Am I Dead Yet Sgt. Miller?

2255612Saturday morning I crossed the bridge to the bad part of Oakland.  The workshop took place in the clubhouse of the notorious East Bay Rats Motorcycle Gang Club.  It’s a block from a small park, which is an open drug market for addicts.  (My Mom lives nearby!)  The clubhouse is a little bigger than my living room, with a bar and a roll-up door to a small yard, but my living room doesn’t have a dirty concrete floor, a motorcycle in the middle of the room, or sharp edges and protruding things everywhere.  And my living room certainly doesn’t have  a motor-ski-plow-sculpture!  The yard had a lot of beer cans, dirt, some broken glass, trash cans, things for grilling meat, tools, and a beat-up all-weather boxing ring.  Twenty men and women showed up for the two day workshop.  Objectively speaking, there was enough room in there to teach Tai Chi to 4 people.  The stage was set for Sgt. Rory Miller's workshop.  (I reviewed his wonderful book Meditations on Violence here.)

Back in the days when I led adventure ropes courses, we would try to create a feeling of maximum risk with minimum actual risk.  At Rory's workshop, right from the get go everything felt risky.  He started off with a safety talk and then had us work with partners doing action exchange drills.  This is a slow motion practice in which one person begins an attack and the other fights back, but the moment of initiative consciously switches back and forth between the two fighters so that if one of them stops, all action stops.

The fact that the space felt so risky helped keep us non-competitive, which was essential for what he was trying to teach.
Sgt. Rory MillerSgt. Rory Miller

You know you are dealing with a great teacher if you experience the stuff you practice everyday failing, and yet you leave feeling elated!  My fighting system is based on not stopping at all, I try to fight like a waterfall.  So it’s not surprising that everything I do can fail if it is squeezed into an action exchange drill.  It was a great way to practice because it forced us to release more efficient whole-body violence into shorter and shorter periods of time.  It also allowed people with very little martial arts experience an opportunity to recover against people with a lot.  The exercise is also designed to insure that no one gets injured, while insuring that everyone feels pain, discomfort, disorientation and emotional boundary violations.  I got my nuts squeezed about twenty times.  I had people's fingers on my eyeballs over a hundred times.  We gradually built a lot of trust.

I’m so full of energy today it’s hard to write.  Hormone surges all day long especially during the scenario role-plays on the second day have left me a bit wired-up.  While I really enjoyed my failures, I left feeling that my training is superb.  My stuff transferred well to fighting in confined space and rolling on the concrete. The BJJ-Mixed Martial Arts people, by the way, had a lot of un-training to do.

2307392553_2882869aa9Back in my twenties I did a lot of two person forearm and shin conditioning.  After a while it became really addictive, I just craved that rough contact, it was getting me high.  This morning when I went to do my practice I was craving that rough contact again.  I never realized this before now, but I think this type of conditioning training is really a way to practice bringing on and dealing with the hormone surge.  My morning classes for the last 3 or 4 years have had about 5 minutes of gentle external arm and leg conditioning.  But I think my internal practice is giving me another kind of really effective conditioning.  My body is primed to instantly pump up when I get the hormone surge.  Today I have that Arnold Schwarzenegger feeling in my body.  Not stiff--just pumped.  I’m sure it will go away in a day or two if I don’t feed it.  But it’s an important lesson about how the body works.

The familiarity with real violence that Rory brings is chilling.  One thing I realized is that George Xu trained me in vigilante violence, which in a dark kind of way is great because it includes many different types of violence-- Self-defense, domination, monkey dance, group monkey dance, police work, and surprise attack. Rory demands that we refocus our training on what is legal and ethical.  He also recommends that we stop training things which may be ethical but would be too much of an emotional identity destroying act for us to pull off (I guess some people have a problem with blood and guts).  What’s legal and ethical is usually clear in retrospect (not always), but rarely easy to act on in the moment.  Which is why training scenarios are essential.  Deciding what acts would be identity destroying is very personal.  I'm not sure where my limits are, all the encounters with violence I can remember have had at least some identity destroying power.

Reflecting on my training with George Xu I see that legitimate self-defense has always been a component of it, but it was part of a larger subject of vigilantism.  For instance I remember getting in George Xu’s head and practicing scenarios in which I was the aggressor with a knife fighting against another aggressor with a knife in which the goal was to incapacitate but not kill (terratorial dueling?).  Rory’s workshop brought up a lot of weird stuff like that.  For everyone I think.  But my somewhat rambling point here is that in order to make what I do fit the self-defense model I have to make a slight mental-emotional adjustment.  It’s an adjustment I made intellectually long ago, but I hadn’t fully considered how imperative it is that I actually change the way I train.

Because boxing is designed purely as a display of dominance it has very little resemblance to asocial surprise attacks or self-defense.  A boxer would have to make big adjustments to actually train for self-defense.  What I do most of the time is close to what Rory is teaching, but I do sometimes think in terms of dominance.  I'll imagine a monkey dance in which I approach a fight eye to eye, attacking straight-on like a rutting buck in order to assert dominance.  This is what he is training us not to do.  Fortunately I'm quite talented at a more Rory-esque self-defense style of training like getting behind someone and throwing them head first into a wall with pictures of guys with tattoos on it.

Readers are probably mocking me, "Ah what a fine ethical distinction."

Rory had us play so many cool scenarios.  He was wearing full body armor and a helmet.  The climax for me was when he came in from the back shooting his gun.  I looked up to see that he had already shot me and I froze as he shot me again and then shot the person next to me.  People near the door, after fumbling with the lock, opened it and started to run, but Rory entered and fired into the space the way a person experienced in killing everyone would do it.  I must have been one of the first to break my freeze because I remember beginning to run the five paces towards him and then the next thing I remember I had him pinned with my hand wrapped around his larynx, one knee on his xiphoid process, the other knee on his arm, and my left hand holding his gun hand flat on the ground.  During the debrief he said I was the hero who took a lot of lead (bullets).  The day before we were talking about how police assess whether people are lying or not, and he said he doesn’t believe it when people say they don’t remember what happened.  But between the time I started running and the moment I was on top of him positioning my knee on his xiphoid process-- I don’t remember what happened.  It is particularly interesting because I’m really good at recreating detailed two person movement sequences that happen spontaneously with my students in class.

He told me later that I scared him.  That coming from Rory felt a little like I accidentally won a gold medal at the Olympics or something.

My biggest criticism is that there were no undead in the scenarios.  Zombies next time!
The biggest surprise was how totally awesome the other people at the workshop were.  It was really fun hanging out talking afterwards.  New friends!  New ideas!  New inspiration! (More to come.)


I read an article about Autism and Hormones two days ago and it got me thinking...but as these things go, I can't find the exact article. Here is one that is similar from Reuters.
A hormone thought to encourage bonding between mothers and their babies may foster social behavior in some adults with autism, French researchers said on Monday.

They found patients who inhaled the hormone oxytocin paid more attention to expressions when looking at pictures of faces and were more likely to understand social cues in a game simulation, the researchers said in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This is science fiction creeping into our lives.  A nasal spray hormone?  The other article said that this spray makes men less shy and women more maternal.  I suddenly flashed on a future I-Pod App that you can program to adjust your complex hormone balance.

Imagine you're in an argument.  "Hold on a second," you pull out your I-Pod, "I'm starting to get angry here,"  make the adjustment, inhale the spray, presto, "OK, now what were you saying?"

Or imaging you are sick of a kid who won't get out of your hair.  Pull out the spray, inhale.  "Ah, now what is it I can do for you darling?"

There are a lot of creepy dating possibilities.  If hormones can be used to tip a seduction over the edge...yikes.

Marriages rejuvenated by hormone mists?

We already have people using hormones and steroids for crazy body changes.  I wonder if they could be used for getting rid of muscle too?  How about for meditation?  The martial arts training possibilities are legion.

I believe the original article said something about the inhalant making people more trusting.  Man, imagine what a good con-artist could do with that!

At the moment, our knowledge of how hormones work is limited but it's only a matter of time before college students can just skip the cup of coffee and go to straight to class where the room will be filled with "study optimizing hormones."

No more boring meetings, just put your I-pod air freshner on the table and watch you're employees perk up and smile!

The retail options are endless.  Car dealerships will first stimulate you with feelings of manly independence, and then when they are ready to close the deal they will just spray the "trust-me mist" out of the Flower I-pod app on their lapel.

24 hour appetite regulation apps will get you a discount on your health insurance.  "Easy Driver" air fresheners apps in your car will lower you car insurance.

People found guilty of crimes of passion could be given parole with a hormone balancing app that reports mood swings to their parole officer.

It's a brave new world, again.

Girls Are Doing the Monkey Dance

boxing_girls_thumbDojorat linked to this article and video about girls fighting in school:
Two teenage girls went at it. Two adults allegedly watched and another minor videotaped the whole thing in Louisiana. The fight popped up on YouTube more than a week ago. Days later, in Lowell, Mass., local authorities discovered similar videos online and said local educators report about 80 percent of school fights are now girl against girl.

80% of fights at school are now girl against girl.  Wow.  When I was in school there were girl fights once or twice a year, they were very rare compared to fights between guys.  Fights at school were almost always what Sgt.  Rory Miller calls "Monkey Dance" fights.  That is, fights for status.  Fights at school are always broken up by adults, and are usually witnessed by other students.  From my own experience, Middle-school had small fights everyday, larger fights every couple of weeks.  High-school had one small fight every week, and larger fights every few ArlingtonGirlFightVideomonths.  High-school was safer over all, but the fights, if they happened were more dangerous.  People also got " jumped," which was kind of like being mugged by a group, but it was usually people you knew.  I suspect that
"jumpings" went unreported most of the time.

Anyway, I'm willing to believe all that has changed.  Now 80% of high-school fights are between girls.  If you read the article above you'll see some silly theory about the Internet is causing fights.  I think the reason young women are fighting more is that they are taking on more responsibility and authority.  Specifically they are taking on the types of authority that require spacial dominance, something only men and prostitutes used to do.

gossip-girls-gone-wild2Young women in the US who are in high-school today have mothers who "benefited" from Title 9, which mandated that girls have equal access to athletics.  They are second generation athletes.  There is also a new phenomenon of female clowning which seems to be part of the same change.  The clown school in San Francisco has 50% female enrollment.

I've tried raising this issue with friends to see what they make of it, and 4 people so far have quipped some thing like, "I guess guys these days are just wimps."

I'm not recommending this site, but if you want to get a quick sense of what's happening check out Girl Fights Dump.

I think a lot more boys these days have serious martial arts training and I think it has made them safer, wiser, and more skilled at avoiding fights.  I think this is particularly true for those boys who are the most naturally aggressive and competitive.  Many of these boys have also learned that they can gain social status by using their own marital prowess to convince other boys not to fight.

So I have a simple solution to the problem of '80% of high-school fights are between girls.' Teach martial arts in the schools!  If your school or school district is too narrow minded to appreciate the social and intellectual benefits of quality arts training, than of course get your daughters into private martial arts classes.  The sooner the better.

Anyway, let me know what you think of my, 'women are taking on new positions of authority which require spacial dominance' theory.  Or submit your own theory.  It's a brand new wide open field.

The Era of Roller Derby has Arrived

Wielding thighs of steel and a thirst for competition, the B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls are a full contact, all female, flat-track roller derby league consisting of three teams: The San Francisco ShEvil Dead, The Oakland Outlaws, and The Richmond Wrecking Belles. The B.A.D. Girls pursue a mission to provide amateur athletic entertainment, and to skate competitively on a regional and national level. Driven by a passionate love for the sport, and aided by a national sisterhood of like-minded and dedicated women, the B.A.D. Girls are a skater owned and operated 501 (c)(3) non-profit league with a commitment to helping other grassroots organizations in the Bay Area.

Short Skirts, Shorter Fuses
3524512496_8e6a08c6e8The B.A.D. Girls were founded in August of 2004 by a couple of girls with delusions of grandeur after one too many late-night cocktails. Inspired by dozens of burgeoning neo-derby leagues in cities like Austin, Phoenix, Seattle, Los Angeles and New York, these ladies decided the Bay Area had to be next on the roster.

BAD Gang Currently, the B.A.D. Girls have 70+ full-time league members and continue to grow by the season. As members of the national Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), a skater-run organization of flat-track female derby leagues, they have participated as a Division 1 league in multiple tournaments and intra-league bouts, placing fifth in the Western Region.

Notice that in the picture to the right, the woman with the star on her helmet (the "Jammer") is airborne after a booty whack.  That is not a foul.  You have to use a leg, an elbow or a forearm to get a foul.  After getting caught for fouling 4 times, you have to sit out for 60 seconds.  It's a really fun game to watch and I have rarely been in the presence of so many empowered, backslapping,  bawdy women.  This was last Saturday night, and there were about 2500 people at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco.  The entrance fee was $10.  Beer on tap with a shot of whiskey was going for $5. There were enough of kids, dogs and people showing off their bruises to forever change the meaning of "Bad Ass" in my mind.

If this is what the future looks like, if this is the new ethic/aesthetic of American hotness-- then martial arts teachers are going to benefit big time.

There is a lot of funny and exiting stuff on their website.  Feel the freedom.

Invitation to Nude Beach Olympics II

If you happen to be in San Francisco this weekend....

Saturday, October 10, 2009, Noon , Baker Beach North (clothing optional-- Golden Gate Bridge end of beach)
Look for 4’ white Olympic Torch
Free event

"Athletes must compete nude. Athletes are competing for honor and a wreath. Spectators are clothing optional. More musicians with acoustic instruments are welcome. Gamblers are invited to bet on contests.

olymathleteOlympic Champion chosen by highest individual total points....

Ancient Greek wrestling. Getting opponent’s buttocks, back, or shoulder on the ground within the ring is a win. 2 out of 3 falls. No slugging, kicking, biting, or gouging.

Sumo wrestling. Getting any part of opponents body on the ground outside of the ring is a win. 2 out of 3 matches. No slugging, kicking, biting, or gouging.

Discus. Closest Frisbee to target wins.

Broad jump. Athlete’s choice on approach distance or style of jump.

Volleyball. 2 out of 3 wins in 21 point sets. This year, teams chosen by team captains in rotation from a pool of players. (This issue has already come up. In future years, based on athletes’ preferences, we may or may not have competitions with intact teams who have trained and played together.)

Touch football (?). Requests have been made to play touch football. If a minimum of 10 players sign up, someone claims to be an impartial knowledgeable referee, and someone brings a football, there will be a game.

Kickboxing exhibition. One out-of-state athlete is looking for an opponent. Telephone us, if you exist......"

(Read the whole thing)

Video from Nude Beach Olympics I at

Look for me if you go...I'll be the one wearing three pairs of long underwear under my pants with a haramaki, a wool shirt scarf and hat!

If you like this stuff you'll also like this one on Turkish Wrestling.