Sunday, June 26, 2016

Violence 101 and the Monkey Dance: Information for Writers with Rory Miller

Welcome, Rory! Let's start by telling us about your violent background and why you have the expertise to break the concept of violence down for writers.

Rory -

I'd been a martial artist since 1981, starting in judo when I was seventeen, and dabbling in anything I could find. At 21 I got a security job in a casino and after the first big fight - rolling around under a roulette table - I realized it wasn't anything like sparring. 

The first job that came through was with the Sheriff's Office working the Corrections division. For the next 17 years, (1991-2008) I was in jail. Working close custody, booking, mental health. Booking, especially got a lot of action. The arrestees were newly arrested, usually mad, often still high, sometimes not very well searched and when the cuffs come off there are two uniformed but unarmed corrections deputies right there. We all got pretty good at talking and de-escalation, but no matter how good you were, there were still fights. Housing was calmer, but the officer was dealing with 16-190 (alone for numbers up to 75, we had two officers watching the 190) people who mostly considered violence a perfectly legitimate way to solve problems. 

It was direct supervision, so you were in the modules with the inmates. That's the basic job. When we initially formed the CERT (Corrections Emergency Response Team) 

Fiona (Please note, I am a member of CERT - Community Emergency Response Team - If you've read my articles that include information about CERT, I do NOT do what Rory did - you couldn't pay me enough.)

Rory continues -  CERT transitioned over the next decade from a mostly unarmed riot control and cell extraction team to a full hostage rescue team. In 2002 (weird, normally I don't remember dates at all and the years are popping up this morning) I had a rough year. First body recovery with Search and Rescue. I blew a hole in someone with what was supposed to be a "less-lethal" shotgun round. Suicide of a friend. Knee surgery. Other stuff. My usually support system wasn't working. I'd go train MA and people would be fantasizing about things I wished I didn't experience. I started writing to get it out of my head. My first book was Meditations on Violence.

In 2008, I got a phone call asking if I was interested in a contract with ICITAP (International Criminal Investigative Training and Assistance Program) administered by the Department of Justice. Basically, if I wanted to join the team training the Iraqi Corrections Service. So I spent a year in Iraq seeing an even crazier bureaucracy, but I learned a lot. 

I kept writing, I wrote Force Decisions and outlined Facing Violence in Iraq. When I got home, I really didn't want to work for a bureaucracy again, so I started teaching seminars and writing. VAWG started as an on-line class for writers. Somewhere very early in my Corrections career, I started to really have trouble with fiction. If most entertainment is on some level about sex and violence, I found most authors (I read SF mostly growing up) sounded like they had never been in a fight and only had actual sex with a partner once. I agreed to do the online class for purely selfish reasons-- I want more fiction I like.

Fiona - 

In your experience, males and females fight differently. You talk about this in your book Violence for Writers. Can you help us to understand what you've observed over your decades of being in conflict situations? 

Rory - 
There's a lot of background that we need first because we don't have good language for this. And when we get to the gender stuff, there are the caveats. Some of it is biological, but some of it is very specific to our place and time. 


The first division I think is critical is social versus asocial. 

In social violence, your character (or the aggressor or whoever) is thinking of the other person as a person. 

In asocial violence, the other person is not a person. To a drowning person, if you are foolish enough to try to swim out and calm the drowner down, they will not see you as a person but as a potential floatation device. No matter how skilled your words, the sweetest, nicest person will climb on your head and drown you in their search for air. 

In social violence we fight, with asocial violence we hunt. The mindsets, skills and everything about the act of violence is completely different between fighting and hunting. But in our language, we try to group everything under fighting.

Social violence is about communication. When we are fighting, it is a form of communication. You are establishing status, or territory, or enforcing a rule.

This is where it starts crossing with the gender stuff. Never having been a woman, I'm not an expert on that, but I'm going to hit this a little from the trainer and the criminal point of view. We talked about drowners. That kind of scared-animal dynamic can come from other things, like bad drug reactions (fighting someone on PCP is quite an education) or emotional reactions. 


There two types of asocial are what I call resource and process. The resource predator wants something from you. Usually money for drugs today. But go back a few hundred years and that might have been food or money for food. And when you need to feed your kids, you don't take chances. Overwhelming force with maximum surprise. If you get hurt you can't feed your kids (or your addiction) tomorrow. The attacker does everything in his or her power to make sure the victim never gets a chance to fight back, so there is no fight. 

The process predator enjoys the act of violence. It's not about stuff, so you can't buy him off. He is seeing you as a toy, something to be played with and he can do to you whatever a seven-year-old boy can do to his sister's dolls.

So, gendering. Men and women approach social and asocial violence differently and they have different biological things going on as well as very different socialization.

Humans are a pretty broad spectrum of stimulus/response, so this will be a huge generalization; but, generally, men and women have very different adrenaline (that's shorthand for a bunch of hormones and neurotransmitters). If there is a threatening stimulus most men get a big spike of adrenaline immediately that tapers off quickly. Most women have a slow build up of adrenaline that never peaks as high, plateaus for a time and tapers off slowly. 


Experientially (and I write this from the guy's point of view), when I'm having a big argument with my wife, the subject comes up and I get mad, and she's being reasonable. My assumption is that she's being reasonable just to piss me off. I get madder and finally take a walk to cool off. I come back about 10-20 minutes later, realizing she was right all along, I need to apologize and about the time I start to say, "Honey, I'm so sorry..." I walk into a shit storm of fury and she can stay mad for hours. Maybe years. Breaking it down, she wasn't pretending to be reasonable to piss me off. She was being reasonable because the adrenaline hadn't hit her yet. Adrenaline was making me stupid (no one is smart when they are afraid or angry). When I calmed down, the coincides really well with where she hits her peak adrenaline. 

I got exposed to this idea from Tobi Beck's The Armored Rose
The Armored Rose is primarily a book about the difference between men and women when they meet a physical confrontation. The book focuses on the physical differences between tendons, hands, body ratio as well as the chemical differences in the endocrine system and how it effects the reactions both he and she have on the fighting field . . .The book has been used by the US Marshal’s service and the Australian Federal Police Academy for training officers for physical confrontations. 

I used this imformation in planning cell extractions (when you have to forcibly remove a combative inmate from a cell) with great success. It's also one of the reasons I liked working with female officers-- when I was too jacked up on adrenaline to think clearly, they could still think, plan, communicate, and use fine motor skills. 

It also explained something I'd seen in both martial arts and with officers. Frequently about 20 minutes after their first sparring session (and sometimes for years) women would have a tendency to tear up. Not quite crying, but something going on. We'd wonder about repressed memory and all that bullshit (those do exist but it wasn't the problem) it was just the adrenaline hitting after the effect. Guys eye's moisten too, but since the adrenaline tends to happen during the encounter, we don't tend to notice it. The adrenaline delay can be a superpower, especially if the woman can control the pace of the encounter.

Men and women in our culture are socialized to violence very differently. I think this is changing, but especially in my generation, fist fighting was just part of growing up a boy, roughhousing was "boys will be boys". By the time a man had reached adulthood, he not only had some experience with violence, but most of that experience was fun. And most women either had no experience or only the experience of being punished (spanked) as a child.

Most of Hollywood and the writerly community confuse fighting with violence.

Fiona - 
You coined a term called the "monkey dance." I recently had an experience where my husband and I had a huge misunderstanding. What he saw was me doing a monkey dance, and he stepped forward to end it like a good friend would. (I'll get you to explain that in your response.) However, I don't monkey dance. I wasn't posturing. Some stranger sexually touched my 15-year-old daughter, (Hubby didn't see it, I did) and I wasn't playing around I had a clear agenda. 

 Would you please explain monkey dances and males v. females. 

Rory - 
The Monkey Dance is ritualized male-on-male dominance fighting: 
     "What are you looking at?" 
     "Who the fuck is asking?" 
     "Oh you think you're bad?" 
     "Bad enough, mother fucker." 

  • The body language, the approach, the physical contact can be a two-handed push, a finger poke to the chest, knocking a hat off... 
  • The two handed push can be answered with the same and that can go on for a few reps, and then the big looping punch. 
  • It's a pattern. It's predictable. Even highly trained people do it when they get triggered. 
  • It is archetypal fighting, and it is incredibly inefficient. Designed not to hurt anyone seriously.


Women seem to be doing something similar more and more, but it is really hard to tell with things like youtube videos whether something is actually happening more, or just trending. A video with a million shares doesn't mean the event happened a million times.

When it gets to the fighting part, men and women are very different. Guys, generally, have internalized a bunch of rules on fighting. Women, generally, have only been taught not to fight and when that threshold is crossed they have no rules. Ask almost any cop or bouncer whether they would rather have a force incident with a man or woman and almost all of them are more afraid of women. Guys punch and wrestle, women gouge and bite and don't stop.


Fiona - 
A little more from my story. I wasn't interested in fighting the guy I was confronting. My goal was to cause a commotion to get a security guard involved so the pedifile could be arrested. I was making a scene - a BIG scene to get the professional help I needed. I'm sure it looked exactly like a monkey dance to my husband. But I had no intention of my "calling him out" turning into a fight. 

Would you list the basic stages of the monkey dance and what males do to save their friend.

Rory - 
1) Hard stare 

2) Verbal challenge 
3) Approach and posturing 
4) Contact 
5) Punch

Both males play, and they can stay in stages 2-3 for quite some time. The ideal result is for friends to pull them apart. It gives them both a face-saving exit without injury.

But this is not what a professional would do - You for example would never monkey dance.


Fiona -
Agreed.

Rory -
Monkey Dancing-- all fighting, really-- is incredibly stupid. It is inefficient. It is designed as communication. As a rule, pros go hands-on to stop something or to make something happen. If the person can be persuaded, there is no need to go hands on and if the person can't be persuaded, half-measures increase the risk of injury to everyone involved. 


The monkey dance is all about proving who is the bigger monkey. Professionals do get triggered sometimes, their egos do get involved, but the good ones eventually get over the need to prove themselves. If I'm not trying to prove myself and not trying to send a message, I don't have to follow the steps. If someone wants to monkey dance with me:

  • I have the positional option-- I can leave. 
  • I have the verbal option-- saying almost anything that's not on the monkey dance script defuses it. 
  • I can apologize, ask a thoughtful question, almost anything.
Physical will only happen if I'm being paid. If I have to put someone in cuffs explosive movement anywhere in steps 1-4 will confuse and freeze him. 

The other difference between social and asocial is that the social violence patterns are scripted, which both means that they are predictable and departing from the script induces a freeze while the person in his or her social brain tries to catch up.

Fiona -

I find all of that such fabulous fodder for our plots. Thank you Rory. 

Rory Miller's book  Violence, a Writers Guide is one I quote from in my talks and encourage writers of all genres to read.

This book has a lot of information for writers that will help get into the heads of the characters and figure out how each individual character will apply their OODA loops (read about that HERE

I HIGHLY recommend that you read this book before you write violence into your plot.

This is Rory's BLOG.

A big thank you to Rory Miller for sharing his information.

As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you 

helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.