The First 3 to 5 – Rory Miller

This will be a rehash of some things I’ve said before. Hmmmmm. Maybe I’ll just make a post with a list of all the things I say too much and then quit writing? Naaaaah. New questions come up all the time.

Making certain people proficient at violence is simple. Not easy, but simple. The physical skills are not complicated nor difficult. Good basic skills, realistic expectations and then you put them in the situation, surrounded by veterans or at minimum backed up by veterans and most people will develop proficiency. Simple. Not easy and certainly not safe, but simple.

Works for most people, with at least one caveat– the person has to want to be proficient. Someone who actively seeks to undermine being tested (not showing up, looking for a desk job, tying shoes before running to a back-up call…) won’t get there. And there are a few people who never quite get there, and that can work a couple of ways– someone who just can’t hurt someone else will never become proficient at violence. And some one who can’t control their anger may do things and survive things, but they will never meet my definition of proficient.

The core question for civilians is that most won’t have the multiple encounters it takes to access skill. According to Ken Murray in “Training at the Speed of Life” the Air Force set the requirements for Ace at five kills because the first 3-5 were luck. Until some magical threshold, somewhere in the 3-5 range (I estimated 20-50 for unarmed encounters, but maybe I was slow) no one remembered, much less used, their training under the stress of combat. You survived the first handful on luck and instinct…and if you could do that five times, you probably had good instincts.

When you hit the threshold, you had a fighter with good instincts who could access all of his training, and that defines formidable.

For civilian self-defense, this is the big problem. How to get someone who doesn’t necessarily have good instincts through the first encounter. These are the victim profiles, the people that need a chance. They are also the group with the most stacked against them.

The weird part, and what I really want to write about, is that sometimes we know what doesn’t work. Complicated patterns, anything that requires calculation or prediction isn’t likely to be accessible when the neocortex steps aside and the hindbrain takes over. Maybe after the threshold number, but not in the first one. Repetitive drilling of unnatural motions puts you in conflict with your own body and mind when you need things to be together most. If those repetitive, complicated, unnatural motions were practiced against attacks that don’t happen, even worse. And telling fairy tales of what attacks are like or what your techniques can do… maybe it works. The Ghost Shirt society did pretty well in their first battle, believing bullets would bounce. But I still don’t think lying to students is ever good.

We know (and by ‘we’ I mean other people) things don’t work…and we still do it that way. We teach that a ridiculously obscure formula will give us the power to safely and without side effects put large men to sleep. Or we drill, drill, drill against attacks that don’t don’t don’t happen. Because as teachers we have so much ego tied up in our years of training that we would rather provide a bad answer than admit that we have none.

That’s wrong. It is managing fear, making us feel better, while doing absolutely nothing for danger. It makes no one safer.

Maybe. There’s a lot of bullshit and misunderstanding, but almost every technique you drill hard at will have a use in real life. It may not be the block you were taught it was, but most of the motions are pretty efficient and they will stand you in good stead. Provided you survive to your threshold number of encounters so that you can access them.

There’s also some data that what works at the instinct level, before the threshold, may not be the same skills or mindset that works after. Sanford Strong’s research indicated that the most important survival element for victims of violent crime was not size or skill, but the ability to turn fear into a righteous rage. But rage almost always hurts a skilled fighter (though that, again, may be my opinion and based on an environment where we were expected to show complete self-control).

In Maslow’s hierarchy, these would be the people tapping into their lowest level of survival brain and they would fight completely without skill, much like a drowning victim. No skill, but very dangerous. Past the threshold fighting is a marriage of higher brain function with animal intensity.

Basic point is that once we know what doesn’t work we have a responsibility not to cling to it. If we do so, we do so for our own egos, not to make anyone safer. We need to be honest with our students and we need to look for new ways, or old ways that worked better. Other ways.

There is some stuff that helps, and again, almost every style and system has it. Operant conditioning or contact response or flinch training or whatever you want to call it will maybe get you through the first half second. That’s important.

Good scenario training can help you adapt to the natural environment of conflict. It can also push a student to use judgment, bringing higher and lower brain functions together under stress.

Good information never hurts…

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