The Rory Miller Interview Part 5 – Elie Edme

English version reprinted in Conflict Manager and on CRGI website with kind permission from Corps Global.

Rory – Do you have any tips for how to cope with this aftermath (besides seeing a qualified professional) as a civilian who just went trough an episode of brutal violence?

Rory – Some. Remember I’m not a counselor or clinical psychologist, but I definitely have some opinions.

Long before the event, know yourself. Know where you draw the line for right and wrong, what you could do and could or could not live with. What you would rather risk a beating, your life, or your health rather than tolerate. And don’t romanticize any of this. It’s easy to fantasize about dying in a noble cause. Don’t forget that only some people die. Some are blind or condemned to wheelchairs or shitting into a colostomy bag.

If you ever have a use of force, you will either be the good guy or the bad guy. The more solid you are in your knowledge (not bullshit belief or rationalization) that you acted as the good guy, the better you will recover.

After the event, let yourself be okay. It’s actually kind of weird that society thinks this is supposed to be traumatic. This is how many of our ancestors lived to be our ancestors. Anyway, your feelings are yours. There are no wrong feelings. If you’re dealing with it pretty well, don’t let anybody convince you that you’re supposed to be messed up.

There’s a growth/assimilation process afterwards. I don’t want to call it healing. That implies you’re broken. It’s more a recalibration. In this process, don’t mistake process for pathology. For instance, dreams are one of the ways our subconscious processes events. If those events were bad, you can expect some bad dreams. Bad dreams aren’t a problem, they are a sign of healing. So if you medicate— or self-medicate with alcohol— to bypass the dreams, you also risk losing the healing benefits.

You will change. Big events change you and there’s no going back. It’s not a big deal. You’ve changed before. Your first taste of violence is usually far less profound than falling in love the first time or having a child. But, because violence is more rare, we think the aftermath is more intense. It’s not, it just feels that way because we usually have fewer people to guide us through the process.

I think the people who are most damaged are the ones who decide that who they were before the event was the “real” them, and they try to get back to that. You can’t go back. But you can grow forward, and grow into something stronger.

If you need help, like a professional therapist, absolutely get help. Look for someone who will listen and not judge. If you get the slightest feeling that your counselor is using your experience to work out their own issues, get another therapist.

Elie – Would you have some insights about a remedy or a solution, from an individual and a collective standpoint, to world violence? (Tough question I know, it’s just to put things into perspective :D)

Rory – It’s not a tough question, it’s a stupid question (sorry). Remedy implies it’s a problem. Take a look at the sun. The sun is an unshielded atomic fire, something that would never be allowed in any industrial setting. It causes skin cancer, burns, and eye problems. It also feeds the plants that feed all other animals. It makes the wind and water move. It evaporates the water to make the rain fall. You would never consider seeking a remedy for the sun.

Violence is similar. It’s a primary element and driver of nature. It’s the way animals are nourished. It’s a tool, and if we decide only bad people can use violence, we cede the world to bad people because the will to do violence becomes a super-power when it is rare.

For the most part, the answer to violence is in the nature of violence itself. It’s a high-risk, costly strategy. That’s why animals freeze first, and then run, and only after freezing and running have both failed do they fight. (Hunting is a different thing).

So violence is always in the background, but humans are coming up with better strategies all the time. Trade gets almost all of the benefits of war without the risk, cost or damage. It was technology that shifted slavery from the economic necessity it was to the morally repugnant act it is.

Violence will decrease whenever humans use their cleverness to come up with safer, easier strategies to accomplish the same goals. But it will not go away, not as long as we have anything like nature.

Haven’t you ever wondered at the irony— the only way to get a perfectly peaceful society is to kill all the people who disagree with that goal. And then create a mechanism to kill anyone who figures out violence after that.

Elie – What link do you make (if you do) between your experience of violence and spirituality?

Rory – I had a really strong spiritual training long before I got into a force profession, so taking that out of it, most of what I learned from violence echoed with Buddhism. I can’t remember who said, “Nothing clears one’s mind as much as being shot at” but I have to agree.

In the instant, you have to be a perfect animal, mind, body and spirit working together as a single entity. No voices in your head, no doubts, no hesitations. That is an immensely powerful feeling.

In the aftermath, and especially over multiple exposures, you realize how few things are important. When people have tried to stab you, someone calling you a bad name doesn’t mean anything. Violence orders your priorities. Once you know what’s precious, you also know that 90% of everything is bullshit.

You see things as they are, without attribution. Attribution are the things you add on. This echoes with the Buddhist attachments. If a blade is coming at your belly, that’s the only fact. You can’t waste any brain power on “why” or whether or not the guy trying to stab you is a bad person. Or whether good and evil exist. Or any of that. Because it’s all bullshit.

And, if you can hold onto the mental space it’s still all bullshit even when no one is stabbing you. Judging, rationalizations—all attributions. Attachments. Bullshit.


Rory Miller Interview Part 4 – Elie Edme

Elie – Do you believe self-protection and self-defense are one and the same?

Rory – I try not to get too much into semantics. The words mean whatever you want them to mean.

Elie – What would be a great foundation to self-protection training for a civilian who doesn’t want to train his whole life?

Rory – I’d advise that civilian to quit thinking of them as self-protection skills. You shouldn’t put training time into preventing bad stuff. Training time should go into enriching your life. Developing awareness skills makes life more fun. The fact that you’ll notice odd and dangerous behavior is a side-effect. So I’d have this theoretical civilian get into people watching as a hobby.

It’s simply a better life if you have a fit body. Strength, speed, endurance, coordination— all make life more fun. You don’t have to be perfect, but you can be better. Get out from behind the desk. Move. It’s good for you. And you know what? If that movement involves throwing and punching another human being it’s just as healthy and more fun and might come in handy if a bad guy tries to ruin your life.

Looking at it this way, you can train your whole life and it won’t feel like training.

Elie – What is your methodology for teaching efficient self-defense skills?

Rory – There appear to be two things I do differently, but I’m sure it will spread. The first is principles-based teaching. Almost nothing to memorize. Give the students the physics, tie it into what they already know (if you’ve pushed a car out of the mud you already understand structure) and have them experiment with the principles.

The second is being specific about information transfer.

The way I break it up, there are four ways to get information into students’ heads: Teaching, Training, Operant Conditioning, and Play. Teaching is sharing concepts from the neocortex to the neocortex by juggling symbols. Lecture, writing, diagrams are all teaching. Almost anything you are taught is useless under stress.

Training is anything you do by conscious practice. It is all the drills and rote memory practice. The thousands of reps punching or stepping into a throw or transitioning precisely from a specific armlock to a triangle choke. Training is almost useless in your first few real fights. Your hindbrain simply doesn’t trust it.

Operant Conditioning. There are a bunch of numbers running around: that it takes 300-500 reps to instill a new motor skill, 3000-5000 if you are replacing an old skill. That’s training. How many reps did you need to learn not to touch a hot stove? Once. That’s the difference between conditioning and training. You can’t condition complex responses, but conditioned responses will come out in your first encounter.

Play, in my opinion, is the most important. This is how animals learn. This is how you learned everything you are really good at.

So my specific methodology for most things, is that we have a general game, competitive and with different levels of resistance. The students play the game. Then we break out and work on a skill, like structure. And the students experiment with structure and play one or more games that work with structure in isolation. And then we go back into the general game to integrate the new skills with the old skills. Works for awareness, physical skills and even articulation.

Elie – To what extent can you acclimate yourself to violence during training while never experimenting a real life violence scenario?

Rory – You can’t. Sorry. Anymore than you can acclimatize yourself to cold water by practicing swimming on dry land. No matter how good the simulation gets, it’s not the real thing and the hindbrain knows it.

The three keys, as I see them:

Operant conditioning to get past the sudden attack. A conditioned response will appear without conscious thought and a good response can end the encounter or at least level the playing field before you have time to freeze.

Play. Things you do in play just become the natural way to move. If your play has involved moving bigger people, throwing them downstairs and hitting really hard, when you break the freeze it will be harder to hit softly. However if your play was soft, that will come out, too.

The third is permission. Most people in our society have been systematically told NOT to use force, NOT to act. You will have to fight this conditioning. Let your students know that it’s okay to fight, that they have absolute permission to unleash their natures and adapt and survive.

Elie – What use do you make of scenarios and what is their importance in training?

Rory – In many ways, scenario training is the culmination of all other training exercises. Done properly, the goal is to get as close to real life as possible, without the physical, psychological and legal consequences that can attend a real self-defense incident.

There are a lot of reasons for doing scenario training but for me the most important is to get the student working judgment in tandem with skills.

I feel a need to be cautious here. Scenarios can be intense, and they can be very valuable. But they are dangerous on multiple levels. If your safety protocols aren’t rock solid, they can be physically dangerous— you’ll be using a lot of force in a cluttered, realistic environment and students are always unpredictable. They can be psychologically dangerous— a realistic scenario can always trigger an emotional meltdown. And scenarios can be tactically dangerous— if your scenario designer, facilitator or role players are ignorant or have big egos they can ruin a student’s understanding forever.

If you can’t do scenarios right, and my experience is that only about 20% of the people offering scenarios has any clue about how to run them well or safely— if you can’t run them right it is better for your students not to run them at all.

Elie – What are the aftermath of violence on a psychological level?

Rory – That’s different for everybody and different for different levels of exposure.

Elie – How did you personally cope with the psychological aftermath of violence in your job? Did it have an impact on your personal life?

Rory – Coping mechanisms ranged from having a good network of close friends to sitting in the dark rocking and humming.

Personally, the violence didn’t affect me much. Largely because of the action. Or maybe I don’t process fear normally. The things that stuck with me were never the fear, it was the horror. I found one of my old journals that has a few lines— about a fight in a dorm, lots of blood and three to ‘the hole’ (disciplinary segregation). I have no memory of that. But I remember a baby that was born in booking. The mother arranged to be arrested so she’s have medical care for the birth. She also maxed out on heroin and I can’t remember whether her second drug was meth or crack. But here’s this newborn, addicted to two different drugs. Mom’s an addict and prostitute who only cares about the baby to the extent she can get more benefits from it… the kid’s doomed. Perfect, innocent life. And doomed. That’s the stuff that stayed with me. Suicides. What kind of asshole arranges a suicide so the body will be found by an eleven-year-old? A guy explaining that stabbing a little girl “didn’t count” because he was trying to stab her father and she was “dumb enough” to try to intervene. The dude had no remorse whatsoever, he could see no reason why he should get in trouble for this particular murder.

That’s the stuff that sticks with me. The immediate violence I could do something about.

Rocking in the dark and humming has its place, but probably the most important thing was always having friends and never being afraid to talk. Some of my fellow officers had this idea that you can’t share what you see with your loved ones because they can’t handle it. That’s bullshit. Trust me, if you stay silent the shit they imagine will be ten times worse than the reality. And talking lets you stay anchored to the normal world.

Interview with Rory Miller English version reprinted in Conflict Manager and on CRGI with permission of  Elie Edme for Corps Global

The Rory Miller Interview Part 3 – Elie Edme

This interview was conducted  by Elie Edme for Corps Global, the English language version is reprinted in Conflict Manager and on the CRGI website with permission.

Elie: Could you share an anecdote of a particular violent situation you’ve been in?

Rory: Everyone wants the epic fight, but most were quick and decisive, one way or the other. Here’s an actual report with the details removed:

Responding to a back up call in D10, I was the first to enter and saw two inmates fighting. Inmate A had Inmate B bent over a table and was choking him with his right forearm. I ordered them to “break it up” they did not comply. I repeated the order as I moved to Inmate A’s left side. They continued to struggle. I was concerned that the stranglehold Inmate A was using could cause serious damage quickly. Placing my left elbow on the back of his free right elbow to prevent him spinning into me, I reached around his head and used my finger against the pressure point under the nose. At this point I heard the dorm deputy threaten to deploy OC (pepperspray) and saw the canister. I levered Inmate A off of Inmate B and bent his head back with the pressure point until his balance was compromised to his rear. I then moved my right foot in a circle to my rear spinning my body and forcing him to spin off of his feet. Inmate A landed on his hands and knees. I ordered him to stay down and then pushed on his shoulder with my left hand as he started to rise and yelled, “Get down!” He went down to his stomach quickly. I couldn’t tell if he complied or lost his balance. I ordered him to put his hands behind his back while I knelt on his lower back. He complied and I applied handcuffs. The second responding deputy and I helped Inmate A stand and walked him to medical without further incident.

That’s the report. There was blood everywhere and this was the first incident where I used the nose peel to break up a fight. It was really effective and so quick it almost caused a problem— the other deputies hadn’t been able to tell what happened or why it worked, so the reports looked suspicious, like they were leaving something out. Also this is where the spine untwisting throw came from.

There are other stories, but most of them were about this quick. And simple. The only ridiculously long fight I’ve been in lasted over an hour, but I wasn’t in danger at all. The guy was trying to hurt himself. If any of us released pressure or relaxed, he’d try to bang his head against the floor. I finally thought to wrap a towel around his head and kneel on it until the transport team arrived with the right restraints.

Elie: What are the consequences of living a life in constant contact with violence?

Rory: It’s never constant contact, you can’t survive that. Even if you could, you’d burn out really quickly. And everyone’s different. I can sort of say what working the jail was like for me, but a lot of the people had exactly the same experiences and feel completely different.

For me, I liked it. It was a job that took all of your observational skills, your insight, your understanding, your communications skills and sometimes your fighting skills to do well. It was better psychology training than I ever had in the university and put all the years of martial arts into perspective. It absolutely demanded my best, and as a consequence, I grew a lot.

It would have been easy to obsess on it or make the jail my whole life, but I had a really good network of friends. People who would tell me if I was getting too dark or too cynical. People that could show me that no matter what I saw or learned in the jail, the world was, on balance, a good thing and that most people were good.

And I had really good mentors. People that told me to keep my sense of humor, to keep friends that had nothing to do with my work life. Mentors that proved to me that force professions are caring professions.

The only really big downside is how much I miss it. One of the side-effects of adrenaline is that anything you do under adrenaline feels more real. Nothing since, not even Iraq, has been as intense as that, and I miss it. And there is a huge amount of ego in being very good at something most people can’t even think about.

Elie: How did you make the transition to teaching and why teach?

Rory: The first time I was teaching martial arts (jujutsu) was for completely selfish reasons. I was spoiled. When Dave retired there simply weren’t enough people around that could play the game at the level I wanted to play. And the few that could couldn’t match my schedule. I worked night or evening shifts for all but 18 months of my career. Not many people could make a midnight or 0800 class.

That’s also the reason I quit teaching jujutsu. I was almost never on the same shift two years in a row, so the people who could make an 0800 class one year couldn’t make the midnight class the next.

I started teaching deputies when we had a bad year. There’d been an administrative decision to deal with crowding by double-bunking some inmates who should never have been double bunked, in my opinion. It also had the effect of cutting the inmate’s walk time down and made it a pressure cooker. Assaults on staff skyrocketed. In one year a third of our staff were attacked and 10% hospitalized. The hand-to-hand training we had wasn’t cutting it.

I’d kept my martial arts training fairly quiet in the agency, but the training sergeant was on the CERT team with me and knew about it. So he tasked me and a few other, notably Mac (Paul McRedmond) to redesign our defensive tactics curriculum.

We were given the impossible task of teaching people how to fight for real, at levels from just non-compliant handcuffing to surviving an ambush, in eighteen hours.

It turns out that if you have no choice and really care about the people, some things that seem impossible are possible.

Elie: What are the main types of violence a civilian may have to defend himself from?

Rory: It depends a lot on lifestyle. Using the taxonomy from Facing Violence most young men only need to be worried about monkey dances. Educational Beatdowns if they are stupid and arrogant. Other people need to be worried about mugging (resource predation). All women, to some extent can be targeted for process predation, like rape. If you’re a member of any minority group you might be targeted for a group monkey dance. And there are always outliers.

Domestic violence is another one. If you are in a relationship with a violent person, there will be violence.

That said, the world for the last few years has been extremely safe. Safe enough for people to forget or believe or pretend to believe that safety is normal. One of your early questions, about whether we are born or made violent— the question itself rests on the assumption that violence is an aberration. There’s always been some kind of balance, but I think the level of nonviolence we have had for the last little while might be the aberration.

Elie: What are the greatest myths about martial arts and real life violence?

Rory: This is changing. We have access to more information now than ever before, so for the most part, people have the myths they want to have.

There are two that I’m currently putting a lot of energy into fighting. The first is part of the idea that violence is abnormal. One of the most toxic things we do in the self-defense community is to try to make fighting “special.” Something that requires a lot of training. Something reserved for only the elite few. The warrior bullshit. As Tony Blauer often says, more untrained people successfully defend themselves every day than trained people. Humans are the apex predator on this planet for a reason. Any student that comes to you, no matter how meek and timid, is the product of four billion years of evolution. That’s a lot of built-in survival genes. But because they’ve been raised in an environment where they are constantly brainwashed that violence is unnatural and that good people couldn’t do things like that, they have been socially conditioned to be passive victims. They have even been taught that passivity is a virtue.

The second is harder because it is so subconscious. Most people, especially people that train, have this assumption that on a very dark day something bad will happen and they will do what they have been trained to do…and nothing will really change.

A lot of people will mouth the words and talk about legal ramifications and psychological stress, but that’s just paying lip service. If you ever have to use serious force, you will simply not be the same person afterwards. Doesn’t mean you will be broken or damaged. Most people, in my opinion, come out much stronger if they process it well. But you will change. Profoundly.

Interview with Rory Miller Part 2 – Elie Edme

This interview was conducted  by Elie Edme for Corps Global, the English language version is reprinted in Conflict Manager and on the CRGI website with permission.

EE – What was a normal day as a detention officer?

Depends on your assignment and your work ethic. As a deputy, when I worked housing I’d attend briefing, get my keys and radio from the deputy I relieved and count all inmates and make sure they were healthy. Then check to make sure that everyone was who they were supposed to be and in the right cell or bunk. Also checked the dorm equipment to make sure nothing was taken or broken.

Then, generally, I’d let the inmates out of their cells or off their bunks. They could socialize, play games, read, study, do paperwork, exercise. I’d be wandering around among them listening, watching and keeping things calm. In closed custody, that would be 16 inmates, in our “nicest” classification it would be 190. 16-75 inmates, the deputy would work alone. 190 we had a partner. Count them, feed them, search them, get them ready for court, visits, and outside recreation. At the end of the shift, get them all back to their cells (34 inmates if in individual cells, double bunked would be 64; 55, 60, 75, and 190 would be no cells, just open dorms.) Count them and hand off a quiet dorm to the next shift.

Other work assignments might include controlling movement with electric locks and cameras; escorting inmates who had to move within the jail or between jails; and several jobs in Reception (Booking) that included searching and processing new inmates and moving them to available bunks in the jail.

When I became a sergeant, my primary job was a wandering trouble-shooter. I’d have multiple deputies watching multiple dorms and I would spend as much time as possible in there, listening to complaints, watching for trouble brewing and putting out fires.

EE – How was your relationships to the criminals you faced as a prison guard?

RM – Pretty good, generally. The rules of respect are pretty clear-cut in a jail. Treat people with respect (not deference) and you tend to get respect back. As your reputation grows— not your reputation as a fighter, but your reputation for being fair— and the older cons would caution the younger guys not to be stupid.

One example. It’s well known that criminals don’t like to talk to cops and have strict rules about informing. That was almost never a problem for me. I usually got full cooperation. One of the duties of a sergeant was to investigate incidents. So if two guys had a fight, my job would be to try to find out why. Some sergeants would try to cultivate snitches. They’d look for weak, vulnerable, or low-status inmates who might pass on information in hopes of some kind of reward. My tactic was to get the highest status cons I could and ask them together (so there was no suspicion that someone was snitching) “Gentleman, I’ve got these two young guys dead to rights on the fight, they’re going to the hole. But I don’t like bum-beefing anybody. So I’ve got two questions for you: Was it a fight? If one guy started it and the other didn’t have a choice, I want to put that in my report. I don’t want anybody getting anything in his jacket he didn’t deserve. And two: Is this thing over? Because if this is just the symptom of a bigger problem and I can move a few people now and no one else gets hurt or goes to the hole, that’s better for everybody.”

Basically, everyone in jail wants it clean quiet and safe. When I had the rep with the old heads that I wanted the same thing and was trying to prevent trouble instead of punish it, most were willing to help out.

Best evidence, though is that I’ve run into a number of former inmates on the street. They recognize me and we can have a talk.

EE – Do most criminals come from a violent background? Do you think we are born violent as human beings or that we are “made” violent?

RM – Violence is just a tool. And there’s never been a non-violent way to get food, so in that sense, anyone not born violent isn’t fit to survive except as someone else’s pet.

But how much violence we use, how comfortable we are with violence, when and how much violence we think is appropriate— that stuff is learned. In general, many criminals were raised to be comfortable with a level of violence that non-criminals would find repugnant. That doesn’t mean they are wrong, they are simply adapted for their environment.

Not all are violent. Many addicts and burglars for instance try to avoid confrontation. But any kind of criminal prohibition (like making drugs illegal) creates an economy where the only enforcement is vengeance. So learning to be competent at violence is a necessary skill.

If a criminal becomes a member of the criminal subcommunity, he or she will be surrounded by people who regularly solve problems with violence, so the survivors learn how to match that.

Interview with Rory Miller Part 1 – Elie Edme

This interview was conducted  by Elie Edme for Corps Global, the English language version is reprinted in Conflict Manager and on the CRGI website with permission.

EE – What’s your martial arts background?

RM – Mother was a fencer and dad was a boxer and bar brawler, but that probably doesn’t count. Started in judo in 1981 when I went to college. Dabbled in everything available. Stumbled onto Sosuishitsu-ryu jujutsu when my wife (fiancé at the time) and I moved to Portland. I stayed with Dave, (my jujutsu sensei) until he retired and earned my mokuroku in 1991. During that time I was playing with everything I could. Martial arts was an obsession.

EE – What’s your professional background?

RM – How far back do you want to go? I’ve been a ranch hand, a porter, a dishwasher, picked strawberries– but the first job I had that included using force was bouncing in a casino in Reno in 1985 and 86. It was an education.

I went back to college after that and worked my way through with security jobs. Nothing particularly dangerous, just facility security for high-tech offices. Also joined the National Guard in 86. Went to Basic and AIT (Advanced Individual Training). I was a medic assigned to a self-sufficient TOW anti-armor unit.

Kuwait was invaded in 1990. Our intel said that Saddam Hussein had 5000 of the best (soviet) tanks made. I was in an airmobile, desert trained, anti-tank unit. I was 100% sure that I’d be in Kuwait, so my fiancé and I decided to get married immediately. The army doesn’t provide benefits to fiancés if a soldier gets killed.

Then the first air strikes pretty much wiped out the Iraqi armoured divisions. We were waiting for the call, but my unit wasn’t activated. And suddenly it hit me— I’m married. I have a baby on the way. So I started looking for a real job. The first one that came through was for the County Sheriff’s Office Corrections Division. I took the job. And just like that, I was a jail guard.

Have to explain jails vs. prisons, since most of your audience is European. In the US, and there is some variation between the states, we have two different correctional systems. Prisons are for people who have been convicted of a crime and are serving a sentence of more than a year. Jails are where we hold people who have not yet been convicted— but are usually too dangerous to be out on the streets until trial— or people who have been sentenced to less than one year’s time or, and I think this is specific to my state, people who are on their last year of a longer sentence.

In jails, we would get the same people who would go to prison as well as some that wouldn’t, and we would get them while they were freshly arrested. Still angry, still with drugs in their system.

I spent the next seventeen years working there. A lot of time in booking (where we got our most fights) and in Close custody and maximum security. After I became a sergeant, I spent more time working mental health. I was a trainer as an extra duty and was on the CERT as well, first as a member, later as team leader.

Around 2008, I was recruited to go to Iraq as a contractor advising the Iraqi Corrections Service. Did that for a little over a year and came back to settle down, teach and write.

EE – What was the kind of violence you experienced in your professional life?

RM – It varied within a set of parameters. A lot of breaking up fights. A few inmates trying to monkey dance or educational beat down. Probably the most common was someone who wanted a reputation. Ambushes. A riot. Cleaning up a riot. A few planned set-ups.

Most were unarmed, because our contraband control was pretty good, but there were a few memorable ones involving shanks, fist loads and most commonly, flails (a pad lock or several bars of soap in a pillow case.) Several with people who were psychotic, some with full-blown excited delirium.

EE – What lead you to the warrior’s way?

RM – I don’t think I can express how much I despise that word. If you have served as a soldier in a war zone (I haven’t— I have been a soldier and been in a war zone, but not at the same time) you were a warrior. If you have never been a soldier in a war zone, calling yourself a “warrior” is just as despicable as any other type of stolen valour.

I studied martial arts at first to improve myself and then because I loved the training.

I went into a force profession purely to feed my family and discovered I was good at it.

The Mark Hatmaker Interview Part II – Erik Kondo

Mark Hatmaker is one of our excellent contributors and a true professional, he is the author of numerous books and a highly respected practitioner. Mark is the founder of Extreme Self Protection, a company that compiles, analyses, and teaches unarmed combat methods. He lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.

This should have appeared in the December issue but a disastrous computer crash plus very busy events leading up to Christmas caused me to miss a beat here, so here is part 2 and I hop[e you enjoy it. – Garry.

Based on your answers, it seems that your clients are all highly motivated and receive individualized attention and instruction.
How do you instruct less motivated people in a group setting?

MARK: Well, we’re not all motivated in all things. None of us. Personal example, if someone says to me “Hey Mark, I want you to make your way through all 55 volumes of The Loeb Classical Library” I say “Sir, yes sir!” Why do I jump in feet first to this Greek and Latin compendium? Because I want to, I am motivated to do so. Compare with “Mark I want you to sit down and watch yet another super-hero movie with me” and all you get from me is hemming and hawing and foot-dragging. It would take far less time to sit through another one of these than read the aforementioned volumes but the charm of grown men and women wearing costumes and beating up bad guys is lost on this adult. Millions (billions) enjoy these flicks, they win, me, I feel like I’m being punished-I have zero-motivation to view them.

As a coach I do not see it as my (our?) responsibilities to “sell” the athlete on why what we’re doing is good for them or the wise way to go. I always assume from the get-go that the athlete is attending because they are a hard-charger, if not in body yet, at least in mind. We are then a team and can work together.

I assume if hard-work and/or the brand of madness we dish out is not to an individual’s thinking they will move on and play elsewhere or at a different game altogether. Just as I don’t want to sit through more adults-in-tights movies against my will, I do not want to force anyone to train as we do-I allow the natural peel-off or culling to occur.

To assist this choice we use a buy-in, ante up, earn your rounds protocol. Do the conditioning with us, do the necessary athletic work with us and you’ve proven that you want to be there.  Then, and only then do we start handing out the candy, so to speak.

If someone chooses not to ante up or sandbags the conditioning we have a nice conversation about what it is they really want-if it ain’t this, we scoot them off the mat and allow them to find what it is they really want to do and not force what we do on them. At the same time this insures that a non-earnest individual will not drag the attitudinal level of the team down.

Nobody minds working with a hard-charger no matter their skill or current conditioning level, but, come on, really, who enjoys coddling anyone along. The behavior already indicates that they may simply may not want to be there-have the polite conversation and allow them the liberty to ante up and join the team (if that’s what they really want) or to move on and find what moves them in life.

I see this approach as a courtesy. Life’s too short to focus on the unwilling. Focus your energies and attention on the can-do hard-chargers at hand, don’t make the unwilling watch your super-hero movie or read your pretentious books.

The Mark Hatmaker Interview Part I – Erik Kondo

Mark Hatmaker is one of our excellent contributors and a true professional, he is the author of numerous books and a highly respected practitioner. Mark is the founder of Extreme Self Protection, a company that compiles, analyses, and teaches unarmed combat methods. He lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. – Garry.

ERIK: I read an interview with you by Richard Dimitri where you talk the concepts of randomness and complex systems as opposed to set systems, fixed curriculum, and dogmatic answers in domains in relation to Self-Protection and more.

I view a Domain as an environment where specific rules, factors, and variables apply. For example, a biker bar in Texas is a Domain which differs from a college bar frequented by MIT students which is another Domain. Both of these Domains are bars, yet the individual “rules” of behavior differ and so do the consequences of breaking the rules.

I view set systems, fixed curriculum, and dogmatic answers as Closed Systems that are designed to “work” in a specific Domain under certain predefined variables. A Domain can also be a dojo or a martial arts competition.

A Closed System doesn’t take into consideration differing Domains, and thus provides a static (fixed) “solution” to a given “problem”. For example, if someone does X, you do Y, regardless of the Domain (environment) you are in.

I define Closed Systems that correspond to Simple Domains (few variables and factors to consider) to be Simplistic Systems.

The opposite of a Simplistic System is a Complex System. A Complex System is open to change and constantly evolving. It corresponds to a Complex Domain with many variables and factors including randomness to consider.

In terms of Self-Protection, applying a Simplistic System solution to a Complex Domain problem can have disastrous consequences.

My question is: How would you relate what I have just described in terms of your own views on Systems and Domains?

MARK: Good question, Erik. Before I get started, to make sure we’re on the same page with my idiosyncratic phrasing.  I use the term “environment” for differing physical surroundings (the physical terrain indoors or out), “culture” for the human element or “attitude” of the environment, and “domain” to refer to fields of knowledge (biology and physics being two separate domains within the overall schema of science).

In your given bar example I would assess the given environment (exits, improvised weapons, etc.), allow the culture to determine my level of presumed readiness (me being less heightened in the MIT culture and a bit more cautious in the biker bar-with no slight to bikers or MIT students, simply playing to type for our discussion-rightly or wrongly.)

My curious use of the term domain will not apply here.

In a perfect world, I will have already presented myself with a myriad of potential self-protection tactics that I have drilled in isolation-that would be my nod to complexity. But this skill set means nothing without culling the tactical herd, so to speak.

After the complex drill sets educated in sterile conditions I would then have placed myself (and clientele) through a series of chaos drills we call The Outer Limits (60+ drills before overlays take it into the 100’s). We allow the drills to “set the personally tailored curriculum.”

We have found, that The Outer Limits allows each individual to strip the excess chaff/baggage of learned tactics down to what will actually emerge for each given individual, this culling usually manifests in seeing two heaping handfuls of go-to tactics idiosyncratically “forced” onto each individual. That is, what is my go-to may not be yours and vice versa.

Once we have simplified the complex and sterile we continue the drill sets to see how often we can make this culled arsenal apply and manifest in an ever growing variety of environments and cultures.

In a nutshell, we drill complexity at the outset to get to simplicity that has a high overall application value.

ERIK: I think my use of the term Domain maybe confusing since as you said a domain can be considered a field of knowledge.

So, I am using Domain = environment + culture. Maybe it is clearer to use Environment = environment + culture and my use of System is more of a subset of your domain. Do you see that?

The way I understand your methodology, you provide the Student with a large number of movements/techniques/tactics to determine which ones the Student has a natural inclination to use. Using the Chaos/Outer Limits is the filtering process that eliminates the majority of M/T/T leaving a customized set. The point being is that this is what the person will naturally do, so don’t teach them stuff they aren’t going to do anyway, correct?

I would call this customized set a Customized System.

Now that the System has been created, you apply the System in different Environments (environment + culture) to make sure the System is complex enough to handle multiple Environments. If it fails in
certain Environments, then you then modify the System in order to make it work in that Environment.

The end result is that different Students have different Systems that they apply in multiple Environments. But the goal is to keep the System simple to use as opposed to complicated.

That it?

MARK: Bingo, sir!

ERIK: The reason for all the terminology is so that we can be on the same page.

MARK: Agreed, sir.

ERIK: Here is a quote from Rory Miller

“If you are teaching self-defense, you are teaching students, not subject matter. This is the hallmark difference between self-defense and martial arts. When I am teaching martial arts, I am teaching a system that has been handed down for many generations, and I have an obligation to teach certain things to a certain standard, in a certain way. When I am teaching martial arts, I am teaching a subject.

When I am teaching self-defense, I am teaching students. Every single student is different. They have different brains and bodies. “

QUESTION: How would you expand upon or interpret it in terms of your teaching philosophy?

MARK: I see a marriage of the two in my approach. I don’t teach from dogma or set canon (and I’m not implying that Mr. Miller is either). What we do here is less teach than coach and where that may sound like hair-splitting to some I see a stark distinction.

If I were to “teach” I would be handing down set formulas and incontrovertible axioms.

Coaching allows me to give exposure of broad categories to the athlete and then observe their own varying attributes-we then coach, push, prod, cultivate the individual’s use of the general movement to a (hopefully) better fit with their own talents and abilities.

ERIK: I have always liked the idea of coaching rather than instruction because coaching implies that it is the student’s responsibility to learn whereas teaches implies it is the teacher’s responsibility to make sure the student learns. Could you expand more on how you coach students?

MARK: In a nutshell, we have a conversation to see what the athlete’s goals are, then we tailor a preliminary plan to start along that goal path using a few pre-sets. All the while we pay attention to how the athlete moves and responds to the material and make adjustments along the way for individual attributes. We tweak and add material where it seems wise and just as importantly we remove and cull where possible as reducing exposure to downside effects is often just as important (if not more so) than gaining new material.

Two examples to illustrate what I mean by emphasizing reducing downside as opposed to upside.

In self-defense/street work-In response to a query along these lines “What if I were in a biker bar and it goes bad?”
First, the less often you have to be in a given biker bar known for outbreaks of violence the less you have to work tactics that may or may not work when chaos hits. Where initially the query seems to want the upside of this or that self-defense tactic to respond to street-evil, the counter is to question the wisdom of continuing exposure to possible violence.

Yes, I am aware that we can’t reduce such exposures to nil, but we are a bit less than honest if we spend more (or all) of our time on how to respond in a fight that may never happen and little to no time on what we can do every day about being aware of practices and environments with increased risk.

Reduce downside and upside automatically increase.

In the sportive aspect. Let’s say I’ve got a new athlete and his footwork is a mess. Rather than belabor him with the dozen-points of solid footwork he or she needs to keep in mind to become more fluid, I will find one and only one negative aspect and say “Hey, let’s do it again but no matter what, I do not want to see that rear foot come off of the ground.”

Once we’ve killed that downside habit there is an automatic upside gain-stability, we move on to the next downside to be culled.

It’s sort of a negative injunction “Thou shalt not…” athletic approach but handled point by point rather than throw all of the concepts against the wall at one time leading to cognitive overload.

Part 2 to follow in December.

For more from Mark please go to

The Angela Meyer Interview Part V – Erik Kondo

Erik: I think that much of self-defense can be thought of in terms of boundary setting. IMO, boundary setting is comprised of the three elements of Respect, Communication, and Enforcement. Most people think that all physical self-defense is Enforcement.

But I think physical self-defense can be divided into two overlapping categories:

  1. Physical actions that are primarily Communication.
  2. Physical actions that are primarily Enforcement.

Defense actions that are “resistance” based are really Communication. These actions send a message of non-compliance. But Enforcement requires actions that go beyond resistance and actually “force” resolution by injuring and/or disabling the attacker.

I think that many times WSD instructors and students confuse these two different types of physical actions. For example, Resistance/Communication is only effective against lowly motivated attackers who are looking for victims that will not resist. But a highly motivated attacker will not be stopped by Resistance/Communication. This type of person must be dealt with through the use of true Force/Enforcement.

Problems come about when the Defender employs Resistance/Communication when she should be using Force/Enforcement or the Defender uses Force/Enforcement when Resistance/Communication would have been sufficient.

Therefore, effective self-defense requires knowing the difference between Communication and Enforcement and when which type is required.

What are your thoughts on what I said? Can you think of specific examples of what I am referring to?

Angela: I agree completely and really like the language you’ve coined around this.  I think so often when we are talking about Women’s Self Defense, we have this idea of being a badass on the streets and being able to “I wish a motherfucker would” stare down an attacker, when the reality is, most attacks will happen from men you know.  AKA, highly motivated, or driven by emotional content.

So, how do we teach this in WSD classes/ workshops?  Like any type of Self Defense or Martial Arts that is taught, there are layers to the teaching.  For the foundational classes or “one off” workshops, in Women’s Self Defense, I think the most important take away is boundary setting through physical intensity and becoming more familiar with limbic brain processes.

For those who continue to train and become more serious, the key word is “stress inoculation”.  I do not think this is just physical, although I do think physical is the “gateway.” Physical, mental, emotional training is all connected.  For example, I have trained in Muay Thai,  Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling for many years.  I think I’m highly competent in the physical movements during training.  That said, I still struggle with freezing if my brain goes into a limbic state. Consistent training and stress inoculation in a safe and controlled environment has greatly helped me to access the ability to act in these situations instead of freeze, but I do still have a lot of work to do.

Circling back to your question, I think we must start with the psychological realm (also knowing that when we are talking about “Women’s Self Defense” we must take into consideration different cultures, socio economics, age, well/sick, etc., and not lump all women into one category)

How do we live our everyday lives?  This needs to be brought to light… day one… through some type of stress inoculation.

Once a woman has entered this realm, then I think introducing weapons into the equation is necessary, since 99 percent of the time, women will not be successful in “beating up” a larger man even if he is “untrained” and she is “trained”.  It’s just bullshit to think that can happen. It’s a Hollywood mentality.

I do believe learning to fight and becoming stress inoculated is the first step, because without this, it’s not realistic to add on a weapon.  If I don’t understand “push/pull” energy, if I freeze when I’m hit, if I lay down and die, a weapon will certainly not save me.

I think it is extremely important and intellectually honest to make the distinction between lowly and highly motivated attackers.  This is why I think it is bullshit to teach “moves” in a WSD workshop or class and insinuate these “moves” will save you. This work is much deeper and complex than earning moves. I’m going to bring it back to working with psychology (especially, limbic response) through physical, emotional and mental stress inoculation.

Erik: I think that honesty and authenticity are two qualities that are missing in much selfdefense instruction.

I have a theory that instinctive movements are influenced greatly by the person’s emotional state. And a certain group of movements are consistent with the emotion of FEAR and another is consistent with the emotion of ANGER. Many of these movements are opposites. For example, the emotion of anger creates movements that bring someone closer to the person that she is afraid of. I call these IN Movements. While the emotion of fear drives the person to want to move away. I call these OUT Movements.

When you consider many physical self-defense techniques, you will notice that many of the technically effective ones require the defender to “attack the attacker” by closing/shutting him down or engaging in close quarter strikes, joint locks or chokes. What this means is that the defender needs to move closer to the person that she fears. These movements are not consistent with the defender’s primary emotion of fear. They are consistent with anger.

In other words, regardless of the theoretical effectiveness of the technique or how well the student can perform the technique when not fearful. She will most likely not be able to perform these techniques when in a fearful state. On the other hand, she is more likely to execute techniques that are consistent with being afraid such as kicking and pushing away in order to create the opportunity to escape.

For example, making a fist and punching is an anger action. Whereas an open-handed push away is more likely to be a fear action. This is not a question of which movement is more effective. It is a question of which movement is more likely to be executed given the projected emotional state of the defender. If the action is intended to be used by a female defender against an attempted stranger attack, it is highly likely that fear will be woman’s primary emotion. Therefore, those techniques that involved the woman pulling IN her attacker to choke/gouge/bite him are unlikely to be carried out, regardless of their underlying effectiveness.

It is for this reason that WSD self-defense instructors are constantly trying to get women to “get mad” when simulating a self-defense scenario. Or they use the analogy of the “protective mother” fighting to save her children. The instructors intuitively recognize that anger is an essential element for success in their fighting methodology. I think these instructors also need to understand is that they need to teach an alternative methodology that is suitable for the fearful defender too. It is not enough to only provide students with an Anger Toolbox. They must also have a Fear Toolbox. And students need to understand how their emotions are likely to override the trained movements that are not consistent with their emotional state.

here are small group of movements that are consistent with both the anger and fear state. I think that the hammer fist striking qualifies because you can use it in anger and also in fear to hit someone away with or without a weapon.

What are your thoughts on IN and OUT Movements?

Angela: I am in complete agreement with this theory and from my experience in teaching Women’s Self Defense, most women who have been through traumatic experiences, express anger and rage when training, because when the actual attack took place, they froze in fear.  They use mottos like “never again mother fucker (s)” Anger is a very powerful energy and when used properly can fuel a sense of fearlessness needed to create “IN” movements.

I also think it is important to use anger as a tool for women to find voice and authenticity in the world.  A woman who has been told to shut up and look pretty her whole life can find a lot of power through physical modalities that ask her to become bigger, aggressive and not selfconscious. That said, as someone who is a fighter and struggles with anxiety, I know first-hand that when put in a fight or flight situation, where huge adrenaline dumps are a factor, my fear or “OUT” movements are dominant.

In my most recent fight, I was able to override anxiety, by changing my eyes to “mean eyes” and sounding off in a very scary way every time i would strike.  These “anger” actions made me feel more powerful, therefore actually physically exhibiting more power.  This tactic worked beautifully in round one, but in the second round where her forward pressure didn’t stop and I was met with a situation that I had not planned for, fear became my dominant response, my eyes changed and I had more freeze responses, not able to think or take action.  After round two in the corner my coach sat me down and basically slapped me awake with his words, “What the fuck are you doing?  You are not scared of her.  Change your eyes right now.”  With just the coaching and shifting my state through my gaze and energy, I was able to translate the fear back into anger which felt more powerful.

These shifts take time, and self-awareness practice.  I think this is vital in teaching women’s self defense.  How do we, or can we in a limbic state, choose how you want to show up?  What are tools that can get us there?  Changing your eyes from deer in headlights to slits? Changing facial expressions and posture?

I think we start here and then move to other physical techniques that address the reality in an attack most women who are untrained or very little trained are going to have the natural response of fear.

Erik: In the example of your ring fight. When you are feeling Angry what images flash into your mind? And when you are feeling Fearful, how do the images change?

What do you “see” happening, if only for a moment?

By images, I mean rapid flashes of the future within the context of the fight. These images are part of your emotional mind communicating with you.

 Angela:  “In the example of your ring fight. When you are feeling Angry what images flash into your mind?”

Blood.  Lion with sharp teeth devouring its prey. Goddess Kali. Predator animal that kills without concern or thought for another’s humanity.

“And when you are feeling Fearful, how do the images change?”

I see myself scared…more as a little girl. Tender. tears. an animal who plays dead for survival purposes.

“What do you “see” happening, if only for a moment?”

First round of last fight.  Saw me as the predator.  Kill shots. Dominating.  Out for blood.  Invincible

Second round of last fight: Saw her crazy eyes.  Constant pressure forward without technique, but just animalistic aggression. I saw myself getting mentally tired, because I was afraid that physical I could gas out if I was that aggressive.

Third round of last fight:  I saw me losing and didn’t want that outcome. I still didn’t go back to the kill switch, but I was not running.  I saw me winning because I wanted to.

“By images, I mean rapid flashes of the future within the context of the fight. These images are part of your emotional mind communicating with you.”

When angry:  Predator animal.  Wild animal.  Fangs out. ability to kill without concern for humanity or feelings

When afraid. Myself as a little girl. hiding. running. not trusting in my own capacity to fight.

CRGI would like to express our sincere thanks to Angela for this interview.


The Angela Meyer Interview Part IV – Erik Kondo

Erik: I have noticed a common complaint among instructors who teach WSD. They complain there is a lack of interest from most women for participating in self-defense classes. There are bursts of interest that usually coincide with a highly publicized assault, but in general, women don’t seem to be motivated to take classes.
What are your thoughts on this issue and how do you feel more women can be encouraged to get involved in self-defense training?

Angela: I feel like it’s all about the environment created. We live in a world that is still operating with gender norms and socialized patterns of behavior that differ for men and women. I definitely see “bursts of interest” coinciding with current events, (Our recent administration has caused a huge rise in WSD in Washington DC), but I also see something more.

Within any Movement, people need to be inspired by the “why.” Why will it benefit a woman to train in Self Defense? To make her safer from a statistically low violent attack? To have better skills to deal with assholes on the street who say shit? For therapeutic reasons from previous trauma? To burn calories?

When we are dealing with people who have busy lives, limited resources, schedules, and proximity to training facilities, the question becomes what will be the motivating factor(s) to commit? I’m not sure the latter reasons are a strong enough catalyst, especially when we are dealing with a significant “intimidation” factor for most women.

For instance, I know it is MUCH safer to wear my bike helmet biking through DC, but I don’t always wear it, because I forget or I don’t want to carry it around. The potential risk is not enough catalyst for me, but I wholeheartedly agree wearing it could prevent serious injury if I had an accident.

But, if for me, wearing a bike helmet had a direct effect on my everyday life, I may be more serious about making that happen.

Or take a practice like meditation. At some point, I need to directly understand how a daily meditation practice will positively affect my life. If I don’t believe it will, am I likely to do it? I may “will” myself for a period of time, but if I don’t have my own “why” and a direct experience for my everyday life, I would be less likely to make the time to meditate.

These are random analogies, but…when we are dealing with Women’s Self Defense, we are also dealing with a high level of intimidation, lack of comfort, and fear on top of all the other stuff.

So how can we create a “why” that has an immediate effect on their everyday lives? Because I wholeheartedly believe it does. (boundary setting) This is where Self Defense begins WAY beyond learning techniques and how to fight. As a teacher, I use the physical modalities to tap into something much deeper and shed light on daily patterns, belief systems, mannerisms and habits.

I also do not think anything exists in a vacuum. The physical training is a necessity to tap into the deeper work.

I come full circle in answering your question. I see the “trend” of women’s self-defense rising and I see out of this trend, more women seriously interested and committed to training in Self Defense. I think this starts with the way we teach. Not wishy washy, “Sex in the City” shit, but some serious physical intensity, AND the encouragement to pay attention to what bubbles to the surface…aka: self-awareness. What happens when you are physically uncomfortable? Do you habitually say, “I’m sorry”? Do you feel self-conscious when you yell? Do you love hitting shit? Do you make excuses? This kind of awareness and training has a direct effect on women’s everyday lives because it is all integrated. Every relationship: work, intimate, family, strangers, has a direct correlation to this deeper awareness of how we are showing up in our lives. (boundary setting) I’ve found that women get this. They are inspired by it. They find a “why” in it, which inspires them to find the time, resources, commitment for continued training.

Erik: You brought up several points that I think are worth expanding up.

Self-defense training is a matter of the Risk vs. Reward a/ka Cost vs. Benefit equation. In this case, for most women, the Benefit is not worth the Cost. Where the Benefits are defined solely in terms of dealing with some future unlikely stranger attack and/or verbal harassment and the Costs are the immediate use of time, money, and the intimidation created by participating in the class itself.
In this case, the immediate and certain Costs outweigh the future and uncertain Benefits.

Question #1: How would you describe the female “Intimidation” aspect? And how can it be reduced?

Question #2: Many in the Self-Defense Industry (The Merchants of Fear) use FEAR as the means to circumvent the Cost/Benefit equation. They use the motivation of fear as the primary driver for getting women to attend classes. This situation results in students attending a class or two as a means to reduce their fear (Fear Management). But as soon as their level fear dissipates, so does their desire for training.

I think you are talking about expanding upon the Reward/Benefit side of the equation so that it becomes greater than the associated Risk/Cost. Not being attacked/harassed is a Negative Reward in that you get the reward when something doesn’t happen. And most people in safe communities get this reward automatically. Dealing with an actual attack and/or harassment has a negative association since you still have been attacked and/or harassed.

On the other hand, Positive Rewards are tangible benefits that have an immediate benefit. Some of these benefits revolve around creating more respectful interpersonal relationships, greater self-esteem and confidence, improved self-awareness, effective boundary setting skills, and more. These expanded benefits can be obtained without having to actually be attacked.

Question #3: In my opinion, the commonly used Self-Defense Training is like an Insurance Policy analogy provides the wrong impression. The implication is that the Payout only happens if/when you get attacked and there is a continual associated cost. I think Self-Defense Training is more like your health. The more effort you put into improving your health, the greater the benefit regardless of if you get ill or receive an injury.

You said: “Self Defense begins WAY beyond learning techniques and how to fight. As a teacher, I use the physical modalities to tap into something much deeper and shed light on daily patterns, belief systems, mannerisms and habits.”

I think this is the root of an issue that causes great confusion in the Self-Defense Industry. The physical fighting aspect of self-defense is only a fractional part of complete Self-Defense (personal safety). Therefore, it should also be a fractional part of self-defense training. But physical training is also a vehicle needed to reach the student’s authentic self. In other words, self-defense training that is not physical is likely to only reach into the student’s cognitive mind. While this aspect is very important, it takes physical training to reach into the student’s nonconscious processes and emotional mind. And not just any kind of physical training will do that. It takes authentic physical training to access the student’s authentic self.

Question #4: It is here that opinions start to diverge. What fraction of self-defense training should be physical and what fraction be non-physical? What should the non-physical fraction entail? What constitutes “authentic physical training”? What are the diminishing returns of physical training? In other words, once the student has received a certain quantity and quality of physical training, does it start to have less and less ability to reach the student’s authentic self? And if so, how can the physical training itself be modified to keep providing solid returns on investment? Is it necessary to replicate the actual circumstances of an attack to create authentic physical training, or depending upon the individual involved, can authenticity be created WITHOUT making the training as realistic as possible?

In a nut shell, I think the authenticity of the student’s response created is more important than how it is actually created. That leaves open for a wide variety of different methodologies for physical training, but they should produce a relatively narrow result.

These are general questions. It is not necessary for you to answer them all. Please feel free to respond as you wish.

Angela: RE: Question #1. My initial response would be, more female teachers. We are primal creatures who see pattern recognition. When I see a woman teaching, I also see the possibility of me being like that. If I see a man, that’s great too. I have had numerous male instructors and coaches that are phenomenal, but there is also an unconscious understanding that I can never be that for obvious physiological reasons.

RE Question #2. YES a million times to this paragraph. After all of the Women’s Self Defense workshops/events that I teach, I make sure to spend time talking to each woman or groups of women and just listen. what I am hearing as a common thread is, they love the fact, that I make Self Defense not just about the physical stuff, but also applicable to their everyday lives. The majority of women in these workshops have a personal “aha” moment about how they are showing up in their daily life, and “in turn” asking the question, “why?” From this awareness they can choose consciously to do something different. There is extreme power in this conscious act of choosing.

As a teacher, I am not concerned about pushing women to their physical red lines…. I’m a natural at it. I demand it of myself. I ask others to hold me accountable. I tell them at the beginning, I am not there to be their friend or get them to “like me,” My job is to ruffle feathers and if they felt uncomfortable, or hated me just a little bit, I did my job. I do not teach anything physical, without understanding a “why” to the technical part of my teaching, therefore I don’t feel any sense of being a “poser” in the physical realm.

From that “real” and tangible space, I can ask these deeper questions without fear of being “too soft”, “woo woo” or conceptual.

RE Question #3: A million times yes to this statement.

RE: Question #4: I think my answer to the latter questions is, Live relentlessly into the questions, not the answers. Be okay with, “I don’t know.” As a Buddhist Chaplain, End of Life care counselor, and hospice worker, the “money” answer would be….“I don’t know” It takes gritty courage to live into the questions, without a need to find ground or certainty beneath us. Because the most honest answer is, there are not hard and fast rules. We are all going to die and thinking we can out-smart, out-buy, or out-control, that reality will always bite us in the ass.

I also understand this way of thinking is on a much broader and conceptual reality plane. We as human beings want and need answers and structure “Knowing and controlling” are not necessarily limiting, unless bastardized into truth and concrete “answers.” So at this point, it is vital to have the conversations, communicate and practice. Being willing to try and fail, or try and get feedback, or try and succeed, it necessary.


[decisiontree id=”4868

The Angela Meyer Interview Part III – Erik Kondo

Erik: I am interested in your opinion on female runners and personal safety. What are some of your thoughts on training women to deal with their fears and concerns?

Angela: My first response would be, don’t run, train in Martial Arts and Self Defense instead. BUT I spent many years as an outdoor runner and even ran a marathon at one point (which was not the best decision for my body).

This is a serious issue and there have been several incidents where I live, in Washington DC, where female runners have been attacked, especially early in the am.

I think first and foremost, trusting intuition and that “gut” feeling of safety/unsafety is key when dealing with outdoor running as a woman.  For instance, I remember many years ago when I lived in AL.  I was running during the day on a trail in the middle of nowhere.  There was a part of the trail that paralleled with a small highway.  As I ran by the highway, a truck with 3 men hastily pulled off onto the shoulder.  There were no other cars or people around. They got out of the car and started walking towards the trail.  For a split second I thought, “Ang, they probably just have to go to the bathroom, don’t freak out,” But in the next split second, I started sprinting for my life.  I did not care what I looked like, I followed the fear in my gut. As I started to sprint, they realized it was probably not worth it to chase me, and yelled things like, “We just wanted to talk to you.”

I reiterate, when we are talking about Self Defense, we are referring to winning moments in time. I won that moment in time, but I just as easily could have not.

I have many women ask about carrying pepper spray while running.   My response to that is, “If carrying something makes you feel safer, do it, but unless you’re trained in using pepper spray, keys or a tazer, the reality of being able to access and use properly in a moment of “fight or flight” is slim.  Using weapons, takes just as much training as defending weapons and this is where I always default back to the real work of Self Defense, especially when we are specifying women.  Learning to fight is key, instead of being “weapon-centric” one must learn to fight on a deeper level and always look for exit strategies, weapons in a real-life environment, and the ability to use our bodies as natural weapons.  We must begin at the preemptive, psychological, sociological patterns that are deeply ingrained in us and it’s all connected.

Erik: In think that you brought up an interesting issue here.

On a statistical basis, I think that the majority of women are on some level effected by Fear of Violence while running and a smaller proportion are effected by verbal harassment and threatening behavior. And a very small proportion are effected by actual physical assaults. But the consequences of these assaults are severe.

Therefore, regarding Fear of Violence, carrying a weapon may have a soothing effect. In that case, the weapon provides a benefit. It also may help them in terms of verbal harassment since the person many feel less vulnerable and be more assertive, but, a major problem occurs in the event that they actually have to deploy the weapon.

In that case, not knowing how and when (legally and tactically) to use the weapon may have the effect of worsening the situation. In addition, they may have false confidence regarding their weapon’s capabilities which may encourage them to take more risk than they would without having a weapon. And of course, there is always the issue of not having the psychological will to use the weapon. Not to mention, the practical issue of carrying it.

Then again, there are always those situations, where having a weapon available may become the determining factor for safety.

Therefore, I think it can be reasonably said that carrying a weapon has both positives and negatives associated with it. The factors will vary from individual to individual, from environment to environment, and from incident to incident.

Reviewing what you said “We must begin at the preemptive, psychological, sociological patterns that are deeply ingrained in us and it’s all connected.”

These are deep issues that cannot be resolved in a few hours of instruction. Neither can the ability to learn and execute physical technique be learned in a few hours.

Therefore, for a one-time class with women who are unlikely to take additional classes, what do you feel is the most important aspect to focus on? In other words, do you think it is more important to focus on problems that are more likely to occur, but have less physical consequences, such as verbal harassment and sexual coercion. Or problems that are less likely to occur, but have greater physical consequences such as violent stranger assaults?

Angela: A big YES to all you said.  I am learning so much from your questions and deeply grateful for the process.

When I teach Women’s Self Defense workshops (or any “once off” training) I make sure they understand:

They are only dipping the tiny tip of their baby toenail into the vast waters of “Self Defense”.

There is nothing I am about to say/teach in this class/workshop that will guarantee a magical shield of safety.  I also tell them if they hear teachers who say, “these 3 techniques will make you safe.”  Run. Fast. In the other direction.

It comes back to the importance of boundary setting. I think this is the first vitally important shield to owning your own body and space.  Women being verbally harassed, sexual coerced, or violently assaulted are symptoms of our culture.  They happen.  Sometimes really often.  It’s disgusting.  It’s not right. And in no way is it a women’s “fault”.    That said, we as women, can start to make personal choices to how we want to show up in the world. Do we say we are sorry, just because we are apologizing our existence away, or are we really sorry for something?  Do we giggle, because we like to laugh and have fun? Or does aggression and confrontation make us uncomfortable? Are we not able to yell because we really don’t have the capability, or are we so self-conscious about how we come across? Do we always take care of others because we really want to, or are we just programmed that way?

I think this is the most important aspect to focus on. Through an intense, uncomfortable, physical experience, how do I as a teacher, shed light on everyday habits and engrained belief systems, that keep them from being a fucking powerhouse?  Awareness is key.  If I can just plant a few seeds that will take root quickly or grow over a long period of time, I have done my job of making a woman safer. I will never know when or if the seeds will take root, but I’ll try like hell to sew them.

I do think it is VERY important to acknowledge that every woman is different and there not a cookie cutter answer.

I had an experience the other night.  I was sleeping alone and thought someone broke in the window of my apartment.  I struggle from pretty severe anxiety.  It shuts me down, especially in a moment of primal fear. I went through all my self Defense 101 checkpoints. What could I use as a weapon? Where are my exits?  What will I do to get out quickly and where will I run?  The process was legit and proactive…but the real problem, was, can I actually do this?  My body feels shut down in fear. I “know” all of these things intellectually but can I do them?  It’s not an easy answer and I think we are doing a disservice to all women, when we give pat answers.

So to reiterate, I think the most important thing to start teaching women from day one:  Bringing awareness to how they move through their everyday world.  Does this way serve them and make them safer and stronger?


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