Thursday, May 28, 2015

Imperfection and profession

I was doing some cooking and something came to me. I had to slice some onions. I like to waste as little as possible, so I try to use as many layers as possible, and cut as close to the base and the tip as possible. This costs me some extra effort and time.

Something a professional won't do. He won't mind if he rips an extra layer or three while cleaning the skin, or waste a couple of extra slices from each extreme. Instead, he'll slice fast, clean, maybe not quite as regularly as the book says... But he'll have the onion cut in time, the oil ready at the right temperature. He might not spread the onion around the oil, and yet he'll manage to have all bits cooked alike.

The violence professional is the same. Doing several hundreds of reps is the focus of the martial artist. Lots of reps, just the right way. A professional doesn't need as much perfection, he needs adequate performance at just the right moment. Clear mind, good ingrained reflexes.

And then, some people get the worst from both worlds and train barely adequate performance without the proper mind focus. And you get shitty mechanics without focus, that gets worse when it performs under pressure.

Take care.


We were doing some basic kali, this week. Snake disarms. Very basic, since kali is not our thing, just a way to get familiar with weapons and their effects.

But I come from classic Japanese fencing. The kali meme of "a stick is a sword is a stick"? I lean towards the sharp, pointy thingie. And yet, it seems I have something that should be more easy to grasp to people who lean "stick". Ie, pommel strikes.

What I'm finding in what little kali I've done is that people tend to strike with the "mono uchi", the last part of the sword when used for slashing. They forget pommel, they forget thrusts... The stick becomes a light baseball bat (or worse; a baseball bat does have a nice pommel, after all).

Now...the point of weapons is to get better offensive options. While it's true that, say, an F-18 isn't much good for a police restrain and yet a useful thing, it's not much good if you take a weapon and discard most of its uses. It would be like getting that F-18 and using it ONLY for dropping dumb bombs. What's the use of its radar, its cannon, its fly by wire? Get another weapon, if you only want that!

So, if you're only using slashing techniques, get a slashing weapon. But, oh, that needs edge angle awareness. So, we better keep a stick.

It's weird. the distance our style works best is close striking, almost grappling distance. With any other attack, we try to close there. And yet, most of us try to keep the distance when we have a stick. Why? The moment you've disarmed him, you do not need to get far away[*]. Use that pommel, use your elbow, use "abanico". There are lots of options, faster options, things that can really mess the other guy. But you need to use the whole of the weapon, for that.

The more I think about it (not only this once), the more I believe that we should train with short sword replicas, the more I see rattan leading to tactical laziness.[+]

Take care.

[*] Yes, if you've disarmed him and still carry your own stick, you're in a legal minefield.

[+] Not that swordwork is immune to that. There are a lot of distances available with a katana that are seldom explored. Even a lot of counter to a disarm attempt that try to control down the guy... when you'd started wanting to cut him down and you still have the damn sword!

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.