All posts by Darren


There are a lot of similarities in the grooming-cycle between narcissists and sociopaths and both have many similarities and overlap to predatory behavior and predators themselves – who will often be narcissists or sociopaths. I have intimate knowledge of the first two, studied the third intensely over the years. They may be of the “new person in your life” variety or within your very family construct. Regardless, the progression is extremely subtle, even for the sharpest minds…at times, completely invisible. Remember, this is from my experience – yours may be different. I have not researched much on this outside of my living in the midst of it and reflecting back on that living experience.

Gaslighting. They both make you consistently feel like your perception is off and things are not at all what you originally thought they were. They skew your perceived view of reality and make you question or doubt your own sanity, coherence, and state-of-mind. This includes expecting you to go along with their gas-lighting of others as to outward appearances, material wealth, perfection of the nuclear family. (all innocently, of course, in a “keep up with the Joneses” manner. You can become paranoid and insecure in a hurry with both.

Gifts. To distract from their behavior or manipulations, they’ll buy you lots of things, spend money on you, and buy your unconscious compliance. They believe they can overshadow their narcissism or agenda by appealing to your material or flattered side.

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Guilt. Here’s where I’ve noticed a difference, in hindsight. Whenever you call out or react with hostility at the tactics or a narcissist, they crumble, put on a show, becoming exorbitantly over-emotional, and try to make you feel awful for mistreating them as it was never their goal to hurt or offend you. They can feign support when they subtly intimate things that cause you guilt, remorse, or shame. A sociopath is cold, unbending, and utilizing denial. They return to the gaslighting and show care and love to reinforce your original loyalty towards them, stating emphatically how much you mean to them and how they’d never do anything to hurt you.

Victimhood. Both will play the pity card any chance they get when feeling they’re being exposed or narrowed in on. They’re always the center-of-attention and always find a way to take the spotlight off the actual victim and make it about them. They’re the main sufferer and protagonist when something happens with their partner, child, parent, or sibling. They prey upon this and are masters at manipulating the narrative. However, narcissists lay blame at the feet of others wherever and whenever possible. Their therapist doesn’t understand them. Their family is mean to them by cutting them off. If only things weren’t the way they were, they’d be better. Everybody abandoned them. Their loved ones are what makes them miserable. Sociopaths do so in a more biting way, to wear-away the fabric of their victim’s self-confidence. Side-handed insults. Critiques. Planted rumors to others. Cutting comments.

Isolation. Sociopaths are exceptionally gifted at isolating you from your loved ones and those that will point-out what’s happening. In actuality, even minimal accessibility plays into their charade as you’ve often become so co-dependent on the manipulator that anyone doubting or questioning your relationship immediately becomes the enemy and someone trying to damage your loving relationship. A narcissist isolates in different ways, gaining your time and emotional investment by hiding their flaws and covering for them, making it seem like you’ve voluntarily taken away time from other loved ones to tend to their weak and vulnerable state.

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Over-reliance. Narcissists prevent you from developing intestinal fortitude, resilience, and independence as much as possible. They intentionally prevent you from learning about life’s healthy struggle, making you dependent on them and under your wing. It also comes from a different place….insecurity. You can’t always gain attention without useful tools that can help make you a satellite to their pain or pride. Sociopaths add to your struggle. They want to subtly see you suffer and break you apart mentally, emotionally, and psychologically over time. Sometimes it’s for personal-gain, others it’s simply the power of knowing they can break-apart someone otherwise strong and confident. They take joy in the omnipotence of their ability to dismantle that self-confidence and inner-strength.

Tribalism. Narcissists stress the “family-unit” and act like there’s an unequivocal united-front in all things. They will not, however, openly go to bat for you, will scheme behind-the-scenes to sabotage you, and inevitably hang you out to dry when you feel you can count on them most. Sociopaths, too, promote tribe and family-unity, but at a moment’s notice can dissolve that dynamic with lies, deceit, and seed-planting, making you feel abandoned and ostracized when the need arises for their goals. And they won’t let you all the way in…something will be held above your head to keep you at-bay, knowing they’ll be leaving a train-wreck behind at some point and cutting-ties.

Antipathy. Both have an extremely hard time being authentic as they project a facade so often they find it difficult to authentically show empathy to the pain of others. They study that pain so that they can project it outwards to others, in the case of the narcissist, to gain sympathy for their own victimhood as they crave attention and pity, in the case of the sociopath to further goals and motivations. They both feign empathy extremely well, though there’s an insincerity about it that often goes overlooked by the actual victim…but it’s there, present and accounted-for.

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Aggression. Narcissists exhibit passive-aggression in the form of sabotage, truth-manipulation, and partial-truths. They will black-list you quietly and, upon discovery, apologize without genuineness, not knowing exactly what it is they’re apologizing for when grilled. Sociopaths are a little different animal here. They can convince others to do their revenge bidding should vindictiveness boil over. Intimidate subtly (eg. standing over you while sleeping, brandishing a weapon in a subtly-threatening manner). Get people within your dual sphere to conspire against you and alienate you….or become aggressive in their own right. Death threats. Middle-of-the-night silent phone calls. Remember, if they can gaslight, manipulate, con, or hypnotize you….they can certainly do it to other people against you as well.

Money. Both like the outward-perception of doing well. They like their material things, the projection that they’re well-off, showing-off new toys. I’ve found, however, that narcissists can be very good with money, very capable of balancing budgets and saving, and restraining themselves when needed. Sociopaths tend to go the other way. They are not good with money, buy often on impulse, and can siphon money out of joint bank-accounts pretty quietly while using some of the same tacts above – gaslighting, denial, lies, etc.

Recklessness. Narcissists, from my experience, are not reckless as outward-perceptions are so important. They do not want to ruin the facade and exposure runs the risk of preventing others from that pity, empathy, and attention they so need. Prim and proper is the game. Sociopaths are more reckless, with sex, money (as mentioned), affiliations. They play with fire far more and become bored with their current status-quo after a time – they cycle and repeat patterns over and over.

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Opportunity. They both profile well instinctively. They know when someone fits their description and they learn quickly the weak links in the chain. They see victimization possibility from early-on, thus the grooming strategies. The bigger the fish, the greater the challenge, but there have to be certain traits available that open the door. Insecure. Low self-esteem. Simple. Moral. Decent. An “in”..

Patterns. I should be clear that both narcissists and sociopaths are completely capable of functioning under-the-radar in society for lengthy periods of time. They can raise families, hold jobs, be pseudo-responsible parents, protecting and caring for loved ones…even show their version of love in their way and within their capability. There will always be something lacking in the authentic sense and they each have their own way of breaking the boredom of “normal urban living”…but they keep up the charade for an exponentially long time before needing to break routine again.

As you can see, there’s a lot of overlap here with child-grooming and relationship-grooming, and flat-out predatory behavior….as there would be. This is not an exhaustive list, just the elements that I’ve experienced first-hand. You may have experienced others. This, however, can be a template of signs to recognize for loved ones, your children, female (or male) members of your family or circle, or others you see in situations similar. If you’ve got a number on this checklist, pay attention, it’s not coincidental. Go with your gut. I learned a lot the hard-way, even in spite of a strong support-staff; this was not easy to write, trust me. In the end, I uncovered both, developed powerful strategies to manage and keep them at-bay, and set clear-and-reinforced boundaries….but it took years. I always say, though, in the end, by learning the intricacies of the game, even by learning it the hard way…you learn to control the game…though sometimes at a very high cost.


I come out of the house in the morning and approach my car. I take a quick look to make sure the tires are full of air. Check the oil and transmission fluid. Make sure there’s enough gas in the car, with gas to spare should I break-down somewhere or a strike prevents future random fill-ups. I let the engine warm up for a short time before moving.

I lock my doors. Buckle myself into my seat-belt. Check my rear-view mirrors and shoulder-check before I start backing out of my parking-space, testing my brakes as I go to make sure they’re working fine. I continue to do this as I back-up past the neighbor’s driveway and out the gate onto our side-road. All these are routine by now, after 30 years of driving, procedural. They’re not paranoia-inducing, they’re just soft-wired at this point. Via minimal training and a whole ton of experience. Daily procedures I do that exponentially increase my chances of not having an incident.

When I get out the gate, I look both ways for dual-lane traffic moving in opposite directions before I move onto the street, utilizing my signal-lights and giving as much congruent body-language I’m able to let the other cars know my plans in-advance so they can either continue unabated or adapt if necessary. (Most, too, have learned to read the tells of others both from their eyes, rear-view mirrors, head-and-hand movement, or vehicle micro-movements, I’m not at all unique in this)

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While in-traffic, I’m experienced-enough to split my attention (remember, attention can be split, focus not so much) on numerous things that may come to my attention: erratic drivers, sudden lane-changes, accidents and police-stops up-ahead, movement-blockages, heated moments between other motorists that may develop, body language of other drivers beside/in front-of/behind me, etc. etc. If there’s nothing of-note, I continue on my leisurely way. If it’s something that might be of-note, I pay greater attention to it as it unfolds to see if it’s important or plan-altering. Many times it turns into nothing, in fact, the majority of times considering how many times we do this when leaving the house in a vehicle and how often we’re out-and-about. So, I carry on my way.

Note that I’m never in paranoia-mode or unnecessarily-stressful (breathe…what better place to find your rhythm and put theory into practice?), and this is generally ranked as one of the worst places to drive in the world. There’s minimal driving-culture, no driver’s education, law-enforcement who are lackadaisical (at best) in enforcing traffic violations, and a passive-aggressive culture that often takes their aggression out on the roadways. This IS the #1 threat to my personal safety in this country, if I’m being honest – driving. Road rage, reckless and inexperienced driving, suddenly changing conditions (heavy rain, for instance), the majority of criminal tactics are with moving vehicles, motorcycle-robberies, heavy traffic-jams, sudden strikes, accidents. #1 by far….and driving is not optional for me.

On top of that, I take the safety elements that I CAN control into my own hands. I make sure to at least try to be a good citizen and obey traffic laws and road-signs. I signal when I’m turning. I drive defensively. I limit my reactions and interactions to other perturbed drivers. I try very hard not to cut people off. I don’t tailgate. I pay attention to pedestrian-crossings and stop if need-be. I brake for uncontrolled train-crossings. I try sincerely to slow-down when a light turns amber if I’m not already part-way through it. In a nutshell….I stay in my lane. (a phrase to remember) It’s also worth noting that, after that 30 years of experience, I have a pretty clear idea of what pratfalls to look for, don’t waste my time on tons of things that aren’t worthy of my attention, and the vast majority of this is running “in-the-background”…like an anti-virus software on my PC.

When something occurs, it’s not that it’s instinctual or unconscious…it’s that my perceptual filters have seen and been involved in such an array of diverse obstacles, dangers, risks, threats, and safety-concerns on the road that I’m analyzing, processing, orienting, deciding, and acting far quicker than someone with a fraction of that/those experience/experiences. (whether before or during a potential incident) Time-lag – when things seem to happen in slow-motion, so the more ahead of the event you see, the more reaction-time you have, the greater the chance of avoidance or evasion. Experience, exposure, environment, and others dictate this ability to perceive things happening slower than they are. It is intuitive (from that experience/those experiences) – not instinctive (hard-wired, evolutionary)…a differentiation often confused by so many. It’s quite amazing….the volume of options we’re presented with – turning, swerving, braking, accelerating, reversing…yet we do all this within fractions of a second and with inches to spare. Effectively. Sufficiently. Daily.

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I can even, at times, actually divert a small part of my attention to other things like talking with my passengers, listening to music, noticing passing things and people, seeing places I’d like to eat, playing mental games with my son, counting dogs or birds we pass on the way to school, or briefly thinking on things I need to get done during my day. Translation – enjoy my time on the road.

How many elements mentioned above to you think could be transferred to personal preservation – whether literally or metaphorically? I bet more than a few….look it over again.


Sometimes industry-norms need to be challenged and re-visited. The now uber-overused “situational and environmental awareness” terms are in need of such revision. There’s a lot of value in these terms, admittedly, but it seems the longer and more that terms get thrown around within the industry, the more convoluted, catch-all, and misinterpreted they become. (To be clear, we’re talking about risk, danger, threat, safety….not actual violence itself. Think of these terms as all the things potentially leading-up to an interview/evasion/escape/concealment/cover/or violence itself) So, as “Have situational awareness”, “Be aware of your environment” get thrown around more-and-more, it seems fewer people actually know what they mean, how and when to utilize them, and think they know what they’re looking at. More and more we’re seeing these terms used as a generalized cookie-cutter approach for paranoia and anxiety, perpetuating an ongoing hyper-vigilance in martial arts and self-defense students alike along the way. What to be aware of, what universal signs there are, to be constantly vigilant on coming dangers, looking everywhere for pre-incident indicators and ritual signs of pending violence. Unnnnhealthy.

Have we ever thought what this mentality might bring? Like long-term health problems? Unhealthily-high levels of stress? A general forgetfulness to enjoy the moment with the loved ones we’re with? A fear of one’s shadow? Looking constantly for bogeymen? We often seem to have forgotten to see things that are important in-place of looking forever for things that aren’t there. That glitch in the matrix that stands out. The oddity that isn’t normal for the environment or circumstance. Something that catches your attention as peculiar and incongruent. (which is exactly ‘why’ it catches your attention in the first place) But instead of looking for what’s out-of-place….when it’s out-of-place….there seems to a permeating sentiment to analyzing everything in our situation or environment, scouring every single detail for something that might not fit on the chance that singularity will show up and screw with our day’s peace.

Situational or environmental awareness has seemingly become synonymous with a constant coherence of your circumstances. Back-to-the-wall in a restaurant. Closest-to-exit in the office. Weapons at-the-ready when in public. Constant assessments of body-language. (Everyone’s a micro-expressions, proxemics, and corporal-expert nowadays because you can certified in a week now, don’tcha know) Strange glances and eye-contact that’s too long. What side of the sidewalk to be on. And so-on-and-so-forth ad infinitum.

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How human beings process the information they’re presented-with regarding those risks, dangers, threats, safety-issues. Endsley’s model of SA. This is a synthesis of versions she has given in several sources, notably Endsley (1995a) and Endsley et al (2000). Drawn by Dr. Peter Lankton, May 2007

I like this diagram. Again, from the aviation industry, where risk-assessment with regularity is the norm and constant re-evaluation is part of the construct. Also, as it pertains to the self-defense industry, this is why it pays not to be constantly vigilant and perpetually looking for things that simply aren’t there (and over-taxing your nervous system and long-term healthy)….but notice things that are actually of-importance when/if they occur. The current-model of “tactical” situational awareness, formulaic “what-to-look-fors”, and pre-incident indicator regurgitation is outdated, as with soooo many other things. Each case – own volition – own merit.

First, the aviation industry is (generally) known for peer/policy review, drastic and immediate change when needed, industry-consensus, and constant simulation (scenario-training) – out of necessity. (public/client safety in an industry where the acts need constant vigilance and focus. Second, I’d say it reinforces that this is a constantly changing thing, this situational/environmental awareness. It is complex, dynamic, and your ability to see it is constantly altered by variables. It is not, nor could it be, cookie-cutter or uniform, the way so many (including big-name) instructors tell people. Sharing knowledge and experience on it is fine/great, but the minute it becomes a “Here’s what to look for…”, “This is what happens”, “These are the signs of ritual violence…”, or “This is what this always means”….we take the human element completely out of this…not to mention your student’s perceptive capability of adapting or thinking. They again start looking for things that aren’t there instead of seeing things that are…

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A pilot’s look at the elements that they need to react to as necessary, aided by multiple factors ground-control, equipment, multiple sets of eyes, simulation-training, and experience..among others. Multiple systems work to deal with risks as they make themselves known. Perpetual paranoia, anxiety, and hyper-vigilance would build even-greater stress to an already-stressful line-of-work, create panic in passengers and staff, and cause rash decision-making. Controlled work-time, regular self-evals, psych exams, and constant industry-standard reviews also mitigate the risk of error. Lots of personal preservation correlation here…

People are becoming far too over-analytical and the self-defense industry often is guilty of perpetuating this. Feeding fear, building paranoia, and creating students that aren’t realizing the fact that the bluster and projection they sometimes inherit from their neighborhood martial-arts instructor is creating conflict they otherwise would’ve avoided in the first-place. (and assessed under the guise of “Wow, I handled that much better than I would’ve!”) This “situation awareness” thing is generalized and makes many people paranoid and anxious. They have no idea what they’re looking for, not at all knowing what the hell is actually a thing to worry about or not. My point? Just live your damn life and go out and enjoy yourself. Your intuition and alarm system will tell you when there’s a serious threat to your safety. Don’t create one. 

I’m simply not always “on”, I’m not always “jacked”, I’m not always “uber-aware.” I’m aware when I have to be aware because something has made me aware. The rest of the time I go out and my focus is on my family or whomever I happen to be with…not distracted by invisible shadows. (And just because you know all about “pre-incident indicators” and know what they look like….doesn’t mean they always mean the same thing-context, environment, time anyone-nor does it mean you can do a damn thing about them if you see them just from having that knowledge).

Now, I know both the title and first sentence are somewhat hyperbolic….the terms aren’t going to change as they’re catchphrases, mantras, cliches, and soundbites at this point. I just think that, as terms become bastardized or exploited, it pays to take the time to re-evaluate exactly what it is they mean. Maybe “abnormality recognition” would


This’ll be quick. State and mindset are often used interchangeably, as if they’re the same thing. They are not. Focus and attention as well, are used as replacements for the other. They, too, are not, though.

STATE. Your momentary or temporary physiological frame of mind. Tired. Sad. Angry. Frustrated. Shocked. Disgusted. All affected by outside stimulus that shapes your inward mood. Lack of sleep, fight with significant other, hungry, preoccupied, stressed because of work. These all manifest themselves as states, a temporary physiological frame that affects decision-making, choice, awareness, response, message (whether corporal or verbal) Micro. It can be altered by conscious-breathing, tai chi/chi kung, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, a nature walk, enjoyed activities, prayer, going for coffee or a movie, spending time with loved ones and a host of others. In the personal preservation world, your state can be that of rage, anger, indignation, focus, protectiveness. State can be altered intentionally with anchors and set triggers. It can be soft-wired with scenario-training or role-play, hypnosis or guided imagery, thorough thought on context, or an abrupt, or drastic change in attitude. A state-change is something that needs to brought-up on a dime…suddenly, without hesitation when circumstance dictates it’s needed. Going from calm and composed to a “hungry tiger” the minute a serious threat is present is an example of a state-change of shift.

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MINDSET. How do decide to carry yourself daily. Mentality. Macro. What frame of mind you’re going to take regarding a particular element in your life or your life in general. Your outlook. End results – what you’re willing to go the extra mile and what not, along with a clear evaluation of particular contexts that affect that approach. In the personal preservation sense, this is what you’re willing to fight for. Die for. Kill for. Utilize violence as a tool for. React to. What is self-defense and what is not. What environments, cultures, and regular situations you face may indeed call for different mindsets. You’ve gone over specific circumstances and understand intimately which ones call for which response… and which not. You can decide to change your mindset in-the-moment, but it is cultivated over time, with experience, and from resultant outcomes.

Just my take…


I write inevitably for me, on difficult and complex topics, most of which relate to fear, stress, trauma, and violence. I write to decipher my own thought processes and I know the content is sometimes both complex and heavy – not for everyone, nor of-interest to everyone. I’ve also been told that my perspectives are more for thinkers, leaders, and instructors in the field than the average civilian/citizen….which both doesn’t offend me and may also be true. Ironically, this is the antithesis of how I teach the physical part to students. I’m a fundamentalist. I drive the basics, push the “thinking fighter”, build on individual natural-body movement, combative micro-movements, and am an advocate for resistance, pressure, stress, and dynamic-environments. THIS, however….writing…is my forum to explore, challenge my own knowledge, discuss hard and complicated topics, and test my intellect. I don’t do it for commercial purposes and, truthfully, don’t much care if thousands read it or not. Those that do, I appreciate sincerely.

Maybe there’s a niche to “teach the teachers”, though I realize that sounds more than a little pretentious and self-righteous. But everything these days seems catered to “win-over” or shmooze the average citizen from the next guy kitty-corner and, from my perspective, huge demographics of people are tuning us out entirely. With such hyperbolic fear-mongering, lies, posturing, testosterone, and half-truths from people who brag about not seeming to be able to avoid violence in their own lives or act according to their own teachings, many people seem to simply feel conned or multi-level marketed to the point they’d rather just trust their own instincts and survival capability. Maybe it’s time some others started discussing hard topics with a bird’s-eye view toward the average person’s reality…..or questioned openly the views of the heard names in the industry. OR, more importantly, helped other instructors who sincerely do want to avoid those pratfalls and run an authentic program that legitimately helps people.

That said, anyone who takes an interest is appreciated and thanked, and if any of my brain-processes help you improve in any way – whether imparting life-saving knowledge to others or aiding understand yourself better…..they were more than worth it. Thanks for indulging my high-brow pretentiousness. 🙂

-The Constant Gardener


There are a lot of current theories on emotion from all science-based worlds: anthropology, sociology, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy. You name it. I’m not a scientist nor affiliated with any of the above fields outside of a keen interest in all. Therefore, I can only speak from my own experience, which is often what I do while relating it to current scientific theory. It allows me to delve deeply inside my own psyche while also being able to simplify concepts and pass them to others potentially interested.

While there are warring theories on emotional origin (see links below to 2 of the newer progressive ones), instead of getting carried-away with the complexity and ever-changing landscape of modern scientific study and discovery, I tend to self-reflect as honestly and with as little bias as possible. Relate new discoveries to my own life and experience to see if it corroborates and makes sense to me. (I can be very visceral) It’s also very possible that the competing theories overlap more than a little and there’s more than a little truth in both of them.

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I can honestly say I’ve experienced both constructed and triggered emotion. What I mean by here is this: we all have both. Constructed being that which comes from our personal experiences, upbringing, individual nature, outside influence, culture, and environment. How we’re “supposed” to feel. What society dictates. How we fit-in with other people going through similar things. We may not feel it on-par with others but it’s a form of either social-mimicry or social-stigmas and expectations. For example, my mother’s aunt died a short time ago. I remember her from my childhood, she was always nice to me and, while a little eccentric and odd..generally harmless. She hasn’t now (and likely wasn’t then) any big part of my life or developing influence but, since she was a satellite in my social groups or tribes, she was familiar. I remember convincing myself that it was important to be a little sad and depressed at her passing, that she’s no longer in-existence in the world, and I manufactured that feeling (I was legitimately sad for a time)….but the truth is that, respectfully, it didn’t affect my day much. (to admit this openly in either culture I’ve become accustomed to would be considered cold or distasteful…as it maybe is here to those reading as well, it’s possible)

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I did not feel that way about my grandpa’s passing. I watched him slowly deteriorate and wither-away in a hospital bed….in immense amounts of pain and facial looks that seemed genuinely scared of dying and what the afterlife may bring him, in spite of religious-loyalty and adherence. It was visceral, gut-wrenching, and I was there from first-person perspective for all of it. I was triggered to immense sadness. Deep loss and there were elements that compounded that sadness. Proximity. I was there when he died. I watched the suffering. It was personal. He had impact on my life – I have fond memories of my grandfather and he was a very positive influence. There was legitimate despair from my aunts, uncles, and parents alongside me, compounding my own pain. It was a mistake that he deteriorated due to a mismanagement of hospital meds as well…adding to the surprise and shock of this being life-threatening from such a seemingly innocuous admittance to the hospital.

I think the same dichotomy can be said for any number of other emotions or states as well. Fear. Anger. Joy. Empathy. Indignation. Shock. Disgust. For every authentic reaction I’ve felt for something that legitimately impacted me, I can find another example where I feigned it for whatever reason – social-grace, loved-one expectation, manipulation, respect, social-dynamics – the reasons are likely vast.

Now, like some of the theories abounding now claim, I think there’s likely an overlap between levels or systems involved. 1. We have physiological responses that are innate, evolutionary, hardwired. (and I’d tend to think that these too aren’t all “from birth” or written in our DNA) The “fighting, fleeing, feeding, fucking” (pardon my directness) formula would seem to be at-play here. Feelings that are ingrained in our human make-up that we need for survival. Those are base, instinctual, unconscious where conscious acknowledgement, self-awareness, or control would seem to be restricted…or vacant entirely. 2. We have experiential, nature vs. nurture, cultural, environmental, trained/conditioned – soft-wired emotions where specificity is more profound and we gain insight in future events from past ones. 3. And we have personal analysis and conceptualization…where our own human abstract-thought allows us to understand intricately why we feel the way we do and how “much” to feel it. (Note there’s a lot similar here to the “system 1/system 1” idea of threat-response we’ve discussed in earlier articles – high-roads and low-roads. If we take the highest-level, #3, out of equation due to rarely having this one involved or achievable in high-fear or high-threat scenarios, inevitably we have the equivalent of the system 1/2 model…) Maybe the higher we go, the more constructed our emotions are…the more we have choice how profound we’ll feel them or when we’ll allow them to manifest. The lower, the more base and instinctive and unconscious they are. All conjecture, of course, and solely from the mind of a curious onlooker.

* (Systems 1 & 2 article mentioned above)

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I have experienced a whole ton in my life that would seem to reinforce this theory from a personal perspective. I’ve had a lot of trauma, gas-lighting, mental-illness, narcissism, depression, manipulation, and loss within my family and my upbringing and I’ve become extremely adept at siphoning the whys, whats, hows, whens, whos, and wheres of my emotional states and connecting the dots on my timeline to make a picture. I have also have the learned mental gift of making myself depressed in a heartbeat if left alone to my own devices and not making myself busy. (Note the “making” part, meaning it’s admittedly controllable at times but I want to feel that way, among feeling others) It’s not easy to admit that, it does take a certain level of self-assessment and honesty to both reflect back on painful times and heavy emotions in one’s past and to admit that we all do construct emotions at times when it’s not entirely guilt-free, granted. But it certainly helps greatly in understanding the human-experience and how we can better understand ourselves to live it more fully….and stay safer.

So, how does this all tie-in to personal preservation? Well, any kind of self-analysis and greater understanding of the human-condition has the capacity to give us more ability to exhibit self-control, patience, and discipline in the face of conflict. It helps us understand things like fear, anger or rage, anxiety, stress, and threat far more clearly, and knowledge is understanding, if not power. Options. That which we understand has less chance of catching off-guard or overwhelming us. It also helps us more greatly understand our innate survival-skill mechanisms and not recoil or panic when they rear their heads for a particular reason. It has the potential to help decipher whether we’re actually triggered instinctively by a certain stimulus….or if we’re making a choice to let our inhibitions go and label it post-incident as “being triggered”, inevitably reactive or pre-planned. (I know in my life I’ve pre-planned taking my frustrations out on the first ass to cross me after a bad start to my morning) People have died for lesser incidents. Learning is understanding.

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A link to an overview of Gabriel & Asma’s theory on triggered emotion:

A link to an overview of Feldman Barrett’s theory on constructed emotion:


Instead of the paranoid “looking for something that’s not there” mentality so many seem to perpetuate, why not make a game of it. Something that’ll keep you alert, aid in cognitive function, and increase intangibles like detail-attention, memory, and engagement with the actual world around you?

Instead of terminology and searches that increase anxiety or paranoia, I utilize terms that lighten my cognitive load and push the “play” aspect of my focus (singular) or attention (can be split). As well, most of these I pay attention to naturally due to my own preferences and self-comforts and try to find daily reasons for apart from the rare and paranoid chance I’ll end up in a physical conflict. For example:

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  1. Space. Generally it’s something I’m already coherent of due to the fact I’m Canadian and spatial-distancing is quite different here. With the previous-base and the pertinent adjustment, it’s something that comes naturally to me and likely anyone who’s ever lived in a foreign culture where proxemics are drastically different.
  2. Hands. Instead of adding to the paranoia, note the hand position with reference to greetings, handshakes, hugs, and visual-communication methods. That way, I can either rapidly pick-up on any social graces that I may miss out on as an expat, or dictate them myself in-advance if I’m uncomfortable, behind-schedule, or not wanting personal interaction with someone.
  3. Engagement. The chance or inevitability of having to interact with other people. Also something that’s natural to me, personally, as I’m not particularly outgoing or open so I generally (outside of kind greeting, projecting friendliness, and acknowledgement) try and make personal interaction a brief thing. I’m also sometimes taxed or conscious of my Spanish-language skills when speed, slang, and coherence are an issue….like on the street, early in the morning when people are frenetically on their way to work, or preoccupied with the necessities of their day.
  4. Surface. What’s most comfortable on your feet, factoring in the shoes you wear, and restrictiveness of lower-body clothing you have on? Cement, asphalt, concrete are all sometimes hard on my knees and back when wearing dress-shoes, far moreso than grass, sand, or carpet.
  5. Accessibility. As space is generally more enclosed and claustrophobic (at least for a Canuck from the Prairies used to wide-open spaces) here, I want to know (whether on-foot or by-car) that I have rapid-departure capability without the heavy traffic and poor-driving culture that usually permeates my day.
  6. Movement impediments. Unlike surface, which is horizontal, considering this the vertical equivalent.
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I DO NOT, as with the above, make this a conscious safety-issue as much as a daily-efficiency one…the safety element usually becomes a subtle byproduct of the rest. If you train your brain into noticing details for brain-engagement (as stated above – memory, detail-attention, social-engagement, focus, brain-function), there are far more benefits than the paranoiac ones fed to you so often hyperbolically that drain, exhaust, and fear-monger. That being said, all these can be reversed or manipulated when/if needed for purpose other than the daily variety. It acts as a sort of “combat-mnemonic” to set the brain non-stressfully for a time when that stress hits and it’s been subtly-conditioned to act without all the wear-and-tear. By then you’ve wired your brain to notice general things that aid you in the smoothness of your day….and clearly able to see important things that do stand out when necessary and should they be of value – instead of the perpetual stress-result we gain by being “jacked” all day….looking for the needle in the proverbial haystack instead of the elephant in the room.


As I’ve noticed a couple of threads on social media that both deride those from the West for their refusal to adopt Eastern martial metaphysical cultures…and the reverse, mocking by those Westerners over misunderstandings of  some southeast Asian ones, I thought I’d regurgitate a previous commentary on the topic. Both sides often are quite uninformed, though as always, people are free to judge based on their own misinformation openly in that forum. Note the following is from my experience and my knowledge given by some quite legit people within the southeast-Asian (predominantly Filipino) and Latin-American weapons community. On the topic of cultural superstition, the power of belief, and the metaphysical side of martial arts, I’ve researched quite thoroughly over the years and from very diverse sources….though I am not an expert.

The image below is an “anting-anting” (amulet in Tagalog) I was given by a close friend. It’s an amulet that can apparently only be gifted (and rarely done) to you by someone else…its power is supposedly taken away if obtained by yourself. It has long thought to have supernatural powers to the bearer….protection from harm, from evil spirits, from enemies wishing to do harm or wrong to you. I have friends….normal, well-adjusted, emotionally-stable friends….who will swear they’ve seen multiple people shooting at one hanging from a tree with an AK, and having every bullet miss with zero damage being done to the amulet. Curses or chants that’ve imparted ill-health, disease, and death.

anting-anting from the Philippines that I was gifted by a close friend

This one is a chain/pendant, but through history, anting-antings have come in many shapes and sizes, often claimed to have come from something in nature that stands out as unique or with special qualities. Talismans, good-luck charms, or a personal “rabbit’s foot.” Historically, men with bad ambitions have robbed graves to obtain the organs (the heart, for instance) of a past enemy or someone powerful and eaten it to “absorb” its power. Head-hunting to glean the head of an enemy or someone powerful. Histories of both good and bad spirits that can increase one’s power…or take it away. Animism has long been a part of combative/violence culture in a reverence, deification, or demonization of predatory animals, whose body parts many often carry around for protection or power. (HEMA, or Historical European Martial Arts, for example, noting the diagram below from Fiore. Colors – many a FMA-club wears red in some manner as it, in many parts of PI, drives-off or protects from evil spirits.

red Sikaran training pants

Dangerous spirits themselves, both good and bad, were another element of both fear, respect, and power. (In Batangas, where the family I learned from originates, for example they have the evil “Tikvalang/Tikbalang”, seen further down, which is a half-horse, half-human that causes travelers to lose their way and lose their sanity. As per all, there are superstitious ways to counter the effects of each spirit’s trickery, as well)

Orasiones (or chants, prayers, mantras) recited are another powerful entity in Filipino and Indonesian culture. Hilot (a healing method) also brings herbs, liniments, and procedures designed to protect and ward-off curses, bad vibes, and such…as well as actually healing practices for illness and pain, whether placebo or actual. Ritualistic ceremonies with the earth, liquid, fire, and various other elements to cleanse evil vibes or feelings or impart bravery or fearlessness to the invoker. (involving specific times-of-day, days-of-the-month and a cleansing of the body/mind in some way) Winnipeg, my hometown, is the city in Canada that has the largest Filipino/Pinoy population in the country and, wearing this chain at the park and downtown has drawn a number of both fearful and respectful looks, at various times. Apparently a foreigner wearing one reflects connections, ingrained presence in the culture, and respect for adhering to the culture. It’s often a dark side of martial culture we hear little about and few delve into…for reasons fairly self-explanatory. A Pinoy woman, neighbor to my parents, was told by my father that his son had previously studied arnis/FMA intensely for a time and that alone caused her to cut off the topic and, inevitably, the conversation.

Many mock this as in the same category as “chi” or imaginary powers. While there are some correlating disbelief aspects, the context here may be a little different based on historic-significance. Being willing to cut an enemy’s head off, eat an enemy’s heart to gain his power, or penetrate them with a big knife repeatedly because a deity is telling you too and you have divine protection, is a little more disconcerting than believing you can keep someone at bay with an imaginary forcefield. One may be blind faith, the other a false justification to do unjust acts. Deep-seated belief drives both, though, undoubtedly. My instructors always taught me that one aspect of the orasiones or agimats/anting-antings was that, if utilized for evil or bad, they lost their power.It was also historically, from what I’m told, a way to motivate Pinoys into battle against far stronger and better-trained forces who’ve previously invaded – the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, for example. How better to drive people into battle knowing that, although enemy forces are far greater, we have powerful spirits, magical entities, or God himself on our side.

To be sure, other global weapons systems are also not immune to these elements, either. HEMA, or Historical European Martial Arts, for example, noting the diagram below from the Italian, Fiore dei Liberi. On the Argentinean pampas, they too have their own rituals and superstitions. Drawing first-blood in a mutual knife-fight or duel showed greater skill and “branding” one’s opponent for life with one’s “personal” mark. Hitting one with the flat-of-the-blade in a duel showing greater prowess and being the ultimate derogatory insult, mystical power associated with certain blades. The Indonesian kris was purported to be able to fly, kill, and act of its own volition. Weapon arts and weapon cultures, in general, often have this metaphysical element present should one explore deeper, to be sure.

We sometimes laugh, but belief and placebos are extremely, extremely powerful tools in the undeveloped/Third-World that override reality many a time, especially as they pertain to violence or power.  Empires have been toppled by belief, whether that belief has foundation, or is entirely built on a house-of-cards. Remember, too, that people in the 3rd-World or un-(or under-)developed nations don’t have that same mentality that those in the 1st-World have. Less hope, less to cling too with regards to future prospects, less opportunity – so they rely on outside sources to glean those elements, sometimes the taboo, ritualistic, spiritual, superstitious, or mystical. Whatever gets you through your day and allows you to sleep soundly at night. Hope comes from mysterious places when life is a perpetual struggle; and whether I believe in it or not, I respect that fact.

Here in Costa Rica the metaphysical element is omnipresent as well. Offshoots of the Catholic church that practice much of the above in spells, incantations, liquid- and smoke-cleansers, chants. Charm papers of the Virgin Mary or one’s personal/name saint to carry in one’s wallet for confidence or good fortune. An unerring belief that their life-course is dictated by God Himself and whatever happens, happens because of his divine hand. (“si Dios quiere…”) I’ve attended shamanic cleansings, “prayer groups” (read: cult) dressed in face-covering white flowing garb with chanting and mantras and incantations, had people put colored water on our doorstep as a curse or blessing (who’s to say for sure without knowledge of intent and placer). Reasons vary from gaining loyalty, assisting outcomes, granting protection of either aura/chakras/karma/fate or the physical person itself, or gaining the backing of spirits or divine powers.

I see people whose actual fight training may be lacking but, because of that belief structure and placebo-reinforcement, have become dangerous and self-believing. Remember, too, (and this can be important) that throughout all of this, any powerful superstitions and symbolic beliefs can also be manipulated and used against the believer with such deep over-reliance, as is always the case. Self-doubt, psychological damage, paranoia, and rendered “tool” ineffectiveness can also be equally-powerful tools with which to utilize against someone. Manipulation of one’s belief-system can be an equally-valuable tool to use against someone bent on harming you in some way. (another topic entirely)

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The tikvalang, half-horse, half-man.

However, contrary to what some instructors and exponents will tell you, this knowledge is NOT widespread nor a regular part of most modern FMA- or martial-training. It’s often ingrained in the culture itself. It is, however, there for those Westerners (and nationals) who delve deeper, want to learn more about where combat-culture derives from, and historically what purpose things were done for. Of the many Pinoys and Latinos I’ve talked to or am friends with, some don’t believe other than a likely hardwired wariness of the whole element. Some begrudgingly or respectfully acknowledge they’ve seen or heard of strange, unexplainable things, though their personal jury is out. Some believe deeply and intensely. ALL, however, know that belief and placebo are immensely-powerful drivers, regardless of the metaphysical reality of things. Even unfounded deep beliefs are a dangerously-powerful thing…and I’ve witnessed that here in CR in spades as well. Not proof of the spirit world…proof of the immense power of belief and self-reassurance itself and the human action(s) that can be justified…or at least self-justified…by it. No small thing, I assure you.


I have come to the honest realization that I’m not a great instructor. Seriously and with no attempt at sarcasm. There are those with more patience, care, kindness…those that were meant to be teachers. To impart knowledge. Regurgitate data and information. Cultivate learning through highly-evolved teaching methodologies. I, unfortunately, simply do not fall into that category….at least in-person, and not with the content I teach. I’m not a “gifted” instructor.

The saying “there are those who teach, and those who do” is curious in that, like all other catchphrases, context is often left wanting and binding (leaving you seemingly with only 2 choices from which to choose) is the norm. There are those rare people who can do both equally well in their field. There are also those who specialize at one or the other and kudos to them both….this article isn’t a critique in any way. It’s a personal self-assessment. I’ve always been more of a doer.

It was a perception-error that I felt I needed to understand. After recently having come to the above conclusion about myself, I started wondering why, upon which it became crystal clear. I’ve spent the last 25 years not learning systems, but learning how to fight. How to protect myself and my family. How to function. Be pragmatic. To take what’s of value from those systems for me, my body type, my mindset, my movement, my vision, my subjective (as combat-function is staunchly that…subjective) view of function. Selfish and focused. When I started teaching I wasn’t familiar with the idea of a syllabus, an organized curriculum, a formulated progression of material. Admittedly….and at times frustratingly. I was familiar with fight-function from the physical perspective. Granted, over the years, with the page and this very blog, I’ve covered a ton on emotional, psychological, social, anthropological, mental, and legal aspects but I’m referring to what I teach face-to-face from a physical-only standpoint.

At first this realization sincerely disappointed me as I had legitimately thought I was of equal parts from both categories. Not true, I discovered. What I am able to impart is functional skill-sets on a wheel that overlap and intertwine with others. Fundamentals. Base tools. And a very clear ability to see the natural movements and micro-details of how people move individually. Instinctively. Innately. I’ve started considering myself more a fight coach than a martial-arts instructor. Not that I’m some big weekend fighter or guy who’s been in 500 fights. Not a violence-junky by any stretch. Quite the contrary. But someone who, regarding armed martial systems, dueling, resistance, pressure, dynamic-environments, adaptation….can chip away clay. Sort-of a reverse osmosis. Whether it’s grappling, clinching, dueling, sparring, broken-rhythm, dynamic movement….I get the moving parts and how they interact with each other. And people learn from me by watching me, seeing me apply it against a resisting opponent, seeing me demonstrate it in real-time. I’m not (and never ever have been) a big (or particularly good) demo-guy. I’m really not good at looking beautiful or flashy. And none of my long(er)-term students look or move like me. They move to their strengths – which are staunchly different from mine, as is nature.

I am also not a good knowledge-regurgitator. I’m not good at cookie-cutter solutions to dynamic problems. Nor at creating a copycat-machine. Systems have worked for me, but they’ve generally been my servant, not the other way around. I’m not a dogmatic-adherent to them, I believe they’ve been put here to help us understand things. A tool to aid, and then be discarded when one understands those things. Or at least to deconstruct and reassemble as needed when adaptation, diversity, or evolution are in need of changing.

I’ve always admired those with airtight teaching-methodologies, solid student-factories, patient and caring learning cultivators….mentors. The real-life “Miyagis”. Truly and no sarcasm. I am, however, not one, as much as I may wish that weren’t so. That my shtick isn’t to perpetuate and continue the genealogical system-tree. But I will show you how the systems that I happen to be good at, and, without any intended arrogance, I am very good at some….work. And I’ve also discovered that that’s okay too. It’s important to know what you’re good at so as to best help people….and to admit what you’re not. I’m knowing more about “my lane” every year I do this.


Growing up on the prairies in central Canada (13 in Winnipeg, 21 in rural Manitoba), one’s body (and mind) became accustomed to extremely harsh winters. It was, and will remain, a threat unlike any other I’ve faced. In fact, Winnipeg is regarded as the coldest city on earth with 500,000 inhabitants or more. Winter lasts 5-6 months of the year – from mid-November through early-to-mid-April. Temperatures regularly reached -30-degrees Celsius, with some every winter hitting -40. That wasn’t yet factoring in something on the wide-open spaces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and eastern Alberta called “wind-chill.” It was a regular occurrence for the meteorologist on the evening news to mention “It’s -33, -48 with the wind-chill.” The strong winds went unimpeded across the province due to the landscape. It was, as my Costa Rican wife says, simply brutal. Exposed skin could freeze in a minute or less. Frostbite was a thing. A furnace dying became an imperative, same-day panic. Your car breaking down on the side of an isolated roadway in a blizzard could be life-threatening.

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Yet, people adapt. Bodies adapt. Manitobans are known for being tough, resourceful, resilient..and hard…but warm people. You learn to bond together. In a survival context, you learn a ton of methods that become simply daily-living. What to wear. How to drive or re-calibrate your summer driving. How long to be out or outdoors. What to pack or bring. How to prepare. Hell, I remember warming myself up when chilled or stranded at times using my mind. Willing myself warm. Regulating my breathing and warming extremities with thought on days where it was almost unbearable. Imagine, too, the added desperation and survival-need this climate brings (or changes) for street criminals, the homeless, lower-class subcultures, and the changes in violence-dynamics that it could bring.

Here, Costa Ricans are always shocked by my ability to adapt to the hot climate here as there perception is often that Canada is a winter-wonderland 365/24/7. At the beach, it gets to 40-degrees Celsius here and it doesn’t affect me particularly much. Back home, we had 35 in summer as well, a dry Prairie heat with a hot wind. That’s a 75-degree shift in the weather that the body has to adjust and become acclimatized to. No small feat when you think about it and an amazing capability of the human anatomic wonder. The body has an amazing built-in climate-adaptor on top of everything else. Having been in CR for 9 years now, reflection gives insight and has made me look back in amazement at how profound that really is for people that live there for a lifetime. People in this culture simply cannot imagine or fathom what it’s like to live in that climate. In that terrain. With those particular dangers. Really, innate survival-skillsets are limitless….and unlike what many will tell you, most often enough. Human physiology, adaptation, and evolution is a marvel. They’ve gotten us this far long before systemized combat systems became a thing.

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In hindsight, 2 things to be gleaned from this:

  1. Growing up in that environment shaped who I am today. It gave a certain resilience, toughness, and adaptability that is reflective in my outlook, my training methodology, and my perception over the holistic sphere of self-preservation
  2. When we talk about “environment” being such a factor in counter-violence and personal safety, that “environment” is most often reflected in class of upbringing, level of violence exposure, nature/nurture, quality of life, risk-assessment…..and justifiably. However, that “environment” that shapes us into who we are can also refer greatly to climate, Mother Nature, greater environmental dangers, and the survival tools and skillsets we cultivate from the above, specific to that environment.
  3. I am not unique or rare because of this. Quite the contrary, everyone has their adaptive environments that cultivate specialized and niche areas of survival-culture. Exactly the point. How do yours transfer to your personal mind-body personal-safety arsenal? Think on it for a time, bet you’ll come up with some things you weren’t consciously aware you possessed…