Monday, May 30, 2016

transforming fear

"Aren't you worried that training for violence is going to make you fearful?"

"Doesn't this make you paranoid?"

"Isn't this going to make you cynical?"

Real people asked me these questions when it became apparent my training wasn't a casual game I was playing for entertainment purposes. At the time I couldn't answer from a place of personal experience, I hadn't been training long enough to know one way or the other.

I can answer those questions now and the answers are all "no". Training has made my life better.  I do not relish finding myself inside a storm of chaotic human behavior and if avoidance and de-escalation are an option, I would absolutely choose them over anything else. If I am confronted with a situation where violence breaks bad I am under no illusions. I will adrenalize. I will experience fear. And I know I have choices.

This makes daily life more fun. I am comfortable with adrenalization and I understand fear and I know what and how my training may (or may not) be available when shit goes down.

And life feels better, stronger, understanding the what/how/why/who of violence.

Yesterday two active shooters terrorized an upscale neighborhood in Houston, Texas. I lived in that area for about 25 years and have friends and family still anchored in that city. The neighborhood in question is home to a friend. It is home to her, her husband and their three young children. Children they worked hard to have as they faced infertility issues. People died and were injured. Two shooters went through the neighborhood and as of today, details as to why are yet forthcoming. She and her little family "sheltered in place" for three hours. When death unceremoniously crashes through your neighborhood your best option may be to shelter in place holding close beating hearts precious to you. If death crashes through your door...the hard truth of humans hunting humans is now in your house.

I am grateful my friend and her family did not face that hard truth yesterday and this incident is a reminder. You don't have to go looking for violence to encounter it. Sometimes violence knocks on your door, literally.

I have been working with a team of trainers at the Silver Eagle Group for the last six months teaching a day long Active Shooter Response course. The course starts with a 3.5 hour seminar that's a mixture of Conflict Communication, Violence Dynamics & Logic of Violence built with Rory Miller. We have taught the course 3 times so far and we launched it in February. After yesterday's shooting I expect we'll be looking for dates to schedule another one sooner than later because the director of training at SEG is going to get phone calls.....when's the next course?

On one hand, I hate that fear brings people to these courses. But I'm glad there is a program that can make people's lives better. Information to stave off the increasing cynicism.  Dialogue turning paranoia into a plan. Training experiences introducing people to their own adrenaline so they learn they can be afraid and still find ways to access their human brain.

That's why I started training. And now, it's why I teach. It's purely selfish, really. It feels good to spend a day helping other people transform fear into a functioning plan. Training, hopefully, takes that plan and puts it to use building a richer purpose in living.

Train for your life, not for your fear.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tactics & Intentions

A conversation with Anna Valdiserri and Rory Miller raised a risky realization. Risky because it highlights how a qualifier of good v. bad behavior can be defined simply by the internal motivation of the individual.

When a guy slips Rohypnol into a woman's drink. We call it criminal. When he spirits her away and has sex with her, we call it rape because she has no capacity for consent. We want him prosecuted and we want him punished.

Like it or not (agree with the tactic or not), psychiatric inpatient programs do the same thing. Sort of. If a patient is losing his/her shit either overtly physically threatening harm to others, or threatening to harm themselves and it appears the threats are viable and otherwise can't be de-escalated a call for a PO goes out (physician's order). A nice dose of knock-you-out goes into a big muscle group and viola...sedated human.

The bad guys abduct a target and bind wrists and ankles to keep the victim from running away. When someone is out of control - a judgment made based on a set metric - restraints may be the necessary intervention. Those padded leather cuffs chained to a hospital bed you see on t.v. are a real thing, although often used differently than depicted. 4-Point restraints aren't used a lot anymore, but they are used. And if it's not mechanical (padded cuffs) than it's physical - people are doing the holding down of arms and legs rather than the 'mechanical' tools (in my experience, this generally is the preferred method over the 4-Point Mechanicals, i.e. the cuffs).

The tools and the uses are the same for both the good guys and the bad guys. What makes their use acceptable v. criminal is the motivation or intention of the acting agent. "We are here to help you, help you get better and keep you from doing something you will later deeply regret." Perhaps regrettable that the tactics must be used, but better than letting them crack their skull open against the wall because of command hallucinations. That's the good guys motivation and intention.

"You are my toys and I want to play with you." Intention and motivation of the bad guys. Heinous and punishable.

Intention is a damn hard thing to measure or validate. Acceptable practices are accepted because somewhere, someone was able to make a case for the acceptableness of the actions. As we get deeper into this crazy stupid political season we are in here in the U.S. - I wonder how many people will honestly evaluate the accepted nature of a thing. It takes time to wonder and question and research how/why something is acceptable. And damned risky to poke a stick at a practice, standard, or social rule that is deeply accepted. We punish that. An adult male having sex with a 5 year old child is poking a stick at the accepted practice. We call this pedophilia and it's wrong. This gets punished. Challenge an existing standard within a social milieu and punishment is also likely. Take for example a martial arts system - challenge a standard or set of rules, ask a lot of whys and punishment in some fashion is likely.

I don't have a hard rule to apply in this sticky little gray zone. I think awareness though is key. Remaining conscious that our interpretation of a behavior as "bad" is not much different than the justification the Bad Guys use. If we stay conscious of how the difference between being the good guys v. being the bad guys can look like one side of the razor's edge v. the other maybe that helps. This assuming we are on the side of the good guys... 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

just stuck

Last month a woman was raped at 10:00 am on one of the DC Metro rail lines. Makes the Metro sound sketchy and dangerous, the dark subway underworld. Only it isn't. The DC Metro system is pretty damn safe.

It also makes this kind of attack look random and unusually brazen and the Washington Post adds fuel to that fire in their report of the attack. When a friend posted the article about the attack, his comment was just what I expected from him. It was a WTF moment with emphasis on the 10:00 am business.

My reaction to the article was less energetic. Maybe because I was tired. I think it's more than that though, I am just not surprised by it. Not by the time of day, the location, the age (she was not the expected 18-25 demographic...she was pushing 40), not by the data point that the suspect has a pending indecency charge, not by his hunting pattern...none of it was a surprise. What makes me glitch isn't the lack of emotional activation at the attack. The glitch is I wonder which reaction is better (which ,in and of itself, is mostly a useless thing to wonder, but that's what my brain is stuck on at the moment).

The surprised, offended, perhaps outraged reaction to what looks like a bold and heinous crime means people are still human. There is still a preference for ethical and respect-driven behavior and an expectation that people are essentially good. If people are not essentially good, then no one will lift as much as an eyebrow at the guy accused of the April attack. I'm pretty sure that's a bad idea.

Violence happens. It follows a pattern and predation has a logic to it. The pattern and the logic will look random and chaotic unless you know what you're looking at.

That's what I am left with in this little conundrum. I'm not surprised by the what, the how, the who because I know what I am looking at and I wonder sometimes, whether it's better to have people who don't?

Words are a problem for me on this. I don't mean some people should be left blindly in the dark and as a result become perfect innocent lambs left out for the easy slaughter.

Informed Innocence. Is that possible? Can we inform with just enough knowledge about how the bad guys work so the Innocent gets to avoid the personal impact of a violent encounter and somehow stop short of normalizing?

And that's probably not the right question to ask even, but it's the best one I've got at the moment.

Friday, May 20, 2016

"I'm Sorry" doesn't belong in self-defense training

Training self-defense no one should ever expect you to say "I'm sorry" when you have done exactly what you have been taught to do.

You are learning to protect yourself. Improve your position, make the Threat's position worse. Limit the damage you take and cause as much damage as you need to complete the mission or accomplish the goal (Rory Miller's golden move).

When I teach self-defense or Krav, and I hear "Sorry!" on the training floor the participants have just served up a teaching moment.

No one is bad or wrong for saying I'm sorry. It's hard core social programming. I'm Sorry is our universal request for impunity.  When we make contact we didn't intend or the contact was experienced as "harder" than we purposed by our training partner, we say sorry. 

The social programming is being applied in the wrong context. Every time someone says I'm Sorry during training they are unconsciously undermining their training and the mindset they are working to wire in.

Maybe it's worse. Maybe all the I'm Sorry business on the mat is poisonous. Little sips of toxic thinking day after day, class after class.

On the mat, this apology gets heard by your brain as apologizing for being powerful. Fuck that.

You hit your partner harder than you purposed, or they took the impact harder than you anticipated. This is a martial colleague, possibly a training partner you like as a person, maybe even a friend. It's a hard glitch though because the social programming goes deep and being considerate is a good habit.  What's the solution? If this is a friend and the take down was rougher than anticipated and you just stare at her because you don't want a poisonous I'm Sorry out there, then the alternative is you look like an ass (and may in fact be an ass).

A couple weeks ago I was at a training with someone who has over 40 years of experience in martial training. He made hard contact with his demo partner while teaching a technique to the group and said "I"m sorry".  He stopped. Thinking out loud, he mused on a better phrase and picked "Excuse Me".  So back home, I dug around a little bit and found that I'm Sorry and Excuse me are fundamentally different.

Excuse me: is short for Please, Excuse Me and is you basically asking for forgiveness for something you're pretty sure the other person wasn't a fan of...

I'm sorry: this is more about what you say when you think you did something wrong.

Excuse Me is about acknowledging the other person's experience and I'm sorry is about feeling guilt for something you feel is punishable behavior. Culturally, what types of behaviors do we punish? Think about it. If a 30 year old behaves badly in public - punches somebody...what do we call that? Oh yeah, assault. And then what happens? We punish it. We call that "a crime".

Are you criminal when you execute a takedown a little harder than you planned or your partner didn't see it coming and didn't effectively execute a breakfall? No. Unless you're an ass and you were doing it on purpose...(may not be criminal but it's something...)

No more Sorrys on the mat. Excuse me will work well enough if you want to make nice.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

redundant musings on change

It's so overdone, talking about change and resistance. Charlie Brown's teacher is probably what we all hear anymore. Yes, it's hard. Yes, we resist it. Of course we don't like it - it threatens consistency and our biology says consistency = predictable = survival.

And for all of how common this knowledge has become, the hardcore resistance is a fascination for me. 

It's common knowledge how and why we fight change. I have been through enough of disruptive and brain-rewiring change to also know the opposite of change is stagnation and stagnation is suffocating. And for all that, it will still create an internal wobble and wobbles make me think.

Woke up wondering today about change and connections. The Buddhists say the source of all dis-ease is our connection; specifically our connection to the past and to hope. The first time I read that, I was offended. Hope? I like hope. We talk about hope being essential, we laud hope, hope against all odds, and we find the hopeless to be lost and destitute souls.

Here though, hope means the future. So our connection to the past and our connection to the future is what screws with us. The way we write the story of the past and how the future pulls us out of being present for today - that screws with us, or it can.

And I find that as much as I will lean into change, and as much as I want to see what lives in the uncharted territories (because I want to find those dragons and figure out how to play with them) - internally, I wobble in the face of deep change.

Today at least, I realize it is because of my connections. Connection to people. I have several adult decades under my belt and with those years I have names who are now a part of my past. Friendships that were situational -work etc. and as the situations changed the friendships drifted. Friends that are no longer friends because the connection was damaging. Friends I miss because the gods deemed it no longer necessary for them to walk among us. Friends I have known for over 30 years and they are still part of my connections.

Every once in a while I am damned lucky with who I get to count as connections and somehow manage to fall in with a group of people with whom I am the shallow swimmer. Over the last 5 years I have been tumbling into deeper and deeper water. Treading to keep my head clear and watching others effortlessly breach the waves. Smart, talented, experienced, insightful people. And when I look at change I realize the upheaval transformation creates also has the energy to reorder the people-connections.

And I have to be okay with that. My connection to my past -or how I write the story, helps. I know loss is survivable and brings depth. I know longevity brings a type of peace in relationship and I know disruption creates possibility.

With that settled - ego volo luder in dracones

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Edge of Truth


It doesn't matter how many times we say - our failures are our greatest lessons - or - it's only failing if you don't get back up - or-

There are a ton of those suckers. All those inspirational quotes are true. And they are hollow.

Had a rank testing yesterday for first and second ranks in the MA system we teach through at our training center. I start testings out with a grounding. We talk. Or rather I talk and the students are polite enough to pretend to listen. They would rather get on with it or have me drone on to delay it - either's polite. In the grounding I tell the story about one of my gradings from a few years ago. Two evaluators - one I had just met a few days prior at training camp and the other the head of our system who I have known for several years.

After the grading was over they sat me down and said - we could pass you, you have the scores albeit a bit borderline -but we could pass you. We aren't going to. Then the new guy (who has since become a friend) says this: at this level I want you to have more confidence in what you know. You know the techniques but you followed your training partner over the cliff a couple of times into a mistake. So we are holding your pass for a bit...

I tell this story to students because although I was less than amused, I understood what the new guy with the funny accent from across the pond was trying to do. And I knew he was right. It sucked. It was also a pivotal point in my practitioner career, my personal perspective as an instructor and ultimately as a human being.  All those hollow inspirational quotes are true.

Failure is finding the edges of your truth (and I think that one belongs to Maija). It reveals how we see the world, how we judge our own self and how we measure that self against what we think is reality. That kind of growth is transformational and it's painful.

I think about yesterday's testing and I think about the pass-with-flying-colors people and the people who passed on the bubble and I notice the struggle. I haven't met anyone yet who deliberately walks into an evaluation with the hope of a 'failure'.  The cultural distaste for failure is almost a DNA level problem and I wonder if it is DNA in a way (failing at the hunt or shelter building = dead human). I notice how much I don't like the idea of giving a no-pass result to a student. I have done it. I will do it again if that's the reality of it. I don't like it.

One - it is a reflection of the teaching which is always on me because if I didn't teach that student directly, the instructors I teach did, and that's still on me. I know it is also on the student - s/he is responsible for the level of work, training, etc. brought to the party. Mostly, I don't enjoy the disappointment on his/her face.

I want to magically transport students to the other side of the process where they will experience the deep value of what the experience brings to their lives. I think mostly I want to be on the other side of this mountain because of one of the things I can't control in this process. I can't control whether or not they will take the journey into value. I have some colleagues and friends who will never - ever participate in a grading unless they are 1000% sure they will pass. They have never experienced a failed grading. And they never will because they will never risk it.

They will never find the edges of their truth and the place I get to play in my life right now (which I wouldn't trade for anything) is because the edges of my truth failed. The world got bigger. Richer. Deeper. And for all that? I would still rather not fail - the cultural programming is just too damn deep.

*the picture is by way of Kasey - who wrote an awesome bit on confidence recently

Friday, May 13, 2016

agency v. apples: wanna' bite?

Noticing something. Seen it before and hits close this time so now I'm processing it (again). It bugs me. Which also means the level of logical investigation I can take to it is limited. I am also taking a gender bias on this. If there is no gender influence - I am open to the evidence to the contrary. I fully expect this to come off as a bit of a rant. And a caveat: few things are "all people all the time". It's a pain in the ass to write with perpetual acknowledgement of this, so consider this once and done - acknowledged.

When a woman in a leadership role makes a strong decision and some folks don't care for it there seems to be a tendency to assign deepest level of blame for the decision to someone else. Then, to counsel her as if she isn't intellectually capable of having weighed the pros and cons and the risks and to make a decision based on her own ballast with all factors in mind.

Let's even submit the decision is a mistake. They don't want to assign the mistake to her - they want to assign it to an outside influence. This of course, happens when the peeps somewhat approve of her or like her, even. If this regard isn't there the alternative default is that she is just a bitch and they move on (and that has it's own implications but not my hill to die on at the moment).

What is this? If it was a male in the organizational leadership position would the peeps be as quick to assign the decisions to the influences of other people or, would they hold him directly accountable? I know men who have gone to conferences/trainings returning home and institute changes. I have seen the staff grumble (been one of those staff). I have not heard the grumbling peeps say "why do you think he listened to the people at the conference?" I have yet to observe them shaking their heads at how he seemed to be unduly influenced by the information and presenters. Nor have I heard the implication he is incapable of discerning for himself as part of the upset.

When the man-in-charge goes off to his conference his local peeps don't blame the conference for the decisions or changes he brings back. They blame him. His female counterpart? She may get some of the blame but it is rarely the full measure. Her local peeps also wonder who was so good at swaying her that she couldn't help herself and just drank the Kool-aid. They might even intimate this is respect - they respect her too much to believe she could think of X without an overbearing outside influence being nefariously afoot. This is snow white, the apple and the witch - the allegory is less than subtle.

Guess what. She is just as accountable as her male counterparts. Blaming her directly is an act of respect by comparison. It acknowledges her agency. Blaming others for their capacity to influence her, or tsk-tsking her decisions because she has been influenced is a straight up way of saying "you can't make a valid decision by your own merit". This presumption of influence by its nature is also communicating she is weaker, less intelligent, less worldly, less street smart, less savvy, too naive, and otherwise incapable of being at the helm of anything. I know, I know...maybe this judgment is just about her competency at work or -where-ever. But that's not how it works. If the assumption is she lacks capacity to make her own decisions then the assumption is also a general implication of decreased capacity, period.

And a valid decision is different than a good decision, because maybe it isn't "good" or "right". Valid is tied to competency. Let's say the valid decision isn't a good one. Okay, cool. For gods sake - let her stand accountable for her decisions - anything less makes her less. It may look like her supporters or colleagues or employees are saving her but all they are doing is communicating how shallow her capacity runs.

And I am wondering if this is even more pronounced in organizations or industries that are predominantly male. Wondering if the handful of women in the organization are subtly indoctrinated into this mindset and so will unconsciously make the same assumptions. And wondering how long it will take and/or what it will take before the agency of women is a given instead of something that must be proven.

Relevant Confirmation Bias Rabbit Trail: people in any industry will gravitate toward ideologies that overtly or subtly align with their own bias. When someone chooses a conference, a training program, or break-out sessions there is a high probability the material will support those biases. A few will challenge their thinking and go to sessions that they are hesitant about but very very few drop good money on something they already know they don't abide. If you are going to travel, spend money on meals, hotels and the cost of the are generally positively inclined toward the material in the first place. If a therapist goes to a conference on applying clinical hypnosis to client process it's a good bet the therapist already thinks there is value in the modality. If the therapist thinks hypnosis is bullshit s/he is not going to pay conference fees to learn more about it. Hence if a supervisor, boss, business owner, goes off to learn something chances are they have already decided it is going to have value and will align with his/her bias. So perhaps it's not about how much the "experts influenced" and more about how people seek out confirmation for concepts and paradigms they have already chosen. Not saying this is good or bad -

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

things that never end well

There are some things in the universe that are categorically wrong. Right/wrong or good/bad thinking is binary and more times than not - is is less than helpful. Defaulting into labeling someone, some thing, some construct as good or bad shuts down any continued dialogue. Words may fly but it won't be dialogue. It will either be a gaggle of conspirators supporting the shared belief or it will be a gloves - down fight.

There are things, however; that are just categorically wrong.

Martial arts instructors do not sleep with their students. MMA coaches, Muay Thai, Krav Maga, Judo - it doesn't matter. If you teach anything that remotely looks like self-defense and you move the chess pieces around so you accidentally fall into bed with one of your students - it's on you. If your student flirts and moves the chess pieces around - it's still on you. Self control, personal discipline, good tactical decision making under stress...remember those things? Those things you are supposed to be half-good at? Yeah. That.


If you are...stop it. Any excuse you give violates the skills you are supposed to be good at and are presumably teaching.

Don't date your students is a general rule of thumb for the international instructors in my system. It is also a first-order rule in a top tier Instructor Development Course taught across a couple of continents. This intimates it may be a relatively common instructor ethic. For some funny little reason, it doesn't seem to matter much.

It's possible there is a female instructor out there seducing her male students. I haven't heard of this scenario yet so I can't address it and it doesn't matter the gender - this is a do-not-pass-go hard line. The situations I know of are all male instructor-female student and so that's all I can speak to by evidence.

A friend, martial colleague and someone I consider to be one of my instructors asked me once how often I though this happened. I don't remember what I said exactly - something like a lot. In the last month, two more stories. Different training environments, different "system", different types of women. Same damn thing. The impact is deep.

Why does it keep happening? Lots of answers. Like power, convenient dating pool, instructors are usually deeply respected and students will have big blind spots, the student feels special (which always feels good), getting someone to bow to you on the mat and then again in a dimly lit room...

I know, it's not always that nefarious. Shared interests, common friends, a metric ton level of close personal physical contact - I get it. It's the perfect storm. We take shelter during storms for a reason.

When that perfect storm passes the student feels: used, betrayed, hurt, confidence takes a hit, etc, she may even feel violated. Deeper. That place where she is learning to own her personal authority and to own the truth that her body belongs only to her is no longer that place. The person who is teaching her to set and hold powerful boundaries has just taught her another lesson - if you are the guy in charge, her boundaries are a guideline not a rule.

For women who have come through a violent encounter, the self-defense or martial art program has the chance to do something for her nothing else can do. The dojo (or whatever you call it) should be the space where she finds a level power someone else has denied her. Taking that away is inexcusable and the behavior that gets you there is predatory. If she doesn't have violence in her history, she is still facing a world filled with social messages that tell her to take a back seat, be quiet and acquiesce her authority. And yes, if you date her, it's still wrong.

Theoretically it might be possible to date a student, have the relationship end gently and mutually and still have her successfully training as a student. I have yet to find a single incident play out that way. I am also keenly aware that if you are having an affair with your student and you are reading this you are certain yours will be that one case. There is no way it ends well. Your students are never your dating pool - swim somewhere else for that.

If you are a martial student reading this and you are dating (or sleeping with) your instructor you are swimming in dangerous water. You may feel you like you've got this under control. By the martial gods I hope you're right -

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

damaging domestication

Access. The ability to gain entry - to reach for something. Been thinking about this for a few days because it is a hardcore requirement if you are ever going to go physical in a violent encounter.  Biologically we are predators, right? Deeply domesticated predators, albeit, but predators nonetheless.

What does it take to gain access to that native programming? Is there a point along the scale of domestication when it is bred completely out of us? House cats still have hunting programs. Even the uber-domesticated ones will still chase down a bug even if they aren't entirely sure what to do with it once they catch it.

I'm thinking about this (again) because I spent last weekend at a Krav Maga instructor update training camp. Working with another female instructor who is in her own right, a formidable practitioner - this question bubbled back up. Put a gun in her hands and ask her: will you have any problem pulling the trigger...ending someone if your life depends on it? Her answer is no, no problem.

Take the gun away and things change. Self-defense is about getting away. Get safe. It's not a fight. Fights are competitions and surviving violence should never be a freaking competition. There's an unfortunate reality though - in dire circumstances getting safe will require actions that may be as lethal as pulling a trigger. Working skills under that reality, she struggles. Half her body is trying to leave and the other half is trying to train the drill. Literally. Fascinating to watch and according to her - fascinating (and frustrating) to experience.

There's something wrong with having to teach someone to do something for which they are biologically programmed - instinctive programs are not acquired skills. So it has to be about access. Stripping away all those layers of domestication. I don't think we can teach that either.

We can create opportunity for it in training, sure. And hands on experience with violence can create a direct line to that instinct. Not talking about simulations here. The been-there-done-that-gave the t-shirt away- hands on experience. And there have to be other ways to open up that access. Partly because I have seen the opposite happen after a violent encounter. I have seen violence drive the person into a deeper abdication of instincts. Maybe because the last thing that feels right is to take on the characteristics of the attacker...

But at the moment, that's not really what bugs me. If the only way to strip off all that domestication is up close personal experience with violence then only people who have encountered it stand a chance of learning how to prevent it from breaking bad. Except this is an again conversation now and that's unacceptable.

There is a way to train that comes close. Scenario training for one. But it's still simulated and part of the brain knows that.

Shouldn't have to share those been-there t-shirts with people as the method for clearing paths back to our native programming. If you are in possession of one of those t-shirts you know exactly what I mean. There have to be other tools for clearing away all that domesticated overgrowth blocking access to our native predatory capacity. Otherwise, the only people who can find their way back are the people who have survived violent encounters. Not a fan of the implications...