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.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

training for tragedy - part 2 - sort of

Haven't gotten much farther with Gilligan's book. A little. Finding a few things I don't agree with but I expected that, that's cool. Let's me test my thinking.

I'm still noodling on the whole "tragedy" context he's anchored into where violence is concerned. He has so far, ignored that very few people feel tragic loss when they smash a mosquito into oblivion. His focus is intra-species violence - specifically violence against humans by humans. And there is one place at least, I can agree with the tragedy narrative.

Before I went into private practice as a shrink, I worked in the inpatient world. First as a teacher (pregrad school days) and then as a therapist and program coordinator. The last gig was a 5 year run for a long term RTC, residential treatment center. Kids as young as 6 up through young adults age 22. Ranging in diagnosis from childhood schizophrenia to ...homicide... not a diagnosis but working the system we had a population chunk of adolescents who were temporarily avoiding adult sentencing due to mental health issues.

They came to us instead of prison. For a while. We were a Level Six facility. Meaning we took the kids no one else would touch. Kicked out of therapeutic foster homes, kicked out of group homes, kicked out of everywhere due to their propensity for violent action. Some of our kids were 4' and 75 pounds, others were 6'1" and 250 pounds.

Never a dull moment and we survived with a level of gallows humor by which most of the genpop would be remarkably offended.

That's the context. Now back to Gilligan. He reminded me of something. Doing the math. We were one of several Level Six centers in Texas. One state out of 50 with several Level Six type facilities and at the time, we were a "90 bed facility". Meant we had 90 kids in house. There are Level One and Level Three placements and foster homes and....

And most of these crazy violent kids came from soberingly violent experiences at the hands of violent adults. Do.The.Math. Just because they are kids, doesn't mean they are harmless. My HepC exposure was due to an encounter with a violent 7 year old who liked to bite and a lot of 15 year olds are walking around in adult-sized bodies. If you are strong enough to pick up a table, you are strong enough to chuck it at my head. I digress.

I don't feel particularly tragic about the level of violent action I am capable of, should such action be necessary to get my ass home safe.  But the 6 year old who is in a Level Six facility because she has seriously wounded other children in a foster home because she is acting out the actions taken against her from her family of origin? Needing to frequently interrupt her attempts to masturbate against pretty much any chair leg she could find - in front of any number of humans because she didn't know it wasn't normal (because she had been an adult's sex toy) - that's kinda' tragic.

That was all a long time ago. Those kids are now all adults. The adolescents, if they are still alive, are in their 30's by now. A very few of them will have "made it out alive" - and I don't just mean physically. We still have all of those facilities. They are still full and they are still scattered throughout every state. Not all, but a good chunk of these tragic kids will become ruthless and violent adults.

If you encounter one of them - and you have to choose who gets to go home safely (you or him/her) - perhaps this is Gilligan's tragedy. The six year old girl is now - roughly - 23. If she's tweaking to self-medicate that childhood of hers and you are her resource for her next high...she's not going to give a rat's ass whether or not people will miss you if you die. Will you care why she's tweaking? Feel tragic for how she got here? Maybe. One thing's a certainty. If you care about her horrific past in the moment she is pincushioning you with a knife, this is not a win.

I'm not getting into the solutions or answers in this post. I'm just letting the numbers sink in. The math. There a lot of adults walking around who started out as one of these kids. They aren't all part of Gilligan's tragedy - some of them have figured out how to fall through the Looking Glass and come out the other side (and no, not defining what that means either).  With the hundreds of cases I have encountered, I forget sometimes what the numbers mean. And maybe that's part of the tragedy as well. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

training for tragedy

#training for tragedy #cross breeding books  #can't help myself. 

If I wrote in hashtags that's how this would start.

Book number one; Rory's book, Training for Sudden Violence, is aptly titled seeing as it is a series of drills and skill development options for the potential of a violent encounter. 

Book number two; Gilligan's book, Violence: Reflections on a national epidemic, I haven't finished yet but I can't help myself. 

Gilligan is a psychiatrist who spent the bulk of his career working with incarcerated violent offenders. Gilligan has a personal touchstone with violence as well, grew up with a raging father.  Rory and Gilligan share the background of working in the prison system and although I haven't finished Gilligan's book yet (and it published about 20 years ago) I am curious to see if there are similarities between the two authors' perspectives. 

It's not a fair comparison because I know Rory. I am only now meeting Gilligan and only via his professional presentation on paper. 

...but I can't help myself. Gilligan starts by trying to create a language base that makes sense for the conversation. He goes through categories of constructs and explains why he chooses Tragedy as the only one that works for violence. 

Tragedy's etymology is odd, but I see how Gilligan came to his conclusion. Historically, the word describes an unhappy event, or a disaster. Gilligan takes it further and explains why it isn't "pathos" a natural disaster outside of human control - being goal driven and interactive and a variety of other things. 

Gilligan's title uses the word Epidemic too. I don't know if I agree with him yet - need to read the rest of the book. Playing with this though, it works (thus far).

As a student in combat arts, I seek out the most efficiently brutal approaches possible. So I can teach those efficiently brutal actions to people who might get caught in Gilligan's tragedy. I am then, training for tragedy. 

If violence is tragedy and this tragedy is epidemic then violence is a virus because a virus can be epidemic in nature. Bacterial infections can go epidemic as well, so I guess violence could be either and with both a viral and a bacterial epidemic, inoculations can be created to keep the uninfected safe. Gilligan has yet to mention how violence is fundamental to natural survival. Munching on a carrot or chewing on a steak - the methods getting both items to my plate involved violent action. The interchange between man and carrot or man and cow was unhappy for the cow/carrot- in Gilligan's interpretation then, a tragic moment went down.

I can't teach a carrot threat assessment skills or how to convince a Threat he's picked the wrong carrot to mess with. I can teach that to a human. Training for tragedy.

Playing around inside the etymology of the titles - Training for sudden violence is a gradual inoculation against tragedy. Sort of. If it goes physical, it's still doesn't really have a happy ending. If you defend yourself successfully there will still be an aftermath - you know, the whole catastrophic win thing? Yeah, it applies. a violent interchange with a Target who believes he is incapable of defensive action, the tragedy may be far more epic. And the socialized condition rendering one human helpless against another, more comfortably violent human - this is also viral.

Okay. Let me see if I can tie this together. Training for violence is training for "tragedy", something disastrous. Like most things, disaster is scalable. The scale is impacted by the magnitude of the aftermath AND how the people involved interpret where the event falls on the scale.  Force is scalable. Force on force events end when one person uses just the right amount of force to overwhelm the ability of the other person to continue. Disaster management. Epidemic management. Inoculation. 

Inoculated against polio, I can be exposed to polio with a remarkably reduced risk of contracting polio. It isn't risk-free, but I'm down there on the low end of the scale. I got there because I have a little bit of the polio virus running through my veins. My immune system is 'trained' in polio. It knows how to defend itself. 

When I teach women's self-defense courses I tell them that the statistics will change when women are no longer a consistently easy target. When the exposure risk is consistently high -when women are inoculated carriers of Gilligan's Tragedy, many would-be Threats will think twice (you know, the whole goal of limiting the amount of damage s/he takes).  Not all; but many. This gets me in trouble with the current movement in feminism decrying women's self-defense training as part of the problem "Teach men not to rape!". 

Way to give the game away, girls. Let's go back to being helpless waifs with the vapors; yup that'll work. I mean it worked well in the past, right? 

If you don't want to catch polio you have two options during a polio outbreak. Option A: go live in the woods far away from all humans (like my grandparents did with my mother before there was a vaccine).  Option B: get inoculated. 

I love the isolation of the woods but I don't want to be forced to live there. And at the end of it, living in the woods only protects me, what about all the other people I care about? 

Option B, it is. Inoculation. I didn't need to have it injected because it is part of my nature as a human. I did need to have it brought to life. And although exposure to violence while under the influence of the other socialized infection (i.e. - experiencing helplessness in the presence of said violence) may play a part, Training for this Tragedy gave my instinctive nature a few tools to play with. 

Violence is integral to the fabric of the natural universe. Only humans engage in violent acts against other humans for the fun of it. Maybe this is Gilligan's tragedy - I'll know better when I finish his book.  Whether his logic plays out or not, he's given me metaphor that I can use, like the inert carrier agents of the virus/bacteria formulated for the inoculation, the metaphor may help get the point across.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Thresholds and Tells

Written this twice. Deleted it both times. This is number 3. Mostly because I couldn’t make the words work. They wouldn’t work because I was trying to work the words through too many filters. Controlling, managing for context and trying to keep it general. Can’t.

I think the context will/does generalize but I can’t figure out how to get to it without the personal example.

So here we go.

Training in new material, material and skills I find personally significantly relevant makes me hungry. Not hungry like it’s lunch time. Hungry for more. More play time, more discovery, exploration. Hungry for boundary testing and for application. Can I do X? Am I ________ enough to use this at-speed?

With a weapon – how many targets (on a body) can I contact, contact efficiently and effectively and in how short a time frame? Where are the flaws? What made me more/less vulnerable?

It’s fun. But that’s the wrong word. It’s not inaccurate as words go, it’s just remarkably insufficient.

Still filtering to a degree. The details, where I smiled the most, where I come more alive in training I’m pretty sure I can’t explain and at the end of it, that’s not the point anyway.

Last weekend I got to train at the hungry level. And along the way, I encounter the various verbal/nonverbal feedback from people I train with and it is brining me back to the conversation about thresholds.

You know the concept of a Tell? The telegraphed motion of a physical action or the subtle twitch subconsciously managing emotional discomfort when you are bluffing?

Thresholds have Tells on the training mat. What we think we are comfortable with, what we say we are comfortable with on the violence spectrum is what we expect we will train by on the mat. Here's the thing though, if what you THINK you are comfortable with lives in stark contrast to what you are actually comfortable with...there will be a tell.

I know some of my own Tells, not all of them I’m sure. I learn more about them when I train with people who are new to me. I know that under certain circumstances when I smile, other people get remarkably uncomfortable. Knowing this, I can choose when I let this Tell express itself (with whom and under what circumstances).

I wonder, how many martial artists and self-defense practitioners are noticing their threshold tells? How many are consciously aware that when they say “we’re all over here just having a good time and Sam (or Susie) is just trying to gut everyone” – that this is a threshold tell? In that moment, laughing and joking along with their tribe, they are leaking information this makes me uncomfortable, I don’t like that level of violence.

If you learn your Threshold Tells, then you will also know what information you give away and maybe that’s not a big deal on the mat, but it will be in the violence gets real.