I attended with a close friend of mine who is a physician, mental health professional, potential academic collaborator, and fellow martial artist. My original estimate on the percentages of black belts in the room was at over 50%, my friend said at least 75%. Either way, there were some people I got to play with who had been training for about as long as I've been alive.
Now, the physical (or more accurately, psycho-physical) exercise that was the basic building block of day one is called the One Step Drill. Essentially, partners work in slow motion more or less on a count, with one move allowed per count. You must go slow enough to not be able to inflict damage and also for the consequences of the moment to be clear. Rory described this exercise (or really all of day one) as a means of teaching perspective and new ways of seeing. At all times there is a search for the Golden Move (tm), which efficiently grants an effective offense while evading danger. As there were a whole lot of different martial arts represented in the room we got to experience a pretty wide range of techniques. The Golden Move (tm) can best be described as the maximization of a tactical circumstance and variations of the idea exist in many martial arts. In fencing it's a stop thrust, in Okinawan Karate there is a way of angling your counter-offensive in which your own punch deflects an oncoming attack while on its way in, etc. For me the One Step Drill was both great and disorienting because it takes speed out of the equation. Though arguably it takes a whole lot of other attributes out of the equation as well. One thing I particularly enjoyed was the opportunity to roll with very skilled people who also happened to be a whole lot bigger than me, something I haven't gotten to do all that much recently. When I was growing up my sensei used to habitually partner me with significantly larger people, so on some level I guess there is an element of missing having to solve the problems that that sort of physical dynamic represents. And the extent to which having to make up for a size disadvantage makes one really aware of what is and is not effective.
One of my favorite sections of Meditations on Violence is "The Flaw in the Drill." Basically the principle is that all training for violence inherently involves a deliberate flaw that allows for safe practice. In the case of armed combat usually it's the weapon that is designed as the flaw, in the case of unarmed work it varies. The One Step Drill was great in that the deliberate flaws were close to everyone's conscious awareness, making the lessons of the drills that much more visible as well. Variations on the One Step included work wherein one partner was blindfolded and had to fight primarily by sense of touch, and something Rory calls Plastic Mind, wherein one partner goes into an exchange with preset decisions about the situation. The drills involved multiple ranges (striking, trapping, grappling, etc) and the opportunity to work with multiple body types and training backgrounds, so it was a constant influx of movement information. This was a really good time with some really tough people.
The day one talks were mostly based on his books and material that he's been working out on his blogs. This includes things like the importance of understanding adrenaline. Adrenaline is a factor that gets left out of way too many discussions of violence. Those of you reading this who already know me probably know that I've spent the past five years as a part time self-defense instructor for a non-profit organization called IMPACT Boston. IMPACT does a lot of work with trauma survivors and schools as well as the general public. Basically what we do there is a form of operant conditioning in which we recreate potentially dangerous situations as safely and realistically as we can using specially designed armored suits. The suits allow us to act as if we are threats, get a student's adrenaline going, and then have them respond vocally and/or physically in ways that will allow them to get out of the situation safely. The physical skills we teach are all fairly simple, and we also give a lot of attention to verbal deescalation and threat recognition. We're also very sensitive to trauma and have been an important step in the healing process of many survivors. It's an organization that does a whole lot of good in the world and I'm proud to be a part of it. I bring up IMPACT because my experience there helps frame a lot of my own thoughts on violence and self-defense.
Adrenaline is so important because it changes one's entire relationship to their body while it is engaged. I'm talking motor skills, perceptions, decision making, everything. Fine motor skills are pretty much not going to happen for the most part, and things like auditory exclusion and time distortion come into play. The adrenal state is something that must be considered in self-defense training, and it is something that students must experience.
Other topics included the social and asocial drives that lead to violence, basics of self defense law (he passed out copies of the MA Jury Instructions for self-defense cases), situations in which violence tends to take place, the importance of training for overcoming surprise and "breaking the freeze," different methods of deescalation, and also the ethical choices involved in self-defense. I don't want to go too far into these lectures as Rory's covered a lot of them in his books and articles, but I do want to say again that personal safety is something everyone should be invested in, not just those of us who like to bang around the martial arts community.
Now then, day two, Human Conflict Communications. This was a several hour long presentation based on work that Rory's been doing with Marc MacYoung with the intention of co-authoring a book on the subject in the near future. It's an approach to understanding conflict that brings together a bunch of stuff from several behavioral sciences including social psychology, neuroscience, sociology, and anthropology. Early on he invokes the axiom that no models are accurate but some models are useful, and form there the two models that come into play the most are Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and tripartite brain structure (human, monkey, lizard). He divides the concerns of the pyramid among the brains, with the lizard being concerned with the lower levels (safety, security), the monkey with the middle levels (belonging, esteem), and the human brain with the top level (self-actualization). He posits that asocial violence comes from the top and bottom of the pyramid while social stems from the middle. Examples of asocial violence would be an addict trying to get their next hit, who does not see their targets as anything other than a resource, and at the other end of the spectrum, a psychotic who takes pleasure in murder/rape/torture is not seeing the humanity in their target either. The middle sections of the pyramid, those influenced by the monkey brain in this model, contain social violence. These are pretty much the primate behaviors that Rory refers to as "The Monkey Dance" in his writings. As I understand it, this material was first aimed at law enforcement and security personnel, and the applications to other environments started to jump out and the implications were expanded. Pieces of this presentation actually reminded me of Nietzsche and Musashi, both of whom wrote about human conflict without modern social science as a point of reference.
Social conflict made up a huge part of the presentation, and goes far beyond violence. Humans are social primates and pack animals, which is a fact we often ignore. There was a clear discussion of internal enforcement of rules within groups and the differences that those methods take depending on whether or not the group is functional. There was also a discussion of hierarchy and roles and how those play into expectations of behaviors. I found that section especially engaging as someone who often crosses lines between disciplines. As a culture we've engaged in some pretty serious specializations, and I've found that those people who operate outside or in between those specializations are sometimes suspect, even after establishing credibility across disciplinary lines. Thinking about this from the point of view of Miller's model, multidisciplinarity threatens pack structure. He discussed this in the law enforcement community when tactical operatives did administrative work and were treated as barely tame animals. Though in that case it was also a function of placing people who existed in an extreme end of a use of force continuum into an environment where those extremes were not on the table.
The use of force continuum was a sort of food chain in how humans as pack animals exert their will on each other. It scales from "being nice" up to lethal force. This is where I start to see some flaws in the model's usefulness. The first four steps are essentially Nice, Manipulative, Assertive, Aggressive. Rory posits that the manipulative will run rampant over the nice, but wither before the assertive, who in turn would wither before the aggressive, who in turn would be shut down before the assualtive, etc., etc. My problem with this model is that everything past manipulation is an escalation and not so subtle, where skilled manipulators tend to do more subtle work that is not as readily visible. I would hold that a ruthless enough manipulator can influence those operating at the levels of force that are higher up on the presented continuum without having to directly engage in any of those behaviors themselves.
I recently attended a TEDx livecast where I got to see Pamela Meyer's TEDGlobal talk on deception. Pamela is the author of of Liespotting, and is an expert on the psychology of deception. Her talk covered several types of lies and really illuminated the spectrum of deceptive behaviors. Rory said that those people who would kill or maim have no problem lying (and I am fairly sure that he's right), but I begin to wonder if a person who actively deceives someone else into committing an act of violence against a third party falls outside the model. I'm thinking here about certain personality disorders that I've read about, and I wonder what their place is in how conflicts develop and escalate. I've been thinking a lot about deception and misinformation as plot device lately. In part because of a couple really powerful productions of Othello I saw in the past couple years, and in part because I've been reading the Game of Thrones books recently and deception plays such a role in the decisions that those characters make. Part of a recent collaborative project I am doing with Zillah Glory involved a monologue about pathological liars, which you can see one incarnation of here:
That was really the only part of the lecture that I had any problems with. The parts about motivations behind conflicts all rang true an made a lot of sense, the means of deescalation were all clear, and the application of behavioral science principals were incredibly insightful. What was also great about this was that it felt very much like it was "by the good guys, for the good guys."
I had the benefit of going through these seminars alongside my friend Percy, who is a physician specializing in psychiatry, so our discussions afterwards helped contextualize everything in a deeper setting. My own academic specialties are on the presentation of fake violence, but so much of what we as a society think we know about violence does not in fact come from any exposure to the real thing. I believe that since that is the case, when many people are faced with real violence it is so far removed from what they have come to believe it looks and feels like that the freeze is made worse and denial becomes that much more of a danger. Which is all the more reason that we should have a better understanding of the real thing.
Once more, I highly recommend Rory Miller's work. Read the books, and if you can, check out a seminar. He's a great teacher. Very clear, very generous, and highly engaging. Also, he actually read my dissertation.