Monday, September 29, 2014


A Rosoideae by Any Other Name
“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate…”

Item: I once went to my doctor and old him I had pain in my kneecap. He examined it and told me I had “chondromalacia patella.”  “What does that mean,” I asked. “That means,” he replied confidently, “that you have pain in your kneecap.”
Item: I had a friend who was incredibly proud of his infant son saying the word “ball.” Sure enough, when I visited, the tyke was playing with a big red one, happily giggling to us “ball… ball…”  What a prodigy! Of course, he also used the word “ball” to describe a shoe, a hat, a cookie, and the cat.  Perhaps you can imagine how pleased the cat was to be included.
”I propose that the fundamental purpose of language is to communicate. By communicate, I mean that what the message receiver hears is what the message sender meant. It doesn’t always go down that way. Maybe you’ve noticed.
Part of this failure to communicate is because about 90% (your mileage may vary) of communication has nothing to do with the text, that is, communication isn’t limited to the actual words you say.  The largest part of the meaning in the message is non-verbal: posture, gesture, facial expression. Another chunk is para-verbal: volume, pitch, tone, pace, inflection.                                                                                                                                                             Actors do an exercise in which they play a scene, say, a couple breaking up, but instead of dialogue, they just say the alphabet. They focus on the non-verbal and para-verbal elements, stemming from what actors like to call the “sub-text.” As in, “What’s my motivation in this scene?”   That’s why you can understand what’s going on in an opera sung in Italian, even when you have no idea of what words they’re singing. It’s also why email is such a lousy method of communication. But to be fair, ANY print medium deprives the message senders and receivers of the para-verbal and non-verbal dimensions of communication, emoticons, notwithstanding.
Another part of the communication problem is that not everyone uses language to clarify, elucidate, and illuminate. Some people use language to confuse, obfuscate, complicate and confound. Yes, Virginia, some people are liars. But also language can serve to identify who’s in with the in-crowd, who’s hip and who’s a drip. That’s why teenage slang is always changing; once adults get hip to it, it’s not cool anymore, that is, it’s no longer a reliable identifier of US as opposed to THEM.  Criminal slang changes when the cops get hip to it.  When the enemy knows the password, you change it.
Some people use language as a power trip, to denigrate, ridicule or disenfranchise others who don’t know the right secret words.   For example in a recent online (there’s two strikes against communication, right there) discussion of the longsword, I mentioned that I had had the opportunity to learn something of this weapon from a mentor many years ago, about a decade prior to the other party’s involvement in it.  The other party –who for some reason believes that the longsword had been dead and forgotten until he and his pals discovered it--- then, rather rudely demanded to know what “sources” (texts) I had used. He further demanded to know if I knew this or that medieval German longsword term.  This gentleman’s position was 1) that I could not possibly learn longsword from an actual teacher, without meticulously scrutinizing some ancient book and 2) that I could not possibly know anything about the longsword if I did not use the same arcane pet-names for it that he did himself.                                                                                                                                           The gentleman’s underlying error here is learning domain confusion. He’s likely very good at the cognitive domain, but it leads him to believe that the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, can be found exclusively in and through his sacred text.
But a book no more contains truth than a clock contains time.
Well. I don’t speak German, that’s a fact. And neither does a longsword. It has no idea whether you are speaking German, French or Venusian, and it doesn’t care. Whichever language you choose to describe it is irrelevant to how the weapon is used. Fighting-form follows function. When fighting-form follows fashion, you’re toast.

  “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right   names.
                                   --- K’ung Fu-Tse (Confucious)

A third part of the problem is that context often defines the meaning of a word, for example when used in a court of law. Many words that are commonly used with broad latitude of meaning  have more specific, narrow and particular meanings as terms of art, the jargon of a particular field.  Therein lies the hub of the rub.
For example, the word “attack” is used by most people to indicate any forceful aggressive action intended to injure or destroy.  As in: “He attacked her in the alley.” “The bombers attacked the city.”  “They attacked his character.”
You might also “attack the problem head on.” Or you could say, “He attacked the steak with gusto.”  “He attacked the problem head-on.”  It can mean an incident of something “an attack of hunger, an attack of loneliness or anxiety – or an attack of silliness.
However, as a term of art in music, “attack” has a particular meaning and refers to the manner in which a tone is begun.
Likewise, in hoplology, “attack” refers to the initial offensive action in a phrase comprising more than one offensive action.
Good science requires that you define your terms as narrowly as possible, and use them in accordance with those definitions. Avoid using two different terms to describe the same thing, and avoid using the same term to describe two unlike things.
 "Tell your own words." Do you have your own words? Personally, I'm using the ones everybody else has been using. Next time they tell you to say something in your own words, say, "Nigflot blorny quando floon."              -George Carlin
I believe the lexicon of a particular discipline should facilitate understanding and communication.  It should be as precisely definitive as possible.  The use of foreign language terms, for any other reason, is merely as an obstacle.
Many languages have a word that means, “cut.” If your language is German, then it makes perfect sense for you to use the German terms. If your language is French, what’s the point of adopting the German term? Is it somehow more precisely descriptive of a “cut” than the equivalent French word?   It’s possible.
Take for example the fencing term “deceive,” as in “to deceive the blade.”  To deceive the blade means that your opponent intends to make some blade contact, to touch your blade with his own. When you avoid that blade contact, that is to “deceive” his blade.
Fair enough.
But suppose there are two very tactical different situations.
In the first, the opponent’s attempt at blade contact has an offensive character, that is, it’s an attempt at preparation (engagement, beat, press, etc) to facilitate a  subsequent attack.
In the second situation, you are making an attack, and the opponent’s attempt at blade contact is defensive in character, That is, your opponent is attempting to parry your attack.
In English, the word “deceive” is used to describe both situations.
But in French, there are two words “tromper” and derober.  Derober can mean to slip away or shy away from or to hide from.  Tromper can mean to cheat, swindle, tease, trick, fool,  falsify or hoax.
If the opponent’s attempt at blade contact has an offensive character, then when you avoid or “deceive” his blade contact, you are slipping away, shying away, or hiding from it.   
If the opponent’s attempt at blade contact is defensive, in response to your particular attack, then when you avoid or “deceive” his blade contact and continue your attack in some other line, to some other target, you have tricked, fooled, teased, cheated or swindled him – having appeared to be doing one thing, but actually doing quite another thing.
I submit that the French terms derober to describe your “deception” in the first situation, and tromper to describe your “deception” in the second situation, are more accurate and precise than using “deceive” for both situations.  Therefore, in the interest of clarity, I would favor using the  French terms derober and tromper over the single English term “deceive.”
Let’s consider another example.
In fencing, there are various trajectories (called “lines”) that a blow, whether cut or thrust, can take to reach the target. The trajectory can be above or below the opponent’s swordhand. In English we refer to that above the hand as being in the “high” line. That below the swordhand we call the “low” line.
In French, the two words are dessus (on top of) for the high line, and dessous (under, beneath or below) for the low line.  Despite their similar spellings, and, to the untrained ear, similar pronunciation, these words mean opposite things. Further, these words have no special meaning that the English words do not have. That is, they do not define the high and low lines any more precisely or accurately than the English words do.  I would submit that, for an English-speaker, the lack of any greater clarity with the French terms, combined with the high likelihood of confusion and error in using the French terms, suggests that the best choice would be to use the English terms “high and “low, and not the French terms “dessus and dessous.
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."
       - Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass (1872)

The reason that selecting appropriate terms is important is that the way you talk about something strongly influences the way you think about something. And how you think about something strongly influences how you behave in regard to that thing.
This is important to understand, because, as already noted, terms are not always used to improve understanding and facilitate accurate communication.
For example, let’s consider the word “terrorism.”
Back when I was first learning about such things, “terrorism” had a very narrow, specific and precise meaning.  It described a very particular type of coercion. In the law, “coercion” defines the use of force or the threat of force to compel a person to do something that they have a legal right NOT to do, or to prevent someone from doing something that they have a legal right TO do.
Terrorism is the use of force or the threat of force to coerce a given population to do or not do something in order for the coercing party to achieve some political end. The political component is a sine qua non. Using coercion so you can rob a bank is not “terrorism.”  Further, not only must the end be political, but  with “terrorism” the coercion must target the innocent, non-combatants – especially children, and be characterized by extreme depravity, brutality or cruelty (the unnecessary infliction of unnecessary pain) that one could say “shocks the conscience.”
Given this history of “terrorism,” it is no wonder that in the popular consciousness a “terrorist” is considered to be a vicious, and sadistic person, lacking in compassion, decency, fairness, courage – indeed lacking ANY respectable human qualities at all. A bully and a coward.  Such a person is typically regarded with an immediate negative emotional response,  disdain, contempt,  outrage, and hatred.
Savvy political propagandists, however, have no interest in maintaining the once-narrow definition of terrorism.  On the contrary, their interest is in expanding the term to include anyone and everyone who opposes them or might oppose them. Indeed, they have spent the last couple of decades broadening the definition of  terrorism to include --- well, practically everything.  People who have the gall to resist a foreign army invading their country and killing their friends and families, are all most certainly “terrorists.” People trying to protect the environment from wholesale pollution and destruction by parasitic mega-corporations are now “eco-terrorists.”  People who want to save animals from living lives of unimaginable horror on factory farms are now “agri-terrorists.” Peaceful protestors, people who esteem the bill of rights, Muslims, Christians, Gays and Feminists have all been described as some form of “ domestic terrorist.”  Once there were jaywalkers; now they are pedestrian terrorists.                                                                                                                                  It is the hope of the political propagandist that by dubbing someone a “terrorist” other people will respond emotionally, automatically condemning the “terrorist” based on those characteristics that they associate with someone who is, in fact, a true terrorist, according to the narrow, accurate and precise definition of that word. To the propagandist, eliciting that emotional response is important because they know that their audience cannot respond emotionally and rationally at the same time. And “rationally” would give the lie to their use of the word. But to the extent that they can keep you emotionally aroused with some combination of fear, anger and hatred, they can be sure that you will remain incapable of the critical thinking that would almost certainly conclude that the propagandists, themselves, are liars, thieves and murderers.

Truth-seeking is contingent upon rational analysis and critical thinking. It can be greatly facilitated --- or substantially obstructed --- by the use of language.
That’s a good lesson. Courtesy of the Sword.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hero Homework #4

 Sticks and Stones

 “Nips,” “Krauts,” “Frogs,” “Gooks,” “Kikes,” “Towel-heads,” “Chinks, “Slopes,”  “Guidos,” “Mics,” “Spics,” “Dagos,” “Wops,” and “Pollacks.”
These are all pejorative ways to refer to some ethnic/racial group. Terms like these negatively caricaturize vast numbers of people, reducing them from unique, living-and-breathing human beings to cartoon stereotypes, based on a single characteristic they have in common --- a characteristic that none of them chose, and is beyond their control.
On a hot summer day, would you be as happy to drink a nice cup of sulphuric acid as you would a cup of water? Why not? They’re both “wet,” aren’t they?

To dehumanize someone, to treat them as an object, depriving them of their human qualities, individual personality, emotions, intelligence and spirit, is the first step on the road to oppression, torture and murder --- whether that’s lynchings, so-called “enhanced interrogation” (that is, torture), or genocide on a staggering scale.
Often, the dehumanization is very popular, like the current stereotyping of Muslims as “terrorists,” and the power of group conformity makes a trend like that difficult to resist.
But resistance is not futile.
Resistance is critical.
And so we come to this week’s workout for your hero muscles. It has two parts.
 Each day this week:

1. Write down what you find interesting and valuable about a different person each     
2. Write down something that you have in common with that person, some way in which you are alike.  

Select people as different from you as possible, ideally members of racial, ethnic, or religious groups other than your own.

The less acquainted you are with individuals of the maligned group, the easier it is to malign them.
The judgments you make about others depend not only on their behavior, but also on your interpretation of their actions within a social context. By taking a few minutes to acknowledge the unique qualities of an individual you can learn to see past stereotypes and develop appreciation for those who are different from you.  You will become aware that people who are very different from you, are still quite like you in some way(s). And this exercise will help you develop the capacity to see with your own eyes, and not through the eyes of your “group.”


A few good links on group conformity:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On Applied Behavioral Hoplology

 Observations on the Science
Applied Behavioral Hoplology

A recent “discussion” with some very emotional longsword aficionados, compelled me to make note of three important lessons that, while they may seem obvious to the well-initiated, are apparently not universally known and understood.
I’d like to be clear that when I offer a critique, even one that may seem harsh, I’m not pointing out the errors of others in order to imply that I, myself, don’t make any. On the contrary, the reason I sometimes find it so easy too see the errors of others is that I have made the same error, myself. I’m in a position to warn you about potholes in the road, because I’ve driven on this road before and run over them.

Ritual Combat and Real Combat are not the same thing.
I once trained with a teacher who did only kata (etudes) in his school. They did NO kumite (sparring). When I asked him why, he explained, “In kumite, you must hold back. In a fight you must not hold back. You will do what you train to do.”

In a real fight, your primary objective is to completely disable your opponent(s) offensive capabilities. Killing him is usually a reliable way to do the trick.  At the same time, your secondary objective is to avoid getting killed, yourself.
As soon as you impose any restrictions, as soon as you have “rules” for a “fight,” it becomes a ritual combat.  “No holding, no eye gouging, no rabbit punching, no head-butting, no hitting below the belt…” and certainly no biting groin-kicking, knee-breaking.”  Hey, what is this, a Quaker ice cream social?  In a real fight, head butting, groin kicking and knee breaking are all highly recommended gambits.

My brother from another mother and father, Richard Alvarez, did a fun little film called “American Jouster.”  It features interviews with a variety of professional jousters  --- mostly, but not exclusively, sturdy young lads ---performing on the Renaissance Faire circuit. One of my favorite moments is when he asks the interviewees what they think the relationship is between jousting and “real” combat.  There are degrees of waffling from the boys who find varying degrees of similarity.  But one fellow – who just happens to be a recently returned army combat veteran – immediately and unequivocally, responds that there’s absolutely no comparison whatsoever.

The Roman historian Vegetius wrote, “They are most enthusiastic about war that are the least familiar with it.”  Likewise, if you’ve never experienced real, life or death combat, it’s easy to think that your ritual combat veers fairly close to the real deal.

It doesn’t.

There may be a risk of fatality involved in the ritual combat. Even the duel, which may indeed be deadly, is subject to rules and conventions that establish the duelists are members of a particular social group and have a certain status within that group.
But with most combat sports and games if a fatality happens, it’s due to accident or negligence, and is seen as a tragedy, because death is not generally the sine qua non purpose of the ritual.
Instead, ritual combat is an elaborate variation of posturing, one of the four threat responses. (fleeing, yielding, posturing, fighting).  Ritual combat is about fulfilling social needs, to be recognized as a member of a group (initiation rituals such as the German student duels) and to achieve status and success within that group.

Real combat is all about survival.

Like many other young men in the throes of testosterone poisoning, I never understood the distinction between ritual fighting (posturing) and real fighting until it very nearly cost me my life.

I have no problem whatsoever with whatever combat sport or game anyone wants to invent. All I ask is that they are honest about what they are doing, and not pretend to be something that they are not. What I object to is misrepresenting this or that sport or game as “real” combat.

It isn’t.
Be glad.

Doing and Teaching are not the same thing.
It’s an extremely common error to assume that if you can perform well, you can teach others to perform well. But it ain’t necessarily so.  For example: Throwing punches in bunches and managing the punching mitts to teach someone ELSE how to throw punches in bunches, are two completely distinct skill sets. Lots of boxers have never worn punch mitts in their entire lives. Not their job  
On the other hand, you have someone like boxing trainer Angelo Dundee who worked15 boxing champions including: George Scott, Jimmy Ellis, Jose Napoles, Sugar Ray Leonard, Carmen Basilio, Willie Pastrano, Luis Rodriguez, George Foreman, and the incomparable Muhammad Ali. But, although his brother Joe was a boxer, Dundee, himself, never held any boxing titles. Indeed, had never been a professional or even amateur boxer. He dedicated himself not to learning how to fight, but to learning how to train others how to fight.
Typically, martial arts “teachers” are simply those who have memorized what they were taught and then try to imitate how their teachers taught them. They are not trained to be teachers; they have not acquired that specialized body of knowledge or that physical skill set.
There are, of course, excellent doers who are also excellent teachers. But they are excellent teachers, not BECAUSE they are excellent doers, but because they have learned how to teach.

Knowing and Doing are not the same thing.

I’ve read several excellent books about birds, but that doesn’t mean I can fly.
It’s important to understand the difference between the cognitive domain and the psychomotor domain.

The cognitive domain involves knowledge and the development of intellectual skills (Bloom, 1956). This includes the recall or recognition of specific facts, procedural patterns, and concepts that serve in the development of intellectual abilities and skills. 
People use the cognitive tools so much that they begin to believe that it’s the right tool for every job.  Cognitive learning is an exceptionally good tool for learning about combat. It’s a miserable tool for learning how to fight.

The psychomotor domain (Simpson, 1972) includes physical movement, coordination, and use of the motor-skill areas. Development of these skills requires practice and is measured in terms of speed, precision, distance, procedures, or techniques in execution. It is perfectly possible to be a fine violinist without having a knowledge of the history of western music, the construction of violins or the science of acoustics. While those subjects may be fascinating and add to your appreciation of the violin, that knowledge will not make your fingers faster or more accurate.

Fencing is a particularly good example of what we could call “learning domain confusion.” Fencing is replete with aficionados who can name-drop with the alacrity of Inigo Montoya on a mountain top, cite titles and dates, have memorized and use the most esoteric terms for the most simple actions, and even offer impressive quotations from “the great masters, “ but who cannot stand on guard, cannot move without losing their balance, or manage a sword in a controlled and disciplined manner to defend themselves effectively.  These are folk who don’t understand the distinction between knowing and doing, or the process required for either one.

Two out of three ain’t bad, but I suppose I should make some mention of the affective domain.  The affective domain (Krathwohl, Bloom, Masia, 1973) includes the manner in which we deal with things emotionally, such as feelings, values, appreciation, enthusiasms, motivations, and attitudes.

If the cognitive is the domain of knowing, and the psychomotor is the domain of doing, then the affective is the domain of feeling.

When we say that we teach the “Art, Science and Spirit of the Sword,” we’re not trying to come up with a clever sales slogan. We are describing a way of being that derives from the perfect holistic integration of the three learning domains knowing (science), doing (art) and feeling (spirit.)

In our next exciting episode, I’ll address some aspects of language, terminology and jargon.

Be sure to tune in, same bat-time, same bat-station.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hero Homework #3

Opening the Door to the Heroic Habit

Your heroic workout for this week:
Go out of your way to open/hold the door open for someone.

A hero acts voluntarily and at his/her own risk or cost to benefit others, and without any expectation of reward.
The first step in helping others is to notice that someone needs help. The simple act of opening and/or holding a door open for someone, is an easy way to begin cultivating your situational awareness. (SEE PREVIOUS POST: "You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’"). It also helps you to practice overcoming the hesitation to act that is due to group conformity/social embarrassment. Fear of embarrassment is a particularly significant obstacle to heroic action, and one you must overcome as completely as possible.
I would offer you this twist on an old, old proverb:
A fool, because of his/her petty vanity, does not mind being thought of as a hero; a hero because of his/her lack of petty vanity does not mind being thought of as a fool.

In short, you do what you know is right to do, and to hell with what other people think!
There is this proviso. The Walmart version of “chivalry” is a “gentleman” opening the door for a lovely young woman, giving her a big smile, and generally making a big production out of it.             I would emphasize here that a hero acts with no expectation of reward, and that includes the reward of winning the attention of a sexually desireable other. There’s nothing wrong with accepting a “thank you,” (which allows the other to also practice heroism skills), replying “You’re welcome,” and then moving on. But door opening/holding must NOT be contrived as a flirtation, to launch a seduction, or be done with that purpose in mind.
Any ass might hustle to open a door for a beautiful woman.
A true, heroic gentleman would go out of his way to open a door even for the most wretched, unwashed, muttering old bag-lady.

Sally forth and do likewise.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hero Homework #2*

Smile and the world Smiles with You

Your new exercise for this week’s hero workout is:
Smile at 10 strangers.
You can go for more than 10, if you like, but manage at least 10 people. Take note of their reactions, and how it feels to you. Try to select a wide range of people, various ages, colors, etc. For extra credit, smile at people whom you would not normally be inclined to pick.
When you smile, be sure to use your heart, not just your mouth. In fact, smile with your heart, and your mouth will follow (apologies to Malcolm). 
Smiling is one of the six human expressions that appear to be universal, and instinctively understood. (1) 

Review The 7 Habits of Heroes. Which habits do you think his exercise helps to develop?
Continue doing last week’s exercise, too. 
Don’t worry, you won’t over-train. 


*adapted from the Heroic Imagination Project

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Hero Homework #1

Strengthening Your Hero Muscles
If you want to get strong enough to lift 500lbs, you don’t start out by trying to lift 500lbs. You start out with, say, 50lbs. And add 1lb every day. Little by little, you grow stronger.
Moral strength works the same way. You start by doing relatively “light” lifting, progressing gradually doing a little more each day.
Here’s your first “hero workout.” It’s simple, easy, and painless. It might even be fun.
1a. Practice greeting people with “good morning” or “good afternoon” or “good evening” and call them by name, if you know their name.  If you don’t know their name, use something like “sir” or “ma’am.” If the person is a friend, you may use their first name. Shake hands whenever possible. Most people in this culture will shake your hand if you offer it.
This exercise cultivates the habit of seeing and acknowledging others, and even making a physical connection with them.

1b . Find as many opportunities as possible to say “please” and “thank you” to as many people as you can. And when people say “thank you” to you, be sure to say “you’re welcome.” Again, whenever you can, shake hands.
This exercise cultivates the habit of appreciating others and expressing that appreciation to them.

Both these exercises cultivate your independence and autonomy.

Concentrate on this for a week. How do people respond to it? 


Saturday, September 6, 2014

The 7 Habits of Heroes

The 7 Habits of Heroes
I don’t  have mountains of impeccable research to back this up. I have only my own experience, observation, and a little bit of research.  But based on that, I would postulate the following:
1.     “Heroism” is a universal human capacity – with the exception of psychopaths, of course.  Heroes are NOT rare, exceptional, anomalous people. They are ordinary people who do extraordinary things.
2.     Heroes have certain psychological characteristics or personality traits in common.
3.     These heroic characteristics or traits can be cultivated. That is, heroism can be LEARNED.
According to researchers Franco and Zimbardo (1),  heroes share these closely inter-related characteristics. You could call these the Seven Habits of Heroes
1. People who become heroes tend to be concerned with the well-being of others.
Heroes have a very high degree of empathy and compassion. They genuinely care about the safety and well being of others.

2. Heroes are good at seeing things from the perspective of others.
Heroes aren't just compassionate and caring; they have a keen ability to see things from the perspective of others, to understand the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of others, to put themselves in another’s plce and see through another’s eyes.

3.Heroes are competent and confident.
A mentor once told me, when I was in knee pants: “There are only two kinds of people who rush in where others dare not tread. The first kind is a person who has confidence in himself, his training, his equipment, his team and his leadership.  The other kind is a complete fucking idiot.”
People who perform heroic acts tend to feel confident in themselves and their abilities. When faced with a crisis, they have an intrinsic belief that they are capable of handling the challenge and achieving success no matter what the odds. Some this confidence might stem from above-average coping skills and abilities to manage stress.
I think that believing in one’s competence comes from having demonstrated one’s competence. Here’s where the process of applied behavioral hoplology comes in handy. Every student builds a history of progressive success that contributes to self-confidence.

4. Heroes have a strong moral compass.
Heroes have two essential qualities that set them apart from non-heroes: they live by their values and they are willing to endure personal risk to protect those values.
In the salle d’armes, we value Truth, honesty and honour. The simple act of declaring a touch against oneself, is an act of adhering to a moral code even at one’s own expense. It’s a small thing, perhaps. But you know that they say about acorns and oak trees.  To me, the saddest part about the devolution of the “sport” of fencing, is the total eradication of this element in favor of unbridled narcissism.

5. Having the right skills and training can make a difference.
There’s no question that having the right training or physical ability to deal with a crisis can also be a major factor in whether or not people act heroically.  In situations where would-be rescuers lack the know-how or sheer physical strength to make a difference, people are less likely to help or are more likely to find less direct ways to take action.  People senselessly rushing into a dangerous situation can make the situation worse instead of better.
Here’s where being physically fit and having a wide range of emergency skills comes into play. It’s why we offer classes like CPR, First Aid, and Self-Defense, in addition to swordsmanship.

6. Heroes persist, even in the face of fear.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but the conquest of it.
A person who rushes into a burning building to save another person is not just extraordinarily brave; they also have an ability to overcome fear. Researchers suggest that heroic individuals are positive thinkers by nature, which contributes to their ability to look past the immediate danger of a situation and to imagine, or visualize, a positive outcome. In many cases, these individuals may also have a higher tolerance for risk. Plenty of caring and kind people might shrink back in the face of danger. Those who do leap into action are typically more likely to take greater risks in multiple aspects of their lives.
You conquer fear by doing the thing you fear.
Do that often enough, and fear becomes just a feeling that you can put aside, the way you can put aside hunger when it’s not yet time to eat.
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself” may be the most astute phrase ever uttered.

7. Heroes keep working on their goals, even after multiple setbacks.
Persistence is another quality commonly shared by heroes. In one 2010 study, researchers found that people identified as heroes were more likely to put a positive spin on negative events. When faced with a potentially life-threatening illness, people with heroic tendencies might focus on the good that might come from the situation such as a renewed appreciation for life or an increased closeness with loved ones.
Fighters learn from mistakes, and use them to achieve victory. They know that getting knocked down doesn’t matter; it’s getting back up that counts.
Maybe the most important element our training is this: We Never, EVER quit. NEVER.

When we say that the sword is the key we use to unlock the hero in your heart, we’re not being poetic.
It’s the sine qua non of our school.


(1) Franco, Z. & Zimbardo, P. (2006). The banality of heroism. The Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. Retrieved from

Monday, September 1, 2014

Basic Instinct

Basic Instinct

Some years ago, I had the pleasure of taking some firearms classes from an excellent marksman and teacher, Mr. Alan E. Gantert. One of those classes was trap and skeet shooting.  I’m not a hunter, and not really interested in “sport” shooting, but I figured that being able to use a shotgun to hit a moving target might be a handy skill to have.
The class was made up of beginners like me. We went to various stations on the course, and took turns shooting, with Mr. Gantert doling out shells. On our command “pull,” he would catapult clay targets into the air, following a variety of  trajectories: from the left, from the right, ascending, descending, and at various angles.  With a 12 gauge,  like the one I was using, you don’t  have to be pinpoint accurate because the pellets spread out some.  As with horseshoes and hand grenades, close is close enough.  I did slightly better than average, I believe, but not much.
One particular station – it may have been on the last day of class – Mr. G. described as the most difficult. You had to stand with your back against a little concrete blockhouse, and the target came from high above and behind you.  We’d all been pretty successful up to this point, and Mr. Gantert told us not to be discouraged if we didn’t do very well on this one.  I volunteered to go first.
“Can I do a dry run before I shoot?” I asked. I just wanted to see what I was going to be up against. I took the position with an empty weapon.
“Pull!” I called.
A tiny dark thing raced across my field of vision and disappeared in the space of a single eye-blink.  I couldn’t help laughing.
“No fucking way,” I said to Mr. G.  This was going to be a pretty pointless exercise.
Then I took my turn shooting.
And I hit every target.
It was ridiculous. I wasn’t aiming. I was scarcely even looking.
“I want you to shoot again after everyone has had a turn,” Mr. G. told me.
No one else hit a single target.  Then it was my turn to shoot again. And I didn’t hit a single target, either.
Subsequently, Mr. Gantert and I discussed this incident more than once. He called it an extraordinary example of “instinctive shooting.”  Giving it a name, however, doesn’t mean we understand it.
I still puzzle over it. Somehow, when I had completely given up all “intention” of success ---because I thought success was impossible – I was able to succeed with perfection. On the contrary, once I knew that success was, in fact, possible and I intended to repeat my earlier performance, I failed utterly.  There’s a lesson here. I’m just not sure what it is. And as a teacher, I damn well want to know.
If I performed better without rehearsal than with rehearsal, why should we ever practice?  I know very well, from playing music, that you get better with practice.
And yet…
Certainly, self-consciousness is a major impediment to skill performance. But how do you account for an excellent performance when you don’t have the skills to begin with? What are we capable of doing “instinctively,” that is beyond our knowledge and skill?  How do we tap into that state of “instinctiveness?” How can I use this to benefit my students?
The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know.