Category: #43 – OCT 2018
Book Review – ‘Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul’ by Stuart Brown M.D.
I cannot recall how I came across this book but I think it was something I came across on social media referring to an article in National Geographic from December 1994. So I searched for and purchased said magazine and it is a great article on animals playing, fascinating in fact how different species such as a polar bear and a husky played together, go find and read.
Better still buy the book as its all in there too but without the fantastic pictures. To be fair Dr Brown is preaching to the converted with me. I love to play. Play is fun, it is a natural act but unfortunately many forget how to play as adult life takes over. In a world where the screen dominates and managed activity is all pervasive we have forgotten how to play creatively as we did as children.
Many children are also deprived of the opportunity for spontaneous play as they are ferried from adult supervised activity to adult supervised activity.
At our junior Ju Jitsu sessions the kids love to end with a game, it seems not to matter what the game is except the more chaotic the better. Play engages the brain and the body, when we train in the woods, what we call Wild Wednesday, the adults taking part in some pretty tough physical training are re-engaging with their younger selves as they crash about through the undergrowth, jumping over logs and throwing rocks.
Having grandchildren is fantastic, I get to be Mr Wolf or just ‘the monster’, I am on all fours as a horse for them to ride and they really love the rough and tumble and we had an epic water fight not so long ago. I love to play, to me Ju Jitsu is play, padwork is play, training is play, its how I express myself, I can lose myself in these activities and more importantly play with others.
I thoroughly recommend this book, the other night I was reading ‘Behave’ by Robert Sopolsky and was not surprised to see him quoting Dr Brown’s work on play. High praise indeed. Buy it and read it.
Review by Garry Smith.
Another Page in the Book of Knowledge – Tim Boehlert
When we discuss the many and varied aspects of violence dynamics, including preferences, techniques, styles and more, we should also keep a few key points in mind:
 Violence is different with every encounter. What worked once, may not work in a similar situation somewhere down the road, which effectively forces you to pick alternative responses, preferably before-hand, and no matter who you are or how good you give yourself credit for being. Don’t believe your own story, that’s the first thing that will get you in trouble.
 Limiting what you learn may be a great choice, but it could also cost you. For instance, if you choose to limit your exposure or your training for only specific types of encounters, you’ll come up empty when that doens’t happen, but ‘this’ does.
Perhaps you should consider reading more about the differences between possible and probable events, and change your training, or modify it to the most likely (probable) scenarios primarily, but not to entirely discount the other possibiltiies?
 Violence in the form that most of us will encounter is going to be social-based, and not asocial violence. Thus, your goals may be merely to set social status, or to protect property, or maybe even to send a message/threat, implicit or otherwise that “it would not be wise to cross this line” or some such similar reasoning.
 Having a weapon on your person at the time of any encounter may determine to a judge/jury an outcome that you didn’t expect, foresee or plan for. Think of how others will see your actions – “You planned it.” Thus, a pre-mediation factor creeps in by the other sides legal team. And again, you need to understand your laws, because I can guarantee you that the arriving officials may not, and/or do not understand the laws concerning the UOF and threat of UOF when displaying/brandishing as an example a ‘pocket knife.’
I will give you an example of how and why my path differs from yours. In one of my jobs in a Security force function, we had to follow policies (those of the institution – the employer.) We were never allowed to strike, kick or throw anyone. Now if you’d already learned your ‘art’, a lot of your go-to options have effectively been taken off the table. What now? You’ll spend a lot of time un-learning everything you know about your MA or your combatives training.
We were also limited in our responses and options by local, state and federal laws. Have you got any familiarity with any of the typical laws regarding the use of force in your community? If you do, that’s a good start. Now, throw in dealing with a vulnerable population – the homeless, those with substance abuse issues, those with mental health diagnoses, those showing altered mental status (AMS) symptoms – which could include some of the above, but also consider the autistic, those with dementia and those with alzheimers disease.
Now, add these restraining factors:
[a] You are being watched and recorded in almost every interaction – by the institution, and many times by the public. And while the institution may back you up in your response, the public likely won’t. Why? because violence is ugly, no matter who you are. And the only way that you can even approach ‘getting it’ is by studying it, doing it and learning from it all, good and bad.
[b] You could be reprimanded, suspended, fired, sued or some combination of all of these possible ‘disciplinary’ actions. And then there may be the media exposure…
[c] There’s also a toll you pay – with every, single transaction. With some, you may feel confident beyond a doubt that your use of force (violence) was justified. but with many events, you’re going to question what you did, how you did it and more, if not now, based on how your work develops and the amount of support or lack of support that you receive along the journey. Unfortunately, you still need to make your own choices with almost every encounter. The toll may be feeling guilty, or bad, but another cost is in your future performance factors – will you step up the next time, will you throttle back your response stance for better or worse? Again, these are personal choices based on several factors – the law, the policy, your moral compass, the views of your peers, the views of the public or other employees that surround you.
[d] There are also environmental factors that need to be considered, maybe specifically in my model, but I’d say likely in yours as well. As a much used training example: after hitting another combatant, he goes down, and hits his head on a curb. He dies as a result of his injuries, and your actions. Your life as you knew it ended when he died.
Now of course there are times when you may have no worries, but I can’t think of a specific one at the moment. Even as an employee, whose job description cites protecting property and the public in/around your facility, and even if he’d pulled a knife on you, and you may have legal grounds to justify your actions, it’s not over – not by a long shot. Knowing your environment may convince you to re-think the options you choose to deploy in all or most of your actions. Sometimes that’s not possible, but you may have to plan that into your ‘threat response kit.’
Violence is an ugly option, but it’s also a necessary one when dealing with violent people. The only outcome should be in your favor, and in conjunction with all of the legal and moral lines that we all typically follow and/or are held to. There are more mental aspects to dealing effectively with violence than there are physical aspects perhaps, but years of study has shown me that, and your experiences may be different. One quote that I learned early on was: “to stop a violent act, you need to be better at violence than they are.” For me, that set the tone of every encounter. It started the ‘conversation’, helped set my mindset when ‘the dance sequence’ began, and added confidence at the beginning of every dance.
I dealt with hundreds of acts of violence over the years that I was active, and I can honestly state that I never had a plan other than to end it in my favor. I never used more than a few go-to techniques. I transitioned into control after the ‘attack’ with no abuse, no ego issues, and no threat of retaliation or to punish. It was never about punishment. When it was over, it was over – not personal, just a business transaction between two parties that didn’t view the transaction in the same terms you might say.
I can also state that I dealt with a varied population – MH patients, family members, friends and acquaintances, but also substance abusers, those at risk, child molesters, murderers, rapists, thieves, juveniles, men, women, transgender ad all of it’s associated labels and children. They all had one thing in common – they were all violent. The one takeaway for me is that it was a great learning time, with either willing or unwilling participants that all had one thing in common: they knew how to use violence. It mattered just a little about why, but you need to let that go too. Rather than to reject their reasoning, or to argue about it, you just need to embrace the fact that you may not change their minds, and when it’s time, it’s time. You need to pick the when, where and how. Everything else is open for discussion, but perhaps afterwards.
I’ve even had to address other Martial Artists. I had one technique that I used under those circumstances. It never got physical, despite their sometimes impressive attempts to convince me that I was not going to be able to stop them because of their knowledge, which was scary during more than one encounter. Any Martial Artist has this knowledge, and knows what my solution was. There was of course a backup plan, and that was just too easy – it makes me smile to think about it, because might isn’t always right. And that is a technique too.
Give choices – it MAY work… A lot of social violence is about saving face – learn that. Respect goes a long, long way, even when it’s not deserved or earned.
Learn to actively listen without feeling the need to respond – immediately at a minimum. Most of us listen half-heartedly while we are formulating a response. STOP doing that! Be conscious of it when you are doing it, and work at getting better at not doing it in the future.
Expand your vocabulary, expand your training potential, expand your capacity for discovering that you’ll never know it all, you’ll never be the best, or undefeated even. Embrace the possibilities, educate yourself, and share.
This knowledge, my knowledge, is specific, to and for me, because I know what worked for me. I wasn’t ever the best, but I was never the worst. I was effective, and had only a few close calls where it could have gone the other way, but the social aspect of the struggle was on the table and in play, to my advantage. I was maybe the most studied. I continue to learn, and expand my horizons and educate others based on my knowledge and experience, because it can make a difference for someone, somewhere – you’ll never know.
The book of knowledge is deep, and it needs to be shared.
Power by Proxy Part 2 – Malcolm Rivers
Experts have to make themselves special. “Who are you to teach me?” is the rational question of a discerning consumer. Accordingly, SD/MA (self-defense and martial arts) instructors find ways to reflect expertise: certifications, ranks, or stints as violence professionals. Awhile back I wrote a piece called “Power By Proxy” warning students of the tendency to thoughtlessly surrender power to chosen gurus, believing in the osmotic absorption of their instructor’s perceived potency. But that dynamic is almost always a two-way street; it’s not just students at the altar of assumed badassery. Martial training aims to empower, sometimes requiring resources held by these experts who, logically, must have more power than their students. This reasonable assumption often festers, producing a toxic social ponzi scheme: the power hoard.
For many instructors, the power hoard begins as a quiet addiction: they start drinking their own kool-aid. Suddenly, their power over students is all they have and they need it. What else are they when there are no more bones to break, ranks to earn, or competitions to dominate? So, they make people like them as special and different as possible because, surely, power is a finite resource. Besides, the more power they have, the better they can use it to help students, right? Their charges need them to be powerful so they can benefit others!
I’ve seen power hoarding dynamics so often that I didn’t notice it until I felt myself start exhibiting them. I started very quietly assuming that I was somehow different than students who’d grown up in less volatile environments or hadn’t spent time professionally babysitting inebriated adult adolescents. My few stories made me feel powerful as I watched students’ reactions to my narration. It felt good to be special, even if my being special had nothing to do with making them stronger.
You see it everywhere. Youtube videos explain how helpless women are; coaches sell their training as the only path to power; instructors chortle as they condition students to weakness and humiliation. Every once in a while, I see it in person: an instructor egotistically punking someone. I went to an active shooter seminar where one instructor threatened to “kick the shit out of” a student after spending most of the day overcompensating with her sport grappling background. Later, I performed a gun disarm on the instructor and explained to her that the weapon was out of battery. She hadn’t known what “out of battery” meant…at an active shooter seminar. The worst exhibition, though, was at another (surprise, surprise) active shooter seminar run by former military operators.
The main instructor began showing footage of shootings without much analysis as part of a ploy to evoke emotional reactions from students. When role players stormed the safety briefing, a student was publicly humiliated for ineffectual resistance, though hiding and running weren’t great options. Throughout the scenarios, participants were prohibited from resisting the shooters physically, told repeatedly how often they “died”, and sent into tactically improbable scenarios for which they were conditioned to fail with little regard for the effects. Within 2 minutes of the final “lockdown” drill, I was outside the staging area, waiting out the end of the scenario. We’d been told repeatedly that we couldn’t leave because, apparently, this was an active killer situation on a submarine! I was reminded to go back in, literally toward a couple of well-armed murderers, after achieving the theoretical goal of both the exercise and the situation it sought to simulate: getting away alive. Upon reentering, a commando loudly informed me that I’d been shot dead while sprinting away. I kept running. My mindset is simple: you’ll have to prove to me I’m not immortal. I understand how significant crappy conditioning can be and refuse to let it in. I also know at least a couple of people who found out they’d been shot when they stopped running so the realism angle wasn’t compelling. Why it made sense for me to pretend I was dead was beyond me. At the end, our central trainer offered the icing on the cake: “too many of you died, more than any other group; but, you know, good job.” Most of the experience was a power hoard. Lines were drawn between high-speed operators and mere civilians; resistance was restricted, prohibited, or punished; students were reminded more of failures and “deaths” than anything else. All we learned was these guys were badasses and we weren’t. I see the same things in everything from Krav Maga intro classes to MMA tutorials.
If these dynamics existed in environments without stacked decks, my attitude would be different. But most self-defense participants are tacitly acknowledging weakness and handing experts power to shape them. Anything that doesn’t fit directly into empowering them is bullshit. These are folks, sometimes with open wounds, who are making themselves vulnerable. Stop making yourself special because you’re supposedly better at violence. If you’re special, so is their future attacker, current abuser, or other threat and it *will* make it harder for them to move. With that said, it’s an understandable phenomenon.
The road to power hoarding is wide and well-lit. All it takes is some unexamined epistemology and a class of neophytes. For example: you want an attentive respectful class. Occasionally someone’s skeptical, disturbed, or even bored by your content or style. Their disrespect threatens to derail the learning of others. So, in a moment of irritation, you show them just how misplaced their self-superior attitudes are. But, in doing so, you’ve failed. A professional conflict manager, so skilled he’d been empowered to teach, couldn’t handle a minor blow to the ego or see past a façade to a student’s needs? You’ve dis-empowered one student and likely alienated several others. Depending on the crowd, this will read as obvious insecurity and/or petty tyranny. Or, worse, they’ll assume that “this is just how powerful people are” and look to become petty tyrants themselves. If you’re not careful, this becomes a trend. You’ll leave squashed students in your wake and collect acolytes, eager to bask in your glow.
To my fellow “experts”: get over yourself. A friend, well acquainted with lethal conflict (because that’s the only reason to listen to someone, right?) always balked at the idea of anyone being special because of a title, rank, former job, or violent history. His response? “Who cares what you did a decade ago? What are you doing NOW?” I take that to mean: make sure whatever you’re doing is contributing, no matter how “special” you are or were. True teaching is much more about empathy than knowledge or even experience. Get better at it so you’re adding value beyond “guts and glory” stories or endlessly reminding students of membership in a martial clique.
Be human and vulnerable to your audience. Use your power to continually show and tell students they can be just as capable as you remember yourself being. Many instructors tacitly or overtly communicate that their students could never “take” them. This is laughable (no one’s found monopolies on physics nor mortality) but students pick up on it and think you’re another species. You’re not. Show them that so when they meet someone more dangerous than you, they’ll remember that everyone bleeds. Be secure enough in whoever you are (or were) that you don’t need to maintain the invincibility aura. If you’re worthy of your status, knowing that even they can beat you will make them stronger, making you more valuable.
To the schools, make the accolades mean something. If you’ve got tokens or talismans, make them empowering to students and not just reminders of gulfs between social strata. Focus on creative problem solving and not paint by numbers solutions. Stop punishing people for being better than they should be. Power isn’t finite; share it. Hoarding power doesn’t make you strong, it comes across insecure and needy. Show students how powerful they can be, it can only make you better.