THE DICHOTOMY OF THREAT AND PERCEIVED THREAT

I´d like you to think hard on something that dawned on me…or maybe gnawed at me…today. The discrepancy (actually the chasm) between actual threat and perceived threat. Even industry “experts” propagate this myth. Actually predominantly. This´ll be short but sweet. In the previous little community/block in which we lived in Canada, we had a noted wife-beater who’d told his wife he was going to kill her at some point. (listen when people give you all the information you need to know) We had another gentleman who had multiple familial witnesses admit that he used to cut the heads off of little kittens when younger….with a machete or mower…and he thought it was hilarious. (But didn’t some serial-killers….digressing, never mind) We had someone who killed a 14-year old dog by smashing it over the head either with something heavy and hard, or bare-handed and repeatedly. The vet confirmed the cause of death and I carried that dog to be buried in the out-back after being a loyal family pet/friend/protector since birth. (Seniors, women, and kids be on the lookout, because when one can take their closet frustrations out on animals…)

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We had a long-time neighborhood employee who took a 360-degree video of the common area and all its entrances “for a friend” and got very, very nervous and defensive for no reason when he saw I was sitting there unnoticed. (He had all the gate codes and keys, ironically, we just prior had a group break-in in the neighborhood and coincidences are not a big thing for me) A thief worker that ripped off $1000 from his owner before being caught on video. (by yours truly) A neighbor with a serious drug-problem where he blew all his assets from a well-paying job and had a violent streak….but only when he was high, of course. A guy who beat up an aged-senior of 85. These s-t-i-l-l weren’t the worst indiscretions considering the seriously-criminal ones I’m not able to mention due to legal restraints. And these allll still weren’t even including the minor yet often disconcerting other elements that we heard “through-the-grapevine”…..little personal idiosyncrasies and secrets that others told us about: porn-addictions, professional ethics issues, slander, sabotage, bullying, love triangles, illegal gun-ownership, dangerous dogs that have since killed other dogs, etc. etc. etc. To be honest, the only difference I see with my previous and post neighborhoods lived…is that I wasn’t blessed with quite as much information on those elements of my neighbors, though I’m damn sure their versions of similar stories were present and accounted-for.

Yet, many in the neighborhood got together every so often for neighborhood-watch meetings to discuss how we could up the security-factor on the block from those potential criminals OUTSIDE THE COMMUNITY. It’s an irony that I sometimes had trouble fathoming. My point is: I do NOT believe this is any type of aberration or some unique glitch, either. I tend to think this is often almost every neighborhood in the Americas. (as it’s all I can speak on behalf of, first-hand, having lived in 2 parts of it extensively and traveled to others) We are just now starting to openly acknowledge that rape-threats to women far more often come from those who are in their already-established circle of friends, acquaintances, and satellites, not the random violent stranger in the dark of night on some street corner. That’s equally-true with “general” violence as well. Why do we treat general violence any differently? Blinders? Biases? Bad math and “animal” identification issues? (2+2 is usually 4, for the most part and if it looks/walks/acts like a fox, it’s generally not a groundhog)

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I wonder how many little hidden dangers exist next-door that we either are unaware of or refuse to acknowledge because they’re known entities – the people actually infiltrating our daily lives. (They could never hurt us, just others in the neighborhood or those in their own house, right? Let me tell you, if they’re willing to hurt the loved ones in their own house, torture or kill the neighborhood animals, psychologically do damage to other people’s kids, beat the senior next door….they’ll have no problem hurting you if they’re able and you cross them intentionally…even accidentally)

I’ve found the people around me – both sometimes by choice and not-so – to be far more of a personal-protection issue than the lurking-prowler, if evaluating the volume of both in my life to-date. At the end of the day, I guess bogeymen and the faceless criminal are far easier to prep for in a disconnected and desensitized (and unlikely…) manner than the one you say “hi” to every morning that lives next door – you know, the one that might actually be a legit concern and cause you some lifted eyebrows before continuing on with your day blindly….

Something to ponder.

TRAINING SCARS & SPORT LEAKAGE – MANIPULATING DESIGN-FLAW

Instead of the regular “street-vs.-sport” and debating the psychology or efficacy of training scars/sport leakage in traditional training, here’s a different angle. (*There have been countless videos of real-life violence where they’ve shown themselves, so they are certainly “a thing”…how much or regular of one is the part debatable) How to take advantage of potential training scars. To be clear, I’m not talking about the usual “how-to-beat-a-muay-thai” fighter but looking at systems themselves from the outside (or inside) to see conditioning elements that are (potentially) manipulate-able in the exponents of said system. Psychological, tactical, time-points/timing-ratios, spatial/distance, equipment, etc.

Here are some examples of what we refer to as potential training scars (often from traditional systems) and sport leakage (from sport-based ones), for those uninitiated:

*Boxing: absorbing shots with gloves/headgear, hands too close to face, ignoring lower-body attacks, “rope-a-dope”/absorbing unnecessary punishment, misalignment of closed-fist in gloves, “fouls” being punished, referee intervention causing guard-drop/lull in preparednes

*Grappling: tapping, gi/clothing-reliant techniques, reflexive guard-pull/butt-flop, training bare-feet, soft/absorbant surface, unlimited time-limits

*Martial arts: matching/preferred stances/ranges, training solely for other style-specific opponents, squaring-off and at-distance, often little taking punches/pain, comfortable clothing, low-hands…even an undying and unquestioning loyalty and deference to the instructor (bows/titles/roles/belts)

*Non-projectile weapons-training: cease of attack when opponent’s weapon dropped, range-selective and focused, lack of intangible-acknowledgement (pain-tolerance/threshold, human-will, adrenaline), glib perception of weapon’s damage capability, legal considerations, drill-based over fight-based, handing the weapon back immediately after performing a disarm

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Since so many armchair-fighters, everyday people, and criminals are now utilizing base training-knowledge they see from the overexposure of the fight game (they do “MMA”, grapple, box, knife-train in many Canadian prisons now, I know for certain from CO friends who witness it daily), maybe it’s time those system “design flaws” and how to manipulate them became an issue worth addressing. You can see the UFC and other prize-fighting organizations broadcast fights almost daily through their channels, or on YouTube or splashed around the Internet. Even generally uninterested lay-people now seem to know generally what an arm-bar or rear-naked choke are. Criminals and backyard/back-street fight clubs certainly do. We now have roughly 20 MMA gyms in this small country alone.

On that note, style/system-bias is a very pronounced thing. By acknowledging how your system’s/systems’ design flaws can be taken advantage of by those not willing to play your game by your rules, it immediately allows you to see a different perspective of those tactical cracks. View your system/style from the outside looking in, a 3rd-person perspective, fly-on-the-wall, 3-dimensionally. Ever walk into another club and note the protocols, rules, agreed-upon stipulations that they utilize in training? That could be manipulated or skirted, if need be? I have. Sometimes they’re even unique to club even within that style/system construct. Safety features, equipment-reliance, mutually-agreed-upon rules-of-engagement, club-etiquette, training-surface, etc.

How to counter-balance or prevent them? That’s fairly rectifiable with a little creativity and forethought. Leaving on locks a little longer (without extra strain) to acknowledge the tapping flaw. Moving your hands out a little to address the gloves-to-jaw flaw. Continuing past range-preference in stick-sparring to counter the range-reliance flaw. Fight no-gi. Bring up the intensity and energy by always trying for dominant position and not settling for bottom. Put shoes on. Wait a couple of seconds before handing back that knife or stick. (if you must work the disarm…) Grapple multiples. See what it feels like to grapple on concrete/cement. (you’ll get a different perspective of the potential repercussions of doing so on the street, and how much you won’t like it) Have others standing around randomly through some light kicks or punches while you’re down there. I’ve seen a number who do this already. They’re definitely out there.These design flaws can be trained out, as bad habits can and without much issue if aware. That’s the rectifiable part, people are doing it. But….

….how to MANIPULATE them in others…at least hypothetically, if for no other reason than to plant a seed in your own head? Tap-out intentionally to see what predominantly transpires – they let go. After tapping-out, keep attacking and see what happens. Most often the other person, after letting go, will cry foul, stop fighting, complain, or call fairness issues because they submitted you already – exactly to the point. Practice deploying a hidden training weapon without being detected. Add a (subtle) element of fouls – skin-grabs, eye-brushing, groin-grazing, light-biting, even as solely a transition to something more impactful but to plant that “no-restrictions, flip-the-switch” mindset in your own brain. (nothing that will cause an escalation of hard feelings or resentment, just something subtle and under-the-radar for self-usage)

Change the range…invade space. Step on exposed-toes. Feign injury. Question their style or instructor. Add some intense verbal aggression. Swear. Don’t square-off, force an interview. Act unstable and irrational, be unpredictable. Serpentine movements. Odd angles. Step on dropped blades or attack him while he’s picking his up. Drag surrounding things laying about into the fray. Pin him in a corner. Use training gear as either a weapon itself or a tool to use against the wearer. (grab his trunks/gloves, metal/wooden weapons are weapons too, focus mitts can be great distraction-projectiles) Discuss how your style/system would fare out of its comfort zone and come up with some tactical ideas on how that could be averted for others trying to manipulate your own training. Real-life case studies where you superimpose your style into the scenario and measure (as unbiased as is possible) what flaws would’ve presented themselves. All these things can be used to off-balance, provoke, trigger, or otherwise disrupt/manipulate emotional stability….outside of class and if needed…but to be noted.

A short anecdote. I once had a student/friend who trained muay thai and MMA. Good fighter, authentically. He was telling me how he’s covered all the ranges and was becoming a “complete fighter”. (grappling, clinching, striking, kicking) I started explaining to him the thing about complete fighters, snarled viscerally while attacking him aggressively, clawing his face, and biting his shoulder before throwing him to the ground and lightly neck-cranking him. He admitted to freezing entirely and shutting-down. I mentioned that he hadn’t yet covered the “psychological range.”

How can you manipulate systems-training? Turning-the-tables on your regular thought processes is always healthy to tune-out from the scope you’ve adopted. Reverse-engineer and think from the other end sometimes. Bigger pictures are clearer pictures. Remember, as more and more people train in martial arts, more and more training scars are out there. It may not just be an untrained lacking-in-knowledge street-guy any longer that you could face. “Training” is no unique thing any longer.

THE THINKING RESPONDER – AN AVIATION ANALOGY

Running solely on instinct. Reacting and responding to danger, risk, conflict, and threat without thinking or with high-level conditioning, is what they’re telling you. Instinct is a reaction, not a proactive pre-event assessment. (and remember the truth is that most “events” are simply not of the ambush variety – thought they absolutely do exist, to be sure) That always sounds like a dangerous game to me. I’ve always felt like self-defense and violence are more than a little like flying a plane. (As an aside, I think the airline industry has other elements – like self-policing/accountability/multi-lateral consensus-building, etc.- that the self-defense could learn from but that’s another article entirely) Now, don’t get me wrong, we are blessed with a ton of actual survival-skill instincts from evolution – those things that rear their powerful heads when survival itself is in the balance. But that’s not how “instinct” is most often peddled in the self-defense industry. To define how it’s generally utilized by SD gurus the world over, let’s use this: “a conditioned (hugely-universal/cookie-cutter) response to a given dynamic, rapidly-changing, and intricate stimulus on a vastly sliding-scale of aggression, one that precludes thought or assessment or analysis or alternate solution.” There, how’s that. That’s how I most often understand it to mean by violence-professionals. So, in that light, my metaphorical dissertation on aviation, noting that I’m not a pilot nor an aviation expert, and am going on the minimal information I’ve researched.

In the airline industry, being on autopilot (which is inevitably what SD/MA instructors tell you is instinctive – the ultimate goal of training) always seem to assume by the public to mean that a computer is flying the plane all by its lonesome while pilot and co-pilot take a break. That’s not exactly true and the minutiae make all the difference. It doesn’t mean that things are running without human thought or situational-processing, it means there’s a mechanism in-place (in humans, we’re referring to intuition or instinct) that aids the pilot/co-pilot while they’re with split-attention on other areas of safety and efficiency.


Think of the cockpit as a human brain. Flying a plane manually (read: being on high-alert for extended, unnecessarily-long periods of time….much like stress or anxiety or paranoia or fear – note the correlation) is extremely-taxing and wears down human focus. That’s why the autopilot is implemented, so that the co-pilot and pilot can measure other areas of flight safety and efficiency in lower-stress compartments. So, as like violence preparation, if we’re “on” all the time, we’re depleting our resources and wasting valuable energy.

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Unlike generally what we see in the self-defense industry, the aviation industry has a self-policing, consensus-building, uniform approach to overall customer safety. When mishaps happen, studies are undergone and changes are immediately made to ensure the same won’t happen again. Cowboys with wild claims and inaccurate information are ousted quickly and decisively for the benefit of the industry.

Instinct and intuition are there to guide us, and can be cultivated or developed based on a number of intangibles: hard-wiring/evolution, experience, nature, social conditioning, training, and others. To me, they’re both innate – genetically-given. Conditioning (read: training) doesn’t provide real instinct. Instinct is already present. What training can do is to cultivate what’s already there, innately, develop it further. You can tweak it, but you can’t create it from scratch. For so long we’ve under-estimated human performance to the point that many claim we “only” have accessibility to gross-motor skillsets, “only” are capable of the most efficient of reactive-conditioning, “only” are capable of replicating the one-dimensional scenarios we replicate in the “dojo”. Science, physiology, and human-performance research have all proven this false, as have countless real-life case studies on human survival. It’s simply not true.

We humans are capable of extremely high-level processing under immense duress. Fine- and complex-motor skill. Adaptive capability. Advanced decision-making with multiple stimuli. (Not to mention what I stated above, that real instinct isn’t something built by training) For far too long, this has been misunderstood and regurgitated to the masses based on prior misinformation or outdated research. (we’re pretty familiar with a few of the most guilty parties) Gross-motor skills, one-dimensional thinking, instinctive conditioning, heart-rate charts, performance restrictions. New studies and cutting-edge fields are starting to prove this drastically wrong.

So, back to flying a plane. Autopilot, or intuition and instinct, are there to alleviate over-exertion of your survival senses. (Again, back to “look at what’s in front of you, not what your brain is telling you could be there “if”….facts, not guesswork) Programs running in the background so you don’t have to be jacked 24/7. (or, in the example above, when/if needed when-shit-hits-the-fan) They’re there so other choices can be made in other pertinent areas, until they’re actually needed and make themselves known in a big, blatant way. (authentic threat, survival, when under actual attack) It, a plane, at least as of yet, cannot land, take-off, take important safety or efficiency decisions, cannot prevent catastrophe. It’s a mechanism that’s been pre-programmed by humans with no adaptation, decision-making, or choice-acknowledgement. Like instinct. Instinct doesn’t factor in legal repercussions, social stigmas, financial damage, psychological trauma, human empathy, viable alternatives, calculate risks….it simply acts. Without taking into-consideration….well, anything.

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Think of the cockpit of an airplane working akin to a human brain under duress.

Here’s a clearer definition of instinct vs. conditioning, one that might shed some light on the idea of “making training instinctive”, as is so often claimed:

https://wikidiff.com/conditioning/instinct

Whatever aspect you take from this, whether it’s in the violence arena, or risk, conflict, safety, preservation….the goal should be to build and cultivate “thinking responders.” People who can read and understand unfolding scenarios and factor in all the incoming information before making a solid (or solid-enough, remember there is never only one “correct” way of doing a thing…) decision that facilitates their survival, avoidance, escape, resistance, cover, concealment, etc. Not reacting blindly. “Instinct” has become an industry buzzword, yet almost every time I’ve seen it utilized or watched it being pushed….it’s simply erroneous within the context of aggression. Context is deeply lacking, like it is so much of the time. Instinct, if replacing thought/analysis is what lands people in jail. Gets them killed. Escalates conflict. Assesses situations really poorly.

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Are you following them or allowing them to give you valid and accurate information with which to best make a tangible smart decision?

It’s been proven that we fallible humans can function quite effectively under duress and adapt to almost anything given even micro-time and micro-knowledge. We can alter-course mid-situation under explosive stress. We can make snap judgment calls on things where life hangs in the balance. “Fueled by instinct” is just not how I choose to go through my day and I hope the pilot on my next flight has fundamentals and pre-planned procedures in-place prior, that allow him/her to make the best decisions possible for my personal safety. If an engine blows, I’m not particularly interested in having Jim-the-Personal-Computer-Program dictate my outcome. Human-process may be flawed, but the levels of human stress performance have shown to be something of pure amazement. Maybe time we started training people with this in mind….

CONTEXT: THE INDUSTRY BUZZWORD IN-WAITING

If there’s not explicit context in your scenario, circumstance, or concept…it’s invalid. There. I said it. Really, I should end the article here but, alas, that would make me cryptic and mercurial.

Context is this amazingly-underused word that floats its way around the periphery of the industry. Really, it should become a buzz-word unto itself, replacing the likes of sheepdogs, Valhalla, judged by 12, and instinct. Yet when you ask a lot of folks what exactly that means, that “it” requires “context”, they act like they shouldn’t have to define it as it’s simply common-sense that everyone knows. (Thus, the “common”) Yet, as we find in monstrous volumes of martial arts and self-defense videos, articles, blogs, techniques, responses…..context seems to be the one major thing left out. Almost entirely. Yet it’s absolutely imperative for the student to understand the whos, whats, wheres, whens, and whys of why he/she’d be using that thing in the first place.

What circumstances brought this person to this particular situation. What time of day is it. Where, exactly, is it taking place. Why is it happening. What’s the tangible element that’s required by the interloper. What type of crime is this. How would de-escalating or avoiding or mitigating or terminating this scenario affect the greater outcome, regardless of what’s simply legal or admissible socially. What are repercussions and reverberating-effects of those actions. Do they fall within the realm of national/provincial/state/municipal law. Are there witnesses that may see this differently than you. Context takes away the general or universal and makes it specific and defined.

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Context is that little element that clarifies exactly why you’d be doing the thing that you’re being taught to do. And there are a ton of things that go into that action. Legal repercussions. Social acceptability. Collateral damage. Alternate options. To use a vast chasm of difference, what’s acceptable in prison on a long-term incarceration is probably not equally-acceptable against a drunk guy telling you he’s going to kick your ass is probably not equally-acceptable to the little old lady flipping you the bird in rush-hour traffic.

Why, exactly and in nauseating detail, would you choose to do what you’re doing. If context isn’t given (and given explicitly), ask. Ask intricate and detail-drawing questions that draw equally clear and precise answers. Any instructor should know this and be able to concisely explain it if he/she’s worth his/her salt. (If not, maybe that 5th stage of the learning cycle we often talk about – articulation – should be next on the priority list) Martial artists are noted for being generally context-free. Universal, general, one-size-fits-all solutions to complex, dynamic, rapidly-changing problems. Often hidden behind the claim that it’s “style”, “art”, “cultural”, “historical”, or “systemic” to justify the laziness or negligence that goes into not defining the problem clearly.

Murder videos where the instructor is showing off flashy artistic skills by cutting the throat of an offender who threw a right-cross….not contextually viable. Videos from the interview stage that have the “sucker-punching” the offender for telling him to fuck-off….also not contextually viable. Your instructor doing a 33-step complex drill and not knowing at all why, what skills it’s developing, and how it pertains to the focus of doing it….not either. You training to break the neck of a guy who called your girlfriend a whore….again, not contextu…well, you get the point. Yet tons of instructors don’t seem to.

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Not only all this from the negligence perspective, but on a more functional level, context gives clarity. It makes action more decisive. It allows students to develop adaptive, transferable, confident decisions on-the-fly (yes, it’s possible) and eliminates fear or self-doubt hesitation because they’ve had the parameters and intangibles defined. The more explicit the context, the less doubt and hesitation will exist. The more explicit the context, the more self-confidence and calm and discipline the student will show when it’s needed….including in the pre-conflict or preventative stages. It’s not a “good idea”, it’s the foundation on which viable, real-world fundamentals are built. Demand it. I ask my students to…it holds me accountable and forces me to know precisely why I’m doing and teaching everything I’m doing and teaching. I’m providing a service, and a relatively important one that demands detail due the dynamic interactive social construct my optional, fluid solutions are built on. You owe your students context, and you better know it intimately….without them constantly needing to ask you.

THE OBLIGATORY R.O.E. P.S.A., F.F.S.

So many will tell the average civilian that “there are no rules and everything goes in a street fight!” Well, not exactly. (Yes, there are, and lawyers, judges, juries, law enforcement, human resources, financial statements, society, and your post-event mind will fill you in later if you’re determined to remain uninformed) This is such a tedious, boring topic by now you’d think we’d be past needing to discuss it…but here we are. Still, daily, we see the tough-guy rhetoric on laying the boots to someone who “attacked” them or fucked with their space-bubble.

In the self-defense industry, the term ROE is often bandied about with reckless abandon, as are so many old-school cliches in the counter-violence industry. It pays to go over every one with a fine-tooth comb to see if they’re still credible….or ever were. “ROE” simply means “rules-of-engagement”, those either verbal, unconscious, accepted, social, legal, or contextual stipulations dictated by what’s inevitably dueling. or match-fighting, or cockfighting, or ego-based combat…whatever term floats your boat. (Of note, your agreeing in-principle to participate in violence or combat – something (dueling/match-fighting) that is in itself, in many countries, illegal…is moot) Let’s use the official military term and see how it translates to civilian-combat. ” Rules of engagement (ROE) are the internal rules or directives among military forces (including individuals) that define the circumstances, conditions, degree, and manner in which the use of force, or actions which might be construed as provocative, may be applied.” That’s pretty specific and aligns pretty well, I’d say. (So, even military forces abroad with hostile enemies have….rules and such)

For many hardened combat veterans and hardcore martial arts instructors, you’ll often hear a mentality of no-gloves, no-rules, and vicious down-and-dirty solutions to all sliding-scale-of-force circumstances….may they be verbal threat, aggressive body posture, stare, push, or shoulder-brush. How fucking dare you. The audacity. My response will be vicious and ongoing until the threat (perceived/varied/scaled) has subsided. But, as always, there’s a catch. A whole ton of intangibles that act as satellites around every situation.

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So, where does this mentality come from. What places of insecurity. Well, there are various areas where this cavalier cowboy approach comes across in the martial arts or self-defense world:

  1. “Othering” and ignorance of subjective perception. An “us-vs.-them” mentality. That all opposition to us is by clearly-marked differences in scope – we’re the good guys, they’re bad. We citizens, they criminals. We being “in-the-right”, they being, of course then, “in-the-wrong”, as should be clear to all present-and-accounted-for. (alternate perception of witnesses can be an awful disassociation from yours) Assumes that we’re always pure, moral, ethical, shining examples of all things above-water and the other person, well, not. Also assumes that “criminals” (are they all?) are inhuman, lacking similarities or motives or behaviors in any way that we – or others – can relate to.
  2. Superiority. “That won’t work in a street fight.” “Sport mentality for street circumstances.” “I’d just pull a knife if you tried that jiujitsu shit on me.” Industry people being deeply-insecure about another style/art/method/system that goes against where they’ve focused and invested their precious time. Assumes that greater aggression is always needed against any level of even mild aggression or conflict and that all situations are of the purely-lethal variety. *We should note that rules-of-engagement are used extensively in all martial arts or self-defense classes as well: tapping, mutually-agreed-upon contact level, protective-gear, safety of all combatants, no intentional hitting during drills, protective surfaces, controlled levels of resistance, etc. (So it’s hypocritical that so many martial artists promote the one-size-fits-all approach to conflict and tell you that rules don’t exist when they adhere to them themselves dogmatically. If they tell you the circumstances are different as it’s “training”, we can debate later then the disconnect of most martial arts classes to street violence anyway)
  3. Sheepdogs. We fighters are the protectors of all creatures innocent, vulnerable, and stupid. Only the sheepdog can match the wolf and fight their game. Or only a good wolf willing to use violence (sigh) can match a bad wolf. Assumes that regular people that don’t train in organized martial arts or take ongoing self-defense classes are dumb and utterly incapable of defending themselves in any way in spite of evolution and mindset.

Inevitably these are the 3 corners (the real “OSS.” triangle?) of where the industry’s inaccurate ROE-abandoning mentality stem from. All are wildly inaccurate and contextually-fallible. If any of these 3 are used as club maxim or to be incorporated into your daily outlook on all things problematic, I’d suggest looking for another club. (Maybe just me…)

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So, moving on to the real-world. What role do ROE play in even a knock-down-drag-’em-out street-fight over something trivial? Well, it should be noted that what seems relatively innocuous can change in a quick heartbeat due to unforeseen circumstances. Some specific examples:

-a fight may be just a fight….until adrenaline gets the best of you and you kick that person in the head 6 times when they’re already unconscious. What was a simple fight may now be a murder- or assault-charge. What started off as self-defense…may not be so any longer.

-matching excessive use-of-force as the first response to a generally low-level threat approach. As we stated in the “Context” article, pulling a knife and cutting the other person’s throat after a right-cross will put you in jail even if he initiated the confrontation, I can assure. That’s true even here in Costa Rica, the perceived (and poorly-coined “Third-World.”

-following someone who pissed you off in traffic for 6 blocks and cornering them in an alley-way for an educational beatdown…will likely not be seen as a self-defense scenario. By anyone. At least anyone that matters to your freedom, pocket-book, or new rap sheet.

-hunting someone down the following weekend for stealing your tire might not be legally-covered.

Now we’ve given some specific context regarding what would be perceived as “rules” in combat-engagement. Let’s bullet-point them for clarity:

  1. Continuing to attack an opponent when they’re not longer a threat.
  2. Utilizing a much higher use-of-force for the type of threat existent, up to and including deploying a weapon in low-level threat circumstances
  3. Pursuing an offender post-incident for retribution or payback.
  4. Generally, any type of educational beat-down where the opponent is either not fighting back or fighting back minimally/futilely.
  5. Overwhelming a far weaker, handicapped, older, slower, smaller, less-aggressive, untrained opponent. (Training, size, experience, sex, and power CAN be a double-edged sword even if not the aggressor or initiator, as tons of case-studies will prove)
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In many countries, including this one (perceived to be “3rd-World” and “undeveloped”), to prove self-defense in a court-of-law, one needs to adhere to the AOIP tenet, that there’s:

-ability: the person confronting you is bigger, stronger, faster, more capable, trained, reputation for violence precedes them/has a history of violence, more aggressive, etc.

-opportunity: they’re within proximity/range, present, in-country, within driving-distance, know where you live/work, etc.

-intent: they’ve stated, made public, intimated, shared that they’re going to do harm to you, explicitly and without convolution.

-preclusion: while the other 3 are opponent-focused, this one’s on you. Have you done everything in your power to prevent violence from being the only solution to the conflict. De-escalated verbally or otherwise, attempted to leave, have a way out, escape, or otherwise demonstrate that fighting is not your preferred way of solving this particular issue.

Many, many countries have this same tenet, regardless of whether worded differently, points added, or slight alterations. This most often tends to be the base. If any of these aren’t present and accounted-for, you may have some problems proving a self-defense case in a court-of-law. Now, to the endgame, if you run the risk of losing financially (losing the court battle), legally (jail-time, criminal-record, travel- and potential work-restrictions), socially (social-status & stigmas, loss of marriage/children), or psychologically/emotionally (PTSD, therapy, guilt, shame)….would it pay to invest in education on those rules, or do grownups still play Wild-West cowboys….

For some reason, looking around, I see this stuff being simply part of procedure in the gun community, for the most part. It’s an accepted element of curriculum. Yet, in the martial arts/combatives world it’s largely neglected to feed the narrative of fear-mongering, image, and projection. I’d say another area where the gun community is light years ahead of the hand-to-hand and non-projectile weapons arena when it comes to real-world problem-solving.

I realize this entire article will likely be perceived as boring, repetitive, and unsexy. And it is! Damn right! Yet many of us continue to regurgitate this information due to the masses who spew otherwise and feed this myth to their unknowing students who rely on them to impart law, context, and justification. It should be moot by now yet, again, here we are. I (again) feel obligated to issue this public-service anouncement. Strangely, most gun/firearms people use this as a base for their programs. It’s a fundamental necessity, unlike the often fantasy-filled martial arts/combatives world. Pity we’re not on to bigger and more enthralling play toys yet.

SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY – WHAT “DON’T BE A DICK” ACTUALLY MEANS

Varg wrote a great post a couple of days ago regarding someone who left their car at the pumps after filling-up while going inside to use the restroom, order food, get some snacks, and look around. (blocking-off that pump entirely for the customers behind) It drew a ton of attention, and justifiably so, but it left me wondering how many people who liked it actually understood the bigger picture of what it meant with regards to personal behavior. I thought it brought up a great point on one’s social responsibility to act innocuously in public and with some responsibility for one’s affecting actions…all with having the byproduct of lessening conflict-risk. I’m going to paraphrase one of my responses here to get to the point I’m trying to make:

This is going to seem alien to many who thrive on drama, live for conflict, or generally try their best to piss on someone’s Corn Flakes (*trademarked by Kellogg’s/product-placement rewarded) whenever able, but I actively seek out social situations where I can subtly and quietly make things easier for others by doing my part to be socially responsible. Generally, by simply not being a dick. Many talk about “don’t be a dick” being a staple in modern self-defense/personal protection but few seem to actually know what that entails or how to go about it. How it’s referred to by many is in the vein of not treating people badly, offending others unnecessarily, not acting without decorum and escalating unnecessary conflict. But it’s much more than that, and most of this refuses to acknowledge the preventative aspect, the things that actually circumvent the need for de-escalation or disconnecting skills. It’s as much about “dos” as it is about “don’ts”.

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I’ll give some examples. I take the express/less-than-10-items lane at the grocery store when applicable. I use my turn-signal to alert other vehicles that I’m going to actually do so. I park within the little white lines so I’m not taking up 2 spots. I don’t park in handicap even if it means (sweet Jesus) that I’m going be walking an extra 300 meters. When I leave a line to grab a forgotten item, I go to the back of the line. I put my shit on my lap on the bus when It’s filling up. When I go through the ATM drive-through or do my personal banking, I organize my wallet after I move my car and park it off to the side or step out of the active line. I let old people take my spot on the train or bus. I try not to tailgate whenever possible. Say “please” and “thank you” whenever I can to show grace and appreciation. Apologize when I slip and am that dick I work at not being. Etc. etc. etc., ad infinitum.

As a side benefit, I actually find it to be cathartic for a lot of the stupid shit I’ve done in the past that’s caused the reverse and escalated conflict entirely unnecessarily. It also flies under-the-radar, which makes me feel good for not being that dick that needs good deeds to be publicly acknowledged and omni-viewed by others to have egocentric validity.

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I have never actually thought these things as being necessary or in need of being taught, as I thought it was generally a nature vs. nurture (or some fine combination thereof) issue that’s generally pre-conditioned before people come to me…yet now it got me wondering. Wondering how many times simple good manners, social etiquette, and basically being well-educated has kept people out of trouble..and the reverse being true with those without….and about whether they have a place in personal protection instruction.

OF LEGACIES, MOUSE-HOLES, AND SILENT TREES

This topic is, and is always, a hard pill to swallow when I talk about it with long-time martial arts instructors, heads-of-style, masters, experts, and title-hunters. While many of these types in the industry think on future remembrance, perpetuating style or system and building lineage, creating a name that will last the ages, and finding heirs to hand their vaunted method down to….the rest of the world ignores.

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Whether we like to admit it or not, in the grand scheme of things, as the world turns….we’re pretty irrelevant. This is still a micro-industry in comparison to so many others. A very small piece of the pie. Yet many have a self-importance that borders on delusional. Comparing themselves in title to long-time academics and intellectuals and industry-leaders, fields of far superior importance world-wide, and a lineage that you’d think was comparative to Roman dynasties. The reality is that, in the big, big world, we are generally unimportant and maybe it’s time we started accepting that uncomfortable fact.

Part of the truth, as well, is that we think personal safety is so utterly important in the big picture…and it is, to a great extent. But most people, truthfully, have long tuned-out the martial arts master, indomitable systems, and even the increasingly-cloudy “self-defense” world. We don’t like to admit or acknowledge it, but I’ve talked to many, many people who’d never find themselves in the stereotypical martial arts dojo or MMA gym…clubs either dripping with machismo and elitism, or traditional/cultural martial arts that often recreate a specific historical incarnation of culture that has zero to do with modern personal-protection. We are generally only hugely-important by those who suckle at our teet of own-importance….or in our small corner mouse-hole of a global mansion. It’s a hard truth, but a reality-based one.

Most normal citizens tend to think we’re grown men re-enacting our little-boy youth, playing fantasy, and indulging in ego-centric back-patting. (Is it often far from the truth?) Ridiculous self-important exotic titles, quick certificates, 2-day instruction courses, camo pants, outlandish claims, gimmick-advertising…all contribute to this image. I was once told by a jiujitsu instructor I called that if I was training at a secondary location and showed them any of their techniques, he’d break my arm. Watched an aikido instructor intimidate his wife during class to the point she admitted to us that was a teddy-bear when “out-of-character” but was actually scared of him while teaching. Talked to witnesses that have seen first-hand, multiple instructors engage in sexual harassment, inappropriate behavior with students, and drinking during class hours. One of my old training partners is in jail on rape charges. Clubs scurrying to give themselves greater importance by changing their name to combatives, or reality-based self-defense, or combat martial arts or whatever latest fad is selling tickets these days – a “get-them-in-the-door-at-all-costs” mentality. These are a handful of the things I’ve seen over the years.

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This allll is absorbed by the public, even if it’s the exception and not the rule (it’s not), and, coupled with all the misinformation, false claims, and disconnect from reality, drives the majority of people away, if we’re being truly honest. And the common belief that we just need to try different marketing, convince “them” more definitively, or explain how important “martial training” is for their personal well-being, is most often untrue and mis-diagnosed. (Most martial arts instructors struggle mightily to find students unless they have a gimmick, and a tweak in approach or marketing is often only temporary and fleeting) They, the public, do, indeed, know how important safety is…they just don’t believe that they’ll glean that knowledge from the neighborhood/corner traditional martial arts club. They often believe they’ll be just fine on their own. Which makes all this jockeying for position, ensuring enduring legacy, stepping on those on the way up the ladder to industry-importance, ego-trips….moot in the real-world (where it actually matters). So then, we must ask ourselves, if a martial arts instructor calls himself a supreme grand-master or final-expert-on-all-things-fighting in the woods, and nobody’s there to believe it….or even care if he actually is…does it actually matter….

MENTALITY & PHYSICALITY

There are 2 things that, personally, I find imperative to “success” in the physical counter-violence side of things. Mentality, how your mental resolve is to conquer violence, and physical conditioning. You can make up for a lot of absent technique, systemic training, and martial prowess with these 2. A lot.

MENTALITY.

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I break down mentality into 2 usual areas, states and mindset. States are the daily fluctuations in current mood. Anger. Sadness. Tiredness. Frustration. Distraction. Generally how your mind-talk is affecting your current state. They’re constantly in a state-of-flux throughout the day due to the rapidly-changing incoming stimuli that we all have coming in. Different points of the day draw different states due to a ton of variables: fight with the wife, long day at the office, sitting in rush hour traffic, a million things to get done, death in the family, school calling for child misbehavior, poor night’s sleep, etc. etc. etc.

Note that these fluctuating states also affect the physiology of your body as well. Oftentimes drastically. Tension in the shoulders, deterioration in peripheral vision/head stops moving side-to-side, rapid and often negative thought processes, feet stop moving, posture-changes, altered breathing, quick knee-jerk reactions.

The second is mindset, your overall view of utilizing violence. The when, where, why, how, who, and for what. The more clear, detailed, and precise the picture, the less indecisiveness and hesitation present.

-When would it be required? Under what circumstances? Does time-of-day matter? Do witnesses or potential witnesses make a difference? Is location a factor? The presence of potential 3rd-party aggressors? Mis-reading the situation and the dynamics of the people involved?

-Who would you defend or protect? Family? Random strangers in a good Samaritan position? A woman in an escalating conflict with her significant other? A robbery victim? A friend who’s instigating with his mouth at the bar? A dog, child, or senior?

-Why would it be required..or not? Under what circumstances? Potentially-lethal outcome? Much weaker party on the receiving end? Your moral perception of who’s wrong and who’s right/moral high-ground? Is it your business to intervene? What are the consequences of involvement? Is your family with you and would you participate if it meant their involved-risk or endangerment as collateral damage or a byproduct?

-How is it best implemented, if you decide to involve yourself? Direct physical confrontation? Video? Taking down notes or noting information so as to be the best possible witness? Calling law-enforcement? Trying to gain/rally crowd support for group assistance?

As you can see, there are a lot of complex questions involvement brings up, ones that we can ask ourselves prior for clarity of mind. With new scientific study, personal-involvement or good-samaritanism are often foregone conclusions in that they’re done reflexively or instinctively, not consciously. However, by giving yourself some concrete direction, that instinct or reflex may be given pre-event intel with which to gauge situations in the seconds leading up or making that instinctive choice more unconsciously informed.

PHYSICAL CONDITIONING.

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As a lot of street violence is of the ambush variety, meaning unplanned and not agreed-to, we’re not referring to dueling. Acknowledging that, a strong counter-ambush has a much better chance at succeeding with a tank full of gas, and the confidence that you know it’s full, to lean back on. Though it was dueling, I used to focus heavily on my stamina. Sometimes “physicality” can be the equal of physical conditioning/stamina/endurance – the will to be physical.

Remember the old saying, “fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Now, I don’t believe that “coward” is a fair coining, but unlike what so many martial arts instructors will tell you, it’s not a tool that super-charges martial technique. It’s a tool that allows mindset, physicality, aggression, audacity to accelerate and build. That full tank of gas gives confidence and security that the counter-ambush can be boosted, continued…and escalated….until the job is done. We used to call it “levels-of-aggression.” Sparring or fight-training could be as tame or aggressive as was agreed-upon. If it elevated (through intensity, friendly competition, or sometimes even through offense, anger, or frustraton), could you match the intensity and pace of your opponent? At what point was enough? Too much? What pacing and “aggression-distribution” and momentary-acceleration spotting weakness/vulnerability do you need when it’s you playing with more than one person? Regardless of how intense you train, real-violence is a higher-level yet.

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I’ve found that the best, most difficult people I played with had a blending or melding of both in equal parts – intensity of aggression and the pace to see it through. If you can put someone on the defensive with high-pressure and do so indefinitely….you’re most often just fine, training or not…and we see this play out in many case studies and real-life violence videos. The training and conditioning that I’ve experienced, for me, very much holds true to that axiom as well.

POSITIVE TRIGGERS: THE FORGOTTEN SIBLING

Just a quick note to remind you that “triggers” seems to solely have negative connotations everywhere. Always controlling and self-regulating and containing our own personal triggers. It’s a four-letter word in an 8-letter body. I so very rarely hear any correlation with positivity, yet triggers can be just that…positive triggers are a thing.

Does seeing a picture of a past vacation with your loved ones not “trigger” positive mental images? A connective group of sensations that take you back to that time? Smells, mental pictures, kinesthetic or tactile feelings that you remember? How are they set? Well, though not the scope of this article (maybe a later one…), it can be a keepsake, a physical reminder, a picture carried in your wallet, a favorite song, a visual that you pass-by every morning, a written note on your hand, almost anything, an act like pinching the webbing between your thumb and index finger, a word or phrase…as long as it has an anchor that reminds of that which we’re trying to change for the positive.

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How about little personal rituals that we partake in every day. Deep breaths, stretches, stances, body positions or postures, tones-of-voice, looks that we give that immediately change our state and intended message? Positive triggers to change our mood or confidence or the particular message we project to others.

Now, I’m not referring to any neuro-linguistic quackery, just daily (often) unconscious things we do to alter our current state, give a jolt of confidence, prevent negative triggers (or changing negative ones into positive ones) from clicking-in, get ourselves under-control, or remember times where we most enjoyed life. Neural-connectors to anchor or link in a different set-of-mind or reverse traditionally-negative stimuli. (i don’t think I need to nauseatingly ad-lib on the impact these could have on self-defense or the general self-confidence we glean in life that prevents us from needing self-defense skills) We use them daily, many of us…yet negativity seems to get all the press. Shame. Keep in mind that “triggers” isn’t always a bad word.

PATTERN ALTERATION vs. PARANOIA ALTERATION

We, in the self-defense industry, often stress changing patterns. Driving patterns to work. Stores we shop at. Haunts. Weekly routines and times. Check for tails. Actively look for strange driving behavior. Take note of faces that you see more than once. Pay attention to high vantage-possibilities and entry points. Really, why?!! If nothing’s happening, you’re not in the professional counter-violence industry, no one’s after you, you’re not in illegal trouble with powerful enemies, and THERE’S NO LEGITIMATE REASON TO DO THIS….why the hell is this advice always given?!!

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If your life or location is not high-risk and not in constant danger, and you live in the ‘burbs, just bloody live it. You’ll be just fine. Focus that paranoia on where it might be better-off being….are you paying enough attention to your loving wife and attention-asking kids? Interacting enough with the folks as they age? Reaching out to valued friends you haven’t heard from for a while? You’re not Jason Bourne or John Wick….hell, the majority of you aren’t even the traffic cop or neighborhood pub bouncer. Bloody hell, you’re not even the shifty vacuum-cleaner salesperson that just ripped off that nice couple on Berman Avenue. Just. live. life. Repeat as needed until it is, actually, needed.

Here’s a bit of advice: look at things, not for them. Make deductions from what’s present, not what’s not. The tangible, not the imaginary. If you’re conscious and cognizant and something’s off, you’ll know and your sensors will go off. If nothing is, your constant searching elevates blood-pressure, heart-pressure, paranoia, anxiety, psychological disorders, unnecessary fear – which all lead to far greater internal enemies than the invisible one you’re constantly searching for. At, not for. “If needed”, not “just because”.

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