Saturday, May 16, 2015

Acknowledge the gradient

Human brains are impressive. They adapt, they change, they mold themselves. The smallest changes have profound effects.

So, teaching awareness, self defence, the realities of the dangers "out there" should be easy, right?

You wish. If you've been there, you know that.

Rory explains it as a matter of socialization, mostly. Our social brains not wanting to deviate from our group's normal, its perceptions, its consensus. Because realizing certain truths about violence makes you need to change your behaviour, and that might be contrary to your group's interests and its cohesion.

That's a part, but... bear with me for a while.

I'm trying to think in 3D, of late. It touches several projects of mine I'm trying to delay until another one's ready. But my mind stretches that way nonetheless.

Think in 3D? We're humans, We have stereoscopic vision. Of course you think in 3D!

No, you don't. We mostly think in a sort of 2.5D. Height and width, sure (and even the height part is crappy, if you're city-raised). But, depth? Oh, yes, you can perceive distance. But you don't perceive the other side of an object. And you certainly don't perceive the innards. So you dismiss them, likely.

Now, try to think 3D. Try to think how your pen is in the inside. How the bottom of your keyboard is and how it fits the table. How's your oven from behind? Do that continuously.

Do it continuously, 24/7, with every object that crosses your path, every animal, every person.

That's what you're asking of people who don't think in SD terms.

Take care.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Levels of information

This used to be here some years ago, some further explanation on an early 2010 post Marc made me expand. It seems to be still valid, so I'm re-posting it.
Some background:

Text linguistics defines a couple of concepts: thema and rhema. Broadly, the first is the subject we're talking about, with all the information we already know, while the second is what information the text adds to our knowledge.

So, if I say "Ted's cat is sick", the sentence is build so that you already know Ted and his cat. You didn't, however, know it was sick until I told you. However, you might not know Ted had any kind of pet, in which case "Ted has a cat" would be part of the thema for me but part of the rhema for you. If I later say "Ted's asked me to get his cat from the vet because he's busy" you already know that I'm not getting the cat back from a standard health check. "The cat is sick" has gone from rhema to thema. If we are to communicate, my thema and yours have to be at a similar level (you can bridge the gap "Ted has a cat", as long as you know Ted and you know what cats are).

OK, let's assume Albert, Bob and Clara. Albert is a nice guy that has discovered how to let things be the hard way. He's been beaten, he has beaten others, and had some harsh talks, back in the day, with cops that knew he was up to no good. He's since reformed and leads a picket fence life at some unassuming neighborhood far from his old place. Albert is a sage, without much skill at talking but a lot of experience.

Bob is a former jock with a stint in the army, who never saw physical exercise beyond boot camp but has convinced others that his bar fights are the real thing; he's even done some competition in some contact sport or other. He's been doing it for so long that he believes it himself, mostly, and it pays well. Much better than flipping hamburgers, at least. He's a seller.

Clara had a scare many years ago that shook her world. She has no big stars to her violence curriculum, but she's spend every day since thinking about violence, how it happens and when it happens. She enrolled as a reporter for some local newspaper in the state capital and interviewed lots of victims, criminals and cops. She has written a book, "Stay safe", that has quietly become a must read in certain circles. She's also a sage of a sorts, even if most of her experience is second hand, who knows she still lacks a lot of violence experience but has a tremendous skill showing others part of what's out there. That's a bard.

Now, you come in. For whatever reason, pick one, you have chosen to learn self defense. Albert lives nearby, and you kinda sorta guess "he's had a life" --suspected it since the day he stopped a gang of punks who were harassing old Miss Dandelion with his mere presence, but you couldn't quite set that thought--. You haven't talked much, though, and you hesitate to ask. You visit the local franchise of the ATA and they have an add: Bob is teaching a seminar in a couple of weeks. 4 hours saturday evening for 200 $. You go back home, browse the net, and find his name is well-regarded. He's even got a website. On it, you find a short article that quotes a book. You don't have that book, but the quotes seem to ring a bell, and they sound legit.

It is then that you remember those same sentences, here and there, in some conversations with Albert. You take a dive and ask him about it next time you find him mowing the lawn. He doesn't say a thing, but he leaves the mower and goes into his house, coming back with a thin, earmarked book, tattered from use. Clara's.

Now, realize that the underlying information is the same in all cases. Albert, Bob and Clara are talking about the same, they're even using the same sentences. However, the information you get is not the same. Albert knows Clara's right, but he can't transmit it properly. Bob doesn't have a clue, but he's found some sentences in that book that, as he reads it, reinforce his beliefs and provide him easy answers, out of context, to people's fears. He knows people are not going to read the book... at least not until they've paid those 200 bucks. Clara doesn't know much. She's been in less violence than Bob, even, but she's got a good point of view, she's made a real effort to understand it and she's a superb writer.

Albert, Bob and yourself need Clara, but for completely different reasons: Albert needs someone to teach you the right background. What's completely alien for you is something he grew up with, so much part of his life that he cannot separate it enough for an explanation. Without some common background, communication is impossible. Bob needs Clara, too, to justify his approach and his prices. But he's going to twist it as much as he needs. You need Clara to see what's out there.

Realize, also, that it's easier to go with Bob: he's already digested the book for you. 200 bucks and an afternoon of your time, and that's all. Albert will not ask you a single dollar, but he'll talk about things that the book only glimpses at, good as it is, and will stretch you brain until it hurts.

Most people don't know an Albert. That's why Clara has to be real careful about how she writes. Most people who read her book will either have no idea or will come from Bob's mindset. Bob has already managed to pervert her words, but she wrote that to help other people, so she must work, hard, to clear any misunderstandings to the people who reach her work having read only selected, out of context, modified soundbites.

Take care.

Progression of readyness

I was watching a video about a new SD gadget. Basically, a marriage between a kubotan and a manriki (gusari) made of cord, both turned keychain. Modern materials and all that, but that was basically the case.

Two things bothered me. The first was that the marketing techniques were either clumsy punches, twisted so that you could use the pointy bits, or, well, control-takedowns that worked. They worked because the techniques didn't use the widget at all. Sure, it was there; sure, it did add some extra pain. It changed nothing.

And that got me thinking. Those techniques could have come from any modernized traditional art. "Defence against punch, number 69", but with a weapon in your hands.

That has so many holes...

You see, you're getting a self defence weapon and acting from the assumption you'll have it ready. Rory would have a fit. Marc would have to get a new keyboard.

Everything has levels. Self defence has levels. Like Rory insists, MA like to concentrate on a very particular level he calls the "duel", and it filters down to SD.

If someone's attacking you, you might find yourself in any of five stages: Surprised, Perceptful, Aware, Facing and Deployed.

Surprised is what happens when your first notice is the floor hitting your face after a sudden shift in balance. You're way behind in any way that counts. You have to reset, you have to defend, you have to get up... Chancy.

Percepful is what happens when you realize there's something wrong as the baseball bat falls. You're still going to have trouble, but you can minimize the first attack and your attacker has to reorient some while you aren't left in such a vulnerable position.

Aware is that "there's something wrong, here" feeling. You're in what some people call "orange" or "yellow". There something that's calling your instincts, maybe someone specific. If you start working from here, you may avoid the event completely. The shift in your body language alone might do it.

Facing is your problem in front of you. You don't have a stance, you don't have weapons, but it's not going to blindside you. You're ready. You know it, he knows it. That knowledge alone may, again, erase the problem before it begins. Or may create another one if you start a macho dance.

Deployed Add a stance and/or a weapon. That widget I first mentioned, a cane, your raised fists. Whatever. Again, the presence of a weapon might erase the problem... or might get you into worse trouble, physical and psychological, than you ever imagined.

The mistake of many martial artists is that they assume they'll be working at the fourth level, or even the fifth. Some manage to train for the third. Very few go below that.

The mistake of many SD "tools" is that they refuse to think below the fifth level. How do I deploy a chained weight in the street? Depending on the situation, you just gave permission to anyone on sight to take you down ("He threatened my friend with a weapon, officer"), and that would include a cop who found you right then, weapon at the ready.

So... deployment. How many SD tools can be deployed easily? When do you deploy them? How? Discreetly? Menacingly? Can you deploy them under pressure?

So, two things: avoid the first three levels, try to avoid the last two. And don't become inspector Gadget. Don't trust a gizmo you don't know if you'll even have with you. Because the next SD fashion that sweeps around might make you change your tool. However, your eyes will probably be with you; use those.

Take care.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Technology against safe zones

I have several acquaintances in the "makers" world. I'm considering, for several prototypes, going there myself. And I'm realizing something.

It used to be that a certain percentage of the population was able to do things that could be extremely illegal. Locksmiths, for example, could open broken safes... but also intact ones. Ironsmiths knew perfectly well how to make functional daggers outside legal limits. Good machinists could build guns.

But they were few, their jobs had a certain pride that going rogue would rob them. Some tools were quite expensive, and required very specific attention.

Enter desktop CNC and 3D printing. Some days ago, a broken child killed a teacher with a crossbow, nearby. Given a couple of years, a more affluent background, and he could have shot a dozen. And the affluent requirement is becoming obsolete by the week.

I used to say that, for SD purposes, you could basically discount firearms where I live. While there are some, they were not found in common crimes, but mostly in already criminal surroundings (don't get upset if you're buying drugs for a dozen people and the guy's surrounded by guns).

Not any longer. Governments will try to regulate. And fail. Because, yes, after the fact it becomes obvious that I had a gun I shouldn't, and I get some extra years thrown into the verdict. But meanwhile? In the States, I can't sell a firearm I made with my CNC, but... weapons are defined pretty narrowly, by a single part of the firing mechanism[*].

It has implications in other places, too, economically (and artistically! Napster is coming to sculpture), but this is not the place.

But if you live in places where weapons are regulated and the regulation tends to hold... start thinking what happens when it doesn't. When a criminal can set up shop with a 500 bucks 3D printing machine and print weapons that may only be good for half a dozen shots, but that's more than enough to kill you. When a hobbyist teaches things to her cousin and it turns out that the cousin is broken inside. When...

It's not going to happen often. But when it does, expect the media to go full throttle on it. And, in any case, just be aware that your traditional "safe" spaces just got downgraded, hard.

Take care.

[*]can't recall which. In Spain, it's basically the barrel: guns are "deactivated" by drilling holes in it, but the rest of the gun is still functional, if you don't fancy your hand.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Sharp is safe

A sharp knife is a safe knife. You're less likely to force through, it's less likely to buckle and, if you get cut, you heal much better. Much. Really.

In the knife-using circles I've known, those points above are so basic, they're often not even told. The same way you're not told your feet touch the ground.

Remember the kid from last week? Thanks to him, I found an interesting site on teaching knife-use to kids.

It's interesting. Because it's mostly about empowerment, respect, some family bonding... All those nice things when you apply them to abstract knowledge, but oh so scary when you put a knife in a kid's hands.

Some years ago, I was talking with a senior field officer in the Spanish army. He mentioned that he'd rather hire a climber than a soccer player. All that being up there hanging from a rope gave a calm and introspection that soccer simply didn't, even before you accounted for the frequent association between soccer and violence.

What I'm finding is a certain correlation between people who're comfortable around knives (may or may not carry them, or even know their knives, depending on their background) and people who're comfortable with themselves.

And I think on the 1001 ways I use a knife... not quite daily. And I think about the 1001 ways society is trying to teach that kid to misuse knives, to fear them... (Insisting on dull knives and teaching him to play with them; fussing around him when there are knives in the open, to the point of blocking his parents' access in case of an accident; and so on) A kid that knew how to handle knives before he could walk, who keeps trying to help in the kitchen, slicing included (and the reason for his father's search; he finally got one). A kid a goodly part of society can't accept as a responsible "adult-in-making" and tries to dumb down.

And society usually wins. And then we complain that "kids these days", that "most people can't", that "this thing is too sharp". When, really, what happens is that we've been dulled down.

Take care.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Techniques' inflection point

Usually, martial arts techniques are responses. A succession of moves that take you from a losing situation into a winning result. So, if things start going downhill and yet you manage to succeed, there must be a point at which this changes, yes?


Again with my old system's technique. Yes, check it out again, please. Where does that thing go from "I'm going to get smashed" to "I have him"? Where do you think it happens? My opinion? The moment you control his elbow to your abdomen. Everything after that is commentary. It's very difficult to recover from that, and I'd say impossible once you put your other hand to him.

However, a bunch of instructors, even arts, concentrate in the shiny bits. The lock, the control, the takedown. They're nice, funny, often spectacular. But you need control of the situation to get there. And that's where many fail.

Now, yes, this point can change. A very good judoka can intercept a punch and put you down with no intermediate moves. It's not a safe way to bet or train, though.

So, where are your techniques' inflection points? When do you start controlling the situation?

Can you do properly what comes before?

Take care.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Again with blades

I seem to be repeating myself a lot, today.

Some days ago, I mentioned that blades seem to have a weird "feeling", a balance that pushes you towards certain fluidity. In that trip with friends this last weekend I bought several knives. A chef's knife, a MCusta folding knife, a Martiini one, and two fixed Spanish blades: a Muela inspired on Argentinian blades and a Nieto skinner.

I've ranted on some ideas on Spanish knives ust today, so I'll save you the bad points on that. Also, I'd have preferred the MCusta to be one with a thumb hole, unlayered, instead of a thumb stud, layered steel one. Functional preference[*].

But. Those blades have their own preferences of movement. The long Argentinian blade, a 6 2/3 inch blade, reaches out, changes your feel, makes you, perhaps, a tad more daring, asks for a guard. The skinner wants to be kept close to the body. With the very same movements. The folding ones are similar to the skinner, but faster, more inclined to "nick" instead of cut; maybe more puncturing, too.

Now, most of my short blade instruction is a weird mix of Kali, Silat... My Japanese learning is scarce on short blades and... well, a tanto is a rather long short blade. So maybe my ideas are restricted. But... I had similar feelings with that talwar I mentioned in my earlier post, and I'm told they were legit.

Hm... More feeling, less technique? Where have I heard that before...?

Take care.

[*] Layered steel, today, is not any more functional (and, sometimes, even less) than good factory steel. And I think thumb holes work better under stress.