Centerline Theory

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Centerline theory is not one of Rory Miller’s core fighting principles:

Several people have explained it to me, “All your vital targets are on the centerline, so you must be able to attack his and defend yours.” That’s horse shit. The ears, the brachial plexus, the liver, the elbow, the knees, the fragile bones in the back of the hand, the quadriceps insertion are all good targets and all are off the centerline.

That doesn’t mean the theory is crap, the understanding of the theory is crap. You strike towards the center of the body to use the weight as tamping, like in demolition — the bodyweight keeps damage from bleeding off into space.

From that perspective the centreline isn’t the middle front of the body, it is inside, and when you are hitting lateral targets you are still striking towards the centerline. Some people use centerline as a quick ranging tool by measuring centerline to centerline, but when you keep the off-line targets in mind you can do disabling kicks in a tight clinch and sometimes damaging handstrikes at long kicking range.


Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) talks about concrete:

If footwork is critical to your style (and I have yet to see one where it isn’t) then footing, the ability to trust your connection to the ground and to efficiently move your body when you press the earth is pretty damn important.

Most martial artists practice with good footing as a given. Not always — some take care to play outdoors and on uneven terrain. Some who frequently practice outdoors in all weather learn about slick wet grass and sometimes gripping mud. Knee deep snow. Broken rock. And good footing isn’t always good footing. Almost every judoka I know has broken or dislocated his little toes on soft mats.

Finished concrete with a light layer of dust is slippery. Very slippery if you are wearing good boots.

Finished concrete is also a good reflector. There is an element of hunting or ambush to a lot of fights. Practice in paying attention to shadows and reflections can give you the edge no matter which side of the dynamic you play.

Falling — You learn to fall on stuff that is much softer than concrete. I’m cool with that. With diligent practice ukemi work just fine on concrete. I’ve taken a full flip on asphalt at about 30 mph without a scratch and a full power throw on concrete with a 260 pound man landing on top without a bruise. The skills translate, but mistakes or poor skill has a much higher price when the surface is harder.

Impact tool and pain compliance — the earth is an impact weapon. In my opinion, it’s usually stupid to hit people in the head with your fist. I find it stupid and inefficient to do so if there is a substance much harder than your fist right next to the threat’s head. Wall or floor, driving a head into it probably works better than hitting with your hand. For one thing, you can get the body weight of both people into the strike. For another you can sometimes entrain the threat’s flinch reaction into the force. Someone flinching into a door jamb demonstrates amazing short power.

Rough concrete also hurts quite a lot. There is a huge difference between kneeling on an opponent’s jaw on a mat and kneeling on the same jaw when it is backed by gravel over concrete.

You can see that he has a different perspective from most martial artists:

I trained with a man, one of the best in the world at what he does, who insisted that the ground and pound was the “worst possible scenario.” Probably everyone knows, but just in case- you are on the ground, on your back. The opponent is straddling you and raining down blows to your face. This ‘worst possible’ scenario wouldn’t even make my top ten. Five or six guys kicking would make it worse. A knife would make it worse. Being face down would make it worse. Being on top could be worse if I think I’m in some kind of wrestling match and the threat has decided it’s a knife fight… on and on.

What does this last bit have to do with concrete?

When the backstop is concrete anything that misses has a price to pay. Fully committed, full power, threat can cause his own crippling injury. You just have to make the threat miss. Shifting your pinned hips is usually enough.

People like who they are

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

People like who they are, Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) says — to a point:

They may not think it, they may not say it, but if “just bein’ me” becomes a burden or dangerous, people, except for the most ego driven or stupid, change.

When some idiot’s wife asks or tells him to slow down and he speeds up and snarls, “I drive like I want!” he’s just being an ass. He sees a patrol car in his rear view mirror and suddenly the big man who does whatever he wants drives like a little old lady. People who say they don’t change do change if they perceive the stakes as high enough. But they don’t like it and they resent it.

It’s human nature to prefer everyone to change to accommodate you acting the way you want. Most of us understand that there are limits to this and it is a two-way street. Those that don’t understand this become criminals. I’ll go so far as to say that most acts defined as crimes are simply what happens when you think you are too special. Too special to conform to rules, to special to work to buy things, too special to be told “no.”

He’s writing a book about police and their use of force, and his advice to ordinary citizens — written a few months back — is oddly apropos:

Usually when I write I can subconsciously read like a naive reader and have a pretty good feel for what buttons I am pushing. With this short section, I can feel defensive walls coming up. Up to this point, the book has been largely anthropology — how the strange tribe known as police think and why it makes sense in their world. In this section it is a travel guide — this is how to act when you run across a member of this tribe. Simple stuff, in a way. Never force an officer to make a quick decision. Show your hands. Reason, but don’t argue. and if you can’t tell the difference keep your mouth shut.

But here, when it gets personal (not just advising some random imaginary criminal to keep quiet but specifically you, if something happens to the point that officers show up, especially with guns out, don’t argue with them.) Suddenly, defensive walls go up. Because people like themselves. The most unreasonable people I have ever met felt that they were completely reasonable, even logical. They shouldn’t have to change. The public servant who gets paid from their taxes should have to change…

Cool, except you see the logic when force is used on someone acting just the same as you… but it’s not you… so you’re special?


Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) briefly mentioned that he was a koryu snob. What is koryu? Old school:

Koryu is a Japanese word that is used in association with the ancient Japanese martial arts. This word literally translates as “old school” (ko – old, ryu – school) or “traditional school.” Koryu is a general term for Japanese schools of martial arts that predate the Meiji Restoration (the period from 1866 to 1869 which sparked major socio-political changes and led to the modernization of Japan). While there is no “official” cutoff date, the dates most commonly used are either 1868, the first year of the Meiji period, or 1876, when the Haitorei edict banning the wearing of swords was pronounced.

Balances of Power

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) argues that most people assume things that aren’t true:

  1. Other people need a reason to lie
  2. People are about equal in their desire to share information
  3. If information comes from multiple sources it is more likely to be solid

The first assumption falls apart in many of the environments that I spend time in. People who live extremely marginal lives, unprotected by society and surrounded by people they can’t trust (most criminals) need a reason to tell the truth. Disinformation is habit. Giving people in power (not just might power, but also ego stroke power or emotional leverage power) what they want to hear is habit. Most of what you have read derived from interviews with criminals (or written by criminals themselves) have been self-serving lies. It just is. If that rankles and feels judgmental, that is a measure of your value system, and an indicator that you do not understand theirs. In that world, lying is neither right nor wrong, it is simply smart.

The second assumption falls down in some very important places and some very important ways. Sometimes the people with the most information are prohibited (by law, policy, or morality) from sharing that information. I am aware of a case of a fairly highly placed person in a certain local government publishing some pretty outrageous lies. The truth was well-documented, but was documented under a work-place disciplinary status. Completely forbidden to be shared. The lies went unanswered. In some venues, information has to be limited because leaks can cost lives. Simple as that. The people who could explain the best are afraid that even a slight, accidental slip could lead to disaster — and so they say nothing.
The third assumption… people confuse different sources with independent sources. Radioisotope decay and estimated mutation rates and changes in DNA over time and geological layering and the fossil record all independently support the concept of evolution. Different mythologies (and nothing else) support the theory of creation. Some of the more interesting pseudoscientific political issues are worth a look: in a few of them (I’m thinking of a specific example for this) you will find hundreds of sources. Those sources will quote other sources, who will quote others… but in the end almost everything goes back to a single opinion — and this guy has been known to quote people quoting him to bolster his argument.

Layered Precision

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

In striking, Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) notes, power generation varies by range:

This is why it is so hard to do serious damage with strikes in a real fight — you rarely are in complete control of the range. Clavicles and ribs can be broken fairly easily, but aren’t broken often. In the same way, strikes to the brainstem (and the associated high-percentage areas) should be easy, but they don’t happen very often.

Following this yet? To be a successful striker you need to put power in a specific place. That is much easier when the target holds still. The great strikers (I’m thinking sport, here) are not just putting the fist or foot in the right place when it is at the max on the power curve; they are also manipulating the opponent to be at the right place at the right time: personal precision plus the remote control precision on an opponent. That’s cool.

The jujutsu solution, of course, is just to hold them in the right place.

Always know the flaw in the drill

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

Always know the flaw in the drill, Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) admonishes:

In the end, a martial artist is training to kill, cripple or maim another human being. In any drill where the students are not regularly taken to the hospital, there is a safety flaw built in.

Judo starts from the very beginning with a very specific follow-through to the hip and shoulder throws. Students are taught that this follow-through increases control and sets up the uke for a quick arm-bar or osaekomi. The simple fact is that the four traditional follow-throughs either shattered the shoulder, snapped the neck, broke the tailbone or knocked the wind out. The judo follow through is taught as control, but was introduced for safety.

Stupid Moves

Friday, March 13th, 2009

Maybe some of those stupid moves they teach in traditional martial arts aren’t so stupid in the right context, Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) notes:

The snake circle above looks like something out of a bad movie. If you were to make the action sparring it would look like the stupid circling and posturing from a seventies martial arts flick. (I’ve been sick for the last week, so I’ve been watching a lot of those.) But dirty, close and ugly, the technique is completely different.

When a threat is at bad breath range and slams something towards your stomach (fist or knife, if you take the time to look it is too late) that snake circle parries it across his body, comes up under the elbow (to give away one of the biggest secrets, there is a point on the elbow where you can control a threat’s entire body, often without using your hands) and the circle continues, controlling that elbow as you take the threat’s face and (using another leverage point) lever his head back beyond his point of balance. When it works right, he is forced to fall straight back without being able to move his feet. Very hard on the spine. When it doesn’t work right it still controls the weapon hand, the spine, and breaks his balance while leaving you a free hand (as well as knees and feet). That’s kind of useful.

The X-block also gets a lot of heat in certain circles. It’s not a good sparring technique. It’s a big obvious move that leaves your head wide open. It pins your weight forward. There’s no finesse to it. But up close it has a lot that you want from a quick emergency technique: All gross motor skill. Fast. Covers a wide area (aiming takes time, precision takes more finely skilled motor muscles). Works on most linear or rising attacks — foot, fist, knife… even a gun draw. There is a big clue here. A lot of things that are stupid for sparring or dueling have elements that make them good for assault survival.

Letting Go

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

The key to using luck, Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) says, is letting go:

Luck can be defined as the things you didn’t expect. Expectation is the what you believe — your experience, your training. When you can accept it when training or experience fail, when you are cool with being surprised, you can exploit luck. Like anything, some people have a talent at it, but it can also been learned, trained, and practiced.

If you have ever been in the high desert of Eastern Oregon you have seen the steep hills. One of our fun childhood games was to run down those hills full-speed. The trick was to not rely on contact with the ground. Once you were at extraordinary speed you were effectively falling and, when appropriate, when necessary, when effective you would make a small contact with the ground to steer just a bit. It was control in the loosest possible sense. I never saw an adult play this game and it is just as well. The slightest stiffness, the slightest need to show more control than you had would lead to a hellacious tumble and broken bones.

It was good training. Life is like that — something like freefall. Control, beyond a basic ability to control yourself, is an illusion. Even that control is limited (think how your skills will change with injury and advanced age and different blood sugars). But well-timed instances of control can let you ride out a storm or survive a situation that would crush the stolid and certain.

Survival List

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

A few years ago, some folks tried to recruit Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) for their survivalist cell:

On paper, I’m a pretty good candidate — military combat medic; some experience growing and killing food for myself and my family, some formal training in herbal medicine; tracking; survival training; tactical team leader. Most importantly, I’ve done it before.

That was also the problem: I’ve done it before.

Some of you won’t remember, but in the seventies the world was supposed to end any second. We needed to stop all pollution because the emissions (now called greenhouse gasses) were bringing on an Ice Age. The same math which today shows that there must be alien life was used to prove that nuclear war was mathematically inevitable by 1995. There was absolutely no chance that there would be any oil left by 2000, and unless we could achieve ZPG (Zero Population Growth) immediately, mass famine would destroy civilization. All of that without even bringing into the equation the inevitable economic collapse promised by euro-dollars and the lack of any standard (gold or silver) for currency. Oh, and “stagflation” with both unemployment and inflation in double digits.

My parents bought into this and I was raised on eighty acres in the desert with a creek. Seven miles to the nearest town, forty to the nearest town with more than 500 people. Graduating class of six. We were very nearly self-sufficient for food, water and shelter.

So being raised from the time you are small being told the world was going to end and seeing it not happen on a daily basis makes me a little skeptical of survivalism as a philosophy. Reading enough history to know how commonly people chose to believe the end was at hand over the centuries just added to the skepticism.

Being actively recruited got him thinking about all the people who would show up at the door if there were a major disaster.

Different Types of Fights

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) describes three different types of fights:

The dominance display sometimes goes to a fight. Not usually, unless you let your ego get involved. I call that one the Monkey Dance and it is common, predictable and seemingly genetically imprinted to be safe. On the rare occassions someone dies in a Monkey Dance it is by falling and hitting their head.

There’s also a display of solidarity, the Group Monkey Dance. There are two levels of this. Both suck, but one can be brutal and pitiless beyond what too many people are ready to accept in their comfortable, safe worlds. The high level GMD is the one type of attack that scares me most, because it is the one that I have least experience dealing with and the one that I have trouble even imagining a high percentage response. I know two strategies to survive them, I’ve used one of those… but I have no evidence that my survival had more to do with what I did than it had to do with what the bad guys didn’t do.

The third is the Predatory Assault. This is the one I think of when I am writing about survival and self defense. This is the one that I plan and train for. [...] The person attacked has to be trained for immediate action regardless of the nature of the attack. What kind of immediate action? It really doesn’t matter. Turning and running could work. I’m partially to irimi. One guy I knew could reliably kick the knee from almost any position. Palm heel to the face is good. But it must be immediate, must bypass the cognitive process.

Knife and Gun

Monday, March 9th, 2009

It gets downright creepy when Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) looks at the difference between serious gun guys and serious knife guys:

My captain used to say, “For most people, carrying a gun is like a fifteen year old with a condom in his pocket. He’s not going to get a chance to use it and if he did he wouldn’t know what to do, but it’s cool to show his friends.”

In a similar way, a person with a knife out scares me more than a person with a gun out. Some of that is personal — in most of my knife experience, the threat was trying to kill. In the very small number of gun encounters, I got the impression that the threat was sort of hiding behind the gun.
The serious gun guys I know practice with a cold, surgical precision. “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” Dry fire every day. Four count draw. Weapons transition, long gun or SMG to sidearm. Immediate action. They practice turning corners at retention in the house. Walking with a rocking motion of their feet. The best (and civilians rarely have an opportunity for this) practice with ConSims in uncontrolled environment with all of Force policy and statute in effect, working their judgment in tandem with their skills.

The serious knife guys are a different level. Stay close, here, because my definition of serious knife guy may not match anyone else’s. Knife is not a precision skill, not at the serious level. It is a matter of intent and will. Knives are close range and messy and the serious knife guys I know focus less on motion than on the context. They prepare themselves for the smells; the transition when things go from technical to slippery; the feeling of parting tissues transmitted up the blade. The screaming and struggling. It’s easy to play with a knife or a gun or any toy… but actually using a knife hits almost every social button, every uggh and disgust and “Oh, Hell No!” a human being has. Just for the record, slaughtering and butchering animals is valuable (struggled with that word — it’s not important in all ways, not critical — you won’t learn a lot about knife work; and cutting through a skinned animal with a good set of boning and butcher knives isn’t the same; gutting a bled-out deer is very different from the warm, slippery gush of a live disembowelment. What you do learn is about yourself and a tiny, itty bit of how much a death can affect you. You also learn how some things die very hard.)

Why I Don’t Pretend to Teach Knife Defense

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) teaches a seminar called, Why I Don't Pretend to Teach Knife Defense:

The class starts with some pictures I’ve collected of knife wounds, empasizing that one set was from a prison shank, just a piece of metal that had been scraped on a floor, not some custom fighting knife sharpened to a razor edge. The most gruesome was a single cut from a kitchen knife. Gives them a very basic idea of what the hell they are talking about. What the stakes are if they choose to gamble in this arena.

Then I ask for someone with no experience or training with a knife. I take the volunteer aside, hand her the training knife and whisper, “Keep the knife moving, get it in to them any way you can. Cut anything they stick out, if someone grabs your hand switch hands and keep stabbing and slashing. Got it?”

I then turn back to the students and say, “This person now has less than thirty seconds of knife training. Who in here teaches knife defense?”

At this point, with the put up or shut up time, there are no volunteers. I pick somebody.

The first time I did this drill (for those who don’t recognize it, it is Tony Blauer’s Manson Drill) the volunteer was a sixteen-year old female green belt in Uech-ryu karate with no knife training. The expert (and, honestly, the Uechi guys didn’t need to be picked, they did volunteer — they have consistantly been both braver and humbler than most martial artists, in my experience) was a sixth-dan and 20 year veteran police officer. He only got hit twelve times. (We count the stabs and usually end it at twenty, which is just a few seconds.)

In a big diverse group, it quickly becomes clear that almost nothing works against a fast moving, aggressive knife. The guys who have spent years with knives get slaughtered just as fast as people who have never tried it before — faster, if they really believe it works — they practically jump on the blade.

Then they talk about how knives are actually used:

I demonstrate some prison shanking techniques and some mexican gang assassination techniques and the one Japanese tanto kata I know and they all have a lot in common — very close, from surprise, and using the other hand to freeze the target before the knife come into view. Are those the attacks you train against? If not, too bad, because those are the attacks that happen. This brings up one of the big rules: Knives aren’t used for winning fights. Knives are used for killing people.

Then comes the Reception Line drill:

One student is picked out and I joyfully announce that he or she has been elected governor. It is now time for the inaugural ball. You first duty is to shake hands with all the people lining up to congratulate you- contributors, friends, political allies and rivals. You have to be nice, friendly. By the way, your security detail has information someone plans to kill you. Have a nice party.

The governor then faces away and one of the other students gets the knife. All the students are given instructions. Be happy, be friendly, shake hands, hug, then mill around behind the governor. The assassin can attack at any time — while shaking hands, later, after everyone else is done, while the governor is getting a hug…

The students cycle through the governor role. At least once, time permitting, there is no assassination attempt and the whole class gets to take a good hard look at how stilted and weird the body language of someone who is afraid can be… good education.

In the end, the critique is always the same:

No one yelled for help. No one ran. No one yelled, “He’s got a knife!” No one used the mirrors all around or the weapons lying everywhere (we usually do this at a MA seminar, remember). In the end, people were trying to come up with martial arts solutions to survival problems. As much as we want to pretend otherwise, that is rarely a good fit.

Rory’s friend Mac made an insightful comment:

In 40 years of training with weapons, I have never seen anyone actually attack the knife wielder and not defend first, except for you. Only the attitude of, “today is a good day to die”, or running away at top speed, has any hope of defeating a knife attack.

Judging from ignorance

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) wants to write a citizen’s guide to police use of force, because people judging from ignorance drive him crazy:

If a plane crashes, the people who pass judgment are pilots and aircraft engineers. If someone dies on an operating table, doctors hold an inquiry. If someone dies after a use of force (the wording is deliberate, there — sometimes officers kill people, but sometimes people crash cars or their heart gives out or the balloons of meth in their belly pop) reporters, politicians, citizens groups most of whom have never been in a fight; many of whom would have no chance at keeping their temper after just a few minutes of verbal abuse… feel perfectly free to judge.


Friday, March 6th, 2009

Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence) did a little research on Amnesty International’s 2006 study that implicated the Taser in 152 deaths:

Does anybody read these things? Everyone reads the press release that blares the number 152, but who reads the actual paper? That number is not in any way related to the actual causes of death named by the coroners.

AI’s definition by itself appears to be fishy. They seem to label any death preceeded by Taser use to be “Taser related” even if the death happened days later or even if a different cause of death was clearly listed. Hey, I was tased a couple of years ago. If I have a heart attack tomorrow will my name show up in Amnesty International’s next report?

152… but only 23 actually listed the Taser as even a possible contributory cause of death. One of the actual cases states that the Taser may have contributed to the fatal abnormal heartbeat in addition to the other causes of meth and bleeding out from a cut wrist. Clearly the electrical stun device was the culprit. Sure.

So 152 is down to 23, except really only 7 had the cause of death listed as primarily taser. Seven in five years. In at least one of those the ME recanted, having put Taser down as a cause of death before actually performing the autopsy… but that’s not mentioned in the report. Very few of the deaths mentioned in the report have much detail, but what detail there is tells a story. If a plaintiff’s attorney in a case says the death was caused by Taser and the medical examiner says it was NOT the cause of death, AI still lists it. What about the case where it took three autopsies to get the result that AI wanted: “In all it took three autopsies to conclude that taser had been a contributory factor in his death.”

I’ve seen this report cited for over a year. I finally read it. I have a hard time believing that anyone else who cites it has actually read it.

It points to the gulf between people who want to fix the world from ignorance and those who deal with it, Miller says:

There is a difference between pain and injury. Every mechanical means that approaches the level of pain produced by the Taser risks injury — broken bones and dislocated joints. Compare that to two 1/4″ pin pricks (not two inches of penetration, as the report says).

The report says …”tasers in dart firing mode may be a preferable alternative to deadly force…” May be? WTF?