April 29, 2008 by Chris Ranck-Buhr
In Building a Better Monster, I talked about how people build up insanely powerful adversaries (bigger, faster, stronger) and place them in impossible scenarios (it was a dark and stormy night, he has night-vision goggles and a chainsaw) and then ask, “How do I deal with that?” My advice was, essentially, to build him up and then be him.
Everyone gets the building up part–we’re all experts in that even before we walk through the door to train. The question is, of course, how to best get it done?
The short answer is: Figure out why you’ve decided it’s going to work for him.
And the even shorter answer to that is: INJURY. But you already knew that.
The long answer is: When you build the better monster you’ve already decided that he’s going to do something to you that you’re worried you cannot prevent and will have a poor outcome for you.
We can pick that apart to find the salient points, the places where you have recognized (consciously or not) several truths about violence:
1) He is going to do things to you.
This has two important components–the recognition that he has intent and resides in the cause state.
2) You can’t stop what he is doing.
This is recognition that blocking is a sucker’s game, that being in the effect state is not nearly as effective as being in the cause state.
3) Injury will make you helpless.
This is the ‘poor outcome’ you fear–you get injured, go down and get more injured in a downward spiral that can only really bottom out with death.
The real trick to make this self-defeating process worth your while is to flip it inside out–you’ve built your monster, you’ve figured out why it’s going to work for him–now all you have to do is put yourself in the position of this impossible person. Think like the predator you are and resolve yourself to making the realities of violence work for you instead of against you:
1) You are going to do things to him.
2) He can’t stop what you’ve already done.
3) Injury will make him helpless.
Now you see how the two of you are interchangeable–the driver’s seat of violence is up for grabs and belongs to the first person to buckle in and romp on the gas. The other guy gets run over and leaves a star on the windshield.
Which leads us, through the clumsiest of segues, to the fact that no one is immune to violence, and what that reality does for him. And can do for you…
People seek training because what they really want is immunity from violence. It’s not the idea of doing it they find appealing, but the idea of preventing it. I know this was true for me.
But then we give them an ugly, unpopular truth–nothing can make you immune & you’re on your own.
You’re either going to injure him, put him down and savage him on the ground or he’s going to do it to you. You’re not going to have superior, ‘no can defend’ technique or superhuman abilities. It’s just going to be you and your willingness to tear another human being apart. You’re very probably going to take a beating in the process, and you can, whether through inaction, miscalculation, or just plain dumb luck end up on the receiving end of the tool of violence.
No matter how hard and long you train, you can be murdered.
This is the bitterest pill to swallow. It leads to all sorts of ‘well, what’s the point then?’ questions. If I can end up just as dead with or without training, why bother? This disconnect is the same one that often occurs for people with firearms–they believe that somehow the gun will ‘defend’ them, not realizing that they are going to have to shoot the other guy to death to make it work… and it’s even worse with knives. It’s going to be messy and noisy and scary well beyond what you can imagine. But the end result is, after a fashion, ‘defense’ in that dead people can’t hurt you.
So why bother? Well, prior to training you were rolling dice. We show you how to ‘play the game’ with loaded dice. So you end up with an edge.
That edge is only going to mean anything if you accept the inborn frailty of your body as you harden your mind to the task at hand–you, crippling another man for life. There is nothing you can do to make your body immune to injury; the only thing you can change is the amount of intent in your head.
It’s going to work for him because he wants to cause injury and throws everything he has into making that idea a reality. He has intent.
It’s going to work for him because he is acting on the realities of violence as they stand–he is going to use what works and get it done first because he knows no one is immune… he is acting on the fact that he can be taken. This is why he hits first, why he wades in and goes for broke. He knows if he breaks you first, he is far less likely to have any of it done to him. He knows if he waits he’s done for.
This is why you fear him. It is also the key to unlocking the power that causes that fear, the key to harnessing it and making his super-scary power your own.
Turn it inside out and wear it instead of having it wear on you.
Be what you fear.
April 21, 2008 by Chris Ranck-Buhr
Invariably, we get questions along the lines of…
“Okay, I get all that violence stuff–but what if he’s bigger/faster/stronger/(your favorite celebrity masher here)/has a knife/stick/gun/three guns?”
That’s a great question.
Or it would be if that’s what they really meant. More often than not people build a monster in their head around a single overarching fear…
And before I reveal what that fear is, let’s take a look at some specifics:
When people look at a larger, stronger man what they’re really registering is his potential ability to generate power. He could pick you up and throw you across the room, right? Heck, he could probably pick up and throw a Volkswagen.
What they ignore is that though he may have more human tissue than you, he’s still made of meat. And meat can be butchered.
Fast and skilled fall into the same category — the desire for a “duel.”
This typically comes from people who are worried about “getting in.”
This is particularly funny as I’ve never seen a prison murder where the participants had any difficulty “getting in” on each other; I’m sure this idea would make serial killers shrug as well.
In short, professionals who use violence in their day-to-day are conspicuously unconcerned with “getting in.” And so should you be.
But what if he’s armed?
Well, if I have a knife and he has a knife, I stab the knife, right? Of course not.
So why the hell does this make a difference if he has a tool and I’m using fists and boots? It just means you’ll beat him to nonfunctional instead of shooting or stabbing him to nonfunctional.
Ah, but now we’re getting to the super-secret fear that is hidden at the core of all these questions–these questions that are all saying:
“I’m afraid he has intent to do what I won’t.”
Everyone builds a better monster around the idea of superior intent. The bigger/faster/stronger smokescreen is just worry that he’s turned up willing to deliver a serious beating that ends in a brutal curbing while you’re just there to look the “hard boy” or have a manly slap-fight. You know, the kind where no one really gets hurt.
The tool, though, now that’s different.
When he pulls out a labor-saving device whose sole purpose is to rend meat and break bones, well now he’s showing superior intent–intent you’re worried you can’t match.
If you’re just there to posture and look the part–if you’re just there to duel and teach someone a lesson–then what the hell is he up to with that man-mangler? We all know the answer to that.
Everyone recognizes, on a visceral level, that the armed man is displaying intent they don’t have.
And that’s what everyone’s afraid of. Superior intent!
All the sideways questions, all the building of better monsters is just dancing around this issue–”What if he’s really here to kill me?”
I mean, really, this time?
The recognition that this just might be so, and you can’t or won’t match it, intent-wise, is the core fear that everyone harbors.
The dull toll of fear echoing in the “intent gap” is what I hear whenever anyone asks one of these questions.
They’re not even consciously aware of it. They’ll deny it when pressed.
My advice is to build your better monster–bigger, faster, stronger, meaner, armed in a dark alley. Add in a dash of rainy, moonless night. Pile it on.
And then… you need to become him.
April 15, 2008 by Tim Larkin
Experienced instructors are some of the most relaxed people I know.
The question is, of course, why?
When you have the mechanical ability to cause injury and couple it with the driving motivator of intent, everything throttles back and gets calm and easy–you’re not out spoiling for a fight or giving yourself an anxiety disorder by obsessing violently over every human being who brushes up against you.
This is what I was getting at in last week’s post about the Hard Knot. You simply cultivate the skill, and the will to use it, and then sit back and relax into the rest of your life. Should the need arise, you pull out the knot and brain people with it. Then you tuck it back where it belongs and get on with living. (I should note that I’m not talking about a ball of twine here–in my mind it’s an infinitely folded tessellation of agony, a world-heavy fist-sized sphere from which no light can escape.) You don’t walk around brandishing it high over your head, mad-dogging all comers with a halo of purple lightning dancing about your enraged features.
Without intent, without the implacable will to wield the knot, it’s not much better than yoga. Physically challenging, yes. A survival skill, no. (As an aside, it’s critically important to note that the criminal sociopath has very little training–a deficit they more than make up for with vast, raging reservoirs of intent.)
So why do people have such a hard time with intent? And most importantly, what can you do about it?
People have a hard time with intent for a number of reasons. They ‘suffer’ from a natural disinclination toward violence, they worry about what the other guy will do, and they think violence is mechanically difficult.
The natural disinclination toward violence
Not wanting to physically hurt people is healthy, sane, but ultimately an impediment to survival when someone poses the question to which violence is the answer.
You need to get over the idea that anything we’re up to here is social in nature. This is why it’s so critically important that your free fight time is as asocial as possible–no talking, no nervous laughter, no checking your partner’s face for feedback. The only time you should be looking at a face is if you’re taking an eye out of it.
I’m not talking about getting fired up and ‘hating’ your partner. I’m talking about dispassion. Lose the emotional triggers–you’re not here to communicate, and raging at your partner (or his targets) is still communication. If you’re working with your ‘war face’ you’ve kicked the social but are busy reinforcing the antisocial. What you really need is to get off the any-social, and get to its absence. That voidspace is the psychic storage shed of the knot…
Worried about what other guy will do
Let’s be blunt. Injured people are helpless. Ask anyone who’s done it. The first injury converts a fully-functional person into a gagging meat-sack. Every injury after than is like busting apart a side of beef with your boot heels. This is why experienced instructors are so damned relaxed (and courteous, for that matter). This is also why they won’t hesitate to be the first one doing it. (I get really tired of going over this one. It’s the ugly truth that no one wants to talk about–about how people really respond to injury, about how when you cause one, you’ll know it because what you see next will stick to the inside of your eyelids for the rest of your life.)
What’s he going to do? He’s going to break and behave like an injured person. He’s going to go to the worst place he’s ever been. And you’re going to put him there.
The question you have to ask yourself is will you worry about what he’s going to do or will you make him worry about what you’re going to do? (Hint: pick the one where you survive.)
On this same topic, you need to get off the whole ‘attacker/defender’ merry-go-round. In any violent conflict there’s going to be, by definition, at least one person doing it to another. Be that one person. Decide it’s you, now, and every time from now. Out there it’s always your turn. If you have to think in terms of there being an ‘attacker’ then it’s you.
Choosing to put yourself in second place is not the best strategy for a win, no matter how much we may venerate the underdog. In a ‘fair fight’ or a contest, the underdog is the hero. In violence, he’s dead.
Quit empathizing with the dead guy. You’re doing it because you’re nice, you’re doing it because you’re sane. In a social context, it makes perfect sense. In violent conflict your social skills and mores do nothing but prevent you from surviving. Empathizing with the dead guy at the funeral is sane and normal. Empathizing with him when we’re all trying to decide who the dead guy’s going to be means you’re it.
Bottom line: decide who has the problem. Is it you, or is it him?
Believing that violence is mechanically difficult
Outside of the psycho-social issues, violence is really, really easy. We’re all predators, we’re all physically built for killing.
Violence is as easy as going from where you are to where he is and putting a single injury in him. The rest is academic.
How easy is it? General consensus says: easier than free fighting. You get to strike as hard as you can, you don’t have to take care of him, and it’s over so fast you won’t even have time to break a sweat or even breathe hard. The only hard part is giving yourself the permission to be inhumanly brutal. Giving yourself the permission to survive. (Personally, I vote for me every time.)
Thinking that violence is mechanically difficult (and thereby trying to give yourself an ‘out’ so you don’t have to face your own intent problems) is akin to thinking that swimming in the deep end is any different than swimming in the shallow end. Mechanically, it’s the same–swimming is swimming–the difference is all in your perception. In the shallow end, you can touch bottom and can save yourself from drowning by standing up. In the deep end you’re on your own–it’s sink or swim. So everyone thinks free fighting is the shallow end; there’s no risk, you can always ‘stand up’ when you get into trouble. That would make the street the deep end–no back-up, no safety net, just swim or die. I’ll grant all of that as true. Just remember, always, that no matter where you’re swimming, mechanically it’s all the same. The idea that there’s a difference is an illusion that takes effort on your part to make a reality. Stop feeding the phantoms and just swim.
Intent–your will to cause injury, your drive to get it done–is completely up to you. You need to start thinking about it now, personally letting go of the things you’ve kept between the ‘you’ you love because he’s a lovable ‘good guy’ and the ‘you’ that can stomp the throats of screaming men.
We can only show you how to mechanically take someone apart–pulling the trigger on it is up to you, and you alone.
April 8, 2008 by Tim Larkin
When people say ‘scenario-based training,’ they’re actually using a code phrase for ‘all the crap that comes before the actual violence.’ The yelling, the approach, the grabby man-dance.
Of course, once the violence starts it’s all the same old, same old–injury, injury, injury. Pedestrian, predictable, and downright boring.
All the stuff that comes before, all the stuff that people are fascinated with, is, for our purposes, a waste of time. The lead-in to violence for any given scenario is typically antisocial in nature. The questions people have are ‘how do I deal with his behavior?’ and ‘when do I decide to injure him?’ You already have the skills to deal with the former–talk him down, capitulate, or get the hell out of there. As for when to tear into someone, that’s a personal call you have to make in general terms ahead of time; in specific terms it’s based on how you read the situation.
If you recognize a threat and you think you can’t live with it, then get busy shutting him off. If you think it’s something you can live with–merely antisocial in nature–then act accordingly. Use your social skills, or set a new 100m dash record, or tear into him as you will.
In other words, act according to your comfort level.
This threshold point will vary from person to person based on life experience. Some people can stomach all kinds of crazy antisocial behavior; others will brook no threat whatsoever. Either way, it’s a personal judgment call. This means your response to that stuff is up to you to figure out, for yourself, on your own time. We’ll hand you the tool–you have to decide when you’ll swing it.
Another reason people want all the up-front stuff is because they are not in a hurry to get to the wreckage. They’re afraid. They want to stay in the semi-social realm for as long as possible and want to hang onto the idea that they are the Good Guy. If we maintain an attacker/defender dichotomy, i.e., ‘he came after me, so therefore he’s the Bad Guy, which automatically dubs me the Hero,’ we keep things nice and social. And for us sane humans, social equals comfortable.
Remember, we have, as a species, a natural disinclination to violence; society wouldn’t function if it were otherwise. Violence turns our stomachs. People will go to great lengths to avoid that discomfort.
Do you really want to spend your precious training time working within your comfort zone in contrived, antisocial scenarios with only a small percentage given over to the actual work of violence?
Or do you want to work where actual change occurs, the point where all violent acts become the same–the point of injury?
Look at it this way: we could waste your time by having you role-play stage productions of Serpico such that for every 20 minutes of floor time you only get two where you’re actually booting people. Instead, we have you experiencing violence for the full 20 minutes. Yes, half of that time is spent reacting for your partner, but you are still working where the buzzsaw hits the bone, at the point of injury. If you know what you’re doing you can actually learn more about violence while reacting than when it’s your turn. Ask anyone who’s been used by an instructor for a demo. It’s a difference you can feel. (Sometimes unfortunately so…)
Free fighting is the only ‘scenario’ you want to train in. To maximize your skill you need to practice that skill. In this case the skill is injuring people; it stands to reason that you want to spend as much time as possible at the point of injury. That’s what free fighting is. It’s you, changing everything in your favor, taking control of the man, the situation, through injury. What came before is immaterial–it has no bearing on what you’re doing to him. Did he yell? Or pull a gun? Did he grab you and knock you down? His ruptured testicles don’t care. Neither should you.
Now, for all that, the single caveat: if your job is hallmarked by common occurrences that lead to violence (as in law enforcement or the military) then working those specific scenarios has merit. Car stops, room clearing or other regularly occurring profiles–these scenarios are useful exercises for those who can expect to encounter them–but they’re pointless for the rest of us.
Here’s what it comes down to: use free fighting to wrap and entwine the hard knot of skill within you, learn to use your mind as a weapon and your body as a tool for violence. Then you can walk the Earth free of ‘rehearsal anxiety,’ free in the knowledge that if your current problem–no matter how it developed or came upon you–can only be solved by shutting down a human being, you know where the off-switch is. And once you reach for that switch, all violent conflict becomes the same.
April 1, 2008 by Chris Ranck-Buhr
This story, reported by the San Jose Mercury News, is making the rounds through all the nooks and crannies of the Internet today. The short version is:
Teenager with a knife threatens 84-year-old retired Marine.
Marine warns him off; teenager pushes it.
Marine kicks him in the groin, incapacitating him.
Right now the story is being enjoyed on a comedic surface level–an old man kicking a kid in the groin, what a hoot, right? It’s the money-shot from America’s Funniest Home Videos brought to life. There’s also the feel-good old Marine angle–you can’t count them out of the fight, EVER. But beyond the comedy, or the social life lesson, this is a textbook example of the use of violence as a survival tool. We literally could not ask for a better primer in the principles of violence. To wit:
Violence is not about competition–it’s about injury.
Physically, an 84-year-old cannot compete with a teenager. He can’t outrun, out-wrestle, or out-endure a reasonably healthy kid. He can’t ‘take a punch’ in the competition sense. But that’s okay–he didn’t bother screwing around with any of that–he went straight for the injury. And put his man down.
The knife doesn’t matter.
If it did matter, you’d expect this veteran of three wars to have factored it into the equation–with a ‘classic’ knife defense, or attempting to control the weapon, or, realizing he wouldn’t be able to wrestle the knife away from someone almost 70 years younger, capitulating to the kid’s demands. But again, he went straight for the injury. And in so doing short-circuited all that knife-defense/wrestle over the weapon crap. With injury he did ‘control the weapon’ if you understand that the only real weapon present was another human brain. A brain that could not stop the injured body from the betrayal of laying down on the sidewalk and doing nothing while the Marine picked up his groceries and continued on his way.
True injury is unambiguous.
The Marine was able to recognize success in violence, as well as the fact that the kid was nonfunctional–that is, that he no longer presented a threat.
Injured people are helpless.
He had a knife. He had the strength and resilience of youth. And he was unable to bring either to bear in the face of real injury. All he could do was lay down and stay there long enough for an old man to gather his belongings and take his leave.
I could go on–this small, perfect story of a threat of violence shut down by the application of real violence (a single injury)–is the quintessential expression of everything we do in Target Focus Training. Usually, this story is told the other way around–we’re usually left to talk about why a murderer was successful. Thankfully, this time the person who did everything right in violence was one of the Good Guys.