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.