Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller

Miller tries to understand how it is that martial artists get stomped in violent encounters. While overconfidence, bad training, and risk assessment failures can explain a lot, Miller concentrates on 'the freeze' that can happen due to decision paralysis, unexpected strikes, adrenaline spiking to levels unexperienced, etc. Most dojos do little to prepare your mind for violence.

Martial arts practitioners have been wrestling with this problem for centuries: how does one safely practice violence in the raw, when learning is severely hampered by broken bones and torn ligaments? Imagine a martial art where every lesson ended with you in the hospital?

Miller advocates conditioning; conditioning to a uniformity of response to classes of threats, conditioning to practice transitioning instantly from any brain state to a predatorial one, and conditioning to experience fighting with a body full of adrenaline. Normally one thinks about uniformity in fights as a negative, however in the first instant, having a clear guideline like 'take the center' or 'do damage' will resolve to a different strike in different conditions. Having students fold laundry and striking them suddenly is one of the lessons in his classes. And although it appears that he hasn't shot students with adrenaline darts, I'd bet money that he's thought of doing it.

Thinking like a predator will help get you to the point where you can recognize the precursors to predatorial violence. While most of the violence we will experience will probably be death or dismemberment by high-velocity machinery (learn your tools; drive defensively!), a significant subset of very bad things happen to prey.

The book's got more:

Here's a rule for life: You don't get to pick what kinds of bad things will happen to you. You may prepare all your life to take on a cannibalistic knife-wielding sociopath. You may get stuck with a soccer riot. Or a road rage incident with a semi. Or a pickup full of baseball bat swinging drunks. Or nothing at all. You don't get to choose.
-- Chapter 1, Section 1
Every (martial art) style is for something, a collection of tactics and tools to deal with what the founder was afraid of. A style based on the founder's fear of losing a non-contact tournament will look different, even if it is just as well-adapted for that idea of a fight as my Jujutsu is for its time and place.
-- Chapter 2, Section 0
The instructor explained how under a Straightblast the threat will retreat. My friend said, "But what if he doesn't? What if he steps in?"
I thought, "Brother, the last guy who moved in on you and STABBED you, you lifted him up in the air and slammed him down so hard you broke his spine! Why the hell are you listening to this guy when you have more experience than him and everyone he knows combined?"
-- Chapter 2, Section 0
The Group Monkey Dance (GMD) is another dominance game. In this ritual, members of a group compete for status and to show their loyalty to the group by showing how vicious they can be to an 'outsider'...
Once the dance starts, the victim is literally a non-person. Any action -- pleading, fighting, passivity -- will be interpreted by the group as proof of 'otherness' and further justification to escalate.
-- Chapter 3, Section 1
One (inmate) was brushing his teeth. The other came up behind him and struck him on the side of the head. The tooth brusher tried to turn but was pressed into a corner, punched again and again with hard rights until he curled into a fetal ball. Blood splashed (not smeared) onto the wall at shoulder height.
The attacker broke several bones in his hand and did not know it. Not only did he break his own metacarpals in what is called a "boxer's fracture", but he also had one finger deformed, bent, and twisted to the side... He started complaining about the pain hours after the assault. His hand was broken, but he kept on hitting.
I told the attacker that he was lucky -- if the other guy had fallen or hit his head on the wall and suffered more serious injury, he could be looking at some heavier charges.
He said, "Nah, I held his head with my other hand so it wouldn't hit the wall. I know how you guys trump up charges and if I'd let him hit the wall, you'd try to get me for attempted murder." In the midst of this ambush, he was thinking.
Most martial artists are completely unprepared for this. Most civilians, who have learned what they know of fighting by watching carefully staged and choreographed movie scenes or skilled competitors in a test of skill and cunning, can't really relate to it. Do you respect the power of a sudden attack and a constant barrage ... of speed and pain that comes on faster than your mind can process? ...
The four truths: Assaults happen closer, faster, more suddenly, and with more power than most people believe.
-- Chapter 3, Section 2
Male and female adrenaline curves. In general, men get a big surge of adrenaline early that dissipates fairly quickly. Women have a much slower build up and a longer cool down time. Hence, a man will be ready to go berserk (or freeze) as soon as the engagement starts and a woman will be able to think clearly for several minutes before she hits her "deer in headlights" mode.
-- Chapter 3, Section 3
There are theories. Lots of them. Most are crap. Lonnie Athens' "violentization" process as outlined in Richard Rhodes' book, "Why They Kill", fits my experience best in that it explains why not all children brought up the same way become violent. Simply, the ones that become violent adults were the ones that violence worked for. If a child or you adult attempts to bully or lash out and is rewarded by the positive reinforcement of approval or the negative reward of their tormentor backing off, they will continue to be violent. If escalating violence works, they will escalate.
-- Chapter 4, Section 4 What makes a violent predator?
Training Phase 1: Long before the assault. Before anything bad happens, preferably years before, you should become familiar with the legal aspects of self-defense -- how much force you can legally use, when you can use it, and when to stop.
You also need to work out your moral and ethical issues with regard to violence... If you can't shoot a human being, or couldn't blind one or are terrified of being crippled, you need to know this before you are in a position where it is possible or likely.
Training Phase 2: Before the assault: Before anything bad happens, you need to understand how to avoid and prevent attacks. Understand terrain. Develop awareness. Study predator, crime, and violence dynamics. Learn how to de-escalate someone verbally and learn the warning signs when it is too late to make de-escalation work. And don't get hung up there -- a true predator won't give you the chance to use this level.
Training Phase 3: Operant conditioning: Optimally, you need to train a small group of counterattacks to sudden assault and train them to reflex speed. This is one of the few things that can derail a predator's plan. If you have trained it well, this response will kick in before you freeze.
Training Phase 4: Breaking the freeze: If you get hit and you weren't expecting it, you will almost certainly freeze. As described earlier, you need to recognize the freeze and act.If you do not, you will be stuck here. Game over.
Training Phase 5: The fight: Everything you learned in martial arts now applies -- if you got here. Phases 3 and 4, in my experience, are usually neglected in martial arts training. They are critical to keeping you functional long enough to access your training.
Remember also, that you are fighting the threat's mind as well as his body.
Training Phase 6: The aftermath: There may be legal consequences. There may be health issues and injuries. In a high end use of force, where someone is killed or crippled, there will almost certainly be emotional effects. Whether you did something or nothing. Whether you did right or wrong. Learn about these now.
-- Chapter 5, Section 5
The predator who works off the blitz, the sudden overwhelming attack, chooses his victims carefully. The best defense, at this stage, is to look and act like someone who will be a very expensive victim, someone who would make an attacker pay. It is projecting confidence and self-value.
I could go and repeat everything you've ever heard about posture, body language, and eye contact but they would just be words. Soon, while these words are still fresh in your mind, go to a bar, take a ride on a bus, or walk in a crowded park, fair, or market. First, look at the crowd like a predator would. If you needed to get money, soon and at the least risk to yourself, who would you attack? How? Where? There are people in every crowd looking at you exactly that way. Start training yourself to see what they see. Look at it from the blitz point of view: Who appears weak, unaware, or sick? Who is self-effacing with bad posture? Who is alone? Who is too drunk to respond to an attack?
-- Chapter 6, Section 1
The Golden Rule of Combat:
Your most powerful weapon
Applied to your opponent's greatest vulnerability
At his time of maximum imbalance
-- Chapter 6, Section 3
In the end and at the deepest level, successful physical defense will depend on three things: Awareness, Initiative, and Permission...
Awareness of your own body... Awareness of your opponent's body... Awareness of the situation... Awareness of the (social) dynamic (e.g monkey dance) ... Awareness of your duty, your beliefs, and your place in the universe...
Initiative-based training ... If and when they learn to act decisively, you won't see it coming; the movement will be explosive, hard, and un-telegraphed, and you will not have time to respond. Which movement they use is irrelevant. A slap, an entry, a kick, a lock, or a strike will all work. The technique is irrelevant. To quote (US Marshal) Jeff (Jones) "Violence of action trumps technique."
Permission... Once you develop the awareness that certain rules are artificial, you can choose to break them.
-- Chapter 6, Section 5

Sometimes I ask, "Why didn't you...?" reach for a weapon, use a preemptive strike, run, call for help...
And the student says, "I didn't know I could."
For the longest time, I assumed that meant the student had never considered it or didn't know how... it didn't occur to me that they thought it might be forbidden.
These are things that should never need to be said but still must, because there is power in the words.

  1. You have permission to defend yourself.
  2. You have permission to be rude.
  3. You have permission to survive, no matter what it takes.
  4. You have permission to act when the scary man reaches for his belt. You do not need to wait until he draws his weapon or until he points it at you, or until he hurts you. You have permission to act.
  5. You have permission to beat me, even if I wear a black belt.
  6. You have permission to become better than the best instructor you ever had.
  7. You have permission to invent something better than I ever taught you, permission to use it in my class, permission to use it to defeat me, and permission to teach it to your students.
  8. You have blanket permission to grow and live and survive and fight and run and scream and talk and play and laugh and learn and experiment. You have permission to win, and you have permission to decide what winning is. Be amazing!
-- Chapter 6, Section 5
Why is a caterpillar wrapped in silk while it is changing into a butterfly?
So the other caterpillars can't hear the screams. Change hurts.
-- Chapter 7, section 5, Dealing with the survivor/student