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.

Instructing Vs Howling – Garry Smith

I read 2 really good books on my last holiday, ‘Beyond the Picket Fence’ by Marc MacYoung and ‘Principles Based Instruction for Self Defense’ by Rory Miller. Both are packed full of goodies that I intend to use to improve what and how I teach. As you should know by now I am a lifelong autodidact and advocate of continual professional development. Passionate is a word others have used to describe my relationship with learning.

The martial arts and self defence worlds are disparate and diverse and many weird and wonderful things exist there. There are plenty of opinionated, if not always necessarily informed, people out their including some who love to voice their opinions on social media. A recurring topic that always amuses me is discussion, criticism, whatever of peoples ability to teach _______ (insert style/art).

Very often those commenting teach by virtue of having gained a black belt in _______ (insert style/art). They have no knowledge of pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching children), or andragogy (the method and practice of teaching adults).

Before we go further I am not in any way advocating that every black belt complete an honours degree in teaching, far from it, but they should at least explore a little on the subject and not just assume that they can now teach. Most of us have experienced good and bad role models as we trained and we adopt and reject what we like or do not like. Learning ‘on the job’ is important, but teaching others requires more than just observing others.

Very recently I have seen criticisms, including school yard name calling, between childish members of one clique of members of another clique escalating to threats and challenges to fight. Its not the first time. Basically each group criticises what, sometimes how, the others teach. Basically its a cyber monkey dance and the Howler Monkeys are making themselves heard. Sadly it is mostly noise lacking in substance as their emotions override what little critical ability they posses.

Is it necessary, no. Is it entertaining, hell yes, its a car crash on the web and its live. The thing is there are too many in our industry with closed minds. The have reached the top (in their opinion), they are black belts and often a good number of dan grades too, they are instructors who run their own club and have their own students. The king and his subjects (its nearly always men btw). Unhealthy.

I teach, I am a 4th dan, I have a great instructor team, we regularly discuss variations on techniques, we regularly show each other different ways of showing things, share teaching tips. It a group of open minded people and a very health atmosphere exists where we learn of one another and the students. We all share the desire to get better at what we do. Healthy.

To this end we are writing our version of the instructor development course that I helped Rory to write, we have delivered it 3 times in recent years and each has been a learning exercise. So I have drafted an outline, take a look;

Ju Jitsu Instructor Development Course (JJIDC)

Instructor – Noun – A person who teaches someone.

This JJIDC course is for those people who would like to become instructors in Ju Jitsu and acceptance onto the JJIDC will be at the discretion of the senior instructors. The training will combine dojo based training and online based learning activities. The criteria for passing the course will be clear to all and support and feedback will be provided.

The classroom activities will be assessed using continual assessment in class and the online component will have testing built into the individual units and modules with progression dependent on achieving the set pass rate.

There will be three strands:

  • Junior Instructor – This is open to junior Black Belts.

  • Assistant Instructor – This will be open to seniors from Blue Belt.

  • Instructor – This will be open to senior Dan Grades.

The online course is currently being constructed and we are writing the full instructor course first then working backwards to assistant and then junior, we currently have 5 modules each with 6 units with inbuilt testing. It is pretty ambitious but with the people we have around us we are confident we can do this.

Why go to all this trouble, why not? Its about being professional in our approach, it is about setting high standards, it is to enable us to provide the best possible learning experience and it is what, ultimately, sets us apart from the howler monkeys.

Having a black belt does not make anyone a teacher, it never has. Being a teacher does not make you a black belt. Being either a black belt or a teacher is a particular set of skills and each set exists on a continuum with excellent at one end and terrible on the other. Using this as a model we can see the following:

A is an excellent black belt and excellent teacher.

B is an excellent black belt but terrible teacher.

C is a terrible black belt but excellent teacher.

D is a terrible black belt and terrible teacher.

A few people are naturally an A, unfortunately many are a D, the rest of us are somewhere in between. Of course most of us would like to be A, many think they are, especially the Howler Monkeys. The thing is there are lots of different instructor courses out there but there is no overall quality control, no gold standard. So its time to step up and see what we can do, its a challenge but an interesting one. Anyone interested in chipping in please do either by commenting below or emailing me. First we are focussing on our Ju Jitsu instructors so that we can be better as a unit but the basics and principles are universal.

So ignoring the noise in the jungle we will quietly focus on our continual professional development with the ultimate aim of improving our students learning experience. Meanwhile out in social media land the Howler Monkeys will continue upping the volume with little regard to substance. Life goes on.

PS. Male howler monkeys are famed for their deep, powerful roars, which are among the loudest noises made by terrestrial animals, and may help them compete with other males. But, alas, species with the most developed vocal organs also tend to have smaller testicles.

6 Takeaways from 20 Years in the Trenches – Andy Fisher

It was my first day on the job. I was kneeling on the perps head in side control and the hatchet he had charged at me with was lying a few feet away.

It was more luck, than chance that had made me turn when I did; a second later and it would have been too late. Maybe, subconsciously, I heard the collective intake of breath from the others who were watching the attack unfold. Maybe it was some ancient instinct that told me shit was going down. All I know was that I turned back from writing on the whiteboard to see all the other kids in the class staring open-mouthed, while Mike pranked the trainee teacher.

It was almost the end of a beautiful career – I sent for the Deputy Principal, ignored Mike’s wails of protest and continued my lesson on the use of the semi-colon without the photocopied worksheets that were sitting on my desk. Even though the hatchet was, it turned out, a blunt prop from the Drama department, I was pretty sure that this kid was about to be expelled and I was going to be applauded for my courage and restrained use of force. Instead, I was reprimanded, had to arrange a meeting with Mike’s parents to apologise and was told in no uncertain terms that the remainder of my placement would be contingent upon not assaulting any more of the students in my care!

That was my introduction to the world of teaching back in 1995 and, against all the odds, I am still in the trenches and trying to make a difference. It is a job I love and, while some days it feels like I am trying to pass kidney stones while running through a stand-up routine and completing my tax returns between sets, I wouldn’t trade for any other career on the planet.

Teaching matters and a good teacher does far more than beat the finer points of grammar into future generations. If you want to do the job well it is a demanding, exhausting and unforgiving career which takes a lifetime to master. There is a reason why those in education must undertake postgraduate training before they can teach in their subject of expertise. You can be the world’s best doctor, gymnast or martial artist, but that doesn’t mean you will automatically be a great teacher too. Teaching is a craft which requires more than lip service, and that’s why I get a little pissed off when I see half-assed dojo delivery or Grandmasters preening their egos, without the first clue of how to inspire their students to realise their own potential.

If self-protection instructors were to invest just a fraction of the time into developing their skills as a coach, as they do in perfecting their combative techniques, the industry would be so much better off. Students would progress faster and enjoy their training more, while instructors would have more faith in their curriculum and provide learning opportunities congruent with their professed reasons for teaching in the first place.

So, what pearls of wisdom have I gleaned from more than two decades as a front-line educator? Well, let’s assume that we are starting from a position of subject matter expertise, rather than open that can of worms! Here are some of the considerations I try to transpose from the classroom to my own self-protection seminars and training classes.

Be the Guide on the Side

First, aim to be the ‘Guide on the Side’ rather than the ‘Sage on the Stage’. Just because an expert is able to demonstrate a skill and lecture in granular detail about the finer technical points needed to replicate it, it does not follow that anything has been learned. This is the fundamental flaw I see in poor coaching – the assumption that we learn by being shown; in reality we learn by doing, experimenting, playing and refining from experience. There will, of course, be a phase of instruction that will be didactic but as a rule of thumb, the learning occurs once the teacher stops talking and the students try to meet the drill objectives – assuming they know what they are!

Fail to plan, Plan to Fail

Unless a coach has a clearly defined set of goals, objectives and a lesson outline that will allow them to meet those objectives, the training will always be sub-optimal. The reason teachers find planning so frustrating is because it is bloody hard! It requires a real clarity of thought and a toolbox of training methodologies. The reason why McDojos have their students march up and down in rows, mindlessly repeating paint-by-number motor-patterns is because that is the fast food equivalent of a nutritious educational experience. It is easily replicated, requires little explanation and looks like work is being done. If the objective is to get a little fitter, learn to obey authority unquestioningly and earn a new belt every few months, the training protocol is entirely fit for purpose, otherwise it’s just empty calories and clever marketing.

Use the Right Framework

A decent teacher doesn’t adopt a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach because we are not all one size…or one build, one height…you get the idea. In truth, the best teaching model I have come across is 1:1 Socratic mentoring, but this is not a business model that scales. Instead a decent self-protection instructor needs to find an approach that doesn’t just produce lines of clones who will succeed to the degree that their attributes happen to mimic their sensei. For those of you familiar with motor-learning pedagogy, you may have picked up the buzz of ‘constraints-led coaching’ and ‘principle-based learning’? While I haven’t the time or space to outline these methodologies here, I would encourage you to look into them if you are not already using them in your practice.