Wednesday, August 26, 2015


... or phishing.
One thing every predatory criminal needs is privacy. The quality of privacy depends on the type of crime. Beating a member of your gang that you suspect of breaking the rules might go better if the other members can watch, but you'll certainly limit civilian and police witnesses. The quantity of privacy varies as well. Rape and torture murders can take days, muggers may only need privacy for a few seconds.

There are only a handful of general strategies to get some one to a private place. You can intimidate them, trick them, lure them, follow them or wait for them.

Following and intimidation rely on assessing the victim, but very little intelligence gathering is needed. You want someone smaller, weaker, less confident to intimidate, someone oblivious to follow. Those are instantly obvious. The other strategies, usually, will have an element of intelligence gathering.

Not always. Just like fishing you can try to match the lure to the specific fish you want or you can cast a wide net. In "Think like a Freak" the authors pointed out that it might seem stupid that the Nigerian scam emails you get actually say they're from Nigeria. Everyone's heard of the Nigerian scam, right? But when you cast a net that wide, sending thousands of e-mails, you want to weed out the bad prospects as early as possible. If I send 1000 emails saying I need help getting millions out of the Nigerian bank, the 995 who recognize the scheme and don't answer have allowed me to concentrate on the five that might fall for it. Efficient use of time.

One personal version. "Hey, you from America? I love America. You know, there's a shrine that's not on the tourist map. It's a little far..." Which, could be targeted to the person trying to go native and be different from the other tourists, but works just as well if you ask every tourist you see.

When the isolation strategy is targeted, there will be some element of intelligence gathering. Surveillance is a possibility, but following someone for days to figure out his or her routine should be rare. Very labor intensive, far more evidence of premeditation, and I can't speak for other people, but I always thought the Hollywood cliche of the target who has the same meal at the same restaurant at the same time every day pretty damn unlikely.

Most intel gathering comes in a simple conversation-- the phone call claiming to be from the IRS is a big one now. Ted Bundy would strike up a conversation with a woman in the library on campus. In any first conversation at a university, three things come up: "Where are you from?" "What's your major?" and "Which dorm are you in?"

It's rapport building. Knowing your hometown tells me about background we have in common. Your major is a big clue both to the possibility of common interests and how you see your future. Where you live on campus tells me your socio-economic background and how social you are. But Bundy used the routine questions for something simpler.

If you ask a target at the library where the target lives, you can scout the loneliest place between the library and the home.

It can be hard to spot someone gathering intel. Like many long-term crimes (e.g. creating a relationship so the predator gets the victims home and access to bank accounts and can groom a victim), the criminal excels at imitating the steps of a normal relationship. Ted Bundy used the normal conversation scripts to extract the information he wanted. There are a finite number of tools, good guys and bad guys use the exact same tools.

The best exercise, from my point of view, is to practice it from the other end. Strike up conversations with the intent of finding out as much as you can about the other person while giving up as little as possible about yourself. Don't lie, just focus the conversation back on the other. Not only will very few people notice you aren't answering, they'll be flattered to be the center of attention. And they'll spill their guts.
Seeing how easy this is will help you recognize when you are on the receiving end. It will also teach you how rarely it is necessary to share. And, weirdly, the focus on others can even make you more popular.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Process of Principles Based Teaching

Partially in answer to Jim's question, largely this will be a draft of an article for Conflict Manager Online Magazine. I've been doing a four part series there, the last three are the steps towards application (deriving your principles, a touch of adult learning theory, stuff like that.)

So, background-- You have to know your principles, understand them. And you have to have a clear idea of what you are actually teaching (most common mistake, people equate fighting with self-defense.) Your ability to pass on knowledge is absolutely limited by the clarity of your understanding of that knowledge. And what follows is a process, but you must know how to teach and how to communicate separately from this process. For instance, criticism is rarely effective teaching.

The process:

On a psychological and emotional level, you have to prep people for learning. One of the most toxic things we have done in martial arts and in some of the reality-based systems is to make conflict special. People come to us convinced violence is alien to them, it is complicated, it is hard to learn. Emphasize that this is natural. The physics are the same as any other physical activity and the mentality is part of their evolutionary heritage. It's been hammered and brainwashed out of them, but they are all natural fighters, all survivors.

I like having an over-all game that skills will always tie back to. The game has to be well designed. Minimal bad habits (if people don't go to the hospital, there are safety flaws built in. If they do go to the hospital, they don't learn anything while recovering.) It must be what it is and no more (I never call the one-step a fight simulation. It is a geometry problem made out of meat, and your job is to solve the moving meat problem as efficiently as possible.) 

I like the game to have a competitive element to it, but no winner or loser-- you are going to strive to be more efficient than me, but if you excel at that, you haven't beaten me, just given me a more challenging problem to solve. The problem with full active resistance or any form of direct sparring is that the only the winner learns that "it works against a resisting opponent." The loser, who probably needs the skill more anyway, learns that it fails against resisting opponents. Failure is not a lesson you want to teach. Not at this stage. This is the play stage where you are familiarizing with principles and what you can do, and looking to increase efficiency.

I start with the one-step. That's the slow motion, taking turns, efficiency exercise described in Drills: Training for Sudden Violence, (That's Smashwords. Link to Amazon Kindle.) Next level up is to blend that into a faster flow drill. Flow helps to lock in the skills, but as you go faster the students will miss opportunities.  And that's always the balance-- you need speed to handle speed, and you need to practice speed to not be overwhelmed. But that always comes at the price of: 1) missing opportunities and slowing down learning. 2) The safety flaws become more important. A slow elbow to the head you can make contact, a fast one you have to pull. 3) The faster you go, the harder the training ingrains, good or bad. Including the safety flaws.

The third level is full blown infighting randori. Your students need supreme control and confidence to do this well and safely, and frequently, this one has a winner. It integrates skills better than anything I know, because it is too close and too fast to process cognitively.

So those are the games I tie back to. We play the game, the one-step first. Before any instruction whatsoever (they get an extensive safety brief and a demo) they play. The only criticism at that point will be for safety and staying within the rules. Like any other game, they have to learn the rules. Most important is time framing. It's a slow motion drill, so it is easy to get competitive and speed up to "win".
Because they can do this successfully, it helps convince the student this is not special or alien. Gets them over that first big hurdle.

Next stage, you need to know your principles inside out. Then come up with ways to demonstrate them. Not techniques to remember, but sensations to feel.

Tie it back to personal experience "structure is just like pushing a car" but remind them it can always be more efficient. Or: when you do a squat, are you ever on your toes? Of course not. And you don't sprint from your heels. So heels down for power, heels up for speed. 
Basically, students may not have been consciously aware of their own bodies, but the body mechanics of physical altercations are the same body mechanics they have used every day.

Design or find a specific game that works a specific principle. Sumo is awesome for learning about the interplay between using structure and exploiting momentum.

Or demonstrate the common traits of a class of technique. I show one aspect of leverage by pointing out the different high-mechanical-advantage leverage points on the body and have the students experiment with them. The experimentation is key. And this is one of the places, where, as an instructor, you have to be careful. A lot of martial artists have been damaged by their previous instruction. These are the one who are always asking if they did it 'right' or which finger to use or how to grip. They are so used to being corrected that they are more concerned with the instructors criticism than success or failure they can feel. You have to deflect this by asking the only question that matters: "Did it work?"

Then bring bring them back to the general game, so the new stuff start to work with everything else. They shouldn't obsess on the new skill (e.g. only trying for leverage points) but the new skill will be fresh in their minds, and will come out a lot.

Repeat the cycle. Break them out of the game to work on something else, like targeting. Then put them back in the game. 
Theoretically, you could, after each skill, increase the speed. When they are starting to do it reflexively, pick up the speed to the flow level. Finally lock it in with a contest-level fast and hard game (infighting randori.

I don't do it that way. They can work on the principles in one-step forever. I move them to flow and randori based on their abilities and confidence level. Animals learn through play and the first exposure to randori should be fun and slightly overwhelming but shouldn't make them feel terrified and helpless.

The last, critical piece to self-defense is to occasionally run good scenario training. That allows them to use their skills in tandem with their judgment. And use more force, because of the armor. That said, scenario training is very hard to do well and safely and easy to do poorly. And poor scenario training can mess up students, physically, tactically and emotionally. It is better to stay away from the completely than to do them poorly. Last CCA for this post: I'll be running scenario training (and other things) in Rhode Island next month. Information is here:

So, Jim, not a single technique anywhere in that progression.
There are some caveats, though:
1) Done properly, it allows and encourages creativity. Which means your students will innovate some sneaky shit and beat you far sooner than if they train in techniques. This is not a good method for egotistical instructors.
2) It can be hard to measure and test. Using this platform for jointlocks, we've gotten untrained officers improvising locks under pressure in an hour. And some of those locks would seem to be advanced. But they wouldn't have been able to name a lock or to demo a specific lock. Which makes organizations and concrete thinkers get the twitches.
3) It's incompatible with most martial arts business models. The student/teacher relationship will shift to colleague/colleague very quickly. I like that, personally.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Concretes and Abstracts

Technique-based training is concrete. "He throws a straight punch and you outside block, side step and throw an inside knife-hand strike. Go do a thousand reps." It's easy to teach. He does X, you do Y. Reps. But I can think of zero actual fighters who find this valuable (except as a business model). To deal with chaos you need to train with chaos. And train is the wrong word. You need to play.
Partially because play is the way animals naturally learn, partially because, in a complex system working rote drills hampers more than helps.

Principles-based training involves understanding the principles and applying them in chaos. It's much harder to teach, because knowledge isn't enough, the instructor must have understanding. It's less measurable, less "objective" but infinitely more useful under stress.

Technique repetition may lead to knowledge. Actual experience leads to understanding. Play, if the games are done well, can give you a start on understanding, maybe some insight.

As understanding deepens, you are able to "batch" more and more things. To integrate techniques that seem disparate into single thoughts. As you do so, you process things faster, you become more efficient and decisive.

A technique-based practitioner may go into a fight with a rolodex of forty hand strikes and twenty kicks in his head. He'll try to use this unwieldy mental rolodex and probably get his ass kicked. Memory is simply too slow. Taught in a principles-based way, one level of abstraction up is to understand that striking is just power generation, targeting, and conformation. If you understand it, your rolodex of sixty has become a rolodex of three, with a vast reduction in reaction, action and decision time but an increase in flexibility and adaptability. That's if you understand it. The problem is that if you only know it, you're going into the fight with three mental rolodexes that have to be cross-indexed under pressure. That's bad.

As your understanding deepens, your integrating concepts become simpler and more efficient. In Meditations on Violence I wrote about meta-strategies. Many of the extraordinary fighters I know have complete battle systems that can be expressed in a single sentence. "Destroy the base." "Defang the snake." "Take the center."

Simpler and more efficient, but also, expressed in words, they will seem more abstract. Memorizing techniques is easy. Nice and concrete. Teaching power generation, targeting and conformation is a good size to chunk the information. It gives beginners efficient tools and increases flexibility in hours instead of months. But every so often I want to go really deep, experiment with teaching a workshop on "Structure and Void". I think it would be a really powerful integrating concept, a good framework to teach. But I fear it's too abstract for most people. It would probably only be useful to people with a good depth of understanding already. There are far fewer of those.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Upside the Head

Every so often, you get your perspective shifted for you. You get one piece of data, or hear one thing, or look at the same problem from a slightly different angle and the whole world shifts. You don't just see the particular problem in a different way, you see the entire world in a new way.

On the martial journey, you'll occasionally hear a beginner say something with utmost sincerity and only later remember that you used to believe that, too.  I've written about one experience here, a minor one:

Another one, as near as I can remember it--
I was hitting the heavy bag, doing as I had been taught, throwing fast, loose karate punches and tensing them at the moment of impact when Mac said, "You realize that's unnecessary, right?"
I was flustered. It was the way I was taught. I hit hard. I started to argue and explain.
Mac continued, "All you need to do is get these bones (he indicated my metacarpals) in line with these bones (the radius and ulna)."  Then he completely shifted my understanding of martial arts "Tensing and clenching are what people do when they don't understand structure."

No one is stronger when they're tense. No one is faster. No one is more flexible or agile. We all know this. All of us. And even the instructors would pay lip service to it... but there was an awful damn lot of practicing tension while talking about relaxation. Misunderstanding of structure.

Haven't been writing for a while. Had one of those paradigm-shifting whacks upside the head. Took me some time to get equilibrium back.