Monday, April 4, 2016

The Crucible

  1. a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures.
    • a place or occasion of severe test or trial.
      "the crucible of combat"
    • a place or situation in which different elements interact to produce something new.
      "the crucible of the new Romantic movement"

A sword cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials
- Samurai Maxim

Hey everybody, it has been a few weeks.  Although I promised a blog / week I think this counts as meeting that goal, as I have been working on this blog for the last few weeks, and therefore it will be more in depth. (maybe go grab a cup of coffee, if you are going to read the whole thing in one sitting you are going to be here for awhile)

This week is the end of the semester at the Dojo which means next week is TEST WEEK!!!
This is an exciting time (possibly anxiety causing) for the students and for me.

Here are some words I wrote to my students back in '09 before I started the Budo Blog

Test anxiety

December 3, 2009 at 10:09am
It's that time again. Time to put up or shut up!!! A great challenge and opportunity. Remember we have been reviewing the techniques specific to your test for over a year. Also remember that more important than the techniques / etiquette themselves is how you react to the test. To feel fear in the face of a challenge is human nature. To overcome that fear, to use the fear to inspire yourself to further mastery and accomplish your goal is the purpose of training. Ships are safest in the harbor but that is not what ships are built for. Anyone can pull a technique with a cooperative partner under no pressure. We train to have the peace of mind and skill to pull that same technique against someone who is trying to hurt / kill us. Remember in the dojo the worst thing that will happen is you may need to retest in a few months (which may be very beneficial – ask McClure Sensei). Outside the dojo the worst that will happen is serious injury or death. When you compare the two, getting upset about putting on pajamas and engaging in a performance art presentation while other people in pajamas grade you should seem kind of silly. So RELAX!!!, control your breathing, find your center, lower your weight, remember your basics, remember your basics, remember your basics, and go kick ass on your test. I have confidence in all of you. I wouldn't even bother testing you if I didn't all ready know you have the skill to pass. Now demonstrating that skill under pressure is up to you. 


I haven't run a test since then, approaching 7 years.  Why?
It was right around then that I started to look critically at what I was doing, and determine what I wanted to accomplish.  I began training with Steven Jimerfield, Marc MacYoung, and Rory Miller.

Those experiences fundamentally changed my approach.  One of the most profound changes was a shift in focus away from passing on a style to helping to develop individuals.  Helping people reach their own unique potential.

If I am focusing on principles rather than techniques, and I am not concerned about passing on a style or maintaining a tradition, why would I test?  How would I test?

Recently, in my mind a couple of gears have fit together.  A bunch of things have fallen into place. Some questions were answered and other things started to make sense.

Every Instructor that has been teaching for any amount of time has experienced this phenomenon.
You see something a student needs to work on, for example lets use the principle of two way action.
You point out that their push is very strong, but would be made far stronger if they also pulled with the opposite side.  The student is smart, he/she gets the idea in theory but continues to only push.  You continue to point out how also pulling will make it stronger, so much so that you have developed short hand.  Every time you see the same perceived flaw you say push pull.  This goes on for awhile.  Until one day you travel together, or host a clinic with a different Instructor.  I'm not sure if it is hearing it from a different perspective or it is said in an ever so slightly different way that it "clicks" with the student, or just hearing it for the 1000th time, but invariably that Instructor will say your push is very strong, but would be made far stronger if you also pulled with the opposite side.
Boom mind blown!!!!  Now they are using push / pull - two way action with everything they do and it is like they are super human.  Demonstrably more powerful with less effort.  And you are happy for them but you are also like WTF?  I have been busting my balls trying to get you to do that for months and you looked at me like I have a 3rd arm growing out of the back of my head, this guy whispers in your ear and all of a sudden you are a god of war. 

Why I bring this up, is I have done this same myself.

How many times on this blog have I written martial art is not self defense? (Spoiler alert - lots)
I've also said many times that anything you like to do can be "weaponized" for use in self defense.
For example if you spent your youth playing Volley Ball you will have greater success learning how to use your overhand serve as a debilitating strike as opposed to spending years learning how to Box from scratch.

For self defense you will need several physical skills, what we call building blocks at Violence Dynamics.

Building Block Include (but are not limited to)

Ukemi (break falls, how to land safely)
Irimi (Entries, how to safely close on a threat)
Crashing (Bodyweight smashes into people)
Counter assault (Operant conditioned responses to ambushes and suckerpunches)
Ground Movement (Basic Grappling)
Ground Controls (Pins and positioning and escapes)
Striking from the ground
Shime waza and neck breaks
Weapon Retention (Mostly for cops)
Spine Controls
Integration (A training system to forge all of the Building Blocks into a single fighting system)

If you look at a Jujitsu syllabus (at least at the Keishoukan Dojo and other Katamedo Jujitsu schools)  It covers all of those building block (and more) 

Martial art is not self defense.  However if any physical activity you enjoy can be weaponized for self defense, and you happen to like Jujitsu which just so happens to cover all of the building blocks required for self defense, then maybe....just maybe couldn't Jujitsu be weaponized for self defense?

I know it seems obvious but this was a major revelation for me.

So I could teach martial art to folks that really enjoy martial art, and sharpen my building blocks in the process.  Anyone that wanted to use Jujitsu for self defense could also attend the Violence Dynamics Seminar in the fall.

Not every student can do that.  Regular classes are Mondays  and Wednesdays in Mounds View (see last blog about out new home at the Mounds View Community Center - which is working out fantastic BTW) and Tuesdays in Elk River at The Legion of Doom

I decided to have one class a month, the last Tuesday of every month in Elk River dedicated to the Violence Dynamics core curriculum (Operational Disciplines)

  • Context of Violence (Magnificent 7)
  • Conflict Strategy
  • Violence Dynamics
  • Force Law
  • Con Com 
That way I keep fresh on presenting the information.  Students get the training on a regular basis and it gives them time to process the information and complete the home work and self training games / drills.

I look at this as a self defense enhancement to Jujitsu.  I developed an ODIN certification.  Any Jujitsu student that completes all 5 classes and/or a Violence Dynamics Seminar gets an Operative status.  Each additional series or seminar completion earns the next ODIN rank.

People only interested in self defense, that could give two shits about Jujitsu are also welcome at the Operational Disciplines class.  They will just need to find their own way (something they enjoy doing that can be weaponized) to develop their building blocks.

That is one of the coolest things about GOOD self defense instruction.  Physical skills should be your last line of defense.

If you have a solid knowledge of the Violence Dynamics core curriculum (Operational Disciplines) the likelihood of you ever needing to rely on physical skills to protect yourself is greatly reduced  

Teaching Jujitsu for the fun of martial art to people that enjoy martial art was one gear.
Keeping martial art and self defense separate but related and teaching a Operational Disciplines class to people that want to use their martial arts for self defense was another gear.

Those gears fit together nicely but they the engine was not complete just yet.

My Police Department is in the process of starting a Explorer's post.  I have been working on ways I can be of use to this program, how I would run it.

Probably just the nerd in me but when you boil it down the Police Explorers program is not all that different than a young Bruce Wayne traveling the world to gather the skills he will need to one day fight crime.  That, and you get to learn how to operate firearms as well (like Earth 2 or Zach Snyder Batman :) ).  So I went about looking at the program through the spectrum of what would 14 year old Kasey would want out of it, and how could 24 year old Kasey (starting his career in Law Enforcement) benefit from it.

My friend up in Isanti County allowed my to experiment with this idea on his Explorer post.
It went great, and was a lot of fun.

Proof of the pudding was in a conversation I overheard.  One young man is a freshman in collage and has been in the program for 5 years.  The other is also in his late teens, but this was only his second Explorer's meeting.
"So do you like Explorer's now?  Are you going to come back"
"Hell yeah - this is great!"

Another young man came up to me after class and said "Thanks, I want to be a brutal cop like you some day"
Thanks...I guess?
From the context I'm sure he meant Brutal -  like heavy metal not like abusing people's rights.

This was a lot of fun and fits directly into the Violence Dynamics mandate - Build Strong People
It was very rewarding to see the progress these young people made towards that end.

One of the projects this experiment inspired was to develop an objective DT qualification process.  For Explorers and (hopefully)Law Enforcement.  One, to make sure they can apply fundamental skills under pressure.

"An individual can test the efficacy of any combat method by asking himself this simple question “Will this work so I can use it instinctively in vital combat against an opponent who is determined to prevent me from doing so, and is striving eliminate me through means fair or foul?” 
- Col. Rex Applegate “Kill or be killed” 

Secondly, to make Explorers even more fun.

This forced me to take a hard look at the Combat Sambo, Modern Army Combatives Program, Freestyle Judo and USA Combat Wrestling competition systems for a best practises assessment.

I wrote about the benefit of competition in a recent blog, click here to check it out or read it again 
(it is worth a second read)

Competitive Jujitsu doesn't help with self defense?
Yes it does:
Any competition, regardless of the rule set, in which you stand alone against a restive opponent intent on defeating you, helps prepare you for self defense.

I would go so far as to say that someone with no self defense training, but sport competition experience against someone who may be willing to hurt them in order to win has as good if not better chance at surviving a physically violent interpersonal conflict than someone that has excellent self defense training but has never been tested.

Clutch the pearls!!! How dare Kasey say such a thing!

"If your sword is too short, add to its length by taking one step forward"- anonymous
Put up or shut up

I am very pleased with what I have come up with.  The competition system will be another blog in and of itself in the up coming weeks.

I will share what I feel are two major facets that set what I have developed / am developing apart from other competition systems though.

No department is going to want a system, or let their Officer's go train in a system that wrecks their Officers.  So a focus on injury free training is paramount.

Law Enforcement does not need to, nor should they practise dying.

"When it comes I won’t even notice… I’ll be too busy lookin’ good."

Tapping prevents injury by submission.  Nice move bro, you got me this time.
You win or you learn.

However, "on the street" to Law Enforcement submission is death.  If you ever get a chance ask Steve Jimerfield about death fights.  The experience will be eye opening.

If a cop quits he or she dies.  

I believe I have found a way to directly incorporate the idiom - you win or you learn - directly into the rule set.

Ingraining a never give up attitude and inculcating when it is necessary to ramp up to higher levels of force in the most realistic way safely possible.

Sounds cool right?  You want to learn more, give this a shot don't you

I hope so.

I plan on sharing this competition system in February 2017 at the USMAA  North Central Regional Training Camp.

I also understand that this might not be every one's cup of tea.  I have to accept that maybe no one will want to sign up for these games.

I felt that this had too much potential benefit to go to waste.  So I broke the games down and incorporated them into regular Dojo training.

Another gear clicked into place.

If these games were developed for Explorers and Law Enforcement, to make sure they can apply fundamental skills under pressure, and because they are fun - couldn't they also be used as an objective test of skills at the Dojo?

That question inspired yet another project, which brings us back to the title of this week's blog post.  The Crucible

If I am focusing on principles rather than techniques, and I am not concerned about passing on a style or maintaining a tradition, why would I test?  How would I test?

1) Why would I test?

Goals / Purpose of testing:
Testing can help students develop their own method.  Find what works best for them.  What best suits the individual student's needs.

Memorizing a list of techniques sent from some sort of central headquarters, especially if those techniques have not been regularly trained does very little to make the student better, use those techniques under pressure, or reflect relevant skills.  All it shows is a student's ability to mimic their instructor.  

I don't want flawed imitations of me, or my teachers.  I want outstanding originals.

A copy of a copy of a copy does not turn out well

Tokui Waza is a Japanese term which means favorite technique.  
Testing can be a tool to help students develop their Tokui Waza 

*Caveat - I expect that over time a student will understand the principles behind what they do so well they will be able to extrapolate those principles to become proficient at other aspects that might not come easily or naturally to them at first.

 I regard functional self-protection skills as a base-level entry requirement for any system"
 - Iain Abernethy

Testing can help to develop survival skills to the level of proficiency as quickly as possible, so that you have the rest of your life to develop your skills to the level of mastery.

It shouldn't take 5 years of training and a black belt to not get your ass kicked.

Let's look at throws for example.  What is the purpose?  To put someone on the ground.  So let's say you have a 5' nothing 100 and nothing female that can throw everyone in class with a killer foot sweep.  However, the test from headquarters says lists Kata Guruma (Shoulder wheel a throw which requires you to pick your opponent up across your shoulders) on her test.  She understands the principles involved to make Kata Guruma work.  But it is a struggle for her, and she never hits it against any type of resistance.  Should she waste precious training time on technique that she will never use in application because it was on a piece of paper?  Or should she develop skills that allow her to hit the foot sweep she is great at from all sorts of situations and set ups?  Build her own transitions through the different building blocks into and out of that foot sweep.  Find her own progressions - there are only a handful of ways to resist this foot sweep, if they do that what are they handing me?

If the purpose of throwing is to put someone on the ground, isn't that ability that should be tested?  Not the ability to memorize an arbitrary technique to make that happen,

And if she can't pull a Kata Guruma will she fail the test?

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

― Albert Einstein

I don't want fish trying to climb trees, I want god damned killer sharks.

I don't want a swimming monkey I want a god damned beast
The testing process can be a frame work for students to critically look at their attributes and skills.  What are the most efficient methods for me to take someone down?

Take downs are a key building block.  I don't care how you take some one down, only that you have the ability to do so.

Testing can insure students are proficient in all fundamental building blocks.

I don't care which methods you use, they just have to work.  As Marc MacYoung is fond of saying, you can build your house any way you please but its must pass the building code inspection.

Testing can be a means to show a student how far they have progressed.  It can provide an objective reasonable standard that shows the student how their hard work has paid off

This accomplishment has been earned.  It is not a participation trophy.  It is not handed out.

Testing can provide a crucible,  A rite of passage.  A worthy challenge.  A safe place to test skills under increasingly high levels of pressure.

As I have mentioned there is no guarantee that anyone else will want to participate in the competition system I have developed.  However, versions of those competitions can be used to show proficiency against a resisting opponent throughout the different building blocks.

Students wont have a false sense of their abilities because a beautifully decorated piece of paper assured them.

If the person above is a real guy I apologize.  
I googled "lame martial arts rank certificate" and this is what came up

They will know in their bones what they are capable of doing.  Because they did it.  Against someone who was trying to stop them from doing so.  They were pushed, they were tested, they survived, they thrived, they came out the other end changed and they were better off for it.  Confidence built from competence.  They will know where to focus their efforts to improve the areas that need work, and they will be given the tools to accomplish that work.

Sensei McClure often said be happy if a teacher scolds you, or you failed a test.  Because now you know exactly what to work on.  You have something concrete to focus all of your effort on.
(and knowing is half the battle Yo Joe!!!)

In testing, competition, or training some sort of force on force objective assessment is necessary.

One of my favorite experiences with Toyama Ryu Batto Jutsu was tamishigiri.
Your kata can look perfect, but literally - can you cut it?

The tatami doesn't care what your time in grade is.  You can either cut it or you can't

Testing can be used to show proficiency against a resisting opponent throughout the different building blocks.

Testing can also help a student integrate skills from all the different building blocks into a single coherent fighting system.  One that is unique to the individual, taking full advantage of their attributes and strengths, while minimizing their weaknesses.

Building stronger people (making sharks and beasts)

Another gear fit into place

2) How would I test?
Instead of a master list, with each grade having to know specific techniques, I will have students demonstrate their best technique/s from each of the building blocks we cover.  

That number will increase as they progress, as will the proficiency requirement for their core method Tokui Waza.  

For example lets use the girl with the killer leg sweep again.  She will need to be good at other throws as well as she progresses, and lets say she scored a 7 out of 10 on her leg sweep.  She will need to score at least an 8 on her next test.

Just as a took a hard look at different competition systems I respected, I have spent the last several years conducting a best practises assessment of different people I have had the honor of working with.
And that has been a two way street.  For example Omar Ahmad has incorporated counter assault drills (like the ones used at Violence Dynamics) into every Katamedo Jujitsu test.  I love it, so I am stealing that.  
Omar also has progressions and skill wheels as part of the testing process.
Rory Miller's "Drills" book is full of well, drills duh that suit my needs
Randy King has a process to pressure test his students at the end of training that is also very useful.
Lastly I have developed a series of increasingly higher resistance force on force situations.

I'm excited.  Stay tuned I'll let you know how it goes.

The last gear clicked, the engine worked.

Designing a test that fit my goals really helped sharpen what I teach, and when I teach it
If I want to test it I better cover it, several times or I am a hypocrite.  Why test it, if we don't train it. If you don't train it why bother testing it.

Keep what is useful disregard what is unnecessary / contradictory.

Train hard, train smart, be safe

Find a worthy challenge - face your crucible 

No man could understand.
My power is in my own hand,
Ooh, ooh, ooh, people talk about you,
People say you've had your day.

I'm a man, man that will go far,
Fly the moon and reach for the stars,
With my sword and head held high,

Got to pass the test first time, yeah.

Queen "Princes of the Universe"

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