one is allowed to say anything to the contrary and these safe spaces are populating where perhaps they should not.

I have a kid about to go off to college. If he says something illogical and ill-formed in one of his classes I hope the prof challenges his thinking. If he misses a due-date on a paper and he gets a 0 for it and it tanks his grade, there better not be a safe space welcoming him with open arms for the harsh and hostile attitude of the instructor. That 0 should be uncomfortable. Life is full of consequences and if he doesn't get a chance to learn the balance between action and impact in his job as a student it will a brutal transition to life outside the ivory tower.

Acknowledging prejudice and hostility born of the narrow affordances that can cause both ignorant and informed aggression is a thing - balance and intelligence is also a thing. Where do we draw the line? Should there be safe spaces where pedophiles can gather without the judgment and scorn of other nonpedophiles? Oh, wait. Those already exist and most folks think finding those sites and shutting them down is a good idea.

Maybe we should create safe spaces in prison where the pedophiles can be housed together because we know they'll be targets in the genpop...they should be safe from this kind of discrimination, yes?

I rant once in a while. No question about it. I get opinionated and monkey-brained. This adventure in thinking-out-loud isn't about pointing fingers at the safe-space activists any more than it's an effort in self-condemnation. It's a wondering...and perhaps a cautionary example: be careful what we ask for...

Thursday, April 26, 2018

#500 thoughts - goals forward

found an incongruence in my mental framework. Fixing it-

Goals Forward + Resources Backward is not a super common cognitive paradigm. This may be an evolutionary thing. How much food does our little band of homo sapiens have? Hmmm, doesn’t look good – time to hunt. The resource assessment determines today’s agenda, the goals. How we shift to goals-forward is something to noodle around on and I’m super tempted to follow that rabbit trail but it’s not why I sat down at the keyboard this morning.

I tend to be fairly goals-forward when attacking a problem. Or a person. Or I was when I first started training. It may be why TKD was frustrating because the goals were about tournaments and belt progressions and after a while, it just wasn’t a meaningful enough goal to hold me. Krav Maga was a little easier to sink my teeth into, the goals worked for me -move in, cause damage, prevail, get out. Those goals made it easier to get connected to the idea of rank testing and other achievement-based benchmarks within the progressive system of a combat art.

During the early days of becoming an instructor, 99% of my instructors were men. Big surprise. Periodically, I needed reminding that I wasn’t 6 feet tall, 250 pounds and I wasn’t bullet proof. They weren’t wrong. My instructors were pointing out that my attitude was fine but my tactics sucked. You can’t be 6 feet tall when you are – ummm – NOT, no matter how much attitude you bring to the event.

Size matters (I know…I know…jokes abound). While I stubbornly, slowly began to acknowledge this reality another affordance snuck in and tainted the way I thought, assessed and taught. The impact of mass differentials in the physics of a violent encounter is a thing. What creates the potential for a distortion in thinking, is how we relate to the terms “advantages” and “disadvantages”. This is a resources-forward way of thinking. What do I have? What am I lacking? How do I work with that?

A question crept in a while back, it didn’t have words to it so I couldn’t articulate it but now there are both words and what feels like an answer. Resources-forward  as a useful paradigm in self-defense has a limited shelf-life. Limited like buying milk the day before it goes bad, limited.

I am guilty of teaching this way. The size comparative of person A and person B may be immutable.  The goal is dynamic and it is the goal that dictates the strategy and the ensuing tactics. This is a painfully obvious statement.

It’s a useful statement though, perhaps. As I dig deeper into developing #500, my first steps are in researching mindsets, instructional approaches, the good/bad/ugly of women’s self-defense and in this research am finding an unfortunate little fallacy that crept in to my own affordances over the years. Size is a disadvantage from which to compensate.

Or not.

Size is a factor. But if it’s one piece of a larger equation, whether it’s an X or an A in: a+b=x doesn’t, by its nature, determine whether or not it is advantageous or deleterious to the equation.

What happens if we drop this paradigm. If we stop telling women (specifically but not exclusively) that they are at a disadvantage and need to compensate. Size advantages/disadvantages is a resources-forward paradigm. Goals-forward is…well…about the goal. Damaging a human body just isn’t that hard.

And resources-forward may also be one of the culprits behind why most programs are solely focused on the worst possible situation – the physical encounter because that is about fear. When we are counting resources in light of potential problems, this is fear running our thinking instead of something more useful.

Friday, February 23, 2018

when the ground breaks - devastatingly acceptable expectations

quiet spaces in my head - which are admittedly not super common - have been filled this past week with emotion, thought, and a sensation of gravity trying to suck me down into the earth. That's the best way to describe what it feels like when I think about the kids who lost their lives in the Florida school shooting.

I have a kid that age. He is in the last few months of his high school career. He is a defender. He teaches in our kids' self-defense program and talks all the time about how much fun it is and how much joy he gets when the littles end class with eyes shining with accomplishment.

He wants them to be strong. He gets angry when people get bullied. He's not silent about his beliefs and he struggles when there's a suicide of a classmate and scratches his head when people doubt their value because he gets everyone HAS value.

And I think about him and this shooting could be his school just as easily as a school in Florida. I think about the terror and the choice he might make. As his mom, I want him to find cover and go dark. Wait for the LEO's to make the scene, subdue the shooter and clear the building.

I have mixed feelings when I think about what he might actually do because I think he'd be torn. He would know we would be devastated if he became one of the victims and he knows we are all defenders in this household. All of us in our own way, and he would stand in that gap. I am both frightened by this and proud of him at the same time.

I've seen video of the father addressing Trump. I've read the article about the 3 JROTC students who died because they stood as defenders, helping their peers get to safety. They paid for their commitment with their lives. And I can't even remotely imagine being one of those parents without feeling like the ground is coming apart under my feet.

And I don't believe the solution is to arm all teachers - some of them don't want to be armed and that's a bad metric. I don't believe the solution is to make certain weapons or ammunition or magazines illegal. Laws only control people who already believe in the behavior being regulated. I believe we are pathetic (our culture) in how we address mental and psychological health. I also know, having worked with violent individuals as a mental health professional, that better mental health will not categorically fix the problem.

I don't know the solution. Do we set guards at schools? Do we have metal detectors at all entrances? Controlled access points are already in many public schools but that's not a fail-safe. What I think (which means we are in dangerous territory) is that there are solutions to be found, they won't be one-size fits all and we won't find them until we stop being anaphylactically allergic to honest, thoughtful, investigative and progressive dialogue about violence and conflict.

In Violence Dynamics we always deliver ConCom aka Conflict Communications as a cornerstone of the seminar/conference. It's seminal because it basically says...look sports fans... emotions aren't bad but they make a really fucking horrible compass. They're fuel but so is spilled gasoline waiting for a match. Acknowledge the emotional energy and then, don't let it own you.

Get curious. Be willing to discover and discuss and engage and listen. We are ridiculously intelligent as a species. It is completely achievable for us [humans] to have an investigative conversation about violence in a manner that produces tangible, logical and reliable progress against the question - how do we keep our kids alive when they're at school?

Our wildly emotional and splatter painted gestures at the problem have become devastatingly acceptable.

Is it possible that we could take a collective stand for unreasonably high expectations? Expectations for effective, committed communication? How about if we don't stop having dialogue when the emotional deluge has past - and - what would become possible if we just stayed in it even when we got our feelings hurt, or angry or frustrated and we just kept exploring?

Seriously. We are so fucking collectively intelligent. I refuse to believe we are incapable, authentically biologically incapable, of solving this problem.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

the wierd ownership rights of success

When someone becomes successful, the people who have supported the upward trajectory can have warm fuzzy feelings. The supporters were...well...supportive and they get to enjoy the byproducts of their support. It's happy-making to know someone you helped actually benefited from the help. At the end of it, humans like being useful.

Once in a while, the success becomes an object of sorts. It's an item with property rights like who gets the Villa in the divorce. I've seen this in a couple of different permutations and although I have noticed it occurring around successful men, I have seen it more often around successful women. Because I am also female, there's a strong possibility of confirmation bias on that observation-

As a martial arts and self-defense instructor, I am noticing how this plays out in our world. Male students who become good at what they do, who rise up to to leadership and take on the mantle of coaching up other people are respected for their skill, hard work, physical dedication.

Female students who follow the same path are also respected for their skill, hard work, physical dedication and are frequently asked....who trained you? In a culture with powerful alliances to lineage this isn't particularly noteworthy and the differentiation between men and women perhaps remarkably subtle. Both genders will speak of lineage, who they are trained by and whom their instructor trained up under....all the way back to someone particularly [internally] famous.

I suspect the difference lies in whether or not the question gets ASKED v volunteered. In my experience the women are more often asked "who trained you" than the men. 

There is perhaps ownership of/for the successful women, in any industry. The mentors, coaches, instructors, etc. who participated in her hard work, dedication and skill. It's challenging to give a solid example in descriptive terms because this is slippery. My experience of it shows up more in statements. Examples:
"I did that..." stated by a mentor in reference to a female who accomplished something. To be clear, this was not a statement made by the successful female - it was made by her mentor/coach.
"Her coaches did a great job with her..." remarked upon by onlookers to a successful female
"I still have more to teach you" and "Just focus on your XXX. When people ask you to consult - tell them no" as expressions of keeping her under said mentor/coach/instructor etc.s tutelage.

I'm turning this thing over in my thinking because as a martial arts instructor, I have the privilege of supporting some really talented and successful students.  I'm wondering, do I take MORE pride in my female students than my male students? Do I express 'ownership'?

As a good friend likes to say "a rising tide floats all boats". I know that if the people I'm around do well, my boat sails on the same waters as what carries them. We work toward mutual benefit of one another and this is true for my students. Ego, fear, and natural resistance to change live in me (as much as I regret to admit it) and those 3 at least, fuel the drift to efforts at ownership. So I'm thinking about it and wondering if it's an isolated observation, or a dynamic with a broader occurrence?

And then, if it's a 'thing' beyond my narrow slice of the world, what impact does this have? What are the sociological implications? When we mark territory - it's often because we fear losing it. What fuels this fear? And I probably should avoid tangential mental meanderings before I am adequately caffeinated in the morning.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

this rose has thorns - #500

Protocol and Punishment. If you do something bad and wrong, your tribe will punish you. If the tribe wants to limit how much punishment it must meet out the tribe will create protocols to prevent the behavior altogether ...and up the punishment for maximum deterrent currency.

In the tribes I know of, it's a two-fer. A little prevention and a decent amount of punishment. Punishment itself is used as a two-fer...punish often enough and with a enough force and the punishments become prevention. Our current social structures expect this to be in total sufficient - we know it isn't. It's also where I struggle to believe the #MeToo and #Timesup campaigns will be deep game-changers. Maybe I'm wrong, and that would be cool.

And I'm sure Oprah and her colleagues didn't read my Dear Oprah post. For my little corner of the universe though, it was widely read (and widely read is absolutely a comparative to my other stuff and the idea of "widely" to me mostly means "read at all"). Confirmation that I'm on to something is that it was both agreed with and strongly disagreed with--

There's another award ceremony coming up - and a continuation of the efforts to support the #metoo and the  #timesup campaign, the artists are going to be wearing white roses. Kinda' cool in a fashion because the white rose was a symbol of women's suffrage and those women paid heavy prices for their commitment. They were jailed, starved, tortured in various was including being beaten and served food crawling with maggots.

Now the fight is about sexual harrassment and sexual violence with a strong focus on the arts and entertainment industry. #Timesup is a statement that people don't "get to do that anymore".

I'm poking around at a couple of questions - why is the time up? Why now? Why not 10 years ago? Why not 100 years ago...or a thousand years ago? Sexual violence has been protocol-ed and punished for millennia. 

Momentum probably gets a good deal of the credit. We've had more change in the 50+ years I've been alive than the last 300 years combined where women are concerned. #Metoo and #Timesup have created some momentum in the arts & entertainment industry and some momentum among the common folk as well.  It looks like a degree of this momentum is anchored in Protocol and Punishment. As in, let's do more of that. I don't know if that's good or bad - above my pay-grade, really. I am cautious about it remaining anchored in that particular trajectory.

It has the potential to invite an externalized attitude about personal authority and I've seen the damage that causes. Protocols are set by the tribe to keep us in-check and punishment is force-applied action when the protocols are violated. Protocols -rules- work for the people who agree with them. What if you don't agree with them? How many times have you driven over the speed limit? Anyone text and drive for even a second since the laws forbidding it were ratified?

Risk v. Reward drives those choices. In that moment of going over the speed limit, the reward felt worth the risk. There is no difference between rape and speeding when it comes to protocol effectiveness and behavior management. If you agree, you'll comply. If you don't, you won't.

Taking it deeper - systemic (tribal) punishment is only a factor if I get caught. And even then, I may judge the Risk:Reward ratio as worth it. Serving time is not always considered a horrible outcome. What then?

#500. I threw that out there in my letter to Oprah because I like the notion of women being able to decide for themselves. To have the skills, knowledge and ability to set their own protocols and their own ability to support the protocols with enforcement if necessary. Can that go awry? Will some women use physical force when it's not called for? Sure. But that's already happening across all gender lines for pretty much everything. That's why we still have child abuse. Yes, oversimplified comparison perhaps - but nonetheless that's the bottom line.

And at the end of it, women trained in self-defense .... includes a frontloading effort in prevention skills. Yeah, of course that includes don't all go out together and all get really shit-faced with no one to serve as the sober decision-maker.  Prevention is sooooo much more. People reading, understanding how and where and why violence happens, how to identify the difference between threat displays and pre-attack indicators, how to....

They physical stuff is the everything-else-failed option. It needs to BE an option, it also needs to be one of many options. And those of us in the industry need to be teaching All the things. All of them.

--and to prevent someone getting twitter-pated because that sounds like teaching all the prevention stuff is only a girl's game - don't hear that I mean it as such - it isn't.

Speaking of the proverbial Someone - someone...well several someone's actually - called me on my words. Give me 500 women? Pony up, sister. 

I'm in a massive project that is like a giant pacman eating all my time. It's over mid-March. But I'm moving on the #500 and I have an amazing tribe in the VioDy team who are standing with me and thinking with me and when March is past - there will be more. Boots-on-the-ground more.

....because - if we hit a tipping point of a high percentage of women who are trained in at least rudimentary self-defense the cultural expectation will shift from an assumption that women are easy targets to maybe only some women are .... but which ones? The Risk:Reward ratio will be harder to discern and I'd like to see what that looks like.

Circling back around to the white roses. Cool symbology. Let's remember too that this symbol far outreaches virtue signaling and reflects frontlines-level risk unprotected by the beauty and glamour of Hollywood Royalty. A white rose for this purpose also signals a level of anarchy required to create substantive change and a willingness to be at stake for a level of risk that carries an equal opportunity of reward and punishment. There will be both and the cost can be high.

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 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.