Summing Up

 

“You are the sum of the five people closest to you.”

 

I’ve seen this quote attributed to different people, and others put it as “you are the average of the five people you most associate with;” I think the summing up version is better – heard that way from Rich Mason.

Thinking about it, it really is telling. Looking around you and assessing, it could be inspiring… or frightening.

It has probably changed for you over the years – or you have.

And it’s something we have total control over in our lives, though most of us probably have trouble exerting such control.

Gets you to thinking…

 

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Crucibles

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“A situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new.”

Some training is a crucible, a trial demanding all you have and more, and challenging your notions of your own capacity across layers of skills.

The kind that makes you nervous just contemplating it.

When you are just so tired, you started at noon and its 2am the next morning and you are still at it and gearing up to do another run – and you know you will do the same thing tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. It’s pitch black when the lights go out, though all your practice was in the day time. You have to multi-task now and run everything with lights and lasers. Tests of competencies that start to fall off under duress.

It’s in the 90s with 90% humidity, and you are fully geared up, including the gas mask you wear every stinkin’ run, and you can’t breathe very well, and you can’t hear for various reasons, and everything you say to your partners goes unheard or misunderstood and you are pressed, from all sides, all the time, and damn it hurts when you take another mag of simulated training rounds from one side – and then another. You were given a short look at the tactics they want you to run but not enough to get any good at them and you screw everything up. With more epic fails than before and you start to question your qualification to even be here, doing what you are doing.

The lessons are written in bruises and scabs from the rounds all over your arms and legs and hips and ass, that you discover when, exhausted, you peel off your sweat-sopped clothes, so wet you may as well have jumped in a swamp.

Deeper lessons are marked by irritability, impatience, even anger. With your instructors, your partners (most of whom you don’t even know), and yourself. And then you do it again.  And again.

This isn’t about Embracing the Suck. This is The Suck embracing you.

It gets down to a core part of you when you go through something like this. You are broken down in many ways, before you climb back up.

Not a lot of people are comfortable with this kind of training. Afraid to put themselves out there, where egos are not simply bruised but battered, and in a way realistic to the problem tactically, technically, and psychologically. But after decades of training combatives and tactical disciplines, this is the kind that I like, and need the most, more than yet another feel-good class based on minimum standards or “wanting the student to be successful.”

Don’t read that the wrong way. I think most instructors want students to be successful; It’s just that most spoon-feed or softball their students to success.

Others basically demand the student be responsible for that success.

That’s how resilience is built.

 

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The Samurai and the Zen Cat

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In spite of all his prowess as a master of the martial arts, a certain samurai found himself incapable of getting rid of a large rat that had set up housekeeping in his home and was making a continual nuisance of itself. The rodent was very alert and extremely cunning. It could dodge any sword blow and was too smart for any trap. So the master of the house was finally driven to his last resort. He went to the marketplace to buy a cat. He found a merchant who seemed to have what he was looking for and returned home with a young and vigorous male cat. After a week of meowing, pouncing, and frantic chases around the house, the spirited young tom remained without a catch.

So the disappointed samurai went back to the market to return the cat to the merchant. The latter at once began touting the merits of his latest acquisition, a striped male cat in the prime of his life. If you went by what the merchant said, a better rat hunter would never be found.

And in truth, the new arrival quickly showed itself to be both more experienced and more subtle than his predecessor. It waited in ambush behind pieces of furniture for hours at a time. It stole furtively about close to the walls, creeping slowly so as not to arouse attention. But after a week, the rat was still running free. Furious, the sword-bearing householder returned the cat to the merchant and demanded his money back.

The samurai was in the habit of paying regular visits to a Zen monk from a nearby temple. He found himself telling the monk about his problem.

“Well,” the monk responded, “you should borrow our old cat for a while. Thanks to him, we have no rodents here.” And he took the samurai into the dojo, where asleep on a zafu, a meditation cushion, lay a somewhat decrepit, plump old tomcat, with a half-bald head that looked as though it had been tonsured. The warrior brought the old puss back home and deposited it, still asleep, on a tatami mat, where it continued snoozing away, giving not the slightest sign of knowing it had changed residences.

The attitude of the monastic feline was extremely irritating. It spent its time sleeping on the tatami, always in the same place near the fire, without getting up except to eat it’s food or see to its basic needs. You could believe that it had taken on the worst habits of certain monks, who after filling their bellies, sit zazen for hours while picking their noses!

Not a week had passed before the samurai carried this useless creature with a mouth not worth feeding back to the temple.

“Don’t be so impatient,” the monk exclaimed. “Keep him a little while longer. Trust me. I’m positive that in the end he will provide you with complete satisfaction.”

Skeptical, the gentleman took the old tom back home. One day followed another without any change in the cat’s attitude. And as the proverb says “When the cat sleeps, the mice dance.” In this case, the rat made itself more and more comfortable. It even became so bold as to sample the food waiting to be stewed over the fire, frightening the daylights out of the maid. Since the old tomcat still showed no sign of moving, the rodent now paid it no more heed than it would to a stuffed animal. And one day. as the rat was trotting by in paw range, with a sudden move, the Zen cat seized it. In a flash, it was a dead rat.

The samurai, who had witnessed the scene from a distance, could hardly believe his eyes. He at once recalled one of the principles of Chinese strategy: numb the vigilance of the enemy. He returned the old tom and made a gift to the temple. Then he meditated on the lesson he had just learned and, it is said, made considerable progress in his practice of swordsmanship.

 

 

Personal “Red Teaming”

Red Teaming, as explained at the Red Team Journal, is “the practice of viewing a problem from an adversary or competitor’s perspective.” Apropos individual preparation, consider as well viewing a problem from a personally adverse perspective.

There is a precursor in the Stoic discipline of praemeditatio malorum, or “preparing the mind in advance to cope with adversity,” which the RTJ addresses succinctly here. It’s not limited to the Stoics, or even Western traditions, as I have seen similar approaches treated in Zen and in East Asian combative disciplines.

There is much to be said for the pre-exercising (pre-exorcising?) of evils… Whether you meditate on facing various adverse conditions (from the death of a loved one to your own death), climbing a ladder of sword blades, on charging through a hail of flaming arrows (or bullets…), or you picture a sword suspended by a string hanging over your head while you sleep, you are preparing the mind to deal with hardships on the edge of life and death. The great samurai general Takeda Shingen supposedly said:

“Zen has no other secret than meditating seriously on life and death.”

Absent actually facing death as your practice, this is probably quite true.

I am often asked about how to prepare to face a critical incident, especially when our life may be on the line, and we don’t have any experience to draw upon. I must say, before I was ever aware of praemeditatio malorum I was practicing it. And I found that it worked, even when literally millimeters away from death.

Earlier in my martial practice I learned a method of meditating specifically intended to fire up the nerves and heart rate. The goal was to maintain a certain level of detachment while getting to the point that the heart was pounding, sweat pouring, and the limbs shaking simply through the exercise of visualization, then bringing oneself back down.

After getting into law enforcement, I learned “tactical breathing” and “visualization” of a different sort, and then decided to combine the two. This has been a beneficial practice, one which I truly believe has helped save my life.

As a “visual aid,” I would take the accounts of officer involved shootings, and incident debriefs, and picture myself involved. With practice, such visualization can get very realistic, approaching the levels of heart pounding, limb shaking exertion described above.

But I went a step further. I would often envision myself on the losing end: being stabbed, being shot, being physically overwhelmed by one or more attackers, my gun being taken, etc. Some trainers will teach that you should never do this, as it could be “bad” for the students. I could not disagree more.

While I envisioned being on the losing end, the unbreakable rule was that I never visualized actually losing. I never gave up the fight, I never succumbed to injury, no matter how bad, I never lost I ALWAYS WIN in that visualization.

And then when I consider situations such as the Marcus Young Incident, I used that to aid my praemeditatio… make it more realistic.

This is different from, and should be contrasted with, the idea of tactical visualization in which one always thinks of themselves as dominating a situation. Rather than inculcating a “will to win,” I think that it is setting one up for potential failure, for when things don’t end up that way, or aren’t even given the chance to start out like that, someone who has programmed a false sense of security in the idea that they will be invincible may be sorely tested when the adversary, or adverse conditions, aren’t cooperating.

It has worked, at least for me. It has had other benefits: more than one officer has written of, and others told me, of a recurring dream in which, when faced with a deadly force encounter and they attempt to return fire, the bullets just drop uselessly out the end of their muzzle. Odd that it would affect multiple officers independently, coming from very different backgrounds.

I have never had a dream or thought like this and I think it’s because of this mental training.

Clearly, the Stoics went far beyond tactical considerations. Imagining a child dying, or our life in a shambles, is a hard path to take. But in the end, it builds a certain brand of mental toughness, and more important, resilience, that can carry us throughthings far more common, and perhaps more debilitating, than a gunfight or violent encounter.

Balance and Consistency

Read an article about “old man jiujitsu” the other day, in which the author was talking to those “older” guys “on the wrong side of”,,,wait for it….”thirty!”

Chuckle.

A good buddy of mine is looking at 49 and 20 years on a SWAT team.

Many people have entire police careers of 20 years. He’s had a SWAT career that long, and from the looks of it will go much longer.  He is consistently at the top on all team firearms quals and competitions, all fitness quals and competitions (we do both regularly, sometimes combining them), and is arguably the best tactician on the team.(And by that I mean I sometimes argue with him over tactics….heh)

Some may say “Well, he’s obviously genetically gifted. Been lucky and not been hurt. Had the time and freedom from responsibilities those of us with work and kids and stuff have to deal with…”

Nope. Struggled for years when he was younger to GAIN weight. He is now pound for pound astonishingly strong, and that in both “lifting heavy things” and in body weight work like pullups and the like.

Never juiced in his life. He did do the GOMAD diet for a while when he was younger and thinks it made him lactose intolerant.

Had major double hip surgery in his mid-40s. Came back better than he was before.

And no, he did not neglect his family to make sure he always got to the gym or the range, like I sadly see some so-called “action guys” do. He’s raised an outstanding young man whom he communicates with on an almost daily basis due to the foundation of time and effort at parenting he spent in the formative years.  No chaotic home life or divorce or the like, either.

His secret is no secret. Balance and consistency. He balances life and work and training and just consistently shows up. He takes it seriously every single time.

When he can’t show up all the time, he does when he can and takes it seriously every-single-time.

When injured he does what the doctor tells him to heal it, and works around the difficulty.  He has his low times, his frustrations, to be sure, but he inverts the dominant paradigm so many struggle with: he motors along most of the time functioning at a high to very high level, with occasional down times; many function at mid- to low levels with occasional highs.

This sets patterns. If we are consistently high, our baseline is high. Lows will come and go. But higher order patterns mean higher order functioning becomes habit.

That’s not easy. I wish I could do what this guy does. Watching him and emulating him has made me much better, and though I may not be able to keep pace with him, I have certainly been able, through his example, to make sure he always sees me in his rear view mirror, and not lost in a cloud of his dust.

Thank you, brother!

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Non-Action

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It’s hard to do, but much of the time we should put the tactical swagger aside and engage instead through the ancient Daoist (Taoist) concept of wuwei – non-doing,  or non-action. Paradoxically, perhaps it’s better thought of as the “action of non-action.”

Too Zenny for you?

I hope not, because often the more we can do by “not doing,” the better.

From the self defensive standpoint, this could mean having enough awareness of the situation and surroundings that you have an inkling something is “up,” say spying a pair of sketchy dudes further down the block that seem to be paying you inordinate attention, or noticing an aggressive panhandler at the entrance to the Safeway when you pulled into the lot, that you avoid any issue by not dealing with it to begin with – crossing the street, or going through a separate entrance.

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“What??” Some might say…but I have a RIGHT to walk in this world, to go down the street or into the store, unmolested and unintimidated!  And if anyone tries anything I will make them wish they hadn’t … or beg for mercy…. Whichever comes first!

That’s fine and all, and if you choose to go through life this way you likely will need the self defense skills you so carefully cultivate at some point. Too often, we seem to concentrate more on the Action part. Tactical thinking – and common sense – sometimes go out the window in the interest of a kind of tough-talking self righteous “I will assert myself” mentality.

In the cop world we derisively refer to it as the “contempt of cop” mentality.

This is bad habit, and bad practice. When you start to look at and cast self-defense as some kind of contest, or some kind of proving ground, the creep is complete and you’ve missed the point altogether.

This is by no means “go along to get along.” It is not “hug-a-thug” nor is it conflict avoidance at all costs.

It is simply choosing one’s battles, and between what should be let go, what we are willing to let go and what we know needs addressed

Non-action requires a lot a confidence. In one’s skillsets, so that one does not feel the need to be “proven,” and in our decision making, so that we can rest easy knowing that not acting was the right call. It won’t always be, but you won’t always know…

If you reasonably believe violence is imminent, you may – very often should – make the decision to act. If not, non-action is usually the best course. Of course, not acting could include lots of action – observing the scene and the facts and circumstances, paying attention to description and cues that might cause action to become reasonable and necessary, “standing by to stand by” so to speak, minding your own business while simultaneously alert and minding the situation.

This takes composure and self-assurance, and a lack of the perceived need to prove oneself.