Peace is an interesting ideal

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Peace is an interesting ideal, Rory Miller says, depending on how you define it:

Like a lot of ideals, it’s squishy enough that you can have other ideals directly opposed to your stated ends and throw enough words into the justification to miss the point.

The thing that gets me about peace activists is that peace is not a thing. It is the absence of another thing. Depending on how you define it, the absence of war or violence or conflict. Depending on how you define those, ‘peace’ ranges from a difficult improbability to an absurd impossibility. In any case where you are looking at an absence, you must look at the thing you want to remove.

You can’t effectively work for peace without taking a good hard look at war or violence or conflict (or all three, depending on your definition). And not a knee-jerk, disapproving look, either. A good hard look at why, if something is so bad, it is so prevalent. Why, if something must be fixed, it is so endemic in the natural world.

It is exactly like any other group attempting to censor or ban any other thing. Prohibition was an ideal, largely put forward by self-righteous teetotalers. People talk about violence, it seems to me, the way that they talked about sex in the fifties. They don’t. Most talk around it. If you have anything to say from experience, you are marginalized.

It kills dialogue. More to the point, it kills progress. Medicine advances as we learn more about disease. We solve problems by studying problems, not by meditating on an imaginary, problem-free end state. I guess, in a way, that is the defining difference between a peace-maker and a peace activist.

Crime fighting is an ideal, he says, just like peace:

And we won’t make progress until we take a good hard look at why crime is prevalent. Which means acknowledging that it works. It satisfies needs. It’s not just that there is little opportunity for honest employment in certain areas. There are damn few jobs, much less entry-level jobs, where you can make thousands of dollars a week, get automatic deference and an instant family.

Crime fighting is an attempt, instead of lowering the rewards of the criminal lifestyle, to raise the risks. Catch ‘em, book ‘em, hard time. You have to take a look, a hard look at whether that is a risk or even a punishment in this subculture… or just the way rugby players think about the occasional injury. I don’t think surveys will help… but I recall the young man about to be transported to prison for the first time at the tender age of eighteen. He was excited. In his family, doing time in prison was the rite of passage to manhood. Jail didn’t count.

And this is where we get to criminals. We look at them from our point of view and our world. Most of the things that make a career criminal would be and are profoundly dysfunctional in polite society. So we look at our world and us and the criminal and try to ‘fix’ what is ‘broken’.

There is nothing broken. For the most part (possible mental illness and stuff aside) the serious criminal is not incomplete. There is no pathology. He is perfectly adapted for his world. The things that we think of as normal and good, the things we try to instill when we rehabilitate, might be profoundly dangerous behaviors when he goes back to his old haunts and sees his old friends.

We pretend we are fixing a person, but in reality we are trying to reshape him into a person that makes us more comfortable. Altering a human for our purposes, not his. In the process making him more likely to die in his natural environment and he damn well knows it.

The few people I know who have truly rehabilitated themselves, started by deciding they wanted to live in the non-criminal world. That’s rare.

Professor Emeritus

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Back in the day, Rory Miller took an introductory Oceanography class that was taught by a professor emeritus who came out of retirement once a year just to teach this one class:

What follows is from memory, and I’m sure over the decades it has altered, but I remember his first lecture starting like this:

The sun rises in the East. It sets in the West. Warm air rises. Cold air falls. Your assignment for tomorrow is to use that information to draw a weather map of the world.

The class started to murmur in protest and several hands went up. Dr. Frohlander slammed his hand down, silencing the room:

The sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Warm air rises, cold air falls. THAT IS ALL YOU NEED TO DRAW A BASIC WEATHER MAP.

Some of you think you are here to be spoonfed facts. Anyone can do that. You are here to learn to think. Part of that is taking what you already know and learning what it means and how to use it.

Most of us got the basic maps right. Might not have been perfect on the latitude where the easterlies ended and the westerlies began, but the concept was close enough.

In my time at college, Dr. Frohlander was the only one who demanded that I think for myself. Some requested it or suggested it. (Some of those then punished the free thought if they disagreed with the conclusions.) But only Dr. Frohlander, an elderly, retired hard scientist demanded it.

I can never thank him enough.

(Hat tip to Johnny Abacus, who recently brought this up in a comment.)

The Art of Surviving the Duel

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

At the Martinez Academy of Arms in New York, they teach the (rather obsolete) art of surviving the duel:

The academy is one of a few remaining places in the world where a nearly extinct tradition of European swordsmanship is studied and passed down from master to student, said its founder, Ramón Martínez, 57. Mr. Martínez — everyone calls him Maestro — holds a title esteemed among fencers: master of arms. His academy teaches styles and traditions for more than 20 weapons including the rapier, the dagger, the wooden cane and the military saber.

“We’re preserving something here that is very rare,” Mr. Martínez said. “These are techniques that have vanished from modern fencing systems, and many styles are not even practiced anymore in the countries where they originated.”

Mr. Martínez says the traditional styles he teaches are a martial art rooted in dueling tradition. Unlike modern, Olympic-style fencing, which emphasizes athleticism and dramatic lunges, his academy’s fencing focuses on an economy of movement, with a less-catlike stance, he said. Its style is more cagey and defensive, like the style one might adopt in a real duel with real swords and real lives at stake.

“We’re not teaching a game,” Mr. Martínez said. “We’re teaching them to duel as if their lives depended on it. The object is not to rack up points, but to survive the duel.”

I’m guessing that HBO’s Game of Thrones boosted enrollment.

Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) notes that there are few things as obsolete as medieval sidearms, which might make the art of the duel seem like a pretty silly thing to study — but a blade teaches some lessons especially well:

Margin of error
Dealing with a sword, there really isn’t a margin of error. Unarmed you can afford to make far more mistakes, give yourself more time. You take a glancing blow to the head or someone tags your upper arm with a fist and it’s not a big deal. Bladed weapons force you to think in a more demanding way.

Weapons teach distancing faster and better than unarmed
You need to be able, at a glance to tell from build, grip, foot position and weapon if the threat can reach you. Exactly how his range changes with shifts of footing, grip or center of gravity. You can predict the ‘tells’ you need to watch for when and if the threat decides to develop range. It’s a critical skill with weapons and the cool thing is that it translates. After getting ranging with weapons down, unarmed range assessment is even easier.

You learn not to waste time or motion
Related to ‘no margin of error.’ A sword fight is won or lost in fractions of seconds and fractions of inches. If the person is going to miss you by the tiniest of margins, you don’t waste effort or time in motion. You never parry even an inch more than you absolutely have to. Unarmed fighting allows for a lot more slop.

It requires (and thus develops) commitment:
There’s no way you can hit someone without being close enough to be hit back. Or maybe hit first. But we’ve all been hit enough to know it really isn’t a big deal. With a blade? Any decisive action means you are close enough to be killed or maimed. Every time you engage you are betting your life on your skill, your speed and your ability to read what is truly happening.

This is specialized, maybe, but by truly limiting the weapon, strategy comes to the fore. Unarmed we can get by forever on tricks. Given just hand strikes, foot strikes, take-downs, locks, gouges, strangles, head-butts and slamming I can keep shifting between the options and force you to play catch-up, or find the one that you haven’t experienced before. Limit it to just one class of tool (hand strikes in boxing, for instance) and it forces the skill to go up another level. t changes from tricks to tactics and then, maybe even strategy. Dealing with just a point (foil or epee) and limiting offense and defense to the same tool in the same hand pushed a deeper understanding of all the elements of strategy: timing and distancing and psychology and…

All of these things, and there are more, inform and improve your unarmed skill. They change the way you see and think.

Scenario Training

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) recommends scenario training:

So in scenario training, you start with what you want the student to learn. You wanted the student to learn how to tap into her inner beast and let go? You can set up scenarios for that. You want to get a student over some deep personal conditioning? You can inoculate for that with scenarios. You want them to take sterile skills and apply them to a dynamic, messy environment? Scenarios were made for that.

Most often I use them to help the student develop judgment in tandem with skills. They know how to take someone down… do they have any idea when it is appropriate? They know how to defend themselves, do they know what constitutes self-defense legally? Can they explain their actions to a jury of their peers?

Can they tell when a situations is developing? Do they know when to leave? Do they recognize the point of no return? Knowledge of violence dynamics (how bad guys attack) and force law are integral parts of self-defense. Every so often, these elements have to be practiced together.

The other thing about scenario training is that you find glitches. When the student doesn’t run; or uses a martial skill instead of a survival skill (fighting to win instead of fighting to escape) or plays to the scenario instead of the problem (decides not to use the mirrors or doors, ignoring truth for an image in the head) it tells you something. The same student is vulnerable to his or her own mind games and assumptions in real life. That’s a glitch, and a dangerous one. The best survivors are cheaters. If you want to encourage survival skills, you have to make it safe to cheat.

It takes good role-players and a good coach. A role-player who wants to can turn everything into a fight…and the student learns that only fighting (never leaving, never talking) is what works. A role-player who can play a convincing criminal (not an unstoppable monster or a cartoon character) is solid gold.

I find that there’s a certain paradox to “realistic” scenario training:

In my experience, roleplaying, like animation, has an awkward tendency to fall into the uncanny valley, where increased realism makes the whole thing seem less realistic.

In real life, I trust my gut, but in a scenario all the cues are off, and I have to consciously pretend to counter-intimidate the guy brought in to yell at me, or whatever.

Where it’s undeniably useful is in eliciting a huge adrenaline response or a sense of total shock and surprise, because that opens some eyes — fine-motor skills go bye-bye, tunnel vision kicks in, etc. — and teaches you both how to stay somewhat calm and what you can do when you’re not centered.

The Striking Deficit

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) discusses the striking deficit in self-defense training:

I’m trying to brainstorm my way around a training artifact.

Proper striking can be effective. I’ve put people down and broken bones with techniques ranging from hook punches to slaps. On the other hand, they’re really idiosyncratic. If anyone tells you that a specific strike will always have a specific effect, the person is lying. Or misinformed. In my personal experience, I’ve taken a crowbar to the back of the head with no injury whatsoever, and a slap to the back of the head that left me dizzy and puking for three days. I’ve been lifted in the air from a solid kick straight to the crotch and didn’t feel it for well over a minute… and I’ve been flicked in the crotch and gone down.

Strikes are dangerous. Even if you don’t notice that you have broken bones until after the fight, they are still broken and can take a long time to heal. That solid shot to the head might not hamper you at all, until a few hours later when the tissue swells and you pass out. Maybe die. Hours after you ‘won.’

Because of all this, strikes require special safety restrictions in training. Maybe you put big pillows on your fist. Maybe you pull the strikes and practice missing. But something is done to make sure that the strikes in training don’t do what strikes do…

Which has two bad effects. One is obvious, in that all the training to miss (whether you call it pulling or just use contact to a safe area like simulating hitting the groin by hitting the thigh) will influence you to miss in real life. Trust me — you’ll have other things to think about than trying to remember what you simulated in practice and substituting the ‘reality’ variation.

The other bad effect is that it increases the value of grappling techniques in sparring.

That’s not in and of itself a bad thing. The ability to move, control, lock and strangle a human body are some of the most effective and reliable base skills. But when you are practicing, whether sparring or scenarios, and the strikes have to be controlled and the submissions can go to submission, you wind up with scenarios that always end with a lock or strangle.

Unless you stay alert, it can seem like locks and strangles work and strikes don’t. The thing is that real strangles work far better than pretend strikes.

My response:

Rory, I think you make an excellent point about how idiosyncratic strikes can be. (The same holds for gunshots, knife wounds, etc.) Even if most punches break no bones and do no lasting damage, enough of them do to make hardcore training too dangerous to sustain over many cumulative hours. Sooner or later, something bad happens.

On the other hand, if you never train with hard strikes, the rest of your training can drift away from the reality of what does or does not work in a real fight.

I suppose you can free-ride to some extent on other students of your art who do train with hard contact. Your own muay thai training may lack a certain something if you never spar hard, but at least the style stays true to what works in the ring.

I’m conflicted about your point that grappling becomes overvalued in training. I came to the same conclusion as a kid who studied kempo. In play-fighting, a bigger kid could easily maul me, and I wasn’t about to break his nose or gouge his eye to demonstrate my (supposed) skills.

On the other hand, as someone who grapples regularly now, I find that people, if anything, overreact to strikes in casual training, because, when it’s not really life or death, even a black eye or a bloody lip is a pretty big deal.

Anyway, what do you do about strikes being too dangerous to practice? I think you need a mixed strategy. If you simply pull all your punches, you train to pull your punches. If you always wear padded gloves, you train to punch in padded gloves. You can get around this by training against the focus mitts without gloves, sparring hard with gloves, and sparring with grappling and pulled punches. No one set of bad habits becomes fully ingrained.

The Craft

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) shares his thoughts on the craft of writing — and some other arts and crafts:

Writing is like money. It’s also like fighting. And like driving. It is one of those things where the people who deal with it professionally don’t think of it the way that amateurs do. Raised as a poor kid, I assumed that money was a zero-sum game, that if you had more, someone else had less. Professionals see money as something that can be used, harnessed and managed and as inexhaustible as thought.

A tactical team doesn’t look at confrontation or violence or fighting the way a martial artist or a martial sport competitor does. It is not a test or an adventure or an opportunity for personal growth. It is something to be avoided or ended as quickly, efficiently and safely as possible.

When my wife first introduced me to her writers group I was shocked to discover that professional writers approached it as a craft. It wasn’t inspiration. It wasn’t a gift from the gods. It was a skill that you spent hours of practice on. It was learning the tools to get a thought from your brain into others and having it be received with the effect that you intended.

Writing for yourself is fun. Putting the world in your head down on paper so that you can revisit it and enjoy it is good. But if you want to publish, it’s not enough. You have to put it on paper so well that it creates the image in other people’s heads. That’s a skill, and it takes practice. It also takes a dedicated listening to your good first readers. If you have to explain your story it’s not because they “didn’t get it” it is because you failed to give it to them.


Sunday, November 29th, 2009

Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) may have to rename his personal fighting style jikkyoshado:

Once upon a time, waiting to start a class I noticed a guy outside trying to change his tire. The tire was slung under the truck and he had a rod which was supposed to be inserted into a socket and turned to lower the tire. It wasn’t working. He was standing there behind the truck with two friends trying to figure it out.

So I went out, crawled under the truck and started feeling around. That’s an important rule: if something doesn’t work it is almost impossible to figure it out without going on scene. The guy willing to crawl under the truck will solve more problems than the three guys trying to stay clean and dry and thinking about it.

So I poked around, ’cause I couldn’t see a damn thing and noticed that the rod he was trying to use was the exact same size as the socket. In other words, the socket end was on the rod and he had it turned backwards. Easy fix. I told him… and he said, “That can’t be right. The crank thingy is on this end.”

“Hey!” I said, “I’m right friggin’ here. That’s the wrong end. Turn it around.” He actually refused. It didn’t make sense, he said. I insisted and he pulled out the crank rod and pushed it in the exact same way. I don’t know if he was trying to be clever or if his denial was so deep that he thought if he kept doing the ‘sensible’ thing it would miraculously start working.

He finally listened and the tire was down in a few seconds. I went into the training area to get some coffee before class started.

It makes you think, doesn’t it? How many lives have been lost because the scouts reported what they saw and the commanding officers went with what they expected? How many hostage situations or EDP (Emotionally Disturbed Person) encounters have gone bad because the person went with the script instead of going with what was actually happening? This happens everywhere.

So we started joking about a new martial art, “The Way of the Guy Who is Actually There” based on the strange and novel idea of listening primarily to people who actually know what they are talking about.

Revolutionary, I know. I’m a rebel.

Kevin was kind enough to translate the concept into Japanese, jikkyoshado. He even sent the kanji. Always technically precise, Kevin warns that the kanji will be read by a native as “the way of one who is really present.” Close enough.

Thanks to Kevin — The One Who is Really Present in Japan.

Solutions to problems that aren’t problems

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Rory Miller notes that many self-defense discussions revolve around solutions to problems that aren’t problems:

Someone grabs your wrists, what do you do? I just say, “I know you’re desperate but I am not going out with you.” I know where his hands are. Where his feet are. What he can do and what he can’t. For most things he needs to let go, for the one he doesn’t, the head butt, I’ll feel his intention. There is no problem here, unless you psych yourself into one.

Same with grabbing the shirt. It’s an aggressive, scary move if you buy into the hype. Put it down on paper and suddenly it’s a gift. “Hi, my name’s Ray and I’ll be your attacker today. I’ve decided to open by tying up both my hands in a way that can’t really hurt you, leaving your hands free and my knees, throat, ears and lots of other good stuff in easy reach.”

Lots of the groundfighting positions on the bottom are good places to rest. There are some holds — kesa gatame and kami shiho gatame to name two, where the person can’t hurt you without changing the hold. The only danger in either is to struggle yourself to exhaustion. There is no problem here, not until the bad guy’s friends show up.

Recognizing a problem is a critical strategic skill. Recognizing when something is not a problem and you can save your resources is a critical tactical skill.

He’s making a “big” point, but he raises a “small” point, about the scarf hold (kesa) and north-south (kami), that I’d like to address.

I’ve long thought that competitive judo could improve its applicability off the mat without losing anything on the sporting side by modifying the rules for pins, so that (a) taking the back would count as a pin, (b) a pin would only ever be worth a half-point, so there would still be an incentive to look for submissions from a dominant position, and (c) a pin wouldn’t count unless the attacker had a hand free, almost rodeo style, to represent the ability to strike.

Early Love

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

Rory Miller discusses his early love of judo:

I loved the strategy, the feeling of flight and even the impact. I loved the work out, the exhaustion. Going to muscle failure in my hands and abs several times a night. I loved, loved, loved the sensation of finding the perfect moment and sending a bigger man through the air and I loved dominating big guys on the ground.

Here’s where judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu are very similar:

I dabbled in other things, but one of the things I liked about judo was that it was exactly what it was. Rokyu or godan, you were going to get on the mat and you couldn’t just say you were good. You either were or you weren’t and everyone knew. You couldn’t lie to yourself.

There was no mysticism — my instructors didn’t know mysterious secrets that I didn’t know, they were simply better at what I knew. And I have seen things presented in internal martial arts as deep truths about structure that were just basics in judo — how to rest while groundfighting and how to not use muscle are big parts of effortless power and using tendon and bone instead of muscle.

Glitches and Denial

Friday, September 11th, 2009

In self-defense, catastrophic failures come from glitches, Rory Miller says — from choking:

I’ve put a man through scenarios, a big, tough jail guard with probably a hundred fights under his belt and he could not point a real gun at another human being. He wasn’t even aware that he wasn’t doing it. I’ve seen another who curled up and ‘died’ when hit with a plastic bullet. I’ve seen the 6’4″ former marine who ran and hid from inmates and the 5’2″ single mom with no training or experience who fought like a tiger. And the blackbelt with a roomful of trophies who still freezes though no one could ever call him a rookie. What you believe about yourself, all the stories, all the logical progression (I’ve been training for this for ten years, I’ve been hit by blackbelts, surely I won’t freeze!”) doesn’t have a whole lot of bearing on how you will perform.

Four-Way Breakdown

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

There are at least four ways that survival fighting breaks down, Rory Miller says. The first is physical, the essence of combat — applying force and avoiding it from your opponent — but Miller does not spend much time writing or thinking about this:

The real reason is that I have rarely seen anyone with any training who was crushed in an assault because of a lack of physical skills. Almost all simply choked. They knew what to do, they couldn’t make themselves do it. So the physical side of it, in my opinion, is a critical skill to success, but does nothing to prevent catastrophic failure. That comes from elsewhere.

The second is cognitive — strategy and tactics, evaluation and planning:

Weapons common or rare? Expect multiple opponents or duels? Ambushes or matches? In each of these pairs, the one you emphasize (no one discounts one of them entirely, though people sometimes argue as if they do) will drive how you move and what you teach.

There is a big potential for failure here if the students are led to believe that the strategy and system they are learning is perfect, or even good, for all situations. Tactics and movements from an unarmed duel aren’t the same as an armored medieval battlefield or an ambush from behind at a urinal.

But it’s an easy fix, to an extent (and this is not a guarantee of success, nothing is): From day one students are taught to keep their eyes open, don’t count on anything, and be ready to adapt.

The third is emotional or spiritual:

Can you act when you can’t begin to predict the outcome? Maybe it’s a level of faith, maybe confidence, maybe ignorance and maybe those are all aspects of the same thing. Is your instinct when you are pressed or scared or someone screams to deal with it yourself? Or do you look around for someone else to deal with it? Or pretend it’s not happening? People have been brutally beaten and some have probably died curled into a little ball hoping mommy or the cops or the cavalry will come save them.

This is the source of a lot of catastrophic failure, and the source is strictly internal.

The fourth is also emotional — and social. Miller calls it the social screaming monkey level:

It is the social mind that wants to put everything in a social context — does this person trying to kill me hate me? Did I do something to deserve this? Why is this happening to me?

The thing about this is that tries to deal with a violent situation from the rules and point of view of a regular world that doesn’t countenance violence. It is just like trying to cling to the plane after you have already jumped. It’s too late for that. The monkey mind insists on trying to analyze a social solution to what has become a physical problem. Right here is where a lot of the freezing and the catastrophic failures happen.

Everything they taught us was wrong

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) was giving a lieutenant some close-quarters handgun training when the young officer threw up his hands and said, “I am so angry. Everything they taught us was wrong!

What he had learned at his basic training were the fundamentals of pistol marksmanship. They weren’t wrong, they were just incomplete. Beginners need to learn safety. It’s stupid to accidentally kill yourself. They need to get some feeling for success and how the weapons work, so they become a stable platform. They learn grip and sight alignment and sight picture and breath control and trigger press.

They learn these fundamentals in a context that makes it easy for the instructor to monitor and easy for the student to correct — good lighting, good footing, hearing and eye protection, safety monitors and not moving.

Those environmental basics are rare as hell in real life. Gunfire is loud and muzzleflash can be blinding in low light. Often not only is the footing bad, but it may be too dark to tell how bad. And you’d better damn well be moving unless you already have good cover. If you do have good cover, think about moving anyway because the threat should try to flank you. And cover geometry can be counterintuitive- cover is often better the farther you are away from it. Said it was counter-intuitive.

There are details that came at a price — when and how to fire from retention; why the weapon should be canted out when at retention. Details that aren’t on the beginning syllabus.

Combat shooting, whether raiding or counter-ambush, is a whole different animal than range training. Honestly, range training is probably closest to assassination skills, which aren’t that useful for good guys.

And there are things that work very well on the range that are ineffective in real life. I was a weaver shooter for decades, trained that way from a pup. But there are three significant flaws in the weaver — it is almost impossible to maintain while moving. It points the biggest hole in your body armor (armpit) right at the threat. Most damning is that according to research no one has been able to pull it off in a firefight. An assassination maybe. I wish I could reference the study (library not here!) but in reviewing all the videorecorded gun encounters he could get (which I had a hard time believing was a lot…), the researcher couldn’t find a single one where the person fired from a weaver, even if he had trained weaver for decades. (Some corroboration from, if memory serves, “Men Under Fire”.)

But that doesn’t make dojo or range training wrong. I go to the range. I practice my dry-fire and failure to fire drills. When I have access to a good instructor, I go to my martial arts classes. Nothing is wrong, but it is incomplete. So when I practice my dry fire, I know what I will see when the projectile hits flesh and I know what it will do to my mind and body- because I have experienced it. Once. When I go to classes I know when I am practicing moving and when I am practicing breaking people. Often, in my experience, the instructor does not know that crucial difference.

What you have is not a combat skill

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

What you have is not a combat skill, Rory Miller notes, if your training doesn’t reflect the reality of a fight:

  1. Anything you teach, anything you practice must have a tactical use. If it is not useful, why are you practicing it? Case in point — returning a katana to the scabbard quickly, smoothly and without looking is one of the hallmark proofs of extreme skill. News flash — getting you weapon into the holster fastest has never won a fight. There is no tactical use for disarming yourself quickly. To be fair, the ability to secure your weapon without looking allows you to pay attention to potential emerging threats, and that is a good skill.
  2. You must be able to perform the skill moving. Fights (unarmed, guns, knives, swords or clubs) are not static affairs. They are conducted moving. You will be moving and so will the threat. If you have to freeze in order to strike hard or stop in order to shoot accurately, what you have is not a combat skill. If your opponent must freeze for an instant to give you time for your disarms or locks to work, it is not yet a combat skill.
  3. Your skills must work when you are scared. I can almost guarantee that if you ever need serious close-quarters survival skills, you will be scared. That affects your mind and your body. If the techniques you rely on require wide peripheral vision, calm planning, precise hand movements, or even a fairly complicated coordination of hands and feet they very likely won’t work. Levels of fear change with experience and somewhat with internal wiring — if you choose to believe that this doesn’t apply to what you do, you are counting on being a mutant. Best of luck to you.
  4. It must work whether you can see or not. Not just because bad things happen in the dark but because you can’t waste time looking at the weapons on your belt or checking to see which way your magazines are turned. Something else, like the threat’s hands, may well be in your face. You won’t get the choice that the threat will even be in front of you. Some things, like shooting, require some vision (country western songs aside) but there is a reason why so much time is spent on low-light and poor visibility shooting. Reason being, that’s how most of them happen. Touch is reliable. Anything you can do by touch, you do by touch.

Violence Works

Saturday, August 1st, 2009

Violence works, Rory Miller notes, and accepting that it works places you on the middle ground between the violence groupies and the dark-side pacifists:

I read something recently, a short essay. It was very sincere and it was well-reasoned and it touched a lot of people. About how violence was toxic, how dark things not addressed would boil out, how people with that darkness in them who toyed at things like martial arts would eventually become something dark. How no one who deals with that can remain untouched and how violence can never solve anything, only creating needs for more violence in the long run…

It struck me very much as a reaction not to violence — there was nothing in the essay to indicate that the author had ever had any direct contact with what I would consider violence or evil — but as a reaction to the concept of violence. A reaction to thoughts about violence. A logical response to quiet the fears through insight. Another reaction to fear as opposed to danger.

The other side of the argument — the violence groupies and virtual tough guys and “ultimate deadly street fighting systems” — are just as toxic, just as based on imagination.

For both sides it is about fear and control — if you fear violence, you can try to convince everyone it is a Bad Idea™ and they will all move to the light and you will be safe… or you can decide to become, or imagine yourself to be, a master of violence yourself. Then you control the thing you are afraid of.

It doesn’t work like that. Violence between humans exists because it works. It has been reliably used to get money for drugs for generations. Ending slavery (relatively, the institution still exists) was a bloody business. When someone is breaking into your house with intent to rape and kill and you have retreated to the last room in the basement, violence (countervailing force, to be PC) is the only thing that will solve that problem.

Violence works. The rarer it is in a society, the more powerful it becomes because fewer people are prepared to do what it takes to prevent it. Bullies get the reward of control. Protests, even when called “peace protests” are intimidation, and look at that one carefully. Little weasels wrecking a downtown area have not swayed a single person to their point of view so the reward comes from elsewhere and that reward is likely the satisfaction of scaring other people, feeling powerful.

Once a human gets used to using violence as a tool, once they learn how easy and safe it can be the only thing that will stop them are fear or force. Physically stopping them (force) or the clear ability to stop them (fear).

Back to these two points of view- the violence groupies and the dark-side pacifists. You don’t see a lot of either of these points of view in professionals. They rarely say “Violence never solved anything” because most have clearly, personally, solved stuff with violence. Sometimes the problem solved was their own survival, which is kind of hard to devalue. They do (often) wonder if the problems they are solving will stay solved; if the plans were really thought out; or if the perceived problem was worth the real cost.

The trope that ‘you will turn evil if you are exposed to enough violence’ doesn’t play very well. I have heard it from a few professionals — mostly from people who felt themselves drifting that way and recovered — but I don’t actually see a lot of it. Most of the people who got in trouble over their uses of force were asses long before they ever put on a badge.

Learn how attacks happen

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Rory Miller’s advice to martial artists — at least those interested in actual self-defense — is to learn how attacks happen:

Too many people train like they are collecting tools. Mechanics don’t study tools, they study cars and what can go wrong with them. Doctors don’t take classes on Scalpel 101, they study diagnostics and anatomy. If you want to defend yourself, learn about violence. It is useless to have a thousand answers if you don’t know the question. Also, be prepared that your idea of who you are probably won’t survive a violent encounter.