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 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.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

hmmmm - considering an uncomfortable probability

"Women have a tendency to look more to an authority/leadership for confirmation on decisions than men." By experience in training environments - a discovery made in specifically a force professional environment during training phases by a colleague. Is this statistically accurate? Does it apply in other professions? Don't know. Someday I may research all that but for now, don't need to because I can confirm - as uncomfortable as this may be to acknowledge - that in force-related industries I know this to be personally true.

Is this because it is a traditionally male paradigm? Do women, unconsciously perhaps, notice and wonder:

because there are so few women, and the majority of the leadership are men - maybe as a female - I better check with a guy to see if I'm thinking about XX in the right way. Maybe, the lack of women indicates the guys get this more than women do and so I shouldn't rely as much on my own judgment or intuition here...maybe...

I don't know. I haven't had those thoughts at a conscious level. When I worked in violence-prone environments I didn't look to the men for direction when someone was escalating because - in those environments -

a) I trusted my skill set
b) the roles in the environment had me in more of an "authority" position then most of the men I worked with. In other words, it was my job to make the call, not theirs.

But...personally on the mat - I know there were plenty of times I would question my ability to figure out what I was doing wrong when something wasn't working. I asked more questions than the guys.

The questions themselves aren't a solid metric of this though because as a whole, women are more discovery oriented and because of how our brains are wired, we see more connections between the points and we have a stronger drive to understand the "why".  What the questions were about though, that's where the comment that kicked off this post is something I can relate to (ick, so much don't like the reality there).

For a long time, I didn't trust my ability to figure out a solution on my own. I know of at least one situation where I followed a male training partner over the cliff in a martial-art mistake because we were the same rank and he was certain...and I wasn't.

I don't know how universally true the "Women have a tendency to look more to an authority/leadership for confirmation on decisions than men" reality is. It does seem to show up in force/violence related paradigms. And from a teaching/coaching in self-defense mindset it makes a particularly coaching approach even more relevant:

Good coaching often involves responding to a student's question "how do I fix this?" with "What do YOU think?" or some other form of encouragement that is basically designed to say can probably figure out a solution on your own. If there IS a gender metric and it does circle more around the force/violence industry and we want women to believe they can be their own bodyguards (to paraphrase a common marketing ploy) - then we need to coach the mindset early...and often.

As instructors we need to support her to look to herself to solve the problem. If we are preparing someone for a martial arts testing - all students need the coaching that will help them pass their test. This is different coaching. This is about performance and about looking "uniform" in how they move. Everyone's foot needs to HERE and everyone needs to move diagonally at a 45 degree angle. Everyone needs to.... because in a Martial Art we are training to the measure of the Art. In Self-Defense? Not so much. She needs to know she has -or can develop - the ability to think on the fly. She needs to trust she is as capable as the guys. Maybe even, that when it comes to high-speed problem solving, she might be naturally better at it because she adrenalizes more slowly.


Monday, November 13, 2017

goalposts, affordances, power and other things humans fuck up

I don't know if it's possible for a band of primates to change at this deep of a level, but I can't help but wonder at the skewed affordances within tribes of people who purport to laud powerful people.

The Story.
A group of people consistently give a petite female the same feedback over a 2 year period of time - the feedback designed to help her improve at a specific skill, or characteristic - that feedback is being offered as encouragement and a means by which to measure progress.

Over the two years, various people give her observations that amount to 'you're improving - and you have more room to grow in this particular expression of power - but you are definitely improving. Keep it up.'

So she does. She diligently works at it. She finds new ways to push past her own mental glitches that hold her back in this specific expression of power and personal authority. It doesn't come easily but she is undaunted. Frustrated at times, but undaunted.

Then it happens. She shows up at an event where these skills are not only encouraged but also measured. Someone with a great deal of authority, a person who is involved in the assessment process that applies the metrics tells her she is "too _______________".

She is too effective now in the skill she has been coached to improve upon for two years. One of the attributes that has not come naturally for her, that she has had to press against the edges of her own mental envelope repeatedly, that skill she was improving in but "not quite there yet" even six months ago.

And now - no, no, need to back this off - you are demonstrating too much of this particular characteristic symbolizing power, never mind that we've been telling you for two years you weren't expressing enough -

The message is clear. Grow, get better, be strong - but not too strong - too much strength will be punished.

Most of us would have our cake and eat it too, if we could. I get that. Wanting a thing and actually being able to have it though, not always reality. I can want to live close to conveniences and live miles away from the closest human but until I learn to teleport- it's not gonna' happen. If you coach people to express power - guess what? Some of them are going to get it and they are going to become more powerful. If you don't want it (the collective tribal 'you') - don't coach for it.

If you coach people to become powerful and you admonish them for doing just the thing you coach - what exactly are you trying to communicate? Here's an unpleasant thought. One of the effective tools in victim grooming is to destabilize the Target's ability to understand (and predict) expectations. If you want to effectively abuse a dog - train him to sit on command and then punish him for it. Repeatedly.

When a tribe commits to developing powerful people and then punishes people for expressing the specific type of power they have been encouraged to develop, this looks and feels an awful lot like victim grooming. And in the martial arts profession I'm wondering if this may be one of the deepest transgressions possible.

note and afterthoughts to the above: I left the specifics vague and went for the meta level because that's really what's important. If I tell a student to get better at ANY skill in a martial art, I am encouraging an increase in power. It doesn't matter what the skill is.  And because we have mostly been raised up in societies with fucked up relationships to power, this type of victim grooming is going to happen at a pretty unconscious level. It's not a blame-thing. Mostly. I'm wrestling with that. Part of me is incredulous and wants to lash out with righteous can you not see this? And that very part of me that wants to do the righteous lashing is the tribal monkey me which means, there's gonna' be some logic missing. Hence, I am wrestling with it here.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

sneaky is as sneaky does

Haven't written here in a while. Partly because I've been wicked busy but mostly because my thoughts have been swirly misty things too hard to pin down into a cogent set of words. I'm not sure that's changed but here we go anyway.  I am back from my second teaching gig with the VioDy crew. This time at VioDy Prime. The original location and with mostly retreads (people who've done it before). Significant to me because I was teaching stuff they'd all seen before and seen before by the person who created the stuff. Yeah - no pressure there, nope....none at all.

Like, teaching structure in front of a couple of Judo/Jiu Jitsu instructors who's art forms are anchored in structure. I seriously considered throwing Rory Miller out of the room for that one because my monkey brain was all "oh hey, let me teach that one thing that you taught me...and yeah - the drop step oh yeah, teaching that one too and it took me forever to get THAT one down and now you're going to sit over there and watch me teach it...fuck that".  Didn't kick him out but I thought about it.

One of the get-to's about VioDy is I get to teach Conflict Communication. I think the material is transformational and I really like teaching it - for a lot of reasons - but mostly because each time I teach it the insights that pop up in the room change how I see the material and inform more deeply into how humans work and seeing as how I'm a shrink, that makes my day.

We talk a lot about the monkey brain (your limbic system etc.) and how much it resists change. The resistance goes waaaayyyy up when that change impacts any tribal affiliation or your place in that tribe. The monkey brain is also wicked smart. Not intelligent necessarily, but smart - clever - underhanded and devious even. It's always cool to find the evidence of this, particularly in your own self.

Working with Rory, Kasey, Randy and Terry is a gift all the way around and I am privileged to say Rory is one of my closest friends. My closest friends are the people who are comfortable saying the hard things. Spent several days with this bunch and discovered something. I know that he smart little monkey brain will use our own biases and glitches against us. What didn't occur to me was how this smart little aspect of the socialized self will use our personal ethics in an inverse strategy to undermine change.

If I work to minimize behaviors I identify as personal character flaws - like weakness - my monkey brain can and will use that against me if it means maintaining stasis.

Me: where I find weakness in myself, I will work to change that - do the hard things, etc.
Monkey Me: if you do XXX that will be weakness
Me: Oh! Damn. Okay, got it. Won't do XXX.
Monkey Me: good job! (claps me on the back) atta' girl. (and smiles a little just at the corners to avoid being obvious because not doing XXX does not benefit me or the goal but homeostasis in the tribe).
Me: Wait. What?

Homeostasis of the tribe isn't bad or wrong. Usually. But sometimes it works at cross purposes to strength and growth. Growth and strength - and transformation - they upset the balanced systems of the tribe so the monkey is going to prevent it and if it has to, the monkey brain will use your own personal rules for living to the tribe's advantage perhaps at the cost of your own well-being.

Sneaky little bastard.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

where impunity is granted and related curiousities

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

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

Here's the dynamic*.

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

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

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

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

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

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

so curious what the purpose of this rule would be -

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

Thursday, September 14, 2017

back up the sparring hill we go-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

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

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

Pretty sure what follows is preaching to the choir -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

into the fray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

Alice's adventures down the rabbit hole just got interesting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only stalking does not play nice with this distinction.

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

simple isn't always easy - applying boundaries

thinking - noodling around, not going to be a "well thought out" piece.

plugging back in after several days of self-imposed isolation from distance communications -emails, FB, etc. Ran into Rory's pieces about boundary setting and it plugs into a Watership Down kind of rabbit trail so going to work it out in words. Maybe.

The last decade give or take a few years, the idea that stalking was harmful and could become dangerous to the intended has become a common dialogue. Used to be, you couldn't do anything about a stalker until the stalker did something to you. Physically. Like broke into your house or made physical contact on the violence scale.

By that point, the dynamic is deep. It takes time for most stalkers to escalate into direct contact at this level. Weeks, months usually. R's boundary setting, which I use in material I teach is a great example of what needs to happen with someone who's going to push and test at what you are willing to accept.  Read his blog (here) for the full conversation if you're interested. The short version is
state boundary - state boundary again - state consequence - execute consequence. That's it. Anything more sends a message to the Threat "there's wiggle room and loopholes" and the Threat will find them.

With stalking it's not so simple - and it is. By the time the Intended realizes this is no bueno, the boundary thresholds have been crossed - progressively. They're already past the curb, up the sidewalk and probably even over the threshold of the front door (literally and figuratively).

Yesterday the whole "what to do with a stalker" issue came back up. I had a student for a while who trained with us on a scholarship. Long story. Short version - hardcore Domestic Violence situation. Did everything by the book. Restraining orders etc. etc.

She's leaving the state with her kid, getting a new life and a new job because even though he's not violating the orders, he's got other people to do it for him now.

Stalking is complex. Social scripts gone super-toxic. Her situation sends little vibrations into me because I can relate. Got a couple of decades space between being stalked and the present but some things stick with you. I hope moving across the country works for her. Leaving the state worked for me - but that was pre interwebs days, it's soooo much easier to find people now with a hell of a lot less effort.  Anyway. Boundary setting -

By the time the Intended realizes the situation is no bueno so many thresholds have been crossed that setting the boundary isn't without consequence - it goes to R's application to real-world messiness. The trick would be, setting the boundary much, much earlier in the game. Problem is, most people don't know there's a game afoot in the early part of the game.

All the education and words of wisdom amount to a hill of beans here. Telling someone to be "aware" doesn't do a damn bit of good - not in the early evolution of the dynamic. By the time my friend (who happened to be my USPS deliver guy & a former MP in the Marine Corp) need to watch out for this guy, something's not right...  my neighbor was already several chess moves ahead of me. The warning perked up my ears but nothing looked authentically off until that morning I got a phone call from my caring, concerned neighbor who wanted to be sure I was "up". Worried I might be late for work because I hadn't gotten in the shower yet...things got really fun after that.

There are different reasons/motivations for stalking and it all boils down to superfund site levels of toxic social scripts. I'm working out ways to create awareness without turning everyone into a paranoid freak show shutting down compassion and empathy within one's community.  I'm not creating anything new, there's a ton of stuff out there on stalking behaviors. It's about the timeline and the thresholds...that's what I'm chasing through the dark entrails of the intertwined tunnels of the rabbit warren.

Because if we can't get that managed, none of the other stuff is nearly as effective. Like the student who stopped in to say good-bye before she leaves town, boundary setting in the form of protective orders etc. have loopholes a truck can drive through.  And once the Threat's actions become noticeable to the Intended, so many subtle invisible thresholds have been crossed that the overt boundary setting is easy (for the Threat) to ignore...or work around. We tell our Littles...don't talk to strangers....because they don't have the wherewithal to differentiate a lure from an authentic engagement. If we carry this rule into adulthood, we will forever live in either a) abject isolation or b) incestuous tribalism. Both kinda' suck. Because the warning signs of stalking are damned subtle in the beginning and identification is complex, there needs to be a simple litmus test. Working on that...

Monday, May 22, 2017

recognize the bait - recognize the hook

A friend in the martial arts/self-defense world posted something recently from an online group. She copied a post from another female practitioner and then made a sympathetically face-palm sort of rant  about the post.

I read the repost. At the moment I am all out of rants and something needs to be said - again.

"You probably aren't going to hurt/injure a family member or colleague. So, be careful about biting on the show me what you learned hook." This is a common cautionary statement delivered mostly (in my experience) from female instructors to female students.

Here's why we say it:

Jane starts training in martial arts or self-defense. Jane's brother, husband, boyfriend, male colleague (fill in the blank) will eventually make this request show me what you learned. This is a hook. The majority of the time, this request is an invitation to a monkey display of strength, dominance and ultimately - putting her back in her place in the tribal hierarchy. What happens next is predictable.

Jane: we learned how to defend a headlock (or whatever you want to put in there...)
Him: show me -
        He puts her in said headlock or choke or grab or whatever and sinks in like he's fighting for his life. Jayne begins to demonstrate the defense....and it fails. She can't get out or get away because she is being respectful of the relationship. She isn't running at full speed or full power. She isn't causing pain or injury. If the defense is technically valid, it will work in most situations but she will need to execute with the full force of my life depends on it level of energy and commitment. If Jane does this, her boyfriend, husband, son, brother, etc. is getting hurt. So she doesn't.

Him: see? you can't fight someone like me, it won't ever work against someone like me
        his point? I dominate you. I always have and I always will. You are defenseless against me.

If this is a family member who actually gives two-cents worth about Jane's safety and security, why would he want her to feel helpless? He will argue that he's just trying to make it realistic for her, only he isn't. He is counting on her unwillingness to cause him pain and injury.

If Jane says fuck it to the social boundaries and executes an effective response to his attack there is retribution. Punishment. Sometimes it's physical - he hurts her back. If the relationship is personal or familial, the punishment may not be physical, it may be more like withdrawing affection or help around the house or cutting remarks.

Sometimes, sometimes this happens on the mat. A male training colleague will feel it's his duty to make sure his attacks are realistic so the girl gets a real experience .... or that's the story he tells himself to justify an opportunity for physical expressions of power and control over women. If Jane is effective here, the punishment is usually physical and is occasionally backed-up with cutting remarks to her and fellow to students about her. This is what happened to the woman in the forum. She posted her experience to the other women in the group and I don't like my reaction.

I just nodded and moved on. Kind of like I nod and move on when someone tells me we are out of milk at home because, well, so what else is new?  Happens all the time.

A couple of key points:

  • yes, this happens once in a while between men
  • it may happen between women, I don't have any accounts of it
  • no, this is not a Down with Patriarchy flag flying moment - because -
  • it's not about patriarchy
  • it's about a distorted and toxic relationship with power

The guy on this script doubts. He doubts his own capacity for power so he adds to his power-bank account by dominating other people. He does this by playing on the specific social scripts of expected behavior among martial artists and/or connected relationship (the script being don't hurt or injure family/friends/colleagues in a polite demonstration) and leverages the script to gain power and control. The social script is the bait. It's a fantastic piece of bait because it blends right in to the environment. Like the fisherman's perfect lure or the hunter's deftly disguised trap, the bait distracts the prey from the hook hiding behind the natural environmental cues (social scripts).

This behavior matches two specific profiles. The process predator and the resource predator. Both use the standard social scripts in any given culture or tribe to their advantage for the purposes of power and control.

It doesn't meant that the boyfriend, brother, husband, colleague is categorically a process predator. We are all capable of this orientation. It means that in our current sociocultural milieu, there is still a hard glitch in a significant number of men when women express physical fierceness. Their human brain says of course I think women should be able to defend themselves their monkey brain snarls against everyone except me.

I don't know the woman who posted her experience in my friend's Facebook group. Don't have to. I have had any number of female students come to me and tell identical stories. So much so, that now when I teach women's only classes there is a specific script I use during the wrap-up. I explain that this hook will most likely get thrown at their feet by someone they know. And then we talk about how to handle it.

I won't wrap this up by saying it's sad we have to do this because saying it's sad decries the common nature of the experience and denies reality. This happens all the time. Women who train need to know  it for what it is - it's a hook. Bite down on the hook and he has permission now to justify his display of physical power and efforts at domination.

Don't bite.

caveat: there are plenty of situations where this does NOT happen. When the male person asks to be shown what she's learning and he doesn't try to prove anything to her. Writing about how frequently the request is used as a hook is about like anything we write about; highlighting things that need to be highlighted so we can become part of the solution v. perpetuating the problem.

Monday, May 1, 2017

fighting and self-defense #3

this conversation about fighting and self-defense - or fighting v. self-defense has gotten interesting.

It's cool because what could get positioned and argumentative hasn't - at least with the people who are   reaching out. There's an odd sort of hope generated in this -

There are a whole lot of people working really hard to be right and to make others wrong about...well, you name it. There are a lot of people running around being angry about a lot of things at the present, and it's encouraging we can still bang out various opinions and potential disagreements from a place of curiosity without becoming bitterly positioned.

One of the comments about the last post posited that the versus context wasn't the best way to view the distinction between self-defense and fighting (and this is all wrapped up inside the context of training paradigms). Another conversation highlighted a bias. Mine, and his. I know I have several. So this is good.

The bias is evolving into a series of questions.
Here's the bias: a deep Fighter orientation to training will be less detrimental to male students than to female students.

Men have a stronger paradigm for fighting than women. And yes, I am taking very broad generalities here because if I caveat everything with 'there are always exceptions' I will never get to the end of it. I respect my colleagues enough to acknowledge they can apply that fact on their own, plus, it saves time to say it once and move on.

Men grow up with a Fighter/Hero personification and actions toward this are positively reinforced both subtly and overtly. As kids, girls do not have the Fighter/Hero goal nearly so strongly in their worlds - some girls don't have it at all. It's changing, but the Fighter/Hero role model for girls are still the exception, not the rule.

Example: Both my sons trained in martial arts as kids. There were girls in their classes. The percentage was not equal though, 25 maybe 30% of the kids were female.  And when on average, there are more female children than male children - that percentage difference is noteworthy.

How many girls do you see on the high school wrestling teams? More now than 20 years ago, sure. But where would you put it? 40%? 30% Not even close. Go to an MMA gym - what's the gender ratio? It won't be even close to an even split in most places. It's a great microcosm of the social messages we marinate in - boys fight. Girls...not so much.

Boys grow up learning the social rules around the fight. When to stop. that it's okay to let your friends pull you off and walk away. You can hold your own, but don't cross certain lines. There's a textbook's worth of dissecting we could do on this one. Bottom line, girls don't grow up with this same level of fight-indoctrination directly or vicariously.

Put her in a self-defense class and tell her she needs to learn to be a fighter and she's going to glitch. Maybe not openly and maybe not even consciously - but if she didn't grow up in martial arts etc., she knows she isn't here to learn to be a good Fighter.

This is because just like the boys who get indoctrinated in the Fighter/Hero context of being male, she's getting indoctrinated into world of shadow and gray lines and paradoxical expectations. Be nice, but don't be taken advantage of. Be pretty...but don't attract too much attention. Be helpful, but don't be naive. Be strong, but don't be bitchy about it. Again, a textbook's worth of stuff here too. On the mat in self-defense training she knows she is not going to be confronted with violence in the context of a fight*. The guy at the end of the bar is not going to start something with her with a "hey! What da' fuck YOU lookin' at!!?? You want a piece of me??"

Nope. He's going to offer to walk her to her car on the way to his, because she shouldn't go out into the dark parking lot alone. He's going to shame her if she refuses his Hero moment. He's going to take her flirting and use it to carefully maneuver her where there aren't any witnesses.  He's going to be the guy she kinda' knows (because he's part of the larger social group she hangs out with) who tells her "your ex is a dumb son-of-a-bitch for not hanging on to you...because if I had a woman like you...I'd make damned sure you knew how important you were...." as the beginning of his predatory interview.

The word "fight" has hella' strong social violence connotations attached. No matter how much we intellectualize it away, those connotations are there. The violence most women face does not follow clean social violence patterns. She is not going to exchange blows with someone of equal size/mass/power. She knows this in an way that is more intuitive than conscious; and if it's unconscious enough, she will doubt her instincts and take the word of the accomplished instructor. She will violate what she knows and start training like a Fighter.

 If she is learning to be a Fighter, she will be taught rules of engagement. Social rules unconsciously programmed into all the men she trains with, and who are likely her instructors. Those rules may get her killed.

And as I'm writing this, I'm wondering if maybe the social violence context that men carry might be more dangerous for the men than for the women when a Fight Context is assigned to self-defense. Asocial violence isn't going square up to him any more than it/he will square up to the girl at the end of the bar. It is going to hit him at lightening speed and with a viciousness and apathy (for him as a human being) for which all his fight training and socialization is profoundly antithetical. Maybe, this is worse. He's going to approach the violence inside his Social Fighting context and it is going to fail spectacularly.

Fighting v. Self-defense.

It's a simple fix. The training drills like a 4 on 1 sparring are good drills. Learning to read that your partner throws 2 jabs for every cross is a great skill for rapid assessment and decision making, etc, etc. Discovering that you have the determination to hang through 5 different sparring partners at the end of a 7 hour test - epic. In context.

Instructors just need to make that context clear. Overtly. Directly. Nothing implied or assumed. And people who teach self-defense, who know there is a difference between a fight and a blitz attack (as an example), and who know they are using fighting drills to teach AN aspect applicable to self-defense, and who get the different types of violence and the various victim profiles, who understand the intense implications with fighting language and how fighting drills are filled with training flaws, and...and...and don't make shit up, who are willing to say "I don't know" - these self-defense instructors can blend the worlds and it will work.


Just not easy. The minute instruction gets lazy, it risks the drift into Fighting contexts with the assumption people will "get it". Only they won't. It's not a lack of intelligence. The social conditioning has gone into core belief systems held at the monkey brain level, one of the strongest decision makers we live in.

One of the comments on the last post was that Fighting VERSUS Self-Defense wasn't the right approach. There's truth to that statement. As a permanent place for dialogue, it isn't useful either. If you don't know there is a difference though, getting clear that there are in fact differences and then what the differences are is critical if self-defense instruction is going to be ethically relevant.

*domestic violence dynamics can look a lot like a fight. The aggression and violence looks like fighting but the context that creates the possibility for domestic violence is about dominance, control and maintaining power differentials.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Fighting v Self-Defense

Feels like I should start this out with score cards and stats. "In thiiisss corner, wearing the Fighter's colors...." the crowd goes wild. "And over there, we have the Self-Defense Contender..." booooooo.

The first post on this topic generated a ton of conversation. Super happy about that because thinking inside the vacuum of one's own mind isn't always a productive event. Thank you to everyone who shared their thoughts, questions, opinions and challenges in the FB feeds around the last post (this one). D. Moon said, yes this is a hill worth dying on. People who know me were probably tsk-tsking..don't encourage her. Too late. Up the hill we go.

One of the conversations around the last post gathered around the concept of fighting skills and transferability to self-defense. Reading y'all's ideas about it, I am thinking this:

1. If you have incredibly solid skills in a fighting system there is a degree of transferability to a self- defense situation. A degree. It can't hurt to have a mean left hook or an effective leg sweep. What's also true is that your mean left hook or efficient sweep will only be useful if the situation creates an opening for you to use the technique.

Incredibly solid fighting skills take years to develop. Years. Not months. Not days. Years. There is a degree of transferability at the physical level. There may be a degree of transferability at the mental level as well. If you are used to taking hit then the nasty sucker punch won't undo you as much as it would otherwise.  This splits off into two specific rabbit trails.

                          Rabbit Trail A: Years. If someone is looking for self-defense training for fun, as a past time, as a cool way to burn a few calories, years isn't horrible. But if you need that self-defense you probably don't have years to wait. Brings to mind students who come into our place because they (and their family) are going to be detailed somewhere less-than-safe. Usually this information means the move is pending 12 to 18 months out, sometimes sooner. Busy lives, kids etc. they aren't going to be able to train 4 days a week. If the goal is make them an excellent fighter who is, as a result, highly adaptable under stress 12 months isn't going to do it with 1 to 2x a week training sessions. From a Fighter's perspective, we'll spend our time in strikes, kicks, combo's, power generation, sparring....lots and lots of sparring. Pad work...lots and lots of pad work. Conditioning drills....tons of those too. Strategy development, etc. By the time these students get all this down cold, they'll be shipping out. What about threat assessment? What about understanding the context of violence? What about the knife threats? The grabs and pulls and chokes? Sorry, we ain't got time for that.
                         From a Fighting First approach to self-defense, what do you do with the woman who is being stalked? How long does she have before the stalking begins to escalate? Before the stalker makes contact, shows up on her doorstep, gets physical. Do you have an answer? No. You don't. If you understand the various profiles of stalking behavior and you have time to engage in a detailed interview with the student and then to assess her experience against the profiles, you may have a rough prediction. This isn't a crystal ball. She may never need her self-defense skills. She may need them tomorrow. You don't have months. How will you triage? If you solidly believe she must become an effective boxer, Muay Thai fighter, MMA fighter before she learns much of anything else she better hope her stalker plans on squaring up before shit goes south.

                         Rabbit Trail B: Learning to take a hit. And this is invaluable. We all react a little differently when we get hit. Some people freeze, other people crumple in shock, some people run, other people cry and beg for mercy, and others still charge forward with no plan except flailing fists. Would be good to know which one you are, yeah? Better still, it'd be really good to learn that taking a shot doesn't have to cost you your control.
                       Training up a good fighter, this is part of it. Has a degree of transferability to self-defense, but it's a pretty small degree. Preaching to the choir now because self-defense instructors know there is a marked difference between an ambush, a predatory set-up,  and other kinds of asocial violence and the monkey dance which can have a series of tells warning you that the sucker punch is impending. The social tells mean you might be able to avoid getting hit at all. Flip it to asocial violence and it doesn't matter how proficient a fighter you aren't going to see that shit coming. Rory is known for saying: smart people avoid what they see, you'll get hit with what you didn't see. Probably not an exact quote.
                      If we take a Fighting tack in our self-defense instruction and we place good fighting skills as the primary objective, the student is horribly unprepared for what is going to hit them. A good fighter can read the monkey dance and can find ways to disengage before it goes physical (if they know ego has no place in this game). A good fighter is as unprepared for the ambush from behind or the intentional set up of a process predator. As unprepared as someone without any training at all, maybe. Maybe, even worse - Fighting has rules. Asocial violence will exploit the rules of a good fight and use it against you.
                     So a little transferability because it's good to take impact, to understand what it does to you, what you instincts tell you to do and what your social programming dictates you do. It's good to find these with gloves and mouthguard before you find these because someone has come up from behind and smashed your head into the wall. Beyond this, thinking the impact of a fight is going to look or feel anything at all like the impact of a violent encounter...that's a risky expectation.

These rabbit trails and the questions about whether or not good fighting skills help in self-defense - Good fighting skills might help. Help as in, assist. If that's all you give a student or if that's what you hold as the most valuable of skills you teach, you are teaching self-defense from Disney's scripted set of prescribed heroes and villains. Outside the Magic Kingdom, reality pays little deference to Disney's script or the rules of a good fight.

The Hill To Die On is whether or not it matters. Whether and/or how much it matters that people who think they are teaching self-defense are really teaching/training fighters and they don't know what the difference is. Or how much it matters that there is a difference.

And that's the struggle of it. There is enough transferability to make the distinction murky.

I'm not done with this just yet. More thoughts forming. And ultimately, those of us who believe there is in fact, a difference don't much need a conversation like this.

When all these thoughts and conversations and machinations are done, the Hill remains.  Some days I have the energy for it. Other days I just want to play with my tribe and be like little Rose, the viral internet sensation who just wants her dad to "worry 'bout yourself". To what extent is there a duty to this hill? Hmmm.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

pushing at perspectives in self-defense and other questionable Hills To Die On

I'm circling a hill. You know, the hills we die on. Wondering if it's a hill I really want to go charging up.

Most of the time, those are easy decisions for me. Not based on whether or not I will win the battle - based on instead, how important I feel the fight is. Feel being a key point of clarification because Hills to Die On are emotional/passion based battles and that means deep into monkey brain territory. That doesn't make it good or bad, it just clarifies the choice-point.

Anyway, there's this hill I have been circling around the base of off and on for the past several months. Every once in a while I charge up the hillside, don't get very far, and then hit a wall of not-worth-the-effort and head back down into the peaceful little valley below. Back to a neutral space that just acknowledges different mindsets and goes on about it's merry way.

The question really, is does it matter? 

Does it matter that there are a good chunk of people who teach martial/combat arts for the purpose of self-defense but don't really get what teaching self-defense means? There are layers and layers to the quandary but I'm only looking at one for the moment: women's self-defense instruction.

It took me a long time to figure out this was a real problem. I thought everybody knew there was a difference between fighting and self-defense. I believed the difference was obvious and intuitively understood. Naiveté and a well-crafted set of blinders I willingly strapped to my awareness kept me complacently agreeable for a long time because it never occurred to me the difference wasn't intuitive. When people I respected and people far more skilled than I am talked about the need to teach women to be better fighters, I thought...well okay, they know better than I do, maybe I'm missing something.

It took a couple of years before the incongruence of our perspectives (theirs and mine) became obvious enough I couldn't justify them any more.  I started asking questions.

The people who use the word "fighter" when they talk about training women in self-defense. What do they mean with that word? Here's some of what I am finding out about how the SD/Fighter folks define what they mean:

train her through determination drills
train her to develop good technical skills
train her to develop a higher level of athleticism/fitness
train her to look convincing

Typing those first four, I could unpack each of them in a post of their own. Maybe I will. Later.

At first blush none of these are overtly bad ideas for self-defense. Mindset, physical skill, endurance, being able to move her body so she no longer looks like a good target... they all fall into a broader category of Fighter, which at the end of it, always includes that she must first and foremost have fantastic "fighting" skills. Hitting, kicking, sparring, managing multiple opponents effectively in two-minute drills, etc.

These are great skills. They just aren't about self-defense. These are combat art training goals.

I had a crystallizing moment about a year ago at an international training camp. One of the instructors at the camp was running through key distinctions in a session wrap up. "This is a fighting and self-defense system, in that order".  Yes. Yes it is. He reduced to a sentence something I couldn't articulate without a full paragraph.

It means that some systems, like Krav Maga for example, have applications to self-defense but are not, in and of themselves a self-defense training system. It's a fighting system first.

And fighting is different than self-defense. If I am developing a female fighter, those 2 minute sparring drills are great tools.

If I am working with women for self-defense, why would I ever want to introduce her to the idea she should a) let it get physical and b) purpose to stay in the fight for 2 minutes?

The goals are different. The goals can cross-pollinate and they can serve as supporting elements to one another, just not categorically. They are not fully interchangeable.

And we are back at the base of the Hill to Die On.  I have a significant number of martial colleagues who do not see this distinction. They believe if you are going to teach a woman self-defense, you must first teach her solid fighting skills. Teach her to be solid in her pad work, strong kicks, effective hitting, good fight strategy in sparring.

And when I hear this, I am flooded by all the faces of all the female violence targets I have  worked with and the stories of the encounters. Good, solid sparring skills would have served them poorly...or would have made the situation much, much worse. Violence where women are concerned is rarely fueled by the social constructs of a fight.

I want to say - 'don't focus on teaching her to be a good fighter, teach her to END it'. And my colleagues who have this differing perspective ardently believe that is exactly what they are doing.

As of this moment, I suspect the muddling up of things is because of this marked level of crossover. Although the goals of self-defense and the goals of fighting are distinct, some of the training approaches can be applied to both goal sets.

None of these goals, these fighter goals, are bad. I enjoy training in this orientation - a lot. Writing this in part because I woke up this morning super aware that my 52 year old body spend 3 hours rolling with a group of guys who are upwards to 20 years younger than I am. It was a blast. I was happy all day after we wrapped up. Three hours of sweaty, smelly, slimy ground work. Finding locks and holds and control positions. Flow drills and cheats and compression work and much stinking fun.

And. My 5'3" frame would be maimed or dead if I took yesterday's mindset and applied it to a self-defense situation with Threats who were any one of the men I rolled with yesterday. Will yesterday's training session improve my skills? Absolutely. Rolling the 190 pound guy into an armbar was fantastic for my competitive side. And I know the difference between chess match drills for skills development and self-defense realities.

But what about the people who choose not to see this distinction.

Is this a hill to die on?

One of my monkeys jumps up and down "yes, yes!". The rest of me looks at this and can see how deeply held the Fighting & Self-Defense Are The Same mindset is held and it doesn't look like it's worth the effort. Which goes to the reality that, at a point, standing on this hill waiving my sword around may just be a variant of arrogance.

The conundrum has created a metaphoric base camp at the bottom of the hill. I'm pretty sure this is not the most efficient use of my time and energy, but my monkeys really like to camp.